Equity or idiocy?

Yesterday Ben Grey highlighted an issue that often arises when educators think about technology initiatives:

If a public school teacher writes a grant for technology, but the district can’t sustain the program in other buildings or potentially refresh the equipment once it reaches end of life, should the grant be granted? Is it better to deny the students in the classroom where the grant would be in effect so as to ensure equity across the district, or is it better to afford students an opportunity to reach higher, even if it means others won’t have that experience? Would allowing the grant to go forward specifically advantage one group of students over another, and thus present ethical issues for a public entity?

The person I was talking with was adamant that we should not allow classrooms to have that which other classes in the district can’t.

Is this all-or-none mindset equity or idiocy? Head over to Ben’s blog and chime in on the conversation.

[hat tip to Kelly Hines for pointing me to Ben’s post]

A tisket, a tasket, a netbook in my basket

HPMini01I greatly enjoyed Clive Thompson’s recent Wired article on netbooks. For years laptop manufacturers have been giving us more and more powerful computers: bigger hard drives, more memory, faster processing chips, etc. What netbooks have shown, however, is that many laptop users actually need less, not more. When 95% of laptop use is for things like e-mail, instant messaging, basic office productivity software, Facebook, YouTube, and so on, people don’t need a super workhorse computer. Instead, a less-capable computer works just fine and other concerns such as portability (size and weight) and cost become more important.

I recently purchased my second netbook, a HP Mini, to go along with my Dell Mini 9. I have used these netbooks for a full day of presenting – which usually includes showing very large PowerPoint presentations with embedded videos, Web surfing, and using Microsoft Office – without a hiccup. I tote along in a small bag my 2.4 pound netbook, wireless broadband dongle, portable external hard drive, and presentation remote and I’m all set. Throw in my cell phone, iPod or iPod Touch and headphones, a paperback book, and a Moleskine pad and pen and my road warrior status is downright bearable (shhh – don’t tell my wife!).

For many schools, I think netbooks can make a lot of sense. At $300 to $450 per computer, the price is low enough for many districts to start thinking about a 1:1 deployment for students for the very first time, either for entire schools or for smaller grade- or class-level pilot projects. Scatter a few more-powerful machines around the school building for students who need to do heavier-duty work (e.g., photo or video editing) and this becomes a workable solution for a number of school organizations. Of course full-fledged laptops still have their place and many schools may find that the more-traditional approach works better for their 1:1 needs.

Schools that are considering purchasing netbooks should do a careful job of comparison shopping. For example, I wouldn’t recommend either of my netbooks for schools. The keyboard for the Dell Mini 9 is just too small for me and my right pinky finger is always looking for the dang apostrophe key (which Dell moved to the bottom row). In contrast, the keyboard for the HP Mini is wonderful (it’s 92% of the size of a full keyboard) but HP in its infinite wisdom decided to use a proprietary VGA port, necessitating the purchase of a separate converter cable to connect to a projector (which has resulted in a lot of angry customers). Schools may find that other models such as the Acer Inspire One, Lenovo Ideapad S10, or Asus Eee PC 1000HE are more workable solutions. Since the technical specifications of netbooks are all basically the same right now, design issues such as the keyboard layout often are the distinguishing factors. I strongly recommend a hands-on test drive of a particular netbook model before you make any kind of large-scale purchase.

I really like my HP netbook a lot. Like others, I have been quite surprised to find how useful this less-capable laptop has been to me. Because of its small size, I take it places I never would consider taking my Lenovo ThinkPad X61 Tablet and indeed am gravitating more and more to using it as my primary computer whenever I travel anywhere. What’s really exciting to me is to think about what these small laptops will look like just a year or two from now. I’m guessing that they will have much larger solid-state hard drives and include much of the capability that currently give larger laptops a performance advantage. A netbook that can do what today’s laptops do, in just a couple of years? That’s a winning combo!

Photo credit: HP Mini

The Iowa series – Wrap-up

I've had a lot of fun guest blogging over at The Des Moines Register this week. For those of you who would like to have a single link that you can forward to others, you can use this web address:

Here are links to each of the five posts here at Dangerously Irrelevant:

SETDA’s Class of 2020 Action Plan for Education

SETDAlogoThe State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) has been on an unbelievable tear this year. Back in February it released its annual Trends Report on NCLB Title II, Part D (Enhancing Education Through Technology, or E2T2). Previous national reports are available at the SETDA web site. You also can access state-level reports at the Metiri Group’s web site.

