Monday, October 1, 2018

Teacher Tips for Canvas

As our upper school has started to robustly use the learning management system Canvas, I have a few tricks and tips that might be helpful on the educator side of things:

    • Options for shuffling answers. If you create multiple choice or true/false questions in a Canvas quiz, the correct answer will always default to the top answer (a) unless you do one of the following:
      • When creating a question you can manually pull the arrow that points to the correct answer down in the question so that you are randomizing the answers yourself. OR....
      • When setting up the quiz, choose the "shuffle answers" box so that the quiz itself with automatically shuffle the answers for you. The downside of this is that you can't use answers like "all the above" or "both B and C" because it may look different for your students. 
    • Allowing for extended time on tests. If you are a teacher that sets an amount of time for a quiz or a time availability (a close time) when you assign a quiz that quiz will automatically be submitted when that time is up. If you want to allow students extended time for tests, don't use the availability but require an access code. This way once the class is over, the students can access the quiz afterwards as well. For this option I would suggest changing the access code after each class for integrity purposes.

  • Using Calendar Events for non-graded assignments for students (here is a video explanation of information below). There is one way to add things to the students's calendars that does not impact grade book. (You can also create an assignment that is labeled "no submission" and it will allow you to put a grade in for it and will show up on your grade book. This might be a good choice for dressing out in P.E., or journal checks):
    • Create an event. Choose to click on the calendar link on your blue vertical navigation toolbar. 
      • In the top right corner of the calendar view click on the + to add an event.
      • Title your event that lets your students know what the expectation will be. You can add more details by clicking on "more options."
      • The event will default to being added to your personal calendar, so make sure you use the drop down box to choose the class you want to share the event to.
      • Click submit. (The event will now show up on the students's calendar and "upcoming" list). 

  • Deleting the MISSING label after something is turned it late (here is a video explanation of the information below). I feel like this is something Canvas should fix automatically but if a student turns in an assignment late and you put the grade in, you will need to:
      • Click on the across arrow inside the assignment box for the student in question.
      • When the sidebar pops up change the assignment to either "None" or "Late (blue)" based on your needs. This will remove the missing label in your grade book, the students view and the parent view. 
      • It is helpful to look over your grade book occasionally to see if their are any pink boxes and whether they need to be fixed. 

  • Moderating a quiz. There are times when students might need an additional attempt at a quiz (here is a video explanation of the information below). As a teacher, you can click on a quiz a student needs to access and then in the upper right corner clicking on "Moderate this quiz," then click on the pencil next to the student you want to moderate the quiz for. This allows you to:
      • Give individual students multiple attempts at a quiz
      • Give immediate access to individual students take a quiz without having to go through the process of reassigning the quiz to the student.

  • Communicating with students inside of Canvas. Students are getting use to receiving information about their courses through Canvas. If you are in a situation where you need to communicate important information to your students quickly you have two options (here is a video explanation of the information below):
      • You can create Announcements for your course that you can assign to all your classes or to individual classes. It could be useful if you were absent one day because you could actually delay when it is posted after creating it and allow your students to see it as they enter the classroom. You can also allow them to reply to an announcement if you need feedback before the next class meeting or ask them to "like" it to show that it has been read. To use announcements:
        • Go to Settings in your class and move Announcements up for students to view.
        • Click on Announcements
        • Create the announcement and assign it to the class based on your needs.
      • Using the inbox inside of Canvas allows you to send messages to whole classes, individuals or groups. This is a very quick way to get students use to going to one location to receive information from you instead of going outside of Canvas to check their emails. To send messages to your students:
        • Click on the INBOX on your blue vertical navigational toolbar.
        • In the middle top of the next page, click on the paper with the pencil icon.
        • Create the message you want to send (you can even attach files or videos that you might want your students to be able to access) 
        • Make sure you choose the correct course or people you desire to communicate with via Canvas email.
        • Press send. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Educating in the Moment of Urgency

Lately I've been thinking about the impact urgency has on the educational process. There are times curve balls are thrown at our otherwise normal day and we have to adjust to move forward or to help others move forward. It seems there are three big categories that cause a sense of urgency to come out:

