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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

mission-accomplished

So just what does a 2003 George Bush speech have to do with the state of technology in BC?  I think we could make the argument that it is “Mission Accomplished” when it comes to going digital in British Columbia schools.  There has been some amazing work done over the last 10 years.

At the recent Computer Using Educators of British Columbia (CUEBC) Conference I described the shifts I have seen in the last decade.

  • In our schools we largely now have reliable internet connectivity.  Changes to the province-wide system and investments made in communities mean that most schools in most communities have stable and reliable connectivity.
  • Most schools in most districts have found ways to get devices into the hands of teachers.  While it is not perfect, many districts have programs that see teachers getting laptops (or at least dedicated desktops) as part of their work.  This was rare a decade ago.
  • Bring-Your-Own-Device plans for students have moved from “pilot programs” to being quite the norm in many schools.  With considerations of equity, schools have found ways to ensure all students have digital access through lending programs, helping with financing for families and creative partnerships with the community.
  • We have stopped banning phones or disallowing other internet devices at school.  A decade ago, phones would often be collected in a principal’s desk.  They are now seen as a tool for learning – though generally not as good a tool as a slate or laptop computer.
  • Social Media is built-in as part of school and district communication strategies.  And generally, we are seeing students behave far more ethically in these spaces than a decade ago.
  • We have got passed the idea that we need to chase around “blocking” sites like YouTube and focused on education.
  • Wi-Fi is almost expected throughout a school system.  If I go into a school without wi-fi I am very surprised.  Again what a difference a few years makes.

And I am reminded that these statements are more true in some places than others.  I get that.  With challenging budgets and unique community factors these ideas may not be as absolute in some places as others.  What is true is that the philosophical battles have been decided.  Students and teachers having access to devices, with reliable connectivity to the internet is a good thing and something we want for everyone – and this was not an easy place to land.  Many of us spent hours in discussions about the “need” for technology in schools, or a range of related topics.

But back to George and the photo.

It would be easy to put together a talk and roll-out a mission accomplished banner in British Columbia when it comes to technology.  Like George and others saw, the real challenges were to come after the banner ceremony.  We have a tremendous opportunity now in British Columbia.  We have had the hard conversations and debates around technology.  We have made huge strides with the “stuff” in the last ten years.  We arrive at today with classrooms that look different at the same time as we are working through revised curriculum.  What an opportunity that we have a set of digital tools at our disposal just as we are reflecting on the what and how of our teaching.

West Van teacher Keith Rispin asked a really good question in his blog recently: Is it my imagination or have things started to stagnate in the world of Educational Technology? I think we have made tremendous strides with technology but the best work is ahead of us and the time is now.  I have seen far too many people give each other high-5’s because they got SmartBoards in all their classrooms.  We need to be better than that.

In the talk at CUEBC I also argued that people didn’t really want the “stuff” but they wanted the fulfillment of the promise of relevent, engaging and connected learning.  A great barrier of the early part of this century has been we didn’t have the stuff and the stuff we had didn’t really do what we wanted.

While not perfect, we are moving past that.  These are exciting times – let’s not roll-out the Mission Accomplished banner, but rather focus on taking advantage of the current opportunities.

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super-model

This post is a copy of a column that is published in the most recent edition (available here) of Education Discovered Magazine.

A short decade ago, schools were banning YouTube videos and forbidding students from bringing cellphones to class. Teachers were primarily viewed as content providers. Students were tested on how well they knew their facts.

Today there are movements under way to remove standardized testing. Schools are embracing bring-your-own-device policies. The Internet is a standard classroom tool and teachers are focused more on teaching kids how to learn, not what.

Change is happening right under our noses. We’re in the midst of it every day as we move to modernize the Canadian education system, improve our classrooms, and nurture the next generation of learners. But are we actually transforming education? Will we witness a disruptive moment similar to Uber in the taxi industry or Netflix in the movie rental business?

I’m not so sure. I’m not even sure we should be chasing it.

