Monday, May 30, 2016

Six Years with Schoology: Setting Expectations for the Future

We are finishing our sixth year using Schoology as our learning management system, which we use to extend learning both in and outside the classroom. I am so thankful we adopted Schoology. It really has enabled our teachers and students to focus on learning and not worry about the technical issues of maintaining classroom websites, granting sharing permissions with Google files, working in paperless classrooms, and so much more. Their app, which our 6,250 1:1 iPad students and teachers use multiple times per day, has really enhanced our program and streamlined many of these processes; in turn these increased efficiencies in the classroom have created more instructional time. You can see some of this in the video above. Two examples:
  1. When a teacher creates an assignment in Schoology, s/he has the option to have a folder (like a dropbox folder) automatically be created. Students turn their digital files/work into this folder, which can come directly from their Google Drive, iPad camera roll or computer hard drive. Teachers don’t have to make a folder in Google Drive, name it separately, grant permissions, etc. As students turn in their work, it automatically is labeled and alphabetized, and Schoology tracks and shows who turned it in on time/late, etc.
  2. The rubrics available within Schoology make paperless grading super efficient for the teachers using the iOS app, too. Teachers can tap the different criteria in the rubric for the student's score, make annotations in digital ink on the assignment, and even leave audio feedback for the student. As they finish grading each assignment, they can swipe across the screen to the next student. 
Since we started using Schoology, we have set up expectations for use. This spring a group of our instructional technology teacher coaches (Tech TOSAs: Teachers on Special Assignment), Building Principals, and District Admin met and updated our Schoology expectations for teachers for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year. 
There are clearly spelled out expectations and guidelines for having an Online Presence in Schoology and also for going beyond the basics of this presence: to use Schoology as a hub of learning for a Digital Classroom. We first heard of this delineation from Osseo Schools who also use Schoology.

We will offer 90-minute training classes for staff in August to prepare their Schoology courses for the coming school year and ramp up their level of use of many Schoology features. Schoology offers so much more than a simply a place to post due dates and collect homework. Teachers will explore ways to embed content, create Pages, add video/images into quizzes, create student groups to differentiate assignments and/or discussion boards, as well as try out new tools like Schoology Portfolios.

Our expectations for all teachers for a Schoology Online Presence and Schoology Digital Classroom are as follows:

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Reflections on Teaching Online Courses for Teachers

For the past eleven years I have been an assistant professor at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, teaching classes on technology integration for teachers working on their masters' degrees. For three years I also have taught classes at the University of Minnesota for undergrads working on their teaching degrees. Working with hundreds of educators over these years has provided me with a great perspective on the wide range of technology integration in schools across Minnesota. It's been a great opportunity for me to learn from other educators and school districts about what is working, where the struggles are, what tools are being used, and what plans are being made. I also appreciate hearing the perspectives of classroom teachers about technology initiatives and implementations in which they are involved. I believe my interactions with so many educators have made me a better teacher as well as allowed me to share what I've learned with the teachers in Minnetonka.

My first real experience as an adjunct professor teaching adults was back in 2001 at Hennepin Technical College. I started teaching Intro to HTML Web Design night classes. My students at this time weren't teachers, they were high school grads and older adults planning careers in computer science and business. (I actually first taught HTML to my fourth grade students- more about that here.)

When I started teaching courses for educators, they were at face to face at locations I would drive to around the Twin Cities, usually on Wednesday nights and Saturdays for eight weeks. At the time, we focused on programs like PowerPoint and hardware such as digital cameras (with floppy disks and cables) and talked about beginning to use the Internet in the classroom. Over the years I started teaching in a blended model with some weeks online and others face to face. Now for the past few years, my courses have been all online. Topics include social media, personal learning networks, Google Apps for Education, iPads, screen casting, digital storytelling, digital citizenship, and more. I've learned a lot about teaching online and am constantly trying to keep courses interesting, engaging, interactive, and the content and topics current. Part of my course is modeling how to teach and work in an online environment, too, which I've found is still new for many educators. 

Teaching an online course is not easy. In the past during a face to face course, a lot of the work was finished right during the class and I was present to see it. Discussions also start and end during face to face classes, and not every student speaks or answers every question. Online, however, it is different: often all students answer and I find myself spending hours and hours reading discussions and reflections. I also spend a lot of time looking at students' work and projects. Trying to find the correct balance of graded and ungraded assignments is something I am still figuring out, as well as a variety of meaningful and relevant tasks. I alway appreciate hearing how others teach online, so please send me your tips, ideas, and best practices!

