Listening to Teachers

Quick follow up to previous post about the NYT article about Google in classrooms. I talked about how Google is exceptional at listening to teacher needs and empowering teachers to let Google know what works.

Alice Keeler is an active blogger and edtech voice.  She is a tireless advocate for using tech to empower learners. (I’ve never met her, but have had some fun Twitter conversations with her. Perhaps I can meet her this year at ISTE!) Alice posted about a new feature in Google Classroom

I love it when I am in the middle of giving a training and stumble on a new feature. GIGGLES! More evidence that the Google Classroom team listens to teacher requests! Now when you go to get the class code there is an option to COPY the code! This is a feature I have personally requested several times.

Alice works closely with Google, so I’m sure she can easily give them feedback. But I’ve seen how quickly Google can make changes specifically to meet teacher requests. I’ve been testing Google Classroom since it launched. We’ve been using it for internal PD (until just a few weeks ago, Classroom was only useable to people inside your organization, no outside email addresses could be added), and at every training we mentioned how quickly it changes. Literally, new features would be there one day that were not there the day before.

While this can get a bit distracting and annoying, it is mostly fabulous. It’s always something you’d been wanting — or something that just made things better that you never knew you needed. I know these changes were in response to teacher requests. At ISTE last year, there were more Google Classroom sessions than just about anything else. Google was there, they were listening, watching and asking for feedback and input. They obviously valued the teacher input — something that not all companies do — and made teachers feel valued and important. And Google even follow through – they make the changes teachers want. Good for them.

Education or Business?

Why is the New York Times so opposed to education in technology? The article, “How Google Took Over the Classroom” is another criticism of education working with any commercial company to provide better learning for students.

The first Times article I saw critical of ed tech was critical of Apple’s business practices of getting technology into schools.

This article criticizes Google for its business practices of circumventing administrators by going right to teachers and using teachers to convince other teachers of Google products. Let’s look a little closer.

Google was the first tool that allowed collaborative editing and such easy sharing of materials. This was a game changer in schools from a pedagogical perspective. It had a profound impact on how teachers could deepen learning for students, pushing further up the SAMR model by allowing for learning experiences that were not possible before technology.

Perhaps teachers embraced and promoted Google and Google tools because these tools led to better learning? It was not, as the article implies, a bad thing that teachers were involved in deciding on the technology to be used. This is a good thing.

Google listened to teachers. Google worked with teachers to create tools that teachers wanted for themselves and for their students. I have a hard time seeing why this is not a good thing…..

As for students being steeped in Google by the time they graduate, why is that worse than being steeped in Microsoft or Apple products? If it wasn’t Google, it would be Pages and Numbers from Apple, or Word and Powerpoint. Schools are going to have some sort of office software, and students will be more comfortable with whatever they use.

Apple and Microsoft

Apple was first out of the gate, and appears to be losing ground recently. The iPads jumped into education right after it was introduced, even to Apple’s surprise. Microsoft just this year (many years after Google) introduced a series of products that are created specifically for the K12 education market. Seriously, this is almost 7 years later – an eon in technology time. Microsoft made some huge errors early on — I still have one of the first Surface tablets Microsoft gave away at a big teacher conference trying to convince teachers to use their stuff. Needless to say, that early version of the Surface was a bust – I haven’t turned that thing on in years.

Microsoft, Apple and Google have really different ways of interacting with teachers. Honestly, they all watch each other closely and will likely really keep building on each others mistakes and successes. Criticizing Google for how it works with teachers is just crazy.

Privacy

I do fully acknowledge the privacy concerns. However, I’m not sure why this article focuses so much on the transition of a student’s school Google account to a personal account. I’m not so sure students will actually want to take all of their high school email and papers over to a personal account. Is this a common practice? There is not evidence in the article beyond one school example.

Positive Impact of Tech

Sometime, I’d love to see a Times article that addresses the positive impact of edtech.

 

Chrome Accessibility Tools

Posting this for my reference…. saw an article, “21 Chrome Extensions for Struggling Students and Special Needs.”  I’ll be testing a few of these, including the Text-to-Speech extensions and the ones that pull the ads/sidebars off the page.

I would like to clarify that personally, I struggle with calling these tools for “struggling students and special needs.” Many people benefit from these types of tools. I understand why they say this, but it really limits who will use these. It’s a basic UDL concept that building for the “margins” benefits everyone, and this is a perfect example.

I, for one, occasionally use extensions that take off the the ads and sidebars of really cluttered sites. Sometimes I use a text-to-speech extension.

In addition, there is a webinar going through all of these options.

Creativity and Tech

Here’s an article in Forbes about how Google and Chromebooks have overtaken Apple/iPads in the classroom.