There’s something comforting about the notion of schools as community gathering places where we meet face-to-face and make strong personal connections that have always been deeply rooted in education. Schools, by their very nature, will always need to balance tradition and new ways of thinking. Our transformation has to be slower because we have to be sure we’re bringing everybody along with us: administrators, teachers, students and parents alike.

One way to facilitate change is to model the system we are trying to create. I blog because I know it’s hard to do. It’s difficult to find time and you need to be brave enough to leave your innermost thoughts out there for scrutiny.

Students face the same challenges when we ask them to create digital portfolios; teachers when we expect them to develop class websites or start sending tweets. It’s easier to say we need to change things in the classroom if we’re also making changes ourselves.

Ask yourself if your school board is modelling the same modern experience you wish to see portrayed in your schools. Is the business office side collaborating with the education side? Have you introduced technology like Skype to conduct meetings? Are you still working in silos?

At West Vancouver Schools, we make a point of integrating business and education. When we hold a learning showcase, our Human Resources Director, Facilities Director and Secretary Treasurer are just as engaged as our Directors of Instruction, and they believe they should be. Our office spaces have shifted to an open concept model with furniture that facilitates sharing.

Sometimes there’s this belief out there that educators are not onside with change. I would argue it’s the exact opposite: teachers get into teaching to excite kids about learning and help them connect that learning to life outside the school building. What better time to be doing that than right here, right now?

Our culture of learning in Canada is constantly shifting. Continue to support teachers, encourage them to follow their passions and step outside of their comfort zones. Most importantly, foster change by being willing to change yourself.

 

 

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ComputerVSPaper-640x229I have an anti-technology bias.

There I said it.  I am working on it.

This is probably a strange statement to see coming from me.  I have hundreds of blog posts that might suggest just the opposite.  I have been a regular cheerleader for the power of digital tools in the classroom.  I have hundreds of emails coming and going each day and get jittery when my iPhone battery falls to 20%.

Maybe it is age, maybe it is complacency, or maybe it is easier to just fit in with the crowd – but too often recently I have taken a jaded, and sometimes cynical view of technology, and that needs to change.

My friend and colleague Dean Shareski made a great presentation early in the summer at a conference hosted by the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association where he argued that sometimes actually it is about the technology.  A regular line in most of my talks over the last few years, and one that gets repeated over and over again by many others is “it is not about the technology”.  And Dean is right, it is kind of about the technology sometimes.  And just like I know I am about to be mightily disrespected when someone starts a sentence with “No disrespect intended” many of the awesome examples shared after someone says, “it is not about the technology” really wouldn’t happen without the technology.

The distinction being made is that the goal is the learning and the technology is there to support the learning.  It is an argument that Michael Fullan has been making for a number of years focused on the right and wrong system drivers.  I think we can let people off the hook when we too casually say “it is not about the technology” – because sometimes it is about the technology.  Whether it is new portfolios, connecting with students across the world or getting feedback from a public audience, to some degree, it is about the technology.

Another interesting point that Dean made was that all the talk about technology disrupting communities – the same could be said for books and newspapers in previous generations.  With books and newspapers, people no longer had to connect face-to-face to receive information.  There are many photos like this one circulating on the internet that we romanticize as the good ol’ days:

reading

While at the same time when we see a family like this, we shake our heads and wonder why they can’t just be “present” with each other:

Family using cell phones at home. Children, parents. Technology.

And if Dean hadn’t done enough to make me come to grips with my growing anti-technology bias Pokémon Go came along and I felt like an old man wanting to yell at the neighbourhood kids to get off his lawn and stop making so much noise.  I went out for a walk at 10 PM and the community was full of mostly young people searching for Pokémon.  I was shaking my head – great –  another example of kids wasting time on their phones.  It took me until the following day to actually realize how awesome this was.  Young people were out walking, exploring, connecting and having fun.  If they had clipped a treasure map out of the local newspaper I would have thought it was awesome.  But there was my bias on display.

I have been reading a lot from Peter Diamandis, Clay Shirky and others lately to challenge my complacency.  Their thinking have helped me get back on course.  I am an unapologetic believer that the future is exciting, and that technology plays an important role in opening up amazing opportunities for our schools and beyond.  And so I will spend a little less time shaking my head at those on their Smart Phones, or playing the latest online game.

