Should schools privatize technology?

Disagreementphoto © 2011 Michael Coghlan | more info (via: Wylio)
The annual Beaufort County Budget War is about to begin and this year's battle looks to be a near fight to the death if you believe the political rhetoric that is flying around the press and local blogs. Each year the school district has to submit its budget for the coming fiscal year to the Beaufort County Council for its approval. It seems the councilmen and women always kick the buget back to the school board with two words in big bold red letters: CUT IT! Despite the rhetoric, a compromise that will please no one will eventually be reached because both groups of politicians don't want to actually kill public education with an election year coming up. However, the reality is that school districts do need to look at what they need to fund and possibly cut. One thing that has not been mentioned too much, yet, is technology. There is a lot of people screaming that schools should be privatize, which would be a mistake, so they could run more efficiently. South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley wants to privatize school buses, another mistake based on my experience as a soccer coach. So why not get schools out of the technology business? How could education technology be privatized so school districts can save a few bucks?

  1. Take Google up on their offer for Chrome netbooks: Google wants to get their new cloud-based Cr48: Disabling boot verificationphoto © 2010 Jamal Fanaian | more info (via: Wylio)
    operating system into the mainstream by offering schools a sweet deal. For $20 monthly subscription, each student would receive his or her own netbook running the Chrome operating system with all of the software added on. Even better, the subscription also includes all hardware and software upgrades. With this deal you could possibly cut down your Instructional Technology staff and forget having to purchase software such as Microsoft Office per user. There are potential savings of thousands of dollars there alone. Would schools be willing to switch to Google Docs and other cloud-based applications? Some computers would be needed to do tasks such as MAP testing or other assessments. However, if schools actually jump on these deals the NWEA would migrate over to Chrome just to keep its customers. The school wireless network would also have to be maintained or even strengthened because if it goes down the netbooks don't work.
  2. Cloud-based applications: If schools don't want to get into bed with Google totally they could keep their computers and just go with the cloud-based applications. The savings would be in software alone because the computers would need people to service them as in-house or contracted technology staff. Also, networks would need to be larger to allow the machines to work or at least go to the Internet for the applications.
  3. Open-source: Similar to cloud-based because it can be had for next to nothing. Even the operating system, Linux would be open-sourced. While this sounds good on paper, it can be a nightmare trying to support on network systems. I have seen one open-sourced software disappoint students when they tried to run it on the network system. Flashing screens come up as the computer crashes. This would require more staff to service and maintain the network and we are not talking security issues here.
  4. Parents provide the equipment: Maybe it is time for schools to tell parents they may have to purchase either computers or mobile devices and let the schools save those hardware and software costs. All the schools have to provide is the Internet as they would in the Google Chrome deal. Actually, schools could entice AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint to put up towers near the schools so the devices could receive a 3G or 4G signal and schools don't need the Internet that much. Just a small network for services. Of course the telcos would have to have an education plan for all that data being iPhone 4 Bumper + Universal Dock w/o Adapterphoto © 2010 Yutaka Tsutano | more info (via: Wylio)
    used. or they could setup wifi hotspots. All maintenance would be the responsibility of the parents who would make sure their children take care of those expensive devices. All the schools would do is require hardware and software standards each student brings whether it is tablets or netbooks. Schools could just upload textbooks so students would have them. The textbooks would delete themselves at the end of the school year. Some might say classroom management would be a nightmare.

Well here are some options for Instructional Technology to do its part for cutting school budgets while providing quality education experiences for students. While some of these ideas might work, each one is not a magic bullet to save education. Would schools be better off passing technology to outside parties? If you have any other ideas to save money through technology I am all ears.

SCETV is more than ferrets

Mr. Ferret, RIPphoto © 2006 Sarah Marriage | more info (via: Wylio)
This past week I had the pleasure to give two presentations at the South Carolina Educational Television Spring Teacher Technology Workshop.  Teachers from across the Palmetto State come to Columbia to learn technology skills that will help them grow as educators and look for new ways to improve classroom instruction. For many teachers these workshops are the only way they are able to get any technology training. Some districts are so focused on giving priority to training that will help get test scores up. Other districts have spent lots of money on technology but failed to budget enough money for training or had to cut that part budget to save money. You have to applaud these teachers for taking their own time to better themselves. Unfortunately, more budget cuts at the state and even federal levels may may eliminate these workshops and the other valuable educational related services provided by SCETV. These are the things the majority of South Carolinians do not see. Unfortunately, when many people (and legislators) look at SCETV they only see Barney, Big Bird, and ferrets.

Ferrets? Barney, yes even if many adults want to do evil things to that unfailingly cherry dinosaur. What adult has not grown up learning how to count and recognize letters by watching Sesame Street? But ferrets? Yes, ferrets. A recent Facebook discussion I was privy to started when someone criticized SCETV of wasting taxpayer money because of a show about ferrets. The discussion became somewhat heated as those for and against SCETV weighed in on the topic. Here is a newsflash, the ferret program was not paid for by taxpayers. It was paid for by donors and foundations which includes individuals who may only give maybe $20 or corporations who may give millions. What the taxpayers pay for, according to an SCETV brochure, includes the network’s infrastructure such as towers, transmitters, buildings, and employees to make it all work. What the brochure did not mention is the many other things SCETV does that is not seen on regularly scheduled television and radio programing. So I thought I would mention a few of the SCETV programs do to help schools and teachers besides the technology workshops that most people outside of education did not know existed.

