Empowering uses of technology

I just watched this Ted Talk from Scott McLeod which does a great job high­light­ing some of the empow­er­ing ways that stu­dents are using tech­nol­ogy.  It seems that too often our schools, the media, and com­mu­nity mem­bers focus on only the neg­a­tive ways that tech­nol­ogy can be used.  Although we can’t ignore those things, we really need to begin to also embrace all of the pos­i­tive ways stu­dents are using technology!



Nick Sauers

An effective school leader…

This post is writ­ten as part of Scott McLeod’s Lead­er­ship Day chal­lenge that he posted on Dan­ger­ously Irrel­e­vant.  He asks blog­gers to:

blog about what­ever you like related to effec­tive school tech­nol­ogy lead­er­ship: suc­cesses, chal­lenges, reflec­tions, needs, wants, resources, ideas, etc.”

As I was con­tem­plat­ing my topic, my ini­tial instinct was to write a post crit­i­cal of most lead­ers in rela­tion to how they deal with tech­nol­ogy issues.  In my work with schools, I’ve observed that inad­e­quate lead­er­ship around tech­nol­ogy issues is the top bar­rier to suc­cess­ful tech­nol­ogy inte­gra­tion.  How­ever, I decided to spin this post a bit dif­fer­ently because there are also admin­is­tra­tors who are doing a good job in this arena.  The remain­der of this posts high­lights those things that I’ve observed these lead admin­is­tra­tors doing, and things I think an effec­tive lead­ers should do.

An effec­tive school leader…

1)  Actively serves on a com­mit­tee to for­mu­late a school vision, and CLEARLY under­stands and can artic­u­late how tech­nol­ogy is part of that vision.

2)  Mod­els the use of tech­nol­ogy to:

  • com­mu­ni­cate with par­ents, teach­ers, stu­dents and the community.

  • find infor­ma­tion to become a bet­ter informed leader.

  • share infor­ma­tion with other edu­ca­tors in the district.

  • cre­ate a per­sonal learn­ing net­work out­side of the school walls.

3)  Pro­vides resources that allow teach­ers to increase their skills.  Those resources could include:

  • time for teach­ers to observe other classes.

  • mean­ing­ful in-house pro­fes­sional development.

  • dif­fer­en­ti­ated pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment by con­tent as well as skill level.

  • learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties out­side the school for select teachers.

4)  Gives feed­back to teach­ers about their use of tech­nol­ogy.  This isn’t solely for­mal eval­u­a­tions, but fre­quent walk-through feed­back and infor­mal con­ver­sa­tions with teachers.

5)  Doesn’t pass off all tech­nol­ogy related deci­sions to some­one else in the school who hap­pens to have the word “tech­nol­ogy” in their title!

The effec­tive leader around tech­nol­ogy issues does not need to be an all know­ing tech­nol­ogy guru.  How­ever, they do need to be an active par­tic­i­pant when deal­ing with the pow­er­ful tools we define as tech­nol­ogy.  This no longer can be an extra add-on to the job, but rather an essen­tial com­po­nent of suc­cess­ful leadership!

Nick Sauers

Functional vs. Usable

Accord­ing to Merriam-Webster.com, func­tional and usable can be defined as follows:


1.  : capa­ble of being used

2.  : con­ve­nient and prac­ti­ca­ble for use


3.  : per­form­ing or able to per­form a reg­u­lar function

These words came to my mind after my recent work with a school.  As I was get­ting set-up for my pre­sen­ta­tion in a large pre­sen­ta­tion room, I was excited to see that there were mul­ti­ple pro­jec­tors and screens through­out the room.  Unfor­tu­nately, I soon found out that although the pro­jec­tors were func­tional, they wouldn’t work for me.  Only a school com­puter loaded with a cer­tain soft­ware would work with all of the pro­jec­tors.  Because mul­ti­ple pre­sen­ters would be pre­sent­ing through­out the day, this wasn’t a good option.  Although the pro­jec­tors were work­ing, they were essen­tial use­less to my col­leagues and me.

After that dis­ap­point­ment, I began to hook-up my com­puter to test the one pro­jec­tor we could use as well as the sound.  Unfor­tu­nately, I was once again dis­ap­pointed with the usabil­ity of the equip­ment.  In a very large room designed for pre­sen­ta­tions of over 100 par­tic­i­pants, both the audio and LCD cord were approx­i­mately five feet long.  I couldn’t help but think that I would be awk­wardly stand­ing in the cor­ner while presenting.