  • When things fail. Whether it be the wifi going down, a lesson plan flopping, or a student dealing with a broken relationship. Failure often brings on an immediate need to educate differently. 
  • When things need a quick response. Sometimes it is a deadline, sometimes it is a waiting student or boss, other times it is understanding of a potential issue that needs resolved before it becomes a failure. 
  • When people procrastinate. We want the quote "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part" to be true but honestly it just isn't. Part of life in the world of education is dealing with the crisis of procrastination.
This year as I have worked to aid our teachers in implementing the Canvas LMS I am realizing that much of what I do happens because of a sense of urgency. This sense of urgency changes who I am as an educator. When I have time to sit and develop a process or idea, there is more substance and value to what I create or think up. When I am constantly feeling the need to put out fires, I never feel truly in control of myself or the path of my day. Truthfully, it is the nature of the beast right now but I've had this huge realization of how it impacts educating our students. 

When things don't go as planned, the teacher has to kick a field goal when they were really hoping for that touchdown. While it is still possible to win a game with field goals, the task is harder because you are still going through all the same motions but making less points at the end of the possession. (Forgive the football analogy but it is football season and I am a fan). A field goal feels like a letdown to the coach much like a change in lesson plan feels to a teacher. 

There are times we are not in control of the urgency in our classrooms or school systems, we feel reactionary at best. No one wants to remain in that sense of internal conflict but how we respond to urgencies impacts the culture for those we come in contact with as well. If I moan and complain because I don't like something, I'm influencing others to feel the same. If I'm constantly pushing back and refusing to make a quick response, the stalemate can cause a snowball of repercussions. When I am just not preparing enough for a situation I am forcing others to succumb to my frazzle. 

None of us wants to have to make decisions that are not well thought out and that is what urgency can lead to. Finding ways to minimize urgency in education is the ultimate goal but to also set concrete goals when finding ourselves in that frenzy is helpful as well. Here are 3 things that help me when I am in a situation that I did not sign up for but can't be ignored:

  • Enjoy the punt. There is beauty in the kick. Something didn't go as planned? It was a big giant flop for the day? I give it 10 minutes and if I can't fix it in that time, I go to plan B...whatever plan B might be. But always remember there is value in your plan B as well, plan B's can win games. Don't get so caught up in what didn't work that you miss out on what does work. Always strive to fail forward. 
  • Weigh the outcomes. When I was growing up, my mother had these decorative brass scales that sat in our living room (the room for company) and no one was allowed to touch them. When I need to make a quick decision I think of those scales. Against my mother's wishes I mentally start placing the pros and cons in the appropriate side of the scale and I weigh the consequences of my decision. I know there will be things I didn't consider but sometimes I just need to know I have done my best at discernment and I make a decision after thoughtfully weighing the choices. 
  • Be the hero. Procrastination of others that impacts you can be frustrating because there is a face associated with the issue- someone we can blame. I've often found that procrastinators live in a constant level of panic that I can't even fathom. If you want to feel like you are a super hero, help a procrastinator in the midst of procrastination. Most the time they realize their lack of planning doesn't have to be fixed by you so they are very appreciative of your willingness to drop things to help them. 
After a few weeks of being in my new position, I can tell you that there is a lot of satisfaction in helping others in the midst of educational urgency. I can also tell you that I want to do everything in my power to get people out of that kind of culture or reactivity. I believe we are better educators when we find our balance between urgency and getting stalled in overthinking. We all fall somewhere along the spectrum and learning how to move one direction or the other and discerning how best to react in situations benefits not only us as educators but our students as well. Educating in the moment of urgency has ripple effects that can cause lasting impact. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Why an LMS? Why Canvas?

