Saturday, December 31, 2011

Travel in the Future

My wife and I are heading off to Europe this year, specifically to Italy and Germany.  It’s quite an undertaking to plan such a trip.  I’ve talked to quite a few seasoned travelers to garner their wisdom about flights, hotels, car rentals, places to see, and to borrow Frommers travel guide books, etc.  But to be honest, without access to the Internet, I’m not sure how we would plan a trip like this.  We wouldn’t be able to do it without a travel agent/expert.  Note that the castle in this picture is located in Neuschwanstein, Germany and influenced the design of Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland, cool hey.  After a short stop in Munich, we will drive to this small German town, near the Austrian border, and begin our Romantic Road journey through various medieval towns.

When my wife and I planned our honeymoon over 26 years ago (yes, I’m getting old), I recall us consulting with a BCAA travel agent.  They helped us figure out which cities to stop in and hotels to book, along the way to Disneyland.  We even received printed driving route maps (remember this was before GPS, Google/Bing maps, and smart phones).  They helped us buy tickets for various activities, etc.  It’s hard to believe we planned the trip and drove all that way with no access to technology to assist us, not even a cell phone.

Fast forward to 2011 and it’s rather different.  Our Europe itinerary looks something like this:

Italy

  • Fly to Rome (British Air, we checked many flight aggregators and individual airlines, BA came out on top – even tested a travel agent who also came up with BA but our price was better)
  • Stay in Rome 5 nights in a somewhat ancient building now serving as a B & B within walking distance of most key attractions (Venere.com, a super useful accommodation search site – thanks to Tom Grant for sharing this one with me)

image

Germany

  • Rent a car in Munich (two nights), hopefully see, among other things
    • Deutshes Museum - massive, biggest technology museum in the world
    • Alte Pinakothek 14-18th century European Art including Da Vinci
  • Stay two nights in Neuschwanstein / Hohenschwangau and thus begins the Romantic Road
    • Castles, kayaking on the lake, relaxing
  • Pfaffenwinkel (churches, pristine landscapes)
  • Stay one night in Augsburg (2000 years old, legacy of Roman/wealthy traders)
    • St. Anne's church, Monumental Fountains, Town Hall, Perlach Tower
    • Augsburger Puppenkiste / Augsburg Marionette Theatre (puppets)
    • Maximilianstrabe street - pretty, window shopping
  • Dinkelsb├╝hl (16 towers, gates, walk the ancient city wall)
  • Stay one night in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
    • Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum (Medieval Criminal Museum)
    • “The magic of the place is so captivating that it has been the inspiration or served as a backdrop for A Little Snow Fairy Sugar, and Disney’s fantastical tales, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Pinocchio”
  • W├╝rzburg (market square, late-Gothic Church of St. Mary, Falkenhaus, etc.)
  • Begin the Fairy Tale Road in (stay one night) Hanau
    • Fairy Tale Festival, outdoor theatre - front of Castle Philippsruhe
    • Paper Toy Museum
    • Hessian Doll Museum
  • Steinau (13th century Schloss Steinau Castle, fairy tale well)
  • Stay one night in Marburg with some possible activities…
    • Walking through old town section - step back in time
    • Medieval churches such as Elisabethkirche (1238)
    • Rent paddle boat - go down River Lahn
    • Hiking along rivers edge
    • Scale model of solar system (walking tour)
  • Stay one night in Hann Munden (tiny cobbled stone streets, 700 half-timbered medieval houses)
  • Sababurg (Sababurg Castle - Sleeping Beauty)
  • Trendelburg (Trendelburg Castle (medieval), setting for the tale of Rapunzel)
  • Stay three nights in Hannover with my niece and family (day trips to other sites)
    • Hessisch Oldendorf (40m from Hannover)
      • 1000 year old Stift Fischbeck / Fischbeck Abbey
      • Schillat Cave (180m long)
  • Stay two nights in Berlin with possible sites
  • Fly back to Vancouver

To plan our Europe trip, we “googled” for ideas and relied on free information from other travelers in addition to online trip guides from companies like Frommers, Fodors, and Rick SteevesGoogle Translate is a very useful tool for websites that don’t have an English language option (many don’t) so that I could read them.  For accurate pricing, most sites had currency translators and there also universal currency translator apps and websites.  I purchased an Italian and German “top 100 phrases” apps for my phone to help us when we’re there. 

I created a personal Google map of the Germany leg to help with planning the driving trip. 

image
View Germany in a larger map

As I researched towns, I added them to the map.  Later I used the map to calculate driving routes with distances and travel times.  From the map you can then access pictures, points-of-interest, and lots of details for each city and route. 

Now imagine for a moment future possibilities for travel planning.  In particular I believe that 3D immersive planning environments will be commonTown Square place.  A future trip planning exercise will involve virtual travel in advance to be able to “experience” the sites and activities in advance of a visit.  We could do a walk-through of our accommodation, speak to the operators, visit key sites, hear the sounds.  Perhaps as we virtually travel, an itinerary will be produced for us, virtual agents can be instructed to book flights, accommodations, tours, and all the details will be saved and available on our personal travel website, our smartphones, and our tablets.   I can see huge potential for innovation in the travel planning industry.  It’s certainly come a long ways since my honeymoon trip to Disneyland but it could be so much more by 2020.

If anyone has any travel advice they’d like to share or specific suggestions for us related to our upcoming Europe trip, please do leave a comment.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Be Amazed

Every so often I just have to pause to contemplate the awesomeness of our world.  Technology has certainly brought the world amazing tools and services.  I’m reading an historical fiction book “The Seekers”, book #3 in an 8 book series.  The story is set in the WP_000130late 1700’s, early 1800’s in the newly formed USA.  At one point a young couple migrates west down the Ohio river, acquires 20 acres, builds a crude cabin, begins to clear land, plant corn, and own a cow.  The harsh lifestyle is astonishing.  I suspect that most of us in the developed world take for granted what we have and enjoy.  Those early settlers lived on corn mush and semi-sour milk, every day, every meal.  Their cooking, bathing, clothing, labouring, entertaining capacity was very poor.  To reach the small village near the fort to trade with others, they walked four miles through harsh terrain.  At least they had ‘central heating’ for their cabin, a fireplace!  Think about the impact of central heating and electricity on our lives.  On page 433 one character proclaims “the pace of invention and technical progress is astounding”.  It’s amazing how we’ve lived and experienced that statement over the past 200 years. 

