Thursday, July 29, 2010

New Google Chrome Extension Gives New Start Page Option

Google Chrome is my browser of choice. Today, I learned of a new Google Extension that allows you to alter the start page that you see when you open a new page in your browser. This new background gives you some more options on customizing the Start Page in your Chrome Browser. You can download the extension here.

New Chrome Start Page Using Chrome Extension

You can also change the background of that Start Page too. See Below.

Chrome Start Page with Custom Background

Using Value Added Assessments for Teacher Evaluations Seriously Flawed

The Washington Post article this morning entitled "Study: Error Rates High When Student Test Scores Used to Evaluate Teachers" should cause policymakers to pause in their push to tie teacher evaluations to test scores. The actual study entitled "Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Student Test Score Gains" published by the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance can be downloaded here for those who want to see the actual study. While trying to sort through all of the statistics, one thing is clear, there is enough room for error for a teacher to be improperly dismissed from a job based on test scores. In the hands of a careless and not-very-conscientious school administrator, teachers could be fired or be kept from receiving tenure unfairly.

One point the study makes clear is this:
"Our results strongly support the notion that policymakers must carefully consider system error rates in designing and implementing teacher performance measurement systems that are based on value-added models."
As states have rushed to satisfy Secretary Arne Duncan to qualify for the Race to the Top funding, I doubt very much "careful consideration" has occurred. While some states like Colorado have given themselves time to develop such a performance evaluation system, I fear that others will try to find a way to cobble together a system using existing testing instruments and teacher evaluation systems. The problem with such cobbling, you end up with a product that might satisfy the letter of the law or some state board policy, but the product itself is simply inferior at best and downright hurtful to education at its worst. Policymakers from Secretary Duncan down to the state levels need to understand that when it comes to using testing, in any shape or form, for measuring teacher performance, there is no room for cobbling. Fairness must rule the day.

The study also warns that it is important for policymakers to consider error rates when using value-added estimates for making decisions regarding tenure and hiring-firing decisions.
"Consideration of error rates is especially important when evaluating whether and how to use value-added assessments for making high-stakes decisions regarding teachers (such as tenure and firing decisions.)"
As states push into this uncharted territory of using test scores to assess teacher performance, it is important that educators keep a watchful eye on the teacher performance evaluation systems developed by their own states. They need to understand how those instruments are used in evaluations and know their limitations. Even though the study goes on to say that "teacher value-added estimates in a given year are fairly strong predictors of subsequent-year academic outcomes in teacher's classes," I'm not sure anyone would want to be dismissed or not receive tenure on "fairly strong evidence." That threshold for evaluation is too weak. The study goes on to talk about the importance of "mitigating these error effects" if value-added assessments are used in teacher evaluations. It is the mitigation measures that state policymakers create that are most worrisome.

As an administrator and education advocate, my problems with the whole idea of using test scores in any way to evaluate teachers is the question of fairness. I do not want the job of deciding the future employment of a teacher based on "fairly strong evidence." There is too much danger of being unfair. People who write policy for administrators to implement do not see the effects of that policy firsthand, unless they leave their offices and venture to the front-lines of implementation. My fear is that in the rush to satisfy politicians like Secretary Arne Duncan, we implement a system that has unfairness built in, or it gives unscrupulous administrators the means to be unfair.

This is simply another example of how our current US Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan is pushing a reform measure that looks good on paper, and perhaps looks good from the eyes of non-educator, but in implementation it may cause downright harm to our Great American Education System.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Arne Duncan’s Quiet Revolution: The Duncanization of the Great American School System

Secretary Duncan’s speech today before the National Press Club was predictable almost to the point of being a cliché. One thing you can say about him is he is consistent to the point of never saying anything new. Some even argue that his revelation of the Race to the Top finalists was so predictable that their announcement was anti-climatic. Duncan’s speech today was right on his usual message: 1) Charter schools are the way to go, 2) Teachers need to be evaluated and rewarded using test scores, 3) Every child deserves an effective teacher in his or her classroom, and 4) Close down low performing schools. Hardly anyone would disagree with his statement that every child deserves an effective teacher, but we do disagree with him about how to get there.