It is easy to slip into a “glass is half empty” mindset.

I know, everything in moderation – but sometimes it is about the technology and there is a lot to be excited about.

 

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Uber

I often wonder – is it out there?

Is there some disruption that I just haven’t noticed?

Are we really just tinkering around the edges?

Is my friend Yong Zhao right – have we just maximized the old system and not really considered how we move to the new system?

I have 186 posts tagged “change” (actually 187 after this one) with them speaking to the small and large transformations happening around us in education. In recent posts I have looked at topics including the changing role of technology, new curriculum in British Columbia that is focused on big ideas and core competencies, and reporting changes that attempt to give better and more timely feedback to students and parents.

As I write these posts, I find myself reading more about the changes happening around us outside of education.  I try to get my head around the future of transportation in an era of autonomous cars, the future of medicine when the services of a doctor and hospital can largely be carried out at home through digital medicine,  and the state of our world if 100 becomes the new 60.

And while some of these changes are still hard to bring to focus, we have so many examples of shifts in industry all around us.  There are many long lists available showing all of these changes.  I know when I buy a book I go to Amazon not my local retailer.  When I want to look for used items for sale I search Craigslist not the Classifieds.  In Denver a few weeks ago, I never thought of getting a taxi, and Uber was my go-to.  Our television conversations are less and less about cable and more and more about Netflix.  And just a couple of months ago a friend showed me airbnb (I am a little behind) and I can’t see why I would go back to looking for travel accommodations in the old ways anymore.

And that brings me back to education.  If you have followed my posts, or heard me speak, I often make the point that in this rapid change happening around teaching, learning and schools, there is some satisfaction and relief that schools are not looking largely different.  We find it reassuring.  Schools also perform a crucial role as a community gathering place and the skills are really more about how we live and get along with each other as they are about some finite academic outputs.

That said, I wonder if I am missing something.  Or maybe rationalizing.  I imagine those in other disrupted fields also thought it couldn’t happen to them.  I did think that the Khan Academy might be the disruption to our K-12 system.  The Khan Academy has many of the features associated with other disruptions – being free, digital and widely available.  I think the Khan Academy is interesting and important, but it is not our Uber.

I am left wondering, are we the exception to the rule? Is there enough in the value of education the way it is largely done now to allow it to continue to survive and thrive or am I missing something.

This kind of thinking can make your head hurt.  It is time to go back to thinking about school timetables, textbooks and the kind of desks we want for our classes.  It is far less scary.

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leader

I attend a lot of Superintendent events where there are discussions on the digital transitions of districts.  These discussions  are often about how “we” need to change, and far too often these conversations are being held in very traditional ways.  One is left often believing that the changes are about other people and not really about those leading the system.

This past week I was meeting with colleagues from across the continent and leading a conversation around digital leadership for superintendents. What was impressive is that in some very simple ways, Superintendents are finding ways to lead digitally.  I do think the questions about whether digital leaders have to lead digitally is really rhetorical.  We are part of a learning system, we need to be learners ourselves.

So, what are some easy entry points for Superintendents?

Model

There are so many ways to model the power of the digital tools.  There are big steps like investing in a regular blog, medium-sized steps like starting social media accounts and small steps like collaboratively building a meeting agenda in a shared document.  I was interested to hear from one superintendent that co-constructs her Board agenda through a collaborative Google doc.

Engage

More and more district leaders are finding voice and connections through social media.  While some still use these platforms as a one way communication channel and worry about the push-back from constituents others are finding the power of building connections and relationships in social media and that the interactions are not a waste of time but really an investment.

Explore

I loved to hear of the variety of tools that Superintendents use to make their work easier, more engaging and connect with students, staff and community. To highlight just two, one Superintendent spoke of his work with VoiceBo – an app that acts as a voice recorder.  When visiting various classrooms he will often times use the app with the students where he records and shares their voices.   As he said, “what students don’t want to share and have the superintendent record what they are doing.”  Another tool that was new to me was Slack – a tool that a number of school districts are doing to better connect and cut down on the email clutter.

