Thursday, June 28, 2012

RockMelt: Web Browser and Social Media Tool for Administrators and Other Educators

RockMelt is a Web Browser for educators and others who want to blend their Web reading and social media sharing into a seamless combination. It is relatively easy to use and even offers some of the same customization features found in Chrome.

This week, I decided to take some time and really work with the browser.  Here’s some features I have found interesting and most useful.
  • It is very similar to Google Chrome, my usual browser of choice. This is not surprising since it is based on Google's Chromium. As an experienced Chrome user, this has meant that I had little difficulty getting accustomed to RockMelt.  Everything is Chrome. If you are a Chrome user, RockMelt is familiar. In some ways, it looks like and functions as a customized version of Chrome, optimized for social media.
  • Users can still download and use favorite Chrome extensions. RockMelt allows users to install and use Chrome extensions, though users may have to use short-cut keys to access those extensions. For example, Evernote’s Clearly extension is one of my Chrome favorites. I installed it in RockMelt, but it does not install a toolbar button. Instead of this, I have to press CTRL+ALT+Right Arrow to activate Clearly.
  • Posting to Facebook and Twitter is as easy as clicking on a single button. Also, the share button means I can easily share out something from the web. RockMelt is built for sharing. This feature alone makes it the way to go if you are always sharing things from the Web.
  • The Apps give users quick access to favorite sites and alllow quick sharing through social networks. Using the icons on the right-hand side of the browser interface by clicking on them, I can preview headlines from these selected sites, and click to load the full article or share it from that window.
RockMelt Screenshot with Twitter Pop-Up Notification Box

RockMelt is certainly not a browser for everyone, but it might be the Web browser for the educator who wants to be connected to social media networks just a bit more seamlessly. To read about and download RockMelt, check out their web site. It’s free.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Implications of the 2012 NMC Horizon Report for 21st Century School Leaders

"To skillfully change our paradigms and cultivate the ability to embrace change, we must learn to let go of our old paradigms," write Ted McCain, Ian Jukes, and Lee Crockett in their book Lining on the Future Edge: Windows on Tomorrow. As 21st century school leaders, embracing change is no longer an option.

Each year the New Media Consortium (NMC) puts out a reminder of just how important embracing change is. This reminder is the 2012 NMC Horizon Report K-12 Edition (You can download it here.) This report is a snapshot review of trends that have the greatest potential to disrupt and shape education in the next five years. While the report is not meant to be predictive, it does serve as a point of thought and discussion for the 21st century school leader.

2012 NMC Horizon Report Near Adoption Technologies

Where is technology going in the next 5 years, and what might be some things we can expect as educational leaders? Here's what the 2012 NMC Horizon Report outlines as the technologies closest to adoption in our schools.

Near Horizon: (Within Next 12 Months)

Mobile Devices and Apps: According to the Horizon report, mobile devices and apps are increasingly becoming part of the classroom. Schools are implementing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies that allow students Wi-Fi access using their smartphones. The number of applications available for these devices is near endless too, making mobile devices one of the most versatile tools students can have in the classroom.  More and more schools are re-thinking policy regarding students having these devices.

Tablet Computing: Tablets, according to this report, "Presents new opportunities for enhancing learning in ways simply not possible with mobile phones, laptops, or desktop computers, and is esepcially suited for 1:1 learning in the K-12 environment." These devices accelerate the possibilities of accessing existing content on the web, and generating and sharing student-created content. My own school is entering a second year in our district iPad project, with plans to move toward utilizing these devices more effectively.

Mid-Term Horizon (2-3 Years Out)

Game-Based Learning: "Educational gaming brings an increasingly credible promise to make learning experiences more engaging for students, while at the same time improving important skills, such as collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking." Keep in mind that this game-based learning is not the old "drill-n-kill" games peddled to schools in the early days when schools were just beginning to put computers in the classrooms. These are complex game environments engaging students in real-world problem solving and critical thinking. Game-Based learning uses the complex characteristics of gaming to deliver instructional content. These instructional gaming tools employ what Jane McGonigal calls, in her book Reality Is Broken, the "Four Defining Traits of a Game:" 1) these games have goals or specific outcomes players work to achieve, 2) these games have rules that place limitations on how players can achieve the goals, 3) these games have a built-in feedback systems that tell players how close they are to achieving that goal, and 4) these games employ voluntary participation which translates into the acceptance of the goals, rules, and feedback system. As the Horizon Report indicates, one of the greatest potentials for this technology is the ability to "foster collaboration and engage students deeply in the process of learning." From an administrator perspective it is important to understand that just because it's a game doesn't mean it's going to be effective. Those working in this area are trying to capture McGonigal's characteristics of games like Runscape, Minecraft, and World of Warcraft, and employ them in game-based learning environments.

