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Mar 29

Free Agent Learning In The Age of Covid 19

Posted on Sunday, March 29, 2020 in EdTech

I first heard the term Free Agent Learner in 2012 at the inaugural Ed Tech Teacher conference in Boston. Keynote speaker Tony Wagner was speaking on necessity of supporting and promoting the idea of creating Free Agent Learners. If I recall correctly, he felt that Free Agent Learning was the way of the future and essentially the only way anyone will be able to keep up with advances in the workplace. When I brought the concept back to my school and shared with colleagues, many recoiled in horror at the notion of encouraging students to take learning into their own hands!? The idea was considered utter madness and I was labeled a pedagogical heretic shortly thereafter. I am quite sure if I brought up the idea again just two weeks ago, I would have been quickly put in my place again; however, things have suddenly changed with Covid 19 pandemic.

In an effort to stem the spread of a rather virulent virus, the closure of all public petri dishes we call schools has been ordered. This sudden shuttering of our public learning spaces has left teachers and students to wonder how does the education system continue? Enter Free Agent Learning.

Let me express at this point, that Free Agent Learning doesn’t mean the absence of “teacher”. It is simply the expectation that an individual has the skills to embark on a learning journey in whole or in part without being lead along by the nose by a teacher. The act of free agent learning is a skill set, not a master plan to eliminate teachers. (there are other things on the horizon that will do that, but I digress) Now imagine IF we could feel confident that students had the agency to direct their own learning at home with a little digital guidance from their teacher during this time of self isolation. I would suggest there would not be quite so many teachers, parents or kids saying to themselves “OH MY GOD WHAT DO WE DO NOW!”

With that said, I understand there are some grades and some subjects where the practicality of depending on kids being “Free Agent Learners” is simply impossible. Grades 1 – 4, I cannot conceive how it could possibly work. Primary grades need the guiding hand of a teacher. High school teachers who are expected to shepherd kids through prescribed academic curriculum, I get it. It is difficult if not impossible to ensure all the boxes are checked and the kids have the skills they need to move on, but what if more of our kids had the skills to take on the challenge of guiding their own learning. What if you could be confident in your students’ ability to discover, investigate, find, answer, expand, elaborate… on their own? Imagine how much easier the current Covid 19 situation would be for teachers, parents and students.

Now this doesn’t mean there are not issues with Free Agent Learning. There are a number of issues that come along with this type of learning.

  1. Many kids come to us and all they want to know is what will they be tested on. They don’t want to take on learning for themselves, because it is time consuming and difficult. They are so conditioned to being lead along every step off the way, memorizing what they have been told and then being tested on it, that they have a great deal of difficulty breaking out of that box.
  2. There is a lot of training involved. When I get kids in grade 9, we start the year with a lot of needy kids that I have to lead along step by step, day by day, week by week. If truth be know, It isn’t until the end of grade 10 when most kids finally get to the point where they find an interest and can pursue it independently with a little guidance from me. There is some intense teacher involvement in getting kids to the point of being able to Free Agent Learn.
  3. Many hard core Free Agent Learners have a very pointed view on what they are learning and how they are learning it. They often become ardent disciples of a topic, a method, a piece of hardware or software… They get so fixated on how and what they have learned that it is next to impossible to introduce alternate points of view or methods of doing something. However, These are usually kids who have been Free Agent Learning long before they ever get to me.
  4. It can be difficult to get students beyond the superficial. Kids will learn something on their own, but they don’t learn much beyond the basics and then they jump onto something else. Free Agent Learning takes effort, time and perseverance. It is then my job to lead them further into the unknown.
  5. It can be difficult to assess a Free Agent Learner. When you set a student loose to learn something, you are not in control of the curriculum and it can be hard to determine what it is the student has actually learned. It is important to figure out what their baseline is and then track what it is they have learned or perhaps a better measure is recognizing what they have created.
  6. Insert other…

Like I said, Free Agent Learning is a set of skills that allows kids to engage in learning without constant daily contact with an adult dragging them along. It is not a perfect learning model, but the Covid 19 crisis has just put a bullet point on the need for kids to have these skills. Free Agent Learning is a life skill, a job skill and now a Social Distancing skill.

