Saturday, November 24, 2012


There are a lot of imbalances in our world.  The protests last year about the 1% (richest) having and controlling most of the resources was a reflection of how people feel about imbalances in the distribution of resourcesEquity in simplest terms is about fairness but defining fairness is no simple task.  For example, how society Wants Vs Needs - Balancevalues the work people do is directly related to the level of their salaries.  But is the distribution of salaries, fair?  Are famous musicians and singers or athletes really worth the millions they are paid relative to a doctor, teacher, or the person responsible for placing concrete on the bridge you travel over everyday?  Wealth is certainly unevenly distributed and this has been the case it seems since the dawn of time.  I’m thinking a lot about equity right now as it is very apparent it will be an important factor in how I will need to consider appropriate and fair investments in technology for our schools.

I visited an elementary school last Monday in the East end of Vancouver.  I parked my car near the school and as I walked along the school I saw two homeless men waking up under a school overhang roof.  I saw run down apartment complexes nearby.  Inside the school, I visited a classroom and saw very old desks and furnishings.  As I spoke to the staff about technology and various options they might consider to invest in with funds they’ve raised, I talked about BYOD (bring your own device).  One of the teachers said something like “Brian, you need to know that our students all receive breakfast and lunch at school”.  I’ve not encountered this sort of situation in my past experiences.  I said something like “I get it, BYOD might not be viable in all of our schools”.

Our schools are looking to me, to the School District, for help in replacing out-dated technology, to support the change to technology powered learning.  In our District, the neighbourhood demographics have significant range in terms of poverty to super rich.  Families in the richer areas will easily provide laptops, tablets, and handhelds for their kids to use at school, assuming they see clear learning benefits.  However, in the poorer neighbourhoods, many families hope ave and change waysimply struggle to feed and clothe their children.  How we can’t expect them to provide technological learning devices?  I would expect that the poorer schools will generally have more difficulty fund raising for technology as well.  We will have to structure our investments in an equitable manner accounting for the economic differences between neighbourhoods.  However, I don’t believe that equity implies equality.  I do believe in providing a base level of support and perhaps increased support relative to a rating of a school neighbourhood’s socio economic condition.

Thinking out loud, here are some of the criteria that might be reasonable to consider in calculating an equity index for schools:

From this information, a weighted (percentage) allocation of technology funds for elementary and secondary schools relative to their financial need could be developed consistent with an equitable distribution.  I also believe strongly in commitments.  Funds invested in technology should be done so in conjunction with principals and teachers committing to regular professional learning with an aim to change practice.  Technology all through history has resulted in changes in how we do things with the goal being the new practice is iStock_000017128753XSmallbetter.  For example when the printing press was invented, eventually knowledge spread like wildfire – previously it was under the control of the few.  Adding technology to a classroom or as a tool for students without changing how teaching and learning occurs is a waste of money and a frustrating experience.  Perhaps part of the equity formula should include commitments to participate in professional learning related to integrating education technology?

With a limited resource (money) and an insatiable need for technology, equity is a critically important aspect of any plan for technology in schools.  I would appreciate your thoughts on how equity could be defined and calculated for schools in the context of technology investments.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reimagine Learning

With all of the conversations, conference sessions, government initiatives, and books on the topic of 21st century learning, personalized learning, etc., one would think we’d have a clear sense already about the future of learning.  I’m not sure we do though.  We truly do need to be and produce lifelong learners – I heard that term iStock_000012723220XSmallfor the first time in the early 90’s and only in the past decade has it really resonated for me given the acceleration of change we are experiencing.  I was at a traditional conference with 1200 others this past Thursday and Friday and an Edcamp on Saturday, doing my lifelong learning thing.  I have recently switched to taking notes live on Twitter and find myself immersed in a 3-dimensional learning experience.  It’s a bit disorientating and mind boggling to be honest.  It’s challenging to focus in the physical session, taking relevant notes (tweeting), while engaging with other tweeters in that room and in other sessions I’m not physically present in.  Also, people not attending the conference chime in via Twitter and I engage with them.  It’s an exhausting but exhilarating way to learn.  I wish my technology could help with this…  I starting thinking about what could (should) learning really look like.  What could transformative learning look like?  How might technology be the disruptive agent?

