Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Building Confidence - Attitude uber alles

Working on technical problems requires a special aptitude and attitude. While we must have experience and/or training, confidence plays a big part in our success. That confidence comes from success with similar problems and good safety net of people and tools. Somehow, over time, the cycle of applying our skill and succeeding plants a seed of confidence in our minds. We talk to ourselves differently, even when we make mistakes, especially when we make mistakes.

As we swim in new technical problems we ask; Do I think I can solve this problem? Am I good enough to nail it? Do I have the skills and experience to work through the details? Can I manage to do no harm? What if I make a mistake? Will my peers think less of me?

It's easy to second guess ourselves when there is so much to know. There simply is no way to know it all. There are some geniuses out there but most of us are mere mortals :-) If you've ever had the pleasure of working with a person who is technically artful and with a positive temperament you change how you look at your own skill-set. You may wonder, what the h... am I doing in this field? What do I have to contribute? Until you find a way to relax into it.

Alongside and complementing our personal development is our team and out network. Teamwork with the people we share projects with. Networking with them and the host of people in cyberland. In order for teamwork to set in there has to be trust and confidence, confidence and trust. Trust that the people you work with will support you whether you get it right all the time or not. Confidence that you are a contributor, that you bring something useful to the table.

As I spend more time in the whirl of technology, I am less interested in geniuses and more interested in the collaboration - what makes it work and what makes it fail. Our team is an incredible group of people who give and take, support and lead. I love to watch them develop their talent and share it with each other.

As the circle widens across our district, the trust is more difficult to maintain. We work in isolation sometimes. This isn't good for building trust. And as much as I think I am going to "get out more" I sit at my desk trying to keep up with the details. I do this despite my theory that face to face time will build bridges.

While it is inspiring to make spontaneous trips to schools, to have on-the-fly conversations with teachers and principals, it is important to have direction. What are some key topics and themes? What are people reaching for? What are they frustrated with? What inspires them?

Make Mac Work

All my talk about policies and politics, about who decides how we manage our computers... Well, this link will take you to an explanation of what and how we could (should) do business with our Macs. There are parallel tales in the Windows and Linux worlds. But given that we have put our money on Macintosh, this makes the most sense.

I won't pretend to describe what Ellis Jordan Bojar writes. About him: "Ellis Jordan Bojar is the Lead Enterprise Engineer at CreativeTechs, where he specializes in advising medium-to-large businesses in the management and integration of their Macintosh systems. He is an Apple Certified Systems Administrator, has been a Unix sysadmin for over ten years, and has worked on Macintosh computers since their debut in 1984."

Thanks be to my consultant, Ben Griffith.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bringing Everyone to the Party

How do we get more teachers and students engaged with technology? I have a District Technology Plan to bring together. In it I need to tell our story. I think I should title our plan "Bringing Everyone to the Party". The party - integrating technology into the fabric of our schools - sounds like fun. It's time to send out invitations and get everyone involved. We need to "bring 'em".

On the history side, the state ask; What have we accomplished since the last report? Have we put more technology in the hands of our students and teachers? Are they using it to solve problems, create novel solutions, communicate in effective ways, improve their scores on standardized tests?

On the tools side they ask; How many computers do we have in our school district? How many are connected to the Internet and at what speed?

On the support and training side they ask; What are our expectations for teachers using technology? What are our expectations for our students (they target the 8th graders)? How are we going to improve our teacher's and student's use of these tools? What venues have we created for training and support?

So the state is asking me for a State of Technology statement... now and into the future. Here are the ingredients of our little party. We have:

  • bright students and talented teachers,
  • access to the wonderful world of the Internet,
  • tools that are built to help us access the Web - to find information, communicate, create, and find more/new tools for expanding our toolset,
  • people who are trained (trained themselves in many cases) to support the people and tools.

Despite these incredible ingredients, despite our privilege and plenty, we struggle to put it all together. What's standing in our way? Do we need more money? Is the technology too complicated? Are people afraid of trying new things? Do they lack the time to explore and practice the skills? If we provided more training would they attend? I will be asking these questions in a survey of our teachers. I hope someone replies.

It's pretty evident that there is a disconnect between theory and practice in the world of technology. One theory is that if you provide people with the right "things" they will naturally put them to work. 1:1 laptop initiatives are a wonderful idea. And according to some accounts, there are schools and districts that have done a fine job of making this work. Clearly they do more than hand the teachers and kids a computer and wave "good luck". There is evidence that the successful 1:1 initiatives include effort to stage the influx of new technology, account for obsolescence in the budget, and include a strong dose of training and support. I expect successful district consult teachers in the process so they are prepared for the change. Some districts have even begun with 1:1 teacher initiatives before including students. This makes sense given that the teacher, while she doesn't need to be the expert in technology, needs to have a skill set for classroom, computer management. Even a party can turn into a riot if you don't have some norms and structure.

