Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Rabbit Hole

I wonder how much we really think about where we’re going on this technology amplified journey we are all on.  We are so enthralled with each new invention or improvement that we clamor to do everything we can to get the new.  We’re kind-of like Alice…

“she ran across the field after it [the rabbit], and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.  In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again”. (referenced Oct. 28, 2012)

We need now to be more thoughtful than ever in our adoption and pursuit of technological solutions.  We need to think beyond the “rabbit hole” about what may lay down the path.  We need to ask “why” before determining our journey with technology.  Too often we simply follow the crowd.  In a world where funds are scarce and technology is abundant, we need to “choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you” (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).  Technology has the potential to do good or to simply consume our money…  In education systems, our money has many competitors and we need to be very purposeful and clear when advocating for new technology to improve or transform learning and our work.

I read an article about in the November FastCompany Magazine about ways IBM’s Watson computer is being used since its famous Jeopardy win.  “A few years ago, IBM’s new computer was a game-playing curiosity. Now Watson is poised to change the way human beings make decisions about medicine, finance, and work” (FastCompany).  Watson will one day soon be a qualified Doctor iStock_000014726231XSmallbecause “for well over a year, the Watson computers have been "trained" in science and medicine. Technicians feed Watson medical textbooks and journals, patient histories, and treatment guidelines”.  Are you ready for this… “doctors have begun using a Watson app on a tablet to access the computer through the cloud. The doctor logs in to Watson and begins to input data and ask questions”. 

Watson can ingest more data in a day than any human could in a lifetime. It can read all of the world's medical journals in less time than it takes a physician to drink a cup of coffee. All at once, it can peruse patient histories; keep an eye on the latest drug trials; stay apprised of the potency of new therapies; and hew closely to state-of-the-art guidelines that help doctors choose the best treatments (FastCompany)

Essentially Watson combs through every journal and medical case known, analyzes it and produces likely diagnoses and recommended treatments.  A human doctor (so far) will make the final call but at some point, their opinion and decision may be irrelevant as Watson can access and process more information and data than any human could possibly hope to do and more accurately and consistently diagnose.  Since “medicine embodies so much unstructured information that its proliferation has, by the account of many medical professionals, far outstripped the ability of doctors to keep up. Neither better training nor continuing education could ever wholly remedy this problem”.  IBM’s Saxena says that “ninety percent of the world's information was created in the last two years”, and it’s mostly unstructured.  How can humans keep up with this?  They can’t.  In the not too distant future, computers like Watson will be available to anyone anywhere anytime as an app on their phones and tablets.

I suspect that most of us would agree that becoming a qualified medical doctor is a journey filled with rigor, is knowledge intensive, involves complex pattern recognition, and quick accurate responses to problem solving.  It looks like Watson may be able to replace the thinking side of medicine and perhaps one day with agile robots, much of the surgery element.  So imagine for a moment that IBM and iStock_000010314279Smallothers turn their attention to education.  How might Watson be a disruptive force in the education space?  I suggest that if teaching continues to be primarily one of imparting content and learning one of absorbing, memorizing, and reciting back, we’re in big trouble.  Our machines will take care of the knowledge, diagnostic, and through game based learning, much of else what occurs in many classrooms today.  The process of learning and teaching must shift to one that fully leverages everything that is human and social from one that is about knowledge.  The time to change, is now…

I think we need to thoughtfully shape the destination the rabbit hole we are heading down leads to.  Every decision to spend precious education funds on technology needs to connect to the big picture.  As we purchase iPads and other tablets and tools for teachers or students, there aught to be a clear purpose.  For sure, some sandboxing and experimentation is essential to figure that out.  But, before we pour money into something, we need to be clear about “why”.  I’m heading into a new opportunity with a large school board as their CIO.  I’m expecting to face a lot of pressure to provide updated and innovative technology, infrastructure, and new digital experiences for students and staff along with updated and new business systems.  I look forward to writing about this journey and how we’ve connected our investments clearly to improved work and to enhanced or transformed learning and teaching practices.  We will need to future proof learning, teaching, and our work in a rabbit hole world of technology where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to predict the destination.

