Using the “Bible” as the Ultimate Electronic Textbook Template

Photo Credit: Americo Nunes

I recently got a second generation iPod Touch. While reloading my content and adding a few new apps, I found a new Bible app that interested me. It requires the Internet, but it still is really awesome. You might wonder why I am blogging this on an educational blog. Well, it is because the textbook companies can take some cues from this handy little app. The features are very useful in studying this content, so I know it would benefit students in the classroom.

Some of the cool features I have found in it are:

Text Highlight – Once you find a passage you like, if you hold your fingertip on the passage for a second or so, a box pops up. It gives you several options:

  • Email to a Friend or Self – type in the address and it sends it
  • Bookmark Verse – just like it says, it bookmarks it
  • View Contribution – shows additional information one might find useful to aid in the understanding

Search – Full search of the text; the results are short links with summaries.

Daily Read – This is a daily devotional.

Languages – MANY, MANY languages. For English readers, there are nine translations of the Bible; but you will find 16 other languages with multiple translations available for the reader. This is so useful for our classrooms today. Imagine all of these translations in one easy to switch format. Two finger taps and you can go from any language to one of fifteen additional languages. Our ESL teachers would love it.

Table of Contents – It’s easy to search by Book and then Chapter. It’s even separated into the major sections of the Bible (books of Law, Books of History, Books of Poetry, etc).

Photo Credit: Me

Cool features it could use to be a functional eTextbook:

Daily Read – Turn the daily devotional into daily tips/hints based on the topic currently being studied. Even short Pop Quizzes would be cool.

Portable – It is a must that it be designed with the portable technologies in mind (ie. iPod Touch, iPhone, Smart Phones, PDA’s, Flash Drive).

– It should read the text to you. This would help in many situations with students (hearing impaired, ADD/ADHD, dyslexic, etc). Since the Gen 2 Touch has a small speaker built-in, this would be nice.

– The Bible app does not have any, but it is an easy add-on for the programmers.

– Take advantage of the video abilities of the Touch with informational and tutorial videos.

– Since Safari is built-in to the Touch, as is wireless, this is a no-brainer. Link to outside reliable sources. If the URL’s go dead over time, no biggie. Apps can be updated easily anytime via iTunes. Heck, iTunes even tells you if there is an update available.

– Take advantage of the touch screen for the visually impaired.

– Allow it to wirelessly print important information. One thought here is that the ability to email the important information allows this as well, just with a few more steps.

– Practices quizzes would be a really cool addition.

– Links to secure, online, graded tests would be a nice add-on for the teacher. Short answer, multiple choice, and matching are good options.

What else am I missing? What do you think should be a part of real electronic textbooks? Consider all of your needs as an educator and the needs of your diverse student population.

7 Year Olds as Digital Storytellers

Photo Credit: scragz

My wife and I are very fortunate to have such a wonderful second grade teacher for our son this year. She, Mrs. Richeson,  finds great ways to bring the parents into the classroom via technology. We have had the chance to watch our son retell stories through readers theater video podcasts. Now, she stretches their writing abilities and has them share them with everyone in audio podcasts.

During our parent conference the other day, my wife (a 6th grade language arts teacher) commented how she was not sure how Mrs. Richeson was able to do all of the things she does getting the recordings made and posted. She just smiled and said it was no big deal with the MacBook. As the instructional technologist for the district, it was a good confirmation for me that we are headed in the right direction with the right tools. I taught first grade myself. Everything extra is a big deal. To hear her share how easy she found it was affirming. 

First, a little background to my son’s story. La Cucaracha is “cockroach” in Spanish.  He has loved that Spanish word ever since he heard Phillips, Craig, and Dean in concert in Tyler.  They had a children’s CD that he wanted. Needless to say, the song about the bug is his favorite.  So, according to his teacher, Christian took a long time to write his story. She wondered what was slowing him up, but she also was glad that he was writing. A lot. It wasn’t until the end of the story being recorded that it all made sense. He was writing a story around a song with the internal goal of getting the song into the story as the closing and it make sense.  Pretty high level, if I do say so myself.  Yes, I’m proud of him.  So have a listen to his creation. Make sure you hang in there long enough to hear him sing in the end. About a roach. 🙂 

Listen to the podcast of the story “The Rock Boy” by Christian.

TCEA as a Leader in Texas; TCEA Needs a Leader in Texas

Photo Credit: Me

In response to Miguel Guhlin’s vision for TCEA, I offer these reflections. As one fellow SOS-SIG member noted of me today, I’m passionate about the direction of this organization. Consider that in your reading of my thoughts, please. TCEA has so many possibilities. It is like the child you have at home who is sooooo smart but has yet to fully apply himself. You are aggravated, but you love him still the same and work to make him better.