Our district is a long way from 1:1. First thing, we don't have the money. But even if we had the money, I don't think we have the resolution for it yet.


Just because we haven't developed our focus for technology, doesn't mean that I will give up. I see the value of it. I can picture teachers using it when it is appropriate, engaging with students to deepen and extend their learning, to find media that helps students grasp concepts, communicate their ideas in creative fashion, find their voice. Some of our teachers are already making this happen. The time will come when we share this vision.

Until that time, our focus is a blur; a mass of priorities overshadow integrating technology in a thoughtful manner. Our time is dominated by the edict of the day from the state, the latest report, testing, student management software, data storage and analysis, and teacher accountability. We don't see through the fog to understand the benefits of technology. Better yet we haven't disciplined ourselves to focus on what we can do in the mist of this mad blur.

I'm tired of trying to climb the priority ladder. The only way we will bring technology into focus (increasing resolution) is to create demonstrations of it's effectiveness. We need to find and work with the willing; understand what they are trying to accomplish in their classrooms, and demonstrate the tools we've discovered that fill their bill.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Who's in charge of Hardware and Software?

This week we had another meeting of our district technology folks. We covered the gamut of topics including planning, support, software and hardware adoption, password management and operating systems. As usual, I am amazed at the variety of perspectives. There is a high level of agreement among the tech support people on our team; whether they support a single school, a number of schools or the entire district. By and large, they support more standardization. We might disagree on the type of standardization but generally they want to have common software and a process for bringing new technology on line. I used to be surprised by how much we have in common but understand that we have common struggles.

Despite the general agreement among the people who manage technology, our users (some of who are building and district administrators) have a different perspective. They are inclined to want less standardization, to let each computer user bring new software and hardware onto our network without approval.

Anyone who is responsible for managing more than 30 computers, appreciates the need for conformity. They know that computers with common applications, operating systems, and preferences are basic to management and survival. They have been bitten by special software, user as computer administrator, special configurations, plugins and hardware. They have sunk hours of their time on problems created by random and uninformed installations. These aren't people who have rigid personalities. They don't necessarily embrace conformity in their other habits of life. Yet when it comes to keeping computer labs and user workstations working and in a productive state, they want to maintain a sense of order.

Those who live in "single userland" haven't a clue about the demands of the computer manager. They focus on the ease of use factor; making things quick in the short run for the single computer user. They want us to give them administrative access to the computer, to install software at will, and change the settings to fit the immediate need.

When these perspectives clash we spin into a circular dive of disagreement. We don't accept each other's experience or arguments. Technicians want control, users want lassei faire.

My compromise is to accept that people will find unique software and hardware and that we need to be prepared to entertain and test their use. Therefore, the people who manage the computers in the building, who are closest to the needs and the consequences should work with teachers and administrators to decide what is best.

At the foundation of all this talk is an important, missing, piece. This ingredient requires time and some deep thinking and this makes it unpopular. The piece? What are you trying to accomplish with your computer? In other words, what are the requirements that you have for hardware and software. Do you need a machine that allows you to do web research, word process, email and make presentations? Do you need to run simulations, graph calculations, monitor your local weather? There is resistance to taking this step and asking these questions. The end result is that we have computers that provide much more than what people need at a much greater cost and computers that fall short of what people need often because they are misplaced or under powered. The over-powered computers often have software that never gets used, even though it would help the teacher/student with a current lesson. The under-powered computer is a mine field of problems. If it is in a "mission-critical" location it will create frustration for user and technician alike when it crashes at some inconvenient time.

Like so many things, computing requires planning - putting the right resource in the right place. As a school district with very limited resources, this requires that make some hard choices. We can't give all the tools to all the people. We can't be as spontaneous as we might want to be. We have to consider the needs of the teacher/student and put the requisite tools in their hands - no more than they need, no less than they need. We can have flexibility. But the flexibility comes in the planning, not in the impulse to buy.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Went to Dallas to see my daughter Hannah. She took us for a ride in a Robinson 44 around downtown Dallas. It was great fun.

We are proud parents, that's for sure.

I had a conversation with some of our administration yesterday. It was interesting to hear their perspective on the "Agreement" discussions that we've been having. I shared the agreements that we accepted and the ones that were controversial.