Teacher training: While I have already mentioned the technology workshops SCETV puts on twice a year, SCETV has two trainers who crisscross the state giving workshops to schools and various educational conferences. The dynamic duo of Debbie Jarrett and Donna Thompson work tirelessly to show teachers how to use the tools SCETV provides teachers to make instruction more informative and enjoyable for students. Debbie and Donna not only talk about SCETV services they also teach teachers how to use technology tools such as Microsoft Movie Maker, Photostory, podcasting, and other media creation tools to create digital storytelling projects. They are so good at their job, in a legendary tale, they went into a training session and did not know it was about the new Movie Maker Live but did not miss a beat as they showed how to make it work. For a private trainer to come and do the same thing it would cost $200 per hour or more.

ETV Streamline: This has to be one of the best things for teachers by far. This site has thousands of hours of free programing for teachers to copy and use in the classroom. Lesson plans with assessments can be created using the site and the programing is broken into clips so time is not wasted watching parts of a program that is not relative to a lesson. Students can access these clips for viewing at home and take online assessments. In my opinion this is a very underutilized tool in a teacher’s toolbox. If private companies provided this service they would charge each school thousands of dollars for this content. Actually, they may not want any copying of video due to piracy concerns.

Media Share: This is part of Streamline that is so good it deserves its own mention. Teachers and students can create and share online any media they create for viewing only by other Streamline members. This provides security for students if they produce audio or video projects for school. Teachers can select who can see the media such as school, district, state, or national. This is a great resource for sharing great teaching ideas or developing training materials that are school or district specific. There is YouTube and it has great content but do we really want to send students looking around there?

KnowItAll: A web portal for K-12 students, teachers, and parents to search the Internet safely. This includes appropriate videos, games, curriculum, assessment tools, websites recommended by the South Carolina Department of Education and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. There are other web portals out there but to make money they collect Internet surfing data to sell to marketers or do outright advertising. This SCETV site brings all of the SCETV Internet offerings for educators into one easy to remember place. All of the resources I mentioned above are only a click away and I only have to remember one website to visit. Definitely worth its weight in gold.

Discovery Educator Network: Here is a great example of public and private working together and depending on each other. DEN is a network of teachers who collaborate and share instructional ideas with each other about technology, media, and other practices used in the classroom. SCETV promotes its services and hosts events for DEN teachers to gather and share ideas face to face. There was such a meeting at the technology workshop where member teachers showed off their favorite technology gadgets, websites, or ideas in a fun “American Idol” type forum. I came away with some ideas to use in my class and items on my wish list. DEN also has the Star Educator program which is a network of teachers who conduct trainings at their school or district on using Streamline or other Discovery services. SCETV provides help and ideas to assist this special group of technology savvy teachers.

There are more services SCETV provides to educators and other groups as well such awareness of our natural resource but there is only so much time and space to list them all. If people would get past the ferrets and could see what SCETV does for the schools alone the taxpayers of South Carolina would see they are getting a bargain. Of course there is great programing on the channels too and it is not all about ferrets. Speaking of ferrets, I like ferrets and wished I had seen the program. My son had two ferrets and they provided our family many hours of entertainment as we watched them play around the house. Ferrets need love too and I am glad SCETV was there to provide it!

And the winner is?

There were four movies that stood out in my mind about education in 2010: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, The Social Network, True Grit, and The King's Speech. These movies had a common theme that did not jump out until I started thinking about them as a whole. In each of these movies the main characters were able to do extraordinary achievements without the traditional education, credentials, or certifications one would expect of such people. Is our media sending out a signal that education as we know it is no longer necessay? Let me explain.

True Grit: while Rooster Cogborn was a Federal Marshal, he did not have the benefit of law enforcement training. His skill came by experience and not all of it as a law abiding citizen. Marshal Cogburn could be forgiven since there was no such thing as law enforcement training just after the American Civil War. However, the character that impressed me was 15-year old Mattie Ross. This young lady, without a high school diploma much less a college degree, was able to skillfully negotiate business deals with more experienced adults and get what she wanted. Mattie probably would make Lawyer J. Noble Dagget squirm in a courtroom.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Harry, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley drop out of Hogwarts, believing the school could teach them nothing more about how to battle the evil Lord Voldermort. This would be like three 1940's teens dropping out of high school after their junior year to go fight Adolph Hitler and the Nazis on their own during World War II. Of course they had excellent role models in Fred and George Weasley who committed the greatest school prank in education history as they dropped out of Hogwarts to go into business in Diagon Alley.

The Social Network: most people now know Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to work on making Facebook the most popular social network in the Internet. There were two other characters in the movie who did not have the benefit of a college degree and did rather well. One was Bill Gates, another Harvard dropout who went on to build Microsoft into a dominate software company. The other character was Sean Parker who did not even darken the doors of a college (unless to party) but changed the music industry forever by creating Napster.

