Sunday, October 12, 2008

K12 Online 2008 Conference: Anytime, Anywhere


Beginning with a Pre-Conference presentation tomorrow October 13th from Stephen Heppell, the K12 Online 2008 Conference will officially kick-off!

This year I've had the pleasure of working on the Public Relations committee. While working with this committed group of folks, I was afforded the opportunity to take a deep look at the conference. The K12 Online 2008 Conference is nothing short of an amazing event. It's not only amazing because of the content of the presentations, the presenters, and keynote speakers. What makes the K12 Online 2008 conference such an unique event is the potential for educators around the world to improve student learning and their own learning anytime, anyplace from experts from across the globe.

Here are another 10 reasons why educators worldwide should attend the
K12 Online 2008 Conference:

Top Ten Reasons to Attend K12Online
10. It's Free
9. Great opportunity to experience technology as a learning and teaching tool.
8. Keynote speakers are well respected in their fields.
7. Great chance to view presentations locally with colleagues.
6. 4 Strands of Presentations representing a wide variety of interests & experience levels.
5. Fireside Chats - Engage in Conversations with Presenters and Attendees.
4. Access 36 Presentations Anytime, Anywhere.
3. No Need to Travel & No Travel Costs.
2. Presentations from World Wide Experts & Practitioners in Educational Technology.
1. Improve Student Learning.

Monday, September 15, 2008

K12 Online 2008 Conference



The K12 Online Conference this year promises to be an amazing forum for educators - worldwide - to engage in learning and conversations about 21st century learning. There is no cost for this conference. Also, the conference presentations and keynote addresses can be viewed anytime.

Be sure to check out the K12 Online website for details.

Also, please be sure to help spread the word.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mavens, Connectors, or Anti-Social: How Should Our Schools Look?

Denis Hancock wrote this interesting piece on the blog Wikinomics:

As I’ve navigated this remarkably inter-connected little world I’ve probably read several thousand blog posts on the topic, and most of these – predictably – seem to focus on the people Malcolm Gladwell would call the “mavens” and “connectors”.

For the six of you that may not have read his book, “mavens” are the intense gatherers of information and impressions that are most likely to pick up on new trends, and “connectors” are people with a broad network of acquaintances that trust their opinion. Whether the actual term used is “trend setter”, “nfluencer”, “bzzagent”, or any of the many of the others you are likely to come across in the social media blogosphere, the focus seems to primarily be on how these two types of people are using new social media tools.

Seeing this led me to ponder a simple question – what about everyone else? What about that staggeringly large group of people that are neither mavens nor connectors (and particularly those one might call anti–social) - are their social media appetites distinctly different, and if so what are the implications for companies pursuing a social media strategy? More pointedly, will this great mass of people slowly get in line with the adoption curve that mavens and connectors are setting in social media, or might they do something totally different – something that would put some of the prevailing theories regarding cohort behavior into question? To begin looking into this issue, I wanted to start with a particular application where I sense line is being drawn in the sand – Twitter.

In an educational/school context, here are some questions that I came up with:

  1. Assuming teachers are part of a larger world and culture as humans, where do they fit?
  2. Who should teachers be?
  3. How is technology adoption affected by being a maven, connector, or anti-social?
  4. Are teaching/pedagogical beliefs and values tied to being a maven, connector, or anti-social?
  5. Do all teachers need to be mavens or connectors?
  6. Can teachers be anti-social and still be effective by the above definition?
  7. How does this apply to school leaders?
  8. How does this apply to other school stakeholders (students, parents, and community members)?
  9. Will anti-social people (school stakeholders in our context) as Denis asks in the closing of the blog post, avoid it, doing something different, or come around?
  10. How does this/should this impact our thoughts on professional development?
  11. Because we are a maven or connector, can we/do we expect our colleagues to be the same as we are?
  12. How do we teach students to be mavens and connectors?
  13. Do we expect all students (who are part of a larger world and community) to be mavens and connectors?
  14. Who would students rather be?
  15. Is either a maven or connector inherently better from an school/learning standpoint?
  16. Are beliefs and values of learning impacted by a teacher's role as either a maven, connector, or anti-social?
  17. Does the Lake Wobegon Effect apply to this?
  18. How does this correlate to the Pew/Internet study that suggest similar usage/adoption patterns?
  19. How can we use the blend of this framework and the Pew/Internet providing user patterns to develop our professional development?
Please feel free to add your own questions or thoughts.

Interesting stuff to think about!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What Are Students Really Saying?

It was a seldom break from listening to Buck Howdy, Rebecca's favorite singer/songwriter these days. I was able catch a short segment of On the Media entitled "FAQ Check" on our local NPR station instead of humming along with "Baa, Neigh, Cock-a-Doodle-Doo". The segment was on asking questions and finding information on the Internet. I was all ears. Please feel free to be so too!



Towards the end of the segment Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, was talking about the difference between humans and artificial intelligence (AI). After Mr. Shirky talked about AI's inability to make inferences I got to thinking about my teaching. The power of making inferences with students and seeing patterns is crucial to the craft of teaching (somewhere there's a blog post about being able to apply this to online learning). And viewing every moment an honor as a teacher understanding these inferences and patterns is important to me.

I teach students in K-8 Technology Literacy. I hear often how students look forward to their weekly "special" with me for 42 minutes. I work hard to make every class engaging, fun, and skill-building for students. Their time with me is precious making maximizing every moment important.

Despite my intentions and being in front of a computer, on any given day I can hear any or all of these 3 comments:

  • "This is boring!"
  • "This stinks!"
  • "Mr. Wargo can we have free time now?!?!"

As a young teacher, this kind of feedback would rattle me to the core. I'd even sometimes get a bit defensive. But then I began to realize there were some patterns in the inferences students were making. I realized two primary things about these top 3 comments:

  1. A foundation to Technology Literacy is reading (literacy). If my lessons required reading levels (or even sometimes writing levels beyond that of my students), the technology can be branded as boring despite it's coolness factor.
  2. My instruction, modeling, or sequence of engagement needed to be revisited big time. Often times, my expectations, goals, or just sheer explanation was murky to them.

I value students' feedback and want to hear more it. Through the feedback loop, I try to develop their articulation so they can clearly identify their thoughts and feelings: a cornerstone of K-8 schooling, I think.

Sometimes, it's admittedly hard to do in today's depth and breadth of covering curriculum where pacing charts regiment instruction and tests loom on the horizon. While data is important to instruction, so too are the patterns of inferences we see and hear from our students. I need to continue to understand students-to get into their heads as I point out here.

In thinking about my teaching, I realize how important is to teach students about reading inferences especially with the volume of content that is created our collaborative technologies. That is the topic of my forthcoming blog post. Patterns of inferences, or as Daniel Pink calls Symphony in A Whole New Mind, are also essential.

