Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Just Google It!

The other day I was cutting the lawn and my mower cut out.  The previous time I cut the lawn, it cut out about 6 times ‘for no reason’.  This time, it would not start again.  I asked one of my sons about it – he is a 3rd year automotive apprentice – and he said he’d check it out.  He took a look, tried a few things then disappeared.  Questions signpost in the skyAbout 10 minutes later, I hear the mower start up.  I asked him what he did and he said he ‘Googled It’.  He found an article or video that matched the symptoms of our mowers problem and tried the suggested solution.  It worked!  The gas tank cap wasn’t letting air in so he loosened it off a bit so it could breath then duct taped it for now, so it would work.

We have been interviewing people for some new technical support jobs we created.  One of the questions we ask candidates is to describe how they keep their knowledge and skills current or in other words, how do they learn in this fast paced world of technology.  More often than not, the top answer involves reading web content such as online articles and magazines, usually driven by the need to search out ideas and answers.  Fewer are those that say they have downlaod the e-bookrecently taken a course at a higher education institution, studied to obtain a current certification, or read a book.  It seems that knowledge is becoming more just-in-time and even transient to some degree.  Having been a traditional learner who actually still values classroom or at least course based learning, reading books, and attending conferences, I find myself thinking that the ‘school of Internet’ is a bit lazy.  I think I might be wrong about that though.  Some of the interview candidates shared stories from their work experience of tackling complex projects or problems that they had not previously faced, and learning how to do the work, by ‘researching’ online.  I’m not sure that a traditional course would help with real-time work like this.

It is true that you can find out how to do something, almost anything, by searching online.  I had to unclog one of our bathtubs last summer and the drain stopper was atypical.  I could not figure out how to remove it.  I watched numerous do-it-yourself (DIY) videos on how to unclog a bathtub but none matched the type of drain stopper I was dealing with.  Finally, I stumbled upon a video posted by someone who had the exact same stopper – he said he spent a lot of time, like me, looking for the right video but could not find it.  So, when he figured out how to remove the stopper, he felt compelled to post a video showing the steps so others would have an easier time of it (like me).  Isn’t it amazing that people take time to record sophisticated projects and problem solving with no expectation of anything in return?

There is so much information and knowledge moving online, actually all of it is!  The value of a traditional classroom based education is in question.  By that I mean using the traditional broadcast technology where a person lectures or imparts information and knowledge to others and they are assessed on how well they can recall it later.  The value of a face to face learning experience should probably be more focused on relationships, communication (written, verbal, electronic), collaboration, developing initiative, learning how to think critically, problem solve, undertake research, and learning how to learn.  All content is electronic and perhaps soon all online and free so what is needed is careful guidance, facilitation, mentoring, and coaching to help learners (young and older) access relevant content while they develop important competencies such as those listed earlier.  It is less about what you know (sorry Jeopardy) and more about knowing how to know, relate, care, give, support, think, express, etc. and finding and connecting relevant content as needed.

The power of Internet search grows with every individual search.  “Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average (visualize them here), which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide” (Nov 11, 2014 http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/).  Beyond search are sophisticated analytics and predictions tools like IBM’s Watson which “has ingested more than 600,000-plus pieces of medical evidence, and two million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials in the area of oncology research. Watson has the power to sift through 1.5 million patient records representing decades of cancer treatment history, such as medical records and patient outcomes, and provide to physicians evidence-based treatment options all in a matter of seconds” (Feb 8, 2013 http://www.mskcc.org/pressroom/press/ibm-watson-hard-work-new-breakthroughs-transform-quality-care-patients).  Watson is becoming the most capable cancer diagnostic ‘doctor’ on the planet.

In this years municipal election there is a candidate, who will remain unnamed here, running for the school board where I live who believes “students need to put down their iPads and smart phones, and learn the way that their parents’ generation did.  We need to get iStock_000022796717Smallback to basics – reading, writing and ‘rithmatic, and learning how to communicate with each other”.  I think she is missing the reality of our age – it is nothing like the previous generation and learning the ‘old’ way will not serve students or adults well.  Sure, there is a lot of off task use of digital devices but that is more of a growing pain in a system that takes an inordinate amount of time to shift gears.  We need to embrace the future while retaining the important aspects of the past!

