Technology Q & A

Over at the Thinking Stick, I came upon a post by Jeff Utecht where he outlined the questions he'd want to ask a prospective faculty member to see how excited they are about teaching in this new digital era. Here are my answers.

Foundational Questions

What are your thoughts about the use of laptop computers in the classroom?
I am very supportive of using laptop computers in the classroom. Computers are such a huge part of work, learning, and recreation that we need our students to understand how to harness the capabilities of technology to help them create the futures they envision.  Ideally, teachers would use technology, including laptops, to help meet educational goals in the classroom.

Please rate your skill set for the following tools as a basic user, average user, or advanced user:
  • Basic User: Can use the program in its simplest form
  • Average User: Can use the program and can give examples of ways to use the program in the classroom for teaching and learning.
  • Advanced User: Can give an example of using the program in the classroom as part of the learning process. Has or is willing to teach others how to use it.
I'd say I'm a solid advanced user for Word. I would hope that all work turned in would be "typed." Of course, today that means "word processed" and I would expect students to use Word or a comparable program. One of the things I would do in terms of getting students to use a word processor and to become comfortable with various programs is to use revising and rewriting as strong components of the writing process. I would also sometime provide feedback while sitting with the student in front of a computer and going through their piece, if not line by line, then certainly block by block.

I'm an average user of Excel and other spreadsheet applications.  I can do basic functions in cells, but nothing really fancy.  I can sort and search and graph and chart, and I can lead others through the process, too.

I'd say I'm an advanced user for PowerPoint and other presentation software. I don't want to say that in the Coast Guard, where I've spent the better part of more than a quarter of a century, we live and die by PowerPoint, but we certainly use it frequently. And, I'm no exception. I don't believe in Death by Powerpoint, however, and try to take a more designed approach.

I'm a low-rung advanced user or an above average average user for Publisher and other publishing software.  One thing I see of huge benefit today and in the future is on-demand publishing, allowing anyone to publish nearly anything.  Have an idea for a coffee table book or a novel or a collection of poetry?  Lulu, and a host of other vendors, can help bring that notion to fruition.  In a school setting, there's no reason the annual yearbook, which is in essence the quintessential coffee table book, couldn't be published in an on-demand form.

Intermediate Questions

What e-mail programs are you familiar with (Outlook, Thunderbird, Firstclass, Groupwise) and what do you see as the positive and negative aspects of using e-mail?
I use Outlook at work and Gmail (and other web-based systems including Hotmail and Yahoo) at home. I've fiddled with Thunderbird, but have never heard of Firstclass and Groupwise. I'll have to check them out. Email is, as we all know, both a blessing and curse. The near instantaneous transmission of written communications is awesome. The ability to keep records of past communications is helpful in organizational settings. The capability of being able to get in touch with nearly anyone in the entire world (okay, that's an exaggeration, but you know what I'm saying, I'm sure) at nearly no cost. The ability to receive written communications no matter where you are in the world is a huge benefit. There is a downside, as we know. That I can be found anywhere in the world is troublesome. The amount of inbound material is phenomenal; information overload is here and is here to stay. The fact that some people use email to the exclusion of meeting face to face or speaking on the phone; email does not help nurture and cultivate a relationship, it merely helps to maintain the relationship at some level. To combat the negatives, we need to create processes and systems which would help minimize the strength of those troublesome aspects. For instance, to deal with the amount of information, we can teach people to use spam filters, folders, and tags to help manage the quantity of information. All in all, the benefits of email outweigh the drawbacks.

Being able to look up information and resources on the web is an important skill. Explain how you go about looking up information on the web. How do you verify that the information you found is trustworthy and of use to you?
I usually start with Google. Doesn't everyone? But, Google is not always the best search engine to use. I'll often use alternative search engines and specialty search engines if I don't like the bits I'm getting from Google. To evaluate and verify the information found, I check out the website. Who runs or owns the website. Is the website associated with a legitimate, knowledgeable organization. For instance, I would put information from the Mayo Clinic website above the information from Joe's Health website. Just several years ago, the generic top level domain for the site (.com or .net or .org, for instance) could give you some indication as to the validity of the site and the information on the site. That distinction is much more blurred today.

As to using Wikipedia (a brewing controversy at many educational institutions), I use Wikipedia often as a first blush. I'll read Wikipedia with the full knowledge that anyone -- literally, anyone -- could have written what I'm reading. So, I take it with a grain of salt, I dig deeper on the Internet for verification, and I know it's not the Gospel of All Things Known.

What is your philosophy regarding the filtering of internet sites?
While I don't believe that all web sites are appropriate for all people no matter their age, I don't believe, generally, in filtering Internet sites. I do believe every organization ought to have a policy concerning Internet use and appropriateness of certain websites including pornography, gambling, or hate group sites. Members of the organization -- for instance in a school it would be the entire school community, faculty, staff, administrators, and students -- must abide by the policy. Infractions would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Major infractions or multiple infractions would likely lead to the individual not being permitted to use the organization's network. Along with this, there would need to be a great deal of teaching going on; students (and adults) need to learn how to deal with the Internet, including the unsavory parts. Young students, such as elementary and middle school students, would be watched while they are surfing the net. They'd also be given fairly specific directions. High school students would be given more freedom from direct observation, but records will frequently be reviewed to find abuses to the policy.

Web 2.0 Teacher Questions

Do you read any blogs? If so, which ones?
I regularly read a number of blogs, including The Lede, Vivian Paige, Scott's Morning Brew, The Journal, California Teacher Guy, Leader Talk, and Ask Dr. Kirk. You can find everything on my public roll at Bloglines.