Invention and innovation are self fulfilling phenomenon.  One feeds the other.  This is our history.  Think about the “simple” wheelFile:Wheel Iran.jpg.  The wheel “has become one of the world's most famous, and most useful technologies” (ref). How many innovations and new inventions were spawned by it’s development?  This is the story of all invention.  One creation leads to another, which leads to another, and so on.  The so called ‘information age’ has been a breath-taking ride of amazing invention!  Riding the wave of innovation has given us smart phones, tablets, and the wireless Internet.  Think back 15 years… do you recall ever imagining being able to take a picture with your phone and within seconds have it appear in a blog post that will be accessible to billions world-wide (okay, my readership isn’t that broad).  I used my Windows 7 Phone to take a picture of my laptop screen chose to email it to myself.  Seconds later the email arrives on my laptop, I open it, save the attached picture to the laptop and drag it into this post.  Take a moment to consider the amazing complexity of what just occurred to make this happen…  you can’t comprehend it can you?  None of us can even begin to “really” explain the layers of technology involved and how they work.

Blogging

Oh wait, you probably never imagined blogs.  Isn’t it amazing that anyone can now become a writer on the world stage and at very little cost (some widely available tools).

If you have the benefit of owning an iPad or other tablet you should be amazed every day!  I’m listening to Christmas music, streaming radiowirelessly of course, through my iPad using a free app, AccuRadio.  I can access something like 480 different music “channels” through this app.  Does anyone remember when radios were varying sized boxes of electronics with an antennae that allowed access to a few dozen nearby stations?  Okay, we still have this in our home stereos and cars, but it won’t be long before everything is simply an App that gets its life from an Internet connection.

As we enter 2012, we should be prepared to be even more amazed.  I’ve written many times that we are on the steep side of the exponential curve of change and innovation.  Predicting the next year let alone 10 years is becoming nearly impossible.  Amazing inventions are being produced faster than ever.  We should take time to ponder where we’ve come from as we ride this wave of change.  Here’s looking forward to a great 2012.  I wonder what new inventions we will get to experience…  Take time to Be Amazed!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Technology Adoption Challenge

People have optimal learning paths involving diverse means and difference paces.  Taking that to heart should drive us to iStock_000005861579XSmallpersonalize learning for adults and students wherever possible.  For years, society has accepted the efficient path of teach to the middle, keep to the schedule / pace, etc.  Not only in K12 classrooms but most places training or learning is offered.  In adopting technology, I’ve learned that we must differentiate the learning of the tool, in a real context, and at a pace suited to each individual.

Technology for learning is gaining new emphasis and importance in education systems world wide.  In British Columbia our government recently published the BC Education Plan.  This lead message sets the stage for change:

“our education system is based on a model of learning from an earlier century. To change that, we need to put students at the centre of their own education. We need to make a better link between what kids learn at school and what they experience and learn in their everyday lives. We need to create new learning environments for students that allow them to discover, embrace, and fulfill their passions. We need to set the stage for parents, teachers, administrators and other partners to prepare our children for success not only in today’s world, but in a world that few of us can yet imagine”, Minister of Education George Abbott.

The plan includes goal #5 Learning Empowered by Technology and “will encourage smart use of technology in schools, better preparing students to thrive in an increasingly digital world. Students will have more opportunity to develop the competencies needed to use current and emerging technologies effectively, both in school and in life. Educators will be given the supports needed to use technology to empower the learning process, and to connect with each other, parents, and communities”.  This sounds all progressive and future-oriented but how do we achieve this with budgets fragmented by competing priorities and educator readiness all over the map?  Difficult maybe, but as I expressed my thoughts in Technology is Why Education Must Change, it would be inappropriate for us to avoid this hard work.

I was having a deep conversation with a wise colleague of mine recently which carried on into e-mail with some sharing of blog posts related to adoption of technology in schools.  My last blog post included “too often new technology is placed in classrooms and it is iStock_000012676792XSmallused to do old things in new ways”.   My colleague is concerned that this is too high an expectation for people and that it can be impossible for them to learn a new tool and try to do something new with it.  I agree that old with new can be a valid entry point for people but I think it needs to move past this.  Technology is “just a tool”, if nothing about one’s practice changes.  It’s when people are able to do new things not possible without the tool, that the true amplification and transformative power of technology is realized.

We continued our conversation via e-mail.  My colleague made some thoughtful comments with “it’s the dismissive and absolute statements that stop people from engaging” and “it’s developmental and people need to recognize this as a first stop and not evaluate and discourage… degrading entry level adoption” and further, “educators feel defeated when what they are trying to do isn’t good enough”.  This carried on with a concern that “there is a thread through much of the technology in education conversation by the ‘elite’ that completely dismisses the first step of learning anything is to combine what you are learning with something you know how to do”.

