Things that connect…

Don’t love Facebook but I love this video. Creates a great context for connective ability of tech. We need this mindset for education.

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Don’t patronize me!

Raising the level of teacher and/or student engagement is an ever popular topic. Many question how best to raise the level of engagement. I wonder though, should we even be asking that question? or more practically, maybe the question itself IS the problem.

Engagement can be a pretty one-sided venture. Depending on how you approach it, engagement could be viewed as a static activity whereby an individual is investing emotional energy into a fully formulated or prepackaged vision. When a canned board or ministry program is released to the education community, the goal is to engage the teachers and the learners. Success in this case is measured by how willing the participants are to get with the program and put it to work. Is this what we really want? Sounds kind of patronizing to me. Not to be trite or hyperbolic but doesn’t the “no taxation without representation” refrain of the pre-American Revolution times come to mind? You want my engagement but not my involvement in constructing the program or its implementation. Gee, thanks!

Rather than addressing the level of engagement, I think that we need to reflect on the level of participation. Many parts of our lived experience are so entrenched because there were no other options at the time of their creation. Educational programming has been top down in delivery and creation for so long because that made it easier to get the product to market. Connecting large numbers of people to contribute to an idea was either cost and/or location prohibitive. We see this model being chipped away daily thanks to the  rise of connective technology. Rolling out a program without larger participation is no longer done out necessity, now it is a matter of choice. I am by no means suggesting that we run education referendum style where every decision or idea requires the consent or contribution of the entire education community. I do believe though that creation of policy and programs must become much more participatory in nature.

As an administrator, I believe it to be a fool’s mission to drop an idea on a staff without some form of participatory decision making. It doesn’t have to be the whole staff but using your School Improvement Team as key partners in the creation of policy is hugely important. It lifts moral since it doesn’t feel imposed but it also becomes a “smarter” venture because more ideas and viewpoints were added to the puzzle. This is not a difficult proposition because it is done within a single school. The challenge comes when you try to scale this type of participation to a system level. Connective technology makes this type of large scale participation possible. The doubters will claim that the level of participation will likely be low. SO WHAT? I am an administrator in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. We have approximately 9000 staff directly involved in learning (teachers, support staff and P/VP’s). Even if an open challenge initiative was to receive response from 1% of that population, that’s 90 people. Ninety new views, ideas or even idea fragments added to the pool of innovation. A slick campaign that combines substantive issues, good presentation design and heavy celebration of success is bound to attract more users with each iterative attempt.

21C is about opening up traditionally closed structures. It is about approaching problems from new and broad-based perspectives. It would be hypocritical to preach collaboration as a new world virtue to our students without doing it ourselves. This small example of a Twitter conversation has HUGE potential for student learning. An enlightened and open educator, Ms. Heidi Siwak puts out this amazing invitation and another amazing teacher Stepan Pruchnicky directs it to myself and the TCDSB SEF Lead Jan Murphy based on his knowledge of a collaborative inquiry of which we are a part. Sandra Mustacato from AICT joins and hopefully carries this on to her circle.

Twitter___Interactions

OpenIDEO scales this idea to a worldwide reach. IDEO partners with various NGOs, companies and non-profits to open large scale social problems to proposed solutions from the global community. The process is an intricate but accessible one, far beyond just throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. Ideas are put through a rigorous design process to reach a workable solution based on communal decision making.

E-waste is a global problem that should be open to a global response. The goal is not have people engage with a ready made solution rather the goal is for large scale participation. Education has always been a complex entity. We must start to harness the collective energy and ideas of our learning community. I truly believe that if we want 21C fluencies to take root and eventually bloom, we must cultivate a participatory culture. It is time to move way beyond engagement and think participation.

So what am I good for?

I have encountered a few teachers and some administrators who have come to question their role in this ever-evolving “thing” known as 21st Century Learning. Questioning long held notions of role can be simultaneously liberating and bone chillingly scary. Liberating if open to new possibilities and jarring if attached to traditional roles either through ideological bent or trepidation about lacking the know-how to adapt.

We all have to realize that the days of being the content expert in the room have been squashed by Google. The new possibilities though are pretty damn exciting if one is ready for it. First let me put any pessimists to rest, technology will NEVER replace a teacher. Khan might be able to accelerate content acquisition or support differentiation but the really cool elements of being a teacher are irreplaceable. The need to inspire, design and provide meaty feedback are the roles that teachers and administrators need to embrace. These three core elements of inspiration, design and feedback have always been my favourite part of the job anyways. It is empowering to know that 21C learning requires me to do more of what I like and a lot less of what I don’t.

