Look deep into the crystal ball…

Innovation is an overplayed word. It has been misused, overused and misunderstood. True innovation though is sexy, smart and seductive. I know that it should go without saying, but real innovation is also truly forward looking. It can be frustratingly incremental at times while at other times it seems to leap forward in the blink of an eye. The incremental piece gets overlooked and we forget that great products are often paradoxically “overnight sensations that were years in the making.” When a truly brilliant idea finally comes to fruition as a usable product, it is the result of some carefully placed and forward thinking early bets by the creators.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both approached an important fork in the tech road; Jobs moved down the path of the “post PC” movement while Gates took the PC path. In the words of Frost (kinda), “(Jobs) took the path less travelled by and that has made all the difference.” Jobs looked into the crystal ball and began to position Apple towards eventual explosive growth. Incremental choices were made  that would ultimately converge into true disruption. Apple’s unveiling of the 5s and the 5c iPhones was an underwhelming event for some. I see it a bit differently. Two things really standout: the Fingerprint Security Ring and the 64Bit chip. The fingerprint security potentially could open up all kinds of integration. Think about the options for purchasing that come from the security of fingerprint level security. The 64bit chip also creates crazy speed and multi-tasking options for the phone. The shift towards mobile moves even faster now. The other key piece to consider is iOS7. It seems to me that the devices are being designed to showcase the operating system. The tech is the peripheral while the operating system takes on even greater importance. These seemingly incremental additions have to potential to eventually to lead to Apple’s next big thing.

Innovation is dependent on an overarching vision that is supported by smaller, integrated and forward thinking bets about the future. It is all about positioning hunches.  The vision of the future might be a bit fuzzy but there is a gut feeling about the correct direction.  At the outset of the creative process, rarely is the final product conceptualized or clearly pictured. Instead there is an understanding of needs, trends and possibilities for change. I have always been a proponent of the coaching adage, “practice makes permanent.” Just like the muscle memory that comes from repeated physical action, there is also institutional memory. This type of memory can be powerful or highly corrosive. In the right environment, the repeated practice creates powerful innovation and productivity. P&G, Apple, Google, Facebook, and numerous other companies are so successful because of the reflective positioning that creates the right institutional memory. Repeatedly bad positioning leads to the type of institutional memory that creates companies like ENRON! Each and every decision that an organization makes adds fuel to a feedback loop (picture the old cartoon image of the snowball rolling down a snowy hill).

In education, we are very much rooted in the now. Decisions are made based on test scores and other accumulated data. Analyzing this data is obviously important BUT it must be used wisely. Test scores are trailing indicators, good glimpses into “what was” that really need to be rethought before trying to use them to project what might be. We need to start being bolder with our interpretations of the data.  We need to use that data to start making important small bets now with an eye towards reaching a grander vision. Just like Steve Jobs aligned Apple with an eye towards the post-PC world, we need to start aligning all decisions towards a post-SCHOOL version of education. Instead of perpetuating and propping up the status quo of bureaucratic education, we have to start positioning our system to handle an “anytime and anyplace” version of education. Decentralization of education is underway and no one has a perfect vision of what the final product will look like. Our goal is to start making the decisions now that allow the learning to bloom. If we don’t, we risk irrelevance and obsolescence.

We have to take a glimpse into the crystal ball and try to make sense of the blurry future staring back at us. Let’s start the positioning of those small bets and hunches in order to create something powerful and self-perpetuating.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Flattening Educational Hierarchies: 5 Pillars for the New World

In this RSA Animates -ish video, Don Tapscott stakes out his case for the macro level changes occurring around the world as a result of collaborative technology.

Tapscott, besides being a good Canadian, is always full of really thought-provoking ideas. He is exactly the type of hopeful person that I wrote about yesterday. He is a person of game-changing vision.

