Traveling Light!

There was a time not so long ago that I would cart along a laptop and a Palm device, in my case a Tungsten T3, wherever I went, whether on the road or even to a local school.  If I was making a presentation I would bring an LCD projector, which as we all know back in the day was about the size of a Pullman suitcase.  Needless to say, the equipment I lugged around was bulky, weighty, and it was all somewhat inconvenient.  But it was necessary.  As time went by, though, everything got smaller, faster, and more powerful (and often cheaper).  So I’ve been able to shed much of what I previously carried.  But there is a bigger question.  What does a person really need to maintain optimal productivity and connectivity when outside the office?  One of my goals in life is to travel light (another one is that I don’t wait in lines if at all possible, but we’ll save that for another day).  It never ceases to amaze me what I see people cramming on board airplanes in the guise of “personal carry-ons.”  It just makes me more determined to stay connected, productive, and most of all, LEAN.  Anyway, all I carry these days are (1) a cell phone; and (2) a U3 4GB Cruzer.  No more laptops, no more LCDs, no more Palm devices.  The key that makes it all work is the Cruzer.  It is more than a flash drive on which you can store and transport files.  In fact, given online storage sites, even GMail as a good example, you hardly need thumb drives.  The beauty of Cruzer is that you can load your commonly used applications (for me, Firefox and OpenOffice are the main ones) and launch them directly from the Cruzer, a USB drive.  This allows much better security and utility when using a computer away from home or office.  And there is hardly a place anymore where you can’t find an online computer to use—that’s why I dropped the laptop.  Anywhere I present I call to make sure they have a decent projector setup but they all do these days … no more Pullman-size LCD gear.  The Palm device is basically redundant with cell phone features and web-based storage and applications.  So, my advice is:  Travel light!

Wheat and chaff

How much technology does a school need and how does a school leader ensure that the right technology is in place?   Well, those are a couple of tough questions but since administrators are paid to make the tough decisions, allow me to offer a few thoughts on the process.   As I mentioned yesterday, my motto that I pass on to my graduate students in the school principalship program here at Central Michigan University is “technology cannot be stopped and youth will be served.”  As we all know, it is a never ending challenge to stay on top of technology developments, even just a “slice of the pie,” such as those that impact teaching and learning.  No one person can do it, let alone a principal who has myriad other duties.  But, again, that’s part of what we are paid to do, so how does one tackle this issue?  Here are a few ideas.

1) Cozy up to your technology director.  Like a lot of other aspects of leadership, trust and delegation are going to be key.  A tech director should be a bountiful source of information that you can filter through your leadership lens and apply to your school.

2) Remember that newest is seldom best in a school setting.  The “latest” technology (e.g., Vista) is going to cost more and not be compatible with a lot of your current hardware and software.  That is something of a blessing in that dollars are so tight to begin with, at least here is one reason to hold off on buying new hardware & software.

3) Even though we may delegate some of the work in this area to others there is no excuse not to stay on top of it.  Resources that are helpful include: The International Society for Technology in Education; my local favorite, the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning; and, of course my national favorite, School Tech Leadership.

Tomorrow I will talk about personal productivity in technology for school leaders.

How much technology is too much?

A few years ago there was a prototype appliance that merged
a refrigerator and the Internet. It had a computer
monitor in the door and the cooler was online. As I recall, the idea was to have instant access to thousands of
recipes; the online tie-in was to increase access to databases of cooking and
recipe Web sites and even notify someone who is mobile to pick up a dozen eggs
on the way home in order to have a complete set of ingredients. My memory is a bit hazier on this next one,
but I believe the same general idea was applied to a microwave oven. As far as I know, this idea never took off and
I haven’t heard about it for a few years. But I was reminded of it again this past weekend while browsing through PC Today, a freebie left in my Atlanta
hotel room. An article discussed a
service called E.V.A., an “electronic virtual assistant.” For a minimum of about $60.00 a month the
busy professional can call (or e-mail) E.V.A. and a real live person will take
a message and in turn e-mail the message to the intended recipient. This made me wonder, how much is enough? Wouldn’t it be just as easy to call the
person, or e-mail her yourself? My two
teenage daughters both bought new phones recently that have Web and e-mail
capability. As with everything in the
cellular world, these sorts of add-ons to phoning capabilities will be
ubiquitous soon enough. Why would
someone pay $60/month for a third-person party to do what either voice-mail,
e-mail, or a phone call would do? My
point is there is a time when we reach saturation with technology. More is not
always better.  I’m not a curmudgeon on
such things and I do realize that pioneers in any field are going to miss a few
before they hit a home run. In fact, I
rather like experimenting with new technology. I dived into Vista probably before it was prudent and have been updating
hardware and drivers left and right since. Of course, the flood of technology is not likely to slow. I tell my graduate students in their
educational technology for school leaders that my motto is “technology cannot
be stopped and youth will be served.” So
the question becomes, how does one separate the wheat from the chaff,
especially in a school setting? More on
that tomorrow.