Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A New Hope for Home Internet

Google is in the business of being a game-changer. When they rolled out Gmail with 1GB of space for each person, Yahoo! Mail was offering a paltry 4MB.  It took Yahoo over a year to catch up; Hotmail needed 2 and a half years.

(Why does Google offer so many free Internet tools? If Google makes the Internet better, people use the Internet more often, and Google's superior tools will be perfectly positioned to make money by showing them ads.)

Now, Google is experimenting with another potentially game-changing way to increase Internet use: better home Internet service. If you're not a heavy user, you might not think home Internet service is that bad. However, as we increasingly turn to streaming video instead of cable or satellite, companies like Comcast and AT&T are dragging their heels instead of moving with us, and early adopters are finding that the companies just don't seem willing to change. The problems that heavy users face today will be your problems tomorrow...

...unless Google's experiment works. It sure seems like all the right pieces are in place: Internet Service Providers have been coasting for years and increasing prices without any significant improvement to services. Google already has a lot of network expertise, both from leasing their own fiber lines all over the world and from smaller experiments with providing super-fast Internet to their own employees. And honestly, Google's too smart to undertake a project this big without a pretty solid plan in place.

So what happens now? We watch, and we cheer from the sidelines. If Google is able to successfully provide super-fast Internet access in Kansas City, at a cost equal to (or possibly much lower) than the competition's relatively slow broadband, we can look forward to similar improvements in most cities and neighborhoods across the US. If Comcast and AT&T can't keep up with Google, someone else will.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Are you doing technology right? The Ten-Second Test

The school technology people I talk with spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to do edutech right. Should we have an official Facebook presence? Twitter? Should we go open source? IWBs? 1:1 devices for students? Since you can make an argument for or against any of these, none of them by themselves can really determine whether you're meeting student and teacher technology needs.

Then one day...

I was talking with a kindergarten teacher, and we came up with something that all schools should do, but that no school seems to make a priority. Something that seemed unquestionably useful and simple to implement, yet was ridiculously rare in practice.

So I present to you, the ultimate ten-second test of whether your school is addressing teachers' and students' technology needs:

Do your computers have:
  1. a block letter font that looks exactly how you want kindergartners to write?
  2. a cursive font that looks exactly how you want students to learn cursive?
  3. appropriate fonts/support for foreign languages taught in your schools?

That's it. Did you pass?

When my friend and I were talking, she pointed out that she tends to use Comic Sans because it has a single-story "a" (and an article from the BBC last October mentions that Comic Sans might just have a legitimate place in elementary schools) but she said that Comic Sans isn't exactly correct; none of her fonts are.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Passion of the Support Staff

We know that teachers have to be passionate. The pay is low, the work load is great, the responsibility is high. Read any honest teacher's blog and you'll find stories of being treated like a second-class citizen. There are people who understand teachers (warning: some profanity), but teachers still have to have passion to survive amongst the people who don't understand.

But teachers aren't the only ones.

I couldn't be the member of a school district's support staff if I didn't have passion. I believe in the power of education. It's not just baby-sitting, and it's not even just society's best chance to break the cycle of poverty; it's a gift that all children deserve every year.

That's why I work hard.  I lighten the load on teachers. Your webpage is broken? I'm going to do the legwork to solve that problem, you go teach, and I'll email you when I'm done so you can call me because if I call you it would interrupt your class.  I spread the word about every success, so teachers and students can value themselves. Three kids in kindergarten recited the alphabet backwards? There's a 12th grader who always holds the door open? Send me a picture, it's going on the website. I make everyday events into magical experiences. You forgot your camera? Let me take four special pictures of you on stage with your kid and his award and I email the best one to the parents, after I remove the red eye and fix the colors, and in the email I tell them that their kid did great and that they should be proud and that parent involvement makes the difference.

I'm passionate about supporting education, and I want to infuse all my work with that passion.

And sometimes that passion has to carry me. When I'm meeting my friend's friends and they have PhD's or corporate salaries and I say I do web work for a school district....and their eyes say "so not only can you not do, you can't teach either?"

Or when the state cuts the budget and there are going to be layoffs and the only thing that every comment on every online news story seems to agree on is "we have to protect the teachers, and we have to protect my money from taxes, so they should fire all the support staff!" (Even though the reality is that "Texas could fire ... all 329,574 non-teacher jobs - and still not save the $11.6 billion in public education cuts...")

That's when my passion for education has to carry me.