This conversation has got me thinking about how to best adopt and implement educational technology.  Patience is a significant factor.  Technology leaders often (myself included) just want to plow ahead iStock_000010885909XSmalland make changes happen quickly.  Often this is due to the vision we have in our heads of what is possible “on the other side” of the change.  However, when dealing with people, we have to take the time to bring them along as new tools are incorporated.  We need to avoid the scenario where “before they even start individuals are intimidated to begin because they feel that if they are ‘only’ doing something they know how to do while learning a new tool that they shouldn’t even bother” (via my colleague).  I think successful adoption involves a number of approaches and factors:

  • help people see the possibilities with technology without the journey feeling like an impossibility – point people to the possible, and to a preferred future, reassure them it is achievable with time, effort, and support
  • connect the use of tools to real purpose – i.e., there needs to be real hope and understanding of how the tools will help or improve teaching and how use will improve student learning
  • remove technical barriers – make sure the tools work reliably and seamlessly
  • set realistic starting points (to do old things in new ways) that are personalized to the individual person’s readiness and design support to suite their needs – reassure them that their starting point is valuable and encourage them to be fearless learners
  • provide time for teachers to learn together, preferably as action research learning teams (see example learning journey) – embed just-in-time workshops to help them gain needed technical skills for adopting the tools for teaching and learning
  • through ongoing appropriate levels of support (depends on each individual) help them, at the right time and pace, move on to doing new things, not previously possible, in new ways to effectively transform their teaching and learning

I know, this is complicated, can be expensive, and time consuming.  On ever squeezed education budgets, how is it possible to be successful?  The obvious answer is to “adjust priorities”.  But as you know, there are often significant trade-offs that are difficult to accept or budgets that are inflexible due to “the rules”.  I agree also that is about a cultural shift and structures need to change as Dave Truss wrote in Thinking about ChangeI think to change the culture, we need to first change the structure. We have to stop counting a teacher’s ‘instructional minutes’ and start giving them ‘learning minutes’. We have to stop talking about ‘teaming’ and starting giving teachers time to be a team”.  But if we are to meet the challenge of Goal #5 in the BC plan, we need to figure out how to do this successfully.  I hope you believe as I do that it is imperative to our future.  I would love to hear from others their views on how to best meet the technology adoption challenge.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Seduction of Technology

My wife and I love to go for walks in the woods, by a river, lake, or the ocean, or take our bikes for a ride in a park.  I like to get out WP_000153and hike mountains (nothing too serious), and mountain bike ride deep in the woods up in the mountains.  There is something surreal about being connected to nature, away from the distractions of our smartphones, computers, tablets, TVs, and PVRs.  Actually we don’t have a PVR or cable channel package.  Good ol’ rabbit ears and a $40 digital to analogue converter gives us about 6 decent channels of digital HD for free! But I digress…  I wonder what we as a culture, a society, have lost or given up, by being so intertwined with our technology.  It has literally invaded all aspects of our lives.  You might be wondering why I, a person so passionate about, amazed by, and engaged with technology would even be thinking this way.  Well, I like to consider all angles of most topics and technology is no exception.  I become concerned about increased Technology Obsession  and the “religious fervor” that kicks in with each announcement of a shiny new gadget.  Is our technology serving us or are we now serving it?  Sorry, hang on a second, I need to respond to a tweet, text, e-mail, IM, phone call…

I’ve just finished reading Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven JohnsonJohnson provides some pretty interesting arguments for the ideal contexts where innovation flourishes.  I struggled with his reliance on evolution theory as fact but his more reasoned thinking is very good.  Our amazing, and it is amazing, technological wonders are a direct result of hundreds of years of innovation.  But, I started reading Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman at the same time.  Technopoloy has certainly influenced the writing of this blog post.  Being a passionate advocate for adopting technology in schools, business, and life, I often feel torn by the fact that “[e]very technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that” (Technopoly, Kindle 95).  I think that most of us believe that “technology is a friend. It makes life easier, cleaner, and longer” (Kindle 59).  History certainly bears this out.  Our lifestyles reflect this, even the poor among us (in our society) live far more “comfortable” lives than the poor of 200 years ago.  Think about modern homes, central heating, plumbing, stoves, refrigerators, freezers, cars, etc. – technology has done wonders to improve our lives.  But at what cost will future technologies impact our lives?

“In a technocracy, tools play a central role in the thought-world of the culture. Everything must give way, in some degree, to their development. The social and symbolic worlds become increasingly subject to the requirements of that development. Tools are not integrated into the culture; they attack the culture. They bid to become the culture. As a consequence, tradition, social mores, myth, politics, ritual, and religion have to fight for their lives” (Kindle 433)

My work context is as a technology leader in a large school district.  We often read that “technology is just a tool” in classrooms.  I beg to differ, technology will increasingly define learning and teaching, and we haven’t really seen what’s possible yet… Nearer term, our District is contemplating the effective implementation of tablet (initially iPads) devices to support learning.  Certainly what we read in blogs and news articles these days about iPads in schools, we get the impression that “the idea of newness is closely linked with that of improvement. Nowhere does heiPad2B64-xlarge see any limit placed by nature to human endeavor; in his eyes something that does not exist is just something that has not been tried” (Kindle 788).  Having used an iPad for the past 18 months, I do think the iPad is an invaluable tool for learning. As we pilot these in our schools it will be critical to ensure that teachers and students are using them to do new things in new ways.  Too often new technology is placed in classrooms and it is used to do old things in new ways.  IE, a worksheet on an iPad is still a worksheet, it’s just using a cool touch interface.  We need to be sure to take advantage of the new ways to learn in ways not previously possible.  I was recently in a grade two classroom where the teacher and students were using a SMART board to learn about money.  The board was used very effectively to involve the kids in counting and manipulating money, buying and selling, and explaining their thinking processes, etc.  She also had them buying and selling physical stuff in the classroom with coins while two students documented (iPod Touch video, digital camera) the exchanges between student buyers and sellers.  It was a brilliant use of physical objects and digital tools to support and document learning.

Postman talks about how technology begat the rise of Information: “[f]ifty years after the press was invented, more than eight million books had been printed, almost all of them filled with information that had previously been unavailable to the average person” (Kindle 909).  He then suggests that “[t]here were several reasons for the rapid growth of the common school, but none was more obvious than that it was a necessary response to the anxieties and confusion aroused by information on the loose” (925).  Fast forward to our day and “[i]nformation has become a form of iStock_000010954699XSmallgarbage, not only incapable of answering the most fundamental human questions but barely useful in providing coherent direction to the solution of even mundane problems” (1030).  Apparently, “Goethe was the last person who knew everything… by the year of his death, 1832, it was no longer possible for even the most brilliant mind to comprehend, let alone integrate, what was known” (1299).  Perhaps we crossed a line just under 200 years ago where what was knowable, now exceeds human capacity.  We forever became dependent on our technologies to survive the coming information glut.  Since Technopoly was written in 1993, it was before current tools existed for aggregating and managing data and information.  The early Internet search engines for example were terrible at providing “answers”.  Now with modern techniques, it is amazing how quickly we are able to make sense of the vast ocean of information available to us.

Think about how beholden you are to your technology.  You probably have a cell phone, likely a smart phone.  If you don’t have an iPad or some other tablet, you probably will, soon.  In your home are likely Play Blocks With Lettersnumerous TV’s, a PVR, gaming machines, several laptops, maybe a desktop computer, and certainly an Internet connection with wireless connectivity.  Could you live without this stuff?  Seriously?  I doubt you would give any of it up.  Technology does have the tendency to seduce us into wanting more, new, better, faster, smaller, cooler tools.  We’re excited by what we have, until the next new thing is announced!  Where will this exponential growth of technology lead us to?  For those of us involved in leading change in schools, how do we thoughtfully embrace technology while avoiding the seductive effects?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Leading Through Extreme Change

Do any of you feel like we’re in times of extreme change?  If you don’t, you must be living in an alternate reality!  I talk often about imagehow change is exponential.  When we look back hundreds of years or even 30-40 years, things didn’t feel like they were changing all that quickly.  But now, when we reflect back just a single year we can marvel at what has changed, in particular how technology has changed how we do things, enjoy things, play, interact, work, and learn.  Notice the green (exponential) line in the graph.  The leading edge is history past where change was almost unnoticeable in one’s lifetime while we are now likely at the sharp up-turn point of change.

“If you make some very logical, and even conservative, assumptions about where technology is likely to lead in the coming years, much of the conventional wisdom about what the future will look like becomes unsupportable”, The Lights in the Tunnel (Kindle 222)

I’ve been in my current role in with Coquitlam School District for just over 10 years.  It is unbelievable how much has changed in 10 years.  I write (speculate) often about the future and in particular how education and work may change.  That’s actually quite easy to do.  What is hard, is figuring out what choices to make now to be best utilize limited resources to prepare for an uncertain, unpredictable future.  Take the current almost relentless adoption of tablets, in particular the iPad in schools.  It sometimes feels like a tsunami of change is attempting to roll over schools.  As a District technology iStock_000011224415XSmallleader I communicate regularly where we are heading with respect to technology.  Just this week I communicated out to our District staff that we will be preparing to adopt iPads in the new year.  Many of our neighboring Districts are well down this path with 1000’s of iPads already deployed.  As leaders we are the inevitable recipients of both positive and negative feedback.  Along that line, I received quite a bit of supportive and excited e-mail responses but there were also a couple of voices of caution speaking against such a move.  One teacher exclaimed,

“[a]s a teacher in this district, I worry about the time and resources we commit to the pursuit and path of technology… there does not seem to be enough attention paid to the counterclaims and the alternative narratives, which can be quite persuasive.  The plethora of knowledge issues that have emerged from the claim that technology brings significant benefits to education should be cause for hesitation and a sober second – and third – look.  With this in mind, and as people struggle economically around the world, to spend so much in one place and for one vision is perhaps unwise”.

Or these comments from another teacher,

“there are nominal PD plans for support, huge redirection of resources … I'm not opposed to technology- I'm opposed to its use and abuse in the name of ‘progress’ … There are good things - in places - but at what cost to the system overall and with what type of long range plan”.

I do agree with planning and preparing but the windows for doing this are becoming narrower.  With things changing so quickly is the concept of “long range plan” still practical and relevant?  When we read statements like “Siri is a game changer for education” on twitter or in blog posts, leaders are expected to plan for this?  Really?  What about iPad 2 with front/back facing cameras?  We can’t forget Apple TV and the experience of an unwired iPad iStock_000008424287XSmallfilled classroom.  Seriously, these are potential game changes but how do we anticipate these, build professional development plans, and implement systematically?  Organizations used to create carefully thought-out long range strategic plans.  With the pace of change we’re seeing now, the best we can do now it seems is to have a concept of the future and then figure it out along the way, adjusting course as needed.  I wonder if we’re at a stage where some forms of technology just don’t need a lot of thought or planning to be adoptable and valuable?  Isn’t it better to open windows, provide opportunities and let people experiment, learn, and share?  Maybe we plan for and lead perpetual experimentation?

Neil Postam in Technopoly says “when we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes wide open” (Kindle 138).  I think increasingly new technology is adopted quickly and without much thought (is this ‘bad’?).  When’s the last time you put much thought into upgrading your phone when your plan ran out?  You probably just got the latest iPhone, Blackberry, Windows, or Android phone.  I bet your “old” phone still worked fine, didn’t it?  But, you wanted the new one…  Daniel J. Boorstin said “education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know”.  I extrapolate this to “technology opens up new possibilities to do what you didn’t even know you needed”.

“As the world becomes more interdependent and technological change accelerates, innovation, increased productivity, and improved learning migrate from being merely important to being mission-critical”. Cisco – Learning Society

“A new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything” (Technopoly, Kindle 295).  Think about how the pressure is building to completely disrupt school as we know it.  Neil Postman shares that “school was an invention of the printing press and must stand or fall on the issue of how much importance the printed word has. For four hundred years, schoolteachers have been part of the knowledge monopoly created by printing, and they are now witnessing the breakup of that monopoly” (Technopoly, Kindle 171).  What technologies and institutions come to mind when you consider that “when an old technology is assaulted by a new one, institutionsdownlaod the e-book are threatened. When institutions are threatened, a culture finds itself in crisis” (Technopoly, Kindle 300)?  Textbooks will very quickly disappear into multimedia immersive experiences located on student e-book readers (apps on very powerful tablets).  So much of our lives seem to be at risk of disruption by technological change these days. “New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop” (Technopoly, Kindle 319).  Isn’t this a good thing for education?  Isn’t this the role of education?

How do we lead in such uncertain times?  "All professionals need networks to engage in problem-solving conversations at the edge of their expertise - we learn at the edges", Harold Jarche.  Leaders more now than ever before need to be connecting with each other and with the people they lead.  People need assurances that everything will be okay.  Dalai Lama says "developing inner values is much like physical exercise. The more we train our abilities, the stronger they become”.  Leaders need to be doing this, constantly.

Leaders need more now than ever to be tuned into current realities and future possibilities.  Leaders need to be connected and networked.  Leaders need to be able to make sense of what is going iStock_000001843223XSmallon and what may come and communicate it clearly and often.  Leaders need to be able to interpret change and reassure those they lead that there is a way forward and through each wave of change and what the change will mean to them.  Leaders need the “capacity to see the most creative and improbable opportunities” (Building the Bridge As you Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change, p. 127).  Leaders need to be futurists!

What advice would you give to leaders in these times of extreme change?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Through the Technology Looking Glass

“[Alice] ponders what the world is like on the other side of a mirror's reflection. Climbing up on the fireplace mantel, she pokes at the wall-File:Alice in Wonderland.jpghung mirror behind the fireplace and discovers, to her surprise, that she is able to step through it to an alternative world.  …Upon leaving the house (where it had been a cold, snowy night), she enters a sunny spring garden where the flowers have the power of human speech”, Wikipedia Nov 27, 2011.

I participated earlier this week in an #edchat where people from all around the world weigh-in on a topic via twitter.  It’s kind-of like some other world, it’s not “real” rather it’s a virtual exchange of ideas.  It’s an exhausting experiencing trying to keep up to the rapid stream of ideas and to contribute your own.  I imagedropped in a bit after it started so am not entirely sure of the specific topic but I believe it was a question of whether technology improves or is essential to learning, teaching, and assessment. I also dropped in on a 1-day conference held in Alberta at #jtc2011 – one tweet from that stream appears here.  I see a lot of debate in blogs, on twitter, and in person about technology being optional, essential, important, etc. for learning and teaching.  Comments like the above make intuitive sense today though don’t they.

The author of It’s Not About the Tech writes

“You may hold an exquisite musical instrument in your hands and make no melodic music. You may even know how to read a musical score, but without passion and flair, all that will ring out is a mechanical, soulless sound.

The same holds true for learning. If learning is only a mechanical regurgitation to be immediately forgotten after an assessment, what hope of inspiring learners to become life-long learners – a concept is so easily repeated, but so rarely questioned.”

They suggest that the elements of Experimentation, Collaboration, communication, Participation, Inquiry, and Engagement are required in a successful education.  They later argue that technology’s role is as a means, not an outcome.  I agree wholeheartedly but I think it diminishes technology’s role to “just a tool”.

George Couros recently wrote Technology is More than a Tool where he asks “If technology transforms the way we do things, is it ‘just a tool’”?  He quotes Neil Postman who talks about technology changing entire ecologies.  In other words, it is not simply an add-on (like we often view it in schools), it fundamentally changes everything.  He writes later “I have struggled back and forth with the idea of whether technology is just a tool, or is it truly transformative”. I think many people do have this struggle.  I think the challenge is thinking of today’s technology rather than tomorrow’s potential.  We need to increasingly “walk through the looking glass” to see the possible.

Five Big Changes to the Future of Teacher Education on the MindShift blog talks about the importance to prepare teachers to engage the digital generation.  They refer to a book Teaching 2030 by Barnet Berry (I have not read the book) that outlines specific skills needed to teach in the future.  I have an uneasy feeling that this still looks through a near-term lens rather than a truly future-oriented “looking glass”.  Will Richardson writes in My Teacher is an App about how traditional learning is essentially automated.  Will is right to worry about that future of online learning.  It completely misses the point.  Sure, online learning is what it is today, but it can be so much more than efficiency and automation of traditional packaged learning or courses.

I love this short piece by Seth Godin, Pre digital.  He describes a potential future digital environment for a visit to the emergency room after describing the current pre-digital experience.  He then refers to other institutions that are also pre-digital such a schools.  He ends with “this is just the beginning, the very beginning, of the transformation of our lives”.  This is a profound comment because it speaks to what most people don’t seem to understand.  That is, what we see today is merely a glimpse of what is possible and what is coming, on the other side of the ‘looking glass’.

I was intrigued by the title of Cindy Matthews post, Technology in the Classroom isn’t Utopia.  It’s a must.  Before reading it I thought, she might be on to something.  She starts out describing the perfect classroom by referring to the physical characteristics including technology.  “Students would be learning cooperatively on problems posed by the teacher facilitator.  Some would be tapping out text responses via cell phone on a blog”.  I like the description but to refer to it as a utopia I find odd.  It is a picture of what is possible today and what does exist in some classrooms already while missing the mark of the possible, the future of learning.  That said, her post is a good read for some options for today’s classrooms.

As long as we see the value of technology as ‘just a tool’, especially based mostly on what’s available in today’s classrooms, it really is ‘just a tool’.  Without a good or great teacher, technology isn’t going to transform anything.  But, even with today’s technology, control can begin to transfer from teacher to students.  I like the work West Van Schools are doing with their Student Dashboards (see slide 23 of Superintendent Chris Kennedy’s presentation).  They have gone direct to students, grades 4-7 I believe, to provide an in-house student space for blogging, creating social learning networks, instant messaging, and sharing.  This will unlock potential as their teachers shift control to their students who will “own their learning”.

I believe that as we walk through the looking glass we will see the real potential of technology to fundamentally transform learning and teaching.  I’ve seen glimpses of the possible in one of our classrooms where Our Students are Immersed in 3D Learning.  I have been on tours of 3D immersive learning worlds with Gord Holden.  imageimageYou have to see this to believe it!  This is a glimpse of the possible on the other side of the looking glass.  Via Skype, Gord took me to a world where two aboriginal students were re-creating their historic village (Musgamaw of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation) artifact by artifact based on their research.  Traditionally, this would have been the typical research and write an essay for their teacher.  In CyberNet world, their heritage comes to live before their eyes!

I have written numerous times about what I believe the future holds for education on the other side of the looking glass:

In British Columbia (BC), the Ministry of Education has purchased and is setting up a BC based virtual learning world called Learning NEXUS. They have invited teachers to propose ways they would build learning inside this world. The next couple of years will be very exciting to track in this space. Two of our teachers in SD43 made a proposal that was accepted so I will get to ride along with them on their journey through the looking glass!  I do hope the debate about whether technology is needed, important, essential, transformative, etc. will subside as more people get more opportunities to walk through the looking glass to the possible.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Purpose for School

This fall I have been supervising morning recess for Kindergarten to grade 5 kids at a nearby elementary school. Although this is a disruption to my day and an inconvenience to how I schedule my work, it’s also an interesting experience. When the bell rings, hundreds of little people converge on the play ground and field with iStock_000010314279Small_thumb4smile filled faces, energy, noise, and a determination to have fun. It’s hard to explain but this positive energy transfers quite well and I feel energized because of it. I sometimes wander into one of the Kindergarten classes to see what they’re up to. The other day, I saw lots of paper (painted) worlds hanging from the ceiling. Some of the kids told told me they learned what was inside and outside of the earth. I asked if the inside was made of “cheese” or “chocolate”, and one little person confirmed it was “chocolate”. I apologized to the teacher for messing up her lesson for that student. :-)

There is relentless talk and endless books telling us of needed change in education. Some advocate for more online learning and suggest that over 50% of all learning will be that within ‘X’ years, etc. There are those that advocate for more testing, less testing, better reporting, no grades, awards, no awards, less technology, more technology, different technology. We need more data, less data, better data, analysis systems, and we need to assess for learning and differentiate it. How does one make sense of all the opinions? As a technologist, I’m always interested in the purpose for what we do. Technology is often used to accelerate, automate, or make more efficient, a bad practice. I am an advocate for how valuable technology can be for many things but we can’t afford to be unclear about purpose when it comes to education systems like school.

Susan Brookhart’s article (pp. 10-14) in the November 2011 issue of Educational Leadership about grading includes the headline “the first task in successful grading reform is to reach consensus on the purpose of grades”. Seems simple enough. But when we think of the perspectives of parent, student, teacher, principal/school, District, Province, Country, it’s seems complicated. Susan asks what meaning should grades convey and who are the intended audiences for this information? A great starting point.

I stumbled across the School Purpose Project recently via twitter which states “[w]e are trying to understand what people around the world believe is the purpose of school”. They are collecting input via audio, text, and video messages and any one can weigh in. I particularly like Luke’s perspective:

Purpose of School

He advocates that school should be about learning to learn (not just skills and knowledge but habits of mind) and learning to co-exist (how to influence and how to avoid being influenced, to become good citizens, neighbours, and good team members). School used to be (still is quite a focus) all about covering content, memorizing, and being tested on memory of facts and procedures. Clearly a certain amount of content is necessary to “know” but what is worth knowing changes so quickly and what is knowable doubles every 12-18 months, presumably making it impractical for knowledge acquisition to be the prime focus.

I like the phrase “what we measure, we value”. This certainly has to apply to school. Alfie Kohn’s article “The Case Against Grades” (pp.28-33) in the November 2011 Educational Leadership (EL) starts with “when schools cling to letter and number ratings, students get stuck in a system that undermines learning”. He writes “grades don’t prepare students for the ‘real world’ – unless one has in mind a world where interest in learning and quality of thinking are unimportant”. People in education advocate to put marks online, iStock_000012753624XSmall_thumb6make them more accessible to students and their parents. Alfie quotes Gerald Bracey who said that technology “permits us to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn’t be doing at all” in reference to grading more efficiently (eg, posting online). Alfie write “sometimes it’s only after grading has ended that we realize just how harmful it had been”. Carol Ann Tomlinson adds that “consistent, specific feedback on a student’s competency in essential goals is a more potent teaching tool than a letter or number grade will ever be” (EL November 2011, p.86).

As I think about the digital tools we are seeing and will see flooding in to our schools, I wonder how these can support the purpose of school. I visited Apple’s offices recently and am impressed with how well iPads, video, and digital displays (Apple TV) integrate. Apple talks about having 160,000 apps designed for iPads and 500,000 apps for all i-devices, many of which are for “education”. I see “top 50 or 20 or 100” lists for apps posted to twitter every other day. How will educators, students, and parentsiStock_000007651615XSmall_thumb5 make good choices from this sea of possibilities to support “the purpose for school”? How will they affect assessment for and of learning? Students using iPads or other like devices have access to vast tombs of information and knowledge through text, audio, and video, and live experts. As they learn to navigate our digital and analogue world, what will we value, how much they can regurgitate on a test, or how well they can organize and how quickly they can access answers? Or will we value how well they can synthesize and create something new, how well they work alone or how well they learn in small teams face to face and online? How do or will 3D immersive learning environments fit the purpose for school and how do we evaluate students learning this way? I think it is becoming critically important to have ready responses for the purpose and form of school so as to inform a District or school’s priorities for providing technology to support this purpose.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ideas and Innovation

Take pause for a moment and consider the vast sea of ideas active in our world right this second…  Can you picture it?  At any given iStock_000006175136XSmalltime, billions of people collectively generate billions of ideas.  Unfortunately, most ideas never leave a person’s head or are only ever shared with a family member, or perhaps one or two close friends.  Ideas die prematurely every day because they are not able to take root in “fertile ground”.  Ideas need to mix with other ideas and they need to encounter support and experience conflict to survive and grow.

In our increasingly digital world, ideas have never had it so good!  When a person chooses to enter in and engage with others in online spaces, it’s like a veil is lifted for them and they see what was hidden from them previously, a connected sea of ideas.  You can see the mixing of ideas take place through Twitter, Blogs, Wikis, Youtube, TED, Google +, Facebook, and hundreds of other interesting spaces.

I’ve just started to read “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson (see TED talk).  He describes how Kleiber’s law involving a pattern of negative quarter-power scaling inimage biological systems such as metabolism, relates to innovation.  In simple terms, “size matters”.  Larger organisms and animals live longer than smaller ones.  Theoretical physicist Geoffrey West applied Kleiber’s law to cities and through research learned that “Kleiber’s negative quarter-power scaling governed the energy and transportation growth of city living” (Kindle 137).  They also discovered that “Every datapoint that involved creativity and innovation—patents, R&D budgets, ‘supercreative’ professions, inventors—also followed a quarter-power law, in a way that was every bit as predictable as Kleiber’s law” (Kindle 142). However, they found that this law “governing innovation was positive, not negative.  A city that was ten times larger than its neighbor wasn’t ten times more innovative; it was seventeen times more innovative. A metropolis fifty times bigger than a town was 130 times more innovative” (Kindle 144).  Here’s the clincher (Kindle 147):

“as cities get bigger, they generate ideas at a faster clip”

And (Kindle 150)…

“the average resident of a metropolis with a population of five million people was almost three times more creative than the average resident of a town of a hundred thousand”

Size, actually potential connections between people, serves as an amplifier for idea generation, mixing, and innovation.  The real question is, does this map to digital spaces?  Because if it does, the limitations and environmental considerations inherent in a geographic location like a city, would be non-existent. In fact, digital spaces and technology amps up the speed of innovation even further.

“It is one of the great truisms of our time that we live in an age of technological acceleration; the new paradigms keep rolling in, and the intervals between them keep shortening” (Kindle 169)

Steven Johnson writes about “the 10/10 rule: a decade to build the new platform, and a decade for it to find a mass audience” (Kindle 177).  He refers to the time that elapses between an original idea and mass adoption using examples like color TV, HDTV, AM radio, VCRs, DVDs, Cell phones, PCs, and GPS devices.  It took roughly 10 years for each idea to begin to take root and another 10 to reach mass adoption.  He shares this example of how the web (digital spaces) is a major game changer for innovation:

“YouTube went from idea to mass adoption in less than two years. Something about the Web environment had enabled Hurley, Chen, and Karim to unleash a good idea on the world with astonishing speed. They took the 10/10 rule and made it 1/1” (Kindle 215)

Chris Anderson of Wired and TED.com fame confirmed this phenomenon in his TED talk “How web video powers global innovation”.  Things are very different now for innovation and idea mixing in our massively connected digital spaces.  Clearly “we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them” (Kindle 278).

So, given the fact (I’ll boldly state it this way) that digital spaces significantly amplify idea generation, mixing, and innovation, what should the K12 education system’s priorities look like?  It seems that we often dance around the importance of technology for teachers and students.  Some people argue that technology is “just a tool” in education, much like any other tool, equal, similar, not better.  Some such as the Association of Waldorf Schools (A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute) advocate for technology free learning environments.  There seems to be fairly compelling evidence that technology and digital spaces are key to maximizing ideas and innovation.  Why then, such debate about the value of technology and digital spaces in schools? 

My own view is that we need to start to break down the barriers to technology and digital space adoption in schools.  If the evidence is believable then technology and digital spaces should be core, essential, and pervasive to learning and teaching, not optional and secondary.  I do acknowledge the issues of cost and equity.  But isn’t it a matter of priority?  Billions of dollars are invested in education every year.  How much of this is invested wisely, in the things, people, and processes that will make the greatest difference for kids?  In case iStock_000006081888XSmallyou’re wondering, I’m not advocating for technology vs teachers, both are essential.  But teachers, or rather teaching and learning, without technology and digital spaces would seem to be inappropriate given the evidence for ideas and innovation.  Given what we know, isn’t our education system doing a disservice to students and our own future by not fully embracing technology and digital spaces?  Isn’t it time to acknowledge that technology for learning is a moral imperative and prioritize and invest accordingly?  Our world has huge problems that no one seems to know how to solve, yet.  We need an acceleration of ideas and innovation more now than ever before because our future depends on it!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Learning Exposed

I’m impressed with how quickly the K-2 teachers involved in our District’s Making Learning Visible project are becoming both skilled WP_000157documenters of early learners AND skilled users of digital tools for documenting.  Their purpose with this work is to collect and record learning events and experiences, to build a narrative from documentation to reflection.  Some of the purposes for digital documentation they are working with include:

  • stimulating and supporting narrative
  • illustrating a point
  • providing evidence of learning
  • opening up a conversation
  • sharing an experience
  • understanding a situation more deeply
  • asking questions such as “What is going on here?”, “What have I missed?”, “What do I need to explore?”, “What’s the next step?”

Digital documentation is “more than decoration”, “more than posed photographs”, and “useful in formative assessment”.  These teachers have had rich conversations about supplementing and / or replacing formal reporting to parents.

One teacher shared how she video taped (interesting how we often use traditional terms like “taped” even thought there’s no tape involved with an iPod) some of her kindergarten students involved in a learning activity.  She had the kids watch themselves on the video while she watched them watching.  The kids were commenting on their behaviors, the impact of their actions on others, etc. as they self evaluated through the visual experience.  This teacher commented how she wished she had captured them on video while they self-reflected.  That next layer of documentation (meta-documentation) is a powerful learning artifact as well.  She learned things about their learning that she didn’t even realize was happening!

Some insights I picked from the group as they were sharing their recent documentation experiences:

  • be open to be sure you’re (the teacher) not driving the documentation – capture real, not orchestrated learning
  • sharing documentation energizes the whole class, it gets them excited about their learning
  • provide immediate feedback by showing students video and pictures of learning that just occurred
  • kids take more pride in their learning and see how it is valuable
  • empowering kids to document gets them more interested in capturing what other kids are doing, learning
  • kids as teachers start to use bigger teacher words when they are ‘teaching’
  • teachers can train kids in small groups to be able to use video cameras (aka iPods) to document
  • documentation of learning is more informative than a traditional report card

The teachers were asked to discuss in small groups howWP_000164 they could informally report learning to parents. I captured a few of their thoughts with a picture.  It will be interesting to see how these ideas evolve as they are able to ‘expose’ the learning of their students through the use of video, pictures, and audio recordings.

As they work towards making learning more visible, I’m sure this list will transform to other methods.  We hope to be able to make student learning visible for parents online.  There are key privacy steps we have to consider but we will work towards providing parents a login to our District’s digital learning and work environment and connect them to their child’s digital portfolio of learning.

One kindergarten teacher whose classroom I visited last year had kids documenting their own learning about the number ten using digital cameras and blocks, and then using a SMART board to talk about what they documented, etc..  I was able last year to capture and stitch together some video segments of this visit that you can enjoy here.

Documenting Learning

I wonder what are other teachers doing in their classrooms to digitally document and report learning?  What tools are other teachers using for their digital documentation?  Maybe you could share some strategies with me through a comment.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Equity or Equality?

There are clear examples of inequality in our midst.  This morning I was reading some articles about poverty levels, lack of access to clean water, millions of Americans and others pushed in recent years from the middle to the poor class (2008 meltdown), and the 10’s of thousands of Japanese impacted by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  I wrote about greed and the economy a few months ago and the news and the blogosphere are rife with articles about unequal distribution of wealth, food, property, education, disasters, and opportunities.  History is replete with stories of people living with inequality.  In my assessment I would say the gaps are increasing not getting smaller.  Public education has definitely been a reasonably successful equity builder over the years.  But I would not call education an equalizer.  Nothing in our world is that.

I was having a tweet-convo yesterday with a colleague about the inequity that schools and communities face in British Columbia.  He expressed concern that technology is increasing inequity experienced by students in their learning.  The suggestion is that SNAGHTML14144fbesome will “have” and others will “not have” access to technology to enhance and transform their learning.  He also talked about First Nations communities that don’t yet have cell coverage or high speed internet (reminds me of Gold River on the Island…).  I think we need to define equity (dealingSNAGHTML1418327e with fairness) and equality (the state of being equal) before digging deeper.  With equity, we are concerned with whether a relationship or ratio of something is fairly distributed whereas with equality it is simple, there is no difference between what parties have.

I don’t believe it is possible or necessarily right to strive for equality.  We are all born with different gifts and talents, into families with various degrees of function, wealth, position, and potential.  For sure, people can strive to reach their greatest potential but not all people have the same (equal) potential in life.  Our world, including education, is filled with sorting systems to help us understand and recognize differences.  In fact we appreciate diversity and differences in our world.  I would say that by striving for equality, we would be creating greater inequity.  IE, how would it be fair to take a disproportionate amount of something from one person to give to another?  The person with “more” may have worked particularly hard to achieve or acquire it.  They may be extraordinarily gifted in getting it.  The person with less may be lazy or born with fewer abilities.  People also make thousands of choices during their life that will cause their situation to improve or decline (consequences).  Real life is full of examples of differences of inequalities both in nature and in our human societies.  However, I do believe that a disproportionate distribution of wealth and opportunity (e.g., a piece of the OccupyWallStreet message) to a very small (elite) group is problematic.  I would say that is a sign of a significant imbalance likely caused by something or someone with poor intention.

I do however believe in equity.  For example, I believe that regardless of one’s choices in life, what they’re born with or into, shouldn’t prevent them from having a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, adequate health care, etc.  They should also have an equal opportunity to improve their lot in life as best they can.  This I believe is where public education plays a key role.  We provide extraordinary services for students who are disabled, we provide food for those whose families don’t, and we provide a base education for all kids.  We try to improve equity while recognizing inequalities.

Thinking now about the digital divide (unequal access to technology) imageand the impact on learning opportunities.  I advocate strongly that students should be bringing their own learning technologies to school.  As costs decline for technology, more families will afford this.  I know of many poor imagefamilies that have gaming machines in their homes, why not a netbook, a tablet, to support their children’s learning? Do you think it is appropriate for our schools to allow students to bring their own learning technologies to school?  What about those that can’t imageafford it?  Does this create an inequity within education?  What responsibility does a school or District have in removing digital inequity?  Is this even a concern?  What would equitable access to learning technologies look like in a school?  Do you know of any schools providing calculator labs anymore (they used to cost 10’s of thousands per lab)? Seriously in the 1980’s they apparently existed.  Schools have supported BYOC (bring your own calculator) initiatives for decades…

I believe schools need to move from “sole” technology providers to gap fillers.  I think some families are better at prioritizing their expenditures than others and as they accept their responsibility for digital school supplies, they will provide them.  We do need to recognize this while we fill the gaps for kids who don’t have equitable access.  I believe that access to technology for learning should be a joint responsibility of families and schools.  Schools and Districts need to take responsibility for connectivity, bandwidth, and pedagogy.