Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Transformation Agenda

The more I read about history, the more in awe I become of the numbers and types of transformational changes that have occurred.  I read (audio book) Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Europe 2012 079Rest this past year.  Empires as we know, rise and fall but their stories are impressive.  A rise and a fall are both transformational events.  We humans experience transformational events personally and on larger scales, all the time.  Being born is a pretty transformational event don’t you think.  Something seems to happen to many of us along the way through life to reduce our tolerance of transformation,

“a change or alteration, especially a radical one” (free dictionary, Dec. 14, 2014).

We become comfortable with the status quo and resistant to change.  Ruben Puentedura’s in his discussion of the SAMR model describes stages of change as Enhancement: Substitution to Augmentation and Transformation: Modification to Redefinition.  His context is change driven by technology, the realm I spend most of my time in.  However, I think the model can apply to and guide thinking about change in general.  Jordan Tinney, soon to be Superintendent for Surrey Schools writes about this here in a recent post.

I recently read (audio book) Onward by Howard Schultz CEO for Starbucks Coffee Company (good book review here).  Those that know me personally will not be surprised I read this given my affinity to Starbuck coffee…  But seriously, what a great story of survival and change for an amazing and very large company.  You should read the book.  Howard had to fairly quickly ‘right the ship’ call Starbucks as it was veering of course by the year 2006 and then the global financial meltdown hit.  He developed a very focused approach to reinventing Starbucks, he called the ‘plan’ his Transformational Agenda (I hope he doesn’t mind me titling my blog the same).  He imageshares a story of a global leadership conference held in New Orleans and the 1000s of Starbucks partners investing collectively many 1000s of hours in cleaning up, painting, planting trees, etc. all paid for by Starbucks and partner volunteer hours.  He talks about personal visits to Kenya to meet with small farm coffee growers to learn about their needs and to help them be the best they can be at producing quality coffee.  He and other partners began supplying some cows to families in response to their needs.  The cows are now reproducing and expanding their reach to meet the needs of other village families.  Remarkably, Starbucks is the only company (to my knowledge) that provides dental and medical benefits to all their employees (including part timers).

A key piece to the Starbucks story is how important it is to invest in your people (he calls them ‘partners’), to be relentlessly focused on your customers wants and needs, and to strive for specific experiences and quality.  I think we can learn a lot from Howard as we lead and implement change in our own roles and organizations.  A key part of my role as CIO is to choose and advocate for the ‘right’ technologies to ‘transform our learning and work’.  This is no easy Questions signpost in the skyfeat.  I recall a meeting early in my current role with a key stakeholder where they suggested that a way to do this is to ‘win the hearts and minds of teachers’.  I agree and this will be key to our ‘transformational agenda’.  It is important to be clear about why your organization exists, how you will support transformation, and what you will do to accomplish this.  I’ve previously written some brief thoughts on this here.

Those of you serving as leaders of IT organizations must read The Quantum Age of IT.  This is what Toronto School Board CTO Peter Singh said to me last month – I read the book.  Our IT organizations will either be transformed by us or for us.  IT as we’ve grown to know and love, is changing rapidly.  The author starts out early by saying “IT as we know it is dead” (Kindle Location 221).  “This is not your normal, run-of-the-mill change. This is big. This is game-changing. This is not a flavor of the month.” (Locations 250-251)

Essentially, our business is being disrupted, as we know it, into oblivion faster than most of us would like to admit.  My first post to this blog (4 years ago), Disruption is Coming and a month later, the Future of IT Services – Part 1 and Part 2 talk about this coming disruption.  Full disclosure, although I’m an avid reader and writer about the future and technology, this topic, the radical transformation and disruption of my work is disconcerting.  On the other hand, this is a good thing.  As a change and transformation leader where I’m asking others to get ready for their work, as they know it, to be completely changed, I can honestly say I’m speaking to myself too.  These changes are unavoidable, inevitable, and coming fast.  Many of us in IT, teachers, business leaders, other professions are not paying close enough attention to how the world around us is changing.  We think ‘it won’t happen to us’ or ‘we are safe’.  These are dangerous thoughts.  I think we all need our own personal ‘Transformation Agendas’ and those of us in leadership roles, aught to have clear Transformation Agendas for our organizations as well.  We are negligent if we don’t prepare ourselves, our people, and our organizations.

My Transformation Agenda is to (why) ‘transform learning and work through technology’ by (how) providing a robust sustainable infrastructure, enabling equitable access for all stakeholders, creating and assembling powerful (digital) learning and work spaces, and advocating for and supporting ongoing professional learning.  Within these four ‘strategic pillars’ are various specific initiatives, the what’s that put the agenda into action.

We live in unsettling but exciting times. Often I wonder if I can ‘hang in there’ and be the leader I need to be as the changes in our world speed up.  But, I quickly get over those thoughts and press ahead into the uncertain future.  It is what I do!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Telepresence will change learning, work, and life

The first time I experienced any form of telepresence was probably 10 years ago at a Cisco Systems office.  They produced a hi-tech corporate teleconferencing room that was and is fairly expensive but Large Photounique in how it makes the room participants feel connected to one another.  It worked by connecting like rooms together.  For example I was in a teleroom in Vancouver connected to identically equipped and designed rooms in various US cities and we were able to see each other and our voices were heard in relation to where we sat.  The cameras would auto focus on the speaker.  Participants could present from any of the rooms to all participants.  That was than but the world has changed, dramatically.

Do you remember when Sheldon on the TV show Big Bang Theory confined himself to his room and would only ‘come out’ as a telepresence robot?  Well, I was at a conference this past week in Montreal, an historic city in Quebec eastern Canada and at one of the evening networking events, a colleague from a local Vancouver software company was telling me about a telepresence robot they bought for a couple of thousand dollars.  I didn’t  believe him at first but then he said “let’s install the app (Double) on your phone and I’ll show you”.  So, we downloaded the app, he logged into it, and we were connected from Montreal to the robot in his office in Vancouver.  The robot from Double Robotics is a Segway with a ‘neck’ that can go up or down, and an iPad for a ‘head’. 