Inspiration and real honest-to-goodness feedback are important topics but I will leave them for another post. Of the big three identified in this post, design is apple of my eye right now. Think about your best vacation, the one that was seamless from beginning to end. Flight, accommodations, sites and experience flowing perfectly from element to next; creating the ultimate positive feedback loop. The experience was most likely the product of thoughtful design. The kind of design that makes a building remarkable or an experience memorable. The best stores strive for this kind of design experience as well with Apple as a stand-out. Tim Brown from IDEO is one of the foremost design thinkers in the world. Take a look at this clip from his 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose:

Now its time for some critical reflection. Do our schools or even our classrooms offer the same kind of integrated design? In pockets of a school maybe but definitely not widespread. Quest to Learn Public School in NYC offers its students a school designed around gaming principles. The goal is not stuff content into video games and place game consoles in the classrooms. The goal is to take the design principles of games and apply them to an educational context.

The result is a school designed around the principles of:

  • Student engagement and student immersion in their learning through authentic and challenging problems.
  • The creation of a “need to know” learning model where knowledge creation becomes crucial and all of the knowledge to solve a problem might not be available or evident at the outset.
  • A “just in time” or emerging curriculum based around challenges and student inquiry.

These design principles have created a context that creates:

  • A need for students to share new understandings and knowledge.
  • Opportunities to share knowledge with a larger audience.
  • Export their expertise to an context outside of school.

This is hugely empowering for teachers, administrators and students. Designing an environment that maximizes authentic learning is far more at the core of the teaching vocation than delivering content. Give yourself permission to let go of the baggage holding you back. You have value beyond knowledge of the Great Lakes and Capital Cities of Canada. Embrace the tools and ideas that make the mundane move faster so that you can get on with being an educator that changes lives.

 

Bring on the boring…

“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”
― Clay ShirkyHere Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organization

Profound statement from a terrific thinker. Two of my favourite brands, Apple and Nike, have infused this philosophy into their product ethos. The everyday usage of the product trumps the celebrity endorsement or the specs.  The products themselves are elegant but the messaging targets the practical- to enhance the quality of one’s life.

Take a look at how Apple totally de-emphasizes the product while  instead featuring the utility:

There are no product close-ups with no mention of product features. The entire APPLE universe is built upon connectivity and integration. Each product works  neatly together in unison with the others.

Nike takes a similar tact by avoiding the shoe all together. Eschewing the star-studded campaigns of the best, the “Find Your Greatness” movement focuses on use and empowerment:

Nike has embraced social media as a core method of product promotion in a more holistic manner than most companies. Connecting with customers is not a tacky add-on but rather a core value. The Nike Fuel Band is another example of leading edge technology being integrated seamlessly into a product line with a focus of connection and empowerment.

Nike and Apple provide a wonderful model for technology use in education. We need to: 1) focus on the wide open outcomes potentially created by the tool  2) create an integrated experience that ties technology intimately into every facet of the school ecosystem in an authentic manner 3)  focus on the ability of tech to connect people in more diverse ways and 4) emphasize the ability that technology has to improve the quality of the experience by all in the system. I believe that the fastest way to engage the believers and encourage the nervous is through a consistent focus on the experience and problem-solving nature rather than the specs, apps or platform.

Let’s make the tech boring and the experience vibrant.

Channelling Jeff Bliss

We want student engagement. We want creative critical thinkers who can collaborate and communicate. We want our native digital consumers to start being responsible users and creators. We also want to “fix” education and align it with the “real world”. How you ask? Don’t know but…I like where the video below is going. Opening it up competition style to our kids could be a powerful way of gathering ideas and promoting constructive use of digital tools.

I would love to see a HUGE call out to our kids to submit their ideas for their ideal education system presented in a digital format. I love aggregating ideas from diverse sectors but I also love accountability and ownership. Kids have awesome ideas and lots of opinions. They can share constructively or destructively depending on the context. The “godfather” of Project neXt @vpwetz got me thinking about the format for kids sharing ideas after an open Twitter call for comments on the Jeff Bliss video explosion.

Twitter : Kerr_StJohnVP: I Only Have One Thing to Say ...

  I share @vpwetz’s empathy for Bliss’ position but I also share his concerns about HOW it was expressed.  For those who may not have seen it, here goes:

Rather than through an illicit (and brutally vertical) recording, let’s provide a forum for our kids to submit their ideas. Let them know that it is OK to challenge authority and to be critical if it is done in a constructive manner. We might get 10 or we might get 10 000 but guaranteed we will get something usable. We have to be open to hearing the good, the bad and the ugly that will come from our students. Curious to hear people’s thoughts and/or experiences with similar projects?