About the only unique thing he said today was something about the Obama administration’s “modest” role in this quiet revolution. That is an almost laughable statement. There is nothing modest about what this administration has done in the name of education reform. They have shoved their reform ideas down the throats of every single state. Never mind there is absolutely no research basis for any of this reform agenda. Many have said it: the US Department of Education is guilty of dangling money in front of states who, due to economic conditions, are almost insolvent. These states will do anything to get their hands on that money, even adopting reform measures pushed by Secretary Duncan and his Department of Education. I would hardly describe that as a modest role in what he is calling a “Quiet Revolution.” It’s more akin to pulling the trigger or setting off the dynamite charge.

At any rate, Secretary Duncan’s offer of billions has caused a “sudden, radical change” but that change has occurred not because everyone really believes the agenda he is pushing will work. Those changes have happened because they were bought. Change purchased with money is absent conviction, and Secretary Duncan and the Obama administration have failed miserably in getting educators to believe their version of change. President Obama’s campaign slogan, “Change We Can Believe In” sounds so hollow now that our Great American Education System is still being “Duncanized.”  Instead of pretending that all is well and using his podium to make inane speeches, Secretary Duncan needs to get the education establishment to believe in his version of change, not those just chasing him around, hoping some dimes and nickels fall from his pockets.

In the spirit of Secretary Duncan’s speech, I could not help but share this campaign video that includes the song a not so subtle reminder of that campaign slogan, “Change We Can Believe In.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Provisional Nature of Digital Text and What That Means for Writing

66885858 I have been reading Nicholas Carr’s latest book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. In chapter six of this book, Carr speaks about how the Internet has changed both the face of publishing, and the act of writing itself. In one interesting part of the chapter he writes:

“The provisional nature of digital text also promises to influence writing styles. A printed book is a finished object. Once inked onto the page, its words become indelible. The finality of the act of publishing has long instilled in the best and most conscientious writers and editors a desire, even an anxiety, to perfect the works they produce---to write with an eye and an ear toward eternity. Electronic text is impermanent. In the digital marketplace, publication becomes an ongoing process rather than a discrete event, and revision can go on indefinitely. Even after an e-book is downloaded into a networked device, it can be easily and automatically updated---just as software programs routinely are today.”

Carr goes on to point out that this “provisional nature of digital text” means that writers approach the act of writing much differently than in the past. Writers in the digital world are more willing to accept less perfection in their craft and will also not feel the pressure of what he calls “artistic rigor”  as they compose their writing. It seems that Carr bemoans the fact that writing is losing its flair and polish as it has gone digital. Because electronic text is impermanent, writers do not devote the same care to their work because they know it can be easily updated and corrected.

There is truth in what Carr says. As I write this blog each day, there are times when I feel as if I have crafted every word. Sometimes, I actually complete a draft and save it locally so that I can review it later before uploading it. There are certainly other times I write a post and quickly proofread it, then post it, without really critically looking at the value of what I post. But does the nature of this digital medium call for well-crafted writing or does it beg for a large volume of writing? Is there anyone who truly values craftsmanship in blog writing? Or, are they skimming for information so quickly that it is impossible to appreciate quality writing when it is read?

Nonetheless, I do appreciate one aspect of this digital text that Carr did not mention. Blogging gives writers the opportunity to experiment with text and authentic audiences that the old world of publishing could not provide. The provisional nature of digital text means I can experiment with writing as a craft in ways that was impossible with the old publishing model, and get real feedback from others on whether what I have said works or not. Sure, it may mean that I just add to the enormous babble of voices, but it also means that I have a natural place to try out ideas, to experiment with styles of writing, and explore topics to see if others are interested. That’s the wonder of the provisional nature of digital text!

Here is Carr outlining some of the other ideas in this book. I hope to share more later.

