Sunday, July 22, 2012

Should it be Invented?

I don’t know about you but I often wonder about the pace of invention and innovation in our world.  There are marvels being Europe 2012 660-001envisioned, designed, engineered, and produced all the time.  Many inventions are meant to improve our lives in some way.  While driving the country side of Germany in May, we say many wind farms.  These are pretty cool devices to see.  Harnessing wind power to generate electricity is a good use of invention to try to tackle the problem of less clean technologies that power our always on lives.

As I get older, I’m looking forward to the results of research into personalized health care which might yield amazing improvements in how disease is detected and dealt with.  Imagine smart “drugs” that are actually super miniature computers, nanobots, programmed to be compatible with your DNA and once injected, rapidly seek out specific diseased cells.  Once found, the nanobots rearrange at a molecular level, the cell structure to correct the anomaly causing the disease.  There would be no side affects since these are “drugs” designed specifically for your makeup.  We’d all sign up for this, right?

I watched a TEDx video the other day (see below) about improvements coming, supposedly in a couple of years, for the precision GPS tools will have.  Todd Humphreys talks about the invention of GPS chips the size of dots.  We’ll want to put these on all of our things (the Internet of things…) so we can find them at any time using our smartphones or a Google map.  How cool is that, you’ll never lose your shoes, sunglasses, wedding ring, etc. again! Imagine students on outdoor education adventures being able to map their journey including pictures, videos, and posts, down to the millimeter and in real time their parents get to virtually enjoy the trip with them vicariously through technology.

GPS technology advancing

Think about it, inserting a miniature GPS chip in babies would mean that children will never be lost again.  If everyone volunteered to have their bodies GPS’d, cases such as with kidnap victims would be located rapidly and saved from some awful outcome.  Criminals, involuntarily might be GPS’d so that they could be tracked and controlled rather than jailed, saving millions of dollars.  Of course we have nothing to worry about since history has no examples of governments taking advantage of their people, right?  I think there are downsides to this technology. Governments could track their citizens in ways even George Orwell in his book 1984 didn’t anticipate. If you aren’t a student of history, now might be the time to become one and just take a peek at how power has been abused over the years and of course, our news today is full of examples.  Should this new GPS capability be invented or would it be best left alone?

“I would say the jury is still out as to what the ultimate effectiveness of computers and communication automation favors tyranny or favors liberty” (The Singularity and schools: An interview with Vernor Vinge)

There are articles such as The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era written by Vernor Vinge Department of Mathematical Sciences San Diego State University which should cause us to take pause.  He writes in 1993,

“The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence.”

I’ve written about exponential change many times such as in Education for an automated future.  There are positives and negatives to this march to progress.  The cause of the exponential effect is in the way we level up by leveraging our existing technology to speed the development of the next generation.  We are very good tool makers and users.  Now with the digital era, the machines (tools) themselves are getting to be far more involved in the creative process.  Some writers, such as Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, argue that the machines will exceed our intelligence and the exponential factor will accelerate.  Vinge refers to this phenomenon as “an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control”.

So, I wonder about our mad dash to invent tools that are smarter, faster, smaller, more powerful.  The problem is that the allure of being better is so strong that from a human perspective, it is probably impossible to stop the technological advancement.  If you are an avid reader of my blog, you might be thinking “why is he WP_000227contradicting himself” in writing this piece.  I generally advocate for the use of technology to enhance and transform learning and life.  As an optimistic, I tend to see the good in advancement first.  Take the early type-setting machines for example (see picture here from the Deutsches Museum).  What if these did not advance to being essentially a tool in our pockets?  We wouldn’t have the amazing explosion of knowledge we’ve enjoyed over the past several hundred years.  But, I do worry about the dark side of technological advancement.  Most of us would rather not think about that but as I mentioned earlier, history is littered with examples that should cause us to wonder and worry about how each new invention might and could be used for ill purposes.  I think awareness and thoughtfulness by enough people may be enough to better control how each new tool can and will be used.  Let’s be sure to advocate for and adopt technology with our eyes open and for the betterment not the detriment of people.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Technology is NOT Just a Tool!