He ‘walked’ it around the office introducing me to a couple of his staff who were working late.  The robot’s head showed what’s on my iPhone’s front facing camera, ie my face.  I could see what the robot ‘sees’, displayed on my iPhone’s screen.  We pushed a button to ‘see’ the ‘feet’ of the robot – the iPad ‘head’ uses the rear facing camera off a mirror to ‘see’ down at the foot of the robot.  This way you can remotely see what obstacles there might be in the way.  They use this telepresence robot to support their employees that work from home a few days a week.  They have an understanding that whoever uses the robot last has to put it back where it belongs, near the wall charger.  Kind-of like kids having to put their toys away.

I wonder how a tool like this might support learning.  Perhaps schools will one day have a few of these telepresence robots available for kids to use when they are at home sick, in the hospital, or traveling with their families.  They could be assigned a robot and use it to attend classes, learn with fellow students, participate on the debate club, attend an assembly, and hang-out with their friends.  The remote students could present via their robot’s ‘faces’, sharing what they’ve learned.  They could even present a learning app on their ‘face’ for other students to interact with and contribute to.  Perhaps there will be classroom spaces in schools dedicated to distance learners, each one who is associated to a telepresence robot.  Imagine this classroom for a moment with 25 robots interacting, all controlled by students from a distance.  It’s an interesting possibility.  Perhaps this approach mixed with digital immersive learning environments will begin to support very flexible versions of ‘school’.

Coincidentally in my inbox this morning I found a TED Talk video where a gentleman presented via his surrogate telepresence robot.  This man is confined to a bed as a mute paraplegic due to a stroke-like illness that struck him when he was 40.  You have to watch this to truly understand the game-changing possibilities of this technology in supporting disabled persons.  He also learned to control quad-copters and flies them around his house and yard looking at the garden, checking the roof solar panels, etc.  He even controls coptors in a lab 3000 miles away from his home, where he works with researchers to further this important work.  The world is ‘small’ via the Internet.  Check out the video below.

I’ve written often about the exponential disruptive changes that technology is driving in our world.  The Internet has done more than any other technology to speed up change by connecting human beings to all other human beings where their ideas mix, mate, and mutate.  We were asked by a keynote speaker this week what we felt would enable students to learn at the pace of change.  I was surprised by the lack of comments by those attending, about technology’s role inimage this.  I tweeted about the importance of global connections.  I later referenced Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’  He delves into great detail about how connections, whether intentional or serendipitous, generate the most and therefore the best ideas.  Ideas drive change.  If ideas and their humans never meet and mix, they will not generate the important changes they relate to.  I believe that students must learn to connect digitally and globally to learn at the pace of change.  I believe that we do a disservice to their learning and potential when we downplay, diminish, and underfund their digital connection to others around the world as part of their learning.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Social Media and You

I’ve noticed that some people are abandoning Facebook or Twitter, or at a minimum, removing the apps from their smartphones.  A colleague of mine was finding it difficult to focus in the present when with real people while his smartphone buzzed with new Facebook and Twitter posts commanding his attention.  My eldest son disabled his Social media conceptFacebook account – he found that he was wasting too much time there, not getting to important things.  We were chatting as a family recently about how ‘friends’ build up in Facebook and talked about deleting all those who aren’t really friends (or family) – I did and so did my second son – it reduced the noise level.  Add to the mix Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, LinkedIn, About.Me, Flickr, Diigo, Yelp, Skype, Strava Cycle, Prezi, Instagram, and it does tend to become overwhelming doesn’t it. 

However, I think social media tools are super useful for sharing, learning, and staying in touch, but users of these must learn to self-regulate their use.  They must make good choices about what content they will engage with and contribute.  These tools are not going away any time soon and they can be leveraged for good use.  I like Facebook for keeping informed and in-touch about distant family members and friends.  Many of them I see rarely so this is a great way to stay connected in some way.  Twitter for me is my learning and professional network.  I enjoy posting thoughts and quotes from books or articles I read and from learning events I attend.  Other tools serve specific purposes for me in sharing my learning, knowledge, and ideas.  It’s fun to engage intellectually with others around ideas. 

It must be overwhelming for parents of pre-teens and teens faced with the deluge of the digital realm.  My kids are in their 20’s now so the options and usability of social media was limited when they were young.  They did get caught up in the Facebook craze and didn’t always use it digital footprint appropriate ways.  I remember once, my youngest son unfriended me when we had an argument in the real world.  I worry about parents who avoid using social media tools.  It would be unwise for their kids to be in these tools without their parents knowledge and guidance.  A parent wouldn’t give their 16 year old the keys to their car and let them drive away without teaching them to drive.  Why do parents so often do the equivalent in the social media world?  I believe every parent should be on Facebook, Twitter, and the other tools becoming familiar with their purpose and uses both for good and for bad.  They need to have critical conversations with their kids about these tools, about what can go wrong, why they need a positive digital footprint, what a digital footprint is (mine shown below), that the Internet is written in pen, not pencil, etc. 

Digital Footprint - BK

I recently gave a social media presentation to a group of parents at the church I attend.  I was disappointed with the turnout given the relevance of the topic.  Either all the parents know everything they need to about social media, or they didn’t think it worth their time to learn.  I hope it’s the former and not the latter. 

Our schools are increasingly faced with more tech savvy kids armed with powerful digital mobile devices.  Besides their homes, kids aught to learn practical, safe, appropriate skills and behaviors at school for navigating the social media world successfully and developing positive digital footprints.  Embrace the new, learn its power, apply it for good!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Competence in the Disruptive Age

Once upon a time, people who could learn to read, write, and calculate were deemed competent to participate in the democracy, work in a factory, and live the good life.  Don’t you just long for the simplicity of that era?  Some days, I think I do.  Our fast paced world 2013-11-02T13-59-37_0where “[c]hange is accelerating, to the point where it will soon be nearly continuous” (Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now) is not simple, and old competencies are the very basic minimum requirements to prepare a person to fully participate.  Our world has changed dramatically since the days when learning was simple and slow.

