Another Year Over

It’s been a year since I got into the future-prediction business. And while I don’t want to make this a habit, I did say I’d return to the list at the end of the year to see how I did. If you’re going to make predictions about the future, it’s only fair that you review your predictions and admit how bad you are at this. And, as we’ll see, I’m as bad at this as the rest of them. Here goes…

It’s going to be a bad year for Microsoft.
Thanks to Brittany G on Flickr.And it would have been, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids. Hot on the heels of the Mojave experiment, where Microsoft “researchers” determined that people actually liked Folgers crystals if they were repackaged and rebranded, the buzz about Windows 7 was that it was a warmed-over Vista with only superficial improvements. We were all set for the end of Microsoft dominance. But, as it turned, out, Windows 7 is actually better than Vista. Some would say it’s even better than XP. While we’re not ready to upgrade all of our XP machines to Windows 7 just yet, we’re also not frantically searching for an alternative to Microsoft operating systems any more.

Linux missed the boat again. This was a rare opportunity for them to get a foothold in the consumer OS market. But the product still isn’t good enough. I’ve said this before, but Linux is just too much of a pain to use as a primary desktop operating system. Most people in the mainstream have neither the time, the patience, nor the expertise to use Linux. So unless you’re going to use Apple, the obvious choice is still Microsoft.

On the positive side, we did see Firefox 3.5 overtake Internet Explorer 7 as the world’s most popular browser. That’s a victory if you ignore the fact that the third browser is IE 8, and the fourth is IE 6. That’s right, the version before the version before the current version of Internet Explorer is more popular than Chrome, Safari, and Opera put together. That’s a lot of people with out-of-date Windows systems.

The blogging fad is over.
I didn’t say that blogging was dead. It’s just, umm, sleeping. My personal blogging output continued to slide this year. In 2008, I posted 47% less content than in 2007. In 2009, I reduced that by another 51%. In 2006 and 2007, I was averaging two posts a week. Now, I’m happy if I get one post a month done.

It’s not just me. Almost everyone in my feed reader has really scaled back as well. The big news, though, is not that I’m not writing. It’s that I’m not reading. I used to spend about an hour a day getting caught up with the blogosphere. Now, I barely spend any time at all on it. I’m reading less. I’m commenting less. I’m posting less. I’m learning less.

I don’t think that blogging is ending. I just think that it’s matured. We’re closer to a manageable level now. It’s not overwhelming anymore. I can (and plan to) reshuffle the feeds a bit to get some new voices, but the blog is no longer the centerpiece of the learning network. We have other tools, too, and they all work together.

We’re going to have to do more with less.
The economy was bad in 2009. There’s no denying that. Schools tend to lag a bit behind the economic curve, so bad times hit us a little later, and recovery takes longer. In our school district, we went through a substantial budget reduction last spring, and round two is coming just around the corner. We’re seeing cuts in teaching staff, support staff, supplies, department budgets, and, yes, technology.

The hard part is not so much the reduction in funding for hardware and software — we can weather that storm. The hard part is “doing more with less.” The support demands are still increasing at a ridiculous pace. We now have projectors and Smart Boards in most of our classrooms. We’re using software extensively for intervention. We’re venturing into Google Apps, and wireless networks, and ebooks. All of this stuff is mission-critical now. It has to work all the time. But adding support staff is out of the question. The struggle is to avoid reductions in technology support staff. At the same time, we’re being asked to add new technologies to overcome staffing shortages in other areas. So we’re building online systems to handle facility scheduling. We’re automating a lot of processes that used to be done by people. And we’re doing it with fewer resources.

We will get through this. We will recover. But we can’t sustain this level of support forever.

Professional development finally goes online.
I wish. It’s true that we’re doing more online professional development than ever before, but that’s not saying much. Unfortunately, we’ve looked to online tools to provide compliance training, which is largely a farce. We have to provide “child abuse prevention” training to all staff. So we contract with a company that provides this “training” online. Generally, this involves people going online, looking at a series of screens with static content, and affirming that they’ve “received” this content. It’s all about the school being able to prove that the material has been “covered.” It has nothing to do with anybody actually learning anything.

The lawyers want us to be able to prove that every staff member has received a copy of the staff handbook. So the teachers log into the online system. They get shown a 40 page document, and are told to answer the one-question quiz which consists of them agreeing that they have received, read, and understood the document given to them. There’s one right answer.

This kind of training does nothing to improve teaching and learning. But worse than that, it gives online learning a bad name. We’re teaching our teachers that online tools are the equivalent of the boring lecture, where the only assessment tool measures attendance.

I’m still hopeful that we can reverse that, and there are finally a few people interested in using Moodle for professional development in my school district. But it’s an even bigger uphill battle than it was before.

Learning will become less formal.
I argued a year ago that we can learn as much — or more — from unstructured environments as we can from tightly organized, structured classes. The development of learning networks allows us to participate in uniquely beneficial learning environments and activities. And while this works well for professional development, it’s not particularly well suited to the accountability of “covering” a set list of objectives. From a pure “learning is more relevant when done informally” perspective, I still believe that this is the best way for us to learn. But as long as the accountability measures are tied to specific questions measuring specific knowledge, it’s an inefficient way to teach kids.

My hope is that we’re providing more opportunities for our students to participate in informal learning opportunities as we address collaboration, globalization, innovative thinking, and information literacy. But in the real world, we’re not measuring those things. And it’s getting harder to meet the government’s targets for adequate yearly progress. So our attention is mostly focused elsewhere.

So what’s the score? I made five predictions. I think I manged to get two of them right. The others were things that might have happened, or that could have happened, or that should have happened. But they didn’t. Or, at least, they didn’t come true yet. That should be enough to keep me away from predicting the future, and you’re not going to see another blog post tomorrow about what’s coming in 2010. Maybe it’s better to stick to emerging trends and new ideas, without tying them to specific timelines.

Happy 2010. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

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Author: John Schinker

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