Central Office Fail! – Thinking They Are Experts

Disgusted 4th Grade Teacher

A disgusted 4th grade teacher in Massachusetts sent in this parable.

THE SETUP: It is easier to create one software configuration and copy it onto all the computers in a school, rather than loading all the separate software programs on each computer individually.

However, creating the master software configuration in this way is not an “out of the box” solution. Like teaching, one must know the technology, the ability of the staff, and the proclivities of the students.

And here begins our story in a small New England public school system…

THE STORY: In any school system there are maybe one or two people who really know how to create a software configuration and do it well. Folks are naturally drawn to and follow these thought leaders.

Then, in steps the central office.

It’s called “creating a process” or “defining best practices.” A noble intention when it is indeed the intention.

However, in this case the central office was trying to cast their influence.

This type of central office cube-troll had made their career by not saying anything to anyone that might mean anything, thereby ensuring they would not say anything objectionable to anyone.

When “thought leaders” raise their heads in this school system, this type of central office cube-troll runs around in front of the parade and starts tossing around a baton as though they know what’s going on behind them.

What came from this was a “best practices” document which was wrong. When the two people who knew what they were doing tried to correct the document, the central office dismissed them, because, well you know, the folks in the central office believe they got there because they know more than everyone else, right?

The result was the “best practices” document remains at best a factory second, a bastardized facsimile of the correct way to create a software configuration, and the central office has proceeded to train the whole county with their version.

Now nothing works well in this New England school system. Teachers are dismayed by technology and less of it is being used.

THE MORAL: Central office figures are at their best when they are pushing the thought leaders into the limelight rather than pretending they are experts.

Online Work-Flow For School Newspaper Defined

futuregethandsdirtyThe Challenge:
Our 4th and 5th grades (12 classrooms, 230+ some students and 17+ teachers and specialists) want to start a single school newspaper.  They are requesting an online work-flow allowing students to write but not publish, teachers to approve and publish.  The look and feel should be of a newspaper, not a blog.  They at first want to print the paper to distribute to students and families, rather than it being an online publication.

Draft Solution:
We can use the work flow process provided by the blogging software WordPress. Students would be given the role of “contributors” and 20 teachers and specialists “editors” or “administrators.” We could use a newspaper looking theme (14 different options can be perused here.) The newspaper could be viewed online or printed out and distributed.

To Publish Online or Not Online:
The 5th grade does a long-form research and publishing project each year which employs all sorts of social and publishing mediums such as blogs and wikis.

We have an Internet Security Protocol which has three components:

1)Don’t provide any personal details (name, school, county, state, country).
2)Don’t allow any incoming communication channels (no comments or text surveys) the only exception being radio button surveys.
3)And we tell students, “Never meet anyone in real life you only met online.”

Thus having students work in a “live” online environment is not a stretch.  Research two years ago found a majority of 4th grade students were actively publishing online (Facebook, MySpace) on their non-school time and equipment.

However, most of the teachers engaged in this project are viewing this as a traditional printed newspaper.  They seek to print the document and distribute a printed version.  This provides another layer of security because nothing will go out unless it is printed and copied multiple times.

Solution Pro/Con Considerations
Blackboard Pros Blackboard is relatively un-hackable from outside the school system, could be used to assemble newspaper for printing, available via home both for student editorial work and family viewing, it is completely backed up.
Blackboard Cons Blackboard provides no workflow for assembling such a large newspaper publishing venture, it is cumbersome and clunky to use, most families have a hard time navigating into blackboard, multimedia and publishing features limited.  Blogging and Wiki features disabled for family viewing.
WordPress Inside Firewall Pros WordPress provides solid online work-flow for supporting large newspaper publishing venture. Behind the firewall it would not be viewable to anyone allowing students to write freely using their names, school name and other identifying information.
WordPress Inside Firewall Cons WordPress behind the firewall, students could NOT access from home to add items, if in the future the requirements change this installation would never be able to be seen outside the firewall, backups would be dodgy.  Initial investment would include a high-end desktop and backup system.
WordPress Outside the Firewall Pros The service would be fully redundant and backed up on a nightly basis, it would provide robust work-flow and be accessible online for student editing and family viewing. Newspaper could be both printed and seen online.  No setup or ongoing maintenance costs.
WordPress Outside the Firewall Cons The online newspaper would be viewable to everyone requiring use of Internet Safety publishing protocol like the 5th grade uses for other publishing.

1)Blackboard is difficult to use and has none of the work-flow needed for this large-scale project.  Blackboard forces students to have their name or student id number on everything they publish (which in violation of our safety practices).  The blog and wiki elements of Blackboard are not viewable by families.

2)Wordpress is a solid solution from a work-flow standpoint and allows teacher and different groups of students to have different roles in the editorial process.