Competence (or competency) is the ability of an individual to do a job properly. A competency is a set of defined behaviors that provide a structured guide enabling the identification, evaluation and development of the behaviors in individual employees.

A key responsibility I have in my role as CIO is to develop and lead an IT group.  Overall, I am impressed with my current group and their abilities but I need to consider how to prepare them for the future and enable them to progress to meet new requirements.  We need highly competent people so that the services we provide to schools and our business are of high quality and provided in a timely manner.  Traditionally (and currently) IT people are judged based on what certifications, diplomas, or degrees they have along with some number of years of “relevant” experience.  I think the pace of change we face now is rendering this method of qualifying people, basic.  Being certified in some specialized technology might tell us what someone is capable of at that point in time with a specific technology.  However, it doesn’t indicate their orientation and attitudes to learning and their ability to “learn, unlearn, relearn” (Alvin Toffler) which is essential when the technology IT people work with is invented, purchased, installed, configured, maintained, and replaced on an ever shorter time span.  Having a degree or diploma tells us that a person should be able to learn, possibly work with others, and that they can think.  This is a good start but no longer enough, in my opinion.

As the technology in schools we call “computers” begins to disappear and solid state self-healing, self-diagnosing, mobile devices take over, the traditional work of installing and maintaining computers will all but disappear.  Installing software has shifted from a complicated problem fraught task to one where you queue up remote push methods and software simply appears on devices (even computers) based on a stated schedule.  Software (app) installation is also now substantially a pull model where the users of the device can select items to download and they do and are available to use almost instantaneously.  It gets a little more complicated for large organizations with volume purchasing, managing application sprawl, etc. but the technicalities are simplifying rapidly.  In a BYOT context, what’s there for an organized IT group to do in providing software and support beyond the ‘back-end’?  I think IT people will need be more empathic, more able to help clients use technology effectively, give advice, design and recommend methods 2013-11-02T13-59-37_6and solutions, etc.  They will need to be more learned in the domain of knowledge their clients have – in our case, teaching and learning practices.  They will do less traditional technical work and more analyze and guide type work.  IT people in the field will need to be authentically interested in how they are able to help people, to make them feel, as they assist them with technology.

Our IT staff who manage the sophisticated ‘back-end’ systems such as server farms, enterprise storage, backup/restore systems, network switches, network optimization, firewalls, wireless networks, web platforms, workflow engines, design, architecture, project management, etc., are finding the pace of change to be very challenging.  Their skillsets and competencies are quite different from those working in the field supporting end devices.  A certification today and some experience might not be a good measurement of competence when filling these roles.  Deep knowledge, relevant experience, and an orientation to detective work, problem solving, creative thinking, solution finding, design, and development, will all be important attributes to have and seek.  Additionally, pressure will continue to mount to move some of this workload into ‘the cloud’.  Our current privacy law makes this difficult in public education but I believe this is temporary.  In the future, we will have to be very strategic with what we run in-house vs leverage in the cloud.

Assuming we have a clear sense of the roles and positions we need to meet the needs of our ‘business’ and a clear understanding of the competencies we need, then we need a transparent way to assess people for these.  We need to be clear about what a person needs to do and know to demonstrate the competencies required for a particular role.  What training should the organization provide and what professional learning should individuals be expected to invest in personally?  I think there’s got to be a balance here.  Essentially we need people to have an orientation toward being agile learners, people who strive to learn quickly, invest in learning continuously, and be able to change focus when needs change.  We need our IT people to understand deeply how to leverage networks, whether these are small work teams, cross functional teams, or the Internet community at large.  Working in isolation as IT people often prefer, won’t cut it in this new disruptive fast paced extreme learning world we now live in.

I think it will be important for IT organizations to develop a strategic staffing plan and career framework.  The University of British Columbia (UBC) IT group has done a great job on creating a career framework program for their organization.  You should check it out.  From their site,

The Career Framework provides Managers, Directors and HR Representatives with a one stop shop to making the recruiting, hiring and career development processes easy and efficient.

We live in unprecedented times and they are ever rapidly changing.  We should never get comfortable with what we know, what we are skilled at, our attitudes, and behaviors.  We should continuously self-evaluate and adapt to the changing world around us.  We risk obsolescence if we accept status quo.  Learn fast, learn always, learn fearlessly.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Empower Students to Choose Technology

Isn’t it amazing how choice has developed in our world, particularly in the developed world?  You walk into a large grocery store and you are faced with what seems like an infinite set of choices.  In some ways, choice has become a bit of burden for our brains.  I mean, how many types of breakfast cereal do we really need?  But seriously, it is a valued aspect of our freedom – to make choices for ourselves.  When our choices are limited or constrained by others in ways that Bring Your Own Devicedon’t make sense to us, we are frustrated and disengaged.  I believe this is the experience for most students in most schools most of the time when talking about using technology.  Technology use is usually limited to what teachers prescribe.  If and when students bring personal technology to school and class, they are usually asked to power it off and put it away.  This seems rather bizarre given the limitless power digital tools exhibit.  Shouldn’t we leverage all the tools at students and our disposal for consuming, creating, and learning?  I wrote Why BYOT previously to emphasize the importance of this for learning. At the Vancouver School Board we have embarked on a mission to explore how we might…

“Empower students to choose technology to facilitate their learning in class and other spaces”

A bring your own technology (BYOT) approach to improving access to technology is viewed as a key enabler for the District vision to transform learning and work through technology where students are empowered to choose technology to facilitate their learning in class and other spaces.  The BYOT approach supports sections G1-1.2, G1-4, G1-5.1, G1-6.4, G3-3 of our District Strategic Plan.  To research and experiment with BYOT, we have formed a Focus Group (research/pilot initiative) with four schools as a representation of some of the diverse environments we will encounter in schools as we move towards implementing BYOT more broadly in the future.  We shared District guiding principals for BYOT where we believe:

