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  • Andrew T Schwab 10:44 am on September 7, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 1:1 iPads, 21st century learning, anotherschwab, , edchat, education, , rebooted, VPP   

    Time For An App Stipend For Teachers 

    I just spent $6.99 for the FluencyFinder app for my iPad. It was an impulse buy, granted but after having read about it in a blog post, it looked like an app I should be familiar with. But then, I do admit to a compulsive app buying habit dating back to my first iPad when not even 5 minutes after finishing the setup I had paid $19.95 of my own cash and was crashing the wifi network downloading the Elements app (remember when that was like THE app for ipad?).

    Since then, I’ve avoided the VPP process like the plague, preferring to pay my own way through app exploration and experimentation (much to my wife’s displeasure at the monthly iTunes bills). Over the years I’ve built up quite a library of Apps on my personal iTunes account, 99.5% of which I never use. When I started using a Nexus 7, I once again went down the personal app route, buying apps associated with my personal gmail account.

    I chose this route in the beginning because there were very few alternatives at the time. Now as I’m handing out iPads to teachers en mass and making them create “district” iTunes accounts with their work email addresses so that they can redeem district purchased apps to a district account, I’m reminded of why I’ve stuck with just buying my own apps even in the face of VPP.

    It’s just easier. There is no app request form, no two week wait for approval, no logging in on my iPad to install personal apps and logging out and back in with my work account to install district apps. It’s easier, which means when I see an app I think might be useful or that looks interesting, I buy it, try it and then I know. And what’s more, an app that I find doesn’t work for me, may fit into someone else’s work flow beautifully.

    That’s why App discovery and evaluation to me is a perfect example of 21st Century Skills in action. The search for an app, the critical assessment of an app, the practical integration of an app into instruction and hopefully, the sharing out of that process through social media to pay it forward for the common good. To impede that process by trying to control it seems very 19th century to me. So I’ve been thinking what we should be doing is giving every educator the opportunity (and expectation) to explore, experiment, fail, succeed and share with Apps. The best way to do this is to eliminate the red tape and give everyone an App Budget with permission to play. I propose just one requirement; that they share their app discovery with their peers throughout the year.

    What do you think? Do you know of any districts that have taken this approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    • Shelly Moses 11:04 am on September 7, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with you Andrew. How are teachers or students to know which apps will support their learning, thinking, or collaboration if there is no process for trial. My school gave us $50 to use on iTunes when the first five of us were issued iPads but nothing since then. Our high schoolers each receive a $50 iTunes card when they are issued their iPad so they can purchase apps and eBooks. If the focus remains on the end goal of learning then that app used for the process shouldn’t matter.

    • Derrick Brown 12:43 pm on September 7, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      I agree . I wrote a grant for iPads and included a $1000 gift card for apps. Got some iPads but card denied. I will seek donations for a card to buy apps for teachers .

  • Andrew T Schwab 10:09 pm on September 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , education, , , parents, teaching   

    A Little Perspective: Teaching Basic iPad Skills to Parents 

    I just got home from teaching a group of our parents basic iPad skills. I communicated my lesson through an interpreter which was a first for me. The translation delay took my brain some getting used to. What struck me the most about our parents tonight was the genuine eagerness to learn, the honest questions about parenting challenges around the iPad and just how new and unfamiliar technology is to many of them. Tonight was not the best organized event but it served to open my eyes to the tremendous need our parents have in understanding this new device and how it fits into their homes and their children’s learning.

    As the technology leader for my District, one could argue that my focus should be on things like setting technology standards and implementing data archiving solutions and they’d be right. Those things are important. Only not really. You see, we just gave iPads to 272 students. For some families this is the first computer in the home. We have parents that need basic digital literacy skills if they are to help support the learning process at home. We need to be doing a better job at meeting this need if the 1:1 program is to succeed. After tonight I’ve decided I will carve out the time to see it is done right. It’s more important to me than policies people look up once in a blue moon or technology that never touches the classroom. It’s about helping our parents and helping our kids and that’s what everyone in education should be about.

    As a technology leader in your district, what have you done for your parents lately?