 

Additional Reading

Free agent learners: the new career model
Students as ‘Free Agent Learners’

Mar 26

Online Learning – Questions Answered

Posted on Thursday, March 26, 2020 in EdTech, Education, online learning

Well… It wasn’t suppose to happen quite like this, but Online Learning is going to be a significant part of the learning landscape for the next little while because of the Covid19 pandemic. There has been lots of resistance over the years from teachers that feel online learning undermines the profession, but now that it is the only way to reach our students, it has now become necessary like it or not.

As we try to migrate (in a HUGE rush) to using online learning tools, the decision on what tools to use comes down to two main things, Student Privacy and Teacher Safety. We need to ensure that nothing a student does is accessible to anyone outside of the school district and secondly we need to ensure that teachers are not putting themselves at risk by providing a digital learning experience that cannot be controlled or monitored for appropriate use. The safest way to look at any digital resource and ensure that you are doing what is “right”, is to ask yourself, “Has this approved by my school district?” If the answer is “No!”, don’t use it. If you are not sure, inquire. If you would like to use it, ask your district to put it through their vetting process to ensure it is appropriate to use.

Although the above is pretty straight forward, I still get “What about this…?” questions all the time, so I will go over some of the most frequent questions I have gotten and am getting now as we venture into this uncharted territory. Keep in mind, my answers to these questions may not be universal, so if in doubt, check with your administrator.

Can I use my Google Drive?

No! Do not use your personal Google drive or any other cloud drive (Drop Box, One Drive or other). These personal drives are super handy and I have my own personal account with Google Drive, One Drive and Drop Box, but I do not use any of them for teaching. The reason for this is that these drives get scraped for data about the user and once that data is scraped you essentially lose control of what gets done with it. We don’t want student information being scraped full stop.

Why is using the school district Google Drive OK?

Using the google drive your school district has assigned to you is fine because… They assigned it to you to use. With Google Apps For Education or GAFE, student data is protected behind what Google refers to as the Vault. Student files are not available to Google’s data scraping algorithms and therefore student information is not harvested. Your school district has done all the legwork to set up the GAFE ecosystem, so you can use it without worrying about your student data.

Can I receive completed assignments by email?

Yes, you can collect student assignments by email as long as you are using your school district email account. All communication between you and your students, their parents or their guardians should be done using your school email account. Personal accounts can put student data at risk AND puts the teacher at risk if some communication between you and a student or parent goes sideways.

Can I create a Facebook group to communicate with my class?

No no and no. Do not use Facebook as a platform for conducting your class. Nothing about using Facebook groups meets privacy or safety requirements of an online learning environment.

Can I share folders within the GAFE environment with my students?

Yes and No. If you are working in a GAFE environment you shouldn’t need to share folders. Create an assignment and let the Google Classroom manage the assignments and folders. If you start sending out folder links to students it is onerous to manage AND once you send that link to a student, you risk losing control of what goes in it and who has access to it.

Can I create a website for my students to access their lessons?

Yes you can create a website to post your lessons on BUT… Do do not require student to log to access them and do not provide a chat or comment feature on which kids, parents or strangers can communicate. If anyone wants to communicate with you, provide your school district email address. If you are interested, Weebly is super easy to set up.

Can I use my twitter account to communicate with kids?

Yes and No. Technically there is nothing wrong with pushing information out to kids and parents via twitter, just don’t follow kids or parents back. My advice is to only use it as a means to broadcast information. Twitter should not be used for two way communication.

Can I require a student to create an account for a resource I want them to use?

No, you may not unless it is a resource that your school district has approved for student use. There are grey areas around this issue, but they are complex and convoluted and it is best to steer clear. I you think it is a fantastic resource, get your school district to approve it.

Can I video conference with my students?

This one is different district to district so check with your administration, but common sense and caution should steer you away from video conferencing with students. Just think about it this way. Do you really want to see the inside of your students bedrooms? Remember there is no unseeing what happens on the other end of that video feed. Sure 95% of the time nothing bad will happen, but do you want to be part of the 5%?


As you go forth and venture into the online learning space, simply ask yourself two questions

  1. Is my students’ data/information at risk?
  2. Am I putting myself at risk?

If either of these two questions come with a yes or even a maybe, take a pass.