  • A BYOT (student choice) approach will improve learning and engagement
  • Students are more likely to use technology any time and any where if they own it
  • Students are not required to bring and use technology, rather it is a choice
  • That equity is an essential ingredient and part of the solution might be to require students to share their technology with classmates who have none
  • Age and subject matter will require a differentiated approach
  • A heightened emphasis of social responsibility, digital citizenship, and codes of conduct will be necessary
  • That teachers should encourage students to bring personal technology and use it for learning
  • That teachers do not need to be experts on the technology but will need to adapt lessons to leverage technology that is more prevalent in their classrooms
  • Students should choose the type of tools (apps, etc.) they wish to use to complete learning tasks

I like to share this scenario for how a learning experience might look differently when BYOT is a given.  The teacher assigns her grade six class a novel study.  The students are required to read the book, write a summary of the key points that resonated with them, and then in groups of three, present their integrated thoughts to the class.  Notice, other than a ‘book’, a reference to ‘writing’, no technology is specified or required.  However, in a BYOT enabled class, the students might choose a paperback from the school library, an eBook from Google Books or the public library, or perhaps they own the book already on their Kindle or Kobo reader.  Students might make notes using a paper journal, Evernote or OneNote, or directly in their e-reader.  They might hand-write their summary, write it up iStock_000015033392XSmallin Evernote, OneNote, Google Doc, or the Word App in their Office 365 account.  Perhaps they took pictures of real world artifacts and / or recorded a video of themselves describing the book with their smart phone or tablet to support their summary, storing these directly in their e-notes to create a multimedia summary.  When it came time for creating presentations, the teacher suggests various ways students could consider for this including Web PowerPoint (Office 365), an oral report, a drama, KeyNote, Google Docs, Prezi, etc.  This teacher does not know much about KeyNote, Google Docs, or Prezi, so asks three students per tool to research and present / demo to the class how these tools work so that other students could choose the one they prefer.  Essentially, students are in charge of how they accomplish the learning and the teacher is in charge of why and what must be learned – technology agnostically.  Cooperative learning is built in (groups) as is students being researchers and teachers (of the tools).

At our first focus group meeting, an activity we led with is called “Looking Back / Looking Ahead” (ref: Groups At Work).  We asked the group to individually list their thoughts for three dimensions: Technological, Sociological, and Schools for three contexts:

  • Things that have changed since you were 12 years old
  • Things that have stayed the same since you were 12 years old
  • Things that will be common 12 years from now

I use this periodically with new groups and it’s always interesting and informative to hear what they come up with – it helps group leaders quickly understand the individual perspectives on what’s changed and changing in our world.  After they spend 5-10 minutes working on it, I ask them to share out one item from each context.  You might want to try this out with groups you work with.

We have asked the school’s principals/VPs to each invite two teachers, two students, and their parents to join us in this ‘research’ project.  Together we will develop and experiment with guidelines that will assist schools, teachers, students, and families in successfully enabling student choice to use personal technology for learning.  These guidelines will significantly inform a District-wide implementation plan next year.  Equity of access will be a prominent feature of this initiative.

One of the support structures we will be defining and promoting is a “genius club” idea.  I’ve had some push back on the term “genius” as it has an elitist feel to it so we might call these groups ‘Digital Guides’ or something like that.  Schools would form teams of students who serve as Digital Guides for teachers and students in using technology.  The Digital Guides would help with choosing tools, learning how to use them, how to hook up a projector, mirror an iPad to Apple TV, how to exchange information digitally, etc.  In some schools the Digital Guides might be in a particular course where they iStock_000019296536XSmallreceive credit for this work.  Essentially, this structure will support leadership opportunities for technologically savvy students.

It will be an exciting year for us and even more so in the subsequent year when we expect to provide guidance to all our schools in embracing a BYOT approach.  I know we are not the first (see Alberta Education) to tackle this and we hope to continue to learn from others as they roll-out their BYOT strategies.  Feel free to comment here and share questions and advice.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bogglers Block

When I wrote my first post to this blog Dec. 29, 2009, Disruption is Coming, I committed to a post every week within the themes of the future, technology, and education.  I held to that until May 6, 2012.  My wife and I went on our first European vacation in that month and if not now, when - questionboth disconnected from blogging and Twitter.  Again in August, I only wrote one post and on Christmas break, skipped a week.  This past summer I skipped six weeks of blogging – it was awesome.  It would seem that blogging has become a bit of a chore for me and I’m having some difficulty with the commitment to write regularly.  I guess after 171 posts, I’m struggling to find inspiring new things I want to write about.  Perhaps I have ‘bloggers block’.  This post is a think-out-loud on some concerns I have on my mind about the three themes for this blog.

The more I read about the future the more concerned I become.  Technology is “miraculous” for sure, but there are disturbing trends that I think we are overlooking.  Trends towards a jobless / workerless future that is hyper automated.  The financial system of the world is bankrupt with countries creating digital money out of thin air – everyone knows this yet they/we ignore it hoping it will solve itself.  The authors of Aftershock apparently predicted the crash of 2008 and talk about it getting worse in this decade.  There is the disturbing trend to eliminate the middle class, concentrate more of the world’s wealth with the few, and increase the ranks of iStock_000018154109XSmallthe poor.  I am an optimist for the most part but technological disruption of work and the financial systems are both worrisome trends.

