What’s an OS? An EdTech Failure

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Published on: December 1, 2015

A young woman purchased a laptop with the Ubuntu operating system, didn’t know how to work with it, and the frustration made her abandon her plans to start online college courses. Then a local news reporter picked up on the story:

It seems this news report is trying to say Dell, or perhaps technology in general, is at fault for this young woman’s problem, despite the reporter contacting the college and her ISP for additional assistance. Meanwhile, there are several reaction videos online as well, with people calling the woman stupid and blaming her for not knowing what she was purchasing and/or not being able to figure things out.

Unfortunately the problem is not that simple, in either direction.

The video was posted in 2009, but I hear of similar stories today, often with Chromebooks. It’s 2015. Let’s consider:

Students should not be graduating from high school without any clue what an operating system is. Even if they haven’t been exposed to ChromeOS or Linux, even if they only use Windows at home or at school, they should understand that there are indeed different operating systems out there and they should be able to recognize the difference in product literature.

Students should also understand what they’re asking for when they’re talking to Internet providers. If she’d purchased a shiny new MacBook Pro today, would the disc from her ISP have Mac software on it? Or if she’d purchased a MacBook Air with no drive, would she have been just as lost? If she went the cheap route and purchased a Chromebook, would she have the same problem? (And just wait until she tries to print.)

If she can’t connect to the Internet or set up an email client without a disc from an ISP, then it’s safe to say she will be just as lost when she visits a coffee shop or other public hotspot. She hasn’t learned the basics of what a network is, and probably not what a browser is or how they work. It’s probably safe to say she doesn’t even have an understanding of how the Internet works.

And yes, while Ubuntu will work just fine with all of her courses as the college confirmed, she’s going to be facing an uphill battle by learning her way around an OS while studying (and probably working a day job, too). The same is true if she’d purchased a Chromebook. There are plenty of online resources to help her learn, but that’s more time spent not working on class materials.

With enough basic information on operating systems, file systems/structures, networking, and software, a student should be able to sit down in front of any operating system and find the settings and software they need. It may take a little tinkering or searching, but networking is networking and a browser is a browser. At worst case they should know how to find the information they need with a Google search on a phone or a friend’s computer.

Unfortunately most classes teach “click here.” When “here” is not there anymore, students are lost.

I don’t know how many schools address these things in curriculum, but it’s something that needs to be taught. Any student who graduates without being proficient in computing—not just specific apps like Office—is only going to fall behind.

Accept Any File in Google Classroom

Categories: Media, The Classroom
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Published on: November 18, 2014

Many teachers like the idea of accepting homework through Google Classroom, but a common concern is accepting files from students who don’t use Google Docs, or accepting photos and files from other software.

Fear not! Google Classroom can handle this just fine. Set up an assignment as usual, and students will be presented with the option to upload files from Google Drive or from their computer.

I created my first one-take screencast to illustrate the process for those of you who haven’t tinkered with Classroom yet. It will demonstrate how to create the assignment, what it looks like on the student’s end, and then how the teacher can access the submitted assignments.

Got a student who feels more productive in Office or Pages? Using lab or math software that isn’t tied into Google Drive? No problem! Teachers can accept files in any format this way.

Teachers don’t even need the same software, as students can generate PDFs and turn those in instead. This will make things a lot easier for teachers who don’t want to install dedicated school software on home computers or who want to be able to view assignments on a tablet or smartphone.

If the student can create it, Google Classroom can collect it. Classroom makes organization and access a lot easier for teachers.

“Stupid” Tech is a Matter of Perspective

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Published on: March 10, 2014

“Chromebooks are stupid.”

This is what one of our high school teachers told a group of students not long after we introduced staff members (this teacher included) to the Google Chromebook. He didn’t see the use of it, didn’t like the fact he could not install Microsoft Word on it, so he declared it stupid.

This is one of the biggest obstacles to technology adoption in the district I work for: teachers don’t see the use for a device, therefore it is useless.

What is not stupid? What already works. What they’ve been doing for years.