Finally, The King's Speech: Lionel Logue was able to help King George VI's stuttering problem after other experts had failed. The problem was Logue was not an accredited speech therapist, a fact the King's advisors pointed out as they pressured the new king to drop Logue for "expert" speech therapists. Logue was an actor who got his start using acting techniques to help World War I veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (then known as Shell Shock) speak again. No formal training, just techniques that worked from experience. It was those techniques that helped King George VI give a speech that rallied the British Empire during the dark days of World War II.

Much has been said that there needs to be a fundamental shift in education, especially given the current economic conditions. I have heard the students who learn how to master the art of learning as they create new ideas will be the most successful in the future. It will be this type of student who will be able to work in the as yet unknown career fields traditional schools cannot foresee much less prepare for. There is so much knowledge available for free that, some say, colleges are not necessary. With movies like True Grit, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Social Network, and The King's Speech is it possible that our media is preparing people for a change or is it reflecting changes already occurring?

Decline and Fall of the United States is Education Related

I read an article from Salon titled "How America will collapse (by 2025)" which the author, Alfred McCoy, tells of scenarios which lead to a rapid decline of American power replaced by China. The decline and fall of the United States as a dominate global power seems to be a forgone conclusion now. The United States' own government even marks the end at sometime in the middle of this century. This is not comforting if a government is predicting its own decline. The article goes through various scenarios which lead to a more rapid decline than others expect. These include a continued dependence on oil, costly military adventures which don't work, loss of technological leadership, and economic leadership. The bottom line is almost every scenario involves problems in our educational system that does not produce citizens that can meet the challenges the author presents.

The first scenario is the loss of leadership in technological innovation. The article cites the fact that the United States is not producing enough adults with university degrees much less in science and engineering. This means countries like China and India will have an upper hand in technology innovation which will continue to fuel their economies as they roar past the United States. The second scenario is the United State's continued dependence on foreign oil. According to the article foreign oil accounts for over 66% of our energy consumed. If oil producing countries want to cripple the U.S. economy then all they need to do shut off our supply. This time, China will be very willing to purchase oil and play nice politically with oil-producing countries. Not enough effort is being placed to find energy alternatives that are cheap and renewable. Other countries are doing more than the U.S. in finding alternative energy sources. Whoever finds this first will dominate the world. After 9/11 finding renewable energy should have a Manahattan Project or Moon mission type of national urgency. Yet, we are not producing the scientists needed to undertake such a project. Finally, the author tells about how the U.S. military is becoming more reliant on unmanned, robotic or cyber weapons to overwhelm potential enemies with little cost in life. The problem is these weapon systems need to be invented, built, and protected by technology specialists our country is not producing in the education system. The result, China launches a massive cyberattack that renders our defense capabilities useless because of sub-standard computer systems and not enough experts in anti-cyberwarfare. The U.S. could lose a war in a matter of minutes.

Throughout the history of the United States, the country has always prided itself for rising to meet the challenges other countries have thrown at it. Perhaps the dominate superpower is over relying on this ability when a crisis comes. However, a crisis must be met with decisiveness in a matter of seconds as opposed to months or years in the past. One thing the United States did have to meet its challenges is an educated workforce that could overcome any obstacle with creativity and determination. Does our educational system provide workers who could undertake the challenges like World War II or the race to the Moon? Would a cyberattack by China or anyone else be enough to wake the slumbering giant that crushed Germany and Japan? Would the giant be able to respond before it is too late or not at all? Can the United States place its national future in the hands of today's students given the state of education? Please let me know what you think.

Where it all began


Worried about being late, I screeched to a halt in an illegal parking spot at Spartanburg High School. I hurriedly grabbed my stuff I wanted to take and met my friends at the front of the school. Sounds like my old high school days? We won't talk about the distant past but this was today. Members of the Spartanburg High School Class of 1980 gathered to take a tour of our old school and see how things have changed over the years. Our tour guides, members of the student council who graciously gave up some of their weekend time to be with us greeted us at the front. One asked if Mr. John Woodring was in the crowd. Wow! Maybe my famous blogging preceded me and I am getting special VIP treatment?The young man took me to a room and told me the principal instructed him to take me here. When the young man rushed out I realized I was in the In School Suspension room. A note on the board said this is for that little classroom disturbance you caused in chemistry during your senior year, have fun! It was signed by the principal. I guess some things never change!

As we went through the school we marveled at the changes, reminisced about the past, and told old war stories (some of which the tour guides should not have heard). One thing I eventually heard was about how something that might have done in school that seemed insignificant back then turned out to define our lives. One woman who became a nurse talked about the chemistry teacher who helped her when she struggled in the course. Another man who was a true math and science geek now writes embedded software for satellites. It was at Spartanburg High School where I took a course to escape math, computer programing. This was where I first touched the technology that helps bring food on the table in Casa Woodring. 

The teacher was Josephine Earls and the computer was an IBM 5100. The first thing she told the class was computers were stupid and humans had to tell the machine how to do everything. This is something I tell students today. We learned how to program in Basic to make the computer do all kinds of tasks. Some of my classmates and I would hang out in Ms. Earls office, where she kept the computer, to program then play all kinds of games. We had lots of fun during those countless hours. There are more computers at Spartanburg High School  with far more power than that little IBM machine. Then again, looking at how some of the young users in 1980 turned out, maybe we are underestimating that little computer's power.