I am increasingly appreciative of the power of “Just Google it!”, how about you?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Paradox of Technology

I suspect that we all know of people who long for the simpler days of old.  Perhaps you are old enough to remember when a family had one telephone available to them, it was plugged into the wall, had a long curly cord, and you might have used it once or twice a day.  Now we have a phone, actually a super computer, in our pockets with us 24x7 and we interact with others possibly 100’s, for some maybe 1000’s, of times a day.  We try to keep up with the flows of our Facebook flickr - langwitches - Learning then and Nowcommunity, Twitter streams, Text messages, phone calls, Face Times, email messages, SnapChats, Pins, Skypes, etc.  It is overwhelming isn’t it.  Oh for the good ol’ days of the one phone, you know the one where you ‘dialed’ the number and hated numbers with “0” in them.  You know, when you had to wait when the party line was on a call. 

That may be a simplistic example but with all our technological advancements there are benefits and consequences.  For those of us on this planet who have been fortunate to enjoy these advancements, I believe overall, our lives are better off.  Technology has not overwhelmed us or made live unbearable as some might have us believe.  Rather, we have overwhelmed us by allowing our technology to control us when it should be the other way around.  Why do some of us like to blame the accessibility technology creates for us, as the reason we are stressed out?  Technology is meant to make life simpler, reduce our workloads, make it easier to communicate, make us more efficient, give us time back, create new opportunities, etc.  If so, what are we doing wrong ‘cause that’s not what a lot of people seem to experience. 

Think about how much time we spend hunting and gathering relative to our ancestors or to those in poorer countries without the benefits of technology.  Think about how much leisure time you have.  Sure you might think you have very little but that may be just how you allocate your time to your kids, spouse, or how you let your work consume you.  Maybe you are addicted to Facebook or other online 20140730_165352917_iOSspaces.  Technology certainly plays a role in enabling us to do more, communicate more, and consume more (information) but it is really our choice in how balanced or imbalanced we become with our technology use.  Get outdoors and use your tech to capture and share the beauty of our environment!

This summer I decided to take a Facebook holiday for 3 weeks.  I didn’t check my feeds, ‘like’ any posts, or share the wonderful things I was up to.  I was kind-of getting tired of feeling the need to stay tuned into the lives of those I’ve friended.  It was great to take a break.  I often do the same with Twitter, email, and other communication tools.  What I can’t see myself giving up though are all the other tools that help me find places, discover recipes, read or listen to books, listen to music, write out my thoughts and notes, arrange events, research and plan trips, track budgets and expenditures, pay bills, etc.  I remember when Shelley and I first got married.  I got the job of dealing with the finances… I used a paper log to track our bills, their amount, due date, etc. and would refer to it so I knew when to write the cheques and get them into envelopes with stamps and off to the mailbox.  I reconciled our cheque book using a hand calculator and piece of paper.  I used to have to deposit our pay-cheques by driving to the bank and waiting in a line.  It was painful and tedious.  Now almost all of our bills are automatically paid, pay-cheques are deposited automatically, other bills are paid online on a specified date via the bank website.  Recently I have been able to deposit cheques via my phone by taking a picture – it goes into our account immediately.  I use a spreadsheet to track our budget and expenses and to reconcile our cheque book and it takes minutes to do.  This is way better than the pre-technology era.

I was mountain biking yesterday with a friend and we got to talking about buying bike parts.  I’ve always bought at local shops but he got me thinking about how much markup there is and how much I could save buying online.  I said I needed a new front bike tire soon and he said lets combine an order – we’ll get free shipping to Canada from the UK for an order over $99.  I asked him what sites he uses and later he texted me the web addresses when I plugged into my computer browser to search out the tires (tyres in the UK) I wanted.  I found them, emailed him the link and he put in the order.  The tire cost nearly 1/3 what I paid in a local shop!  How simple is that and how cool to save that much on the cost?  I like shopping local, to support the local economy, but when prices are marked up that much, using technology saves me money and time.

Play Blocks With LettersSo what’s my point you ask.  I think the advancement of technology has created huge opportunities and benefits but also has caused great difficulties for some people to manage their lives.  It makes it hard to be and feel balanced.  Technology is agnostic, it is neither good nor evil so let’s not blame the technology, rather let’s be more thoughtful about how we take charge of our time, our behaviors, and priorities.  Use technology to its fullest to make your life better.  Let’s teach and help each other maximize our use of our technology while maximizing the quality of our lives.  Learn to be the boss of your tech and leverage its power for the better! [image: © iStockPhoto #000008477174]

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Should It Be Created?