These exam­ples are fairly obvi­ous exam­ples of the dif­fer­ences between being func­tional and being usable. I worry that too often in edu­ca­tion, we have lots of tech­nol­ogy that is func­tional, but for one rea­son or another, is not usable for teach­ers.  A look at the poor his­tory of tech­nol­ogy inte­gra­tion in schools is cer­tainly evi­dence of this.  So how do we address this issue?  School lead­ers and teach­ers have got to stop defer­ring all tech­nol­ogy deci­sions to the tech­nol­ogy staff.  This isn’t a crit­i­cism of tech­nol­ogy staffs; many are amaz­ing and do under­stand the impor­tance of mak­ing tech­nol­ogy more than just func­tional.  How­ever, very few of them spend the major­ity of their day in a class­room set­ting teach­ing stu­dents.  Other edu­ca­tors can par­tic­i­pate in dis­cus­sions about the pur­chase, place­ment, and ways to enhance the use of tech­nol­ogy with­out an intri­cate knowl­edge of soft­ware or hard­ware.  By bring­ing these addi­tional voices into tech­nol­ogy deci­sions, there may be an addi­tional focus on usabil­ity as well as func­tion­al­ity.  School lead­ers must stop treat­ing tech­nol­ogy deci­sions as unique from other deci­sions they make.  A tech­nol­ogy deci­sion is an edu­ca­tion deci­sion, and it shouldn’t be pushed on just one group of tech­nol­ogy experts to make such impor­tant decisions.

Nick Sauers

Georgia, here I come!

This week I’ll be pack­ing my bags and head­ing to Atlanta, Geor­gia.  I’m excited to announce that I’ve accepted a posi­tion at Geor­gia State Uni­ver­sity (GSU) in down­town Atlanta.  At GSU I’ll be work­ing in the Edu­ca­tional Pol­icy Stud­ies Depart­ment as an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor.  I look for­ward to mak­ing new con­nec­tions in Geor­gia, while also main­tain­ing the many great part­ner­ships I’ve been able to make through­out my career in edu­ca­tion.  I will also stay con­nected with col­leagues from CASTLE as an Asso­ciate Direc­tor.  Hope­fully, this will be a fan­tas­tic oppor­tu­nity for me!

Nick Sauers

Working in the cloud

I’m not sure if there is a more appro­pri­ate name for this post which I’m writ­ing at 11,652 meters some­where over south­east­ern Canada.  I’ve recently been con­tacted by mul­ti­ple schools that are mov­ing to 1:1 with Chrome­books and oth­ers who are con­sid­er­ing the move.  As I’ve noted before, I gen­er­ally hes­i­tate rec­om­mend­ing a device to schools.  I want schools to select the device that best aligns with the needs of their ini­tia­tive, and I do not believe there is one generic best device for all schools.  With that said, I’ve really become quite impressed with the pos­si­bil­i­ties of using a cloud based device such as the Chrome­book.  One obvi­ous change with a cloud based device is that edu­ca­tors will need to use cloud based soft­ware.  I believe this change can lead to real changes in the ways that edu­ca­tors use tech­nol­ogy and push them out of their com­fort zones.  The most excit­ing part of those changes for me is that most cloud based soft­ware is much more col­lab­o­ra­tive in nature.  Rather than using a com­puter as a fancy pen and paper or ency­clo­pe­dia set, edu­ca­tors will need to rethink how they can use the tech­nol­ogy to impact stu­dent learn­ing.  Col­lab­o­ra­tion is a major piece of most tools they will be using on a cloud based device.

I have recently been explor­ing much more with my Chrome­book with a recent pre­sen­ta­tion and trip to Europe.  Here are some exam­ples of how I’ve used cloud based software.

  • Pre­pared a pre­sen­ta­tion on Google Pre­sen­ta­tion for a group of 1:1 edu­ca­tors imple­ment­ing a Chrome­book initiative.

  • Used Google Hang­out to deliver the pre­sen­ta­tion, and recorded that pre­sen­ta­tion with Google Hang­outs on Air.  This ensured that I wouldn’t have con­nec­tiv­ity prob­lems when deliv­er­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion.  The pre­sen­ta­tion was uploaded to YouTube.

  • Used Google Drive to pro­vide feed­back (com­ments)  to stu­dents in my class while work­ing offline on an airplane.

  • Answered ques­tions in a Google Hang­out with a group of approx­i­mately 150 administrators.

  • Trav­eled for nearly an entire month with only my Chrome­book.  I was able to do all of my work with­out any problems.

  • Wrote this blog post on Google Drive at 11,652 meters!

I am very excited for the poten­tial with these cloud based devices, and cer­tainly believe they are worth seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion for 1:1 schools!
Nick Sauers

Leadership matters-Part 2

My last post focused on how impor­tant lead­er­ship is in a 1:1 ini­tia­tive.  The fol­low­ing video is my vir­tual con­ver­sa­tion about lead­er­ship to a group of lead­ers who are imple­ment­ing a large 1:1 deploy­ment in their district.


