Saturday, September 29, 2012

Love Learning

I just finished up an amazing week of learning.  I find that having a mindset of a learner helps turn difficult situations into teachable moments.  I was meeting with a Principal a few weeks ago and she was sharing how her staff and herself were feeling inadequate.  They’re all embracing some new models of learning and haven’t had much time for training or to figure out good practices.  She relayed that it’s causing stress.  After listening to her story, I suggested that they consider changing iStock_000016576964XSmallthe word “inadequate” to “learner”.  She paused for a moment and allowed that small change to resonate.  If each one of us is honest with ourselves, we would admit we all feel inadequate at times.  I’ve read often how leaders especially feel increasingly alone and inadequate and worry about being “found out”.  I know I feel that way often – this might surprise those that know me but it’s true.  I think we unfortunately spend too much time worry about what we don’t know or that we don’t know how to deal with a situation, or a crisis when we should be putting our learning caps on and enjoy the opportunity.  It’s something I’ve been increasingly working at with intention.

This past Thursday evening I had the good fortune of joining nearly 300 Surrey Schools educators in their first Digital Learner Dinner session.  Thank-you to Elisa Carlson (@EMSCarlson) and Dan Turner (@dj_turner) for extending an invitation to me.  There were teams from various schools there and a few presented how technology was impacting their teaching and student learning.  The teachers who presented were honest about the problems and challenges they faced.  It takes courage to share openly in front of 300 of their peers.  I was excited to also enjoy a keynote, The Story of Pixels, by Dean Shareski (slides are posted here).  I’ve followed Dean on social media for quite a while and have always enjoyed the humor he injects.  Example:

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I’ve viewed quite a number of the presentations he’s posted.  But getting a chance to hear and interact with Dean live was a treat.  I also had a chance to speak with him a bit and we might even get out golfing next time he’s in town.  I just have to share a few artifacts from his keynote with you:

  • Bored Shorts TV – Basketball Class (record 4 years olds telling a story about basketball and adults act it out with the kids voice over) *** beware… this video is seriously funny *** – imagine the learning opportunity here for Kindergarten students working with high school students
  • have your students (or employees) take photos and individually or collaboratively write 6-word stories for what the picture says to them
  • create a one second video – splice one second clips together into a one minute video and add background music; use to tell a story
  • don’t underestimate the power of pictures and videos for story telling – media deeply engages our senses
  • publish yours and your students work for the world to see

Yesterday morning I was in a session with our middle and secondary school computer and media teachers.  We wanted to introduce them to the new Adobe Creative Suite 6 deal our District has signed onto.  After going through the pragmatic aspects they were given time to partner up and play with the software.  I put out a challenge for someone to teach me how to solve a long standing video editing iStock_000016919804XSmallproblem where I need to blur two or more faces in a scene.  One of our high school teachers said it’s no problem, he can help.  Four of us were sitting with him as he showed me how Adobe After Effects makes this easy.  After Effects has a feature where you can set a tracker on an object, in this case an eye, a cheek, etc. Next you add an oval and a blur effect and it tracks the face through the scene.  For a second or third face, repeat the process.  Unbelievable!  I’ve been using Adobe Premiere Pro to try to do that and it’s a lot of work tracking a face frame by frame, manually.  I never could figure out how to do two faces!  This teacher saved the day for me and helped me with my learning.

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Another teacher showed what they learned with Adobe Photoshop.  He demonstrated, in seconds, how to use the magnet tool to outline an object in a photo and have it disappear and the surrounding background fill in as if the object was never there.  Amazing.  Magic.  Sharing our learning with others is a powerful thing!

Technology is driving exponential change.  Society is becoming increasingly complex to “operate”.  Our schools include students with diverse needs.  Every week most people are faced with two choices iStock_000007834176XSmallas they encounter challenges, complexity, and the unknown.  They can throw up their hands and declare themselves to be inadequate and lament the situation.  Or, they can declare themselves to be learners and love the opportunity to embrace change, to explore the possibility of the unknown, and to reflect on the gift they’ve been given.  Let’s all orientate our mindsets to one where we Love Learning!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Face to Face

It’s interesting, actually encouraging, that with all the modern ways we have available to us to connect with each other, we still like WP_000181to meet together face to face.  There’s just something inherently human and fulfilling about being together in the same physical space, shaking hands, looking each other in the eye, seeing facial expressions, and hearing the other person’s voice, live.  We travel all around the world to see amazing places and things, face to face.  I wonder though how things may get blurry with future, yet to be invented, digital devices?