I find that most people are not able to think beyond what technology can do today, into a very different future.  It is hard to reimagine the now as something different.  But, come along with me for a little reimagining…  What if our “phones” take another disruptive leap in the near future and become true personal digital assistants?  Imagine that after a suitable “learning” period, our phones can “know” how we think, our preferences, what ideas stimulate us, etc.  What if they are able to “storify” what we hear, see, and share, and include the backchannel feeds into a learning and knowledge repository?  These new tools would “know” what points and ideas would resonate with us and would highlight them and bring in other connections from blogs, iStock_000013191903XSmallnews articles, other tweets, and feeds.  In bringing together relevant information and people, our tools will then pre-synthesize and prioritize for us.  As well, our “phone”, which increasingly understands us, can tweet and share out on our behalf saving us the time to do so.  Imagine this all happening in real time.  Okay, so now we’re free to focus on the synthesized whole of the live speaker, the other sessions or teachers, and the stream of related information from other sources without having to deal with all the distractions of seeing, recording, and synthesizing the details.

With our new phones doing the work of assimilating relevant information, we’re now able to engage in highly informed and critical face 2 face conversations with other people.  Perhaps keynotes, workshops, and classroom teacher lectures are now chunked to create time for small group cooperative learning.  The heavy lifting of capturing, relating, and synthesizing information has been done, now we learners can add our purely human attributes into the mix.  We can engage our emotions, our biases, our experiences, with each other and with the broadly synthesized iStock_000006855981XSmallcontent provided to us by our phones.  Imagine how deep the conversations could be, the scenarios that could be created, the problems that could be contemplated?  Most or all of the research and assimilation is done, freeing up time to go deep, engage, and transform our thinking.  Our learning experiences then would go way past hearing, recording/repeating notes, and shallow conversation to rich, deep, meaningful discussions, problem solving, goal setting, initiative design, and project planning and actioning.  These latter activities are what we strive for, they are the reasons we attend classes, workshops, and conferences.

I know, you’re thinking “science fiction”.  But think about the tools we all take for granted already that past generations would have considered to be wild dreams.  My phone today forecasts traffic problems along the routes I regularly drive to/from work.  It receives/sends messages, pictures, videos to/from people anywhere in the world in seconds.  It speaks to me and I to it.  It reminds me when I’m supposed to be places, how to get there with maps, who will be there with me, and why I’m going.  It lets me search vast databases around the world while speeding along in a train or airplane, and talk to other people with full motion live video.  It lets me read millions of books, tracks highlights and notes somewhere “in space” that other people can also read and use.  It tells me which direction on a compass I’m heading.  It knows about all digital conversations I have.  I could go on and on but the point is, this little handheld device seems to know no bounds to taking over things other machines, people, or I used to do on my own.  Is it a stretch to imagine it gaining understanding over what it “knows” and does?  Perhaps Steve Wheeler is writing about “an early version” of this in his Next generation learning article.  Would this reimagined phone not simply be a faster computer with a more sophisticated knowledge representation and processing algorithm?  Is this perhaps a 3rd or 4th generation version of IBM’s Watson in your pocket?

“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: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future

What could students do, what could you do, if you had such a device?  How might you reimagine learning for K12 students where every one of them has such a device?  What would conferences look like where every participant has such a device?  Let your imagination go…

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Comfortable with Uncertainty

I went for a mountain bike ride this morning at Sumas Mountain in Abbotsford.  It was a crisp 0 degrees, small snow flakes were falling on the ride up, and “Jack Frost” was present on the trails. I start to roll the tires down the mountain and I see frost, some ice, and I have WP_000407a real sense of uncertainty and concern.  Will my tires hold on the turns (high speed…) or not?  I tentatively burn through the first few corners and thankfully the tires hold.  I release the brakes some more and increase the speed until I’m flying down the trail and not worrying (too much) about the frost and ice.  My trust grows in the bike, its tires, and my skills and I have an exhilarating and positive experience.