Technorati Tags: ,,,

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reflections on Diane Ravitch and the Obama Administration’s Inflexible Reform Stance

I just reviewed Diane Ravitch’s interview from a show called City Talk from CUNY. The message she started with her book The Life and Death of the Great American School System continues unabated. The Obama administration has continued the same destructive policies toward public education that were present under the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind. President Obama has refused to listen to the logic and reasoning of educators, and he has chosen instead to listen to economists  and the “Billionaire Boys Club” who want to privatize public education. He has even placed individuals from the New Schools Venture Fund in key positions in the US Department of Education. These individuals have let it be known that they see charters and education privatization as the way public schools should go.

One analogy during her interview that I thought was interesting was when she referred to the impossible deadline set under NCLB 1.0 of having every child proficient by 2014. She likened that deadline like telling every city it must be crime-free by 2014, and if they weren’t crime-free, then policemen were going to be fired. That amply shows the ridiculous nature of the entire NCLB Act, and the foolishness of Race to the Top.

With the new administration, we now have Race to the Top which is NCLB 2.0. Obama’s threat to veto the recent war budget if funds were shifted to save teacher jobs shows just how inflexible this administration is in its beliefs regarding the salvation that test scores can bring. As Diane Ravitch points out in this interview, “Race to the Top is only NCLB with the screws turned tighter with its misguided emphasis on evaluating teachers by test scores.”

This administration and this current US Department of Education cares more about its ideology and blind faith in economists and the Bill Gates of the world than it does for students and the teachers of our great nation. I only hope our Great American School System can survive two more years of this current administration.

Diane Ravitch’s Interview on City Talk

Saturday, July 24, 2010

21st Century Book Review: Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus

cognitivesurplusbook I have started this book review several times, and each time I erased it and started over. Clay Shirky’s latest tome about the Internet world and how it is impacting us is one of those books that does not lend itself to an easy description.

Cognitive Surplus is a complicated book on a complicated topic. It does not read with the ease of his last book Here Comes Everybody but it does provide the reader with the same level of food for thought. In this book, Shirky takes his readers through a close examination of a phenomenon he calls the cognitive surplus. This cognitive surplus is basically defined as “the aggregate of the world’s free time that is now made available due to the hyper connectivity of our world today.” With the advent of the Internet generally, and social media specifically, massive numbers of world citizens can pool their free time and intellects to create things that never before existed. Some examples of these creations in Shirky’s book are Wikipedia, which has grown to become one of the most accessed and referred to sites on the World Wide Web. He also provides the example of Ushahidi, which is an open source platform for gathering data via SMS, email or web. Ushahidi then provides that information for the public in graphical form. Below is an example of an Oil Spill Crisis Map created by Ushahidi to track the oil spill.


Oil Spill Map Using Ushahidi

According to Shirky the combination of the free time, connectivity through social media, and a willingness to donate expertise have made platforms like Ushahidi possible. As in the Oil Spill Map above, individuals volunteer to report data that updates the map. The Ushahidi platform allows for reporting of aggregate information to the public. It is the cognitive surplus that makes projects like this possible. Shirky adequately captures the possibilities of this phenomenon when he says:

The technology will continue to improve, and the population will continue to grow, but the change in direction of more participation has already happened. What matters most now is our imaginations. The opportunity before us, individually and collectively, is enormous; what we do with it will be determined largely by how well we are able to imagine and reward public creativity, participation, and sharing.”

According to Shirky, the possibilities of “deploying the cognitive surplus” can make a lot of good happen.

Here’s a video where Shirky attempts to explain how cognitive surplus will change the world.

This is a probably a book to engage individuals in the possibilities that connectivity in general and social media in particular bring to our society. An engaging and thoughtful read throughout. It is a book that can’t be read quickly.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Power Chrome User’s Top Five Chrome Extensions

Google’s Chrome Browser is my browser of choice. After Internet Explorer became so ponderous and slow-loading, I was looking for another browser. I used Firefox for a while, as well as Opera, but when Google released Chrome, I was won over immediately. Chrome’s tabbed browsing, its thumbnail view page, and its speed won me over as a user. Now there are extensions. Here are my current favorite top 5 Chrome extensions.

