Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Students need Technology and Teachers

I had the good fortune to be invited to the staff professional development (PD) day (Nov. 26) at Gleneagle Secondary School as a speaker (you can view my presentation here).  More importantly though, I was able to sit in on the student panel session.  Five grade 12 students were asked to speak about their use of personal technology at school and in class, in particular cell and smart phones.  Their use ranged from addiction (yes, really) to indifferent.

This school staff had recently been debating the use of cell phone technology in class (see blog post here by @bryanjack).  I am impressed that they included student voice in their PD day.  The back and forth between the students and their teachers (and vice principals) was very open, honest, and authentic.  Teachers had an opportunity to “drill” them on how teacher policies (ban, allow, or…) for personal technology affected them.  One student admitted to being very capable of covert texting…  Overall, the key message was that cell/mobile tech was valuable when used purposefully.  E.g., as a calculator, a google tool for information, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and if a more sophisticated device (iphone), specific apps were deemed helpful.  The parties seemed to agree that there is a time and place for this technology and there was interest in trying to work to find that balance.  They talked about respect for a speaker or teacher and how texting or BBMing (blackberry messenger) is disrespectful to a speaker.  Note that all felt it wasn’t appropriate to use during physical education… <a joke>…

I visited Gleneagle earlier that week to sit in on some classes to observe students and teachers using technology and to talk to them about what they were using, why, and what they liked or didn’t like, how it supported their learning or didn’t, etc.  One class, the #Talons grade 9/10 gifted group, were discussing how to make an open Internet, open book test on the American Revolution work effectively (for the next day).  Students would be given a quote or question just before the test and they were allowed to choose pretty much any tool or method to research and demonstrate their learning for the quote or question.  Some created a prezi, others a bubbl.us, and others a blog post – check out the exemplars here.  This was an innovative way to write a short essay answer to a test question. 

Donya talks about prep for open Internet test
Donya shares how she would prepare for and undertake this test.

From my other class visits I was able to capture more student voices about how technology impacts them and how they use it to complete class assignments. 

Walden speaks up about critical thinking
This student, in an AP 12 economics class spoke to me about the importance of critical thinking in this digital era and how important the role of teachers is in helping students be critical thinkers.  Two other students shared how they
Andrew and David share their process for this assignment
are using technology to complete an English 12 assignment to compare and contrast George Orwell’s 1984, the Minority Report (movie), and current world events.

Similarly, Kyri shares how she is researching and recording notes and links for

Kyri shares her approach to research and collaboration
her English 12 (a different class from above example) Orwell 1984 team project where she is on the Ministry of Plenty team.  Students use the class wiki for collaboration within their my43 virtual classroom.

It is amazing how articulate students are about their projects, how they prepare, their approach, what technology they use and why. Technology really does play a significant role in their lives both personally and for learning.  imageThe key is they need great teachers to support them, create the opportunities for them to use technology in purposeful ways, to teach them to think, and to connect them to content knowledge in interesting ways.

(slide included courtesy of Dean Shareski)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Overcoming the Digital Divide

Many school districts have socio-economic diversity.  I know in our District there are school communities that are very affluent and others where families are quite poor.  We also have schools where there is a diverse mix of affluent and poor families.  When technology and access to the Internet is brought into the mix, we are unfortunately faced with the Digital Divide, a canyon so to speak, between have and have not families. (photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bestrated1/29567927/)

We, as are many other school systems, talk about how technology (laptop, netbook, mobile) will become a common school supply.  This is based on the belief that tech costs will continue to decline and families often buy game consoles that cost about what a netbook costs today.  I wonder how close we are to this becoming a reality?  One where all families have equal access to technology in their homes, connected at high speed to the vast Internet, and their children have a mobile learning device to bring to school.

