NJASA Upadate: iRecorder Pro iOS App

For all those who attended the presentation last week, I mentioned and recommended the “free” app called iRecorder. Well, this app WAS once free and is now no longer since the addition of the word “Pro.” That said, the app is an absolutely drop dead simple recording solution that will record multiple hours without a glitch with very high sound quality. It also features built in wireless synch and accomplishes the task by creating a web address which can be accessed through a desktop/laptop web browser on the same network. This app is probably one of the most used on the iPads that we have deployed. Teachers use it to record guided reading sessions, create podcasts, assess fluency, and help special needs children. I would highly recommend this app even at its $2.99 price. It is available through the iTunes store at this address.

NJASA: iPads – From Pilot Program to Positive Pupil Performance

The New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA) will be holding their annual Spring Conference this week in Atlantic City, NJ. On Wednesday, May 23, I will be sharing, along with Jason Weber, my two years of experience with a revolutionary device, the iPad. Now I know exactly what everyone is thinking…”Just what I wanted…another sales demonstration about an iPad…or…I’ve had just about enough of this iPad stuff…can we get over it now!” I promise you that this will not be your typical presentation. At the very least, you will walk out of this event knowing WHY you absolutely need a tablet device, quite possibly the iPad, in your classrooms and how you CAN make it happen instructionally without being a technological wizard. You should leave that wizardry (you know the “back end” complications) to your tech staff anyway.

What is on the list to discuss? First and most important is the construct that the result of any technology implementation should be a more effective and efficient instructional process. If it does not fulfill this requirement, stop using it and rethink. As absurd as it sounds, districts have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on large implementations of technology with little positive impact on instructional practice. This is not because the tools are inappropriate or inherently flawed. It is because we have forgotten that the priority in the classroom should be on instruction and not the tools of trade. Sounds obvious, but everyday thousands of teachers allow the tools…tablets, laptops, interactive whiteboards…to rule the classroom. They forget to ask WHY they are implanting their existence into their lives and the students they touch. Every teacher must start with these questions when they begin there integrations:

What is the technology enhancing?

What is the technology allowing me to do more quickly?

Why can’t I teach as effectively or efficiently without this device?

The preceding questions are critical to successful implementations. Technology cannot be a bolt on. It cannot be simply a superfluous engagement tool that invokes the short term novelty effect in students. It needs to serve a purpose or function that elevates the quality of instruction. My last post (Are you on the correct road to a 1:1 implementation?) highlighted the functions or capabilities that I wanted from a piece of educational technology. Content creation, access to resources, communication channels, assessment tools, and personalization for efficiency are all necessities for a student and teacher device. If you notice, these are also all the activities that we expect from students and teachers alike. Students need to demonstrate comprehension or mastery of content and be able to construct new individualized knowledge sets. Teachers need to create content for support resources. Students need to research and validate information efficiently using appropriate resources. Teachers need this same access for all the reasons you would expect. Students need to collaborate with pears and content experts to empower the community brain. Teachers desperately need to collaborate with experts in the field, administrators, and colleagues in order to produce the best results in their classrooms. Both teachers and students need to have access to efficient and effective assessment methods that quickly quantify results for more informed instruction and learning. This type of focus places the teacher in control of the device and not the reverse. It is the function of the device that should rule the thought process.

With iPad implementations, it has become an app game. Apple boasts some absurd number of apps and hopes that they can get you to purchase them all. I am here to tell you that you can substantially change instructional practice with around ten…that’s right, just 10 apps. How can that be? When you take into account the above feature sets or activities, you begin to purchase (many are even free) apps for the iPad that allow the device to perform those tasks or functions. Take a look at the list below:

Content Creation:
iWork: Pages, Numbers, Keynote
iLife: iMovie, Garage Band
Skitch (Free)
iRecorder (Free)

Resource:
Safari (Free and a default install)
iBooks with ePubs (Free and a default install)
iTunesU (Free and a default install)

Collaboration:
Apple (or comparable) wiki service (Free) – Not an iPad app, but a complimentary server tool
Apple (or comparable) WebDav service (Free) – Not an iPad app, but a complimentary server tool
WiFi Photo (Free)

I guarantee that these apps will serve most if not all of your instructional needs. They are not teacherless apps and they all can provide an instructional purpose or function. The only category not represented is assessment. This is intentional. Although there are classroom polling tools available for the platform, they are either very expensive or do little on the data reporting side. That said, I have seen many in beta that have the potential to be an addition to the list. As well, let’s not forget that the tools listed in content creation are also a very effective method of demonstrating comprehension, application of skills, or the ability to evaluate.

Last on the list for this presentation will be the discussion of professional development. How do we meet the needs of the teacher? How do we get this grand concept to happen in the classroom? The discussion will center on the deployment of authentic, informal versus classroom based, formal learning environments. It will also dive into the frameworks such as Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPaCK), the Princeton Model, and quantitative scoring tools. In addition, it will touch on co-teaching or coaching with regards to content delivery.