I’ve seen this shift. When I started building content for schools, it was nearly 100% iPads with very few laptops. Chromebooks didn’t exist. Five years later, we see over 50% Chromebooks in classrooms. Although we started building for iPads, thankfully, we built something that is accessible to iPads and browsers (including Chromebooks). (We have never had a request for an Android app.)

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I see the reasons schools move: Chromebooks have keyboards. Chromebooks are cheaper. And – I think most importantly – Chromebooks are much easier to manage from an IT perspective.

Chromebooks have come a long ways, but I still see the iPad as a more creative tool. Critics say it’s only a device of consumption, and the Chromebook is a device of creation. I disagree. The iPad is much stronger in video, audio, music and photography production.  You can’t beat iMovie or the plethora of photo editing apps. Garageband is beyond compare for music production. Chromebooks can do these things, but not nearly as easily or as intuitively.

So, who drives the move to Chromebooks? Is it IT? Admin? Finance? Or is it the education teams that are choosing them for pedagogical reasons? Somehow, I don’t think so. Is technology becoming just really expensive paper? Are computers just a fancy Xerox machine, allowing worksheets to be delivered digitally instead of on paper — without expanding education beyond fill-in-the-blanks teaching, avoiding creativity? This is a broad overgeneralization of course, but….

ISTE 2016

Back from #iste2016. Once again, I return inspired, motivated, energized — and exhausted!

Themes

From my perspective as a museum educator, there were some clear themes we saw this year:

  • Google, and Google Classroom in particular. Classroom had an strong presence with at least 10 sessions. Many of the sessions were full. I was relieved to find out that I’ve learned the tool well, as the ones I did get into were mostly things I already knew. I’m watching Classroom to keep growing and improving, especially after Google sees all the teacher use. Google Cast has huge potential, even though it really doesn’t impact me.
  • 3D printing/scanning, AR and VR were huge. I mean really huge. One presenter said there were 46 sessions about the AR/VR/3D modeling.  It feels like it’s becoming mainstream. Teachers are using it frequently in the classroom and companies are out with all sorts of things. My favorite sessions were about Paleoteach.org and one from @stemnation about a fantastic project getting kids to print 3D versions of printing “press” typefaces.  There were more 3D printers in the exhibit hall than you could count.
  • Free. Again, free is a common thread at ISTE. I heard complaints about software that used to be free now charging. I heard questions at my session asking about if a resource is free. If not, teachers won’t even look at it. It is essential that publishers and content providers keep this in mind.
  • Inclusion and UDL: I was happy to see quite a presence of accessibility and inclusion sessions. I attended a Playground about UDL and learned a few new tips/tricks. I sadly couldn’t make a couple of the sessions, but have downloaded the handouts. Hoping I can glean info from them.

The “disruptive” theme continues. ISTE attendees tend, as a group, to not like standardized tests and such. As a group, they lean towards empowering students and less about the top down. I’m not always sure what this has to do with technology, but I love it, and I love how the tools of technology are seen as a means to an end of empowerment and learning, rather than as the ultimate goal. I felt there were fewer “use this app” sessions, and more sessions about tools for learning.

Networking

This year was a networking year for me, which was so fun.

The Smithsonian’s Learning Lab officially launched at ISTE with a big splash. Having watched the Learning Lab from afar for a few years, it is really exciting to see it officially go live. I enjoyed talking about it at my poster session and was pleased to hear that many folks from my poster stopped at the Learning Lab’s table!

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Meeting a blogging icon, Glenn Wiebe!

I also met a blogger icon, Glenn Wiebe of historytech. I was beyond giddy! We always read Glenn’s blog – he does fabulous work keeping an eye on the combination of social studies and technology. I fully admit we “borrow” (with credit of course) ideas from Glenn. It made my conference complete to connect Glenn and Darren Milligan (Smithsonian) about the Learning Lab. Glenn also published a far-too flattering post about my session. THANK YOU, Glenn! I look forward to working with Glenn in the future.

I was able to connect with the team at Georgia Public Broadcasting who publish the 8th grade Georgia history textbook and virtual field trips.  GPB uses the same digital publishing software that we use, so it was extremely helpful to connect with them and share our successes and frustrations.

The now-annual Minnesota Tweetup was also a fantastic place to reconnect with old friends and make new connections. These are often folks I see on Twitter or at conferences, so it’s a great chance to actually talk.

Sessions with iconic bloggers always makes ISTE fun. I saw Chris Lehmann, Will Richardson and Pernille Ripp around the conference. Why all three were scheduled at 4 p.m on Tuesday is beyond me. Why, ISTE????

Talking to strangers also makes ISTE fun. For example, I met @im_alastair and @mpickens813 on the train to the airport. Lively conversation made the long ride much more fun!

