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No WIFI in the Inn

Wednesday, 23. October 2013 15:18

I was disturbed this week to discover that the yearly conference of Chief Administrators of Catholic Education (CACE) next week will not have wifi except in certain areas, and not in the presentation rooms. I've said my peace with the conference leadership, and I've criticized in this blog the lack of vision that these decisions embody enough. Today, however, I'd like to explore a different part of this absurd equation.

Whenever I question the lack of wifi at a conference, I'm always told the same thing: “It's too expensive,” and though I think many conferences waste plenty of money on less necessary things (like paper programs), I can't help but agree. Hotels and convention centers charge a completely extortionate rate to provide wifi service to public areas. As with catering, venues use wifi to disproportionately boost income over expense. The infrastructure to support this is already in place, and it is simply a matter of boosting bandwidth proportionately for the number involved, something that they do regularly with those willing to pay the ransom.

Bandwidth isn't cheap, as ISPs are partners in extortion, but the fees passed on to events are completely unrelated to cost. There are virtually no personnel costs related to increased bandwidth which are always the largest expense for a vendor. Venues charge this much not because it costs so much, but simply because they can.

How do we break from this? I think there is a simple market solution . Reasonably priced blanket wifi expense must be a priority of event organizers, choosing one venue over another on this basis and communicating clearly to management of losing sites that this was the reason for the choice. Since so many conferences are currently going without, it is clear that venues don't depend on this revenue. Like other dying economic realities, vendors try to hold on to old-model income as long as possible. However, as the market changes, they have to let these go. Venues intent on increasing business will see this as a selling area, rather than a occasional luxury add on. By moving this part of the discussion to the front, instead of an extra, we can use the forces of competition to help change the nature of the market. Too often I hear wifi described as a “nice to have,” and the first thing cut in budget trimming. For the millionth time, it is not a “nice to have,” it is essential.

I believe that there will come a day when wifi will be truly ubiquitous, and this will be taken from the hands of individual site vendors, but until that time, we need to train them by our actions.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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To Tweet as Jesus Did?

Thursday, 10. October 2013 17:40

Last Saturday I moderated a discussion of the Twitter group #Catholicedchat (6-7am PDT). Moderated is perhaps too fancy a word, as the group is so enthusiastic that I barely have to say a word and they take off and run with it. Among this group are some of the brightest and best Catholic educators across the country; teachers, administrators, superintendents, all interested in discussing the issues of the day and sharing experiences, ideas and support. I participate in few groups that better embody the motto of this site, “courageous education in frightening times.”

The topic I brought for discussion this week was social media, specifically how a Catholic educator can participate in social media authentically and not get in trouble or get fired. I've seen too many cases of good people saying or sharing something only to have this seen more widely than intended and causing challenges…or worse. I was interested in ways that this group who participates regularly and deeply in social media navigates these obstacles.

One of the founding mothers of the group, and one of my all-time favorite people, said that she follows a rule of WWJT, “What would Jesus tweet?” Many people liked this, and it seemed to come out of the conversation as a sort of guideline. I like the way that a question like this forces one stop and consider before posting, and I'm sure in virtually every case this can steer one from problems.

But I don't believe it.

If I were to use social media with the courage, the lack of filters, and lack of convenient political sensitivity that Jesus showed throughout his life, I'm certain that I would soon find myself in hot water. If I were to say, “It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” without couching it in excuses, what would my donors say? If I were to criticize pharisees as directly and without apologies as our Lord, I'm certain that my phone would be ringing. If I were to comment on current political and social realities the way that Jesus addressed those of his day, my suitability for my job would be questioned.

I certainly believe that we should follow a model of love, generosity, forgiveness, and healing in everything we say, online and off, and to this we can look to the life of Jesus. But I'm not sure that this is a guideline that will avoid controversy for my teachers and for myself.

As always, I invite your comments.

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IOS7’s Deadly Sins

Tuesday, 24. September 2013 14:58

I need to be very careful choosing my words here because I don’t want to let frustration overstep factuality. As with most things Apple, my feelings (and my ire) are mixed.

Let me lead with the positive. As everyone knows, iOS7 was released last week, and as anyone who knows me could expect, I downloaded it immediately on both my phone and my iPad. I like the look and operation of 7. Though it took a little experimentation to find some of the features, most of the changes are for the better. I experienced none of the challenges in operation or functionality that I have read about elsewhere. Though I would not classify this as earthshaking as some others, I can see how it makes my devices better.