So “what does this have to do with technology, education, and the future?” you might ask.  All three are fraught with uncertainty!  Technology is under constant change, often radical.  The options and possibilities available today didn’t exist only a few years ago.  How do we make sustainable choices in a constantly shifting and uncertain context.  This is less of a concern for individuals and consumers as they are only concerned with what a technology means to them right now personally and the cost of a poor choice has limited impact.  But, in a large school district, poor choices can have a devastating impact in terms of lost student learning time, frustrated teachers or other staff, security implications, tremendous expense, difficulty to learn, and expense, to name a few.  Choices come with opportunity costs: if we choose “A”, we are unable to consider “B” and we may miss opportunities.  What works for some iStock_000019241487XSmallmay not work for others.  School Districts must also consider how a technology might impact equity and how their choices impact schools in very poor neighborhoods and in very rich ones.  How do we shift schools away from older models of technology such as labs to embedding a variety of technology in classrooms, embracing BYOD, in a context of limited funds.  BYOD models can increase inequity if funds and a will are not available to fill the gaps.  While my District is rolling out wireless networking to its schools I see uncertainty attached to teacher readiness to embrace it for learning.  I also see uncertain network bandwidth availability for accessing District and Internet services.  Staff development opportunities are necessary for wireless, BYOD, iPads, etc. to be valuable learning and teaching tools.  Similarly, network bandwidth is an essential ingredient to technology powered learning.  Without these, I see a very uncertain future for our ability to effectively leverage technology for learning and teaching.  How do we shift to a culture of action research for technology implementation and how do we find funding to radically increase network bandwidth?  Uncertain.

In BC, educators and parents are wrestling with what personalized learning means in action.  Changing a world class education system like ours is an uncertain exercise.  Creating space in a curriculum, reducing what kids must know (perhaps), redesigning how they will be assessed,… this is serious business with outcomes that will affect all of society.  Stakeholder involvement in choices for education has radically changed the decision making environment.  Decision makers have to consider so many more points of view and influences today – the uncertainty about impacts can be paralyzing.  Technology is increasingly seen as a lever for educational change.  How certain are we that new tools, process, and focus are what our society requires for our kids to embrace and succeed in an uncertain future?  Are our investments, often measured in the millions of dollars, going to make the impact we expect?  Are we always clear about the impact we expect?

The future has always been an uncertain reality.  However, today our reality is on an exponential change trajectory, powered by technological progress.  The uncertainty of the future is being amplified like never before.  How do we make successful choices and decisions in a context that at times feels like chaos?

Today more than ever, leaders need to be comfortable with uncertainty or they shouldn’t be in leadership roles.  Gone are the days of predictability and knowing.  I’m one week into my new iStock_000017883547XSmallleadership role and I must admit there is a mountain of knowing to be traversed.  While I’m discovering and learning, expectations will rise quickly for me to make a difference.  I have to accept that I will not know everything I need to know before I start deciding to pursue certain strategic directions.  Time is not a friend of a leader in a rapidly changing world. 

For all of you in leadership roles who feel fear, uncertainty, discomfort, can’t sleep at times, don’t know what to do, worry about deciding, I have some advice for you.  Trust your judgment, your staff, your experience, your advisors, your training, and enjoy the opportunity and privilege you have to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  That’s our job as leaders, and it’s a privilege and an honor to be trusted to do what we do.  I am excited about the uncertain future I face as a leader in my school district and I look forward to an exhilarating future as we roll forward together.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Network or Perish

I know, a bit of a harsh title for this post but I got your attention…  Seriously though, networking has for the most part always been WP_000250important to being successful in whatever you pursue.  I think technology though has significantly amplified the importance of networking.  I believe that increasingly, in our rapidly evolving digital work and learning places, those that figure out and embrace the new forms of networking will succeed at what they do more so than those that don’t.  If you’re not on the path to networking yet, maybe now’s the time to take the first step.