Tom Friedman of the NY Times wrote about the flattening of hierarchies in his book, “The World is Flat”. It is only recently though that we are really starting to see this idea being put into action. From Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement to the Quebec Student protests, we are seeing people “self-organize”. Social media and collaborative technology have aided movements to turn ideas into action.

Tapscott highlights five key pillars of that are being ushered in by the information age:

  • collaboration
  • openness
  • sharing
  • interdependence
  • integrity
These pillars will have profound impact on education as well.I really believe that the education system in Ontario has the integrity part covered but we need massive development in the other four pillars.

We are infected by a silo mentality on the institutionalized side of education. There may be some sharing within a school but very rarely (if ever) does inter-school sharing of ideas occur.   The openness and interdependence pillars are the most lacking. Ideas are too often hidden or hoarded within schools or even within individual classrooms. As Steven Johnson points out, ideas usually begin as half formed hunches that only really come to fruition when connected to another idea. In other words, great ideas can only occur by sharing. It is only through openness and collaboration fostered by interdependence that we will see growth in system level sharing.
In education right now, we are seeing the “self-organization” movement occurring in full effect. There are SO many education blogs, lesson sites, wikis and organizations that are working to connect educators and spread ideas. Sadly, the various boards are lagging FAR behind. This self-organization of educators is to be commended. Technology is binding educators and ideas together. Most of these educators are doing this on their own and not for profit. This allows educators to do their own  relevant professional development. If the boards don’t step up their game, they will be largely reduced to governance and infrastructure. Real learning for teachers will occur completely outside of the system.
We have to take a culture before tools perspective before real change can occur. The boards are doing a good job of bringing tech into the schools but that alone will not solve the problem. A sustained focus on collaborative ideals must occur first. We must build interdependence and put a premium on collaboration. As a school leader, this will be one of my top priorities. There is no magic in the social media platform or the technological tool. The magic is in the ideas and the people. Remember, we’re all in this together!

Optimism sucks! Be Hopeful.Be Fearless.

“Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tends to be based on the notion that there’s enough evidence out there to believe things are gonna be better, much more rational, deeply secular, whereas hope looks at the evidence and says, “It doesn’t look good at all. Doesn’t look good at all. Gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.” That’s hope. I’m a prisoner of hope, though. Gonna die a prisoner of hope.”
― Cornell West

Like Dr. West, I too am a prisoner of hope. I have a really hard time with optimism. It is too shallow and thin of a concept. The hopeful person acknowledges that there are problems in the world and does not hide from them. The hopeful person decides to fight the problems rather than pretending that they are not so bad. I see optimism as an empty smile or an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. Rather than rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty fixing a problem, the optimist takes a passive approach.

My biggest problem with optimism is that it leads to incrementalism. The change agenda is slow and plodding with a complete lack of bold action. As Dr. West says, hope is based on visions of new possibilities. The incrementalist approach brought on by optimism also leads to low expectations. The hopeful person sets audacious goals and fights hard to achieve them.

So what does this have to do with education?

I really believe that we must have high expectations for our system, our boards, our leaders and ourselves. If we want education to move into the 21st Century, then we have to be bold and fearless. We have to map out a real vision for progress and not just a piecemeal or retread plan packaged as a vision. The best way to craft such a vision is collaboratively. When we are supported, we are more confident. When we are engaged and involved, we are more passionate. If we want big change, we need a larger pool of ideas from which to draw. Take bold action to incorporate collaborative technology into our system.

The video in the header is from the Case Foundation started by Steve and Jean Case (early builders of AOL). The goal of the foundation is to spark innovation and collaboration around the world. The plan that they set out for collaboration and innovation is bold yet attainable. Please take their pledge seriously. Real change comes from a collective and hopeful vision.

Please click on their logo to view the Case Foundation site:

BE BOLD. BE HOPEFUL. BE FEARLESS. Remember, we are all in this together!

Remember, we’re all in this together!

