Book review – Rethinking education in the age of technology

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. Today’s book is Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, by Allan Collins and Richard (Rich) Halverson. This book is a worthy addition to any school administrator’s nightstand and should be required reading in university educational leadership preparation programs or teacher education programs’ history of education courses.

What I liked about the book

rethinkingeducationThe authors blend a historical perspective on schooling with a keen understanding of the potential of technology for the present and future of learning. Notice the distinction between schooling and learning. In this book, that distinction is important. As the authors say early on, “It is time that educators and policymakers start to rethink education apart from schooling” (p. xiv, emphasis added). They also note that “most of the changes in the way people acquire information are occurring outside of schools” (p. 5) rather than in them.

Collins and Halverson state that our society already made the shift from an apprenticeship model of education to the universal schooling era. At present time we are living through a new shift: a move from universal schooling to an era of lifelong learning. This is resulting in big changes related to responsibility, expectations, academic content, pedagogy, assessment, location, culture, and relationships (see Chapter 6). The authors emphasize that the local school will not be replaced, but the role of new alternatives such as community-based learning centers where students and adults work side by side, workplace learning, home schooling, and virtual schooling “will make us rethink the dominant role of K-12 public schools” (pp. 3–4).

I liked how the authors devoted a chapter apiece to the arguments of technology enthusiasts (Chapter 2) and technology skeptics (Chapter 3). While they are admitted technology enthusiasts, I thought they did a pretty good job of presenting the opposing arguments fairly and thoughtfully, particularly when one also adds in Chapter 7, which addresses what we might gain and lose in a new educational paradigm. I also liked the discussion in the book about the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. As the authors note, “if educators cannot successfully integrate new technologies into what it means to be a school, . . . students with the means and ability will pursue their learning outside of the public school” (p. xv). We are not talking enough about these social justice / equity issues.

One of the key points of the book is that there are “deep incompatibilities” between current schooling practices and the “demands” of new technologies (p. 6). Significantly, the authors recognize that technology makes teachers’ work more difficult: it requires instructors to acquire new skills, undercuts the lockstep model of schooling, and undermines educators’ classroom expertise (p. 6). Many technology enthusiasts – including myself – often don’t pay enough attention to the complexity and difficulty of what we’re asking educators to do.

Halverson has done a great deal of work related to educational gaming. I’m glad that he and Collins integrated throughout the book some discussion of the enormous potential of computer simulations for both student and adult learning.

Key quotes

While the imperatives of the industrial-age learning technologies can be thought of as uniformity, didactism, and teacher control, the knowledge-age learning technologies have their own imperatives of customization, interaction, and user-control. (p. 4)

AND

We are not going to fix education by fixing the schools. (p. 142)

AND

Apprenticeship was not a viable pedagogy for mass schooling. . . . The pedagogy of computer tutors echoes the apprenticeship model in setting individual tasks for learners and offering guidance and feedback as they work. (p. 97)

AND

We suspect that someday it will occur to people that these certifications are more valuable than high school diplomas, in the sense that they specify more precisely what a person can do in some area of knowledge. (p. 88) 

Questions I have after reading this book

  • How many parents will really pull their students out of school because of learning concerns? Will credentialing concerns, historical affection for local schools, and/or child care issues trump more abstract issues related to “learning?”
  • Could / will we create certificates of mastery in other fields like the ones that have been developed for information technology professionals? If so, will those eventually replace to some degree the credentialing role that typically has belonged to secondary and postsecondary institutions?
  • Will we see the re-emergence of the apprenticeship model, this time facilitated by online mentors, software, and/or simulations?
  • Are technology skeptics looking at and assessing relevant, appropriate student outcomes? For that matter, are technology enthusiasts?

Rating

This book was probably my favorite educational technology book that I read in 2009. I gave a copy to Will Richardson when he visited Iowa last December and he liked it too. It’s a very thoughtful, insightful work and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I have known Rich Halverson a long time and am absolutely delighted to award his book 5 highlighters (out of 5).

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[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Book review – Liberating learning: Technology, politics, and the future of American education

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. Today’s book is Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education by Terry Moe and John Chubb. I posted seven quotes from the book last fall. Several readers asked me to chime in with my opinion of the book. I’m finally getting around to doing so!

