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.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Open Letter to Prezi

Back in September I wrote Presentation Dilemma – Powerpoint or Prezi where I wrestled with the art of presentation and the challenge imageI gave myself to use Prezi.com for one of my next presentations.  imageAfter much blood, sweat, and tears (okay, I’m being a little over dramatic…), I did it.  I had a blast delivering “The Social Networking Experience” on Oct. 21, 2011 at the Computer Using Educators of British Columbia (#CueBC) annual conference.

I had created a version of this presentation using PowerPoint earlier this year and used it at the BC ASBO annual meeting in May.  Unfortunately SlideShare (where you can access that version) doesn’t do justice to the dynamic aspects of PowerPoint but you can get the sense of that version compared to the Prezi version.

Using Prezi to present is actually a pretty interesting experience.  The essential nature of Prezi is that presentations zoom in and out, and pan based on a defined path.  It adds an element of engagement and entertainment while you move through your content.  I think a good Prezi needs a lot of thought and design around the back drop iStock_000017128753XSmallthat the path (narrative) will navigate. 

I found the creation process to be rather frustrating.  Interestingly, a new feature showed up that I noticed on Thursday the day before my presentation.  I wanted to rework the path and the Prezi gurus added a visual path editor that made it much easier to see and change the path.  It is sort of like a timeline strip in a video editor.

Let’s start with some advice based on my limited experience with Prezi:

  • please don’t think that you can just throw text, pictures, videos onto the canvas and create some bizarre path between the elements – that’s equally as bad as filling a PowerPoint with text, bullets, and meaningless pictures – design and purpose matters!
  • design and create a backdrop to place on the Prezi canvas to guide the path of your presentation – if I was a graphic artist, I’d hand draw a black and white visual story line for this – I don’t possess that talent so relied on a simple organization and helpful images obtained from various web sites
  • use pictures and images carefully – when you zoom in, the details will blur which can distract from your message; also placing text on images is very challenging since you have no control over the color – text can be hard to see
  • use zoom in / out and distance carefully or you could make some in your audience ill, literally – test it out on a big screen to be sure
  • accept that Prezi has limited editing (for some, this makes it easier to use) capabilities or you will be very frustrated and give up – this was my third attempt at using Prezi and by persisting, I managed to finish it and it worked out pretty well I think

Okay, here’s my wish list for the developers of Prezi to consider for improving the usability of Prezi from the designer’s perspective.  Note that I used the Prezi Desktop to create my Prezi and upload it to the website.

Text

  • let the designer choose from hundreds of fonts and use them freely
  • provide the ability to change the text color, background color, style (bold, underline, italic), and size of lines of text or individual characters and words – in particular, it’s very frustrating and impractical not having control of color when placing text onto images
  • enable aligning text across or stacked with characters turned 90 degrees left or right
  • add ability to insert a hyperlink behind the text (ie, hyperlink a word, not just paste a URL on the canvas)

Example…

image

Shapes

  • provide more shapes to choose from (think PowerPoint)
  • provide handles on shapes for designer to stretch, push, etc. to modify the shape
  • let the designer set the fill color and pattern as they see fit
  • enable the designer to change the transparency of the fill
  • add a feature whereby text can be added to the shape directly (not overlaid text on shape, part of the shape)
  • add ability to add outline color and highlighting features like glow
  • add ability to hyperlink a shape

Path

  • enable the designer to select more than path elements to drag and drop them using the timeline view to reorder them (only allows one at a time currently)
  • enable transition features (not quite sure how this would work) to get from one path to another during presentation
  • add a thumbnail / sorter view (like slide sorter in PowerPoint) to perform path editing

Images and Videos

  • allow placement inside a shape and treated as the “fill” for the shape
  • images: allow ability to hyperlink an image
  • videos: allow options for how/when the video will start to play (automatic, clicked on, after a delay)

Builds

  • support the ability to build elements placed within a frame using a variety of build features (e.g., appear, fade, wipe, fly, etc.)
  • any element should be possible including text, shapes, images, videos, etc.

I couldn’t resist sharing my amateur Prezi advice!  If Prezi will add these types of capabilities, I will be torn between using PowerPoint iStock_000014920290XSmalland Prezi.  It would create new opportunities to choose various presentation tools to support more creative, interesting, but usable presentations.  So, I ask you Prezi, please consider this advice.  I think your user community would really appreciate the new flexibility and options.