Nick Sauers

Leadership matters

Photo Credit: Scott McLeod on Flickr

The more I work with 1:1 schools, the more I am con­vinced of the absolute impor­tance of lead­er­ship with the tran­si­tion to a 1:1 envi­ron­ment.  With­out solid lead­er­ship, great teach­ers are forced to con­nect with oth­ers out­side of the school walls to improve their skills.  That isn’t a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be the only way they can improve as edu­ca­tors.  Other less ambi­tious edu­ca­tors are left mud­dling around try­ing to use these “new” devices to do old things.  So what can lead­ers do to make the tran­si­tion more successful?

  1. Clearly estab­lish and com­mu­ni­cate the rea­son that the school has become 1:1.
    • If there isn’t a clear and con­vinc­ing vision, many edu­ca­tors will become frus­trated with the first road­block (Bad con­nec­tiv­ity, bro­ken device, etc.) they encounter.
    • Par­ents, teach­ers, and stu­dents should all under­stand why this large invest­ment was made!
  2. Pro­vide resources to all teachers.
    • Pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment should not be one size fits all.  Both the high fly­ers and those who strug­gle with tech­nol­ogy need per­son­al­ized PD.
    • Con­sider that dif­fer­ent teach­ers and depart­ments may have unique needs in regards to their soft­ware and hardware.
  3. Pro­vide feed­back about the ways that tech­nol­ogy is being used.
    • As the say­ing goes, “what mat­ters gets mea­sured”.  Pro­vide teach­ers with feed­back about the ways they are using technology.
    • Allow teach­ers to observe other teach­ers using tech­nol­ogy in pow­er­ful ways.
  4. Estab­lish a com­mon lan­guage about how tech­nol­ogy can enhance learning.
    • This point aligns closely with vision, but I think it is very impor­tant.  Per­son­ally, I like using this frame­work to dis­cuss the ways tech­nol­ogy is being used.
    • Estab­lish core com­pe­ten­cies for teach­ers around the use of tech­nol­ogy.  Lead­ers can then oper­ate with the assump­tion that all teach­ers know how to use and can dis­cuss empow­er­ing uses with those tech­nol­ogy skills.
  5. Cre­ate poli­cies that empower rather than hin­der the use of technology.
    • Be extremely thought­ful about the poli­cies you enact!  Too often poli­cies are put in place as a reac­tionary mea­sure to one incident.
    • Con­sider the pros and cons before mak­ing poli­cies, pro­ce­dures, and rules regard­ing the use of technology.
  6. Give teach­ers and stu­dents a voice!
    • If you want true sup­port, your best allies will be your stu­dents and teach­ers.  Let them pro­vide mean­ing­ful direc­tion to your 1:1 program.
    • You can’t suc­cess­fully lead a 1:1 ini­tia­tive with­out sup­port from oth­ers.  Use the experts in your building!

As you read this list, you may rec­og­nize that many of these things aren’t unique to a 1:1 ini­tia­tive.  Many of these rec­om­men­da­tions are sim­ply good lead­er­ship!  How­ever, they are over­looked way too often.

Nick Sauers

The gift of time


Photo credit Kobiz7 on Flickr

Over the past four years I’ve had the oppor­tu­nity to work with teams of admin­is­tra­tors and teach­ers from around the coun­try.  I’ve heard about many of the chal­lenges they face inte­grat­ing tech­nol­ogy as well as many of their suc­cesses.  One of the sim­plest lessons I’ve learned in that work is in the value of time to col­lab­o­rate on a focused topic.  Unfor­tu­nately, if teams do have time to col­lab­o­rate, that time is often used to address the burn­ing issue of the day or week. Although those issues are cer­tainly impor­tant and may keep the ship from sink­ing, they don’t always move things forward.

How can your school cre­ate time that focuses specif­i­cally on ways to use tech­nol­ogy to enhance the edu­ca­tional expe­ri­ence for your stu­dents?  I’ve heard some great rec­om­men­da­tions from col­leagues around the globe.  The most com­mon theme that has come out of those ses­sions is a ded­i­cated time slot with a focused theme.  Schools often do a poor job rec­og­niz­ing all of the experts that work within the school walls.  Hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions locally also cer­tainly increases the like­li­hood that the pre­sen­ter will under­stand the con­text of the school!  A cou­ple of the more cre­ative meet­ings I’ve heard described are:

Mug­gers meeting-A vol­un­tary meet­ing with cof­fee and donuts pro­vided where teach­ers share a tech­nol­ogy tool that is work­ing well for them.

Appy hour-A vol­un­tary meet up of teach­ers to dis­cuss apps that they use.

Happy col­lab­o­rat­ing!

Nick Sauers


How is your customer service?