Last Tuesday a colleague and I received 10 principals from Denmark who were interested in our system of schooling and examples of educational technology.  We toured three schools visiting five classrooms.  They were able to have a great experience talking to teachers and students about their use of iPads to transform learning, various immersive uses of technology, technology used to support English as a subject, etc.  We also visited one of our grade 9/10 gifted classes to listen to kids share stories and highlight skills that were missing.  My colleague and I enjoyed swapping stories with the Denmark Principals about funding, curriculum, pedagogy, staff development, and the differences between our respective societies.  This was a rewarding face to face experience.  I wonder if one day this type of experience will be replicable with new, today unknown, digital environments?

On Friday a friend / colleague and I arranged to meet at a Starbucks halfway between our respective places of work.  We fought some traffic, expended gasoline, used valuable time, all to meet face to face.  We had a rewarding time catching up, sharing stories,iStock_000009196143XSmall seeking advice (well I was), for about an hour.  We could have just as easily phoned, texted, Tweeted, Skyped, Face Timed, Google Hungout, emailed, Facebooked, or used some other digital means of communication, but we didn’t.  Well actually we use many of those options too but still wanted to meet face to face.  Why is that?  We are both very tech savvy and do use many varied communication methods but we chose the old fashioned face to face method.

Quick sidebar…  when I first got my iPad 2 almost a year ago, I Face Timed with a Principal colleague around 6 at night.  He connected with his iPhone.  His family had just finished up dinner so he took me on a virtual tour of his kitchen, and introduced me to his kids and wife.  It was like I was there in the room…  well, not really but it was pretty cool.  It was my first experience with this app.  One of the classrooms we took the Denmark Principals to visit, had iPads for every student.  Some of the students showed us how they use Face Time to help each other at night with their homework.  That’s pretty useful.  Imagine that they could digitally connect face to face so that they were in essence “together” and able to directly work on their homework and learn from each other, not just chat through a video conference session?

In our schools, every school day it seems, students congregate in clusters of 18 – 30 in rooms that fit about 32 people.  Our students are expected to sit in rows, around tables, or in various configurations for 40 – 80 minutes at a time.  Perhaps they are listening to a scintillating lecture, watching video clips, or observing their teacher project screen after screen of valuable content.  Maybe their teacher is more technically up-to-date and is touching the white board to manipulate content.  The bell rings and kids THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX on a blackboardmove onto other classes or perhaps the same class but another subject.  This face to face experience is repeated in 10’s of thousands of similar sized rooms around the world.  Sure there are experiments with flipping classrooms to push the content piece to homework.  This approach is known to free time during the face to face encounter to work cooperatively in small groups, to engage more deeply in the content, and to socially learn.  Increasingly educators suggest this latter use of face to face time, is better than the former.  But, I wonder what type of digital experience could replace this?  Is face to face learning in the same place at the same time, replaceable with technology?  Now to answer this question we need to stretch our view perhaps 10 years out and let our imaginations run a bit freely.

Is face to face as we now expect it, a sacred innate human need or will there be valid alternatives in the future?  Online meetings or learning using web tools where presenters share video clips, Powerpoints, lecture, and people vote and chat in the back channel are not what I would call relevant alternatives.  I don’t know about you but when I engage in these pseudo online spaces, I often check out and work on email or something else.  No, I am imaging something much more immersive.  A few posts I’ve written about what I think might come in the future include:

What we view as SciFi has a way of coming true in our lifetime…  I was at ISTE this past June and visited a booth where the vendor had a desktop 3D printer.  I previously wrote about the potential of 3D printing and thinking that maybe by 2020 this would be a household tool.  I also saw a 3D scanner that scans objects and renders them in 3D CAD drawings that can be sent to the 3D printer.  Sound suspiciously like a precursor to the replicator of Star Trek?  I was obviously not being imaginative enough!  Think about augmented reality and how the world in front of you is beginning to blend in with the world of information through your mobile phones or Google Glasses.  Perhaps one day a holodeck like experience will be possible.  If that is true, face to face as we now know it will not require being in the same physical space and time.  The Face Time we now experience on our iPads will be an enveloping experience where we actually feel like we’re there together.  Digital replacement of face to face will have a profound impact on our work, our learning, on teaching, on schools, on coffee chats, on offices and office buildings.  We will flock to take advantage of this efficient and engaging new way.  But, will it completely replace face to face as we now experience it?  Should it?  I say NO!  We are human and there is something wired into us to require being physically present.  I think it would be psychologically unhealthy to replace this completely.  I see a more balanced future where we co-exist with our technology in old and new ways.  We will find that balance because our humanity will depend on being balanced.  Even today we should seek balance with our technology.  We should not use technology all the time for everything just because we can or it can.  We need to thoughtfully choose when and where to engage digitally versus personally. 

So, what do you think?  Is it feasible that face to face as we now know it will be replaced by our technology?  Do you think it can happen to you?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Futuristic Feedback

There is a lot being written about what learning needs to become and how to inform learners, and those that have an interest in their learning, of their progress.  We all need to be effective learners: students in school, adults living life, and employees.  Will Richardson in his book Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere says

“The World has changed – and continues changing – rapidly and radically when it comes to the ways in which we can learn, and what knowledge, skills, dispositions, and forms of literacy our children will need to flourish in their futures.” (Kindle 65) and “what happens inside of schools is going to change, now that the Web connects us the way it does.  It has to.” (Kindle 75).

I wouldn’t limit this view to schools, this applies to all of us regardless of what we do in life or to earn our living.  There is a relentless march of change driven and accelerated by technological progress and invention, moving to continuously disrupt the norm.  Why is it then that most feedback mechanisms are still based on the “old world”?  When today “if we have an Internet connection, we iStock_000019241487XSmallhave fingertip, on-demand access to an amazing library that holds close to the sum of human knowledge, and equally important, to more than two billion people with whom we can potentially learn.” (Why School? Kindle 94).  Prioritizing the testing memory of facts, historical events and figures, specific procedures, and processes, as the way to determine how well someone has learned seems quite limited and ineffective in a world of abundance doesn’t it?  It might be a valid way, in the past, and the easy way to provide feedback but the hard way is more authentic and meaningful today.

Grant Wiggins in Educational Leadership (September 2012, Vol. 70 No. 1) tells us that “feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal” (p. 11).  Thinking about employees for a minute, we often think about feedback as the annual performance review, or negative comment on an action.  I’ve been thinking about this in my own context where I lead and oversee 35 employees.  I’ve not always provided timely or helpful feedback – it’s something I’m trying to improve, to learn to do better.  Interestingly, working with a group of information technology professionals you would think learning would be a primary orientation.  I find that often there is a higher interest in being taught rather than being self-directed learners.  If someone is taught and provided some kind of exit certificate, they presumably remembered enough content and process details to pass the test, right?  However, what does that say about their ability to apply it in their own context?  Is an exit certificate worth more than the paper it is printed on?  I wonder…  I prefer learning in context where the feedback is more real world and applied (it didn’t work, or not as expected, or it did and someone noticed and affirmed the individual’s work, etc.).  Also, it’s not what individuals know, rather “knowledge is moving from the individual to the individual and [their] contacts” (Why School? Kindle 328). Wiggins in the same article says that feedback should be goal-referenced, tangible and transparent, actionable, user-friendly, timely, ongoing, and consistent.