Friday was my last day with Coquitlam School Board and Monday will be my first with Vancouver.  I didn’t realize how many social networks I had an identity in until I started to change them for this move.  I had used my Coquitlam email address for most so I had to update all the digital spaces I participate in.  My advice after this task is that you consider using your personal email address wherever possible for your login and email notifications… This exercise really brought to light how networked I’ve become.  I have found many of these networks to be powerful career amplifying spaces.  I believe they and my involvement with them, played an important role in this career opportunity and move.  At Vancouver School Board, I will be in extreme networking mode for the foreseeable future, beginning with face to face and then blurring with the digital space.  Exciting times ahead.

I share my presentations on Slideshare.  Hundreds of people take the opportunity to view these, some may follow, comment, or favorite them.  The same goes for Youtube where I’ve posted over 70 short video clips, mostly of students learning with technology or teachers sharing their experiences and practice.  Again, people can freely view and use these clips, comment on them, favorite them, or follow my future posts.  LinkedIn is a great professional connecting place.  I flickr - langwitches - 21st century skills - 6486500681see more and more people joining, presenting themselves as professionals with their skills, experience, and interests.  Others can endorse them, comment, congratulate, etc.  Twitter is my main networking space.  From that network I learn about what’s going on in the world, in education, technology, who’s doing what, presentations others have shared, blog posts, news articles, etc.  Through Twitter I also contribute my thoughts, ideas, quotes from others, share my blog, share web articles, and converse with others.  My blog is my place to write what’s on my mind and share with the world.  What an amazing feeling this brings when 100’s (sometimes 1000’s) of people read what I write, and many share it with others.  A principal told me the other day that she really enjoyed my last post, The Rabbit Hole, and shared it in her recent staff meeting with her teachers.  I often have people tell me how much they enjoy my blog – it’s very rewarding and humbling.  These networking tools have become the life blood of how I connect with information, ideas, and people.

My blog has brought invitations my way to speak at conferences and to various other smaller audiences.  That along with my positive digital footprint in many other social networks, has created a highly transparent story about who I am, what I think, what I’m passionate about, what my values are, what I do, and what I believe.  If you follow me in these spaces you will know me professionally, and a little bit personally.  When I say “transparent”, I do limit my digital footprint to mainly my professional life.  I keep my personal life fairly well protected even though I do use Facebook to connect and share with family and friends and some of my professional colleagues iStock_000009205146XSmallare also my friends.  But for example, although I am a Christian and have strong beliefs about our world and the future from that perspective, I focus my digital presence and participation on my professional life and interests.  Incidentally, this is consistent practice in my face to face work life.  My reason for sharing this is that being networked online doesn’t mean you have to be “all in” online.  There’s a place and time for everything and everything does not belong online.  It distresses me when friends or relatives share very personal or disturbing information on Facebook or when colleagues seem to “life blog” on Twitter.  That just doesn’t sit well for me…  Some conversations and topics really belong in face to face contexts and with people you have built up quite a bit of trust with.

So folks, if you’re reading this, likely you’ve at least got a toe in the streams of digital conversation and social networking.  I encourage you to wade in further.  If you’re a professional, you have a lot to contribute to others – use Twitter, start a blog, share your presentations, produce and share videos.  There are people out there digitally connected that are just waiting to enjoy what you have to share.  Reciprocally, there are people online that you need to learn from and get to know to boost your professional life to the next level.  Feel free to connect with me here on this blog and on Twitter @bkuhn.  Happy networking!