During the last school year our school announced that our upper school teachers would be required to use the learning management system (LMS) named Canvas in 3 significant ways forward:

  1. All objective assessments would be delivered through the Canvas LMS
  2. All students have the option to turn in papers digitally
  3. All grades would be done through the Canvas grade book
With any change comes push back and fear. For us, all stakeholders have had to learn a new system- teachers, administrators, students and parents. Below are the benefits each group of our stakeholders can experience from using Canvas:

Benefits to Administrators: 

  • Analytics- By creating expectations for students to take assessments using Canvas, we also have the ability to start to see patterns of each student's learning and possible gaps in mastery of concepts. While we are not a full fledged competency-based school in the way we teach, we now have a place where administrators can quickly have access to class averages on assignments and even dig deeper to see individual student results. 
  • Compliance- In some ways using Canvas diminishes the silo effect that education can sometimes cause. When administrators can only get into a classroom for a few observations a year, Canvas allows admin to take a quick glance at assignments and quizzes to make sure all teachers are compliant to the goals and expectations put upon them for their curriculum.
  • Scalability- We are in a school system where we have multiple educators teaching the same course to grade levels. By having those educators work together to create their Canvas-based curriculum it takes workload levels off everyone and allows systems to be in place regardless of the size of classes. Blended learning works well with Canvas. In our middle school math program we have been able to effectively increase class size by using this platform for students to navigate their daily needs. 
  • Accountability- The realtime aspect of Canvas allows administrators to immediately see if lesson plans are both accurate and up to date for students with just a click of the mouse. 

Benefits to Teachers:

  • Mobility and Accessibility- Students now have the ability to access their assignments easily as long as they have access to the internet. Being a 1:1 school with 100% at home connectivity (one of the upsides to living in Chattanooga, TN- home of the fastest internet in the country), this means our students now can access things without the excuses of "the dog ate my homework, I lost it, or I didn't know I had homework." 
  • Deliver Content Instantly- Teachers now have the ability to deliver information to students instantly. Perhaps a classroom discussion spurs a teacher to remember an article they want to share. Utilizing an LMS allows the teacher to quickly upload it to the course for immediate and future reference. 
  • Personalization- Canvas allows educators to assign things to individual students, give individual students multiple attempts to take a quiz, share different resources with different student groups, all without other students knowing that differentiation is taking place. This allows some students with IEPs to feel less self aware of their learning issues because others aren't aware that any accommodations are taking place. Have a student that can breeze through the curriculum? With mastery paths being utilized within Canvas, teachers can meet those needs by creating deeper learning or allowing those students to go further with their learning.   
  • Multimedia Learning- The use of Canvas allows teachers to share videos, audio recordings, as well as continue robust face to face engagement with students that might be graded outside of a computer-based assessment. Sometimes students may not grasp a concept during a lecture but a teacher can upload a video of themselves or someone else teaching the concept and students can stop and start the video to make sure they have the concepts before moving on. 

Benefits to Parents:

  • Transparent view- Parents have the ability to see exactly what their students are seeing by pairing with them. They can view the courses, the calendar due dates, and grades all from one location. In a world of constant connectivity, parents have the ability to know 100% what the expectations are for their child's classes because it is all listed in their Canvas courses. Nothing can be placed in a grade book without first being added as an assignment in Canvas.
  • Click thru to assignments- Parents have the ability to see a grade or a "missing" label and then click directly through to the assignment to see the details. They can see everything their student can see, they just can't complete the assignment with their parent account. 
  • Parent portal for accountability- Parents can set up to receive notifications regarding their child's account. If they choose to use the Canvas Parent App, they can have the app push them information straight to their phone about course grade levels, missing assignments, when a grade is above or below a threshold they deem important to know, and any announcements about a course. If they use the web browser access, they can set themselves up to receive emails for the same types of information in order to hold their children accountable in their learning process.