1. Carry out the strategic plans and policies of the board.
This is a good directive for the executive director. As a matter of fact, it is the most important since the executive director (ED) works at the will of the board. You kind of melded a few ideas here, but I’m glad you did. With me running for the board seat of Area 7, it is one that I have thought about. Why do our directors not share what is going on? I realize there are items that should be held in executive session and treated as such. What I don’t get is why we do not hear about who they are and what they are doing for us when they meet. If elected, one of my personal mandates will be to blog the position to the Area 7 members. They should have a place to have a conversation with me in the open about what I am doing, how I am doing it, and what they prefer to see done. It will not only happen after the meeting. It will happen before and even during if appropriate.  You will see that from Day One with me, I assure you. Why hide the good work being done and the struggles of growing into the future? The collective is always smarter than the individual. 

2. Encourages change relevant to the organization and the stakeholders
It is obvious that a group needs a strong, visionary leader. One would hope that leader comes in the form of the executive director. Again, this position is to do the will of the BOD, but it should also offer alternatives, trends, and traps to his/her regular report. The report should begin and extend conversations about the direction of the organization. It should not state a firm decision. It is the BOD’s job to do that.

You mentioned that we have all seen blogs, podcasts, and wikis. Well, we have seen them in our schools and at the convention, yet we have not seen them out of the TCEA office or leadership as it relates to the organization. You left out RSS feeds. We have an announcement of immense proportions as to the change in leadership of TCEA, and a large population of the membership never knew it took place. It still is not on the TCEA website. If it were, and there was an RSS feed on the Announcements page, then that is an additional avenue it could have spread with little to no effort or cost. You would think the same could be said about the list serves, but there is apparently an issue with those.

You mentioned that TCEA’s leadership can “completely change the conversation in Texas.” I spend a lot of time in Austin during session. I have not run into a TCEA leader during any of them. I testify at school finance hearings, bill hearings, and interim committee hearings. I meet with senators and representatives and chiefs of staff. I have not seen a TCEA leader in any of them. What I see is teacher organizations protecting their members. Sometimes tech funding and interests benefit from that, sometimes they do not. We are in a time where the need for tech funding is increasing. What is the plan of TCEA leadership? We have no idea because we are not hearing it. I see there is an Advocacy Committee now. Never heard about it before, but I am glad there is one. What is their goal? Their vision? Their mission? No idea. They are not even listed on the website. Leadership has to step up and open up.

3. Visionary that looks at the future for change opportunities.
You challenge the board to “Where do you think this is all going next, what could we do to use
technology to get there in K-16, and how will that meet the needs of
our membership?”

That is a noble goal, but does TCEA know the answer to those questions? Is it prepared to talk to that? Would they know what to answer in an interview with a true leader if the question were reversed? If I were interviewing for the position, I would want to know if the folks I was expected to lead had vision as well.

The TCEA board needs to have a planning session with ALL board members (there are two vacant seats on the board right now). Start from scratch, in a way. What is the goal of TCEA? The mission? The vision? The tenets? How can TCEA best align itself to work toward those items? Does the current structure do that? Does the budget allow for that? Would state-wide committees help? Would more transparency into the needs of TCEA help? Are there crucial partnerships that can be created to accomplish those goals while sharing resources? And the biggest question, is the board willing to step away from the table letting go of sacred cows to look at all of this with a fresh view as we move into changing times?

Right now, TCEA seems to be content as an organization that puts on a good conference. It needs to be more than that. It needs to mature. It is ready to mature.

4. Interfaces between organization and community.
This is a must. The odd thing I find about TCEA is that it is not a place to turn to for answers. While it is the leading technology organization in Texas, it is not leading where it needs to be. For instance, Apple rolled out iTunes U K-12 at NECC in San Antonio. They asked each of the state education organizations to run it so that there was one collaborative spot for schools to turn to. TEA said no. So, those of us podcasting (which is a growing number daily) do not have the state level portal into TEKS-driven content to turn to. Instead, there is an independent group of educators working to help Apple find that solution. TCEA should be spear-heading this. Why not? I am not saying TCEA should be in control of iTunes U K-12, but I believe there are enough contacts within the organization to find a solution and give this great tool to the schools of Texas. What a feather in the cap of TCEA that would be. And I am pretty sure Apple would remember that. But in the end, it may be the stubbornness of a few school employees that pull it off. Then again, it might be that it does not get pulled off, and Texas is without that resource. Sad.

5. Ensures staff and Board have sufficient and up-to-date information.
While I like your main point, I think it should be up to each board member and state officer to get the word out how he/she sees fit. BUT IT NEEDS TO GET OUT. If a board member does not get the information out, one would hope the membership would find a new board member that will. Sure, we can all complain about how we do not have enough time to do our jobs as it is, but if you run for the position, you should understand the expectations. It is not expected to warm a seat. It is an expectation to represent, and representation runs both ways. Share with the board the members’ wishes and share with the members what the board is/was thinking. Can you imagine how many issues would be alleviated if this were done?

6. Formulates policies and planning recommendations to the Board.
This is a biggie. You have to have a visionary leader to get the job done and stay ahead of the curve. Staying with or just behind the curve is not worth the effort. Can you imagine what would happen if all of our schools strove for mediocrity? We might be attending in droves the Microsoft Office sessions still offered at our ESC. Not happening. We’ve moved on as have our students.