There are truly miraculous breakthroughs in technology aren’t there.  Google’s driverless vehicles are amazing – who would’ve thought that to be possible?  Have you ever wondered about the complexity of our society and the remarkable talent human beings have in design, construction, and invention?  Next time you are in a commercial jet flying somewhere, pause and think about what is actually happening: you are flying through the air really fast in a very heavy chunk of metal and other materials.  A computer is flying the machine – it can take off, fly, and land it.  The pilot is really a ‘baby sitter’.  I just saw on the news that there are now pilotless fighter jets and of course we all know about the 1000s of remote flight and autonomous drones.  Or, ponder the smart phone in your hand and the marvel that is.  Is it a phone, map/GPS, news team, communicator, music player, tomb of knowledge, writing instrument, photo album, calculator, teacher, camera, flashlight, Starbucks Card, Bible, planner, or what?  It’s every thing housed in a solid state ‘brick’ with a screen.  How is this possible?  We live in truly amazing times.  But, our machines are really starting to gain momentum in replacing humans in all sorts of occupations.  Is this something we really want?  Are the inventors of these capabilities intentionally heading us there or is it science and invention run amuck converging us on a future destination without regard to the consequences?  I wonder…

Education, the rewiring of the human mind.  Education over the past few hundred years has proven to be an accelerator for change.  The technological disruptions I refer to are a result of an amplified, accelerated loop of learning, combined with machine learning and work, like never seen before.  It’s interesting how some people refer to our education system as broken.  I disagree!  It may need better I spy with my little eye...embrace modern tools and ways but our system continues to graduation very capable individuals who go on to fill a variety of roles in society, many inventing and creating the next wave of change.  I think our education systems could use a heavy dose of ethics teaching.  It is our future designers, scientists, and inventors who will continue to propel us to an uncertain future if they lack an ethical orientation towards their work and the future.  As we increasingly infuse technology into learning and teaching, we ought to ensure kids and teachers are deeply committed to ethical thinking, citizenship, and social responsibility.  The alternative would not bode well for the future.

That’s all for now.  I wonder what I will write about next time and when that might be?  Stay tuned…

Saturday, September 7, 2013


It’s a short but profound little question, “why?”.  Why influences a persons motivation to choose one path or thing over another.  In the book “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek that I’m currently imagelistening to on my commute between Vancouver and Maple Ridge, the author introduces the golden circle (watch the TEDx video).  So many companies and individuals are focused on what they do and how they do it but miss the mark of why they are doing it.  In his book, Simon uses an example of when MP3 players came out.  Manufacturers would talk about what these did or had such as how many gigabytes, how long the battery would last, etc.  When Apple produced the iPod, they focused on why you would want one.  They described a lifestyle, talked about why you would want 1000 songs in your pocket, etc.  Once you were hooked, you would ask about what such as how much memory.  Apple wanted to change your life as you experienced music, not just sell you a better MP3 player.  Clearly they answered the why.  Bill Gates, believing that having a computer with access to diverse software will change lives, wanted to put a PC in every home – he believed that Microsoft’s software would make that happen.  It did (for the most part)…

Essentially, the why is a compelling and inspiring vision for the future, how defines the mission, and what embodies the strategic plan to get you there.  It’s interesting how difficult it is for many of us to answer the why question.  We often start articulating what we, our company, our product, our project does or will do, thinking we are describing why it exists.

When I decided to join the Vancouver School Board (VSB) in my new role as their CIO, I had to wrestle with why.  I had to ponder why I would want to double my iStock_000017763418Smallcommute, face the complex and steep learning curve of a diverse large urban school district.  It all came down to this for me: I want to transform learning and work through technology to create a better future for all.  This is why I do what I do and why I invest my time in people and processes at the VSB.  I want to make a difference for the better.  How I will do this and what I will do, well, that’s a complex undertaking that will take years to unfold – I’ll write about this as the journey unfolds.  But my “why” will serve to keep me aligned and focused.

One example how to accomplish my why is to increase the access for students to powerful digital learning tools.  With better access, the use of technology to transform learning is possible.  Just like when kids gained access to their own pencil, notebooks, and textbooks a profound transformation from scarcity to abundance occurred, their technological access will cause a major shift in learning.  One of the “whats” I am pursuing is a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiative.  In this rapidly BYOD concept in tag cloudchanging world of ours, kids are increasingly bringing powerful devices but in VSB schools, most often they are asked to put them away.  This is a tragedy given what smartphones, tablets, and laptops are capable of doing for kids and their learning.  We all know how it has transformed our personal lives.  Access to unlimited information and knowledge, tools that border on artificial intelligence, tools that enable access to diverse audiences, tools that enable collaboration and sharing, tools that enable creativity in many domains of music, video, art, writing, presenting, mathematics, physics, chemical modeling, robotics, geography, to name a few.  The traditional world of knowledge transmission, limited projects, memorization, and testing is ripe for transformation, if only kids had access to the tools and teachers were ready, able, and willing to transform pedagogy to fit new ways.

A second “what” to support my why and the above how, is increasing bandwidth.  Currently, this is a huge barrier to realizing the why of transformation and the how of access.  A third “what” is providing wireless networking in all learning spaces.  You start to see the alignment come together.  I find this model to be very helpful to keep me grounded and focused.  There are so many things we could do and with limited funds, we must be crystal clear about our what, how, and why or we will work on the wrong things and supporting a why we never set out to pursue.

I think being grounded in why-how-what for individual initiatives is also a powerful approach to implementation.  Those of you familiar with Rogers Diffusion of Innovation work will recall the “buckets” populations fall into: innovators, early adoptors, early majority, late majority, and laggards.  To successfully implement a significant change, such as a BYOD initiative, your why will need to be tailored to the thinking of each of these groups.  If you talk about what you are doing and all the details involved without first hooking them on why you are doing it, you will fail to reach a critical mass with each population.  It’s a challenge to stop and think this through, it takes patience to figure out how best to reach different types of people.  I wish I realized and understood this when I was early into my career.  Then, I could not understand why people didn’t just “get it” the way I did.  Now I know…  I don’t claim to be an expert at this but I’m learning and adapting all the time.

