Bb’s “Select All” Fail

Dear Blackboard,

One of the most basic technology tools of all time is “select all”.   Email clients, database programs and every program or select allweb site with which users manipulate data in lists gives a user the opportunity to select every item on the list at once.  I know many of the people reading this public letter (even if I can count their total on one hand) are used to seeing a tall tree of checkboxes with a helpful little “select all” button at the bottom.  “Select All” has been around as long as I can remember.

“Select all” saves time by obviating the need to click fifty or sixty times down the list.  Even if a user does not ultimately want to have all of the boxes checked, the user could “select all” and then uncheck the few boxes that shouldn’t be checked.

Although I try to teach with your product, I spend most of my time struggling around it; twisting and clicking through menus, roadblocks and unconscionable inefficiencies just to do my job. One of these unconscionable inefficiencies is the lack of the “select all” option.   Of course it would be unconscionable to the developers of any other product, but not to Blackboard.

Could you explain why Blackboard does not have “select all”?

While you are it, can you tell me why I can remove posts from discussion boards with IE, but not Firefox?  Just as you buck the trend of every other program on the market by omitting the simple “select all”  button, you prove your independence from the crowd by ignoring cross-platform functionality.

I’m just a user just trying to do his job,  nothing special, just teach and manage grades.

What’s that you say?  Users?

Oh, those are the people who use your product.   Just like the Easter Bunny in Santa Claus, you have to believe that we exist.


Wearing my last nerve

Enough!  I’ve had it, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

There’s been a spate of student complaints about “too much tech” because they have to remember  usernames and passwords for their email and the school’s Moodle site.  In some classes they even have to (gasp!), go to other sites like Turnitin.  How can we expect them to do all this?

Unfortunately, teachers and parents who don’t have enough experience with technology themselves may


think these protests are valid.  They can quickly dismiss student complaints about “too much homework”, but somehow they think student protests about technology are legitimate. Maybe it’s because they agree.  Setting up accounts, logging into websites and remembering  passwords seems like to much trouble to them.

Teachers with technology experience have no trouble for seeing these complaints for what they are, simple student whining.  Students complaining about “tech-fatigue” are not any different from students who try to convince teachers that they shouldn’t do any work on Friday because “it’s almost the weekend!!”  A teacher told me that he quashed these complaints by showing students that on-line banking, medical insurance, paying taxes, renewing driver’s licenses, reserving flights, registering for college classes are all on different systems that they will have to learn and master quickly.

Come on folks!  By forcing students to navigate new environments we are giving them essential experience to survive in the real world.  If they come back with the ‘ol “but you are teaching Social Studies”, hit ’em back with “you can’t learn Social Studies if you are illiterate”.

And don’t think for a second it’s only students experiencing this misunderstanding.  I created a professional network on Ning for social studies supervisors that many of my colleagues complimented.  But those compliments were quickly followed by “maybe we should phase this in slowly”. Translation: “Let’s keep the listserve open”.  The jump from the listserve to the professional network was apparently too much to ask.  These educators are familiar with email and they know how it works so it was claimed that they would need training to create accounts and navigate the site. After six months, thirty member registrations, and no more than five posts made by people other than me, the network is a ghost town.

Two years ago, I readily understood the discomfort that accompanies the first jump into this new world.  Although I still sympathize with those people trying to understand these new environments, I’ve lost my patience with those who claim that it’s too difficult to manage a couple accounts and navigate web sites.

This anger and frustration fueled an analogy that popped into my head last week and I’ve repeated it in at least a half-dozen conversations.  A person in 1990 who could not write a letter, address the envelope and


mail it using the postal service would be considered functionally illiterate.  A person in 2008 who cannot create an account or remember a username and password to access a website is also functionally illiterate.

You might still be able to get by in 2008 without these basic technology skills, you might even think you can become president.  But the clock is running, and it’s running fast.  If you are an educator, it is your responsibility to make sure your students can survive in the real world that they will live in, not the one you grew up in.

Imagine if mail service was invented, would these people complain about the stamps?  Where do I buy these things?  Where do we stick them?  Why do I always have to put in a return address?  Why do I have to remember the zip code?


Handful o’ Keys

Teachers who have already shifted to a digital work environment have accepted the tedious necessity of keeping track of several dozen usernames and passwords as the price of admission. A lot of the tools we use are free, but almost all of them require an account. Mine are kept an undisclosed location that I frequently visit because I can’t possibly remember more than forty combinations. Although it is inconvenient, I’m already sold on the benefit of the tools they provide. I want to use my Google account, Yahoo, Vitalist, blog, Flickr, Moodle, Ning, NBPTS, AP Central, Voicethread, Spurl, Diigo, Widgetbox, Trailfire, Linkedin, Gliffy, Skype, etc., etc. etc. So I will keep track of the passwords.

But what about the teachers who are still in an analog environment? If they are not sold on the benefits of these tools, the username/password issue becomes just another problem easily thrown into the “this is too complicated and unreliable” pile of reasons not to bother. What’s worse is the way in which many teachers (and students as well) have trouble navigating the different sequences of steps that follow the “forget your password?” link.

Last week a colleague and I were proud that we completed more than three dozen screenshot video tutorials for teachers in our district. It made sense to us that the concerns voiced over storing them in the high school’s Moodle may prevent elementary school teachers from accessing them because they only used their Moodle account on a professional development day two months ago. Yet the concern was voiced again when we suggested that we publish them in the district web site, which also has password protected regions. Schools require teachers to be responsible for the key to their classroom, can they also require teaches to keep track of two or three usernames and passwords?