A personal anecdote involves my three sons (now grown) who attended a self-directed learning high school.  None of them were model students per se, they did not like school and for them it was a tiresome march to the exit ticket: graduation.  But, they did learn to self-direct their learning.  My eldest son (24 yrs old) has started his own business and is continuously learning how to improve the speed and quality of his and his employees work.  Feedback is immediate (and has all the attributes Wiggins refers to) for him from customers, both positive and negative.  His reaction to negative feedback is to research ways (online through online forums, videos, manufacturers) to make it better.  The results (more feedback) is a very profitable business with increasingly positive feedback and iStock_000012753624XSmallreferences, and increasingly more customers.  My second son (23) is a self taught musician.  He has enough technology in our basement to start a small recording studio.  He uses sophisticated computer-based mixing software to produce pretty cool music.  He plays rock/metal guitar, has started a small band with others, and he produces all the music in his home studio.  No one told him to do this, he’s never taken music lessons, or a course on how to do this – he learned it.  Feedback for him comes through friends and family and sharing his work on Facebook and Youtube.  My youngest son (20) is becoming somewhat of a Bible scholar.  He learns through reading but primarily by connecting with various Bible scholars around the world online.  Feedback for him comes from working with others in his church and from online connections.

What might futuristic feedback look like?  Think about the feedback Apple enjoys.  They design and announce a new iPhone every year or so and receive tremendous feedback.  People worldwide weigh in with blog posts, comments on posts, video posts, and of course their wallets.  What if as students progressed from Kindergarten to grade 12, their feedback was shifted from the teacher to the world?  What if the goal was to shift assignments and learning tasks to those that are not assessable with a test or short answer essay question?  What if it involved measures of engagement with others both face to face and online?  A student works with others locally and globally to research and produce an authentic “product” where they have significant choice in and feedback was required to be sourced from their Twitter network, Facebook friends, or other networks in the form of comments, likes, questions to push their learning further, etc.  All of the data could be incorporated in their electronic portfolio.  Teachers might evaluate their students primarily through their portfolios, presentation of work sessions, and engagement statistics.  Supervisors could have similar processes for employees. The Sky's the Limit Perhaps rather than sending employees to expensive training courses, employees are given time to learn together and online.  Feedback could involve question and answers sessions, demonstrations, participation levels, and engagement statistics for online research and connections.  Their learning and feedback data could be housed in an electronic portfolio.  A final event could be a session where they show what they’ve learned and accomplished in real work such as implementing a new system, an upgraded tool or procedure, how they solved a problem, running a small project successfully, etc.  Additionally, employees could be required to share everything they learned and to mentor a colleague.  Feedback in the form of a mentee’s success would flow back to the employee to help them learn further.

I know, this doesn’t sound all that futuristic but I liked the title for this post…  An authentic “living” online portfolio for students and employees would be a valuable feedback mechanism.  It would replace the report card and the resume.  Perhaps it could inform “ranking” where necessary and whether someone meets the entrance requirements for a university program or into a job.  Essentially, when “we can now carry the sum of human knowledge around in our pockets” (Why School? Kindle 549), feedback should be more about performance and less about memory.  There’s way too much to know and remember today and the availability of and access to facts, people, and ideas has never been easier.  We need to value what and how someone can perform and work with others, not what they can regurgitate on Jeopardy!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Technology Can Amplify and Control Us

I’ve made a concerted effort this past year to use Facebook more often.  I know, that sounds a bit odd when we hear and read a lot about how much time people waste using social media tools like Facebook.  For me, Facebook has become the best and main way to stay in touch with many of my remote family members and to interact with “real” friends.  It feels good to get “likes” and iStock_000017128753XSmallcomments on what I post.  I like to share photos from trips, biking, hiking, kayaking, walks, etc.  I also really enjoy seeing, liking, and commenting on friends and family’s photos, videos, and posts.  It’s fun to engage this way.  Facebook doesn’t consume an excessive amount of my time, perhaps 15 minutes a day.  For me, I can efficiently share a little bit of what’s going on in my life while learning about and staying in touch with the people I care about and know in the real world.  How do you use Facebook?