This fall several schools in my diocese are launching 1:1 programs using iPads. I support and to a great extent recommend this device as a good solution for 1:1. I’ve discussed at length in other posts why I feel this way, and I’ve yet to see another single device that changes that opinion. Unless I see another devices that answers the education equation as effectively and elequently as the iPad, I expect I will continue to recommend it and use it in school implementations and for myself.

It is actually the intersection of these two positives that has caused my current irritation. The new operating system rolled out on September 18, three weeks into the school year. My iPad schools have already configured and distributed their machines or are well on their way to doing so. Suddenly in the middle of this comes a new reality, causing upgrade and compatibility chaos. In the immediate aftermath of release, the OS did not work with Configurator, the system used to manage multiple student machines. There are compatibility issues with new apps, and security holes. Most of these issues are resolvable, but much more challenging to address while on the tight wire of a rollout.

This is coupled with the maddening announcement that the iLife suite (all the tools of basic computing) is now being offered free. I was excited to hear this, thinking we could save thousands of dollars in apps costs. However, this gift was followed with the condition that it only applied to machines activated after September 1, so most of the machines for schools this year don’t qualify. Even my late roll out machines are still waiting for this deal to be available, and we will probably have to roll out these machines with a generic office suite rather than the flagship products.

As I have stated elsewhere here, Apple learned its lesson from the 1980’s education initiatives. Apple deeply discounted Apple II machines for schools, hoping that school use would translate to a consumer market that never developed. With the iPad, Apple has gone in the opposite direction. The product is excellent and has good penetration into the consumer market, so schools are an added bonus. There are no real discounts (beyond a small general volume discount available to all) on any Apple products. Principals call me asking if I can get them a discount on iPad, and I have to tell them that I pay full price for my iPad, without any discounts on the device or peripherals.

I am not criticizing this strategy. It is a legitimate business strategy that clearly works. However, the release of a new operating system in the middle of the first month of the school year without real warning or direction for school tech administrators, and the release of free essential software immediately after schools have purchased, seems deaf-eared. It certainly is not a strategy to build loyalty should another strong option emerge.

I also am not criticizing the good people from Apple who work with our schools. I believe that they are doing their best to share information and solutions as soon as they are able. However, the corporate structure of Apple based on secrecy and restricting information, does not make it easy for them to serve schools. An alert to any off these issues could have helped schools in their purchasing and rollouts, but this would not have served the corporate structure.

Once again, I really like iOS7 on my machines. It’s very pretty, but I can’t ignore that ugliness that runs in the background.

As always, I invite your comments.

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The Golden Path

Monday, 19. August 2013 16:59

One of the things that is most troubling for administrators and teachers who are working to implement new technology programs is a feeling of overwhelming inadequacy. There is always a nagging suspicion that there is a single right way to rollout equipment, or train users, or teach students, and (at least for me) this is coupled with absolute conviction that we're not doing it. Perhaps this is an offshoot of the core insecurity of educators, or it might be specific to a field so different from what we experienced or were trained.

I credit a lot of this insecurity to three messages that I see in ed-tech blogs and the general media. The first, which has been around for a long time, is the message that the success of a tech program relies completely on the amount and quality of training received by teachers. While I would be the last to disagree with helping users, as I have said in many other places, this “training-trap” has produced 15 years of professional development, remarkably few results, and a culture where any advancement can be thwarted by a hand in the back asking for more training.

The second message also has a history, but it has made a resurgence in the last year, primarily in response to the growth of 1:1 iPad implementations across the country. We a told the you can't just “throw” (remarkable how often this specific term is used with its connotation of randomness) iPads at students and expect the devices to have an impact on learning. This is an easy criticism to make, and a quick way to the upper hand of any argument, but like the first, it is based on false premises. First, there are few, if any, schools that roll out 1:1 without any planning or goals. Could they be more specific, comprehensive, or data driven? Perhaps. However, I find it incredibly insulting to people working hard in this area to simply dismiss their work. Second, and I admit this is controversial, I believe that implementation of 1:1 technology IS transformative in itself, as students begin to learn in an environment closer to that in which they will live and work. Are some uses better, more effective, perhaps, but perfection doesn't dull the shine if good.