Now SETDA’s Class of 2020 Action Plan for Education project is releasing its reports. The first three already are available:

Two more reports are coming out this month and next:

Be sure to tap into the incredible wealth of good information on the Reports, Research & Tools page of the SETDA web site [warning: it’s easy to get lost in here for hours…]. There are numerous high-quality resources available for K-12 educational technology advocates and change agents, including the 2007 report, Maximizing the impact: The pivotal role of technology in a 21st century education system.

Keep up the great work, SETDA!

DRAFT – Statewide 21st century learning system

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to outline what it takes to get your state or province from ‘here’ to ‘there.’ In other words, what would it take to get from our current system of schooling to a robust, province- or statewide system of 21st century learning? Here’s my first attempt at this task (click on the images for larger versions)…


What needs to be done

The first step is to figure out what needs to happen…


  1. Curricula that emphasize 21st century skills. Instead of simply adding on 21st century skills to our existing content-based standards, put them at the core of new, more focused curricula.
  2. Preservice and inservice training for teachers and administrators. Training in colleges and universities. Training on the job. Regular, frequent, strategic, and ongoing.
  3. Robust statewide online learning infrastructure for students and teachers. Because of resources or geography, high-level and credit recovery courses aren’t available to many students. Training opportunities aren’t available to educators. A vibrant system of online courses can help.
  4. Computing device in every student’s hands. Laptops. Netbooks. Smartphones. Devices that have some power, are mobile, allow students to type, and can access the Internet.
  5. Statewide no-cost or low-cost broadband wireless access. High-speed wireless in every corner of the state.
  6. P-20 coordination, cooperation, and vertical articulation. Curricular, programmatic, workforce development, and other alignment across the P-20 spectrum.

Environmental supports

Some supports need to be in place to facilitate effective implementation…

  1. Federal, state, and local laws, policies, and funding support. A thoughtful, helpful array of legal, policy, and funding supports for what needs to be done.
  2. Monitoring, assessment, and evaluation. Regular, frequent, ongoing. To inform practice, not just for accountability.
  3. Mindset shift. The digital, global age is here. It’s time to learn how to survive and thrive in it rather than being afraid of it or ignoring it.



There’s also a marketing piece to this. Who needs to be informed about what needs to be done in order to facilitate a broad base of support and buy-in?


  1. Parents and community members
  2. School board members and P-12 educators
  3. Postsecondary faculty and officials
  4. Employers
  5. Legislators and policymakers
  6. Media



I’m working on this part…


I could use some help on this not-so-theoretical assignment. This is a draft. I need a final version by November 5.

  • What would your system look like? How would you organize things differently? What did I leave out?
  • How can we calculate some rough, back-of-the-envelope costs of these activities (e.g., just how much would it cost to get wireless broadband across the state)? I could really use some assistance costing this out.
  • How is my thinking flawed? What am I forgetting? What is particularly important to emphasize? What else should I be considering?

Angela Maiers and Mike Sansone have been of great assistance with this first draft (any mistakes or logic flaws are mine alone!). I hope you will be willing to lend your thoughts as well. Thanks in advance!

[Feel free to download and play around with these files: png1 png2 ppt pptx]

Help wanted: Digital citizenship resources?

I recently got this message from an international school:

I’ve organized [our] Tech Leadership Team to discuss and develop a Digital Citizenship program for our school. There are 27 members of the TLT and they will be exploring 6 elements, identifying issues associated with the element, brainstorming examples of appropriate and inappropriate use, developing guidelines for use (e.g., guidelines for e-mail, cyberbullying, social networks, piracy, health), and identifying how the concept and guidelines should be shared with the community.

  1. Digital Communication
  2. Digital Etiquette
  3. Digital Law
  4. Digital Rights & Responsibilities
  5. Digital Health and Wellness
  6. Digital Security

I’m looking for a good book for them to read — any recommendations?

What resources have you found valuable regarding digital citizenship? Here’s my contribution…

Best designs for a computer lab?

A technology director in Indiana asked me:

What are the ‘best’ designs you are seeing for a ‘traditional’ computer lab setup? I am looking for a lab design that allows for collaboration and team work and yet is flexible enough to move if need be (it would be a desktop lab with hard-wired connections to the network). What are you hearing or seeing? Any innovative designs?

Got any suggestions for him?

Survey results – It’s the first day of school (2008)!

About a month ago, I posted my annual Beginning of the Year Technology Checklist and wondered (again) if schools had made any progress since the previous year. This year I also invited readers to fill out an online survey rating their own school organizations. I am pleased to announce that 125 of you took me up on the offer. Here are the results!

