Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is Technology Revolutionizing Education Yet?

Last Saturday my clock rang at about 2:45 in the morning. I got up, got ready, and headed off WP_000395to pick up a colleague for our trip to ISTE 2012 held in San Diego California. What a blessing to be able to enjoy real sunshine and warm weather. The Vancouver area in British Columbia has experienced consistently cool and wet weather unfortunately. We went to a Padre's game that evening and then crashed reasonably early so that our brains were ready for the ISTE experience. Approximately 15,000 educators attend this premiere educational technology event each year.

On Sunday I attended a workshop in the morning where we learned to program in Scratch and Alice. Scratch, a fabulous visual object imageoriented programming environment is used by many middle school students in our schools, was created by MIT and gifted to the world. We created a simple program with several sprites that interacted with the user on simple math problems. imageAlice is a 3D programming language. Things got more complicated with Alice as you have to envision a 3D landscape, camera angles, 3D characters and their position in the world. I programmed a fridge door to open when clicked and a banana and drink to move to the shelf when clicked and then the door closed. I can see how tools like this would engage students in math, geometry, visual arts, music, logic, computing science, etc. you could also incorporate writing, history, or any other subject area. Definitely worth considering for your students.

Sunday afternoon was all about learning iPad apps and learning activities. We started with a scavenger hunt activity. In teams of 5, each team scanned a QR code that revealed a "secret" word. Our assignment was to go out and take five pictures that represented our word, create a slide show, and present it to the "class" for them to guess our word. Here's the first and last pictures we took.  Can you guess our word... time is up, it's electricity (our team had lots of it).

We did photo editing, stop motion (iStopMotion) claymation and used iMovie to add text and voice overs.

Photo apps we saw included DMD Panorama, Pro HDR, and Frame Magic. We played with Aurasma for augmented reality to create a video to overlay on a picture. For example, a student could overlay a video essay on a picture of a play, person, a historical figure, or place. Or perhaps it's overlaid on a picture of the wall of their classroom. When the iPad running Aurasma "sees" the picture, the video overlay fires up and plays as if it was happening right then.

An app called Sekai works with air tags where you take a picture and tag it with GPS coordinates. When you come back to the location and open the app, it will show the picture or video.

We went on a virtual trip to the Eiffel tower using the Maps app, went to street view, took a screen shot of the tower, and created a book which can be opened in the iBook library using Book Creator.  Page two is shown here.  I threw in the picture of my QR code team for fun.

For me, that experience opened my eyes to the power of apps on a tablet. In particular the ease in how one apps work flows seamlessly to other apps for further editing. These tools are very powerful creation tools for learners. People who say or write that iPads are great consumption devices but poor for creating, are misinformed (I was one)... The workflow is engaging, the apps creative, the products powerfully representative of ones learning.  Although, you might want to read Dave Truss’ recent post “Still sold on Laptops over iPads” for another opinion.

I think iPads and other slates will disrupt the way we think of using educational technology. This model will also disrupt how we think of managing information technology. I have questions about how student created works will be stored, shared, assessed, etc. I know, "the Cloud", but I worry about how freely and trustingly educators are flocking to the cloud. Can we really trust corporations to have ours and our students best interests at heart? Rarely is that the case, they are profit driven entities and will find ways to leverage our information for their gain. It's a historic pattern that keeps repeating itself.

In one presentation, we "met" Super Awesome Sylvia. This 8 year old girl creates maker videos, check them out here.

Sylvia basically does what Bill Nye the Science Guy did but from a kids perspective. You've got to watch some of her videos. Digital technologies allow all students to have a voice where only adults could previously. We also saw a clip about MIT students emailing a design file for a bicycle to someone in Australia who then printed the bike parts and assembled it using a 3D printer. At that time, a A 3D printer made thiscouple years ago, the printer was $100,000 but I saw 3D printers (example) here at the conference that were 1,000's of dollars putting them in reach of families and certainly schools. Someone at ISTE tweeted that the picture shown here was made on a 3D printer, amazing.  I also saw a 3D scanner in the vendor hall that scanned objects into 3D editable model files that could then be “printed”, kind-of like the Star Trek replicator. I wonder how the copyright laws anticipate this development...

I participated in a workshop called Robotics: Making Computer Science, Engineering, and Math come alive. We used the Lego MindStorm NXT-G programming language to create programs to drive a robot in a square, to follow a black line (see picture here), to follow WP_000400a maze, and to avoid objects. We learned to use sensors to detect the presence or absence of light (black line), use ultrasonic to detect objects, to say hello when it did and to back up and turn to carry on around it, etc. Consider incorporating these tools into math and science learning for your students. I tweeted out during the session "this isn't learning, it's fun, no it's the same thing". When students are enjoying themselves, the learning isn't work for them. Check out for resources and click on Robotics to get the Prezi or PDF.