Finally, the hyper-confidence of education bloggers can actually be a hindrance to progress. I know that we are excited about possibilities and sometimes we talk loudly and boldly to overcome the many voices of opposition or our own doubts. However, I think sometimes we suggest that we work in a world where all programs work, all students take to everything, and nothing bad happens. Perhaps if we shared more doubts and downfalls, the average user might take heart in sharing similar experiences and hear instead our conviction that we must carry on despite these challenges.

In there early 80’s there was a book by Sheldon Kopp called If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. I think this is a good attitude for this entire field. If anyone claims to have all the answers, that is the last person to whom we should listen. If someone claims that there is only one right way, that is the last person whom we should follow. If someone says (as I hope I do) that they are stumbling along with you…you have found a walking companion.

I wish you all the blessings of a new school year, and as always, I welcome you comments.

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Another One Bytes the Dust

Tuesday, 23. July 2013 16:58

I'm at a two day workshop in Boston hosted by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. There are several presentations on a variety of instruction topics as well as obligatory demonstrations of the company's wares. I was in such a demo this morning and the speaker handed out flash drive wrist bands with informations about all the products. While I was pleased to see them adhering to my “no paper” rule, as I took the drive I was struck with how even this distribution method (even disguised with a fun package) is feeling dated.

I suppose if I only used devices that had USB ports my reaction would not have been so immediate. Carrying only my iPad, it was clear that I could not see any of the materials until I returned home. However, even in the desktop/laptop world there seems to be a disconnect between a cloud-based, available everywhere, model and carry-able (and lose-able) storage.

So what should it be? If floppy discs were replaced by CDs, CDs by DVDs, and DVDs by flash drives, what replaces the flash drive for easy distribution of materials? Based on my recent fascination, I was wondering if it might be the QR code. I've recently begun including these on the screen during my presentations so people can scan the code from their seats. These codes lead them to an information sheet with links and further information. I've also been experimenting with variations of the v-card, a business card with a QR code that enters information directly into a contact list.

If a vendor were to post a QR code on the screen or better yet give it out on a card, or a pen, or some other chatchki, I could take it and scan it into my phone or iPad, and I could have that link on any machine I use.

I suppose my fascination with these codes might be troubling to some, the reduction of information, of people, to box codes. However, they are a simple, portable way to transfer stuff, which is what we have been doing all along. I'd love to hear about other ways we might use this new technology to increase information and decrease trash.

As always, I welcome your comments


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Clamming Up

Thursday, 18. July 2013 15:00

Let me start today by saying that I have no idea what direction the future of classroom devices will go. It seems like every device that is widely used now involves compromises, and the trend I have observed in tech is that limited platforms become less limited or they disappear.

Taking a snapshot of today, however, one would conclude that the two devices with the most heat in the classroom solution arena are the iPad and the Chromebook. Many schools are using traditional laptops, but you don't hear much about these at conferences. Currently discussions range about 80% iPad and 20% Chromebook, using statistics that I made up at this moment.

I've talked about the Chromebook in the past. It has some clear advantages, most specifically with price and best integration with the Google applications. There is also the HUGE advantage of not dealing with Apple, a marriage I am finding more dissatisfying by the day and one I will be writing about soon.

Today, however, I want to deal with only one aspect of the comparison, the clamshell vs. the tablet. All Chromebooks that I have seen employ the traditional laptop clamshell. They are smaller and lighter than a full-sized laptop, but they still have the fold over screen and keyboard. Many find this configuration better for writing and other creation tasks than typing on an iPad screen.

The problem as I see it arises when it comes to replacing textbooks. One of the “givens” of 1:1 programs is that texts will be available on the device, rather than in paper. Even though many would argue (and I would agree) that the format of the text will change, no one argues that students will not be reading significant passages. As well as “textbooks” students will also be reading novels and other supplementary texts. Given that these materials will not be available in paper form much longer, this is a must for any student device.

Here's where I find trouble reconciling form to function. Reading for any length of time on a clamshell device is inefficient and uncomfortable. When I was experimenting with devices, I tried reading with a small laptop by flipping it sideways and holding it like a book. The good news was that I could read; the bad news was that it was a miserable experience. The machine was heavy, holding the “dead weight” of the keyboard was uncomfortable, and navigation, looking up definitions, and notation was a nightmare. Reading with the clamshell in upright position was only slightly less uncomfortable. I have a hard time picturing students spending significant time reading this way, and no one argues that reading should be a less integral skill to instruction.