I am sure Spartanburg High is struggling through all of the problems schools across the United States are facing. It was surprising to find that not all of the classrooms have interactive whiteboards. There are not enough computers to satisfy everyone. Test scores, district initiatives, and other things that take up teachers' time are also discussed in faculty lounges and workrooms. Hopefully, those teachers should take a moment and realize that what they do does make a difference. 

Here's to the Spartanburg High School Class of 1980! Proud members of the best class of the best high school in the world! Go Vikings!

Note to the Spartanburg High School Principal: If you noticed the pep rally area has been repainted blue and gold with a Viking head and Class of 1980 Rules! We have no knowledge of how it happened. We were all together at the Marriott talking over old times. That's our story and we are sticking to it.

The "New" Face of Education?



Okay, I guess I have become an Apple Fan Boy, drinking the Kool-Aid Steve Jobs sold at yesterday's iPad announcement. My wife is almost ready to divorce me because I told her we are getting one of these and there will be no discussion about it. My teenage son will have something new to hate me for because his days of having the coolest and latest technology are numbered. Sometime in March I will be standing in line on what is sure to be a near freezing raining days waiting in line to get an iPad. After that I will be headed for the unemployment line because I missed too much work. Yet, I do feel compelled to get an iPad. This is the type of device that will eventually change face of education as we know it.

Funny but I do feel a bit of irony that we are actually headed backwards in time. Students used slates such as the one pictured for various class assignments in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries. Colonial students carried a tablet called

a Hornbook. The name of these books comes from the animal horns used to make the learning device. These are the probably the first educational materials to have "apps". The apps might include the alphabet, numbers, vowel and consonant sounds, and the Lord's Prayer. Later tablets became truly interactive because students could write on them using chalk. Students used these devices to learn to read and write for many years until Big Chief notebooks and actual real books became the staple of all classrooms.

So what does the iPad have that could revolutionize education? First off the device is realitively inexpensive. With the $499 starting point it is in the reach of many families. As time goes on this price is sure to come down. Look at what has happened with iPods over the last few years. Other companies, such as Google will also manufacture similar devices which should lower the price. Next  it has a book reader with titles you can purchase from the iTunes Store. During his demonstration, Steve Jobs said textbooks would be coming.

Apple says the device weighs 1.5 pounds. Expect lots of studies to come out for the first time again about how textbook laden backpacks are harming the backs of young people. The iPad can surf the web which means students can access more information than what is in the textbook. Expect an explosion of apps for education to go along with the over 140,000 apps already in the iTunes App Store. Video and audio can be shared to create a true multimedia experience.

While the iPad is not a perfect device, this is a huge step in the right direction. There are some things that should be on future models. For examples, a webcam would be nice for adding to presentations or distance learning. An ability to show the screen on another display such as an interactive whiteboard would be nice too. There are some other tools that could and probably will be thought of as time goes on.

Get ready teachers, students will want to bring them to class. Administrators, teachers will want class sets. Network Administrators, start figuring out how to tie this devices into your networks. Everyone, start thinking of ways for students to use them productively. The educational device of our ancstors is making a comeback.



What can Avatar teach us about technology integration?

Photo courtesy of Avatar photo stream on Flickr

Over the holiday break my wife and I saw the 3-D version of Avatar. If you have not seen this version of the movie, go watch it to see how the use of technology gives the audience a better experience. What movie makers can do to enhance films is amazing. At least that was what I thought after watching the movie. After reflection, I have thoughts about Avatar. However, remember I said to go see the movie for the technology, the movie as a story is something different. 

The plot is an old story. A group of natives happen to be sitting on some valuable real estate and won't give it up because of some spiritual connection to the land. An organization, who stands to make lots of money off the land, decides the natives have to go and attempts to use it's technological superiority to evict them. Sounds like Dances with Wolves and other movies of that sort? How about history? North and South American conquest by Europeans. Africa and Asia too. Stories always have some hero who either by chance or design mixes with the native population, learns it's ways, then adopts the native culture. The hero learns of the impending onslaught and leads the natives in a defense of their land and way of life. Usually, the natives win the battle but history says the natives will be crushed in the end.

However, what grade would you give the story itself? While the story was entertaining I thought it was average. All I hear in the press is about the 3-D technology used in the movie. After my reflection I asked myself if the technology glitz mask a mediocre story? Would I purchase this movie when it comes out on DVD or Blue Ray (which I don't have yet)? Would I see this movie a second time in a theater without 3-D? The answer I came up with is probably not. 

After this reflection that I thought of what I always tell teachers about integrating technology, don't get caught up in the glitz. No amount of technology will make up for a poorly written content. Yet, I have seen teachers give high marks to an otherwise average or poor project because it was a blog post, podcast, video, or some other technology because technology was used. Nothing beats good planning and writing, something teachers and now movie critics need to remember.

Enjoy Avatar. See you at the movies!

Teacherbytes on December 31, 2019

Over the past several days there have been many retrospectives of not only the year 2009 but of the 200X decade. There are also predictions of what is the come in 2010 and the next decade. Okay, here is another one for you. Feel free to bookmark this post and bring it up on December 31, 2019 and rub it in my face. How good am I at prognostication? Let’s see, I thought notebooks would be $100 or less by now and the PSP might make a good educational technology tool (I am still holding out on the $100 notebook but Sony has greatly disappointed me). For this exercise I will try to remember how things were in 1999, look at how they are today, and try to see what might pass in the next 10 years.

