Low-Tech Social Network

Low-Tech Social Network

We are gearing up for another busy summer of professional development events in Oregon. I brainstorm our activities ahead of time and want to continue our focus on ones that increase our movement, collaboration, and human connection elements.

We’ve been doing quite a bit of group juggling the past couple years. Thanks to my dear colleague Tricia George for introducing us to this gem of a game-metaphor-fun. We’ll use it forever.

group juggling

We’re also adding a new activity to the rotation: a low-tech social network. I saw this in action at the Google Think Tank NYC this spring and fell in love with it. It’s low-cost, high-impact and has people sharing and connecting in a low-stress way in the opening minutes of an event. Stock each table with large index cards, colorful markers, washi tape, stickers, stamps, or whatever paper supplies you have on hand. Set aside a 15-minute block of time after the welcome and introductions for participants to create their social media avatar and profile. Good elements include: face sketch, name, job, location, school or organization, education, hobbies, interests, and the like.

At the 15-minute mark, ask the participants to spend a few minutes showing off their profile to their table mates. After they finish, they’ll grab a piece of tape and add their profiles to the wall. (I usually buy a roll of kraft paper for the backdrop.)

low-tech social network

Throughout the event—especially coming and going from breaks and meals—encourage participants to get to know their peers and create connections (via  marker or tape or yarn) with each other on hometowns, hobbies, jobs…. By the end of the event the wall looks like a social map.

participants looking at the wall of profiles

I’m adding a reflection activity to the end of the event to highlight the value of our face-to-face networks and online social networks both. Our professional development events bring people together from across the state. It’s a treasured slice of time when we get to break bread together, learn together, and form friendships. The low-tech social network helped us discover things in common that may not have surfaced during our conversations. It adds new fibers to the fabric we weave together. Online social networks allow us to expand our peer network beyond those lucky times when we’re in the same space at the same time together. This is especially important in rural Oregon, where educators often have hundreds and miles and a few mountains between them and the next closest person who teaches their subject or grade or style. Social networks are social networks.

Internet as Conscience

Internet as Conscience

photo of man with binoculars

Thanks, ºNit Soto, for licensing your CCFlickr photo (binoculars) for remix.

Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking. —H.L. Mencken

For this invention [writing] will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise. (Egyptian King Thamus to Theuth, as told by Socrates. Plato’s Phaedrus, section 275a-b)

Sounds familiar, right?

Strip out the cast of characters, replace the word writing with Internet and you have the premise of several best-selling books and well-regarded articles. You also have the complaint and worry we share as parents, educators, politicians, thinkers, and doers.


The Internet is not making us stupid. Smart is not making us dumb.

Nicholas Carr, Evgeny Morozov, and others disagree. They are the Socrates of our age. This comparison works for me in a couple ways. First, I may not agree completely with Carr and Morozov, but value their dialectic approach to this latest era of change. Second, Socrates was no dummy, but he was as skeptical of the written word as Carr is of the Internet. (To be fair, Morozov usually ends with a more balanced, if cynical, view.)

I don’t believe we are becoming more stupid than we were already. I don’t think filter bubbles and self-selection bias are more troubling now than before. I have evolving views on digital dualism, augmented reality, and the singularity. But…in a fit of Pollyanna, I have hopes the Internet and increased connectedness are making us more aware, or maybe even kinder, or at least more tolerant.

So far, I have to doubt my own thesis as much as I doubt Carr’s and Morozov’s. For each step forward (the kindness of a stranger caught on YouTube or clean water for millions via viral campaign), there are as many steps back—or steps sideways, perhaps.

King Thamus chided Theuth for his elixir of reminding, warning his pupils would be, “for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.” Morozov says it more eloquently in his Twitter bio: “There are idiots. Look around.” That, if nothing else, is true.

Mencken’s view on the conscience becomes even more relevant now. We’ve moved beyond somebody may be looking to somebody is probably looking…and filming. Cases in point:

Dateline: March 2013, Oregon

University of Oregon adjunct law professor James L. Olmsted was arrested following a confrontation that turned physical. The professor was being an ass—and that was before he crossed any legal lines. It was caught on video (of course…duh).