Jun 23

Anna Lytical – Making learning to code a little less binary

Posted on Sunday, June 23, 2019 in coding, EdTech

 

When you think of learning to code, it is unlikely you have ever put that thought together with the world of Drag, but that is exactly what Billy Jacobson and his alter ego, Anna Lytical have done. He/She/They/Them… (sorry but I am not sure which pronoun they prefer), have put together a Drag Queen inspired Youtube channel dedicated to teaching kids or anyone else who is interested, how to code. It is a rather ingenious concept when you think of it, coupling the binary world of computer programming with the non-binary world of Drag, it just seems like the two were meant to be together. 

The great thing about the concept is that it isn’t just a gimmick. Anna or Billy, actually know what they are talking about. Billy works as a Developer Programs Engineer at Google and it would seem Google is totally on board with the whole idea. With an entertaining idea in hand and the blessing of Google, Anna Lytical may be on her way to becoming the darling of the learn to code movement.

As an IT (Information Technology) teacher, I am inundated on a daily basis with the latest and greatest Learn to Code resources the world has to offer, but quite frankly, none of them venture too far off the tried and true “Hello World” formula that has been used for decade or more now. Anna Lytica on the other hand… Well lets just say she looks to be taking a slightly different approach. With her in drag persona and a few cleverly placed but very applicable gay straight references in the first video, Anna instantly reached a segment of the population that prefers not to be bored to death when learning to code, or simply identify with Anna’s non binary gender identity. 

With all this said, Anna Lytical has only produced one video to date and it is yet to be seen if she will continue to capture the attention of would be programmers, but she is off to a good start. The first video was great in laying out the general concepts of how code works by touching on inputs – outputs, on – off, gay – straight, 1’s – 0’s… and introduced us to block coding (scratch). Now we will have to see where she goes from here. It will be interesting how she approaches more complex concepts and what platform she will use as an IDE. 

Now for the big question. Would I use the Beyond Binary videos in my grade 9 IT classroom? Well I don’t tend to teach directly by video tutorial, so it would never be part of my day to day instruction, but making it part of my selection of independent study resources?…  Depending how the video series progresses, it is a possibility. 

Check out the first video below and feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section. 

Sep 29

Is it my imagination or… Educational Technology

Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2016 in EdTech

slowdownIs it my imagination or have things started to stagnate in the world of Educational Technology? The leaps and bounds by which we were moving a few years back seem to have become baby steps. People’s blog post seem to lack the excitement over technology they use to have; Twitter threads seem to just rehash the same old Edtech ideas and there hasn’t been a new application released in at least two years that are worth being excited about. Even the hardware we get these days seems to lack any sort of groundbreaking innovation.

It would seem to me that we have hit the wall in the world of educational technology and I am not sure when we can expect the next great leap forward. Perhaps this is just a sign that the world of Educational Technology is maturing. EdTech has become mundane and boring, not unlike the way my own children view my existence.  I serve a purpose, but I am hardly something that is worth getting excited about, but this lull may actually be a blessing. IF we have entered a time of respite from the never-ending bombardment of the latest and greatest in education, perhaps we can now settle down and begin the hard work of developing the curriculum, resources and skills necessary to make effective use of the technology we have.

One of the biggest battles we Edtech “experts” have encountered over the past several years, was convincing classroom teachers to try new technology, but classroom teachers didn’t have the time or inclination to keep up with the merry-go-round of technological change. Many teachers felt it was a fool’s game to even try, but with this slowdown, we actually get a chance to catch-up.  The irony here is that this slowdown, might end up being the opportunity we have been waiting for to move ahead with educational technology.

If we are to capitalize on this EdTech lull, a concerted effort will have to be made, in four specific areas: Leadership, Teachers, Resources & Curriculum and Professional development. It is in these interrelated areas where the use of educational technology needs to be planned for and ultimately implemented in an effective and responsible manner.