I recently watched the movie Transcendence (see trailer).  Having read Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near a few years ago, I thought it would be cool to see a movie roughly based on similar Stream of digital data and eyeideas.  Note… I found the book to be interesting but disturbing, likewise the movie.  There is an internal drive within some people to pursue inventions for the sake of the science.  Unfortunately, there are consequences to new inventions that go along with the perceived benefits.  As new seemingly miraculous inventions are conceived, we should be more vigilante about asking “why”.  Why should we even try to upload a human brain or any brain, into a machine?  Why should we try to ‘live eternally’ within a machine as a digital existence?  There are scientists like Ray Kurzweil who believe it is possible and that the capability should be invented.  But should it? 

Okay, back to earth… I personally don’t believe it is possible to transcend our human existence into a digital one nor do I think that it would ever be an appropriate outcome if it were possible.  But what about some of the more recent creations or ones in the works?  I continue to be amazed at the game changer our SmartPhones have become.  The other day I went on a hike with my (adult) kids up the Lions near Vancouver, BC.  I used the Strava app on my iPhone to record the hike (see Strava hike) 20140730_185433558_iOSwhich I uploaded to my Strava network and to Facebook once we were done.  I took ample photos with the phone’s camera which I uploaded to share on Facebook, creating conversations and giving people I’m connected to a glimpse into our day in the mountains.  If an emergency occurred, I could call for help.  Just a short 10 years ago, none of this was possible out in the deep woods.  I would have had a flip phone that might have a cell signal, a handheld (large) GPS tracker, a bulky camera, and sharing any of this information would not be quick and nor easy.  The SmartPhone is a great invention for sure.  But, there are all sorts of ‘evil’ uses for predators, criminal activities, remote detonators, etc.  We have learned to accept these consequences along with the benefits.  But did we consider the consequences before the SmartPhone was invented and ‘allowed’ on the market?

What about the current hype around quad copters?  These are pretty cool tools and useful for surveillance, surveying, and playing pranks I’m sure.  Amazon is pursing the use of these tools for same day delivery of online orders in some cities.  I’ve read about these being flown into fireworks displays creating safety concerns for people below and near airports causing concern for airport traffic, etc.  These tools could be used for inappropriate video and picture recording and privacy violations.  What consideration was given to the dangerous and inappropriate uses before these were invented and made available to the public?

There is an explosion of innovation in the medical uses of technology.  It probably won’t be long before prosthetic limbs are indistinguishable from the original.  Innovative ways of delivering drug therapy to target cells is emerging.  One day there may be nanobots available, small ‘machines’ designed to seek out say cancer cells and repair them, or perhaps designed to improve our memory, eye sight, hearing, muscle strength, intelligence…  Would this be bad?  I for one would welcome anything that improves my memory and intelligence!  But, what are the consequences?  Should this be invented?

Hopefully young people flowing through our education system are being exposed to ethical learning scenarios and dilemmas.  Future iStock_000023020317Mediumscientists are in our grade one classes today and they need to learn to question innovations and inventions and learn to have the wisdom and strength to know when to appose them versus pursue them.  With how fast things are changing through new inventions being created, this should be a growing area of importance and concern where we are learning to ask ‘Should it be created?’.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Reading With the Machine

It is an interesting debate.  Especially when it is with a librarian who is passionate about books, the conventional paper-based type.  I’ve listened to (and read about, on a machine) the arguments for paper-based books, the cognitive advantages, the feel, the humanity of it.  Education Series (sky high books)I think this is a case of hanging onto a long tradition and it repeats itself over and over through history.  Even when the Gutenberg press was invented, the religious leaders of the day tried to paint it as a tool of the devil.  I suspect that was to protect the vocation of the tireless monks copying texts and to protect the political leaders power and control over the spread of knowledge.  Or, how about when the oral tradition was shifting to a written one, albeit using stone tablets.  There were fears that peoples ability to remember would be lost.  With any change in tools, there is a sense of loss and a sense of wonder and gain.  Reading is one of those practices that is under siege from the perspective of the old ways are being significantly challenged.  I wrote a few years back about the Future of Books.

