Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

December, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Stupid Mistakes School Administrators Make With Technology


    Doug Johnson has a great list of Seven stupid mistakes teachers make with technology that inspired me to think about administrators. Really administrators share the blame for some of the mistakes their teachers make and make some of their own. Not all administrators make these mistake. In fact I have run into some truly outstanding administrators who are doing a great job of integrating technology in their schools. But you know there are a few out there who just don’t quite get it. Here’s my list of common mistakes.

    1. Installing technology without planning – This is a big one. I can’t tell you how many calls I have gotten from schools where the question was something like “we’re installing some computers what should we do with them?” How do they even know they have the right computers if they don’t know what software they will be running, what classes will be using them and for what? Technology is not some magic thing that will change education just by being there.
    2. Not providing training for teachers – Teachers are generally pretty smart people but they need to be taught new things just like anyone else. Learning on ones own by trial and error is time consuming, tiring and just not something one should ask overworked teachers to take on. This is part of the whole planning thing. The school should know what skills the teachers will need and make sure they get adequate training.
    3. Not modeling Technology use - “Do as I say not as I do” doesn’t work any better with teachers than it does with children. Administrators need to be as technology savvy as they want their teachers to be- more savvy is better. Administrators should be leaders and leaders lead from the front. If the principal (or superintendent) does not use email why would the teachers? If an administrator is reduced to a babbling idiot when confronted with hooking up a projector to a laptop why would a teacher think it was important for them to learn to use the device? Does the principal pull out the old overhead and some transparencies for a faculty meeting? Why would a teacher use PowerPoint or Keynote?
    4. Not providing adequate tech support – We don’t ask teachers to troubleshoot the phone system, the heating/cooling system, or the PA system if they break. We don’t have teachers out there fixing the school bus. Technology is infrastructure and it should be serviced by people who are professionally trained to do that. And yet at many schools if the computer breaks down a teacher is pulled out of her classroom to go fix it. Or maybe the teacher has a free period or two as part of her contract for doing tech support. Heaven help you if your computer breaks down and you need it before that free period. If technology is not going to be dependable than you can’t expect teachers to depend on it and use it to its fullest. This means real tech support!
    5. Not holding teachers accountable – I’ve said from time to time that teachers may not have invented passive/aggressive behavior but they have turned it into an art. That is not completely a bad thing as it has allowed many teacher to have survived poor administrators, ill-conceived “reforms” and more. But if you want teachers to supervise students who are using computers (and trust me you do) than you need to make sure that they do. You cannot depend on the Internet filters because students are smart enough to get around them. Your teachers have to know that and know that they are expected to watch. If you want to give educational software a fair workout than you have to make sure that teachers are using it. Most of those programs have reports and you should be looking at them. If teachers are not using technology, if they are not teaching with technology, if they are not supervising student use of technology find out what and help them out.
    6. Not having a data backup system – Schools generate a lot of data and it is important data so losing it can be a huge problem. Too many schools do not have a backup plan for their data. Others that do only backup something. Perhaps they backup administrative data but neglect individual teacher data or student data. That’s not enough. Teacher and student data is important! If student work is saved on a central server (and it should be) students expect it to be safe. If something happens to it (accidentally, maliciously, what ever) a student could lose credit for work that they have actually done. Its only fair that a backup system save their data so it can be recovered. In fact student data should not be thrown away at the end of the school year. Even if the student leaves the school system it should be archived for some period of time.
    7. Not being aware of and addressing the mistakes teachers make – Helping teachers is what administrators should view as a key role for them. If teachers are making mistakes, be it the ones Doug lays out or other ones, administrators should know about it and provide the help teachers need to overcome them. It may be training, it may be mentoring, it may just be more modeling of good technology use on their part. But administrators need to be aware of how technology is or is not being used in their schools. Technology is not something one drops in and leaved behind. It is an ongoing process of growth and learning.
    8. Not staying current – Technology in education is a constantly growing thing. There is blogging, and Twitter, and Skype and all sorts of other things that teachers are using to collaborate and to teach collaboration. There is new hardware and software and curriculum and other things coming out all the time. It is tempting to rely on a technology coordinator or a curriculum specialist to keep up with those things. And those people (who are part of administration) do need to keep up. But so do principals, superintendents, department chairs and others in leadership roles. They can do that by attending conferences, by reading blogs, by reading the technology in education media. But they need to do it.

    Well that is my first cut. What mistakes do you see administrators making? And how can we all help them? While we’re at it, what sorts of things have you seen administrators do very well? We probably should be highlighting the good as much or more than the bad.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Separating TV from Reality


    Have you ever watched one of those TV crime shows where they run come computer software to do face recognition or to compare fingerprints? Everyone I see they show the images that are being compared flash across the screen. Wow look at how fast the compares are going! Sigh. Leaving aside for the moment that facial recognition software is no where near as good as the TV show would have you believe can you imagine writing a program that would need to show the images on the screen to compare them? Of course not.

    Displaying the images is a huge waste of computer time. In actual fact a time critical program would never display images until a match was found. Input and output is just too slow to do where it is not necessary. A good programmer might do it during debugging and with a small data set. That would make sense. But for a production program? Not so much.

    I was experimenting with the Stopwatch control on a program recently. I was primarily interested in the speed of the calculations the program was doing so at one point I commented out a line that printed results. One statement that called to ToString method and added an item to a list box was removed. Oh and this line was only executed one out of about every 333 times the main loop was executed. Commenting out that one output statement speeded up the program by approximately 10%. Compared to all the addition, multiplication and raising numbers to the fourth power that the program was doing this display appears trivial. But anytime the computer has to go to a screen or a keyboard or human computer interface device things are going to slow down.

    In programs we assign students we often see a lot of extra IO. Sometimes we ask for it because we want to see what the program is doing. Other times we really don’t care because the program is going to complete in a second or less. I think though that we need to discuss this issue with students. I think that it is important that they understand optimization at some level. We should discuss the speed of I/O devices for example. Why is memory faster than cache? Why is cache faster than disks? Why do we want to avoid extra I/O to screens or other devices? I don’t think we have to get hung up on it but it should be talked about.

    We talk about Big-O notation and using it to look at algorithm complexity. I think that is a good thing. A great thing in fact. We can probably wait until college to get serious about instruction execution speed. That’s very hardware dependent of course. But would it hurt to tell them that a multiplication is several times as time consuming as an addition? What’s the fastest way to do 10 * 2? Is it 10 + 10 or 10 *2 or is there an even faster way? (Shift left anyone? :-) ) The problem of course is that so much of the discussion will not seem real to students until later in life. Only then are they likely to see a real need for what we used to call bit fiddling. We tend to avoid the hardware in computer classes. Its all about the software and concepts in the abstract. It think that we do students a disservice by completely ignoring the hardware. Especially in high school I believe that teaching something about the hardware might inspire some students to look into computer engineering. Maybe one of them will work on the big problems of speeding information in to and out of computers. Or improves the state of micro hardware and micro code. We do need to hardware to run the software after all.

    BTW You’ve probably also seen someone delete a file on a computer on TV and watched as either a progress bar is displayed, or my favorite, an image gradually gets pixilated and falls apart on the screen. I always wonder that operating system does that. The reason they do this on TV is that it makes for a good visual which is about all that matters on TV.

    Sometimes I think it would be fun to be a programmer whose job it was to write software that fakes (or should I be more polite and say simulates) some computer activity on the screen for movie and TV. I wonder if there is a project in that? Put up an image and then randomly blank pixels until they are all black and then close the image. Could be fun.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Edublogger Awards for 2008 – Voting Open


    I am very excited to be nominated for Best Individual Edublog 2008.  Honestly it is an honor just to be on the list. I do hope you’ll vote for me (I’m listed by the blog name Computer Science Teacher) but since you can vote for several candidates I will not hold it against you if you also vote for someone else. There are any number of worthy candidates there. Many of them much more widely read than this one.

    I love what Vicki Davis had to say about the awards this year. She is nominated in two categories so she doesn’t speak as one who was left out when she says that all education bloggers are winners. They are. And they all add to the online discussion and community.


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