Benefits to Students:
  • Single sign-on- One of the things we wanted to streamline for our students is giving the ability to go to one place and have fewer log-ins and passwords to remember for their educational process. Canvas allows our students to use their Google accounts for single sign-on capabilities. There are no longer multiple platforms and passwords to remember because all information and access goes through Canvas for our students. 
  • Consistency- Students now know they can go to Canvas and click on "calendar" to see all the things due on any upcoming date that has already been assigned for any class they are taking. Students know that their "Upcoming" section represents a week glance. Students know that their "to do" list means things that they need to get done. Students now have one platform to go to see information shared by their teachers. While each class may look differently, based on how the teacher set their own courses up, the student experience remains significantly the same for access and turning in assignments. Now students aren't sharing a document  via Google Drive in one class but uploading to an LMS in another. Their experience and the expectations feel more the same from class to class. 
  • Collaboration- Canvas allows for discussion boards and it connects with the school Google suites account for all students. This allows students to work together on a Google doc or slideshow, for instance by adding information or comments. Students also have the ability to participate in "peer grading" through the Canvas LMS platform. 
  • Communication- Knowing that a teacher is communicating through one platform helps students to realize the importance of checking for communication more often. Canvas allows the students to expect all communication in one localized place- the place where they also see their assignments, turn in their assignments, and take assignments. 
  • Immediate Content-  Canvas allows students to place their virtual hands on content quickly and efficiently based on teacher sharing. Students no longer have to go back to their locker to get a handout or call a friend because they lost the details of the homework assignment. Students can immediately access the content of their courses as long as they have access to the internet. 
With any digital plan, there are sometimes bandwidth issues, accessibility of device issues, quirks, and a learning curve for all users. It's not all benefits but as we are now a month into the school year, the benefits of this endeavor seem to quickly outweigh the detriments for our students. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Becoming a Proactive Voice in a Reactive Society

We are in an era of technology changing so quickly that it's hard for anyone to stay abreast of the topics and concerns. One thing that continuously tugs on my inner moral compass is the way we (society in general) seem to adopt the next best thing like lambs being led to slaughter.

It's a fine line for me- as an instructional technologist I don't want to wait so long to adopt a worthy concept that we are creating more work for our teachers and students than need be but I also don't want to just accept something as new and great without spending a little time "looking behind the curtain."

I have weighed the pros and cons of voice user interface (VUI) in the classroom on and off, again and again over the last 3 years. Through a series of unexpected events I've created a network of VUI programmers by speaking at the Alexa Conference last year in regards to what educators want from VUI. Because of this opportunity, a few programmers from across the country have remained in contact with me and have reached out to me via social media when Amazon Alexa has created safeguards for student privacy. I am so thankful for this new network of people because there is no way I could have remained as well informed about updates to the Alexa Echo without their help.

This school year our campus has been given the opportunity to pilot the use of 5 Amazon Echo Kid's Edition devices with remotes thanks to the generosity of Dave Isbitski, Chief Amazon Alexa Evangelist. Dave and his wife heard about my desire to use Echo dots with remotes in ways that kept student privacy issues at the forefront and they personally bought our school 5 devices with 5 remotes. I was blown away by the generosity and encouragement I received from a man I have never even met before.

While I always try to stay on the edge of technological innovation, I will never be an educator that just adopts sites, apps, or devices without doing research first. I don't want to be seen as a reactionary innovation leader but one that has been mindful of all the details that are associated with any new platform or device before blindly accepting usage.

That's why I have been patiently waiting to place these Alexa Echo Kid's Edition devices in the classroom. I wanted to do some trial work with one on my own first- which I did last year. This year we have 4 devices in our elementary school and one in our high school to try out. The reason I was ready to make the jump into implementation was 4 key things you can now do:

  1. I can delete history at anytime from the device- daily, weekly, hourly, monthly. 
  2. I can use a remote with the device that turns it off completely when I am not intentionally using it in the classroom setting.
  3. I can set it up so it does not "learn" voices.
  4. Turn off the ability to purchase things from Amazon using the echo.

Our pilot teachers all have their devices in their classrooms but just being 2 weeks in they have done very little implementation. As we move forward, I am thankful for the opportunity to share with the educational and VUI community ways to proactively use voice in ways that put student's needs first. We will spend this year addressing potential issues, analyzing the effectiveness of VUI in the classroom, and constantly reviewing concepts of good student privacy practices. Stay tuned as we trail blaze  forward within boundaries. We hope to represent a well thought out use of voice interface in the classroom for others to consider. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A few years ago a new family moved into our school community with a young elementary son named Daniel. I noticed immediately he was wise beyond his years. Now, as a high school student he chooses to be different than his peers when it come to social media. He knows balancing is a weakness for him. I asked him to write a guest blog for me because his perspective needs to be heard by those of us teaching students. We, as educators, need to be speaking to students about using technology for human flourishing and the pitfalls of mindless surfing. This is a digital citizenship issue. Hear Daniel's words and heart on the subject:

I have an app that tells me how long I’ve spent on my phone each day, and when I first downloaded it, I was shocked by the results. It was routine for me to spend 3 hours on my phone each day, and not uncommon for that number to grow to 4 or 5 hours. What could I have been doing with that lost time? I don't even want to consider it. Before I got the app (which is called Moment and is free on the App Store), I thought that I used my phone much less than the average high schooler, and that may in fact be true. I think my peers would be as surprised as I was to learn the ugly truth: Americans with smartphones, and especially young Americans with smartphones, spend a gratuitous amount of time on their devices. Lives are being spent in rooms on beds with phones in hand. This is my generation’s life, and it is really no way to live.
What is the solution to this problem? We need to be actively discouraging overuse of personal devices. Of course, parents and educators do call on their children and students to be wary of their tech use. But the caution is tepid. Kids are often told that tech is dangerous because it gives us access to bad content, but rarely do adults tell us that the thing in our pocket is dangerous because of how much time it consumes. I wish I had been warned of that sooner. Pornography and violence is one kind of moral wrong, but I would contend that a life spent scrolling Instagram is another.
I was once hailed as “the G.O.A.T. of Instagram” (the Greatest Of All Time for those who aren’t familiar with the acronym). My posts were clever and funny and occasionally artistic. I would check my phone every minute after posting to see how many likes I had received. I came to find a small piece of my identity in my skill at the social media game and therefore put a lot of effort into my online appearance. One time, while I was curating my Instagram page and looking through others’ profiles on the family lake trip, my cousin asked me a probing question and one that I am grateful for to this day: “How much time do you spend on Instagram?” Instead of being satisfied with my half-hearted answer of “I don’t know,” he told me to check my data usage and see how much I used it. I begrudgingly opened my settings app and was embarrassed to see that Instagram took up most of my data. How could I spend so many of my waking hours on a photo sharing app? I was humiliated when the exact number was revealed to the family and I promptly deleted my page in what seemed like an erratic decision. I have never gotten my Instagram back and I have never regretted my choice.
Since that time, I have had brief flirtationships (one of the advantages of social media is the creation of words like “flirtationship”) with other social medias, most notably Snapchat and Twitter. Snapchat lasted for a matter of weeks before I realized I was slipping into my old habits. Twitter lasted for only 4 days. Thanks to my cousin, I am honest with myself about my lack of self-control where social media is concerned. More people my age should have this awareness but do not because nobody has spoken into their lives about their lack of balance. My cousin harangued me when I was the tender age of 13. I fear that it may be too late for my friends who are nearing high school graduation.
I wish other people had relatives or teachers or friends who could embarrass them enough to inspire change, and I’ve been left to wonder why more people don’t speak out against tech overuse. I believe it is because technology as a concept is a very positive thing. It has taken us to the moon, given us our sight back, increased worldwide food production, and given millions of people jobs. It connects us to the rest of the world and expands our horizons, and it certainly has a place in our homes and classrooms. But just because there are many positive aspects to the mass generalization we call “technology,” that doesn’t mean we should ignore the many places in which personal technology has come to control our lives. Encouraging your student to use Snapchat less is no threat to the scientists at NASA. Technology is not a monolith that can somehow be damaged when I cut down my phone use.
Let’s be honest about the ways in which we take advantage of the wonderful gift of technology. Most of our tech use is simply not productive. I am all in favor of people operating social media pages that promote their small business or advertise their school club. I understand that LinkedIn helps professionals and that Twitter connects leaders to the people, but we immoderately use our phones and excuse ourselves by saying that technology is a good thing that helps people. Of course it does. Now stop sending pictures of the floor to your friends on Snapchat.
Educators and parents have arguably the biggest role to play in not only helping young people spend less time on their phones and laptops, but also helping them use their time on technology well. With the guidance of several teachers, I am hoping to transition our school newspaper online this year and any time I spend on a computer to design and update the website will be, by my estimate, a very good use of time. Not only am I helping to get school journalism out to more people than we could in print, but I am also reducing paper use and increasing the amount of articles that student writers can produce. It is an example of a time when technology is beneficial, productive, and worthy of my time.
I have no illusions, however, that my aspirations for the school paper utilize the same kind of technology as I do when I’m in bed scrolling through (not a typo). There are good and bad ways of using technology, and I simply want us as a society to be able to distinguish between the two and cut out the bad technology use like cancer. People my age need help with this. So I am calling on teachers, parents, friends, and relatives to direct the young people in their lives away from their overused personal accounts, where they post self-glorifying images, and towards healthy tech use, like reading articles and trying new recipes and writing papers and learning how to make kombucha. But above all, I am calling on us all to use our phones less. I don’t have any social media, so the thought that I could spend 5 hours on my phone was ludicrous. It is important to note that even if I was using my phone to read interesting things and learn about new places or ideas, I was using it too much. The first step to real change is self-knowledge, so I strongly encourage everyone to download Moment, so they at least know how big a role in their life screen time plays. I was shocked, and my shock has turned into a determination to get better.
If there’s one thing the spread of the smartphone has accomplished, it has been the complete destruction of any semblance of balance in our lives. I want others to live a more balanced life just as I want balance for myself. Smartphones have also tainted the positive aspects of technology by supplanting them with pictures of avocado toast and beach vacations. Technology can be productive and refreshing, but it can also be wasteful and soul-sucking. Let’s get better at knowing the difference.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Confessions from a Former "Grades Driven" Helicopter Parent