Chromed Bird

Chromed Bird is a Twitter client. It offers users all of the features of a regular twitter client. The ability to follow regular timelines and follow lists along with hashtags allows users to follow tweets the same way it is done in clients like Tweetdeck or Seesmic.

image Chromed Bird’s Interface

Gmail Notification Button

Another of my favorite Chrome Extensions is the Gmail Notification button. What this extensions does is periodically check your Gmail account and it notifies you when you have Gmail. It places a small number just below the button to indicate the number of unread messages in the inbox. Gmail is opened by simply clicking on the button.


Gmail Button in Chrome Browser

Diigo Extension

The Diigo Extension gives users the ability to highlight, bookmark, sticky note or share annotated portions of web pages. This extension makes it extremely easy to access these tools when stumbling across some interesting web material.


Diigo Toolbar Extension

The Evernote Extension

The Evernote extension gives users who have Evernote accounts the ability to clip web pages, add notes to those pages and then place them in notebooks.


Evernote Extension Interface

Awesome Screenshot, Capture, and Annotate Extension

This extension allows users to capture screenshots of the contents of a browser then add annotations to that image. Then users have the option of uploading the final image to a URL or saving it. It is a quick and easy way to take screenshots of browser pages.


Awesome Screenshot with Annotations Added

I have tried a number of other Chrome Extensions, but these are so far the ones I find the most useful for my needs. There are countless other extensions available at:

Tips and FREE Solutions for Managing the 21st Century To-Do List

In August, I will be conducting a session with teachers and administrators on how to use the free tools available on the Internet to manage their To-Do List electronically. After our conversion from Using MS Outlook web to Google Apps, which has a handy task manager, many of our staff are exploring options. In the following presentation, I will be reviewing with them 4 very good, but also very free, solutions for managing the day-to-day tasks that we face as administrators and teachers.

The first tool that I review is the simple Task List feature that comes with Google Apps. It is the tool that I currently use. It is simple to use and the best bet for a non-power user. It works well for those users who are not tackling a major year long task with lots of multiple subtasks.

The second application I review is Remember the Milk. It is a workhorse To-Do list that offers users a bit more functionality such as sending yourself text message reminders, and for having direct access on a smart phone. It is also a very good To-Do List.

Remember the Milk:

Another equally free and powerful To-Do List solution is Task Coach. Task Coach is an open source solution that offers users quite a few options when it comes to managing tasks. It allows for categories and subcategories. It allows for task tracking, and it has features that allow you to add budgeting. It is not as simple as the other solutions, but it is the most powerful To-Do List solution.

Task Coach Download:

The final solution I review in the presentation is not just a To-Do List. It allows users to place sticky notes on the desktop. It is called Hott Notes. Users can customize their notes, or they can use the To-Do List note on their desktop. You can add alarms to the notes, and it can be ran portably from a thumb drive. Hott Notes is a very simple sticky notes option.

Hott Notes Download:

Below is the presentation for my session. It provides an overview for each of these options.

Managing Your Google Calendar

In August, I am conducting a session on how to make the most of the all the features in Google Calendar. Honestly, I have used Google Calendar for about two years, but until recently, I had not explored all it has to offer. One Saturday recently, I spent hours exploring everything I could about this application. It really is an effective tool. As more and more school systems decide to move to Google Apps, there will be even more reason to learn about Google Calendar and all the other applications Google has to offer.

For those who are converting to Google Apps, I gladly share the following slideshow that covers many of the most common features found in Google Calendar. I hope it is helpful.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Call for 21st Century Leadership and Teaching

I am not sure at this point I can say much more about the need for change in education that others have not already said. It seems to me the rhetoric gets louder and more intense with each passing year, and yet there seems to be just more talk, but not a great deal movement. There is movement though. Educators are trying to find ways to get the job of teaching done more effectively. Schools in Kansas City are going to try to use ability-level placement of students rather than age-level grade placement. My own state is going to continue its experiments with the early-college model. Every day, there’s news somewhere of educators trying to find ideas outside the box that will effectively teach our students. I think that is as it should be.