Attend

As I have written before, where leaders spend their time matters.

I have argued that digital literacy is really just becoming literacy.  It is implied that digital is just part of the large expected meaning of literacy.  The same line of thinking needs to hold true for digital leadership.  For those who hold leadership positions in education, really being a digital leader is just being a leader.  We need to be continuing to upgrade our skills and be pushed to use the tools and engage with the mindset we expect of our students and teachers.

This really takes two parts – superintendents need to be in classes where teachers are pushing new ways to engage digitally and they also need to attend professional events that allow them to learn from and with colleagues on the paths other schools and districts are taking on the digital journey.

I have been very hard on traditional conferences in my blog posts.  There are some major events I refuse to attend now since they continue to perpetuate learning about the new things in the same old ways.  What was great about the Superintendent Digital Transition Symposium was that is modeled many of the new ways we are trying to engage.  There were some traditional lecture presentations, but there were also student discussions, gallery walks, hands-on activities, chances to engage digitally and choice in how, where and with who we learned.  If we are going to come together face-to-face there needs to be value added over traditional conferences.  This event is one of the few that I have attended that has started to realize this.

Conclusions

I am reminded when I connect with other districts, that if I am looking for a district leading the way thinking about digital engagement there is almost always a Superintendent trying to figure it out for herself how she can lead digitally.  I am also reminded that slowly the word digital is disappearing in front of the word leadership – in the very new future it will just be leadership and digital will just be one of the expectations when we use the word leader.

 

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CYyk4ouU0AEI423

Photo Credit – Keith Rispin

As computers were finding their way into every teacher’s hands, and more classes were moving to some sort of Bring-Your-Own-Device model, I was arguing the biggest shift had nothing to do with the computers.  And as I look back over the shifts that computers brought, I am seeing it happen again as we embrace refreshed curriculum in British Columbia – and the biggest shifts are not about the curriculum.

When I was Principal at Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam just over a decade ago, our school like many others, was working to put laptops in the hands of all the teachers in the school.  This shift had an amazingly powerful influence on teaching and learning.  As each year more teachers took advantage of the laptops available to them, they began to thoughtfully examine their practice, carefully considering the opportunities now available that were not available without the technology.  Talking about how we teach is not easy, it is very personal and our profession is often quite isolating.  Talking about technology is much easier.  There is no harm in admitting you don’t know how your gizmo works.  And what we saw at Riverside was that as we had conversations about our gizmos we quickly moved to conversations about our practice.  The technology opened the door for conversations that we often avoid.

I shared my bias in a post last fall, that when faced with six education system transformation drivers, Shifting Curriculum, Shifting Pedagogies, Shifting Learning Environments, Shifting Assessment, Shifting Governance, Shifting Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement, my bias is that the primary focus should be on pedagogies.

I saw a decade ago, that shifting technologies were opening up the driving conversation of shifting pedagogies.  Fast forward a decade and now a very similar phenomena is happening with refreshed curriculum in British Columbia.  The Ministry of Education in British Columbia describes the shift, “British Columbia’s curriculum is being redesigned to respond to the demanding world our students are entering.  Transformation in curriculum will help teachers create learning environments that are both engaging and personalized for students. At the heart of British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum are core competencies, essential learning and literacy and numeracy foundations.”

Teachers, administrators and school districts have been allocated dedicated time to work with the new curriculum that is in draft this year for K-9 and will be fully implemented next year.  The 10-12 curriculum follows one year later.  And it has been so interesting to listen to feedback as teachers work together on the curriculum.  As I visited those working on the curriculum and debriefed with others afterwards, nobody was talking about the content.  People made comments like, “I didn’t realize how much similarity there is between our elective areas”, “We made plans to do some joint units next year” and “It is great we all now have the same understanding of core competencies.”  The curriculum has given people a reason, an opportunity and a purpose for looking at their practice.  Again like with the computer, the power is not in the curriculum, but in the conversations and shifts in what we do in the classroom.

