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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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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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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papers_1823409c

With a single tweet, the 83 year-old newspaper in my community disappeared. Of course this is nothing new, it is happening in communities across North America as the newspaper business continues to search for its place in the digital world.

RichmondReview

Community newspapers don’t get enough credit for the important role they play with our school system.  They are so often our storytellers.  They tell the narratives of our kids, our teams, our musicals, our art shows, our academic success and our commitment to service.  They also keep us honest and tell our stories of controversies like bus service changes or school closures , budget decisions and staff misbehaviours.  Community newspapers connect schools to community.  In the district I work, we lost one of our two local newspapers last year with the closing of the North Shore Outlook and now this past week, the community I live in has suffered the same fate with the closing of the Richmond Review.

I have tagged more posts “Change” than anything else on my blog.   I champion change.  And we are seeing this change play out in almost every industry.  It is why, I believe, sometimes change in education is so hard.  With so much change in our world, people often hold onto the traditions of school hoping that at least they will stay the same – romanticizing the world we used to have.  And I kind of get it – we are all in favour of change, expect for the things we don’t want to change.  Some of the change feels more like loss.

The Richmond Review felt like more than a community newspaper.  I remember the excitement growing up seeing my name in the paper for something to do with school or sports.  It was great moments of pride for kids and families if their name was in the newspaper.    While I will read the Vancouver Province, Vancouver Sun and Globe & Mail on an almost daily basis, I would read the community newspapers where I lived and worked cover to cover – I would love seeing stories of people I knew or better understanding the views of those I lived and worked with.

Over the years I developed wonderful relationships with several people who worked at the Richmond Review.  In particular Sports Editor Don Fennell became a friend.  I first spoke to him as a high school student, and then probably hundreds of times over the twenty-six years he spent at the paper.  Whether we hadn’t spoken since last week or last year, he had that great ability of picking up a conversation and making one feel so comfortable.  I love his quote in the final edition of the paper, “I don’t like good-byes; I love Richmond.”  Don and the others at the paper made the community better.

Of course earlier this year when a deal was announced that saw the other local paper the Richmond News and the Richmond Review come under one owner – it was clear something was going to change.  This story has been repeated across North America.  And while I might be a little jaded thinking how unfair it was to kill-off an 83 year-old community paper with two days notice in the middle of summer, it doesn’t change the fact that despite the greatest efforts newspapers have been unable to transition into a viable economic model in the new digital world.  Surviving, not thriving describes most of the local newspaper that continue.

But this blog is largely about education and what does this change have to do with education?  Actually a lot!

If teachers, coaches, principals, schools and school districts need yet another reason why they need to be storytellers in the digital age this is it.  Local newspapers have long been our storytellers and these stories are important.  We need to tell them.  It is not enough for our websites to be information rich, they need to be rich in stories of the people.  If the North Shore Outlook and Richmond Review are not around to tell stories of our great young soccer players, or the high school performance of Grease, or the students going to Africa to build a school we need to tell these stories.

So, you want another reason to start a blog or change your website?  We can no longer rely on the traditional community media to tell our stories.  And people still want to hear these stories.  We need to tell them.

We need to write, photograph and video what is happening in our schools and then bring it to people’s attention.  Kids still want to see their names in the newspaper – we just need to figure out what that looks like in our world.

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mobile-devices1

I have been teaching in a couple high school classrooms recently, and I have been reminded that students on small hand-held internet devices can be distracted and distracting.  I am being intentional in not using the word phone.  For almost all of us, the devices we call phones are primarily used for other functions.  I know for me, the phone is maybe the fifth or sixth most popular use for my small internet device.    I don’t think the discussion is about phones vs. tablets vs. laptops rather it is about what functions are best done with what size of device.

For more than a decade I have been advocating students bringing internet-ready devices into the classroom.    I have said things like, “phones are great, if that is all students have, they should bring them.”   And this is still true.

I have also regularly said, “If students have a phone and can’t afford a laptop, their families should really consider making a different (better) decision that could benefit the child’s learning.”  I know families have invested in phones for a variety of reasons and safety is a reason I often hear.  Well, get a cheap phone for emergencies and take that money for the iPhone contract, and invest in a laptop or tablet.

Back to my recent reminders.  I will focus on one particular class of grade 11 and 12 students I was working with.  We were having a discussion around leadership in the digital age.  And I have to be honest, the students on their small devices were driving me crazy!   I could see the students were distracted, and in turn, this was very distracting for me and others.  They were texting away with students in the room and outside the room, only periodically engaging in the lesson.  Now, I know it is partly my fault.  If my lesson was more engaging, the students would not have been so easily distracted.  I also could have done a better job of classroom management.  I also know that in our efforts around students bringing their own devices, the journey has not, nor will not, be linear in terms of how students use devices in their classrooms – we are in shifting times.

At our District Parent Advisory Council Meeting this past week we had a great discussion around technology that included a high school teacher and a grade 10 student.  As the student reminded us, “When kids are on their phones they are usually not doing school work.”  Heck, when adults are on their phones it is more likely for social rather than business.  I have always been a believer in the key role of adults to model technology use and it is hard to suggest kids just need to behave differently when so often we see parents busy checking their Facebook or Twitter feeds.    The power of devices in school is usually around what is possible to create, and with the small handheld devices, in schools they are almost exclusively consumption devices or texting machines.

So, the advice of the last decade does stand – that any internet device that gets you in the game is good.  But it is also true that some devices are better than others and we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking devices like iPhones are changing learning.  I am a bit “old school” and like to type on a keyboard so my advice when asked about what one should get for their child is probably a laptop, or a tablet with a keyboard.  More and more other specs matter less, and work lives in the cloud – it is about getting to the internet.

And what else was I reminded in teaching classes where all students have technology; technology does not making teaching easier, but it does make it very different.

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