  1. Leadership – Someone, or a group of someone’s, need to take advantage of this time we have been given and actively create the opportunities that teachers need, to begin to learn how to best utilize the technology they have at their disposal. This leadership needs to come from government, administration and from the teachers themselves through their Specialist Associations and within school districts. If leadership fails to meet their responsibility to teachers, by not creating  time for collaboration, professional development and mentorship; when the next surge of technological advancement comes, educators will only be left even further behind.
  2. Teachers – Ultimately the successful implementation of educational technology into the classroom will be up to teachers and in order for this to happen, they will have to avail themselves of the opportunities that their leadership provide them. Most teachers I know are more than happy to learn more about how they can utilize technology more effectively in their teaching. When willingness meets opportunity, progress is made.
  3.  Resources and Curriculum – Now is the time to create the resources and curriculum teachers need to properly utilize modern technology in the classroom. Since we are no longer chasing the latest in technological advancements, we have the opportunity to develop the resources and curriculum needed to properly integrate technology in the classroom. The question then becomes, who will do this development? For jurisdictions where curriculum and resources are no longer developed or distributed by an education ministry, this development will have to be done by teachers themselves, or by third-party curriculum developers.
  4. Professional development – As I mentioned with leadership, teachers need to be provided time and opportunity to develop the skills necessary to effectively implement technology in their classroom. There has always been opportunities in the realm educational technology, but much of it plays to the converted and does not reach the non-techie teacher. With this break in the EdTech gotta-have madness, there is an opportunity to reach the masses and not come across looking like you’re just schlepping some new pyramid-scheme product. The most important part about this professional development is that it cannot come in the form of big glitzy conferences. It has to be provided on a local level, aimed at providing practical applications for all classroom teachers.

Now with all this said… Maybe I am way out to lunch. Perhaps we are still moving ahead at light speed, but my four points of EdTech integration still stand. Without proper attention in the four aforementioned areas. Education Technology will never become the domain of the mainstream teacher.

 

Dec 23

Digital Integration Support Teacher – Term 1

Posted on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 in EdTech

What on earth is a Digital Integration Support Teacher or DIST?

As new as this title may sound, the position has been around for quite some time. Most the time it has been done by a self-appointed techno-geek teacher, helping out when they could outside of our regular teaching duties. Over the years, I seem to have fallen into the role of head geek in my school. Although this role has been great for my wine cellar, the degree to which I could help teacher(s) was limited to a “can you do me a favour” kinda thing.

As our school moved toward a greater reliance on digital tools for teaching, this role started to require far more attention than just being a spare time, off the side of my desk kinda thing. Late last school year, it was decided that it was necessary to formally allocate time for an in-house “edtech specialist”

The tipping point was that, in the 2014/15 school year, our school was to begin the process of becoming a BYOD school and employing google classroom to facilitate curriculum delivery. If this was going to have any hope of being a success, staff would need more support. As a result our school has funded three 80 minute blocks, split between two teachers for the sole purpose of providing pedagogically sound tech support.

With this 240 minutes, we serve the technology needs of 1300+ students, 90 teachers and 70 support staff. When I interviewed for the position I referred to it as boots on the ground classroom support and so far it seems to be working for teachers, if not for my wine cellar.
Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 4.52.11 PMWhen we started this little adventure, I figured it might be useful if I tracked our tech related staff contacts over the year just to get an idea of what we were spending the most time on. In the first 4 months we have begun to paint an interesting picture of what teachers need in the way of frontline tech support.

Google Classroom – 21.2%

At 21.2% Google Classroom just narrowly edges out Workflow, BCESIS and Tech Issues for the most attention needed. This percentage should have been higher but the roll-out of Google Classroom took a bit longer than expected so it lagged behind other tech needs over the term.

So far the Google Classroom support has revolved around the nuts and bolts of creating a digital classroom. Time has been spent on helping teachers set up their Google Classroom, making use student passwords were Google compliant and showing students how to navigate the Google Classroom. Hopefully next term, we can begin to focus on helping teachers develop their digital curriculum for the Google Classroom.

Work Flow 19.7%

Work Flow is a significant issue for teachers in the digital world. Emails, calendar syncing, document sharing, posting digital assignments, collecting digital assignments… There is a lot to get your head around in the digital classroom and regardless of how simple we tell people it is, let’s be honest. We have not made things simpler by introducing technology into the classroom. To this date I have yet to see any Teacher >> Student >> Teacher transaction that is as simple as having a student write their answers on a piece of paper, then handing that piece of paper to the teacher.