I hope to see you at NJASA!

Are you on the correct road to a 1:1 implementation?

Often prophetically proclaimed as the “holy grail” of educational experiences, one-to-one technology implementations are what everyone wants, but no one (or not many) in these economic times can afford. Educators think and discuss in the hallways…”What would it be like if everyone had access to a laptop, tablet, or smartphone all the time?”…”Wouldn’t it just be awesome to have constant access to the tools students relate to best?” Although not all teachers openly embrace the future design of educational environments, few can argue that some sort of device will be necessary in students’ hands sooner than later. It merely becomes a matter of WHAT device they will carry.

Now enters all the creative solutions that have been devised by manufacturers and marketed to educational institutions…netbooks, Chromebooks, iTouches, tablets…all the devices that carry a smaller financial burden and, unfortunately, a corresponding compromise. Acronyms such as B.Y.O.T. or B.Y.O.D also take center stage as thoughtful and practical means to go about filling the funding gap because, well, they are perceived as “free” (more on that later in later posts) to the district. Technology directors, superintendents, instructional leaders, and the like have and are crunching the numbers, timelines, and presentations for this new technological paradigm that promises smaller barriers to entry. But is it enough? Are any of these solutions ready for the masses?

Let’s stop for a second and forget about money. Let’s forget about all the hurdles to actual implementation and look solely at an idealistic classroom primed for success. Let’s act as though someone just handed us a menu of popular tools and said “order now, please!” All of the sudden the focus wouldn’t center on what we could afford and the associated compromises or sacrifices, but how we could actually enhance in our instructional practice. Questions like, “What is it that these devices need to do? and What functionality do we expect the said device to bring to the instructional environment?” would bubble to the surface instead of “How do we convince the stakeholders that this is an appropriate and necessary direction and oh, by the way…get them willing to pay the bill?” I challenge educational leaders to do this exercise. I challenge leadership teams to have discussions that shed all the noneducational problems that surround initiatives even if price IS an issue of great concern. Innovate with your expertise, idealism, and “wouldn’t it be great if…” mentalities. Let reality hit later in the process as subsequent hurdle to overcome and do not allow it to stifle development of great ideas.

Simon Sinek discussed in his book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Actions, the Golden Circle of why, how, and what. In other words, first know why you want the tool, figure out how you are going to use it, and then subsequently develop what you will do with it. As the title suggests, you need to start with the why…the vision, reason, overarching philosophy, the gut reason you are moving in a certain direction…in this case not so much 1:1 technologies, but why we infuse technology into our practice. That’s a huge discussion not slated for this post. The how is really where this post is targeted. How are we going to integrate technology into our instructional paradigm and more specifically what device will serve as that 1:1 tool? What should it provide?

Naturally, we need to first start with the feature set. What is it that we really want the device to do? How are we going to create a 1:1 that is effective in achieving our academic goals? Although this sounds extremely obvious, many do not start here. They start with a specific device or product in mind and move on from there. They have allowed an advertising campaign or a convincing sales representative to set their direction and, more importantly, corresponding set of sacrifices. Decision makers forget that they are the experts of not only their craft, but also their environment. Shopping on feature sets alone or the convincing argument of a societal trend should not be the sole focus. Who knows the environment better…a sales person, journal, or advertising agency or the organizational leader? Yes, this sounds so easy when exposed, but many district leaders fail every day in this area.

What do I want from a 1:1 product? I want…

  • content creation
  • access to both district and worldwide resources
  • channels for communication (social media, email, shared documents)
  • an efficient and effective means for assessment (both formative and summative)
  • the ability to personalize the tool
  • a valid tool that fosters solutions and not barriers

Is this a groundbreaking feature set? I do not believe it is at any level. In fact, I think many of us in the field have wanted these abilities for years, but had not found a tool that could accomplish the task without substantial barriers to implementation. That does not mean that we should abandon the correct process just because we want a solution. Keep close to you need the device and work from there. This is where the innovative thought processes or decisions will be found. It won’t be found in societal tends, manufacturer persuasion, or a field reps sample set. The results may surprise even the most informed and may reveal the plausibility of the “holy grail.”

In full disclosure, my current district is knee deep in iPad implementations. Yes, we did choose the trendy and many have accused “bling-ridden” device. The device everyone wants. The one everyone was “told” they needed in their district. With that in mind, I guarantee that the above feature set was taken into consideration from day one. I also guarantee that the implementation currently in place is not riddled with superfluous, app centric, non-student centered activities that have had little effect on instructional practice. We use very few apps…iWork suite, iMovie, Camera app (still and video), Safari, iBooks, iRecorder, a few scientific measurement tools, and Proloquo2Go for our special needs students without means to communicate. Just because the apps are affordable and very attractive does not mean you need to have multitudes installed.

