Student Techs Have Their Heads in the Cloud

From THE Journal: There is a positive environmental impact in bypassing printed materials, but the time savings and increased communication are what really makes the cloud indispensable for educators as well as students, according to Debbie Kovesdy, a media specialist and GenYES advisor at Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix.

Kovesdy teaches three technology classes a day using the GenYES curriculum. She uses the cloud to teach and she expects her students to be cloud-savvy users when it comes to doing their work.

“I teach entirely from a website. ‘Handouts’ are accessed on this site,” she said. “I simply put a short link on their assignment calendar (or on the [message] board if the day is on the fly), and kids access the site and do the assignment.”

Purchase Project
Purchase Project

Recently, Kovesdy was looking at buying several dozen new tablets for her campus, but hadn’t decided on which ones. In the end, she decided to pass the task of figuring out the most cost-effective solution on to her students. The lesson, called Purchase Project, was completed digitally and turned in via the shared Google Drive. Students researched devices, computing power, and costs and then filed a report. A filter sent the completed assignments to Kovesdy’s document folder. After she graded them, she sent them back to the students via their private e-mail account, also created and controlled by the school via the Google-based Website.

Great ideas!

Live by the cloud, die by the cloud, love the cloud

There is a lot of love out there for Web 2.0 tools in schools that use “the Cloud”. This term means when someone else provides storage for your files online, or offers apps for creating products (like videos, online posters, or online presentations) that live completely online somewhere in cyberspace.

Cloud solutions can be lifesavers for teachers who are expected to turn a zero dollar software budget and antiquated network storage into amazing 21st century learning by students. But like any decision, there are tradeoffs.

Price – you gotta love “free”!
Many cloud apps are free, or operate on a “freemium” model. This means that there may be useful and wonderful features that are free, but you (and your students) may find it tiresome to be continually urged to purchase “points” or  upgraded features. There is also no guarantee that what’s free today will remain free forever. Most companies eventually want to make money and they may decide to change their policies at times that aren’t convenient for you and your students.

The other way companies make money on free apps and unlimited storage is through advertising. Some sites offer educators ad-free options, or promise child-friendly advertising. This is not a guarantee, though, and a simple switch of ad providers could result in advertising that is not school appropriate — if there is ever such a thing.

Stability, or “Teacher, the cloud ate my homework!”
The “cloud” is great when it works. When it disappears for no reason, is down for maintenance the weekend before projects are due, or  the website shuts down — there is often no support, no recourse, and typically no way to extract student work.

Age restrictions
Many cloud apps require users to be over 13 years old. It’s not that they are difficult to use, or even have some “adult” features to watch out for. This is simply a company deciding that they don’t want to deal with the rigorous federal laws concerning marketing to children under 13. It’s easier to just ask users to state that they are over 13 when they sign up. Teachers may be faced with a decision of whether to ask students to lie about their age to sign up – not a good model for students learning Internet safety and citizenship.

A site that asks for confirmation of age over 18 or asks for a credit card is a different story. This is an indication that there is adult material on the site.

Privacy and “social” features
Many cloud apps offer  features like public galleries, commenting by the public, communication with other “members” of the website, or other features where members can access shared spaces. These features may not be apparent at first, or have complex settings that students must set. These apps should be evaluated carefully to see if they violate school policy and are worth it.

Your network speed and reliability
Using cloud apps depends on students being able to access the Internet in a reliable way. Some schools still struggle with inconsistent connectivity and speeds that are close to dial up. Things may work one day and not the next, or may work with 5 students but not 20. You won’t really know until you try, and the inconsistency can be even more exasperating when you constantly have to troubleshoot a moving target.

Your network settings
Some school networks have student access set up on a single account. This can cause havoc with cloud apps that assume that people are using personal computers with unique identities. I’ve seen workshops where suddenly one student is logged into someone else’s account and looking at their files. Not a happy moment.

Username and password-pallooza
Cloud apps often require logins and passwords for each student. If you use multiple apps, there will be a unique username and password for each student for each app. These pieces of vital information will have a different format for each app, some will ask for an email address as a username, the next will not. Some will require 6 characters, combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers, different password configurations, etc.. It’s very inconsistent.

