Saturday, December 22, 2012

Twas the Blog before Christmas

I can’t believe how fast this past year has gone by.  It’s almost like we’re in a time warp or something.  I suspect technology has Mountain Scene - SK-001something to do with that.  Things change so quickly now, it’s really hard to keep up.  I wonder what 2013 has in store for us?  Will there be new gadgets that blow our minds?  Will there be breakthroughs in robotics where more work is performed by machines?  How might learning and teaching be changed by technology?

I was watching a TV piece on the food channel today about how those chocolate oranges are made, assembled, packaged, and shipped.  I had no idea how automated the process is.  It’s quite amazing or perhaps alarming, how machines have taken on more work that not too many years ago, required human beings.  Now in factories of all sorts, the humans are really serving the machines, not the other way around.  I’ve written previously about automation and it’s looming impact on us.  Automation, for most of us, quietly invades processesiStock_000017723170XSmall and displaces human workers – we’re not even aware or rarely think about it.  In a world of the near future where robots increasingly take over roles humans currently or previously fulfilled, what must our school system do to properly prepare the next generation?  Are we preparing students today for their uncertain tomorrow?  Even higher order jobs that require sophisticated decision making are vulnerable.  What about teachers?  Can they be partially or substantially replaced by machines?  I don’t think so as long as teaching adapts to the times, continuously. 

Teaching from textbooks (paper or digital) or teaching to a test or for memorization or to impart knowledge, won’t cut it in a world where what is knowable doubles every year or so.  Sure, we will continue to need quality and relevant content that our society determines is worth knowing but how that is imparted or accessed should be through more technological means while human interactive methods like projects, problem solving, etc. are used to connect knowledge, skills, and processes.  Learning is social and thus interactive collaborations will be important processes to leverage.

So, it’s almost Christmas.  Post-Christmas break, schools always see an influx of digital devices in the hands of students.  Are we ready?  In my District we’re just now rolling wireless through all of our 130 iStock_000012987855XSmallschools and annexes so access is still limited.  But even with perhaps 10-15% access, we already see peaks of 3000 wireless devices in a school day!  When we are fully implemented, this could easily climb to 15-20,000.  Technologically we’re getting ready (although we have significant bandwidth challenges to overcome still) but pedagogically, are we ready?  I think this will be our greatest challenge in the years ahead, to transform how teaching and learning works as technology invades our classrooms. 

I was at a recent student forum in one of our secondary schools where students were asked how they think technology should be used to enhance learning and engagement and what technology wish they want granted at their school.  Some of their statements include:

  • a database that would allow us to look back on lessons, missed notes, videos
  • blogs for all teachers that have a consistent layout
  • increased access through improved bandwidth
  • reduced paper through digital class materials and textbooks
  • more digital and visual materials
  • embrace technology and integrate into lessons
  • more flexible policy around use of personal technology
  • replace overheads with projectors and online material

I find nothing earth shattering or future-orientated in that list, just current day practical ways technology could be used in schools.  In 2013, I see the advent of Christmas sending 1000’s of digital devices into students hands and thus into schools.  The District will need to collaboratively and formally develop and articulate ways teachers can effectively embrace a context where students have personal technology in class.  This might involve developing and sharing scenarios for grade levels, subject areas, learning activities, where diverse student technology could be used effectively, even when not all have it.  Classroom management strategies will need to be adapted to this mixed digital context.  Teachers need to see possibilities and ways that work.  Of course, we cannot forget a key outstanding technical piece - we must upgrade our bandwidth – more on this in a future post.

Our students will also need digital learning spaces for safe communication and collaboration, storage of documents and other materials, and online creation.  I can see us exploring the possibilities of Microsoft’s Office 365 platform for this purpose.  Other BC Districts such as Surrey, Kelowna, West Vancouver, and Maple Ridge are already heading in this direction.  Office 365 is a free service for us within our existing licensing and provides 25GB of space per student, a District integrated login and a District named email address, SkyDrive storage, and online creation, editing, storing, and sharing of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote documents.  For the latter, they don’t even need Microsoft Office software installed on their computers – it works like Google Docs in a fully online way through their Internet browser.  This approach would solve numerous current challenges with storage and access of materials from anywhere (school, home) on any device (computer, iPad/iPhone, other), email for students (we don’t currently provide this), and access to the Office software online for free which is compatible with tools used at school.

Well, here’s to a fabulous Christmas with family and friends and a futuristic and exciting 2013.  I wish us all well as we continue to figure our how to adapt in our rapidly changing world.  I trust that this time next year I am able to write a reflective post that highlights how in VSB we’ve met and addressed some of the key challenges we face in a technology powered education system.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Implement Technology Well

I’ve learned a lot (through the school of hard knocks) about implementing technology for learning, teaching, and work.  I naively Green Check Mark Symbolused to focus on the tools and the technical aspects without seriously considering the impact on people.  That was then and this is now.  Technology is very often the instigator of significant changes for people.  It should be, or what’s the point of buying and providing it?  Simply adding a new tool and carrying on with a current practice really doesn’t make a lot of sense does it.  We see this occur often in schools.  SMARTBoards, for example, often get a bad rap, perhaps unfairly.  We need to do implementation well!