The other thing we did a fair bit of, was helping teachers migrate the work they had created on a personal Google Drive, onto their new School District Google account. This work represented hundreds of hours spent by teachers creating digital content for their classes and that transfer was of the utmost importance to them if they were going to use Google Classroom.

BCESIS 19.7%

This category is only relevant to teachers in British Columbia but for those who don’t teach in BC. BCESIS is our long beleaguered student management system that does not play nice with Java. Especially Java on Mac computers. This term, I spent an inordinate amount of time making BCESIS work on Macbook computers. Needless to say, I hope the new student management system that is being rolled out in the next year, works better than BCESIS.

Tech Issues 19.7%

These tech issues usually revolved making people’s hardware play nicely with other hardware. Projection and printer issues topped the list but I also dealt with password issues, viruses, device set up and software installs. Things that were quick and easy to fix without bothering the district tech department.

Resource Consult 10.6%

This is what I was hoping to spend more time on with teachers this term but I think it will come in time.

What the resource consult would involve is sitting down with a teacher and exploring ways to integrate digital tools and media into their teaching. The DIST would sit down with the classroom teacher and go over what they would like to do or try in their class using a digital resource(s). Then the DIST would suggest what resources or tools would accomplish the teachers objective and then help plan how the teacher would implement it into their class.

This may simply involve a “Here try this!” or it might involve sitting down and helping plan a lesson, a unit, a delivery strategy or any other kind of support the teacher might need. This would Include working with the teacher in their class when they first introduce the new digital strategy, resource or lesson.

Google Drive 6.1%

Since Google Classroom is built on Google Drive, once an institution has signed up for Google Apps for Education, everyone on staff has access to Google Drive. What is happening now is that we are now helping non teaching staff move their work lives from storage on the local network, over to Google Drive. This includes Admin, counselling, learning assistants and whoever else has use for the Drive.

Website (The rest)

Bringing up the backend of this list is the lowly old website. As teachers become more digitally savvy, many begin to play with the idea of setting up a web space to call their own. Although it sits at the bottom of my tech contacts in my school, it is a topic I answer questions about quite frequently via my twitter account. For the most part, I direct most teachers toward Weebly or Google Sites as they are simple and less time-consuming. Those who are serious about their web presence (especially blogging) I tend to recommend WordPress.

So what do teachers want from there tech?

This term has been interesting but one thing has become abundantly clear. Teachers need and want help with technology in their classroom and we have left teachers to their own means for far too long. What has also become clear is that their needs are not all that complex.

A retired teacher friend of mine use to say to me “The overhead projector is the perfect piece of classroom technology”

  • Instant on, no waiting for it to “boot up”.
  • Not dependant unreliable networks
  • Easy to fix. No waiting for the tech department to come to your rescue.

Although we have come a long way since the glory days of the overhead projector, in many ways his sentiments still ring true. Teachers want technology that is fast, reliable and easy to troubleshoot when it isn’t working properly. Unfortunately, the simple days of the overhead projector have all but disappeared and as such, so have teachers expectations of their classroom technology.

2014 Top 6 Teacher Techspectations

  1. Projection – Teachers are dependant on projection, just like the days of the simple overhead projector and the nasty old chalkboard before that. If a teacher does not have projection, they are instantly hamstrung.
  2. Internet that works – So much of the supplementary material that teachers use for instruction is on the net, when it is down, an entire lesson can be destroyed.
  3. Reliable WiFi – As we move toward BYOD and students’ access to assignments and resources are dependant on WiFi, a reliable WiFi system becomes a necessity. When it doesn’t work, neither do the students.
  4. Assignment transactions – Teachers want a simple means of distributing digital assignments and collecting those assignments.
  5. Marking Digital Assignments – Being able to distribute and collect assignments digitally is all well and dandy, but if you want to REALLY make a teacher happy… Make it easy to mark those assignments in the digital environment.
  6. Marks & Attendance – The one necessary evil in the bunch, there is nothing more annoying to a teacher when the software they are expected to take attendance on and complete report cards on, does not work. If this were a day-to-day issue it would top the list of digital pet peeves.

Merry Christmas all!

Sep 27

Professional Development & Ed Tech – The solution is simple.

