Sunday, February 24, 2013

Life Balance with Technology

I was asked to speak to a group of managers and supervisors recently about how technology can help them manage their seemingly ever increasing work load.  That’s an interesting question really given how technology seems to often be the catalyst for increased work load.  I shared iStock_000020019232XSmallsome thoughts about how technological advancement is accelerating and creating whole new ways to manage our work and lives and then some tips on how the tools they use at work can help them (Outlook e-mail, calendaring, and OneNote).  As professionals who use technology every day in our jobs, we need to own the responsibility for learning about our technology and helping each other (and our staffs) use it effectively to manage our work.

It is remarkable what we can now do with our phones… e-mail, text, tweet, Facebook, calendar,task reminders, search (for anything), maps / directions, record / share audio – photos – videos, read blogs – wikis – books, listen to music – books, watch movies - TV - videos - courses, banking, pay bills, track weather, stocks, and flights,… to name a few.  These can distract us or help us – it’s up to us to decide.  I remember not long ago having to carry a phone, laptop, digital camera, and video camera depending on the work I needed to do – now I often just have my phone!  I think our mobile devices are finally being innovated into tools that can help manage our work and personal lives in powerful ways.  I’ve been experimenting with Siri on my iPhone and although it’s pretty good, it needs some work.  But, I can see in a few years how it and it’s relatives will be personal concierges and save us significant time.

Self-regulation in an always on world has never been more important than it is now.  I was speaking to some teachers at one of our secondary schools last week about my thoughts on where we are heading with technology.  I talked about three immediate strategies: infrastructure, equity, and learning & work systems.  As part of our infrastructure strategy we are (finally) rolling out wireless network access to schools.  This particular school had some basic self-provided wireless in select areas but as of January now has wireless access designed to be like “oxygen”, everywhere, always on, and available.  The teachers expressed frustration with this type of access for students.

“This is evident by increased texting and facebooking by students during class having enabled wi-fi only devices (iPod touch) to join in the fun.  Even walking down the halls has become more of a hazard due to everybody having their eyes glued to their device.”, a teacher’s observation.

Students now connect anywhere on any device – exactly what we intended but this school was not prepared for the distraction factor.  Students are walking the halls using their devices, they are on them in their classes, etc.  This brought to light for me a key step we’ve missed as a District in preparing schools for this radical change.  It would seem that we assumed teachers and principals were ready for this change when in fact we need to provide better guidance in how to arrive at a balanced use of the technology.  We that promote technologies virtues need to always remember not everyone is able to adopt, adapt, and benefit without specific guidance.  We need to implement well!  Next year we intend to pilot a BYOT initiative in some of our schools.

As to self-regulation, this is as important for adults to get as it is for kids.  We must be masters of our technology and our time.  People are becoming increasingly harried and frazzled in our always on ever faster world.  Personally I try to balance my use of technology but I’m not always successful.  There’s a relentless tug from our devices – they want to be checked for new e-mail, Tweets, Facebook posts, pins, blog posts, LinkedIn updates, texts, and voice mails.  A simple practice would be to dial down the notices and sounds of your iStock_000016745808XSmalldevices.  Do you really need them to notify you for every type of new item?  Definitely turn off sound alerts for most everything – the alternative will drive you and others crazy.

I think we could do well in this technology powered era to shift to being more respectful of each other.  For instance if you are present with a few people in a meeting or engaged in a private conversation, I think it is rude and disrespectful to answer your phone (unless you can tell from the caller id it is urgent / critical).  Let the call go – it is not as important as the people in front of you.  Oh and do you really need to be talking loud and long with your phone / blue tooth ear piece in Costco or the mall – seriously?  In meetings with a group of people it is trickier now to manage our engagement…  I’m as guilty as the next person in checking / responding to my e-mail, Twitter feed, or text messages.  I don’t think this context has a black and white answer but it is important to remember to be respectful of others and to be mentally present when necessary.

Families are increasing bombarded by technology’s intrusion.  I’ve heard of parents declaring dinner time to be technology free – everyone puts their devices away.  I think it is important to set boundaries in our personal interactions where and when it’s appropriate for technology to be present with us.  This is sometimes Sumas Mtn - Squid Line - Feb 23 2013a struggle for me – my iPad and/or iPhone are often within reach and calling to be checked…  Whenever I leave the house to go for a walk, to go on an errand, etc., my phone comes with me.  I check it while waiting in a grocery line or lining up for gas at a station.  It’s with me when out mountain biking in case of “an emergency” but also to take pictures.  But, I don’t talk on my phone, check my e-mail or update my Facebook while I’m riding…  why do people still do this while driving their cars?