Our school has a student information system (SIS) that allows parents to receive notifications via email for a variety of things: grades, missing assignments, etc. Being what I thought was a diligent parent I signed up to receive emails when an assignment was missing and weekly grade updates for both my girls when they attended CCS. My thought was "Wonderful! Now I can make sure my girls are towing the educational line."

For years, I would greet them with a "Hello! How was your day? Why did you not turn you assignment in during Science today?" If your familiar with the Seinfeld episode about the "Soup Nazi," I was definitely the "Grades Nazi." As somewhat of an overachiever myself AND an educator I would find myself at a boiling point when a "bad grade" got placed in the grade book for either of my children. Sadly, I must confess that as an educator at their school I often let my pride get in the way and was even embarrassed when they didn't try. I told you in the title this is a confessions blog!

Year after year I found my relationships with my daughters becoming more and more strained- especially with my oldest. Grades weren't the only reason but I allowed them to be a key impact point of conflict on a weekly basis. I always had high expectations academically for my girls and I wasn't afraid to let them know that; until my oldest daughter was a junior and my youngest was in ninth grade. On a day of complete exasperation I sat down with my husband and said, "I can't do this anymore. It's ruining my relationship with my girls and I am stressed all the time!" At this point my husband, whose philosophy in college was "C's get degrees" took over. Just like the savvy business man he is, he immediately changed the expectations. He placed the onus of reporting on the girls. Even though he was still getting all the emails, he expected them to send their grades to him each week. It was a non-negotiable. When they sent them on Saturday or Sunday he would look at them and sometimes ask them questions about them, and he would explain his continued expectations.

Washing my hands of the daily notifications and stress was both freeing and scary! What if they quit trying? What if they didn't get into a good college? What if...? And then my oldest took the ACT and I did a little "whew," she then got into the college she wanted to go to and I did a "woohoo," and last December she graduated early from college with a degree. From an educator's view I wasn't even sure she would make it through college based on her high school grades at times. But that's when the revelation hit're only given your kids for a season! Yes it is your job to help them be the best they can be but sometimes, we as parents, sweat the small stuff in the big scheme of life.

I always tell my oldest I'm sorry because we were learning on her. There is definitely a bit of continued tension about that in her and I hope as the years go by I can overcome that and she can see me for what I was...a first time mom muddling through parenthood to the best of my ability! I think back to when I was in k-12 schooling. My parents received a progress report and then a report card. They had no idea what my grades were like except for 2 grades in a semester. My sister and I survived! In fact, I would say we are both fairly well adjusted and responsible adults.

I share all this because there are about to be some changes in the way we will be sharing grades at our school for next year. In one sense it gives the parents more information because they can be observers within the course in our learning management system (LMS) but they will no longer be able to sign up for email notifications. The notifications go to the students. The parents can download the Canvas Parent App and look anytime they want, but they won't get that email 20 minutes before the kid gets in the car like I did in the past (or so it seemed to my children everyday).