    • Chris Taylor 5:33 pm on March 5, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      We are just about to embark on our first parent workshops on iPad basics and common apps.
      Like you I think this is vital for the success of a 1 to 1 program.
      We are going to use a core team of students to be the trainers

  • Andrew T Schwab 1:20 pm on September 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , bretford cart, deployment, , education, enterpise, ios, , , schools   

    The Trouble With Tribbles (And iPads Too) 



    I’m not quite old enough to have watched the Star Trek episode featuring the fuzzy little critters when it first aired back in 1967. However, I do remember as a kid staying over at my friend Egan’s house playing Star Trek the board game while waiting for the midnight reruns of Star Trek to come on. Of all the Star Trek episodes I’ve watched over the years, and I’ve watched a lot (over and over in some cases), “The Trouble With Tribbles” is one of my all time favorites. For those of you too young to remember the Original series before it had “Original” in the title, the episode takes place at a space station and centers around a planetary dispute with the Klingons involving grain. Tribbles were cute fuzzy creatures that purred hypnotically. People on the Station wanted them. The crew of the Enterprise wanted them. They were the must have item of the day. Unfortunately (Spoiler Alert!) tribbles were also incessant breeders. They multiplied like rabbits and pretty soon they overwhelmed the station and were threatening to fill up the Enterprise too. But not to fear, by the end of the episode the tribbles managed to consume poisoned grain, exposed a Klingon spy and helped Capt. Kirk save the day once more so that he could eventually make Admiral right on time for Star Trek: The Motion Picture to be released.

    But Andrew, what do tribbles and your border line scary obsession with Star Trek have to do with iPads? Well iPads are lovely little things when you’ve got one to yourself, just like tribbles. People love them and other people have a tendency to buy them after having seen one so they tend to multiply, just like tribbles. And just as when tribbles begin to multiply en mass they start to have unforeseen consequences on space stations and star ships, iPads when multiplied get very interesting indeed in school. Luckily for Kirk, the tribble story all worked out in the end. The verdict is still out on the iPads. This is my account of the three weeks before school and my experiences deploying 300 iPads to our 9th and 10th graders.

    Space, the Final Frontier.

    The funny thing about 300 iPads is that they take up a lot of space. We purchased 10-packs so as to receive a modest discount per unit. Be sure to ask for the 10-packs that include the free engraving. We engraved the iPads with the District Name and Slogan and they came out very nice. Three hundred iPads in 10 packs is 30 boxes. Where to put them? We are in declining enrollment. Last year we closed down 4 classrooms. Realizing I would need space for deployment, I took over one of these empty rooms. Our Facilities Director re-keyed the door and only three keys exists for the room. I have one, my co-worker (iteachag) has the other and the third is kept in the safe. This became the secure iPad room, where I would spend the next several weeks working feverishly to get 300 iPads ready for kids.

    Tables and Chairs, Oh My!

    iPad Deployment Tables

    Thinking ahead, I grabbed three 8 foot tables earlier in the summer when classrooms were being re-arranged and we moved those into the iPad room. The tables proved invaluable for unboxing and staging iPads during the deployment process. We setup a simple yet effective assembly line routine for unboxing and labeling iPads and getting them prepped for the carts. The one thing I forgot to get was a chair. Standing for 10-12 hours imaging iPads took it’s toll. Eventually we found an old wooden chair under a pile of junk in the corner of the room which put me just at the right height for working with the carts when seated.

    Carts and the Power to Sync

    Bretford PowerSync Cart

    After discussing options (this or this) I ordered two Bretford PowerSync carts with the iPads. I figured syncing sixty at a time (thirty per cart) would allow me to get through the iPads in decent time. I may have underestimated a bit. This has more to do with the initial setup process which I will talk about in a minute and I’m hoping that when we do the next refresh it does not take quite so long. I am already looking at adding sync capacity to accommodate supporting the existing iPads. I will definitely be adding more as we add 150 iPads next year and 150 more the year after that. On the recommendation from the folks at Corcoran USD, I ordered dedicated Macs for the sync carts. I setup the macbooks to run iTunes and XCode (more on that latter) for syncing and nothing else. The two machines were authorized in iTunes with our school account. The limit for authorization is five machines, which means we’ll max out at five carts under our current deployment scheme. This is something I’ll need to take into account as we increase iPads over the next two years.