During the session The Steep Unlearning Curve by Will Richardson we heard and talked about rethinking schools, classrooms, and learning. Will said that we need to feel uncomfortable with what's happening in education and that we are living in very interesting times. Clay Shirky says that the change we are in the middle of isn't minor or optional. We've moved from a world of scarcity in terms of options, information, and tools to one of abundance but education mainly still operates as if we still lived in a world of scarcity. Learning needs to be both engaging and empowering for the learners. Students need to be given the ability to create their own learning. Education needs to foster a DIY (do it yourself) approach to learning facilitated by teachers.

I had many conversations about how education is being changed by technology. Teachers are flipping classrooms so that content is acquired by students as homework and interaction with the content is undertaken in class cooperatively and collaboratively. Technology makes it efficient to do things differently and in personal ways that better match students needs.

I think the answer to the question I pose in the title for this post is yes, to some degree. But I don't think education has fundamentally changed in a critical mass of classrooms for most students. I think my answer will be very different in three or four years. I used to use five year windows for thinking about the future but the exponential change we are seeing with mobile devices, apps, and online services, suggests that education will not survive long in it's default or traditional configuration.  I hope we are able to make the shift to a student owned learning model in thoughtful and caring ways. We need to consider the implications carefully since education systems are meant to "create" the next generation.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

So You Want to be a Leader

Image converted using ifftoanyBack in 1991 I began my journey as a leader of not only a function within an organization, but also of people.  For a computer science grad, that was a bit of a shift.  But you know, it has been the best embedded pro-D I could imagine.  I must admit, I seem to embody the “learn from my mistakes” model because when I reflect, I’ve made many and learned many lessons along the way.  What I’ve learned is that leadership for me is envisioning a better future, and carefully working through others to get there together.

I attended the annual CIO Executive Summit in Vancouver last week where I had the pleasure of hearing several accomplished leaders speak.  These leaders, CIOs (chief information officers) of large sophisticated organizations such as WestJet, UBC, lululemon (also heard from Chip Wilson, the founder), and Best Buy, shared their success, challenges, and advice.  A reoccurring message for success included investing in people, process, and technology with the priority being people.  Unanimously, they advise hiring great people, enough of them, with the right skills, into the right positions, much like the wisdom in Jim Collin’s Good to Great.  I agree with this sentiment however the rules of the game differ for different organizations.  For example, in public sector organizations, hiring practices are often quite constrained and there is insufficient flexibility to meet that test.  This makes the leadership in that context a little more challenging for sure.

Our helpful online oracle, Wikipedia defines Leadership as such:

Leadership has been described as ‘a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task’.[1]

The key thing about leadership is that leaders must accomplish their goals through the work of others.  People who make the transition from employee to formal leader, have to make the shift from doing to influencing, from follower of direction to crafter of the future.  It is a highly rewarding experience when you’ve made this transition but can be a frustrating journey getting there.  Leaders have to stop spending their time working the tools and move to helping people in their success focusing on the activities that will take them to the future that the leader wishes to arrive at.  This is where influence comes in and leaders need to bring people together into a shared view of where they need to go.

Leaders set a direction, have a personal vision of where they want to go, and goals they wish to accomplish.  They need to enlist the hearts and minds of the people they lead to be most successful in achieving their vision, making it a shared vision.  Cheryl Smith, SVP & CIO for WestJet says “people are the #1 priority and their skillsets determine what you can accomplish”.  In other words, where you have people with the right skillsets, and I would add, with the right perspective, you can achieve your goals quickly and successfully.  I wonder how common this “perfect” combination exists in organizations.  I’ve found in my experience in several different public sector organizations, varying degrees of this type of fit.  The public sector unionized workforce context can increase the complexity significantly.  This reality, I believe, makes public sector leadership more challenging than those in private sector might experience.  However, not having led in the private sector, I can’t really be confident in that statement and would be interested in feedback from experienced private sector leaders.