More importantly, and this is where you, the reader (usually silent or absent though you may be) come in. What is the best way for teachers to keep track of their accounts? I understand the frustration of remembering passwords, because I have to go back to my list a couple times a day. There has to be a better way.

And something tells me that the “post-it pasted to the monitor” method isn’t the answer.

Teacher Collaboration in Action

It takes me a while to write something that makes sense, even then I’m not too successful. So the conspiracy of responsibilities that plague my schedule have found it easy to keep me from reflecting on them in this blog in the past couple weeks. Yet I had an experience yesterday that I am compelled to share. Knowing that I could only make my point by showing what happened, I’ve decided to use a screen shot video.

For years teachers have kept their work materials hidden in their file own cabinets. The nature of the school environment and class schedule prevented any real collaboration with their colleagues. Even in a high school with 2,500 students, a teacher could feel completely alone on the job, as if they were one person up against 125 students a day. Yet most teachers will tell you that they are thieves; they steal, borrow, re-write and re-configure lesson plans from their peers whenever they can get their hands on them. If a teacher is lucky, they will work in a school with colleagues that are always willing to share rather than those who seem to have a proprietary interest work materials.

Amidst all the talk about technology in education, we need to acknowledge the power of these tools to facilitate collaboration among teachers. Schools with teachers who maintain their work materials in a digital form and store them in a common environment provide their students with the collective energy, expertise and excellence of the entire staff. This two and a half minute video demonstrates a small example of this process in action. As much as some can dismiss this as inconsequential, the process itself scales easily. Although this is just an improvement of one sentence of a set of directions for a social studies lesson, yet it demonstrates what could be done with unit plans, the standard course of study and the entire curriculum.

If you build it……wait…they’re already here

As much as I feel connected with the latest developments in the ed tech world, there is much that passes under my radar. I can’t understand how I missed the The National School Boards Association’s report Creating & Connecting//Research and Guidelines on Social—and Educational—Networking which was released in July, 2007. There is much we can learn from this survey of students, parents and school district leaders.

Almost 60 percent of students who use social networking talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, more than 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork.

This means that the majority of our students are already using the Internet as a social communication tool. What we need to do is take this activity and carve out the school niche. If there is a student conversation about school assignments and projects wouldn’t it help to have a teacher’s voice added to the mix? I’m not suggesting that we storm Myspace and facebook, that’s not our place. But if we create a school-wide social network, designed for school work, infuse it with energy of active student and teacher participation, we will create an active learning community of untold benefits. The merchandisers and marketers are already taking advantage of the Webkinz revolution, why shouldn’t we?

I can’t come up with a reason why we shouldn’t, though I see many reasons as why we aren’t. Focused, directed and informed administrative support is the first necessary ingredient. Active teacher participation are modeling are the second necessary ingredient. School-wide social network learning environments will not spontaneously generate in the same manner as Myspace and facebook. The raw material of adolescent gossip, banter and bravado easily scale to those environments. This study has shown us that schoolwork just gets caught up in that stream. We need to find a way to take that conversation about learning out of the flotsam and jetsam of social networks and give it the respect it deserves.

60% of schools prohibit the sending and receiving email in school

How many working parents and business leaders know how the misuse of email in the form of poor writing, nonexistent “subject” references and “respond to all”s are harming the economy? These school districts, guilty of gross negligence, have decided that their fears of discipline issues regarding email are insurmountable. Who do they think will teach children how to use email?

Do I need to hunt down the statistic that proves the ubiquitous nature of e-mail in the modern workplace? Why are we still having this conversation?

Students and parents report fewer recent or current problems, such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying and unwelcome personal encounters, than school fears and policies seem to imply.

Take a look at the survey result details that support this assertion and you will find more and more evidence of a disconnect between the fears and the reality of online safety. It has much less to do with the distinct and unique qualities of the Internet and much more to do with irrational fears. It’s like the difference between the fear of flying and the fear of driving. The mathematical probability of injury does not match the level of concern.

However, just like flying, a school district only needs one accident and aggressive lawyers to suffer overwhelming harm.

This does not mean however, that school districts should be excused for insisting on a restricted, blocked, and antiseptic learning environment. What it means is that teachers, administrators and decision makers have to participate in these social networks to they know how they work.

While a significant percentage of educators require their students to use the Internet for homework, school policies indicate that many are not yet convinced about the value of social networking as a useful educational tool or even as an effective communications tool. This may indicate that their experience with social networking is limited.

I’m convinced that anyone who creates their own learning/working environment online will discover its overwhelming advantages. An expanding library of bookmarks, collaboration with a network of professional colleagues, and the daily reading of a personal RSS newspaper make a better informed, better skilled and more effective educator. Any educator who immerses themselves in that world will work to move students into that world as well. I’ve never known of anyone who has not.

Students have already moved into that world socially, we now have to show them how to use that world academically and professionally.

English Teachers as Christopher Columbus

I have nothing but admiration for the English Department at my school. They have decided to cut the rope tethering them to the past and require that all students maintain electronic portfolios.

It hasn’t been easy for them, and we as a school are up against even more challenges as we make this jump. But rest assured, the payoff for these efforts will be substantial.

The e-portfolio has been a part of the “plan” from the beginning. It has always served as the “clincher” in any discussion with parents, teachers or administrators. Students at this school will maintain an “academic myspace” through ELGG, gathering evidence of their learning journey through high school. Essays, PowerPoint presentations, videos of class discussions, audio of musical performances – even sports highlight videos will be stored in their own personal web space. College applications can be accompanied by the url addresses of each student’s “My CHS Space”. Admissions committees will have the opportunity to know more about students than ever before. Better yet, the students themselves can have a better sense of their growth over four years.

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