Sunday, November 29, 2009

Student Technology Proficiency

Students taking a computerized examImage by Extra Ketchup via Flickr

This has been a hot topic in the state of KY and our region the past few weeks/months. Districts are struggling with what does proficiency look like and how to assess it. Several districts have implemented solutions from vendors at little to no cost that assess students in the areas of basic office skills (word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentations), Internet/Telecommunications, Digital Citizenship and computer systems.

Why all the hoopla over student technology proficiency? Let's start with NCLB Part D that states all school districts must ensure the technology literacy of their students by the eighth grade. Also, the state of Kentucky has recognized the importance technology plays in the role of our students' education and has incorporated technology literacy into the Program of Studies.

Most importantly, we as educational technology leaders must show the value that technology has on student learning and the classroom. We can try to measure these items in a variety of ways, but a critical piece of that measurement has to be student technology proficiency. After all, we are in the business of education and ensuring our students are able to use technology tools once they move into the work force or higher education is vital to their success in a global society.

I pose two questions to the readers:

1. Do the above areas cover the spectrum of what we should assess our students in the area of technology? If not, what other areas should be covered and how would you assess them?

2. I am aware of a couple of vendors who provide services for technology assessment that seem to be popular across our state. The first is Simple Assessment, which has the price tag of Free attached to it. I know that because of this price point it has been adopted fairly well across KY. The other vendor I am aware of that offers good technology assessment is Finally - to the question. What other vendors out there offer a student technology assessment at an affordable cost with a comprehensive assessment?

I have spent some reviewing the two vendors above and have found to provide a more in depth assessment of a student's technology skills. Of course, it has a price tag attached to it, where Simple Asssessment is free. (You get what you pay for.) Our district is still looking at the best way to assess these skills. In the coming weeks/months we will likely enter a relationship with a vendor to implement a student technology assessment tool. I look forward to some of your feedback on what has been successful or come up short in your district / classroom.


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Monday, November 23, 2009

Trying to Lead

3D Team Leadership Arrow ConceptImage by lumaxart via Flickr

Wikipedia defines "Leadership" as a process of influence in which a person enlists the support and aid of others to accomplish a common task. What if those people who are enlisted to support and aid aren't helping to accomplish the task? What if they are working on a different task all together? How does the leader regroup and pull the collective personnel together for the benefit of the organization?

These are all challenges every leader, inside and outside of K-12, faces on a daily basis. The great leaders find a way to rise above the negativity, doubt and naysayers, while maintaining a positive approach and smiling face. The great leaders don't turn their backs on those who have already turned their backs on the leader, instead they accept the challenge of selling their product, themselves and their vision for the organization to those people again.

What challenges does your organization face? Do these sound familiar? Education is not exempt from the challenges that face the business world. We are restricted sometimes in how we deal with situations, being a public employee, but I think that makes a better leader. Rather than taking the easy way out and simply cutting the employee loose, it can be used as a learning experience on both ends to enhance the skill set of the leader and the eventual leader.

Finally, what is my personal philosophy on leadership? I believe all great leaders have the following characteristics:
  • They have surrounded themselves with talent, future leaders and visionaries.
  • They allow others to submit ideas, share the vision and shape the future.
  • They are always looking to push those around them, past them. A great leader produces more great leaders.
  • They offer solutions that the entire organization can understand and support.
Life would be too simple without obstacles and challenges. Embrace them - do not turn from them.


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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cool Tools

Here are a few cool tools I came across this weekend:

youconvertit - Youconvertit is a free online media file conversion tool. Convert images, documents, audio, video, etc. from one file type to another by simply uploading your original file, select the format you wish to convert to and click "Convert it". The site then gives you a link when you can download the converted file. Very useful for K-12 because it allows quick conversion for files that may not be viewable by all.

Sosious: Online sharing and collaboration - Sosious is a free online workspace where you can invite friends, colleagues, etc. to share your workspace, documents, etc. Ideal for teams who need a common workspace.

faxZERO: I think the name says it all. Send a fax to anyone in the US or Canada for free. I still have some vendors who prefer their POs be faxed to them and this could help keep me moving towards a paperless office. I will give it a try over the next couple of weeks and provide some additional feedback.

edutagger: Social bookmarking site for K-12 users. Share your educational content, links, etc.

4shared - Free online storage - up to 5GB of storage for Free. Can't beat that.


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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Google Wave Experiment

Disruptive WaveImage by curiouslee via Flickr

I received my Google Wave Preview invite a little over a week ago. Below is my account of the past week with Google Wave.

I opened the email was an instantly excited - I had been waiting for this. Ever since hearing about this new communication / collaboration tool, I wanted to get my hands on it. I was curious how it would work, what would it look like, would it be user friendly AND could it have a place in education? (Keep in mind this is an EARLY version of the tool.)

