I recently had the privilege of participating in Vicki Davis’s show, 10 minute teacher. We talked about teaching students new Media Literacy skills in the era of “Fake News.”
Devices have become omnipresent in our classrooms. Often, these tools are used as expensive, electronic content delivery systems. However, the real power in technology in schools is that it empowers students to become content creators. Smartphones and tablets, even more so, have allowed them to become mobile and agile ones. Most educators know that individuals learn far more about a topic when they must explain it to someone else. Additionally, by employing multiple learning modalities through the creative process (tactile, kinesthetic, visible, etc), students process material more thoroughly. As you think about your lesson plans in the future, consider empowering students to create rather than just consume. Here are a few ways to do just that.
Create a Video
I am a fan of giving students guiding questions and parameters, then having them make an educational video. In my documentaries project, students must answer address a specific topic (e.g. “Where did George Washington get his reputation for honesty?” or “Was Benedict Arnold solely a villain of the Revolutionary War?”). We talk about creating
content in an engaging way, incorporating images and videos effectively (and ethically), pacing content, and selecting what to include or leave out. Videos are not exclusive to the humanities. I have seen math teachers effectively use them by having students demonstrate how to solve complex problems and science teachers as a recording and reflection for labs. I also encourage students to post their videos publicly (when age appropriate) or to the class via a closed portal (for younger students). By posting their videos publicly and sharing with the class, they are presenting to an authentic audience. Making a video is easy and can by done with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer. Free software options include iMovie (MacOS & iOS), Movie Maker (Windows), and FilmoraGo (iOS & Android).
Create a Podcast
Podcasts are become ever more popular. There are podcasts to cover news, popular entertainment, hobbies, sports, cultural phenomena, and more. Task your class with
creating a podcast on a topic relevant to your course. If you are a Social Studies teacher, perhaps a weekly podcast on current events. If you teach science, a weekly science report relevant to the topic. Math? Try incorporating an update on a complex topic students are tackling that week. Podcasting can help students work on their public speaking skills as well as how to effectively present to an audience. Again, by sharing the podcast with the public at large or just the class and/or school, students learn what it is to engage with a broader audience. Podcasting can be done easily with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer paired with a simple microphone to drown out ambient sound (the microphone on headphones can work in a pinch or you can invest in something a little more substantive). My favorite free apps for podcasting include: Garageband (MacOS & iOS) and Audacity (MacOS & Windows).
My students complete a year long research project that they post on a comprehensive website. Through creating an online portal, they learn how to write effectively for a broad audience, how to cite material so that it is accessible online, how to create and incorporate various types of media, and how to effectively organize and lay-out content. What I especially like about website creation is that it allows students to combine skills that they have learned throughout the year (e.g. video and podcasting). We have all seen “good” and “bad” websites. When it’s published online, students want theirs to look good. As such, it also serves as a basic primer in basic graphic design. There are numerous free website tools out there. If your school is a G-Suite for Education school, then I highly recommend using the new Google Sites. Not only is it easy to use, but it readily allows for collaboration. You can also check out weebly or wix.
If you’re in a school where students have access to devices, I strongly encourage having them turn those devices into content creators. You will find that it empowers them as learners and makes their learning more applicable and deep.
If you assign writing assignments to your students, then be sure to learn how to use “suggested edits.” Suggested edits is similar to “track changes” in Microsoft Word. To turn it on, simply click on the Pencil (with the words “editing” next to it) and select “suggesting.” The menu will turn from grey to green.
Now, when you make changes to a document, they will show up as “suggestions” rather than direct edits. Users can even write notes to one another on the “suggestions” comments. This is a great way for multiple users to edit the same document or for students to do a peer editing exercise.
One of my favorite features in G-Suite tools is “Revision History.” This features allows you to see what changes were made, when, and by whom. It’s a powerful tool, especially in education. If you have never accessed the revision history, you can do so (so long as you have “editing” rights on a document) by going to File –> See Revision History.
This brings up a pane on the right hand side that allows you to see what contributors edited the document and when. If you select their names, it will highlight their changes in the marked color. It’s a pretty cool feature! There are numerous reasons why and educator would want to use Revision History in the classroom.
Ensure that Collaborative Projects are Collaborative
Group assignments are common in the classroom. However, it’s not uncommon for a group assignment to be monopolized by one or two students (either out of necessity or willfulness). By using revision history, you can ensure that group members are all participating in an assignment.
Restore a Previous Version
A student may inadvertently delete a section of an assignment or a contribution. One of my favorite features of revision history is that you can restore a previous version. Just find the draft that you want and click “restore this version.”
Ensure that Daily Assignments are Completed… Daily
A lot of teachers assign work that is due daily but checked sporadically. For example, English teachers often require that students keep a daily or weekly diary, social studies teachers ask for students to reflect on assignments, or science teachers require daily recordings of experiment results. The revision history can tell you when something was added to a Google Doc.