Dateline: February 2013, Bangkok

DKNY used Humans of New York photos in a window display, even after HoNY’s Brandon Stanton had turned down their licensing request. He heard about it from a fan. “Every time one of my photos get picked up, I get notified about it.”

Dateline: January 2013, St. Louis

Pastor Alois Bell wrote a snarky message on an Applebee’s receipt. “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” A photo of the receipt went viral. Religious debate ensued; people were fired; and, I’m guessing one Pastor Alois Bell wanted to crawl in a hole.

Dateline: Pick a Year, Washington D.C.

Politician __________ did something stupid and left a digital footprint of it. Insert Anthony Weiner—pun not intended (well, maybe)—or John Ensign or….

So, just as I don’t blame the Internet for making us stupid, I admit I can’t expect it to be our conscience. Sadly, Morozov is right. There are idiots. I guess my question now is are there more or fewer than the pre-Internet days?


On CIOs in K-12 Education

On CIOs in K-12 Education

teachers at table

Thanks to Marco Torres for the Flickr Creative Commons image above.

Confession. I am a reluctant CIO. I catch myself swallowing the words Chief Information Officer during moments of introduction in a figurative hunching of the shoulders. I don’t have issues with the title or role in general, but have spent most of my working years in education and non-profits where C-level titles were viewed with skepticism. We run lean organizations by necessity, not choice. Until recently, our organizations did not have CEOs or CFOs or COOs or CIOs. We had leaders, but operated in a world apart from our corporate counterparts. We have evolved. I am still adjusting. 

The Need for CIOs in Education

In the spring of 2010, the State of Oregon signed a state-level agreement with Google for the provision of Google Apps for Education to K-12 public school districts. Within a matter of months, the number of Oregon districts adopting Google Apps for Education skyrocketed. I lead the ORVSD training team that provides support and training for Google Apps, in addition to other digital learning tools. During one of our initial trainings, I had my first moment of clarity about the need for CIOs in education. Eric Edens, who was part of the Google Apps Edu team at that time, is responsible. Following a fairly technical meeting about user management and email transition, Eric remarked that schools were challenging the Apps team with scale issues they had not encountered in their business apps rollouts. In our largest districts, we have tens of thousands of users. Even our smallest districts have hundreds of users, which makes them larger than most companies. Our school migrations dwarfed the average business migrations.

I think about Eric’s observation regularly. He’s right, of course. We address issues of scale each day in our schools. Even with lean budgets, we purchase connectivity, devices, and apps in bulk. We provide training, support, and access. We control technology budgets that aren’t tied to increasing corporate growth, but to equity and access. Supporting technology for hundreds or thousands of teachers and students is a serious job, one that requires serious leadership.

The Role of CIOs in Education

In decades past, K-12 technology directors tended to be network operations directors. They were skilled systems engineers who built the first district networks, equipped the first computer labs, and maintained projectors, printers, and email servers. Those are still vital functions, but education is operating in the same, rapidly-expanding technology ecosystem as the rest of the world. The role of technology leadership is expanding with it.

Whether you call them IT directors or CIOs, new technology leaders manage staff, budgets, and infrastructure, like before. Added to it, they are leading the following charges:

  • Integration of technology into learning—and by this, I don’t mean computer labs…. I mean getting us out of the way of the user and trying to make technology invisible
  • Transitions to mobile learning environments, digital learning environments, heterogeneous platform environments (bring your own device and/or mixed-platform classrooms and the increased need for wireless)
  • Increasing data and analytics for our users and our stakeholders
  • Virtualization, cloud computing, enterprise and workflow efficiencies

The Future of CIOs in Education

We have several CIOs in Oregon’s K-12 districts. Some are Chief Technology Officers. Some are Technology Directors or IT Managers. We are still grappling with the focus shift from technology (network operations and computer labs) to information (data, apps, and users). We are still thinking schools are the underfunded*, behind-the-curve little guy in the technology arena, rather than the leader in optimizing budgets and services. I am still shrugging a little as I say CIO.

As I continue shrugging, the CIO role continues evolving. At least a few of my Oregon peers are already interpreting the title CIO as Chief Innovation Officer. They are driving their organizations’ momentum into mobile and digital learning. Joe Morelock is doing this in Canby, Oregon. And the Chief Digital Officer is on the horizon. Strike that. It’s here already. The Verge profiled New York City’s Rachel Haot earlier this year. It was my first glance at a role that makes complete sense and is rising as quickly as the tide of all things digital. 

