Heading to #ISTE2016, Excited to be with the tribe!

It has been too long (3 years) since I’ve been able to attend ISTE. Part of it has been a 4,000 mile move from Arizona to Alaska, part the need to focus on building new “local” connections, and part of it was a frustration that the conversation hadn’t changed much in a decade of being an “Ed Tech Advocate”. This February that started to change when I was given the opportunity to lead our Ed Tech group.

Working with my Ed Tech staff rekindled an excitement and passion for teaching and learning that has been present, but not at the forefront of my daily work.

I’m excited to spend the next few days with my tribe of passionate educators, teachers through superintendents. I hope to have my assumptions challenged, skills improved, and connections made.

Look forward to seeing you all soon!

Teachers, the Ultimate Knowledge Workers

As I read through the responses of Douglas McCollum, a senior vice president and general manager at Pearson, I could help but sign, “Why are we still talking about content?”

Anybody fixated on content is living in a bygone era were information was the primary value. Today, information is virtually free and accessible any time and any place. Publishing companies are still trying to convince us that if only the content was right (i.e. personalized, customized, more engaging, etc…) that students would learn. That just isn’t true, in 12 years in education I have yet to content drive anything more textbook companies profits.

Great teachers have always know this and see all texts and media as potential resources. It is through their thoughtful application of psychology, educational theory, and good old fashion grit, they create amazing learning environments. Why then are so many teachers still considered labor? Labor is a cog in factory machine that can interchanged and easily replaced. But a good teacher is not easy to replace. We must strive to categorize teachers as knowledge workers.

A knowledge worker is defined as:

“Knowledge workers are employees who have a deep background in education and experience and are considered people who “think for a living.”

If that doesn’t sound like a connected educator, I don’t know what does. Even so lets take a moment to identify how a teacher qualifies as a knowledge worker.

  1. Knowledge Worker always ask: “What is the task?
    Today’s educators are very comfortable with taking a student and various evaluation information to figure out how they are going to reach a student. They have to do this with each and ever student with whom they work.
  2. They have to have autonomy.
    While in some places this is diminishing, educators have the autonomy in their classrooms to do as they see fit. This is a huge responsibility, but most teachers use the autonomy to give their classroom and lessons a distinct focus and feel.
  3. Continuing innovation has to be part of the work and responsibilities.
    Educators are on the front live of societies rapid social and technological change. Educators are continuously innovating to communicate, collaborate, and teach better.
  4. Required continuous learning and continuous teaching.
    Every great educator sees themselves as a life-long learner and teacher. It is not uncommon to see a 30-year veteran teacher dive into a new pedagogical approach or technology just because they want to stay fresh.
  5. Focus is not on quantity, but the most important concern is quality.
    This is getting more difficult to due with high-stakes testing, but teachers are most concerned with the quality of their students education and the implications it has for the student’s future. Educators are less concerned about posting numbers.
  6. Knowledge Worker to be seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost”.
    Educators are our greatest asset. A site’s staff and school leadership can make or break a community. Educators must not be treated as cogs in the machine.

So you can see that educators easily fit the parameters of knowledge workers. Now we must demand two things.

The first is the evaluation of educators is focused on the qualities and attributes that define them as knowledge workers.

  • Are they innovating?
  • Can they function with autonomy?
  • Are they innovative?
  • Are they task oriented?

Secondly, society respects and values knowledge workers. Educators must continue to strive to be recognized as a vital “thinking for a learning” profession. We must focus are efforts on creating process that leverages the world of information, nurture the affective side of students, and be mentors and guides for students and parents. These are the tasks that cannot be reduced to an algorithm and duplicated in mass.

If we can change the image of educators to that of a knowledge profession, it makes us harder to replace, more respected by society, and imparts a philosophy to our students that will serve them well in the information age.

The Case Against Average

Todd Rose, in a recent Tedx Talk, summarized something that has been fluttering around the edges of my thinking for a while. He makes a strong case against teaching to the average and puts forth the idea that a learner’s profile is jagged, in other words some areas are above average and some are below. This jagged profile means an averaged learning environment will be either too easy or too difficult for virtually every student. Take 20 minutes to watch, it is worth it.

Original found via http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk

Getting the Small Stuff Right

I’d be a very rich man if I had a dime for every iPad that sits unused because of poor wireless connectivity, ineffective filter management, or poor apps distribution.