So as we look at this format, we need to respond to this issue. Some suggest that we will split out the reading functions, and students can have a single-use reader. However, this seems impractical and costly and contrary to the trend of devices doing more, not less. I don't want students carrying a backpack full of devices like they now carry a backpack full of books.

Ultimately, I don't want to compromise. I want my student devices to do EVERYTHING well, but I don't see how the clamshell model fixes this.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Built to Last

Saturday, 13. July 2013 22:18

This is a quick one. For the last few days I have been at the University of Notre Dame for the ACE Superintendents’ Academy. It has been a wonderful time to meet with other superintendents from across the country and enjoy the beauty of the Notre Dame campus.

One night I walked over to the library and took the obligatory picture of the iconic building. While admiring the beauty of the imposing structure, a thought came to mind.

What will they be using this building for in 10 years? In 5 years? When the majority of the paper resources within become readily digitally available, what happens to this pride of the campus? Will it be a crypt for unread books? a photogenic anachronism? a backdrop for football games?

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Easy for You to Say

Thursday, 11. July 2013 16:35

I was reading something (or listening to something, or watching something…hard to keep media straight) last week, and I came across a statement that I had heard in some form or other, many times before. The author alluded to the “fact” that reading comprehension and retention is better when using a retro (paper) book than when using an electronic reader.

This is the kind of sloppy use of data that forms our world. The author of this statement made no reference to where it came from (though I do recall the mention of scientists…so it must be true). A Google search of key terms shows many similar statements, but few actual studies. The studies I found were narrow and preliminary, yet they have been thrown around so often that one no longer feels need to reference.

I know this is nothing new, and not unique to education, but given my push for greater integration of digital media, I wanted to address this here. There are two reasons why studies like these need to be kept in clear perspective.

First, there is an assumption in these statements that comprehension is a static skill. If subjects demonstrate better comprehension with one medium, then (it is implied) that medium is objectively more comprehensible. This assumption ignores the obvious fact that digital reading is a very new skill. Just as one is tentative with a new car, but soon adapts and improves performance, a person new to digital reading takes time to feel fully at ease and perform at her or his best. When I first read novels on a e-reader, I found the experience clunky and unsatisfying. However, now I am more comfortable reading an electronic book than paper book. I am certain my comprehension has increased with this facility, just as human comprehension of digital text will grow over time.

The second implication is that we should just go back to paper texts. Frankly I don't see this as a possibility. The case for paper texts economic, academic, and practical, grows weaker every year. The idea that paper books will somehow make a comeback contradicts everything I'm seeing and reading (online). If this comprehension issue is a fact (which I dispute), then we need to fix it.

There is so much nostalgia connected to the paper book, and it is difficult to sort out feelings from facts, and it is likewise difficult to separate facts from meaning.

…if you didn't understand this, you can print it out.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Something’s Happening Here

Tuesday, 2. July 2013 21:57

By now most of you have read that the Los Angeles Unified School District has announced a contract to purchase $30 million worth of iPads for student use in 1:1 implementations throughout the district. This is only phase 1 of a multi-phased plan to roll out devices to all students K-12 by 2014.

The article I read: LAUSD Approves Phase 1 Districtwide 1:1 iPad Initiative — THE Journal


My first reaction was, frankly, awe. Whatever you think about public schools, or 1:1 implementations, or iPads, it can't be denied that this is one big gutsy idea. When I announced that the schools in my diocese would have a 1:1 implementation by 2015, I thought I was hot stuff. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm pulling out my napkin, because I got served!

My second reaction was irritation, because I didn't see this coming. I believed that this was one of the advantages we had over public school districts, that we could put in place fee structures to pay for programs like this when public schools couldn't charge parents. I thought that public schools could never generate enough funds to give devices to all students. I still don't know how they are doing it, whether by title funds, bonds, or extortion, but this is an ongoing cost of many millions every year forever. I have cried my last tear for “underfunded” public schools.

Third was more practical. In one single stroke, the definition of school has been forever altered. Years ago I claimed that education technology was an arms race. Once one school put in (fill in the blank) computer labs, teacher machines, projectors, Smartboards, or document cameras, other schools had to follow or fall behind in the minds of the public. While this led to lots of wasted money and many mistakes along the way (both true for Smartboards), it also has forced a school system, too in love with status quo, to participate in contemporary (not 21st Century) media. LAUSD, with nearly 700.000 students is a self-contained tipping point for the entire educational community. No school district will long be able to ignore this development or stand on the sidelines. 1:1 learning is the wave of the future, for good and bad, and there is no turning back.

