Thursday, October 22, 2015

Going Digital... the mindshift

One of my missions this year has been to eliminate PAPER.  How many times have we seen a person print (yes, print) every email sent to them or documents that they never look at?  Far too often, right?

My district adopted DocuSign this year.  It started as a means to digitize our certificated evaluation process, but it is becoming once more.  The challenge is two-fold:

  1. Have administrators learn, use, and model the digital evaluation process (that means do NOT print!)
  2. Update ancient forms the district has been using since it's founding (1895 - okay, that's an exaggeration.)
The feedback I've received from administrators has been mostly positive. DocuSign has cool features, like anchored text and templates, so the actual "signing" part is simple.  Additionally, we are a Google Apps for Education district, so all of our evaluation templates were created in Google Docs.  Everything is living in Google Drive, even the "completed" DocuSign documents.  I've found that the few administrators struggling with this either 1) did not pay attention during the training, 2) neglect to view the help site I created, or 3) are new to evaluation and have the deer in the headlights going on.  (I remember that first year as a vice principal.  It's a hell of a way to lose weight!)

Moving Human Resources and Accounting are different stories.  But we are getting there.  It's going to happen.  I'm waiting for the district leadership to get on board and just mandate it!  I'd love to do an analysis of the paper we are saving.  I can tell you that I have used my printer two times this week - once to print a test page and the other to print something I actually needed.  Not common for me - I usually scan everything into Evernote or Google Drive.  All of my documents in the cloud and accessible from wherever and whenever I am connected.
The beauty of DocuSign (and there are many) is that completed forms (envelopes as they are called) are pdf's - they can be copied and shared on network drives or in Google Drive.  Easier distribution, easier to find things.  I know file management has been a challenge since day one, but I am NOT giving up.

Let's stop killing trees.  Let's move forward.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Random Thoughts on Professional Development and Learning Management Systems...

CanvasI am probably not alone in feeling very challenged when it comes to meaningful, sustainable, and ready-to-use professional development.  Schools generally seem to be far behind the curve.  So much to do and learn, yet so little time.  I once had a supervisor who always said, "It's an educators professional obligation to continue to learn and develop professionally."  I do agree with this statement, but know there are obstacles in the way - most notably TIME. 
What should professional development look like?  Do we REALLY know what our staffs need?  Are the needs aligned to the goals of the school and the district?  Where do we find time for all of this?

There's a big push for online and blended learning.  I do believe that these models can work when well facilitated, when there is active participation, and when this model of learning is properly modeled.  The pedagogical shift is huge.  

Learning management systems (LMS) are really on the rise - a very hot market right now.  This was once dominated by Blackboard, but they seem to be losing traction in this changing market.  My wife is completing an online Master's program from National University.  The fact the program is online has really helped fit into her lifestyle, however, the overall experience could have been more positive.  For example, the few times when a synchronous meeting was to take place online, Blackboard did not "play" well with the Mac computers.  Not everybody engaged in the discussion boards.  And the list goes on.  

My district uses Canvas LMS for some professional development we offer.  I was introduced to Canvas through San Diego County Office of Education and was hooked.  It's scalability, interface with tools such a Google Apps, Twitter, and Facebook are awesome.  It has an online speed grader that really cuts down on paper and it's mobile app is awesome on a tablet.  Do I see this being the wave of the future?  Only time will tell.  I do think it's an amazing product and quite frankly, could work very well with credit recovery programs in order to have your "home grown" courses available, not third-party vendor curriculum that staff isn't necessarily familiar with.

Oh well, this blog post is all over the map.  What a brain dump.  Did it accomplish anything?  Probably not, but my head feels a bit more clear.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why Study Churchill?

Winston ChurchillA mentor of mine just forwarded me a link to sign up for (and take) a distance course - the subject:  Winston Churchill.   Being a history major in college, I have always had a very high opinion of Churchill and more recently, after traveling to London and reading / learning more about Churchill, I feel that his actions as Prime Minister during World War II may have single handedly saved democracy.  (as a side note, his statue across from Westminster Abbey and his "War Rooms" is said to be electrified so pigeons and other birds cannot sit on it.  It was very clean when I was there.)

The course is being offered from Hillsdale College out of Michigan.  Now throw in the technology end - how effective can this distance learning course really be, especially when there isn't a grade involved and we all have busy lives?

I think this is an important question and a debate I've had recently with my wife.  Our district has been offering some professional development using a learning management system - we used the open source curriculum from Leading Edge Certification last spring for the Digital Educator series and are now using the Online and Blended Teacher curriculum.  This is an enormous culture shift for many teachers, not to mention an entire change in pedagogical practice and beliefs.  When we started the Digital Educator series last semester, we lost half of the class - due to time constraints and challenges with using many of the technology tools.  But as I look at this curriculum, which I believe is pretty solid, I do understand the challenge it becomes for the adult learner, many of who know no different than the way they were taught.

Regardless of what many believe, I do think there is a place for online and blended learning.  It comes down to two things in my opinion:  1) a solid facilitator who truly encourages and stays on top of things and 2) a constant reminder to take what is being taught and put it into the context of what is going on in your class and how these tools and experiences can enhance the teaching and learning that takes place in your class.  How can learning be taken to the next level?  Personalized?

Now back to Winston Churchill.  Churchill was certainly a man ahead of his time who understood the times he lived in and learned from challenges and mistakes he had experienced .  He documented EVERYTHING; though I don't know this for certain, I would venture to say he is probably the one former politician who recorded, wrote, and published more than any other.   Imagine if he had a blog.  Imagine if he had Google Hangouts, Skype, Facetime, or other tools to deliver his messages throughout his career; perhaps his impact would have been felt even more.   There are three reasons principals of why Churchill should be studied, and I think the first is timely in relation to our changing world -  the study of Churchill teaches us lessons about prudence - the virtue that enables human beings to make good choices in changing circumstances for the sake of living well.  Digest that for awhile, as our world continues to evolve.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Tools That Enhance Learning

How many times do we see a tweet or blog post that focuses on tools that enhance learning. Don't get me wrong - I am thankful that my peers and colleagues share the tools that have been useful for them and make an impact on teaching and learning.  However, I am at a point in my career that I think to myself, "We can all make a huge list of tools and resources that make a difference.  But if technology in instruction does not become ubiquitous (or at least a priority of instructional leadership), how will technology and these tools / resources become a mainstay?"

I've always contended that we often teach the way we were taught. And one could argue, "it worked fine for me, so why not use the same techniques and methods?"  The generation of students we are working with now ARE different whether people are going to admit it or not.  Our students do not know a world without cell phones.  I would bet that most don't have a land line where they live.   They've probably never had to cross the room to change the channel or volume on the television.  A VHS tape is an antique artifact in their world.  And quite often, they are not taught proper digital citizenship because more often than not their parents aren't full in tune with all of the technological advances.

Where do we start?  Parent information evenings?  Staff development?  I don't know the full answer, but a comprehensive plan is a must.  I would urge all of my peers and colleagues, as well as parents, to familiarize themselves with resources such as Edutopia and Common Sense Media.  The materials on these sites are powerful.  We also really need to understand what student-centric education truly is.  Though this post is seven years old, it's a good read on Edutopia.

Think about how vehicles have evolved in our lifetime.   The evolvement of media, mail (snail mail versus FAX machines versus email.)  Sports - how athletes have evolved.   Now think about our schools?  Have they evolved?  It's more than the tools that enhance learning; it's the mindset of those leading districts and serving on a school board.