Friday, February 11, 2011

Why Some Teachers Hate SharePoint

Ok, maybe this piece is long overdue. Like the elephant in the room that no one will talk about.

Why do some teachers say they hate sharepoint? Because a lot of teachers have told me they hate it.

I have done some fairly extensive research on the topic. By research, what I mean is I show up to work, and I am accosted by a teacher in the hall who can't wait tell me that they hate SharePoint today. After some critical thinking, and and little Q and A, this is what I have been able to distill. When someone says, "I Hate SharePoint", I hear them saying:

1.) I don't hate SharePoint - I hate that I have had to write a new website every year for the past three years. Plus, if I learn how to create a SharePoint site now, won't everything be different next year, making what I have learned obsolete?

2.) I don't hate sharepoint - I don't have an extensive technical vocabulary, so I don't know how to describe what I want to do. I can picture it in my head, but not describe it.

3.) I don't hate sharepoint - I thought I knew how to do something simple (like change my contact information on my main teacher page), but when I attempted it I got an unexpected result, and I can't figure out why it didn't work. This frustrates me.

4.) I don't hate SharePoint - I am worried that if I attempt to do something myself, either it won't work, or I will do something so terrible, it cannot be undone. It is better to put it off rather than tempt fate.

5.) I don't hate sharepoint - I need help finding an option that is in a menu, but I am not familiar with the menus.

6.) I don't hate SharePoint - I hate that my students don't go to my site, or very few of them go to my site, so why did I bother building it?!?

7.) I don't hate SharePoint - I hate learning about SharePoint as it is an area outside my comfort zone, and it causes me a lot of anxiety because I am worried about how much I will have to learn just to get started.

8.) I don't hate SharePoint - I just love my Mac. And there are a lot more Mac's out there than people realize. I am a Mac user at home too.

9.) I hate SharePoint - well, there is always one in a crowd, isn't there?

Currently the district invests a great deal of money in SharePoint. It also invests money in training key individuals at the top in how to do anything and everything you could possibly want to do with SharePoint. They spend money sponsoring Learning Teams and Learning Groups, where mentor teachers get some paid time and teachers get some classroom coverage to learn new skills, such as the use of SharePoint or other kinds of technology in their classrooms. I think this is money well spent.

Is SharePoint perfect? No. Does it take a lot of time to learn? It depends. SharePoint can be like one of those bloated swiss army knives that is so thick with tools it is unusable.

I think the key to making SharePoint more widely accepted is as follows:

1.) Implement SharePoint 2010 over summer break and let everyone know that they don't have to do anything - the district will do it for them. (I know the district plans to roll out SP 2010 with no teacher effort required)

2.) Implement SharePoint 2010 over summer break, as it is easier to edit, and is Mac friendly.

3.) Don't change anything for a couple of years. No moves, no version changes. Change nothing. Let everyone get used to the same website for a couple years. Let some people choose to set up their sites and do nothing with them for a couple years if that is their wish. But I think people will begin to feel comfortable with their sites in this era of stability, and be more motivated learn more about their sites, and try new new ideas and web parts on their own time.

4. ) If kids are not coming to your website, it probably isn't a lack of bling. Or games. Or buzzers. It may be because kids don't need to go there, or kids don't have a role in the website. Figure out what kids need and what parents need. Then put that on the site, and not much else. Forget about being fancy.

One teacher is going to change the animation on her site every couple of days, and offer incentives to kids who can tell her what the new one is. While this might get kids looking at the animation on her site, will they be exploring the other content there? I don't think they will.

I am going to do some thinking and asking around and find out what kids and parents need from their site, and then post on it. Think you know what parents and kids need on a classroom website? Please comment - I will post it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Teaching Old Mechanic New Tricks

My father was a teacher in our district for 32 years. He taught mostly Maths, Science and different shop classes - including Auto Mechanics for high school students. My dad can fix anything. As a child I remember him fixing everything himself. Heck, he built our house.

Whenever I am installing a new appliance that requires a little "custom fitting" or doing some sort of repair or upkeep on my car, I usually end up consulting Dad.

Me: How tight do I torque the spark plugs?

Dad: Well - you want them in there really tight, but don't over tighten them. You could strip the threads really easily and that will cost you a lot of money!

Invariably, I have him check the plugs afterwards and invariably he needs to tighten at least one.

Dad thought he would help me today by changing one of my car's headlights. My back is out so bending over to fix it myself is quite painful. But, I could see he was having a hard time getting the bulb out. He asked me if I had a manual, and I said, "of course."

I whipped out my phone and googled ""how do I change the headlight bulb on..." and google began auto-completing my search. The first hit explained how to do it in 5 steps. I told my dad that the problem was he needed to squeeze in the retaining tabs a little further and it will come out easily.

He said. "What? No... I am squeezing it plenty...wait! Oh, ok, I got it now."

I showed him the instructions on my phone. Maybe I shouldn't have as his head was under the hood, and I was sounding like a genius when I was reading off the step-by-step instructions on bulb extraction!

My Dad used to think that he just wanted a cell phones for making calls and that is it. People think that because that is all they needed a phone for in the past, they shouldn't need a phone that does anything else. I wonder if having access to countless repair manuals in the palm of his hand may make him reconsider his choice of phones- it could save a lot of time and guesswork?

All I know is, no matter what cell phone I have (and my HTC Desire does rock), I will still need my Dad.