Some schools give students usernames and passwords that they can use for multiple accounts. If you do this, cover your bases by making them 8 characters long with a combination of upper and lower case letters, one punctuation mark, and at least one number. Not exactly easy to memorize, but at least the teacher can keep a list. And even then, be prepared for an app that doesn’t accept this combination.

Most adults don’t keep track of passwords, they let their browser or computer password application (like Keychain on the Mac) keep track of their passwords. But if your students are using shared computers without unique logins, they can’t rely on this. And if they can’t keep track of them, guess who has to?

Student Email
Some schools are still reluctant to give their students email addresses and access to email. Almost all cloud apps are going to need an email address attached to the account, if only to activate the account and retrieve lost passwords. Some teachers get around this by using their own email address, or creating special email addresses for students to use that all redirect back to their own account.

Besides being a hassle, it’s a bit ridiculous. Seriously – it’s 2011, time to get over this. If students need to use the cloud and can be trusted to manage this, it’s time to give them their own email addresses. Now, will they remember them? Who knows!

IT support (or lack thereof)
If the school IT department doesn’t support cloud apps and storage, a teacher may one day find that their cloud solution is blocked, or worse, no love from the IT staff when there are issues to solve. Some people ask permission, some for forgiveness – your mileage may vary.

Ease of use
Pro – Cloud apps are often easy to use and provide quick and easy ways to get work done.

Con – you wouldn’t think that “easy to use” could have a downside, but consider this. Some apps are easy to use because they have an extremely small feature set. For students, this means no way to become proficient at the kind of higher order thinking possible when using tools that require pre-production, editing, post-production, or fine tuning.

An app that requires one click to produce a result is a toy, not a tool. That said, I’m all for toys where appropriate, but this is a difference that’s worth the distinction.

What the cloud is best for…

  • When there is no student-accessible network storage, the storage is unreliable, or the allocated space is so small it’s nearly worthless.
  • When students do not have personal computers. It’s difficult to use shared computers to do real work when there is no guarantee that your files will be there the next time you use the computer (if you even get the same computer).  This is especially true for longer-term projects and projects that require large files (like movies). When you have multiple students using one computer, you need to make sure that students can save their work somewhere. A flash drive is probably not going to cut it, even if the students remember to bring it and use it. The cloud may offer a solution, but it still means students will need to understand how to save and access their work.
  • When you have robust Internet connectivity
  • When students need to access files from multiple computers, multiple devices, and/or home computers. Using cloud apps like Evernote and Dropbox can be easy ways to get started with cloud storage.
  • Using open-ended cloud apps and tools like wikis. Wikis can be an excellent way to collaborate on a project and there are no pre-set expectations for using the tool. It is what it is.
  • When you have a back-up plan. Some cloud apps allow files to be downloaded and saved. If you can, do it to make sure you aren’t caught off guard.
  • When the whole school or whole district is implementing a cloud-based solution. There is synergy in a group effort to use and learn a single tool, suite, storage solution, or application. There will be support, and opportunities for collaboration and sharing of best practices.
  • When there is no hope of a software budget. This is a long term trap, however. Using free apps and cloud storage makes it seem that these items should be off the table forever. That may reinforce the perception that purchasing robust software and storage solutions aren’t really necessary. “Making do” is a both a blessing and a curse, and unfortunately, something teachers are increasingly expected to do.

So in the end, you can love the cloud and live by the cloud if you understand that its not a magic solution to all life’s problems. But really, what is?


Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

National Survey Shows District Use of Web 2.0 Technologies on the Rise

From press release:

National Survey Shows District Use of Web 2.0 Technologies on the Rise and Improves Learning

Research sponsored by Lightspeed Systems, netTrekker and Atomic Learning indicates districts must overcome safety concerns, knowledge gap and limited support systems for effective use of Web 2.0

NEW ORLEANS (March 25, 2011) – Results of a new research survey indicate growing acceptance of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies among school leaders and educators. Levels of use have improved since 2009 across several categories of Web 2.0 tools, including online social/collaborative networking. However, student safety and lack of teacher knowledge about how to use Web 2.0 technologies effectively remain barriers for many districts. These are some of the major findings of “Digital Districts: Web 2.0 and Collaborative Technologies in U.S. Schools,” a national survey of more than 380 district technology directors conducted by Interactive Educational Systems Design (IESD) on behalf of Lightspeed Systems Inc., netTrekker, and Atomic Learning.