This person should not be afraid to step up, pitch the thoughts, and stand back to answer questions. The executive director of a member-owned, member-governed organization does not force ideas down anyone’s throats. He/she is a facilitator of information and then the leader of following through with the board’s decision. In other words, do not go in with a new idea and a Motion form all filled out ready to go. The motions are the responsibility of the board only.
7. Manages human resources of organization.
You said: “Next Step: Assess staff operations, relationships, and interactions–customer service–and then make adjustments as needed.” Amen. Regardless of the number of staff, we have to maximize their talents. We do the same in our school districts. Other organizations do the same. It is the only way to remain successful and efficient. If I.T. is overwhelmed because of a software/hardware choice made by either a prior employee or poor leadership, then find a fit that is more efficient in time and cost. Open source software offers too many opportunities for us to stay stuck in a commercial choice if there is a better alternative.  Besides, the use of open source software would only serve to support one of our own SIG’s that is loaded with plenty of expertise that would be free to our office staff with a simple email or phone call.

8. Manages financial and physical resources.
You recommended rebuilding the team after leadership change to re-examine current projects and direction. Sure. That is a good direction to go. I would also say that the term fiduciary responsibility be introduced to the board and staff. As a trustee, all decisions must be made with the organization in mind and not the egos and personalities becoming a part of the equation. I’m not saying that is happening now. I’m just saying it needs to be in the equation.

Now, let me introduce a few additional things needed both in the board decision and in a new leader:

9. The current board and officer corp needs to have all positions filled on the board before moving forward with a new executive director hire.
I mentioned this in the list serve email I sent, but two regions from the same portion of the state are without representation. It does not make sense to move ahead without these seats being filled with DIRECTORS. I don’t mean surrogates for the position. I mean directors who have long term committments to the board (well, at least to the end of their elected terms). You know, the board who will be working with the new executive director. Consider immediate appointments of the winners to the board after the election for the vacant positions to move the process along. This is a legislative year upcoming.

10. TCEA must become more politically active.
I touched on this above, but it is worth mentioning again. The new ED must be willing to learn the ropes at the Capitol and stay an integral part of that process. Legislators and their staff need someone to turn to for technology information that they know will be from a trusted and professional source. Being a visible, recognizable voice at the Capitol is imperative.  I was able to be a part of the virtual high school legislation because of my connections with another organization and my work with legislators. I was emailed and faxed pre-release copies of possible bills and suggested amendments to review and offer input. I networked with others more knowledgeable in the area from our consortium of schools, and we successfully passed a nice bill. This bill had failed many times before when it was no good for education. Working in a professional manner with a respected contact allowed that to happen. TCEA needs to emulate that. Soon.

So there is an Advocacy Committee. Make them a spotlight NOW. Let them help circle the wagons for immediate training about what is upcoming in the session and how TCEA plans to work within it. What are TCEA’s beliefs in advocacy? Who decided the initiatives TCEA will be pushing for? What will it be asking from/of legislators? How will it react to the legislative process? What can it offer the legislative process? You prefer that content to be private? Then use one of the Moodles we have in place so the information is available through registered users only. Or post them to a link only available to registered users on our website. Just get the information out there now. Don’t wait until the legislative session starts right after Christmas break and everyone is trying to get back into the swing of things. It is election time. Get the information out! Let the conversations begin now. Unveiling this at the conference in February is TOO late.

11. Neutrality
It is the job of ALL office staff to stay out of TCEA business decision-making. The TCEA office staff facilitates and runs the day to day portions of the organization, but it should NEVER become involved as a player in the process. In other words, come up with ideas, but do not go out and politic to get the idea through. It is the BOD’s decision. Or for another example, do not become a part of the elections except in an assistive manner. They should be handled completely by the board appointees. Nominations should be sent to the nomination chair and remain private until the passing of the deadline where they would be posted to the website immediately upon its closing. It removes any possible look of impropriety that could arise. This is of the utmost importance in expectations of the ED. Considering the board decides the contracts of the ED, why would it be any other way? This should be a mandate in place even if the new Ed happens to be a former TCEA member or former TCEA board member. Past positions should not change the current neutrality of the position. It would be a conflict of interest.

I probably have more, but I have moved beyond the thirty minutes Miguel used.  Sorry.  Mind you, some or all of these things might already be in place and I am just not informed. But that reinforces the point of transparency and communication. If we do not put information out there for the members to easily find, it could only lead to questions. Why not answer those questions with a resource we already have paid for: the website.

Please leave your comments of debate, disgust, and decision with my positions. I’m open to them. I’m hopeful there will be links aplenty to all kinds of leaders’ blogs, information sources that answer my questions above, directions on how best to offer solutions, etc.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive!

Photo Credit: Tommy Merritt’s site

Oddly enough, on the day I blogged about TAKS changes the legislature is considering, I got a response from one of my state representatives from a questionnaire I sent out a little while back. Tim Holt blogged about doing the same thing with his state rep candidates, and I think Kyle Stevens might have joined in as well. I took the challenge and did the same.