Summer Instructional Technology Class Offered

Once again this summer I'll be facilitating an entirely online, four week, three credit graduate course on Personalizing Learning with Digital Technology. The course runs July 20 - August 10 and is housed in Schoology. To learn more, visit the Graduate Professional Development for Educators page at Saint Mary's. If you are looking for a master's program, I teach in two different programs at Saint Mary's, one that offers classes in a blended model and another that is entirely online. Finally, if you are considering a career in education, check out the program where I teach in the LT Media Lab at the Univeristy of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bigger, Better, Faster: New iPads Coming for Year Six in Minnetonka's 1:1 Program; First Devices Cost $0.38/school day

Over the course of this summer, iPad2s will be replaced for next year’s students entering grades 5, 6, 11 and 12. This is half of the 6,250 students in our 1:1 program for grades 5-12. We were pleased to get additional years of use out of these older iPads, some now five years old. (See A Big Bang for Your Buck: The iPad for $0.44/day: Less than a Chromebook)Old student iPads will be sold in June with the revenue placed back into the purchase of new student iPads. With this revenue due to the residual value in our old iPad2s, the total cost of our five year old iPad2s ended up to be $0.38/day! This cost is even lower if you factor in the use of iPads over the summer. Staff who teach in grades 5-12 who currently have an iPad2 will also have their iPad updated and old iPad sold. 

These students and staff will receive the iPad Air 2 64GB model. The iPad Air 2 is bigger, better, and faster. It brings marked increased processor speed, download speeds and a powerful split-view picture-in-picture multitasking function. Plus it will have a bigger storage capacity with four times as much as the iPad2s being replaced:

This year’s sixth through ninth grade students will hang onto their iPads over the summer. Last summer the iPad at home experience was a success. Students had support over the summer for any iPad issues that occurred and had the ability to use this tool beyond the traditional school year. (More about this School's (Almost) Out, So Keep Your iPad for the Summer). Students who are receiving new iPads will pick them up later this summer and get them all setup and ready to go well before school begins in September. 

In addition to this hardware upgrade, our bandwidth utilization continues to grow. This is evidence that our web-based instructional platform is being fully utilized by students and staff. We currently subscribe to 1 GB/second service and will be increasing that to 4 GB/second this summer. We invested in new wireless infrastructure last summer at our high school and will be updating wireless infrastructure at both middle schools this summer. With over the air (OTA) management of iPads, most of these new iPads will never be touched by our IT staff, which is another efficiency and cost savings.

The Minnetonka Teaching & Learning Instructional Framework
Now in its sixth year, the Minnetonka 1:1 iPad Program has quickly moved beyond adoption of the device to deeper implementation with more meaningful integration of the available tools. Professional development for staff focuses on much higher levels of integration. Not only is Minnetonka’s 1:1 effort featured as one of the eight dimensions in the Teaching and Learning Instructional Framework, but there is general agreement that all dimensions of learning are enhanced when the instruction leverages technology in the classroom.  Essentially, our students are creating, collaborating, critically thinking, and communicating in more personalized, authentic situations based largely on the integration of the iPad into our classrooms. (See Minnetonka Top 100+ Ideas for 1:1 Integration in 5th grade, English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and World Language.) We are excited to bring this hardware and features to our staff and students and see how they leverage this new technology for their learning!

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Bot Literacy Will Replace Web Literacy as Apps, Search Engines, & Websites Fade Away

"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

"I'm sorry, Dave. I didn't get that." 

Has Siri ever interrupted you out of the blue? I found Siri's unprompted statements unnerving, so I turned off both the "Hey, Siri" and Raise to Talk settings soon after they were released. I was admittedly a bit paranoid that Apple was listening to everything I said, even when I didn't initiate the interaction. Of course, my worries were pretty minor and nothing Siri overheard was major or life threatening. (I wasn't interacting with Hal telling me, "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that," but Siri's similar response was creepy nonetheless.) 

