Archives For School Management

If there’s a distinguishing characteristic of educational reform, and reform efforts in general, it’s the lack of patience in sustaining difficult effort over time. We criticize students who can’t seem to exercise delayed gratification, but don’t seem to notice that educators, government officials, and the general public aren’t any better.

Reference: Taylor, Sharon, and Ivor Macfarlane. ITIL Small-scale Implementation. London: TSO, 2005.

Silver Bullet Lifecycle

It was only a matter of time. According to a story in the Washington Post, two McLean High School students are suing Turnitin.com for infringing their copyright. The crux of the matter seems to be that students are required to license their work to Turnitin so the service can store their work and use it in future plagiarism checks. So if we get right down to it, students are forced to use Turnitin because it’s required by their university or high school and then forfeit their rights to control their own copyright. IANAL, but that sounds like a pretty rotten deal to me. I’m rooting for the kids.

Plagiarism is a nasty problem to be sure. I dealt with it many times myself in my career as a classroom teacher. In this case it seems that educators may be leaning a bit too much on technology as a remedy when more effective collaboration between the teacher and students would be a better answer. I’m not trying to be flippant here, I just think we’ve gotten a bit lazy on this one.

Here’s Part II of my recent conversation with Professor Scott McLeod from the University of Minnesota. I had quite a bit of feedback on Part I of our conversation on data-drive decision making so I hope you will enjoy this talk about legal and ethical issues facing educational technology leaders. I won’t repeat all of the background information about Scott in this post, but it’s important to emphasize that he is a lawyer in addition to a professor of educational policy. So while you shouldn’t take anything you hear as official legal advice, you can be sure that Scott knows what he’s talking about.

Of all the interesting things that Scott shares, the most useful for me is the notion that we don’t need to put ourselves in the endless cycle of inventing new policies, rules, and regulations to deal with every new piece of technology that our students bring to school. If fact, it’s just the opposite. I think schools are in a much stronger position when they apply the old, tried and true policies. Kids already know that they shouldn’t bully, disrupt class, interfere with their colleagues’ learning, etc. Camera phones, MP3 players, Web sites, and all of the other technologies that can cause trouble occasionally are just the latest verse to a really old tune.

The more we set technology apart from the rest of school life by making all sorts of special rules about it, the more marginalized technology becomes with respect to the curriculum and the more likely it is that students will view the rules as yet another reason that school is irrelevant. Does your high school ban iPods or other MP3 players from the hallways during passing time? I know of some that do. Have you walked down the sidewalk of a major metropolitan area lately? Those aren’t cotton balls in everyone’s ears.

Download: STP-ScottMcLeod-2 (20.5 MB, 44:48)

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The No Child Left Behind Act has forced school districts across the U.S. to take a hard look at data about their students’ achievement. Lots of data. But some districts have gone beyond the requirements of NCLB and have embraced data and used the information to identify best practices and improve student achievement.

Dr. Scott McLeod is a professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration at the University of Minnesota and a proponent of data-driven decision making. As director of the University’s Center for Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), Scott works with educators around the country, helping them understand how being data-driven doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. We sat down for a chat earlier this week about some of the ways district’s are using data, how to overcome barriers to utilizing data, and some examples of using data that go beyond student achievement. And we even take a question from a “caller.”

Scott has agreed to monitor the comments on this post to dialog with any listeners who would like to follow up on something they hear. So don’t hesitate to post another question or ask for clarification on something from our conversation.

Download: STP-ScottMcLeod-1 (15.9 MB, 34:43)

I got an interesting letter from the Minnesota Department of Education last week. Here’s a snippet:

During the next legislative session, representatives from the Minnesota Department of Education will present a plan and cost estimates for improving the technology infrastructure in Minnesota schools. This plan will be based on the requirements for delivering all of Minnesota’s statewide assessments via computer, in an online environment. In order to help estimate the extent of the current hardware conditions, improvements and their potential costs, you are asked to participate in a survey of the computer hardware currently in use in your district.

The survey asks how many computers we’ve got (at or above a Pentium III 700 MHz or G3 333 MHz), how much it would cost for us to install 25-30 new computers, how many days it would take to administer a one-hour test to all students, how many days it would take to administer a two-hour test to all students, how many days for one-hour and two-hour tests for our ELL students, and finally, a number of questions about our network bandwidth.

