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.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Go Big or Go Home

I am the type of person who pursues big ideas, big problems, and adrenaline charged activities.  For many years I engaged in somewhat extreme (not according to today’s crazy riders but…) downhill mountain biking.  There’s something invigorating about facing down a laddered launch about 10-12 feet high 15 feet out over a gulf to the other side.  I loved the adrenaline rush caused by fear and accomplishment.  The key to success is total commitment, any hesitation and things can go horribly wrong as they did numerous times for me – broken bones, torn ligaments, and for quite some time afterward, apprehension and fear.  I still ride hard but have switched to all mountain / cross country – high speed and flowee but much safer (getting older and wiser).

Last week Saturday two of my sons, one of their friends, and I went skydiving for the first time to celebrate my 50th birthday.  Wow!  What a rush that was.  I am afraid of heights so expected to be quite nervous – that didn’t happen though.  We received an orientation on the ground then climbed into our jump suites, put on the harnesses, 2013 Skydive - BK jump suithats, and goggles.  We waddled over to the Vietnam War era airplane and packed in (8 of us plus the pilot).  Up we went to about 10,000 feet and the trainers said ‘okay, here we go’.  First out were my boys and their buddy, one after the other.  It was strange to see them swing their legs out the door and then disappear.  Then it was my turn.  I swing around, legs out the door and staring straight down at the earth…  Then my trainer counts down 3, 2, … push… out we go.  In 3 seconds we’re up to 200km/h straight down.  I can not begin to explain the experience but it was awesome!  For 35 seconds we fall… then he pulls the chute and gives me the handles to steer it.  If you pull hard on one side, you shift into a tight significant G-force turn – amazing.  To do this, took full commitment.  There is no turning back once you’re out of the airplane heading down!

I approach my work in a similar fashion.  I am not one to idle, cruise along, or accept the status quo.  I see things through a possibility lens aimed directly into the future.  I look at problems as opportunities.  My optimistic orientation to life and work allows me to see where I want to go and then work backward to figure out how to get there.  I recently (7 months ago) became the Director and CIO for the Vancouver School Board (VSB).  I face major challenges to lead and guide the VSB to infuse technology into classrooms, schools, and District offices and transform the learning and work of our students and staff.  I am but one person in an organization with 8000 employees and 52,000 students so obviously one of my biggest challenges is winning the hearts and minds of the many and together, we will shift into the future.  What an exciting journey this is proving to be already.

It is difficult to shift a large organization.  Over time their long standing processes and practices create a particular culture and culture is difficult to change.  Historically and equally today, technology is likely the most disruptive means for changing how people work, relate, and organize.  Some find this to be fraught with friction, I see change as invigorating.  For change to stick, the culture needs to shift well beyond the norm.  To engineer change, you need to persevere long enough to break old patterns and habits.  You need to break the elastic band of the past or people will snap back to their comfort zones.  For someone leading change, you need iStock_000019241487XSmallto be fully committed to the future you envision – you need to ‘go big or go home’.

At the VSB, investment in technology to support learning and teaching has not been sustainable in past years.  From what I have learned, I think I can safely boil this down to a few reasons.  There hasn’t been shared vision (and buy-in) for how technology is really quite integral to learning and teaching.  It’s been a nice to have, optional, and not important.  It also has appears to have been implemented in a disjointed fashion with little coherence.  A big part of my focus is to create a shared vision and understanding for the critical role technology must play in learning, teaching, and our work.  I believe there is a moral imperative to leverage technology effectively in education.  Organizations like the VSB have an obligation to provide the best possible learning experience for students in every era and effectively leverage current and future tools and methods.  Not to do so would be a disservice to our students’ future.  We need to educate for their future, not our past.  Technology is not “just a tool” any more.  I heard a speaker at a conference session yesterday repeatedly refer to technology as “enhancing” learning.  That is a limited view.  Technology must be infused to transform learning.  It is integral and essential to modern and future learning, teaching, and work.  Education systems need to fully commit to this view of technology’s place in our world or it will not make the essential shift forward to remain relevant to today’s and future students.  Schools must prepare kids for a very different future where they will increasingly compete with machines.  I see this as an exciting opportunity for us humans to steer clear of all sorts of jobs imageand roles that are not very fulfilling and leverage our humanity in new and better ways.  Education systems need to understand and capitalize on this as it unfolds.  An old system can only survive for so long and there are increasingly alternatives to the traditional role schools have played in imparting knowledge.  It is ironic that schools are the last institution or industry to be fully disrupted by technology.  For me that just shows how thick and tough the elastic band is that’s holding back the final transition to the future.

It is difficult being a change agent.  In my experience, Most people fear change and long for stability and sameness.  I have learned to better appreciate that different people will come around to changes at different paces and through different means.  There will be resisters, people who will do everything in their power to stop you, disrupt your game plan, and generally frustrate you.  The key attribute of a change leader is tenacity. Go big or go home – in other words, go all in, fully commit, be strong, carry on, it will be worth it in the end.  However, make sure that what you pursue as a change is in fact worth it for those you are leading and for the organization as a whole.  You have to fully believe in the future you wish to embrace or you will hesitate and well, in my experience then carnage will follow.  Lead on…