Monday, October 29, 2012

More on Leadership and Why I'm Not Upgrading to Windows 8

Because one of my readers took the time to post a thoughtful comment to my post entitled "5 Reasons I am Not Upgrading to Windows 8 at This Time," I felt the need to clarify my reasoning as to why a Windows 8 upgrade is not in my picture. Because my explanation is longer than the comment-reply feature can handle, I include it here.

You have my apologies for your disappointing experience with this post, but my target for this post was clearly Windows 8 and my own experience and decision not to upgrade at this time, because everything I read about the new OS indicates that it would be a poor purchase decision for me. Like everyone else, before I spend my money on devices and new operating systems, I turn to the web for information, and in this case I did. Like the web link I included in the original post, article after article indicated to me that upgrading to Windows 8 with my current devices would not be a wise decision. All of the information I have says it was designed for "touchscreen" devices, and that those who purchased it, and were trying to use the OS with a mouse and keyboard, were finding the experience miserable at best. In the interest of fairness though, I am going to change the title of that post slightly to simply read, “5 Reasons I’m Not Upgrading to Windows 8 at This Time,” and I will do a follow up post listing all the resources that led me to make that decision not to upgrade.

It is true, I have not physically tried Windows 8, but that does not mean I can't use the experiences of others to make a judgment on whether the OS it right for me. All consumers do this. I have no testing budget for the software and hardware I describe on this blog, so that means, like any consumer, I can't just rush out and buy every new OS, software platform, or device that comes along "and try it for the sake of being a good leader."  I can and will continue to share both my experiences, and the resources that I can to help others make decisions best for their particular circumstances. In this case, the best decision I can make, with the information I have, is not to upgrade to Windows 8 at this time.

As I mentioned in the above post, I also ran the compatibility utility available from Microsoft as well, and there were way too many "driver incompatibilities" as well. The last time I did an operating system upgrade, I spent an entire day finding compatible drivers. My decision right now is based on the fact that I would have to spend a great deal of time trying find compatible drivers for things like my laptop’s Bluetooth interface, DVD burner, and several other onboard hardware devices.  There were just too many devices in the list that would force me to search the web for Windows 8 compatible devices, and that does not weigh to well against the minimal gains I might get from upgrading. Perhaps in a few months, when Microsoft has had time to work out the bugs, I can reconsider, but my laptop is running smoothly right now. If Microsoft wants me to upgrade, it is up to them to create a product that doesn't change that, and part of that is ensuring that the transition to their new products is a smooth one.

As for the need for a "consistent experience across Windows devices"? I don't need that experience, because I only have one device with Windows, my laptop.  I have recently purchased three Android tablet and e-reader devices, so I am very unlikely to purchase a Windows tablet. I also do not have plans to purchase a Windows phone. This means I have no “Windows devices on which to have a consistent experience,” so that selling point does not work for me.

Anyone can clearly see from my blog that I am willing to try new and different devices and software systems, so you could hardly accuse me of advocating for "stagnation." Choosing not to upgrade to Windows 8 at this time and sharing that decision with my readers does not mean that I am trying to advocate for anything other than informing those who might be in my same situation, that a Windows 8 upgrade might not be in their best interest.

I would love to try Windows 8, but unfortunately, because of the way Microsoft has engineered this new operating system, for me to do so, I would have to purchase a new device to fully experience it the way designers intended, and I don’t have the kind of resources to rush out and purchase a new tablet or a touchscreen computer to sample that experience.

Does any of this mean I will not upgrade in the future? No, but if I do, it will be because the software meets my needs, not because it is latest thing out there. From my perspective, leadership isn't about avoiding stagnation; those who do so, often find themselves only trendy and ineffective leaders who pursue the flavor of the week. Leadership for me is about making wise decisions using the best available information out there, and in this case, at this time, the best information is telling me to avoid a Windows 8 Upgrade at this time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

When Policies, Procedures, and Rules Matter More Than Our Students

One of the biggest hurdles in public education isn't lack of resources, ineffective teachers, or even bad leadership. These things are often present and bad enough, but one of the most destructive force in public education is something more overt, something that is right in front of us as school leaders. That force is made up of our policies, procedures, rules, regulations and legislation. 