I can't wait for September to come!

**Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of Buck Howdy.**

[As a sidebar, there were lots of "stories" or "angles" that could have been taken with the On the Media piece "FAQ Check". One interesting piece are the listener comments to the segment. Analyzing the inferences and any patterns would be a fun, educational exercise.]

Friday, August 1, 2008

Who's Rip Van Winkle? Higher Ed, K-12, Both, or None of The Above

Here's what got me thinking: One of my chores this summer is to organize our basement, garage, and virtually every other surface, closet, and room in the house (guess who's on summer break?). In my cleaning, I've been coming across some articles, research, notes, and binders from my undergraduate days at Penn State.

I've enjoyed reminiscing about my classes, friends, and the incredible ways my thinking was transformed about learning and teaching using technology circa the early 90's.
One of the gems was this: "Constructing Community and Intertextuality in Electronic Mail" a chapter in a book written by Dr. Jamie Myers my former professor based on his research in 1991. In the chapter, Dr. Myers talks about conversations, intertextuality, and community that 38 of his preservice student teachers had during a semester in his class.

Here's a snippet from the article:
In addition to connecting personal and shared experiences, seeking responses to questions and ideas, and suggesting shared meanings and values for the community, students (g) shared quotes and paraphrased ideas from the professional literature they chose to read, (h) justified ideas through statements of belief, and (i) challenged each other's meanings, and (j) elaborated group meanings. (Myers, 1993).
After re-reading this article, I couldn't help but to think about the time frame in which these student participated. It was 1991! After they left college and went into the classrooms, did they have email, computers, and a culture conducive to technology adoption? And I wonder how many other students who were exposed to technology but were able to use it in their classrooms as practicing teachers?

But I also got thinking how that same excerpt could be written in an article describing social networking, blogging, or wikis now in 2008. I do know for some this may not seem like much of a revelation since educational technology and technology discussions certainly predated this article by numerous years. Have things really changed?

Walking Up Hill Both Ways in the Snow
From pretty much from day one in my Language and Literacy Education classes (English teaching methods) technology was part of it: email, world wide web, MOOs/MUDs, multimedia, list-servs, and discussion boards. Not only did we learn about critical literacy but we used technology as part of our own learning as teachers. We discussed the literary canon over email with preservice teachers at Bowling Green University, discussed textbooks, and teaching literature through email and the TELL feature on the VM system. Those courses were led by Dr. Myers.

Back in the Day
If you were a geek (but far, far from the smartest guy in the program like me) you could take elective Instructional Systems courses taught by Dr. Ali Carr-Chelman which pushed our thinking about the relationship between technology and education. We also had to create an interdisciplinary thematic unit using technology. And if you were a super-geek you could take a Instructional Design Course (in Hypercard) based on constructivism led by Dr. Kyle Peck and Dr. Dave Jonassen. But wait there's more. If you were an uber-geek as an undergrad you could take the hypertext multimedia software developed in Dr. Peck and Dr. Jonassen's class and present with Dr. Jamie Myers at an English teachers' conference in 1995.

When I graduated (with way more credits than I needed and loans to show for it) in 1996 technology, social construction of meaning, designing web pages, multimedia were just another way of talking about writing, literacy, Morrison, Naylor, Dickens, Thoreau, Angelou, or Shakespeare. While the technology was neat and promising, critical literacy and response-response were the frames to have students interpret their values and beliefs making thematic connections between texts and their lives, values, and beliefs. Pretty cool stuff but in some ways sounds eerily like 2008!

Changes
So what has changed since those days with my Macintosh Quadra 610 (you've got to love Wikipedia!) affectionately known as Mac Daddy (my roommate's laptop was Daddy Mac and we would network them using AppleTalk)? It's much easier to publish content now. Technology is much more prolific and lots faster. And adoption rates for basic tasks (email, web usage, etc.) have gone through the roof. Learning is changing. We are getting content at faster rates and from much varied sources. Finally, the skills needed for success in our world are changing.

What hasn't changed? The resonating idea of bring together communities of people through technology. Human nature is still at version 1.0 I believe. Many of the great principles of teaching haven't changed.

What is most striking to me? As others have pointed out before, many of the educational issues we talk about are extensions of what's been said before a long time ago. In the context of the sample article I mention, the tools may have changed but the learning hasn't.

Now
I love to see the excitement and traction that technology has been getting in K-12. The flattening of the world is awesome. And I'm loving the conversations about learning, teaching, and education that are on-going right now especially in the edublogosphere (which is a great point to ponder). Keep 'em coming!

But from my tiny vantage point, I'm not so sure higher ed, or at least the higher ed that I was very fortunate to be a part of, was asleep all these years as I'm hearing rumblings of recently. There were conversations and discussions about this stuff long before we in K-12 started having these broad conversations about it. Was it just falling on deaf K-12 ears all those years? Is it a sustainability or endurance issue of a small echo chamber in the academic community? I don't know but interesting food for thought!

Reference
Myers, J. (1993). Constructing Community and Intertextuality in Electronic Mail. In C.K. Kinzer & D.J. Leu (Eds.), Forty-second Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (1993). Chicago: National Reading Conference. p 251-262

Photo Credit
Rip Van Winkle photo is from Wikipedia's article about Rip Van Winkle.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is History Predicting Us or Are We Predicting The Future?

As an eager twenty-something with some technical skills and a degree in Secondary Education-English/Communications I was naive enough to march into New York for a job interview. It was with a start-up network consultancy in midtown Manhattan that serviced mostly financial institutions throughout the US.

The subway series was underway and so was the dot-com boom. Harry, the HR recruiter, projected that our company's stock would open at $45 during the IPO on the NASDAQ within a year. I left that morning with a job, good salary, inflated ego, and 4000 shares of stock as a signing bonus. Life was good. All I had to do so far was manage to get cross town in rush hour traffic.

I soon would hear stories of grandeur of how life would be in the future. In the present, I saw excess and lots of it. In the words of Alan Greenspan, I saw the "irrational exuberance". We know the rest of the story.

Maybe the phrase "once bitten, twice shy" is to blame but seeing Epic 2015 pointed out in Gary Stager's post reminds me somewhat of this "irrational exuberance". No doubt our world is seeing a cultural transformation never seen before that is shaking up how we do business, communicate, understand/learn, and collaborate thanks to technology. And no doubt our students are learning differently as members of this world. It's all very exciting!! But 7 year predictions to me seem like a crap shoot at best and somewhat misleading.

In the opening of school this year, I have two choices in the context of Epic2015:

  1. I could show this video in my opening year conference. I could also talk to my teachers about the future of technology in hopes to teach students.
  2. Or as Gary points out, I could talk about the things we can do now to help our students learn better to have a brighter future. A focus on teaching and learning behind the tools seems like a great place to start.
The question of balance seems to be in whose future do we want to talk about? Is it the future of our students or the future of technology and tools? And if it's our students, doesn't the future start now with teaching, learning, and technology? Should that be our starting point?