I live in one House District while working in another. The advantage to this is that I get to work with both state representatives legitimately. I sent the questionnaire to both of them. One, State Rep. Tommy Merritt, Longview, completed his and returned it via email today. Thanks so much for doing that, sir. I have to say, my work with Rep. Merritt over the years has been mostly positive as it pertains to public education. Even when he votes opposite of what I would prefer, he shares his reasons. It is better than I get out of most state reps that cover our region of the state. One has a standard response of “I will vote with the recommendation of the committee.” That is political speak for “I have to see what the leadership wants me to do first before I can take a position.” But I digress.

So, get ready for more education conversation than you found in ALL of the presidential debates combined.  Rep. Merritt is unopposed in this race. Well, let me rephrase that. He had a last minute alternate party candidate join the race ONLY because he did not want to just see one name on the ballot. He is not actively campaigning.  Please find below the questions and answers directly copied and pasted from the email. I have made no changes to either of our parts of this (questions are in bold print):

Q1: Do you favor the current method of funding schools in Texas? Why or why not?  (If you do not favor the current method, what method will you suggest?)
I don’t favor the current “target revenue hold-harmless” method of funding schools because it does not reflect the actual cost of educating our children. Because of target revenue funding, more than 90% of school district funding is determined by a snapshot of what existed in the 2005-06 school year. We already have a formula system in statute that would provide a sound basis for an equitable, cost-based system. We need to fund it at an appropriate level and move away from the target revenue concept.

Q2:  Gathering from your history in the legislature, you suggest additional funding for education programs. How will you propose to pay for such programs while lowering property taxes but not generating more income via a state income tax?
As the Texas economy continues to grow faster than the rest of the nation, the increased revenue at current property tax rates should be funneled back into public education by increasing the funding yields that provide the foundation for an efficient funding system. This will go a long way in enabling districts to meet funding challenges such as those created by inflation and increasing accountability standards—and, it helps districts avoid tax rate increases because it provides more money for the district at the same tax rate.

Q3: Texas schools are behind other states in spending for technology. How will you suggest that the legislature help schools get up to the same level of technology spending that other states have been at for years and be prepared for future technology needs?
First, we need to recognize the reality of the current situation. Until the 2002-03 school year, public schools were eligible for grants from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF). Districts would not necessarily receive a grant each year, but the average annual disbursement was about $30 per student. In addition, the Available School Fund provided a $30 per student technology allotment. Now, five years later, that $60 per student average has dropped below $30—based on a “sum-certain” appropriation.
This funding level is inadequate and should be raised to at least $150 per student, perhaps with a phase-in of a $50 per student technology allotment in 2009-2000, $100 in the second year of the biennium, and $150 per student for each year thereafter, dedicated from the Available School Fund.
The third component must be efficiency. We must make sure that every technology dollar is spent wisely, but true efficiencies will not come from outside the system. They must evolve from collaboration among stake holders, from the sharing of resources, and from the use of innovative teaching.

Q4: In our part of the state, there are many families without access to the internet due to the lack of infrastructure (fiber) running into our rural communities. Yet, much if not all of the state educational information is located on the internet. We are effectively not allowing these parents to be part of the education of their children. How will you address this issue?
Given current technology and the size of Texas, providing fiber-access to every parent, regardless of where they live, would be an impossible task, as you know. An answer may eventually lie in newer technologies like broadband over cell or broadband over power lines, but those are commercial builds for the obvious reasons.

While technology has certainly enhanced communication between parents and public schools and plays a very important roll, the higher question of ensuring parent participation in the education of their children is not limited to internet access. Regular contact with your child’s teacher is the essential component.

Q5: School districts across the state must respond to unfunded mandates from both the state and federal levels. For instance, in a few years, the state will require all student statewide testing such as End of Course and TAKS tests to be administered online. The state is not providing any additional monies to districts to make sure they have the equipment, bandwidth, and facilities to provide for this. Can you address exactly what you will do to help districts with unfunded mandates, both from the state and the federal levels?

If a thing is worth mandating, then it is worth the funding it takes to respond to the mandate. If a thing is not worth funding, then it shouldn’t be a mandate.

Unfunded federal mandates should be addressed with your Congressman. State mandates that are without benefit, whether they are unfunded or not, should be eliminated.

The first step is for those directly involved in public education—educators, parents, and other taxpayers—to identify the mandates that should be eliminated. If the case can be made, then I will work to eliminate them.

Q6: How do you plan to address the continuing teacher and administrator shortages?  Which of these are viable plans in your estimation:
Recruit teachers from other countries.
Rehire retirees with few restrictions.
Help districts reimburse individuals who go to or return to school to become certified teachers.
Help districts reimburse individuals who return to college while still teaching to earn administrator certification.

All of the strategies you mention are good strategies for eliminating teacher and administrator shortages. The best approach, however, must begin with competitive salaries.

Q7: One of the greatest expenses in any school district is the installation of technology followed by the maintenance and eventual replacement of said technology.  What is your plan to give districts relief from the costs associated with these instructional and administrative tools?
Appropriate technology is essential in any school district, as are faculty and staff salaries, healthcare, transportation, and on and on. A school funding plan written with intent to address a specific cost will most likely fail to address other, equally important costs. Adequately funding a cost-based formula system—which includes solid, dependable funding for technology—should be our goal.