Let’s not be like Alice who said “’would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’  ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.  ‘I don’t much care where—‘ said Alice.  ’Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat” (chapter 6).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Wisdom in the Room

It used to be so easy to be smart.  Seriously, all you had to do was learn lots of trivia, know how to do a variety of things, be able to quickly recall information, facts, and figures, and people figured you iStock_000020019232XSmallknew it all.  Well folks, the world has changed.  The Internet knows a lot more stuff than you or I do or ever will and it’s doubling every 18 months or so.  We must learn together to become wise!  Why then is it that a lot of learning continues to be isolated and static? How can individuals possibly compete with Youtube, TED, Twitter, Google, Wolfram Alpha, and many other sources that we can now hold in our hands to access whenever we need or want to?

I participated in a conference led by George Couros with about 100 principals/vice principals (#cpvpa) from #sd43.  Some of the deep thinking and resources shared can be seen here.  I’ve worked with quite a number of these folks over the years supporting their learning and progress with technology and social media.  But, I’ve never seen as many of them dive in, join twitter, and make the switch from lurker to contributor.  This may have been a tipping point. One principal Karen said…

How can I start and put myself out there, so I can embrace risk-taking on global media?

It was amazing to sit back and watch the risk taking unfold.  Congratulations #sd43 #cpvpa on taking the leap.  I tweeted earlier today “We talk about making student learning visible, now #cpvpa we need to make our learning visible”.  That’s what this is really about and modeling this new way for teachers and them for their students.  It really changes what “showing one’s work” actually means when it’s on a public stage.  Whether using text via a tweet, writing through a blog, or some combination with pictures and video, it’s a powerful way to communicate, share, and learn from one another.  Think about students sharing their learning in this way.  What impact might 1000’s or 1000000’s of views with comments have on their learning?  How can feedback from teachers or parents compete with the global room?

The room has grown in size.  When I went to school, it fit about 32 people comfortably and there wasn’t always a lot of wisdom to be found.  Now that the walls of classrooms have largely disappeared… I’m getting ahead of myself, most classrooms do not allow for full iStock_000016399116XSmallengagement in learning in public, because we don’t let them.  Perhaps there are privacy concerns, fears, no time to change practices, lack of knowledge, lack of understanding of the value of learning different.  The message this weekend for district and school leaders is they need to model the changes that are important for learners and clear the way for others to do the same.  I love this video that George shared to encourage people to overcome their fears and to take that first step…

The reward that one experiences after trying something new, especially something scary, is amazing.  Having been a downhill sort-of extreme mountain biker for years (recently switched to something safer given my age…), I understand what this is like when facing some new crazy stunt.  Apply this to beginning to Tweet or to start a Blog, and the feeling can be similar.  This happened like a wave this weekend with many new principals hurtling themselves into Twitter and committing to starting a blog – it was exciting to see!

So, about the wisdom in the room.  The idea here is that together we’re better, together we can solve our own problems, we can teacher one another, learn from each other, and experience a collective wisdom not ordinarily possible alone.  Those that don’t tap into the room are left out.  Alison shared…

I like the idea of getting more people sharing. We will all become better if we work together and collaborate.

She is right, “we will all become better”.  About the room, I’m not referring to a physical room but rather the global space you tap into through Twitter, Blogging, Google Plus, Youtube, etc.  If we don’t social networkparticipate in these spaces, we miss out, and we will increasingly become irrelevant.  Contributing only in spaces where you are physically present, won’t serve you well.  You can’t connect with 1000’s of people at once in person – you likely don’t know 1000’s of people that well even if you had the time!  You need to create your digital identity and start to connect, share, and contribute online, or you may just go unnoticed in the future and you won’t be a participant in the room.

Part of going public like this is being a real person.  I love the statement George made about people who sign up on Twitter and don’t add a profile picture.  He said “If you’re an egg, I won’t connect with you!”.  For the illiterate, an egg is what Twitter shows for your account if you don’t add a picture.  This might seem trivial but it’s super important to be yourself and show your true self so that people can engage with you, a real person.  Don’t be an egg!

So what’s holding you back?  Take the leap like the girl in the video above.  Find a friend or colleague who knows more about this than you do.  As Frank said in his “Putting the Plan into Action” referring to help he might need…

It's in the room and in my PLN on twitter.

