Monthly Archives: February 2010

School of the Future Part 2: Infrastructure

The way I see things, in the school of the future there will either be a building where everyone meets to engage in learning, or there won’t be. Let’s look at both possible scenarios.

Scenario 1: A building.

A far less radical scenario than the one to follow, let’s imagine for a moment that the school of the future is still actually a school. Meaning a physical structure of some kind where students meet at the same time to engage in learning. Now, just because the students all meet in a building, does not necessarily mean that instructors need to be in that building with them. To begin with I will use the school building that I work in as a frame of reference and comparison. The building that I work in was built in the 1950s, and all of the technologies that exist in the building had to be retrofit. This has lead to some less than desireable situations. For one thing, our servers are housed in a tiny closet behind the cafeteria. When the servers were initially installed there was no cooling, and without any windows the tiny room was quite balmy. To list all of these instances would simply take too long and be a bore, so what have I learned. The school of the future needs to be built from scratch with a purpose in mind. I think that the process we apply when writing lesson plans needs to be applied when schools are constructed, namely, what are the desired outcomes, how will we reach them, how will we asses whether or not they have been reached?

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. I believe that the school of the future needs a scalable LAN, that should be divided into sections around the building so that if a part of the building experiences problems, those problems are localized. Data lines throughout the building, and out to the world should be fiber optic with gigabit terminations. There. Basically you want data flying around as fast as possible, leaving room for whatever future applications might come along.

That said, what should the building look like? How should the rooms be laid out, how large should they be, what shape should they be, what color? Should there be chalkboards in the front, Smartboards, or nothing at all? What if all of the rooms were round and there were only padded chairs, and each student was given one of those laptop tables with the squishy material underneath so they could work on their school issued laptop. What do you think? You have a blank slate, and a blank check, how would you design this building?

Scenario 2: No building.

This scenario is harder to predict, but almost as likely I feel. As state and local governments tighten their belts and search frantically for ways to cut costs, having students attend classes online begins to become appealing. I have already been asked to look into the plausibility of this issue by my administration and my school is far from the school of the future. So how would this work? Would kids just logon in their jammies and do coursework on their own time asynchronously and never meet their classmates or instructors in person? Would they use virtual meeting technologies like Skype and Elluminate to attend classes at the same time? Would there even be an instructor? Look into your own crystal balls. Is this scenario too radical, or more than likely?

Is there a scenario I am over looking? What do you think the school of the future will look like?

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School of the Future Series: In Defense of Daydreaming

After generating a little interest in this series and a some scorn, I need to answer one question for myself before I continue this fantasy. That question is, why waste your time daydreaming about the future when the present state of education is in such disarray? The inquiry is a fair one to be leveled, and I answer in this way. The average, hardworking classroom teacher knows that the emperor has no clothes, but is either two frightened, powerless or disenfranchised to take any action. I know this from experience. The few colleagues who cared about the issue would come into my room after the students had left and plead with me, asking me if I was as frustrated as they were and why I wasn’t doing anything about it. I would always reply that the only thing any of us could control was what happened within the four walls of your classroom between the bells and that any energy spend outside of that was wasted. I still feel that way to a degree, and believe that this is always what classroom teachers should spend the most of their energy on. But now that I have made so many connections with like minded educators from all over the country and the world, I feel like it might not be such a stretch to believe that my sphere of influence could extend beyond the four walls of my classroom. Maybe if enough people read my ideas, or share my ideas, eventually someone with power will hear them, or ideas like them, and actual change will happen. So thank you for indulging me. It is precisely this ‘daydreaming’ that will keep us all sane. Now on to the next post in the series.

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School of the Future Part 1: Funding

I am taking certain things for granted even discussing funding when it comes to the school of the future. Mainly, that education will continue to be mandated by the federal government. I certainly hope that as a society we continue to value education and require it of all our citizens, but when thinking of the future maybe this won’t be the case. So let’s just say that in terms of mandated education that things remain the same, well that is not the only thing that has the possibility of altering the way education is funded. If the school of the future is not held in a central location that will change the need for funding, and if location is changed then the teacher to student ratio will certainly change. But those are discussions for later in the series.