Q8: What is your stand on electronic textbooks as opposed to traditional paper texts?
Each has benefits, neither is a remedy. Both should be used in the best way to meet the needs of children.

Q9: Student assessment like the TAKS test has mutated over the years from a simple student diagnostic to a high stakes program where people’s jobs are placed in jeopardy if scores are not met. Do you support high stakes testing such as the TAKS test? Why or why not? How do you see these tests changing in the future?

I voted for SB1031 replacing the TAKS test with end of course exams for high school students. In addition, I support replacing the TAKS test for middle and elementary students with end of course exams. A single test should not determine a student’s or teacher’s success or failure.

Q10: What can you do specifically to help House District 7 schools and parents during your legislative session in Austin?
Listen to the concerns expressed by schools and parents. Communicate their input and feedback to my colleagues and vote for legislation that supports their needs.

Thank you for your time.
I look forward to reading and posting your responses.

Scott S. Floyd, M. Ed.
White Oak ISD Instructional Technologist

Big props to Rep. Merritt for taking the initiative to respond to my inquiry. I appreciate this candor in several of the responses.  As always, I look forward to working with him during the upcoming session.  I will leave the commentary to the comment section. Who is the first to weigh in on this?

“The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong”

Photo Credit: DairDair

Can it be that the pendulum is finally swinging back the other direction?  This just in from Charles at Off the Kuff:

TAKS changes coming

Stepping out of campaign coverage for a second, here’s a look ahead to some TAKS tinkering the Lege will take up next year.

Texas public school students could face less pressure on the TAKS test under a proposal that key lawmakers unveiled Tuesday to overhaul the state’s school accountability system.

Under the plan, elementary and middle school students would no longer have to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test to advance to the next grade level.

Schools still would be held accountable for low test scores, but they would get credit for improvement — even if students fell short of certain targets.

While several parents and school leaders praised the proposed changes to the school grading system as being more fair, others expressed concern that Texas would be lowering its standards. The Legislature is expected to consider the idea, offered by a special House-Senate committee on school accountability, next year.

“What this proposal does is eliminate the high-stakes testing in elementary schools, and I think that’s a very positive development,” said Spring Branch Superintendent Duncan Klussmann.


The revamped school grading system, which would require extra help for the struggling students, also would base annual performance ratings on three years of test scores instead of a single year and would give credit for student improvement. Districts would get judged on their financial health, too.

Pasadena ISD Superintendent Kirk Lewis applauded the move to averaging scores, noting that under the current system a school could be stigmatized with a low rating if it barely missed the mark in one subject one year.

“I think it will be helpful in taking some of the pressure off the schools,” Kirk said. “I believe in accountability … but the tweaks they’re making, it appears it would be a positive improvement over what we’ve got.”

Legislative leaders concede weaknesses in the current system — which rates schools on TAKS scores, graduation rates and dropout rates — and they heard complaints from educators and parents during hearings around the state this year.

“We found that the TAKS was the main focus of a lot of our education efforts, and it’s a minimal-skills test,” said House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands.

Standardized testing has its place, but I think the consensus after ten years of it here in Texas is that it’s become an end rather than a means to an end, and that it’s high time some effort was made to scale it down a little. I think bigger changes than this are ultimately needed, but this is a step in the right direction. Kudos to Rep. Eissler for listening to the feedback from parents and educators.

My comments on this:
This could be good news for those with elementary-aged students who just might not need that kind of pressure. It is also great news for elementary teachers who have been forced to be a part of the pressure-packed system. I can say fairly confidently that this is in large part to the new leadership that the House Public Education Committee has found after the previous chair’s defeat during election time. While I have had the opportunity to testify before the Interim Committee on Accountability, I would not have expected much movement on our suggestions, yet so quickly. Glad to see it was taken serious. Thank you, Chairman Eissler. I look forward to working with you more in the coming session.

My post title comes from a quote by Carl Gustav Jung – “The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong”

Podcasting in Moodle

Most of the school districts in our SUPERNet Consortium use Moodle in-house in addition to the virtual high school Moodle. I try to dabble in Moodle regularly just to keep up with it and see what I can learn as I go along to share with others. As part of this self-directed learning, I follow a blog called The Moodleman Blog. Moodleman, Julian Ridden, does a fine job of sharing his experiences with Moodle and the boys school in Sydney where he works.

Recently, Moodleman shared a post about how he integrates podcasts into the Moodle-based curriculum. Have a go at it (in honor of my UK buds) and just maybe your students will love the newfound media options a tad more engaging.

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Check out the rest of Julian’s great Moodle videos on

SUPERNet IT Summit

Photo Credit: Michael Gras

I had the opportunity to speak with directors of technology, curriculum directors, and other school leaders at Chapel Hill High School. The event was sponsored by SUPERNet Consortium. SUPERNet is a collaborative of twenty-six rural schools that originally banded together to share technology resources, evolved into one of the most successful virtual high schools in Texas, and is now poised to become technology integration leaders for our portion of Texas.