As evolutionary ideas become nuanced, there seems to be a move away from Dawkins’ reductionist ideas of the “selfish gene” where humans are simply hosts for gene survival and any form of altruism or desire for the greater good is reduced to kin selection. The new movement focuses much more on the benefits of cooperation and working together for the greater good. Martin Nowak of Harvard university penned the book “Supercooperators” where he argues that cooperation is hardwired into our very genetic make-up and he just happens to be a devote Roman Catholic (another nail in the coffin in the false dichotomy of science vs. religion).

Of particular interest to this post are the ideas of J.Haidt and his work with “Hive Psychology”. Haidt’s work focuses on happiness and its relationship to losing oneself in a greater whole or cause.  An article on Scott Belsky’s the99% highlights two major tenets of Hive Psychology:

(1) “The most effective moral communities – from a well-being perspective – are those that offer occasional experiences in which self-consciousness is greatly reduced and one feels merged with or part of something greater than the self.”

(2) “The self can be an obstacle to happiness (given our inherent limitations as humans!), so people need to lose their selves occasionally by becoming part of an emergent social organism in order to reach the highest level of human flourishing.”

-From “Hive Psychology, Happiness & Public Policy” by J. Haidt, P. Seder & S. Kesebir

The goal of this post is not to debate evolutionary science or explore the relatively new field of evolutionary psychology, instead I want to underline the importance of cooperation and teamwork at school. Student success must ALWAYS be paramount to any initiative undertaken in any school but the well-being of the staff within a school is vitally important as well.

We live in a world of ubiquitous connectivity. As educators and educational leaders, the goal is to ensure that these connections are purposeful. There are times of deep isolation in our profession and I have teachers become completely disconnected as a result. Building a strong community of support based upon professional development, mental health and most importantly student success is just the type of moral engagement that Haidt discusses. Building a true community of learners that advances the lives of parents, students and staff members is a powerful thing. It is the type of thing in which we should seek to lose ourselves.

How often have you found yourself excited by the “ping” on your phone which signifies a new message? We get excited because it is the potential for a connection to another person or group. The haters will tell you that this type of virtual connection is empty and only leads to more empty connections. I think that’s nonsense. When my wife, who is home on maternity leave, sends me a picture of our daughters on my phone, I am not satisfied. It only makes me want to see them in person all the more. The pictures alone are not an end, instead they represent another layer of connection. Let’s harness these virtual connections and use them to make our face to face connections more meaningful, productive and vibrant. Rather than viewing collaborative tech platforms as an empty connection, view them as a tool to expand connectivity. The goal is not to replace face to face contact rather it is to diversify connectivity and deepen bonds.

Technology like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Google Groups, Chatter, Edmodo and many more, provides us with a chance to share information as well as build community. We can end isolation and build deeper supports so that we do not feel overwhelmed or bogged down my minutiae when we do have opportunities for face to face collaboration at school.

Let’s get lost in education together. The more purpose that we create in education, the happier that everyone will be. Remember, we are all in this together!

School is dead. Long live school.

“There’s no other technology in the world that 87% of the world’s population owns. And yet, despite mobile devices’ ubiquity and connectivity, we are only beginning to realize what’s possible.”

The above quote came from a recent article from Forbes online by Mark Fidelman.  Just like in the business world, education has barely scratched the surface of the possibilities for mobile technology. The growing power and access of mobile technology means that a major shift in both the public and private sector is coming. Fixed locations and workplaces become less relevant because mobile technology allows for quick collaboration and access through the ever-growing cloud. Without adaptations, many organizational models will crumble or risk becoming obsolete.

Adaptations are not always easy though. Fidelman quotes Lisa Bodell, author of Kill the Company,  “The very structures put in place to help businesses grow are now holding us back.” The high walls of protocol, policy, procedure and accountability have their place but they also prove stifling. We all know that this same problem exists in the education system as well.

Fidelman explores how corporate barriers prevented innovation leading to start-ups surpassing corporate giants:

Why didn’t Kodak invent Instagram? Fear of  non-revenue generation in the short while neglecting the potential windfall down the road. That windfall turned out to be $1 000 000 000 from Facebook.

Why didn’t Zagat invent Yelp? 28 year Zagat did not recognize the power of mobile technology. Google offered $100 million for Zagat while 8 year old

Yelp! harnessed mobile tech and has a market value of $1 billion.

Why didn’t the music labels invent iTunes? Rather than embrace mobile technology and start the revolution, the big labels pursued the path of litigation to prop up a dying model.

Are we going to be asking similar questions about the education system? The rise of web based learning platforms like Khan Academy, Udacity, iTunes University, and EdX are growing quickly. The start-up mentality of these companies makes them nimble and current. The education system moves with the pace and agility of a lumbering giant. While Bodell’s concept may be a bit extreme, we must undertake the hard changes before these changes are forced upon us.

A good first step for schools is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) but tools alone do not solve the problem. We need to attack the larger issue of an engrained culture that resists innovation. In order to keep pushing forward, we must fight to have an educational culture that values growth and development. Without such a mentality our model risks obsolescence.

Strong Culture each day keeps the Echo Chamber Away…

Creating networks of educators is a passion of mine. Bringing partial ideas and hunches together to formulate grander ideas and designs has the potential to be game-changing for education. As passionate as I may be about creating networks, I am not blind to the potential drawbacks. The pitfall that concerns me the most is the “echo chamber” effect. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people can be inspirational but it can also be stunting. When we enter the echo chamber, we are bombarded with information that reenforces our own hypotheses even when they may be unsubstantiated. Instead of being critical thinkers, we fall prey to a sycophancy of supporting ideas.

In a recent Financial Post article, David Weinberger, author of the book “Too Big to Know” states, ” There is evidence that people, when given a wide field of beliefs and opinions and sources to deal with, will gravitate towards ones that reinforce their existing beliefs, becoming more convinced and more extreme, so we end up with a more polarized society instead of a more open one.” This can happen in a school setting as well. Simply connecting with another educator or group of educators does lead to improved student results or professional knowledge.

A strong culture of critical thinking and inquiry must be developed in order to maximize the benefits of collective action. We MUST be open to the dissenting point of view if we really want to generate any idea of consequence. We must also make sure that we collaborate with people outside of our particular division, department or grade level. If great ideas come from connecting hunches, then we are more likely to create great educational ideas when we they are product of a variety of perspectives. If a math department is looking to improve the problem solving skills of a cohort of students, chances are they will experience little success if they stay within the math gene pool. Engaging the help of the English department or the Art department may provide that missing link to true inspiration.

In the “Big Think” talk in the header, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the value of realizing that the whole world does not view things the way that you do. Talking with people from other professions wakes you up to the variety of experiences and mental frameworks in the world. Gladwell uses the metaphor of the “terrible two’s” to highlight this scenario. Children become rebellious and challenging at two because they recognize that their mind is separate from their parents. Each of them has their own viewpoint. Educators must recognize that we all have our own unique mindset and being cognizant of these differences can be leveraged to great effect.

School administrators must pay close attention to school culture and develop it with great care and patience. Creating a culture of critical thinking and respect for diverse opinions will generate powerful and fully actualized ideas. If attention is not paid to developing such a culture, no change can occur because we will be caught in the echo chamber.

Social Media & Authenticity: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

As I inch closer to my new role in school administration, issues like culture and collaboration occupy a prominent spot in my mind. These are issues that are best approached with a design mentality.  The more integrated the approach, the greater the likelihood of successful implementation. Many initiatives that are rolled out by school boards and local schools are done in a piecemeal fashion. A paint by numbers approach may include all the correct elements but it lacks the impact of the real thing.