“While the survey results are promising, it also indicates areas of needed improvements to ensure school districts can meet the individual learning needs of the Net Generation,” said Dr. Jay Sivin-Kachala, vice president and lead researcher for IESD. “The research reveals that educators increasingly rely on Web 2.0 technologies, resulting in positive teacher and student outcomes. To foster effective use across all classrooms and ensure equitable learning opportunities, districts need to provide safe Web 2.0 access, enhanced teacher professional development, and robust support systems.”

Lightspeed Systems, netTrekker and Atomic Learning partnered on a joint initiative to help schools maximize the learning opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 tools, while ensuring a safe and engaging online educational environment. The group first surveyed district technology directors in 2009 to examine the current status, future plans, and ongoing challenges of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in K-12 education. The survey examined district policies, plans and levels of use of several categories of Web 2.0 technologies.

The key findings from the survey, detailed in the “Digital Districts” report, include:

  • Districts reported an increase over the previous year in the use of Web 2.0 technologies by 25% or more of teachers, across several categories: teacher-generated online content rose 12%, student-generated online content grew 13%, and online social/collaborative networking was up 20%. However, online social/collaborative networking was one of the least used tools for two consecutive years. This year, a majority of district respondents (65%) reported that very few or no teachers used this technology.
  • Lack of teacher knowledge about how to use the technologies effectively was the most frequently cited human-related barriers to adoption, and the most often cited technology-related barriers included student safety concerns and limited support systems (including technology personnel). Levels of use for online social/collaborative networking and student-generated online content aligned with district concerns over student safety and the need to monitor appropriate use.
  • District size was a factor in the attitudes toward Web 2.0 technologies and in the use of these tools. Across several Web 2.0 categories, the larger the district size, the more likely respondents were to report a positive attitude in their district. Midsize districts were more likely to report several positive teacher and student impacts as a result of Web 2.0 use.
  • Many districts are using or plan to use a variety of Web 2.0 applications for professional development, including educators posting content online (76%), use of online collaboration and communication tools (56%), and online professional development courses (49%).

New in the 2011 study, survey respondents reported on teaching and learning outcomes of Web 2.0 use. About half of the respondents reported an increase in students’ familiarity with technology (53%) and students more motivated to learn (48%) as a result of Web 2.0 use by students in their district. Other outcomes cited included an increase in student academic engagement (39%), and improved students’ collaboration skills (38%). Only 27% reported that incorporating Web 2.0 tools into the classroom had resulted in students using resources aligned to their individual learning needs, which suggests that one of the primary goals of Web 2.0 use is not being met.

A majority of the respondents reported an increase in teachers’ familiarity with technology (71%) and improved resources for teaching in the content areas (62%) after educators utilized Web 2.0 technologies, with 44% indicating improved teacher communication with students.

The “Digital Districts” research report outlines recommended action steps for school districts to incorporate Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies into the classroom in effective and meaningful ways. The survey results indicate that many district leaders see potential in using Web 2.0 to help meet student’s individual learning needs, but unless Web 2.0 use is tied to academic objectives, it will remain on the periphery of education. Many districts still need to establish policies and procedures for effective implementation of various Web 2.0 technologies—plans that address aligning Web 2.0 use to curriculum, assessment of Web 2.0-related skills and abilities, student safety and data security, teacher professional development and ongoing support, and appropriate use.

The full research report is available at

Personal note: I’m not posting this as an “endorsement” of Web 2.0 tools, or suggesting this is perfect research. The parts of the survey I would trust most are the year to year comparison of attitudes, since that would likely rule out the issue of this being a self-selected group of respondents. I’ve written in the past that “free” tools are never really free, since time is worth money, and other factors. (See Web 2.0, the meltdown, and educationTen to ask – How to predict the Web 2.0 winners, and Still no free lunch 2.0)

Also, we’ve seen before that just because administrators or technology directors believe something to be true, parents, teachers, and especially students may have very different experiences to share when you ask them. (See Survey reveals disconnect in online safety education and How are schools doing with technology? It depends who you ask. )


Edu Panel at the 140 Conference Los Angeles

Just got back from a quick trip to Hollywood, in the rain no less. We probably got a whole .00001 inch, which meant that traffic was at a standstill. We just aren’t used to it!

