Sunday, May 31, 2009

Notes from the Firehose

More podcasts, more conversations with building technology teams. I feel as though I have been drinking from the firehose. I first heard that expression from my staff and consultants as they learned a new technology. They were overwhelmed with the new ideas and paths to creation.

This is my first exposure to Michael Wesch of Kansas State University. He emphasizes creation as the highest goal of learning. In his Digital Ethnography classes he works with students to understand digital interaction, communication and technology. His students learn the technology almost as a by product of their inquiry it appears. It sounds as though his way of introducing technology to students is rapid fire - firehose training. The creation process is structured with a focus on the message rather than slick presentation. It includes exploration, video production, writing, summarizing, and assessment within the group. Students create a focused purpose through a sequence of exercises; research, sharing and collaboration, and creation with one another. I loved his term "knowledge-able", to help students develop understanding while they develop skills to create knowledge. This podcast is a inspiring piece of work and gives details on the learning process. If you're interested in integrating technology into learning you have to check it out.

I've had some great conversations with building technology teams over the past 3 weeks. My team (district tech support) met with the building teams to discuss their vision for technology in their schools, how they are supporting their focus and what they are purchasing. The conversations were lively, sometimes heated. I don't mind the heat as long as we are aiming for understanding. Points of view are sometimes difficult to reconcile but if we listen we learn a lot in these dialogues.

Some themes have come up. Overall people are more concerned about learning-technology than just technology "stuff". We spent more time talking about philosophy, vision, and tangible action than we have in the past. People want to find a WORKING model, not just some high minded idea. I don't care for action plans that are grandiose. In fact I agree with some tech leaders, that simple and practical are the most important ingredients.

Here are some themes that came up:
Bandwidth - The need for more echoed through our discussion. Now that we have fairly open access to the Internet by teachers, we are feeling the limits of our access. Some feel there should not be a limit. We discussed a multi-layered approach to managing demand and supply.

  1. Continue to increase the supply of bandwidth. This increase will be incremental until we find ways to connect sites via fiber and work with a provider who can offer Internet speeds over 25Mbps.
  2. Establish caching servers at all schools so that content can be stored locally.
  3. Educate students and staff to the wise use of tools. Clearly this is a "tragedy of the commons" where no one wins when everyone grabs as much as they can get.
  4. Find ways to dilineate and measure Internet use so that we can make wise choices.
  5. Cooperate with one another to maximize this resource. Make and keep agreements district wide.
Training and support
Some schools shared their success with simple and short training sessions. They have targeted some technology that is relevant to teachers needs. They have provided a combination of short "info-mercials", handouts, web resources and face-face support. While these are simple, they have provided some direction for teachers and met their immediate needs. Barriers continue to exist for training.
  1. Why teach them? (Question asked by Michael Wesch)
  2. What is important?
  3. When can we train them?
  4. How do we support them?
On-line Collaboration
Many schools have been using or want to adopt web tools for collaboration. Many have teachers who have tried Google Docs though they haven't adopted or promoted it school wide. One school has been using a wiki to communicate. All of the schools would like to have ideas and support for moving this forward. Some plan to promote these tools in their "info-mercials".

I will be looking more closely at my notes from the tech planning meetings over the next few weeks and summarizing what I heard. I intend to add those notes here also. Stay tuned.