To put this into perspective only takes one question, "How many times do we as educators find ourselves in the position of defending and/or carrying out policies and procedures that we know are not in the best interest of the students in our charge?" Granted, none of these things are so sinister and evil that a student is physically harmed, but more often than not, these policies and procedures just make it harder for us to do what is right for kids. Let's look at some examples.

  • Calendar Laws: In North Carolina, our state legislature, lobbied fiercely by the tourism industry, passed a law that dictates the start and end date of the school year. Public schools, except for charters of course who are excused from the law, cannot begin school before August 25, and must end their school year by June 10. At the high school level, this means that our first semester exams are not administered until after Christmas break, which is usually about 2 weeks long. In other words, students are out of school, they come back to school for about a week or two, then we give them their first semester exams. If we were doing what's in the best interest of our high school students, and not the tourism industry lobby, we would end first semester just before Christmas holidays and have exams then. This clearly a case where policy, state law, and the tourism industry interests trumps the interest of kids.
  • Transportation Rules: The world of public school transportation is riddled with all manner of rules, regulations, policies, procedures and legislation, and one has to wonder if this part of public education sometimes even knows its primary purpose involves students. Any administrator will tell you that one of the first walls you run into as a first time assistant principal are regulations governing the transportation of kids. For example, I have a shuttle bus that transports students back and forth from our sister high school at four points throughout the day. This bus recently broke down and had to be put in the shop. Because of regulations, this bus is not classified as part of the "yellow" bus fleet; it is classified as an "activity bus." This meant that when it broke down, I could only use another "activity bus" to transport students, not one of the many "yellow buses" sitting idle in the parking lot. The problem really became thorny when no activity buses were going to be available. Because someone, and you never know who that someone is, says I can't use a "yellow" bus as a shuttle to replace my  normal shuttle bus, I have students who have no transportation to get back and forth between the schools. Once again, policies, regulations, and rules prevent doing what's best for kids, even when it comes to transportation.
  • Child Nutrition Rules: Public school child nutrition rules, regulations, policies, procedures and legislation are all a maze of dos and don'ts that few people really know completely and understand. Much of these rules filter their way down from our federal government because of federal subsidies, but these rules, regulations, and policy often make strange things happen in our public schools. For example, there have been instances where school districts, in an effort to keep from losing money, which often happens with lunch programs, pass rules and procedures that are clearly not in the best interest of kids. A good example of this is the practice of no money, no lunch, which is sometimes enforced in bizarre ways. No money-no lunch happens when students don't have money to pay for lunch. Cafeteria managers, who aren't the bad guys here, are instructed to take a lunch away from a student who comes through the line if they either have no lunch money in their account, or if they have already charged too much. Sometimes they are even instructed to discard that lunch, and sometimes that happens right in front of the kids, with the cafeteria personnel throwing it away right in front of the student. Most of us who have been in the schools any length of time, know how often students are sent to school without lunch money. Parents are human. They forget. Some have bills to pay, and did not budget properly, so they did not have any money to give their kids. The kid comes to school without lunch money. Because of rules, regulations, policies, and procedures put in place , we have a young student going without lunch. My question is, "How could that possibly be in the best interest of kids?"
  • State Contract Purchases: Purchasing anything for schools is long, convoluted process that could cause any administrator a headache. Sometimes these headaches are more apparent when trying to purchase supplies or resources for the school. For example, if I decide to purchase a computer or calculator for our school, it is not a matter of just looking for the cheapest price. Very often, there's a list of "State Contracted Purchases" that must be consulted if you are going to use certain state funds. In other words, if I wish to purchase a computer, and if I want to use a certain state fund to do it, then I have to buy what is listed in state contract, even though it might not fit my needs, or it might even be more expensive. As an administrator in the business of trying to meet the educational needs of children, being able to get students exactly what they need is important. Also important is being a good steward of the tax payer money we have in our charge. This means making what little money we get go further, which is also in the best interest of our students. Yet, when rules, regulations, policies, procedures and legislation dictate purchases from a negotiated contract, rather than allowing for student need, we clearly have another instance where policies rule and kids lose.
  • Federal and State Fund Expenditure Guidelines: This is the least favorite part of my role as administrator. Navigating all the rules and expenditure guidelines for all funding streams is akin to getting four root canals all at once. There are rules and guidelines tied many of the funds a school receives. What that means is for example, because this block of $10,000 comes from our state government earmarked for purchasing textbooks, it can only be used for that. That means spending them on e-readers or tablets is out of the question. Never mind that we don't use textbooks that much anymore. We can only buy textbooks from a list of books approved by a board in our state capital, two-hundred miles away. In the world of spending guidelines, a school leader can easily get lost, but that is minor compared to the fact that in the world of public education we are often forced to spend money on things we don't really need or want, instead of taking those funds and spending them on what we know our kids need. Once again, policies, rules, regulations and legislation trumps the needs of kids, even when spending on them.
  • Many, many More: In the twenty-plus years in education, there are many times decisions are forced by policy, rules, regulations, and legislation that are not always the best decisions of kids. I am sure you could easily add yours here. When schools and school districts lose sight of their reason for existence, it is easy to get lost on the policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and legislation.
Now, I realize there needs to be policies, procedures, rules, regulations and legislation. Too often, without these things mistakes are made that costs our kids even more. But, there needs to be some kind of solution that allows school leaders to make decisions in the interest of kids, even when rules and regs say otherwise. 