Ask your local room and PLN to help you get started. Then just do it! Redefine yourself, join the global room, tap into and contribute to the wisdom.  Soon after, you won’t understand how you lived without this!  See you on twitter (you can find me @bkuhn).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Legacy and the Future

Well, I’ve had quite the week.  I quit a job and accepted a new one.  For those that may not know yet, I am leaving my current role Nov. 2nd as Manager of Information Services at Coquitlam School Board (SD43) to join the Vancouver School Board (VSB) Nov. 5th as their Time for changeDirector of Technology and Chief Information Office (CIO).  Interestingly, I wasn’t looking for a change but the opportunity to serve in this new role became rather compelling.  I’m very excited to make this change while simultaneously experiencing a sense of loss.  After the announcement went out in SD43 about this change, emails started pouring in with shock, sadness, and congratulations.  People shared very kind words with me about the difference I’ve made for them, their schools, and the District.  It is very humbling and honoring… Shortly afterward, VSB made their announcement and emails started flowing in from folks there welcoming me to VSB.  It was an emotional roller coaster of a week for sure.  I thought I’d carve out a reflective blog post to share a few highlights of my time in Coquitlam and my thoughts on the future with Vancouver.

I will miss most, the people of SD43.  My staff, the many teachers I know, the principals and vice principals, managers, senior staff, Board members, parents, and the students.  I always say “a good day is one spent in a Kindergarten class” and I will miss my K’s!

Where to start…  I joined SD43 Aug. 29, 2001 shortly before the dreaded 911.  I was commuting back and forth for four months between Coquitlam and Nanaimo where my family and I were living, imageactually my home town for 38 years.  The move to work in Coquitlam was like taking a job oversees!  I was hired to replace my good friend and colleague Dan Turner (currently Director of Technology for Surrey Schools).  I inherited a team of about 20 which increased overtime to 35 today.  We were a pretty traditional IT group, dealing with hardware, software, and basic networking.  Use of technology for learning was rare – busy / game use in elementary labs, specialist use in middle and secondary schools.  Technology for education was a nice to have but generally not necessary in most classrooms.  Business and communication systems were not used much beyond the Board Office except for email.  Technology infrastructure was adequate for the types of use of the day.

Coming in to SD43 I brought a mind set of making change than asking questions later.  Hey, I was young, eager, na├»ve, and I knew what to do, right?  Wrong…  I made a lot of mistakes, some unnoticed, but enough that were significant to cause quite a bit of conflict in the early years.  Through the school of hard knocks I learned a lot about how to successfully consult, collaborate, seek input, acknowledge and honor others, share leadership, serve others, etc.  I learned the value of relationships – this was a powerful lesson – and how strong relationships make it possible to successfully make changes and accomplish a vision.  Even though the lessons I learned were often painful and very stressful, I’m not sure I would change a thing.  Our past makes us who we are.  I am a much wiser, more thoughtful, strategic, far more relational person than I was 11 years ago.  This journey has prepared me for the next.

I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to accomplish along side many other great people (technologists and educators) in Coquitlam.  On the technology side, we standardized and centralized the funding and support for core infrastructure such as networks, servers, data/file storage, databases, web systems, email/communications systems, and major software licensing.  We secured our networks and systems.  As a District we invested directly in elementary school technology to move use from game playing in dysfunctional spaces to digital spaces often rich with learning, not just in labs but increasingly embedded in classrooms with diverse devices, Fresh idea crosswordand educators who are very capable in their use of these tools.  We invested directly in wireless access before anyone really understood why – this unleashed the use of technology in our secondary and middle schools.  Doug Sheppard (now Assistant Superintendent, Delta Schools) was principal (a well respected leader) for Heritage Woods Secondary, our “hi-tech” school to first get enterprise wireless and pilot 1-1 laptop computing in 2002/3.  In 2004, Chris Kennedy (now Superintendent, West Van Schools) was principal (great vision) for Riverside Secondary, our next generation “hi-tech” school where with a shared vision of the future, we designed and implemented our next wireless network to enable digital learning and teaching anywhere and on any device.  Chris supported teachers with laptops, tablets, and other tools which increasingly wove the use of technology into the fabric of teacher and learning at Riverside.  This set the standard for the rest of the District which still serves SD43 today.  Wireless became like oxygen for us – you don’t have to think to breath when you enter a building and our vision was/is that you shouldn’t have to think to connect, it should just happen.  I am thankful for our Boards support to create my43, an online environment designed to transform the learning and work of our students and employees.  I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Jill Reid (Coordinator) and the my43 Design Team for the tireless work back in 2005-2007 and since then, Martine Duby (Coordinator) and Wayne Atkinson (Team Leader for our Web Team) for continuing the design, implementation, and support for the 1000’s of users of my43.  This is a key strategic legacy to leave with SD43.  Although the technology isn’t perfect and my43 is in need of a significant upgrade and some new design, the long term vision I had for how digital systems should be created to connect and serve organizations and its people came to life in my43.  This work has begun a movement in BC School Districts, using the same underlying technology, to design new portals, hubs, and dashboard spaces to support education and business.  A final legacy I leave with SD43 is the rejuvenation of the network through investments in private fiber optic networks and network optimization.  Our Board’s investment in this will serve the District well into the future and will release and enable innovative learning and teaching in digital spaces!  I could probably write pages about the past 11 years and how proud I am of the work our people have accomplished but I think I’ll shift to the future now.