To tune into what is happening in our world I like to read a lot of books, the newspaper (yes, a “real” one), blogs, web articles, talk to diverse people, etc. to stay informed.  I continue to be puzzled by comments minimizing the importance of technology, especially in education systems.  I attended the SFU Summer Institute last Thursday evening and all day Friday and frequently heard people WP_000215make statements that “technology is just a tool”.  If it was, it would be optional, replaceable by something else.  We should think about that the next time we fly in a plane, ride on a train, visit a hospital, look at a crowd of people communicating on small super powered hand held computers connected by nothing to everything, search the Internet for any topic you can imagine and get a set of tuned options to pursue out of millions, explore a foreign city’s streets on your mobile device, participate in an online video conference, and thousands of other activities.  Without technology, the advances made to improve our lives, would not be possible.  Remember the steam engine?

If we focus on the context of education, there appear to be many who view technology as optional for teaching and learning.  I wonder how education would function without pens, pencils, paper, desks, buildings, etc.  These are all forms of technology.  In my opinion it is these that should be made optional.  However, it’s the digital technologies that are referred to as “optional” but essentially, they are valid next generation tools for education.  These tools are accelerating changes that can’t be ignored.  In Leading Through Extreme Change, I’ve used this quote here before to emphasize the acceleration of change that technology is driving:

“If you make some very logical, and even conservative, assumptions about where technology is likely to lead in the coming years, much of the conventional wisdom about what the future will look like becomes unsupportable”, The Lights in the Tunnel (Kindle 222)

I posed a question to the opening keynote speakers at the SFU event asking them to consider how accelerated changes, perhaps to where we have a Star Trek Holodeck, might affect education.  The speakers weren’t able to really grapple with this.  One argued that he didn’t want to replicate face to face experiences.  I think he was viewing this idea from a place of distance learning and replicating a current practice.  The point is that technology should disrupt current ways, not replicate them.  It should and can be used “to do new things in new ways, not old things in new ways”, to quote a colleague of mine (Dave Sands).  The real question is, “Is Technology an Amplifier or Disruptive Force?

I think there’s a fear sometimes that technology in the form of robots or highly “intelligent” machines, will simply replace teachers.  I don’t align with that view.  I see the role of people, in this case teachers, shifting to take maximum advantage of what it means to be human while leveraging our machines to maximize access and iStock_000016576964XSmallinteraction with information and knowledge, learning experiences, amplify innate ability, and make possible the impossible for students with special needs.  The challenge we’re in now is that people see technology for what it is, they see the costs, the complexity, the frustrations that can come, the unequal access, the limitations, the learning curve, etc. as road blocks and thus treat it as optional.  But just think of where we’ve come from in 10 years.  Technology involved so much more of these challenges before.  My first work laptop was $10,000 back in 1995.  A far more powerful computer is now in millions of people’s hands for a few hundred dollars.  As the price decreases and the power increases, there is an accelerating affect on advancement and possibility.

I wrote last year that Technology is Why Education Must Change.  When I visit classrooms where teachers and students are embracing technology to support writing, research, collaboration, media expression, making learning visible, art, mathematical manipulatives, experience history, explore scientific topics, to name a few, I see why I believe this.  When I visited a grade 3 class last year where all the kids were blogging, every student I asked preferred to write online rather than in their journal because they were writing “for the world to see”, not just for their teacher and not just for a mark. 

For sure there are teachers who can captivate and engage their students with little or no technology.  One of the keynotes at the SFU event, Dr. Gillian Judson, a director of the Imaginative Education Research Group, is a teacher with this ability.  She activated the audience’s imagination and emotions through brilliant story telling woven in amongst the content of her talk.  She suggested that the “greatest challenge in any century is making knowledge meaningful for students” and “at the heart of all learning is Imagination, it is essential”.  But the problem with a dependency on iStock_000011562895XSmallone “expert” is that it imposes a limitation.  I believe the ideal scenario involves teachers who are both masters in their field and experts in facilitating their students to enter into learning through many pathways, enabled by diverse technologies.  A small sample of us enjoying Dr. Judson’s talk were also sharing and discussing live on Twitter.  It enriched our learning because we challenged and learned from each other.  Those who did not participate, missed out on this.  Those unable to physically attend, learned vicariously through our tweets.  A key message at event was that learning is social, participatory, active, driven by self, emotional, and imaginative.  Technology can enhance and transform these attributes of learning in ways people can not.  This is due to scale, speed, and mode.