What I liked about the book

Moe and Chubb’s book can be summarized by two quotations from page 145:

  • To the powers that be, innovations of true consequence are not attractive. They are threatening – and they need to be stopped, whatever advantages they might offer to children and the nation’s education system. That is why, in state after state, what we see . . . [is] political action by the defenders of the system – mainly the unions – to defuse change and keep the system pretty much as it is.
  • There is . . . something unique about technology that sets it apart from the other sources of education reform. It is a social force that is essentially out of control. No one is in charge of it. No one can really stop it.

Chapters 3 and 5 elaborate most fully on the first premise. Chapter 6 is where the authors explain most of their second premise. I agree with the authors’ assertion that technology is

an exogenous social force that originates from outside the education system, is transforming nearly every aspect of American . . . life, and will keep transforming it in the decades ahead. (p. 151)

I liked the authors’ discussions of both virtual schooling and data-informed teacher evaluation. I didn’t always agree with what the authors said on these topics but they gave me much food for thought.

I also appreciated learning more about the two charter schools in Dayton, Ohio that the authors profiled. I’d like to learn more about those schools’ day-to-day operations in order to get a better sense of the students’ experience.

The authors gave me LOTS to think about in this book. Several of their perspectives on educational technology are ones to which I hadn’t given much attention. I’m not informed enough yet to have a definite opinion about some of their assertions, but at least I now know that I’ve got some new cognitive roads to travel.

What I didn’t like about the book

I was really excited to read this book after Chapter 1, which was a short, 12–page introduction. Chapter 2 was fine (and expected): a restatement of international test results and other indicators of American schools’ current struggles. Then I read Chapter 3, which was essentially a 27–page rant against teachers unions:

if anything is stone-cold certain about the current structure of power, it is that technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions and their allies. This is “their” system, and they are compelled by their own interests to preserve and protect it. They will go to the ramparts to see that technology does not have real transformative effects. (p. 55)

Although I got the authors’ point (quite clearly!), and even agreed with some of what they said, I thought that the tone and overall approach of the chapter was over-the-top. Many educators will not make it through Chapter 3 because they’re too disgusted – not with what the authors say but how they say it. This is too bad because I think the book is definitely worth reading.

The other main problem I had with the book is that the authors seemed to make a large jump from correlation to causation in Chapter 5. They had several graphs that are intended to illustrate teacher unions’ resistance to desired reforms. However, I would have liked to have seen more concrete examples of teacher unions’ opposition to various educational technology initiatives. Although they do this somewhat within the contexts of virtual schooling and data-informed teacher evaluation, those are only two of the many, many issues related to P-12 educational technology. It’s a leap to say that unions’ objections to certain aspects of these specific reforms are equivalent to an overall resistance to technology integration in the classroom. I have yet to see many teachers unions at any level come out with explicit policy statements or bargaining actions against classroom-level uses of technology (if you have some, I’d love too see them).

Key quotes

See these quotes from last fall:

AND ALSO

Teachers and administrators . . . are subject to expectations all around that they modernize their schools and keep up with the times. They also live in the same technologically oriented society that parents, students, and public officials do. . . .  they have good reasons to seek out technology on their own, and not to remain permanently stuck in the outdated pencil-and-paper mode of yesteryear. The problem, however, is that they only have incentives to make the most incremental of changes – changes that are helpful but don’t threaten anyone’s jobs or established routines. Their approach to technology is rooted in the status quo. It is about how to make the existing system work better without really changing it. (pp. 104–105, emphasis added)

AND

The common theme [of student surveys] is one of frustration. Students complain that there are too few computers, too many limits on computer time and Internet use, and too little reliance on computers for class assignments and research. . . . What they want is a technology-rich educational environment in which they have the freedom to roam and discover and interact. What they get . . . are limited computer and Internet resources, lots of restrictions, teachers who lack knowledge and interest in technology – and an approach to education that looks pretty much as it always did. (pp. 105–106).

AND

The long-standing idea that there is something intrinsic to schooling that makes it immutably labor intensive and immune to technological change is simply not true. Maybe it was in the past. But it isn’t now. Technology can be substituted for labor. (p. 157)

Questions I have after reading this book

  • Are teachers’ unions really against educational technology generally or do they only oppose specific aspects of specific reforms?
  • Are teachers’ unions really against educational technology generally or are they mostly ignorant of / apathetic about the true issues?
  • Are most teachers’ unions thinking or talking about educational technology issues and the potential impact on their classroom practice or job security? [I’m guessing not]
  • How long will it take for the elimination of geography and time as barriers to learning to truly impact most teachers’ jobs or school systems’ day-to-day practices? [the authors guess 20 years or more]

Rating

I give this book 4 highlighters (out of 5). Although the incessant bashing of teachers unions gets old pretty quick, the authors also gave me many new lenses through which to view educational technology policy and reform. Take Chapters 3 and 5 with a grain of salt, but don’t avoid the book because of them.

