Recently, I got a request to talk about ePortfolios and how we implement them in our K-12 school district. We chatted about how we use Moodle and Mahara and how we’ve been using it for over a decade. Using any tool for a decade is pretty uncommon in the world of K-12 Education Technology where everyone is chasing down the next big thing. The interesting part of the conversation had nothing to do with portfolios and everything to do with leadership, focus, and direction. This has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with administration, training, and delivering on the promise of technology!
I’m just a helper. I support the work of teachers. I don’t make big decisions and I don’t set the direction of our organization or plan for it’s future needs. I can’t begin to think of how infinitely more challenging my job would be if I had to support 4 or 5 LMS’s, endless one-trick wonder Apps, and countless new initiatives to accomplish the same goal. Thank goodness we have someone who does all this and does it very well with a vision and plan! And that is where this post is heading: administration, vision, and long-term planning. Because without a vision and plan the job of supporting learning with technology is impossible. There are too many choices, too many directions, and too little time to learn it all. Your school needs focus, direction, and someone to ultimately sit at the table and tactfully say, “no”. No, to using tools that aren’t part of the plan. No, to the endless barrage of tool choices that do similar functions. No, to the slick salesman selling broken promises on what technology will do if you just buy their product.
What you want is someone willing to roll up their sleeves and prepared to get dirty doing what is best for students. Not what is easy, but what is best. Having control over the tools needed to educate today’s learners goes beyond relying of free stuff or Google. Own your data and take control of the tools your teachers rely on in the classroom by getting serious about using open source.
When you don’t have a plan and vision you are a rudderless boat drifting whichever way the wind blows. Whatever the tool of the day is you are going to be asked to master it, train on it, and support it… until the wind blows again and you start all over in a new direction. Why do administrators think switching tools and introducing new ones yearly is a good thing or something that cannot be avoided? Veteran teachers are resistant to these changes because they’ve seen this cycle over and over. Why invest in something if it will change in a year or two when the contract runs out? When the district isn’t seeing the promised learning value equal the dollar value spent then it becomes hard to pay for something that didn’t meet expectations.
That’s why we use Moodle and open source tools for supporting teaching and learning. We realize that in an organization as large as ours, not all 1,400 teachers are going to jump on board and use any tool to the depth that we want to enhance learning. But, we now have something to our advantage using open source that a paid tool cannot offer you: time. We have the time to get the high flyers running, patience for those who aren’t sure, and the time needed to get everyone introduced to the tool. It’s empowering knowing that you can control the aspects that matter most: the tools you use to educate your students and communicate with parents. These tools are not going away. In fact, we’ve offered unlimited websites to every Dearborn Public School teacher since 2006 using WordPress Multisite (WordPress MU back in those days). We’ve had Moodle for the same amount of time. How many K-12 schools or districts can say this? Not many.
We realize this is a long game and a process that takes time. We value our staff, their time, and their energy they put forth in the very tough job of educating kids. We don’t want to waste that in a short-play to make the local papers with the latest and greatest tech fad. I say we, but let’s be real. It’s an administrator with a vision, a plan, and a compass to help steer the ship. It’s the ability to say “no”, when asked to devote resources training and support to flash-in-the-pan technology that doesn’t move the needle on learning. It’s taking a position on owning your learning tools and doing what makes sense for tomorrow and not what is easy today.
In short, you can choose to invest your time and money in someone else or you can choose to invest in yourself. We invest in ourselves.