I read an article “Opening Digital Doors” (author: Donna DeGennaro) in the November 2010 issue of Educational Leadership.  The story takes place in Boston and how the citywide Tech Goes Home (TGH) program has provided computers to low-income families in 43 schools.  It involves providing a low-cost laptop (families pay $50) after parents / guardians have spent 25 hours in training classes (video available here).  This is an interesting mix of educating the adults, their children learn and teach along side them and help, and getting a useful 21st century tool in their home.  Kids help their parents learn search strategies and pursue career goals.  It supports the entire family in being connected to what has become an essential tool and resource for student and adult learning and managing other needs.  The parents are taught how to communicate with email with the school / teacher.  They learn useful skills with Excel to manage their home budget.  Overall, parent and student information and technical literacy rises.  The author writes about providing a rigorous curriculum grounded in

“pedagogy in inquiry, exploration, experiential learning, and the chance to make connections among various learning areas.  Digital technology is central to this inquiry focus.  Teachers use technology daily to support learning.  As a result, students see technology as integral to constructing knowledge.”, pg. 74

I think the last statement is important for parents and guardians to understand – the importance today of technology to support learning – 21st century learning, and personalized learning.  Another significant benefit the TGH initiative has produced is strengthened relationships between parent and teacher, parent and child.  

I believe the digital divide is not just a financial problem, but rather it is a problem of understanding the connection of technology to learning.  There is a divide in people’s understanding of how technology supports and transforms learning today.

We need to overcome both divides: understanding AND finances for families.  Could the Neighbourhood of Learning Centres (NLC) springing up in BC schools be an answer?  Could afterschool computer access be made available to parents with their kids?  Who would teach them?  What about IT support needs?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thoughts on being Digitally Responsible

I wrote a post Digital Natives Need Infrastructure last spring about a visit I made to our first Digital Immersion classroom at Riverside Secondary school.  That visit and subsequent workshops with principals and IT staff on Digital Tools and Social Responsibility spawned a priority for our District to review and revise our procedures.  We need to ensure they are current and able to guide our students and employees in being responsible in their use of digital tools, services, and content.  The need for increased bandwidth is another top priority but without digitally responsible use, bandwidth on its own is not the solution to an overused network.  Digital FootprintWhile writing Living and Learning Responsibly in the Digital World and then  Privacy, Living and Learning Digitally, I reflected on some examples of students not being digitally responsible.  What digital “foot print” are students leaving? (photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/langwitches/5141256792/)

A small team of amazing staff development coordinators are working with me to develop Digital Responsibility Guidelines and to review and propose revisions to district and school procedures and “policies” (not to be confused with Board Policy).  I’ve included some draft work on a new “acceptable use policy” for students (see below) and a second piece of work developed by our team on digital rights and responsibilities for learners.

The team would really appreciate feedback and input on the content and organization of these two resources.

Acceptable Use “Policy” (early draft work)


School District No. 43 (Coquitlam) (the District) provides digital network connections within its schools and administrative buildings. Furthermore, the District provides digital network connections between its schools, administrative buildings, and the Internet. Students use computers and other digital tools that are provided by their school, the District, or themselves to access school, District, and Internet sites and online services that enhance and enable their learning. Students have access to and are able to participate in a variety of digital services and content including this sample list: public websites, secure virtual classrooms, discussion boards, video files, digital pictures, audio files, library systems, e-mail, file storage, printing, encyclopedias, wikis, blogs, texting, and messaging tools.

It is possible for students to receive, access, and contribute inappropriate digital material and to conduct themselves inappropriately through the District’s network. The District is obligated by its Policies 17 and 18 to ensure safe, orderly, and caring physical and digital learning spaces and to inform parents of the potential risk and to impose rules on what students are able to see and do in digital environments.

The primary purpose for the District’s network is to support student learning, teaching, and the administrative functions of schools and the District. Students are expected to use the District network in support of their learning, however some personal use is acceptable as long as it adheres to the District responsibility guidelines and that it does not interfere with other students learning or teaching and administrative activities.

