If you could only have three apps?

One of the most memorable parts of George Couros‘ presentation Leading Innovative Change is his discussion about restraining and refining what his district expected from teachers in terms of technology.

At first, he explained, they had all sorts of applications being used, and he showed a few dozen familiar logos on screen. The problem with this, he continued, wasn’t that the staff was failing to innovate. They were. But they were all going different directions, and students and beginners were lost in the chaos.

The change they made was to focus on three applications. Three applications were chosen as cornerstones of their culture. Every student, teacher, and administrator were trained on them, and parents were encouraged to become involved in the learning. The advantage of this shift was a camaraderie and a collective bank of expertise that transcended school roles and moved the entire concept into the learning culture.

I case you were wondering, the three applications they chose were Google Docs, Twitter, and Blogger. I think these three could be the main tools most schools could use in an effort to get moving and to start to build that culture of innovation.

If I were choosing, I would want to know a few things first:

  1. Are we, or will we be soon, in a 1:1 environment?
  2. Do we have prior knowledge in any particular platform or application?

In a 1:1 environment, the document creation suite will be dependent upon the device. Google Docs, Evernote, Apple Pages and Numbers, and Microsoft Office would all be possibilities. This is, I feel, the only decision that is both dependent on the platform, and a crucial type of application. The school culture will need one of these to produce quality work and share it.

Beyond the document/presentation piece, I think Couros’ district was also wise in choosing an avenue for communication. Twitter is a powerful tool for this, but there remains a stigma and concern about safety. There are some other, less powerful options here. Cel.ly can be an effective way to do internal and external communication in a social-media-styled interface. Many other options exist as well. Google+ is becoming a very legitimate and effective communication and connection option. Facebook could be used, though the buy-in would be difficult. Simply using Gmail and Gmail chat could be the ticket for many districts looking for a communication tool.

The choice of Blogger by Parkland Schools isn’t so much about the tool, but about the need. They wanted to make sure writing and expression was an important, embedded part of their school culture. I don’t think it was about Blogger. I think it could have been personal websites, WordPress, Wikispaces, or any of many different blogging and self-publishing tools. I personally am not a fan of Blogger, but it does compliment the Google Apps suite if that is being used.

In any case, the question might be, what would be best in my district or school? Maybe one size doesn’t fit all. Primary and secondary are often apples and oranges. The questions to ask and discuss, in addition to the ones already stated about platform are the following:

  • What do we want our students to be able to do?
  • What do we already do that works?
  • What are key skills we perceive students will need in the working world?
  • What tools have the highest educational return on training investment?
  • What tools are best supported by the creators and by the educational community?

By these inquiries, I think Couros’ choices were very wise. What would be best for your school or district? How will you streamline the interest and training capacity in the most meaningful way? For us, I think Google Apps, Twitter, and maybe Schoology would be the big three. The point is, it needs to be a deliberate choice. There is strength in numbers. Once a school or district truly integrates any of these into the culture, the training becomes peer-to-peer rather than top-down. It’s a great place to be!


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