Where do tech tools fall in your school’s academic vision?

Booking a LookHas academic vision been lost? Are we getting too caught up in the possibilities that are flashed at us every day with new technologies? Where’s the line between “ooh this looks cool” and “this looks useful”?

I started my day with a blog post from fellow Hoosier blogger Erik Deckers – Tools Don’t Make the Expert, Knowledge Does. I’m going to quote the quote that he used from Chris Brogan:

No one ever asked Hemingway which pencils he used to write his books. The tools aren’t the thing. The effort and the content and the promotion and the connection and the networking and the building value are the thing.
(From Chris’ post “Hemingway’s Pencils“)

In the education world, you might say, “The tools aren’t the thing. The learning and the thinking and the knowledge and the understanding are the thing.”

Are we pursuing tools without looking at the bigger picture of our schools’ academic visions? What Chris said is very similar to a core principle of education today – it’s not about teaching kids how to read and write; it’s about teaching them to think critically and solve problems and develop their character.

There has to be a balance between that push for progressive education and the pull for traditional excellence. My school is currently in the process of searching for a new head of school, which has spurred great discussions among our faculty about this tricky balance. On the one hand, as an independent school, we should be leaders in innovative education, but on the other hand, we are deeply rooted in tradition. How do we find our place between these two opposing forces? And where do we see these ideologies taking us into the future?

If we are pushing for innovation, then we need to create balance by pulling back a little and critically evaluating the tools that we are using in schools. It’s not enough to say “I read about another teacher at another school using Twitter in her classroom and it sounded like a good experiment.” You have to know the benefits (and the risks) of each tool that you use. When your students assemble a portfolio at the end of the semester, does it matter if their most thoughtful responses were in a written essay or a blog comment?

Technology tools can be very useful assets in a classroom, but they are merely different ways of looking at the class material and initiating discussions. At the core of education is the idea that we are developing students to think for themselves. Don’t let some flashy tool distract you from that purpose. Keep in mind the bigger picture. Don’t lose sight of the academic vision.

Photo credit: alexanderward12 on Flickr

Shop online for smart solutions to your goals

Shopping Online (Photo credit LuMaxArt.com)I love shopping online. I’m not talking about eBay or Amazon or that great pair of red stilettos on Overstock.com here. I’m talking about shopping online for solutions.

We all face problems in our work. We all have hurdles that we have to get over and obstacles we have to cross. They wouldn’t call it work if there wasn’t a challenge involved. The fun part is in finding solutions to those problems. This is where the shopping comes in, and who doesn’t love shopping?

Say you want to start integrating your print and web content more. There are many solutions to this – flipbooks, photo galleries, videos, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, the list goes on and on. You need to drill down a little more and figure out what you want to focus on. Then, you can start shopping. Shop around for ideas – look at competitors, read blogs, watch YouTube videos. Start making a list of services that provide the solution you’re looking for.

Once you have a solid list, start comparing. They say that with the age of the Internet, consumers have become comparison shoppers. I don’t know about you, but I fall into that category 100 percent. I compare everything before I decide on a purchase. When I’m at the store, I often pull up my RedLaser or Amazon app on my iPhone to see if there’s a better price out there. When I’m shopping online, I search for coupon codes, or I find another website offering the same product for less. I want the best value for the right price.

An amazing aspect of the digital world we live in is that if you learn how to use the tools available, you can save lots of money. Take social media for example. Want to expand your market reach online? Marketing on Facebook, Twitter and hundreds of other social media sites is FREE. Just keep in mind that the service has to be useful – it has to fulfill a purpose in your organization. Many web services will let you sign up for a free trial so you can test it out before you invest any dollars. But don’t go blazing around the Internet signing up for stuff because it’s free. Evaluate how you can use it, and if it’s not very useful, move onto something else.

In the July issue of BriefCASE, an article pointed to a study saying that advancement professionals feel they lack the financial and staff resources to use technology effectively. It shouldn’t be this way. The resources are right in front of you. You have a computer. You have Internet access. You have goals. The Internet is full of possibilities. Make it a priority to use the resources you have to achieve your goals. You don’t need a gigantic budget to find solutions. You do need time, but if you spend your time wisely, researching solutions that will save you time and money, then that is time well spent.

Ready to get going? Here’s your shopping list:

  • Focus on your long-term goals and determine a timeline for each.
  • Prioritize your goals and figure out how each one can be achieved with technology.
  • Start your research. Use Google (or Bing if you so choose). Try different keywords. Scan the results for relevant information.
  • Compare features and prices. Determine what will work with your budget.
  • Do a trial run if you can. Get in there and mess around, and find out if it will work for your goals.
  • If you need to, get out that shiny credit card and put an investment into your goals.
Photo credit: LuMaxArt.com/Dutch Open Source on Flickr

Technology Is Not the Finish Line

I am a self-proclaimed tech geek. I grew up in the age of computers. It’s natural to me. As technology evolves, I want the next thing – I gotta have it. It’s a race to keep up with all of these new and exciting gadgets. But I at least recognize that all of this technology has to have some kind of meaning to me. I don’t want the next thing just to have it; I want it because of what it can do for me.

Technology Complements Traditional EduI came across this picture from one of our Western Civilization high school classes, and the juxtaposition of technology with traditional teaching really struck me. On the one hand, you have the traditional teacher holding up a decades-old photograph with two desks full of actual historical items in the background. On the other hand, you have the modern student on her laptop accessing virtual images and documents of the same nature.

The two methods of teaching and learning aren’t fighting each other – they’re complementing each other. They can coexist in the same classroom. (See my friend Dr. Scott Hamilton’s post “The Buzz About 21st Century Skills.”) Today’s students are technology-driven. They learn comfortably when they are sitting in front of a computer, or accessing their e-mail on their phone, or even having a study group over Facebook. But that’s not the only way they can learn. There’s a difference between finding a historical picture in a Google image search and holding it in your hand. There’s a difference between reading a digital copy of a book from 1900 and flipping through the weathered pages. The best teachers recognize this. But they also recognize that the connectedness of the whole world through computers opens up a whole new set of possibilities when it comes to discovery and learning.

For school communicators, we also have to recognize this complementary connection between technology and traditional media. I see a lot of people chasing after the next thing in online/digital marketing, which is great because it pushes innovation, but it also has its pitfalls. It feels great to be an early adopter or to jump in with the crowd so you don’t feel left out, but what do you do once you’re there? What do you do after you set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account? What do you do after you’ve launched your new web site? What do you do once you’ve spent your entire ad budget on online ads?

You need to have a strategy. You need to keep your online strategy in line with your overall communications strategy. Keep a healthy mix of technology initiatives and traditional methods. Keep running print ads, but maybe throw in a few online ads and see how they do. Keep printing your alumni magazine, but also put it online in a flipbook. Use Facebook/Twitter/YouTube/Flickr/etc. but use them in a way that is meaningful to your audience.

Just remember that technology is a tool that we can use to achieve our strategic goals, but it is not the only tool.

While many of my colleagues are in sunny San Fran this week for #NAISAC10, I’ll be attending two workshops this week in Indy – Being & Staying Productive in Social Media by Kyle Lacy (@kyleplacy) and PRSA Social Media Boot Camp. Hopefully I’ll have some new insights to post and I look forward to reading posts from the NAIS conference.