Personal Learning Environments: According to the Horizon Report, personal learning environments (PLEs) are "personal collections of tools and resources a person assembles to support their own learning----both formal and informal." As more smartphones and mobile devices have become a part of our students' experiences, they are in a position to select more and more of the apps and learning tools they use in their own learning. The goal of PLEs is move to a learning environment where students "have more control over how they learn in school." The teacher role shifts in this kind of learning environment to more of a support or facilitator role in helping students develop and engage in their own personal learning environments. As more online tools that lend themselves to this kind of learning have become available, the opportunity to learn in this way increases. This technology will prompt serious discussions on traditional factory schooling concepts like required seat-time, teacher roles, and teacher expertise in technology.

Far Term Horizon (4-5 Years Out)

Augmented Reality: The definition of augmented reality provided by the Horizon Report is "layering of information over a view or representation of the normal world, offering users the ability to access place-based information in ways that are compellingly intuitive." These tools can add to learning experiences by combining real world imagery with virtual content. There are few examples of this technology, but in the future, students may be able to manipulate a 3-D image of a cell overlayed with a real world image. Some experts contend that this technology is not quite ready.

Natural User Interfaces: These allow "computers to respond to gestures, motions of the body, facial expressions, voice, sound, and other environment cues, and are replacing the key board and mouse as the standard for computer/human interaction." These devices make interactions with a computer more intuitive. Examples of this technology include the X-Box Kinect and Ninetendo Wii. These natural user interfaces have been particularly promising in teaching with autistic, blind, deaf, and other special needs students.

Implications for 21st Century Technology Leaders

While these are not predictions, this list does serve as a "Reflection and Consideration Point of Decision" for the 21st century school leader. The object is not to "prepare for these technologies" or even advocate for them. but what are the implications of these "near-horizon" technologies for 21st century technology leaders? Here's some things 21st century administrators might wish to think about in light of this report.
  • Rethink, revise, and redo policies governing whether students can have smartphones and electronic devices in our schools. Cell phone bans have outlived their usefulness, just as bans on other electronic devices. Instead, we need poliies and guidelines that encourage students and teachers to engage in the use of these tools.
  • Implement school-wide Wi-FI access for all students and staff. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies allow students and teachers to remain connected to the 21st century, not unplug once they walk through the school doors. Providing access should be a priority.
  • Begin employing tablet devices in our schools, not as augmentation to current instruction, but to totally disrupt teaching models. If we want teaching and learning to change, we don't want to simply search for ways to augment what we are doing, we want to make it possible for new forms of learning and teaching. Tablets are the type of disruptive device to do just that.
  • Stop viewing tablet computers as just another type of computer. Let's not use terms like 1:1 and the number of tablets in our schools as bragging points. Instead, let the discussion and bragging turn to how learning has fundamental changed in our schools for our students due to employing these devices. Let the technology disrupt and cause innovation and new forms of both teaching and learning.
  • Be as cautious as ever. Beware of sales pitches and promotions of the "next thing." Insist that those peddling their wares speak in terms of how the technologies will enhance learning, and do not allow them to just quote test scores as evidence. Technology isn't beneficial just because it's new. It's effective in the hands of an effective teacher. Bad teaching with technology is still bad teaching.
The Horizon Report is an annual opportunity for school leaders to glimpse at possible near-horizon technology adoptions. In addition to quick view, as a technology leader, it is also an opportunity to engage in a bit of "what-if" thinking too, and that kind of thinking leads the way to embracing the change.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Are You a True 21st Century Leader? Importance of Courage and Character

"Courage trumps authority. It even trumps physical violence," writes Gus Lee in his book entitled Courage: The Backbone of Leadership.

There is no doubt that courage is central to leadership, and Lee's book emphasizes that over and over. At one point in the book, Lee describes a class he once had with Major H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the future general,  as his teacher. Schwarzkopf gave the class this scenario:

"Imagine that you and your troops for which you are responsible are on an international border. The enemy can cross it and strike at you with impunity. But you can't cross the border. That order comes from the commander in chief. Every night, the enemy crosses the border to kill and wound your men, who are Vietmanese Airborne volunteers in your care. Every night, you chase the enemy, but they escape at the border, where you stop, as you are ordered. Here's the question: when the enemy hits you again tonight, do you pursue them over the line? Or do you follow orders and halt at the border?"
Lee goes on to describe the questions asked by the students clarifying the scenario. If they cross the border, they can destroy their enemy and stop their men from dying, but if they cross the border, they violate an order from the Commander-in-Chief. Schwarzkopf goes on to ask his students to write about the experience and then polls them to find out which students would stop at the border and how many would pursue the enemy across the border. Lee says he chose to stop at the border because he had to follow orders.