I am often baffled by some of the reasoning often given for allowing charter schools to exist. One of those arguments is so that schools can operate without all the red tape and regulations. But if "all the red tape and regulation" is a bad thing, THEN GET RID OF IT. Instead we have legislators passing more of it for public schools, then creating charter school laws exempting them from the same rules and regulations they created.

I suppose the only sure way for this issue to have some resolution is straightforward and simple. When school leaders, policymakers, and politicians engage in creating rules, regulations, policies, procedures, and legislation, then need to do so thoughtfully and mindfully. I'm not saying they don't, but the guiding question should always be, "Will the kids win or lose from implementation of this policy or rule?" The answer should included "always" every time.

5 Reasons I’m Not Upgrading to Windows 8 at This Time

Should you upgrade to Windows 8? The answer? Probably not if you are asking that question right now. Microsoft has made it amazingly tempting with its cheap upgrade offers. Currently, I could upgrade my personal laptop for only $14.99, but I won’t.

It is seldom that I share a single link to a single web site or resource on this blog, at least I haven’t done that lately, but this video from C/NET makes a darn good case to stay away from the Microsoft Windows 8 Upgrade. (Top 5 Reasons Not to Upgrade to Windows 8).

But the special offers from Microsoft to upgrade to Windows 8 make the idea quite tempting. Unfortunately, even though I could upgrade my laptop from Windows 7 to Windows 8 on the cheap, I won’t and here’s why.
  • My laptop isn’t a touchscreen laptop, and Windows 8’s interface is designed for touchscreens. I have read complaints everywhere on how awkward trying to navigate a touchscreen interface with a mouse and keyboard is, so for now, I’ll save myself the pain. Perhaps you should too. I’m staying with the Windows 7 desktop interface for now.
  • I want to avoid the horror of finding compatible drivers for all the devices on my laptop. I ran the Windows 8 utility to check compatibility, and there were way too many devices with question marks beside them. My laptop is buzzing along nicely thank you. I don’t won’t to spend hours trying to find compatible drivers so that my Bluetooth capability will work, or to keep my DVD burner working. Finding drivers is a nightmare. Even $14.99 isn’t enough motivation to make me spend an entire day trying to find compatible drivers.
  • Honestly, I like my desktop. I like my start button. I like whole Windows 7 interface. Honestly, I could care less about having sleek tiles on my screen. I like my task bar. I like my start button, and I like my ability to just slap folders on my desktop. Switching to something else when I like what I have makes no sense.
  • I don’t want to take time to learn a new operating system. For me to want to learn a new operating system, I need to know there’s going to be some benefit, but from what I’ve read, there isn’t simply enough benefit to force me to spend the time to learn how to operate my laptop again. Faster boot times and the Windows app store aren’t enough motivation to make the switch, and from what I’ve read those are the only other two reasons I can find to make the switch.
  • Finally, my laptop “ain’t broke anyway.” When something is running well, why mess things up? I’m afraid upgrading to Windows 8 will turn my otherwise satisfying desktop experience into a battle of bugs. No thank you. I’ll stay with Windows 7.
After a little research and discussion with other through social media, I am happy as a Windows 7 user. I am also a happy Android user too, so I don’t really need another operating system that maximizes my touchscreen experience. Sorry Microsoft, but you haven’t yet convinced me, even with your cheap upgrade prices.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Indicators of a World-Class 21st Century Education System

With all the talk about having a “world-class education system” from politicians and policymakers, one would think that our schools would be undergoing major reforms designed to create exactly the kinds of schools that foster 21st century learning and education. Too often though, I suspect this isn't the case, because these individuals define “world-class” as simply “having the best test scores in the world” because in their next breath they lament just how poorly American students compare with other international students on tests like the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). To many of these individuals, this equation seems to apply:


Without a doubt, many of these politicians and policymakers define “world-class” in ways that clearly create “world-class schools” better fitted for the Industrial age where factories and assembly lines were the ultimate destinations of students. These so-called “world class education systems” are, to put it bluntly, schools that churn out “good test scores.”  In a word, a world-class education, in their eyes,  is still about an education done to students rather than something in which they engage in.

Because of this view of “world-class education systems” our politicians and policy-makers, we continue to tweak the edges of our education system instead of really finding substantial ways to reform our education system.
  • We develop new standards and new tests, thinking that if only the hurdles were higher and the measurements tougher, then we would have a “world-class education system.
  • We extend the school day, thinking that only if we subjected our students with more of the same for longer periods of time, we would have a world class education system.
  • We add technology to our schools to help us teach like we have always have done, instead of allowing the technology to help us rethink learning and teaching.
  • We toughen or change graduation standards every four years when new at the whim of the next politician in office, whose thinking is that if we only change the ingredients of our graduation mixture, we would have a world class education system. 
In a word, we continue the same cycles of reform and deform that began with the Sputnik declarations in the 1950s and 1960s, because we can’t let go of a fundamental deeply held belief that education is something done to students rather than something they engage in.

If we were to be honest with ourselves and sincerely asked the question, “What does a truly world class education system for the 21st century look like?” we need to look further than higher test scores.
  • A “world-class” education system is about educating students to tackle 21st century issues, not about achievement test scores.
  • A “world-class” education system engages students in authentic learning experiences, not standardized learning experiences.
  • A “world class” education system actively engages students in their own learning, and does not have them sit passively in classrooms, waiting for the content to be delivered to them.
In his latest book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, Yong Zhao provides a thought-provoking list of indicators of a world-class education system. According to him,  we don’t need 21st century schools that churn out “acceptable” test scores like the 20th century schools. We need 21st century schools that foster creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, and innovation. Here are “Eight Indicators of World-Class Schools” adapted and paraphrased from Zhao’s book.

1. A world class education system gives students the “right and opportunity” to participate in school governance, and in constructing the physical, social, and cognitive school environment. Zhao points out the dictatorial nature of our current education system. It seeks to dictate exactly what every student should learn, without regard to her interests or talents.  Students aren't provided opportunities to have any say in their own learning. The whole idea of “educating students” is something done to them, and they are passive participants. In a world-class education system they have a say in their own learning. They participate in the development and construction of their own learning and places of learning. In a word, they are empowered to take ownership of their own learning.