Do you have an RSS reader? If so, what do you subscribe to?
I'm a big fan of Bloglines, although I also use Google Reader, primarily as a backup. I keep switching between the standard Bloglines and the Beta; they both have their good points. I subscribe to more than 800 feeds. I don't read them all every day, of course. I probably actually track 25 or 30 feeds fairly religiously, and the rest I skim if I have the time. I'd say more than two-thirds of the time, I just mark those other feeds as "read" and move on. You can find my Bloglines subscriptions at my public feed list.

Do you belong to any online communities?
I belong to any number of formal and informal online communities. You can actually catch nearly my entire Internet presence and persona here at ClaimID. This single page provides links to all of the formal online communities I belong to; some of the communities are social network communities, such as topic-specific communities on Ning or general communities such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Other online communities include email lists, such as the independent school listserv ISED-L (which I've gone and used the individual emails as content to a blog which then provides an RSS feed, providing two more ways for people to read the content on the list). I'd also have to say that the bloggers likely form a community. There are bloggers I regularly read within him I feel a certain sense of community. We generally read each others' blogs and occasionally comment on particular posts.

Tell me a story of something you learned from your network?
I found these questions in a blog I'd say is a part of my educational blogsophere community. Okay, Eeebeesee (educational blogosphere community) isn't a formal online community, and it will not turn up in any search engine, Google or alternative. Anyway, learned about these questions and they've prompted me to think about my current use of technology and how I might use technology in an educational organization.

Teacher 2.0 Questions

Do you own and blog? Can I read it?
I actually have several blogs, and I encourage you to read them. I blog "in the clear" and I believe that by reading my various postings, you'll have a better understanding of who I am and what I bring to a school community. My primary school blog is A School to Call Home where I am chronicling my search for a leadership faculty role at a school. My other main blog is Tidewater Musings, where I blog about nearly everything under the sun; well, everything but the Coast Guard. When I blog about the Coast Guard, I blog at An Unofficial Coast Guard Blog. I also have a poetry blog-like site, Poetry 360, where I publish accessible poetry by new, emerging, and mature poets. And, I have a footnote blog in Notes Along the Elizabeth where I post one-line "footnotes" on a periodic basis.

Tell me how you think the future you are preparing children for will be different?
Wow. Who knows. It's like we're living in a time of science fiction. I didn't see a computer until I was a freshman in college. The first time I saw a personal computer was senior year at Trinity when freshman students started showing up with computers they put on their desk in their dorm room. Honestly, I thought it was a fad; I was wedded to that Digital VAX/VMS mini-mainframe. Even though it regularly ate my papers. Even though I had to travel down to the computer center to use it. Even though sometimes one of the engineering students would be forcing the computer to do massive calculations (which would be nothing for today's laptops) and it would hang up whatever I was working on.

What will the future look like for my sons and the other children of today? In the future, technology will be even more integrated in our lives.  While I'm not willing to predict that we will all be "plugged in" with chips embedded in our heads, I do think that technology will continue to be ubiquitous and that our children of today will be living in a world in which technology touches nearly every aspect of their lives.

What is your favorite gadget and why?
My latest favorite gadget is a Canon GL2 digital video camera. This past November, my boss and I hosted a symposium -- Coast Guard Measurement Summit 2007 -- on using metrics and measurement to better lead and manage the Coast Guard. I video-taped the two-and-a-half days of presentations and then uploaded them to the Internet. You can watch the entire Summit. Or pick and choose what sessions you watch. For free. It cost nothing to post, and it costs nothing, other than your connection to the Internet, for you to watch the video. The other thing about video that excites me is the ability to get anyone, students included, into making content. They could create a documentary; they could create a short (or full-length) film; they could create class projects, or record class activities. The possibilities for both learning and creating content are exciting and innumerable.

How often do others come to you for guidance in using technology?
All the time. In my role with the Coast Guard as an organizational performance consultant, one of my areas of specialty is innovation and technology. I help people in the Coast Guard use technology and innovate in order to improve performance. I am probably the go-to guy within the entire performance excellence community for web-based software applications; I'm the second or third person people call with questions about hardware and platform-based software.

Describe the last new technology that you used and how you used it — and how you learned it?
I don't think this is the last new technology I've used, but it's the one that comes to mind: Zoho Creator, an online database tool. Creator allows the user to build data input screens and create datasheets to import into Excel or Access (or any other spreadsheet or database tool. It's fairly easy to use; I went right in and mucked about and pretty quickly I was able to create functional tools. I've created several tools recently, including one that collects work data from the 26 internal, organizational performance consultants in the Coast Guard. The possible uses of this web-based technology boggle my mind there are so many.

Describe the last thing you learned related to your work, that you didn’t learn in a classroom or from a book, and describe how you learned it.
Probably the last thing I learned was a couple time management tactics and tips from an online video presentation by Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Pausch is renowned among tech-heads as the professor who gave the last lecture. Dr. Pausch is dying from pancreatic cancer; he gave his final lecture at Carnegie Mellon this past fall before moving his family to Chesapeake, Virginia, in preparation for his impending death. In November, Dr. Pausch spoke at the University of Virginia, the university at which he first gained tenure. His talk at UVA was about managing time; his perspective on time management is colored by his limited time remaining alive. The talk was taped, and it has been uploaded to the Internet for anyone to watch. My brother, a doctoral student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, sent me a link to the video and suggested I watch it.