There are some amazing new  connections being built through the curriculum implementation process.  I talked to people who have worked in the same school with colleagues for years, but now feel they have a reason to work together.  The power of the curriculum is not in what is written and posted on the website.  The power is in how it comes to life in classrooms.

So far, so good.

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code
It is always interesting to visit schools and pick up on the trends. One can often see ideas that are spreading from one class or one school and quickly to all schools. One of the challenges in a district position is trying to capture the growing areas, and help support them to grow even further – looking at questions around how do we expand these great opportunities to not just some students in some schools but more students in more schools.

Much of the discussion in British Columbia is currently dominated by the refreshed curriculum.  While there are conversations that start about the content – what is the stuff being covered in each subject and each grade, these conversations are often moving to the pedagogy and assessment needed as part of this process.  And when we look deeper at the differences, I see the greatest shift over the  last two years is likely in the work around Aboriginal education.  As I have written here different times in different ways, we see Aboriginal understandings across grades and subjects.

I am always curious to see the words and ideas that are growing.  It was from individual classrooms and schools that ideas around self-regulation, inquiry and digital access have exploded.  I have also written before about the growth of outdoor learning among other trends that are taking hold.  It is sometimes hard to track their growth – it comes from students, teachers, parents and the community and when they stick – they become the new normal.

The two ideas this fall that I would add to the list and I think are just beginning to blossom are coding and robotics.  When I look at the growth plans of staff, or the inquiry questions of our Innovation teams, or listen to the interests of parents, these ideas are coming up more and more.

Coding is not new, and it is part of the ICT 9-12 curriculum.  In part driven by the global Hour of Code initiative, there are efforts to expose all students to the possibilities around coding not just those who select it as a secondary school elective.  More and more we are hearing from students, teachers and parents that we want to engage younger learners with these skills.  Cari Wilson has done a wonderful job leading the Hour of Code initiative in our district – getting into elementary and secondary classrooms.  Given the Star Wars theme this year I am sure students in classrooms and at kitchen tables across our community will be engaging with coding.

Hour-of-Code-Star-Wars

It was interesting to read recently that there may be a “significant decline” in IT literacy in our tablet / smartphone era. Given the seemingly continued importance of these skills, projects like Hour of Code may be even more important.  And we are trying to figure out how to move beyond this initial exposure and build in regular opportunities for young people with a passion for this type of learning in their elementary years to engage with activities as part of their school program.

Robotics has a somewhat similar story.

I had the chance to visit several schools in Delhi, India two years ago. And in one particular school, in a community of immense poverty, where the power went out three times while we visited, and nobody reacted as that was typical, where there were sparse resources, there were students building robots.  It was stunning what I saw . . . .

Robotics2

Students were working together building robots.  As the Principal reported, this is the future.

Fast forward ahead to this fall, and I am seeing the same curiosity and excitement around robotics in our schools.  We have had a number of staff working with robotics over the last several years.  It really has been a natural progression from makerspaces, digital access and trying to connect students in relevant ways to our world. This fall Todd Ablett, a past winner of the Prime Minister’s Award  for Teaching Excellence joined our district and he has begun to infect (in a good way) our district with his passion for mechatronics and robotics.  For now he is running a club at West Vancouver Secondary and doing guest lessons with every grade 6 and 7 classroom in the district.  The plan is to continue to grow the program – hopefully into a secondary school Academy Program next fall, and also a grade 6/7 program.  As I watched student-built robots shoot balls across the Board Room at last week’s Board Meeting as everyone in the Gallery took out their phones to record the moment – one could feel the excitement.

Abblett

The structures are a work in progress but we have an unwavering commitment to ensuring our schools are relevant and connected to the world our kids are participating in – the world that I heard Todd describe where self-driving cars are just the beginning of what the future may hold.  I often wince when asked “what’s new” in our school district.  The truth is most of what we are doing is about going deeper and getting better at what we already do.  We are also trying to keep our eyes open and look around the corner at what is coming next.   If you want to look for two things I think you will hear about and see far more in 2018 than you do in 2015 – I think coding and robotics are good bets.

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