Principals will see or hear about how amazing these interactive whiteboards (IWB) work, then they buy and install some in their school and wonder why teachers don’t use them.  Or, worse, teachers do use them but in exactly the same way they used their overhead projector or the LCD projector they already had.  A $5000 (all in, installed) tool serves really well as a glorified projection screen.  I have often been asked into classrooms to see an amazing use of an IWB and as I observe and question, leave wondering what was so amazing or transformative.  Technology too often is seen as a panacea for transforming teaching, learning, or our work and we end up disappointed with the outcome.  Why is that?  School Districts have expended millions, more likely billions, of dollars over the years on technology and often we still can’t emphatically document the real improvement or transformation.  I believe poor implementation is at fault.  A technological change is a culture change after all.  It’s all about the people.

I like to use and refer to the SAMR model when describing stages of technological adoption.


A technology can be added, for example a SMARTBoard, to a classroom and be used as a substitution for a previous tool (overhead or LCD projector) with no change in practice.  Or, a teacher could augment her teaching, perhaps of a math lesson on geometric shapes.  The teacher can quickly and efficiently produce the backdrop, the shapes, and place them on the IWB.  Students then debate whether shapes fall into the Symmetric or the non-Symmetric categories, taking turns leading the discussion, from the IWB.  Next, they talk about lines of symmetry and take turns drawing in the line imagefor each shape.  They get to the pentagram and the whole class appears to believe there is only one line of symmetry.  One girl (the one in the image above) disagrees.  The teacher asks her to come up and explain.  She says “there are five lines, let me show you” and proceeds to visually spin the pentagon through its five lines of symmetry and draw the other four lines.  The class was shocked (actually they briefly had me sucked in too).  In the example here, I suggest the teacher designed a significant modification into her lesson this day.  This would not be easily replicated without the IWB technology.  How did this teacher create the modification?  She participated in a Learning Team, an action research model of implementation through facilitated professional learning with her colleagues.

Interestingly, we know from research that people fall into nice neat buckets when it comes to accepting and adopting change as see in the Rogers Adoption / Innovation Cure. 


Innovators Brave, embrace any change, show the way.
Early Adopters Opinion leaders, try new ideas… carefully.
Early Majority Thoughtful, careful, accept change quicker than the average person.
Late Majority Skeptics, only adopt the tool/change once the majority of people have done so.
Laggards Traditionalists, hang on to old ways, critical of new ideas and tools, will adopt once an change/tool is mainstream or “tradition”.

A new tool comes out, say the iPad, and there will be 2.5% of a population, the Innovators, that will readily embrace it and generally use it effectively. This group will essentially embrace any change you toss their way with no resistance! The next group, Early Adopters will see and get excited by the possibilities of the new tool and will try it, carefully.  You get the idea.  You might be tempted to think investing time in the first two groups will get your change, the adoption of the new tool, to flourish.  Unfortunately, the majority of people tend to be suspicious of the Innovators and Early Adopters thinking “they will try anything new”.  It takes a well designed implementation process, patience, determination, and good change management to shift the organization forward in adopting new tools and ways, effectively.  It’s easy to buy, distribute, and use new tools like iPads, but it’s really hard to shift our work, teaching practice, and ways of learning to maximize the value of having the tool.  Some colleagues and I often say we need to “use new tools to do new things in new ways”.  The alternative of using new tools to do the same things in new ways doesn’t represent a high value change.  A iStock_000017128753XSmall$5000 display screen seems rather expensive doesn’t it?  Similarly, a mobile lab of digital tablets moving class to class (is this any different than a lab model?) seems rather ineffective doesn’t it?  Perhaps a better way is to acquire the class set of digital tablets for use in immersive ways by students whose teachers are engaged in a professional learning team doing action research into how they can redesign their lessons and their students learning to maximal benefit.  The class set in this scenario is shared by 2-3 classes rather than available to the whole school.  Unfair?  I don’t think so given that it would be used effectively for learning.  Think of it as the best starting point for students and teachers and grow it over time for other classes.  The alternative is interesting but would not likely have the same positive impact on learning and teacher practice.

In my new role with Vancouver School Board, implementing well is top of mind.  Funds are very tight and we need to maximize our investments for greatest impact on learning, teaching, and work.  Focusing specifically on educational technology here, I see significant opportunity to leverage some structures I’ve learned and used in a previous organization.  A few key principles that lead to successful implementation come to mind: engage teachers and principals early in choosing, testing, piloting, and designing technological changes (Design Teams, Implementation Teams).  Require professional learning to be part of any technological change – budget for it, build it into the purchase cost.  The professional learning I’m referring to is not the 1-shot workshop model, rather it is one involving Focus Groups and (action research) Learning Teams.  Read the following descriptions with the lens of designing and implementing technological tools and systems.  I want to thank my Coquitlam School Board colleagues for their work in developing, actualizing, and teaching me these structures (valid link as of Dec 2012, go to page 6) – I found them to be a very successful and effective means of implementing technology in schools.

