A Message to Barack Obama: Break Free of NCLB

I received an email from the Obama campaign that was soliciting ideas. I love that the campaign is so… participatory. In any case, I this is what I cracked off in response. I didn’t put a lot of time into it, and didn’t want to be needlessly detailed. Have I gotten the message across? Or have I missed the mark in my enthusiasm?

In the long term, improving and modernizing America’s global image, policy, and military will be a function of our education system, which itself is in great need of improvement and modernization. Barack has shown great courage in standing up against the politically correct thing in favor of the right thing… and the people have responded positively – and gratefully. We need a leader who will do the same thing when it comes to education. Though it was well intentioned, the No Child Left Behind act is not well loved by educators… whether or not they misunderstand the law is hardly the point… it is perceived as a burden – and it is. Free our teachers and our system to meet the needs of individual students – as people, not as statistics. Then support the teachers and the system at integrating the newest technologies and techniques. Explore, experiment, and benefit from taking those risks. Consider how Barack’s campaign has benefit… as an educational technologist I can tell you that teachers and students would benefit even more. Sadly, America has more barriers to the use of educational technologies than many other “industrialized” nations – and too many teachers have had the fight (and the humanity) drummed out of them. This campaign (and an Obama presidency) can help. Step out against standardized testing and accountability and stand up for a flexible 21st century educational system.

Oh, here’s the message they asked me to pass on. It includes links for you to share your stories and ideas, too. :)


Maybe you’ve traveled abroad and seen firsthand how in a few years George Bush has squandered the goodwill America earned over half a century. Maybe the decisions George Bush has made has sent your friend or family member into a war that should have never happened in the first place.

Barack Obama wants to know why a new direction for our foreign policy and restoring America’s moral leadership in the world is personal for you.

The more voices and ideas we can raise the better.

Share your story with Barack Obama by clicking here:


Share your idea with Barack Obama by clicking here:


UPDATE 04/24/07: Ironically, it looks like my post was somewhat timely… check out this article from this morning’s eSchool News.

Quote: What can, should, and will be done?

I was trying to remember this quote the other day and I came across it in my notes just now, so I’m posting it here… to be able to find it in the future and to share it with others. I think this line of thinking is critical to actually effecting the sort of organizational change educational technologists aim for:

“Seymour Papert wrote that when it comes to learning, what can be done is a technological question, what should be done is a pedagogical question, and what will be done is a political question.” (Shaffer, 2006, p. 191)

I guess I need to track down the original Papert quote, so if anyone knows where that is, let me know. :)


Shaffer, D. W. (2006). How Computer Games Help Children Learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jock Schorger in Qatar

This is a picture of my advisor, Dr. Jock Schorger of Walden Univeristy, at work in Qatar. He recently moved there (around the first of the year) to take his new position as “Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Specialist, Curriculum Standards Office, Education Institute, Supreme Education Council, Qatar.” The picture comes from a post he made in our online classroom… sharing his excitement about finally getting “indoor Internet” at his home. He certainly continues to lead an interesting life, and he’s putting Walden’s mission of effecting positive social change to work.

Here’s Jock’s original caption:

After 3 days of sand storms and occasional rain I now have indoor Internet. Finally after almost 7 weeks I am conveniently connected. I had never thought about indoor-vs-outdoor Internet. I have learned outdoor can be dangerous to your computer.

Also a picture from the Desert: Goat Milkman and Friends

I just couldn’t pass up posting this here. :)

Collaborative Tech Planning With A Wiki (Or: It’s A Plan, Not a Commitment)

On Tuesday night I presented a new educational technology plan to the school board of the Palm Springs Unified School District. The board was gracious enough to give me 15 minutes to present, several of the planning committee members were in attendance to show their support (including Dr. Lee Grafton who was my partner in leading the process and writing the plan), and the superintendent, Dr. Lorri McCune, was downright enthusiastic… so it was a positive experience for me and well worth the drive out there.

The plan is the result of a truly collaborative effort, and I think that is reflected in the length. My colleague Ranjit Mayadas in CTAP Region 9 told me months ago that a tech plan for the state doesn’t need to be more than 50 pages in length, but this one comes in at about 150 before appendixes. I really do feel sorry for his counterpart in Region 10, Jenny Thomas, who is reviewing the plan now. :)

Obviously, I was only able to touch on the highlights in my presentation, the things that made it stand out from other more formulaic plans. Check out the slides if you are interested. (Or read the two page executive summary.)

When I say that writing the plan was a collaborative effort, I actually mean we collaboratively authored the plan using… a wiki. Check it out at http://pstechplan.wikispaces.com if you are interested. Each week we met in a computer lab (or with laptops) so anyone could read or edit the wiki at any time. Many of the edits were mine (or made with my account) as I led or facilitated discussions. You’ll see a lot of anonymous edits early on. Later, I password protected the site once the plan-in-progress was released to the press and the public. After that you’ll see edits by a user called pstechplan, which was shared by the entire committee. I focused on ease-of-use over security and accountability. (Of course, I backed it up after each meeting.)

Late in the process we ended up using the discussion feature to discuss changes without altering the text of the main wiki pages. In one of our final group editing sessions, the committee made 40 changes and posted 38 discussion questions in only 90 minutes. I was amazed… and thrilled that the collaborative tool was working even better than I’d hoped by that point. I was then able to make any necessary changes and respond to each concern in the discussion area. Finally, we moved the content into a word template and made the final changes.

It’s not groundbreaking or impressive if you dial into specific pages or posts on the wiki, but the process really was collaborative… and easy, so I thought I’d share it here. I really appreciate having months of work archived there, especially in the “More…” section.

One final thought that came up while I was preparing the slides for this evening’s presentation was the phrase, “It’s a plan, not a commitment.” I initially included it as the lead in to my explanation that the board could approve the plan (which called for an average spending of $5.2 million per year MORE than they are already spending) without fear that they would be held accountable for committing those funds. (Tech plans don’t have much teeth in California.) I realized this phrase really captured the reality of the plan, but it also made me realize that the key to making it work (in addition to keeping it a living document) will be making a continued and consistent commitment to the plan. Happily, Dr. McCune really took the lead on this during the discussion and I almost didn’t have to say another word. :)

She, and the board, seemed to latch onto another phrase I shared (after hearing Jackie Francoeur use it often)… “built it and they will come” or “plan it, and the money will come.” One board member called the $5.2 million a “funding opportunity.” The best part was that by the end of the discussion they were asking the superintendent how long it would be until all students had a laptop… and when one of her staff threw out the goal of five years, one of the board members said, “that’s too long.”

I can’t wait to see what happens there… and I hope some of you will share your tech planning successes (or nightmares) in the comments below, too. Is anyone else using web 2.0 or other collaboration tools to facilitate the process?

NetDay Speak Up Data for N-MUSD

NetDay Speak Up Data for N-MUSD (Via Steve Glyer and Lainie McGann.) Steve Glyer, director of educational technology at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District (N-MUSD) just sent me an email, which included this bit:

You should check out the great site Lainie created to show case the just released NetDay data for the district. We had over 10,000 students, almost 700 teachers and almost 500 parents take the survey. Go to: www.nmusd.us/netday

N-MUSD is a cross section of very poor areas (90% second language and free and reduced lunch schools) and very rich areas (Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar), so this data is probably representative of much of California, and perhaps much of the country. You can inspect the results by school if you are interested.

If you participated in the survey at your site or district, the data is now available online: http://www.netday.org/SPEAKUP/speakup_your_data.htm

iPhone as a 1:1 Device in Schools?

Check out the comment I got on my iPhone post yesterday. People are really putting thought into this (rather than letting their excitement run away with them as I did yesterday). Here are two other related and thoughtful posts.

How about an ePhone? (Via D’Arcy Norman Dot Net.) Don’t miss the comments here, either.

Apple Inc – Convergence is more than just what happened to it’s name (Via EDITing in the Dark.)

In any case, I still want to get one myself in June. :)

Meme Alert: School 2.0

In addition to the “Google in Education” and “Video Games” in education trends I saw in the 1212 posts I skimmed and read this morning, I also noted a resurgence of the School 2.0 or School Restructuring meme. Doug Belshaw (who I seem to link to disproportionately often here) asksIs this the future of schools? in reference to an article about an innovative new school being built in Australia.

Meanwhile, Will Richardson (and others) report that the School 2.0 conversation started by the US Department of Education at the NECC conference in July continues. In fact, the plans we saw at the conference are finally available online – and on paper by request. Visit School 2.0 – Join the Conversation to see what the educational technology leaders in this country have in mind. Naturally, there are many Web 2.0 (and ubiquitous computing – and networking) technologies involved, as well as some innovative organizational changes. Again, this is an exciting trend to see.

Level 1 Teacher Technology Certification (For Beginners)

Following the three-day Trainer-of-Trainers course I lead in August, I lead a five-day Level 1 Teacher Technology Certification course at the Laguna Beach Unified School District on behalf of the Orange County Department of Education. It was not strictly for beginners, but it was a very large cohort (more than 30), with a wide range of skill levels.

In fact, this was probably the most striking thing about the training for me… I would even say it was eye-opening, or that it really put current reality in perspective for me. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, writing, and teaching about cutting edge things like blogs, wikis, and podcasts… or multimedia apps like iLife (or Picasa, Photo Story, Audacity, and Movie Maker on PCs)… but it has been a while since I was confronted with teachers who truly needed “level 1” proficiency. I had folks in this class who handn’t masted the motor skills necessary to use the mouse to highlight text, who typed URLs into search boxes (this is actually pretty common), and who had never used a word processor before.