2. A world class education capitalizes on student engagement by giving students a curriculum that is broad and flexible. The curriculum gives students the freedom to pursue their own interests and the development of their own personal talents, rather than creating standardized workers capable of all performing the same tasks. Our current education still seeks to narrow the curriculum and make it rigid. The belief that there are a list of skills and talents every student should have drives a curriculum narrowly focused on skills and talents subject to standardized testing. A world-class education system has a broad, flexible curriculum that can be individually tailored to the interests, talents, and abilities of each student.

3. A world class education system provides personal support for each of its students. Our traditional schools were and still are still set up to deliver an assembly-line education in a standardized manner. A true world-class education system provides what Zhao calls sufficient and accessible “emotional, social, and cognitive support for students so they can personalize their own learning.” All students are connected to at least one significant adult in the building. A world-class education system personalizes each student’s education through a solid system of support.

4. A world class education system engages students in authentic learning experiences that ask them to create authentic products of learning. In our current traditional system of education, students still spend a great deal of their learning time engaged in inauthentic activities involving worksheets, textbooks, and standardized tests. Instead, students in a world-class education system are engaged in learning where student work is defined as authentic and real-world. A world-class education system engages students in 21st century learning tasks that are authentic and personally meaningful.

5. A world class education system engages students in a sustained and disciplined process of learning. In the old traditional education system, students basically complete their work. The teacher grades it and gives it back. In a world-class education system, students are engaged in a learning process that asks them to develop, review, evaluate and revise. In this kind of learning, students are clearly engaged in more that finding right answers and giving them to the teacher. They are engaged in a world-class education that asks them develop, evaluate, revise, and promote products of their learning.

6. A world class education system capitalizes on the local strengths of its students, teachers. A world class education system takes advantage of the locale of its schools, and it effectively taps into community resources. The schools' teaching reflects the strengths of its teaching staff. The system provides ways for both teachers and students to exploit their own talents and interests.  A world class education system seeks not to standardize, but to make the most of both its students and teachers in all learning.

7. A world class education system has a world orientation. This means simply, that the school operates from a global perspective, not the narrow perspective of local community or even country. World-class schools seek international partnerships, and students are engaged in learning involving global issues. In addition, students are engaged in frequent interactions with students from other countries. In other words, a world-class education system moves students and their learning beyond the walls of their classrooms and even the borders of their country.

8. A world class education system develops the global competence in its students. Global competence refers to the ability of students to interact with others from different cultures. This means in world-class schools, foreign languages and cultural learning are important. It means students have opportunities to interact with these foreign cultures either through the use of technology or through field trips. In other words, a world-class education system provides opportunities for students to experience other countries and cultures in engaging and relevant ways.

Having a world-class education system is more than having one where decision makers can have bragging rights to the highest scores in the world. Ultimately, a world-class education system focuses on student engagement, student choice, personalization, authentic learning, global perspective, and global competence. Unfortunately, these are things that often make education messy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Six Practices of Schools and School Districts Marching to Obsolescence

In 2012, the powerful inertia to keep schools and school districts the same continues to dampen and  neutralize any efforts to innovate and change how schools operate. We are still on a march to obsolescence.

A recent example of this inertia in North Carolina, was when school districts tried to innovate with changing their school calendars. School districts shifted their calendars to better align their semester schedules with student needs. But it was the powerful tourism lobby, Save Our Summers,  that then pushed lawmakers to set legal limits when schools can start and end because, as their web site says, they “seek to establish, protect and maintain a more traditional school calendar.” Maintaining a “traditional” school calendar was not about helping schools do a better job teaching kids, it was mostly about preservation of the status quo, and preserving the school calendar they enjoyed while attending Industrial Age schools, not to mention profit.