After spending some time reflecting on the current and future status of personal assistants (bots), I discovered it can quickly become a rabbit hole of further questions. According to Will Oremus in a recent Slate article, Terrifyingly Convenient, we need to get used to more of our interactions with technology through bots. He tells of an experience similar to my Siri story when Alexa, his Amazon Echo, interrupted a private conversation he and his wife were having by interjecting a joke. Oremus points out that:
"Even as many of us continue to treat these bots as toys and novelties, they are on their way to becoming our primary gateways to all sorts of goods, services, and information, both public and personal. When that happens... Alexa and virtual agents like it will be the prisms through which we interact with the online world." 
Facebook is currently testing out their own personal assistant for users called M, who will soon interject suggestions and comments in our interactions and posts. Note that I just used the word "who" instead of "it". That's pretty telling. Oremus writes that:
"Once we perceive a virtual assistant as human, or at least humanoid, it becomes an entity with which we can establish humanlike relations... What’s most important, from the perspective of the companies behind this technology, is that we trust it."
I read with great interest as Oremus went on to explain that as these bots get better and do more for us, web search and browser use will fade, and so will mobile apps. Just imagine that for a moment. This world we have just gotten used to with the Internet at our fingertips is about to change yet again. Someday we'll tell our grandkids how we used to have to go to a search engine in a web browser to find an answer. Can you hear them ask, 
"What's a search engine and browser, Grandpa?" 
As I think of the implications of this for schools, I wonder how much longer we will teach web literacy for the current systems we use. Until I read about the move to bots, I hadn't considered that web browsers and apps would even be going away (I didn't have them listed in my Ed Tech Graveyard). What else will soon be there, or perhaps already is? (Cursive writing? The Dewey decimal system card catalogs? Keyboarding? Using a mouse? Hmm...) 

As these bots are programmed, they need to have a source for their information. Amazon's Alexa defaults to NPR for news and Wikipedia for information. There is a way to change this, but it's not clearly stated and most users will likely just accept it. Oremus states that, 
"The problem is that conversational interfaces don’t lend themselves to the sort of open flow of information we’ve become accustomed to in the Google era. By necessity they limit our choices—because their function is to make choices on our behalf."

Bot Literacy will be the new Web Literacy.

So how much will you blindly trust the programming and company controlling your bots? I believe that students should understand the background behind the information that their bots provide to them- how it is selected and what is not.
 The fundamentals of understanding web literacy will still be there, but perhaps it will be called bot literacy in the not so distant future. My favorite resources for teaching web literacy are from Alan November, and these can apply to bots in the future. We will still need to understand and pay attention to issues Oremus points out like "transparency, privacy, objectivity, and trust" as we navigate though a high tech world interacting with bots. The full article on Slate is a great read. For even more information about this, check out The Search for the Killer Bot from The Verge. 

A last thought for you to contemplate as you consider the role of bot literacy in the future: at a conference I was at recently, a speaker casually mentioned a conundrum that programmers of Google's driverless cars face. If the bot driving your car knows an accident is imminent and has to chose between saving your single life of the lives of more passengers in the oncoming vehicle, how should the program be written? Yikes! It sounds like a good problem for students to discuss in Bot Ethics 101 classes.
(Somewhat) related posts:

Monday, May 2, 2016

Developing World Savvy Students in Minnetonka

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On Saturday some Minnetonka Middle School East eighth grade students placed first and third in the exhibit category at the World Savvy Festival in Minneapolis. The first place winners’ project was about human trafficking and the group of students who took third place did a project on climate change. Minnetonka Middle School West students earned a first place with their website on the extinction of bees.  

A few weeks before, I had the opportunity to help judge some of these eighth grade students’ World Savvy projects in their studies class at Minnetonka Middle School West. The theme of this year’s projects was “Population and Progress.” Students worked to research a global issue by selecting a topic and analyzing how population dilemmas affect people’s progress.  Topics I saw ranged from 3D printing to social media to alternative energy to food waste.   

Students' COP21 Website
One group of three students who I met with chose climate change as their topic. They focused on COP 21, the Conference of Parties, that took place last year with world leaders agreeing to a plan to decrease emissions and slow climate change. The students built a website using Weebly to showcase their learning. I was very impressed with the depth of their knowledge and understanding of the content they had gathered. Their website overall is very impressive, too. The layout, visual appeal, balance of text and images, as well as the photos they selected shows a strong understanding of working with media.

Image source: World Savvy
As stated on their website, World Savvy is “a national education nonprofit that works with educators, schools, and districts to integrate the highest quality of global competence teaching and learning into K-12 classrooms, so all young people can be prepared to engage, succeed, and meet the challenges of 21st century citizenship.” Minnetonka has been working in partnership with World Savvy in the district’s grade eight social studies classes since 2010.  Students at both of our middle schools work in collaborative teams and then present their findings at the school showcase. You can see a video overview of the student showcase from a couple years ago:

The Minnetonka Framework for Teaching & Learning
These projects directly tie in with our Framework for Teaching & Learning which helps us design student experiences for meaning, engagement, and deeper learning.  It includes multiple dimensions, most of which were part of the World Savvy projects: authentic and real-world learning, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, global perspectives, personalized learning, and use of technology. The students were really engaged in their projects and it seemed especially meaningful to them. I would encourage you to learn more about the World Savvy program if you are not already familiar with it.