Role and Responsibility of School Personnel

  • Keep students’ personal information including their names and images, private, unless parents are informed
  • Seek out content and digital tools that is of educational quality and that will help each student learn
  • Teach students how to locate, evaluate, and use information
  • Model digital responsibility in front of students and colleagues
  • Ensure students feel safe, are protected, and are respected online within the realm of school and classroom activities and projects
  • Facilitate student learning about appropriate behavior online
  • Report behavior that is harmful, unsafe and/or inappropriate
  • Monitor and supervise student use of District, school, and personally-owned devices including cell phones to ensure their use is digitally responsible

Role and Responsibility of Parents

--- nothing written yet…  ideas on this would be appreciated ---

Role and Responsibility of Students

All Digital Responsibility Guidelines apply to students using District, school, or personally owned computers and digital tools including cell phones.


  • Use District and personally-owned devices and digital tools for educational purposes
  • Follow copyright laws and acknowledge and respect the ownership of others for their creative works
  • Keep your personal information (last name, home address, phone #’s, picture, passwords) private
  • Respect the privacy of other students and adults
  • Report uncomfortable, unsafe, or inappropriate behavior or messages to your teacher or principal
  • Treat others fairly
  • Treat other students and adults with respect
  • Understand that digital tools such as e-mail, messaging, social networks, websites, wikis, blogs, texting are not guaranteed to be private

Do not

  • Share your passwords
  • Take and use someone else’s identity (their name, password)
  • Falsify your identity
  • Take pictures or videos of others and share them without their permission
  • Hurt or mistreat others by what you create or share
  • Harass, stalk, bully, threaten, insult, abuse, or attack others
  • Damage computer systems, networks, digital tools or content
  • Access secure information owned by others without their permission
  • Use information or work of others as your own without their permission
  • Use software programs that are not provided by the school or District or that are not free or purchased by you for your personally-owned device
  • Use District or personally-owned devices for commercial, illegal, or malicious purposes
  • Use District or personally-owned devices to operate file or other digital content searching or sharing services
  • Access or distribute pornographic or obscene pictures, videos, or text
  • Use your cell phone or mobile device unless approved by the principal or your teacher
  • Meet with someone you meet online without your parent(s) or guardian(s) approving and going with you

And the second resource…

Digital Rights and Responsibilities for our Learners


  • To empower students in their use of digital resources.
  • To educate students in the lawful use of digital resources.
  • To protect students while in our care and custody.



Privacy Rights

I have the right to:

· Keep my personal information, including my image, private.

· Develop my identity and to share it in the way that I choose.

· Be assured that when I give my personal information it will be kept safe and only used in appropriate ways.

· Correct any of my personal information that is inaccurate.

· Have my personal information stored in Canada and nowhere else unless I choose for it to be.

· Protection, if I report something.

Privacy Responsibilities

I have the responsibility to:

· Take responsibility for my choices and actions.

· Learn about and always be aware of the risks of sharing my personal information and images with others.

· Not take someone else’s identity (e.g. use another’s password).

· Not take pictures of others on school property without their permission.

· Report inaccuracies in my personal information.

Copyright Rights

I have the right to:

· Be known as the author of works that I have created.

· Use content, music, images, etc. for my personal use.

· State how others will use works that I have created.

Copyright Responsibilities

I have the responsibility to:

· Acknowledge and respect the ownership of others over their works.

· Respect the right of other authors to state how they want their works to be used.

Use and Access to Information Rights

I have the right to:

· Learn, and communicate my learning.

· Create new works.

· Have an opinion and to express myself freely.

· Access and use district resources.

· Locate and share information.

Use and Access to Information Responsibilities

I have the responsibility to:

· Seek out content that is of educational quality and that will help me to learn.

· Use district resources for educational, school-related purposes (e.g. non-profit).

· Use no more than my fair share of district resources.

· Learn about and always be aware that what I might express could be perceived by others as offensive.

· Protect my access to district resources (e.g. passwords).

· Ensure my actions don’t damage district resources (e.g. viruses, hacking, physical).

Behaviour Rights

I have the right to:

· Feel safe and be respected.

