Wires and Fires: Where the Green should Go in EdTech
If you had control of the district ed-tech budget what would you do?
Recently, I keynoted In Texas at Region One’s “Using Technology to Make a Difference Conference”. My keynote centered around “New Literacies” and how technology can be integrated seamlessly to cultivate those (see all 400+ hand-drawn pink slides here). We then broke up for a workshop later on Remix and Re-Contextualization for the Classroom (If you are interested, I’ll be doing a Master Class at Alan November’s BLC 2015).
I was invited by the lovely Ann Vega (@annvega), seen here to my left:
In between 6 am sprints to Wal-mart in search of a clicker (I forgot mine a piece of mine and yes, I became one of those “Wal-Mart people”) and some pretty intense Tex-Mex food, we got to talking about device programs. We both had experiences in which there was a major roll-out of, say, laptops or iPads or Chromebooks or fill-in-the-device and no professional development or even context attached.
The devices remain add-ons, or arbitrary, or worse yet, gather dust in a cart.
But Ann was having another problem. Many of the devices in her district needed to be upgraded (as we all do – I’m getting my hair done today, in fact!). That’s A LOT of money for something kids and teachers weren’t using effectively to begin with (and even if they were), especially considering most do the bulk of their work on their personal devices and – get this – their phones.
Type an essay on your phone?
This was no surprise to me. I have pushed the use of personal smartphones for a long time, but in my class we rarely composed long essays- mostly blog posts, tweets, and multi-media projects. So when Ann disclosed that her teenage son actually thumb texts his 4 page essays on his phone THEN emails them to his other device to be exported for the teacher …wow. It’s actually faster for him to do that. Like, biologically. Just wow.
That might not be true for everyone but it reiterates that students need to use the tools that have, in essence, become a part of themselves. It’s very McLuhan, really.
Here were my suggestions to Ann, and I’m calling this strategy “Wires and Fires”:
1. Invest most money and effort in really great bandwidth and infrastructure that will enable an extensive BYOD program. By extensive I mean imagine every student, staff, faculty, and administration member using up to 3 devices at once, streaming video from at least one of them.
2. But what about equity? There are so many resources about launching BYOD programs (here are some I’ve collected). I’ve been utterly fascinated by mobile tech in particular for the past 2 years now, thinking, what if ALL we had in the classroom was a smartphone? Perhaps we could finally step outside of the classroom, no? By the way, Google has a really great data site about global use of smartphones. I suggested to Ann that they keep a good number of the “old” devices for three purposes:
a. loners to kids whose devices temporarily break and are being repaired
b. low-cost rent-ables for students who cannot afford to purchase own device
c. create a reverse Maker Space…a Remix Lab where students take things apart and see how they work, as well as remix and mashup old devices into new things
3. Another thing to consider here is the Cloud (not really “wires” but let’s consider it infrastructure). A real game-changer for my teaching was the adoption of GAFE (Google Apps for Education) within my school. After that I never printed another piece of paper (nor did my students) and we were able to collaborate on everything. But what about the Open Web in general? Push for unblocking sites – especially social media platforms- that can enhance student learning. I am always shocked to find things like Twitter or even YouTube blocked, especially when everyone can get to it on their phone or through proxies anyway. It’s disrespectful and silly and needs to stop. If an app is more on the fringe or has a “rep” (I do know a teacher who uses the ephemeral nature of Snapchat in a legitimately cool way in his French language classes, for example), you might have to make a case for it.
And that brings us to…
This of course, is a forced metaphor because I love metaphors and I needed a rhyme, but it WORKS, right? It’s all about developing an extensive Professional Development program. Investing “the money” – not to mention, time – in one’s teachers is probably the best use of resources. But it doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t have to have fancy schmancy conferences all the time, although they are lovely.
1. Turn it around: As in, allow the educators to organize professional development in a variety of ways. This democratization of PD is a a very big thing right now. You see it in
a. Edcamps and “unconferences”
b. Twitter chats
c. Webinars and Vlogs (even online conferences like RSCON)
At our school a team of us were in charge of setting up “Teachers as Professionals” (TAP Tuesdays) events with little peer-run workshops every month. I rather liked doing rogue ones. By that I mean totally unplanned, guerrilla style “Hey- today after school I am going to share how to become G+ savvy and set up a community for your class…plus I have cookies! Come see me at 3:30”
2. Turn it upside down: As in, hand it over to students. My first year at my previous school, I noticed some 9th grade boys hanging out in my room at lunch shooting the breeze about the latest iEverything. So I suggested they make an Apple enthusiast club (iClub) and share their excitement and expertise about the latest Apple goodies. By the next day they had a website and a few video tutorials and were working on a holiday card with annotated gift suggestions! They ended up providing several after-school iPad trainings to teachers and some one-on-one at-your-service help as well.
3. Hang it up: I do a LOT of curating – probably more than most people are willing to do. But why not post a big white poster up in your class and have students add to it as the year progresses? You can have a section for interesting APPS, SITES, TIPS, and even creative PEOPLE to follow on Instagram, YouTube or Vine, for inspiration. Crowdsourcing is King.
4. Join the Convo: Let’s be honest, it is not that unique to be “on Twitter” as an Educator. There are thousands of educators of every niche group and bazillions of chats. You can be a power user or a lurker and get something out of it- regardless, it really “behooves you”, as my grandmother would say, to get on board and learn something new each day, even if you simply use it as an alternative search tool.
Join in the conversation of our profession so that there will be progression.
A great place to start is with my friend Alice Keeler’s blog, by searching “Twitter”. Or, you can check out Cybraryman’s famous resources or even my humble Diigo list. I have very strong thoughts about Twitter and how it has helped me and my students grow exponentially, but that is for another post. For now I think that daily involvement in professional dialogue, exposure to the work of others in the field, and the lovely emotional connections we make with those in our affinity groups are priceless.
C’mon, Baby, Light my Fire…
If you are in some way the decider of fates, the keeper of the purse strings, the architect of dreams…blah blah blah I’d love to know what you think about the “WIRES and FIRES” idea. If you try it – or any piece of it, feel free to tweet with #wiresandfires.