But I did make it on time for the 140 Conference LA (Exploring the State of Now) where I teamed up with some great educators to talk about the impact of Twitter and other Real Time Communication on K-12 education.

Aparna Vashisht (@parentella), CEO of Parentella, expertly organized and moderated the panel that included Lisa Dabbs (@teachingwthsoul), Tanya Roscorla (@reportertanya) and me (@smartinez).

Aparna posted a summary of the conversation on her blog 140 Conference Los Angeles 2010: Edu Panel | Parentella.

We didn’t have much time, but I think we all made good points about the opportunities and challenges of bringing this disruptive technology into the classroom.

If the video appears online, I’ll post it here. (But the live stream wasn’t working and there were a lot of very upset techies running around so I have some doubts!)


Words Gone Wild 2.0

Web 2.0’s value as a marketing term now far exceeds its value as a technical term. Anything Web 2.0 must be more techie, more interactive, and have more onlinier goodness than before, and therefore, just be better. “Web 2.0” is a straight shot into the brain, don’t worry about the subtle details of what it actually means.

What a handy shortcut …and a trap. I’ve posted before about the danger of adopting marketing terms as meaningful language. Marketing terms work because they are emotional shortcuts. Marketeers love these words because they can say more in less time, allowing the consumer to fill in the pesky details of whatever is being sold with what they were hoping to hear.

For educators, this is a cautionary tale about being swept up by what marketeers call an “empty vessel” – a term that evokes strong associations but actually is meaningless. (Think shampoo descriptions like “citreshine”, “silkessence”, etc. – made up words meant that evoke cleanliness, fullness, and the happy feeling of lush, shiny hair, but without any actual science behind it.)

You may have heard that Web 2.0 is “all about” interactivity, ease-of-use, democratizing publishing, collaboration, communication, connectivity, users vs. bosses, new business models vs. old, two-way vs. one-way, personalization, micro-functionality, customization, online apps, the new architecture of society, networking, a platform, innovation, long tails, style, transparency, participation, generative, folksonomy vs. directories, the wisdom of crowds, clouds, self-sorting, finding vs. searching, syndication vs. stickiness, services, an attitude, a network that learns, emergent, in perpetual beta, the collective intelligence, engagement, … should I go on?

All of these are true, and at the same time, none of them are the true single lens to see what Web 2.0 is. Something this malleable, this variable, this divergent, can’t also be meaningful in any one single sense.

And because Web 2.0 is essentially meaningless, what it means for learning is not known without more details. Talking about Web 2.0 tools and learning is meaningless as well – until you  explain what the tools are, what they are used for, and what the students do with them. It’s just not good enough to talk about how the Luddites don’t get it. Simply using the term “Web 2.0 tools” deliberately obscures the facts — no wonder people don’t get it.

Can this be undone? Can we nag people into proper usage? No, I don’t think so — it’s a done deal. Web 2.0 has reached escape velocity into the orbit of common use, one more empty vessel pretending to have meaning where there is none. It’s too easy, too convenient a shortcut to express the current new new thing. There is no way to wrangle it back down to earthly reality. These terms are typically short-lived, though, as the next new new thing will surely take its place.

Web 3.0 anyone?


Related posts:

Report: School Principals and Social Networking

via press release:

A new research report was issued today that summarizes the results of an extended look at school principals’ use of social networking. The underlying research for the report, “School Principals and Social Networking in Education: Practices, Policies, and Realities in 2010,” was conducted by, IESD, Inc., MMS Education, and MCH Strategic Data.

Since the creation of MySpace and LinkedIn in 2003 and Facebook in 2004, online social networking has quickly become a pervasive means for people to connect all over the world. Yet schools are one of the last holdouts, where many of the most popular social networking sites are often banned for students, and often for teachers, librarians, and administrators, out of a concern about safety, privacy, confidentiality, and lack of knowledge about how best to ensure appropriate use.

