Getting it together

This is an interesting time to attempt interesting things.

There is a lot being documented at the moment1 that ought to be shaping how we think and what we do in K12.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg but I think it’s representative of an interesting mixture of elements- creating/shaping content/media, creating context around that media, and workflows around sharing/authoring that contextualized media in a way that encourages communities that both reinforce and challenge ideas around how to teach.

I don’t know if that makes any sense but I’ll try to show how it’s shaping what we’re trying to do in Henrico in the coming year.


  • More and better examples of just about everything – Currently our Henrico 21 site is meant to help show people interesting things to do that fit within our definition of blended/technology-enhanced learning. I think it serves a certain purpose and there are 900 or so lesson plans there but in the end, I don’t think it’s used in a way that justifies the amount of energy that goes into it. This a combination of figuring out what to show people, how to get it there, and how to encourage face-to-face and online conversations around it.
  • Bridges – We have many useful resources that are not connected to other useful resources. Our TechTips blog focuses on tutorials and other tips but doesn’t connect in any meaningful way with the H21 lessons or the online tools list4 None of those things merge with our orphaned online courses5 around topics that should bridge some of these gaps. That doesn’t even get into the idea that we ought to be looking at how to map different resources across content areas and between grades.
  • Workflows/Efficiencies – This is comprised of two elements. One is about making the energy in matter to the people who do the work. If this fails, it all fails rather quickly. You might get compliance if you force it but the works will be sub-standard in the same way that most school work is. Secondly, technology should be your friend. This is partially about creating workflows that aggregate bits of continuous work (as opposed to widely spaced herculean efforts) and partially about building systems that make your input spread efficiently to the other places you’d like it to go.
  • Tiered Curation – This is to a large degree a philosophical aspect to the workflow above. Part of what makes all this make sense is the fact that there is a huge amount of interesting content on the web and a huge number of interesting people interaction with it- both with and without deliberate educational intent. One essential element in making this sustainable is taking advantage of all that content and the work of all those people.

So far . . .

I’m pretty sure I have most of our content specialists on board with some brand of social bookmarking. The majority are on Diigo.6 We have some of the ITRTs on board but I’m not sure how many. It’s always interesting to see who sees a need for something like this. Symbaloo seems like a path some people are taking. I can’t quite figure that one out. Feels like a slightly more attractive version of Porta-portal but I could be missing something. It doesn’t seem to address any of the reasons I use social bookmarking (other than getting the links online).

I see this as a little bit backwards based on my own experience. I ended up needing to change how I bookmarked because I’d created a reading pattern that demanded a different organizational structure to keep track of all the interesting things I’d found (that also included a mindset about the kinds of things I thought would be useful later on). That may be me over-mapping my own patterns on to others. My concern is that if this is a herculean (and episodic) task, rather than a change in process, it won’t change anything longterm. This is easier, however, than getting people to start reading RSS feeds. Although that is a long term goal.

What exists now . . .

We (sometimes just me) expend a lot of energy right now but it doesn’t flow well and there are no decent connections or workflows.

  • H21 – A lesson plan repository populated through episodic herculean effort. It seems to have enough detail to frustrate authors but not enough detail, or perhaps the right kind of detail, to make it really useful for teachers.
  • Student 21 – is driven by student submissions via a form. It’s another disconnected effort which allows students to enter a contest but has no real purpose and the energy there doesn’t help the student.
  • eLearning – is just a list of district wide resources.
  • Tech Tips – is a repository of tutorials and other training materials.
  • Content specialist sites – there are a variety of these in a variety of formats. They tend to be isolated and radically different in intent and design. They range from simple network file shares to more elaborate sites like our secondary math site.
  • Word Games – is a site I was messing around with for English. It’s an attempt to capture fairly ephemeral examples of all kinds of English related material. There’s everything from interesting quotes and unique words to graffiti and comedy pieces. This is something I’d like to have work better.
  • The Well – was meant to be a site where anyone could take an inspiring chunk of media and sketch out some rough ideas for how to use it.
  • Online Tools – is a somewhat wayward list of technology related tools. It lives a lonely life of isolation and probably confusion.
  • Might be of interest – is my version of a curated list of things that might be of interest to ITRTs.
  • The HCPS ITRT Diigo group – there are about 10 ITRT members. A smaller portion are participating. Integrating with the specialists and their various groups will need consideration.
  • Online courses – our orphaned online courses are hanging out here in a state of suspended animation.

Next steps . . .

I’m trying to figure out how to build a smarter system- a system built around finding and sharing inspiring and interesting things. It should help make doing these things easier. It ought to be based mainly on small actions aggregating to larger results. I’d like to see this system interweave the pieces of media, lessons, tools, pd, curricular maps etc. There should be pieces where the barrier to entry is virtually nothing and places where final curation indicates acceptance into the HCPS canon. Workflows, presentation, searching/sorting will all be key elements and it’ll be driven by some pretty serious needs. Finances are tight. Testing is growing to be more an issue. Morale is pretty low in a lot of cases. Clearly, tools won’t solve any of these problems. I can’t change a lot of those variables but I think I can help lower workloads to some degree, change aspirations, and provide connections/community across our large district.

I’ll be building out the connections in the image below as things start to come together.

1 And built, like everything, on a lot of older hard work.

2 Haircut, surfer term, or dessert, you decide.

3 Read the comments.

4 Which has all kinds of additional issues beyond being isolated.

5 Done in Dreamweaver and iWeb for the most part.

6 It make me sad but I cannot recommend Delicious these days.