For readers of this blog, what features and capabilities would you add to this list?  Take away from it?  I’d love to hear from you and I’m sure Prezi would too.  Feel free to share a link to your own or a favorite Prezi, in your comment.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Be Courageous

I was recently invited to go see the movie Courageous.  A key theme for this movie is how important it is that fathers step up and seriously commit to their role in supporting and leading their families.  The film is Christian based but even if you have a DSCN1232different belief system, the values and the challenge expressed in the movie are pretty powerful for dads.  This article advocates for fathers deep involvement but ultimately both parents are critical to support and train up their kids regardless of marital status.  When times are difficult, solid family life becomes even more important for all members of the family.  I think you would agree that we are in increasingly difficult times…

The key themes I read, think, and write most about within this blog are education, technology, and the future.  I also read a lot of material dealing with economy, history, and government as I think these significantly influence the outcome for education, technology, and our future.  I am reading a book “Democracy, the god that failed” which dives deep into a historical treatise of various forms of government but in particular monarchies and democracies.  The author argues rather convincingly that democracies (our form of government and the form advocated for by the “free world”) leads to de-civilization. Think about the complexity of the Canadian, US, and European governments (school boards, cities, states/provinces, federal), the layers of bureaucracy, massively complex public law, the costs to operate, and how these have grown over the years.  How about the massive level of government debt, the willingness to print money out of thin air, massive transfers of wealth from the common peoples to the super rich, and an increasing unrest amongst citizens around the world (for example, see Occupy Wall Street).  I wonder how fragile our civilization really is?  There must be a better way.  Sorry, no answers, just thinking out loud…

It is interesting how much I didn’t learn about history and our world during my journey through K12 and university.  Now, I find that by using social networks, electronic books, blogs, news, etc. it is far more practical to discover and learn about our past, our present, and to ponder possible futures.  Every day we are able to connect to old thinking, new ideas, and a mind boggling volume of information.  Fresh idea crosswordBut, it is very easy with technology to channel ourselves into narrow pockets of thinking, ideas, and information.  I believe that an open minded education system supported by effective technology is essential for creating open minded thinkers, collaborators, learners, and sense-makers.  This I believe is a critical piece for solving the worlds puzzles and problems and to manage our way through the chaos of an economy in melt-down, governments suspect of corruption, and an environment creaking under our use.  However, a great education alone is insufficient.

We need to be careful to not lose focus on the most important societal unit, the family.  We need now more than ever in our lifetime, courageous fathers and mothers who are willing to lead, teach, and support their children, to do the hard work of instilling the values of love, integrity, honesty, and selflessness.  Events like We Day are a positive sign that our children can think beyond themselves to help improve life for others less fortunate.  Values like these are most often first developed within good families.

It may be difficult at times to be optimistic given the chaos and unrest that seems to be increasing in our world.  Technology enhances, transforms, and disrupts our way of life.  Education helps us make sense of our world.  The future happens!  In difficult times, Newcastle Island 058one’s faith and family is often what gets us through.  If you are a father or a mother, I encourage you to take pause and think about how important your role is in raising your children.  You may already be an amazing parent – perhaps you can teach others.  You may have regrets about how you’ve performed so far – it is never too late to change.  Strong families will always be critical to creating a preferred future!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Be a Fearless Learner

Think back to when you were young.  Go as far back in your memory as you can.  Okay, do you remember being fearful?  When faced with obstacles or new situations, did you avoid or embrace them?  I think iStock_000016399116XSmallmost if not all of us remember those early years as ones filled with possibility not impossibility.  We seem to be created with an inherent courage.  I can remember learning to ride a skateboard (we’re talking a board with metal wheels back in the 70’s), it was ridiculous trying to ride that early prototype but my friends and I did it.  Later when we could afford newer skateboards, we would take turns lining up kids and ourselves on the grass and see how many we could jump over.  Anyone see a risk here?  When we’re young we don’t think about risks, rather we only see what can be.  Something happens along the way though – we start to learn to fear things.

Now think back to your days as a student in K-12.  Do you remember what kindergarten was like?  My memories were of play, painting, story times, naps.  For nap time we would get our little mats out and we were supposed to fall asleep on them.  Are you kidding me?  There was too many things to do, to experience. We used to pretend that our mats were airplanes and make them into shapes that resembled them.  Making mistakes when trying new things was expected and common.  Moving on to grade school (as it was called back then), things became a little more high stakes.  We were graded on our school work!  Now there was the risk of not doing something right and receiving a bad grade.  Doing poorly at something was frowned upon while doing well was celebrated.  Carry this on through to high school then university and the stakes just kept on getting higher and the fear of failure as well.

As we became adults many of us learned to fear change and get stuck in our ways so to speak.  Look at technology for example.  How many times have you yourself said or heard someone else say “I iStock_000012625357XSmallmight break it, screw it up, lose it, I can’t do this, it’s too complicated, I can’t learn this, you do it for me, how do I start”.  Would your younger self think this way?  Fear is such a limiter to learning, trying, and embracing new experiences and opportunities.  Fear is a roadblock to success in amplifying and transforming education.  Fear holds us back from stepping out to change ourselves, to embrace new possibilities. But fear can be overcome!

My wife Shelley has journeyed into the amazing world of digital design and online business.  Three or four years ago she was a rather cautious user of technology.  She used email and Ebay.  Around three years ago I was reading an article in Wired Magazine.  For years Shelley applied her artistic abilities to Tole painting and wood craft.  She would create all sorts of crafts and sell them at craft fairs.  It was a labour intensive endeavor and she eventually tired of it.  The Wired article about Zazzle looked like an interesting possibility for Shelley to tap into her creative side and create an online business.  I read the article to her and suggested that she check out Zazzle.  The challenge for Shelley would be embracing the unknown, uncertainty, and going through a steep learning curve with technology and process: to become A Fearless Learner.  She had to learn digital photography, pen iStock_000011390935Smallbased tablet drawing programs (she uses the free Sumo Paint for her hand drawn designs), the Zazzle product system, Internet marketing including keyword strategy and promotion.  The result was her online store Designs by Shell (example product – Teachers Give a Hoot).  I somehow convinced her (she said “no way”) to start a blog “Shell’s Zazzle Journal” (she has 120 followers now) as a way to promote her learning and her product designs.  She also started writing lenses on Squidoo, a site created by the famous Seth Godin, joined Twitter, and more recently a Facebook fan page.  She makes money (increasing every year) from her Zazzle store, her Squidoo lenses, and Amazon referred purchases all from the comfort of home.  How cool is that!?  When she began this learning journey, she used to panic and ask for help whenever something unusual occurred with these digital spaces.  Well, she doesn’t ask me anymore…  she has become a Fearless Learner and an expert at what she does.

Are You a Learner?  If you aren’t, you’re missing out on the vast rich opportunities our world has to offer.  There’s a good book by John Ortberg, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat”.  The context is Christian but I think the message applies in general to learners as well.  A key message is that we have to be willing to take risks, have faith that things will work out, and go for it.  We shouldn’t let fear hold us back from achieving our goals, our vision for our lives, experiencing life to the fullest. 

In this technologically advanced world, change is an inevitable constant.  If we are sitting still and not learning, we’re falling behind.  The future has so much to offer if we would only embrace it.  I think it is very important that K-12 students remain fearless.  What can we do to adapt their journey through our schools such that they are open to change, always willing to embrace new ideas, and to take (calculated) risks?  How about you, what fear might you overcome today by becoming a Fearless Learner?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Make Learning Visible

Our District has formed a Documentation Focus Group to “Make Learning Visible”.  I wrote last year about the early exploration of this approach to documenting learning in Capturing the Journey of Early Learners.  This year we have about 18 committed iStock_000007042359XSmallkindergarten teachers working with an external facilitator Pat Holborn, who specializes in Learning Through Play and Making Early Learning Visible in Early Primary.  They are embarking on an ambitious journey, going where most teachers have not gone before…  The stated purposes for this project include:

  • build and share strategies and skills for documenting, assessing and sharing student learning over time.
  • involve children and families in the documentation process.
  • begin to develop a framework for documenting student learning, supported by examples in different subject areas that can be shared with others.
  • explore ways to use technologies, including photographs, video and the Internet (my43) to share documentation with families.
  • integration documentation of student learning into the reporting process.

I have the pleasure of working with these teachers to support their use of technology in the documentation process.  This past Wednesday they had their first morning meeting, there will be a minimum of six such meetings this school year.  I spent about an hour with them to introduce them to their new iPod Touches.  The iPods will be their primary tool for capturing electronic documentation of their students, and their own learning.  I will be helping them to learn how to capture video, picture, and audio evidence.  We’ll work through the art of video and audio editing, and ways to present and share the digital documentation with families.

Another aspect of this will be to create a secure space within our my43 learning portal where teachers will be able to share digital artifacts of student learning with families.  We can’t just put this out on a Google Doc, Windows Skydrive, Wordpress, or Wikispaces.  In British Columbia we Information Securityhave rather strict legislation governing privacy (see Building Fences) of individuals and storing information about them in online environments.  To avoid those challenges, we will design a means to do this within my43.  This will likely be a toe in the water for providing a Student Space and Parent Space.  We will need to design a means for providing parents with their own secure login to a space within my43 where information about their child’s learning can be accessed and viewed and perhaps parents can comment back to their child and their teacher.

I’ve been reading the ISTE standards for students and teachers.  This early learning documentation project nicely ties in some of the standards for teachers:

  • Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments (d) provide students with multiple and varied formative and summative assessments…
  • Model Digital-Age Work and Learning (all indicators)
  • Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility (a, c)
  • Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership (a, b, c, d)

I really like how this work will use technology to make learning more visible for families.  One of the frustrations for parents (my wife and iStock_000008573353SmallI raised three boys) is feeling like they are in the dark about their kids learning.  Report cards are a mere snapshot of what students know at certain points.  But with this digital approach, parents will see (pictures, video, text), hear (audio), and experience (video) evidence of their kids learning.  They will hopefully be able to comment and provide feedback online, creating a dialogue about their kids learning.  Some of what parents can hope to see and experience, that they would rarely get in traditional settings, include:

  • evidence not reflected in other assessment approaches (a more complete picture)
  • documentation of student learning over time
  • the excitement of spontaneous learning
  • their kids self-documentation

I will write more on this blog about the learning journey of these “fearless” teachers.  I hope to capture videos of them learning, of them using this approach for documenting learning, and to share them with you.  I hope they will also start blogging about their experiences to be able to make their own learning visible.  Until next time…