My school district is relatively tech-rich compared to many other districts I’ve seen. Even so, it would take a pretty big chunk of time to get all of our students through the computer labs to complete the tests. This will be a significant burden for less well-equipped districts. I wonder whether students will be advantaged or disadvantaged in an online testing environment depending on their degree of experience with technology. The kids in our one-to-one computing project would probably love doing the tests on their laptops instead of bubbling in ovals by hand. A lack of keyboarding or mousing experience could be a serious disadvantage for students who attend poorly equipped, economically disadvantaged schools.

I’ll be recording a podcast with Dr. Scott McLeod soon on the topics of data-driven decision making (DDDM) and legal issues confronting school technology leaders. Dr. McLeod is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration at the U. of Minnesota and Director of the School Technology Leadership Initiative.

I’d love to try taking some questions from the “audience” for this podcast because I know these topics hit close to home for many of you out there. If you’ve got a question on either topic, please leave them as comments on this post or, even more fun, record them and send the audio file to savvytechnologistpodcast (at) gmail (dot) com. (I’ll leave that email address as an exercise for the reader.) The podcast itself should appear in a week or so.

Dr. Larry Anderson is founder and director of the National Center for Technology Planning, an organization dedicated to providing resources for schools and school districts who want to develop dynamic and effective technology plans. From their Web site:

The National Center for Technology Planning (NCTP) is a clearinghouse for the exchange of many types of information related to technology planning. This information may be: school technology plans available for downloading online; technology planning aids (checklists, brochures, sample planning forms, PR announcement forms); and/or electronic monographs on timely, selected topics. The NCTP was created for those who: need help, seek fresh ideas, or seek solutions to problems encountered with planning.

I met Larry last July in San Jose at the Apple Distinguished Educator Summer Institute and have been looking forward to recording this conversation ever since. Larry outlines some of the benefits that schools and districts can derive from the technology planning process, describes a technology planning approach that will be much more meaningful than the typical state-mandated ones, and shares lots of examples from his years of experience. This is a pretty long conversation, but there’s so much valuable material in what Larry has to say that I couldn’t bear to cut it down any more. Please feel free to post comments or additional questions in the comments section. I’m sure Larry would be happy to respond.

A quick production note: Larry and I spoke via Skype and the sound quality is quite good. He was using a headset mic and it made it much easier to set a consistent sound level, presumably because he was staying a constant distance from the microphone. I did all of the editing with Audacity which I am convinced offers the best combination of simplicity, power, and cost.

Download: STP-LarryAnderson (25.7 MB, 56:12)

I got back from Rochester tonight following a couple days of work with about 50 educators from southeast Minnesota. I had a great time and I’m looking forward to continued discussions with the groups as they pursue their technology integration and school improvement goals. My colleague Corey Lunn and I shared some resources that we’ve used in our own work, and I promised to post some links here. I’ll start with the online survey tools.

Online surveys are great tools for a broad range of applications. From a community-wide questionnaire about a proposed school board policy to a quick survey of the teaching staff by a principal, online surveys make it easy to collect and analyze data. I’m familiar with three different survey tools: Zoomerang, KeySurvey, and phpESP. Choosing the right tool for the job requires careful consideration of its intended uses, the technical skills of your IT staff, and your budget.

You can test the online survey waters easily by trying the free version of Zoomerang. It’s limited in the number of respondents and questions per survey and, most importantly, you can’t export the results for further analysis. You can see simple bar graphs and charts online though and that will probably do the job most of the time. You’ll have to step up to the paid version for serious surveying work.

KeySurvey is what we’re using in Hopkins this year. It’s not as cheap as Zoomerang, but it has nearly every bell and whistle. You can create very complex surveys with conditional branching. (In other words, the users may get different questions depending on how they answer other questions.) The analysis tools are very advanced. You can do cross-tabulations on the Web and export all of the data in CSV, direct to Excel, and even SPSS.

Finally, there’s phpESP. If you’ve got a Web server that can run PHP and MySQL, you’ve got all you need. It’s open source and free so there’s little reason not to give it a try. It’s got all the standard survey question types and can export the results in CSV format for easy importing into the analysis tool of your choice.

We use online surveys to collect data from students and parents during each content area’s curriculum review process. I’ve had good luck using the surveys for staff development evaluations too. Are you using an online survey tool? Leave a comment and tell me how you’re using it.