Last week, my 12-year-old son and I had a discussion about television. When he was born, I already had satellite and a DVR. He had access to 24-hour kids’ programming from networks like Disney, Nickelodeon, and the Cartoon Network, as well as whatever we recorded (and he got good at skipping commercials early). A few years ago our family became cordcutters, and he and his younger siblings are now used to watching their favorite shows on demand on Netflix and YouTube.

In short, they’ve always had TV available any time they wanted.

I explained to them it worked a bit different when I was a kid. We had a few cartoons before school started (at least in our market), and then there were cartoons after school until about 5pm. I told them how we used to look forward to Saturday morning cartoons for our biggest block of entertainment.

“So, you could only watch TV at certain times of day?” he asked.

“That’s right.”

“That’s stupid.”

Wow. We certainly never thought so, but that was the technology and availability at the time. Compared to the way things work today, though, it would indeed be stupid for the networks to return to that setup.

It occurred to me, then, that “stupid” is just a matter of perspective.

What will these teachers think of their classrooms after we introduce technology? If we can get to the point every student has a device—any device—in hand daily, and they’re collaborating, communicating, and creating electronically, what will teachers think of their traditional pen and paper homework? Of having to compete for lab usage? Of spending prep time making photocopies? Of chasing down students for lost/missing homework?

To be clear, that’s not to say they’re doing anything “stupid” now. It works, and students are learning and getting their work done.

But what’s the role of technology? To make things easier. It streamlines processes and brings in new capabilities. If a teacher finds an electronic workflow that works for him, then maybe he has his own epiphany:

“Wow, why didn’t I start doing it this way sooner?”

I’ve seen it time and time again. The trick is bridging that gap in perspective.

Once we can get our staff across that gap, we’ll start seeing some real progress.

The Future of Books

Categories: Media
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Published on: June 1, 2012

I camped out in a Barnes & Noble Café this afternoon to get some work done, and a woman, her mother, and her two young children sat down nearby. The children, a boy and a girl, were flipping through some magazines they had picked up off the racks.

The little girl, no older than four, tossed her book on the table and proclaimed “This book is so lame! All you can do is color it!”

After the parent in me finished laughing at the girl’s choice of words, I got to thinking about her statement. What’s going to happen with a girl like this when she enters kindergarten?

My own daughter just finished kindergarten. She did a lot of the traditional worksheets, but she also enjoys using learning apps on my iPad and she was one of the kids who helped teach her friends how to use the school’s iPads when they went into the kindergarten classroom. She enjoys coloring books, but she prefers using coloring apps on my iPad and her mom’s iPod touch because she can change the colors and erase the screen at will. Does my daughter think the worksheets in class are lame, too?

I would argue e-books have already made the shift from accepted to embraced. Traditional publishing is starting to understand this, even if not all of the textbook manufacturers have gotten the memo. If my daughter and this little girl are any indication, we may be looking at a future where e-books will become preferred over print media.

Let’s think about this: print books, on the whole, have only one function. Unless we’re talking about an activity book of some kind, there is no real interactivity. Print is one-and-done. An e-book, however, can be updated, manipulated, or interacted with in a number of ways. When the child is done reading, one is simply archived or deleted while the other collects dust on a shelf or lands in a recycling bin or a landfill.

While many in our generation have a love or nostalgia for print books, what reason do our children have to feel this way? My ten-year-old son is a big reader, and he has a lot of print books in his room. Yet he was perfectly content to read A Princess of Mars on my iPod’s Kindle app for free rather than having me buy him a print copy.

In fact, he enjoyed it more because the backlit screen allowed him to read in the car at night. Now he wants his own iPod and Kindle app.

Yet here we are with teachers who say they don’t want these devices in their classrooms because they’re too distracting. To the kids, this is going to be a conflicting message. We may as well be telling them they’re not allowed to read their favorite books.

And if the kids aren’t going to convince us we need to start embracing change, maybe the parents will. Coming back to the family behind me, I overheard them discussing alternatives to the local public schools for the kids, ranging from a Montessori program in Peoria to what must have been some kind of charter school (she talked about testing and acceptance) to just doing home schooling.

