Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sustainable Social Networking

I received an email a few months ago from Twitter saying that I was four years old.  I signed up for Twitter way back in March 2007.  At the time I didn’t really have a clue what to do with the prompt “What’s happening?” and mostly forgot about Twitter until sometime in 2009.  A few colleagues had started to really use and benefit from Twitter and they kept nudging me to get on board.  I did and the rest is history…


There are many different tools for various modes of networking around media and medium for video, bookmarking / tagging, blogging, socializing, sharing, business connecting, presenting, etc.  People often join social networking sites like Twitter as part of a workshop or learning series only to rarely or never return.  In my experience, the sign-up numbers vs active users are quite different.  Twitter is definitely growing though as evident in this 2010 graph:

twitter graph 2

I just gave a talk and hands-on session at the BC ASBO annual meeting in Penticton BC on Social Networking for school district business and financial leaders. 


About 30 people attended my session.  About 10 people had laptops, 10 had mobile devices, and 10 had paper notepads.  I shared my opinions on Twitter vs Facebook…

  • Facebook = social and personal (for the most part)
  • Twitter = professional with some personal


I wonder about the value of sharing a picture of one’s breakfast on twitter – this is probably better suited to Facebook.  There is a fine line though for Twitter – to build relationships that work takes time and one needs to share some personal information and engage in fun exchanges.  But I think that Twitter should mostly be about learning from and sharing with people. More personal / fun connections could move over to Facebook.  Otherwise, Twitter can get pretty “noisy”, distracting, and be a significant time consumer.  Side note – I do enjoy some of the fun banter though, particularly @shareski’s tweets – this guy has an fun sense of humor!

I would say most of BC ASBO group were of the curious about social networking variety.  The session description asked them to read this post and sign up for a Twitter account prior to attending.  Some did put a toe in the water by signing up for a Twitter account, following each other, and send out a few tweets.  It will be interesting to see how many use it in a sustainable way.  If you’re interested, you can view and use my slides from the session.  Note that I included a few slides at the end that you might find helpful on effective uses of Facebook in schools, districts, and by teachers.  The last slide has a useful list of reference websites that I used in preparing the talk.

I’ve worked with a small group of principals for a few years helping them to adopt technology as part of their practice.  Twitter has been a part of their journey but it has yet to really “stick” for them.  I think the time commitment is a worry and they haven’t yet found it to be valuable enough to use regularly.  I wonder about how to help them get to the tipping point of usefulness...

So, what is it that takes a person from curious social networker to the point where they depend on it?  What is it about Twitter that works for you?  How do you use it and why is this valuable for you?  What advice would you offer to others getting started with social networking?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Slaves of the Machine

I was fast walking a steep incline on the treadmill at the gym the other day and all around me are people BBMing, texting, tweeting, Facebooking, emailing, and sometimes talking on their mobile devices.  I thought, ‘this is Play Blocks With Letterscrazy, can’t people escape their devices for even an hour?’.  It occurred to me that perhaps people are becoming ‘slaves of their machines’ – they are becoming obsessed.

We often read about the decline in readership for magazines and newspapers.  People have moved over to reading on their machines.  TV viewers have become Internet viewers and participants, via their machines.  Entertainment has moved to becoming machine orchestrated through XBox, Kinect, PS3, Game Boy, World of Warcraft, and ‘apps’, etc..  We can’t travel without a Google or Bing map, a GPS, or a cell, er smart-phone (for safety of course).  We use stoves, ovens, microwave ovens, toasters, griddles, irons, washers, dryers, furnaces, freezers, drills, saws, coffee makers, computers, phones, and lawn mowers…  Wherever we go, machines are in our lives.

People invent machines to serve their/our needs.  I’ve written previously about the progression of interdependence leading to ever more useful inventions and how this has made us prosperous.  I’ve also written about the amazing complexity in our society.  Those societies that become interdependent, specialized, and complex create huge benefits for their citizens.  Machines are a very important part of these stories.  They serve our needs very well, make our lives richer, easier, more interesting, more comfortable, and more prosperous.

I wonder though if there there is a point where we start to cross some imaginary line where we slowly become slaves of our machines.  Machines appear to have an addictive power about them.  In a complex society, we honestly couldn’t live without them.  Their labors are hidden behind construction of our buildings and roads, distribution of our goods and food, distribution of our water, sewer, garbage, heating or cooling of our homes, etc.  Machines are pulling us into digital worlds – youtube, twitter, facebook, and texting.  Ask a typical middle school student who has a mobile device to not check their Facebook friends updates for a entire day and see willing they would be.

I often write about the exciting possibilities that technology creates for us.  Think about how medical science has developed and innovationimagine that happening without parallel, or in fact leading, work in information technology (IT).  IT drives lots of positive change in our society.  Imagine building a modern 50 story high-rise office tower without machines or IT – impossible.  The pyramids were created through human slave labor but our modern structures would not be possible without machine labor and IT.

As our machines become more sophisticated, more ‘intelligent’, and more essential to our lives, who will serve who?  When they become more like us, what then?

“Moreover, a recently created robot called CB2 or Child-robot with Biomimetic Body may follow moving objects with its eyes. File:HONDA ASIMO.jpgCB2 can dangle its legs, raise its shoulders and fall with rhythmic breathing.[2] CB2 may recognize the human touch, which is possible thanks to the 197 film-like pressure sensors that are placed under its rubbery skin. Asada, the team of engineers and brain specialists together with psychologists and many other specialists in the related domain created a CB2 that may record emotional expressions, memorize them and then match them with physical sensations.”, Wikipedia Japanese Robots

I think it is important to think about the future of our relationship with machines and how that will evolve.  Schools and homes are great places for conversations about the pervasiveness of machines and how to ensure we find the right balance between dependent iStock_000005861579XSmallon and being slaves of our machines.  Our education system should prepare children to think about, plan for, and shape the future.  The future is a maze through time that we have some power to predetermine the outcome of.  But we need a futuristic curriculum that anticipates the impacts and possibilities of IT accelerated changes in our world.  Hopefully in BC the ‘personalized learning’ agenda will get us there.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Learning without Boundaries Imagined from 2020

Over the past couple of years our school district has been working to develop a ‘dream vision’.  We have been fortunate to have a top flickr - langwitches - learning then and now - 4211065001thought leader, Dr. Andy Hargreaves, working with us to develop an inspiring, inclusive, compelling, learner-centered vision: Learning without Boundaries.  Last week our Design Team met to “clearly define the SD43 dream vision, Learning without Boundaries”.  This team consisted of students, parents, teachers, principals, managers, superintendents, and trustees.

One of the exercises our highly skilled facilitator Myriam Laberge asked us to do, in advance, was a futurist activity (sure got my attention).  We were asked to (paraphrased):

Imagine that it is now 2020. Over the past decade, the Coquitlam School District (SD43) has consistently built on its strong positive foundations to make its inspiring and inclusive dream of “Learning Without Boundaries” come alive through innovative, tangible and effective outcomes. In fact, the phrase, “learning without boundaries” has come to represent a new standard of excellence for learning and teaching. You are being interviewed for a journal article to help other school districts and organizations learn from your success story. Answer the questions below from the 2020 perspective where any challenges and obstacles have been successfully overcome, and SD 43 is fully living its dream vision.

Team members, as homework, responded to six key questions (shown below).  In a future post I will share synthesized results from the design team’s work The Sky's the Limitwhen it’s available.  We were organized into table groups of 6-7 people representing all the different stakeholders.  My table included a staff development coordinator, a student, a parent, a principal, a vice principal, a trustee, and my self.  Starting with our homework (mine is below) we did card sorting work and to make a long story short, the whole team came up with 6 key vision themes.  More on this in a future post…  So, my homework in response to “Imagine that it is now 2020…” is shown here.

1. What unique strengths did you build on to propel SD43 to this present level of success?

  • An affinity for collaboration and consultation
  • Inclusiveness
  • Willingness to experiment
  • A mind-set for sharing knowledge and practice

2. What visible and inspiring outcomes, practices, and results are in place in 2020 at SD43 from the learners perspective that represent the most significant elements of your success?

  • Students have an online portfolio representing artifacts of their learning - their parents, teachers, and others they invite, have access to this space
  • Students learn through projects and problem solving
  • Learning is a blend of face to face, digital space, and 3D virtual immersive experiences enabling very flexible, cost effective, and safe learning contexts, experimentations
  • Most "teaching" is increasingly self selected by students as they progressively get older
  • Students have become very good questioners, advocators, negotiators, and communicators
  • Students learn from their failures and their successes - failures are considered to be critical to achieve progress and success
  • Teachers are viewed as experts in facilitation, coaching, supporting, guiding, and sometimes direct teaching
  • Assessment of and for learning is embedded in learning activities and automatically informs and nudges students at all stages of their journey as well as their teachers and parents
  • All learning has becoming authentically connected to real world purposes and is mostly cross discipline

3. What else is in place from the educators perspective, that are equally important foundations for your 2020 level of achievement?

  • Educators have access to frequent staff development opportunities both for action research and for topical focus
  • Educators and students have anytime access (face to face and online) to experts, specialists, analysts, and coordinators on a consultative basis to support learning
  • Educators and students have full time access to quality digital tools, content creation and sharing and they regularly create and share learning materials
  • Report cards have been replaced with continuous embedded and reflective assessment that provide indicators of degrees of mastery - summative reporting is extinct

4. What SD43 accomplishments and results do parents speak of with pride and satisfaction?

  • "My children are always excited to go to school and to continue learning in the evenings and on weekends"
  • "The teachers and specialists my children get to learn with are first rate, very supportive, and have been instrumental in bringing out the best in my kids"
  • "Learning in SD43 schools is exciting, diverse, self-directed, real world, active, and flexible"
  • “When my daughter graduated she was well prepared for and capable of confidently entering society as a life long learner”

5. What tangible successes in “learning without boundaries” do trustees, managers, school and community partners, business, and other key stakeholders speak about in glowing terms?

  • "Students graduating from SD43 schools are finding greater success in finding satisfying work, greater education, and volunteer opportunities than most other students in BC"
  • "Only a students imagination can limit their ability to learn and when that happens, our teachers and other specialists help them go beyond that limit to achieve their full potential"
  • "It is amazing how lively learning has become in SD43 schools"
  • "I never thought that by organizing all students into multi-age collaborative learning communities of about 120 students, that we would improve learning so dramatically"
  • "It is amazing how technology powered 3D immersive learning environments have become so common and natural in supporting all students in experiencing such diverse learning and deep understanding"

6. What key innovations and changes most enabled your success in learning and teaching?

  • "The universal availability of easy to use digital learning tools, digital interactive teaching resources, embedded assessments, and lively physical and virtual immersive learning environments"
  • "The Districts support for thoughtful experimentation and risk taking"


Imagine your District, your school in 2020.  What responses would you give to these questions in your context with your vision or dream for your students?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Capturing the Journey of Early Learners

Our District has formed a small focus group of early learning teachers I spy with my little experiment with documenting the learning of K-3 students (starting with a few Kindergarten classes) in an unconventional way.  Teachers will use video cameras, digital cameras, and audio recorders to capture students learning.  The intent is to make the learning transparent, to capture artifacts that can be used for various forms of reporting.  Parents could access their child’s “portfolio” of learning and see how they’re progressing relative to the curriculum.  Teachers will see how they could use this type of documentation to replace the traditional “report card” for formal reporting as well.
At this age group, play based learning is often the norm.  Video will be used to capture kids in action creating things, acting in a play, working in groups, drawing, and just playing together.  Student work will be photographed at stages and the pictures assembled to show a Little Boyprogression over time up to the finished work.  Pictures will also capture snapshots of action oriented learning.  Teachers will use audio recordings of student conversations while they are working and playing.  Students will tell stories, describe processes, and outline their decision making for the work they are doing.  Portions of the audio may be transcribed into text to augment pictures.  Students will be videoing, taking pictures, and recording audio of their work and other students along with their teachers.
Something I found surprising is how many of the technology items (cameras, laptops, audio recorders / mobile phones, etc.) teachers bring to class.  It's great how our District supports teams of teachers learning together.  One teacher was showing me a booklet that included pictures and text to narrate her students learning journey.  I asked about the text and she said she transcribed it from audio recordings.  One of her colleagues piped up and showed an app on her iPhone that she uses to record and automatically convert to text to save time.  By the way, the teacher who created the booklet printed it at home on her own printer because she didn’t have adequate technology in her classroom… hmmm…
These teachers are on their own learning journey.  They have to learn what samples of learning to capture with video vs pictures vs audio vs text or various combinations.  This will vary from student to student and for different learning objectives.  They have to learn iStock_000007128193XSmallhow to capture reasonable quality video, pictures, and audio.  Then they need to edit the content down to usable forms and clips.  There is a lot of process involved – fortunately the technology has become pretty straight-forward to use.  Students will use their learning evidence for self reflection.  They may also use the artifacts for teaching – to be taught how to do things.  Pictures and text need to be printed and placed on walls to show.  Easy access to digital portfolios is important to support the transparency goal.  This information will serve as a communication and information tool for parents.
The group came to me for advice on how they might store and share the learning artifacts.  Electronic storage is relatively easy today.  There are numerous easy to use free services “in the cloud”.  However, the information they wish to store has personal identifiable information all through it so that’s not an option.  Raw video can be huge as well so there needs to be offline storage capability.  There are interesting security and privacy requirements to address.  For example, video, pictures, and audio of groups of students may have to be edited to remove a particular student who is protected or whose parents don’t want their image or voice shared with others.  Eg, parents accessing their child’s portfolio would see and hear other children in group work.  Simply putting this online on a public website won’t work either – it needs to be password protected.  However the portfolio is stored it must be possible to “transfer” it to the students teachers in subsequent years.
Other issues were identified such as the need for a basic set of tools: laptop, LCD projector, digital camera, audio recorder, video camera, extra batteries, and color printer.  Some teachers may bring their own but it wouldn’t be appropriate to make that an expectation.  As well, tools need to be durable since kids will also use the tools to capture their own and other students learning.
I described our idea for a Student Space and related Parent Space.  The Student Space will provide students a place to store their portfolio and engage in communication, collaboration, and sharing with other students.  This may be the ideal tool for storing and iStock_000008573353Smallsharing the early learning artifacts.  Parents could see their child’s documentation via their Parent Space.  Parent Spaces will be automatically connected to the parent’s children’s Student Spaces by using information from our student information system.  The group thought this could work well.  The need for and importance of these two ‘spaces’ just increased…  We have our work cut out for us this coming school year to be able to enable the type of documenting and sharing of learning our early learning teachers are experimenting with.  I’d be interested in hearing ideas from others on they have or would support this type of requirement.