Twitter is a tool I use almost exclusively for professional and learning purposes.  I rarely post any personal photos.  I do enjoy interacting with a select number of people there on photos and personal twitter birdtweets they post but it’s not generally how I use it.  I like the separation of the professional me from the personal me.  This is typical of me in the real world too where for the most part friends and family don’t mix with my work.  However, I do consider a few work colleagues to be friends who I enjoy deep conversations with in-person and on Twitter or Facebook, or getting out for a hike, mountain bike ride, or a snow boarding trip, so there is some overlap there for sure.  For me though, Twitter is mainly a professional tool.  How do you use Twitter?

I think social media tools are great tools for amplifying who we are as real people.  It is very important then, that how we use them amplifies who really are.  But, what if who we really are isn’t how we want to be know online?  We probably all know of people who hide behind their Facebook profile, their well crafted tweets, and pictures and videos they share.  People can easily use these tools to amplify versions of themselves that aren’t real.  Do you think it is an appropriate use of these tools to present a version of one’s self that is better or different than who they are?  Should our real and online selves be fully congruent?

Let’s take a different path with this.  I’m reading an interesting book (just started it actually): iDisorder: Understanding Our iDisorder - Larry D. RosenObsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us by Larry D. , Ph.D. Rosen.  Dr. Rosen covers 10 personality disorders in the book, the first being Narcissistic.  He delves into the research on how the use of tools like Facebook and Twitter amplify Narcissistic behaviors. 

“those (of all generations) who were more anxious when not checking in with their text messages, cell phone calls, and Facebook were more narcissistic than those who were less anxious about continually looking at their phones or jumping on Facebook to read posts and status updates”, Kindle 598

“The bottom line is that a lot of people pounding away on their laptops, constantly checking their smartphones, and living the high-tech, media-rich life are showing strong signs of being narcissistic”, Kindle 602.

Do you ever feel the irresistible pull of your smartphone or iPad, “begging” you to check your email, to see if your friends have liked or commented on your posts, whether they have replied to or Play Blocks With Lettersretweeted your tweets?  Full disclosure, my technology is often beckoning me to “check in”.  I can get caught up in wanting to check blog stats, twitter following stats, and what’s happening on Facebook.  It is amazing how difficult it is sometimes to just let it go and not to check-in.  I suspect we’re all susceptible to the hold our technology can have over us and the amount people engage with us online.  We just need to be sure to self-regulate our use of technology and work hard to not let it control us.  This is an important topic for young learners in our schools, something to be learned early to prepare young people to be balanced people.

For fun, you can take an online test to measure your narcissistic tendencies here.  It is a research study using a personal inventory and your (anonymous) results will be sent in to the researchers.  According to Dr. Rosen, 20 or higher gives some indication of potentially having a narcissistic disorder.  I took the “test” and am relieved to report that I scored 12 out of 40, an indication I’m not too absorbed with self or controlled by my technology!  How did you score?  Is your technology amplifying the real you and is the real you who you want to be online?  Is your technology controlling you or are you in control of it?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Making Educational Technology Choices

A few years ago I led a learning team with seven K-5 teachers who came together to do some action research around the use of SMART boards in their classrooms.  Through that year I learned a lot about what’s possible and how challenging it is to effectively incorporate a iStock_000019171659XSmallforeign technology into pedagogy.  Often making technology choices requires a good compass to show them the way.  Learning teams have been a successful structure for our teachers in doing this.  Being a firm believer there’s always more to learn, I decided to participate in a workshop last week with about 20 teachers learning about SMART boards and in particular the Notebook software.  The workshop facilitator, Sasha Zekulin, was brilliant.  She really brought to life the capabilities and possibilities, light-bulbs were going off for many of the teachers.

We live in exciting times don’t we.  Every week there seems to be some new technology invented and put on the market.  Educators and technology leaders are increasingly faced with a difficult task in selecting appropriate technologies to support learning and teaching.  I read an article Are Computer Labs Obsolete? in the most recent ISTE Learning and Leading with Technology magazine.  The article has two authors who argue opposite views.  One argues for iStock_000016878193XSmallabandoning labs while the other tries to convince the reader that labs still have value in education.  Some readers who wrote in are also referenced, with competing viewpoints.  I actually still see value in computer labs from mainly a financial perspective.  If the choice is labs or nothing, the decision really isn’t that difficult.  Of course the ideal case is where students each have their own digital learning device available full time.  But that just isn’t the case, yet, in our schools.  It’s increasing but I suspect quite a few years away.  Labs, when used effectively, can provide great value for students and teachers alike.  I recently wrote What Kids Say About Blogging where kids in grade 3 write weekly in their online “journal” and interact with parents, grand-parents, and “the world”.  The teacher told me that each of his students has their own blog and they only get two 45 minute periods of Computers each week.  That’s in a lab setting.  These kids are learning to write, for the world, not just their teacher!

