Antifragility and 1:1 devices

It’s always been essential to avoid fragility and strive for robustness in one’s life and organizations. Examining what Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written (and what I’ve been blogging recently), robustness should be something for which we strive, but ultimately it’s not the goal. The goal is anitfragility. When a black swan event occurs, it’s only the antifragile people and systems that take the hit and become stronger.

For today’s exercise, think about an antifragile 1:1 deployment. Which device is most antifragile: an iPad, a Chromebook, or a device running the ubermix operating system?

The answer, at least right now, is the device running ubermix. Wi-Fi at many campuses across the country is extremely fragile. If it’s down, then the students can’t use the device to learn and produce. Many apps on iPads function this way, and Chromebook lose most of their functionality when there’s no internet connection. Ubermix has a wide range of educational apps that don’t need the internet. Also, there’s LibreOffice, which is a free office suite students can use when cloud-based programs are down.

Whether you’re a teacher planning a blended learning lesson or a superintendent planning a 1:1 deployment, Wi-Fi unfortunately injects fragility into your system (at least for now). It’s best to plan accordingly.

Shining EdTech Examples

The Teachers’ Lounge website is what the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District has created for sharing information and best practices with educators. I recently mentioned the webinar that’s happening on March 5th where we’ll explain how Teachers’ Lounge has made strides toward building a community of support during a time of great change.

Unfortunately during the webinar, we probably won’t have much time to dig into the specifics of how a website can benefit educators within a district. I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the wonderful things teachers are accomplishing in PBVUSD, and how recording best practices on a website can help teachers gain insight regarding blended learning.

Teachers don’t have a lot of time to visit other classrooms–mainly because they have their own students to teach most of the day. I’m fortunate enough in my position to visit classrooms and see highly motivated educators shaping highly motivated students, and then I can share the experiences on Teachers’ Lounge. If you’re a teacher or administrator looking for effective ways to incorporate technology, here are some great examples:

  • Mr. Pinheiro’s classroom management and organization are a beauty to behold. If you’d like to learn about the wonders of Google Slides, Tab Management, and creative ways to house 1:1 devices, this link will be extremely helpful.
  • Ms. Torbert used a release day in an innovative and effective way. Instead of visiting each teacher’s classroom (the traditional method), she invited the teachers to her classroom during their prep time so they could observe her students using various programs in her classroom. She split the kids into stations of two or three students, and they demonstrated many great websites and online resources. If you’re an administrator looking for how teachers can train other teachers at a school site, check this out.
  • Ms. Camp is a shining example of how to successfully blend technology and instruction in the classroom. On Teachers’ Lounge, you’ll see her students use Class Dojo, GAfE, and Edmodo, as well as participate in some truly creative projects.
  • Mrs. Higgins optimizes the physical space in her classroom with whiteboards and couches so students have their own places to problem solve and learn. She also uses a wide-range of educational programs such as GAfE, Padlet, That Quiz, Front Row, and Edmodo, which moves her toward ‘Redefinition’ on the SAMR Model.
  • Mr. Goings’s instruction takes blended learning to a new and improved level. This lesson is based upon a perplexing question: “If I were going to stack Big Macs, one on top of another, how many of them would I need to reach the moon?” This prompts the students to ask many questions in order to solve the problem. If you have time, I recommend checking out this page.
  • Mrs. Tiffin has a paperless classroom, so her students use the 1:1 devices and GAfE to learn, collaborate, and create. Here’s a lesson where she teaches how to write an objective summary of a text. This is a great example of how to use devices in a junior high ELA classroom.

A website can become the central hub for connectivity and best practice resources. Without Teachers’ Lounge, YouTube, and a willingness to share, none of the above links would be possible. School districts must use the tools at hand to give teachers glimpses of what it looks like in other classrooms. This will help all educators become confident in blended learning strategies.

Paperless philosophy

One of the benefits of a 1:1 deployment is the fostering of a paperless environment. Paper, printers, printing, copy machines, and copies all cost a lot of money; maintaing printers and copy machines is a huge drain on resources. 

Yes, 1:1 devices are expensive, but the price of laptops is decreasing. Many devices can almost be considered consumable–like certain textbooks. This is a big technological change.

What must also change is one’s outlook concerning a paperless environment. With Learning Management Systems, Google Apps for Education, and hardware in the classroom, there’s very little reason to print. This means workflow for educators is changing. Instead of stacks of turned-in homework sitting on a desk, teachers can now toggle between web browser tabs to retrieve turned-in assignments, grade assignments, and give students feedback. (I also recommend two monitors. The amount of saved time is worth the investment.) And instead of displaying student work on classroom walls, assignments can now be viewed on a class website or via other online forums–again, fewer reasons to print. 