How do you REALLY know?

I really like to read. I don’t really read for pleasure; I read more for purpose. I need to know things. I can’t remember the last piece of fiction that I read. Reading is all about supplying me with the knowledge needed to put my ideas in action. Lately I have been reading more from the business world than from the educational world. This has really help to create a more nuanced framework for my educational beliefs.

One of the more influential books (currently in my rotation of 10 books or so) that I’m reading is “The Lean Start-up” by Eric Ries. The premise of the book is that traditional business plans make a lot of assumptions without evidence to validate them. Ries argues that start-ups need to adopt the scientific method and gain evidence about the viability of  a product rather making elaborate plans that are not field tested. Start-ups need to get an MVP, “Minimal Viable Product” to market for testing rather than waiting for “perfection”. Once the MVP is put to market the testing will yield data that lets the makers to know whether they should pivot (move in a new direction) or persevere (continue down the current path). The idea is to build, measure and learn. Ries contends that both large and small companies can benefit from a model such as this.

the-lean-startup_50291668aa9bb

The education correlation you ask? Right now we are in the “Wild West” period of 21C learning. It is a given that our education system needs to move in a direction to support a new modes of learning but no one is quite sure which path to follow or where this whole thing is going. As Eric Schmidt of Google has pointed out, on a daily basis we pump out as much content as accumulated from the beginning of time up to 2003. Within a year, it is estimated that we will be pushing out that much content EVERY 10 MINUTES. Acknowledging the need for new modes of learning is fundamental but we also need an idea of best practice as well.

When the dot.com bubble burst early in this millenium, it was largely because the companies were built on speculation and projections similar to a housing bubble. While today, we are seeing a new breed of digital companies rising. Facebook was able to get massive amounts of venture capital funding early on because of the rapid rate that users were flocking to their platform. It was based on numbers and an actual testable product rather than a plan on paper. While the Facebook of that time lacked many of the current features, there was enough there to test and develop. Many of the learning strategies that are being put forward as 21C solutions are much like the speculative companies of the dot.com days than field tested variety.

I worry that many school boards are rushing down the speculation path. Grand plans are great but without the validation of field testing, they can prove disastrous.  “Rolling out” a packaged solution looks great, sounds great and brings attention but is it effective? All visionaries view the world through their own particular lens. They start with unique perspectives and assumptions aimed at solving problems. The next step though is to get validation for those assumptions. As Ries points out, once the testing results start coming in, they either pivot or persevere.

Our school leaders must be responsible for gathering the ideas, the resources and the support structures necessary to get an MVP ready for testing. Perfection is not required. Launching a prepackaged concept of 21C learning on our teachers is an ideological anachronism. Rather than it being a new approach to learning, it becomes the same bureaucratic process with nicer packaging. We want our leaders to have unique perspectives but we need those closest to the students to do the testing. Without the requisite classroom testing, we are doomed to repeat the cycle of assembly line education.

Rereading my posts has led me to the conclusion that I do a kind of “observational comedy” schtick. I point out a lot without offering solutions. Allow me to step-out on a limb and offer a few solutions:

  • Expand the “Student Work Study Teacher ” (SWST) program. Ministry funds allow boards to assign a few teachers to work in host classrooms and observe student learning. Position papers are then written and submitted to the ministry. Cool premise but slow to make observations actionable. Rather than having Academic Information and Communication Technology teachers delivering workshops (that could easily be replaced by video modules) we need to make use of their skills and expertise by putting them in schools like SWST working with teachers and principals to test theories of 21C learning which can serve as the foundation for a board plan based on a board vision.
  • As controversial as the TDSB Afri-centric Schools may have been at first, I greatly admire the board for taking a chance and testing out a premise. Far from fading, these schools are expanding. Creating a test school is scary in an era of heightened public sector resource accountability but I believe that the potential rewards are well worth it. As part of an inquiry group, I was able to visit the Dr. Eric Jackman University of Toronto Lab School. New ideas are tested and observed by researchers. There is a consistent vision of education that binds ideas together in the school but there is a culture of innovation and improvement that research drives. I strongly believe that public education would greatly benefit from intra-board research schools. As a proud member of the TCDSB, I think that we would GREATLY benefit from a lab school mentality under the inquiry umbrella. Programs related inquiry, 21C and inclusion could be tested in a board specific context and reported to constituents as evidence and not ideas.
  • The Toronto Catholic District School Board 21C department has identified 8 teachers who have implemented 21C fluencies into regular practice. These teachers are being trained to help deliver 21C learning and serve as exemplars. This is a good start but the next step needs to be taken when real field testing is done and student progress is thoroughly evaluated.
  • Most importantly (and I believe easiest), our leaders need to increase transparency, openness and reach when communicating with constituents. Blogging regular about vision, successes and failures is highly engaging. I HATE reading canned statements on sites that are all edubabble and lacking substance (we are seeing some positive change in this area though – see TEACHINGNEXT as an example of what I am hoping to see more of). We need to start being radically open about what we are doing. Engaging stakeholders in the growth process is powerful.  I believe that this does not currently occur because many leaders wait to unveil the final product rather than create a participatory lead-up. Don’t wait to inform and engage stakeholders when you have a final product, get them on board early in the process. Humanize the whole thing.