[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Book review – Ignore everybody: And 39 other keys to creativity

I’ve set an ambitious goal for this June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. I’m going to start with what probably was my favorite book from last year, Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity, by Hugh MacLeod (the author and I are not direct relatives).

Things I liked about the book

ignoreeverybodyMacLeod starts off with a bang. In the first chapter, he says “The more original your idea, the less good advice other people will be able to give you” (p. 1) and “a big idea will change you” (p. 2). I was hooked from that moment. I’ve been breaking new ground in educational leadership academe for years now and have consistently found that the vast majority of my peers don’t have much to offer me in terms of insight or direction. I don’t know where all of this social-media-and-tribe-building-as-an-alternative-to-traditional-measures-of-success-for-research-faculty stuff is going to go. But it sure is an interesting ride. And MacLeod is correct – it has changed my thinking substantially.

Each chapter is short. Just enough to give you some context and get you thinking about your life and your job. And think you will…

MacLeod is a popular cartoonist. He punctuates his writing with some of his art. Awesome.

Key quotes

Here are a few key quotes:

Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships. That is why good ideas are always initially resisted. (p. 2)

Boy, I’ve lived this one several hundred times over the past few years. Either I’m ahead of my time (in my field) or I’m completely insane. Time will tell!

AND

Your wee [creative] voice came back because your soul somehow depends on it. There’s something you haven’t said, something you haven’t done, some light that needs to be switched on, and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

So you have to listen to the wee voice or it will die … taking a big chunk of you along with it. (p. 28)

The peer-review publication paradigm – where your writing goes in places that educators never visit – never made a lot of sense to me. Blogging and other social media have given me different outlets and a different voice. And I’m much, much happier for it. My wee voice was crying out for something different. I just didn’t know it.

AND

Don’t make excuses. Just shut the hell up and get on with it. (p. 82)

AND

The ease with which a blog (or whatever social medium you prefer) can circumvent the gatekeepers is staggering. (p. 140)

Questions I have after reading this book

  • Am I brave enough to never publish a peer-reviewed article again?
  • Is there enough space in my day job as a professor to accommodate my non-peer-review writing and social media passions?
  • What should I be working on next? Where do I want to go and what do I want to be doing in 5 years?
  • How do I reach school leaders when most are not yet active in social media?
  • How many graduating high school seniors can I give this book to before a parent complains about the language (some of which is a bit crude)?

Rating

I give this book 5 highlighters (out of 5) to reflect a) the amount of yellow ink in my copy, and b) the affirmation of much of what I believe (or would like to believe) about myself and my work. Extra credit for the author’s last name!

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[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Laptops and the Social Web are dangerous!

A while back I shared one of my two favorite passages from Pamela Livingston’s excellent book, 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work. Here's the other one:

[W]e need to make “The Shift.” The Shift: to classrooms that are not solely teacher-centric, with the teacher as lone disseminator of knowledge and the children in the awe-stricken and lesser role of recipients of the knowledge. The Shift: where the teacher sometimes has the central role when he or she explains and coaches and elaborates on work to be done … but not always. The Shift: where the learners sometimes have the central role, either individually or in groups. The Shift: where the roles of teacher and learner are fuzzy; sometimes the teacher learns from the students; sometimes the students learn from one another; and, yes, sometimes the students learn from the teacher. The Shift: where sometimes it’s hard to know who has the central role, where activities are buzzing along, learning is happening, dynamics are shifting, and no one is “looking up” to anyone as the sole source of knowledge.

Nothing jumpstarts The Shift quite like 1–to-1. Because when every student in the room has a [laptop], he or she does not have to look “up” to the teacher for resources or ideas – the student has resources at his or her fingertips. There is no distribution or retrieval of materials, no sole purveyor of information, and no firm start or stop to learning because it can continue beyond the classroom into the library, or home, or anywhere.