One of the disagreements we had was on the subject of software adoption. In the agreement, teachers are expected to talk to the building tech and the community tech when they want to try new software. We are trying to get schools to coordinate their adoption of software across the district rather than doing isolated or singular adoptions that are difficult to support and train. Talking to the building and community tech could help us to work together to create more understanding and a broader adoption. Though I would love to have more focused, district adoption of software, I've adjusted to the idea that each school might choose their own. We struggle to support all the exceptions but it isn't so difficult when we have some warning what is coming. As a contrast... curriculum adoption is a district wide process. We agree that teachers should be using the same curriculum but it appears that software is different than curriculum.

Needless to say, I'm surprised by our difference of opinion. We haven't placed many restrictions on software adoption. We try to be as accommodating as we can. But it wouldn't be prudent to let people to go in any and all directions. The majority of staff don't even know the potential of the software they have on their computers. I am more than happy to work with people when they have software that needs to be installed and there are many that we support. Others ask for support in our "tech questions" conference. They are active in asking for things and we are active in helping them. Bottom line... it is frustrating to be told that we don't help people when we help anyone and everyone that asks for help.

Over and above this "software installation" business is the fact that there is a ton of software available on the Internet for free. There is little need for anyone to purchase software. If they do need to purchase something, the best applications are WEB APPLICATIONS.

At the bottom of this discussion is the disconnect between me and my administration on the business of technology adoption/management. I am sooooo... frustrated, that we aren't speaking the same language, that we don't have a common understanding of technology management and that I am not connected to the people who are allegedly dissatisfied.

Here's what I'd like:

  • Acknowledge that we can help teachers meet their needs with technology adoption. Acknowledge that we have good intentions to help them.
  • Give us time to do training so that teachers get a better idea of the software already at their disposal.
  • When teachers have a need, let us talk to them about what they are trying to accomplish. Perhaps we can direct them to software that is on their computer or that is free on the Internet.
  • If they need software that isn't readily available, we can help them find software that meets their needs.
  • Expect that schools, or that departments (district-wide) adopt common software. If the software they adopt is so good, others will surely agree and want to use it.
  • Understand that support and training will be more effective when we specialize.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What have we learned?

Our technology leadership team has met twice to discuss district wide "agreements" for procuring and managing technology. These agreements are guiding principals for the adoption, support and training of technology. Not only have we reviewed our old agreements for reconsideration, we have broadened our discussion to include the leadership aspects that guide us. These have been added to encourage schools to engage in conversations on the purpose of adopting technology, setting priorities and articulating the responsibilities for everyone in this endeavor. Given that schools are free to choose their own path for technology, discussion seems warranted.

We have learned a lot from each other in these discussions. I get a glimpse of the pressures that our administrators and building techs have in their day to day work. We have different challenges and different perspectives but the more we talk, the more we realize our shared interests and goals; To integrate technology in a way that benefits student achievement, in the most cost effective manner.

Our primary disagreements are struggles to determine who pays for what; Who will help me when I have a problem? How long can I expect the district to repair computers? Where will I get the money to pay for repairs? These questions are more about resource allocation, to time, money. Our conversations covered:

  • What should students/teachers know about technology?
  • How do we help teachers integrate technology into the curriculum, into their expectations for students and into their instruction?
  • How much time will be allocated for training and support?
  • What is the optimum number of computers per child/staff?
  • Can we afford to provide the resources that we desire?
  • How do we calculate the cost of support?
  • How do we protect our investment while providing easy access?
  • How do we sustain what we own, while adopting new and different technology?
  • Can we afford to let every teacher and school to choose their own technology?

The agreements are the boundaries for operating but they only represent the minimum; the minimum required to do no harm. Schools need a proactive plan for implementing technology. Above the mechanics of how things work, how the infrastructure is built and maintained is the vision of the school for inspiring students and teachers - the meaning of it all. Here are some thoughts on that:

Connecting the Mechanics to the Meaning
Technology for What?
(Parameters for Decision-Making)

How much money is allocated to each building?
What in-kind support does the school offer to technology purchase / support?
What additional support is provided from the district?
How does the budget enable / limit the allocation of time for technology?
If more money were available, how would it be spent?

Training - Staff Needs
What do we expect staff to practice / understand about technology?
What do they lack?
Do we have time to teach them?
What does the school / district provide?
How and in what manner should we increase training opportunities?

Does everyone understand what is allowed / not allowed.
Does everyone know what they are responsible for?
What is the consequence for ignoring agreements?

How does the school facility provide or limit access to technology?
What changes would improve this?

How does technology impact the delivery of instruction?
How does the student interact with technology?
What soft skills does the student need - beyond touching the keyboard?
How does the class schedule impact technology integration?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Update iPod Touch

This is my first attempt at creating a Quicktime Movie in iMovie. I combined SnapZ content, screen shots and recorded audio to create this how-to for our school administrators.