The way I look at it, there are really only two main ways to fund education: either you pay for it, or your government does. If the objective of education is equity then we really can’t even consider the former option, right? Or can we? Nope, I don’t think that we can. While being forced to pay for your own education might yield short term results such as students who have more of a stake in their own education, the long term results of that scenario are a nightmare for society at large. So if we discard paying for your own education as a means to further financially stratify our society, what we have left is public funding. Any one of us working in public education in America knows that the way public school is funded doesn’t work. The property tax as inequitable as paying for education yourself. Consider the school that I work for. The major property owner in my school district is the State University of New York (SUNY), because they are a state institution they pay no tax. The second largest land owners in the district are family farmers who own a lot of property. Anyone who has any experience with family farms knows that just because they own a great deal of land doesn’t mean they are growing wealthy on all of that land. So my district is left with a very small tax base, which is filled in by…wait for it…state aid. When state aid goes up, property taxes go up even more, and negative sentiment for the educational system increases.

Why couldn’t the school of the future be funded by a flat tax? Or an income tax. It isn’t perfect, but I think it is more fair. At least people and districts would no what to expect in terms of their responsibilities. What do you think? How should the school of the future be funded?

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School of the Future Series: Introduction

My PLN and I spend a great deal of time talking about the future. We often bandy about phrases like 21st Century Skills, Digital Citizenship, Digital Native and others. We also spend a great deal of time bemoaning the current (undeniably broken) state of things in the educational system. After many conversations I started thinking, ‘what does this magical alternative’ look like, how does it work? So I would like to embark upon an exploration of this very topic with the few readers I have. I would like to break the conversation into pieces, since the traditional system is my only real frame of reference, that is where I will begin, although it is quite likely at the end of this discussion that things will look quite different.

Here are the systems within the system I would like to explore. Each one will have its own blog post:

  • Funding – how is the school of the future paid for?
  • Infrastructure – what does the school of the future look like, inside and out? Does the school of the future even have a physical location?
  • Administration – what is the administrative hierarchy of the school. Is it even a top down system?
  • Teachers – what do the teachers in this school look like, what can they do? What do they believe? How much are they paid?
  • Curriculum – who creates it? What’s in it?
  • Students – how do students interact with this school?

Is there anything I am missing in this exploration? Would any of you be willing to be a guest blogger on any of these sub-systems?

OK, because of some helpful suggestions I will be adding a couple of subjects to the exploration. The first will be assessment, which I will separate from curriculum. Secondly, I would like to examine exit outcomes for students (what do they need to know before they leave the school, and why).

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I Was Wrong: Google Wave is Just Underwhelming

This looked fun at first!

A number of posts ago, I felt compelled to defend Google‘s (then) newest tool against a barrage of what I deemed to be hasty criticism. Feel free to refer to that post for some context if you wish. The crux of my argument was that because we were teachers, we were used to just making things work and that we had already developed solutions to the things that Google Wave was supposed to solve. Well, some time has passed since I wrote that post and I have actually had the chance to work with, or attempt to work with the Wave. Much to my dismay I find myself doing the exact same thing that I wrote about in the last post, developing work-arounds to make Wave work the way that I said it was going to in the two hour introduction video. Let me give you an example. Recently I have been trying to collaborate on a project with a couple of colleagues from the PLN. All of us are in different time zones, and I wanted to insert a calendar into the Wave so that we could come up with common planning time that we could all be available. This should be simple right, Google also has a great calendar program that we all use, these two software programs come from the same family tree, I should just be able to embed a calendar into the Wave. I mean I can embed a calendar into any website with just a simple snippit of code, this should be easy, right…WRONG! Google does not make a gadget for the Wave that embeds Calendar, and the third party ones I tried not only did not work, but were laden with ads. So what do I end up doing? Creating a Google Calendar and sharing it, just as I would have done before the Wave even existed. How has the Wave helped me in this circumstance? There are a number of other examples of this exact experience, including the work-around for using Google Docs in a Wave, which essentially involves inserting an iframe into the blip and embedding the Doc in that. A solution, by the way that is just essentially sharing the Doc the traditional way but on another website.

I wouldn’t bring this up now, but Google just released the new, new thing this week, while Wave is essentially the exact same tool it was when it was first released. Oh, wait I forgot, now you can make public Wave’s read only. I was hoping after Google’s acquisition of Etherpad that there would be an influx of new features, but that was a while ago and it hasn’t materialized. The main reason that I am griping about this is because I believe that Wave is a tool with enormous potential for helping people collaborate and get some work done. I know that Google wants to compete with Facebook with Buzz, but the bottom line is that Facebook is so entrenched in society and commerce at this point that if they changed there logo to a baby punching a puppy, people would shrug there shoulders, create a group denouncing the new logo and continue to recruit people for their mafia families. So Google please, continue to develop great and free tools that all educators can use, forget about social networking, and fix Wave!

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