As former US House Speaker Tip O’Neill remarked, “All politics is local.” I think that we need to apply this to 21C learning and bring the ideas for testing right down the people closest to the students, our teachers!

Cue inspirational music…

Planning the improbable

The human brain is wired to interpret events in a narrative fashion. Events unfold and the brain seeks patterns and pieces things together to make meaning. In his book, “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out that this property of the brain leads us to believe that history unfolds linearly. If “a” is a currently the accepted mode of thinking, we will likely go along believing that “a” will continue with its dominance. We see this in sports when a team looks a dynasty in the making and all prognosticators will groupthink and pick that team to win before the season starts.

Taleb’s book contends that life is largely shaped by black swan events rather than by straight lines or consistent timelines.  As Taleb says, “History does not crawl, it jumps.”  A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences. For example, the Chicago Bulls were a seemingly unstoppable dynasty with no end in sight until out of the blue, Michael Jordan decided to retire (for the first time) in the prime of his career to play baseball in the Chicago White Sox system. In his absence, a mini-dynasty for the Houston Rockets sprung up, only to be curtailed by the return of Jordan almost two seasons later. In both cases, an improbable act radically altered the NBA landscape.

There are countless examples from countless disciplines and aspects of life highlighting the power of black swans. We don’t see these highly improbable events coming because of the manner in which our brain is hardwired. We place way too much emphasis on past events as a predictor of things to come. After the Cold War was officially dead and buried during the Clinton era, Francis Fukuyama famously stated that: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Great line for selling books but the rapid rise of China and 9/11 radically undermined his sweeping statement.

Black swans don’t necessarily have to be improbable or unforeseen. I believe that we can manufacture them (kinda). Predicting the unpredictable is a tautology but we can set the framework and create the circumstances that might create educational black swans. Any successful organization, be it business, sports, technology or any other sort is able to create the conditions for success. These conditions allow for flexibility, rapid iteration, disruptive innovation, systems learning and creative resource management. While Steve Jobs was most definitely an unmatched visionary, he was not a psychic. There was no way that he could have predicted the iPod or the iPad back in the day but he was able to design the conditions that would allow for such a disruptive device to happen.

In education, we need to start doing a better job of creating the conditions that will foster black swans from our students, teachers, administrators and system leaders. Connective technology will help us to extend our reach and aid in greater knowledge creation. Approaching professional and student learning from an inquiry stance creates a mindset that is open to possibilities. We need to start thinking less about definitive outcomes and a lot more about positive structures.

The educational landscape will most definitely not remain status quo in the coming years. Do we know exactly what it will look like in the near or distant future? Not really to the first and no to the second. We need to stop trying to create packaged or canned views of the future and start fostering a love of learning and a desire to be life-long learners. This will allow our students and us as educators to be adaptive and flexible enough to meet whatever conditions we are to face. That’s why I love the quote in the feature image to this post. When we build connections and look to share more regularly, we impact others and the ripples keep growing.

I can, not I’m told.

Change be scary. It can be so scary because of the potential for extremes. A plan could be an extreme failure or an extreme success. Both realities can be equally scary. Education change is scary because it will require many of us to “let go”. This is concerning for some because they worry about students not learning in a non-traditional model while others are concerned because it is SO hard to let go and give up control. I can empathize with both camps and with  those who lie somewhere in between.

We are a “wild west” period right now where change is scattershot and seemingly a moving target. Acceptable one day and repudiated the next. Some ideas seem to be enacted or considered simply for the sake of change rather than for the benefits of student learning; making change all the scarier. Change is worth the trouble if helps the kids. “Help” means many things to many people. I believe that “help” happens when we make changes or enact programs that empower students to take charge of their learning. Figuring out how to do this kind of change can be confounding.

