Saturday, April 30, 2011

Positive Disruption and Leading Change

School systems are faced with two major forces that I believe will cause sweeping changes: personalized learning and technology.  Personalized learning means different things to different people but Image converted using ifftoanyit will likely involve significant changes for how teaching occurs, how students learn and demonstrate learning, who’s responsible for learning, how learning is assessed, what core knowledge should be, what skills must be learned, etc. along with a growing reliance on technology.  Turning to technology, there are some very significant trends occurring that will affect learning and teaching but also have a disruptive impact on the work of Information Technology (IT) departments.  The sky’s the limit when we’re talking about the future…

Personalized Learning

Teachers have an increasingly complex job to perform.  I was at a conference last week where one of the keynote speakers surveyed the audience on what the most important factor was for them being successful in school.  The crowd sourced answer was pretty clear: great teachers.  I know I can attest to this in my life.  One teacher stands out for me, Jim Swift.  He saw in me the potential of a computer science orientation whereas at the time I was planning to become a mechanic.  Fast forward, I hate working on cars but love the journey I’ve taken starting with computer science and now working in an educational leadership role with a focus on technology.  I think teachers for the most part do a phenomenal job preparing their students to enter society and the world of work.  We’re surrounded by successful people who’ve passed through our public schools.  I disagree with those that argue “education is broken”. 

My view is that education needs to be disrupted to get it to innovate faster to better fit our modern times and the rather different future that’s coming.  Learning must become more personal, more authentic, more real world – project and problem oriented, more self directed, and more digitally enabled.  Why?  That is the world kidsinnovation will enter post-K12.  It’s the world we and they live in now.  Assessment needs to evolve as well.  A summative “mark” has no real-world importance.  It satisfies parents who trust it (it’s familiar, comfortable) and higher educational institutions and their entrance requirements.  But, a “mark” doesn’t really mean anything (my opinion).  No one cares what I got on my English 11 final exam but how well I write impacts my work and my ability to participate effectively in my world.  Assessment for learning to help teachers differentiate their teaching and personalize learning to meet different student needs and speeds is important.  I don’t think it is practical to expect teachers to do that easily with out powerful technological solutions.

I saw an amazing demonstration of Microsoft’s Power Pivot (it’s free).  I suggest that tools like this in conjunction with easy and time efficient ways to record observations and artifacts of student learning could help.  Teachers could benefit from having at their fingertips a learning and achievement picture of their assigned students as a group and as individuals with a simple way to see the impact of various lessons and learning activities on student learning.  I’m talking about nearly real-time data with information and knowledge “generated” automatically.  This would be a powerful tool.  Tools could be used by students themselves for learning activities and projects as well perhaps they could get immediate feedback through their teacher’s work with assessment tools.  Add to this the ability for parents to access these learning pictures of their children and the need for a mark may diminish.  We do need a way of satisfying the sorting, I mean entrance, requirements of Universities…  But, think of this as providing real-time indicators of student knowledge, understanding, and skills leading to mastery of required high quality curriculum.

I also see all learning and teaching becoming a blend of digital and physical activities.  In other words all learning will involve an online component and experience.  As 3D immersive learning environments become very sophisticated, online learning could incorporate true virtual learning experiences.  Gord Holden, a teacher with NIDES (North Island Distance Education School) is doing amazing work with

his students using learning environments designed in Active Worlds as well as Quest Atlantis.  His students learn Egyptian history, social responsibility, environmental education, and other subjects in a self-directed way.  They learn constructively.  They are assessed against the curriculum based on their artifacts of learning, which are mainly digital and virtual.  This approach can support personalized learning in a big way.  It’s an unusual experience but I can see it becoming main stream as the tools become easier for less tech savvy teachers to use.  It’s just a matter of time… 

Technology Impacts on IT Work

I see two major forces here: consumerization of IT and cloud computing.  As end-user computing devices (laptops, netbooks, tablets / slates, mobile phones) all become super reliable and support instant on, auto updating, self installable software (aka an App store), and are super intuitive to use, a lot of what IT people do currently disappears.  The other side of IT is the “back end” of computing.  An IT shop in a school district provides and supports a lot of servers and storage capacity which take quite a bit of work to buy, install, maintain, update, increase, replace, etc.  Cloud computing, whether private or public, changes the game for back-end computing.

Consumerization of IT came onto the radar with tools like the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, Android phones, other slates.  As well, the scale tipped a year ago from desktop to laptop / network computing.  Computers and devices have become quite straightforward to setup, software is a simple download and installation – less technical skill is required than before.  Mobile iStock_000012275820XSmalldevices use "App stores” and the process for acquiring, installing, and updating apps is a “no brainer”.  All of this work, even just connecting to a network, was extremely complex 10 years ago.  As school districts open up to a Bring your own Computer (BYOC) or Personally owned Device (POD) approach and the price and capability of devices improve, a District’s inventory of computers will rapidly decline.  So not only will the devices Districts own be very simple to support but there will be far less of them to support.  This is a disruptive change to the nature of IT work.

Cloud computing involves providing computing services via an utility model.  This can be done privately in a District’s own data centre, for a fee with a vendor like Microsoft, Google, IBM, Amazon, etc., or for free (hundreds of free services like Google docs, Wikispaces, iStock_000008424287XSmallBlogger, Twitter, Prezi, Windows Live, Microsoft Live@EDU, etc.).  There are privacy issues to overcome related to where information for students can be stored and privacy concerns for staff information.  I believe these will be answered in a reasonable manner and I see a hybrid approach working for Districts.  Districts will run certain core applications in their “cloud” need more control or customization but anything that is more commodity oriented will eventually move out into “the cloud”.

What does this mean for IT employees in Districts?  My believe is that IT departments need to be aware of and thinking deeply about these coming changes and to start to talk about how to reinvent themselves in such a way to meet high value needs.  With the dependence on technology for learning and teaching, network infrastructure and security will increase in importance.  New roles will be needed to develop new services to support the data and analytic needs of learning and assessment, to support online and immersive learning tools and environments, to support the communication and involvement needs of parents, and to support student learning portfolios.  Also, new roles are needed to support the ever growing business process improvements and new initiatives for education business departments.  I see these disruptions as hugely exciting for IT worker opening new doors to do new and interesting work.

Overall, the future is a very exciting place to go!  When we don’t anticipate disruptive change, we are impacted negatively.  So, we need to open our eyes and urgently tune into the coming disruptions and design the changes we want.  Let’s be proactive and build for the future!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Technology Powered Assessment

I think one of the more complex aspects a teacher has to wrestle with is assessment and what is worth knowing or what should be understood.  There are many writers, speakers, workshops, etc. on how student learning should be assessed for learning, of learning, how to gather evidence, how to inform teaching, etc.  I’m not a teacher but if I was, I would find that my job has become much more difficult with all the expectations to backward design my lessons, cover an ever broadening curriculum, give my students continuous feedback, and then somehow differentiate learning to meet the abilities, readiness, preferences, and needs of my students.  Not only am I expected to undertake assessment of learning but now I have to make sure to assess for learning. Add to this expectations to integrate and use technology for teaching, to enable my students to use technology for their learning, to give them more control over their learning, and learn the new math curriculum…  It all seems rather exhausting to me. 

The Canadian province of Alberta produced a nice graphic to capture a lot of this expectation and process – it looks quite involved.  How can we better leverage technology to make the assessment process far simpler for teachers and more accessible to students?


Some simple tools can help without a lot of work.  This student shares how a simple tool gives her immediate feedback as she studies for a unit test.  Previously it would take days to get the feedback from her teacher…

Assessment for Learning–immediate feedback

What if teachers had tools to easily create embedded assessments for digital learning activities and knowledge acquisition?  I was recently going through some of the options Pearson Education provides – they look pretty powerful but the challenge is the complexity and cost that often comes with things like “Learning Management Systems”.  What if it were simpler?  Less costly?

Let’s imagine that most learning is in a digital format where practical (ie, perhaps not P.E. or cooking).  The tools could gather meaningful statistics about use, time to complete something, etc. and interject real-time assistance for the student.  Teachers would get immediate indicators of learning or struggles and could intervene for the students that need more help.  All students could be allowed to progress at a pace matched to their ability.  Reading comprehension would be assessed by the tool as students move through a book.  Math tools (one example: The Dreambox Experiment by Chris Kennedy) could monitor, assess, and guide student learning and inform their teacher. 

Students in our District recently brainstormed Personalized Learning (courtesy of Coquitlam School District Student Leadership Council)…


Notice their emphasis of “through technology”, “more freedom”, “flexibility and choice”, and “self-paced”.  I think the right kind of technology can play a significant role in making this possible for students and practical for teachers.  I don’t know what it looks like exactly but it will come. 

Imagine technology freeing teachers from “teaching”, “assessing”, and “pacing” so that they could be coaches, guides, easily know where their students strengths and weaknesses are, intervene for students just in time for those that need deeper help, and seek to enrich experiences for all of their students?  What kinds of technology is needed to make this possible?  I wonder if teachers see this as valuable for them and their students?

“It’s always very dangerous to use the word ‘impossible’ where technology is concerned.” Lights in the Tunnel (kindle 2193)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fluency in a Technology Accelerated Age

As educators discuss what personalized learning is and how it might be implemented, I think a very important topic should be fluency.

Fluency (also called volubility and loquaciousness) is the property of a person or of a system that delivers information quickly and with expertise.”, Wikipedia (April 17, 2011)

Traditional definitions, including Wikipedia’s, talk about a set of fluency skills: reading, writing, comprehension, and speaking.  In our era of technology driven everything, fluency is so much more.  I think the images that Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano (@langwitches) created to depict Information, Media, Network, and Global fluencies provides a picture of a broader sense of fluency relevant to today.

imageBecoming an expert in finding the best information, quickly, from multiple sources and mediums, knowing how to analyze, evaluate, and organize it, using it appropriately, and sharing your information is a highly valuable capability today.  With information doubling roughly every 12-18 months, this fluency is essential for students and adults alike.


Over the past few years I have “upgraded” my media and network fluency by joining Twitter (@bkuhn), capturing / editing classroom stories via video, reading books using Kindle and Kobo apps on my iPad, Blogging regularly to share my ideas with others, and sharing my presentations on  Media fluency has revolutionized my work, my learning, and my intellectual satisfaction.


I believe that to be serious about learning, student or professional, one must engage the new medium.  Malcolm Gladwell highlighted in his book The Tipping Point that we can only really effectively connect with about 100 people.  I think in the physical sense yes but with social media tools, we can connect with many hundreds of people.  We may not connect as deeply as might be possible face 2 face but as we develop a higher order of network fluency, we will get better at this.  By tapping into modern tools and methods for networking with people, we are able to reach people that we wouldn’t be able to in a face 2 face only setting.  This fluency amplifies our ability to share and mix ideas and methods with so many more talented people.  You really don’t know who you need to “meet” that has an idea that would mix with yours to create something amazing! 

I love this quote from the Rational Optimist, “[t]he history of the modern world is a history of ideas meeting, mixing, mating and mutating” (kindle 3806).  And further, “[t]he more knowledge you generate, the more you can generate. And the engine that is driving prosperity in the modern world is the accelerating generation of useful knowledge.”  (kindle 3466). 

Fluency in a Technology Accelerated Age must be broader than what we traditionally might consider it to be.  We need to prepare young people to be fluent in multiple dimensions so that they are able to fully participate in our world and the world of their future.  We also need to help teachers and principals “upgrade” their fluency so that they can fully engage their students in this new and future world.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Safe Surfing and Apps

It is fascinating how quickly new Internet services and now mobile devices and apps pop up.  It used to take years for innovation to take root and spread whereas now it seems every week there’s something new to be aware of.  There is so much power and convenience in these tools, what’s not to like!  Well, there are dangers lurking amongst the gems…

I’ve been immersed in and managing my organization’s way through a serious issue related to online pornography.  Being a school District, we take issues like this very seriously.  I can’t provide many specifics (read this newspaper article for more information) iStock_000001398345XSmallbut the gist of the problem is that an individual created a website on a free web hosting service and dedicated the site to serving pornographic images and videos.  Through pure coincident and how search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo work, that person’s inappropriate (horrific actually) images are automatically being intermingled with pictures from our school and District websites.  We are a school District that has not previously invested in web filtering technology, rather our approach has been to focus on education and supervision.  With this current issue and a few recent encounters last year with pornography accessed in schools by students, we feel the need to increase protection beyond what our Government Internet provider has in place.  It’s just too easy today, even with a perfectly innocent search, to stumble upon inappropriate content very quickly.  I wouldn’t classify that as a “teachable moment” for a child!

We are making a concerted effort to create a highly accessible user friendly set of resources called Digital Responsibility Guidelines.  We will train and orientate our Principals, Teachers, and staff on how to use them.  Guidance for educators is included for helping students be digitally responsible as well.  We also see using these resources to support parents in their supervision of their children’s use of online services outside of school.  A key section of the guidelines is dedicated to scenarios.  We anticipate that scenarios (probably implemented in a wiki) will be added over time by schools, perhaps parents as well, to provide advice to other schools and parents on how to deal with tricky online situations.

But, education, resources, and support are insufficient in this evolving online world.  We will hopefully be able to acquire and implement some network management tools to help us cleanse the content that students access.  New tools allow content filtering based on very flexible criteria.  One such criteria would be the type of user.  For example we have students identified as a group and could further distinguish them by level (elementary, middle, and secondary).  This would allow different types of policies for students by level and as well different again for teachers and staff.  It is impossible to deal with the complexity of how inappropriate websites are created and certainly how search engines cache and serve images and video through “traditional” filtering techniques.  Fortunately modern tools make this relatively “easy” to do without over filtering – ie, our District’s philosophy is to fundamentally allow open Internet use so we need to be very surgical in how we provide needed protection.

Another area that parents should be concerned about is the proliferation of apps used on iPhones, iPads, iPods, Android devices, and Windows Phones.  Many apps include location aware features.  imageWhat that means is the app can determine the users location on planet earth, much like a GPS can.  You may have seen location indicators on some people’s tweets.  Clicking on the yellow indicator in the example here takes you to a google map showing his exact location at the time he posted the tweet.  SNAGHTML1a6c83e9This is perfectly fine if they’re an adult like @chrisj_moore.

Seems innocent enough hey?  But wait, what if your 15 year old daughter is snapping photos of herself and her friends and uploading them to Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr.  If the “GPS” feature is turned on, it’s possible that the photos will be tagged with your daughter’s


location.  Someone tracking photo uploads can capture location tagged photos and see them on a map!  Some applications also track and update the mobile device users location in real time - they can literally find your daughter!  Parents should be aware of what apps their kids are using and how they are configured.  In my opinion an underage person should never have location awareness turned on for an app.  If an app won’t install without that – they shouldn’t use the app.  For some apps, the risks and dangers far outweigh any perceived benefit.

My advice for school Districts is to allow as open as possible access to online content and tools but think about what your students can accidentally or intentionally access.  Ask yourself if you think their parents would be comfortable with what they might see.  If not, you need to think about investing in modern filtering tools.  For parents, my advice is to be fully aware of the tools, services, apps that are on the Internet and mobile devices.  Have the critical conversations with your kids.  Supervise their use of these tools.  For some great resources, check out my colleague Dave Sand’s work on Parenting the Net Generation.  Do you really think a young person is safe with their own wireless laptop in their bedroom?  Think about questions like that and be sure your kids are safe in this amazing digital world.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Technology is Why Education Must Change

It is fascinating to me how people lived and interacted historically.  I’m reading The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our BrainsThe Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr (Kindle version – quotes refer to Kindle locations) and finding the historical perspective he provides on literacy to be very interesting.  From oral only to writing on rocks, wood, wax, clay, papyrus, and paper.  It’s amazing that people only had brain memory and no recorded memory, for so many generations. Even contracts and laws were simply oral agreements.  Fortunately, symbols were developed to enable the representation of what was spoken in a permanent form.  When people first wrote using an alphabet the words all ran together and were not in a grammatically correct order and all reading was originally out loud.  As the technology for writing changed, so too did the capabilities of authors.

“As soon as the introduction of word spaces made writing easier, authors took up pens and began putting their words onto the page themselves, in private. Their works immediately became more personal and more adventurous.”, The Shallows loc. 1149

In general “civilization has assumed its current form as a result of the technologies people have come to use”, loc. 859.  All through history one can find technology driving small then transformative changes, often over hundreds of years.  Furthermore, “observes the political scientist Langdon Winner, ‘it is that technologies are not merely aids to human activity, but also powerful forces acting to reshape that activity and its meaning.’”, loc. 847.  Think about the impact of the Gutenberg movable type printing press on the spread of knowledge, education, etc. – a profound impact of technology on their world and ours.

As technology evolved to provide us with written text, phonographs, photographs, moving pictures, moving pictures with audio, it also gave us imagedigital forms.  Did you know that when phonographs were created people lamented the loss of books thinking “writing” would return to an oral technique but now recorded?  But, “[o]nce information is digitized, the boundaries between media dissolve. We replace our special-purpose tools with an all-purpose tool.”, loc. 1535.

The invention of the general purpose programmable digital machine has forever changed everything to do with literacy and media.  The written word, spoken or sung word, video, pictures, etc. can now all be digitized and stored in a machine to be mashed up and reused or repurposed as we see fit.  This has disrupted the book, newspaper, television, movie, and music industry.  Traditional physical forms are disappearing in years, not decades, let alone millennia.  We face exponential change on an ever shorter timeline.

“With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use. At the very least, it’s the most powerful that has come along since the book.”, loc 1991.

Education is a mind-altering “technology”.  It is essentially its purpose.  As people are taught and as they learn, their brain forms new pathways and trims others.  People often write about technology as something that assists, is optional, etc. to support learning and teaching.  You know the saying: “it’s just a tool”.  I think that is a rather shallow view of the power technology brings to everything we do and are.  I think we're kidding ourselves to think that teaching and learning can carry on without being radically changed by technology.  History proves time and again that technology completely changes and disrupts every institution we’ve ever created.

So, as we begin to accept this, how do we ensure that our embrace of technology in education is thoughtful and improves literacy, skills, and knowledge?  Blindly embracing technology has its downside as Carr explains “why young readers are abandoning traditional novels: ‘They don’t read works by professional writers because their sentences are too difficult to understand, their expressions are intentionally wordy, and the stories are not familiar to them.’”, loc. 1810.  He adds “[w]henever we turn on our computer, we are plunged into an “ecosystem of interruption technologies”, loc. 1582 and “when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning”, loc. 1984.  Perhaps this is a ringing bell for us in education to not lose sight of the benefits that traditional literacies provide, such as deep reading.  Students need to be proficient at both rapid scanning and analysis and deep thoughtful learning.  It doesn’t have to be a pendulum swing change.

As e-readers are embraced (I love my iPad’s Kindle and Kobo apps) or even web reading, we need to continue to teach students concentration, focus, and deep reading.  Carr shares that “’[i]f we stop exercising our mental skills,’ writes Doidge, ‘we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead.”, loc. 660 and “the tools we use to write, read, and otherwise manipulate information work on our minds even as our minds work with them—is a central theme of intellectual and cultural history”, loc. 809.  Technology,the tools we use, will effectively “rewire” our brains – we need to be sure that this is done well and to benefit not hinder.

Multitasking (extreme) is a child of the Net but “improving our ability to multitask actually hampers our ability to think deeply and creatively”, loc. 2408 and “[i]ntensive multitaskers are ‘suckers for irrelevancy’”, loc. 2436.  Moreover, “we’re hurried off toward another bit of related information, and then another, and another. iStock_000009165757XSmallThe strip-mining of ‘relevant content’ replaces the slow excavation of meaning”, loc. 2833.  Here is the crux of the challenge for our education system, “[t]he problem today is that we’re losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind. Mentally, we’re in perpetual locomotion”, loc. 2866.  The author goes into a lot of depth about brain and memory research and what type of learning is necessary to create permanent memories.  He and others conclude that “[t]he Web is a technology of forgetfulness”, loc. 3291.  It is obviously a very powerful and valuable technology for learning but if we swing the pendulum too far its way, we give up a lot of who and what we are, to “the machine”.  It’s all about balance!

Yes education must and will change, be reshaped by technology, and become more personalized for students.  New 21st century skills must be learned.  Technology will not only enable this it will drive and require it.  I think this should be obvious to us now given the digital rapid pace era we live in.  When you peer back in time and see how civilizations first resisted change driven by new technology (e.g., some people initially thought mass copied books must be an act of the devil), people adapted, and people benefited.  I trust that we will figure out how best to leverage technology to change education to fit our time but let’s not lose what’s good and beneficial with current methods.