Friday, January 20, 2012

Get to Know TED

One of the greatest developments in the internet age has been the growing access everyone has to news, information, and knowledge. Like Gutenberg's printing press, the expanding educational resources of the internet, combined with the increasing power and decreasing cost of computers, have the potential to create an age of enlightenment.

While it may be true that sifting through this glut of information has become more challenging, those willing to take the time to sift have golden opportunities to expand their understanding of our world.

I have a wide variety of interests. I cycle through these interests frequently. I may spend a few weeks researching quantum physics and then move on to religious studies or gardening.

One of my favorite research tools is a nonprofit organization called TED. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. TED hosts two conferences every year that bring together some of the world's most interesting scientists, artists, sociologists, engineers, etc. These outstanding people are given a maximum of 18 minutes to share their ideas. These presentations are recorded and organized on the TED website or YouTube. You can also find them on iTunes as podcasts or simply download the TED app so you can watch them on your mobile device.

These videos are perfect discussion starters for your classroom. They also make wonderful homework assignments. You can easily embed or link them in a blog post and then ask your students for feedback. My hope was that if I could get students to watch one of these videos, they might be willing to watch more on their own. A guy can dream, can't he?

Teacher Cadet instructors can find numerous TED Talks relative to education. One of my favorites is from Sir Ken Robinson.

Another favorite is a talk by Ann Cooper about school lunches. I would show this while teaching Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

There are hundreds of engaging videos that could serve as a spark to promote student learning. The goal of education should be to inspire our students to love learning and help them develop the ability to teach themselves. Tools like TED make those goals much easier to achieve.

It strikes me, however, how some teachers seem to be uninterested in learning anything new themselves. How can we expect our students to become lifelong, passionate learners if their teachers have no curiosity, no zeal for exploring something new? 

As we begin this new year, let's all make an attempt to reignite that sense of wonder we felt as children each time we learned something new. Let's resolve to discover a whole new world of knowledge this year. Let's share what we are studying with our students so they see US as LEARNERS, not just their TEACHERS. If all of us set that example, I believe that a great passion for learning would be passed along to the next generation.

Researching other fields helps us better understand our own profession, and that is one of the greatest side effects of our ongoing learning. So I challenge everyone to get to know TED in 2012, and then introduce "him" to your students.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How to Create a Blog (Like this one.)

Are you interested in creating your own blog? It is probably a lot easier than you imagine. A blog can be set up for a variety of purposes. In this episode of Useful Tools, I take you through the process of creating a blog step by step. If you follow along, you should be able to set up a great looking blog within 15 minutes. If you run into any problems, feel free to e-mail me @ I'll be glad to help.

Friday, January 6, 2012

It Begins

I just finished reading a fascinating article about a new law in Idaho that REQUIRES all Idaho high school students to take online courses to graduate. It also provides laptops or tablets for these students and their teachers.

Based upon my reputation as a technophile, some of you may think that I would enthusiastically support such a law. Well, I've never been inclined to support mandates from the top down unless they deal with civil rights. I tend to reject education policy when it assumes that all schools, teachers and students benefit from one approach.

Read Neil Postman.
He is awesome!
One of my favorite authors, Neil Postman, once said, "Technology always has unforeseen consequences, and it is not always clear, at the beginning, who or what will win, and who or what will lose."

It is clear to me that we are not far away from one-to-one computing in all of America's schools. Despite the protestations of Idaho's teachers, this is going to happen. As Tom Luna, Idaho's Superintendent of Schools stated, "The role of the teacher definitely does change in the 21st century. There's no doubt. The teacher does become the guide and the coach and the educator in the room helping students to move at their own pace." As we shift away from textbooks, traditional scheduling, and outdated classroom configurations, the role of the teacher will be shifting as well.

As teachers, we must reflect on Postman's warning. Who will win? Who will lose? So this particular post will be my analysis of that question. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment.

Let's talk about the students first. There is no question that students will benefit from working with their own computers. Students will no longer be forced to learn at the pace of the 29 other students in their class. It has never made sense to me that all students must complete a course within the same timeframe. Clearly, some students can work faster while others mover slower. Why would we continue to hold students back who could move forward or fail students who need extra time?

Students will also benefit from having a wider range of classes from which to choose. Imagine four students living in a rural community who are interested in learning Mandarin. A tablet computer can make that happen without the need for that rural district to recruit and hire one teacher for those four students. This "flattens" the educational landscape for all students. It gives students in geographically isolated areas opportunities that were previously impossible or financially unfeasible.

Technology proficiency is essential in the 21st century. As personal computing exploded in the 90's, one of the problems was the gap between students in poverty and those with greater resources. If a household could not afford a computer and broadband internet access, the students in that house were often left behind. The only opportunity they had to become computer-literate was at school. If their teachers did not embrace technology, that often never occurred. With one-to-one computing, this issue is largely solved.