Education as it’s practice in most classrooms is for the most part still a transmission “technology”, a means of delivering information, knowledge, behaviors, and skills from one expert to many students.  By leveraging modern technologies, the expert becomes the room (I can’t recall who made this statement previously).  Rather than a 1 to classroom-21-greg-limperismany relationship, it is a many to many mesh.  Each person in the class comes with skills, knowledge, abilities, and preferred learning styles, etc.  Technology can turn them loose to go in many directions simultaneously.  I do see this shifting but I suspect if I had access to research in this area, it would tell us that the majority of classrooms function much like they did 50 years ago.  Most other professions and industries have been completely disrupted and transformed in the last 50 years.  At some point this will inevitably occur for education.

I am not advocating exclusive use of technology – many learning activities are hands on with our physical world – this is important to being human.  But, there are ways that technology can efficiently connect students to content and experiences through 3D immersive learning environments, 3D manipulative models, simulations, games designed for learning, mathematical manipulatives, etc.  Teachers as curriculum experts can become orchestrators of learning, monitors of learning, directly and efficiently teach 1-1 as needed, and just in time.  Without the use of technology, there are hard limits on how much a teacher can do to enable and support their students learning.  I can imagine looking back 10 years from now and see that a successful transformation to a technology enabled immersive learning system where teachers and students alike, thrive and learn together.  What do you see when you look back from the year 2022?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Professional Learning Practices

I am about 75% of the way through an enjoyably informative book by BookSheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall.  I recently met Sheryl in the vendor exhibition at ISTE 2012 in San Diego.  She introduced me to the Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) organization she and Will Richardson started to support professional development for educators.  She scanned my ISTE badge and my name and contact information entered their contact database.  I received an invitation shortly thereafter to participate in a free “Do It Yourself Web 2.0 Tools Course” which I accepted.  Each day participants receive an email with a new “play” – today’s is Play #4 which asks us to write a blog post reflecting on what we expect to gain or learn.

My expectations are straightforward in that I am interested in the process of how PLP courses and development are run and I felt the best way to experience that was by going through it personally.  I am also interested in how the various models and structures in the book might come through in a PLP course.  I highly recommend that educators who are interested in modern ways of learning, leading, connecting, and collaborating, read the book.  The world has changed and educators need to rethink their practice and adapt to the changes and the expectations of students and families.

“With the advent of social media, learning occurs anytime, anywhere, and students regularly pursue knowledge in networked and collaborative ways— with or without us” (The Connected Educator, Kindle 190).

If teaching continues to be one of delivering information, knowledge, and skills to students in standard and traditional ways, the practice will likely become irrelevant.  It can’t be about “delivering”, it needs to be about discovery, passion, connectedness, in diverse ways and Europe 2012 535-001with flexible time periods.  When “[i]ndividuals are pushing themselves to learn for themselves rather than be taught by someone else” (Kindle 378), the role of the teacher needs to adapt.  Teachers have a lot of experience, wisdom, process expertise, support, and content knowledge to offer to their students.  But, it needs to be more student driven and personalized.  Just like this DIY course I’m participating in, I will get out of this what I put into it, and the resources provided by PLP are there to guide and support my learning.  Learning in a Web 2.0 world provides a window to diverse sources of knowledge, experiences, and people.