Calvin and Hobbes…

I haven’t run across too many people who can say that the famous Calvin and Hobbes cartoon did touch them in some way. To say the least, it was an iconic cartoon that provided insightful musings about everyday life. I found this article in my Twitter feed, Sixteen Things Calvin and Hobbes Said Better Than Anyone Else. Here are the two that really got me thinking along the lines of my last couple of post regarding remembering the basics.

On the unspoken truth behind the education system
Calvin: As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations.

-and-

On looking yourself in the mirror
Hobbes: So the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they’re already met?

The first quote is the standard criticism we have all heard a million times. Are we teaching students to jump through hoops to get a degree, good grade, or the like? Are we teaching to the test or are we teaching to produce autonomous, critical thinking, lifelong learners? Really? Be honest. Everyday we teach, can we honestly identify the authentic skill present that will stick with students? Will students even remember the content or skill the next day or even better yet at the point in life that they will need it? Will they need it in life?

Add the second quote and a whole new perspective came to life for me. Many times we just forget the goal, make excuses why we can’t, and simply give up. We claim that the “this” and the “that” just aren’t appropriate for our current situation. We tried this before and it didn’t work then so why are we trying it again with a different name? Today’s students just don’t do “x” well so we just have to lower the expectations. I’ve attempted everything and nothing has worked. Have you heard these statements before?

So what do we do to not walk out of our classrooms everyday in despair? How do we justify not moving forward and keeping the status quo? How do we allow ourselves to not rise to the occasion and fight the good fight? Simple. We just lower what we expect from ourselves. We justify our inabilities. I am not suggesting that we are lying to ourselves. What I am suggesting is that we are not being totally honest. Are we taking stock of what we need to be accomplishing along with keeping the expectations real and genuine?

I have asked a lot of questions. This is the purpose. Think about them. Ask yourself if you are keeping the focus appropriate, pushing the envelop everyday, and making a durable difference in our students’ lives. Challenge yourself to NOT lower expectations to make yourself feel good. Challenge yourself to constantly as why you are teaching the skill or content. Ask yourself what evidence you have to believe that students will remember beyond the test. Don’t just hope…know!

Remember The Basics: Reflection

As many know, New Jersey public schools enjoy a week long Spring break somewhere around Easter. This is a great opportunity to pause, take walks, and truly reflect on professional practice…which I have done. When you think about it, we have completed approximately three marking periods or, if you don’t think by an academic calendar, one quarter of the year. Either way, continual reflection is a necessity in order to operate productively and this is a perfect time to do it especially in academia as we are beginning to close out the year and take stock of much needed improvements.

So how should we account for our success or more importantly less than desirable results? As I was recently reminded while doing my dissertation research and writing, frameworks or professional standards help us to identify where to begin the conversation. They are a point of departure, the talking points, and a place to rate or align our recent activities.

The point isn’t to have someone else or a set of mere words, whether it be an organization or expert, determine whether we have been doing an effective job. What we do as knowledge workers is generally so specialized to the exact organization and time period that no one can accurately “slap an approved sticker” on our recent activities unless they have personally been involved. That said, we cannot really do the same ourselves without putting a “severely biased sticker”  on the assessed results. As much as someone on the outside doesn’t have a thorough enough perspective, we are equally incapable due to our deep involvement. What are we to do?

This is where aligning ourselves with what many experts have determined to be the best practices come into play. As I indicated earlier, this is not the end all, but a place to launch thoughts and conversations inside our brains. I also stress the word many in the first sentence of this paragraph. A multitude of perspectives attempts to avoid a too narrow approach and a resulting skewed assessment. Look to several organizations, experts, and even colleagues within your own work environment. Analyze what has made them successful.

Examples of these kinds of resources are the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and their NETS for administrators, teachers, coaches, and technology teachers. For the learning and development people who are creating educational experiences, frameworks such as the Technology Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) or Levels of Teaching Innovation (LoTi) are also great for the consumption. You can also look to general thought processes like the ones at Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the 4 C’s…creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. A great pool of experts who talk the talk and walk the walk can be found at Ian Jukes’ site.

When time permits and you get a moment to slow your brain down, reflect on your last couple of months…then react and implement personal change. It is the spirit of education and the quest of life long learners. Happy thinking!

Remember the Basics: 4 C’s

From time to time, it is essential that you remind yourself of the basics or core philosophies that guide your everyday activity. In my complimentary and first career as a professional musician, I often listen to seminal recordings such as Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and many other similar works of art over and over again. It internalizes the goal to an unconscious level, strengthens the inspiration, and provides clarity. The ongoing exposure simply makes actions happen whether we consciously recall them or not.