Companies that can truly call themselves “social organizations” approach culture and collaboration from a true design perspective and the impact is stunning. Starbucks makes use of social media not just to promote products but to craft an experience. The phone app makes life easier for the customer, a rewards program encourages frequent usage and “My Starbucks Idea” allows consumer to become co-creator. The level of integration makes the customer feel like a partner and the experience becomes truly organic. A complicated process becomes simplified and elegant.

Too often we decry the lack of parental involvement in schools and chalk it up to parental indifference. This mentality would never fly in the private sector. When Starbucks started to lose its way, it lost customers. Coupled with the “Great Recession of 2008”, a juggernaut really stumbled. Howard Schultz did not throw up his arms and blame the customers for not buying his product. He rolled up his sleeves, got back in the game and got busy reengaging his base.Does the education system treat parents and students as co-creators or passive consumers? Profits are a great motivation for change but moral imperative is even more powerful.

School boards should strive to become social organizations. Social media gets a bad rap sometimes from an organizational perspective because it is regarded as primarily a marketing tool. As it stands right now, most boards are guilty of using social media as a marketing tool. Plans are created within the hierarchy and then shared with the stakeholders as done deal via some social media platform. This is reductionism at its best. A powerful tool is stripped of its power and simply becomes a more expedient newsletter. The goal should be co-creation and consultation during the development phase, not simply notification of a completed product.

Fast Company’s Co.Exist recently published an article about how three old school, non-profits have used social media to great effect. Goodwill, The United Way and Red Cross are hardly sexy brands but they are creating a big social media footprint. The strategy was to connect with the support base from a new perspective. Rather than simply soliciting donations , these companies are creating partnerships with potential donors. A community is being developed that can be a source of support in both the short and long term. They have created an affinity for their organization and people are much more willing to lend a hand. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why school boards cannot do the same. People want to feel valued. A recent poll showed that people would be willing to take less pay for a job that made them feel valuable. Parents will make sacrifices if they feel valued. Volunteers teas and the like are wonderful but they do not create a sense of value. Real affinity comes from participation.

Below is a great infographic from Craig Newmark (Craig’s List Founder) showing the use of social media by public organizations.

Education Innovation

We live in a time of rapid innovation in the private sector. This innovation is being fuelled by connecting people through social technology. The walls between creators and consumers are disappearing with the paradigm shifting towards co-creation. The video in the header of this post defines innovation as the culmination of the tri-part process of IDEATE, CREATE, and VALIDATE. If private sector giants like Coke, IBM and P&G can shift course towards a more innovative, social oriented business model, don’t tell me that public education cannot follow suit.

It’s one thing to call for innovative change and define the process but it is an entirely different proposition to create that change. So my fellow educators how do we do it? How do we generate ideas, create innovations, and validate those ideas in an educational context?

It certainly won’t be through accumulating tech toys without purpose behind the acquisitions. It will come from an attitudinal shift that runs throughout the whole system. We must focus on building stronger networks of ideas and people. Secondly, we need to make organizational openness accepted practice.

Kevin Kelly, original executive editor of Wired Magazine, is renowned for his writing about the power of networks. Kelly wrote a piece called the “New Rules for the New Economy”. Amoung Kelly’s ideas include similar calls for more openness and connectivity.

Kelly places tremendous emphasis on the power of connected individuals with shared interests and goals as agents of change. He calls these networks “virtuous circles”. These circles are powerful feedback loops that can increase the rapidity of change through networked interactions. One good idea connects with another individual and that idea begets another and so on and so on. This loop builds on acquired knowledge at an exciting pace.

Key to innovation is also a philosophy of openness. Two of the biggest Tech titans in the world, Google and IBM have embraced open source technology because they have an eye on longer term prosperity. Open source like Linux is not really what I talking about though. A philosophy of idea sharing, with no concept of proprietary professional information, is more akin to the openness of which I speak. Ideas and information must be shared freely throughout a school, a superintendency, and even a board. If the end result of education is student success, then we must leverage every trick in the book.

