Technology is all around us today. We now live in a society where we rely on technology for much of our daily tasks. The convergence of mobile access and technology, fueled by social media and collaborative apps make our conversations different today than any time in history. Just look at the graph to the left outlining the amount of iOS apps now in the app store. The growth is exponential. How many apps do you have on your phone? You can begin to see a pattern.
Students today have come to expect high-quality content—on demand, anytime, and anywhere. This mindset puts our schools in an interesting position, and it is increasingly changing. Our role as educators in digital citizenship is to provide the necessary skills and real world preparation for today’s technology driven lifestyle.
Our educators swim in an ocean of #EDTech opportunity. It is easy to get overwhelmed. Even when you look at our waffle (left) in Office 365 here at Omaha Public Schools, you can see a growing set of tools at your disposal. What choices do I make? Do I try them all out? If it is there, shouldn't I use it? These are all questions that can overwhelm teachers. They already have lessons to prep, assessments to give, and massive amounts of grading, all while fostering relationships with our students to bring meaning to learning.
A Personal Approach
Remember To Evolve With Technology
It is no surprise that technology changes constantly. I remember the first time I used my smartphone to pay for something at the store. There was a sense of distrust at first but now I use it whenever I can. It is a comfort that has been enabled via technology. Recently I shifted platforms, moving from iOS to Android. I have had friends ask if it was painful. Since most of my stuff resides in the cloud, it wasn't hard to transition. There was pain involved with not having the same apps across platforms and remembering my username/password for some apps. You can read about my reasoning for the change in this blog post:
I want to emphasize that it is important to evolve though. Too many times we put all of our assets into one bucket, only to find out that they completely shift their vision, phase out the solution, or sell to another company. All of these things have an effect on us. Even when it is a positive approach, pain is still involved because of the transition. If it is data you cherish, such as photos or videos, back them up across platforms or at home. The cloud is a great oasis, but keep in mind, where you put your valuables is just one transaction away from being difficult to access. I always backup my iCloud photos to Google Photos. It gives me a piece of mind and since I have so many, somewhere around 50,000 photos, it isn't hard for me to access from just about any type of device.
Next I want to discuss a district approach. It is this tug of war around giving choice but maintaining sustainability.
A District or Systems Approach
Define Best Practice For Your Environment
When I first came into the district 3 1/2 years ago, the district had one on premise platform for collaboration. It was called FirstClass. I called it LastClass, NoClass, and some other choice words I wouldn't publish. Moving off of that platform into a cloud first, mobile first environment was my initiative in the district. Through some decision making processes every large district makes, we decided upon shifting platforms to Office 365. You can read that process in this blog post shown below:
Now having been on Office 365 for over 3 years now, we have utilized much of the tools available. Microsoft is moving to this focus of Hubs; smaller units of application processes that work together to present meaningful functions for a particular area or collaboration type. One example of a Hub is Microsoft Teams. I won't talk much about its functionality because I have blogged about it here:
These "hubs" such as Microsoft Teams, Staff Hub, etc present a new challenge. Which "hub" do I work in? These are obviously supported by our district, but managed choice is one we haven't adopted across our supports, particularly professional development. We have however used the notion of managed choice around such projects like Planned Obsolescence. So what are we doing to support this growing App phenomenon?
So there are two ways we are approaching this:
We created this systemic process in January of this year vetting Apps for student data privacy, instructional strategy, and purpose. This tool has evolved to give us a lifecycle view of apps. Think about it, how many apps have you loaded on your phone and dormant? What data is it constantly gathering? It was loaded with a purpose in mind as well. Has that purpose changed? All of these questions should be asked both personally and systemically. You can't have a process of installing apps and never removing them - both personally and in a large district. Districts must put in place supports around these such as deployment methods, ongoing technical support, and professional development. The data from our App Approval Process feeds into a PowerBI dashboard as displayed below. We are well on our way to vetting 500 apps in the first year.
In the end, it is about what is best for students. Many of these apps help connect the dots for learning for our students. Students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom-gathered knowledge to real-world problems and when they take part in projects that require sustained engagement and collaboration. Technology makes that happen.