Session

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Thanks to Mike Walker for taking this shot!

I did another poster session, although this one was on my own! Once again, it was about digital primary sources, “Reading Primary Source Images like a Book.” It was a busy two hours of sharing about primary source analysis and resources.

On to 2017 in San Antonio!

PD

In my work, I talk about professional development quite a bit. I do training with staff at my job, but a huge part of my work (and that of my colleagues) is teaching teachers.

In our experience, the PD for teachers when it comes to technology is lacking. Seriously lacking. Except for a few high flying exceptions at any school, it is more common to find teachers that aren’t getting the support they need to use the 1:1 technology they’re given (or had forced upon them). Many have trouble with the basics – turning it on, etc. This means they are not even close to using the tools in a real productive way — there’s little in terms of teaching pedagogy, classroom management, 21st century skills and how to move up the Bloom’s taxonomy ladder with the tools.

I was recently asked for some input on PD for a district. It may seem presumptuous of me to give any input, and I suppose it is. However, we benefit from seeing this tech PD from a broad perspective. I know the kinds of questions I’m asked, I know how often we get them.

Please note, I am in no way being critical of the teachers asking these questions. Just because I gravitate to tech tools very naturally and it comes really easily to me, I know it’s not that way for everyone – nor should it be. Nor should every teacher be expected to be a master of this. Some of the best teachers my kids have had have been basically luddites. It’s all about the attitude and pedagogy.

Anyway, here is are my thoughts about what a successful tech PD plan should look like:

  • embedded: there is a instructional technology person — not a network person — in the schools and accessible. It’s not a special thing.
  • frequent: happens as needed as well scheduled
  • leveled: lets the rabbits go quickly and the snails move at their comfort level
  • modeled: administrators embrace the tool, show excellent digital citizenship and use the tools when communicating with students, teachers and parents
  • paradigm shifting: includes more than just the hardware/software. It’s a mindset, and it takes time
  • flexible: it is responsive to changing tools and changing needs
  • student focused: both in terms of why districts do this – meets kids where they are, uses tools they know outside school. AND allows students to be part of the process. Embrace these kids. Let them be part of the solution, create student tech teams.
  • 4 Cs: it’s not really about the tool. It’s about empowering us to communicate, to create, collaborate and to think critically about our world. The iPads (whatever) are just a way to get there.

iPad Implementation

Interesting piece in edudemic.com about successful iPad (or 1:1) implementation, “5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make with iPads.

I’m watching my daughter’s district get ready to roll out iPads to 7/8 next year. Since my daughter is older, I’m not directly involved, although I have a good sense of what they’re doing from conversations with teachers and admins.

The five errors this article addresses:

  1. Focusing on content apps
  2. Lack of teacher prep in classroom management
  3. Treating the iPad as a computer/laptop
  4. Treating iPads as multi-user devices
  5. Not having a good answer to “Why iPads?”

From my vantage point, the district is handling a few of these well, while falling right into these errors on others.

Apps: I’m not totally sure what apps they’ll be recommending, but from my conversations with teachers and the questions I hear at a couple of committees, the focus is on content apps. I’ve reviewed a few grant requests for iPads, and they tend to list 20+ content apps. As this article discusses, the powerful apps are the “consumption, curation, and creativity” apps, such as iMovie, Educreations, etc. These are the apps they should be requesting.

Teacher Training: I definitely see a lack of teacher prep, both in classroom management and in how to use the devices to provide better education (and isn’t that the goal?) The district did give teachers an ipad, but as the blog post suggests, that isn’t enough. I was at a recent meeting about professional development, and it was painfully obvious that the teachers want more training. How sad that the Tech Training in next year’s PD schedule was in February. FEBRUARY!!! iPads are rolling out in September!

The best PD is training teachers do themselves, but they need to provided with that paradigm. They need time to work with the devices, to see the tools modeled and used in setting that are not threatening or have 30 kids sitting in the room. I’d love to see them do an EdCamp (I’ve offered to run it) or to create learning cohorts with teachers teaching themselves.

I have seen the admins at conferences, but have yet to see a teacher from this district. That, to me, is a big error.

Multi-user: Fortunately, they are going 1:1. They did a limited pilot last year, and found that classroom sets didn’t bring much change. The best results were in a 1:1 setting. I agree, and am happy to see them going down this path.

Communicating “Why?” There has been some good communication and reasoning around why they are using the iPads. One principal said it was to improve “individualized instruction, immediate assessment feedback…” Another said, “…to go beyond the classroom, giving kids a world view…” These are good goals.

I am concerned about this message, “…the iPad initiative will be monitored to see whether student learning increases and test scores rise.”  Student learning is not best measured by tests.