I know there are folks that are very adept at making projections and we need those people. From my tiny vantage point, though, it seems like we need to keep more focused on latter choice above. If our beliefs and values of teaching and learning haven't quite caught up with 2008 we are just going to be applying a tired paradigm to a concept that we're projecting in 2015. Already out of the gate, our perspective is murky. Trying to figure out our students, learning, and teaching in the 2008-2009 school year first seems like a good starting point for me.

Before I get into trouble, I'm not implying that we don't need to forecast and look at trends inside and outside of education. Nor I am trying to say that folks shouldn't do it or aren't capable. We need to plan by looking ahead without a doubt. But these types of videos-Orwell-like or Bradbury-like-make for fun "what-if" games but shouldn't be used at the expense of focusing on figuring out our current world of education. Trying to conceptualize these specifics into the future when we're still trying to figure out the present seems like the "irrational exuberance" we saw during thos
e halcyon days of the dot-com boom.

My bonus shares and 4000 more that I was "awarded" throughout my tenure, by the way, never did open at $45 a share....they never materialized.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Is Online Learning Equal to 21st Century Skills?

What a beautiful day to go to a music festival right on the Delaware River with Philadelphia's skyline and blue sky as a backdrop! Sure it was a little hot. But it was nothing water ice and a trip around the carousel couldn't cure.


An online school display piqued my interest so I stopped to by to chat with the very kind teachers manning the booth. From our conversation, I didn't get the sense that 21st century skills were part of their learning experiences. The school did make AYP.

But collaboration, creativity, problem-based learning were not central threads (or so it appeared) to learning. Overall, I just didn't get sense that students would be any more prepared for the 21st century learning through an online environment than in a traditional school. [ Please note: The was conversation was not extensive from a research standpoint and in no way am I try to be overly critical of this school. ]

Interestingly, I just blogged about this concept drawing on the history of educational technology. I go back to the questions from yesterday: Does online learning equate to better learning?

Put another 2 ways: Does the medium for delivering content make the difference? Or is the difference in how the students come to understand the content?

Alright, so maybe I'm still a bit parched.

Friday, July 11, 2008

History of Educational Technology::"Same Mistakes, Different Means"?

"What's new? You don't know what's old." recounts Dr. Richard Schwier of the exchange between him and a professor during a chance encounter in the hallway as a doctoral student. Dr. Schwier explains during this 83 minute 11 second Elluminate session that conversation was the catalyst for studying the history of educational technology.

Thinking about the future is great. From the future, we can develop our vision. From our vision, we can help ensure our students are ready for what lies ahead. But, I think looking back is valuable too. It's provides a context for understanding how we came here. Dr. Schwier's session was really helpful. Here's a few key items that were of great interest to me:

11:25 - Greek Influence on Educational Technology
Dr. Schwier talks about the 4 questions of cause according to Grecian philosophy. They are: material, formal, efficient, and functional. He then compares them to modern day educational technology - interesting!

14:00 - 7 Cardinal Virtues and 7 Deadly Sins
Compares Greek
7 Cardinal Virtues and 7 Deadly Sins to modern day educational technology beliefs. Dr. Schwier points out that people either "vilify or promote" technology based on these 7 sins or virtues found in classical content.

44:22 - 20th Century History of Educational Technology
Here Dr. Schwier discusses educational technology according to decade such as film, TV, instructional design through to social web and web 2.0 of present day. The header for this slide is "Panaceas for schools".

47:12 - MPATI - Great Story (I won't spoil it).
Wow!! Double Wow! I had never heard of MPATI. MPATI was the Midwest Program on Airborne Instructional Television. A plane would literally send a signal cone. Schools within the cone could view instructional programming. Dr. Schwier tells a hilarious story about MPATI that I won't do justice...you must hear it for yourself.

57:30 - Movement of Knowledge
Dr. Schwier provides a context of educational technology. To paraphrase him, our current movement isn't from technology to technology - such as radio to film - it's epistemology to epistemology such as congnitivism to social learning. The biggest shift is individualism to social learning. "Collective constructionism" or how groups learn is taking center stage.

59:50 - History/Timeline of Educational Technology
Here Dr. Schwier provides an interesting overlay between the history of educational technology, epistemological phases (objectivism, cognitivism, constructivism, and social learning), and growth of individuals and groups.

71:00 - Common Mis-Speakings of Educational Technology
One of my favorite lines from this segment is how overheads were projected to transform learning and teaching. What happened? Teachers were just photocopying pages of books and reading the words from the screens. Most memorable quote: "We make the same mistakes today, we just use different means."

Lastly, I'll end with this story about educational technology and learning that hopefully tie this together:

I eagerly started my M.Ed in Educational Administration in a traditional university's online program. This university was ranked by US News and World Report as one of the top 50 in the country. Call me a snob, but I didn't want my graduate experience to be anything less than what I received at Penn State as an undergrad. The first round of courses came and went with even an offer to teach in a new instructional technology program. Flattering and super-cool!! Then came two classes in the second term complete with the following quotes. "Thanks for teaching me about this topic...I didn't know anything about it" and "When I took the course my instructor had us..." are not phrases I want to hear in a graduate school. We can all learn from our students as teachers...but not basic content knowledge. I ended up leaving and finishing at another university in their "traditional" program. Professors there were seasoned practitioners who knew their craft well. Come to think of it, I never got an adjunct position.

I know that all online programs aren't the same as the one I experienced. But it has made me question ever since: How do we keep the "bad habits" from inhabiting virtual spaces as it does a physical space? Just because my masters was in all accounts 21st century, the learning was not. Dr. Schwier saw it long ago too in his comical story of MPATI. I saw it recently. Will we see it again? What can be done to reduce these occurrences?

In response to Chris Lehmann's great post and Will Richardson's and Sylvia Martinez's reflections: How are,
as Dr. Schwier puts it, the same mistakes, just using different means avoidable?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

PowerPoint 2.0: A Visual Approach

If you are a teacher, David Jakes and Dean Shareski's One Hour PowerPoint: A Strategy for Improving Presentations talk at NECC is a must see and read. I didn't go to NECC but fortunately these presentations were blogged by Wesley Fryer and Ewan Macintosh. Both are excellent write-ups.

Jakes and Shareski provide practical, simple advice for transforming PowerPoint presentations such as, "PowerPoint doesn't kill presentations bullet points do." As an alternative, they suggest using images to tell the story. This is all done by reviewing the basic biological fact that humans have far greater number of visual nerves than auditory nerves. [ Full disclosure - I'm using an Arial font for this post as a result of this presentation. ]

The pedagogy behind their PowerPoint strategy could be quite powerful. The sources of understanding are equally solid. Both design, story, and using metaphors (symphony) are three of the six senses Daniel Pink contends, in A Whole New Mind, that we will need to be successful in the Conceptual Age. How enriching is it to let students open their eyes and classmates' eyes to these 3 senses in the context of a story being read in Language Arts, a math problem, a scientific concept, or an historical event?