Schwarzkopf then tells them, "There are two kinds of people in the world: leaders and careerists. Leaders have character. They act for what is right. They would die for their men. Careerists are self-centered, self-absorbed. They act out of selfishness. They sacrifice their men for a promotion. They lie to pump up results.They save their skins instead of others'. Careerists can't really lead because their men do not trust them and will not willingly follow."

"The correct answer for a leader is clear. You cross the border. You destroy the enemy to protect your men. You then take personal consequences to your career, knowing that you violated an order but acted for what is right. You feel pride in getting court-martialed and being reduced to private. Everyone's a leader or isn't. It's not rank. It's character."

I can't help but be moved by this story. I was when I read it. I am also equally moved by the question asked about whether I am leader or a careerist. How many of us become more concerned about our careers than for what is right? I happen to believe strongly that leadership is about character and integrity, and I certainly hope I'm not a careerist.

Courage: The Backbone of Leadership

3 Easy Things to Do with Your School or District's Facebook Page

The negative press about educators' indescretions in Facebook posting is enough to send the 21st century school leader running in the opposite direction when someone talks about engaging in the use that media for school communication. But such thinking ignores the fact that other media has been, and will be abused in the same way. When a school staff members uses the phone line to engage in illicit activity, we don't take our the phone lines. We deal with the real issue, that staff member's behavior, not the technology.

But once a school leader gets beyond the fear, there are three good reasons to use Facebook to communicate with the larger community and the world. Here they are:
  • Use Facebook to inform and Educate: This is probably the way it is most used by school leaders. Facebook is the perfect medium to announce what is happening in your school or district. You can post about new school or district initiatives. Post those big news items such as visiting dignitaries, budget information, and even new educational programs. Facebook is a source of news for an increasingly large number of our constituients, so we need to use it in that manner.
  • Use Facebook to engage stakeholders: Facebook is an opportunity though, to move beyond just making announcements, and engage your stakeholders in conversations about your school or district. Once you've established clear guidelines for comments and posts, you can engage your parents in discussions about the proposed school dress code, or the new bell schedule. There's no reason to be afraid of those conversations. They are going to happen anyway. Bringing them to Facebook just brings those conversations under your radar so that you can know your community's true feelings about what you're doing. This is taking Facebook use to another whole level that many districts and district leaders aren't ready to move to, mine included.
  • Use Facebook to entertain stakeholders and to celebrate: Facebook is a perfect opportunity to entertain your stakeholders with the many talents your students have. Posting a video of the band performing, or a interesting video created by a student are the kinds of things our parents find entertaining. It is also a way to celebrate the great things your school or district is doing.
It truly is tempting to either ignore the movement by organizations to social media due to all the negative press it receives. But to do so limits your school or district from taking advantage of one of the most effective 21st century communication tools.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

5 Aspects of Social Media Leadership for School Administrators and Other Educators

Twenty-first century school leaders need to become masters of social media leadership. Those who don't, or those who dismiss it as a fad, are failing in one of the major responsibilities of being a 21st century educational leader. What does being a social media leader look like? Here's some items to consider:

  • Being a social media leader means you see the technology of social media as a way to invite stakeholders into conversations, not as an announcement system. By default, this one also means you have to act with courage. Using social media in this manner means greater transparency with what is happening in your school. It also means greater involvement in your school community. The courage comes in when others comment on how your doing or how your school is doing.
  • Being a social media leader means you don't just use social media to tell your parents and community what you think they want to know: you tell them the kinds of information they want to have. The old communication model would be sitting at your desk, carefully deciding what you want your parents to know. The new communication model means you need to communicate out to your public the information a 21st century audience demands. That sometimes means communicating things you are a bit uncomfortable with.
  • Being a social media leader means using it to provide 21st century connections with your parents and community. Twenty-first century connections are two-way, not one way connections. For example, newsletters or posting a video of your graduation on your web site is one way communication. Posting an announcement or video on Facebook with comments activated invites two-way. But make sure you have clear guidelines on what is acceptable comments and not acceptable.
  • Being a social media leader means understanding social media in the manner suggest by authors Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes in their book Why Social Media Matters: School Communication in the Digital Age: Social media is a "process not a product." It isn't something you engage in on Fridays at 4 PM. It requires time and investment to be effective. Engaging in social media is ongoing, not a one-time event.
  • Finally, being a social media leader means using it to create an environment of collaboration. It involves creating a place where all opinions are valued. In other words, using social media to create a sense of shared responsbility for the entire school or district. You can't always to expect to invite your parents to collaborate on your terms. They also have desires and aspirations for their schools. Social media is an opportunity to foster that kind of thinking more, and social media leaders do it well.

