Content Management for Schools
IT to Enhance Teaching & Learning
Tips on Technology for Schools
Content Management for Schools
Every member of a school learning community could do a better job with better information. (See IT to Enhance Teaching and Learning.) There are many 'broadcasting technologies' that can assist, from printed newsletters and posters to automated telephone messages and email listserves. These technologies 'push' information outward: you get it without asking for it. School public and intranet websites add a complementary information source that is instead available on demand. Website technologies 'pull' readers in where they can choose the information they want to view.
Content management systems (CMS) allow the people with the information (i.e., content) to manage and share the content themselves, without the assistance of a technician (i.e., webmaster) and resulting misunderstandings and delays. To be sure, a technician is required to configure and maintain the system. Others, without much in the way of technical skills, can fill it with useful information by completing web forms, just as when purchasing a book on Amazon.com. Many different CMS are available; a number of excellent ones are free, produced as open source projects by small bands of people. All have at the core a script that displays a website, drawing the pages from a database populated by submissions from many people.
Codman Academy Charter Public School has been using a CMS, phpWebSite , to publish public, intranet, and class project websites ever since its inceptio. Other popular CMS offer similar power and facility: Joomla! , Drupal, and PostNuke in particular. Choosing among these immediately raises a key question: what features should a content-management school website have?
A school-oriented CMS should provide certain general features, listed below. These features enable non-technical people to create a well-organized, information-rich school website.
General Features of a Good School-Oriented CMS
- A capable but conceptually simple page-generation and -editing system, offering easy layout of text and pictures, and word-processor-like formatting controls including fonts, styles, text and background coloring, ordered and unordered lists, links, superscripts and subscripts, indention, and perhaps table editing. (Not an easy requirement to meet, but possible.)
- A permission system that gives different groups of users different levels of editing ability, from authors who can edit only their own contributions, to administrators who can edit anything as well as administer the site.
- The option for an author, when logged in, to edit content directly on the site, without having to access some 'back end' of powerful but complex administrator controls.
- An easy-to-use system for creating hierarchical menus and for linking menu items to internal site pages or to external website pages.
- A templating system with a large variety of pre-designed site layouts, preferably ones that can be customized fairly easily to change the look and feel of the site independently of the site content.
- Site coding (e.g., its HTML) that uses current web standards (e.g., CSS, XHTML) and that meets federal standards for accessibility.
- The capability to run multiple sites (e.g., public and intranet, class projects, curriculum exchanges) from the same core scripting, but with different look-and-feel, to ease upgrading the CMS.
These general capabilites allow the easy creation of a set of web pages filled with text, pictures, and links. What about other needs a school site might have? An editable, searchable calendar, for example. Or a slide show of recent activities? Or a poll to sample opinion on current issues? Or an online form feature to allow easy signups for activities? To meet demands such as these, most CMS have extra scripting ('plugins' or 'modules') that can be added as needed. What additional specialized features should a school-oriented CMS provide?
With CMS as with other opportunities, people 'vote with their feet,' using only those available features they find to be worthwhile. Each school site will be different. In fact, schools are likely to need different sites, with different features, to reach different audiences. Listed below features we have found useful at Codman Academy. Note that some features are useful on the school's public site, while others only appear on its private intranet site. Both listings focus on scripting allowing different formats for displaying contents. (For example, the format of a monthly calendar is quite different from the formats of an article or a list of short announcements.) The list of useful content is an interesting question for another article.
- Main page with some fixed content (e.g., mission, general description), some news content (e.g., recent press, student or staff achievements).
- Small, easily-changed text and image blocks to highlight news content.
- Hierarchical main menu, and perhaps other specialized menus, used to access other content.
- Featured photo leading to slide shows of recent events, activities, and products.
- Button or link allowing secure donations to the school (via PayPal or other services).
- Static content pages accessed from the main menu, presenting content in text and images that changes infrequently, such as school mission or philosophy, directions, etc.
- Searchable faculty and staff listing, displaying position held, a brief biography, and contact information.
- Positions available listing, also searchable to attract new faculty, interns, or volunteers.
- Organized, searchable store of key documents (policy guides, papers by faculty and staff, student work, school-year schedule, external evaluations, etc.), providing optional printing or download.
Private (Intranet) Site
- Login, preferably using LDAP to authenticate against school server.
- Main page with a central listing of daily announcements to which both faculty and staff contribute.