Watch the Evolution of a Student’s Writing
When I assign a writing assignment, there are several iterations and revisions. By using the revision history, I don’t need to worry that a hard rough draft is lost or damaged in a student’s backpack or locker. Instead, I can watch the evolution of a student’s writing over several days, weeks, or months. This a powerful tool when teaching writing.
Facilitate Peer Review
If you encourage peer review, revision history can help you to see the feedback and suggestions that students make on one another’s work. This way, you can ensure that they are reading and meaningfully providing feedback.
There are many other ways to apply revision history, but these 5 are a great way to get started with the feature in your classroom.
Smart Devices have taken the United States by storm. While smart locks (allowing you to remotely open your home without your keys), smart thermostats (programmable and controllable via your device), and a myriad of other “smart tools” have been around for years, what has been really pushing these devices has been the influx of new smart speaker/hub devices – Amazon’s Echo series, Google Home, and the newly release Microsoft Invoke (there are rumors of an Apple Siri driven device coming this year). Now, with only your voice, you can set a timer, turn on/off your lights, adjust your thermostat, stream television shows, and (with Amazon’s new Alexa update preempting the release of Amazon Echo Show) call or text your mom. By the way, this is a limited list – you can do far more!
So what does this mean for us? With the proliferation of smart home devices, I’ve seen legitimate concerns and excitement across the aisle. Privacy has become a more prominent concern among tech consumers. While I have my share of tools and devices, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t concerned about what data was being collected and how it is being disseminated. This is not just a concern about marketing (although many think it’s creepy that they purchase an item at the physical store and then find ads for it on their browser). Now that our digital lives, which seamlessly intersect with our physical ones, are becoming more cataloged and accessible, what does that mean for our future career and personal aspirations? Amanda Hess, columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote an op-ed entitled “How Privacy Became a Commodity for the Rich and Powerful.” If you have not yet read this piece, please do. It’s a powerful look at how our lives are now becoming monetized in ways that we cannot even imagine. Additionally, where does privacy end for us when it comes to government investigation? Edward Snowden’s exposure of NSA surveillance should remind us all that even if we are not under criminal investigation, our data is being collected and mined by the government.
However, on the opposite side of the coin, these devices do make our lives much easier. Yes, I do mean largely in the mundane – while my hands are covered in food residue I can just ask Alexa to set a timer or have her (when did I start thinking of “it” as a “her”?) turn off the lights after I leave a room so that I don’t have to walk across my living room in the pitch black, risking stubbing a toe or tripping on shoes. Of course it makes my life easier – just as Waze makes my drive home faster through Miami traffic, but perhaps I’m a little reliant on convenience! However, smart devices are having a profound impact on individuals with disabilities. It empowers them to be more independent and safe. For example, NBC news recently highlighted the experience of Todd, a quadriplegic 48 year old man. He spoke powerfully about how smart devices have enabled him to have lead a more fulfilling an independent life, and to be a better husband to his wife.
“A spouse should be your spouse. Your lover and your friend. Not a free caregiver,”
Todd’s experience is not unique as many individuals share how life-changing and impactful smart devices are for them. If you don’t believe me, check out the comments on Amazon Echo’s page. Their affordability (through their proliferation on the consumer market) make them accessible across socioeconomic divides; a user doesn’t need to fight an insurance company to gain access.
So what is the answer with smart devices? What level of privacy (if any) should we expect to forfeit? Who should over see this? How do we educate ourselves as well as children? To me, the last question is the most important. These technologies have exploded and common practice and legal overlay has not yet evolved to tackle them. If we don’t know what privacy we are giving up, then how do we know if it’s worth it? If these tools have become necessities (as many argue the internet now is), then is it legitimate to sacrifice our privacy to use them?
What do you think? What answers do you have or do you think we should explore?
I returned from ATLIS 2017 last Wednesday invigorated and, to be honest, a little exhausted. It wasn’t just the time change (although that was a challenge in and of itself). Rather, it was from participating in so many robust and deep conversations with my peers, taking part in various presentations and workshops, and the depth and breadth of the conference in its entirety. I’ve taken a few days to reflect on the conference experience (one of the key tenants of the ATLIS mission). Here are some of the key take-aways I had as both a Tech Director and an Educator.
Coding & Computer Science are More Vital Than Ever
Coding and Computer Science have been primary topics in education for the past few decades. However, the significance of coding has become even more vital. Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist at Google, kicked off the conference with a humorous but compelling keynote where he highlighted the need for young people to learn both Computer Science and Coding. Computer Science jobs are still both high in demand and well paying. He was also sure to point out that children can often learn coding on their own (with the self-directed software today). However, we as educators must prioritize the role of Computer Science (and not just of the AP kind) in becoming central to our educational priorities. This concept was further driven home in various sessions.
Using some key techniques and incorporating games, they demonstrated how even non-coders (like myself) can incorporate coding into their curriculum.