So here are some initial thoughts on using these strategies in my classes (September can't come soon enough).
  • I think a comparison-contrast would a great strategy tool for students: compare/contrast bullets vs. pictures, compare/contrast fonts and colors.

  • Having students create just 1 slide of text to sell something and then finding a picture to tell the same story could be a great introduction.

  • It would be cool to have students critique a published SlideShare Powerpoint presentation using the design principles here.

  • Metaphors are powerful on a bunch of levels: literacy, understanding, our own thinking; being able to find a visual metaphor for a textual one is even more so.

  • Student peer review and collaboration is a must for comparison-contrast and final products. It would be super cool to do this with a remote school. Seeing and then critiquing the collaborative responses and collaboration would be awesome!

  • Some teacher modeling would be helpful especially for younger students.

  • Finding images especially on Flickr Storm may be a bit problematic due to filtering but not an insurmountable obstacle.

  • Digital storytelling would fit nicely into this unit but 40 minute classes on once per week cycles can make continuity a bit rough; digitial storytelling may have to be it's own unit before we do this. Even better, powerpoint --> digital storytelling --> powerpoint could make for a helpful sequence.

  • Using Understanding By Design approach would really connect this to content.

  • Connecting this to classroom content is important since these would be taught in separate classes.

  • Showing not just telling about Creative Commons could be made into a mini-activity.

  • Crafting a messaging can have a thousand tie-ins to content areas.

  • Teaching Technology Literacy skills such as font, font size, font color, image insertion, embedding, new slide, and other mechanical stuff would be a snap. It all lends itself to it beautifully.

I'll be sure to post the results!

Leadership Day 2008::Connecting the Dots::


Scott McLeod asked this of bloggers through his blog Dangerously Irrelevant:
On July 4, 2008, blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership: successes, challenges, reflections, needs. Write a letter to the administrators in your area. Post a top ten list. Make a podcast or a video. Highlight a local success or challenge. Recommend some readings. Do an interview of a successful technology leader. Respond to some of the questions below or make up your own. Whatever strikes you.






School leaders have a lot on their plates. And then there's technology. When it comes to technology, I think of it as a game of connect the dots without always numbers and a definable shape. Where to start and where to finish (if there's such a thing) are often murky. Everyone usually has their own dots to add or order in which to connect them. That adds complexity. Finally, the reasons for connecting the dots surely can throw the monkey wrench into the spokes. Come to think of it - it's much like the act of understanding or knowing in our classrooms (but more on that later). Here's an attempt to connect at least some dots to define a possible shape of technology leadership.

[ I hope the sophomoric Sketchcast I made to map out this blog post isn't making you feel that you've lost 3 minutes 41 seconds of your life that you'll never get back. I included it to help visualize this concept. ]

1st Dot - Vision Vision may seem too M.Ed. 101-ish for some but I think it deserves the opening dot when talking about educational technology. Thompson and McKelvey (2007) described vision in schools as a "guidepost for decisions". This is a perspective that resonates with me for a number of reasons. It implies the vision is living and commonly embraced to be referred to on an regular basis. If it's commonly embraced, I have to assume that folks at all levels of the school have hopefully help set the vision or at least buy into it.

Vision is hard stuff. It's even a tougher question to answer when we throw technology into the mix. I think the one central question that a vision of technology should answer is: "what is technology's role in learning and teaching?" This question could help us answer, "what and how do we want students to understand?" which I think is the overarching question.

But one person - even the school leader - can't answer these questions by him/herself. They've got to be answered by everyone. It's all stakeholders' responsibility. We can't expect leaders to come up with them on their own. It's up to everyone to help craft the answers. The good news is that there really are no right answers. When it comes wrong answers, excuse the cliche, the only one is not answering them at all.

A lot can be written about vision but since I'm already 3:41 in the hole with you, I'll move on.

2nd Dot - Culture
Beneath the conscious awareness of everyday life in schools, there is a stream of thought and activity. This underground flow of feelings and folkways wends its way within schools, dragging people, programs, and ideas towards often-unstated purposes: This invisible, taken-for-granted flow of beliefs and assumptions gives meaning to what people say and do. It shapes how they interpret hundreds of daily transactions. This deeper structure of life in organizations is reflected and transmitted through symbolic language and expressive action. Culture consists of the stable, underlying social meanings that shape beliefs and behavior over time" (Deal and Peterson, 1990, p.7)
Like vision, I don't know if we always talk about culture in the same breath as technology. But we can't overlook it as it's such a quiet gale wind force in our schools. I'm sure we've all seen the whole gamut of school cultures: brilliant, mediocre, and toxic; student-focused, teacher-focused, curriculum focused, cynical, energetic, and flat. And since vision is on our minds, I believe a vision is as only strong as the culture of a school. Jerald (2007) notes a school’s strength of culture is about alignment between vision and actions. If the vision's spirit is to enhance teaching through technology, the culture has to be amiable to it. The "beliefs and assumptions" that Deal and Peterson talk about have to be grounded in things such as: learning can be enhanced using technology, the professional development is worth it, and personal time investment will be fruitful.

No matter how cool the technology tools, culture, I believe, will win the tug-of-war. There still may be a few trailblazers but systemic buy-in is likely to be minimal. I believe culture ensures the sustainability that Michael Fullan talks about. It's the culture to paraphrase Deal and Peterson that impacts everyday. The President of Southwest Airlines Colleen Barrett writes a similar sentiment about culture in the airline's magazine Spirit, "Their experiences confirm what I have always believed: Lip service can be a great danger. It’s easy to write columns like this bragging about our Culture; the hard work is living up to it every day." How does your school's culture live up to learning and using technology everyday?

3rd Dot - Ethnography - We all need to put on our ethnography hats and do a little listening to what kids are saying, thinking, and doing inside and outside of the classroom. Listen the same to teachers, parents, community members, practitioners, and experts on modern student learning/understanding, pedagogy, and educational technology. Listen for the patterns and stories that Daniel Pink talks about. Not to taint your research, but we do know our students are reading and writing ferociously. How does that impact our instructional decisions? The spirit of these enthnography questions asked about literacy by my former professor Dr. Jamie Myers can serve as a starting point:

How often have we focused our inquiry on what is going on inside students’ heads? Why do they read and write? What do they do with literacy to marginalize or expand consciousness? What do they want to know more about and how could literacy facilitate that learning? How do the lessons and literacy practices we sponsor serve the construction of their identities, relationships and values in their lives within and beyond our classroom community? (Myers, 2001)
4th Dot - Teaching - Teaching is a huge one to talk about with technology for 3 reasons: (1) technology use, I believe, is really about the learning and teaching, (2) teaching encompasses so much, and (3) there's a fine line between tools and teaching. So in trying to recoup the time you've lost watching the Sketchcast, I'll keep this simple and present 2 tools a la cart (I'd go with Chris Lehmann's talk personally).