They are on the cusp of getting it. Many of them have, but now most of them are. They realize that the curriculum drives the technology. That is part of what this meeting was about. I was sharing my experiences of working through the process in White Oak ISD as well as what we feel that we still have ahead of us.  Feel free to give it a listen (if you have 1:45 to spare). I am always open to criticism and other comments. I also added the PDF of the Keynote presentation as well. You will get the gist of when I move on to the next slide, I think.

One of the questions asked was about how we handle copyright. If you have read my blog before now, you have seen a post or two about this. We have not had ANY issues with this in our district. We are blessed with a very professional staff. So, that is where my response went. We train our staff on utilizing Creative Commons Share Alike images, video, audio, and other items. We ask our campus administrators to make sure to inform us if additional training is needed. If a situation comes up, we would handle it with that person on a one to one basis. If it is a repeated event, we would handle it however the campus administrator and superintendent prefers. The ultimate responsibility is on the teacher. When a copyright question came up during a presentation at TCEA last year, I called ATPE and got my response. Those are the folks covering my rear in court. The school district would not be responsible for that if they have tried to show me the light. I must repeat again, our staff is very professional. I cannot tell you how much easier that makes my job.

There was an interesting question that came up after the mic was off and I was packing up. An IT from Tyler ISD approached me with the question of how we handle public information requests concerning the blogs. I have to say, I did not have a clear cut answer. The simple, honest response is that the information is already public, so they can just print it off if they want it. There really is no need to put in paperwork to get it. We do not hide our teacher blogs. The other side of my mind is wondering about a post that creates an issue (which I hope never happens), so the teacher deletes it. Then a parent shows up wanting a copy of it. How is that handled? That is the question that has me stumped. I know we will have regular backups of our WPMU site, but what are the chances we catch it while an offending post is live? Feel free to comment below.

I would also like to thank my PLN for all of the PD you give me on a daily basis. Sometimes you feed my current beliefs. Sometimes you smack me down and change my mind. Other times, you challenge my thinking, and who knows where that will go. In my presentation I used material from Chris Lehmann, Dean Shareski, Dr. Scott McLeod, Miguel Guhlin, Kim Estes, Dr. Helen Barrett, and Darren Draper (who still has iTunes U K-12 while Texas doesn’t). There is no telling who I drew ideas from over the years, but I assure you this. If you are in my PLN, you are making a difference. Not only for me, but for every kid that ends up being affected by what I say through the people that hear it. Thanks to you. Stop by when you are in Texas and I’ll buy you some BBQ. Or Mexican.

A Dynamic Celebration of Learning

“The portfolio is a laboratory where students construct meaning from their accumulated experience.” – Pearl and Leon Paulson

With our district’s website overhaul out of the way, our sights are now set on ePortfolios. Our goals:

    * 100% coverage of certified staff by the end of the 09-10 school year
    * 100% of our students at the middle school maintaining them with the transfer to high school as 8th graders promote each year
    * Utilization of ePortfolios as evidence of staff mastery of state and federal technology application standards; future reporting to SBEC
    * Utilization of ePortfolios as evidence of student mastery of state and federal technology application standards; current reporting to TEA for NCLB

Before we started considering different platforms for this project, we needed to nail down what we felt were important attributes of any software solution. After multiple meetings, conversations, and general mulling it over, we decided on these:
Opensource – This was not a have-to, but is was one we wanted to work toward. There are some nice commercial choices out there, but we did not want our staff and students tied to a paid source due to the next characteristic. Also, many opensource softwares can be stored and launched completely from a flash drive. This means our ePortfolios can be carried around on a keychain or in a pocket if so desired.

  • Portability – This was a must have. Our goal is to create a system our students can take with them when they leave the high school to improve their chances of college entrance or job placement. Much like paper portfolios, the students need to be able to show them off at will.  We also felt it was a priority that our staff had them as well for two reasons; One, we are on the cusp of our state education department requiring our teachers to prove technology mastery to maintain certification, and two, if our teachers are familiar with the platform then they can help our students design and maintain high quality portfolios.
  • Usability – The platform must be easy to use and personalize. Each of our staff and students have different personalities and qualities. The ePortfolio should represent them as such. With multiple, customizable templates and plugins, they should be well on their way to the end product of their choosing.
  • Popular – This sounds like a stupid characteristic, but a popular solution is one that enjoys more support by a larger community. With opensource software, the community depends on each other to make the product better. We will also rely on it to keep ours afloat.
  • Flexible – We knew there were several items the users would need for this tool to be effective. It needed to provide:
  1. privacy – Not all items are meant to be published, but the learner (for this post, learner = students and teachers) still needs to flesh out the content. There might be a time the content should be made public, but not always.
  2. ownership – This relates directly back to the usability listed above. The learner should be the ultimate decision-maker as to the appropriate content to be published and how it is presented.
  3. reflection – Learners should reflect on their learning. They need a place to post, edit, re-post, and so on. Alvin Toffler shares, “The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Reflection in an ePortfolio will help our learners adapt to this.
  4. collaboration – Barbara Harrell Carson, Thirty Years of Stories, shares this: “Students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them.” Collaboration is imperative for them to become lifelong learners. If they enjoy the learning process because of who they can work with, then they will enjoy learning as a habit, not a requirement.
  5. linkable – Our learners need to know how to link to content stored in various forms and locations. The solution should allow for this while also offering local storage of files. As Dr. Helen Barrett shares from Portland State University studies, hyperlinking leads to metacognition which leads to deeper learning.
  • Durable – We need a solution that was not buggy, but more importantly we need one that will be around for a long while. This kind of lends itself back to being popular. If there is a large community built around the software, chances are it will sustain a long life.