What I hope to achieve from participating in this PLP course is to fill in missing knowledge and skills (no one knows everything), gain some new skills, learn from and connect with educators I don’t already know, and to understand better how professional learning at a distance feels and works as a student.  I am also interested in having informed conversations in my District about whether the PLP year long program could supplement the phenomenal professional development opportunities our District creates and provides already.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Parents in the Loop Via the Class Blog

When my kids were in school the proverbial answer to “What did you learn today?” was, wait for it…  “nothing”.  Do any of you get that response from your kids?  I suspect so as it seems to be some kind of natural law.  As parents, we were never quite sure what our kids were learning.  The periodic report card or the marked work didn’t tell the real story.  With today’s access to technology, there are ways to iStock_000018493321XSmallmitigate this and keep parents ‘in the loop’.  There are various tools that provide a range of connections for parents.  Some enable simple consumption of lesson outlines, homework lists, pictures, stories, spelling lists, and with portals or other secure spaces, the viewing of marks.  Other tools such as wikis, blogs, etc., depending on how they’re configured, enable parents to interact with their kids and their teachers.  “Technology makes connecting, collaborating, and learning easier than ever before in human history” (Kindle 413, The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Lani Ritter Hall).

I recently visited with a Kindergarten teacher, Amy, who started a class blog this past school year.  The purpose for her blog is to capture and share learning stories her students are experiencing.  She experimented this year as a means to keep parents informed.  Here is one parent’s comments on this approach.

Ofelia, a parent of a Kindergarten child, stays in the loop via class blog

Ofelia appreciates that the blog “makes learning visible”.  She is able to see through the blog how her daughter is learning and interacting with other students.  She gets to see what her daughter is creating, her involvement with nature and her environment, and her personality.  She is better informed and able to talk to her daughter in a more informed way about what she’s learning at school.

Amy, a Kindergarten teacher, talks about starting and using a class blog

Amy chose to create her blog on the District private site to protect her students’ privacy.  She creates learning stories for parents to experience their kids learning vicariously through the blog.  She documents the emergent curriculum as it’s happening.  The blog supports reflection on individual student learning, which supports assessment.  She sees the blog as a great communication tool for parents and families.  It opens up communication between parents and their kids.  Her blog “serves as a memory holder” of learning for her students and a place for them to reflect.  She is going to promote the blog this coming year, as a primary means of communicating with parents.  She will encourage them to use the comment button to provide input, ask questions, etc.

Lori, a parent of a Kindergarten child, talks about the impact of a class blog

Lori enjoys sitting with her daughter, looking at the pictures, and talking about what she does throughout her day at school.  The blog helps her see what her daughter is learning.  It allows Lori to interact more.  Her older daughter is also able to have learning conversations about and with her sister – it’s a support for the family.  The learning stories bring to life the learning and explain what’s going on in class.  What might look like simple play can actually be something more complex and the blog explains that.

There was a lot of interest in the post I wrote recently about student’s blogging.  I think that if educational leaders were to choose one activity to promote as a transformative use of technology, blogging would be in the top 3 for me.  Blogging supports students in writing, communicating, and sharing better.  What do you think is more powerful, writing in their note books and journals for their teacher to mark versus writing for their own enjoyment and interest in sharing what they’re learning and thinking with their parents, extended family, and other students and readers around the world?  Social media, used appropriately, is a powerful lever for student learning.

With the advent of social media, learning occurs anytime, anywhere, and students regularly pursue knowledge in networked and collaborative ways— with or without us” (Kindle 190, The Connected Educator)

I think the power of blogging is remarkable.  It is such a simple way, technically speaking, to share ideas, advice, lessons, our work (students, teachers, anyone), and to interact with others in our local circle or the entire world.  Never before has there been a platform so accessible and powerful for communication and connection.  “In a participatory culture, I am unable to learn from you if you are not sharing online. I will never be able to find you and leverage what you know” (Kindle 384, The Connected Educator).  Ponder that quote for a moment.  The most difficult part involves generating the ideas, writing about them in some coherent manner, and gaining access toOne man between past and future. an audience.  This is hard work but so rewarding.  It causes the writer to grow and learn in ways likely not possible using other means.  Remember that this is reciprocal.  Not only can our students, teachers, and anyone else be a writer for the world, they can contribute to others learning by interacting with them on their blogs.  “In the future, individuals must learn how to synthesize knowledge and how to extend it in new and unfamiliar ways” (Kindle 685, Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner).  Blogging is a great way to fulfill this advice from Howard Gardner.  I challenge you to make blogging a priority for the future of learning in your life, your class, your school, and your District.  In putting forth this challenge, I suppose I had better do the same…