If you as a school leader or educator wonder why you are failing to engage others in your social media, it might be that you are not demonstrating 21st century social media leadership. To to that, you need to change your perspective of communicating with your parents and community. That perspective needs to now include the idea that one-way communication is 20th century. Social media is a multi-way media to engage others in a conversation, not just talk at them.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Twitter: Easiest Way to Get Connected for 21st Century Administrators

If you're looking for a social media tool to get started with in your role as a 21st century administrator, start with Twitter. It is one of the easiest to set up and use, and also the one you will experience the most immediate results. In no time at all, you will find yourself connected with educators  world-wide. If you are at a loss for some ways to use this technology, here's some suggestions based on my own experience.

  • Twitter as a listening tool: I have access to two Twitter accounts. One is my school Twitter account, and the other is my personal-professional account. Both serve as listening devices. The school account is an opportunity to both celebrate and announce school events and happenings, and an opportunity to listen in to what you stakeholders are saying about you. It also gives them an opportunity to connect and provide feedback. My personal-professional account gives me ears to the ground; it allows me to listen to the latest conversations about what is going on in the world of education. I can stay informed.
  • Twitter as a conversation-facilitator: Twitter can be the device you use to spark conversation. It can be the catalyst that gets the talk started about what is important in your school, or about what you see as a pressing issue. It can be the tool you use to see what others in your personal learning network think about your latest initiatives. You can get world-wide advice on the topics that matter to you.
  • Twitter as a stakeholder-connector: Twitter can the tool you use to build trust with your school community. You can use it to engage your stakeholders in what is happening in your school, and give them a tool in which to respond, but respond with brevity. It is another way to connect with those who have the greatest concerns about what happens in your school.
  • Twitter as a personal learning network connector: This expands Twitter beyond just being a way to make announcements. It means you have a tool to connect you with other education leaders world-wide who have a great deal of knowledge and expertise to share with you. Twitter has the potential to provide you as a school leader with the collective wisdom of thousands of school administrators.

Twitter is the easiest tool for the administrator who is just beginning to wade into social media. As authors Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes state in their book Why Social Media Matters: School Communication in the Digital Age, "At its core, Twitter provides a way to listen to your community, be responsive, provide interesting content for people to share, and send your school's or district's message to a wider audience." More than that, Twitter expands your world beyond your school building. Twitter is truly the easiest, starting point for administrators, and educators to get connected.

Flipboard: Must-Have Newsreader App for School Leaders with Android Devices

For those school administrators using Android tablets, and phones, what I consider to be the best newsreader experience in smartphone apps became available today: Flipboard for Android.
For those not familiar with Flipboard, it is a newsreader app that allows you to choose the news you see on your device. You can also see your Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Tumbler feeds. You can even download your Google Reader Feeds too. As a longtime user of Flipboard on my iPad, I was happy that I now can have that same experience on my Android tablet. From my perspective, it is one of the easiest newsreaders to set up, and one of the easiest to use. Check out Flipboard for Android in the Google Play Store.

Flipboard for Android

Monday, June 18, 2012

Access to Amazon Cloud Music Comes to iPad and iPhone

The Amazon Cloud Player has finally come to the iPhone or iOS. Now users who have music in the Amazon Cloud Drive can listen to that music on their iPhone or iPad.  Here’s some of the best features of the Cloud Player for iOS. 
  • Use your 5 GB Amazon cloud space to store music that can no be accessed from any device, whether its an Android tablet, iPhone, or computer desktop.
  • The Amazon Cloud Player interface could not be simpler to use.
  • Create playlists easily.
  • Tell the app to only download and stream when connected to Wi-Fi.
  • Tell the app to auto-download Amazon MP3 purchases.
  • Add songs from your iTunes library.
  • Upload you iTunes music to your Amazon Cloud Drive.
  • Standard easy-to-use playback controls.
iOS Amazon Cloud Player Interface

These features are what we would expect from an MP3 music player. While the app is displays nothing out of the ordinary, it is a plus for those who have been storing their music in their Amazon Cloud Drive. Check out the app from here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cyber Law: Guidebook for Writing, Revising, and Implementing Technology Policies

“Legal regulation of education is not new. It has just become a lot more complicated now that computers are in the classroom.” Aimee Bissonette
With those words, Aimee Bissonette aptly describes the quandary 21st century school administrators find themselves in as they navigate the constantly changing conditions of relationships between technology and schools and those who use it. Often, the technology is changing faster than school leaders can address the issues that the use of that technology by students, staff and teachers brings to the school environment. Twenty-first administrators are constantly looking for resources that offer clear guidance on these complicated issues. That’s where Bissonette’s book Cyber Law: Maximizing Safety and Minimizing Risk in the Classrooms can help. This book provides readers with lucid, specific advice on how to develop effective technology policy, on what the legal issues are in the development of that policy, and measures schools can take to be proactive in order to avoid the legal minefields and having their schools appear in national headlines.

