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Site Council September 23, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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site   A few weeks back, I cast my name into the hat as a candidate for the site council at my daughter’s middle school. Yesterday I heard the news that I had won the election but that the other two candidates had tied for second place.

I would hate to see one of the volunteers walk away from the site council when she came so close. I recommended a co-representative position so they could both be involved.

My first goal would be to get the daily bulletin from the Principal’s office distributed via e-mail. I visit the school’s web pages frequently enough, but I am not in the habit of checking the newsletter. As a result, we found out about Photo Day when my daughter called from the school asking what she should do about paying for photos.

I think the school could use technology a little more wisely but they are giving the students great exposure as webmasters. One thing I noted when I went to visit their page was that the Site council itself had no page. Time to fix that and then we can disseminate through the web minutes of meetings of interest to a sum of six people.


Finally some ink September 22, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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unesco   I received some good news on Friday. I had been frustrated at the pace that publications can take. When you send out a manuscript there is usually a delay of a couple of months before you receive any sort of feedback. Last year, I wrote four book reviews for the International Review of Education, a UNESCO group, and did not hear from them until six months after I submitted the last review.

Apparently, they had put out two special issues that moved book reviews off their publication schedule. Last week I received word that one of my reviews was being dropped because the book I had reviewed was too old (2004).

Gathering up all my best political language, I recommended they tell me about my other reviews since I had three others in for evaluation. The good news is that they will publish all three at a rate of one an issue.

That sounds like three publications but some wags on the inside are suggesting I should parlay that to twelve publications since they come out in French, English, German, and Spanish. I would never do that, but it is an interesting concept.

National Test September 21, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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P and B   I have to apologize, but every now and then I have to get my paddle into the political stream. Today, in the Washington Post, former secretaries of education William Bennett and Rod Paige penned an article about their perception that the country needs a national test. They note a report that suggests some states are tinkering with the accountability system. Of course, they mentioned states with which they were not affiliated. Texas has been playing a numbers game long before the No Child Left Behind legislation came into being but, of course, their editorial failed to note that but I don’t take issue with that.

If this sort of legislation ever makes it to Congress, a federally mandated control over curriculum and standards nationwide, watch for two things to happen. First, be on the lookout for some sort of language that immunizes individual states against lawsuits over inequality of funding methods from district to district. Many state Supreme Courts have taken the position that the funding inequity is hurting education but, with few exceptions, improvements have not been made to any substantial degree.

Second, taking control over curriculum away from the states will produce even more meddling from the federal government. I like to think of the national curriculum landscape like a healthy garden. We keep the curriculum fresh and a tone to the needs of our local students and this variety of backgrounds produces innovation and insight a student’s progress into the world of work and become lifelong learners. As the Irish discovered, when only one kind of potato is grown, you risk a potato blight affecting the entire nation’s crop. When one sort of medical procedure is the only medical procedure allowed, you endanger patients and stifle innovation. When we move the nation from prescriptive to descriptive curricula, we end up rewarding the status quo and risk homogenizing knowledge, ridiculing innovation, and wasting teaching talent.

The way I see it, such a standardized national curriculum will affect textbooks, limit choices for non-mainstream courses, produce testing anxiety to the extreme, and reduce the act of teaching from a highly interactive and insightful process, to a scripted, test driven, sets of hoops through which students must jump. This will open the door to merit pay plans, after school training such as the juku experience in Japan only commercialized to a much greater extent, and a general shift in attitude in this country from the belief that curriculum is a starting point to the position that the final test is everything there is to education.

The plan these fellows espouse will make ignorance seem almost patriotic.

IT Audit September 20, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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Audit   On Monday, just as I was shutting down for the day, I received an e-mail message with the Arizona office of the Auditor General. In order to ensure the integrity of the University of Arizona’s computer assets, an auditor chose several colleges to determine the degree to which they were compliant with IT policies.

Our college was one of those chosen for the audit which took place today. I had the benefit of about 24 hours to review every one of the policies in place at the University regarding information technology. When I printed the policies out, it came to almost 48 pages. From those pages, I put together a list of responses to each of the policies and made notes of where our potential deficiencies would occur.

After a discussion with the team, we came to the conclusion that probably the two most important things they would look at would be the security of our systems and proper licensing for all the software we were using. I decided it was in nobody’s best interest to be agitated about the audit and made up my mind to take any deficiencies the auditors noted as a learning experience.

When the auditor arrived this morning, the two of us had a pleasant chat, discussed technology issues in such a way that I could give him an overview of our college’s practices, and then we went off to find a random department. He chose Educational Psychology. He looked at the computers of two faculty members, two graduate students, and two administrative assistants. As we went through the software together, I began to wonder exactly what I would find on these machines.

As it turned out, the department had licenses for every piece of software we encountered and there were receipts for each piece of software. I had put a lot of faith into our process of having individual departments maintain their own records of software licenses and today my faith in them was justified.

I have to say, and I have already said it publicly, the six individuals whose computers were accessed from the Department of Educational Psychology were gracious and hospitable in the face of this increase in their stress load. I am very proud of them all and they made our college look exceptional.

Default setting September 19, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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volume   The default setting for many people when they hear about technology problems is that the person presenting the problem is either misinformed or has misunderstood something about their computer.

Last week, I received a new computer, which the manufacturers had promoted as having a very fast processor and a huge amount of storage. This, I thought, would be perfect for dictating voice to text. Soon after I plugged in the microphone, the problems began. I could not hear anything through the headphones or the speaker. My voice to text software was not picking up any sound at all. I changed the position of the microphone from the front to the back to no avail. I opened every software setting and checked to see that I had turned up nothing off or turned off any volume controls. I even uninstalled the audio software and reinstalled it. Then I called and my colleagues for their advice.

They repeated each one of the steps I had just taken which frustrated me a little. I thought they would take at face value my rendition of the events leading up to calling them and proceed from the point where I left off. When I talked to a technician over the telephone about the problem, he walked me through exactly the same steps. Every time I repeated my story, they responded with the same sort of mild skepticism.

The three phone calls and two technicians later, the technicians proved my suspicions correct. There was a problem with the system, a highly recommended system at that. The Dell technicians have officially ramped up my concern and sent the issue to their engineering department.

I must say that it feels good to know that I did everything correctly in trying to resolve the problem. In the future, I am going to try to withhold my own forms of mild skepticism when someone presents their broken computer to me.

Back to Writing September 18, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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Nautilus   I have to begin by saying that it is a great thing to be able to be back writing again because it means I finally have a few free minutes to devote to gathering my thoughts and sharing them with you.

A month ago, we started a new semester at school and on one of the very first full days our new employee, Gregory, was hurt in a bicycle accident on his way home. With two broken bones and a severely banged his head, thank goodness he was wearing his helmet, the few of us remaining had to work double time to keep up with the demands.

Gregory appears to be in great health now and he is on the mend. Once again, thank goodness for bicycle helmets. I have already taken to task one or two of my colleagues who prefer to ride without them.

Despite the hard work of dealing with the demands of faculty and students are getting settled into the new year there were a number of writing assignments I thought I would have some time to work on. Once again, I thought I would apply for an Arizona Board of Regents grant, I have to finish a prospectus for a book that is not quite finished, and Sage Publications asked me to write a section of an encyclopedia for them. My area of strength, according to them, is on the subject of “distance learning.” I am about halfway through that and was planning on spending last weekend writing that but I simply ran out of steam.

My wife bundled me off to the gym, a place I had never had much time for. To my surprise, I enjoyed it. Now I know what an elliptical trainer is. Now I know that the track runs clockwise on even days, counter on odd ones. Sweat is good. Hydration is good. I am running us stairs now and eschewing the elevator.

So here I sit, with my headphones on listening to my tunes on Pandora.com (Jollie Holland’s “The Littlest Birds”) and dictating using Dragon Naturally Speaking. What is even more important is that I still have my health, a happy family, a decent job, scores of excellent colleagues, and a handful of friends scattered around the world and keep in regular touch with me.

So here I sit, counting my blessings, helping my daughter with her homework, smelling cookies baking in the kitchen, and petting my dog.

The human side of technology, for me, is the ability to walk away from its pressures and to make use of its pleasures. Sorry for the ramble.