Tool 1: What Research Says About Teachers and Technology Adoption
Teachers choices and beliefs about technology fascinates me. Maybe it's because it seems like a binary yes/no decision. Maybe it's a control issue. In either case, here are 7 themes that I found through my research looking at research about teachers and technology adoption that I think are important for school leaders to consider:

  1. Teacher's beliefs of teaching (pedagogy) and student learning (epistemology) affect teacher technology adoption.
  2. Teachers who engage in more teacher-led pedagogy adopt less technology.
  3. Teachers who leverage constructivist-centric pedagogy have a tendency to use more technology.
  4. Teacher's beliefs and values are not hardened systems; however, they are complex and prone to revision.
  5. The richness of an environment (technology, support, quality, quantity) can change a teacher's beliefs and values in learners and pedagogy.
  6. The manner in which technology is presented-teacher-centered or student-centered-impacts those teachers holding differing views.
  7. Web 2.0 and 21st century skills are collaborative in nature; thus they are constructivist. This collaborative and constructivist nature of the technologies require teachers to adopt their beliefs which brings us back to theme #1.
Tool 2: Chris Lehmann's (Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia) NECC Presentation: Schools 2.0: Combining Progressive Pedagogy and 21st Century Tools. Listening to this presentation recorded by Wesley Fryer via Ustream could very well be the best 44 or so minutes you spend all summer.

5th Dot - Learning - This is another biggie not just in importance but in scope. In fact, it's the core of every school and educator's mission. There's a lot that can be said about how students learn, what they should be learning, how learning should take place, teacher's role in learning, and technology's role in learning.

Despite this being the star of the show, I'm not sure if we spend enough time on it especially when we talk about technology. Back on the 3rd dot, I mentioned ethnography because it's a great tool for us to see really what's going with our students, to try to better understand them. A lot has changed since we were undergrads learning about learning theories, if they were even discussed. Even more has changed since our K-12 days. We all did well for ourselves learning the way we did. But that was then. Our students are here in the now. We need keep this our focus and connect it outward to the other aspects of our schools: teaching, technology, culture, vision, and assessment. That's my elevator pitch.

Now for the dim sum cart. First, here are some ways to experience 21st century learning outside of dot 3's ethnography (compare these references to what you find in your ethnography-how do they compare?). Secondly, are two diagrams I created to help present some of these concepts.

Dot 5 Books
  1. Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat
  2. Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind
  3. Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams' Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything
  4. Partnership for 21st Century Skills
  5. Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay's Flat World Project
  6. Connectivism - A compelling new learning theory from George Siemens
Dot 5 Diagrams
The first diagram shows the sources of understanding in a "traditional" classroom. The second is in a "21st century classroom". I use standards since we are familiar with them as topic of understanding. The objective of including these is to help visual these sources of understanding and show how they can be used in learning.

Traditional Classroom

21st Century Classroom

6th Dot - Professional Development/Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) Professional Development has never been so easy and so hard at the same time. We can learn, connect, ask, talk, communicate, collaborate, share, teach, or just plain lurk 24 hours a days, 7 days a week, 365 days a year all without leaving the glow of our monitors. The hard part is: making it stick, sustaining it through vision and culture, and connecting it to learning and teaching. Welcome to Personal Learning Networks...and they're not just for teachers.

Personal Learning Networks are sources of conversations, information, experiences, thought, and guides that an educators can leverage thanks to technology. Specifically, they include blogs, wikis, social networking sites such as Classroom 2.0, Twitter, and Skype. Through the networks that are developed, other networks emerge since you and everyone else likely has 2 different networks. Through these networks the world is at your fingertips. Have a question? Twitter it or post it to Classroom 2.0. Want to explore something or reflect on a experience? Blog it yourself. Interested in some thoughts of colleagues (who are likely in similar situations as you), read a blog.

One of most enticing things of personal learning networks to me is that they're personalized. Most teachers from my experiences come into workshops with a range of expectations and needs. Trying to effectively meet them all is hard and really, really tough especially when managing different subject areas, grade levels, and experience levels. Using personal learning networks takes the N/A out of how does apply to my classroom column on evaluation sheets. It makes learning relevant, meaningful, and real. Just when we think we're islands with unique problems, we find that there's a bunch of folks around the world going through the same thing with the same thoughts. PLNs take a very isolated profession and turn it into a very connected one.

Here's a great resource from Lisa Nielson on developing your own Personal Learning Network.

7th Dot - Support/Access This is a subject near and dear to my heart and SEDTA's heart too. I wrote an article a couple of years ago on this topic. More recently I blogged about it. Since you most likely don't want to hear stories: I'll be direct: without support and adequate access, technology will not see appreciable rates of adoption. The technologies may be complex but the logic is simple: frustration with technology stinks for most people. And most users don't want to know, care to know, or even know how (that's not a criticism just an observation...how many people can replace their car's brakes?) to fix slow network connections, sluggish computers, or errant applications. And when things break or get slow, which they do, someone needs to help out quickly. Support and adequate access are the keystone to a 21st century school and something leaders need to keep in mind.

8th Dot - You/Your Dot! I reserved this one for you (us) school leaders since I think there's a lot of leaders and potential leaders in our schools. I really never feel comfortable with writing prescriptive lists. There's always something that's left out or doesn't apply. (These statement are in no way an admission of omission of not coming up with an 8th dot for U in the Sketchcast.). Seriously, every person brings to leadership experience, insight, and wisdom. And there's usually a nuance to every school. The challenge is to put something there about you or your school to complete the picture of leadership.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

References
Deal, T, & Peterson, K (1999). Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jerald, C.D (2006, December). School Culture:"The Hidden Curriculum". Retrieved March 1, 2008, from The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement Web site: http://www.centerforcsri.org/files/Center_IB_Dec06_C.pdf


Myers, J (2001, March 3). University of Pennsylvania Ethnography Forum: Quotes shared by Jamie Myers (jmm12@psu.edu). Retrieved July 6, 2008, from Various Quotations on Literacy and Inquiry Web site: http://www.ed.psu.edu/englishpds/inquiry/excerpts.htm


Thompson, S, & McKelvy, E (2007). Shared Vision, Team Learning and Professional Learning Communities. Middle Ground. 10, 12-14.


Photo Credits Connecting the Dots photo is from user mlsj from Flickr

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

From Brute Thing to Organic Learning: Time to Unplug Professional Development?