Cyber Law is cover-to-cover advice for school leaders looking to write new technology policy or revise current technology policy, and Bissonette, even though she’s an attorney, uses an engaging, non-technical style. For example, she provides very clear advice on what schools should do when writing cyberbullying policies. She assists school leaders by helping them navigate the thorny issues of First Amendment Rights and free speech when drafting rules and regulations regarding student expression in a technological environment. She also provides clear advice for school policymakers on how to navigate those same free speech issues when it comes to dealing with teacher and staff expression through the Internet. The advice Bissonette gives is clear and comprehensive. Every technology-related legal issue from cyberbullying to copyright law is covered in this book.

Cover Image

While Bissonette wisely cautions that her book is not a substitute for legal advice, it does provide a legal overview of the litigation landscape that has an affect on technology policy development. For example, she provides a complete overview of the legal cases that impact decisions on how schools can address cyberbullying. She provides that same overview regarding how school leaders can set policy that guides teacher and staff use of school network systems. She even reviews FERPA and copyright law as it might pertain to technology policy development. Her book is not a substitute for legal advice, but it certainly is a starting point for school leaders to begin discussing what their technology policy looks like and how it might be made more effective.

Finally, Cyber Law has specific measures schools should take to protect themselves from litigation interspersed throughout all chapters of the book. Beginning in chapter one, Bissonette gives school leaders advice on what kinds of elements should be included in cyberbullying policies. She provides clear guidelines in chapter two regarding what schools can do to reduce inappropriate behaviors from students as they engage in the use of school technology resources. In chapter three she provides a clear checklist for addressing teacher and staff use of Internet systems in school policy. Throughout the book, Bissonette provides specific ideas on how school leaders can protect their schools and districts from litigation and tragedy.

As we continue to wade deeper into the rapids of 21st century education with its changing technologies, we can certainly use all of the advice and guidance we can get. Aimee Bissonette’s book Cyber Law: Maximizing Safety and Minimizing Risk in Classrooms is an excellent resource for 21st century school leaders faced with setting, revising, and enforcing technology policy.

What’s the Easiest-to-Use Cloud Storage Solution for Administrators and Educators?

My flash drives, and I have at least 10 of them, haven't  been out of my laptop bag in over a year. Why? Cloud storage. Lots of cloud storage. I have found myself with Dropbox, Google Drive, Windows Skydrive, and Amazon Cloud Drive accounts. I also have an iCloud account. But even with all these different accounts, I have been an avid user of Dropbox since I discovered it well over a year and a half ago. Once I installed the desktop client, I have been saving all of my files to my Dropbox folder so I can have access on every device I use. It is like I have this virtual file cabinet that follows me everywhere.

What made me write about this topic today was a conversation I had with a group of teachers and administrators who did not know what Dropbox was. I could not believe they have not heard of it, but I am sure there are many yet who haven't found the ease and comfort that comes with using cloud-based storage. Also, I am sure there are some who have not yet reached the point that they can let go of those flash drives.

While there are all kinds of reasons for using a cloud-based storage option like Dropbox or Google Drive. Here's My Big Three:
  • Any-device and any-time access to my files and folders. I can take a photo with my Android tablet, and place it in my Dropbox folder. Then, I can access it on my iPad, both of my laptops, and any computer by signing in to my Dropbox web account. Who needs flashdrives? If I were employed at a company that manufactures these devices, I would be looking for a job.
  • Sharing of files and folders. Both Dropbox and Google Drive allow me to share files and folders in my Dropbox account. This means I do not have to keep sending an updated copy of my Parent-Student Handbook to my teachers. I just update it and save it to the school docs folder I've shared with them. Sharing files easily is one of the reasons to use cloud storage. Only my Amazon Cloud Drive does not currently do this.
  • File and Folder Syncing across devices and PCs. This has to be one of biggest advantages of cloud storage solutions. If I type a document at home, save it to my Dropbox, it will be on my desktop at work, and it will be on my iPad, my Galaxy Android Tablet too. This is another reason I wouldn't be seeking a job at a business what manufactures flashdrives.
So what is my favorite Cloud Storage solutions? I think that's rather obvious, but here's a comparison of four I have tried.

  • Easy to use
  • Desktop program installs with little set up
  • Syncs across all devices: PCs, Android, OS devices
  • Share files and folders with others (Though I hear this feature will no longer be available to new users after July 31st)
  • Opinion: Easy to set up, easy to use, easy to access, easy to share. Simplest of cloud storage solutions.
Google Drive
  • Easy to use and set up
  • Desktop Program installs with little set up
  • An iPad and iPhone app not yet available
  • Android app available
  • Syncs across all devices
  • Access to Google Docs too
  • Share files and folders with others
  • Opinion: Easy to set up, easy to use, access to Google docs is a plus, syncing of files works great, sharing is easy, Android app works great, no iPad app yet.
Windows SkyDrive
  • Easy to set up
  • Syncs across PCs
  • No Skydrive Android App, Third party apps available but work quirkily
  • 7 GB of storage
  • Opinion: Web interface is complicated. Syncing of files and folders works fine. iPad app works well. Sharing is complicated and there is no reliable Android app.
Amazon Cloud Drive
  • 5 GB of storage space
  • Easy to upload files to Cloud storage
  • No syncing of files and folders
  • No Android App, no iPad or iPhone app
  • Mostly just a cloud storage option
  • Opinion: Great for backup and storage, no syncing of files, no sharing of files, great for backup of files though. No apps for desktop or other devices. Completely Web based.