These kind of efforts are simply attempts to keep the same Industrial Age schools of the previous century. These forces of inertia are making our schools obsolete simply because too many of them are made up of people who hold tightly to a nostalgic view of an ideal standard school that never really existed, except in the minds of the few of them for which schools worked. As Frank Kelly, Ted McCain and Ian Jukes write in their book, Teaching the Digital Generation: No More Cookie-Cutter High Schools,

“The most important issue facing schools today is the reluctance of those in control of education to let go of what they are used to, whatever their role in the system.”

The people and forces at work to preserve our education system as it is are powerful and strong. There are the politicians who see nothing wrong with the school systems that provided them with opportunities, so they continue to make laws that prop up the Industrial Age schools and districts they know. Policymakers are often beholden to politicians because they are left with trying to create policy that follows the letter of the law and regulations developed by politicians. Teachers, who very often excelled under a 20th century, standardized, Industrial Age education, are reluctant to change teaching methodology because, after all, “It worked for me.” School and district administrators and staff are more engaged in carrying the dictates of policy from on high, and often do not see their place as “One to question why.” Then there are parents, who very often had positive school experiences when they were in school, so they want the exact same schools for their children.

Is it any wonder with all these forces at work, that most reform occurs at the edges of our school system as Milton Chen describes in his book Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools? Is it any wonder we spend most of our time tweaking schedules, lengthening school days, implementing new sets of standards and new testing, and trying to force technology to help us educate students as we always have done? And yet our drop out rates only improve marginally, student measures are down. Our schools are still on the road to obsolescence, because we are still engaged in practices that preserve 20th century Industrial age schooling.

Here’s a list of some of those practices that are really moving our schools to obsolescence:
  • We still design and build schools structurally the way they always have been. While I certainly do not advocate building the open school buildings of the 60s and 70s and causing that fiasco, today, it seems little thought seems to go in the designs of our school buildings. We are still building structures containing distinct classrooms to house students in assembly-line manner to push them through the grades, like products. Perhaps we should be building schools with flexible learning spaces with walls easily removed and reconfigured to meet the needs of students, rather than fitting students to the needs of the building. Perhaps we shouldn’t even build high schools all with the same departmental classroom groupings. Maybe to meet the needs of students, classrooms are arranged by areas of interest or study, with core content teachers working within these instead of departments. Or, maybe one high school need only have art studios, music studios, or an acting theater rather than a football stadium and science labs. Such a school would be structured to meet the needs of art students, rather than STEM or athletics. In other words, we need to design school buildings to meet the needs of all 21st century students, rather than trying to fit students in predetermined school structures that have no flexibility
  • In many of our schools, we still have teachers engaged in teaching the same ways they have always taught and were taught. The argument that lecture is a perfectly fine method of teaching because it worked for me is a step toward obsolescence. We need to stop trying to fit students to teaching and instruction, and instead, fit teaching and instruction to the needs of students. Students need to have the options of learning traditionally if they wish, but they also need to be able to learn through project-based or problem-based learning if that fits their needs. They need to be able to engage in online learning and internships if those fit their learning needs. They need to be able to engage in the kinds of learning that fits them, instead of schools trying to force students to learn in ways that do not work for them.