In the course of a full week training everyone was able to create their portfolio and to pass the “test out” at the end of the course. By the end everyone had demonstrated the required degree of mastery in internet use, email, word processing, spreadsheets, and powerpoint – and everyone had created a functional blog. It was really a challenge for some, though. There were also many who were perfectly proficient, and these folks were invaluable in helping coach the participants who needed it. There were three people in the room on-and-off throughout the week who had just finished the trainer of trainers – and they were very helpful – but most of the coaching was actually peer-to-peer in the class.

I took away two lessons.

1. There are many more teachers who need these basic skills than I thought there still were. I’m glad that I’ve had a misperception corrected.

2. The most valuable strategy for improving this situation is to facilitate sharing of skills from teacher-to-teacher.

The old coaching or mentor-mentee relationships that many California high schools used during the late 90’s Digital High School days are seeming like a good idea now.I know they passed out of popularity, or formal use after the formal program “dried up” but I hope people will still take advantage of their school’s internal capacity, both formally and informally.

These things also lead me to reflect on the growing gap between the have’s and have–not’s (in terms of teachers with and without tech skills). While the certification program, originally written in 2000, covers Internet, email, wordprocessing, spreadsheets, presentations, and (originally) databases, I think that by 2005, this needed to include multimedia (photo editing, audio editing, and video editing) and the read/write web (blogs, wikis, and podcasts). Instant Messaging belongs in there somewhere, too. That’s a lot of work we have cut out for us… and, what are we going to add by 2010? How do we, or should we keep up?

Level 1 Teacher Technology Certification: Trainer of Trainers (For Tech Lead Teachers)

In my work for OCDE this summer, I lead a three-day trainer-of-trainers course for the Level 1 Teacher Technology Certification program. This program provides teachers with a preliminary level of technology proficiency in Internet, e-Mail, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations, and Databases. These are skills that new teachers are now trained in during their credentialing process in California, but there are many in the system who still need these skills – and perhaps not surprisingly, these skills don’t always take the first time if the new teachers (even young ones) are not digital natives.

In the past year or so, several pilot programs at specific districts (most notably the pilot at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District) have experimented with swapping out the Database portion for other skills more relevant to teachers. In our case, we chose blogging, and I’m happy to report that in this training (and the one that followed for ‘regular’ teachers) many new classroom blogs were born – and are being used already!

This particular training was an attempt to build capacity in the Laguna Beach Unified School District, by certifying all of their tech lead teachers as Level 1 trainers. (There are two teachers identified as tech lead teachers at each site – and each is paid a stipend to serve as a sort of educational technology coordinator for that site and a liaison to the district.) This training was a surprisingly fulfilling process for me. They were of course easy to work with and eager to learn, but more importantly I really got the sense (from a few in particular) that they really were planning to turn around and use this with their colleagues… and in some cases I think I’ve already seen changes in how they are using technology this year themselves.

I don’t know how much they will use it, but it was also exciting to set up a wiki for them to share custom agendas for their district and to share the many resources I mentioned off hand during the training. Ideally, I hope this will grow into a resource for the tech lead teachers there… feel free to contribute yourselves if you are interested: http://lbusd.wikispaces.org (Note: It turns out none of the blogs linked to this wiki are seeing much use yet… I’ll shared examples when I can.)

The following week’s five-day training for ‘regular’ teachers really opened my eyes in different ways, but that is tomorrow’s post. :)

Audio Webcast Interview This Week: Larry Cuban, author of “Oversold and Underused”

Audio Webcast Interview This Week: Larry Cuban, author of “Oversold and Underused” (Via Steve Hargadon.) Steve Hargadon’s list of audio webcast interviews is growing, and its already an amazing list. I was surprised to see he interviewed Larry Cuban, who I sometimes quote in teacher trainings. The book “Oversold and Underused” is right here on my shelf. It’s one of the only Ed Tech books I’ve ever found in a Barnes and Noble. At any rate, the book seems on the surface to say that computers have been oversold to schools, but his message was really that they are underused (in a nutshell). Some quotes I often share are these:

Computers are merely souped-up typewriters and classrooms continue to run much as they did a generation ago.

Students and teachers use new technologies far less in the classroom than they do at home.

Teachers who use computers for instruction do so infrequently and unimaginatively.

The first one I’ve taken a bit out of context so I can generate reactions from workshop participants (usually administrators in this case) and then I follow it up with the complete quote:

When teachers are not given a say in how technology might be used, computers are merely souped-up typewriters and classrooms continue to run much as they did a generation ago.

This generates a whole different discussion, including elements important to building professional learning communities.

In any case, I’m sure the Larry Cuban interview will be though provoking, and I hope others will take advantage of the resource Steve is creating and sharing in this series of interviews.