    1 vs 300

    The process for deploying 300 iPads is quite a bit different than deploying 1. When it came time to give iPads out to teachers, which you should do well in advance of giving them to students, we followed a model much like if they had bought them at the store. We had the teachers unbox them, plug them into their macs running iTunes, activate them and set them up with their personal iTunes accounts. It was straightforward. We did thirty staff in two hour sessions of groups of ten over three days.

    When looking at deploying 300 things got more interesting. For one, I had to do the unboxing. Or more precisely, one of my former students that graduated two years ago and is attending the local CSU had to do the unboxing. I hired him for the express purpose of helping to deploy iPads. Sixty hours of minimum wage labor and it was worth every penny of it. In the system we setup, we dedicated two of the 8′ tables to this step. The iPads came out of the 10-packs and onto the tables in their individual cardboard sleeves. Those were opened, flipped over and the iPads placed on top of them face down. The plastic wraps were pushed out of the way and the Asset Tags and Book Tags applied. My helper, lets call him Carnitas, then cut the plastic wrap tabs off the iPads, leaving them protected while still able to be plugged in via the dock connector (his brilliant insight, not mine).

    Keeping Track

    Multiple iPads

    Another thing we did at this stage was the inventory. We used a google doc to capture the Serial Number, Asset Tag and Book Tag for every iPad before they went in the cart. We ran into a bit of a problem when our USB handheld scanner was unable to scan the barcode labels on the side of the 10-pack boxes. The labels are humongous and we couldn’t get the scanner to read them. At some point, Carnitas figured out that he could use his Droid phone and an App to take a picture of the label, scan the picture and email the results. This saved having to manually type each and every serial number. A barcode of the serial number on the cardboard sleeve would go a long way in helping with mass deployment (are you listening Apple?).

    Plugging In

    We started off unboxing in batches of thirty since this was the maximum cart capacity and I didn’t want to get two far ahead of ourselves until we had developed a decent process for deploying. With thirty iPads labeled, inventoried and ready to go, the next step was putting them in the carts. I started with one cart but the process was the same for both, just duplicated step for step in the second. The Bretford carts are quite nice. They have a location for plugging in a macbook and keeping it on the top of the cart while working or inside on a shelf when locked up. The charging/sync cables are thick and have decent slack in them. In fact I only have two complaints with the Bretfords, both of which are probably issues with the iPad2 rather than the carts themselves. The first is that plugging in the cables to the iPad2s was not as positive an experience as it was with iPad1s. We have twenty iPad1s, so I got to test this out first hand. In fact on several occasions it was necessary to “jiggle” the connection or unplug and plug back in the cable to get the iPad2s to be seen by the macbooks. My second complaint is directly related to the first because with a full cart it was impossible to see which iPads were not connected via iTunes. I ended up pulling them out as far as the cable would allow, pressing the home button and looking for the “Sync me” screen on the display. Doing the un-plug, plug routine generally fixed this. I finally just plugged in an iPad cable to the second USB port on the macbook for the times when only one iPad wouldn’t connect via the Bretford and set it up that way.

    The Bretford Cart In Action

    Mass Activation

    This is a secret so powerful that only a few even know it exists. Ok, just kidding but this is how I felt after having started out manually activating each iPad one at a time. It turns out there is a command line entry that puts the iTunes into Store Activation Mode (see document link at the end of the post for step by step explanation of the entire process). This allowed me to quickly (I still had to click OK 30 times) activate the iPads in the cart. This saved a ton of time. Once activated, I unplugged the cart from the macbook, closed iTunes and launched XCode!

    Updating the iOS

    Two updates were released as our iPads waited to be deployed. As soon as I plugged them in, they all wanted to be updated to iOS 4.3.5. Once again, this could have turned into an excruciating time suck if not for the secret of using XCode to do the iOS updates. iTunes choked on updating more than one iPad at a time, even in the Bretford cart (yes I tried). With XCode it was possible to update all thirty simultaneously. Well nearly. Someone at Apple must really like clicking buttons because while it is possible to update multiple iPads at the same time, I had to initiate each update individually. And each iPad required four clicks and a drop down selection. This was where the chair became a necessity. Next time I’m bringing a cushion. Once every iPad was updated to the latest iOS, I closed XCode.