3)Installing WordPress inside the firewall will make it more secure in the short-term to make sure nothing is published without being scrutinized by a teacher.  It gives teachers, especially those with no blogging experience, more comfort to know nothing will go out that is not printed first.

4)However WordPress inside the firewall is not future proof.  It doesn’t allow for a change of heart which would allow for the paper to be published online.  This option of online publishing is one all real newspapers are now engaged.  The backup of data on an internally running installation of WordPress would be dodgy.

5)Wordpress outside the firewall has all the benefits of WordPress inside the firewall and allows for future proofing in several ways:

a)It allows students to access the newspaper’s editorial features from anywhere.

b)It allows the published items to be viewed by anyone anywhere.

c)It requires students adhere to online safety publishing guidelines listed above.  Students could use pen names and the school’s nickname could be used in lieu of the school name.  Everything else could be open.

We will be thinking on this over the next few weeks with the teams in question.

Inserting The Editorial Process into Clairvoy

Teachers trading strategy and the writing process.
Where We Came From:

Clairvoy (now Traditional Clairvoy) started out as a blog with five teachers giving advise to other teachers who submitted questions.  We still get messages from teachers all over the world. We’ve grown to a site with blogs, wikis, forums, articles and file sharing.  More than 1000 pages of different content and nearly 800 registered users.  We have a new site for teacher research called Education Study Group.  However, most of our visitors don’t sign in. People just read.

On commercial sites like YouTube and Wikipedia, less than 3% of users post content.  A much larger percentage (but much smaller number, of course) of our users contribute content.

For instance, as I write this 75 people are visiting Clairvoy (much the same as any time of day-even at 3am!). I can’t see who you are or what you’re doing (which drives me crazy) because most folks don’t login. Most just read.  But you all seem to be getting some benefit, and that’s great.

We’ve been focused from day one on the content, “Teachers Trading Strategy in Bite Sized Pieces” and that’s not changing.  But since we started (at a time when “what?” was the only response we ever got to a sentence containing the words ‘blog’ or ‘wiki’) we also functioned by default as a “sandbox” mashup of all the available technologies for teachers to learn how to use these new web2.0 thingamajigs.  Things have grown up around us.  With the right safety training, Wikispaces is great for teachers and students as are Google Sites, Blogger, and WordPress.com.  You all know more today than you did just a few years ago.  Even Twitter is now a household word.

Where We Are Going:

We are staying focused on trading educational strategy, The “what we do” and “our values” pages will not change.  Our strategy is to better harness contributions of our users and create more meaningful and useful content. As a result, we have made some improvements to Clairvoy which will be steps toward the goal of better serving your needs:

One: The first step is an improvement to the search function with Advanced Clairvoy Search.  It’s up in the right hand corner.  It’s simply Google’s engine focused and targeting Clairvoy’s sites, blogs and features. (I’ve never said we’re creating a new wheel here folks.)  There’s an even more advanced targeted and detailed search available on the main menu under “Search.”

Two: The second step is a stronger editorial process on the wiki.  Everyone will still be able to contribute. This feature has been implemented.  The details of how that works are below.

Three: The third step is we have introduced an “Articles” feature for documents and reviews of scholarly articles. These differ from wiki pages in that they will not be changing.  It is a process for educators to provide peer reviewed information in longer format. As well as to collect reviews of scholarly papers which could help educators. This feature has been implemented.

Four: The forth step will be making the Clairvoy Blogs more robust.  We have recently employed the same technology used by WordPress.com.  Over the coming months we will be adding all the features and functionality available.

The Editorial Process:

I wrote recently about the Writing Process and Open Collaborative Internet Tools.

MOZILLA, the folks behind Firefox browsers, use the same open source technology Clairvoy uses for their wiki: see http://support.mozilla.com.  Mozilla developed an easy to use editorial system which we are going to employ.  Any wiki page created or edited is not displayed to the public until it is looked over first.  The original page remains viewable until the updated version is approved and it is replaced.

If you login, you can see all the “sausage being made” with all the immediacy as always but with better labeling.  If you are not logged-in, you only see the finished product.  This simply will make a “drafting” area (for those logged-in) where contributions are welcome, but at the same time have the “published” knowledge base (for those not logged-in) that is extremely stable.  The difference being a day or two and, we hope, greater quality and better organized content.

We’re going to give it a try.  It means the pages you contribute to our wiki will be delayed for users not logged-in.

This new editorial process is just for wiki pages, not individual Clairvoy Blogs which have secondary logins for their owners to control more of the features within their own blogs.

Our values will not change and contributors who are unsure of the technology but have something to say will be helped through the process – not flamed.  That has been the case and will not change.

Contact Us:

The “Contact Us” function works now if you logged-in or not. We’ll try and be responsive to you (our readers and contributors) as we try to grow what we are doing to best serve you.  Let us know what  you think.