Sunday, February 13, 2011

Moving from Web 2.No to Web 2.Go

I spent the week of February 7-11 attending the 2011 TCEA Convention and Exposition in Austin, Texas. The theme for this year's gathering was "No LimITs", and it was an appropriate theme for my biggest takeaways from the conference.

For years I have been hearing and reading about the need to open up Web 2.0 tools for student and teacher use in schools as well as moving toward 1:1 computer/device access for students. This year, these two themes converged at TCEA, and for the first time I heard from several schools and districts that have taken steps in these directions. I left the conference encouraged and energized to help my own district start making moves in this direction.

My conclusions:
  • It is time to bring cloud computing into our schools. Google Apps for Education is one very logical way to do this. It provides a balance of schools being able to oversee what students and teachers are doing in the cloud while giving them access to authentic tools for learning through creation and collaboration. At a time when the budget crisis in Texas is promising severe cutbacks in public education funding, using a suite of free tools such as Google Apps is even more appealing.
  • It is time to open up filters and bring more Web 2.0 applications into our schools. Instead of blocking everything that can be used inappropriately (in the end, what can't be used inappropriately?), it is time to teach digital responsibility and digital citizenship. We can't teach teachers and students how to successfully navigate and responsibly use the Internet which is now an integrated part of our lives if we continue to barricade the schoolhouse under the guise of protection. (One of my favorite quotes from the week was from Jamie Casap: "We teach kids how to cross the street. We do not ban cars.")
  • It is time to allow students to bring personal computing devices to school and integrate their use into instruction. Most schools are never going to be able to afford sustainable 1:1 computing. Yet if we open up cloud computing and Web 2.0 applications, access to devices will be critical to leveraging those tools. The answer lies in taking advantage of the tools many students already have - cell phones, smart phones, app phones, MP3 players, tablets, and laptops. This means we need to remove barriers which are blocking the use of personal technology at school.
As much as I would love to do all of the above NOW, I know that is not wise or feasible. There are conversations to be had and issues to be addressed. For all of you in the education world who think change happens too slowly, you are right in most cases. That does not mean we should throw caution to the wind, however. We need to lay the groundwork for these initiatives and keep the ball rolling to get everything in place.

Some issues I know schools will need to address are:
  • Bandwidth - Accessing the cloud, using Web 2.0 tools, and allowing students to connect personal devices to the network are going to take bandwidth - and lots of it. Many districts are not "up to speed" in this area, so investments must be made. Increasing bandwidth costs money, but hopefully that spending might be offset by not having to buy as much specialized software or as much hardware as students begin to use cloud applications and their own devices. A corollary to this problem is cell signal strength in some buildings. We have buildings in our district which are considered black holes when it comes to cellular access. Schools may need to invest in repeaters in some buildings to make student cell phone use viable. A second corollary is that schools will need a strong wireless infrastructure to support connecting personal devices to the Internet.
  • Equal Access - Not every student has a cell phone with unlimited data or text plans, nor do they all have laptops they can bring to school. What do we do for students in these situations? It really isn't fair to expect students with devices to share expensive equipment. Schools will need to invest in some devices, such as iPod Touches, tablets, or laptops/netbooks to provide equivalent access during the school day. Access at home then becomes another matter as well.
  • Policy - While moving into these realms opens up whole new areas of opportunity for digital citizenship education, it also opens up whole new areas of opportunity for kids to push boundaries. Obviously, new acceptable use policies need to be implemented. One of the policies I came across in a session was White Oak ISD, and what I like about it is it is applied both to the use of personal and district owned equipment. I believe a consistent set of consequences for violating acceptable use should also be established. Schools will also not be able to ignore CIPA and FERPA as they venture into these realms.
  • Administrator/Teacher Buy In and Professional Development - New opportunities for instructional integration will abound, but many teachers and administrators will be way out of their comfort zones in this new environment. Professional development will be needed to build the capacity of administrators and teachers to manage and leverage environments with much more open access to technology. Some will be reluctant to venture into this realm, so showing them the possibilities will be very important. While others might be ready to run with this opportunity, they, too, will need workshops in safe practices and quality integration strategies. Quite frankly, teaching in a technology infused environment requires new pedagogy which is not instinctive to most of us. As much as I try to keep up with what's going on in the educational technology field, I know even I will need training to help teachers make this transition.

    I was quite surprised at the number of schools and districts who threw the door open for students to use personal devices in school without first providing their staff with professional development. To me that's putting the cart way before the horse. Most admitted to experiencing some issues by implementing without appropriate training for staff. I would hope districts on the cusp of these implementations will learn from others' experience and provide the necessary training ahead of time, as well as in a continuing manner, to maximize the impact of these new technologies on student learning.
If the purpose of public education is to prepare students to be productive members of society, we can no longer claim to be meeting our purpose if we are locking the most modern of society's tools outside of the schoolhouse door.

It is obviously going to take a time and collaboration to move from the realm of Web 2.No to Web 2.Go. Almost every one of the sessions I attended at TCEA 2011 (you can read my session live-blogs) contributed in some way to convicting me of the importance of starting NOW to make these moves.

Although we can't flip the switch overnight, we can start the conversation on Monday morning and make the case for technology to finally be in a position to transform education as it has transformed business and society.

Please share your thoughts: What am I leaving out as I think about this transition for schools? Is your school or district already doing this and do you have insights to share? What questions/suggestions do you have? Do you have links to stories of places who have successfully made these transitions? Please post in the comments. With Web 2.0 at our fingertips, there is no sense in each of us trying to figure this out alone!