The sense of urgency for reform is recent years has manifested itself repeatedly by the posting of videos that try to illustrate the predicament our education system faces. The video below does an excellent job of illustrating how we are being overwhelmed by the amount of information that flows into our lives daily. And, it is this amount of information that has made much of current teaching and instruction irrelevant with its emphasis on rote memorization and the regurgitation of facts on tests.

As the video illustrates, our vision for 21st century is far from adequate. Our students are going to be found wanting in the global economy because we continue to approach learning as if it were a discreet content area to be taught to students, who then repeat the facts back to us on tests.

Our vision of 21st century learning needs to move beyond testing. Even President Obama’s vision of increasing the number of college graduates will be insufficient if our students just get the same old education they have been getting for a hundred years. Educators have a choice. We can choose to take part in the re-envisioning of public education, or education will be re-envisioned for us. The video below does an excellent job of showing how our students’ learning experiences will be transformed by 21st century technology. Principals, teachers, superintendents, parents, and all other stakeholders can choose to become a part of this transformation, or be left behind. It’s that simple.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day at Linville Falls NC

This afternoon, spent some time hiking the trails at Linville Falls in the mountains of North Carolina. I thought I would share a few images with you.


Linville River Just Before the Falls


Grassy Meadow Along the Linville Falls Trail


Wildflowers Along the Trail to Linville Falls


Upper Linville Falls


Linville Falls


Linville River in Linville Gorge

It was a nice day, but humid. Linville Falls continues to have a beauty that I remember from visits during my childhood on our family trips to the North Carolina Mountains.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Keeping Your Desktop Free of Clutter and Deleting Those 100 Folders in Your My Documents Folder

Computers are great things. In addition to being an excellent instructional tool, they can also be tools that make our jobs as educators easier. The problem is, many times we do not take advantage of the capabilities of that technology. In fact, we often take what we know from the real world and apply it in the cyber world. For example, the idea of using folders in which to place individual items. We have what I call the “file-cabinet” mindset. We think if we place all those forms in a folder labeled “Employment Forms” we will be able to find them easier. Not always true! The file cabinet mindset tells me to look through the folders alphabetically and I will find it quickly. The truth is, there is a much quicker way. In fact, I do not use folders at all on my computer, except for a docs folder, docs-archive folder, and a program shortcuts folder. The folks at came up with this organizational scheme. Because the files on your computer are fully searchable, you do not need to place them in neat, individual folders. Using Google Desktop, I can find it twice as fast as someone who is searching in their folders.

At any rate, I am going to be doing some efficiency training with teachers and administrators August, and I wanted to share some of the materials I have developed for that. Below is a presentation I have developed for one of those sessions. It focuses on strategies for making files accessible on your computer and for keeping your desktop organized.

Keeping the Email InBox Empty: How to Manage Email Before It Manages You

In preparation for some upcoming presentations that I will be making to administrators and teachers, I have completed a series of sessions that focus on making the most of the technology management tools we use every day as educators. One of the hardest things for educators to do is managing the email load. Administrators and teachers receive numerous emails during the course of the day, and trying to find a system that 1)minimizes the time spent processing email, 2)maintains access to previously received email, and 3) makes timely response possible, is quite a challenge. In the presentation here, I adapted some of the advice offered by the folks at Lifehacker to make sure I am in control of email and that it is not in control of me. Here's that presentation. I hope you find it useful.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

21st Century Book Review: Safety and Security: Balancing Safety and Productivity in the Digital School

“Could concerns over security be generating a fear that is now hinCover Imagedering the the integration of technology?” With that question, LeAnne Robinson, Abbie Brown, and Tim Green, authors of Security vs. Access, capture the whole essence of the tension felt by technology advocates and administrators as they try bring schools into the 21st century. The authors of this book have written a clear, no-nonsense description of all the contentious areas between technology integration and concerns over safety and security, and they offer some suggestions to would-be policy-makers and decision-makers about maintaining the balance between technology that enhances learning, and technology that is impossible to use due to security restrictions.