    Restoring from Backup

    Did I mention that we took one iPad, loaded all the Apps we wanted onto it, set the settings up the way we wanted (particularly the few that couldn’t be set with profiles) and then took a backup of it? Well we did. I kept the “Master” iPad away from all the other iPads and labeled it in Red Ink so as not to mess it up. After the iOS update, I launched iTunes again. The iPads all came up and asked to be restored. Before this, I went into iTunes preferences and deleted all but the Master iPad backup from devices so I wouldn’t have to select which backup to restore each time. Again, this was a one iPad at a time step. Each restore had to be initiated individually and OK clicked more times than I care to remember. Once the iPad restore completed, they started syncing. This is where the time comes in. We had to initially sync about 6GB worth of data. Where this might take one iPad 20 minutes, it took a cart of thirty almost two hours. Invariably 3-4 iPads would have some kind of sync error and I then had to re-sync them to ensure all the apps transferred over.

    Applying Profiles

    Since the carts were my bottle neck, as soon as the iPads were done syncing I wanted to get them out of the carts so a new batch could go in. However there was one last step that required all of the iPads to be plugged in and connected to one computer. Applying the profile I built using the iPhone configuration utility. These profiles allow for controlling general settings. The two I used set the Wifi network up and restricted the movie and music content on the iPad to PG14. When I launched the iPhone Config Utility while connected to the cart, all of the iPads appeared. Yet again, each individual iPad had to be selected and the install button pressed to install the profile. I got very good at pre-positioning my mouse where I would need to click on things when they popped up during this time. After the profiles were installed I pulled the iPads from the cart and put them on table number three.

    Really Applying the Profiles and Renaming Too

    I said I installed the profile on the iPads but not really. It would be more accurate to say that I pushed the profile to the iPads. Installing them required that I actually touch every iPad and click three times on each one to install the profile. I figured if I was going to pick it up I might as well rename them. I plugged the iPad into my macbook (that’s macbook number three dedicated to deployment in case you’re counting) and double-clicked on the iPad to rename it. Then using the USB barcode scanner, the same one that didn’t read the 10-pack labels, I scanned the asset tag on the iPad which set the iPad name to the asset tag number. While I thought this was very smart at the time, it turned out students can rename their iPad whatever they like and I have no control over it. There are some very interesting names in the DHCP server list right now. With iPads, you have to learn to let some things go.


    An iPad without a case is like a star ship without shields (like how I came back to Star Trek there?). In fact I wish we had shields for the iPads but that is another post. The final step in our deployment process was putting the iPads in the cases. Since each case came individually wrapped, unboxing cases took some time as well. We chose a case with a custom logo and requested an ID card pocket be placed on the front. The reason for the ID Card pocket was so that we could put a student ID card with the Book Tag bar code and student name on the front of the iPad. This made checking out iPads to students a simple matter of scanning the barcode on the front without having to take the iPad completely out of the case. We pre-scanned and checked out every iPad before deployment day.

    Trash (Or Space, Part 2)

    What comes in, must go out. I had a lot of boxes and the custodians were my best friends during the deployment.

    Handing Them Out

    When it came time to actually hand them out, we chose to do it in PE of all classes. This was because 99% of freshmen and sophomores had PE. We brought in Freshmen and Sophomore teachers, setup tables and wrote a training script for everyone to follow. We wanted to do some basic orientation with students when we handed the iPads out. We placed the iPads in the boxes by period and table. Between periods, we would lay the iPads out on the correct tables. We had a student roster for each table by period and after the coach took roll, students went and found their table. They all had to hand in their iPad AUP to the teacher at their table. Then the teacher gave them the iPad. Students that did not have their iPad AUP signed by parents still participated in the orientation but were not able to take their iPads with them that day. During this time, teachers helped students put the serial number on the insurance forms. We could not require insurance but we strongly recommended it and provided forms for third party coverage. All in all the deployment went incredibly smoothly, with teachers and students doing an excellent job. Next year we plan on using our Juniors to lead the table orientation sessions while teachers float between tables.