We won’t learn a great deal of new material. My hope is for you to become more perceptive of every day school matters many of us take for granted but that can change our schools and the world for the better. A professor used this sentiment as the opening of one of my school leadership courses. I sometimes feel like that after spending time putting together a blog post like this one which doesn't feel especially earth shattering.
In Understanding by Design, Wiggins and McTighe cite a timeless John Dewey quote from How We Think *:

To grasp the meanings of a thing, an event, or a situation is to see it in its relations to other things: to see how it operates or function, what consequences follow from it, what causes it, what uses it can be put to. In contrast, what we have the called the brute thing, the thing without meaning to us, is something whose relations are not grasped...The relation of means-consequences is the center and heart of all understanding (pp. 137, 146) (p. 38)

Dewey's timelessness really shines in this quote. "The brute thing", which I bolded in the text, is a beautiful descriptor of how technology can be viewed in education even for those who use it. I've juxtaposed brute with organic since brute's definitions range from inhumane to crude to irrational. Organic for me anyway connotes something that is grown from within and the only word I could really come up with. In this case, technology need/adoption/selection is grown from within the need to use it.

This all comes as I reflect at this past year's success with professional development and take a look at next year's professional development within my school.

The Brute Thing Approach


Description: We provide training “Day 1” on technology tools (the brute things). You name it we show it, model it, and let teachers play with it. “Day 2” training is typically in the classroom environment. That’s when the onus is placed on teachers to make the “relations” between the technology and student learning often without immediate assistance or any connections to student learning. The classroom, as we teachers know, is a pretty isolated environment. (As a sidebar, the diagram mentions Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) here as a awesome tool to use to help make connections and further reduce the isolation.)


Organic Learning Approach

Description: In this model (please click for a larger version), the technologies are grown out of quite simply student learning. No matter what your beliefs, values, convictions, or politics of education, I think we can agree that schools are about learning. Shouldn't our training and conversations about technology be centered around this singular facet or at least someone connect to it? In fact, curriculum, instruction/pedagogy, standards, assessment, community, leadership, culture, vision, student voice are all about learning. As such, tools and subsequently our training models should grow from learning.

Hardly a novel concept, I know, but one that seems to be at the crux at technology adoption, change, providing better opportunities for our students and ultimately improving our schools. As an example of teacher technology adoption, please see my post about Teachers Beliefs of Technology. And I've discovered other research since then that supports these themes.

The core mission of our schools and education haven't changed: learning. I think the fuzziness comes from the fact that learning itself is changing. What needs to be learned and how we learn are changing. Since technology (as a whole) is one of those drivers behind that change, the technology itself become the focus of learning sometimes at the detriment the core mission of learning in our schools. Yes, tools in and of themselves need to be taught but I think a greater connection needs to be made.

That's what I love about standards: state standards, 21st century standards, and ISTE's NETS. When all is said and done, standards are at least one constant that we can keep us grounded in learning. And even more, I'm becoming more and more indifferent to the high-stakes testing environment (I'm not saying it's perfect and can't be improved). Why? Because tests are about the standards and standards aren't that much of an obstacle to new learning and new skills that must be learned. Why can't we achieve standards about main characters, plot, setting using blogs, wikis, Twitter, Second Life, or any other tool and still have learning and understanding that is deep, reflective, collaborative, and meaningful to students and yet meet standards?

In the realm of professional development, a learning approach just may make "The Brute Thing" and make it more meaningful with greater sustainability and resonance. When was the last time we held a professional development series on just student learning and all of the new great research available on student learning? Is it time to unplug our professional development offerings at least a little bit?

Reference:

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

*Interestingly, the quote referenced in UbD is from Dewey's 1933 edition of How to Think. I wasn't able to find it in the 1910 edition which I own.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Are Teaching Tools Enough?

I'm excited to be participating in Scott McLeod's CASTLE book study group reading and discussing Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. I've always been a proponent of change. As educators, I believe one of our moral purposes is to adapt to change allowing our students the best preparation for their lives and the worlds they will face.

But in reflecting about the concept of change, I think sometimes we can get too focused on tools at the expense of the human nature, student learning, culture, vision, instruction, standards, and day-two implementation. We teach tools to groups of teachers in hopes that something that is said will transform their teaching, student learning, and ultimately our schools. I think we start with tools because they are neutral, keeping the focus away from intangible and sticky subjects of teaching and learning.

Teaching exclusively tools is essential. At some point, we must introduce how the technology works and let teachers use it during non-instructional time. But, I think, tools are inherently easier for us to present.
After all, cool, new technology has a way of presenting itself. We give teachers enough time in our training to muck around the tools. While we work hard at these things and our approach may be an important first step, I wonder if we truly are seeing the results we expect. Do we know what we expect from our training? Is it just tool proficiency? Should our expectations go beyond tool proficiency?

If I look back at the training I've given starting 13 years ago, I wonder how much of my discretionary training has had a long-term, residual effect. My ego says one thing but reality speaks a different tune. From my early days of "One Computer Classroom" presentations to present day "Web 2.0 Tools" (yes, I'm just as guilty), I wonder how many teachers have transformed their teaching as a result of my workshops.
Looking at a national level, I wonder about the adoption rates of technology training per training hour that occurs on a yearly basis. If I was a betting person, I'd suspect it's on the low side. Of those training hours, I wonder how much time is spent on having a conversation about human nature, student learning, culture, vision, instruction, standards, and day-two implementation?

One of most pervasive arguments I hear about technology is that ultimately it's the teacher's "fault" technology isn't adopted. But I can't help but to ask, "Do we blame students for low test scores?" Something tells me, there's a larger issue other than just willful non-compliance. And if it is just willful non-compliance, what can we do to change this behavior? After all, what is our role of trainers and teachers of teachers? Are we directly addressing new student learning theories, 21st century skills, and ways to work with the familiar standards. Also, are we providing a school culture conducive to technology adoption? Do teachers have a school vision to work with that includes an updated perspective of the world in which we live?


One of the early principles in
Influencer is the notion that identifying and changing vital behaviors is the key to solving a problem. Have we defined the problem? Is our training addressing these few vital behaviors beyond the tools?

Lastly, I'll end with this question: Is it time for us to construct some sort of training guidelines or training best practices that addresses these questions and hopefully ultimately vital behaviors? Is this a realistic step that the educational technology community can take to begin addressing vital behaviors?

A Vital Part of the Learning and Technology Equation

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Classroom Instruction that Works and Web 2.0

Next year, our district will be focusing on Summarizing and Note-Taking from Robert Marzono’s Classroom Instruction That Works.

In my research putting together resources for teachers on my school wiki, I came across a wiki – [Web 2.0] & Marzono’s [CITW] - focused on Marzono’s Classroom Instruction That Works.

What I really like about the wiki is it’s linking of web 2.0 tools to CITW concepts. The wiki also contains some great links to CITW and Web 2.0 resources. And in great wiki fashion, it allows registered users to contribute information, resources, or models to it.

I did learn from the wiki there is an ASCD book entitled Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. It’s on my Amazon list and I’ll report back once I’ve had a chance to read it.



Friday, May 16, 2008

2008 Digital Schools Report & Bandwidth

The 2008 America's Digital Schools Report just released contains some interesting, reassuring, and potentially problematic trends to technology adoption and student learning. eSchool News has a well-written, descriptive summary of the report.

The bandwidth trend is a bit concerning (and very interesting as a former network engineer) especially since much of our learning and understanding through tools depends on a crisp, robust network.
Karen Greenwood Henke wrote a comprehensive article How Fast Is Fast Enough? in Tech Learning which cites the 2006 version of the Digital School's Report. (In full disclosure, I was quoted in the article) Bandwidth was mentioned in that report too with 40KBPS being the optimal throughput available to students according to Henke.

My fascination with this topic in part inspired me to write No Data Left Behind which was published in the February 2006 edition of Learning & Leading with Technology.


For a teacher new or just starting off adopting technology, I think bandwidth can cause some concern. Quite possibly, no matter how effective or powerful the tool, it can be perceived not as such with slow bandwidth really being the culprit. I'm sure many of us at one time or another excitedly wanted to show an application to a teacher or administrator only not have it work well because of network congestion. This is similar to a prospective car running rough in the dealer's lot when considering buying it.

Also to state the obvious, the content-rich world in which we live requires bandwidth to view it. Pictures, video, audio, and text - staples of 21st century learning and understanding - all require bandwidth. Global learning (and competing) on a global basis have bandwidth as a prerequisite.

Before going back into the classroom as a teacher, I spent time assessing and auditing schools' bandwidth (and technology) needs as an educational technology consultant. Most schools from my experiences can reclaim about 5-15% of their total bandwidth through "low-hanging fruit". These "low-hanging fruits" usually can be as simple as:
  • Removing unneeded protocols from the networks (a good protocol analysis will show this)
  • Simple routing adjustments
  • Simple access-list adjustments
  • Duplex settings on Ethernet ports
  • Properly configuring Frame Relay or ATM interfaces
  • Removing or adding needed policy-routes
  • Relocating a server
  • Proxy Server Adjustment/Tweak
  • Broadcast Domain Resize (VLANs or Subnet Masks)
Here are some things that can be done to assess, increase, or reclaim bandwidth:
  1. Hire a knowledgeable consulting company to do an audit. A good consulting company will be able to perform detailed protocol analysis and network data collection. Also, they should understand the RFPs (technology standards) and also the unique needs of school networks. As a sidebar, be wary of "upselling" - some companies may use the audit to sell you gear and additional services.
  2. Use tools such as PRTG and HostMonitor to collect network capacity and performance data. Having a baseline set of data is crucial.
  3. Leverage logging on switches, routers, firewalls, proxy servers, and other devices to collect data at least initially (too much logging can actually decrease overall performance).
  4. Use a Cymphonix appliance to help make sense of application-bandwidth and user traffic.
As we like to make data-driven decisions when it comes to learning, networks and bandwidth, I believe, should be approached using the same principle. There are many tools, many free or low-cost, that can collect and aggregate the data in easy to read reports. This data is not only vital in knowing but also planning, reacting, and communicating the state of the network to school folks who ultimately will approve additional bandwidth.

Should you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

**Photo Credit** Photo retrieved from: http://www.ads2006.org/ads/order08

Monday, May 5, 2008

Economics of Teaching and STEM

Think Globally, Act Locally
I can't but to help read eSchool News articles such as "Summit: Save STEM or Watch America Fail" with a mixture of patriotism and worry.

I don't usually write about such global, and possibly political, issues. But after reading this article and hearing these undertones for quite some time, I felt compelled at least to explore an issue that isn't as abstract and far removed I think as many folks may think.

I like most Americans want our country to thrive. Thriving in our today's age, we must be successful on a global stage. To do this, it is pretty clear, we as a country need to to make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) a funded national priority among other things.

I don't think technology is the answer to all of our issues in education. But I'm amazed that with what is available today and the power and resources it brings to our collective tables that we haven't found a way to make math, science, technology, and engineering come alive for more of our students. And that's despite having many, dynamic, caring teachers working with students in these subject areas.

Aside from technical tools, Project-Based Learning and Understanding by Design models give us a whole set of tools that connect STEM to life and the world. No longer do students need to memorize only facts from a book, answer them on a test, and then move onto to another unit without much reflection, collaboration, or imagination. PBL and UbD give us powerful platforms of learning that can contextualize STEM for a wide range of learners.

The million dollar questions (54 trillion if you read the article) are:
  • How do we make STEM a priority and effectively achieve our goals within it?
  • Why isn't STEM already a priority?
  • How do we translate a national economic priority to the classroom teachers?
  • Should we be looking to STEM 2.0?
  • How can Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) help connect teachers with "global" issues?
Part of the answer lies, I think, in an interesting observation: there is a missing link between our global economic education priorities and those of the classroom teacher. That is, priorities of folks at different levels of education don't always coincide. The needs of classroom teachers are likely to be completely different than the needs felt at more global levels.

From my limited experience there seems to be two primary economic drivers in education: taxes and earning potential. The amount of money spent on schooling is historically a hot button topic. Earning potential, the second driver, is seen as an individual benefit of learning. A third driver can be very obscure - that's the collective benefit of having students who not only have an interest but excel in STEM. This is the missing link discussed above. For me anyway, this seems to be the common ground what is discussed in economic terms and what goes on in our schools.
  • Do we classroom teachers spend time talking about the economic impact our instructional, curricular, and learning choices are having on our students, our regions, states, and country? Why don't we?
  • Should we be having that conversation at the teacher/grassroots level?
  • Do we need to be having that conversation at the teacher/grassroots level?
Sometimes I think policy is akin to not connecting learning to a student's life...there's no resonance. While there may be a great need seen by some, unless that need is truly understood and seen (contextualized even) chances are it may not stick. The policy may be mandated but not implemented. My past school culture post comes to mind discussing the differences between policy and culture.

I began this post with the popular environment slogan, "Think Globally, Act Locally". There's no doubt we are working hard locally. But in doing so, are we thinking globally? Maybe we need to adopt this mission or vision statement into our daily practice...maybe it's time we think about the economics of teaching. What do you think?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Personal Learning Networks

"You're always only the sharpest right after the test"
This old adage is how I feel as I conclude a pretty intensive semester to finish my M.Ed. in School Leadership. While I'm excited to be finishing my degree, I am not excited about being out of the weekly conversations and direct thinking about leadership. I really enjoyed learning from my professors and colleagues during class. And more than ever, I see how important leadership is in facilitating student learning, achievement, and understanding.

The good news is that Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) will help a great deal to stay engaged with leadership issues...anytime, anywhere. As a teacher and technology coordinator, I see its worth on almost a daily basis as many of my practices have been influenced by things I've learned and people with whom I met in my PLN. Now that I have some time to reengage in my PLN, I can see how even more important my it will be in keeping my mind in the game so to speak.

PLN (for those who may not know) is a fairly recent acronym to describe leveraging the vast internet-based resources to enhance our learning. With the advent of a mountain of tools from Twitter to social networks such as Classroom 2.0 to blogs, educators have a deep well of expertise and experience at their finger tips - really just for the taking. It truly is powerful.

One of my favorite aviation columnists, Rod Machado just wrote about the difference between a pilot's proficiency and currency. Currency in pilot-speak is the legal requirements necessary to fly in a given set of conditions. Proficiency is, according to Rod, a requirement for confidence. I think PLNs (can) build a great deal of confidence for teachers.

First, PLNs allow me to see and learn from others. I'm always amazed that whether in my classroom or in a classroom across the country many of the same issues exist about teaching and technology. These issues transcend classrooms, borders, operating systems, teachers, students, curriculum, and instructional techniques. Despite teaching's isolating nature, PLNs can build a great network of folks who can enter your classroom in a few keystrokes.

Second, PLNs can build confidence by having a worldwide audience to whom questions can be asked anytime, anywhere. Whether the question be technical, educational, or mix of both, input can be sought almost immediately from a wide range of knowledgeable folks. I think this is especially important with teachers adopting technology. A teacher may not be in a situation where there are resources that are readily available. PLNs can serve as a virtual mentor, help desk, and/or sound board.

"We are not helpless" was a resonating quote of a professor who taught in my school leadership program. PLN supports this idea that as educators we aren't in fact helpless. We do have the ability to reach beyond our classroom walls. In fact, we have the world at our finger tips. So while I'll miss my graduate classes, it's good to know that I have a viable and reliable Personal Learning Network.

On a pragmatic level, the questions in our schools are:
  • How do we encourage teachers to develop and adopt their own Personal Learning Networks?
  • Do many teachers know that such powerful networks exist?
  • Are many educators aware of how accessible Personal Learning Networks are to them?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Technology Plans: A Parallel Conversation?

In reviewing a technology plan recently, two things stuck out:

1. A great deal of work goes into creating a technology plan.
2. The benchmarks were really interesting.

The benchmarks listed teacher adoption rates by application, percentage, and time frame.

For example, one of the goals in the plan was:

80% of teachers by 2008-09 will integrate multimedia projects into lessons.
I like standards and goals since I think they give us a framework and something to strive towards. They, in a sense, give us a vision. And I realize we need to satisfy requirements through writing goals into technology plans. Ultimately, technology plans can be powerful, amazing tools especially when created by all school stakeholders.

As I mentioned, a great deal of time and work goes into creating these goals but I have to ask in the context of this specific plan:
  • Is there a plan to connect multimedia to curriculum and student learning?
  • Should the focus be on student learning rather than teacher utilization?
  • Are there plans for teacher learning networks (personal and professional)?
  • Are these goals part of the school's vision?
  • Do these goals mesh with the school's culture?
  • Is there a link to 21st century skills?
  • Are these goals collectively developed?
  • Is there a plan/conversation about teacher technology adoption?
  • Should our goals be learner (student focused)? An example: 80% of students will engage in projects where multimedia is used a tool for better content understanding.
I'll return to a theme that I've discussed before: parallel conversations. Sometimes, I think good things get lost through parallel conversations especially thinking technology is a separate entity from everything else. Sometimes, I think this "parallel-ness" gives rise to technology being someone else's problem. And inadvertently, I think teacher technology adoption is adversely affected. Teachers don't see a culture of merging technology with learning, teaching, and students.

Should we be thinking about a Student Learning Plan of sorts that is a combination of a technology plan, instruction plan, and improvement plan? Technology can be planned, discussed, and prioritized but it would be in the context of student learning - the focus of our schools. There could be even a section dedicated to the technical details but connecting the technology to the overall culture, mission, and vision of the school can only help ensure the common ground between learning and instruction is forged.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Right of Refusal, Change, and Teacher Technology Adoption

I really enjoy reading Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant blog. His insight and thought provoking topics are always appreciated and are great source of perspective for me. There's no doubt why he's so highly regarded. But...

In his Right of Refusal post, he compares teachers adoption of technology to that of grocery clerks, stock brokers, and architects. For me, this is where his comparison doesn't quite cut the mustard. Here's an excerpt:
For example, a grocery store checker doesn't get to say 'No thanks, I don't think I'll use a register.' A stockbroker doesn't get to say, 'No thanks, I don't think I'll use a computer.' An architect doesn't get to say, 'No thanks, I don't think I'll use AutoCAD.' But in education, we plead and implore and incentivize but we never seem to require.
It's an apples to orange comparison. First, the above mentioned folks (for as hard as they work and their respective technologies are complex) don't have to teach using these tools or teach other to use these tools. Secondly, their use is typically highly scripted and regimented. If something goes awry, a manager can be called, the IT person, or self-troubleshooting can commence. There isn't 23 faces peering at them getting fidgety (ok, maybe adults in line watching their ice cream getting soft but try having technology fail with 2nd graders in class...I'd take the melting ice cream). Having been on both sides, it's different...completely different.

I've written my last couple of posts about the value of culture in comparison to policy. A school's culture can be a powerful force in teacher technology adoption since it becomes part of the underlying fabric. This is where I believe teachers are technology consumers. Much of my thinking about this came from Pip Coburn's The Change Function.

Coburn makes the case about use technology adoption ultimately coming down to 2 areas: current pain (need/crisis) and Total Perceived Pain of Adoption (TPPA). He maintains that technologies that have done well in the consumer market have a low TPPA. Those technologies that have a high TPPA have done historically poorly. He states his case about technology adoption and change much more eloquently than I.

Connecting this back to teacher technology adoption, teachers have a choice. Also, the TPPA (which can many things, I believe) has to be low enough for adoption in classroom practice. If a teacher's TPPA is perceived as being high and the current pain is low, technology adoption, from my perspective and experience) won't occur.

So, do teachers have the Right of Refusal when it comes to technology adoption? Yes. Is it best choice? Probably not, especially with growing body of knowledge about the economic, career, vocation, and democratic implications in the 21st century of not using technology as a learning and teaching tool. But I don't think we can boil this down to a simple issue of requiring it or not. Leadership can help but policy may not be the most sustainable way. That's not to say I think it should be a overly complex situation - it's not. But there's multiple dynamics and forces at work beyond a simple Right of Refusal.