- Small, easily-changed text and image blocks to provide longer-term, highlighted content.
- Organized, searchable store of key documents (e.g., standard forms, student handbook, grading standards, school-year schedule etc.), providing optional printing or download.
- An interactive calendar of school events, preferably one that also lists events for the next few days, to which both faculty and staff contribute. Individual events should have an expanded view which provides details.
- School newspaper (often written by students), preferably in newsletter format with both formatted text and images.
- A drop box for suggestions, consisting of a form that sends an email to a staff member. Preferably the user can choose to be anonymous.
- Online signup for courses and activities, with optional preference ordering.
- Reports of key data, such as the system described in "Tracking Student Behavior: the Codman Academy Citizenship System."
- Class web pages providing syllabi, announcements, assignments, etc.
Taken together, the three lists above set requirements that are hard to meet with one CMS. Or, they can be met, but it takes time to discover whether the necessary plugins are available. PhpWebsite , used by Codman Academy, does pretty well.
IT to Enhance Teaching and Learning
(Note: I wrote this article in 2002, reflecting the first year of operation of Codman Academy Charter Public School, of which I am a founder. Details have changed in the years since, but the central philosophy here described is still in place at our school.)
(Fellowship Paper by George Brackett and Meg Campbell, submitted to the Massachusetts Charter School Association, 2003)
What would happen if we took seriously the information and communication needs of everyone in a school – students, teachers, administrators, families, volunteers, interns -- everyone – and designed an information technology system to address those needs? What elements would comprise such a system? How would they work together? Could they be inexpensive and easy to administer? Could they be easy to learn, easy to use? What elements of school culture must be established and valued for such a system to flourish? And especially, could such a system have beneficial effects on the conduct of a school’s core business: could it enhance teaching and learning?
This paper presents one set of answers to these questions by describing our experience developing an information technology system for Codman Academy Charter School, a small college-preparatory high school serving urban students and their families in one of Boston’s most economically challenged neighborhoods. We hope our experience will encourage others to take seriously the power of information technology for improving schools.
Businesspeople have long been early users and enthusiastic proponents of information technology or IT: technology that promotes the creation, maintenance, dissemination and exchange of information. The newspaper, the telegraph, the telephone, the typewriter, the word processor, digital graphics, email, the web: all have quickly found a central place in business practice
People engaged in the business of schooling, however, have shown remarkable reluctance to apply information technologies widely. Although sophisticated software has found its way into the administrative activities of a school – scheduling, maintaining student records, reporting – it is the unusual school today that provides, for example, easy access to appropriate elements of a student’s records by everyone involved with that student’s learning and development. If there is a web site, its maintenance and further development is dependent on a webmaster who likely juggles numerous other responsibilities. And outside the school or district office, the creation, maintenance, dissemination and exchange of information still relies heavily on hand-written or printed documents. Few would argue that this situation is optimal for teaching and learning, but somehow it remains the norm.
We had this observation in mind when, in the fall of 2001, we developed a proposal for a small new charter high school that would offer a college-prep program to students in one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. We planned to use technology throughout the school’s activities, not only in instruction or in administration but everywhere it could improve practice. We planned some initiatives, such as the early use of online courses to expand our curriculum, that have since been tabled as ‘not yet ready for prime time.’ But other initiatives, in particular the widespread availability of powerful wireless laptops and the aggressive use of the web to support communication and access to information for everyone in our school community, have grown well beyond our initial vision. This paper tells that story.
Codman Academy Charter School
Codman Academy Charter School (CACS) offers a challenging college-preparatory program to high-school students drawn from the poorest neighborhoods of Boston. Open by lottery to all Boston residents, the school draws 60% of its students from the immediate area. 84% of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, 97% are students of color, and 18% have identified special need plans. There are five primary home languages: English, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Cape Verdean, and Vietnamese. We currently have two classes, grades 9 and 10, with about thirty students in each, and a core staff of six. We will add one class and corresponding faculty each year until we have all four high-school grades with a total of about 120 students. We subscribe to the design principles of Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (www.elob.org) , and see parents as full partners in our school learning community. We also believe that schools should be embedded in a larger community, and to that end have many community partners that figure importantly in the activities of the school.
Our partners range from Codman Square Health Center, that houses us and provides mental and physical health services, to the tennis center and private middle school that provide physical education facilities, to Boston University’s Huntington Theatre, whose plays anchor our humanities curriculum and whose facilities host our students two Fridays of every month. We also engage numerous interns and volunteers, drawn both from the surrounding neighborhood and from nearby universities, in tutoring students and development activities.
From the beginning, then, it has been clear that we needed a robust and effective information and communication system, one that would empower every member of our far-flung community to do their utmost to promote our students’ learning. We also wanted to design an information system which would promote documentation and dissemination of our learning. Above all, however, we knew that no system could survive an inimical culture. We had to create a community where the regular and effective use of information technologies could flourish.
Building a school culture that supports information technology use
The first challenge for any high school with demographics comparable to ours is to get the students and their parents or guardians to come in on a regular basis, and the second is to build a culture which has sufficient communication and trust that students – and their families - can legitimately take responsibility for their learning, including using state of the art technology.
Students do come to CACS. Codman students attend school Monday-Friday 9 am – 5 pm and Saturdays 9 am –noon. (Adjunct faculty teach on Saturdays, but it is a required school day for students). Our daily attendance rate for our six day per week program was 96% in our first year and 97% in our second year. Strikingly, however, students routinely and voluntarily stay beyond the already extended hours required. School is open from 8 am – 6 pm Monday – Friday, and on any given day at least 40% of students are here during extended hours including using computers for study. Parents also come to CACS. 100% of our parents/guardians have attended parent/teacher/student conferences for two consecutive years. 100% of incoming students and their parent or guardian have participated in an hour-long intake visit using a protocol we developed based on best practices in early childhood education.
We choose to be and we are centrally located in the lives of our students and their families. It is true that they choose us – and we are honored that they do - but it is important in terms of our school culture that in the most fundamental sense, we choose them, as well. CACS is not a “job” for any adult; it attracts and retains educators, board members, partners and volunteers who believe their own life purpose and Codman’s mission are complementary. This element of choice by the adults fosters creativity, invention and a synergistic energy which pushes technology use in the support of a larger vision. School researcher Anne Wheelock noted “In urban schools, resources attract resources.” Smart, caring people attract smart, caring people, too. We are trying to set up systems that foster our learning as well as that of students and families. We think one role of technology is to help us do that.
Our teachers are treated as highly-educated and proficient professionals, which in truth they are. We loan them a personal laptop computer and expect them to use an electronic gradebook. We set aside the last two weeks of June and August for professional development and planning. The teachers also have every tenth work day as a professional development and planning day. They may meet with colleagues, visit another school, meet with their partners ( Huntington Theatre, Museum of Fine arts, local architects or the doctors upstairs in the Codman Square Health Center), or spend the day at home grading student work and preparing future lessons. There is never enough time, but at least there is regular time for teachers to develop and document their curriculum. And by using a laptop computer, the teacher is free to schedule productive work wherever and whenever she or he chooses.
We believe this same approach should apply to students as well, and in consequence have invested in several mobile carts containing Macintosh iBook computers that are wirelessly connected to our computer network and to the Internet. The ratio of these laptop computers to students at CACS is 1:2. (In 2007, it is about 1:1) We have in addition several desktop machines in classrooms and a central study room. All classes are using the wireless laptops, although at this point, the Humanities classes are making more frequent use of them for writing and research. In Algebra and Geometry classes, the technology tool of choice is graphing calculators. This year, a student entered the school after a lengthy hospitalization related to respiration. Initially, speaking aloud was extremely difficult. In our small classes, discussion is key so this was a serious disability. By activating the voice option on the wireless laptops, the student was able to use the laptop and speakers to participate in class discussion. The widespread use of mobile technology also lets us re-frame the perennial homework battle. Students may not have the technical infrastructure at home to do well on homework, so we build ‘homework’ into our longer school hours. We do not have study halls. Instead, we structure “Preparation and practice” into our daily block class schedule and again, laptop computers are in high demand during these times.
We recognize that many of our parents’ and guardians’ previous experiences with school may not have been particularly empowering or inviting. We have purposely designed our physical space to be “un-school like” in order to be welcoming to students and families. We have also designed our space to emphasize the professional nature of our activities there. Our welcome mat includes computers available within steps of the front door. Computers are in constant use, primarily for writing, emailing or internet browsing.