Classroom Displays

In 1999 Hilton Head Island High School still had chalk boards and I had to breath in chalk dust as I taught Social Studies. If there was any video to be shown it was done on a television with a VCR attached. For me to display anything from a computer it still took a digital to analog signal converter to do it. Not that it mattered, the only thing I could really show was PowerPoint slides. There was not much else to view from the Internet.

Today almost all the classrooms in H.E. McCracken Middle School and in fact, the Beaufort County School District now have either Smart or Promethean Interactive Whiteboards. Each board is connected to the Internet which can now show much more than PowerPoint slides. There are many sources of video and other content to help teachers make learning more meaningful. Students can interact with these boards with classroom response systems.

In 2019 I see classrooms having large thin panel displays similar to OLED Televisions. These displays will have a touch interface much like what has been seen in movies like Minority Reports. Students will also interact with these displays from their seats or homes via handheld slate devices similar to iPhones.

Student materials

In 1999 students loaded up bookbags with heavy textbooks, notebooks, and writing instruments. Maybe they carried calculators or a lucky few had cell phones. The weight of the bookbags are almost a crushing weight. There are fears of potential back problems that may afflict students in later years. Some students may have desktop computers at home and even fewer have access to the Internet.

Today things have not changed too much for students. They still carry heavy bookbags with the same items found in 1999. Almost all students have cellphones but they almost universally banned from schools. They sneak them out in class to interact with each other because their teachers probably don’t let them interact in class and engage in the lesson. These cellphones now have far more computing power than was available on my computer 10 years ago. Students probably now have their own notebook computers but are generally discouraged to bring them to school because of fears of what they may do if allowed to access the Internet or afraid of other liability issues. This equipment almost is never engaged with the classroom interactive displays.

In 2019 students will bring either a powerful handheld device or slate that will have both Internet connectivity and their Math, Literature, and English Language Arts textbooks stored in them. Science and Social Studies textbooks will not be around because students will be researching the information they need for assignments from the Internet. Information is changing so fast teachers and publishers have just about given up publishing textbooks in those two subjects. Their devices will tap into the interactive displays mentioned above for students to display homework or projects or work a problem for other to see while the student is still seated. The teacher can pull up a student’s display onto the main monitor at any time. Audio and maybe video will be recorded for playback and linked to notes students take on their devices.

Media Creation

In 1999 video camcorders were large devices that mostly produced analog images. It was hard and time consuming to edit these videos into anything useful in class. Cameras were mostly film variety but digital was becoming more popular but bulky and what could be done with the pictures? Sometimes they got posted on a posterboard for a project. There was very little space to store both digital video and photographs.

Today, cameras and camcorders are in phones or devices that can fit in the palm of your hand. There are many apps to edit the media created both on a computer or online. Storage is easier thanks to large and cheap hard drives or flash drives. Pictures can be placed into apps such as Photo Story to create entertaining shows. Video can be uploaded to video sharing sites such as YouTube where the content can be embedded into webpages, blogs , or wikis. Teachers can record what they present on their Interactive whiteboards and share it for students to review if they wish.

In 2019, media creation will be blended with computing devices such as cameras and camcorders are with cellphones today. The biggest difference is video will be streamed live. This means students may not have to be physically in a classroom for instruction to go on. There still will be classrooms with teachers and students but students and teachers may be matched up so strengths and weaknesses compliment each other. Media creation may be the most common way assignments are completed both in and out of the classroom.


Okay I am not going to bore you except to say assessments have not changed much in the last 10 years. The only exception is some assessments are completed on a computer so test data can be accessed quicker. However, in 2019 No Child Left Behind will be an ugly memory (one can dream). Assessments will be done by special software which can take portfolios of student work and gauge how the student is doing. These assessments will be ongoing constantly giving students, teachers, administrators, and parents feedback and data they need. Not only will items assessed today be assessed in 2019 but collaboration effort and quality of resources used are judged too since they are critical skills in the 21st Century workplace. Gaming will also be used to assess students in some circumstances.

There you have it in one neat package. My review of the last ten years, how things are today, and my predictions for the next 10 years. Please enter your thoughts or predictions in the comments. I think I will place the URL for this post in Google Calendar set for December 31, 2019 so I can think about and see just how I did. Hopefully, all you will have a happy and prosperous New Year. Also, I might as well wish the same for the coming decade. Let’s make a date to meet back 10 years from today to see how well we did.

Happy New Year!

Books on they way out? Teacherbytes December 30, 2009

I hope everyone had a great holiday but is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come pointing its bony finger at the demise of traditional, paper books or students armed with smartphones invading your classroom. Is doom and gloom what some teachers see as more technology comes their way and they can't seem to stop it? No but here are glimpses of what the ghost is pointing to.

