My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

Electronic Education is en route

Well, the schools are at it again!  D-Mag and her storm troopers of edgimucation descended on the City Council chambers last night to show off some fancy new e-learning program that they're running with.  It isn't the "ipad for every kid" variety but it is a similar device.  Yes, iPads are all the rage but there are other device formats that better lend themselves to this particular application.  This device is a convertible of sorts – an Asus T100.  I think it's a great pick to get started with.  It's also cheaper than an iPad.

The presentation was a bit hard to follow and more than a little jargon-filled but….it kicks ass that the schools are moving in this direction but it won't be easy.  The program requires continuing education on the part of our administrators (D-mag, do you have an iPad that you know how to use?) and educators over the course of several years.  The end result is maybe not a re-making of their approach to education but it's a significant change and I'm glad to see we have a plan for helping our teachers leverage these new tools.  Without that, it's wasted money so I'm glad to see a professional approach!  The kids will pick it up in any event…as they always do.  The program itself starts with some of the "softer" subjects – history, for example, and is phased in over several years to eventually include the entire curriculum in an electronic format.  Seems like a sensible

I'm also glad to see that we're being aggressive but not out on the front with this program.  We're using a system that has been deployed in other places and is building a record of success.  My short experience in municipal government makes me believe that "leading the way" isn't a great place for a small locality.  (Witness the BPOL system that we killed off a couple years ago).  The program that we saw last night looks to have been developed in part by McGraw Hill (if you look up "text book" in the dictionary it's under McGraw Hill) and they certainly have the resources to make it happen.  We aren't dealing with a start up and that's good for us.

I did ask a couple of questions and mainly because those are the questions that citizens will ask me: what does it cost?  Is there any research that supports it?  Certainly those are pretty pedestrian inquiries and shouldn't be any trouble for the school folk.

I have had some ask me in the past if I supported these sorts of initiatives?  After all, text books and black boards were good enough for hundreds of years?  My answer is always the same: yes!  A thousand times yes.  Should we be off on fishing expeditions with taxpayer money? no.  This ain't that.  Why wouldn't we want to take advantage of technology?  Would you ask yourself that question in any other part of your life?  Perhaps we should set up some picnic tables over on the museum lawn, get a pile of rags and start doing surgery there because "that was good enough for hundreds of years"?  Step right up sir, I'll take out your appendix – here's a shot of whiskey to take the edge off.  Bite down on this stick and let's get this naughty appendix out of there!  Only a 50% chance of death due to infection!!  But no worries!! Ha Ha!!  I've heard gangrene isn't so bad…….Of course you wouldn't.  We should leverage every sensible tool in pursuit of the single most important undertaking of our local government – the education of our children.

Overall I'm excited.  The schools continue to be on the move and it's only good news for our City.


  1. Raymond Beverage

    June 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

    I sat through the presentation last night, fortunately following what was said having been in the early days of Computer-Based Instruction/Training and Distributive Education in an Army project back in the early '90s.  It is impressive how far the days of having to flip out cards in your computer so you could do HTML has come.

    The concept makes sense to begin intergrating this technology into High School as for years, the move has been to online testing for High School Equivalency, SAT/ACT, State-licensure for Professionals (Nurses as an example), and National Certifications (H&R Block nailed that for a contract and are doing well with it….study and then find a Block as a test site).  Colleges and Universities are integrating more and more of the use of Blackboard, and less and less of books especially at the Graduate & Ph.D. Levels.

    It also reminded me of the old Apple Writers (think that is what they were) the School System had for use by the children with disabilities who could not clearly write.  It was a great little portable device with the full keyboard and the little bar screen showing what was typed. Easy too to hook up to any printer and it would dump out the document preformated with one inch margins.  Was a great example of adopting tech into the School.

    All that said, I have concerns over the cost factors.  I was invovled in the late 80s and early 90s with "stovepipe" projects in the Army where we fielded complete computer systems.  As you know, Andy, we went fast from dual-floppy to the first 80286 chips and then fast after that!  We found out quick by force-feeding these systems out, we were not ready for not only the local cost we did not account for (maintenance, but also how fast tech changed on us.  Our five year plan went to heck quick!

    I did a rough number in my head, and aside from cost of each unit, figured at least 30% in for the "backbone" in the school for the wi-fi spots, server, and employee to run the whole thing.  I agreed with Council to see the whole cost, but I think also MCPS also should provide the Life Cycle Management Plan for this project.  There should be the Five Year Cost Cycle, to include an inflation point, at the minimum, in the third year for changeover of base cost.  That FYCC should also include the estimated HS population each year since they are being issued in the 9th grade.

    Great idea, great company with McGraw-Hill…..just a solid plan is needed before moving onward.

  2. andy

    June 17, 2014 at 11:56 am

    I agree Ray.  Being a veteran (like you) of the early micro revolution, it's always wise to understand as much of the picture as possible.  I would agree that they need all of those plans and costs but that particular presentation at that level of detail should be made to the school board.  Presumeably that has happened at some point. 

    I was just looking for rough costs – just curious is all…but you make good points.


  3. I went to the last Saturday with the Superintendent and that was much more a conversation between Dr. M, parents, community, and even a student who expressed her opinions about the new technology. Great give and take. Lots of notes taken. I think the earlier the tools, the better, even if it will all be outdated in a few years – be ready to update to the next technology. Dr. M is doing a great job, the plans for new Baldwin are impressive. Very exciting time to see the city move ahead like this.  Either jump in, or don't jump in. Don't go halfway over the fence and then stall – isn't that what killed broadband over power lines?

  4. You might want to talk to a classroom teacher or two on the side, not in a public forum. Just sayin………..

  5. andy

    June 18, 2014 at 11:21 am

    I've chatted with a number.  Some like it, some don't.  Teachers are human too, it's a difficult change so I don't expect them to be wild about it….

  6. Raymond Beverage

    June 19, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Agree with you on teachers and the change.  I was involved with a project while an Instructor/Training Developer at an Army School in 1991 which took a two-week, in-house certification course and flipped it to computer-based, distributed format.  (For any techies, we used TenCore as the programming language).  It was a tough six months once fielded to get use to three things:  training up my Section Cadre on how to still be an instructor even when long distance; being the help desk when something went wrong; and the change in the budget for the Section since we lost full budget dollars now that it was computer-based.

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