I consider myself to be an “ideas guy” who is learning to get better on the operations side. I am a massive media consumer who pays attention to EVERYTHING which can lead to me paying attention to nothing! I crave frameworks and mental maps to help me coordinate ideas and make meaning. Those serendipitous moments when the right idea hits you at just the right moment are magic. At Connect 2013, I attended Chris Kennedy’s (@chrkennedy) session where he presented the three pillars that the West Vancouver School District is building programming around. Their focus is on 1) Inquiry 2) Self-Regulation  and 3) Digital Access. EXACTLY the simplification  that needed the focus our team at St. John. Empowering students to become life-long learners above all else is an identified priority but how do we operationalize such a broad concept? Thanks to Mr. Kennedy and WVSB, we have that foundation to put ideas into action.

Lightning struck again quickly when I came across Kiran Bir Sethi’s TEDed talk regarding student empowerment. Through the mantra of  “I can”, her Riverside school in India designed a program for students to blur the lines between school and the real world. Students were given the chance to enact real change through a Project Based Learning on steroids kind of program.  The goal was to turn learning over to the students through a three part plan:

1) AWARENESS: see the change  2) ENABLE: be changed and 2) EMPOWER: lead the change. The end goal is to create a student body that is more competent and less scared. As Marianne Williamson  so timelessly and beautifully stated “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond Measure….And as we let our own light shine, We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presences automatically liberate other.” Empowering students to take charge of their learning, one student, one class or one school at a time has that ability to liberate others.

When our students start taking action because “they can” and not because “they are told”, good change has taken root.

Open-sourcing Education

 

IDEO is a leading design firm that has entered into the field of social innovation. They are using design principles to solve MAJOR global issues, for example How might we restore vibrancy in cities and regions facing economic decline? The site aggregates ideas from participants and follows a process leading to action. This open-source approach uses technology as a vehicle to CONNECT. Check out the video below for a quick overview:

We need a forum to connect these ideas. Its time to value the knowledge within the system and use technology to connect educators in a revolutionary and solutions based manner. What would the educational version look like?

TCDSB Project Next

This summer I was part of an amazing team charged with developing a 21st century learning articulation for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Under the name of Project Next, we set out to create a multimedia document that focused on developing a new mindset for educators.

The TCDSB is aligning resources with priorities in an exciting way. We now have a superintendent of 21st Century Learning who is leading our board forward with the full support of the Director and Associate Director of the board.

I will be sharing information about Project Next on this blog over the upcoming months and I would really appreciate feedback to help shape our board’s direction.

The video in the header is the Project Next perspective on Professional Learning. Enjoy and PLEASE offer suggestions.

Accelerating Global Change with Social Media

The downside of social media and the digital era has been discussed ad nauseam. The medium itself has never been a problem, rather it often serves as an accelerator or multiplier of existing predilections. For every elitist who slags the digital youth or inaneness of social media, along comes a signpost with the power of social media in full display.

I came across one such signpost this morning while skimming through Mashable. To celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday, PrezenceDigital created a four minute video that shows how Mandela hypothetically would have used Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare and Instagram to fight Apartheid. We are only left to wonder how things would have played out if Mandela really had such tools at his disposal.

SOOOOOO next time we slag one of our students for wasting time online, remember that for every goofy online venture there is a powerful and life-changing activity taking place. Our job is to guide our students towards positive online activity rather than mock them for how they use it!

People are asked to commit to 67 minutes of service and share their story at www.mandelastory.com. The goal is to create another Mandela each day. Talk about tech becoming an accelerator of change!

It’s time to walk the walk…

The public education system, especially here in Canada, has made tremendous strides in terms of social equity. In Ontario, every school board has now created, adopted and implemented an equity and inclusive education plan. These plans articulate the need for open and accepting educational practices to respect all constituents of the system. The plans faced down opposition to pass certain components but in the end acceptance and openness were deemed to be important educational pillars that had to be supported.

The moral imperative of social equity is obviously foundational to any educational system. Society rightly demands that our system accepts everyone and provides services equitably. It is now time that society demands that same level of openness when it comes to information. Our system is organized in a manner that functionally prevents openness. School districts are largely bureaucratic bodies that exist to support the managerial side of education rather than the learning side. Individual schools have very weak bonds to the community and even weaker bonds with neighbouring schools.  This has to end.

If we demand openness guided by social equity, then we must demand openness in learning as well. 

The students in our system deserve a system that promotes the free flow of ideas throughout a unified system. No good principal would allow one Grade 5 class to go on an important field trip while the other stayed back at the school. All Grade 5 students would be afforded the opportunity to go on the trip. We must apply this same thinking at a systems level as well. Innovative ideas must be shared equitably across the whole system.  Patchwork pockets of innovative practice will not shift the paradigm, we need a unified approach.

The good news is that we do not need to wait for central leadership to craft some hulking policy that will be governance heavy and years in the drafting stage. Educators have the power to change the system themselves (although it would be nice to have support from above!!!). We all know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Technology affords us the opportunity to find that shortest distance more regularly by cutting out the unpleasant intermediary steps. There is no need to wait for some PD session to swap ideas. School leaders and educators can now direct their own connections on their own time.

Anyone who has read this blog or heard me speak before knows that I have been hugely influenced by Don Tapscott. At the most recent TED conference, Tapscott laid out his four principles for an open world (the whole talk can found in the header of this post). These principles include:

  1. Collaboration. The way traditional organizations do business is changing. Organizations cannot survive as closed entities. We must work together to develop the WHOLE system.
  2. Transparency. Open communication to stakeholders is no longer optional, information is out their for people to find it. Organizations of integrity will make decision making open.
  3. Sharing. Giving up intellectual property, put ideas out their for everyone. In education, we must be respectful of student and family privacy but IDEAS should be shared with everyone.
  4. Empowerment. We must distribute leadership and bring more people into the decision making loop. Students, community members and educators must all be empowered.

If we adopt these principles as core values of the public education system and really put them into practice, great things can happen. We can have a system that values social equity and educational openness. Damn, that’s one powerful combination.

It’s time to walk the walk when it comes to equity and integrity.

Managing Data Overload!

I was on Mashable the other day and I found this crazy infographic from DOMO:

dataneversleeps
Source

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Technology is on a supercharged feedback loop where quicker tech begets even quicker tech. Imagine what this means for our students. They are bombarded with benign, malignant and data that lies somewhere in between on a daily basis. The entry age for kids is lowering rapidly as well with children under 8 familiar with the workings of the online world. This is akin to dropping a 16 year old off at bar with good fake I.D and $500. Sounds fun for the kid but the ramifications are potentially catastrophic.

Digital literacy skills MUST begin the primary grades. We have to work with our kids and teach them how to interpret the information that is at their fingertips. I have dealt with some teachers who feel that the answer is to go digital cold turkey with them. To extend my metaphor a touch further, this is now like dropping off a 16 year old Mennonite at the club. Money, excitement, wide eyes but no experience at all…..trouble awaits our young friend! Critical thinking skills must be a core focus in the digital literacy development of our students. Teaching our students how to think and how to discern the useless from the valuable and more importantly the safe from the dangerous.

Taking kids to the computer lab to play literacy or numeracy games has limited value but sadly a disproportionately large part of the primary digital experience. The kids already know HOW to work the equipment, they need to be taught to THINK about what they are accessing.

The world is changing fast. As a prisoner of hope, I believe this change is for the better. As educators, we also have to remember that only the adults perceive the change, for the kids the digital world is their present reality. There is no change, this is just the way it is. We just need to make sure that our kids are equipped with the skills to navigate these quick waters. Watch the SHIFT HAPPENS video in the header to get a nice visual on these quick waters.

Let’s support each other in our digital development. We need to help each other before we can help the kids!

Forget the “what” and focus on the “why”.

Education Week posted an article today entitled, “It’s Not What Natives Do, It’s Why They Do It” by Ian Quillen. The article focuses on ISTE speaker David Warlick of the Landmark Project. Warlick suggests that educators should be less concerned with the type of media that digital natives use and focus more on why they use it. The “gamification” (I HATE THAT WORD!) of the classroom is a popular buzz phrase recently in the world of student engagement. Warlick rightly points out that simply including more education based games is not a silver bullet. Instead, researchers should be trying to identify the particular aspects of games that the students really enjoy. Warlick contends,

 “If we could identify some of those elements and integrate those … if we could crack the code … and then use that to hack the activities we’re doing in our classrooms, then maybe we could create more learning activities that are relevant to today’s children,” Warlick said.

 In “Stratosphere”, Fullan makes a similar argument. The technology alone does not improve student learning. Technology must be a tool for engagement and making learning easier. Good pedagogy and strong teaching must be coupled with technology for it to be truly effective. Quite frankly, gaming alone in the classroom is a cop-out. If we crack the code and apply the “hook” to different lesson activities, we have the potential to really affect student outcomes.

If we simply push more games we risk two potential problems. First, we began pandering to our students. Games simply for the sake of engagement pacifies but does not necessarily teach. Secondly, we provide a market for the big ed companies to swoop in with prepackaged platforms that do not involve any form of local feedback or input.

Educational leaders must cognizant of Warlick’s suggestions as they formulate  working plans for 21st Century Learning. The tools alone will not do the job. Tech should engage and make learning easier but it cannot substitute for teachers. Games have many lessons to teach and we should look to apply those ideas to our teaching practices. The focus should not just be on what tools they like to use but why they like to use them.


			

Stratosphere – Michael Fullan

Michael Fullan’s new book “Stratosphere” takes a critical look at 21st Century Learning. Specific attention is paid to the relationship between technology and pedagogy. The book title “Stratosphere” refers to the relationship of technology, pedagogy and change knowledge. This book provides and very nuanced perspective of 21st Century Learning. Far from advocating the independent learning power of platforms like Khan Academy as a panacea for education, Fullan presents the dangers that students face without the guiding hand of a teacher.

I really appreciate Fullan’s framework for effective ed tech. If schools are going to reap the benefit of what technology has to offer, the tech needs to be:

  1. Irresistibly engaging for students and teachers.
  2. Elegantly efficient and easy to use.
  3. Technologically ubiquitous 24/7/
  4. Steeped in real-life problem solving.

The goal is to move away from marvelling at tech specifications towards reliable and real integration of technology. Tech with a focus and not simply tech for tech’s sake. It must help students to link curriculum to real life problem solving situations.

Most importantly, Fullan deals with the new role of teachers in the 21st Century. Rather than being pushers of content, teachers must form partnerships with students. Teachers have a huge role to play in this new era of education as change agents. Technology and independent learning alone cannot provide these change conditions. Fullan quotes John Hattie when discussing the fundamental role of teachers, “to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement.” A partnership rather than the sage on the stage.

This is a powerful book that anyone involved in education must read. It comes in at roughly 80 pages. I purchased my copy from Pearson online. It is a critical, nuanced and valuable perspective on this new era of learning.

Storybird – Collaborative Digital Storytelling

For me to get excited about any digital learning tool, there must be a collaborative element to it. Storybird is a digital storytelling tool that allows students to create and publish extremely smooth picture books. Users are provided with numerous illustration styles that can easily be dragged into place on a blank page. Students can add their own text at the side or on the bottom of a page.

The Storybird desktop is very user friendly:

Collaboration is integrated into Storybird  in an authentic manner. Creators can invite others to contribute or “take a turn” on a story through an email invitation. Stories can be set-up as collaborative from the outset as well. The Storybird community is invited to leave comments and share stories. Students can benefit from simply reading the stories of other community members.

Storybird is teacher friendly as well by allowing for the creation of classes. Storybird is a “freemium” site. The free version is all that is needed to create stories. The premium features include tools for teachers such as an assessment and descriptive feedback function. The free version allows for one PDF download per student with the premium plans allowing for 150 – 300 per student. All plans allow for unlimited online creations.

Teachers are also able to assign stories online through the created class lists. The assignment screen is simple for the user and the teacher:

Don’t let Cloud Education get Hijacked!

One of my favourite aspects of the NFL is that it can serve as an analogy for almost anything. Seemingly each year, some great coach comes up with an innovative new system or scheme – the West Coast offense, the zone blitz, the Wildcat offense or the new 3-3-5 defense. As soon as a team achieves success with a certain style of play, everyone jumps on board. The NFL is the ultimate “copycat” league. The new trend of adoption of Ed Teach is perfectly analogous to this copycat mentality.

One of my concerns is that the for-profit companies are jumping on board the “Ed Tech Train” with great zeal. The text book companies are starting to offer prepackaged and multi-layered programs online instead of in print. Rather than revolutionizing education, they are simply repacking their programs to a digital format. This will prove successful in the short-term because of the fuzziness of this transition time. Boards will want to give their communities something digital.  The big education companies will copy the success of the upstarts and the true ed revolutionaries. The results will sadly dilute the whole movement.

As educators, we must make use of digital tools and not digital programs. As I write I can hear John Lennon singing, “You say you want a revolution” and that revolution will only happen through connecting communities of educators and learners.  Cloud education is an agent of change if it allows for free movement of ideas. Teachers working in specific communities now have the opportunity to connect with teachers in similar communities. Ideas no longer have to stay within a school, board, city, province or even country. We can tear down traditional barriers and rapidly connect ideas.

Boards do not need to make huge investments in for-profit companies, they need to make investment in their constituents. Build infrastructure, build  a culture of collaboration, invest in capacity build, encourage innovation and invest in digital tools that facilitate connections and home grown lesson creation. Buying a digital textbook series is simply a lateral move. This new age of online learning should be empowering to educators and not simply a method to move the status quo to a new platform.

In the header video, Tiffany Shlain, makes reference to power of the “The Declaration of Interdependence“. This short film is a crowdsourced creation, translation and reading of this declaration. As educators, we should likewise make such a declaration. We are dependent on each other. We can make use of the digital tools out their to share ideas, craft lessons and work collaboratively.

