Internet is like Electricity…

An article in today’s StarTribune discusses a battle over putting broadband into rural Lake County, Minnesota.

I don’t have the background on this story, but it seems to me that the business interests missed the boat on this one, thinking only of their bottom line. Now the county is saying it needs broadband to stay competitive – -just like happened when electricity went in — so they’re taking action. The county is stepping up to provide a service that has been deemed essential, especially in an area like the North Shore.

What isn’t mentioned in this article is that if businesses don’t have broadband, neither do the schools. That means students in the rural areas don’t even have the option of becoming better connected students, of taking advantage of the learning opportunities that having internet access to the world provides.

Rural students deserve better. Thanks, Lake County, for picking up where the businesses failed you.


Media Focus on Tech in the Classroom

Two media articles about technology in the classroom yesterday.

Does More Tech in the Classroom Help Kids Learn?” from Mashable lays out simple, but poignant arguments about how technology in the classroom can add to student achievement. Simple things like letting kids learn at their own pace, promoting active rather than passive learning, and real world learning are things that should happen anyway – it’s just that technology finally allows them to happen easily. It’s a good quick article, and I’ll be keeping it in my list of articles I send administrators and teachers to.

An article, “Schools See a Tech Revolution but will Students See Results?” in the St. Paul Pioneer Press is, of course, more skeptical. The newspapers always are. The article starts out with the premise that tech is expensive, and only focuses on that. It treats is as a fad, and of course, measures all results based on standardized test scores. Getting that to change as the only measure of success is a whole different ballgame, but it certainly obscures the other positive outcomes.

I do find it interesting that St. Paul schools have been working on this for over a year. I have a coworker whose son attends a St. Paul school. She’s been asking for a couple of years about St. Paul’s plan, and has heard nothing. Which is St. Paul’s loss, as she could be a huge asset to them in this planning.

The article does have some strong arguments for positives, such as a quote from Peter Beck, a high school history teacher: “More and more, we’re facilitating learning rather than being the ultimate keepers of information and knowledge.” The tech director for Edina is also strongly stating that we can’t stop while we wait for evidence through tests.

It’s obvious the paper and the general public hasn’t embraced this paradigm shift yet. Just the tone of this article makes it clear that they don’t approve.


The Head Geek Speaks on Education

Robert Stephens, the founder of the Geek Squad, gave the keynote address at Minnesota’s e-Learning Summit in July. I was happy to know that they posted the keynote. If you are involved with technology in education, this is worth a watch.

Not only is the keynote amusing, it’s a trip through history and a fascinating story about how he built the Geek Squad. The majority of attendees were involved in post-secondary education – which is important to remember as he talks about the importance of a college education.


ISTE, Of Course.

The flight home from San Diego and the ISTE conference allows for time for reflection (and sleep!) The conference was, as always, an overwhelming experience full of inspiration, information and new connections.

The view from the San Diego Convention Center

Passion and Creativity: Big ideas for the conference, for me, were passion and creativity. Educators wanting students to find their passion, as passion fuels learning. Both keynotes discussed passion, and it came up in a number of sessions. Sir Ken Robinson reflected on how standardized tests create linear, one-size-fits-all schooling that stifles creativity and passion. Students aren’t all the same size. Check out the keynotes by Sir Ken Robinson (be sure to zip ahead to the keynote part)  and Yong Zhao (short clip and full keynote.).

Quote from one person watching Dr. Yong Zhao: “The focus on standardized testing is usually at the detriment of innovation, creativity and entrepeneurship.”

I know for my kids, passion is truly the motivator for learning. With passion flamed by the right content, an awesome teacher, or some personal motivation, learning can bloom. When passion is not fostered, learning is a chore and not done well.

Taking a Stand: I was inspired to take a stand by Sir Ken Robinson’s talk, as well as Adam Bellow’s Ignite bit. I can’t help bringing my personal life to this conference –  I am “just” a parent wanting my kids’ schools to move to incorporate technology. I’m often dismissed and not taken seriously. It gets discouraging. This conference has inspired me to stand up again. I’ve already drafted a letter to the superintendant, which I’ll post here once it’s done. I’ll also post the response. That could be interesting.

In addition, I was inspired by the number of “technology coaches” I saw and talked with. It seems that this is an increasing field, where experienced teachers/tech directors are going out and consulting with other schools. I’ve decided that I’m no longer just the parent bugging them, but a technology coach and advisor. How can I approach things differently? I’m going to offer my services to one school (working with a teacher) as a tech integration specialist for a few hours a week.

Education Reform: I sometimes wonder if ISTE is about technology or about education reform. Maybe it should be ISRE – international society for the reform of education. There are very few sessions that don’t have some element doing things differently, of changing that “factory model” of education. While not all sessions are as drastic as Sir Ken Robinson’s keynote or Will Richardson’s session on change, even the basic “list 100 apps” sessions talk about how to do education differently.

I find this encouraging and hopeful. The change is all about doing our best for students.

The view from our condo. Made for a great Sunday afternoon hang out to watch the Padres game!

Connections: Since I’m not a teacher, but a content provider, sometimes I don’t have a “group” at ISTE. Yet, this year I told myself I was going to work much harder at making connections, and I did. I made a number of professional connections that could have real impact on the projects we have planned at work. It could lead to some powerful partnerships that could help us achieve our goals to deliver the best digital content, in ways that teachers and students really can use.
In addition, I found I had a much easier time just talking to people, whether it was someone waiting in line to get into a session, sitting at a table quickly eating lunch, or sitting by me in the Blogger Cafe. These quick conversations were always interesting and truly did help me feel connected (although I still wish I had a better answer for the inevitable “where do you teach” question.)

The really fun connections? I saw all these people I “know” from blogging. Of course, I don’t really know any of them and they don’t know me at all. I just read all the stuff they post. I was beside myself to be sitting by a table with Audrey Watters, Jerry Blumgarten, George Couros, Patrick Larkin and more. I was far too shy to say anything – why would they talk to me? Then I attended a session with Will Richardson…. And I even talked to him! Later that night, I saw Jeff Bradbury and Steve Anderson at a party. I had had a glass of wine, so was a little more confident. I just went up and introduced myself. Today, the ultimate: I walked right by Chris Lehmann as I was leaving. I just went up to him and introduced myself. We had a very nice conversation, and he even invited me to come talk more up in the Blogger Café. I was beside myself! How exciting! Too bad I was on my way out. Dang. It just MADE MY CONFERENCE!

Parents: I’ve been thinking…. One voice that is absent from this whole conversation – not just at ISTE – is parents. Students are a small voice – they should have a much bigger voice, and I know they do at smaller conferences. But parents need some voice in this as well. I appreciate hearing from the administrators about how they bring parents on board when the school is driving the change. It is immensely helpful to hear about parent tech nights, different modes of communication, and happily, the lack of parent resistance to the changes. When I do speak to my kids’ schools, it helps to have these ideas from these great leaders. Yet, parents are not part of the conversation at ISTE. Should they be? I’m not really sure, but it’s worth asking.

Thanks ISTE for another overwhelming and thought-provoking few days. This year, I leave confirmed that professionally, we’re on the right track with our digital content projects, even though I have a lot of work cut out for me in moving others in the organization along the path. Personally, I am even more frustrated by the situations my kids face at their schools. I have been inspired and will pick up my advocacy at these schools. Wish me luck.