· Be protected from being hurt or mistreated in body or in mind.

· Choose my own friends.

· Meet with my friends or other groups (e.g. in person or online).

Behaviour Responsibilities

I have the responsibility to:

· Respect the rights and freedoms of others.

· Not hurt or mistreat others by what I create and share.

· Treat others fairly and not harass, stalk, threaten, insult or attack others.

· Report unsafe and inappropriate behaviour.

Invitation to provide input / feedback / advice:

  1. How would you define “digital responsibility”?
  2. Are there rights or responsibilities you might disagree with?  Which do you appreciate the most?
  3. Should we provide a list of types of external tools (animation, video, social networking, wikis, blogs, messaging, texting, web documents and lists, web email, calendar, avatars, profiles etc.) and requirements or advice for using them?
  4. Should we provide advice around appropriate web writing, messaging, communicating? What advice would you provide?
  5. Should we provide Friending advice?  I.E., should teachers add students as friends on Facebook?  should they accept Friend requests?  Why? What about for students?
  6. How might students help with self-regulation around their use of network resources?
  7. What would implementation of a “policy” like this look like for students? teachers? principals? parents?
  8. Anything else you might add?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Education for an automated future

I just got back from a short trip to Toronto, ON, Canada.  I used my iPad with my kindle reader to read some books on the way there and back.  It’s amazing that I can have 1/2 dozen books on a thin electronic slate, highlight and add notes, and later sync it up to “the cloud” for use later.  E-readers are disruptive technologies…

While sitting in a cab cruising through the city, I wondered about the economy.  Actually, I think a lot about our economy these days.  I am overwhelmed with the complexity and magic that defines the economy.  Small shops on obscure streets, massive 50 story business towers, huge hotels, hospitals, government buildings, university facilities, restaurants, people walking everywhere, grid locked traffic with people coming and going, and so on.  At the airport, there are untold numbers of people going to and coming from hundreds or thousands of locations.  Some for pleasure and some for business.  Just one day in Toronto probably represents billions of dollars of monetary activity.  People are involved in creating, producing, serving, educating, learning, eating, purchasing, managing, etc. involving massive amounts of money every day.  But at a fundamental level, how does this actually work?

Disclaimer: I am not an economist and my musings in this post are just musings.  Simply put, our free market economy is based on a capitalistic system: there are producers and there are consumers.  Interestingly though, most consumers are involved in some aspect of production as workers.  A capitalistic system generally involves producers investing capital in improvements to production processes to become more efficient or to produce new products or higher volumes, and to lower the cost of production.  With technology, this often results in some loss of certain types of jobs.  But, new jobs are usually created somewhere in the system to absorb displaced workers and to accommodate new entries.  Workers are paid a wage and they consume the goods and services produced.  Wages are distributed in an unequal way – this is due to how we value certain work or the level of education required to do the work or how complex the work is, etc.  As long as there is continuous growth in the size of the economy, the system seems to work.  It has created tremendous wealth for those involved in this economy.  But, it hasn’t benefited all… there are sadly approximately 2 billion people in the world that earn and live off of the equivalent of $2.00 or less per day.

But, what if the system runs out of steam?  What if we enter a new era where more jobs are permanently lost that are created?  What might cause this potential future?  And what should we do about it if we believe it to be possible or likely?  I suspect most people don’t like to think about questions like this.  I know I don’t but I think we have to.

I’ve read a few books that talk about the impact of technology on work and our economic well being.  Historically, we all know that the impact has been overall very positive.  Many people have become obscenely wealthy but more importantly more people than at any time in history now enjoy a very good lifestyle.  Technology has fueled a remarkable wealth generating machine.  The books I’ve read that really speak to this topic include:

image   image

If you choose to read these be prepared to have your world view about the economy, jolted.  These are not feel good stories but I think the topic is very important for our society to be addressing now.  Ford says

“if we can foresee that technology is likely to have a highly disruptive impact on our economy in the coming years and decades, then we really need to start thinking about that well in advance”, Kindle location 208

The primary factor driving us to automation is that technology is doubling in power / capability approximately every 18-24 months – referred to as Moore’s Law named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore.  It is an exponential change.  The graph shows linear (red), cubic (blue), and exponential (green) curves.