There are days it may seem like we’re riding the tidal wave, rather than leading. And there are bleak days when budgets don’t match needs. We have teachers and students who are making a transition to digital learning. We have administrators relying on us for counsel on student devices, digital textbooks and content, social media, and data systems. Regardless of the title, K-12 education needs information leaders.

*Let me clarify that we really, truly are underfunded—the K-12 system is as a whole in most states. However, ask any corporate CIO how the recession has left them feeling. I suspect the response would sound similar. Constraints are constraints. Our work is to increase efficiency. I am struggling with this idea of efficiency as we slowly work towards sharing technology services in our region. 

RSS Feeds…. Still Using Them

RSS Feeds…. Still Using Them

laptop and egg cup

Thanks to Stephan Geyer for the Flickr Creative Commons image above.

Better late than never, Don? (Happy Thanksgiving…and Christmas, too.)

I still scan through RSS feeds a couple times each week, even though Twitter is killing RSS. (I’m a loyal fan. Or maybe I’m just getting old and stuck in my ways. I still love Flickr and Delicious, too. Get off my lawn, you damn kids!)

My feeds:

  • My Etcetera File has my fun and home feeds. (You can probably disregard a few, like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.)
  • My Data and Information File has software, data analysis, and stats feeds, like Joel on Software, Information is Beautiful, and A List Apart.
  • My News File contains the basics like The Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
  • My Tech File is a catch-all with tech and law blogs, The Verge, MIT Tech Review, et al.

My saves:

  • My Readability List (not RSS) is random. I try to carve out time on Sundays to read the handful of longform articles that get lost during a busy week.
  • My Delicious List is perhaps even more random. It doesn’t include many articles or full sites, but lots of tools, funny posts, and long-term archiving of cool stuff.

(One of these days, when I have more time, I’m going to create an XSLT file for the OPML files, but waiting for that time has made me slow to respond already. Don’t hold your breath, just in case.)

Put a Bird on It — Oregon Ed Twitter List #ORedu

Put a Bird on It — Oregon Ed Twitter List #ORedu

Melissa and Jeremy@actionhero and @mrmacnology at ITSC 2012 (now called IntegratED PDX)

Corin and I were at the Oregon School Law Conference this week. We laughed our way through Charles Leitch’s session on technology and social media in K-12. After years of yelling loudly about Internet FUD, it was nice to sit back and listen to someone else preach it and preach it well….

We backchanneled Leitch’s talk on Twitter, of course. Thanks to some creative hashtagging (poundsigning!), we connected with two new-to-us Oregon education rock stars: Adam Howell (@TheDumbJockMyth) and Sam Leach (@Mr_Leach_in_3rd).

Score. I love those moments and connections.

So, Adam, here’s my list of connected Oregon educators. Looking forward to growing our #ORedu list… 

already added:

(Note: I have more in my list, but culled anyone who hasn’t tweeted in a few months. Let me know if I’ve missed anyone.)

2012 Training Team — Oregon Virtual School District

2012 Training Team — Oregon Virtual School District

Group juggling with the ORVSD Training TeamGroup juggling with the ORVSD Training Team

I have been part of the Oregon Virtual School District Training Team since 2009. The Oregon Virtual School District is a program of the Oregon Department of Education that provides online curriculum tools, hosting, and resources for the state’s public K-12 districts. Steve Nelson, the project director, has been smart about funding support and training for the districts, as well as the large technology stack itself.

Our training group includes teachers, tech directors, and administrators from Oregon schools. During the school year, we meet virtually via Google Hangouts and WebEx. In August, though, we meet face-to-face to plan our schedule and activities for the coming year. We spend some of the time getting to know our new teammates and getting to know the products and platforms we support.

This year’s retreat included refresher sessions on WordPress and Google Apps. We filled in our workshop grid for October’s Oregon Google Summit and mapped out the webinars, workshops, and training events we’ll host across the state this fall. We’ll also be presenting at state and regional conferences; creating tutorials and how-tos; and traveling to school districts and ESDs for ORVSD training days. It’s been a pleasure to help for the past three years.

The 2012 ORVSD Training Team The 2012 ORVSD Training Team