Transparent Networked Learning

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This is brilliant:

Visitors to the White House

Some clever, clever person has mapped who was going to the White House, to visit with whom, on a given day. And made public that information.

This is the kind of thing that can shine sunlight into government. This kind of network awareness can help us track the thinking of our leaders, and help us decide if a given representative is too beholden to special interests or not.  One of the comments on the website even suggested color-coding the names based on what meeting they were attending and what the official topic of discussion was.

This kind of thing could happen in our schools, too.  This is the kind of data-map that could change what our students did.  Imagine if, instead of Rahm Emmanuel, it said “Johnny in the fourth row of History class”.  Imagine if the arrows showed the people visiting his blog; the number of edits he made on his wiki pages; the number of comments he left on other people’s pages; the number of YouTube videos he’d watched; the number of Tweets he’d contributed with the hash tag associated with his current research project.

Transparency in government.  And ultimately, transparency in schools.   “What do they teach them in these schools?” the Professor wonders in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. With this kind of visual network technology, making explicit the formerly implicit might be how we tell who is “educated” and who is merely “going through the motions.”  Hmmm.  It’s both scary in a panopticon sort of way, and rather interesting.

Fencing & Financing

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It’s fencing season here at school again.  I can always tell, because near the start of the season I put in what is (to me, anyway) a heart-stoppingly large order for new gear and equipment.  And then, somehow, the school business office apportions it all out among the various families and parents, and charges the cost of the necessary coaching to my team budget as needed, and it all works out.

I’d like to thank the business office of my school, and all school business offices everywhere, for doing such important and valuable work.  Because without the counting, accounting, and re-counting, a lot of what I do wouldn’t be possible.

Financial leadership in a school is pretty critical, particularly in times like these.  Like many private schools, we pretty much know our budget for the year from Day One of school — the tuition payments the parents make pretty much confirm how much we can actually spend.  Our development department raises some more through the Annual Fund, but that’s … not exactly gravy — but not exactly regular budget money, either.

If the money doesn’t flow, and flow well, bad things happen.  Most teachers I know struggle around money; it’s not really part of their portfolio of thought beyond their retirement packages.  But our school business office keeps us in paperclips and composition notebooks, team jerseys and electrical power, and keeps our Internet connection up and running by paying our ISP regularly.

I wouldn’t wish their job on myself, or anyone not specially trained; and I’m as amazed as can be every day when the lights turn on because our bills our paid and the money is flowing well.

Tomorrow, thank your school’s on-site business manager, if there is one.  Thank the person who handles the petty cash requests and receipts.  Suggest to him or her that you do in fact notice the things that money does around school.  Don’t hint direly that there isn’t enough; there’s not even enough money at Harvard to do all the things they want to do, and they have billions of dollars.

Do thank them for what the money does do… pay for necessities, advance the goals of your institution, and pay for the niceties — like heat and the roof and the lights over your head — which make it possible to do what you do so well.

The business managers provide the interface between your work as a teacher, and the larger economy. And sometimes, that important but largely unnoticed work, is all that stands between you and a ruined classroom with a roof that’s open to the sky.