What's my final verdict? I would use either Dropbox or Google Drive, with Dropbox having the edge because I've used it longer and it is currently the only cloud storage option that has both Android and OS apps. It looks like it is time to retire those flash drives!

Friday, June 15, 2012

7 Suggestions for Sound Cyberbullying Policies for 21st Century Administrator

Author and attorney Aimee M. Bissonette writes:
“Schools that fail to take action to curb cyberbullying among students may find themselves defending their actions (or lack of action) in court, worse still, dealing with the tragedy of a student suicide.”
One can argue whether schools are responsible or not, but the societal expectations are simple: if school administrators know it’s happening, then they had better do something about it." The legal system generally evaluates a school’s right to intervene in off-campus cyberbullying by determining if the victim’s educational experience has been harmed by the actions or the perpetrator. What is a school administrator to do?
Perhaps as Bissonette suggests, the best way to deal with cyberbullying is to proactively develop effective policy that defines specifically what is considered cyberbullying and the range of actions the school or district should take to address the problems when they happen.

What are the must-have elements in any school or district’s cyberbullying policy? Here’s some suggestions I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing from Bissonette's book, Cyber Law: Maximizing Safety and Minimizing Risk in Classrooms.
  • Avoid zero-tolerance and highly punitive policies. According to Bissonnette, if policies are too punitive they actually might discourage individuals from reporting instances of cyberbullying.
  • Develop policies that “allow a range of sanctions from verbal warnings, to detention, to suspension or expulsion.” This flexibility allows administrators to provide the appropriate level of consequences for the offense. Not all cyberbullying rises to the same level of severity.
  • Make sure your cyberbullying polices contain good definitions. Define cyberbullying in such a way that all students, parents and staff understand what it is. 
  • Cyberbullying policies should make it clear that they “apply to all instances of cyberbullying.” The policy needs to make it clear that whether it happens on campus or off it is covered. Also, it should make it clear that it applies to the use of school computers and networks too.
  • The policies should also describe procedures for reporting instances of cyberbullying. Included in that description are what victims, witnesses and staff do to report instances of cyberbullying. It is also important to describe the steps the school or district will take in investigating a report of cyberbullying.
  • Cyberbullying policies should also describe parent notification procedures. When and how parents will be notified should be detailed.
  • Finally, according to Bissonette, policy should describe all the devices that might be used in cyberbullying. It should clearly state, for example, that cell phones, cameras, and other electronic communication devices could be used in cyberbullying.
In our current climate, schools must develop sound policies to guide how they will deal with cyberbullying when it happens. In 21st century schools, 21st century leaders know the importance of proactively dealing with this issue.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Principal’s Guide to Android Apps: 25 Apps to Get You Started

I am probably one of the few principals in this country who purchased an Android Tablet rather than an iPad. I already had access to a first generation iPad, and I wanted a 7 inch device instead of the a 10 inch, so I purchased an Galaxy Tab 7.7. I have not regretted it at all. In fact, there are very good reasons for getting an Android tablet instead, among them is the cost considerations and access to a few apps not currently available for the iPad.

If you are considering an Android tablet just remember one important principle regarding any electronic device: It is only as good at the apps or software you use. I have spent a great deal of time tinkering with apps, both free and paid, and I even posted an app list in May entitled “17 Must-Have Android Tablet Apps for the Administrator.” Since that time, I have experimented more, taken in recommendations from others, and here’s my latest Guide to Android Tablet Apps.

Keep in mind some of these are for personal use and not necessarily for carrying out the tasks of an administrator.