Another sign of the apocalypse

Some will see this as another sign the apocalypse is coming but on December 25th Amazon reported more e-books were sold than physical ones. Before you head off to your bunker to wait out the doom you should realize the Kindle was the most gifted item in the history of Amazon. While in the near future traditional books should not worry but if more e-readers are coming, and speculation says 2010 will see a flood of them, then will we have neighborhood bookstores by the end of the coming decade? Yes but they won't look like they do today. Source Engadget and Mashable.

More on Pico Projectors

Pico projectors started coming out in 2008 but have not made much of an impact yet. The biggest reason is you almost need a completely dark room to see a mediocre picture at best. This is starting to change, slowly. RoyalTek announced the RPJ-2000 which is supposed to be the first of five new pico projectors coming out in 2010. The $315 device can project a 65 inch image at 640x40 resolution with 14 lumens of brightness. A very dark room is still needed but it is getting better.  You will also need a $43 converter kit if you have a Mac. Pico projectors can be useful for teachers who are not assigned to one classroom or does not have access to a regular projector or does not want to lug around a projector. Source: Engadget

What can you do with a pico projectors?

Other than the obvious Logic Wireless has the 150LGW Projector Phone. This little device sold at Skymall (the catalog you browse waiting for your plane to take off) will set you back $499. The projector is said to project an image up to 64 inches but no word on resolution or brightness. The phone is built to be a portable office with dual SIM card slots so you can use it on different carriers and Quad Band GSM. Software for the Symbian-based phone includes a Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF viewer. This is the second phone to be bundled with a projector. The other phone is the LG eXpo which will offers a projector as an option. Cell phone use in classrooms is coming, just think about the first time a student pulls out one of these to show their project. Source: Engadget

Get it while it's hot!

Apple dropped the price of its entry-level MacBook to $728 for educators and students. It is not known how long this price drop will last so if you still have some Christmas cash left and are wanting to dip into the Mac waters this might be your chance. Source Engadget

Verizon sees slates everywhere

Last week OLPC announced they are working on a thin tablet PC for the education market. Almost everyone is speculating on the rumored Apple slate computer which is supposed to be announced early next year. Well Verizon apparently wants to take advantage what many think will be next computer craze and make sure you can access the Verizon network on slates like you can on some netbooks. Source: CNET

Easy Shot Videos

Concord Keystone is going to announce the Easy Shot Clip camcorder at CES next month. Specs on the $70 camcorder is it can shoot 640x480 at 30 frames per second. The 2GB memory will allow for up to 2 hours of video. All this will be in a 2-inch package you can hang around your neck or mount in various places. This could be useful to have to quickly shoot video of class activities that may be unplanned. Source: Engadget

A glimpse of our future

One of the best lines in the movie Broadcast News veteran reporter Aaron Altman, played by Albert Brooks, was at home prompting a rookie reporter over the phone during a special report. In the midst of this Altman observes "I say it here, it comes out there" as his suggestions are broadcast verbatim. I had a moment almost like that except Twitter was the median instead of a telephone.

Last night a thunderstorm hit Bluffton. In the midst of the storm the power went out in my house. About the only thing working was my Black Berry. I went to Tiny Twitter and Tweeted what was happening with the weather and what happened with the power. Not too long after this Tweet I got a message from a friend on Twitter saying she heard about me on the news again. Apparently, WSAV anchor Holly Bounds or producer Gabe Travers saw my tweet and passed it on to the meteorologist on the 6:00 news who relayed my plight to the Lowcountry and Coastal Empire. Since I am sitting in a house with no power I miss the whole thing. The power is restored in time for My Lowcountry 3. I had twittered my power has been restored. As I watch the show, guess what? The viewers of the local news show are assured that my power is back on.

As I tweeted here and saw it come out there (WSAV), I had a greater understanding of how disconcerting Aaron Altman felt. Except Altman was a professional journalist and I am an educator. Then it struck me, I and people like me are the future of the news media. Newspapers across the country are going out of business. Reporters are losing their jobs faster than auto workers. The news media industry is at the point it needs to change or die. The change? Find a cadre of citizen journalists (knowing or unknowing) and let them break the news. The professional journalists will then come behind and develop the story.

How better to do this than to use social networks such as Facebook or information networks such as Twitter. Follow what people are observing and see what could become a story. Major networks such as CNN and Fox News are inviting people to submit story ideas. Local outlets are doing the same thing. My Lowcountry 3 always has a question of the day on Facebook and relays the responses each night. This binds shows with their audiences which creates a loyal fan base while saving some money for the organization. Nothing wrong with that as long as both parties agree to the relationship. I did not mind my power outage plight being shared so no harm no foul.

Another example of how journalists are adapting to the new media is how Island Packet Sports Reporter Justin Jarrett uses Twitter. Justin used to cover my soccer team during my coaching days so we became as friendly as a coach and reporter can become. He did a in depth report on what area athletes were posting on social network sites such as MySpace so he understands Web 2.0 Out of respect for his talent, professionalism, and past history I followed him as soon as I saw he was on Twitter. He has not disappointed me. Not only does Justin give you short updates of the events he covers but he brings his personality into his tweets. He comments on just about anything with an insight you don't get by reading his stories alone. Justin's tweets make me want to read his stories in the paper because I will get a better understanding of what he is writing about. Another thing Justin does is he interacts with readers in a way you rarely see. This can only be done through apps like Twitter or Facebook.

