Book Review: What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann Editors
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media
Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann
Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney used to make movies in the late 1930’s and 40’s where the whole purpose of the movie was to get a bunch of friends together and put on a show, with the show being the grand finale of the movie. The phrase “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” sprung from those old Garland/Rooney movies. Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann pull a similar digital technology feat in their book “What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media” a collection of seventeen essays covering a wide variety of current tools and concepts that education administrators may want to use at their campuses or in their districts. I can just imagine the tweets that went back and forth between the editors and the prospective authors when they were planing the book: “Hey kids, let’s put on a show, er, I mean book!” When the book was done, they had a big party, just like in the movies! McLeod and Lehmann rounded up an all star cast of ed tech illuminati, who would be easily recognizable to the ed tech crowd, and completely meaningless to the non-ed tech crowd who this tome is aimed at. But that is okay, because the authors give the book a gravitas that if both editors went it alone, would not have been able to achieve. Names like Sheryl Nussbaum Beach, Miguel Guhlin, Will Richardson, and Ewan McIntosh among others are recruited as writers, and for the most part, they write with a partner on each chapter. For instance, Will Richardson and Karl Fisch collaborate to create a chapter on RSS. The end effect is a quick read and for the most part, achieves the desired affect of teaching without lecturing but it does have some issues that at least, make it less of a strong book than it could have been.
Each chapter is, for the most part, a single general topic; “Blogs” or “One-to-One Computing” for instance, that covers in some detail what the topic is, gives a few examples of how they are used in educational settings, and then talks a little more about the concept with a summary and bibliography at the end.
There are two ”Interludes” that are used to break the monotony of one topic after another but they are not a distraction from the overall book. One is on how social networking is changing the world, and another talks about what the new information literacy is all about.
The topics are designed to introduce a novice educational leader to the language of digital technology, and social media. In that they do a good job. The topics are written, for the most part without too much techno babble, although a few authors slip into nerdville on occasion.
For the novice administrator, or for an educator trying to GET an administrator up to speed, this is a good introduction. It reads quickly, the chapters are not so long as to bore the reader, and they do not have to be read in sequence to get an understanding. As a matter of fact, one chapter does not require the other, so chapters can be skipped if one has a knowledge of a particular topic, although I would encourage a thorough reading because there are some interesting links embedded in most chapters that demonstrate examples of the chapter topic. The book lacks connections from one chapter to the next which is a plus in that you can read it “pinball style” going from one topic to another that sounds interesting without missing anything.
The lack of connections however also demonstrate the limitations of a book written by committee. One chapter rarely references another, so one cannot easily make the connection for instance between one-to-one computing and blogging. Even though we assume the various authors KNOW the connections, those are not spelled out in the book. So would a school leader with limited time want to make a wiki or a podcast? Get on Twitter or write a blog? There is no real starting spot, although one would assume that the book is written from a simple-to-hard linearity, that is not the case as some of the topics are harder (Podcasting for instance) than subsequent ones (Twitter).
Some of the chapters are excellent, some good, some so so. It is becoming more and more difficult to read someone still talking about a “new generation of learners” and how we need to prepare kids for a future we know nothing about as David Warlick does in his Forward. There is nothing new or revelatory in this, and surely any school leader that has not heard that message has been hiding under a rock and wont read the book anyway. By contrast the most memorable chapter was the Afterword by Christopher Sessums, who, it seems, is the only author in the entire book that speaks directly to administrators as administrators. His talk is frank and to the point: The battle between wanting to use technology and needing to use technology in class is something that is being fought not only in the campus level but at the state level as well, where the conflict between raising test scores is waged against the illusion that technology adds more work in the classroom. Sussums’ piece should have been the preface, and Warlick’s should have been the conclusion. The two are 180 degrees out of place in the book.
I think that any book about this topic would have benefitted from carrying on the conversation online in a single space where the various diverse authors could have expanded what they wanted to say beyond the confines of the editors. (The one website cited in the introduction http://techtoolsforschools.org is a dead link, a not very auspicious opening to the entire work when the editors give the reader a non-working link. The hashtag #edtechlead is, as far as I can tell, for something Scott McLeod runs, and is not specifically connected to the book. If a “novice” were to follow the hashtags right this minute, the conversation would be so far away from the topics in the book that a newbie would immediately be lost.) Therefore, having all of the authors carry on the topic online would have allowed several things:
It would have allowed the authors to expand the conversation to actually speak WITH the school leaders that the book is addressed to. The school leadership portion of the book is something that is sorely lacking. There is little in the way of giving leaders strategies for implementation, only examples of where it is done successfully. How DOES one get teachers to work collaboratively on a Wiki? What are some strategies? What are topics for podcasts that a school administrator might want to use if, after reading the podcasting chapter. The after-book website would have been a great place to go for the actual authors to answer questions. As it is, one has to hunt down each and every author’s websites from the back of the book, and many of them are very intimidating to newbies.
Having an online after-book presence would also allowed the authors to demonstrate the topics that they were discussing. If my interest was piqued by the Free and Open Source chapter, then there should have been a place for me to see more about that to see the programs in action. Same for the rest of the book. Even something as simple as a page with all of the accumulated links mentioned in the book would have been helpful. Without it, the feeling of the book is disjointed, again, a book by committee.
Having the online presence would have allowed readers to start their own conversation, using the book as a starting point. As a matter of fact, a neat idea would have been for each chapter to actually have a corresponding prompt that could ONLY have been answered online, sort of forcing the conversation to go there. This would have had the added benefit of gently pushing reluctant readers into the online environment, giving the nervous a walled garden sandbox to play. Alas, there isn’t that play space. Surely the collected brain power of this book could have generated a website that could have helped readers in a matter of hours. It also would have given the readers a treat, being able to interact with the authors in a sort of “secret place.” Administrators love getting stuff like that!
Lastly, the index is one of the most confusing I have ever seen. In most books, the Index has a cross referenced page number that the reader can then go back and read. In my iBook version, the Index is just an alphabetical list of words with no page reference and no context. If each one were hyperlinked to the page referenced, I would understand, but there is no such hyperlink: just words. I have no idea why that is that way. It is almost as if the editors were contractually obligate to make a book a certain length, and decided to have a word wall in the back to fill space.
Even with all that said, I still can recommend the book. But I recommend with a caveat: Give it as a gift to someone that needs to know about how digital technology works in a school but has not made an effort to get it going. Explain the limitations of the book. Explain who the authors are and why they are important, because their names will mean nothing to the person that this book is targeted towards. Offer yourself as a reference source to help explain confusing parts of the book. Don’t just drop it on a desk and ask someone to read it. Read it in a book study, as part of a Professional Learning Community exercise. In other words, don’t do what the book did and leave the novice reader hanging. If you gift this book and then help the giftee understand it, you will make it a much richer experience, something that this book could have been if the authors and editors had just practiced for the reader, what they preached to the reader.
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media
Edited by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Jossey-Bass (October 25, 2011)
Available in physical form from Amazon and Barnes and Noble $23.99
Available in digital form from iBooks and Amazon $14.00