Leaders are generally change agents.  In my experience, most people do not like change.  When you are not changing things, calm often pervades the workplace.  Alternatively, when you are trying to change people’s practices, conflict inevitably surfaces.  My workhope ave and change way context is a public sector school district with 3,500 employees and 32,000 students.  The group I formally lead consists of 35 staff working in a variety of technical roles.  As a District leader, I also initiate and lead changes that often affect all employees, students, and in some cases, their families.  You can probably imagine the conflict this can create.  I’ve learned to accept that it doesn’t matter how you design and communicate a change, there are people who will love it, those that will accept it, those who will reluctantly comply, and those that will actively work against it.  Leaders need to believe in the change, deal with the flack and negativity, and press on.  Carefully crafted, thoughtful, understandable, and timely communication is very important in helping people with the change.  Great and timely communication can be the difference between most people getting on board vs actively resisting.  Leaders must also weigh the value and benefit of many variables at once.  Making the right decision is often elusive.  A simple example I’ve experienced involves setting and sticking to standards for technology and trying to address a requested exception.  If I side with the exception, which may make perfect sense for some, my own staff who are working hard to stay true to standards will feel alienated and abandoned.  What do I do, support the “customer” or my staff?  Not always an easy decision.  Conflict is a strong possibility for any decision I might make in this case.

I experience a host of emotions as a leader of people and of change including fear, frustration, anger, satisfaction, impatience, excitement, and it can churn and mix at any time.  It’s often exhausting.  On the negative side, people might lash out at you, iStock_000016399116XSmallmake it personal, talk behind your back, “unfriend” you, etc.  But, on the positive, once you achieve success, you can smile and reflect on yours and others accomplishments knowing that they wouldn’t have likely occurred if you hadn’t initiated the change and persevered.  Leaders need to be courageous!

Someone I read regularly is (@leadershipfreak) at Leadership Freak.  In this post the author says “Say the right thing the wrong way and you’ll disconnect.”  This is especially true in a low trust environment.  I’ve learned that the absolutely key factor for success is TRUST!  “Trust, according to Megan Tschannen-Moran (2011), is one party's willingness to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest, and open” (Kindle 1359), The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age.  I’ve made mistakes in my role as leader where I’ve lost the trust of my staff.  In the past, I’ve not always been completely open and honest.  I’ve acted politically, and have worked against the rules to accomplish my goals.  This has not served me well.  I strongly advise budding leaders to be open and Above all else...Trust.honest, and to not push the boundaries with organizational rules.  Don’t make promises you can’t or don’t intend to keep.  Don’t tell people what they want to hear, tell them the way it really is or will be.  “Trust is formed when people do what they say they will do” (Kindle 1366) and “Trust is the result of a combination of shared values and repeated desired behaviors” (Kindle 1382).  Losing trust creates a long term uphill journey back.  It is not simple to regain.  So, if you take away anything from this post, protect the trust of those you are entrusted with to lead.  That will serve you, your team, and your organization well in all aspects of your role as leader.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What Kids Say About Blogging

One of my professional goals is to regularly visit classrooms and iStock_000008508482XSmallcapture learning stories.  I love talking to students and teachers who are engaging with technology in meaningful ways.  One such story I captured a few months ago involved blogging in a grade 3 classroom.  Jens, the teacher for this class, contacted me via email to describe the journey he’s been on with his kids:

“I’m a grade 3 teacher and I have been blogging with my students since September. Each of my students has their own blog and even though we only get two 45 minute periods of Computers each week, over the last seven months I’ve experienced a number of ‘teachable moments’”, Jens Preshaw

You can follow his class blog, The Griffin, here.  He describes some of the value or benefits of students blogging:

“For the parents in our learning community it has created greater transparency in the classroom. They regularly visit their child’s blog and often leave very positive comments. The students feel so proud when they read a comment on their blog from their mom or dad. It’s also been very rewarding for me as their teacher.”, Jens Preshaw

Maya shares her experience with blogging in this clip (you can read her blog here).  She is pretty jazzed about getting comments from her family.  The cool thing about this is that family members can far more easily be involved in her learning and in providing regular feedback than they could be if her writing was only contained in the traditional paper journal.

Maya gets comments from mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa

Writing for a broader audience is a motivator for kids and adults alike.  I know for me, blogging, because it has a global reach, has helped me become a better writer and communicator.  There’s something about kids writing for people other than their teacher that takes writing to a new level.

“On the students blogs some grandparents have been leaving very thoughtful comments. Grandparents and other relatives rarely have an opportunity to observe or see what their grandchildren are doing in school. The student blogs also allows them to be a part of our classroom community. One of my students has aunts, uncles and cousins in Greece and they have been writing comments in Greek and another student in my class receives comments from her mom in Spanish.”, Jens Preshaw

I am impressed with the learning this is creating for kids.  Brendan is a great example of this.  I’ll let him tell you what he learned about the Earth through the research project he blogged about.  He’s quite articulate.  Notice how engaged he gets when sharing this with me.  You can also check out his blog here.