  • We still are too often engaged in finding ways to get technology to help us educate as we always have instead of using technology to reinvent teaching and learning. Students typing 5 paragraph essays on computers hardly qualifies as technology integration. Having teachers use PowerPoint to enhance their lectures hardly makes for 21st century teaching. Using the Internet solely as an information source, instead of a tool to engage in global learning and connecting, hardly means using it for 21st century learning. Our schools still plod toward obsolescence because we still think of technology as a means to do the things we’ve always done better, rather than using it to reinvent what we are able to do.
  • We still sacrifice kids to uphold policy and procedure rather than developing policy and procedures to meet the needs of kids. How many times do we prevent a student from taking a higher level course simply because they do not have the requisite “seat time” in another class, especially when we know that student is perfectly capable to being successful in that class? How many times do we keep students in our buildings all day simply because our regulations say they have to be in the building 7.5 hours, when it would be to their advantage to spend some time working at the animal shelter? How many times have we had to purchase “state adopted” textbooks and materials because the rules only allowed us to purchase those items, when other materials would work better for our kids? Our march toward obsolescence also includes a hard-headed unwillingness to enforce and abide by policy, procedures, and regulations even though they are not always in the best interest of kids.
  • We are hard at work standardizing our schools, our curriculums, our tests, and even our instructional materials. In public education, there is a strong force that says anomalies and differences are bad. We push for schools that are same, from how they are arranged to even how their web pages are designed. Our government pushes for a standardized curriculum for all in spite of the fact that we know all students do not learn the same way, and don’t even have the same interests. We tell ourselves,  “We’re going to make scientists and mathematicians of them whether they like or not.” We give standardized tests, so that we can “measure” both students and educators and see if we have “added any value” to our students as they have progressed through our Industrial Age assembly line schools. We have policymakers pushing for e-textbooks and tablets that merely make books electronic and encourage the same kinds of learning we’ve always done. Never mind that some students do not learn best from text whether it is electronic or paper. Our efforts to standardize everything demonstrates that Industrial Age thinking still has a tenacious hold on our schools in the march toward obsolescence.
  • We are still caught thinking of school as something “done to kids” between the hours of 8 AM and 3 PM. We force teenagers into classrooms at 7:30 AM when all the research in the world, and common sense, says their intelligent thinking capacities don’t really kick in until much later in the morning. We allows bus schedules and lunch schedules drive when teaching and learning occurs instead of fitting those things to teaching and learning. We allow sports practices to dictate when school ends for all high school students, when there are some who would excel under a class schedule that extends into the early evening. We march toward obsolescence because we refuse to fundamentally rethink the school day.
I do not advocate change for change’s sake. It is just as easy to get caught up in the thinking that we have to change something because it needs changing. Many of the tweaks and changes being made to our schools are the product of this kind of thinking. Yet, our schools continue to march toward obsolescence because we are not willing to fundamentally let got of our own nostalgic view of schools and school districts. The key to moving away from obsolescence to innovation and invention is perhaps in not holding anything sacred. We must be willing question everything about our schools and school districts. By trying to find ways to preserve and better what has clearly not worked for all students in the past is a sure way to continue our march to obsolescence.