I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your own professional why, develop clear hows, and anchor your whats back to your why.  I also encourage you think about why – how – what for each of your major change initiatives.  Also, keep the innovation population research in mind as you figure out your implementation plans.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Don't Panic

Shelley and watched a great movie a few weeks ago on Netflix called Chasing Mavericks, which is based on a true story.  This one will tug at your heart strings a bit.  One of the characters Frosty Hesson, agreed to train young Jay Moriarity how to prepare to surf a maverick wave (think massive 30-40 footers) in California.  Frosty talked to Jay about fear being a good and natural thing but that panic is not.  In other words, it’s what you do when you face fear that matters, not the fear itself.  He also asked Jay “what do you fear?” and asked him to write about and face it.  Jay had to face many fears without panic, to be fully prepared mentally and emotionally to accomplish the monumental task of riding a maverick and living to tell about.

Since we’re on the movie theme, I have to mention that we watched Money Ball, also based on a true story, last night on Netflix.  Our Superintendent showed a clip from this inspiring movie last week during the annual startup meeting with principals.  Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, is a professional major league ball player turned general manager of the Oakland Athletics.  His team is underfunded relative to the big names (Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, etc.) and struggles to keep great players on the payroll.  He decides to employ an unorthodox method of identifying talent that relies purely on statistics and data analysis and not on the long standing tradition of scouts, intuition, and gut feel.  As he assembled a “team of misfits” that lost most games of the season, he was criticized and resisted widely. His job was on the line, but he did not panic.  He persisiStock_000016399116XSmallted and then his team started winning.  They won 20 games in a row, something not accomplished in over 100 years by any team!

What do you fear?  You know, that is a scary question in itself.  Speaking for myself, I’m not entirely comfortable responding to the question.  But, I think it is important and healthy to do so.  I suspect many people live “in fear”, afraid to try, to step outside their comfort zone, and when their fears face them, they panic.  I know I have and still do at times. 

Those of us in formal leadership positions, if we are honest with ourselves, likely harbor the fear of failure, the fear of being wrong, the fear of tunnel vision, the fear of criticism, to name a few.  How we handle these fears is what separates an okay leader from a great one.  Knee jerk reactions, overreactions, questioning ones decisions, are signs of panic.  We need to resist being pulled down by fear and use it to make us stronger, to leverage it.  It’s kind-of like going to the gym, doing a major hike, or some other form of exercise, it’s painful while you’re doing it but after some time, you become stronger and more able to face more of the same.  Muscles have to tear to be able to grow stronger.  I think this is analogous to dealing with fear effectively.

As I contemplate my first school startup in my role as Chief Information Officer for the Vancouver School Board (VSB), I surprisingly feel calm and confident.  Even though over the summer my team has implemented a lot of new technology in schools and a lot of back-end systems upgrades, I feel confident in the outcome.  Even though we are implementing a new service model for our service desk and field service technicians, I eagerly anticipate good results.  I’m not na├»ve to think there won’t be problems, but I am pleased with the team I’ve inherited and their ability to make iStock_000019575299Largethings happen and to pull together to work through problems.  I do have fears to face still though…  there are high expectations for significant initiatives and changes to come.  When I think about them all at once, I’m overwhelmed, some anxiety sneaks in, and the fear starts to evoke feelings of panic.  But, I back away from that precipice and take things one day at a time with a view and vision for an exciting future.  I am excited about what’s to come for the VSB: Cloud email and storage for students, Bring your own Device, the creation of new online and mobile Learning & Work Spaces, increased process standardization, improved communication, increased automation, to name a few along with all the professional learning necessary for success. 

For all you that work in school systems, here’s to a successful, rewarding, exciting, and scary 2013-14 school year.  Ask yourself, “what do I fear” and embrace your fears.  Don’t panic rather, find ways to thrive on your fear and turn that into something great!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Maps R Us

Back in 2001 when I moved from Nanaimo to work for the Coquitlam School District, I recall having to buy a “good” map book to find my Paper Map of North Vancouverway around the District and the lower mainland.  I would use online maps increasingly to figure out routes but would write the turns down or print them.  It wasn’t elegant but I managed to get by.  My recent change to join the Vancouver School Board takes me to many schools and other places in the city that I’ve never been to.  Thankfully, my iPhone with Google Maps exists!  I plug in an address and pick the best route, press Start, and off we go.  The iStock_000017883547XSmallGPS “person” is very patient with me even when I pick route elements I think are “better”, ‘she’ recalculates the route and gets me on track.  I also love how I can speak to my phone, ask SIRI to plot a route to a place, eg a business or restaurant location, and it does it.  What a difference a decade of change makes for maps.

My son and I were talking the other night about how online maps significantly improve a part of his business.  He runs a property services business called Clean R Look and needs to quote jobs all over the lower mainland.  Rather than drive out to businesses, stratas, and homes, he uses Google Earth.  He plugs in the address and ‘looks around’ the property.  He uses the ruler function to imagemeasure the roof, walls, gutters, etc. and plus the dimensions into his calculating formula to come up with a pretty accurate estimate.  He said that sometimes prospective customers will email or phone him for a quote, they are shocked that he can get them an estimate in about 10 minutes.  He’ll pop onto Google Earth with his phone or computer, ‘visit’ the property, calculate the cost, and phone or email them back 10 minutes later.  Who knew that a free tool like Google Earth could support a business function like this.  Google’s engineers likely didn’t sit around and talk about this particular use case…

One of our District Principals was in my office last week and we were going through the locations of all of our alternate schools and programs.  I needed to know exactly where they are to be able to plug them into the correct IT service area for a new organization model we’re implementing.  We would pick a school, he would think about where in the city it was, I plug the street name into Google Maps and we ‘go there’ to find it’s exact location.  I am impressed with how quickly and accurately Google Maps predicts places as you type.  Also, it has become very good at taking the name of a place, a school for instance, and finding it instantly.  My colleague isn’t super tech savvy so I’m like to sell him on the power of tech to transform what we do – I emphasized maps during this meeting.  He shared that when he and others get together to figure out locations for planning, they crack open the paper maps and place them on a large table.  In good fun I in no uncertain terms told him ‘you have to stop doing that and use technology – it makes your life so much easier’.  But seriously, paper maps, globes, atlases, etc. are so ‘last year’ and we all really need to understand the transformative power of digital maps.