The look and feel of Codman on any morning before or after school is of a student center on the campus of very small independent school; students, who are required to wear a uniform of black or khaki slacks and a Codman Academy polo shirt, are checking email or their grades, busy completing assignments, or talking in small groups with their friends as they eat school breakfast or after school snack. Since every single room in the school has doors with windows and other windows into it, adult supervision is provided in a constant, yet non-intrusive way. Students’ cubbies (instead of lockers) contribute to the overall ethos that at Codman “there is nothing to hide”. We are all here to learn. This is our school home and we welcome students and guests into it.
Our students have the daily experience of moving beyond their classrooms for learning. Daily they walk to our physical education facilities one mile from our school. Our school design includes one day per week when all students are off campus all day: once each month beginning in grade 9 they visit a college, twice per month they are on site at the Huntington Theatre or Museum of Fines Arts and once per month they have a field work day in math or science. Off campus days for juniors and seniors will be based in health/science study and internships.
Codman is not a utopian community. In our first year, we could not have had the wireless laptop labs; the chances of them getting damaged or stolen was too high. We do lock the mobile carts and the carrying case for the calculators; one of lowest points of our first year was the theft of our LCD projector, perhaps by someone outside our school community but perhaps by someone within our school. But we have worked hard on this, and seen remarkable growth as our Codman culture has taken hold. There is an Allen wrench that is used to keep the front door open during the day; one sign of accomplishment this year is that the wrench, which hangs by a string on the daily check-in attendance bulletin board inside the front door, has not been taken as a prank. There is a school joke about the frequency with which the Head of School misplaces her keys, but there is never a moment when she’s been concerned they are stolen. We have made our school a place where that possibility is remote because it has never happened.
Enhancing Communication and Access to Information with Technology
We believe we have made considerable progress in building a school culture that’s open, trusting, focused on learning, and cognizant of the need for teachers and students to have ready and flexible access to technology if they are to do their respective jobs. But in such a culture it’s still possible for a parent to think her daughter is caught up with schoolwork when it’s far from the case. It’s still possible for a student to claim he lost his assignment and so is not responsible for handing it in (and for the teacher to have to find another copy of the assignment to give to the student). It’s still possible for a teacher or the head of school to have only a cursory and intermittent understanding of how a given student is doing in all classes. It’s still possible for teachers to be asked to repeat ad nauseam the process for building a portfolio, or for administrators to be asked repeatedly to state the school policy on uniforms. These common lapses of communication and access to information divert time and effort from the central purposes of schooling, and they prevent students and families from taking full responsibility for each student’s learning. In consequence, we have also made a serious attempt to address this issue through the use of a variety of information technologies.
Content Management Is The Key
At the hub of our information technology (IT) system are two websites, one for public consumption and one, password-protected, for our school community only. Both websites are built with an open-source, free software ‘content management system’ called phpWebSite, developed at Appalachian State University. Use of such a system (referred to as a CMS) permits rapid and easy updating of website contents by anyone who can fill in a form on the web. In exchange for this facility, content management system websites display content within a flexible framework that gives them a certain predictable look. Pages appear in several columns, each divided into one or more sections, with a main menu either at the left or top of the page. There’s plenty of steak, but not much sizzle. We think it’s a fine compromise. Here, for example, is a screen-shot of the 2007 public home page for Codman Academy Charter School built with phpWebSite version 0.10.
Why is such a ‘content management system’ so important? Because it permits the creation of a website without a webmaster, one to which everyone in a community can contribute, albeit in different ways. The people with the information can publish it themselves – in minutes. People with opinions can vote their preferences in public surveys, people with questions can ask them in a shared space where people with answers can respond. People with resources can directly share text, images, documents, or web links. And this core IT environment is available anywhere in the world that community members can access the web, any time of the day or night. Our public internet and community intranet site are extensions of our expeditionary learning culture of openness, exploration and accountability. The content we manage on our site grows out of our particular experience and as our experience and knowledge grows, our sites will grow.
If we had a webmaster, information would inevitably become log-jammed, for the range and depth of information we are putting on our sites would be burdensome for any one person to manage. Instead, we are bees making honeycomb, inspired by and building off the work of each other.
Two Sites For Two Audiences
Our public site is our “parlor” where we welcome those outside our school family. It contains annual reports, annual external evaluations, news stories, and information about the school. Our policy is to over–share information, including information that is not entirely flattering. We do not use student’s names with their photographs. We post examples of student work and plan to do much more of this in the future. The public site’s audience includes those interested in joining our community (as students, employees, or volunteers) or learning about our work (mainly educators, but also donors, reporters and those working in public policy and foundations).