Some find The Shift dangerous. And in a way, it is. It’s dangerous to the educator who controls the classroom with an iron fist and wants all the answers on the test to be things he or she said in class, repeated word-for-word. It’s dangerous to educators who have assigned the same report on Gandhi over the past 20 years and haven’t started to require synthesis or analysis of information. It’s dangerous to teachers who physically stay in one place – the front of the classroom – and move only to write on the chalkboard or whiteboard. It’s dangerous to educators who don’t want anyone to “read ahead” or to “think ahead.”

It’s dangerous to educators who view themselves as the most knowledgeable person in the room and are personally invested in staying that way. It’s dangerous to teachers who haven’t paid attention to their unengaged students and keep covering the material anyway, they way they think it ought to be covered, believing students should adapt to their approach.

If you haven’t checked out Pamela’s book, it’s well worth the read. I give it 4 highlighters.

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Book Review – Education and Learning to Think

Here are two quotes from Education and Learning to Think, an interesting little research-based book published by the National Research Council way back in 1987!

Higher order thinking is nonalgorithmic. That is, the path of action is not fully specified in advance.

Higher order thinking tends to be complex. The total path is not “visible” (mentally speaking) from any single vantage point.

Higher order thinking often yields multiple solutions, each with costs and benefits, rather than unique solutions.

Higher order thinking involves nuanced judgment and interpretation.

Higher order thinking involves the application of multiple criteria, which sometimes conflict with one another.

Higher order thinking often involves uncertainty. Not everything that bears on the task at hand is known.

Higher order thinking involves self-regulation of the thinking process. We do not recognize higher order thinking in an individual when someone else “calls the plays” at every step.

Higher order thinking involves imposing meaning, finding structure in apparent disorder.

Higher order thinking is effortful. There is considerable mental work involved in the kinds of elaborations and judgments required. (p. 3)

The seventh item on the list, self-regulation, is one that I think is particularly lacking in many K-12 schools because the teachers “call the plays” so much of the time…

Here’s what I think is the money quote:

The goals of increasing thinking and reasoning ability are old ones for educators. . . . But these goals were part of the high literacy tradition; they did not, by and large, apply to the more recent schools for the masses. Although it is not new to include thinking, problem solving, and reasoning in someone’s school curriculum, it is new to include it in everyone’s curriculum. It is new to take seriously the aspiration of making thinking and problem solving a regular part of a school program for all of the population . . . It is a new challenge to develop educational programs that assume that all individuals, not just an elite, can become competent thinkers. (p. 7)

I liked this book. It's very short, but it made me think. I give it 4 highlighters.

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At an information feast, what value must graduates and teachers bring to the table?

On page 52 of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson notes:

Products that can become commoditized and cheap tend to do so, and companies seeking profits move upstream in search of new scarcities. Where abundance drives the cost of something to the floor, value shifts to adjacent levels.

And that’s really it, in a nutshell, for our students and our school systems, isn’t it? Because the need to store information in our heads has diminished yet again as our storage media have become more sophisticated (this time it’s computers and the Internet instead of books), the value that our graduates bring to their jobs increasingly is dependent on what they can do with what they know, not merely what they know. Because previously-scarce information is now freely and abundantly available on the Web, the value that teachers bring to their current jobs is not how well they can spew forth content and then assess what kids can regurgitate but rather how well they can – and their students can – think critically about and act upon important facts and concepts.

I think most educators and policymakers have yet to give much thought to the occurrence (or magnitude) of this shift…

[Many folks have disagreed with the premise of this book, but I found much to think about inside. I give it 3 highlighters.]

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Biosciences will hire no dropouts

CaughtinthemiddleRichard Longworth says…

Men and women who carried lunch pails and spent their days on assembly lines could earn good wages, own their own homes, feed their families, and keep a cottage by the lake. It was a safe, solid way of life, and it didn’t require much book learning. One step up the ladder stood the trades, the jobs in construction and nursing and repair. The junior colleges and vocational schools taught these trades and taught them well. If they didn’t teach much science or math, that was all right, because only students going to universities needed that knowledge. . . . The Midwest has lost the knack to compete in the new economy, and the schools have lost their ability to teach it. (pp. 179–180)

Globalization may be the most egalitarian force in history. . . . If you’re good, you’ve got a chance. If you've got the education and the skills, the door is open. But if you don’t . . . you’re out of luck. . . . If the Midwest’s future contains manufacturing, it will be high-end, high-tech manufacturing, demanding two-year degrees at the least. Biosciences will hire no dropouts. (pp. 172–173)

[Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism]

This is an important book for anyone who lives in the Midwest (or any other primarily rural area). It's a depressing book, but an important book. I learned a ton. I give it 5 highlighters.