We do need to master our use of technology or as I wrote here, we may become slaves of our machines.  Even though we increasingly use it, it does allow us to accomplish more with our time.  It facilitates connections for us through easily sharing pictures, videos, and messages posted by us and by family and friends who we may not necessarily see very often.  It allows us to check on the validity of news stories, medical conditions, concepts, ideas.  It facilitates our learning about anything, researching and booking travel, presenting ideas, and orchestrating our work and the work of others.  Imagine the old days of trying to accomplish all of those tasks – it wasn’t easy.  Used effectively and in balance, technology is a good thing.  Used inappropriately and in an all-consuming manner, it is likely unhealthy.  It is really up to us to decide which type of user we will be.  My suggestion, learn to self-regulate!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Future of E-Learning

E-Learning is in a state of flux.  The early days saw distance learning programs move online and essentially the same boring ‘learn at a distance’ method occur, but in a more paperless manner.  I have never really been a fan of e-learning in its course delivery model.  Sure, it’s an efficient way to deliver content and to many students at once but is it really an effective experience for the learners?  Online tools don’t replicate social learning experiences well, yet.  Sure, with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Hangouts, Skype, or Blackboard Collaborate (formally Elluminate Live) students can connect in asynchronous and synchronous ways.  But, it is still not the same as face 2 face.  I believe e-learning needs to be a fully blended experience so as to leverage the best of what it means to be human – being together.

I was asked to represent the K12 sector on a “Future Trends” panel at the recent Canadian MoodleMoot.  Along with a person from Higher Ed and two industry representatives we were asked to imagerespond to three prompts.  We were asked to comment on a trend relating to the 2011 MoodleMoot Futures of eLearning crowd sourcing session, a forecast for the Learning Management System sector and Moodle’s place in it, and a trend pertaining to the sector we are speaking for.  To be honest, I felt a little under qualified to speak to this given that I have never taught an online course nor used Moodle.  But, I think my interest in and writing about the future, technology, and learning is what prompted the organizers to extend this invitation to me and it was an honor to participate in this way.

I opened with comments about the exponential change that technology has been relentlessly driving over the past 500+ years File:PPTMooresLawai.jpgsince the invention of the printing press.  That invention unleashed change like never before.  Why you might ask? Well, the ability to mass produce and spread ideas, knowledge, and information of course.  The few hundred years did unfold slowly relative to our experience today and each decade did not feel much different from the last.  However, the past 100 or so years have seen the effects of accelerating change.  We can no longer accurately or reliably predict the future based on our experience of the past.  Do you feel like the past 10 years of your life has been a whirlwind of unprecedented change?  I suspect so…

I chose to comment on Cell phones (mobile learning) from the 2011 MoodleMoot trends.  I believe that besides having immersive capabilities such as 3D holographic displays that you can speak to and interact with using hand motions, our phones will give us access to the power of IBM’s Watson and knowledge tools like Wolfram Alpha but far more advanced than anything we can really imagine.  But we will imagine nonetheless…  I’ve been playing with SIRI and am quite impressed.  It responds to natural language conversation and questioning and taps into various tools and sources on the web including Wolfram Alpha – ask it a knowledge oriented question tells you it will think about it, look it up, and present the info or the directions, the list of items, the contact record, or send a spoken to text email or message, etc.  Based on the accelerated nature of change, this will evolve over the next five years to the point where it will converse with you very naturally in your native language and be your knowledge concierge tapping in to all knowledge and information in the world, in seconds.  It will also “get to know you” and anticipate your questions.  Imagine students using this in class or online – kind-of demands a change in approach from content coverage to deep learning and understanding, iStock_000007946334XSmallengagement with our world and ideas, generation of ideas and solutions, etc.

As to a forecast for the LMS sector and Moodle, I begin by questioning the structure called “a course”.  Courses may be relatively easy to create, deliver, and assess but do they really engage students in the type of learning necessary for our rapidly changing world?  Canned packages of knowledge and activities would seem to be an obsolete method of learning.  I think LMS’ like Moodle need to evolve into learning facilitation systems that look more like project and problem based learning platforms.  Learning could be woven through projects, problems, and inquiry initiatives where students use a variety of online tools (blogs, wikis, tweets, blogs, pins, pix, videos, searches, presentations, discussions, documents, etc.) connected to the LMS such that the artifacts created in the process of using the tools, flow to the LMS for assessment.  An automated creation of a learning portfolio is the idea here.  The LMS / Moodle tools need to lower the bar such that non-technical teachers and their students are able to easily create, mash up, share, and assess facilitated learning activities.  For K12, these tools need to look and work differently for different age groups.  Learning in kindergarten with five year-olds looks and functions very differently from grade 12 / 17-year-olds.

Finally, I spoke about 3D immersive learning as a K12 trend I see growing rapidly.  Currently they require significant skill and time to build the worlds teachers and students would “live” in – this must and will change.  I see these types of online learning environments crossing the line from basic virtual reality experiences (Quest Atlantis, Active Worlds, MineCraft, Second Life) to full iStock_000018493321XSmallimmersive worlds that are difficult to distinguish from reality.  Tied in with cell phone developments, students may use special glasses and perhaps some sort of nerve interface to enter these learning worlds which will engage all five of their senses.  They will meet “face 2 face” with other students and their teachers – learning guides / facilitators.  Perhaps these glasses will be able to shift from augmented reality (like Google’s Goggles) for real face to face activities to fully immersed artificial reality, and back.  It begs the question whether virtual or artificial will be the correct adjectives for this new reality… 

Of course I nor you can predict the future.  But, I think we have to really let our imaginations run a bit now with how quickly things are changing.  With how the billions of minds around the world are now able to connect and mash up ideas and how inventors are so quick to innovate new breakthroughs, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet folks!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Digital Drivers License

I remember when I was 15, quite some time ago, I bought a car.  All my close guy friends were also buying cars.  We worked on the engines, drive trains, electrical systems, etc. to get them into good working condition.  We were allowed to drive them in the driveways to practice – back and forward.  My dad would also let me drive his SNAGHTMLb3adb4bcar in the church parking lot when there were no other cars around.  My dad formally taught me how to drive when I turned 16.  I learned the rules of the road from a seasoned “expert” driver, wrote a test which I passed and then received my official drivers license.  I was qualified to drive safely on the roads and highways.  Following tradition, Shelley and I taught our three sons how to drive as well.  Fast forward and kids still have to learn to drive from an expert – a parent or a professional – before they can take and pass a test to get their license.  Historically this scenario repeated itself in all sorts of domains where parents / adults with expertise passed along their knowledge and wisdom to the upcoming generation.

Changing scenes, the Internet has snuck up and confused a generation.  I’m glad my boys are past the teen years (we survived) but they didn’t have unfettered use of the Internet when they were growing up – we parents spent time learning the online world and guiding our boys – it wasn’t perfect but I believe it helped.  Generally speaking, kids today know more about things digital than their parents and other adults do.  Too many parents have no clue as to what their kids do online.  They often think it’s too complicated to iStock_000015207641XSmallfigure out and often allow their children to go online unsupervised.  Or, parents abdicate responsibility to schools.  That would not be a wise move…  teachers, all adults, are too often at a disadvantage in the digital realm in that they haven’t “lived” online enough to gain expertise and wisdom.  I presented a session “Social Media Exposed” at the Richmond School District’s convention last Friday.  We talked about the risks and dangers of unfettered use of social media by young people.  This topic came up from a parent in a meeting in my District on Friday as well, asking what the District is doing to address digital citizenship needs.  I think this is a need that is not well addressed by parents or schools and that both need to take responsibility for it, parents 24x7 and teachers/Principals while kids are in their care.  There’s an educational component as well as a supervision requirement.  We should want our kids to develop positive digital footprints as they navigate the online world.

How many parents do you know of that allow their young teens (or younger) to have a wireless device in their bedrooms?  Remember, smartphones, iPod Touches, XBoxes, PS3s, etc. are all wireless devices that access the Internet.  Your new Smart TV accesses the Internet.  Access to the Internet is now pervasive and embedded in all sorts of devices.  Who are your kids Skyping and Facebooking iStock_000001376675XSmallwith?  How many parents are teaching their kids how to drive digitally?  How many parents know enough about the digital realm to even know how to teach, guide, and supervise their kids use?  I worry when parents tell me they don’t have a Facebook account and never will.  Or, they have no experience with Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, Skype, … <fill in your own> but have no problem with their kids using the Internet.  What types personal privacy are your kids freely giving away online?  Do you know?

On the other hand, there are many parents and teachers who fear letting kids use the Internet.  This is nearly as bad as the former case.  The Internet is a rich and valuable domain of knowledge, with connections to diverse peoples, engaging learning and entertaining experiences.  It is neither evil nor is it good.  It is a tool that will adapt to the people that use and contribute to it.  To understand it a person must spend some time “living” there.  As parents, we have an obligation to live online in the spaces our kids will go.  And no, not having wireless or Internet in your home is not the answer.  Banning its use is no different the the na├»ve approach used in the TV and video tape era – your kids will have access to the Internet via their friends homes and devices.  Do you really want them doing so without your understanding and guidance?

I think we need a means to train kids in the ways of Internet to be safe, good online citizens, aware of the dangers and how to avoid them, how to avoid developing narcissistic behaviors, how to protect their privacy, how to behave properly, how to contribute productively to the global conversation, how to safely and appropriately network iStock_000017068534XSmallwith others, how to be entertained appropriately, etc.  Kids need digital GPS’ to find their way safely.  We need the social responsibility agenda to broaden and morph into a digital citizenship and social responsibility program.  Perhaps a program could be instituted where kids are granted use of the digital world once they go through a comprehensive training program, pass a rigorous test, and be granted a digital drivers license.  Perhaps school districts should take the lead in developing such an approach and ensure all of its staff also obtain digital drivers licenses.  Or better yet, the province of BC should develop and provide this just as they do for cars!

What do you think about this idea?  Am I being too conservative in my thinking here?  How would you design and administer a digital drivers license program?  What are you doing in your homes and schools?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Time Warp

When February 1st arrived, I was grappling with how quickly time seems to be passing by.  I know, it’s an age thing right, as we get older time seems to speed up.  To check this theory I asked my youngest son if he felt time was speeding up.  He said yes – he’s 20 so it’s not an age thing after all.  I know, not a very scientific Pre-digital Clock 1conclusion.  But seriously, I wonder if the rapid changes that we are experiencing in our lifetime are in effect like a time warp?

My wife reluctantly lets me keep this 45 year old clock – it was ten years old when given to me by someone when I was 15 and working as a sales guy in a ski shop.  It still works!  Notice it’s cool pre-digital look.  The numbers flip over as the minutes tick by.  I suspect the iPhone 5 I have now, which has a simple digital alarm clock feature, will not work 45 years from now.  It probably won’t work 10 years from now!  What might clocks look like, work like, in the future.  I haven’t worn a watch for probably 10 years – my phone is my time piece!  I used to use a (paper) day timer – my digital calendar keeps me scheduled and on time.  I used to have a radio for listening to music, a separate camera for pictures and video, I communicate with people around the world instantaneously, I buy and read books on my phone and share my notes and highlights with the world… these capabilities are all in my phone along with 100’s of other things I couldn’t imagine having 5 years ago.  I have “face 2 face” video conversations and stream music from any number of 50,000 “radio” stations, on my TV (and my phone).  More has changed in the past 5 years than the previous 20 or more is seems.  Time warp!

I was speaking with some teachers the other day about the power of our smartphones and I mistakenly exclaimed that 10 years ago we didn’t have these.  One of the teachers corrected me and said we didn’t have this power five years ago.  With the iPhone’s arrival in June of 2007 (6 years ago), thus began the rapid innovation cycle of hand held technology.  Now we’re talking about 3D printers in schools (we have a few already).  Did you know you can purchase one for under $1000 now?  Think about this – one day you might Google around for smartphone designs and simply print your next smartphone at home on your printer for under $5.  You think this is a stretch?  Remember when you used to take your rolls of film to get developed and 7-10 days later you picked up your pictures?  I think that cost about $20 plus the film.  To share your photos, you had to have duplicates made and then mail (not-email) them to family and friends – they would arrive in 4 or 5 days.  Next the 1-hour photo places popped up everywhere and now we mostly just post our pictures online (for free) and family and friends can enjoy them seconds after we take/post them.  We’ve been enjoying this experience with our eldest son being in Thailand for the past three months.  Facebook with digital photos helps make the world a smaller place!

I find that most people, of any age (students or adults), today are incapable of anticipating what the future might be like 3, 5, 10, or more years from now.  Most of us have difficulty extrapolating forward now that change is occurring in exponential time.  At best, we see the future through today’s and maybe next year’s lens.  We envision more technology, very similar to what we have now, being available but we have difficulty imagining whole new categories of technology and change.  Breakthrough technologies, ones we can’t imagine being possible, are happening more and more frequently.  It’s speeding up the pace of change.  I think we need to think about Sun rays through fog - Mike Lakehow to prepare for a world where the “science fiction” of the Star Trek era could become real in our lifetime.  While we figure out how to grapple with a world where every person (even in poor families and the third world, remember you will print your devices for dollars in the future) has their own high powered hand-held learning device we also need to think bigger than that and anticipate a future where the lines of reality and virtual reality become blurry.  When our hand-held devices can project 3D holographic images of people, things, ideas we interact with, when they allow us to “enter” into the digital realm and experience it as reality, this will be a very different experience.  I recall at a World Future Society conference a few years ago a speaker asking the question “if you can’t tell the difference between reality and virtual reality, does it matter”?  They used an example of being immersed in a digital experience racing a convertible car and feeling the wind in your hair, the speed, your heart racing, the leather steering wheel, etc. – it felt exactly like the real thing.  If (when) that is possible, how should we be preparing now for this type of world.  It would certainly have a combination of benefits and significant problems.  There are ethical questions to be asked and answered, economic implications, spiritual / religious aspects, and huge educational implications.  Who’s asking these questions and pondering the outcomes?

If you think this type of thinking is far fetched just remember that exponential change does seem to make time warp.  The unbelievable, the impossible, the unimaginable, becomes possible in shorter and shorter time spans.  One place conversations about these sorts of things should be taking place, is in our schools.  Our schools do a fairly good job of dealing with history and today’s body of knowledge but do they do enough to prepare young people for a time warped future?