Saturday, January 28, 2012

Technology Shifts Practice

I’ve been thinking a lot about what our response to technology driven change should be.  For instance, is it reasonable to just carry on with our traditions and practices while ignoring important changes brought on by new technologies?  I don’t read status quo in this  definition of practice.  I see ample room for practice to be a shifting phenomenon over time as the environment we live and work in is changed.

prac·tice (noun): repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency: Practice makes perfect.

Last week I wrote “[b]y adding technology to an environment and not changing current practices, we have the proverbial round peg in a square hole problem. To provide real benefit, technology in classrooms, used by students and teachers, must change practice (eventually)”, Learning at the Speed of Change.  A teacher colleague of mine emailed me to share that a few teachers had taken exception to this and other related comments about practice in my post.  It certainly was not my intent to offend or criticize the work of teachers so please do not read that into my comments.  The more time I spend learning along-side teachers, the more I am amazed at how they are able to influence young lives.  Teachers are critically important to developing future generations of adults and they do an amazing job at this!

Technology is designed to change things – by adding technology to an environment, I think intuitively we should expect change to occur.  Change is a naturally occurring phenomenon in nature so it is something to be embraced not feared or resisted.  When we resist change, that’s when we most experience stress.  It is exciting to embrace and experiment with new tools and methods.  Technology, when adopted intentionally and thoughtfully, brings tremendous opportunity to our lives and work.

I do think that we all, regardless of profession, need to be alert and aware of the influence, impact, and disruptive power of technology on our way of imagelife and our work practices.  When things are changing exponentially sooner than previously, the time to adapt is even shorter.  I don’t believe we can ignore the reality of these pressures.  What worked well before will not necessarily serve us well in the future.  It would seem to me that that our educational practices should always be adapting and evolving to match our culture, tools, new knowledge, and that new practices would inevitably be the outcome.  When we lived in an era of slow linear change over time, we didn’t need to change much.  But as the green curve in the graph above reflects, our time window for change is no longer linear.  Things change much faster and they’re speeding up!  Isn’t education purposed and designed to change people and thus shouldn’t educators be leaders of continuous change in sync with our changing world?


Take a simple example, the book.  In the 1400’s the Gutenberg Press, a new technology, completely changed the game for storing and communicating information and knowledge.  It significantly disrupted a time tested labour intensive elitist method of transmitting knowledge.  It eventually put hundreds of monks out of work but think about the quality of life, jobs, and enlightenment it produced.  The accessibility to knowledge was expanded to everyone who wished to engage rather than limited to an elite few.  It took hundreds of years for this opportunity to change practices world-wide.  We’ve grown to love “the book”.  I have a book shelf full of interesting books in my office, they’re a conversation piece.  I’ve read them all.  I used to make notes in a binder and underline / highlight text in the books.  It is difficult to access that meta-knowledge of what I’ve read.  But, I’ve shifted practice.  For the past few years, since I bought an iPad, I buy all Kindle e-books.  The reading, note taking, highlighting, and sharing experience is far superior to a physical book could ever be.  Iimage have a personal website where my Kindle books are listed with reading status and my notes and highlights available to anyone who cares.  When I change the reading status, it automatically shares this via twitter which spreads the awareness of these books.  I can copy/paste highlights and notes from the website to blog posts, presentations, emails, tweets, and other writing I might create.  When I come across a book title, I can check it out online, then if I want it, go to my iPad to buy it and have it immediately delivered.  I can learn of a book and be reading it within minutes.  No driving to a store, no ordering on line and waiting weeks for it to be shipped (incidentally, both of these options impact the environment more so than the digital method).

Another interesting change I’ve experienced with reading is sharing what I read via twitter.  As I’m reading a blog, web article, or book I will often tweet out a portion of text I find interesting or provocative.  Increasingly people engage in real time conversation with me about what I share from my reading.  I often find myself reading and conversing about it at the same time with people around the world.  This is very different.  I find that these new methods help produce much deeper learning.

Shouldn’t our students also be exposed to new ways of engaging with knowledge and in conversations with others about it through our networks and digital tools?  For that to happen, those involved in education would need to be regularly exposed to what’s possible and experimenting with new technologies to evaluate their applicability to learning and teaching.  The outcome, I believe, will be a continual shift in practice.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Learning at the Speed of Change

I visited a grade 6 classroom this past week where every student had a personally owned laptop.  The students were learning about basic geometric shapes such as triangles, squares, and others with more sides which I forget the names for (I could Google them if I needed to).  The teacher ask them to create a program using Scratch to prompt for the number of sides, the length of a imageside, and to calculate the angle between any two sides, and finally to generate and display the shape.  While I was there, the kids were able to complete, to varying degrees, the pieces to prompt and calculate an angle (not necessarily correctly, but).  Some had a display “algorithm” programmed and were generating all sorts of spiral graph type shapes (not the shape intended mind you).  It was exciting to see their engagement, actually total being absorbed, in the learning activity.  For homework, they were to at least have a correctly running program that calculates and displays the angle.  When I got back to my office I decided to download Scratch and see how easy or hard it was to complete the geometry task the students were working on.  Here’s the result I sent to the teacher:


The teacher gave me a “Gold Star” via a tweet!  The cool thing here is how quickly I could observe student work and learn from the students, to doing something completely new myself, and producing a product.  Kids are really good at this by the way.  Yes this is a simple task but this is the very dynamic world our students are growing up and shaping their futures in.  I have a fond memory of seeing and playing with Scratch 6 years ago in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab in Boston when Scratch was being “invented”.  MIT has graciously made Scratch available for many 10’s of thousands of students world wide to support their learning.

I think that most, if not all, of us in modern societies would agree that the pace of change in our lifetimes has been rapidly increasing.  “If you ask anyone who has been on the Internet for at least a decade what has changed, the answer will probably be, ‘Everything.’”, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Kindle 433. 

“in the traditional view of teaching, information is transferred from one person (the teacher) to another (the student). It presumes the existence of knowledge that both is worth communicating and doesn’t tend to change very much over time.”, Kindle 397 and “approaches to learning in the twentieth century did, in fact, work but largely because of the glacial rate of change that characterized the era.”, Kindle 467

How can we possibly believe that the status quo education system can continue to be useful where “traditional approaches to learning are no longer capable of coping with a constantly changing world”, Kindle 564?

Chris Kennedy, Superintendent for West Vancouver Schools, (see Chris’ post on this topic here) and I, along with Kris Magnusson (Dean of Education for SFU) have been asked to keynote an SFU Symposium Poster - Feb 9 2012upcoming symposium “Targeting Technology for Maximum Student Benefit” in Vancouver presented by the Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy.  There are 10 or 180 spots left, if interested, register here.  We are tasked with

providing a way of thinking about the broad array of potential uses of technology in education including options we believe are most important for improving student outcomes through ‘personalizing’ their learning” and “describing how we would use limited resources over a 5 year period to initiate technology use in a way that would maximize benefit for students”. 

In an era where students truly do need to ‘learn at the speed of change’, I am finding this task to be rather difficult.  There are so many technological options available that can benefit students. However, options are changing so quickly and over the next 5 years, many will be owned by the students.  How do we wisely advise school systems to strategically use limited funds to iStock_000007192634XSmallmaximize student learning when many options today will be gone tomorrow and options unknown today, will be essential tomorrow?

There are some critical variables that make this very difficult to do.  Pedagogy and assessment are two of these variables.  By adding technology to an environment and not changing current practices, we have the proverbial round peg in a square hole problem.  To provide real benefit, technology in classrooms, used by students and teachers, must change practice (eventually).  There is a somewhat natural progression from ‘preparing’ to ‘exploring’ and on to ‘transforming’.  But too often technology use in schools gets stuck as a minor enhancement to existing practice (preparing).  It needs to move to transforming practice in ways where the learning is significantly enriched and new to the benefit of kids and if the technology were removed, such learning would be impossible.  Professional learning for teachers and school leaders is essential to support this needed shift.  I believe this is a shared responsibility of school systems and teachers – both need to invest time to make the shift, our students are counting on it.  Teachers and school leaders need to recognize our times for what they are: radically different than the past and to realize there is a moral imperative to adapt practice to maximize student benefit.  We need to be thoughtful leaders in these times of extreme change.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Making of Citizens

There is a lot of talk about 21st century this and 21st century that and our education system is not immune to throwing new buzz words around for our century.  Certainly there are important conversations to have with respect to what we expect students to become and how they will contribute to their local community, country, and our world.  What is it that students should know?  What behaviours should they possess?  What skills should they acquire?  What is the purpose of an education?  How should educators prioritize what is to be known?  The pace of change is exponential so how can we continue to teach kids to memorize iStock_000004213862XSmalldates, names, and places that they will likely never remember or care about?  What value is there to memorizing easily findable facts and figures?  I believe we will be navigating some pretty storming days ahead while we sort these things out…

In the February 2012 issue of FastCompany, I read an article about the Generation Flux.  It seems that we always need a new definition of the current generation.  “Patil got kicked out of math class for being disruptive.  He graduated only by persuading his school administrator to change his F grade in chemistry…  Patil, 37, is now an expert in chaos theory, among other mathematical disciplines”, p62.  Patil says “The pace of change in our economy and our culture is accelerating – fueled by global adoption of social, mobile, and other new technologies – and our visibility about the future is declining.”, p.62  He asks critical questions like “Which competitive advantages have staying power?  What skills matter most?”.  On p65 the article goes on to discuss various transformations and suggests that “any business that ignores these transformations does so at its own peril”.

“The most valuable insight is that we are, in a critical sense, in a time of chaos”, p65

Generation Flux is defined by a “mind-set that embraces instability, that tolerates – and even enjoys – recalibrating careers, business models, and assumption”.  Do our schools prepare students to be citizens who resemble these descriptors?

“The vast bulk of our institutions – educational, corporate, political – are not built for flux” and “the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills”, p65

“Government, schools, and other institutions… have structures and processes built for an industrial age, where efficiency is paramount but adaptability is terribly difficult… inside these legacy institutions, changing direction is rough”, p66.

“We are under constant pressure to learn new things.  It can be daunting. It can be exhilarating”, p66

“If ambiguity is high and adaptability is required, then you simply can’t afford to be sentimental about the past.  Future-focus is a signature trait of Generation Flux”, p67.

At the Edcamp43 un-conferenceimage I attended yesterday, some serious table talk was had around transformative uses of technology, inquiry based learning, and new forms of assessment and reporting.  It is encouraging to meet more educators who “get it”, that understand things need to change.  However, I think we are all challenged with the what and the how.  A “built to last” system like K12 education is going to be rather difficult to change without significant pain.  Take report cards for example.  A mark (letter or number) assigned to a piece of student work or a test is assumed to mean something, to indicate some level of success.  Parents think this means something as do higher education institutions.  Teachers have systems for determining andcustomer survey or poll with check boxes on blackboard assigning marks.  But what does a mark actually mean?  Does it describe what a person knows (really knows), can do (skills), has done (evidence)?  I almost failed grade 10 but this hasn’t affected my life or ability to be successful.  Those marks in grade 10 were irrelevant to who I became, what I know, what I can do.  I can’t recite for you all of the past prime ministers of Canada, the capital cities of each province, or the top 5 key historical events in Canada.  I would say thought that this makes me no less a proud and productive Canadian than the person with the better memory.  My point is, I think we value and hold on to traditional views of educational success that don’t map well to our world today and certainly not well for the future.

Our education system plays such a critical role in the “making of citizens”.  I do hope that those of us in the system will soon move past the talk of 21st century this, transformative that, and rapidly make real change so as to truly prepare our students for the future, not a memorable past.  To prepare them to serve our society and each other well, and to be meaningful contributors within the world of work, in the future!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Considering the Future

It seems that more people are increasingly thinking and worrying about, or at least pondering the future.  I watched a show the other night, well as much as I could handle, on CBC Doc Zone called Apocalypse 2012.  They covered the various doomsday, conspiracy theory, and scientific perspectives on 2012, the Mayan calendar running out in Dec/2012 and the end of the iStock_000001843223XSmallworld, etc.  Personally, I don’t buy into this view of the future.  But, I do believe it’s more important in our day than previously to be considering the future, particularly since the pace of change is on the tail end of an exponential trajectory.  Those of us involved in formal leadership positions in educational settings have a responsibility to do our part to prepare the people we work with, for the future.  Leaders in education aught to be students of the future and being ready to lead others in new directions before the future happens “to us”.

As a technology leader in a school district, I bump up against the future regularly and frequently.  The field of information technology (IT) is experiencing extreme and rapid change in terms of new devices, new software applications, new ways to store, share, and network information, new ways to connect people and to communicate.  Related to these changes are the needs, methods, and options for implementing and supporting IT.  In the “old days”, a highly skilled CD-Romtechnologist was required for every aspect of this work.  With the advent of smart devices, app stores, self-configured network connections, cloud storage, cloud (web) applications, etc., the nature of a technologists work has changed and is rapidly shifting. 

I lead a group of 35 technologists doing a variety of IT work to implement and support IT for use by our teachers, students, school offices, parents, and District business staff.  I see significant disruption coming to our traditional methods of providing IT work.  At the same time, I see tremendous opportunity to deliver new services, faster to meet new needs for learning, teaching, and work.  I believe it is important to help people understand the envisioned changes and be involved in helping shape the future of our work.  To that end, I’ve designed our staff meetings this year around using cooperative learning group structures to facilitate a consideration of the future.  We have “flipped” our meetings where information is shared electronically in advance for reading on one’s own time, and people then engage in hands on group work during the face to face time.  The rest of this post shares the process and tactics I’ve been using to help us consider the future.  We’ve had two meetings so far, one in early October and a second in mid-December.  Hopefully you find this information helpful in your consideration of the future with people you work with and lead.


“What we learn together here will be very useful for figuring out how we need to prepare us and our department for a changing reality driven by educational change and market changes in how IT services are being delivered”

Pre-read in advance

Articles from both meetings are all listed here.

Group work

Where you see a number followed by “m”, this refers to the time allocated for the activity.  For example, the first question is allocated 30 minutes. Where you see “p.” and a number, this refers to a page within a book I referenced for the tactic.  The book title follows the page number reference.

Meeting #1

30m What changes do you see coming in how technology is used for teaching and learning (1-3 years)?

  • Intended outcome: prioritized shared understanding of our education context of today and the future and how technology is expected to play a key role
  • Move into assigned groups
  • Number people off as A, B, C, D - people need to remember their "number" - let people now that any one's letter could be called to share their group's work so everyone needs to be fully engaged, actively participating with and listening to each other
  • Reference: education context readings
  • Need: chart paper, felt pens, pens
  • 20m Graffiti (discover what we collectively know about this topic)
    • Put group name on top of chart
    • 6m In your groups and on chart paper, each person writes 3-4 things they know or believe about our current and future education context and how technology might play a role
    • 4m quickly circulate to each table and write your same 3-4 things on their chart paper - return to own table when asked
    • 5m in your group collectively discuss and identify what you think the key ideas are from all the ideas on your chart paper
  • 10m Ranking Ladder (prioritize the top 5 items)
    • In your groups pick the top five ideas
    • Rank them in order of importance
    • Write a rationale statement for each of your top 5 to justify them being in your list in the order you chose
  • Collect chart paper for a future work

35m What changes do you see today and will you see in the world of technology and IT services?

  • Intended outcome: increased understanding of the changes occurring in technology and how IT services are evolving
  • Reference: IT readings and if they wish, additional articles of their own
  • Need: chart paper, felt pens, 3-column recording sheets, pens
  • 10m Know/Think I Know/Want to Know
    • Explain each column - differentiate Know (certain) and Think I Know (tentative/unsure)
    • On your own, complete the recording sheet
  • 7m Create collective list on chart paper
    • Put group name (from Initiate) on top of chart
  • 5m Prioritize the Want to Know list
  • 13m Report out to whole group
  • Collect group charts for future work

20m What impact do you think the changes you are seeing in technology and education will have on how we organize our work?

  • Intended outcome: shared understanding of technological market forces and the use of technology in education and their impact on our work
  • Reference: educational and IT readings
  • Need: sheet of paper, pen
  • Snowball (rapid collective brainstorming)
    • Each person takes their chair and forms a large circle
    • Write one idea on piece of paper, crumple, throw into middle - facilitator mixes up the pile
    • On 3, pick a snowball, read the idea, add a new idea, repeat 2 times (until 3 ideas) - make sure the snowball isn't one you've written on previously
    • Everyone gets a snowball 1 more time
    • Start with someone to read their snowball list, each person to the right thanks the previous person and reads the list on their sheet
  • Randomly pick 3 or 4 people to summarize what they've heard (indicate up front this step will occur to encourage active listening)
  • Collect snowballs to capture the collective ideas for future work

Meeting #2

Information from the first meeting was analyzed, summarized, and shared out as additional pre-reading for the group prior to the second meeting.

(30m) FUTURES WHEEL (p.24, Groups at Work): Embracing and supporting personal mobile devices

  • Describe the issues, concerns, and needs, eg, security, managing, bandwidth, permissions
  • Think about appropriate levels of support needed, misbehaving devices, roles required, expertise required, support needed from leadership, resources needed for ITs
  • Intention: incorporate diverse, creative, inventive thinking while honoring individual viewpoints and widening perspectives for all group members; highlights that anything can have positive and negative effects; helps reduce impulsive jumps to short-term solutions
  • In pairs (A,D and B,C), write names on futures wheel recording sheet
  • Materials: PowerPoint slides (3), futures wheel recording sheet for each pair, chart paper for each group
  • Instructions
    • (15m) In pairs: Write "Personal Mobile Devices" in the centre of the recording sheet; working outward to layer 1, 2, 3 talk about and write in 2 positive and 2 negative effects at each node - negative and positive effects should be as diverse as possible from each another
    • (5m) In groups: share and discuss the results, identify the most positive and most negative ripple effects that emerge at the 3rd layer
    • (10m) In groups: brainstorm and record what processes, tools, etc. we require to effectively neutralize the negatives and amplify the positives that you've listed

(30m) FUTURES WHEEL (p.24, Groups at Work): Shifting to apps from programs

  • Describe how Apps will impact the work we do currently
  • think Apple Store, Marketplace, and web based or virtualized apps
  • Intention: incorporate diverse, creative, inventive thinking while honoring individual viewpoints and widening perspectives for all group members; highlights that anything can have positive and negative effects; helps reduce impulsive jumps to short-term solutions
  • In pairs (A,D and B,C), write names on futures wheel recording sheet
  • Materials: PowerPoint slides (3), futures wheel recording sheet for each pair, chart paper for each group
  • Instructions
    • (15m) In pairs: Write "Apps" in the centre of the recording sheet; working outward to layer 1, 2, 3 talk about and write in 2 positive and 2 negative effects at each node - negative and positive effects should be as diverse as possible from each another
    • (5m) In groups: share and discuss the results, identify the most positive and most negative ripple effects that emerge at the 3rd layer
    • (10m) In groups: brainstorm and record what processes, tools, etc. we require to effectively neutralize the negatives and amplify the positives that you've listed

(20m) CONCEPT MAP (p.293-295, Beyond Mounet): Describe the attributes important for future IT job roles that are needed to best serve the District needs with agility and resilience (perseverance + flexibility)

  • Intention: Gain an understanding of what job attributes are important to meeting the needs of the District
  • In groups; write your names on the chart paper
  • Materials: Chart paper per group, 2 colored sticky pads per group
  • Instructions
    • (10m) Use colored stickies to write one attribute per sticky
      • Stick each onto chart on the wall
      • Keep going until time's up
    • (10m) Discuss / classify / organize stickies with your group

(25m) INTER-VENN-TION (p.48, Groups that Work) Consider the attributes of a future proofed IT organization designed to meet the needs for the next 10 years

  • Intention: Compare attributes / features of a new future-proofed organization
  • Work in Pairs (A,C and B,D); write your names on your Venn Diagram sheet
  • Materials: "me-map" sheets, Venn diagram sheets
    • Instructions
      • (10m) individually write attributes / features (words/short phrases) on own "me-map"
      • (10m) in pairs, write each person's items on Venn Diagram, unique items for one partner on left, other partner's unique items on right, common items in the intersection - add new information that may arise
        • What is in common between current and future (ie, is important and will remain so) should appear in the intersection of the two circles
      • (5m) Pair-to-pair sharing

A word of advice, be sure to set the context well, explain the questions thoroughly, and provide enough time.  I could have done better on all three fronts and will in the future.

If you’re finding yourself thinking more about how the future will impact you and your group’s work, you might find this process and these strategies to be helpful.  I encourage you to consider using cooperative learning strategies for your meetings with others.  I’ve found them to be quite helpful in my work.