Will the news media come out of this recession the same way it entered it? The answer is no. However, the news media will not die but must and will change and adapt to the new conditions. Holly Bounds, Gabe Travers, and Justin Jarrett are showing what the news media will look like in the near future. The lesson for educators? Journalism, like education, has been plodding along with its traditions and attitude of this is they way it is always done. Many educators have this same attitude. Education will change too. The big difference will be the pace of change between the two professions. Watching journalism change can teach us how to handle the inevitable change to come.

MySpace Means No Space for Studen-Teacher

A federal court rejected Stacy Snyder's argument that her MySpace page is considered free speech and should not be used to dismiss her from a college teacher-training program. A high school Snyder was student-teaching out had complaints about professionalism and content knowledge but asked she be dismissed after seeing a MySpace page which had pictures of her drinking and posts critizing her supervisor. Because Snyder was dismissed from the student-teaching program, she could not complete the requirements for an education degree. Because the judge considered Snyder's position with the high school more an aprenticeship rather than an educational pursuit, the school was within its right to dismiss Snyder over the MySpace page. Also, it probably did not help that Snyder told her student about the page too.

I always tell students two things about the Internet:

  1. Don't post anything you would not want you mama to see.
  2. What goes on the Internet, stays on the Internet.
ARS Technica article

So long Pownce

The troubling economic conditions hit a little closer to home today when I received an e-mail from Pownce announcing their decision to close as of December 15th. I earlier wrote that I thought Pownce would be a great tool for teachers to use to reach out to both parents and students because of some neat features such as document attachments. Fortunately, the team at Pownce have found positions on the enginering team at Six Apart so they won't have to worry about this Christmas season.

Unfortunatley, this may be the first of other Web 2.0 applications that would be beneficial in the classroom or have become teacher favorites. Hopefully, when we get out of this economic mess the surviving Web 2.0 companies will be able to offer exciting applications for teachers and students. Until then we will just have to weather the storm by supporting each other as much as possible.

Good bye Pownce, we hardly knew you.

Telementoring brings experts to the classroom

People attend education conferences to learn new things and share ideas that can benefit students in the classroom. Another thing that make conferences interesting is looking at vendor booths to mainly see what they have to give away which gives sales people a chance to talk to you about what they have to offer you that will cure your educational woes. Most of the time the products being pitched either are too expensive, don't fit your situation, can't purchase it because your district just purchased a competitor's product, or you don't have the decision making authority. However, there are rare times that you find something new, exciting, and you actually can procure and use. For me today was one of those days.

Cynergi Systems, a company that provides multimedia technology solutions for the education market, announced a new solution that could provide more expertise in classrooms, South Carolina EduSpace. South Carolina EduSpace, according to company CEO Neil Willis, is a telementoring system providing experts in business or higher education the chance to speak to classes in K12 schools via teleconferencing. While teleconferencing is nothing new, the fact that Cynergi is providing this service to schools for free had my jaw on the ground. In a breakout session on the product at 2008 South Carolina EdTech, Willis explained the service will be paid for by advertising. A brief ad at the beginning of a session will be shown. Willis promised the ads will be appropriate for schools to show.

To book a speaker teachers will go to the website and view available speakers in the subject area desired. Teachers will be able to choose the best speakers based on ratings given to speakers by other teachers. Once a speaker is chosen, the website will act as a go between to arrange a booking. One school and up to three different speakers can be used at one time. All the participants need is a video camera capable of steaming video over the Internet. Each session is recorded and teachers will be able to download sessions for further use.

Currently, Cynergi is beta testing South Carolina EduSpace in four Palmetto State school districts but Willis says every county and school district will be able to use the service after January 1st. Also, businesses and colleges are being signed up to provide both speakers and sponsorship funds. Another thing to remember is this service is only being offered to South Carolina schools. It is great sign that businesses in South Carolina are investing money into education with an uncertain economy. Hopefully, they will soon realize this investment will not go bust as Wall Street banks did a short time ago.

Award Winning

Last week I was notified by the South Carolina Association For Educational Technology (SCAET) that my experimental class, Web Media Productions, won a Technology Innovative Program Award in the Middle School Category. I will have the honor of accepting this award for H.E. McCracken Middle School at the awards luncheon at SC EdTech on November 7th.

Although I applied for the award, I am still surprised when I got the notification we won because the impact was on the total student body was small. However, the lesson was not just for students. One course goal was to prove two things to teachers . First, web applications can be used in any subject. Students created projects using a variety of applications in Math, Reading, English, and Social Studies. These projects were shared with students' respective teachers. The second goal was for teachers to see these projects could be achieved in a timely manner without the use of a computer lab. Students worked on computers in other teachers' rooms. I wanted to prove technology-based projects could be done with some planning, recoginzing resources, and teamwork.

At first I thought my ideas did not take. Adminstration opted to create a much bigger web media class. However, a few teachers approached me about using web applications such as blogging and podcasting. Computer lab time will again be at a premium this year but hopefully teachers will be creative in using "out-of-the-box" ideas in doing technology-based projects. Maybe this award is deserved after all. Yeah Me!

The Other Side of Podcasting

I know this is a bit late coming since we are in the first few days of October but life has been hectic for me around school this first couple of months.