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Get comfortable with discomfort

Michael Port says…

When we are thinking small, we crave preordained outcomes. We want to know what’s going to happen before we begin. Control is an illusion. The need to know how and where prevents all progress. Outcomes are not the starting point. . . . When we seek to control it, it’s because we fear the unknown, the out of control. What we fear is reality because ultimately it can never be controlled. [The Think Big Manifesto, pp. 106–107]

Related posts

I had hoped for more from this book. Although it had a few good quotes, I felt that much of it was fairly uninspiring. It just never grabbed me. I give it 2 highlighters.

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Book review – The travels of a t-shirt in the global economy

tshirttravelsI just finished reading The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Dr. Pietra Rivoli, Professor of Economics at Georgetown University. It was quite an interesting book. Here are some things that I learned:

  • Some Americans have been voicing their concerns about the negative impacts of cheap labor and clothing from China on our country’s textile and apparel companies. These “groans” by American corporations and others are identical to the concerns raised in earlier centuries by British manufacturers about cheap cotton from India and/or the New England area of the United States. They’re also identical to the concerns raised in the late 1800s by New England manufacturers as the industry moved to the Southern states, and the concerns raised by Southern manufacturers in the early 20th century as the industry moved to Japan, and the concerns raised by Japanese manufacturers in the later 20th century as the industry moved to Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and China. (Chapter 5)
  • No matter how bad working conditions are in factories in Chinese, Vietnam, and other developing countries compared to Western standards, those factory jobs still are a significantly-empowering move up for the primarily-female workers who otherwise would be mired in abject rural poverty back home in their village. As the author put it, it may be rough in the factory but it “beats the hell out of life on the farm” (p. 90).
  • Global activism has made textile/apparel factory jobs, even in developing countries, much better and much safer than ever was the case during the Industrial Revolution in England and America. (p. 101)
  • You have to read the book to understand the sheer lunacy of the regulations, tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions that American manufacturers and lobbyists have gotten enacted into law. That said, nothing is going to save the United States textile and apparel industry. Right now, the author says, it’s “kept alive only by unnatural acts of life support in Washington” (p. 208). Moreover, most of the protectionist measures put into place actually have hurt the American industries in the long run. (Chapter 8)
  • China will overwhelmingly dominate the global textile/apparel industry for at least the next few decades.
  • There is an extremely robust aftermarket in developing countries for castoff clothing from the U.S., Europe, and other industrialized nations. You know those personal shoppers at high-end clothing stores that will call you when something comes in that they think you’ll like? The same thing occurs in Tanzania except it’s for donated t-shirts brought to Goodwill and The Salvation Army that have made it to Tanzanian street markets. Chapters 10 and 11, which describe all of this, were my favorite part of the book.
  • Implementation of textile recycling programs (like we have for newspaper, glass, metal cans, and plastic) would easily pay for itself.

This book took a while to pick up steam but overall I thought it was well worth the read. If you decide to pick up a copy, happy reading! 

I give this one 3 highlighters.

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8 indispensable items for presenters

I’m getting more requests to come speak to groups. Here are 8 items that are indispensable to me as a presenter (click on each image for a larger version)…

1. Presentation remote

remoteThe Interlink RemotePoint Navigator is without a doubt the best presentation remote that I’ve ever seen. It has the usual functions: forward, backward, laser pointer, and “slide hide” (which turns the screen to black). But its aesthetic feel is what distinguishes it from its competitors. This device is designed perfectly for the human hand. I’ve had numerous people borrow this remote, either because they forgot theirs or because they don’t have one. I invariably get some kind of comment like, “Ooh, this is NICE. Where can I get one?” It comes with a USB dongle and a bag and, although a little pricy, is worth every penny. I have three – stashed in my home, office, and car – so that I always have one readily available.

2. Up-down timer

timerI strongly encourage anyone who presents, including classroom teachers and professors, to invest in an inexpensive timer, particularly one that counts both up and down. A timer keeps you on track, lets you know if you need to speed up or slow down a bit, and sends a message to participants that you consider their time to be important. My latest timer, the Component Design TM15, has extra-large digits for easy reading and a loud alarm, which is helpful to me because I like to roam around when I present and often am not near the podium. I also like the fact that mine has a fold-down stand rather than a clip that sticks out from the back. This gives it a smaller profile in my travel bag. One disadvantage of mine is that there’s no on-off switch, which means I have to take the battery out to prevent accidental operation.

3. Screen timer

OnlinestopwatchI’m a pretty strong believer that, no matter how engaging you are as a presenter, listeners’ brains are mush after 45 minutes or so. That’s why for even short presentations I create opportunities for participants to take mini-breaks. Typically I’ll pause my presentation after 10 to 15 minutes, throw up a 60– or 120–second countdown slide, and ask them to share some thoughts with their neighbors. When I’m doing a presentation or workshop that’s longer than an hour, we take bigger breaks: 10 to 15 minutes, get up and stretch your legs and lips, hit the restroom, get a drink of water, check your cell phone voice mail, and so on. I have found this online screen timer to be absolutely wonderful for getting people back into the room on time (and use this downloadable one as an alternative when I don’t have Internet access). I start it up before I let them loose so they know to keep an eye on the time. This has worked much better than simply telling folks to check their watch.

4. Wireless broadband

wirelessbroadbandI pay a monthly fee for wireless broadband from Verizon (and am grateful for the Iowa State University discount). I carry around this USB dongle and can plug it into any of my laptops or netbooks that have the Verizon software installed on them. Sometimes I need this when I require Internet access on the road but am not near an open wireless access point. Its primary use, however, occurs when I visit schools that either can’t give me Internet access, won’t give me Internet access, or give me Internet access but filter and block everything so tightly that I can’t show anything (you know who you are, people!). So, plain and simple, it’s my school district filter bypass and I’ve had to use it on numerous occasions.

5. USB memory stick

flashkeyNothing’s worse as a presenter than bringing your own laptop and then having some technology problem just a few minutes before your presentation starts. This is particularly true if you’re supposed to be some sort of ‘technology expert’ that others might even be paying to listen to. Almost nothing destroys that professional aura quicker than fumbling around with your very own computer! So I ALWAYS bring my presentation files on a USB stick: every slide, every video, every Internet URL. I have only had to fall back on this option a couple of times, but when I have I’ve been grateful that I was prescient enough to load it up and bring it along.

6. Audio and video cables

IMG_6265 My move to Iowa has put me in more rural schools than ever before, many of which are quite old. One of the things I am finding i that older school auditoriums typically are not configured very well for laptop-driven presentations. Although, as noted above, I rarely pin myself to the podium, I at least like to be somewhat near my laptop. That’s difficult to do when I am up front and the laptop/projector is in the back right corner, in the projection booth at the rear of the auditorium, or smack dab in the middle of the auditorium rows (and, yes, I’ve had all three of these happen to me). I invested in some audio and VGA video cables – along with 12– to 15–foot extension cables for each. These have proved useful on numerous occasions.

7. Travel speakers

speakersIt’s rare when I fail to have some kind of multimedia content in my presentations. But it’s tough to show a video or play an audio file if the audience can’t hear it. I ask the folks who invite me to please have speakers available but time after time I show up and they don’t have any, or they had some but now can’t find them, or they have some but someone is using them, etc. So I started bringing my own. My Griffin Journi speakers are a little large and I know that there are smaller ones out there. They’re pretty loud, though, so I’m hanging on to them for now. One advantage of my speakers is that they have a rechargeable battery that allows usage without needing an electrical outlet. The wrap-around leather cover flips over and slides into a slot on the back and thus creates a self-contained stand to keep the speakers upright.

8. Contractor power strips

powerstripsI usually encourage my workshop participants to bring their own laptops. I’m not threatened by their presence and understand that people can be both paying attention and also checking their e-mail on occasion. In fact, sometimes they pay better attention because they can keep one eye on things back home rather than being anxious about what’s occurring in their absence. However, rarely are we in a location that has sufficient access to electrical outlets. While this usually is not a problem for a 60–minute session, it’s a huge issue when we’re doing an all-day workshop. I carry four industrial-strength power strips in my car. I’ve used these so often that I’m considering investing in a few more. I like these because the cord is 15 feet long, which is incredibly helpful when existing outlets are far from participants’ tables.

All of this has evolved for me over time. As I run into presentation dilemmas, I try to invest in things that eliminate those problems for future events. What else have you found to be useful for your own presentations?