Technology may not be the reason parents are seeking alternatives, but by embracing it and demonstrating how we can adapt to change, maybe we can make these parents less compelled to pull their kids from our schools.

iPad — How about “Teach”?

Categories: Gadgetry, Media
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Published on: September 1, 2011

Apple has released a new iPad commercial called “Learn”:

I like it. It’s simple, straightforward, and it showcases a handful of apps.

But what about teaching?

Why not show parents how teachers may use them in classrooms? Or at least show a teacher in front of a room with students interacting with the lesson on their iPads? Yes, the iPad is a learning tool, we’re sold on that. But my teachers are still skeptical about its utility as a teaching tool.

Yes, it puts a ton of note-taking tools in students’ hands. Yes, it’s a convenient way to carry more and different textbooks around. Yes, students can compose in class instead of having to jockey for time in a computer lab.

But these are conveniences. To sell them to teachers (and parents and communities), we need to show enhancements. We need to prove these apps supplement teaching and learning, not replace it.

The convenience is great, but convenience isnt’ a justification for the cost in smaller districts. Get test scores up and demonstrate measurable improvement in student learning, and now people are paying attention.

Our district iPad team is still working on that, and we see the potential. We’re just trying to bring it home. Our biggest battle, however, is going to be selling our community on the idea. It would be great if Apple could start planting those seeds for us.

User Communication

Categories: Media, Philosophy
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Published on: August 31, 2011

With all the changes in technology occurring every year, even in a relatively small district like mine, there is a lot of information to communicate to users. Sometimes it’s changes on servers or student logins, sometimes it’s broader strokes about planning, and sometimes it’s just general information to supplement staff members’ personal computer usage or class work.

It’s tough to find time to communicate this stuff verbally, though. Teachers have a lot on their plates, and if most districts are like mine, most of the meetings and inservices in the first week deal with district policy, changes on the state level, union meetings, and so forth. Whether we like it or not, these things are often more important to both the teachers and the administration, and some of it is even mandated by law (such as the medical training our teachers sat through).

To get around this, I started putting together a newsletter. I considered video, but it’s tougher to set up properly and tougher to produce. It also requires a definite time commitment from staff members. A clean PDF newsletter, however, can be read on just about any device, or even printed (*shudder*) and read anywhere. It can be read in bits and pieces on their own time, instead of sitting through a video full of dry data or cornball humor.

Clean, of course, is the key. Email is great for a couple of quick sentences, but people lose interest quick if you bury them with information in an email. They skip ahead and pretty soon it’s lost in the flood in their Inbox and they’ve never ready it. A newsletter with an attractive design and which is easy on the eyes feels like a magazine or newspaper and is far more appealing.

That’s where Pages comes in (of course, I’m on a Mac). Apple has provided some great templates for newsletters, and their design is very clean and flexible. I’ve put out two or three newsletters with their templates now, and I’ve posted one here as an example:

RB Tech Newsletter Feb 2011

My administrators were very pleased with this level of communication, and I received several compliments from teachers. I plan to write another soon for the beginning of this school year, now that the flow of help requests has slowed a bit.

If you’re running a tech department, consider adding newsletters to your toolbox. Your users will thank you for it, and it’s well worth the time to put one together.

Infographic: Students Love Technology

Categories: Media
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Published on: August 11, 2011

Almost back for the new school year. Two more day of summer, then Monday the teachers return, and Tuesday the students return. I’ll be ready!

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting infographic that shows just how much students are embracing technology. It also suggests social networking really can influence and enhance student learning.

Students Love Technology
Via: OnlineEducation.net

That’s Just Great

Categories: Media
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Published on: May 24, 2011

iPad 2s are in short supply right now. First LG hosed up the screens, then a factory exploded.

Meanwhile, our iPad PLC team is aching to get their hands on the tablets so we can start evaluating them properly. Our entire 1:1 rests on having tablets in hand.

Which makes it especially painful to watch these jerks at SquareTrade smashing them up:

No, that’s great, guys. You try and sell your warranties. Meanwhile, I can’t give you any money because you’re smashing up tablets we could really use!

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