Review of Ustream: Ads Destroy Videostreaming Experience

Ustream demonstrated clearly this weekend why its free model is practically useless for livestreaming conferences or other events.

I've used Ustream before, and the experience was usually solid. There were no glitches. The video quality was the best, and there were no obtrusive ads. This past weekend, however, I had one of the worst experiences ever with streaming video. 

I participated in the live Twitter event that occurs each week called #satchat. This weekend they were broadcasting live through Ustream from New Milford High School's Edscape event. Basically, right in the middle of the broadcast, I was subjected to repeated, (I counted 5 times), interruptions of the same video of a Romney campaign advertisement. I certainly understand the need for ads. The organizers of #satchat were most likely using the basic Ustream access, which I understand is ad-based. The obtrusiveness of the political ads during the broadcast made watching the session impossible. 

It is one thing to break away for a commercial like conventional television programming does, but it is a entirely different experience to be watching a conversation and suddenly, a loud, boisterous campaign ad appears, completely obliterating the conference session you were watching. Even one time would perhaps be excusable, but five times meant for miserable viewing.

I do not disparage those who put on #satchat each week. It is always an engaging and thought-provoking experience. I also do not think any less of Edscape, which is becoming one of the "must-go-to conferences" in the country. 

In practical terms though, I my experience with Ustream means that should I want to broadcast an event through livestreaming, I would be better served by using either a service with less obtrusive advertising, or use one of the paid versions of the product. It is definitely a miserable experience to use a product that broadcasts a video feed, then suddenly viewers are subjected to a political ad with a volume at least 100 decibels higher than the conference session. Choosing the right product for your conference session is highly important obviously. Otherwise, like I was forced to do in this instance, your viewers are going to tune out.