We set off to discover a solution with these needs in mind. Considering the conversation around the idea of us implementing ePortfolios has been ongoing for well over a year, we have had the chance to preview a number of ideas, theories, and  examples. Blogs was one of our early thoughts, but we did not want to pigeon-hole the entire program right off the bat.

Wikis were considered, but it seemed like it would be just an electronic paper folder. While that might be attractive to some, we wanted our users to have more flexibility in organization and presentation without having to know lots of coding.

HTML sites is always an option, but we would rely on our users learning HTML. So, it wasn’t an option.

Moodle was another option, but I think it does not have the portability nor the nice appearance many of our users would be after. It is broadly used and even has hosts offering the use for free. It just was not exactly a good fit with our users.

Mahara is fairly new on the scene these days. While it looks promising, it lacks the portability and usability. Portability really ranks high on our list, so this left Mahara out of the final cut.

We ended up back where we began: blogs. Blogs give the user the chance to customize the final product. They can also be hosted on the Internet both in paid and free hosting services. I wish I could say that we looked at tons of options here, but the truth is that the easy choice was WordPress. More specifically, WordPress MU (WPMU). WordPress is a very popular platform that enjoys a worldwide fan base of users who eagerly work to improve both its main coding as well as new templates and add-on extensions. We also knew that WPMU gave us plenty of extra options as a useful communication tool and learning center within our school district. Administrators and teachers can utilize them to share information with students and parents. Teachers can also use them to create epicenters of learning in sharing, reflective, and collaborative formats.

Our choice was further solidified at NECC when I was able to sit down with Dr. Helen Barrett, the Godmother of the ePortfolio. Seeing her sitting in the Blogger’s Cafe was like spotting a movie star. Her reaction, though, was unlike most stars out there. She was very welcoming, open, honest, and sincere in her thoughts and comments and treated me like an equal colleague. She was more than interested in our project and willing to help in anyway she could. Her more than fifteen years of ePortfolio work is very impressive.  We talked about her new book that she was working on that even supported our plans. I recommended her as a feature presenter at TCEA. I can only hope she is able to make it. She is the type of professor that you could sit and have great conversations with. I hope to do more of that in the future.

Now that we had our software solution, we had to look for a host. We could house it internally, but that would require more from us in tech support than we are equipped to handle.  Outside hosting would cost more per month than typical hosting because WPMU requires a VPS server. Not a problem, but it was something to keep in mind. We chose SiteGround as our host because of the superior tech support they have provided us in hosting our district website. Let me tell you, I cannot say enough good things about the work SiteGround has done for us. Our website is based on the Joomla platform, so they are not worried about the opensource nature of what we will use.  Kudos to those guys and gals.

So we had a solution and a host. The next thing was all of the coding to make it look and act just right. Twitter to the rescue. While I was online following the conversations one evening, I saw Kim Estes commenting on several WPMU sites she was working on. A quick trip over to the Burleson ISD site showed some very impressive work. I asked for some tips and tricks from Kim, and I got all of that and more. I will not go into detail (I’ll leave it to Kim to share her work with you), but I will tell you that she is one talented individual that I am proud to have connected with. Her BISD site was nearly exactly what we were looking for on ours, and she was more than happy to help out. I was so impressed that I talked her into letting me hire her for a day to work with our middle school staff. Her training was so popular that other campus teachers and administrators sneaked in for a little small group assistance from her. I cannot overstate this about Kim. She is a talented, hard working educator who sees nothing but what is the best for ALL kids. That is the type of person I love to work with. Heck, I even have her lined up to Skype into a presentation I am giving in the spring. Her experience and knowledge is just too vast to hide in Burleson.

There you have it. The process to go from idea to implementation has been a long one. With the advice of folks like Dr. Helen Barrett and Elizabeth A. Hebert, our work will move forward. I will blog about our hopes and dreams, beliefs and choices, and our successes and failures. I hope that you will follow along and offer advice.

While it might be lonely being one of the few (the only ones?) in Texas making a leap of faith into a project like this, it will be a wonderful learning experience. Even a Texas legislator that I had the opportunity to meet with last week in Austin called it brave. We are putting ourselves out there for criticism, but I feel our staff and students are prepared. They do such great work academically, this is just a logical next step for them to take. They deserve the chance to showcase their hard work. We do know one thing. When Texas decides that it is time for students to be assessed authentically and educators to present their technology proficiency in an authentic manner, White Oak ISD will be ready.