Google Earth is a powerful learning tool - here’s a hypothetical example involving Renfrew Elementary School in Vancouver.  Get each class K-7 to do some run route design for PE class and distance estimating.  Start simple with the school field.  Have the kids manually go out and try to measure / estimate a loop around the field and then represent that in centimeters, meters, kilometers, inches, feet, and miles teaching them about conversion formulas.  Then have them do the same work using Google Earth and then write about the experience, which they preferred, especially if they had to imagedo it several times a day, every day.  Next have them design and plan a 1km, a 2km, and a 5km run route through the neighborhood.  Give them paper maps and rulers to work with.  Now ask them to do this using Google Earth and again have them reflect on their experiences and which routes they prefer and why, how they could be improved, etc.  You could also discuss safety considerations in this context.  Perhaps use class average comparisons – compare the primary class results against the intermediate when doing this manually, then again with technology.  You could do this individually, in small groups, include group presentations to other classes, etc.

Other Google Earth activities could include:

  • kids using their mobile devices to take pictures in the neighborhood, saving them up to Flickr or the school website, and adding the photos to the Google Map as a layer
  • kids identifying interesting spots in the neighborhood and adding place markers to identify them
  • having kids them research the neighborhood using school archives and the Internet and adding links to interesting historical content they find, pinned to specific locations
  • having the kids record tours of the school grounds, the neighborhood, and adding them to the area
  • getting two schools in different parts of the School District to partner up on these activities and present them to each other using Skype or some other video conferencing tool

I think Google Maps and Earth should include the ability to connect Augmented Reality (AR) auras as a layer.  Perhaps the various AR apps could collaborate on a standard for this so auras created in any would work in all.  A user could be viewing a Google Map on their phone and turn on the aura layer so that as they navigate, auras File:Wikitude.jpgwould activate in real time.  Or perhaps they could have the map in a translucent mode so they can look around through their device camera and auras would be triggered from the various AR providers.  I think the lines between real and augmented are going to become blurrier in the coming years.  Think about where Google Glasses and similar tools might take us (ignoring the dark / evil side of this for now).  The future really is an interesting place to go…

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Tale of an ISTE Learner

Along with about 20,000 others last week, I was learning at the pace of tweets.  ISTE puts on a pretty amazing conference each year where educators involved with educational technology gather en mass.  This year ISTE hailed from San Antonio, Texas home of the famous Alamo where the Texan’s and Mexicans had their standoff in 1836.  The temperature was a balmy 38 degrees Celsius with a “feels like” of 46.  Prior to heading down, I noticed via Twitter that a colleague I only knew through tweets and blogs was there so we arranged to meet Saturday evening for dinner.  After enjoying some Photo 2013-06-22 5 42 48 PMamazing Texan ribs, we wandered over to the Alamo – it was closed so could only see the outside. This was pretty exciting for me as I had read about the Alamo battle in a historical fiction novel recently.  It was cool to experience a piece of history in person I only knew through a book.  San Antonio has a river, well “creek” might better describe it, that meanders through the down town with restaurants spilling over into a pathway called the River Walk.  We wandered, Photo 2013-06-22 6 20 49 PMalong the river walk with 1000’s of others on a path snaking in and around the city.  The river boats were a continuous feature loaded up with tourists.  Interestingly, some were dinner “cruises”.

On Sunday I spent 6 hours in a workshop on Augmented Reality (AR).  Simply, AR is a recorded layer that appears on a mobile device when a trigger occurs.  A trigger can be a recognized image or a GPS location.  We learned to create simple auras using a tool, Aurasma.  Auras are what the recorded augmented layers are called.  See MentalEdge for some simple guidelines to get you started.  Try this: (1) install the Aurasma app on your mobile device and (2) open this page on your computer or tablet of the US $20 bill, (3) open Aurasma on your smartphone and aim it at the image of the $20 bill.  You should see the aura come to life in front of your eyes.

On the lunch break, I was chatting with a woman who was with one of the sponsors.  She gave me a business card and asked about what I was learning today so I showed her.  I asked her if I could video her for 10 seconds talking about her business / products.  After recording her, I used Aurasma to create an aura for her business card.  Once created, anyone can use Aurasma to aim at her business card and the video clip will play in the bottom right-hand corner of her card.  In other words, it looks like the card comes to life with her telling the story.

There are so many great uses for AR, some that come to mind for me include:

  • kids create a class or school newspaper that includes pictures (triggers); they record short video clips of themselves explaining the pictures or even create short animated videos – think Harry Potter where the pictures come to life right on the newspaper – readers then aim their Aurasma app at the pictures to get the live story
  • kids go on a field trip to a museum; each person is responsible to find and take pictures of an artifact or painting; back at school, they research their item and then record themselves telling the essential story and create an aura for that; the pictures go on a website and kids from the school or around the world can aim Aurasma at the pictures and see/listen to the essential learning story for each come to life
  • the School Board or a School could record short auras for various images of their building or pictures on their website and create auras for them; they would then promote the use of Aurasma via social media, web sites, and traditional media as a way to engage with their buildings and information sites
  • the yearbook team for a school could record 10 second life messages from each student, turn them into auras triggered by the students’ picture in the yearbook – students then engage with the yearbook using Aurasma to hear and see messages directly from all their classmates

One last example, check out the painting of Scottish poet Robert Burns (find the image and click it, point Aurasma at the image) morphing into a video advertisement of a person reciting a poem.

On the vendor floor, a massive experience by the way, I saw this little guy.  It’s a programmable robot (students could write the programs) with significant degrees of freedom of motion.  It can sit, stand up, listen for instruction, talk and clarify, play music and dance to it as with this video of him with a Michael Jackson tune.  Robots are getting “friendlier” and more easily programmed.  Where might this type of technology be in 5 years?

