Ignoring the Rules

The New York Times recently published a long front-page story about how Google “took over” the classroom. The writer’s primary focus is on concerns about the amount of student data the company is collecting in exchange for their free tools, and what they plan to do with it, although she doesn’t get many answers from them.

However, the part I found most interesting was about how those Google’s tools arrived in many classrooms in the first place. IT directors from Chicago, Oregon, and Fairfax County (aka our overly-large school district) complain that representatives of the company went straight to teachers with products like Google Classroom instead going through channels.

He said that Google had directly contacted certain Fairfax teachers who had volunteered to beta-test Classroom, giving them early access to the app. In so doing, he said, the company ignored the Google settings he had selected that were supposed to give his district control over which new Google services to switch on in its schools.

And why do so many teachers ignore IT’s rules and go through the formal process of getting those services approved?

Lots of reasons, but in our district it’s mostly because they know that the wheels of our bureaucracy grind very slowly. The formal evaluation system for new tech products can take years, especially for anything that hasn’t been blessed by Microsoft.

IT grudgingly went along with the use of Google Drive in the classroom after hundreds of teachers started using it on their own. Some of our innovative people very quickly recognized the value in online collaborative tools and jumped at the opportunity soon after it was released (only five years ago). One school even had the audacity to register their own domain to make things easier for their staff and students.

This would be a good time to point out that there’s no such thing as “free”, especially when it comes to Google. Even if the latest tool looks like a gift from the gods, teachers still have a responsibility to be cautious about allowing their students to pour data into these systems (see also the recent news about Edmodo).

On the other side of things, district administrators also need to understand that some of the best resources for evaluating new technologies are the connected, innovative educators working in their schools. Ignoring their expertise and judgement is going to result in them ignoring you.

[Apologies in advance to Doug for this post. :-)]

We Just Need Better Ads

The BBC reports that the Education Select Committee of Parliament is concerned about “significant teacher shortages” in the UK.

The Education Select Committee has called for a long-term plan, as schools struggle to recruit enough teachers and pupil numbers continue to rise.

Teacherswanted 619x365

MPs want more active efforts to reduce the numbers quitting teaching.

The Department for Education said there were currently record levels of teachers.

A spokesman said: “We recognise there are challenges.”

As in most parts of the US, the greatest shortages are in fields like Physics, maths1, and computer science.

Also similar to the US, a large percentage of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years.

So what is the Department doing to address their challenges?

A £1.3bn2 recruitment campaign, “featuring a series of high-profile advertising campaigns for teaching”. Also, “financial incentives focused on attracting recruits into shortage subjects”.

Although the reporter found someone late in the piece to bring up a “lack of pay raises” for teachers, and had the requisite union rep quote about “distractions” in the classroom, there was no indication anything like better pay or working conditions was being considered by the government.

They just need better marketing.

3-2-1 For 12-18-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

Area 51, the top secret military base in the Nevada desert, is the stuff of conspiracies and legends. And, yes, it does exist. While there’s nothing about space aliens and their crashed spaceships, the real story of how the myth developed is still an interesting read. (about 6 minutes)

Although their animation technology is amazing, Pixar’s greatest skills lie in telling engaging and entertaining stories. One of their storyboard artists has been tweeting for years about that process and a graphic artist has put together 22 of the best ideas into a slideshow that includes some great inspiration for your story telling students. (about 10 minutes)

The US is facing a major shortage of qualified teachers in the next decade, and I don’t think the reasons are difficult to determine. But for some great insight into the problem, read this story about one talented science teacher who is planning to exit the profession because “US schools are broken”. (about 14 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

We walk into a room, flip a switch, and expect that we will have light. It wasn’t always so, of course, and for most human history “getting light was a huge hassle”. That history of light parallels economic growth in the world and it’s an interesting story. (20:29)

One summer night in 1979, at a Chicago stadium, disco died. Or at least that’s the verdict of many cultural historians. A new podcast called Undone examines events only to find that they “were actually the beginning of something else”. This first episode is an entertaining story about how disco actually got wrapped into many other musical styles. (39:20)

One video to watch when you have time

Stephen Johnson writes about innovation, both where it comes from and where it leads. In an unusual video from the TED people (no lectures here), he uses stop motion animation to illustrate the idea that innovations like the computer come as much from people playing around as they do from necessity. Maybe more from play. “You’ll find the future wherever people are having the most fun.” (7:25)

Making a Good Teacher (1950’s Edition)

An article in The Economist magazine explains How to make a good teacher.

Good for a classroom from sixty years ago.

If this is to change, teachers need to learn how to impart knowledge and prepare young minds to receive and retain it. Good teachers set clear goals, enforce high standards of behaviour and manage their lesson time wisely. They use tried-and-tested instructional techniques to ensure that all the brains are working all of the time, for example asking questions in the classroom with “cold calling” rather than relying on the same eager pupils to put up their hands.

The concept of “imparting knowledge” and “preparing young minds” represents a very traditional vision of learning, one in which students sit in classroom rows waiting to receive the required knowledge. With the teacher “cold calling” all the questions, using “tried-and-tested” techniques to get pupils to produce the “right” answer.

The basic premise of the article – that we need to improve teacher preparation programs and provide better support on the job – is completely valid. However, the writer’s view of the role that should teachers play in student learning is antiquated at best.

Unfortunately, it’s also the foundation of most education reform proposals.

Hiding the Law

If you’re a teacher, you need to understand the basics of copyright and fair use. Actually, that’s probably true of any adult in the US but especially teachers since we are responsible for helping our students understand the concepts, the law, and their rights under it. Or at least we should be responible.

This idea comes to mind because last week the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and other organizations celebrated Copyright Week with a series of interesting posts about the need for intellectual property policies and laws that promote creativity and innovation. Rather than heavy handed attempts to restrict access to and use of information.

Such as the ongoing attempts by industry associations to use copyright law to “interfere with transparency and open access to the law itself”, by claiming ownership of “laws that began as private standards but are later incorporated into federal and state regulations”. Six of these associations are suing Public Resource, a small non-profit organization that has been posting the regulations online for anyone to use, free of charge.

And even the business of education is involved.

In 2014, three more SDOs [standards development organizations] sued Public Resource over a standard for designing tests. That standard is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s rules for handing out billions of dollars in financial aid for students, yet the groups that published it make it hard to find and buy, in order to boost sales of a new edition. It’s not available online anywhere right now, so finding out what the law is means tracking down an increasingly rare used copy.

Reminds me a little of that classic work of educational obfuscation, Double Secret Probation. :-)