Cloud education should empower communities of learners, not provide a new market for textbook companies.

Being a tourist in your own Education System

Last summer my wife’s aunt and uncle visited us from Cape Town, South Africa. Her uncle wanted to visit all of the major Toronto landmarks. We took the red double-decker sightseeing bus all around the city. I saw parts of my own city that I had never really paid attention to before. Being a tourist in your own city can be  a very enlightening experience.

Taking that tourist approach to your own education system can be equally enlightening. I found this video on Edutopia from the OECD Education Everywhere series about education in Ontario. The video focused on Unionville High School (part of the northern Toronto suburb of Markham ).  Markham is an extremely diverse city with a very large Chinese and south Asian population.

The video paid specific attention to the role of the “Student Success” teacher and the larger Student Success team. The team meets weekly and focuses on coordinating supports for the transition of new Canadian students. The goal is to provide supports for the whole child and not only the academic side.

Additional information and perspectives can be found in this OECD document:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7X-Dkl-q6IfdWZDVFVRNnVHamM/preview

Digital Literacy: Don’t let them learn it on the streets!

The ubiquity of content is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it has created greater freedom, enhanced transparency and put the focus of education on matters of higher order. It can be a curse because there is just so damn much of it! I often find myself overwhelmed by content, not really sure where to start or how to process.  I came across this great slide from Steve Wheeler that says it all:

If adults are confused when searching for information, how do you think our students feel? 

As tech integration moves full steam ahead in our schools, we have to step back for a moment and prioritize. The access and proliferation of tools are key aspects of building infrastructure but they do not represent 21st century learning alone. The priority in education must be on teaching our students how to handle the deluge of information that they face daily.

Many people of my generation (shout out to the Gen Xers!) learned about the birds and the bees by osmosis. We learned about the mechanics through playground whispers, urban legend, contraband reading material and our older siblings! Only the few progressive schools and parents had “the talk” with their children. I fear that much the same is going on when it comes to digital literacy. Students are being taught about privacy and personal safety on the web but they are being left to fend for themselves when it comes to interpreting and using the vast amounts of information available to them. This is far too big of an undertaking for them to face alone.

Students struggle to determine the credibility of sites and content. How many times have you had an intermediate or high school aged student present you with ironclad proof that 9/11 was an inside job? It happened to me at least a half dozen times. One or two Youtube videos later, the conspiracy minded become experts in covert operations and structural engineering.  Students equate a well-polished site as “the truth”. Sadly, they don’t recognize that a polished turd is still a turd! It is only through a focus on digital literacy leading to digital fluency that they will develop the “crap detection” of which Howard Rheingold speaks.

Take a look at the picture below. What do you think?

I showed this slide to a few of my best and brightest students (a few colleagues as well!). Their immediate reaction was to agree with the quote. I got responses like “Yeah, the internet is full of garbage.” They were so quick to agree with the quote that they did not take a look at the whole slide. They completely ignored the fact that the quotation was attributed to a man who was long dead before the internet was even a dream! Proof positive that digital literacy is still in its infancy. Knowing how to search for information does not equate to knowing how to process or interpret information.

The goal then is to help our students learn how to handle information. We must also recognize the need to support our fellow educators through this process as well. In the slideshow at the bottom of this post, Alex Couros (an outstanding Canadian Ed Tech educator) presents the case for digital fluency. The argument being that we need to go beyond “knowing how” to the deeper stage of understanding “why”. This diagram pulled from his presentation provides a nice overview:

Digital fluency brings students into the realm of “knowledge wisdom”. At this stage, analysis of the information can occur. Students will have a framework to judge information, organize it and categorize it. Steve Wheeler provides us with this excellent summary:

When our kids get to the stage of digital fluency, they become much more self-sufficient. Controlling content allows them to be better at creating, curating, remixing and sharing content. Collaboration becomes more effective and networks that much stronger.

How do we get there? What are your strategies? What works? What doesn’t?

FULL SLIDESHOWS from @timbuckteeth (Steve Wheeler) and @courosa (Alec Couros)

Video: A History of Technology in Education

Fun video from SMART, it’s a little  commercial but still effective. I think that its really interesting how the technology at each stage served as an extension of the teacher until the current period. This was most apparent in the “computer age” animation.  The screens were simply reproducing what was going on at the front of the room. The teacher was still the centrepiece and the technology was simply a tool to provide passive content.

It is only in the final “interactive age” that things become more decentralized. The students are using the technology in a much more self-directed manner. The goal is interaction and not content delivery.