Sunday, November 30, 2008

Inspired by Digital Field Trips-methodology and recap

I want to thank Darren again for his inspiration in the area of digital field trips. As many of you know, I opted to document a bike trip from Richmond, VA to Williamsburg, VA. The ride is a modest 63 miles for the avid cyclists in the group but this was by far the furthest ride we had ever tried-I rode with our Head of School.

Ok, so here is how it worked out. Before our departure, I asked the Head's son who is a senior to friend me on facebook so he and his mom could keep track of our progress. This was particularly important for both families because the temperature was in the mid 20s when we left home. Brrrr.

So how was I going to communicate our journey? What was the communication plan? Using a Blackberry Curve-great tool for this btw, I created a distribution list in my contacts that sent info to 2 specific locations: 1) the international PLP Ning(photos) 2) TwitPic. Creating the distribution list I found saved a few steps whenever I wanted to document the trip. Using twitpic however, had a dual purpose. Twitpic sent updates to my twitter account which also updated my status on Facebook.

By taken advantage of open api's, I managed to distribute quite a bit of information across a number of different groups. But the best technology related part of the journey however, had to do with the comments and responses from colleagues, friends, and family. We had folks from all over and a couple of surprises. A colleague was on her way home from a conference in Orlando, FL and started following us in the airport. Our respective families kept tabs on us, fellow PLPers cheered us on, and for those who didn't know we were doing this, the updates to our status on Facebook proved to be entertaining.

If I could do it over, what would I change. Plan a trip during warmer weather. We never took a layer off. Funny how it is always windy when one rides a bicycle. However, with warmer weather, it would certainly be easier to document the ride. I did want to incorporate video and perhaps even use gabcast, but it was too labor intensive to remove gloves, take out the Blackberry from a zipped pocket, and replace everything while riding.

So what did I learn? The world can be your classroom and your "students" will come from all over and it can all be done with a smartphone. The applications of this format are extensive. A digital field trip can empower students, teachers, and coaches to provide detailed accounts and or create visual journal entries of their experiences for others to view and learn.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Technology as a Utility

The start of school is always a busy time of year. But it seems that every year that goes by, there is a greater emphasis on the reliability of systems and associated service the tech staff can provide. It is the quintessential double edge sword technologists face when moving from the sporadic uses of technology 15 years ago to the daily dependence on systems and associated service technology departments must provide. Access to email, online web applications, clients, codecs, and VoIP to name a few, have added significant strains to technology departments where information is expected to be available 24/7.

This expectation has led me to describe technology more as a utility similar to water and power. Technology, like water and power is supposed to work. It's supposed to work well and any downtime can seriously interrupt the day to day activities of teachers and non teachers alike.

So what is a school to do? First and foremost, have a plan that takes into account connectivity and service expectations users on your campus deem pivotal to day to day functions. As schools continue to migrate through the Technology Continuum, it will be important for school officials to recognize that teachers want and need just in time service when they integrate tech into the curriculum. The days of waiting a few hours or days for assistance are not acceptable as every minute lost becomes a lost educational opportunity.

As I see it, there are at least 3 strands that need to be considered. The first strand is the network and infrastructure. I'm not one of these guys but they are worth their weight in gold. They make sure the network experiences little or no down time. They work directly with the academic/instructional technologists to determine whether or not the infrastructure can handle curricular enhancements and any changes to systems that impact campus operations. And depending on the size of the institution, may also serve as the school's help desk. The second strand, represents the academic/instructional technologists. They interface with teachers and students as needed and provide professional development opportunities and training. These positions may also be responsible for budgeting along with the network strand and can handle a range of issues in the area of tech support . The third strand is the help desk. This is an area where I find most schools to be deficient. Often, the first two strands serve the school in this capacity too. However, all to often, serving in this capacity steals valuable time and energy that needs to be directed towards the planning and execution of initiatives. It is the help desk strand that provides the just in time service that maintains the confidence of the faculty that is willing to explore new instructional strategies.

If technology is indeed supposed to be reliable and ready to go 24/7, schools must have a human network in place that will ensure that teachers have a positive experience when integrating technology into the curriculum. With reliability, the mindset can move from will it work to how can I engage my students.

Ok, it's time to turn that spigot off.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wordle and the Technology Continuum

The week before students arrive is always a busy time.   However, the week before students arrive is also the week when teachers arrive on campus enmasse.  They are full of energy, they are busy getting there rooms ready, lesson plans are being crafted for the open day of school, and summer task lists are being whittled away.   But the week before students arrive is also an opportunity to set the tone for the school year. 

One of the headmaster's presentations dealt with how our school will adapt to an ever changing world while maintaining the core values that makes St. Christopher's a special place for so many families.  On a side note, we were asked to read Daniel Pink's book A Whole New Mind-do I sense a theme? Moreover, it was no surprise that he made a connection between the curriculum and technology and he encouraged the faculty to make greater efforts to include technology within the curriculum.

So in an attempt to illustrate where we started as school and where we are heading with respects to academic technology, our tech team generated a series of slides using Wordle that represent the technology continuum at St. Christopher's.  Although we could have added much more to the individual Wordles, we opted for simplicity because the desired outcome was to foster a sense of confidence and desire to explore new methods.

What is Wordle?  
Wordle is a toy for generating "word clouds" from text you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends. ---Taken from the website. 

I can feel my right brain churning!

The Tech Continuum

10+ years ago
Circa 1998
Circa 2006
Where we are today!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dabbling with blogs

I've been dabbling with the idea of developing a blog for quite some time now, but I guess I've been waiting for the right impetus.

So what could possibly get me going? Well, last week, myself and a group of 5 teachers from St. Christopher's School drove up to Fredericksburg's Academy to participate in the Powerful Learning Practice(PLP). We are but one of many schools participating in this project from around the globe and it has brought me in contact with several academic technologists who I respect greatly. The collective experience and insight is outstanding but it is the amount sharing that is most impressive.

After our kick off meeting, I decided to delve into the blogosphere and attempt to provide my view of the changes and shifts our schools must acknowledge in this technologically driven and "Flattening World".

Well, there you have it. Short and sweet and more to come.

Thanks PLP for being the impetus!

And May the Schwartz Be with You