As educators, we can take advantage of social media to become social organizations and create larger inter-school and inter-board, hell even inter-provincial “virtuous circles” of connected educators. There is no need to wait for a top down solution. Let’s take advantage of resources like Ning, Facebook, Google Groups and the like to connect teachers.

One of the real benefits of networked interactions and a philosophy of openness is nimbleness. It becomes must easier to change direction and deal with emergent problems quickly and effectively, when everyone is apprised of the problem. Networked solutions are also more comprehensive. Rather than allowing macro-educational problems to fester, openness can create a more rapid response. Openness also creates a more engaged work culture because people being to perceive themselves as members of a team rather than as a disconnected employee.

I think that an evaluation of openness should take place in every school. How often are ideas shared? Is information proprietary in your school? Do you have idea “hoarders” and “hermits”? If so, Why? How can we change their mindset? How do we build the trust that is so vital for openness?

I would love to hear from all of the educators out there. What successes have you been witness to regarding openness and networks? What are the challenges? Where do we go next? What tech tools can we use to support this growth?

Over the next few days, I will be sharing some more videos and ideas regarding networked and open innovation. Share your ideas on this post or on Twitter #educationcrowdsource.

Flipped Classroom – Infographic

This blog and many others make frequent reference to the piece of ed jargon known as “The Flipped Classroom”. Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame has been a major force in pushing it to prominence but he is not the originator. This cool infographic from Knewton presents both the history and the details of this disruptive change idea.

 Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Crowdsourcing a Solution

UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has established 6 goals to ensure access to education for all citizens of the world. Click on the banner to see the goals:

 

The mission is to achieve these goals by 2015. This deadline will be impossible to meet without a new and more radical course of action. Rather than relying on big money consulting groups and think-tanks, UNESCO has partnered with NOKIA and several other groups to crowdsource the cure. Individuals from around the world are invited to share their ideas for using mobile technology to provide educational opportunities for those in the most remote areas of developing countries.  You can share an idea at: www.ideasproject.com/efa.

This idea can be easily applied to a North American context as well.  There is tremendous insight and collective knowledge in the ranks of each and every school board.  This knowledge just needs to be connected and networked. The power of crowdsourcing lies in the fact that no one individual needs to have the whole answer, each member of the community adds a piece to the puzzle. We have the technology to easily operationalize the age old proverb, “Many hands make light work.” We have to shift away from viewing schools and the individuals within them as isolated entities. Networking with colleagues should not occur at some workshop once or twice a year in a situation that has no context.

Imagine relying on fellow educators to help solve problems rather than have an outside “solution” applied to particular problem.  We can put an end to  “square peg and round hole” answers to localized problems. Tapping into resources like NING, Google+, Google Groups, Facebook, Edmodo, Salesforce Chatter, etc. could easily network schools.

The greatest resource that we have in education is each other.

Bring on the Revolution…

My perspective of teaching in the digital era has been hugely influenced by the work of Don Tapscott. He values technology because of its transformative power rather than the novelty factor. As society becomes increasingly networked, traditional barriers to participation are torn done. Direct participation in government, the economy and even in education becomes easier to achieve due to tech advances which will hopefully ignite a participatory spirit in our students.

In this documentary trailer, one of the speakers offers this profound quote,

” Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools, it happens when people adopt new behaviours.”

Technology is the tool to bring on these new behaviours for our students. It is the ultimate tool of engagement.

TCDSB Area 1 Innovators Conference

I am very excited to be participating in tomorrow’s “TCDSB Area 1 Innovator’s Day” at Msgr. Percy Johnson CSS. I want to thank Loretta Notten (Area 1 Superintendent) and Marcello Mancuso (Msgr. Percy Johnson Vice-Principal) for offering me the opportunity to present.

Seth Godin – Stop Stealing Dreams

Seth Godin of “Tribes” and “Linchpin” fame has written a manifesto about the public education system. He is offering it as a free ebook on a variety of formats. Here is the pdf version: