Get a bunch of Texas Technology Directors into a room together and right now at least, one of the big topics of conversation will be Project Share. For those of you outside of the Lone Star State, Project Share is an initiative by the Texas Education Agency to use an online service called ?Epsilen? as sort of a one-stop shop for everything Web 2.0-ish.
Project Share has been purchased for all Texas teachers, and will soon be available for all Texas Students.
Among the abilities (and this is a very digested list here) of the PS site for teachers is the ability to:
? Create online courses
? Create Wikis
? Belong to online groups
? Connect to any other teacher in the Project Share system
? Provide or take professional development online
? Access to PBS Texas online
? Access to the
? Be a conduit for the Texas Education Agency to communicate information
At the recent TecSig meeting in Austin, the most talked about topic was PS, and everyone had an opinion, ranging from ?We will never touch it? to ?We have jumped in head first and are using it daily.?
So why would such a seemingly innocuous tool lead to such contention?
There are several reasons, and like everything in the world, the vast majority of them have to do with poor communication.
The PS project has been hamstrung be a pretty poor rollout, which followed a pretty poor explanation of why it existed in the first place.
The whole PS project was sort of sprung on the entire state by surprise in the spring of 2010, and took most of the technology directors aback. What was it? Why was it coming out now? Who wanted it to begin with?
Unfortunately, the statewide rollout did not use the tools available to the state to the best advantage, and the professional development side of the PS was scattered at best.
So, all of this left a nasty taste in everyone?s collective mouths. Were we supposed to use it? Were we supposed to wait? Were we supposed to train all teachers/ Would the state train all of the teachers? And finally, what did PS have that you just couldn?t get everywhere else?
Miguel Guhlin does a good job of summarizing up the confusion and frustration on this blog entry.
There are concerns with this big initiative. And the confusion hasn?t helped with the roll out.
Finally, Assoc. Commissioner Anita Givens, the person about as high up in the Texas Education Agency as you can get without being a political appointee, spoke directlyto the technology directors about Project Share. Her presentation was concise, and in typical Anita Givens style, did not mince words.
Click here and start at about minute 34.
She stated that PS was a vehicle that the Texas Education Agency was using to start getting more and more professional development online.
She stated that she could not guarantee that PS would be around forever, but she said on the other hand, she couldn?t guarantee that anything would be around forever, especially since the Texas legislature only funds things in 2 year increments.
In reading Miguel?s thoughts, one would imagine that the gist of her speech was that PS was mainly going to be used as a tool by the agency and nothing more. I think that that is a simplistic view.
TEA has provided an avenue for every teacher to begin to connect, to blog, to create wikis, to move classes online, and to use all of those Web 2.0 tools that the same technology directors that were grumbling about PS have been saying that teachers have not been using for all of these years.
Givens was adamant that the tool will be used for professional development. She was not speaking in the theoretical. In fact, it was almost as if she was saying to the crowd, ?We are using for professional development, you need to be as well.?
PS won?t be going anywhere soon. TEA will not have jumped into it and have pushed it like Givens did on Friday if they were not anticipating a long-haul effort. The longer the agency stays in Epsilen , the more difficult it will be to extract from the tool.
Yes, it is not as elegant as say, a Facebook interface, and it takes some getting used to. But Miguel hit the nail on the head when he thought that this could be the long awaited-for TENET replacement that was promised years ago. (TENET was an initiative by the state during the1990?s that allowed teachers email and the ability to do rudimentary BBS services.)
Currently, there is no technical reason that students cannot also be logged into the system as well.
Another thought that came to mind while listening to Anita was how teachers could use PS for things other than just professional development.
One of the telling comments Anita made was that if PS is not used, it cannot be justified to the legislature. So essentially she was saying ?use it or lose it.? That will be an interesting battle to watch, because in the state there is a growing contingent among the open source crowd that programs such as Moodle are just as powerful and just as well developed as programs like Epsilen, they will begin to make a stink about the price, which I think is in the ballpark of $5 million. Many of that crowd are also the tech directors that directly or indirectly control the technology professional development in their districts. If they are swayed by the ?Moodle is better? or ?Project Share has no future? arguments, then the road to full utilization will indeed be difficult.
I foresee a Moodle vs. Project Share battle rising up in the near future.
I am getting my bag of popcorn