In chapter 1, the authors focus on inappropriate content. They adequately point out that trying to prevent undesirable Internet content from entering the school  is impossible. This is a common misperception that policy-makers have. They think inappropriate Internet content is like adult magazines in a convenience store. All you need to do is place it on the back shelf out of reach. Reality is, such content can’t be completely blocked. Instead, educators would do much better educating our students to make better choices about the content they do access.

The rest of Security vs. Access focuses on all the other security concerns that educators and policymakers have. In Chapter 3, the authors focus on Internet Predators. They once again point out that while the sexual predator danger is real, it has been sensationalized by shows such as MSNBC’s To Catch a Predator. Reality, according to the authors, adolescents engage in risky behaviors that make them targets for online sexual predation. Some of those risk behaviors include:

  • sending personal information to people they do not know.
  • talking to unknown people online about sex.
  • visiting chat rooms targeted toward adolescents.

The authors of Security vs. Access suggest one of the best ways to target this problem is encouraging young people to have open and honest communication with caring adults. They need to know it is okay to talk to adults about these things, and parents and guardians need to proactively monitor teens’ online activities at home.

In the remainder of the book, Robinson, Brown, and Green take on one security issue after another: cyberbullying, network security, inappropriate use of network resources, copyright infringement, and data and identity theft, Using a common format, the authors examine the realities of each problem, describe the common response to the problem, misperceptions about the problem, realities about the problem, and recommendations for a balanced approach toward addressing the problem.

In the end, the authors argue that educators must make reasonable decisions that balance the protection of students and school technological resources with providing flexible access to computers and the Internet. As a part of this balancing act, all educators must become as well informed as possible and learn as much as possible about how the technologies work.

This book is an excellent addition to the 21st century administrator library, and I am sure I will refer to it again and again when having to make decisions that seek the right balance between security and access in bringing education into the 21st century.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Life of a Multi-Book Reader and Why I Haven’t Bought an E-Reader Yet

Barnes and Noble loves to see me walk in the door, because chances are, I am going to walk out with two or three books every time I visit. I have shelves of books that are on my “to-read” list. I am a multi-book reader. I usually have five or six books going at once. For example, I am currently reading the following titles:

Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools by Milton Chen

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

Junk Science: An Overdue Indictment of Government, Industry, and Faith Groups That Twist Science for Their Own Gain by Dan Agin

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us-And How to Know When Not to Trust Them by David H. Freedman

Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate by Stephen H. Schneider

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher

Yes, I am actually reading all these at once. I did not include my one indulgence title In the Name of Honor by Richard North Patterson, but that is my fun read but I might as well confess and add it to the list.

I have three times as many titles purchased and sitting on my shelf, all lined up to be read. Perhaps I am not normal, but I am a multi-book reader. We have mutlitaskers. You have now met a multi-book reader. I read multiple books at one time. Of course I can’t read them all simultaneously in the since that I have all books open at once, but I will read a bit in one, set it down, pick up the next one and read a bit, set it down, and so on, you get the picture.

Now my reading practices means that when I finish a book, I usually finish four or five at once too. Just this week I finished Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus for the second time. Security vs. Access by Robinson, Brown, and Green which I hope to write a review for in a day or so. I also finished Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

I really don’t say this to brag. I am a multi-book reader who can’t stop. There’s just too many books out there. Which brings me to the other point of this post, why do I not get an E-reader. My wife wishes I would. The book stacks around the house have been a bone of contention for some time. The truth is, there are two reasons. One, I am still waiting to see who wins the E-book war. Will it be the iPad, the Nook, the Sony E-reader, or the Kindle? I just don’t know, but I almost got burned with the high definition DVD war. I seriously almost bought an HDDVD player, but for some reason I didn’t. As you know Blue-Ray won out, and I have mine and I’m glad I waited. So one reason is I am waiting is to see who will be the winner of the E-Book wars. Secondly, I still look at that Kindle, or Nook, or iPad and something about them is missing. I like falling asleep with a book in my hands. Sometimes the book falls to the floor in the middle of the night, but it survives. Would a Nook survive? I am doubtful. I am afraid I would have to put my Nook down before I fall asleep. My habit is I fall asleep with the language of those sentences flowing into my mind. These e-readers probably wouldn’t last through a single night. The other thing is, I like the smell of a new book. If a Kindle could someone capture that smell, I might show interest.