In terms of history, 50 years ago, we were still in the early part of the curve (green curve) you don’t notice much change – it’s slow.  But later (today, the future), it accelerates in front of our eyes.  Do you feel that the last 10 years of technology change has been more extreme than the previous 10?  Well, with exponential growth in computing power, the next 10 years will be even more pronounced – you ain’t seen nothing yet...  Ford adds

“Nearly all of us sense that our world is changing rapidly and that perhaps things seem to be speeding up. We’ve become accustomed especially to continuous improvement in technology. We notice that the laptop computer we buy today is dramatically faster and lighter and more feature-packed than the one we bought just a few years ago, and yet it costs less. Our new cell phone is smaller or lighter, but it does more”, Kindle location 517

Try this experiment to help drive home the power of exponential growth – Ford’s example (Kindle locations 543, 556, 558)

“To illustrate the extraordinary acceleration that this implies, imagine starting with a penny and then doubling the amount you have every day for a month; We pass the million-dollar mark at day 28 and end up on day 30 with over five million dollars; If we could continue the process for another thirty days, we would have an astonishing $5,764,607,523,034,235—or nearly six quadrillion dollars!”

Try it yourself on paper so that you see how slowly your money starts to grow and then how rapidly it leaps ahead.  The economic impact premise is that at some point, in the near future, technological improvements (that continue to grow exponentially) resulting in automation will increasingly and more quickly create permanent job loss.

“If at some point, machines are likely to permanently take over a great deal of the work now performed by human beings, then that will be a threat to the very foundation of our economic system. This is not something that will just work itself out. This is something that we need to begin thinking about”, Ford - Kindle location 217

The improvements projected are based on the view that with faster computers more capabilities that seem impossible today will be embedded in machines.  More machines will replace what people do today.  History teaches us that millions upon millions of jobs that used to exist have been replaced already.  Fortunately, new jobs have always been created as the economy increased in complexity and diversity.  But think for a minute about what jobs no longer exist or have been automated or what machines do that wasn’t possible before…  a few examples: telephone operator (plugging cables in to connect calls), bank tellers vs ATM banking / online banking, automotive diagnostics (computers), tax preparation (software, online), farming (highly sophisticated machines have replaced most farm workers for plowing, picking, milking, etc.), airplanes land themselves – pilots babysit, music production/distribution industry, newspaper industry (more failing every day), etc.  Automation is quickly disrupting work everywhere.  I won’t go into lots of details here – the books do a fantastic job of providing that.

“A single farmer with access to tractors, specialized machinery and chemical herbicides can now function almost entirely alone. No workers are required, and the labor content of cotton produced in West Texas is essentially zero.”, Ford – Kindle location 1829

So fundamentally, what if automation permanently displaces 50% of all jobs in our economy?  Or, 75% of all jobs?  Remember, our economy is  based on consumption who are the workers collecting wages.  Without consumers, there is no incentive for businesses to create and produce.  With 50-75% of all workers displaced without a source of income, who will consume all the goods and services produced by mostly automated businesses? Where is the market going to be?  Ironically, businesses are compelled to automate (invest capital) in our economic system – if they don’t, they can’t compete.

I hope you see that the economic system we currently enjoy isn’t sustainable if (when) automation takes over most work.  Welfare is not the answer.  Education on it’s own isn’t the answer.  In an automated economy, we will need a fundamentally different way of incenting people to contribute to society and to share in the wealth.  Who will figure this out?  According to Ford (Lights in the Tunnel), economists are viewing the future in light of the past.  They ignore the exponential increase in the power of technology and the impact of automation.  Also, most of us think it’s the lower paying factory jobs that get automated – that simply isn’t the case.  As computers become more powerful, they will appear to think and they will have sophisticated vision and pattern recognition systems (something humans are really good at).  It would seem that we need to prepare for a jobless future and figure out how to prepare ourselves and to adapt our free market economy for this potential reality.