I immediately logged on and spent several minutes exploring the layout and features. First thought - "Ok, it kind of looks like gmail..." Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Users who aren't usually quick to change, might find a familiar interface comforting.

Having only a few friends who had already received invites, I struggled to have Wave conversations with others at first, and really fully utilizing the tool. However, after a few days I was added to the "Kentucky Wave", which was created by a former Kentucky K-12 student who now works for Google. Currently this wave has approximately 20 participants and I immediately began to see the impact of having a group of contacts versus single contacts.

With IM and previous communication tools (email included) a majority of the conversations were between two people and this was sufficient. However with Wave, the more the merrier. I began digging through conversations, points of information, questions and other bits / pieces by the other members of the Wave and found a multitude of conversations, resources, ideas, etc. It was a living, breathing 2.0 space where real-time conversations were happening right in front of my eyes. Now this is powerful.

I am still in the early stages of exploring and look forward to continue learning how best to use this tool to accomplish the tasks of communication and real-time collaboration. I believe that Google Wave has the capability to a viable collaboration tool increasing integration, boosting productivity and capturing more knowledge.

Time will tell how quickly Wave is adopted by main stream users, particularly the Education Arena. I, for one, look forward to the day that a teacher in my district comes to me showcasing how their students utilized Google Wave to accomplish collaboration in their classroom.


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Sunday, November 15, 2009

25 iPhone Apps 4 Educators

The iPhone has become the tool by which I define all other portable devices at this point in time. So, it is fair to ask how said device, can be beneficial to educators. Here are 25 apps that I believe all educators with an iPhone should have on their device to help with organization, communication and various content areas. (Did I mention all of these are free?)

  • Evernote: helps you make notes, track ideas, save and send to yourself.
  • Google Reader: helps you keep track of blogs / RSS feeds.
  • Facebook: keep in touch with friends, colleagues and students.
  • Wordpress: use the Wordpress app to keep your blog up to date, no matter where you are.
  • Skype: Talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
  • Twitterific: Tweet out questions to students, info to parents or share class work with the world.
  • Wikiamo: easy to search and find info from Wikipedia.
  • Google Earth: take a look at any place in the world with this app.
  • Poptiq: watch educational videos
  • Roget's New Thesaurus: everyone needs a thesaurus.
  • Stanza: read books assigned for classes or keep up with your field area.
  • Animoto: make quick videos that can be used to share what your class is learning.
  • ScienceQuiz: earth science to space, this app will test your science knowledge.
  • Graphing Calculator: much less expensive than the $80 version I had in high school and does the same thing.
  • GoogleMobile: search Google easily from your phone.
  • Art2Go: learn about artists who changed the world, along with other art related facts.
  • MovieMaker: make short movies with this tool.
  • Mathomatic: This app double checks math work and even solves complex algebraic problems.
  • VocabDaily Free: learn a new word every day.
  • This Day in History: find out what happened on any day of the year with this app.
  • Spell Check: makes sure all of your iPhone-related spelling mistakes are corrected.
  • Blackboard Learn: a free app for the Blackboard Learning Management System.
  • QuickVoice: this app captures recorded voice messages for you if you don't have time to type.
  • Fact of the Day: boost your random knowledge with these fun facts.


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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Laptops for Teachers - Part II

Some netbook computers we are testing at work ...Image by DanieVDM via Flickr

I blogged about 7 months ago about Laptops for Teachers. I raised questions such as: Laptops v. Netbooks? Are you really getting "free work"? Back-up devices on-site? Content filtering off-site? Should teacher devices come before student devices? All of those questions spawned conversations, thoughts and ideas that have allowed me to put a good grasp on what a Laptop Program for Teachers in our district would look like. Thus, we are on to the next phase. Gathering data.

This past week I sent out a survey to all 320+ teachers in our district asking four questions. The purpose of the survey is to determine 1. existing teacher station conditions, 2. Laptop vs. Desktop teacher preference 3. Would they be opposed to the additional PD that would most likely accompany such a program.

I have still only received responses from approximately half the teachers and am waiting a few more days before closing the survey, but so far, it has gone as expected. Over 70% of teachers who have responded say their current teacher station causes problems / experiences slowness in their daily instructional routine. A little under 75% would prefer a laptop versus a new desktop. That same amount would have no problem with the additional professional development.

What does all this mean? First, we have a problem with our existing teacher stations. That number is way too high and needs to be addressed, both short term and long term. The short term solution, we are upgrading the memory in as many machines as possible to reduce the poor user experience during instructional time. Second, and as I anticipated, not all teachers want/need a laptop. We have 1/4 of the teachers who have responded thus far who would just prefer to either keep their existing desktop or have it upgraded. Third, those who would like to receive the laptop are not opposed to the additional PD that would be required of them. The PD would not be a basic "how to use a laptop", but rather tailored to the need of each school's instructional technology goals and designed on how to best integrate technology day in and day out.