Having a paperless philosophy changes the way a classroom functions in many expected and unexpected ways.   

Explorers and Curators

There are a lot of wonderful educational resources being created; especially now that 1:1 devices are becoming ubiquitous. I’ve spoken with many educators throughout this past school year who’ve been incorporating programs, learning management systems (LMS), websites, apps, and much more in their classrooms. Broadly speaking, I think many teachers can be included in one of two groups:

1. Explorers–These teachers scour the internet, App Store, and blogs to find the latest resources. They implement these new findings in their classrooms and share the results with as many people as possible. Explorers may not stick with a resource for very long, even if it’s good, because there’s so much more to be discovered and tried with the students. Strong allegiances can be made with certain LMSs, apps, websites, etc., but they’re few in number.

2. Curators–These teachers only look at a few resources at a time; then they decide which ones they’ll incorporate. Curators don’t see the need to always search for new programs to use with their students. An LMS, document creating program, and assessment tool are all that are really necessary. Curators become satisfied with a particular way of using technology and get really good at executing its use in the classroom.

Each type has pros and cons, but in reality, Explorers and Curators are both needed within a school district for growth to take place. Explorers find the good stuff, and Curators become really proficient at using the good stuff.

It’s important to avoid the pitfalls both groups pose. Explorers must understand that student learning may not gain traction if new programs are being implemented all the time. This is because instead of learning the subject matter content, students are constantly learning how to navigate new apps, websites, accounts, etc. Curators, on the other hand, need to keep in mind that better ways of doing things are regularly being created. 2014 is not the time to be connected to a handful of programs and cease trying new resources. Sticking with “best-practice” technology is wonderful, but so is switching to the best, most advanced tool of the time.

So, in a nutshell:

Explorers fill up the museum walls with as many pieces of art as possible.
Curators fill up each wall with only a few pieces of very valuable art.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably an educator with an interest in technology. With which group do you identify?

Are projectors obsolete?

1:1 devices really have me questioning the importance of a projector in the classroom.

Not so long ago, projectors were in high demand at school campuses across the country. These devices were–and still are–incredibly expensive. At the time, a simple projector could cost $2,000. Some districts were purchasing smartboards that also functioned as projectors, and the price of these tools was astronomical.

Receiving my first projector really changed the way I taught. PowerPoints and document cameras replaced overhead transparencies for sharing instructional materials and student note taking. It was great.

But there are drawbacks with projectors and smart boards. Only one or two students can use them at a time. Also, a projector makes classrooms teacher and lecture-centric as opposed to an environment that encourages student constructed learning. In my experience, lectures tend to monopolize time and take the place of project based learning during our finite instructional time. Students aren’t offered the opportunity to make the learning their own. This is a huge problem at many schools across the country.

1:1 devices highlight this downside of projectors, but that doesn’t mean projectors are unnecessary or bad. Direct Interactive Instruction (DII) is a great strategy for deploying new information, and PowerPoint, Google Presentation, and Prezi are all wonderful tools to enhance DII. Quality instruction and sound pedagogy will always be valuable.

With 1:1 devices, however, students can view presentations on their own devices. They definitely don’t need a teacher to read the text on every slide when they can do it themselves. What if a teacher shares a Google Presentation via Edmodo, allows the students to digest the information on their own or with a partner, and then walks around the room facilitating guided and independent practice? The role of the teacher changes dramatically in this scenario.

Perhaps when projectors start to break down or burn out they don’t need to be replaced with another projector. A $300 flat screen TV (with the aid of an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV) could be used for teacher and student presentations, agendas, etc. This is a much cheaper alternative and lasts a lot longer. I mean, I’ve had my Sony flat screen TV at home since 2008, and it has never needed a repair. I can’t say the same for my classroom projector.

Teaching and professionalism

These two should go hand-in-hand, and the use of technology in the classroom will ensure their blissful marriage.

As I incorporate 1:1 devices in my classroom, I am inundated with problems to solve that I never experienced before. In a way, I feel as if I’m treading in a choppy ocean with the water’s surface right under my nose. I’m doing fine, but I’m exerting a lot of effort.

This is good. Challenges and problem solving make us stronger. The educator who uses technology seamlessly with a lesson must juggle many balls at once: troubleshooting computers, explaining standards, teaching how to use web-based software, showing students how to effectively collaborate, and then assessing the students and the process in general.

The amount of skills needed to conduct a successful 21st century classroom are wide and deep. My prediction is that in the coming years, the role of the teacher will change dramatically, and the caliber of the teaching candidate will have to be outstanding–much like in other countries. Attempting a career in education should be like attempting a career at Google, and I think we’re headed in the right direction.