Justin Curtis of the Bryn Mawr School discussed the challenges and rewards of building a robust K-12 Computer Science curriculum (still a rarity in the country that built the first home computers and developed the internet).
All of these hammered home to me that we need more computer science and coding in schools in the whole curriculum, not just a one off course in the Middle or High School.
Cyber-Security is More Important than Ever
With the rise of hacking and ransom-ware, institutions need to be more savvy about how they protect their systems and educate their community. Hospitals remain the number 1 target for attacks. However, schools (especially independent schools) are quickly catching up. As they are repositories of information (social security numbers, credit cards, names and address, etc), schools need to be especially vigilant about the security of their systems.
Denise Musselwhite of Trinity Preparatory School and Jamie Britto of Collegiate School led a deep dive into Cyber-security and Independent Schools. This was a robust look into security policies (like two factory authentication), training sessions, and phishing tests. It’s a precursor to their two day cyber-security workshop in Chicago this summer.
In addition to Denise and Jaime, other presenters led sessions on security, highlighting that cyber security and systems are a key element for Technology Directors around the country. Building systems and keeping them secure is an ongoing struggle as every upgrade brings new vulnerabilities and every day brings new potential attacks.
Equity in Education & Tech
Equity was a prominent topic this year. While equity is often on the forefront of public education, it is a concern for independent schools as well. What made this conversation unique, however, is that it was not just about equity for students, but for administrators as well.
Information Technology is a community within a school that can staffed entirely by men, even when many EdTech faculty are women. Disturbingly, the percentage of computing occupations held by women has been declining since 1991, while women who do enter the profession quit at a rate double that for men. What can schools do to counter the message that IT jobs such as network and systems administration are nearly exclusively masculine?
When I popped into this overflowing session room, I walked into a robust discussion about the role of women in technology and leadership. As someone who has solely operated in co-educational institutions, it was especially striking how male-dominated technology departments are – even in all-girls schools. How does that impact the next generation of young women and men?
In addition to gender, there were several sessions about equity and access. For example, Margie Llines and Rurik Nackerud tackled Equity in BYOD. Many schools with even the most robust scholarship and needs programs still do not include technology and access as a part of those packages! This is especially concerning when a school has a mandated BYOD program. I touched on this issue in my own blog post “Growing Number of Poor Americans are Phone Only Internet Users – What does that Mean for Education?”
It is (or should be) About the Kids
The kind of Tech Directors you find at ATLIS are a little unique. We are the Tech Directors that don’t demand “lock it down” systems… in fact, we often rebel against them. ATLIS Tech Directors focus on what is ultimately best for the kids and education. It is always great and refreshing to see that be the focus once again. Whether it’s talking about coding and computer science, how to set up devices, equity and access, or how to support faculty, the center of the conversation was always “what is best for the kids and education?”
As an ATLIS Board Member, I am always excited to watch it grow and evolve. This year, the conference blew me away. I’m excited for the coming year as we develop more robust professional development opportunities, publish our first academic journal, and take technology at independent schools to the next level.
“Innovation” — there’s a reason it’s a provocative and powerful topic in the landscape of education. Public, Charter, and Independent Schools are all feeling the pressure from disruptive innovation as well as turning to innovative practices to solve curricular, financial, and recruitment woes. The reality is, we are living in an ever-shifting landscape. Traditional routes of career readiness are no longer reliable, previously “safe” jobs (think accountants, lawyers, and doctors) are now seeing job security fade away, and “traditional” schooling is coming under more scrutiny. The cost of university education is having many individuals rethink the options of pursuing higher education given the relatively flat career landscape facing them on graduation. As such, schools are now looking at innovative practice to help them solve these problems – how can they prepare their students for the jobs of the future (especially if we don’t know what those jobs are)? As a Technology Leader, I am often a part of conversations about innovation. This is not to say that innovation is all about technology, but radical innovation often encompasses employing new technologies. Innovation is challenging… it’s hard. Why? Because it necessitates culture shift and “organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner” — Peter Drucker.
Facing the challenges of innovation in my career and public life, I am especially excited about attending this year’s ATLIS conference in Los Angeles, California (April 24-26) as its theme is “Magic Magic Happen” and its focus is on innovation. I know that I will be inspired by the keynote speeches of Jaime Casap (Educational Evangelist) and Tim Fish (Chief Innovation Office of NAIS); both of them have worked with Independent Schools, helping them to innovate their curriculum and institutions. Looking at the posted schedule, I’m excited to learn more about innovative curriculum enhancements such as incorporating coding into the whole curriculum, implementing gamification, and creating new educational spaces, such as maker spaces in the library. Even better than learning about these initiatives, I’m especially excited to learn how to support them at my institution through transformative professional development and creating & fostering a culture of change.
This year’s ATLIS conference is the most exciting yet. If you are exploring innovative curriculum and technologies in your school, this is the year to attend! You can still register on the ATLIS website.