I sometimes find that I don’t do this as often in my knowledge profession as an educational technologist. Why? To be honest, I am not really sure. It isn’t because there is a lack of content available in a thousand different media. It seems that I am always looking for the new spin or revolutionary thought instead of revisiting the very core of the professional literature.

That said, here’s one that prompted me to stop and wonder if what I do in the classroom really promotes the 4 C’s which is a concept promoted by p21.org. Am I really promoting this ideal with the teachers I touch on a regular basis? These four ideas aren’t difficult to understand by any stretch, but are definitely worthy of revisiting consciously so that they will inevitably bleed from my everyday actions unconsciously.

Here they are from the document, A Parent’s Guide to 21st Century Learning found on Edutopia.org which cited the information from p21.org:

  1. Collaboration: Students are able to work effectively with diverse groups and exercise flexibility in making compromises to achieve common goals.
  2. Creativity: Students are able to generate and improve on original ideas and also work creatively with others.
  3. Communication: Students are able to communicate effectively across multiple media and for various purposes.
  4. Critical thinking: Students are able to analyze, evaluate, and understand complex systems and apply strategies to solve problems.

Take in your daily dose of reminding…everyday.

Believe In Youself

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I came across this picture in one of my RSS feeds and immediately identified with it. It can be challenging to be a parent, educator, administrator, or anyone else who needs to lead, educate, or institute change. Being adversarial isn’t our goal, but sometimes the consequence. The reality is that change may upset many.

Will The Tech Industry Allow Desktops And Laptops To Survive?

Windows 8 Metro

Windows 8 Metro Start Screen

About a week ago, Apple introduces, to the surprise of many if not all, the new OS Mountain Lion. Microsoft this past week introduces a consumer preview of Windows 8. This week Apple will introduce the iPad 3 and more. Apple introduced a significant textbook deal with major publishers last month that has no desktop or laptop viewing solution. What is the significance of all of this? What does it mean for K-12 computing? What are the tea leaves saying?

Each one of the above mentioned products and announcements is definitely a move towards a dominance of mobile computing. Apple started the journey with Lion and a reliance on trackpad swiping, Launchpad, and full screen mode just to call out a few. Mountain Lion is rumored not even to have a file system accessible to the “normal” user. Windows 8 is a tribute to Windows Phone 7 and the Metro tile interface. It abondons long held traditions such as the famed Start button. Heck, you can even have an Android-style experience where signing into your Microsoft Live account brings all your personal information and preferences local in addition to syncing them back to the cloud. The iPad 3 and what some speculate iOS 6 will also strengthen the mobile computing position from Apple. The iBooks deal with publishers that has no desktop or laptop viewing solution is also an indicator of where the industry is moving.

Are desktops and laptops with traditional OS’s knocking at death’s door? Will mobile computing with tiled interfaces, sandboxed applications, and limited multitasking become the norm? More importantly, can K-12 schools really function in a tablet environment and abandon the long held traditions in this area?

The portability and flexibility of a tablet like the iPad is simply amazing. Finally, the whenever, wherever, whatever solution for anytime learning is here. When Apple said that iPad gets out of the way of user and lets the magic begin, they really weren’t kidding. I have witnessed many of these inspiring events in my own professional and personal life. Young children just use these devices. Long tutorials and lots of trials before productive experiences occur are not necessary.

Is it all magic? Do we all glow in the face of this game changing device? Sort of…well…except when a school has iPads deployed in a non-one-to-one initiative and wants an easy, system-wide method of getting files off the device, or wants to use iBook textbooks and not give students ownership, or wants to easily backup devices without using the minimal control, iCloud server located and controlled by someone other than the district, add multiple Apple accounts within a short period of time, etc. Yes, the kinks are not really worked out by any stretch except when you dive in so hard that you hit your head on the bottom. Then you are so enamored with you decision that you fail to see it clearly. So why are we as educational institutions so willing to overlook the shortcomings and dive right in?

That’s a question not easily answered and has perplexed boards of education and administrations across the country. What is known is that districts will divert large amounts of money towards these devices in upcoming budgets in an attempt to meet state and federal standards for the integration of technology into instruction. The question remains will they put the money in the other two areas that will substantially effect their implementations? Districts cannot forget about on-demand support in the form of both electronic and humans for the times when a solution is desperately needed. They cannot afford to forget about professional development in the area of instructional evolution. The rule of thirds is not only a photography construct, but I also like to apply it here. One third product. One third technical support. One third professional development.

Moving towards these highly efficient and effective educational settings isn’t easy or an overnight affair. Districts have seen in the past large expenditures in the area of educational technology have little effect on student achievement. When I say student achievement, I don’t only mean state testing. I reference the greater skill sets…critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, etc. The ones that will matter when students enter the “real” world.

Is mobile computing the significant evolution in technology that will finally bring one-to-one’s to prominence? Will one-to-one’s live up to everyone’s expectations? Time will tell.