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  • Andrew T Schwab 10:26 pm on October 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: change, embrace change, honest conversations, instruction, laptop carts,   

    Safe Places 

    I just read Paul Yip‘s blog post “A Question of Vision” answering a question about how to keep Laptop Carts up and running. Two things struck home for me in Paul’s response. First, the honest conversations about how to use technology in the classroom are not happening enough. And Second, while my school has had several rounds of PD in differentiated instruction, EL instructional strategies, classroom instructional strategies, building PLCs, etc.. technology was not featured prominently in them. Technology PD has been mostly separate from Instructional PD and as the IT guy and a Teacher I’m now seeing that as an area I need to start addressing.

    Getting back to Laptops in the classroom. By definition introducing new technology into a classroom should change how a teacher teaches. It should change what, when and where teacher’s teach. It should change teachers as teachers. If it doesn’t, then it’s a wasted use of limited school funds. So yes, the discussions need to take place. I remember when we put four computers in every classroom seven years ago, the reactions from teachers ran the gambit from “take them out now, I will never use them and I need the space” to “I can’t use them, there are only four” to “Awesome!”. Back then we did not really have the conversations that we should have and so some teachers embraced the change while others stacked it on a shelf and left it to obsolete itself.

    Now as we are about to deploy netbooks into our ninth grade Math and English classrooms, I’m wondering if the conversations we’ve had this time around have been enough. I hope these teachers truly understand what is in store for them as they work to integrate technology into their classrooms in a radically different way than they have seen in the past. I also hope that the administration recognizes the support these teachers will need in order to successfully integrate this new technology into their classrooms and are committed to providing it.

    I’m also concerned that the CA budget cuts have pushed most Teachers back into their “safe” places. The trend I’m seeing now is to resist change and hold the status quo. When it comes to technology, this is not how Teachers need to be thinking. Students are getting more and more wired and tech savvy every year. We should at least be meeting them half way if not flat out running to get ahead.

    Technology in the classroom should not be a zero-sum game. It should not be about taking something away and replacing it with something else. It should be about building on what is already working while trying something different, taking risks, experimenting and making changes in an effort to engage every student. Teachers can’t wait for the perfect recipe of technology and curriculum to start teaching in the present. The budget crisis offers the perfect opportunity to have frank conversations about what is and is not important in the classroom, about what Technology can and cannot do and about why we teach and what and how we teach it. Instead I am afraid the budget crisis has pushed people back into the safety of their old ways, isolated them further in their classrooms as they try to hold onto what they have. We should all be taking a hard look at where we are and looking forward to where we need to be. Technology in the classroom is not going away anytime soon. Unless of course CA runs out of money.

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:07 pm on October 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: change, , extending the school year, motivation, pay for performance, , teacher,   

    Calling for more change, really? 

    U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is calling for a change in how perspective Teachers are taught in our nation’s schools of education.  I am a big fan of change and think it is great that the Secretary is addressing one of the foundations of the American Education System.  Not having gone through one of these schools of education myself however leaves me perhaps missing the point.  Any change in these institutions is not going to have a real effect for several years to come and it will do nothing to address the plight of the current generation of teachers now serving in the nation’s classrooms not to mention their students.

    So let me jump outside the box and offer a more radical prescription for change.  I think everyone agrees that while there are a myriad of factors that can affect student learning, teachers have the potential to have the most impact.  I also know that Duncan is pushing for pay for performance as a means to possibly motivate good teachers and move out “bad” ones.  Watch Dan Pink’s TED talk about the Science of Motivation and tell me you still think pay for performance is a good idea for the 21st Century.

    I don’t think pay is the issue but it makes for good politics.  So how then do you get all teachers to do better?  I think the answer is simple and yes, it will cost money.  What good teachers need is more time to prepare and collaborate with one another.  What struggling teachers need is more help and support (basically more time).  In a world where 50 minutes out of 450 is spent on “prep” and you are lucky to get 5 days of professional development a year, how can anyone be expected to keep their head above water, let alone master their profession and impact students without being an extraordinary person.  I think we’ve built failure into the system at a fundamental level.

    If it takes extraordinary effort to be a great teacher, how can one realistically expect every teacher to be great.  We can’t all be Teacher’s of the Year.  So changing the schools of education won’t make every graduate a great teacher (not that they shouldn’t change for other reasons but lets stay focused here).  I think one of Secretary Duncan’s other ideas, the longer school day/year, does have merit.  Extending the school day and year could address several issues if done right.  Dedicating some of that additional school time for teachers to develop their skills and adjust their instructional strategies and curriculum would help all teachers (and students); both the great and the mediocre.  More time for collaboration would also allow for implementing innovations like Danny Silva’s idea for 20% time in class which are now next to impossible given the lack of planning time in today’s system.  More hours at school would also have the added benefit of addressing pay, because no one should expect teachers to work additional days for free even though to be successful in the current system you absolutely have to.

    But how does extending the school day/year address the problem of the teacher that just won’t put in the effort?  I think just the additional work time would weed out a subset of teachers.  Add to that the requirement of continuous professional and course/curriculum development (a metric less subjective than observation) and you’ll start to see the bulk of the coasters and survivors drop away.  The institution of school has provided cover for under performing teachers (and administrators to be perfectly honest) because it does not promote (as a general rule) the development of teachers as professionals.  It is easier to hide away in a classroom for years teaching the same thing the same way than it is to improve, grow and change.  And everyone knows most of us are predisposed to take the easy route.

    As a second year VocEd teacher that came to the profession in a round about way, I can honestly say that teaching is the hardest job I’ve ever had.  And by hard I mean it tests me in new ways every day.  It forces me to think, to be creative and to challenge my preconceived notions on a daily basis.  I don’t know if this is sustainable in the long run, but I sure hope it is.  What I am proposing is a change so radical it calls for taking away the easy option and treating teachers like the professionals they should be.  If we are trying to build an education system for the next century, which I believe we should be doing, according to Dan Pink, the focus should be on empowering teachers through autonomy, mastery and purpose.  In that kind of environment, mediocrity and apathy cannot survive.  Pay has nothing to do with it.

  • Andrew T Schwab 10:56 pm on September 19, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , change   

    What to teach in Business Apps? 

    There is on ongoing discussion at my high school about what we should and should not be teaching in our Business Applications classes.  The same curriculum has been in place for several years (at least six) and consists of typing, Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and very basic computer history, Internet search, hardware and Operating Systems information.  On one side of the discussion is the status quo, open to some minor changes but generally OK with the sequence and overall objectives of the classes.  On the other side are those of us that would like to see the classes transformed into something much more.

    Pretty much all freshmen take Business Apps I and for this reason I believe it to be a critical class to student’s future success.  This is the one opportunity we have to give them the knowledge and skills they need to effectively use technology over the next four years as they navigate the challenges of High School.  Right now, we teach them how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  We teach them how to find images on the Internet and how many bytes a floppy disk holds.  We teach them how to save files to the hard drive and how to print assignments to be turned in.  We teach them how to follow step-by-step instructions in a book with exercises that have no relevance to them whatsoever.  We teach them all the skills they need for the workplace of a decade ago.

    What we don’t teach them in the class is how to compose an email.  We don’t teach them how to find and critically analyze information on the Internet.  We don’t teach them how to collaborate online, how to responsibly share information or how to backup their files to the cloud and access them from home later.  We don’t teach them how to use alternative applications like Google Docs or Open Office.  We don’t teach them about creative commons, open source or building their brand.  We don’t teach them how to live and work in a Web 2.0 world.  And I think we should.  Especially in this class; the only computer class they are required to take to graduate.  These skills are too important to their futures not to.

    It would be nice if these were also the skills student’s needed to succeed in our school but I would be fooling myself if I said they were.  Writing a three page paper in Word, making a PowerPoint with lots of images and animations and wild colors, charting their test scores in Excel and saving files to their network drive are really the only skills they need to get through their four years here.  In most classes anyway.  Some of us are pushing the envelope.  We are teaching our students how to use Google Docs to collaborate.  We are teaching our students how to turn in assignments in Gmail, how to upload files to Moodle, how to search for useful information on the Internet and how to create presentations with tools like Animoto, Xtranormal and Prezi.  We are teaching critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration using the tools available to us through the Internet and Web 2.0.

    I see the updating of the Business Apps classes as a critical step in our school’s journey into the 21st Century.  With an Internet connection, a computer and an idea anyone can start a company, find their voice, write a book, build a community, make a difference and change the world.  These opportunities are what is being left behind in our Business Applications classes as they stand today.  The tools are there, they are free and they are waiting to be used.  Teach the students how to use them and they will do the rest.  Last year I introduced Animoto to the students in my classes and within a month, students were doing Animoto presentations in their English classes too.  Their teacher’s didn’t have to know how to use Animoto to accept them as assignments, they just had to be willing to make a change and decide that it was OK to do an Animoto instead of a PowerPoint.  Change is always a struggle.  But I think it is a struggle worth fighting.

    • iteachag 11:42 am on September 20, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Bravo!!! It sounds so simple written out, but we all know how the average teacher is. Change is hard for them. I think you are on to something, with the students. If we can’t get the teachers to change as fellow educators, get the students to help them to change.

      • iteachbused 12:34 pm on October 8, 2009 Permalink | Reply

        Until the corporate world catches on, we need to teach students the applications that are used by the majority, not minority, of businesses. These are fine programs and can save schools much needed $, but they are not used by corporate america. I’ve found that kids know the basics, but businesses whant the more than just how to copy/paste. That is why they are taught.