I suspect we will have some upset parents over this. I suspect we will have some parents that it won't impact at all...but from a former "Grades Driven Helicopter Parent" my prayer is that families will be able to find a system for themselves regarding grades that helps them balance their need to know with their need to be a caring parent. I wish I had done it sooner. Just because you can know information doesn't mean you always need to know. (Honestly I can't believe I even typed that, but I do mean it now.) I do know every kid is different and each student has to be treated differently to grow them into responsible adults, but looking back now as a "seasoned parent" I wish I had not spent so much time talking about grades while my kids were under my roof. Oh, and my second daughter...she's thriving in college right now....just ask her. I now know there is a fine line between accountability and responsibility that parents need to be hyper vigilant about.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Growing Cost of Edtech Integrity and Security

5 years ago our school rolled out a BYOD (bring your own device) plan for our middle school. We've muddled, learned and grown through all this and also watched and waited for a better idea to come along. Last year we did something different, our fifth grade students piloted touchscreen chrome books in the classroom that the parents still bought (but they bought through the school). As part of this rollout we placed all these Chromebooks under a monitoring and filtering system that follows them wherever they may go. This monitoring software was chump change compared to some of our budgets but it feels like the chump change costs to do what we want to do just keeps growing. And with it comes an added level of responsibility for our IT department by being the gatekeeper of usage both on and off campus.

In this next school year we are also investing in software that will make it impossible for students to take a quiz or test without doing so in a lockdown browser. We chose to do this for testing security and integrity. This is another little bit of chump change that works with the learning management system (LMS) we have adopted for this year - the LMS itself is a larger bit of chump change. We also spend additional money on a plagiarism/grammar checking software that plugs into the said LMS.

Many of these options are chosen for integrity purposes, some are for ease of use purposes and yet a few cannot even be seen as optional in today's world. One of the hardest parts of being an instructional technologist is that there never seems to be a program that does everything we want it to do for our teachers and students without investing more money in an outside plug in. Then you stand back and you realize your "per seat" cost of using technology continues to grow and you wonder what could stay, what could go? What is next? I do believe in time some of these plug ins will become standard in LMS specs but for now the budget continues to bulge with add-ons.

Add to that the needs of an elementary school which isn't quite ready for the robustness of an expensive LMS but teachers want to utilize technology in collective ways. All of a sudden you have $20-50 dollar expenses in various classes to meet various needs and everyone looking to the IT department to fill those needs.

I do appreciate edtech companies that have the free versions and the pay versions of software because more than once I've said "show me you'll use it and we will look for the money for the paid version." It is interesting to me that many of these companies charge just enough to entice teachers to use their own money for this classroom need. I can't decide if that's the companies being good to the teachers or actually exploitive of the teachers!

At the end of last year our wonderful elementary PTO gave out Amazon gift cards to our teachers to use in the classroom. I'm wondering, has the time come for teachers to receive gift cards so they can decide what tools to buy for their classroom or does that create a smorgasbord of confusion for students? I don't think it would in the elementary setting.

  • How does one best encourage teachers to take risks and try new technology tools without creating undo cost and chaos with a need to support all those things? 
  • Who decides what is necessary and what is not? 
  • Should there be a protocol for edtech tool adoption? 
  • How do you support innovators and first adopters in a school setting?
  • How do you discern if the chump change and the big change your shelling out is truly cost effective in the learning process?
  • How do you make the money spent on educational technology equitable between upper and lower schools? Do you need to?
  • What standards or goals are you supporting through the use of technology in the school?
  • What is it's ultimate purpose and do the pros outweigh the cons? 
  • Where is the tipping point? If I knew .....(kids weren't always multitasking, students weren't cheating on tests, knew how to balance- or whatever you have heard to fill in that blank) THEN I would feel more comfortable with technology. How much money do we invest into the tipping point areas?
  • How do you respond to the next cool and useful tool that hits the market midyear when your budget is flat? 
  • How much cushion should there be in a tech budget?