At the same time, education reform initiatives from all corners—Federal and state programs, education research, and policy initiatives—are advocating the use of innovative and collaborative technology to drive improvements in teaching quality and student achievement.

The goal of this research study was to take a close look at the attitudes of school principals about social networking for their own personal use, with their colleagues, and within their school communities. Principals can play an important role in encouraging and training their teachers and staff to adopt new technologies, and in setting policies for the use of technology and the Internet in schools.

The research was conducted in two phases: an online survey sent to a cross section of educators across the country in the fall of 2009, followed by an in-depth EDRoom online discussion with 12 principals who are currently using social networking in their professional lives.

Among the key findings:

  • Most principals who responded to the survey believe that social networking sites can provide value in education because they provide a way for educators to share information and resources with an extended community of educators, create professional learning communities, and improve school-wide communications with students and staff. About half of the surveyed principals felt that social networking is very valuable for these purposes.
  • Most of the principals in the discussion group thought that social networking and online collaboration tools would make a substantive change in students’ educational experience. Specific types of changes they mentioned included:
    • Development of a more social/collaborative view of learning
    • Improved motivation, engagement, and/or active involvement
    • Creation of a connection to real-life learning
  • None of the responding principals in the discussion group had school/district policies in place on social networking that were deemed adequate, suggesting the need for conversations and collaboration on establishing policies that can facilitate appropriate use of social networking in schools for educational purposes.

The PDF is being made available for free. Download School Principals and Social Networking in Education: Practices, Policies, and Realities in 2010 (PDF)

The feeling of twitter as a metaphor for education

Repost from July 2008. Still relevant today!

OK, my turn. Obsession over Twitter, a microblogging tool that’s a favorite of millions thousands hundreds of edu-tech-bloggers, is running rampant over at Will Richardson’s blog Weblogg-ed – What I Hate About Twitter.

Will is ambivalent about his own reaction to Twitter, and the 103 (and counting) comments range from agreeing, explaining, dismissing, and accepting various theories about what Twitter is and should be.

In my experience, Twitter is a nice place to hang out with people. Sort of like Second Life without bumping into things. A lot like a lunch room. Twitter is simple to use and gives you 140 characters to say something, anything. You see everything your “friends” say, and you can choose your friends based on any criteria you like. So loose groups of people tend to form who have similar interests.

On Twitter, the flow of tidbits is fast and completely random. Depending on when you show up, you hear about mundane details of people’s lives, work highlights, baseball color commentary, requests for help, and more than a few musings on educational technology. Not surprisingly, when you get a bunch of people who live, work and sometimes breathe education and technology, the conversation trends that way.

On Will’s blog, the conversation about Twitter is fascinating. People love Twitter, hate Twitter, can’t stand the cacophony, want it to be neater and more organized, accept Twitter for what it is, and much much more.

But my thoughts are going elsewhere today. I’m thinking about Twitter as a human laboratory — as a metaphor for learning. Twitter is what it is. How people react to it is a mirror of how they manage their own experience and their own needs.

Imagine if we let children manage their own learning like this?

How many kids get the chance to express their needs in their learning process. Clay Burrell says, “I tend to jump in, swim around like a fish in a wine barrel, then flop out to dry up for a few days or weeks. Then jump back in again. I love the playfulness, the sharing, the relationships.”

Is there every a time we let students “swim around” in learning and then have a chance to reflect, to think, to catch their mental breath?

Nate Stearns says, “Twitter doesn’t work for me, but I know that’s more about me than anything else. I like longer bits to digest” Do we ever give children this choice?

Jarred says, “I often feel a need to “keep up” with the high-frequency tweeters out there… How many students are paralyzed by the competitive nature of many classroom activities?

From Christian Long, “The more we seek to create Twitterquette, the more the organic joy of it all becomes watered down so that only a small group of like-minded souls are willing to hang out.” From kindergarten on, school becomes increasingly structured and less joyful. In the end, only certain kinds of students thrive in this environment. We label these like-minded souls “successful” and denigrate the wandering souls with punishment, ever-more boring and structured courses with even less chance to find what might spark a love of learning.