I am really looking forward to my move to VSB.  What a gift to be able to join another organization and leverage the many lessons I’ve learned to make a difference along side people I’ve not yet met.  I am so excited about the steep relating and learning curve ahead for me.  A key priority for me will be relationships.  I’ve learned that building solid relationships early will serve a vision of change and innovation more than technology, ideas, or personality.  People are the ones affected imageby change, not systems and practices.  Systems and practices should be designed to serve people, not the other way around.  People need to be part of the journey – change shouldn’t be a surprise.  Obviously (to those that know me) I love the possibilities technology brings to make change, make things better, make them different.  Another key priority for me will be to listen, understand, and be highly informed.  It will be important for me to clearly understand the context, the various perspectives, the current state of technology, systems, practices, the history, culture, needs, hopes, and desires, etc.   This, along with relationships, should prepare me for the work in visualizing possible futures and advocating for strategic improvements, new initiatives, transformed practices, integrated systems, and new efficiencies.  There are clear references to technology playing a key strategic role in the VSB strategic plan and how VSB will move forward.  I am excited to be tasked with the responsibility to turn this into action for the future.

I leave one legacy behind while beginning a new one.  Stay tuned to this blog for stories about the VSB experience.  The journey begins Nov. 5th, 2012!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Technology Influenced Leadership

Does anyone else in a formal leadership position feel a little overwhelmed these days by the torrents of communication / Network connection plug RJ-45information, time wasting meetings, and increased uncertainty for decision making?  I certainly do.  It can be paralyzing if you don’t rise above it.  Technology was supposed to make life easier, wasn’t it?  Unfortunately, our tools which are designed to improve our work flow often have the opposite effect. 

Take email for instance, it can replace a lot of paper-based writing like memos, reports, and letters, and help with giving direction, sharing information, etc.  But, so many people misuse or overuse it.  You have probably crafted elegant emails with say three or four questions and then find that people respond to only one or two, or worse none or completely different questions.  This probably happened (I can’t remember) in the old days of paper memos but the speed of communication then was in days or weeks, not seconds.  Poor email use results in email storms with back and forth clarifying, defending, re-communicating, etc.  Also, why is that we sometimes feel compelled to respond to an email as soon as it arrives?  Worse yet, it’s after hours and one simple email before heading to bed might generate a half dozen back and forth within minutes, when it could easily wait until the morning.

Just to complicate things, we now have texting, tweeting, Facebooking, Blogging, LinkedIning, Youtubing, Preziing, Slidesharing, Diigoing, Google Plusing, Pinteresting, and countless other communicating means where we can provide feedback and interact.  Technology, while it adds new channels and dimensions to our ability to share, communicate, and coordinate, it also makes life rather complicated and exhausting.