Why is it that after decades of failure in education technology we are still making the same mistake of ignoring the basics while chasing the latest silver bullet?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

IT adoption/usage follows a course simliar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs in that to get to the next level the foundation must be there:

  1. Physiological -> Network Infrastructure
    • Is your network up 99.999% of the time?
    • Do you have sufficient wireless coverage to support all staff and student devices?
    • Do you have sufficient internal and external bandwidth to mee the needs of your users?
  2. Safety -> Basic Productivity Software / Basic IT Policies
    • Is your student information system user friendly, functional, and reliable?
    • Does your staff have access to email, a phone, and basic office suite? Are they competent in using this software?
    • Do you have appropriate AUP and filtering policies that respect the needs of your students?
    • Do you have sufficient help desk services to meet the needs of your users?
  3. Belonging -> Shared Resources / Communication
    • Are your shared services reliable for staff and students?
    • Does IT help give staff and students identity in the district through phone extensions and/or email addresses?
    • Do staff and students have some element of ownership of the technology they use for learning?
    • Are there effective tools to communicate to staff and students?
  4. Esteem -> Collaboration /Acknowledgement
    • Do you have tools to assist in professional collaboration?
    • Can staff and students access tools for self-reflection (i.e. blog, wiki, sites, etc…)?
    • Are staff and students acknowledged and rewarded for using technology in effective or innovative ways?
    • Do you highlight those staff and students that are exemplars of technology use?
  5. Self-Actualization -> Connected Educators/Administrators
    • Are staff and students using technology to be part of the global conversation?
    • Do non-IT staff participate in the selection and implementation of educational technology?
    • Do IT staff participate in academic and learning focus discussions of educational technology?

We cannot move to the goal of connected educators if we are spending all of our time in the minutiae. As IT leaders in our districts we’ve got to guarantee the first four layers exist so that our learners can thrive.

When the trivial becomes invisible then we can realize the potential of technology in the classroom.

The problem with educational consumerism….

So as I was reading about more iPad deployments today, I realized that what really bugs me about the iPad is it is a consumer device. Not an enterprise device or an educational device, but a method by which to consume information and applications. I thought wow, I just coined a new phrase. Alas, Google tells me that not only did I not coin a phrase but it is in the title of a fascinating article in ERIC titled, “Educational Consumerism: Etiology and Antidotes.” by Roy Schwartzman.

Schwartzman goes on to point out that thinking of a student as a customer drives us towards certain notions about learning and knowledge (some of the parts that I thoughts most interesting):

  1. Students, as consumers, will often pick a curriculum based upon what is easiest not what is most rigorous and challenging
  2. When we portray knowledge as a commodity, then we imply that it should be as easy as buying something to learn
  3. The burden of creating value for education is entirely on the vendor (i.e. teacher)
  4. The burden of improving the product(i.e. education/learning) is solely the responsibility of the vendor (i.e. teacher)

The list actually goes on but I think you should read it yourself.

When you take what he says about educational consumerism and think about how you are using an iPad is he right? If you take what he says and apply it to many of the various tech tools folks go gaga over, are we really doing what we need to do as educators or just perpetuating a myth that quality education is like a great wardrobe and can just be bought?

Networked Education

Linked Book Cover with Green LogoEvery Summer I try to read some books outside of the education/ed tech genre. I a quest to find “Reality is Broken” and ended up with “Linked“. Basically it is book that explains how complexity is new challenge of science and that understanding networks will lead to a complete understanding of the natural world. I love the analogy he uses, “Science of today is like a toddler that took something apart, but can’t figure out how to put it back together.” In the after-effects of NCLB, I think that most teacher feel as though learning has been completely deconstructed to its component parts (i.e. standards/Performance Objectives) but just know what those parts are is not enough to put together a compelling or relevant education.

That being said, I don’t think that the type of network the author discusses and the vision of a “networked” classroom (i.e. lots of tech and gadgets) are one and the same. Here are just a few thoughts:

  1. We have it wrong, learning is based on the principles of a network but that doesn’t mean you have to be on a network to learn.What I mean is that you don’t need any technology to create a brilliantly networked learning system. In many cases the technology is just smoke and mirrors for poor learning and teaching. But what if we started to think about student learning in a 3D web instead of a linear progression? Everything suggests that this or something even more complex is a more realistic portrayal of our neural networks.
  2. If learning is built upon a network model maybe differentiated nodes can explain learning modalities and intelligences.I think that many of the components that have always been there in educational thinking get pulled together when you think of learning as a network system. What if Gardner’s Intelligences represent some of the many pathways for students to engage in content. Maybe learning modalities (i.e. touch, auditory, visual, etc…) are just separate nodes that can all connect to the same content knowledge. What if in some learners the content requires that you go through a visual lesson full of analytical thinking to get to the concept? If you think about the process of learning as the development of a network then many of these things seem to compliment each other better than ever before.
  3. If we do have differentiated learning nodes then it should be possible to diagnose a path that could be effective.Much like with medicine, will there come a time when assessments will be able to provide a learner with what is most likely the most effective way for them to learn? I don’t just mean in the traditional since of you are a visual learner so I’ll let you draw your book report. But what if we can define clear pathways for the many hundreds of different ways to learn a concept and proscribe the version that best suits your learning based upon your existing learning network?
  4. We need to develop metrics for these things.What type of Star Trek like technologies are we going to need to make this happen? Is that what was already happening on Vulcan in those little learning chambers?

Pretty compelling idea to think that in something as complex as learning there is most likely an underlying network that can eventually be decoded and then used to bring us a level of customization and personalization that we have never experienced.

Relevance of Gaming and Game Theory

In a recent blog post by Saul Kaplan he observes:

“Everywhere we turn, it seems there are experts claiming that the best path forward is to engage people with elements of competitive play.”

The article is a good overview and summary of some of the emerging conversations around the area of worker motivation and productivity.

Anybody who doesn’t think this has huge significance in education is asleep at the wheel. Just the thought of gaming, both video and paper/board based, bring back fond adolescent memories of every from D&D, Sonic the Hedgehog, BattleTech, Street Fighter, etc… I can actually see how many of the games I played as youth shaped my critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Most importantly this goes beyond merit badges and silly point boards. There is an honor and prestige to being the first solve a difficult game or find an unexpected hack/bug. This should and can be transferred to learning and exploring.

I think we all need to go read, “Reality is Broken“.

Lawsuits and Web 2.0

Will Richardson seems a bit concerned about the “Tops” lack of understanding, when it comes to high level officials. I wonder though if Brad Jupp isn’t correct. I mean there are two major undiscussed issues here.
The first is, “What Lawsuits?” Can anybody actually find a lawsuit related to blogging or the use of wikis? I couldn’t upon a 5 minute Google search. All I could find is a student suing their old principal for discipline related to cyberbullying on Facebook. It seems like every reference to a pending lawsuit had to do with social networking…interesting.It would seem to me that the bigger problem is two-fold. First, in most cases schools have a ineffective or outdated policies for dealing with students/staff use of the web. Second, there is a major generational gap between how adults and teens/kids view the use of the Internet and what constitutes public.

Now is the time that school districts should update their AUP policies. Most important is that these policies are updated with a group of students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Each group looks at Web 2.0 applications through a different lens and it is a chance to set expectations for their use by all interested parties. Having a defined set of policies related to these technologies makes it much easier to handle the occasional problem that may come up from their use.

Now is also time to do some work to bridge the generational gap. It is important that educators using these tools understand how they are preceived by youth. Of course this is a two way street and using these tools is also a great time for educators to share important information about why privacy is important, the permanacy of the web, and the web is not as anonymous as you may think.

Finally, I think that teachers, administrators, and school IT departments need to look at the “free” Web 2.0 applications and decide why do we actually want this tool? What is the pedagogy driving instruction with these tools?

Part two of this issue is whether or not you need to use public Web 2.0 apps at all. There are some many incredibly easy to setup and use open source Web apps out there today. Any IT director worth a dime can have these systems up and running in no time. Most importantly these tools can almost always be tied to a directory server which makes user management a snap.

Using these tools a district can host it’s own social networking (Elgg or Buddypress), wikis (Deki Wiki), and blogs (WordPress or Moveable Type). Educators get the advantage of these powerful tools, while administrators and IT directors get to have the control they need. Give you students some training wheels before they set off on the information superhighway.

Basically, it comes down to the basic issue of control and accountability. In a K-12 school environment you have to have both and the only way to do this is keep you Web 2.0 services in house.

Cognitive Surplus and “Truthiness”

There have been two posts in the blogs I read that have been creating a lot of thought.

The first article is from Will Richardson at Weblogg-ed. The basic premise of the post is a review of a book, “True Enough”, by Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo suggests that Stephen Colbert’s ideas about “truthiness” have some merit, and that technologies are making it easier than ever for individuals to connect with others whom share views. This has the paradoxical effect of narrowing our world view, because it is easier than ever to narrow our information stream to just others who think like us.

This is scary and has a huge negative potential. It also helps explain why our society has such a fragmented feeling these days. I also can’t help but notice how this book as not been mentioned on any of the other blog sites that I normally read. It would seem that edubloggers are ignoring an important ethical conversation that is lingering in the wings.

The next article appeared in some form in nearly every blog I read, the Gin, Television, and Social Surplus talk by Clay Shirky. The catch phrase of “Cognitive Surplus” is the talk of the town. Personally, I think it is a brilliantly simple idea to explain a complex event. And while a agree with everything he said about TV, I can’t help but wonder about the societal ramifications when you think about Manjoo’s paradoxical effect. TV, while a colossal waste of time gives many people something in common. Of course, this is kinda sad but the truth never the less.

I worry that the majority of “cognitive surplus” will be squandered in activities that are no better than television and in some cases worse (i.e. the search for “truthiness”).

As educators, we are doing a lousy job at preparing students to leverage the power of social technologies. In most cases it is feared and downright banned (i.e. MySpace). So, I just wonder what are the new literacies or ethics we need to acknowledge so students are cognizant of developing a balanced information? Are we (educators) developing a balanced informational stream for ourselves? And finally, as Web 2.0 technologies diminish the expert in favor of the folksonomy, how do we judge what if true and what is “truthiness”?