You could read every single comment and create parallels about how most school experiences are so different than what we expect for our own learning.

Hopefully, you’ve realized by this time that I’m NOT advocating Twitter for the classroom, or even Twitter as a necessary part of an educator’s professional development. Far from it. Nor am I advocating that learning should all be freeform and lacking a guiding hand.

Some students can take the always-on, highly organized and structured nature of the classroom – but many can’t. What can we learn from Twitter to allow a more natural, unstructured mix of learning and socializing that might actually feel soothing to some students?

The “feeling” of Twitter may actually be what many educators hope to encourage in an inquiry-driven, project-based classroom. The thrill of getting an unexpected answer to your exact question. The ability to choose when to jump in and when to hang back.The excitement of an intellectual gauntlet thrown down and picked up. Watching experts do battle and learning that there are words to express your own inner thoughts in a more intellectual, accomplished way. Watching people verbally implode and thinking, “I won’t do that!” Socializing in a group and celebrating the common goofy humanness of all different kinds of people.

Educators who create climates of possibility in a classroom sometimes make it look easy, but it’s far more tricky than it looks to guide groups of students in goal-oriented, academic tasks while still allowing them to drive their own learning. I talk to teachers all the time who have been tweaking project assignments for years, subtly changing minor details of timing, instruction, environment and tools to increase the level of student agency while also increasing the quality of student work. It’s difficult, painstaking, rewarding work.

What might Twitter teach us about creating these learning environments?

  • The rewards of serendipity
  • Making it simple to participate, contribute, or watch
  • The importance of socializing
  • Choice
  • Freeing up time constraints
  • Questioning whether imposed rules increase or limit participation

Your thoughts?


Online safety report discourages scare tactics

A new, really important report has just come out about children and online safety. It is sensible and research-based, with excellent recommendations. The strongest recommendation is that scare tactics DON’T WORK to keep children safe online. I hate to sound surprised, but it is really a breath of fresh air. Educators and parents should read it!

Although unwanted online solicitations can have an alarming impact, recent studies have shown that “the statistical probability of a young person being physically assaulted by an adult who they first met online is extremely low,” the working group noted.

And young people’s use of social networking sites does not increase their risk of victimization, according to a 2008 report that appeared in American Psychologists.

via Online safety report discourages scare tactics | Featured SAFE |

And kudos to eSchoolNews for an excellent report on a complex and highly charged subject.


Students safest using the internet when they are trusted to manage their own risk

From the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills

Pupils in schools that use “managed” online systems have a better knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe when using new technologies, according to a report published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

“Managed” systems are systems that have fewer inaccessible sites than “locked” systems and so require pupils to take more responsibility for their own safety. “Locked” systems make many websites inaccessible and although this ensures pupils’ safety in school it does not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions or prepare them for dealing with systems that are not locked.

Online safety means empowering AND protecting

The online-safety messages most Americans are getting are still pretty much one-size-fits-all and focused largely on adult-to-child crime, rather than on what the growing bodies of both Net-safety and social-media research have found.

… still focuses on technology not behavior as the primary risk and characterizes youth almost without exception as potential victims.

… fails to recognize youth agency: young people as participants, stakeholders, and leaders in an increasingly participatory environment online and offline.

… is still negative, lacks context, and is largely irrelevant to youth.

To be relevant to young people, its intended beneficiaries, Net safety needs to respect youth agency, embrace the technologies they love, use social media in the instruction process, and address the positive reasons for safe use of social technology.

On,  co-directors Larry Magid and Anne Collier offer insightful (and sane!) resources for educators and parents about being safe in the digital world.

  • Safety Tips & Advice
  • News & Views
  • Slideshows & Handouts

Resources like this can help educators and parents move beyond the hysteria about children and the digital world. It’s crucial that adults find ways to include and guide youth in positive exploration and use of these new tools and technologies. Demonizing and criminalizing normal behavior won’t solve anything and creates a climate of fear that alienates people and stifles discussion.

Resources like make me hopeful that the climate is changing and a new maturity is emerging about youth and digital technology.