    A Note About App Management

    There is no real enterprise solution for managing apps at the moment. There are several resources describing the different options so I won’t rehash them here. Apple seems to be trying to push for an iTunes account per device tied to the Volume Purchase Program. This is unfortunate because without a way to centrally manage iTunes accounts, it’s just not at all practical. For the time being we’ve gone the single iTunes account synced to multiple devices method. While not the best solution, I believe this to be the best option for our High School at the moment. If we were a middle school I would seriously consider classroom accounts. The main problem we have right now is that there is no simple way to update Apps school wide. We would have to enter the account password on three hundred iPads, three hundred times. I’m still working out how and when I’ll pull in iPads for the first post deployment sync. That should be fun. I was hoping to make it to winter break but we have some Apps that are crashing and need updates.

    Final Thoughts

    If a certain someone had not sent me this document full of all the secrets for deploying multiple iPads with Bretford PowerSync carts, I don’t think I would have made it. The steps for Mass Activation, XCode iOS updates and configuring iPads are all there. The physical process and workflow you decide to use to deploy iPads is up to you. The system Carnitas and I eventually figured out worked for us and we got pretty good at getting iPads ready to go in the end. Unfortunately none of this experience is what I would consider “enterprise” grade and Apple really does enterprise deployment a disservice by using the name. It felt more like a series of work arounds than a deployment strategy while I was in the middle of it and in hind sight even more so. I can only hope things get better with iOS 5 because for better or for worse, iPads in Education are here to stay. Just don’t let anyone sell you on the magical deployability of them. They may be magical in the hands of users but beware the multiplying tribbles!

    • Jforlanda 8:03 am on September 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for sharing. This is very insightful; and the reference links you provided were excellent as well. We are on the verge of doing a similar thing here at Stockton Unified School District. By the way, why didn’t you go with a PC-based synchronization computer? Was it because the XCode application wasn’t available on the PC?

    • Matt Penner 10:06 am on September 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      A fabulous and professional write up Andrew. Thanks for the notes. I’m sure we’ll refer to this as we start pushing out more iPads. We are at about 120 and have yet to commit to a solution like this.

    • Robin Canale 12:18 pm on September 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great Job Andrew! The references and lessons learned are valuable resources for districts deploying iPads; and for your CTO team project as well.

    • Palmer 7:10 am on November 1, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      This guide was very instructive. Thank you for spending the time to put it all together. I wanted to point out another option. You can centrally sync all of the iPads before they are deployed into carts. We use a 49 port hub sold by Datamation and it allows us to download apps quickly and without involving lots of staff. It saved us money because we could use our existing notebook carts which provide more than enough space and power for the ipads therefore saving our district a lot of money by not having to purchase expensive iPad carts that both sync and charge. We just share the syncing among the various carts as necessary. We keep the 49 port syncing hub in the library, and when syncing is necessary, we can bring the hub to the cart or the cart can be rolled into the library and all the iPads are updated there.

    • Matthew 6:00 pm on October 11, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks so much for this guide. My 60 seem a little more manageable now, and some of the tips you give are going to save me a whole lot of time!

  • Andrew T Schwab 9:28 pm on September 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , education, k12, , reinvent, revolutionize, school   

    The School Train 

    School is a train.  I don’t mean one of those long slow freight trains bogged down by a hundred tons of steal and cargo.  No, school is a bullet train charging down the track, leaving the day 1 station on the lightning run to 180.  Once the school train sets off, altering the course of that speeding machine is a superhuman task.  The train keeps going, only stopping for the occasional holiday or mid term break when you might have time to hop out, bang the track with a big hammer to make a minor course adjustment before you have to hop back on and speed away again.

    Bullet train

    Did I mention the school train moves fast? Day 30 flies by, then day 45, 90, 120 and soon the train is slowing into day 180 and the ride is up.  You are left with what you were able to accomplish during the ride using what you had with you on day 1, supplemented with the few things you brought back on board during the occasional stops along the way.  But for the most part, what you brought with you is what you used.

    The time to truly affect the course and eventual outcome of the train is in the summer, after the short four week hop to summer school has been made and the train is safely back in the maintenance yard.  It’s a short window, but proper planning and track laying can make or break that next 200mph trip.  Unfortunately, this is the time the people that make these decisions take their vacations. So the track goes unchanged. The train may get a new paint job and some fancy new gadgets, but it’s still making the same trip as the year before.

    On that trip, the train doesn’t slow down because the computer lab fails, it doesn’t alter course because Apple releases a magical tablet device, it doesn’t make an unscheduled stop because the Internet goes down.  It keeps going, no matter what. It sticks to the schedule. It keeps going until it gets to day 180.

    The train is a challenging place to work. You work with the people that got on the train day 1 and you probably don’t see many new faces all the way through until day 180. For the most part, you stay in your section of the train. Occasionally you meet with other passengers to hear about how well last year’s train ride went or to discuss a group of passengers that might be getting off the train early. It’s basically the exact same conversations you had last year. It may even be about the same passengers. Not much changes on the train from year to year. Same train, same scenery when you look out the windows, same destination.

    I think its hard to look at the train or the destination when you’re on the train speeding down the track at 200mph. Maybe what we really need in education is more time to think about where we are going and how we get there.

    What is it that we want to change in education? Is it the destination? The tracks that get us there? The train? Or maybe even the passengers?  Can we reach a new destination if all we change is the track and we leave the same trains running on them? Are trains even the best way to get there?

    photo source http://www.flickr.com/photos/telstar/216062271/

  • Andrew T Schwab 12:33 pm on December 14, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , acer, , education, , one to one   

    Netbooks, netbooks and more netbooks 

    In case you haven’t heard (and I doubt you have) we here at Le Grand have embarked on a grand netbook experiment.  Its a funny thing really because up until a year ago we didn’t have any plans to deploy netbooks on campus.  But then something happened.  Something wonderful.  Acer sent us seed units for free.  No POs to sign, no paperwork of any kind.  Just a quick phone call, would you like to try a netbook, yes?  We’ll ship it right out.  No muss, no fuss.  And then, they did it again.  And as if by magic our little district had 4 netbooks to try, for what seemed like forever.  And even better, if we wanted to keep them, we paid 1/2 price and if not, we just shipped them back.  It was so easy, so simple, so impossibly friendly it put a big warm fuzzy feeling in my heart every time I saw one of those little Acers tucked under someone’s arm as they walked around campus.  That warm fuzzy feeling was so great that when it came time to order netbooks for our pilot project, we unanimously decided on Acer.  Afterall we had been using them for several months, hassle free and we didn’t exactly have time to go out and test a whole bunch of different netbooks.  You know how planning goes in School Districts.  We’ve got money, the end of the year is here.  Buy them, NOW!

    Cut to present day and we are considering expanding our pilot into more classes.  This time we do have the time to look at alternatives, after all we know what the Acers can do.  We’ve lived with them for almost a year now.  What we don’t know is what else is out there and given how rapidly Acer changes models it would be nice to settle on something a bit more stable.  But so far there has been no warm fuzzy feeling from any of the other vendors.  In fact it has been the opposite.  Everyone wants a PO and a trial period.  Dell wants their netbook back in 21 days, CDWG is better and will send me anything for a 30 day hands-on.  Lenovo wants me to call them back.  I already sent an email saying I wanted to tryout something similar to an Acer D250, thank you, do we really need to talk?  Can’t you just send something out?

    I want it to be easy.  Easy like Acer.  I don’t have time for POs and keeping track of deadlines on trial periods.  These things are cheap.  Why not just seed them out?  Is one unit really going to hurt you?  Spread some good will and cheer this Holiday season and let us spend a few months getting to know your netbook.  Acer did and those 4 units that we had in hand for months and eventually paid for turned into 60 units purchased at full price and left us with a tendency to buy Acer first.  In fact if Acer could just keep a model number for longer than 3 months, I’d probably not even be looking at alternatives right now.  But I am curious.  I would like to see what else is out there, I mean we are talking potentially hundreds of units moving forward and some hardware consistency would be nice.

    I am not asking for a free handout.  But I am asking for free from hassle, easy, simple, a call or an email and it arrives one day ready to be used and abused.  Willing to stay for a long term commitment.  I’m not going to make a decision based on a few weeks of hand holding.  Given today’s budget, do I spend the few dollars we have looking at alternatives or do I save that money and buy more Acers and just deal with the model changes?  Acer hooked us with their seed program and it seems like no one else is really interested in our business.   So what is a small school district to do?

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:07 pm on October 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , education, 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 12:53 pm on May 3, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , education, 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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