        • anotherschwab 6:54 pm on October 8, 2009 Permalink

          I have heard this argument over and over but the reality is that if a kid can type a letter in Microsoft Office, they can type one in Open Office or Google Docs. The same goes for entering data into Excel or building a presentation in PowerPoint. I don’t think we should be teaching Applications so much as Operations. Knowing how to properly organize data in a spreadsheet and analyze and graph the data is the important skill. Formatting the data to look pretty in MS Excel, not so much.

          Only a small subset of power users utilize Office to its fullest potential and then usually they are in highly specialized jobs or industries. The alternatives to Microsoft Office offer much more than just copy/paste and as Chis Dawson points out in his blog (http://education.zdnet.com//?p=3084&tag=content;col2) the alternatives are good enough for 95% of his users. Change is coming in the office suite world. Should we still be teaching one Vendor’s App in a General business course and ignoring the trend towards cloud computing and open alternatives or perhaps we should be focusing more on the concepts rather than the particular platform?

    • Techkilljoy 1:06 pm on October 14, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      My vote is for concepts but… iteachbused has a great point for the present. I HATED my comp science profs who taught Turbo Pascal instead of Java or VB or C++. Still do! I vowed never to teach different apps than what are mainstream in the industries Im prepping kids for. MSO is the default in business, government and on most home computers and kids better know how to use it, especially Office 07 – grrrrr.

      My biggest concern with a basic apps classes is that they should go well beyond wp, spreadsheets and presentations. Kids have to understand databases and I have yet to see a book on the subject that was worth teaching to HS kids. Also, how to keep their attention for more than a week or two? I stretch it by moving from DBs to GIS which, after they master the basics, allow them to do queries and manipulate tables for reinforcement of DB concepts. Kids need to know web design and programming concepts as well just to understand how modern computers and web browsers work. Add in web 2.0 technologies (as mentioned in the actual blog post above!) and that is a full semester for me and I wish I had more time!!!

      One thing Im seeing is that for teachers to buy in to all this, I must get involved in teaching them what 21st century tech skills are and “what is in it for them” as a professional educator. Then I get mucho support for endeavors!

      Bottom line I guess is don’t let the sticks in the mud drag you down! Go for it!

  • Andrew T Schwab 12:53 pm on May 3, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: change, , online degree   

    What is the value of an Online Degree? 

    I overheard a University of California professor the other day discussing hiring.  He said he would never consider someone that had an online degree for a professor position.  His reason was simple, he didn’t think it was a real degree.  I found this a bit disheartening since I earned a Master’s degree through an online program and might someday like to teach at a four year university.  Not long after overhearing this I was introduced to the idea that the education system in the United States is currently very good at basically one thing; making University Professors (sorry I don’t recall where I heard this at the moment).  In that context, the professor’s position seems to make a lot of sense.  I mean we always hear how the education system isn’t preparing people for the real world.  Maybe my online degree did not prepare me for the university world.

    The program I attended was project oriented.  We worked in small groups, collaborated via chat and email and studied much of the material on our own.  Certainly my learning experience was no less real because I was sitting in front of my computer instead of in a seat in a giant lecture hall.  If I had to make a comparison, it was more similar to working in the real world than any of my undergraduate classes had been.  I feel that I received a real education in the subjects that we covered and found that I could begin applying the concepts I was learning immediately in my current job.  Was it the same experience as sitting in the lecture hall?  No.  It may have been even more relevant to a working professional than a full time student.  Maybe that is why some people view online degrees the way they do.

    As with all things Internet related, online degrees threaten the old ways of doing things.  It would make sense then that an online degree might not be received as an equal by the establishment that has been the gatekeeper of degrees for generations.  But the Internet is a game changer.  I received my online degree in 2003.  Since then the programs and the technology of online education have only continued to improve.  Online learning is entering the mainstream as prestigious universities open up their content on the Internet for all to see.  The relevance of online degrees is starting to change.  And while I do not expect every University Professor to accept online degrees overnight, I feel my online degree is no less real than any other degree I could have earned.

    And I have a Master’s sized degree to prove it (it is a physical piece of paper, not a PDF file).  Seriously, do the degrees get bigger the higher you go?  The High School diploma isn’t even 8.5X11, the Bachelors is about a full page and the Master’s is larger still.  I wonder is the PhD like poster size?

    But I digress and this leads me into my final thought.  I’ve come to realize on my path of life long learning that degrees do not represent learning or knowledge or ability.  I’ve met plenty of people, especially in the IT field that are incredibly knowledgeable and able and life long learners and yet do not have degrees.  I certainly think no less of them for that.  In education, sometimes I think this is forgotten.

    So maybe the question should be: What is the real purpose of our education system and is it time for a change?

    • iteachag 1:17 pm on May 3, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with you fully.  There are some very talented people out in the world that are very smart, that have not received a degree, that can teach us a great deal. I have asked a similar question about PhD’s and EdD’s, is one better than the other. I have found it depends on how prestigious is the college. There are several fine colleges that you can receive a mostly online EdD from and it is something that I have thought about doing.

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