I have been working with District staff to reimagine our communications methods in digital ways.  As we moved from paper based methods to digital, we often carried across the old methods and practices into the new tools.  I believe it’s important to redesign the formats, purposes, and practices in the context of new tools: do iStock_000009545884Smallnew things in new ways.  For example, why would we continue to create “heavy” memos in a Word document with the rather large routing information used on multi-part paper memos and email that as an attachment to share information?  Why would we continue to ask people to print, sign, and mail something back without questioning whether there is a better way or if signing is even necessary?  There are better ways and tools for these tasks and leaders need to be aware and willing to help their people make the shift.

Changing channels a bit, what about business meetings?  Aren’t they generally a treat hey!?  Actually a well designed and run meeting is a treat (advice here).  I’ve experience amazing meetings (I know sounds oxymoronic).  I have experienced meetings designed by gifted facilitators.  But, more often it’s the other kind I get to “enjoy”.  Full disclosure, I’ve run poorly designed meetings and too many of them.  I used to pull my team (about 35 people) together every school month for an all staff meeting.  It was hard to create meaningful experiences for us and I think too often it was a waste of all of our time.  I did the math: 35 x $35/h x 2.5 hours + 2 more hours for either end (travel, socializing), call it 5 hours + lunch = $6425 x 10 meeting to get to $64,250 / year!!!  I’m embarrassed to disclose this actually. One of my managers pressed me to reduce to quarterly meetings which has been far more manageable, useful, and Europe 2012 716-001economically appropriate.  We have to find better ways to share information and engage our people, using effective technology and making face time more effective.  I think we can effectively use email, document collaboration, wikis, discussion boards, and surveys to accomplish a lot of what we do in meetings now.  Then our meetings could be “flipped”.  When we do meet face-to-face, we could use cooperative learning group techniques or designs from Bruce Wellman’s Groups at Work to have our people deeply engaged in social learning and work.  I tried this all last year with my quarterly staff meetings with a focus on the future and work design (eg: Considering the Future and Personal Vision to the Future).  I shared out information, readings (blog posts, online articles, presentations, business updates) etc. in advance for them to prepare.  I would say I had mixed results.  My staff weren’t used to working that hard in meetings and I think I actually exhausted them!  Also, I found that some people just couldn’t work well this way.  Some people ate it up, others were disengaged and frustrated.  I think I need to figure out how to design differentiated cooperative work meetings to accommodate different working and learning styles.

Uncertainty: The lack of certainty, A state of having limited knowledge where it is impossible to exactly describe the existing state, a future outcome, or more than one possible outcome (WikiPedia Oct 6, 2012)

Anyone feel uncertainty is on the rampage?  I certainly do.  Decision making used to be easier.  The pace of change, the number of unknowns about the future, the variables that are co-dependent, etc. make our jobs as leaders uncomfortable and very challenging.  We can survey the “market”, read the research, talk to colleagues and still miss big on important decisions.  How do you predict the effect iStock_000019296536XSmallof new tools that aren’t yet invented?  Look at how quickly tablets like the iPad have replaced a lot of what we needed a laptop for.  It was only a few years ago that the laptop took the world stage by storm, now some people are seriously questioning the need.  Sidebar… many leaders have got their iPads and many don’t use them beyond email, they still use their binders, notepads, and other traditional tools.  We need to get better at purposefully acquiring new tools and shifting our work practices accordingly.

In a school setting, decision making about technology choices are very difficult given the (very limited) funding context.  We can not afford to miss trends or head in a direction that is a dead end a few years later.  I do think that reading, surveying, networking, listening, observing are still our best tools currently for trying to reduce the uncertainty.  But we need to add patience to this as we’re often pressured to make snap decisions and the implications of not being careful can be significant.  For example, the pressure to use cloud services such as DropBox, Google Drive/Docs, Edmodo, iCloud, or endless others has increased dramatically in school systems.  These are fabulous tools that do support our learning agenda but, we have to follow good process, adhere to relevant laws, etc.  How does an organization manage and leverage disparate information sources, control their risks, etc. when they lose control of the tools? Often WP_000157those who want these tools don’t understand the requirements or restrictions, or don’t care.  As leaders we need be wise, stand strong, do the right thing, communicate well, be patient but don’t procrastinate, and ensure good process is in place.

As leaders I believe we need to question everything in this rapidly changing world.  We need to Love Learning, embrace the unknown, unlearn old ways, and thoughtfully, purposefully, and bravely walk our way into the future while preparing and carefully bringing our organizations along with us.