Focus Group educators sharing a common area of expertise / specialization identifying and supporting colleagues through developing documents, professional development
Design Team educators with a time-specific task such as designing an implementation model, a new system
Implementation Team representative group of educators tasked with implementing a pre-designed process, system, etc. for cross-district shared understanding
Learning Team small groups of educators, school-based or cross-district, engaged in professional inquiry focused on educator practice, student learning

I plan to actively work with my new colleagues to develop successful implementation process for technology used for learning, teaching, and for our work.  I look forward to seeing this play out, successfully, over the coming months and years.  Any advice you might have for me, please share it here!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Joel's New Textbook

Joel soaks up the sun this fine day on May 19, 2021 as he walks to school.  He’s excited ‘cause today his middle school is finally allowing him and his fellow students to engage with the new “textbook”.  He’s a little puzzled why it’s called a textbook.  It’s really a place to enter in and experience – it’s not a book.  Joel rarely actually uses “books” as iStock_000018493321XSmallin the paper kind, these days.  The students have learned that the new textbook requires them to wear a special headset with glasses and ear buds.  They can choose from a multitude of colors, shapes, and sizes that the school provides or they can purchase and bring their own along with their other school supplies.  These headsets or “Portal Sets” as their teachers referred to them as, work anywhere and anytime.

Joel arrives at school and sees his friend Carrie – he runs up to meet her at the door.  Joel and Carrie catch up on what they did on the weekend as they walk to the great hall of learning, the gathering place for the 337 students attending this school.  In fact though, not all of the students attend in person, as some prefer to learn from home while others are traveling with their families.  Students not at school in person have earlier versions of the Portal Sets to use which allow them to attend as holographic representations of themselves and to see and interact with other students at school, home, or on the road.  The great hall has various other rooms around the perimeter, small and large, called learning caves, transporter rooms, cooperative spaces, etc.

The students start receiving their Portal Sets and after some basic orientation from their teachers, they head off as small group iStock_000010954699XSmalllearning teams.  Their teachers will be available to guide and teach them upon request.  Teachers also have Portal Sets and can instantly see and support their students either in person or through the textbook. Joel and his learning team, one member who is attending from Hawaii (on vacation), have decided to study early Roman history today.  Students are for the most part self-directed but their teachers are only a “thought” away to help, guide, assess, nudge, interject, lecture as needed, and support. 

As Joel and his team enter the textbook they command it to take them to the days of the gladiators in Rome.  Instantly they find themselves sitting on a seat in the ancient Coliseum but, it isn’t ancient at all, rather it appears to be new!  They look around and see 1000’s of Roman citizens sitting, eating, and discussing the politics of the day.  One of the teachers joins them and starts to share some of their knowledge of the setting and poses some critical questions to Joel’s team to explore.  Joel and his team get up and go speak to some of the citizens asking them questions about how they feel about the games, why they come, what they think of the current emperor, etc.  The students are essentially “there”, back in timeEurope 2012 120-001 with the citizens of the day.  The textbook provides access to all knowledge in the world of all time and all places.  It also, via the Roman (virtual) citizens, prompts the students to fully experience their surroundings.  Joel and his team then ask the textbook to transport them to the Arch of Constantine where they are met by Constantine himself, well a representation of him actually.  The students engaged in amazing conversations about the construction of Rome, wars, science, religion, and many other topics.  Constantine introduces them to some very skilled mathematicians and engineers who take the students to the Pantheon and describe and show how it was designed and constructed.  They even transported further back in time to when it was under construction to provide hands-on help to the citizens of the day with the work and learned valuable construction skills.

After Joel’s team transported back “virtually” speaking, to their school and removed their Portal Sets, they engaged in some cooperative group learning activities to process what they learned and to determine how to represent it.  They decided to use the Learning Deck to recreate what they learned but with a twist.  To create some controversy, they are going to rewrite history and produce a slightly different outcome.  Joel and his team tapped into the math and engineering learning they picked up at the Pantheon to accurately recreate the pillars and other elements.  Other student teams who are also studying Roman history will later enter the Learning Deck to explore Joel’s teams variant on Roman history and will be assessed on how well they can detect and explain the differences.


After learning, hanging out with his friends, playing soccer, etc., Joel is happily exhausted by the time the day ends and he walks home from school.  Joel is relieved that the city leaders didn’t eliminate schools as physical places to go as he and his friends really appreciate the opportunity to do things together, not just virtually.  Students are learning to find a good balance for learning in the textbook and the Learning Deck and learning together in the same physical space.