Codes & Coals or If I Were King of the EdTech Forrrrrest

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How technology tends to roll in Room F 215 of Mt. Blue Campus, Farmington, Maine

In a recent blog post from Amy Burvall, she poses a simple & intriguing question: If you had control of the district ed-tech budget what would you do?

While I may stand in the hallway, finger wagging, hip holding, eyebrow raising, head nodding, and otherwise gesticulating with great aplomb about how things should be and what they should do and how they try so hard but don’t always get it,  I don’t believe I’ve ever answered that question. (Also, I’m unsure who I mean by “they,” anymore because  I know our tech folk really well and by and large they do a really effective job.  I think my “they” has extended to faceless purse string holders & members of the school board with whom I may take exception from time to time.)  I don’t know that I’ve even thought about it in real, matter-of-fact terms.

Amy’s take, entitled Wires & Fires, is pretty darn fantastic and I’m tempted to co-op the whole thing, falsify a creative common license, and claim it as my own.  That would miss the whole point, though.  Here’s my initial take on Codes (stuff) and Coals (operating beliefs) to guide us toward effective ed-tech in our schools.

CODES.

BYOD.  Students and families have these devices.  They are sitting right there.  For pete’s sake, let us leverage that presence into learning.  What would happen if we exerted as much energy into professional development around application — and a little management — of a BYOD solution as we do into behavior control of student texting?

What would happen if we partnered with local cellular providers to have last-gen or older devices available for students?  How might we get to a one-to-one?  Our little design thinking workshop table at SXSWEdu 2014 played with that thought and I’ve been busy not thinking about it.  I think it’s worth a revisit. (Also I love Amy’s idea of a reverse Maker Lab for students to tinkering with these devices.)

Networks & Infrastructure Between School & Home.  Maine’s MLTI program has been a vanguard for tech integration into schools.  Since 2001, the program has made it possible for all seventh grade students in the state to have 1-to-1 devices.  In turn, the program has made it possible for many districts, my own included, to have 1-to-1 devices 7-12.  Unfortunately, even though we can provide the technology itself, not all students are able to afford the insurance — or anxiety —  to make sure their devices can travel home.

One, insurance for all.  Imperative.  Districts have to find a way to take cost out of the equation for whether or not a student has the same learning opportunities as the student sitting beside.

Two, high speed home interact access for all.  A recent Mind/Shift article explains how one rural district pulled it off.  We can as well.  The state installed a hefty pile of broadband access for just such a purpose and economic development.  (This was not without controversy.) And still, we have students who take home devices unable to realize the machines’ full potential as learning tools.  Find the partners.  Run the lines.  Make it happen.  (Also, pretty darn good ROI for taxpayers saying, “What has this school district done for me lately?”  Oh, yeah.  Season Two of Orange Is the New Black.)

GAFE.  Full-on, bring the house, Google Apps for Education and a quick & seamless process for opening up more Google Apps.  This suite of apps has transformed my classroom and those of many colleagues.  Our very supportive tech department has unlocked Google+ and Google Hangouts and Google Classroom and YouTube and I know we are fortunate to have such access.

COALS.

Design Thinking Problem Solving.  Most every school has a technology team/committee/cohort/squad/strikeforce/ensemble of some sort.  Applying empathy-fueled, people-centered problem solving to those bodies can only help make better informed, more user-friendly ed-tech experiences.

Long Haul Paperwork & Organic Policies.  The paper trail around student technology initiatives intimidates even the most experienced pencil-pushers.  The laws are plentiful, the questions of liability real.  And at the same time, we find ourselves with inefficiencies in terms of signatures and payments.

What would happen if a student signed paperwork in seventh grade that served as a five-year lease agreement?  What if those terms were subject to change and revision based on district policy changes and there was a mechanism in place to identify such?

What if the language of our policies was clear enough to enforce and flexible enough to grow with the times without a re-drafting of the policy each time?

Accept, Communicate, Trust.  Those policies we create? Those problems we are solving?  None of it happens without a capacity to accept the status quo and build upon it, to communicate intentions with clarity and openness, and to trust in students, parents and teachers to do right by our ed-tech solution.  Certainly we must have strong protocols in place for bad actors and still, the prevalence of overly strict restrictions and zero-tolerance regulations does little to build a community where exploration has value, mistakes teach lessons, and accountability includes dialogue.

Thoughts?  Share them here in the comments or find me on the Twitter or via any of the means at my web site.

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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