Dancing Robot

I learned a lot but am only sharing some snippets with you here.  I would be remiss if I didn’t share the closing keynote with you.  You can watch it hear.  Be sure to fast forward the video to the 22 minute 30 second mark to skip the lead up material and get right to the keynote.

ISTE 2013 Adam Bellow closing keynote

If you’re interested in flipping through my notes, I tweeted them live and have put them here for future reference.  I highly recommend that if you are an educator or a person involved with vision, strategy, implementation, and support of technology in schools, ISTE is a must attend!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Wireless Education and Fear

I continue to marvel at how much our world has changed since I was in school over 30 years ago.  I remember Physics 12 classes where the teacher would dim (turn off) the lights, fire up the reel to reel projector, and we’d sit back, relax, and enjoy a scintillating monotonic black and white moving picture film of some guy describing velocity, acceleration, and friction by moving an object down an inclined plain.  Okay, I often fell asleep… it was just too flickr-com-photos-flossmoorhistory-3642378152overwhelmingly exciting…  There was one computer in the school, actually the entire District, and it was in my Math class.  It wasn’t wireless.  Education was completely paper based, chalk board, and lecture oriented.  I learned, I became successful, I continue to learn.  I suspect that many of you reading this are also products of the old non-technology education world and are also successful in your chosen field.  Seems the old system worked pretty good.  So why is it those of us engaged in educational technology pursuits advocate for technology, wireless networks, and ever increasing Internet bandwidth?  More over, why is the relatively recent push for wireless networks over wired, so important to learning, teaching, and the future?

My first foray into serious enterprise level wireless was when I had the privilege of designing the technological environment of Coquitlam School Board’s newest secondary school, Heritage Woods in 2002-3.  There were no other examples of this so we had to, with appropriate other experts, design it from scratch.  It changed learning and teaching.  Teachers used pen-based tablet computers, students had access to laptops, things went mobile.  The research and writing process was significantly impacted.  Teachers could move about the room with their wireless tablets, helping iStock_000012865598Smallstudents at their desks.  It really hit home for me in 2005 when we implemented wireless 2.0 at Riverside Secondary.  The freeing experience that teachers and students talked about by not being tethered to a space or place, enabled learning and teaching to take place anywhere and anytime.  It was transformative.  No longer was it about going to the computer lab or pod to do some specific planned in advance task.  Rather, learning and teachable moments would happen serendipitously.  Those experiences led to a District wide initiative for Coquitlam to put wireless in all schools.

“Wireless everywhere just like oxygen, being connected is not optional, it’s just like breathing…”

Fast forward to 2013 and many in industry are declaring the desktop to be dead.  Increasingly laptops in their various forms, are coming without wired network ports – wireless only.  Tablets, smart phones, and other devices are wireless only.  Using technology untethered will in the near future be the only option in our schools as it won’t be possible to purchase devices that plug in to the network.  Vancouver School Board, where we are rolling wireless out to all schools, is doing so with an educational purpose to ensure our students and staff are able to ride the shift from desktop and wired to mobile and wireless learning technologies.  Mobile technology enables students and staff, in an untethered manner, to seamlessly access information from online sources, to create and share learning in imagedigital spaces and ways, and to connect and learn with others from outside the school.  Through wireless, learning happens in small groups, individually, and anywhere in the school – it isn’t fixed in place.  Technology is shifting from a field trip and a “task”, to an immersive embedded learning tool available anytime and anywhere.  Technology will be infused into the learning and teaching process.  Technology is used far more effectively when it’s easy and accessible, like a pencil.  Wireless is a key ingredient for this.  We believe there is an imperative to adapt our school environments to be relevant in a rapidly changing world.  We have an obligation to prepare our students for their future, not our past!  Wireless networking enables the next generation educational ecosystem to flourish.

I have recently been fielding concerns about wireless networking and the belief that some people have a sensitivity to radio frequency waves and that wireless networks may have possible links to future cancers, or other health issues.  Wireless networking in schools is causing fear for some.  These fears have led some concerned parents to advocate for wireless free schools at the BC iStock_000012625357XSmallprovincial level. Often people who hold these beliefs undertake research on the “science” and how other countries or jurisdictions are responding.  Not being a physicist, a medical doctor, or radio frequency expert, I am not qualified to engage in the “science” of wireless.  I suspect there would be very few that could authentically engage in this science.  Health Canada (see FAQ on wireless – June 22, 2013) is our regulator in this area and we fully rely on their expertise and direction.

Should parents be concerned about Wi-Fi in schools?

No.  RF energy levels from Wi-Fi equipment in all areas accessible to the general public, including school settings, are required to meet Health Canada's exposure guidelines. The limits specified in the guidelines are based on an ongoing review of thousands of published scientific studies on the health impacts of RF energy. Levels of RF energy emitted from Wi-Fi equipment are typically well below these exposure limits. As long as exposure is below these established limits, there is no convincing scientific evidence that emissions from this equipment are dangerous to schoolchildren or to Canadians in general. – Health Canada

Should parents take any precautions to limit their children's exposure to Wi-Fi?

Health Canada's position is that no precautionary measures are needed. Wi-Fi exposure levels are typically well below Canadian and international exposure limits, and there is no convincing evidence that they are a health hazard.  Based upon extensive peer-reviewed scientific evidence, Health Canada has determined that exposure to low-level RF energy, such as that from Wi-Fi equipment, is not dangerous to children. – Health Canada

As long as Health Canada’s position on wireless networking is as stated, we in Canada should take comfort that we are safe.  I can’t imagine how our society, economy, and technologically immersed learning environments would disentangle itself from dependence on wireless networking.  It would be devastating to say the least.  Most governments and educational organizations are clear about the benefits of using technology for learning and teaching.  It’s become the new way.  Wireless is rapidly replacing wired as the method of connecting.  Schools need to adapt to remain relevant into the future and wireless networking is key to this adaptation.