1. Evernote
  • Notetaking app and much more
  • Camera and audio integration makes using visual and audio notes possible
  • Has an app for every device for anywhere access
  • Great for Web collecting too
2. Tweetcaster Pro
  • Twitter client app
  • Easy to use
  • Paid version has no ads
  • Does everything a Twitter client should do
3. Dropbox
  • Access to our Dropbox cloud storage account
  • Gives you access to your “traveling file cabinet” from anywhere
4. Google Drive
  • Access to your Google Drive cloud account.
  • Access to your Google Docs for your Android Tablet
5. Calengoo
  • Syncs with Google Calendar
  • Use the Widget to see your appointments at a glance right on your home screen
6. Amazon Kindle
  • Access your Kindle Library
  • Send documents and Web pages to this app to read on your  tablet
  • Take notes and highlight text
  • Usual ability to adjust text and background for ease of reading
7. Nook
  • Access to your Nook library
  • Take notes and highlight text
  • Usual ability to adjust text and back ground for ease of reading
8. Google Play Books
  • Access to your Google Play book library
  • Can’t currently highlight text or take notes, but it has all the other features of an ereader.
9. Powernote
  • Access to your Diigo Bookmarks
  • Add snapshots and audio notes to your Diigo account
  • Read items that you have sent to your account to “Read Later”
10. Google Currents
  • Read favorite publications on your tablet
  • Add RSS feeds of your own
  • Read across your Android and Apple devices
11. KeePassDroid
  • Provides Android Tablet access to your KeePass Password Safe
  • Use in conjunction with your Dropbox account to keep your passwords updated
  • Access your Web site passwords anytime and anyplace
12. Blogger
  • Blogging app for the Android tablet
  • Post and edit blog posts for your Blogger account
  • Can add photos and images
  • Can post as draft and save on device
13. ezPDF Reader
  • Read any PDF documents comfortably
  • Add annotations, highlights, boxes, underlines and much more
  • For me, as good as the iPad app Goodreader, which is one of my favorites
14. Google Voice
  • Android tablet access to your Google Voice, voice mail
  • Send and receive text messages from your tablet free
15. Reader HD
  • RSS feed reader app
  • Allows for sharing multiple ways, but sometimes works quirkily
  • Syncs and provides access to your Google Reader account
16. Symbaloo
  • Android tablet access to your Symbaloo pages and account
  • Symbaloo is a graphical file and bookmarking tool
17. Edmodo
  • Access to your Edmodo account using your tablet
  • Social learning environment for teachers and students
  • Use to connect and share with your teachers
18. Engrade
  • Access to Engrade online gradebook
  • Useful to check grades or receive messages
19. Kingsoft Office
  • Free Android Office Suite
  • Read and edit word-processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations
20. Amazon MP3 Player
  • Android tablet access to your Amazon music library
  • Access to music stored in your Amazon cloud account
21. Netflix
  • Access to hundreds of movies and old TV shows
  • Be careful, and not get hooked on old Star Trek episodes
22. Skype
  • Access to your Skype account
  • Instant message and connect with others through video or text
23. QR Droid
  • Scan QR codes with your Android tablet
  • Allows interface with search
24. CamScanner
  • Turn your Android tablet into a handheld scanner
  • Scan documents and turn them into PDF files
  • Dump them into your Dropbox share them out through the usual channels
25. Mindjet
  • Turn your Android tablet into a mind-mapping device
  • Allows users to create mind maps on their device

This of course is not a definitive list, and if you ask me tomorrow, there will probably be changes already, but If you’re looking for some apps to get started and you are fairly connected through Web 2.0 tools, this is a good list to get started.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

6 Reasons School Leaders Shouldn't Ignore Social Media as Communication Tool

In their book Why Social Media Matters: School Communication in the Digital Age, Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes make a strong case for school leaders engaging in the use of social media as a means of communication. As they so clearly point out, 

"School leaders must be able to communicate with all their stakeholders, from the staff members in their buildings to the parents and other stakeholders in their communities." 

In times past, school leaders could do that through published newsletters and similar communication channels. In the 21st century, our stakeholders expect a more interactive form of communication, often that form is social media. 

In their book, Porterfield and Carnes, provide a list of 10 current realities of social media that no matter how hard district leaders try to block, filter, or policy our way through, these realities are ours and we can't change them.  Here are six of those realities about social media that school leaders ignore at their own and their school or district's peril.

1. "Social media is a new way to build relationships." Social media is the new way to get out and connect and build those relationships. Shaking hands has given way to Tweeting. Conversations at community meetings has made its way to Facebook. Our new reality is that our parents are increasingly expecting to engage in educator-parent relationships through social media.

2. "Communication is no longer about you; it's about your customers." The old days of sending out newsletters meant you were able to tell your story and that's it. Modern communication through social media means that what you speak about is about the people you serve, not you or your organization. Social media is about engaging your customers in conversation about you and your school or district.

3. "If you don't tell your story, someone else will." The truth is, you, your school, or your district is going to have a web presence or digital footprint whether you want one or not. If your district decides to change the school calendar, implement some new dress code, or start school earlier, there are people on the web talking about it. If you don't engage in social media, they are the only ones talking about it. Use social media to tell your story and give them an opportunity to respond. Then, let them know you're listening.