The data collection continues this week and I hope to have final results soon. Once the data collection is complete, it will be shared with the stakeholders and from there we will begin discussing next steps.

Update: (November 17)

The data collection is complete. The numbers mentioned above held true to form. I had a meeting with other administrators last week to determine the next steps. My next task is to work on the requirements and pieces of how this project would be shaped. I will continue to keep you posted.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

iPhone - Voicemail Issue / Tethering

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

Quite the discovery today on my iPhone. Actually, it started yesterday. For days I had been noticing missed calls appear on my phone (I would actually see/hear the phone ring, just couldn't get to it), but no voicemails were appearing. I was simply under the assumption these people were calling me and not leaving a message. Was I wrong.

Yesterday afternoon I had a red balloon button Friday appear in the upper right hand corner of the Green Phone icon. This red balloon button is normally where you see missed calls, voicemails, etc. and is accompanied by a number. (As you can see in the image on the right.) However, this red balloon button had no number - it was blank. I clicked on it and was prompted to call my voicemail, because VVM (Visual Voicemail) was not available. When I called a nice electronic lady on the other end informed me I had 24 new voicemail messages - WOW! 24?!?! Apparently the missed calls I had been receiving over the past few days did have voicemails associated with them, I just wasn't being informed by my lovely phone. So after filtering through these messages, I set out on a mission to solve the issue.

I Googled my issue and started sorting through the various forums to narrow down my issue. I finally came across something sounded familiar...tethering. I had made the mistake of testing out tethering on my iPhone before Apple/AT&T actually released the proper code to do this (note: don't install software / updates that aren't approved by the provider - I should have known better...), but I was really anxious to see if I could get it to work. Apparently this crack of an install places a profile on your device known as "" and subsequently disable VVM from working properly. Once I removed that profile from my iPhone - what do you know - voicemails started rolling in.

What is the moral of this little story? Don't install cracks/hacks/illegal versions of software/apps on ANY of your devices. No matter how anxious we are to get the latest version or sneak peek - sometimes it just isn't worth the trouble.


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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Windows 7 and K-12

Windows 7 On Board!Image by burhan.fadzil™ via Flickr

Windows 7 has been out on the market for 10 days now. Our department has been evaluating Win 7 on a small scale for the past few weeks. To my knowledge, we have not encountered any problems within our environment yet. I plan to install a copy either on my laptop or home PC in the next few days and when I do that I will post my thoughts/comments here.

However, my post today has to do with Win 7 and its place in the education arena. A majority of districts in KY are still running Win XP (those who have primarily a PC environment). I don't know of any districts that took the plunge to Vista - thank goodness. However, I am hearing some positive things about Win 7 and its place in education, specifically KY K-12.

All machines we are purchasing off the state price contract now come licensed for Windows 7. So even if a district chooses not to move forward with updating their OS, they won't have to worry about the licensing fees, except for those purchased prior to 10/22/09.

I have been doing some reading the past few days on how Windows 7 can enhance a machine in the K-12 environment and have come up with a short list. I firmly believe my district, along with a large majority of KY K-12 districts will migrate their PCs to Windows 7 within the next 6-12 months.

Here are my reasons why I think Win 7 will be a popular choice in the education arean:

  • Speed. Windows 7 is designed to be quicker and perform more efficiently than its predecessors. Whether you are booting your machine up for the first time, or waking it up from a nap; the response time will be much quicker.
  • Snipping Tool. Members in my department have been using this tool for the past few days and absolutely love it. The ability to quickly grab a picture from the web, document, email or other app and manipulate it to the user's liking is a feature both faculty/staff and students will find beneficial.
  • Jump Lists. This is liking having a "Favorites" for your apps, docs, pages, etc. I believe teachers will find this useful because each teacher utilizes various apps, software or sites and to have those at their fingertips will save precious class time.
  • Snap Tool. This tool gives the user the ability to display two items side-by-side. I believe teachers will find this useful when projecting their computer for all to see and need to compare/contrast items or pages; or want to show multiple examples from student work.
There are other cool features available in Win 7 such as Remote Media Streaming and 64-bit support that make Win 7 attractive to other genres of users, but I believe the items listed above will be appealing to teachers and students.

Time will tell how quickly Windows 7 makes it way into K-12. Time will tell how the new features are received by K-12 users and if they realize the benefit vs. previous MS OS. I personally believe Win 7 will make a splash in the K-12 arena, and probably sooner rather than later.


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