Finally, I was interested that iPads were chosen as the sole device. In my initiative I tried to build flexibility, always stating that many platforms and devices will be used. While I intend to continue to embrace flexibility, this massive choice may be a shot to the heart of other student devices. People may argue that other devices are superior to the iPad, and this may be true, but becoming irrelevant. The bulk of development from publishers, the availability of apps, and the institutional knowledge from thousands of school sites will be directed toward the greatest number of machines, and this has just been re-computed. I agree that the future of computing is cloud based and platform agnostic, so maybe this won't matter…but it will.

Who knows, I might be wrong again. The entire program might flop and disappear. However, with probably $100 million at stake, I don't think anyone will let it go easily. 1:1 education and the preeminence of the iPad in the classroom are here for a while.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Thursday, 27. June 2013 15:45

There are terms used in Ed-tech articles and presentations that set my teeth on edge. For a while I’ve reacted to any non-ironic use of the terms Digital Natives and Digital Citizens. These well-intentioned terms, introduced in a 2001 Marc Prensky article, provided a useful beginning to conversations about different starting places. However, in recent years they have been reduced to magic formulas “These kids know this stuff instinctively, they’re digital citizens,” and excuses, “I can’t do this…I’m a digital immigrant.”

My latest pet peeve is a term that is so ubiquitous that one runs eyes over without seeing it…until, like a virus, one is irritated by every place it occurs. Like the digital twins, this was a well-intentioned and effectively descriptive term that the passing time and events have made progressively less and less useful and more irritating, like an adult using groovy to show that he is down with the kids today.

What is this bugaboo (no, it’s not bugaboo)? Let’s say it together in chorus, 21st Century______ (fill in the blank, skills, learners, classroom, etc.).

As with the other term, Twenty-first Century had a valuable beginning. It was first used as a rallying cry among educators in the 1990s, suggesting that the skills of the new century were going to be very different from those of the past. It said there was a need to update our classrooms, our methodologies, and ourselves to meet the needs of the students we would soon be teaching. However, like digital natives and digital immigrants, the term was co-opted by the education establishment and over-used to the point of triviality. As I look at school mission and philosophy statements, TFC is almost a qualifier, a code word that has to be there to validate the school’s existence. The term is no longer startling. It has become fuzzy and meaningless.

A drinking game for Twenty-first Century at a tech conference would result in an audience suffering from inebriation, and lacking enlightenment.

There are three specific areas where Twenty-first Century no longer hits the mark, and may actually mislead. The first is the practical consideration of time. We are at this writing THIRTEEN YEARS into the 21st Century. It is no longer new or novel, and every year it becomes less so. Will we be talking about TFC skills in 2020? in 2050? in 2090? I know this sounds silly, but this term is still being used in documents of some permanence, and unless it is changed, it will date everything that surrounds it. It is acceptable in January to accidentally write 2012 on one’s checks (assuming anyone writes checks), but in November it just looks strange.

The second consideration is about purpose. In an educational world that supposedly is focused on students, we are using a term that would never be used and has no meaning to students. Twenty-first Century is a reminder to teachers and administrators, because students need no such reminders. Unlike many of us, they are living in the 21st Century. In fact, here’s a surprise, a good number of them were born in the 21st Century. To a student, this must sound as absurd as if we had seriously advocated the need for air-breathing skills.

Finally, the term is lazy because it feels good while not specifically meaning anything. I know we all feel that we know what we mean when we say it, but there is no specific agreed definition. Plenty of skills of the 21st Century are already obsolete. Shall we teach students how to use MySpace? AOL? flip phones? All of these are 21st Century skills that are as useless today as buggy-whip manufacturing.

So what to do? I know that one of the challenges is that there is no simple term to take its place. In discussing this I suggested progressive skills, but a good friend wisely pointed out that this might have a political connotation, and a backlash over a misunderstood term is the last thing we want. I have always liked the term authentic skills. I know that this also needs continued definition, but it is a reasonable, future-proof goal. Maybe we simply use the word skills, which is current for any time.

I hope that schools and educational organizations will start weeding Twenty-first Century in all of its permutations from all policies, statements, and documents that are not simply historical. Now is our chance to do this before it becomes embarrassing, demonstrating to all an essential backward orientation. 21st Century anything only makes sense in terms of the 20th Century…and that is long gone.

As always, I invite your comments.



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