4. "Your reputation is at stake." You and your school or district has an online reputation no matter how hard you've tried to filter, block, and avoid social media. If you aren't there to establish your reputation, there are those who will gladly do it for you. Ignore social media at the risk of your school or organization's reputation.

5. "You don't have to do it all at once." Contrary to conventional wisdom, school leaders are perfectly fine wading into social media waters by using just one or two tools to begin with. Try out Twitter first. Learn all about its benefits and limitations before trying to set up a school Facebook page. There's no reason you can't start small with engaging in social media as a communication tool.

6. "It's here to stay." Finally, school leaders need to stop waiting for social media to go away. While the tools may change, interactive communication using the Web will be around. It doesn't matter how much we filter, block, or avoid it, social media is a part of our culture, and 21st century school leaders know how to use its strengths to engage stakeholders.

In the 20th century, school leaders could be satisfied with sending home newsletters celebrating the stories of their schools. In the 21st century, those newsletters look archaic and harken back to a time when talking at people was perfectly fine. In our current era, our stakeholders expect to engage in two-way conversations about what's happening in our schools and school districts. Social media is a big part of our current communication reality and school leaders who minimize or avoid it are not engaging in 21st century leadership.

Note: I usually don't go out of the way to endorse a book this much, but I would encourage every school leader to get a copy of Why Social Media Matters: School Communication in the Digital Age. Porterfield and Carnes have created a textbook for school leaders to use as they engage in social media as a communication technology.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Honor Roll: 50 Must-Read K-12 Education IT Blogs

I can't help but feel a bit honored to be included among those bloggers in EdTech Magazine's "Honor Roll: 50 Must-Read K-12 Education IT Blogs." This includes many ed tech heroes of mine such as Will Richardson and David Warlick. It's a great list to be included, and one I am going to make sure gets loaded into my Google Reader. Thanks EdTech Magazine.

Here's the link to the "Honor Roll: 50 Must-Read K-12 Education IT Blogs."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Being a 21st School Leader Means Having the Courage to Question Reform

Author Alfie Kohn writes in his collection of essays entitled Feel Bad Education and Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling,”
“All around us---including in the field of education of education---we meet people who have lost their capacity to be outraged by outrageous things, people who, when they are handed foolish and destructive mandates, respond meekly by asking for guidance on how to put them into practice.”
I can’t help but wonder sometimes if public educational leaders are nothing more than lemmings when it comes to educational reforms. It’s as if some kind of unspoken rule in education is that you practice the doctrine of “Don’t question the mandate!” We have politicians, fresh from standing on top their soapboxes, tossing educational mandates our direction at the speed of light, and it seems, at least to me, few have the guts to really ask the tough questions about whether these measures will really be good for education and for our students.

Is courage somehow sucked out of those aspiring to be school leaders when they pass through these school administrator training programs? If ever there was a need for leadership and a willingness to stand up to policymakers wielding reforms, now is that time.

We have politicians across the United States pushing reforms that are detrimental to public education, and instead of asking tough questions about the rightness of these reforms, school leaders fall all over themselves trying to find ways to enact what ultimately is tired, bad education policy. Example One---the Common Core Standards. The Obama Administration shoves a set of standards down the throats of 40 plus states, and instead of looking critically at those standards, school leaders accept them, and immediately jump to implementation. No administrator I know has asked tough questions like: Why do we need an nationally standardized curriculum? Is it so that we can test our kids to see what they learn or so we can compare, and the state with the highest test scores can brag? Why these standards and not others? Instead, the question I hear most often from school leaders is: How do we implement those standards. It’s almost as if administrators feel the need to blindly accept this latest “reform” that made its way down from Washington. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s the federal or state capital that these reforms come from. Educational leaders move immediately to implementation.

School leaders in this country are in big part responsible for these endless pendulum swings we take in education, simply because there’s a total lack of courage and unwillingness to ask tough questions about the latest reform our politicians are peddling.
Here’s a proposal I would make to those seeking to be 21st century school leaders. Consider the following when that next “reform” flows down from the powers that be.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And ask the tough ones. If our education system is every going to be sound, and if reform is going to truly happen, there has to be willingness to shine the light of reason on what is being proposed.
  • If policymakers get uncomfortable with the questions we ask, then we need to keep asking. Courage means being willing to ask the tough questions, and sometimes, that’s going to make people uncomfortable. But, ultimately, they should defend their ideas with reason, not with intimidation.
  • There’s nothing wrong with being a skeptic. We need to demand answers to our questions about new education policy. Of course, those who create this policy don’t have to answer, but there is satisfaction in knowing that we’ve been willing to ask the tough questions.
Educational leaders, I think, have lost their capacity to be outraged at the foolish reform ideas being proposed in our nation’s capital and in state capitals around the country. Asking tough questions is not a sign of insubordination. It is a sign of courage, and as leader I hope I never take such questions asked of me in that way.