This past July my family went to visit a sick relative in Birmingham, Alabama. While we were there my son told us he had never been to a zoo in his life. I found that rather incredible but it was true. Fortunately, Birmingham is the home to fairly modest zoo so my son and I made plans to go. My first stop, as I do with all attractions I visit now, was the zoo's website. Naturally, the website had photos of the various animals, visitor information, educational opportunites for individuals and groups, and ways to financially support the zoo. There was also one other thing that interested me, a podcast tour.

I know that places like zoos, museums, and other places have been using podcasts to enhance or educate potential visitors for years now. However, I have either been creating or listening to podcasts about particular subjects of interest to me. The Birmingham Zoo's podcasts were designed to enhance a visitor's experience to the zoo, a first for me. Fortunately, they have an option to subscibe to the podcasts via iTunes which made uploading them into my MP3 player a snap.

When we got to the zoo, the first thing I checked to see if I had was my MP3 player then my camera. It was exciting as I walked up to view an animal and found out there was a podcast about it. The recording usually was just about a minute or two but during that time it told me way more than the brief written display near the animals habitat. I was able to learn far more about the animals than I would have without the podcasts yet it did not take much more time than normally walking through.

I looked at some other attractions in my area and unfortunately I found none of them did not have companion podcasts. Hopefully they will consider adding them. It is a great resource.

Moving On

This semester I will be teaching a course to 6th graders on Web 2.0 Media Communications. The students will learn how to use blogs, podcasts, webcasts, and online videos in their classes. For the blog part of the class, I have selected Learnerblogs for the students, Edublogs product. To keep things together I am moving Teacher Bytes over to Edublogs as well.

Here is the new link to Teacher Bytes:
Please update your news feeders and bookmarks.
Here is the first posting on Edublogs:

See you on the other side.


New Year's Prediction: Laptops for Everyone

One trend we should see in 2008 is notebook prices will drop. Last year MIT's One Laptop Per Child group finally started shipping its XO to developing nations. This was supposed to be the $100 laptop marketed to help children of developing nations acquire technology. The XO wound up costing around $200 but it did prove functional laptops could be manufactured at a cheaper cost. Intel is also marketing its own low-cost machine to other countries and ASUS is selling low-cost laptops on the open market.

Well the genie is now out of the bottle. Engadget reported former OLPC Chief Technical Officer Mary Lou Jepsen has left the group to form her own company. The goal of her new start-up, Pixel Qi, is to produce a laptop with a cost of $75. While a $75 laptop might be a bit of a stretch for now, even producing one for $150 would be step in the right direction. Also, Pixel Qi plans to sell its machines on the open market, something both OLPC and Intel are not doing right now. If the machine works well new customers will be lured in by its price. This will force other manufacturers to produce lower cost machines as well and parents who have been reluctant to buy laptops for their children may start if the costs are below that of a Nintendo Wii or iPod.

OLPC is making a mistake by marketing its XO to other countries, although Birmingham, Alabama schools are making a large purchase. Schools districts wanting to start One-to-One programs but were afraid of the costs might be willing to take the plunge. This would lead to a lower cost of the XO because of economies of scale. OLPC will eventually realize they need to market to American schools to stay alive but will it be too late as the competition heats up?

Sony PSP To Get A Keyboard, Finally

According to an ARS Technica posting, Sony announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) the PlayStation Portable (PSP) will finally be getting a keyboard. This is potentially good news for educators since the PSP already has wireless Internet capabilities. Students can now use online applications such as Google Docs to do assignments along with some Internet research. Other features of the PSP include video, audio, RSS support and newer PSP 2 models have video out ports to go along with its gaming function. Sony also said the PSP will also be able to use Skype which allows voice communications over the Internet which would be good to communicate with other classes. Camera and GPS support are also coming and could be useful classroom tools. The only thing the PSP will lack is a book reader which may not happen anytime soon because Sony already markets an electronic book reader. However, the fact that Sony sees the PSP as something other than a gaming and music player is a step in the right direction.

Remedial Gaming

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Leslie Mabry of Houghton Mifflin, who came to our school to teach us Skills Tutor . Skills Tutor is a diagnostic and remediation application for Reading, Language Arts, Math, Writing, Information Skills, Language, and Workforce Readiness Skills. Students take pretests which are used to prescribe activities and assessments to help student weaknesses. Teachers can create various reports of student progress which can be shared with students, parents, and administrators. Leslie did a great job showing us how this worked.

However, while she was showing us the various multimedia activities and other parts of Skills Tutor, I wondered what the product would be like if the problems followed a story line like a game. Students could have a hero whose mission is to save the world, civilization, etc.... During the course of play, students would have to solve various interdisciplinary problems to achieve objectives set for them in the game based on pretest results. Teachers could access reports on how well the student is solving problems during game play.

Purists might think this is heresy but this could be more engaging for the students while making the problems more realistic. I have observed this with my son who just turned 13. Two of his favorite games are Animal Crossing and MySims. Both of these games allow the player to build, tear down, and rebuild towns and communities. Other skills such as economics, money management, trade with other towns are also part of the game. Needless to say, a career interest inventory he took earlier this school year showed he had a aptitude in architecture. Maybe the games he is playing are giving him a head start.