Education has a tremendous role to play here.  Memorizing facts from the past will not help create a preferred future…  Fortunately, with all the talk of 21st century learning and skills, there is hope.  But, we need to act sooner than later.  We need teachers and students to be engaged in studying big problems and working on potential solutions.  We need to implement a 21st century curriculum, soon.  We can’t wait for our economists and governments to do this – change and hope needs to come from our classrooms.  Our students will inherit the future so it would seem wise to have them help determine it…

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Technology enabled choices for Students and Teachers

I recently had the privilege of visiting a couple of our middle school classrooms.  Our middle schools have students in grades 6-8 and they are organized into teams of approximately 120 students who share teachers for their core subjects then explore other topics or subjects with specialist teachers.

One classroom I visited is led by a technology specialist teacher James Gill.  I wrote briefly about this visit in a previous post Preparing Students through Educational Futuristics.  In this classroom, James was facilitating skills development and collaboration with a variety of technical tools including discussion boards within our my43 portal and using Google Sketchup (free) to propose designs for their new school to open in 2014.  Here is James talking about the setup for the learning activity…

James talks about using discussion board to brainstorm school design

Emily took the lead with a topic discussing the pros and cons of Smart boards vs. White boards and shares some perspective from and about the online discussion with us here…

Emily talks about interactive white boards

A key criteria he emphasizes for school design is sustainability and “green” features.  James then shares with us a piece of student work involving a proposed classroom design for the new school to be built in 2014…

School of the Future

What I observed is a teacher engaging his students in a topic they have a personal connection to: design features for the school to be built in 2014 to replace their current school.  James enabled choice in how much they participated in the requirements gathering – some students responded to topics while others created new topics and ideas.  Some students were empowered to administer discussion threads for appropriateness etc.  Karen, the school librarian, jumped in on the topic about needing a library or not and engaged with the students online…

Karen joins students in discussion of future library

My next visit was to a grade 6/7 core languages class.  The teacher, Carlan Gallello was working with her students on a genre study.  She also teaches band and refers to how she supports and assesses their learning with music.  Carlan introduces these aspects to us in this video clip…

Carlan talks about book genres

Serene used a free online tool called Domo Animate to teach her classmates an important lesson on cyber safety…

Serene gives us all advice on cybersafety

I observed three other students presenting as well.  One used Power Point, another used Globster, and a third student chose to read a speech.  Carlan emphasized the key elements of presenting after the students finished up.  Regardless of the tool, the presentation criteria (the standards for the activity) are the same – this is good.

Carlan has students do a 5-minute write in their journal at the beginning of each class.  Tyson is allowed to do his writing on his ipod touch…

Tyson uses ipod touch for 5-minute write

Sophie talks about how she enjoys being able to bring her own netbook and use that in class to write, take notes, and use online tools…

Sophia and friend talk about how netbook helps

Carlan has setup a learning environment for her students where they are able to choose from a menu of options how they wish to represent their learning.  She also effectively uses our secure my43 portal and free external services to support collaboration, and access to class notes and instruction, and student work by parents and their kids.  Carlan is not a “techie teacher” but rather a teacher who provides a solid learning environment where technology is welcome, as students choose it.

The promise of technology in education has had mixed reviews over the years.  From my perspective though, I think teachers are increasingly incorporating technology in natural ways to create flexibility and choice for students to learn, demonstrate what they’ve learned, access support and notes (for parents too), and to communicate.  We have found that when teachers participate in self-selected learning teams (professional learning communities); and/or they do more university level course work around the application of educational technology, that their ability to use technology effectively and their enthusiasm to do so increases significantly.  Staff development is definitely key to successful application of educational technology.

What stories might you share about how technology is opening up new choices for students or new options for teachers?