magic

You are the unBlackboard.

I presented this project yesterday, at Drexel University's E-Learning 2.0 Conference. For the 50-minute presentation, I lead off with an Ignite-style intro, moved into the PowerPoint book, and then closed with a series of images (no bullets). Those who attended - mostly in higher-ed, it seemed - were mostly enthusiastic about the whole thing. Afterward, someone approached me to ask how she might incorporate technology into her high school math classroom. I suggested that she check out Dan Meyer's blog for its treatment of math as an exploration of problem-solving and question-asking - not typical of the math instruction I often see in middle school classrooms. I start to get into Papert's distinction between math and mathematics, and how "math" instruction often doesn't inspire curiosity about numbers in any kind of way, and she said something about how yes, that's what higher ed is for.

Related: The conference sessions I attended were all about Magical Tools (a handful of websites, or online classes with chat! and forums! and video-uploading!), and not about philosophy at all. I mean, using textbook-publisher content - via CD or otherwise - is deeply problematic to me, and that's a position that's more complex (and with more implications) than URL-harvesting.

I'm beginning to wonder if this project would benefit from a dose of aggression, from a measure of provocation that moves beyond this physical book that simply makes visual what many educators are already thinking. It seems an easy kind of project to agree with (indeed, most who have seen it do), but then these same educators really just want websites. Or, Blackboard by a different name.

A GCT on GTA.

There's a split conversation on the Twitter today about the Google Teacher Academy for administrators that's happening in San Antonio. Half of the conversation is tagged with #GTAdmin and sounds like "Inspiring!!!" and half of the conversation is about kool-aid. I'm not in San Antonio today, but the principal of 339 is speaking there (Jason Levy), and I was in the first GTA group from New York in 2007. 1. If Google's getting itself into the education business, what does it know about education? Not so much. As far as I know (which comes from working with them in various ways - case studies, videos, presentations and other things), they still don't have anyone doing education-related things full-time. GTA started as a twenty-percent-time activity, and as far as I know, it still is. It's obviously an exercise in getting more educators to use Google Apps for Ed, and I'm pretty sure that everyone who signs up is aware of this.

2. Then what are people doing at these things, other than getting a personal merit badge? Google partners with CUE and WestEd to put these together, and the day itself involves a lot of "this is how you can use this Google thing in your classroom!" activities. (You can see the agendas here.) I don't think this is a problem because it's up to the participants to figure out how it makes sense for them and how it doesn't. Honestly. There's no trickery involved.

3. This sounds like a full day of corporation adoration. Well. Google isn't magic. But at the three schools where I work, and at many other schools I've heard about or visited, teachers and administrators are using Google stuff to improve schoolwide systems. Google Sites = a really easy to design/maintain school or classroom website. This is great for organization. Google Docs = a really easy way of keeping track of shared lesson resources. Google Forms/Spreadsheets = a really easy way of reporting tech malfunctions or discipline infractions. And, et cetera. These things require human contemplation to design and implement, but Google's stuff is great to use for these purposes. I've seen more than one school improve its instruction, consistency and collaboration because it is using these things. These same schools are not perfect in any kind of way, and neither "technology" nor Google is responsible for their successes or failures. It did take humans, after all.

The merit badge factor is pretty high, and that's a legitimate criticism. The evangelism that comes out of the Google Teacher/Admin group is, I think, a function of a misplaced affection for the tool. But, to state the obvious, people are happy because they're using the tools to do things that they think are good. And, a lot of the time, they are.