I was in an elementary school last week and the vice principal, who teaches 0.7 of which a good chunk is library, took me into the library for the ‘reading block’.  All students in all classes were involved in some form of reading activity at the same time and it occurs every day.  In the library she had kids (grade 2’s in this case) grab laptops (works on Windows, Mac, iPad, iPod, etc.) from a cart, sit around round tables, put on head phones and use a reading program called Raz-Kids. They logged in using the class ID, found their profile (a folder) to get to their selection of books and progress information.  They have access to hundreds of books that are age / grade relevant.  Each student chooses which book they wish to read or picks up where they left off.  They also use this tool from home. 

With Raz-Kids, the learning work flow is something like this:

  • choose book
  • listen to an engaging human voice read it while it high lights the words, presents photos, drawings, and background sounds and music to support the storyline
  • once they are confident they can read it, they will read aloud to the machine, there is a record button to record them
  • once they are confident in their understanding of the content, they take an online comprehension quiz – the machine will redirect them back to parts of the book for sections they do not pass the threshold on
  • once the machine ‘feels’ (the teacher is involved too) the student is ready to level up, it presents more advanced books to choose from

The teacher has access to all the students reading information such as which books they have completed, how they scored on comprehension, and to their recorded self-reading.  Think about the efficiency alone in this approach.  The teacher would never have enough time to observe, listen, assess in the way the machine does.  The machine is making possible the impossible in supporting and evaluating these kids.

Importantly, the kids’ parents can access the same information.  iStock_000008573353SmallParents are encouraged to read along with their kids, to listen to their kids read with the program, etc.  Now, the extra amazing part of this is the school and community population is 75% ELL (English Language Learners)!  What a fantastic way for the kids AND their parents/grandparents (many multigenerational families living together) to learn English together. 

So what might the future of reading with machines look like.  What if the machine analyzed facial expression, eye movement, pace, etc. and connected that to the point in the book the reader was at.  It could correlate content type, word complexity, background sounds iStock_000010007327Largeand music, machine reader voice tone, gender, etc. to how the human reader reacts.  When the human reads out loud, it could correlate their pronunciation, pace, flow, etc. to the content.  The machine could pop up meanings of words, offer to explain context, etc. when it ‘notices’ the reader struggling.  Perhaps the machine could offer a rich 3D immersive experience of the content to the reader.  The reader would put on some 3D immersive equipment and ‘enter in’ to the book to experience it with all their senses.  The machine would learn their readers preferences, nuances, ‘intelligence’, etc. and tailor assistive materials and experiences to the reader to maximize enjoyment AND comprehension. 

You might be thinking, ‘you are crazy Brian’.  If you are, you are falling into the trap on using the past and the present to predict the future.  Let your imagination run out on an exponential change scale and what I am describing is most certainly possible, probably within 10 years.  Through the massively parallel connections between human brains through the Internet and the mass collaboration on ideas, research, and inventions, new technologies are arising faster and faster every year – exponentially faster that is.  So, I get that we like our own traditions and experiences, i.e., ‘the book’, but we will need to get over it and take advantage of the new possibilities.  We are holding back the potential of people when we limit their access to new technologies.  I’m not na├»ve in thinking all technological progress is good and healthy, but I do believe we should leverage the good aspects where possible.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Rise of the Digital Silhouette

How much do you think about the traces of you, that you leave behind as you engage more and more with technology?  There has been a not so subtle intrusion into what used to be our private lives where a lot of what we do and say is now recorded.  Notice how Stream of digital data and eyeapps on our smartphones want access to our photos, contacts, and location.  Sure you can deny such access but then the value of the apps diminishes significantly, often to zero.  Do you remember which apps you have given the go ahead to track your movements, your buying habits, your interactions with others, etc.?  We use our digital tools in very trusting ways not really thinking about what the companies behind them might do with all that data about us.  Google makes something like 97% ($32M) of their revenue from advertising – actually from us.  Our use of their tools generates tremendously valuable data about human behavior including purchasing habits.  They really should be paying us for our use of their tools!  Google probably knows more about people, in recent years individuals like you and I, than any other company.  Perhaps more than the government.  Now with their push into wearable technology like Google Glasses and then other companies like FitBit, people are beginning to give over an enormous amount of data about themselves including every interaction with every person, all their location information, video recordings, phone calls, text messages, photos, heart rate, sleep patterns, and who knows what else.  Where does this lead us to?

Switching gears for a moment…  there are some significant benefits to education systems in the ‘Internet of things’ movement.  Imagine that students, wearing various data logging technologies, including Google Glasses, interacting with each other, with ‘text books’, human teachers, each other, and other learning resources, along with a host of educational apps, are continuously digitally documented.  Imagine that there are ‘intelligent’ algorithms (think IBM’s Watson but even more advanced) that look for patterns, provide real-time recommendations and coaching that adjust the student’s personalized learning plan, directly interacting with and advising the students like a personal learning coach.  Imagine that when a report card is due, the student’s ‘digital learning guide’ automatically produces a summative report card complete with a ‘live’ info graphic on the student’s learning and generates it directly in the student’s online learning portfolio and sends an alert to the parents.  The parents can interact with the repoiStock_000022796717Smallrt card in many dimensions with their smartphone or on a traditional web browser.  They can see point data including pictures, video clips, audio reflections by the student, opinions from their digital guide, and commentary and feedback from their human ‘teachers’ (learning facilitators).  Actually, this access to learning activity and progress would be available in real-time as well – the summative report would simply be a culminating event or check-point along the way.  Such is the potential future of life logging and ‘big data’ analytics when fully integrated and immersed into the learning and teaching process.  You may think ‘this is crazy and impossible’. I say, think again.  I believe that this type of future is not far off.  Machine learning is growing in sophistication and usefulness, exponentially.  Researchers are learning that us humans are far more predictable and pattern driven than previously thought.  Machines are very good at pattern recognition and are rapidly getting better at decision making.  Our machines will one day ‘know us’, perhaps better than we do…

So, whether we like it or not, we are being cloaked in digital information.  Rather, for those of us that regularly use mobile and other technology, our lives are beginning to generate digital information in droves.  I don’t think this is all bad – there are some very good outcomes possible.  Some of the health applications are encouraging.  A significant problem in getting an accurate and timely diagnoses from our doctors is a lack of useful information.  With real-time massive volumes of physical and psychological data and health img-wonderhoto-com algorithmintelligent machine algorithms, knowledge of our health will be orders of magnitude better.  With real-time data on individual student learners and machine algorithms, the dream of truly personalized learning and teaching may actually be possible.  In this future, human teachers will not be concerned with collecting assessment data and making judgments on individual learners.  Rather they would help kids connect with their passions, provide human wisdom to their learning, facilitate human interactions in classrooms (I believe in continued use of classrooms with face to face learning interactions regardless of the technology that is developed), and teachers could be that empathic listener and advisor that kids need as they deal with emotions, wonders, problems, worries, and dreams.

Like anything, history teaches us that most technologies have a dark and bright side to them.  If we attempt to resist the technological data capture and analytical tools, others may use them for darker purposes.  As we engage with these tools, understand them, shape them, and voice our opinions on their uses, we can do our part to ensure positive helpful humanized digital silhouettes are the result.  Be aware about what the tools you use, do.  What traces of a digital self are you creating by using them?  How are the companies behind the tools likely to use your digital data for their gain?  Get ready for a very interesting ride into the future…

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Transformative Change

Many of us resist change.  We like our comfort zone.  However we are changing constantly as that is just part of living.  One of my co-speakers at the symposium Moving Educational Technology from Enhancement to Transformation held yesterday said that as soon as we speak, we change.  How true.  Change is inevitable so why do so many of us try to resist it?imageAt the symposium I spoke about Transformative Change.  We crowd sourced ideas from the participants on what they can stop, continue, and start doing to increase success in shifting to majority adoption of innovations in their classroom, school, or district.  You can view the audience contribution here along with my co-speakers audience feedback on What Transformation and Ecologies of Learning.

Organizations and individuals have a choice to embrace change, grow, and become more than they are today.  Alternatively, they can fear and resist change and ultimately become less useful and potentially irrelevant.  Embracing change can be invigorating.  I get that it can also overwhelm us.  Part of the problem is we often think we are changing something but rather we add on something new to what we are already doing.  We need to decide what to stop doing when we embrace something new or we may just overwhelm and frustrate ourselves and others.

Some significant requirements for successful change are preparedness, capacity, and competence.  If those who we expect to change are not given time and resources to become competent and confident with the new, they will be more inclined to fear the change and resist.  However I believe individuals need to ‘own’ responsibility for their own development and adoption of change.  As well, if change is pronounced from on high and done ‘to’ people, resistance is more likely.  We change agents need to involve people in the changes we want to foster in our organizations.  I believe in leveraging a broad range of ideas and input – we change agents don’t have all the answers and ideas but with others we can assemble the best of the best that are available.  We are in fact all in this together!

Another thing I have learned in leading change initiatives is that you have to pressure for and support the change long enough to break free of the elasticity of change.  If not, people tend to revert back to their comfort zone, to the familiar, rather than persist through the difficulty of change.  Be careful though, change can exhaust people.  Be sure not to aim to change too much or too fast.  People can only handle so much.  Build people’s confidence, help them feel ‘big’ relative to the change.


Generally, any population of people will distribute relative to their ‘innovativeness’ as indicated in the diagram above.  Everett Rogers has written five editions of The Diffusion of Innovation which started with farmers and has now been applied to information and communications technology.  From his work we learn that we need to foster change initiatives differently with different types of people.  Ultimately, it’s the connections and trust relationships that exist or can be formed within the population (a school, district, etc.) that will help a change diffuse through the rest of the population. 


For change to begin and take hold, you need someone to start acting differently, using the new technology, etc.  These people, the Early Adopters, are the missionaries, the opinion leaders, and they are very important to getting other segments of the population to adopt the change.  They begin the momentum of change and help it diffuse through.

A key element of any successful innovation or change is a compelling imagevision.  I like Simon Sinek’s model where he says you have to Start with Why.  The more you can inspire people to want the change you are advocating for, the easier it is to get them on board and supporting it.  Simon uses the example of Apple marketing.  Apple has convinced people to join a cause, one where they are changing the status quo.  They don’t just sell products, they sell a whole new experience, often one no one even thought of before.  People buy why they do things, not what they do.  The same goes for your change effort.

Change is hard for most of us but not impossible.  Reach the hearts AND minds of people, build trust relationships, help people become ‘big’ relative to a change, and articulate and clarify the steps to adopt a change and you are more likely to successfully diffuse it through the population.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Excited but Worried

This morning after breakfast, my wife and I were sitting chatting in our family room enjoying a French dark roast cup of amazing coffee when my iPhone, sitting on the coffee table, lights up.  It signaled that a new email had arrived.  This reminded me of how amazing our technology has become and how we essentially take it for granted.  How did the email get to my iPhone?  Really.  Can you explain it in full detail?  We can talk about how it came from the ‘cloud’ or a server at my work.  But how did it find my iPhone?  It had to find my my city, street, and house.  We use Shaw for wireless and Internet, so somehow (I know, IP routing, electrical signals, etc., but) it got from my worksite to Shaw then through kilometers of cables, dozens of complex machines, and eventually to our house.  It then ‘jumped’ into the air and enveloped the room.  Somehow the iPhone ‘sucked’ the email bits from the radio waves (how did it know to do this?) out of the air and converted it into an English readable message of text, pictures, and other materials.  But, even here if we dive deep into the iPhone guts, it’s a complete mystery to most humans.  Seriously, isn’t this stuff mind boggling amazing?  And this, just for a ‘simple’ email.

After reading the latest edition of THE FUTURIST, I became quite worried about where technological developments are taking us.  I’ve written and speculated a lot here about the future, some optimistically and other times not so much.  When I read about the trajectory of biometric research (p. 45 THE FUTURIST Jan-Feb 2014):

  • body-odor research (US Homeland Security) to track odor changes to support lie detection
  • 3D imaging (Japan) to capture gait, walking style, and barefoot print analysis – to recognize a person (90-99% accurate)
  • Palm vein patter recognition (already used in some US schools) scanned wirelessly
  • Human posterior pattern recognition developed for antitheft systems in the seats of cars (Japan) – 98% accurate

Add to this the explosion of unmanned and increasingly autonomous / intelligent drone mini-aircraft, millions of surveillance cameras, and we see how technology increasing supports a “Big Brother” surveillance society.  This should worry us.

Some people might refer to technology as good or bad when in fact it is a tool that can be used for good or bad.  It’s human behavior we need to worry about.  It’s similar to discussions in schools and Districts about Internet use or Digital Citizenship – it’s not about a good or bad tool, it’s about educating people about using good behavior with the tools.

I do tend to lean toward the excited side when considering uses for and the future of technology – I see potential.  However, I do read a lot more now about how in our lifetime increasing numbers of scientists and futurists are predicting questionable advancements in technology.  People write about the advancement of human-machine interfaces to replace missing body parts or nano-scale machines (nano-bots) that will replace antibiotics and other drugs – machines that will swim within our bloodstream seeking out bad cells and repairing them onsite.  This sounds great but where does it stop.  Perhaps nano-bots or body part replacements will be used to enhance human capabilities.  The Internet has become a global memory extension for all who connect…  Maybe as some predict, we will File:2 Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 in flight.jpgchoose to download our brains into machines that live forever (I don’t buy this future).  This could make steroid use in sports look like child’s play.  Due to the cost, one could imagine an elite society of wealthy individuals having exclusive access to these ‘miracle’ devices to enhance themselves.  Or think about autonomous drone use and the war machine.  We already have quite the capacity to kill one another, do we really need to be moving towards a ‘Terminator’ dystopia where robots are self organizing entities?

I think in schools and District we need to be teaching, learning, and talking a whole lot more about what is happening with technology, way beyond the basic use of iPads, laptops, and SMART Boards.  There needs to be more ethical conversations about technological advancement.  We still debate the value and purpose of technology in schools when it is rapidly enveloping our lives.  Shouldn’t conversations about potential futures and how we want to relate to our technology, start young, in our families, churches, and in our schools?  Or do we trust these conversations and the resulting trajectory to the computer scientists, engineers, war machine generals, and government officials to figure out on our behalf.  I’m not so sure the latter are always acting in the interest of the people they are supposed to serve.

Back to being excited about technology and the future.  I actually do think we have a lot to be excited about in how technology is advancing – it truly is miraculous.  But we need to balance this with thoughtfulness about consequences to environment, people, peace, fairness, freedom, equity, and power balances.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


A recent post, The Secret to Focusing on What Matters by Dan Rockwell talks about choosing One Word to focus your attention.  His statement that “[i]nsignificant leaders focus on trivialities” struck home with me.  I find myself so scattered most of the time trying to iStock_000008217437XSmalltake on too much too fast for too many people, often things that really aren’t that important in the big picture.  I know that I need to pick a few priorities and do them well.  In practice that seems to be more ideal than real.  In my work, and I see it for so many of my colleagues and staff, there are simply too many seemingly important things to do.  It is a real challenge to step back and decide what not to do.  So often we, myself included, just work harder and forget to work smarter.  Back to Dan Rockwell’s post… If I were to choose ‘one word’, I think it would be ‘focus’.  I’m not saying I’m willing to commit to this yet (procrastinating), but I’m thinking about it.

I need to ask myself, if ‘focus’ is to be my ‘one word’, how might my priorities line up to be in the coming years?  I will need to use focus as a lens to judge my use of time.  I don’t know about you but it is often very difficult to not follow and read the articles behind great links shared by colleagues and others on Twitter.  I do budget some time early in the morning to read and reflect on ‘what’s new’.  I expect myself to be well informed on a broad array of topics so this is important.  But sometimes 90 minutes can slip by and I’ve consumed interesting information but not contributed to my real work.  I need to become relentless about focusing my energy on what’s important and not just interesting.

I am trying to focus my purpose and priorities as outlined in this image…


But, the world does not stand still, especially with respect to technology.  So much about the world of technology is going through accelerating change, the ‘what’ items here will need constant refinement and some will go while new ones will come even before some get started.  It’s a crazy world!

But, there are other significant priorities I am focused on that are not directly stated here.  I value relationships with my ‘clients’ and thus invest a significant portion of my time visiting with, listening to, and sharing with school and district staffs.  Equally or perhaps more importantly, I invest significant time listening to my staff, considering how and where to develop my staff, to prepare them for an unpredictable future fraught with changes to their work, and to better align them to the shifting needs of our business.  This strategic workforce design and planning effort is definitely in my top priorities for 2014.  I also value the ‘partners’ from industry we rely on for hardware, software, and services and thus invest time with Learn & Leadthem accordingly.  These client, staff, and partner investments are essential to moving us forward together in the most effective manner.  This is hard and time consuming work.  As Dan Rockwell says “[t]he things you focus on express the importance of your leadership”.  I may be a ‘technology leader’ in title, but to be successful and relevant, I’m a people and relationship leader in practice.

My overarching goal, my focus, my “why”, is to ‘transform learning and work through technology’.  Some have asked ‘to what end?’ and that’s a great question.  Embedded in the statement is the assumption that technology will transform learning and work for the better.  I and those I work with will need to work hard to resist the allure of technology for technology’s sake.  I want to leave the places I work at, significantly better off, than when I arrived.

Focus…  I don’t know yet how well I will do to reduce the numerous distractions in my work life and focus on what really matters, but this is what I aim to do in 2014 and beyond.