I’m teach­ing a course this semes­ter that includes com­po­nents related to data dri­ven decision-making and learn­ing man­age­ment sys­tems.  The stu­dents enrolled in the class are part of our school tech­nol­ogy lead­er­ship Ph.D. cohort.  The stu­dents are school admin­is­tra­tors, teach­ers, and uni­ver­sity staff.  I’ve been try­ing to recruit LMS providers to speak to my class this Sat­ur­day and have been some­what amazed by the responses.  After cold call­ing mul­ti­ple ven­dors, I cer­tainly get a sense of the dif­fer­ences in cus­tomer ser­vice at the var­i­ous com­pa­nies.  Some are extremely help­ful and seem happy to chat and there were oth­ers who sim­ply failed to respond to a call.

This expe­ri­ence has me think­ing about the type of cus­tomer ser­vice that schools pro­vide to teach­ers, par­ents, and stu­dents.  In par­tic­u­lar, I won­der what type of cus­tomer ser­vice your tech­nol­ogy depart­ment pro­vides.  I’ve worked and chat­ted with many teach­ers and stu­dents who avoid their tech­nol­ogy depart­ment at all costs.  They fear the belit­tling atti­tudes or being put down for not know­ing some­thing “sim­ple”.  These tech­nol­ogy depart­ments actu­ally hin­der teach­ers’ exper­i­men­ta­tion with tech­nol­ogy.  How­ever, there are other tech­nol­ogy direc­tors and depart­ments that cre­ate a totally pos­i­tive envi­ron­ment.  As a teacher, I was brave enough to exper­i­ment with tech­nol­ogy and that often led to prob­lems with tech­nol­ogy that I wasn’t able to solve by myself.  I was for­tu­nate to have a tech direc­tor who was always very respon­sive to my tech prob­lems.  He seemed to appre­ci­ate the fact that I was explor­ing new ter­ri­tory, and he actu­ally encour­aged me.  His atti­tude cer­tainly led to con­tin­ued tech inte­gra­tion in my class­room.  I won­der how dif­fer­ent my approach to tech­nol­ogy may have been had he responded dif­fer­ently.  How is the cus­tomer ser­vice in your tech­nol­ogy depart­ment?  How is the cus­tomer ser­vice at your school?

Nick Sauers



Using technology to transform learning

On Mon­day I hosted a webi­nar for the Uni­ver­sity of Kentucky’s Next Gen­er­a­tion Lead­er­ship Acad­emy.  Tracy Watan­abe led the one hour ses­sion which was titled Using Tech­nol­ogy to Trans­form Learn­ing.  You can view the entire ses­sion here.  I had the oppor­tu­nity to meet and work with Tracy and her col­league Jon Castel­hano a few years ago prior to their imple­men­ta­tion of a 1:1 pro­gram.  Since that time, I’ve mon­i­tored their tran­si­tion from afar and have been very impressed with the changes that have taken place.  The webi­nar was a great way for me to learn about many of the things they have put in place to max­i­mize the results of their 1:1 pro­gram.  Below I’ve described some of the major things that stood out from Tracy’s pre­sen­ta­tion.  How­ever, I’d still encour­age you to take the time to lis­ten and learn from the webi­nar yourself.

Lead­er­ship:  Tracy was part of a very strong lead­er­ship team who were very com­mit­ted to trans­form­ing the learn­ing expe­ri­ence for their school.  How­ever, this doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily set their school apart from other schools.  What did make them dif­fer­ent is that they also cre­ated a for­mal net­work for devel­op­ing other lead­ers.  They cre­ated a team of col­lab­o­ra­tive coaches (teach­ers) based on a Peer-Ed model.  The train­ing for the coaches was very sys­tem­atic.  By cre­at­ing this much larger lead­er­ship team, it appears that true changes could reach a “crit­i­cal mass” much easier.

Ped­a­gogy:  Rather than focus­ing just on the tech­nol­ogy, Tracy’s school really focused on effec­tive instruc­tion.  It appeared that even their PD was very inte­grated.  Tracy talked about how they would first talk about ped­a­gogy and then think about ways tech­nol­ogy could enhance or enrich teacher’s meth­ods.  Although this may seem appar­ent to many of us, few schools seem to be doing this well.  Does all PD in your school con­sider ways tech­nol­ogy can enhance a teach­ing strategy?

Mod­el­ing:  Tracy has truly been a model learner for oth­ers in her school.  She has cre­ated a blog that goes beyond just tech­nol­ogy.  She also has used tech­nol­ogy to enhance learn­ing groups with tools such as diigo where she has cre­ated mul­ti­ple groups.  Groups then share valu­able resources with other group members.

It is cer­tainly worth your time to watch this webi­nar.  You can also view resources from the webi­nar at this link.  There are take-aways that can help impact 1:1 schools at var­i­ous lev­els of imple­men­ta­tion.  Happy viewing!

Nick Sauers