Learning People Russo's Ramblings

Online Learning is Big Business

I recently attended a presentation by online learning vendors who have been awarded a contract by our local BOCES. They offer online courses for students who need to make up missed or failed classes (credit recovery) or want to get ahead or take a low-enrollment class (credit accrual). The vendors offered to us through this contract are Apex, Aventa, Florida Virtual Schools and Pearson NovaNET.

The three things I came away from these presentations with are:rsscar

  1. Online learning is big business (as evidenced by the reps who flew/drove in from all over the country)
  2. Online learning is an inevitable, rich, plausible model for delivering instruction (note the order I put those in)
  3. Online learning is most effective when there is human interaction with real people along the way (read: teachers are still the most important part of learning)

IMHO, based solely on the presentations I saw (and not too much additional research on my part yet), the programs I like the most are the ones where students have access to teachers/experts as they experience the online course. Some of the products appear to have more of a support system for this while others seem more stand-alone. All of the reps talked about how human guidance was important (although not all the products had that guidance built-in).

It goes back to the basics of teaching and learning – anyone can be an expert in a content area. It is people who go beyond the knowledge and use their passion to connect with students who are successful in helping students achieve. All of these online systems offer the content in some rich-media, sequenced, accountable fashion. I think the ones that will be most successful for student learning are the ones that include the most important part of the learning process – people.

Image courtesy of Shira Golding on Flickr


A Short List of Favorite Books

My favorite books of all time have three things in common – two of those things are more relevant than the third:

  • They are short in length
  • The information/story presented is right on
  • They are all blue (like I said, not as relevant) (at least I do not think so)

On this list for a long time now have been Johnathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, and How a Writer Works by Roger Garrison. An addition a couple of years ago was The North Star by Peter Reynolds. The most recent addition is my just completed read of Doug Johnson’s Machines are the easy part; humans are the hard part.

Johnson knows ed tech, and the role it SHOULD play in education, extremely well. The book itself is a testament to the new world of technology, as he self-publishes it on Its available as a free download there in .pdf, or for a mere $12 for the print book (well worth it).

The book is a series of observations (rules, laws…) on technology in schools, sorted into categories. Most if not all are very obvious, but delivered in a straight forward, funny style that commands attention. For example, observation number 21 states, “Beware the law of unintended consequences.” One of the provided supporting examples to this observation is, “Ask that all work be word-processed, and paper and toner bills sky-rocket.” A second provided example is, “Give parents real-time access to their children’s progress, and teachers become overwhelmed with e-mail.” Obvious, yes, but put in a way to diffuse the issue, and make light of what really matters.

Reflecting on my short list of books, I dusted off the Garrison since its been a long time since I have read it. One of my favorite items in there is the Buzzword Generator (p. 41). Its a fun nonsense tool that helps you create three-word, seemingly important, phrases. It has made parallel reciprocal mobility something for everyone. 🙂

Check out any of the above mentioned books and others on my Shelfari page.

Learning People

Ten Year Plan: One-to-One Programs Are Not Worth It

Perhaps I’ve gotten your attention with the title. Please take the time to think about what’s on my mind here. If I look out over the next ten years, pushing and prodding toward better learning, dedicating time and resources to implementing a one-to-one computing program is not worth it. That is not to say that one-to-one computing is not a worthy goal. In fact, it is the only goal. Anything we do or say revolving around better learning and technology means that the learners have to have the technology access. We do not talk about one-to-one teacher programs. Be it a desktop or laptop – most every teacher has access to computer technology. Why then would I say student one-to-one computing solutions are not worth it? Simple…

Students are coming to school right now, today, with their one-to-one computing device.

cellphone.jpgJust about every cell phone out today has not only voice, but data access, a camera, and more capability overall than computers of just a few years ago. I further think that the cell phone, or smart phone as prices come down, as a one-to-one device will not be affected by the digital divide seen in schools. While the schools that many students walk into may not be digitally equipped, the students mostly are.

Some states, and a number of districts, are investing heavily in laptop programs for students. The overhead in managing such programs is huge. Juxtapose that with the simple, powerful tool already in students hands that they use constantly while out of school, and what you get is a win-win situation. Cost of management of cell phone as technology tool – minimal; value – priceless (with apologies and credit to MasterCard).

Would such a solution be viable in elementary schools? No. Middle Schools? Maybe (upper grades especially). High School? You bet. If I were to accept a student response to a class question that has correct grammatical construction, capitalization, etc. but was typed with all thumbs, should that matter?

Here is one scenario that is young in thought process, but I think worthy of conversation. A school has a building-wide access phone #, and each individual class in the schedule has an extension #. A student walks into 2nd period English, and upon seeing the warm-up activity on the LCD projector, dials into the class, and texts his/her responses to the warm-up activity. In this case it is a daily edit, and the teacher watches as the responses from the students appear on screen, making comments as they appear. Since the students have linked to the class right at the beginning, attendance is done automatically with no intervention by the teacher. Instruction on the particular topic, along with feedback from every student, occurs within three minutes of class beginning.

Now, the other side, better know as reality. How do we manage an environment where students use cell phones as a learning tool? How do we keep them focused on learning, and not messaging, bantering, bullying, or distracting? I do not have the answers, but I think this is where we should spend the time, energy and money for the next ten years. My motto is that a school is people. learning. The people in this case, the students, need to learn how to manage and interact appropriately and effectively within the context of being connected. We need to focus on how to get them there.

There are a whole host of issues to think about in order to make a cell phone as learning tool workable, but that is a far better conversation to focus on. In this scenario the tool is owned by the learner, and the school does not have the exorbitant management costs. There will still be some equity issues to deal with, but even if some schools had to provide cell phone devices, that is a vastly different cost/maintenance issue than with computers. Will schools still need comptuers? Of course. So will students at home. However, if we want to focus on the best value for anywhere, anytime learning, the cell phone is the direction I believe we should proceed in.

Image citation:
JonJon2k8. “Cell Phone.” Flickr. 31 Dec. 2006. 23 Mar. 2008 <>.

People Russo's Ramblings Video

Farewell Mr. Kramer

This video was created in January of 2008, but not posted to this site until March of 2015. This is one of my creations, a tribute to the principal of Heim Middle School who was retiring. The video represents so much of what I enjoy about video, and the power it has to tell stories.

When tasked with a project like this, there is only so much time and resources available. I find that video comes together much more easily with some sort of story or angle. In this case it was the walk-through. Mr. Kramer could always be found walking the halls, checking on what was going on in the building. Using that framework, the idea for “walking” the building, capturing interviews and stills, came to life. Many of the clips that made the final cut were off-the-cuff interviews by those involved.

Editing this piece became a lot of fun. The secret sauce that brings it all together is the music, not surprisingly. It is amazing how music that sets the right mood really helps video transcend into another level.

The entire clip is about 11 minutes. There are some very funny spots, and some emotional ones. Every time I watch it I think about how some transitions could be different, or some edits could have made for smoother flow. But, every time I watch it, I think the story really is powerful. Especially the closing couple of minutes beginning with the tribute on the scrolling digital sign.

Chuck Kramer did great things at Heim Middle – here is a brief tribute to his time there – I hope you enjoy it. Click the link below to be taken to the video.

Farewell Mr. Kramer


Learning People Russo's Ramblings

Sage Advice

During our Monday morning school reading period, I like to read through the pile of educational technology magazines that normally stack up (and until we began this reading time were often ignored…). Top on the pile this week was Edutopia (one of my favorites). In the monthly feature, Sage Advice, the question put to readers was, “What would you teach a teacher?”

The first two responses (both from New Yorkers, BTW) are:

  1. Realize you are in the people business! (Dan Murray, Principal, Wheatland-Chili Middle School)
  2. Never stop learning. (Kristen Montgomery, English Teacher, Canajoharie High School)

There it is again – my mantra – A School is People Learning. The other responses were excellent as well – its just that the first two rang especially true for me.

Conferences Learning People Russo's Ramblings

A School is People Learning: Revisited

Forgive me for waxing a bit philosophical here, but I want to spend a bit of time revisiting my mantra for education…A School is People Learning. I first wrote about it here during NYSCATE last year, and reaffirmed it here just before this school year started. This year’s NYSCATE brought it back again.

At Milton Chen’s keynote, he showed the terrific video, Animal School. Take 5 minutes now to watch it if you have not seen it. I could not see the video very well during the keynote, and until it was just re-sent to me, I did not realize how powerful it is. It goes to the heart of our primary goal in schools – people. Our customers, our students, are the majority of the people in the school, and although they come in with unique talents, strengths, and weaknesses, it seems like all we do is teach to the test, and beat back all the things that will make each child do their best.

There is no simple solution to making things better for every person, and we do an incredible amount here everyday to foster our students’ strengths. This video is a reminder for me to try just a bit harder, or try something different, because our students depend on us to. dog.jpg

Image citation:

Bondseye. Pose. Photograph. 2007. Flickr. 29 Nov. 2007 <>.


10 Most Powerful Women in IT

Following in the series of article on leaders in IT (see my previous post, The 100 Most Influential *People* in IT) eWeek just released the 10 Most Powerful Women in IT. While I continue to struggle with the genderizing of the technology world (in other words, it’s only an issue if we make it one), I do believe we have to make sure we help girls realize that technology related fields are not just “for the boys.”


Browsing this list, there are women in high places in some pretty powerful companies. This is what I think our girls need to see – bright, public, female leaders helping to shape our technology world. The one that jumps out at me is the person in the #1 spot – Diane Greene, CEO of VMware. VM stands for virtual machines – a technology that is just starting to come into play, and will likely transform our everyday computing experience in the next 10-15 years. Its great to see a female leader in an arena that is up & coming.

Girls – remember – you are bright, capable, and have the absolute ability to change and shape the world – do not forget it!!!


"10 Most Powerful Women in IT." EWeek. 31 Aug. 2007 <
Learning People Russo's Ramblings

What should our model classroom look like?

This is a question we ponder regularly, and is a question we should ponder regularly. Its been on my mind again recently as we (district technology facilitators and IT staff) think about major upgrades to our computer technology hardware.

So, what should our classrooms have in them as far as computer technology? We have started toclassroom concentration.jpg infuse good things into the classroom, but are they the right things? Are there other things to consider?

I’d love to hear any idea, big or small. What would make you want to leap out of bed in the morning and get to your classroom?

Image citation:

Phitar. "Classroom Concentraion." Flickr. 13 Feb. 2007
Conferences Learning People

A School is People Learning

Having just finished the morning portion of a full day with Peter Reynolds (, the title above summarizes the inspiring morning I had. Albeit simple and basic, it sums up why we are here, in priority order. The fist priority in school is (should be) people. People (students, staff) need to be cared about first – then the door is opened to learning. All of us have stories about their favorite teacher – and invariably the connection starts with how that teacher connected with us as a person, then helped us to grow.

Peter is an author / illustrator with an incredible creative flair. By his own descritption he is unrealistically optimistic – something we really need in education. He shared many of his own works (more on that later) and works of those that inspire him. The bottom line is that his vision for any person (not just kids in school) is to unlock what their strength is and capitalize on it. His own story is his 7th grade math teacher saw his constant need to doodle during class as an opportunity to help him find his calling – media and filmmaking and technology. What an eye-opener that the subject (math – something he is not so good at to this day) had very little to do with the connection the teacher made to helping him find himself. The math teacher asked him to draw the mathematical concepts they were learning and teach it to other students. His world opened up from there.

In this crazy, silly, constrained world of standards, tests, and more tests, how are we going to find the time to do what matters?

Looking forward to the afternoon session!