Visit the Roughneck Blog and ePortfolio server today and see what’s going on. We are in the early stages, so come back here and share your feedback. We are happy to have you be a part of the process.

PS – The title of this blog post is a snippet of a metaphor Dr. Barrett uses for ePortfolios. Here it is in its entirety:

“An electronic portfolio has the potential to
become a dynamic celebration of learning that documents a teacher’s
professional development across his or her career.”

Explode that sentence!

One of my favorite literacy lessons with kids is exploding their writing. I tell them that if they want it to pop with the reader, they have to explode it. Telescopic Text is a great example of that. This one little website does a nice job of turning a three word sentence into a story worth hearing. It is a wonderful visual for the kids to see up on the projector. Keep clicking on the grayed out words to see just how far you can blow that baby up.

Consider letting them start this in a Google Doc or a wiki and watch it grow.

Lead, follow, collaborate, or get out of the way.

Photo Credit: notanalternative

[Background: For some insight into the argument presented below, let me
share this. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) uses a government subset organization called Texas Education Telecommunications Network (TETN) to share TEA updates and other material via a distance learning network. School districts must pay to receive those connections. As budgets have been crunched due to continued shortfall funding by Texas leadership, school districts have had to trim away even the important things. You know, the things you should be getting for free like state mandated updates. This is not a plea for TETN to be free for all of their services. They also offer DL sessions for classrooms that many find very useful.]

Notes from TECSIG, October 2 & 3, 2008:

TEA – Let me begin by saying, I truly respect Anita Givens. Her work on behalf of public education and technology has been tremendous. We are lucky to have her in the new position she now holds. But I believe respect between two professionals is appreciated most when there is some honest pushback and not just a bunch of agreement. (It is the reason I like Gary Stager and the work he does.)

While TEA may rest on the idea/reason/excuse of cash-strapped and man-power lean, the rest of us are in the same boat but are utilizing the free technologies that are out there for us. Government is not thinking that way. Government wants to place a high price tag on what it does because it makes it seem more important, I presume. As a public school district employee, I find it extremely important to have timely policy and program updates from my governing body. Cost should not be an inhibitor.

A few years back I blogged about how another state passed a bill requiring all government offices to consider free, opensource options when looking at alternatives. Texas does not do that. For too many years we have listened to our state’s leadership talk about how transparent school districts need to be. Texas government doesn’t do that either.

So, to TEA, my suggestion is a simple, classic line heard many times: Lead, follow, or get out of the way. And let me add one more to that. Consider this turn of that phrase: Lead, follow, collaborate, or get out of the way. If you cannot make the system better for any of a long list of reasons, let us help. Somehow we are able to harness the free resources that are out there for our schools and classrooms. Let us use those same systems to get the word out about new programs, policy changes, and important deadlines. Don’t claim some false statement of copyright (which you do not have in this instance anyway thanks to Texas Sunshine Laws) and slow down the information superhighway. We are not talking about private conversations here. We are talking about large group policy and program updates. You know, the stuff you and the tax payers expect us to live up to.

While we can go ahead and repost the information without repercussions, it would be nice for TEA to step up and applaud the fact that Texas educators care enough about their state system and local school districts that they are willing to be a part of the solution to make it the best it can be. Why anyone would think or do otherwise is incomprehensible. We do not extend our personal learning just to aggravate the state. We’ve better things to do.

As an aside: Please don’t tell me that TEA has been “telling you for eight years” about a tech literacy assessment. We both know that is a cop out. Sure, NCLB came out then and it is a part of that, but there has never even been a hint of holding anyone accountable until May 9th when you folks shared it with the limited number of people in attendance that day. Even still, the limited funds that MIGHT be lost by ignoring the mandate is not enough to move many districts to act. Why districts would choose to defy assessment now in as an important area as any is ridiculous, with our without the consequences. But I digress. I know it was a statement made as more of a defensive measure than one that was thought out.

TETN – These folks are in a bubble of sorts. They want to be relevant. They need the money stream to stay afloat. Yet, they have become an old version of what we use now with online tools. They are the land line compared to the cell phone. The HBO to NetFlix and iTunes. The post office to email.

What if you propose to place Marco Torres’s decision-making self-reflection on it: “Complain, Innovate, or Quit.” TETN is in the Complain stage. The problem with that? They’re a vendor. How long will they survive in that spot? Relevance is a limited state of being. Remember that. Go for Marco’s second option in that list. Please.

Yes, there was more to those two days in Austin than TEA and TETN, but let’s face it. We all go there to hear what is expected of us next. Yes, Apple did a fine job of professional development the first day. Maria Henderson is always pure genius (even if her old links are dead due to the upgrade. Sigh.). So, if you want to know more about them, go to one of their offerings for school district administrators.

But, if you want to be a part of TEA opening the virtual doors to their massive amounts of information, become part of the solution. If you want to stand in the way because you have nothing productive to do, you’re wasting your time. You cannot hold up progress. The Texas Legislature meets in January. I’ve started my game plan. Have you?