Well, let me get back to my books. Happy reading everyone.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

21st Century Diversion: Taking a July 4th Hike on Blue Ridge Parkway and Reflecting on Being a 21st Century Trailblazer

There is something to be said for living less than an hour from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have always loved the beauty of the mountains, and on those real crisp days in the winter, when the sky is clear all the way to the edge of the horizon, I treasure the silhouette of the North Carolina Mountains in the distance. I grew up in a time when the family visit to the mountains was exceeded in rank by nothing else. I can remember looking forward to an anticipated visit so intensely, that I prayed fervently the night before that God would withhold rain the next day so that we could go.

Yesterday, I took time away from computers, books, educational issues, and home to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway with my wife and some friends. We had lunch in Boone, North Carolina at a restaurant called Char (For more information see here.) Then we took a short walk to the Expresso News Coffee shop for coffee. The temperature the entire time was a bearable 76 degrees. That’s why Boone, North Carolina is one of my favorite places to be in North Carolina.

After the coffee, we drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway to take a hike on one of the many hiking trails. The trail we chose on which to hike was the Green Knob Trail, located just outside of the Boone-Blowing Rock area. (Another blogger has captured the experience very effectively here.) This trail does offer a variety of scenery. It starts at Sims Pond and follows a stream bed until you find yourself climbing a hill. The trail then leads you through heavy forests and grassy meadows, and it changes so often there is quite a bit to see.


Sims Pond Overlook


Green Knob Trail


One of the Many Spectacular Views on Green Knob Trail


Rhododendron Blooms Along the Trail

There is a great deal to be said for the quiet experiences to be found along a hiking trail, and the temptation is often to take the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson who once wrote, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Perhaps there is something inside of us that still burns to be a trailblazer, to walk off the path and create our own trail. That is probably what explains our passion for technology, teaching, and learning. We are all 21st Century Trailblazers. Educationally we do live in exciting times. We have an opportunity to “go where there is no path” and create an education system unlike anything the world has seen if we just don’t lose sight of who is most important, our students. Their futures depend on it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

MS OneNote 2010’s Sleek Design and New Features Make It Must-Have Note Taking Software

I have been a fan of Microsoft Office all the way back when Windows 3.1 was the standard operating system and CD-ROMs were the newest “gotta-have-feature” computers. Office has always bombarded users with features and functionalities too difficult to ignore. In those days MS Word, MS Powerpoint, MS Excel were the backbone of the Office Suite, and Microsoft successfully cornered the market. MS Office has been just too powerful to ignore and has been must have productivity software.

Honestly, because I use Google Apps so heavily, I was tempted to opt out of getting Microsoft Office 2010, but after reviewing some of its new features online, I had to give it a try. The version I purchased was the Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010 version with the Family Pack option that allows me to install it on three of my home computers. The current retail price for that package is $149.00. I purchased my version from Office Depot.

The Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010 version actually only has four of the applications offered as a part of Microsoft’s productivity lineup. Home and Student 2010 has MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint, and MS OneNote. Some would question why I purchased the Office Suite without MS Access, MS Outlook, and MS Publisher. The answer is easy. I honestly never used MS Access. As an administrator I just never had a need to develop databases to use during the course of my job, and I never used it at home. I also never used MS Outlook at home. Let’s face it, with all its bells and whistles, it is an excellent business app, but for my home email use, I just do not need all that stuff. Now, I perhaps will miss MS Publisher a bit. I used it all the time as a classroom teacher. Creating handouts and activity sheets was just too easy in Publisher. But now that I have been in administration, I just don’t use it any more.

So, what do I like about MS Office 2010 so far. I love the new MS OneNote interface. The design now has the same task button ribbon across the top that all the Office 2007 programs had.