One-to-one computing will also give the student more control over his/her own learning. This is an exciting development. The curriculum can be tailored to suit each individual student's needs. Students will shift from being passive learners, forced to accept a syllabus designed by one person, to active, engaged learners that contribute to the construction of their courses.

There are many more potential benefits for students, but let's discuss some of the possible drawbacks.

As students spend more and more time with a piece of plastic and silicon, I am concerned that they will become less able to effectively navigate social interactions. As time with humans is replaced with time with machines, will our students become less social, less human? Will they become so spellbound by these machines that they sacrifice "real-life" experiences?
Another concern is the loss of teacher-student interaction. If students are learning on a machine, they will be losing the face-to-face interaction with a caring adult. While a teacher's primary role has been to lead students through the curriculum, great teachers will tell you that there are many other SIGNIFICANT roles that a teacher plays in the lives of his or her students. Teachers are counselors, mentors, and co-learners. I do not believe a virtual teacher can fill these roles as effectively as a "real" teacher can.

So what will happen to teachers?

One-to-one computing is a threat to teachers. As more students take online courses or attend virtual schools, less teachers will be needed. As districts see opportunities to save money, they will cut back on teaching positions and increase opportunities for virtual learning. As long as student achievement is not impacted negatively, they will easily be able justify this shift. I think this threat is particularly dangerous for high school teachers. Until parents can afford android nannies to watch their young children, elementary and middle school-aged children will continue to be sent to schools. High school students, however, may be more likely to stay home. While leaving a teen at home each day may seem less than desirable, it may not be hard to convince parents to do so as our high schools resemble penitentiaries more and more each year.
Imagine her as an android.

Elementary and middle school teachers will not be completely immune. Even though students may continue to attend elementary and middle schools, the role of the teacher will change. Class sizes and structures will likely evolve to accommodate greater flexibility and more time online. These changes will be done with cost savings in mind. These cost savings might translate to fewer certified teaching positions.

Schools will increasingly need
technology specialists.
At all levels, there will be a greater demand for technology specialists. These specialists will be needed to ensure that all students are maximizing the use of their computers. They will also be needed to provide professional development to all teachers as they increasingly integrate one-to-one computing within the classroom. These specialists will be required to keep up with the deluge of new applications and resources available. Finally, these specialists will be busy updating, maintaining, and repairing these devices.

Teachers who are able to hold onto their positions will benefit greatly from one-to-one computing. These devices will help them deliver content much more efficiently and effectively. It will truly allow educators to individualize instruction and provide opportunities to transition to the role of facilitator, which should be the goal of all teachers anyway. One-to-one computing should make classroom management easier, although there will surely be new discipline issues that arise. Assessment of student learning will be quicker, broader, more organized, and far simpler. Educators will also have access to more resources than ever. Imagine a classroom full of tablets. All students would have access to a camera, video recorder, video editor, podcast creator, web designer, word processor, etc. Feel like reading The Death of Ivan Ilych? Just have all of your students download it for free using Google Books. The possibilities are truly endless and should be cause for great new visions of what our schools could look like.
Dude...imagine if Spicolli had a
brain-computer interface.
Perhaps he and Mr. Hand could have
avoided so many problems.

As computing power increases at an exponential rate, schools will be forced to evolve just as quickly. It may sound like science fiction, but it will not be long before all students have immediate access to all of human knowledge. As devices become smaller and more powerful, they will likely become artificial additions to our biological intelligence. Is it hard to imagine an implanted device that could VERY quickly retrieve the correct spelling to any word, the answer to any question of fact, or the solution to virtually any math problem? Can you imagine the impact this will have on the role of teachers and the content of our curricula? See Apple's SIRI for a precursor to such a device.

So this new age of education has begun and there is much we need to consider as this new age progresses. There will be battles that are waged, much like those taking place in Idaho. There will be teachers who reject technology, but I do not believe the momentum of technological transformation in school will be stopped. If this transformation is inevitable, it will be up to us to make sure that the greatest aspects of our humanity are not lost in the process. It will incumbent upon us to demand that students still have time to sing, paint, act, dance, run, and play. We must insist that students stay connected to nature and, most importantly, each other.

Technology presents an opportunity, but it doesn't necessarily present a solution. Mandates or laws, such as the one in Idaho, are not the solution either. We can use shinier toys, yet remain on a path of ineffective educational policy, formed largely by those with no background in education, or we can use these new tools to forge a future at which the likes of Dewey, Piaget, and Vygotsky would marvel. I'm hoping for the latter.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I am very pleased and excited to announce the creation of our first CERRA app! This application is available in both the Android Market and Apple App Store. This first version includes CERRA News, videos, tweets, podcasts, photos, blogs, and a feedback tab so you can send us photos and comments.

Below are the links that will take you directly to the app. I recommend opening these links on your mobile devices. That way the app will be loaded directly on the device without needing to transfer it.

We will continue to update and revise the app over the next few months. As that process unfolds, we would love your feedback.

Android Market

Apple App Store: