Sunday, July 31, 2011

Digital Divide

Last week my wife Shelley and I headed over to Nanaimo and to Gold River on Vancouver Island for a few days to visit family and to get reacquainted with the amazing ocean beaches.  To get there we rode BC Ferries - SKon the BC Ferries.  Interestingly the Ferries have recently added wireless Internet access so you can connect while on the open ocean.  Most large airports now provide Internet access and increasingly access is also available while flying.

We visited Newcastle Island located in the Nanaimo harbour.  It is a 10 minute little ferry ride over from Nanaimo.  We practically had Newcastle Island path 2 - SKthe island to ourselves.  It was a beautiful sunny day and we circumnavigated the 8km route around the island enjoying fresh ocean air.  We captured great nature pictures and parked ourselves for a few hours on a beach where we could read books and watch float planes coming and going.  Shelley made some cool beach art like this one…

Hope - SK

Even while on the island, “away from it all”, my smart phone was happily connected to the Internet since the telecommunications provider had ensured access was available.

After a few days in Nanaimo, we headed down island and over to the west coast to the village of Gold River to visit some family.  Gold River is a very small town that used to be supported by a substantial File:Gold river boot.jpgpulp mill operation – it shut down about 13 years ago.  There are only about 1200 people still living there.  The economy is barely hanging on through logging, fishing, and tourism.  The bank recently closed, there is no hospital, there is one elementary and one secondary school and apparently you can’t get a tire repaired in town (I asked).  Campbell River, 1.25 hours away, is the nearest “city” for these kinds of necessities.

I couldn’t believe my eyes!  My smart phone not only had no “bars”, it had no signal!  I thought ‘okay, it’s just like home, some places have better reception than others’.  But no, it turns out there is no reception for cell or smart phones in Gold River.  Not one provider Newcastle Island 046offers a wireless service in this small town in modern British Columbia…  That was an eye opener for me.  After I got over the shock of being completely cut off from the digital world, I actually found it quite peaceful.  No emails to check, no texts to send, no Twitter, Facebook, or maps or searches to consult.  Being disconnected does have its advantages – it creates a sense of calm…  but, I digress…  Gold River’s broad band Internet service is also quite limited.  It is slow and when a home exceeds the prescribed bandwidth limit, costs go up dramatically.  I would say that Gold River has a rather different digital access experience than what I’m used to.

As we advocate for a more complete digital learning experience for students, a more complete digital approach to our work, and a digitally integrated life style, we need to also advocate for equitable access.  I don’t think it’s practical or cost achievable to expect equal access from anywhere but there needs to be reasonable access for digital practices to be viable.  In some ways, as we all know, digital access is even more important in more remote places.  As 3D immersive virtual learning (also) (not online courses as we know them now) becomes the norm, as I believe it will, providing good access to remote places for all students will be essential.  How do we close or eliminate the digital divide?  Who should be most responsible for this?  Governments?  Telecommunications providers?  What do you think?  Or does it really matter?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Is Technology an Amplifier or Disruptive Force?

I’ve read a few online conversation threads (The Real Game Changer in Education, Literacy… Just Literacy, Will (Or Can) Computers Replace Teachers? – sorry no link, it’s a private group in LinkedIn) recently about teaching and technology.  I would say the majority view is that iStock_000006855981XSmalltechnology won’t replace teachers and that it is “just a tool”.  I sense a greater acceptance that technology shouldn’t be an optional tool though.  More people feel it is a very important, perhaps bordering on essential tool to support learning, engage students, expose students to possibilities and opportunities not available otherwise.  These views would seem to advocate for technology as an amplifier.  When used in professional and skilled hands, it enriches and expands learning.

I find that most people can’t imagine things to be radically different.  They tend to view the future as a modified or enhanced version of today.  This is certainly a comfortable approach to imagining the future.   Being a budding futurist (purely amateur) I like to push the boundaries on prevailing views of the future.  The possible futures I sometimes envision are not comfortable for me or others.  But, I think it’s important to think about what might be that can disrupt our way of life, so that we might be prepared.  History teaches us that this happened time and time again.

I’m reading a book (pardon the title) “The Bastard” which is volume one of six in the American Bicentennial Series.  It is staged in the 1700’s in France and England and it includes some fascinating details of how life was at that time.  I am so fortunate to be born in this era and this country!  People lived very difficult lives a few hundred years ago…  Dr. Benjamin Franklin a character in the story, remember him, he discovered or rather learned to harness electricity.  I would say that was a game changer and a disruptive force.  It changed (literally) the world!  You wouldn’t be reading this without electricity.  Over time it made the majority of people healthier and wealthier.  I’ve written about the invention of the printing press previously – this technology forever changed the future.  In “The Bastard”, there’s a piece on a small family of printing press operators and booksellers – they also created a lending library for more people to enjoy books even though they could not afford to buy them.  Note that over time, the printing press eventually put 1000’s of people (scribes) out of work while making information and knowledge available to the masses.  People could learn many previously inaccessible things, on their own and billions of jobs were created over time, different jobs from those disrupted.

Fast forward… I’m reading an article in the July 2011 edition of Wired Magazine (yes a paper version – still prefer that for some reason).  It is an intriguing story, with two plots I think: how Microsoft’s Kinect is changing how we can augment the world (10M sold in 1st four months) and how the masses so easily mesh now to amplify, accelerate, and disrupt invention and company.  The Kinect story is really quite amazing.  For the first time ever, a $150 technology is available to anyone and can map it’s surroundings visually in 3D color and in real time.  People can manipulate the digital world that they are immersed in – the “world” knows their every move and sound.  Cost is a key point here, one example in the article is given of a robot designed to navigate post-earthquake rubble and search for victims that cost $280,000 before Kinect and is now available in a $500 kit.  Millions of “hackers” are creating new ways to use and “connect” iStock_000012723220XSmallKinect for previously not thought-of purposes.  Ironically, Microsoft is fully embracing the open source and hacker community by creating development kits for Kinect to make it easier to access its full potential, not just what Microsoft had in mind.  The Internet connects these communities into massive idea creation pools.  This is disruptive in itself.  No company can hire enough talent to invent everything possible but millions of connected minds can and quickly.  Sidebar… How can we keep classroom doors closed and expect one teacher to be able to teach 20-30 young minds what they need and want to know in this era?  I agree with others starting to write that technology is an essential tool for learning – without it, we increasingly short-change our students potential.  You might want to check out Kinect Education, an open source community dedicated to creating and sharing applications for using Kinect for learning.

I’ve written about 3D immersive learning environments and their potential impact on education.  Microsoft is investing millions of dollars to build a Kinect-powered holodeck.  I wrote about this in my last post but it is a system that projects images in 3D into the real world that respond to touch.  Microsoft is also preparing a Kinect software upgrade to enable Kinect to capture facial expressions as well as body movements.  I speculated about 2020 and a learning holodeck last year.  I wonder how long it may take to create a viable learning holodeck?  This would be a game changer!

My answer to the question this post poses is ‘both’.  Technology is definitely an essential amplifier and our society can not function without it.  Soon our cars will drive themselves!  Technology is pervasive everywhere… but not in education it seems.  How can we not make it a necessary component of learning and teaching?  I also believe technology to be disruptive.  100’s of years ago, inventors didn’t live to see the disruptive force of their inventions. Today, inventions fulfill their disruptive powers in a short time frame.  iStock_000015207641XSmallInventions feed upon one another.  In a real sense today, technology begets technology – it creates an accelerated exponential change effect.  What was impossible before due to cost, complexity, disconnected minds, is possible today due to low cost, computers that simplify the complexity, and billions of people who are able to connect and collaborate.  And it loops back creating more amazing inventions, faster.  The odd thing is, we more quickly take for granted what was considered impossible a short time ago…

I do worry about what the disruption of technology will do to education, and those involved in it.  With past disruptions (think farmers, manufacturers, telephone operators, travel agents, etc.) there have been millions of job losses.  I think we have some time to redesign roles in education to fully leverage technology’s promise while fully leveraging our human abilities not (yet) replicable with technology.  If we don’t anticipate the coming disruptions, we could be replaced or displaced (history tells this story many times over).  As the cost decreases and the capability of technology increases, it will be in the hands of every student and in every classroom (assuming we organize that way in the future).  It will also do things we can today barely imagine being possible.  What advice would you give to those who work in education systems today?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Futurists are Saying

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I attended the 2011 World Future Society annual conference last week.  Days 3 and 4 of the conference had quite the array of sessions to choose from. 

As a short detour from this post topic, my 11:00 session on Sunday was canceled and I struck up a conversation with a guy while in line for a coffee.  We ended up talking for over an hour about politics, iStock_000009196143XSmallhealth care, taxes, forms of government, war, religion, economics, etc.  This guys was brilliant (PhD Economics, strategist in the US Navy’s ‘think tank’ in Washington, DC) and our talk was as good or better than any conference session I’ve experienced.  Isn’t it amazing how you can get so engrossed in a deep intellectual discussion with a complete stranger?  I think that online learning practices should require connecting students to brilliant people for the purpose of engaging in deep learning – it’s a powerful thing.

Edie Weiner (president) and Arnold Brown (chairman) for Weiner, Edrich, Brown (@WEBfuturetrends) spoke about hot technology trends.  Their company bio says they are

“the pioneer foresight consulting firm in providing strategic scanning services. Continually tracking social, economic, political and technological trends, WEB serves client organizations by enhancing their capacity to clearly look ahead and to respond profitably to change.”

Their session was a full house with standing room only with lots of live tweeters sharing at high speed… They shared their list of the 7 hottest technologies shaping the future.  Brain research stood out and they claim that science is rapidly learning a lot about how our brains tick through the use of fMRI and other technologies.  Apparently, male brains are more focused on infrastructure and economy while female brains are focused on society, health, education, and ecology.  Female brains develop 20 million more connections between the two sides of the brain but male brains are more specialized.  Two different thinking capacities leads to different conclusions, both equally important.  Brains are multi-sensory and everything mediated in life is influenced by sense of smell.  They advocate for replicating the sense of smell in digital spaces to create a more realistic experience.

More people are “living” in virtual reality (realistic games, environments like second life, social networks), they are owning avatars, buying and giving virtual gifts, etc.  Ask yourself this question “if my brain believes I am racing a Ferrari in the Italian countryside, am I?”.  They talked about “light space technology” being created by Microsoft where machines project onto any surface – the surface becomes digitally touch sensitive, a person can pick up the virtual (projected) item as a spot of light, carry it, set it down, and let it reproduce.  As virtual reality and machine-human interfaces get richer and deeper, the lines will blur even further… 

Precursor to the holodeck?

Think about the possibilities for 3D immersive learning environments.  Online learning today is mostly about putting courses into an online distance learning format which is very limiting.  But the possibilities for technology like this to turn online learning into a near reality experience are pretty compelling.

Another session I’d like to highlight had the title “Education in the Post Literate Age”.  William Crossman, director of CompSpeak 2050 Institute studies talking computers and oral cultures and Stacey Aldrich is the State Librarian for California.  They took opposing iStock_000015756375XSmallpositions on what the post literate age might look like.  William advocates for a future where there is no reading and writing but rather we use audio, speech, gesture, body, and all senses to access, manipulate, and communicate information.  He suggests that books are going away and text along with it.  He argues that a vast percentage of the worlds people are illiterate (reading, writing) and that moving to an oral culture assisted by computers will bridge the literacy gap.

“7. How to make sure that the human right of all people, nonliterate or literate, with disabilities or without, to access the stored information of our world via talking computers is realized in the 21st Century.”, CompSpeak 2050 Institute

No surprise but Aldrich disagrees and argues that words will remain an important method of transmitting information and knowledge.  She advocates for continued skills and learning / understanding of symbols and related technology in context – we need to be able to make connections between video and words and become highly skilled at critical thinking when using information.  She describes the library of the future like this:

  • Spaces for public education for the learner to be self-sufficient
  • Collecting, preserving, and connecting
  • Bring people together to offer opportunities for them to succeed
  • Will be virtual and physical spaces
  • Books won't disappear, but will be accessible somewhere, somehow
  • Librarians have skills to find and connect the pieces
  • People want packaged information - Google doesn't do this (yet)
  • Librarians can network the right people
  • Crossman adds that Librarians are the guardians of the freedom of information

I’ll leave you with a few quotes from the final keynote delivered by Thomas Frey (@ThomasFrey), executive director and senior futurist of the DaVinci Institute.

“The past is very knowable but we’re going to be spending the rest of our lives in the future”

“The future will happen with or without us agreeing to participate”

“The future creates the present, change the vision of the future to change decisions today”

“The future is highly predictable, not as random and uncontrollable as normally thought”

iStock_000001843223XSmallI know that not all of us particularly enjoy pondering the future.  We find it somewhat scary and uncertain.  Others see it as bright and optimistic.  I think it is important for all of us to be thinking forward and deciding today what we will do different to embrace or change what we thing the future will bring.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Future Needs Learners and Leaders

I am attending the World Future Society’s annual conference here in beautiful Vancouver, BC, Canada.  I spent the last two days immersed in an Education Summit focused on education and the future.  Last night at the opening plenary session, we heard from leadership teacher, Lance Secretan, author of The Spark, the Flame and the Torch: Inspire Self. Inspire Others. Inspire the World.  Lance iStock_000011759967XSmallspoke to us about topics such as “Destiny: Why am I here?” or higher purpose, “Character: How will I Be?” or how do I want to be known, and “Calling: What will I Do? or what difference will I make”.  He refers to this as Why – Be – Do.  We need to be learners who use the energies of explore, excite, examine, and execute to interact with our world and the people around us.  He says to abandon mission statements – they basically all say the same thing – take them all, scramble them up, pick one and it will look like yours.  Mission statements are boring, uninspiring, and people can’t remember them let alone live them everyday.  But… do we have dreams? 

An example of a dream statement he shared was for a bank (ATB) “Changing our world by putting people first and making their dreams come true”.  He shared a story of a 17 year old who just got a job, had no bank account, money, or credit cards but asked to meet with the ATB bank manager to asked for a car loan.  The bank manager listened carefully and offered to open an account, give him a credit card, and said that if he can pay all his bills and keep his account in good order for six months, that he would give him the car loan.  If this bank had a “mission” to only make money for their shareholders they would say “no” to a person in this situation rather than “make their dream come true”…  How could our orientation as leaders and organizations change with an inspiring dream?

Lance shared some thoughts on leaders…  People are not inspired by cowardly, phony, self-serving, lying, fear-based, or incompetent leaders.  Rather they are inspired by leaders who exhibit the CASTLE principles: courage, authenticity, service, truthfulness, love, and effectiveness.  If a person’s mind, mouth, and feet are out of alignment, they are seen to be inauthentic.  Leaders need to liveiStock_000010797682XSmall these principles.  They need to serve other people – impact them in profound ways.  We all should aspire to create a legacy, pay it forward, and make a difference in the lives of others.  I don’t know about you but these thoughts shared by Lance can serve as a pretty solid guide for those of us involved in thinking about and leading others into an uncertain future!

At the Education Summit we heard about the New Normal 3.0 – technology driven transformation of everything and the destructive wave of the curve of creation.  More often than not, difficult change comes through destruction of what is “normal” and through the change, a new normal is established.  The history of technology bares this out for sure.  One speaker relayed a forecast that the last paper-based textbook will roll off the presses sometime around 2015.  We have a few years in education to figure out the transition to full on e-resources…

Maria Andersen, Learning Futurist at LIFT Institute of Muskegon Community College spoke about her idea for a new learning system called SOCRAIT (a play on “Socratic” that includes SOC for social, AI for artificial intelligence, and IT for information technology within its name).  She advocates for a “Learn This” button every where.  Imagine that for any digital content or tool, there was a Learn This button that allowed you to bookmark and record / document your thinking in a system (a personal learning portfolio).  You could develop and record questions or choose questions others have created, that you answer later using various media to support your view.  You could reflect on this and rate your understanding of the material, the quality of your “answers”, etc.  Or, you could invite others to provide their answers and input.  This sounds like a well organized and equipped e-portfolio that can attach to any digital space.  Could be powerful…

Kieran Egan, a professor in the Faculty of Education at SFU described the Learning in Depth (LiD) approach to broadening and deepening learning for students.  LiD is designed to overcome the “breadth for all, depth for hardly any” problem and allow students to gain expertise in some area.  Students receive a topic when they enter school as a five year old that they will study throughout their school years.  Quickly, the student knows more about their topic than their teachers and are able to share with their peers and present their iStock_000002030715XSmalllearning.  They study their topic across fields of study / disciplines through field work, library research, online research.  They make maps, charts, videos, etc. A bi-product is that students become experts at learning which will transfer to other areas beyond their topic.  Kieran advises that topics need to be complex, varied, and multi-dimensional, connected to human history, emotion, psychology, not too technical, general, or particular.  And, parents need a veto over topics assigned to help avoid sensitive topics.  A challenge is having a topic that engages a 5 year old and then continuously until 17.  Overall the idea is to create conditions for the joy of learning… It’s an interesting idea, I wonder what others think?  You might want to read West Vancouver Superintendent Chris Kennedy’s thoughts on LiD here in Going Deep about One Thing.

Yvonne Marie Andres from Global SchoolNet and some teachers who’s students won the 2011 CyberFair Platinum award shared some interesting project-based learning examples.  Check out this short video clip on the winning project: The River Rouge Watershed – Ours to Protect.  Students become eco-warriors and activists in their community promoting the health and welfare of their local environment.  Global SchoolNet has a registry of projects that teachers and students can access for their classrooms.  Projects provide rigor and relevance for kids – they are challenging, stimulating, meaningful, and engaging.

The last session for the Education Summit was educating the Wise Cyborg of the Future.  The view is that increasingly humans will interface with their technology.  Think about it, any one of us is willing to augment ourselves to reduce pain, fix an injury, or enhance our abilities.  People do this everyday.  Increasingly, this is iStock_000012625357XSmalldone through specialized technologies.  It is a slippery slope…  The presenter, Tom Lombardo advocates that virtue or wisdom should be a guiding principle for human development (learning, education).  Wisdom is the highest expression of self-development and future consciousness, a fascination of learning, of the big picture.  It is practical knowledge, a synthesis of the head and heart.  With an increased focus on wisdom, we will be able to augment ourselves thoughtfully and carefully. I find the possible extent of merging humans with their machines idea to be somewhat disturbing but, it’s coming, are we ready?  How can we wisely prepare young learners for this future?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A lot Can Happen in Ten Years

Ten years ago in August 2001 I left Nanaimo School District to join Coquitlam School District as their manager of information services.  I remember the great disconnect between technology and learning that existed.  In our K-5 schools, there was a lot of “baby-sitting” in computer labs.  Students were often playing fun little games but not related to anything curricular.  Technology was used in other schools for specific subjects like business education, computer programming, drafting, etc.  Remember technology was fixed in place so schools had to pre-determine what it might be used for and program schedules and use around that.  Curiously, most of our schools did not curious lamb in springeven have network drops in classrooms or libraries.  I would say that 10 years ago, most technology in schools was programmed in specific subjects secondary schools, similar in some middle schools, and treated as a completely optional component at the elementary level.  Teachers for the most part did not use computers in general, for e-mail, or the Internet.  Students didn’t have their own technology and many didn’t have access at home.  If the network went down (local or Internet), it didn’t matter much.  Software was something expensive that came on a disk of some form and had to be installed by an expert.  Connecting to the network required knowledge of jumpers, ports, and other strange things.  Encyclopedias were still mainly a printed tomb of (out of date) knowledge. 

A lot has changed in 10 years…

  • there are LCD projectors, Smart Boards, laptops, tablets, online learning tools, web cams, video cameras, digital cameras
  • we use services and tools (mostly for free) that didn’t exist 10 years ago… Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Prezi, Sharepoint, Wikispace, Blogger, Wordpress, EduBlogs, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, iPod, Windows Phone
  • software comes from the Internet or an App store somewhere ‘in the cloud’
  • every learning space has pervasive wired or wireless access to the network
  • 1000’s of students bring their own technology to school, mostly in the form of hand-held mobile devices
  • nearly all teachers use technology in some form to support their practice
  • more and more, technology is not fixed in place or purpose – it is mobile and used to accomplish a variety of educational needs such as research, writing, media capture and editing, presenting, collaborating, communicating, etc.
  • if the network (including Internet) goes down, more often than not, learning halts

I wonder what the next 10 years might bring us…  Well, it is the year I will probably retire…  so, that’s something. 


Seriously though, what might learning and teaching look like, in 2021?  Let’s peer into the future a bit… Will students still come to school, a physical building, to learn?  Will ‘class size’ still be some iStock_000010628192XSmallfixed number or will the notion of class as we know it, still exist?  Will learning and teaching be inseparable from technology?  Might students be in blended classes: virtual and physical?  Will their classes cross country and continent boundaries?  Will student learning experiences look like what I described in Tyler’s Loving School in 2016 or Stephanie’s First Day of School in 2020.  Will classrooms be equipped with ‘learning windows’, interactive 2-way touch/touch-less video windows for connecting students virtually?

Here’s how I see things might unfold…

  • schools (buildings) are still important to bring students and their “teachers” together to learn face 2 face – I think it is inherently human for us to have physical contact – the physical layout and utility of the school spaces will evolve to support small and large groups, projects, problem solving, self-directed learning teams, etc.
  • teachers roles will evolve to one of coach, guide, and mentor from one who is the director of learning and imparter of knowledge
  • 3D immersive learning will be embedded for all students and teachers – all learning will be a blend of physical interactions and manipulations with full immersive virtual experiences and interactions – the lines will be blurred between reality and virtual reality
  • students and teachers will have access to all the knowledge available from anywhere all the time – immersive simulations will be standard tools for applying knowledge and honing skills – students can experience and put into practice everything they learn – learning comes to life (virtually) and fully engages the participants
  • paper is a rare tool for learning and teaching – digital forms of sustainable ‘paper’ have replaced the need for ‘real’ paper

The Sky's the LimitI could go on speculating but would rather hear from others.  What might you add to this list?  What aspects would you disagree with me about?  Have fun with this, pondering the future is not an exact science…