So, how do we make good technological choices to support teaching and learning?  iPads are all the rage these days.  Teachers and school leaders are scrambling to get these tablets into classrooms to figure out how they can support learning.  I actually like this approach to making choices.  Experimentation without a particular end goal is not a bad approach.  Let teachers and students work together to determine the best uses.  School and District leaders can observe, provide input and advice, share the learning stories, but for the most part, just let them be.  There are pragmatic things to be concerned with such as deployment, support, repair, security, privacy, wireless access, and network bandwidth.  District technology leaders will need to be vigilante about taking care of these details to ensure success.

Network infrastructure has become the Achilles heel for many schools and Districts.  The pace at which mobile computing has risen and the costs have decreased is unbelievable.  Many schools and Districts were caught unprepared.  I wrote about our situation in Digital Natives Need Infrastructure a few years ago.  This began an arduous journey to convince our District leadership and elected Board to invest.  We had invested in wireless access in schools quite some years ago, in fact probably having the one of the first fully wireless secondary schools in our province back in 2002.  We learned quickly that wireless access is an essential ingredient to rapid adoption of educational technology.  I’ve been quoted as saying access needs to be “just like oxygen, people don’t think to breath, nor should they have to think to connect”.  This philosophy has served us well for 10 years.  But, the rapid adoption of technology in our schools drove us to the brink with network bandwidth.  We reached a crisis stage which I wrote about our plans in The Rise of the Network.  Just this year we completed a procurement for network optimization tools and the implementation is beginning imminently.  This summer we also began the installation of private fiber optic cabling to a handful of schools and District sites.  We must continue to invest in network infrastructure if technology powered learning is to succeed.

I like George Couros perspective on choosing options.  As I understand his view, he advocates that schools / Districts need to pick a few great tools and focus on their use as the base.  There are so many choices out there it can really become a distraction and a hindrance.  Pick a blog platform, a productivity suite, a discussion tool, a survey tool, a content management solution, a video streaming option, and a few social media tools and focus your professional development around them.  However, let teachers who THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX on a blackboardcan handle playing around the edges go forth and try other tools.  Also, let students be the researchers, the experimenters.  Alan November advocates for teams of students who figure out pod casts, blogging, video editing, etc. and bringing their learning back to their class.  Learn from the researcher’s and experimenter’s work and incorporate what might make sense for everyone else.  Something I’ve learned is that the more you use a tool or platform and the more you invest in terms of time and money, the more you will end up promoting its use and the better you will be at using it.  Thus, be careful what you adopt.

Here are some organizers that K-5 schools might consider.  There are degrees of use demonstrated from literacy to transformation.  All are valid and will vary from teacher to teacher in the pace and stage of adoption.

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The last slide indicates the elimination of the computer lab in favor of embedded digital tools in classrooms.  This school staff is incredibly enthusiastic about how this change will unfold this coming school year.  I will report back here on their success.

Embracing educational technology is really about change.  Last week Andy Hargreaves was speaking to us about leadership and change.  He shared a powerful on-balance approach to leading change.  He said to “pull if you can, push if you must, and nudge all the time”.  Pulling people (attracting) them to use educational technology is likely to be more successful than forcing (pushing) them.  There may be cases where you just have to set a new standard and push people to use it but that should be rare.  Nudging, is a subtle approach.  The assumption is that in general, people are not great at making good choices and that a default choice (perhaps expert chosen), is often helpful.  Regardless of what you think of the nudge, I like the idea here of three approaches pull-push-nudge.  How do you make choices about educational technology?