As you can see from the mean responses for the items on the checklist, participants rated staff development and principals’ understanding lowest of the ten items (note: clicking on each image gets you a larger version).2008 Beginning of Year Technology Checklist Results_Page_01

While participants felt fairly positively about their infrastructure, I thought that the modes show quite clearly that we have a long way to go in other areas:2008 Beginning of Year Technology Checklist Results_Page_03

I also looked at the distribution of responses within each item. For example, over 70% of the participants gave low responses to their district’s technology integration-related staff development.2008 Beginning of Year Technology Checklist Results_Page_05

I also plotted the responses for each item individually. As expected, the staff development item had the most skewed distribution.2008 Beginning of Year Technology Checklist Results_Page_09 

Finally, I calculated simple correlations for the items. The strongest correlation (.726) existed for the technology plan and vision items (Q8 and Q10).


Here are the results in various downloadable formats. These results include a number of additional charts.

Feel free to use the results to spark some conversation in your school organization. If you want me to host this online survey for your school or district, let me know!

Not so irrelevant 012

Three great questions

I especially like the last of these three questions from Rodney Trice. We should be asking teachers and principals that question more often (and just that directly).

  • How do you intend to bring the global community into your classroom?
  • How will you prepare students for a future that is relatively unknown?
  • How you will eliminate the racial predictability of achievement outcomes in your classroom?

This just in: Teenagers play video games!

All kidding aside, the latest report from the amazing Pew Internet & American Life Project confirms that kids – even girls! – are up to their eyeballs in video games.

We’ll stick to the tried and (not) true

Nope, sorry. iPods are not allowed. Back to the old way. Too bad it doesn’t work as well. Gotta do it anyway. Oh, and I love how the music players are categorically, by definition, a ‘distraction’ (if not in actuality). Who needs reality when we have these little educational policy fantasy worlds that we can create for ourselves?

Throw da bums out!

After attempts to bring in turnaround experts didn’t work, the state of Maryland is increasingly leaning toward completely restructuring schools that are academically unsuccessful. State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick says:

We are very comfortable being more aggressive about this. We have seen much better results [when the staff is replaced].

Blog like a farmer

I ran across an old post by Mike Sansone, one of my Iowa blogging buddies. I really like his metaphor that blogging should be like farming.


I bet parents and community members would really like to see scorecards like this one (maybe with different data) for their local schools. I know some schools and districts already do this. Hopefully they use line graphs rather than tables of numbers. Could you tell the essential story of a school district with 10 key, well-done graphs? I bet you could!

No writing in journalism class?

Check out this excellent article about the NYU journalism student who got in trouble for blogging about her class. [hat tip to Tim Stahmer]

I got no money, honey

Did you catch Edutopia’s advice on how to innovate without extra money or support?

Spend hours on content you can find with Google in 3 seconds!

One of my favorite things about Wes Fryer is his ability to highlight the ridiculous. I also enjoy his irreverance (“Behold! I hold aloft the holy words!”), particularly when I have the same experience at my kids’ school.

Speaking of Google…

Finally, I’m digging Google Chrome. it’s now my default browser and I’m using Firefox less and less (and I love Firefox). Chrome is much faster. I also like that each tab is a separate process; I have yet to have a browser hang…

Not so irrelevant 011

My latest roundup of links and tools…

The critics need a reboot

David Wolman’s article in Wired Magazine is a quick and effective rebuttal of those who claim that technology is making us stupid.

Social networking for babies

Yep, that’s right. Social networking for babies: Made a mess in my pants today. Slept. Made a mess in my pants today. Slept…

The $70 PC

Using a thin client model for school computers seems like an idea that has promise. And of course a $70 price tag per computer sounds great. Does anyone know a school organization that’s working with NComputing?

Should kids learn about 9/11 via cartoons?

Gary Stager’s got a vein pop about BrainPop

Handheld learning

Thanks to Dean Shareski, I now know about the Handheld Learning web site. Thanks, Dean!

Youth, porn, and violence

Want the latest facts on youth exposure to pornography and violent web sites? Head to Harvard’s Berkman Center!

Speaking of the Berkman Center…

There is a LOT going on at the Center. Check out its list of projects (the list is clickable thanks to Kwout) and sign up for its news feed!


Karl Fisch is big in Germany

If you didn’t catch it, Karl recently posted about a German
magazine’s story about his school
and the Did You Know? video. Anybody read

Snow in the bathroom

And, finally, here’s a good rule of thumb: don’t read
Doug Johnson
while you’re supposedly participating in a serious meeting. Thy
guffaw mayest disrupt…