MS OneNote’s 2010 Fluent User Interface

This makes OneNote’s menu items more accessible and easier to find during use. Microsoft calls this user interface “the Microsoft Fluent User Interface.” This makes it easier for users to find and use the functions available in all MS Office applications.

The big plus of MS OneNote 2010 is the ability to now sync OneNote with Windows Live and in turn sync OneNote on my Laptop with OneNote on my desktop. It is now possible to edit OneNote Notebooks using Microsoft OneNote web application. That allows me to use this product on computers that do not have OneNote installed.

One final plus I have found so far is the Windows Live Skydrive feature. I can upload notebooks or any Office documents for that matter and access them with other computers, and even share them with others. (Look out Google Docs.)

I have only tinkered with Microsoft OneNote 2010 so far and I love all the new features. Some of those are:

  • Quick styles for creating headings
  • Support for mathematical equations
  • Docked OneNote
  • Information Rights Management (IRM) protected printouts
  • Print driver for 64 bit operating system

For more about changes see Microsoft’s site here. I have not fully explored OneNote 2010, so I am sure I will have more to say about it later. I also have not even checked out MS Word, PowerPoint, and Excel 2010.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

21st Century Administrator Book Review: Christopher Wells' "Smarter Clicking: School Technology Policies that Work"

Cover Image

"Technology policies and procedures often suffer from being too limiting or too nebulous, both of which are almost impossible to enforce." With that single statement, Christopher Wells captures, in his book Smarter Clicking: School Technology Policies That Work, the monumental task administrators and technology teams face when trying to develop technology policy. A technology policy that is too limiting hampers teachers and students' efforts to use technology for legitimate instructional purposes. Draconian technology policies serve to keep school systems and schools out of innovation and in the status quo. But even these efforts are akin to trying to plug holes in a dike with the proverbial finger. The dike has actually collapsed and our schools are flooded with iPhones, iPods, netbooks, iPads, and notebook computers, and no matter how much we try to keep them out, "It ain't happening." Smart technology policy according to Wells is flexible but clear.

Early in his book, Wells quotes Bruce Scheier from a book called Computer Crime Hype. "Beware the Four Horsemen of the Information Apocalypse: terrorists, drug dealers, kidnappers, and child pornographers. Seems like you can scare any public into allowing the government to do anything with those four." There is truth in that statement. Oftentimes, much of the efforts to create common-sense technology policy is hampered by the fear-mongering Scheier alludes to in his Four Horsemen of the Information Apocalypse statement. The truth is, developing technology policy is hard work. As Well's points out, it involves balancing three main things: legal requirements, safety of our students and staff, and protection of our school system's technology investment. The legal considerations involve considering stipulations under the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Any policy and procedures can't ignore the law, and Wells does a fantastic job in his book outlining all the considerations surrounding each of these. He also goes into great detail about creating policy that addresses the safety of students and staff. One aspect of safety involves preventing our students from divulging too much personal information on the Internet, and the other is protecting them from inappropriate web content. Smarter Clicking provides a comprehensive list of safety considerations for policy makers. In addition to providing valuable information about Internet safety, Wells also provides a complete overview of what areas administrators need to consider when developing policy to protect the school system's investment in technological resources. He provides ideas for controlling access to network resources and for the protection of school system data. Both of these are important components of protecting the district's investment.

While Wells advocates flexibility for technology policy, he also recommends ongoing review of both technology policies and procedures. He suggests that administrators and technology teams get teachers and community members involved in the process of development. Technology policy and procedure development is a process that needs the input of each of these parties.

In the end, Christopher Wells' book is an excellent addition to the 21st century administrator's book shelf. At only 127 pages, it is an excellent starting point for discussions regarding what a technology policy should look like. In almost textbook fashion, he takes you through every single consideration for a "School Technology Policy That Works." While it is not what I would call an entertaining or even thoughtful read, it does provide a comprehensive reference book about school technology policy. It is certainly a book that I will be returning to again and again as we seek to keep technology policy current and workable.