Brendan shares his learning about the Earth, among other things

In addition to his blog, this next student shows another project he’s been working on to create stories through cartoons.  He’s rather proud that his creation was highlighted on The Griffin.  I encourage you to watch the video clip to the end to hear his comment about writing with computers.  I think he may be a budding futurist…  You can visit his blog here.

Ben shows his cartoon story creation

There is a powerful impact on kids being connected to the global context.  No longer is their learning confined to the classroom, school, or their local community.

“As the teacher I've just started looking into connecting with other primary classes around the world who are also blogging. For the first time, I see the potential in being able to use a form of transformative learning in my classroom. By blogging with other classes from around the world it develops a greater global awareness in my students. On our class bog we have a widget that shows the number of visitors to our website and the flags of their countries. We have had over 1,500 unique visitors from 52 different countries. They get so excited when they see a new flag and want to know who is visiting us in that country.”, Jens Preshaw

For me, this story really emphasizes the importance of creating learning spaces that are not simply contained within walled gardens.  There are privacy requirements of course but they are not that difficult to navigate and Jens has done a great job in addressing this for his class and his student’s blogs.  There is value with this for kids to reach out to their families with their learning and families being able to stay informed and to contribute to their kid’s learning through feedback.  For parents, this approach can also address the common answer “nothing” to the question “what did you do at school today”!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My European Vacation

Well, we’re back!  What an amazing experience to visit countries with such a rich history, abundance of art and sculpture, phenomenal WP_000279architecture, and cool culture.  I wrote in advance about our trip in Travel in the Future if you’re interested in what the plan was.  I disconnected myself from blogging and participating in social media, other than Facebook, for a month.  Previously I had blogged every week for 2 1/2 years without skipping a beat and was an avid user of Twitter so it was a bit weird to disconnect but worth it.  So, I thought I’d kick off my return to blogging by sharing a few interesting stories from the trip (picture to the right is in Rothenburg ob der Tauber). Come along with me for the ride…

My wife Shelley and I flew from Vancouver to Heathrow then onto Rome arriving mid-afternoon.  We took a cab to B & B Baghirova in Rome which was located (Via di Campo Marzio 69) about a 5-10 minute walk from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, 15 minutes from the Trevi Fountain, 20 minutes from the Roman Forum / Coliseum, and 30 minutes from the Vatican – very central to everything.  Even though we were exhausted, after getting checked in, we went out to have our first pasta dinner and then did a bit of a walk about.  We reached the Tiber River and took some pictures.  Europe 2012 143-001We kept wandering, map in hand… but when we wanted to return to our B & B, we realized “we’re lost”.  Rome is a tricky city to navigate.  It is difficult to read street names, they aren’t designed to be in a grid, they change names, narrow, disappear, etc.  As it got darker, reading the map wasn’t possible.  Long story short, we were lost in Rome and after a couple of hours, managed to find our way back.

We were blown away by the sites we saw.  I highly recommend WP_000123booking tours for the popular sites.  The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and entertaining.  They make the history come to life for you.  We saw this object (right) at the Vatican…  can’t recall what it is exactly but it was interesting.  Our Vatican tour guide was Italian and something she kept saying in English when encountering steps stuck with us, “mind-a step-a” :-)

I really liked these trees we saw around Rome.  This picture was taken on Palatine Hill near the Roman Forum ruins and the Coliseum.


Italians seem to drive a lot of small cars.  That and scooters, WP_000103hundreds of them.  Crossing a street, even at a cross walk, is an adventure in itself.  I remember one time, it was green to cross, we with a dozen others did, and scooters and cars were weaving amongst us!  They don’t stop, they just find a way to keep going – it’s crazy.  As you can see above, small cars create options for parking…
I learned that the Coliseum was built by professionals.  Not sure why but I thought slaves were used for this.  Can you imagine 70,000 screaming blood-thirsty “fans” watching animals and men fight to the death?  When you’re there, it just seems so unreal.  Gladiators were the sports stars of their day.  Today I suppose the closest comparison would be MMA fighters.

The architecture of the buildings in Italy is awesome.  How they were able to construct such elaborate pillars, sculptures, bridges, buildings Europe 2012 284-001with the little technology they had, is mind boggling.  A visit to the Vatican blows your mind.  I tend to think our society is pretty advanced but think about what individuals like Michaelangelo or Leonardo Di Vinci were able to design and create.  Leonardo designed (picture left) hundreds of “machines” hundreds of years before they were invented.  Brilliant.

We partook of a Catacomb and Crypt tour.  It was a bit weird but I think worth it.  Apparently only 1% of tourists do this tour.  The last part was a visit to the Capuchin Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception on Via Veneto near Piazza Barbarini.  Okay, this was the craziest site ever.  The bones (all of them) from over 4000 monks were used to create art and structures such as patterns (crosses, floral, arches, shapes) for adornment, and objects like clocks, chandeliers, chairs, fireplace mantels, etc.  We were not allowed to take pictures but this website shares many including a detailed description of the history and what you’d see if you visited – you have to check this out.

On day 5 we took a train to Florence.  As we were looking confused and lost trying to figure out which train to wait for, a guy comes over and asks “are you going to Florence?”.  He didn’t have any id indicating he worked there, I have no idea how he knew where we Europe 2012 359were going.  But, he took us directly to the place where our train would come in, and left.  Odd…  but we needed the guidance.  In Florence, besides the Uffizi, Duomo, we saw a mock Indy race.  Cool Ferraris, Porches, Mercedes, etc. were zooming through a course laid out in the core of Florence, crossing the bridges between the two parts.

We also spent time in Lucca, Pisa, Via Reggio, and random driving to villages in the mountains, but moving on to Germany, we flew from Florence to Munich, well we were supposed to.  We had a connecting flight in Vienna.  While waiting at the gate, we suddenly realized the time and no boarding call.  We checked the gate screen and in small digital letters was a gate change!  We ran to the new gate only to be too late and we missed our flight.  Not good.  We had options like a 1-way flight for two, $1,500.  Train, with multiple changes, arriving sometime in the morning, around $400.  We elected to rent a car and drive the four hours.  Finding an available car was difficult, after four companies finally a car.  But, a 1-way trip from Austria to Germany would cost $550 plus gas!  Ouch.  We set out with the car, no maps, and a German speaking/displaying GPS, in the dark at night.  Somehow we programmed it correctly to get us to our hotel in Munich.  Oh, and our luggage, well it went onto Munich without us – it made the plane in time.  Lesson learned, check the flight boards, don’t trust the boarding pass issued at the first airport.

In Munich we visited the Deutsches Museum, the world’s larges museum of WP_000215technology.  Unfortunately, we were exhausted from our ordeal getting to Munich so only spent about 3 hours here.  I could have spent the day, it was pretty fascinated to see the history and development of many inventions in one place.  Definitely this should be on your list if you visit Munich.

We visited many small villages in Germany.  After experiencing the limitless speeds of the Autobahn (I got up to 190km/h and was still passed by a Porsche and BMW), I programmed the GPS in our Mercedes to avoid the “A” routes.  I highly recommend this.  We traveled the “B” and other smaller routes through the pastoral WP_000244setting of the country side, rolling hills, and quaint little villages.  What a beautiful country Germany is, very green and lush.  At Neuschwanstein / Hohenschwangau in the Bavarian Alps where the Ludwig castles are that inspired Disney’s Sleepy Beauty castle, we enjoyed a couple hour walk around the lake in this picture.  Bavaria is a beautiful area for sure.

Along the way heading north, we visited Dinkelsb├╝hl and Rothenburg WP_000294ob der Tauber where we enjoyed medieval festivals.  The pig in this picture was part of the medieval experience.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to try some…  :-) 

WP_000308In a small village called Hann. Munden, there are over 700 partial timber buildings lining cobble stoned streets.  Notice how crooked the builds are.  They lean into the street, sideways, etc.  It’s pretty interesting to see.  Carrying on, we stopped in at the real Sleepy Beauty’s castle and Rapunzel’s actual tower (her hair is still hanging from the window).  We had a great visit with my niece and her young family in Hannover – they’re ex pats.

Fast forward to Berlin…  We arrived on a Sunday evening after driving 3 hours from Hannover Europe 2012 750-001in the pouring rain.  We had one day and decided to take a 5 hour bike tour.  It was worth it.  Our guide showed our group of 20 many of the key highlights…

Europe 2012 776-001…such as Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin wall (what’s left), the Jewish memorial, key buildings and monuments, and we learned about Berlin’s 800 year history and it’s 20th century dark days.

Well, that’s a sampling of what we experienced.  Not being well traveled individuals, my wife and I have a lot of the world left to visit.  This trip to Italy and Germany has definitely wet our appetite to see more.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief travelogue and starting next week, I’ll get back to writing about technology, education, and the future.