When the Network is Useless/Powerless

In May 2008, Texas Education Agency announced it was finally going to require all public school districts to prove 8th grade tech literacy in an annual report. The tool was not given, and each school district was left to its own to make the best choice for itself. Through the kindness of Kari Rhame at Deer Park ISD, I moodleized an objective piece they had been using with their 8th graders. It was not the assessment I really wanted, but with a short timeline, we had to make due. I believe we shared that Moodle course on our server with about a half dozen school districts that did not have a Moodle of their own. I am not really sure how many times the file was downloaded from our wiki, but I suspect quite a few since it was freely offered via the TCEA Tech Coordinators‘ List Serve.

Anyway, TEA also announced the same day that they would be requiring the reporting of teachers’ tech literacy in the same report. Again, this was really no surprise since our district had been discussing it for a few years at this point. The surprise was that TEA is only requiring the STAR Chart self-evaluation as the instrument of choice. While this is definitely one way to do the assessment, I find it the weakest and worst choice. For one reason, the STAR Chart is the tool we use to show need in the district for training and funding (grants, budgets, etc.). Once the teachers find out that it is counting as their self evaluation with the state, they are going to ratchet up the scores to make themselves look better (not an unexpected happening). The bad thing here is that it will knock many school districts out of grant work because the need will not show through (TEA recently used the STAR Chart to decide who qualified for the large Vision 20/20 technology grant). We need a more performance-based assessment with the self-evaluation tool built into it. We are pursuing ePortfolios, but that is for another post.

Now, this is where I was headed with the network not working. The third component to be reported to TEA was a surprise. They decided that we would report administrator tech literacy at the same time. The issue here is that there was no tool/instrument in place and we would have to wait for its creation. Realizing that the NETS-A from 2002 was going to be the driving force behind its creation, I set out to see what was already out there. Enter Dr. Scott McLeod and the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE). Scott’s work had already taken him down this road, so he created the Principals Technology Leadership Assessment (PTLA) self-assessment for administrators. Basically, it took the NETS-A and used a Likert scale for what is a simple self-evaulation tool. Perfect. This is what we are needing for the current requirements. An email and discussion board conversation with Scott ended up with his full permission to utilize the tool however we needed. As a matter of fact, this is what the PTLA site has to say about how much CASTLE will do to help out:

The PTLA will be made available to K-12 school organizations and educational leadership
preparation programs as follows:

1. PDF Download. School organizations can download the PTLA assessment and instructions in
PDF format. Organizations are responsible for their own data entry and analysis using Excel,
SPSS, or some other data analysis software program. This option is free to K-12 school
organizations and educational leadership preparation programs.

2. Questions Download. School organizations can download the questions on the PTLA
assessment in Microsoft Word format. The questions then can be cut-and-pasted into
organizations’ own online survey software. Organizations are responsible for their own data
analysis using Excel, SPSS, or some other data analysis software program. This option is free to
K-12 school organizations and educational leadership preparation programs.

3. CASTLE online survey. Organizations are welcome to use CASTLE’s own online version of the
PTLA. CASTLE staff will send the resultant data file to organizations in Excel format.
Organizations are responsible for their own data analysis using Excel, SPSS, or some other data
analysis software program. This option is free to K-12 school organizations and educational
leadership preparation programs if they grant CASTLE permission to use the data (anonymously)
as part of its ongoing nationwide research related to principals’ technology leadership knowledge and preparation.

4. CASTLE online survey and data analysis. CASTLE not only will host the online version of the
PTLA for organizations but also will analyze the data for them. This option is available to K-12
school organizations and educational leadership preparation programs on the same terms as
Option 3 but also will involve a small charge per PTLA participant to cover CASTLE’s personnel
and time costs.

CASTLE believes in making the PTLA as freely available as possible to school organizations. The
PTLA also is available for a small licensing fee to for-profit corporations and other entities that stand tomake money from their usage of the PTLA. We are open to other creative possibilities for the PTLA; please contact us if you are interested in using this assessment.

Can you ask for anything better than that? I just knew this was what TEA was needing, and it was going to save a lot of state time/money in preparing a tool/instrument for use. In less than a week of the announcement, we had what they were looking for.

After a few emails and phone calls, I ended up with the right person in charge of the instrument creation at TEA.  Now, I am going to skip some of the details because they would confuse you as much as they did me, but basically I was reassured that the NETS-A was the tool to be used (I think they meant guidelines, but my requests for clarifications about this were just met with copy and paste version of the NETS-A). Finally, I got word that they NETS-A was being given to the IT department to create an instrument to use. Yeah. The IT department. At this point, I had linked to the PTLA in several emails, offered to meet with them in person to discuss what Scott had created, and even offered to meet with them at NECC with Scott so he could answer their questions personally. No response.

So what does the tool look like that TEA is going to use? Well, no one has seen it as of yet, but I was told it is a five or six question Likert scale self-assessment. It truly is quite shorter than what CASTLE offered, but it lacks any level of detail that would prove helpful to the person charged with creating professional development for administrators. Worse, the main goal of the piece created was to provide administrators with a “quick and easy” self-assessment that would not scare them off. What? The STAR Chart that the teachers complete takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to fill out, and it provides a decent level of feedback. Since it is (was?) all anonymous, most teachers were quite honest about their skill levels and their opinions of other aspects of technology in the school district (budgeting, infrastructure, leadership, curricular support, tech support). The PTLA would have taken the same or less time and offered just as much feedback, yet it was either ignored or deemed too time consuming for leadership to complete (not by the local leadership to be clear).

So, you see, the network has failed. Not my network, mind you. My network came through like the champions they are. That is why they are my network. Who would question the experience, leadership, dedication, and sincerity of passionate educators spending their off time sharing resources with other like-minded educators? The sad thing here is that the state did not trust one of its own to help it out in a bind. It instead chose to use more state resources (which is already over-burdened from state mandates and being short staffed). Worse than that, it chose to use minimal standards to gather data apparently just for the sake of gathering data. I hope to see the bigger picture in this as we move further through the process.

Sad, really. Does it mean that the state leadership doesn’t understand the power of the network it leads? Does it mean that without the lobby power of textbook companies you cannot get a serious audience in the state office to hear you out?  Or does it simply mean that in government, it is business as usual? Whatever it means, it will not deter me from working toward a system in Texas that is efficient, effective, and focused on the main thing: providing the best education to the kids of Texas.

Video Converting Success

I volunteered to make several copies of some DVD’s of our teachers doing what they do best in White Oak ISD: teaching. Our primary campus principal had a great idea of videoing key segments of the day in her teachers’ lives. She then created a video to give to teachers who have been hired to join our school district next school year. What an awesome idea! I am glad I volunteered to do it because it gave me some insight into what the direction is on her campus with her teachers, and technology is definitely a big part of it.

Now this principal has been an early adopter for me already this year in a few separate instances. One, she asked for laptops for her teachers. The first thing she wanted was to get a few MacBooks and a few Windows based machines so her teachers could compare and decide. (as a side note: one of her teachers had over TWENTY enhanced podcasts up in less than a week and never owned a Mac!).

Her next tech integration involved interviews for new teachers. One (or more) of her teachers shot quite a few pictures of what the classrooms and areas of the building looked like while the kids were in it functioning during the school day. Then, text was added over portions of the pictures to label the event/area being viewed. It was all then compiled into a very nice looping video that each applicant was to watch after her interview prior to leaving the building. Yes, a slide show is considered fairly low tech, but when a campus decides to jump into the tech waters and finds a neat way to tie in even a slide show during staff interviews, I say good for them. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure they used Keynote and exported the file as an MOV file since it was looping in QuickTime. That is a pretty good skill to have for a primary teacher, I must say. I have been very proud of the work my elementary teachers have done this year. They have not backed down from the challenge to integrate more technology. As my Australian buddies on Twitter would say, “Good on them!”

So anyway, I was headed into the conversation of the video conversion. If you need to rip a file off a DVD (which is what the video camera recorded to as a VOR/VOB files) and convert it for podcast use, grab you a copy of the free program Handbrake. It converts to either AVI or M4V files. I had issues with the AVI, but the M4V worked flawlessly inside iMovie and Final Cut Pro. Converting to M4V allows me to put it right into our Virtual Roughneck podcast blogs without any editing if preferred. It is by far the best product I found to do the trick. It will also come in handy when I start moving DVD’s onto my iTouch.