If many of you are like me, returning to school is an exciting time. My spirit hearkens back to the smells of leaves on the ground, the sounds of fall sports, and the excitement a new year of academics brings. A new school year brings with it, too, all of the back end work that goes into evolutions in our technology program.
This summer several folks in our technology department worked very hard to update our campus wireless. Just about four years ago, we updated our wireless infrastructure, just missing the shift to Wireless N. We had hoped we could wait, but as many of you know, waiting out technologies can propel us into a black hole. Upgrading a wireless network isn’t an easy thing to do, but our network administrator, Dr. Jeff Spain, and our technology director, Rob Baker, sure did make it seem easy. Students and faculty arrived on campus, opened up their machines, and with a few (natural) exceptions, hooked right back up to our network and the internet. I just left a MS Spanish classroom where I assisted in the installation of e-textbooks on 12-15 Tablet PCs. This took a fraction of a period, something that would have easily taken the whole 45 minutes and required a hardwired connection to our network in the past. Things sure have changed. Yesterday, I helped another class create shared OneNote Notebooks. I use them myself in my English and History classes, and it has revolutionized how I teach material and assess student progress. I’ll be doing a full post on this topic shortly.
Before the students arrive on Day 1, however, a lot happens behind the scenes as all of you educators know. I returned from my summer sojourn at the Chautauqua Institution at the end of July to prepare for my trip to Seattle to attend the Microsoft Partners in Learning Conference. I encourage you all to read my previous post about this amazing program. Because the trip fell into the slot where I normally returned and started planning the year’s first two in-services, I lost a bit of time, but it was well worth it. When I returned, Rob and I began planning for our technology and pedagogy in-service.
We’re very proud of the in-services we run that are focused on technology. The main reason for this is that lots of faculty members present orientation sessions of about 15-30 minutes and then allow their colleagues to play for another hour or so, learning the ins and outs of new technologies. This model works well for several reasons. First, the technology department simply cannot be the only voice for change in an institution. This can be further explained on two levels. On one, and in quite literal terms, there are typically just too few technology department folks to meet the needs of a Pre-K-12 faculty. On another level, faculty members enjoy knowing that their colleagues have found success in using a new program and hearing voices like their own.
As such, Rob and I consult with faculty about topics they’d like to learn, needs they have, and interests others have developed over the course of the previous academic years and the summer. We then begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together. We offer four workshop periods and typically four to five workshops per time plot. We are able to satisfy a lot of people this way. Here’s a list of what we offered this year:
1. Audio-Visual Mashup (New Cameras, Windows Movie Maker, Screencasting, and more)
2. Using A/V for Digital Research (We subscribed to a new streaming video program this year)
3. Introduction to Moodle
4. Flip the Paradigm (Pedagogical Focus)
5. Advanced OneNote
6. K-6 Digital Research Focus
7. CCDS Bootcamp (Learning or re-learning the basics: wireless projectors, networked printers, homework aggregator, MS Office tips)
8. Introduction to OneNote
9. Flip the Paradigm (Nuts n’ Bolts)
10. Math Tools (Fluid Math, DyKnow, Geogebra, Microsoft Mathematics)
11. Ink Everywhere (Using Digital Ink in Outlook, Word, Excel, & PowerPoint)
12. Adopting E-Texts (E-Textbooks, Kindles (and Kindle for PC), Nooks (and Nook Study) and Using OneNote and PDF Annotator to replace Scanned Paper Handouts of Readings
13. Voice Thread
14. Advanced Moodle
15. Future Technology
I saved Future Tech for last for a reason. This year, we will be handing a Fujitsu Stylistic Q702 hybrid to every fifth and ninth grader and to faculty due a new machine (faculty and students are all on a four year rotation with Tablets at Country Day). Rob ran the future tech session to show off what the new modality would offer our community. I am unashamedly excited about this machine as both an educator and a father.
As a teacher, I have been waiting for this kind of evolution for many years. I have loved the Tablet PC paradigm because it offers the ultimate in flexibility, portability, productivity, and creativity. It helps students be active learners and improves what teachers can do to encourage 21st Century innovations. The Q702, however, will raise the bar, especially in terms of flexibility and portability. It will still have all of what has been so important to me: full Windows OS, stylus with active digitizer (therefore the ability to ink on the screen), and fully capable of existing in a robust Windows network.
As a father, I am excited for all that this technology will offer my fifth grader. It will allow her to be creative (my kids love ArtRage and editing video), productive (OneNote, Outlook, Word, Excel), flexible (reading or annotating with a slate and then quickly typing on a clamshell), and portable (fifth graders move from class to class and then to soccer fields and homes around the city).
To make this deployment possible, we had to delay the initial handout that typically occurs at Country Day for new students and ninth graders (fifth graders have always received theirs 2-3 weeks into the school year). This wasn’t easy for our department. Current ninth graders are using end-of-life Tablets, but because they and our faculty are flexible, it’s working just fine. We had to gather Tablets from carts, from outgoing seniors, and other places to give to 60+ new students. These machines had to be imaged and customized for each student—again, not easy. What’s more, the folks upstairs are going to have to do it all over again when the Q702s arrive! AQ lot of back-end work went into making this best possible atmosphere for teaching and learning we could imagine . . . and we have big imaginations!
(P.S. We may very well be the first educational institution in the country to roll out Windows 8!)