Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I'm going slow with tech in the classroom.

I'm having trouble with tech in the classroom. It's similar to the complaint expressed a few days ago on DogHouse Diaries about the vast array of digital storage options and the call for simplification. Expand the graphic to see what I mean.

I've found that I have an incredibly diverse set of tools that I can use daily, that the "reformocrats" would like me to be "expert" at using.
  • For writing and other communications: blogs and forums, Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo, Google+, Reader, TypeWithMe, and other web stuff,  Word, OpenOffice.
  • An ability to make websites: Google Sites is a minimum, but really, I'm supposed to be able to build one from scratch using wordpad or notepad. 
  • I've had to become proficient at administering Moodle because the school IT's refuses to set one up. Another teacher and I paid for the site from our dept budgets. We set it up, maintain, enroll students, create classes, train teachers in creating and using.
  • I need a Google account so I can make good use of maps, images, drive, gmail and all of the sharing capabilities. Google Drive and all of its quirks and annoyances needs to balance with the harddrive and network folder at school and the computer at home, not to mention the USB stick that I carry. Version control, anyone?
  • For worksheets and practice: MS Word 2000 and 2007 (different formats). Text files, HTML pages, Latex.
  • For quizzes: MS Word 2000 and 2007 (different formats), Moodle quizzes which need either Latex or some equation editor or equations as images, Google docs which doesn't import equations real well from Word, Socrative, the book's test generator.
  • For presentations: Powerpoint, Google Docs, Prezi, SlideRocket.
  • Other media: Photoshop, Word Drawing tools, TurboCAD, Audacity, Five different movie editing tools as my OS changed, VideoLan and WMedia and Apple QuickTime.
  • Tools such as Excel and other spreadsheets, databases ranging from Access to MySQL, Fathom and other specialized statistics software, not to mention familiarity with WolframAlpha and the formatting language behind it and Mathematica or Maple. Don't forget MatLab and the TI-83/4 and Inspire graphing calculators.
  • While we're at it, I should be able to code: Javascript, .php, MySQL, .html, etc. All of the other languages I've learned are obsolete: Basic, Fortran, .asp, TruBasic. 
  • The grading software. It was FinalGradePro, then GradeQuick, then Gradequick with Edline, and now it will be Powerschool.
  • The SmartBoard.
  • I need to be able to train the faculty at my school in most of these technologies because IT doesn't do this. Fortunately, I have several fellow teachers who are as good as I am - we work with each other and then spread out to train. 
  • Chromebooks will be handed out to students at some point and we'd better make use of them or the Powers That Be will be pissed at the expense. Did I mention that the only group doing training is that same core group of faculty?
  • Did I mention that many of these are programs that my school doesn't install on the faculty computer? I can make CAD drawings at home but have to convert them to show at school, or print at school.  Some of these have been eliminated (Google Reader, delicious, etc.) and others have not had their license renewed (OpenOffice replacing Office for fiscal reasons) or made major format changes.
  • Books: I have hardcopy, Kindle format, text files, Google Books, pdf.
  • Jeez ... forgot about flipped classes, video, audio, YouTube and TeacherTube and computer support.

  • Oh yeah, I also teach math. I'll have five preps next year, including an online Geometry course that I've never seen before - something the state cooperative bought from Florida Online. 
And that is just scratching at the surface. I'm sure that everyone of you reading this said to yourself at least once, "He forgot about ____. That is so useful."
Remind me again what I'm being paid to do?

I know most of this tech already, but the students don't (with the exception of Facebook and their smartphones) and most of the other teachers are pretty new at everything, too.

My co-teacher falls into this trap a lot: he's real excited about every tool. "You can all use powerpoint but it's not the best. Google presentation isn't very good either. You should use SlideRocket." Other teachers are using Powerpoint with them because the kids all learned that in 7th grade and still others are excited about Prezi because it "engages the students more." That's four different presentation methods - so each student has to learn four different environments ... and that's just for making a presentation. And it assumes that the tool you learn this year will still be around next year and that the para-educators know all four and can help the kids with each one (not for $11/hour).

There are so many options, the whole thing grinds to a halt.

There are so many tools that won't play nicely together.

With "new" comes "Training" and mistakes. Unfortunately, mistakes in education tend to involve confidential data and are usually a big problem. There is so much data being put into Powerschool that doesn't belong in a single-access system. The people setting things up are dumping everything into it with little concern for who "needs" to see which piece of information. All it will take is for a single teacher to be careless with a single password and a whole host of information will be out there in the student body. 

Most importantly, if you want people to learn and explore and experiment, you have to be willing for things to not go well and all we've heard about is how bad our schools are and how much reform is needed. Most of the push for reform involves more and more diverse technology tools that no one can use well in the first place. "If only you all used ____, our scores would go up."

I used to hate Microsoft for its dominance and attitude until I realized that the standardization it fostered made education manageable. You could teach kids how to use a tool quickly and then get on with using the tool to learn.

So, before we ask that teachers be good at everything ... is there a chance that we could standardize this list a bit? Put together a list of the must-haves and hold off on the rest?

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