The intranet site is our “family room,” and like the family room of any bookish, lively, interesting family, it is crammed with learning resources and is sometimes cluttered and messy and has to be “straightened up”. It is the primary go to place for information for everyone at Codman and it is growing and evolving dramatically. During the 2002-03 school year, it provided online access to:
- Daily announcements
- A complete calendar of activities and events both on- and off-campus
- Detailed policies and procedures
- Our Powerschool school administrative site (see below)
- Course pages, authored by teachers, with assignments, study advice, uploaded resource documents, and web links
- Textbook sites offering tailored learning tools
- Selected subject-matter resources such as the Hotmath math homework helper
- Information pages on athletic teams and schedules, college visits, club meetings, summer programs, Let’s Go! sites (free educational institutions and activities), etc.
- Webmail (each student has an email account)...and more...
We find the ‘click to find’ characteristic of our websites particularly helpful when expecting people to know the information that applies to them. Instead of having all the information for everyone broadcast or handed out – a technique that encourages minds everywhere to shut down – each person need only look at the matters that pertain to him or her. A site this rich could not possibly be maintained and updated without the support of the community, and the ability of many authors to independently contribute content. So the content we all need is there. Does it help?
Intranet Site Examples
“What’s my grade?” a student may ask a teacher and any teacher will give the same reply. “Check the intranet.” Teachers’ grade books are synchronized to the Powerschool internet site so the work for the teacher of entering grades in the electronic grade book is completed once and available to students and others immediately. (Powerschool, an Apple Computer (now Pearson) product, provides web-based school administration functions such as class scheduling, school lunch handling, and comprehensive reporting. It’s most useful aspect, however, is that it provides individualized access to administrators, teachers, students, and families, giving each the functions needed to support student learning. 85% of CACS students refer to the intranet site at least once a week, and often it is to answer this question.
“How’s my child doing?” a parent walking into the office may ask, opening the door to a discussion based on current evidence as well as an opportunity to teach him or her how to access his or her child’s grades on line (or by phone). Looking at the student’s performance together has been the occasion of the most powerful and frequent discussions as Head of School I have with parents and guardians.
“How can I help?” Heather Budd, a recent Smith College graduate who works in downtown Boston, heard about Codman Academy and offered to volunteer on Saturday mornings. “I would like to help more but I work during the week,” she noted at the end of one of her Saturday mornings. We have been wanting to have a page on the intranet that features free admission to educational and cultural area sites; this would be a resource for teachers, interns, students and their families. Heather has been developing the “Let’s Go” web page from her home and office: as her research uncovers more resources she – or any other teacher or volunteer - can easily add them to the Let’s Go! web page. This “cyber file cabinet” is open to all.
“How can I store and share expanding information?” Dean of Enrichment Ain Grooms responsibilities include organizing monthly college visits and assisting students in meeting their graduate requirement for two summers of approved programs. She frequently adds to the pages she has created “College Visits” and “Summer Programs/Internships”.
“How can I review Biology?” Our Textbooks page is linked to Prentice Hall’s interactive site which includes chapter self-tests for students with immediate feedback on answers. (Selection of this textbook was in part based on their sophisticated, free web site which includes extensive web resources for students organized by chapter.)
“I lost my Model United Nations Handbook”. In January each year, our entire school engages in a learning expedition of Model United Nations which culminates in two days of school where every student is UN delegate debating topics and promoting resolutions. The material for MUN is provided to students in a written handbook created by Humanities teacher Thabiti Brown. But they lose their handbooks and rather than give them another, we refer students to the intranet. This year Harvard Graduate School of Education intern Bari Rabine added to Thabiti’s web page by creating a set of web links for each of the MUN questions.
“How do I pass into the Senior Institute?” Check the intranet for full details on passage portfolio and entrance to senior institute course requirements.
“Who is visiting Community Circle today?” In our annual school review (posted on our public web site), Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound noted that our intranet site serves as a daily newspaper. We had not envisioned it that way, but it is one of the functions. Daily announcements are usually handled by the Head of School although any faculty member may post an announcement up until 8:45 a.m. At that time, faculty advisors either print out a copy of the daily announcements or they take a wireless laptop to their classroom and a student reads the announcements aloud as part of daily Advisory. Announcement range from recognition (Kudos to x and y for representing Codman so well at last night’s information session) to informational (Acapella rehearsal today at 4:15; Soul Controllers have lunch duty and community circle this week) to ‘notes ” from the Head of School. As part of our “there are no secrets here” culture, we share with students when we are facing a challenge so we can enlist their effort in solving the problem.
