Thursday, September 27, 2007

New 1:1 in Wilson County, North Carolina

Congrats to Hunt High School and the press that just came out on their 1:1. story. Teachers sound pretty excited about using this mystery software:

“They can actually do assignments in class on the computer, and send it directly to my computer.

“It's going to make the class more interesting for the kids because they're going to be actively learning,” said Angie London, an English teacher.

Even with laptops at their fingertips, students can’t just randomly surf the internet or check email in the middle of class. Through a special program, teachers can keep a close eye on every computer screen.

“We have a program where we can look on our computers and see what's on all of their computers,” explained London. “We can look and say, ‘You’re supposed to be on this website, but you're checking your email.’ We can automatically lock their computers and send them a message, ‘Get back to work.’”

Ok, I give in: I am proud to say that they are using DyKnow software!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rethinking projection in the classroom

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of basic classroom technology? A projector, of course. Any why? So all students can see digital content, of course. However, projection technology has evolved and I think schools should revisit their position on this topic.

From the hardware side, many projectors are now wireless-ready. Others allow the teacher to display any PC in the room. Others are integrated into interactive whiteboards (IWBs). And then there is the Tablet PC, because it, with a projector, is an alternative to an IWB.

What about software? In lab, cart, and 1:1 settings, there is software that can display the teacher screen on student PCs. This not only solves the problem of seeing content - it can also be more engaging. For example, DyKnow software delivers teacher content to student PCs for native annotation and the ability to return work. Many DyKnow customers have saved money by not purchasing projectors or IWBs.

Is there something affirming for a student to see his answer up on the "big screen?" Sure, if it is a good one. However, most students are mortified about having their work pulled up for fear that it will be wrong or simply that they will be singled out. Again, this could be another point for screen-casting software for labs, carts, or 1:1s.

Another thing to remember when considering projection is the type of pedagogy it reinforces. A projector or an IWB tends to promote a teacher-centric model that yields less interaction with students than recommended by modern learning research. I understand that a student-centric model sounds scary to many teachers, but it often produces more active learning. I will concede that having younger kids come up to an IWB to manipulate digital content (i.e. frog dissection) can be quite active and engaging, but I believe that this is not the typical usage of projection. However, I'm a bit skeptical that touching material in front of the class produces the best educational outcomes. Research does show that student PCs facilitate student-centric learning, but laptops aren't the only way. Active learning can also be accomplished through things like group work, Harkness Tables, debate, experiential learning, field research, etc.

A bare bones cost comparison:
  • desktop PC + projector = $3,500
  • IWB + desktop PC + projector = $6,000
  • Tablet PC + projector = $4,500
At the end of the day, there certainly are applications for projectors in the modern classroom, but not every classroom. The debate will continue. For now, here are some good resources:

Friday, September 14, 2007

The best thing you can do for your 1:1 program

There are a lot of tips out there about how to implement a teacher and/or laptop program. Educating stakeholders, establishing time lines, setting up a WLAN...the list goes on. These things are good things, but there is one step a co-worker suggested that many schools brush over or even purposefully neglect. He believes--and I now agree--that a laptop program can rise or fall depending on this: a staff member dedicated to 1:1.

From a personnel perspective, many schools mistakenly believe that the "executive sponsor" who works to lobby for and approve a laptop mandate should be the same person to manage the day-to-day activity of the resulting project. In my experience, this is not a good recipe for success. Usually an [asst] principal, [asst] dean, or even director of technology gets the project approved but a person in any of these roles already has a full plate of other responsibilities. Focus is so important when implementing a 1:1 project. Administering a successful 1:1 encompasses many responsibilities, most of which are new to the school or department sponsoring the initiative:
  • arranging visits to other 1:1 schools
  • cultivating teacher buy-in
  • negotiating the hardware package with vendors
  • building the software image
  • communicating to parents
  • organizing and conducting initial PD/workshops
  • meeting with individual teachers to start related tech projects
  • setting up a help desk to fix laptops
  • troubleshooting issues and corresponding with vendors
  • interfacing with the network manager and/or database manager
  • promoting the project to the media
  • building and implementing an assessment/feedback rubric
  • offering ongoing PD

Clearly there is enough here to warrant someone who is focused on carrying out the 1:1. I expect that the first thing most HR departments will want to do is put someone on the project part time. While not ideal, this is certainly a good step, especially if the role is designed intentionally. For example, you could take an experienced teacher, decrease his teaching load to one course, and put him on as "1:1 specialist" for the majority of his time.

From a financial perspective, schools can't afford NOT to budget for headcount to manage a laptop program. Most laptop or Tablet mandates I work with have 700-1,000 users, so a $1,000,000 price tag is not uncommon for starting a laptop program - and that's just the start-up cost. Spending big money to buy the laptops and hoping that the "tech folks" figure it out will likely result in big money down the drain. Hoping is not a good plan. Let me put it another way: if you had $1M in the stock market and you could ensure yourself a successful return by spending another 5% on an advisor, wouldn't you do it? The stakes are even higher in education because projects are usually deemed a success or a failure. A successful 1:1 reflects well on the school, administration, board, and community while a failed project makes all the stakeholders look silly.

Two of our 1:1 customers that are doing a good job are Duchesne Academy and Auburn City Schools. Duchesne is a private Catholic girls school in Houston, TX that has had a 1:1 for several years. Auburn is a public K12 system in Alabama that just started a 1:1 Tablet PC project in one high school. Both schools rolled out the laptops to teachers before students and both schools have former teachers managing the day-to-day of their 1:1. Each of these people works closely with his or her respective tech director and both have been intimately involved with their DyKnow software installations. Having a 1:1 specialist doesn't mean things won't go wrong, but if and when they do, schools like Duchesne and Auburn City are ready. We are proud to be associated with both schools and their successful 1:1s!

How to digitize your textbooks

The folks over at Student Tablet PC have a very detailed "how-to" for using Adobe Acrobat to scan and digitize texts in masse. This is a good read for schools with a 1:1 or hoping to go paperless.

DyKnow on Facebook

I just accidentally ran into a DyKnow group on Facebook. Nate just posted a fun video. Check it out!

VT update

Our customer care manager just shared an update on Virginia Tech's DyKnow/Tablet usage:

Tom Walker called and thought you all should know that they have 13 classes over 125 students each (one of which has 309 students). The professor of the co-taught 309 student class loves DyKnow so much that during a short trip to Portugal, he decided to use DyKnow + Skype to assist with the class from afar and had great success.

VT continues to lead with computing in the lecture hall. Let me know if you'd like to know more about the innovative pedagogies faculty are using to engage so many students.