Monday, November 18, 2013

Hard Questions in Ed Tech

Photo by Megan Black
Despite my last name and city of birth, I'm white. This is an identity with which I have struggled in one way or another most of my life. Growing up in Detroit, I was often the lone white girl. I spent five years in Chicago and another sixteen in Los Angeles in mostly Mexican neighborhoods. Until recently the schools I taught in were lower socioeconomic communities of color. 

For the past six years I have been back in Michigan. I spent the first five at a public charter in Detroit. When I first got there we had nothing to speak of by way of technology. When I left we had plenty. I'm told the digital divide is being crossed. At least on paper. Many minority schools and city school districts have the same technology tools as their wealthier counterparts. 

But I challenge you to go to an educational technology conference and look for diversity.  With the rare exception, it is a sea of white faces. And not just white teachers but white teachers from white schools. The MACUL conference this past March was at Cobo Hall in Detroit. There were thousands of educators. I worked an Ask Me booth above the main floor for two hours at the end of the first day. It allowed me to see the entire crowd as they departed. I counted less than a dozen minority teachers. 

And don't even get me started on the perception that the major players/presenters in the Ed tech field are mostly men. In a profession predominantly peopled by women (education) the vast majority with the authority to present and pack a room are men, in their mid thirties. Former high school teachers. Don't get me wrong, these are good men with a lot to offer. But, are there that many less women instructors with the gravitas to impart best practices in this area? Oh I know there are a few noteworthy elementary education technology integration specialists as well as a few female high school experts in the field, but again, the numbers are skewed. Why?

I believe  digital divide still exists but it is less so about having the tools and more about the expertise in how to skillfully integrate those tools.  I want to be wrong about this and I welcome feedback that tells me I am with explanations. Is it possible that minority schools are getting their professional development in house and/or on site? Or is this a casualty of the survival mode struggling districts seem to operate under? 

If I am right, what can be done about it? How can we cross the great divide and bring equity to all?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Beam me up, Teacher

Looking for a way to share student work on iPads with the class? Want to do that on a budget? Airserver is your ticket. Airserver is one of three popular services that allow iPads to send their display to another device, AKA mirroring. However, as with all things there is a dark side too. Here's the full skinny.

Schools can get licenses for the Air Server mirroring software for just under four bucks per laptop. Apple TV is just under $100 each and Reflector runs around $13 per device. In my experience they all offer about the same level of service except that Apple TV can be reflected to a television. (This is unnecessary in schools with projectors.) Downloading and installing the Airserver software onto a laptop is quick and easy. From there, you are prompted to provide your activation code.

Once installed you can set private passwords and I recommend that you do. Once mischievous crumb snatchers know how to use the controls, they can co-opt your display with whatever happens to be on their iPad. A recipe for disaster to say the least. When you want the students to display their work, you have options to allow access. You can select to send them a password or passcode that is displayed on your desktop that they punch in or you can have them ask you. You can also select no Password but I would only do this if I completely trusted the class not to try it and lets face it, seeing your iPad up there in the front is pretty tempting.

One lesson we learned the hard way after installing Airserver on all the laptops at our school is that you need to have recognizable names for each laptop. Otherwise all the laptops on the wireless network will show up in the students iPad and they will not know which name to select when they go to turn on mirroring. I recommend a system based on the teacher's last name and subjects taught. (Of course this all depends on the size of your school and how many Mrs. Johnson's you have teaching there.)

Embedded into this blog is a tutorial for how to use Airserver for both teachers and students.  If you would like to download it you can also find it here.

Last but not least, at the time of publishing this post, iOS7 is still crashing when mirroring to any service after 2 or 3 minutes. If the iPad crashes it can be rebooted by holding the home button and the power button at the same time for ten seconds. To avoid crashing the iPad, keep the mirroring to less than two minutes. In the meantime, let your displeasure be known to Apple so that they fix the bug.