Is that really how we looked?” Our intranet site is also our growing archives. As Jarron Bennet declared the other day, “I grow overnight”. The physical and emotional changes in students from the day they enter until they graduate are dramatic. They love looking at pictures of themselves and one completely unintended consequence of the intranet and internet sites is this Family Album function. In time, we will have a yearbook on line.
In a article about why some playgrounds in New York City are highly popular with children and others in the similar location are not, Tony Hiss and Ed Koren, observed that playgrounds where the swing set, slide and sandbox were isolated from each other did not hold nearly as much interest as playgrounds where the elements of play were physically connected to each other. They called this “all over play” and a close observation of children buzzing around a playground designed in this manner bears their observations out. Expeditionary Learning fosters “all over learning” using a wide range of experiences – including the experience of reading, writing and mathematical problem-solving - as the springboard for investigation and reflection. Information technology at Codman Academy Charter School helps all of us make those connections, which extend and criss-cross and double back in lots of different, non-linear ways – just the way most of us learn.
Face-to-face communication is still our primary form of communication. We treasure civility. It is part of our code of conduct that every student greet visitors with a warm introduction and a hand shake – and they do. Our weekly school-wide Community Circle, entirely facilitated by student crews on a rotating basis, has become an important community-building ritual for us. Community Circle may host a guest speaker (this year speakers have included university students from Israel at Heart and national photographer Peter Turnley sharing pictures upon his recent return from Iraq) or discuss a community issue. Among the most memorable moments have been eloquent apologies by students for violation of the code of conduct; as a condition of return to the school, the student must offer an authentic apology. Even in community circle, though, a teacher or student may stand to give a short reminder and conclude with “Ya’ll know the drill. Details on the intranet.”
Tips on Technology for Schools
I keep a list of reminders, sort of like a pilot's checklist, to consult whenever I think about some new idea or project in educational technology. Here for your delectation and amusement is my current list:
- Technology is a Means
Educational technology is a means, not an end. What matters is the teaching and learning accomplished with it. We don't study brushes or canvas, we study painting.
- Don't forget about Information Technology
We often think of technology in schools in terms of educational technology. However, everyone involved with the school - teachers, staff, students, volunteers, parents, institutional partners -- should have ready access to the information they need to support teaching and learning. Pursuing such a goal is bound to encounter resistance, but often the objections, when wrested from tradition and considered in the light of improving student learning, can be addressed to good result.
- Spread the Information
A great deal of information is collected here and there within a school. But information is like manure: it does no good unless you spread it around. (My apologies to the makers of the movie Matchmaker.)
- Security as a Reason Not To
When the network folks tell you something can't be done because of 'security,' challenge them to prove it. Often it can be done, but hasn't been done, because it would take extra work. That's a better reason to deal with; maybe the innovation will make such a difference to teaching and learning that it's worth the extra work.
- It's Harder with Technology
Teaching is usually harder with technology than without it. It's reasonable to reject technology unless it helps make teaching better -- as measured by student outcomes. A new technology may tempt because it makes possible a powerful new teaching method -- "what if" calculations in business, for example, or simulated environments in science. But once the wrinkles are ironed out, technology still must earn its keep by improving student outcomes.
- Must-Have Tech Support
If you aren't prepared to spend what it takes to support a new technology -- to ensure that it works, and is always available, up and running when needed -- don't use it. You might as well. Teachers who can't depend on a technology won't use it anyway. And I don't blame them.
- Indistinguishable from Magic
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." (Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End) Technology that's simple to you may look scary or impossible to another. Whether you're helping students, family members, interns or teachers, be gentle with novices!
- Transparent Technology
New educational technologies are positioned to improve teaching and learning only when teachers and students don't have to think about them; that is, when the technology has become transparent, so that only the tasks at hand are visible.
- Air-dropping Technology
At times of crisis, such as when a school is identified as failing in its educational mission, one tempting strategy is a wholesale re-fit of the school's technology. In my experience, "air-dropping" technology on a school is never a good idea. More to the point, the resulting chaos, unused and misconfigured technology, and irritated staff do not make a recipe for improved teaching and learning.
- Teachers First
Equip the teachers first, not the students. Teachers (and staff) need to feel positive and confident about using technology themselves before they can be effective using technology to support student learning.