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.

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“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.