Posted on Friday, September 27, 2013 in EdTech

iStock_000009965178XSmallWell it was ProD day for me today. No I didn’t sleep in, play golf or catch a movie… Like all teachers I know, I came to work, sat down with colleagues and learned a thing or two. The shape of the day was nothing extraordinary. To start off we had an all in staff session where we addressed some standard operational issues and then we were released to pursue a our own professional interests.

For the second portion of the day, I was asked to head up a session on blogging for the classroom. Originally it was going to be a simple little 1 0n 1 tutorial but it bloomed into a full on multi person information session. Even though the numbers had unexpectedly increased, I didn’t want to pull the sage on the stage thing where I stood and delivered my wisdom upon people who are far more gifted pedagogues than I. Instead what we did was sit around a large table and I opened with “Why am I here?” and it went from there.

What resulted was something that went in a completely different direction than it would have if I had done the one on one session or taken the sage on the stage approach. It was a perfect example of Edcamp ProD where we all had the opportunity to share what we know on a common topic and ultimately come up with a solution that meets everyone’s individual needs.

What is even more significant, is that the solution most people ended up turning to, wasn’t even something I had planned to share with them. Imagine… Me! The “expert” being subverted by a bunch of luddites! Actually to be fair, there were some pretty tech savvy people in the room but the key here was that I wasn’t standing and delivering. Instead everyone had the opportunity to share what their needs were, explain what they wanted to achieve and contributed what they already knew. My role was simply to act as someone to bounce ideas off of. My opinion was of value but not the end all or be all of the discussion.

What today illustrated to me was that when it comes to Ed Tech, the know-it-all approach alienates and isolates teachers. Even the most traditional teachers in today’s session recognized the learning opportunities blogging offers them and their students. What they wanted was someone to listen to their needs and then together, come up with a solution.

What I also realized is that what I have to offer my colleagues in the world of Ed Tech is only as useful as its adaptability to their individual needs. Broad stroke Ed Tech solutions cannot work in a system that still involves teachers. The notion of a single device or platform that will serve everyone’s Ed Tech needs is grievously flawed and if we ever come to this place in education, we are in serious trouble.

Have a good weekend!

Sep 20

I’m Doing a Master’s in Ed Tech!

Posted on Friday, September 20, 2013 in EdTech

I sold out. I am finally doing a master’s degree. I know, I said I would never do one but here I am, reading and writing and being all academic like. For a guy who barely graduated from high school, I suppose it is something to write home about, so when I call my mom this evening I will tell her the news. The risk is that she keels over in shock that I was accepted into university again, and at 84 that isn’t a good thing.

So why did I do it you ask? What changed your mind? Well I had always refused to do a Master’s degree for the sole purpose of a bump in pay. I needed a higher purpose, a reason that transcended the tawdriness of money and over the past couple of years this blog has provided me with my masters muse.

My goal is to reinforce my reputation of being the voice of reason in the wacky world of Ed Tech, which can sometimes look like a flock of magpies chasing shiny objects. I want to be the wise old crow who rules the Ed Tech aviary.

To kick things off, I offer you my first assignment. Certainly not perfect, there are 3 spelling errors, a verbal error and some of the timing is wee bit off but I refuse to render this thing again. It will however, give you an idea of where I am headed.

[youtube_sc url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0aUJ-HDGkU” title=”Uvic%20TieGrad” width=”400″ height=”300″]

Jun 6

#EdTech year in review – A constructive critique

Posted on Thursday, June 6, 2013 in EdTech

iStock_000016696029XSmallAs hard as it is to believe… The school year is rapidly coming to a close and this means it’s time to reflect on the year that was and give you my #EdTech year in review. As usual, I will be assuming my role as the Eeyore of EdTech and focusing on the gloomier side of things but it is all well intended. As my loyal readers know, I am not a “Rah Rah, Sis Boom Bah!!” kinda guy, so without further adue, I give you my #EdTech year in review.

Adios to the iPad cohort

Gasp! I know, as implausible as it may seem, our iPads in the classroom experiment came to an unceremonious end this year. Knowing the iPads in the classroom community as I do, I already know what they are all thinking but NO!… we did not “do it wrong”. We just came to the conclusion that a one device model was not workable in our situation.

IMHO… The reason the cohort failed to thrive is that we have a dynamic school with kids of all stripes and configurations and as such, we quickly learned that a single device in the hands of a specified group of students, is a very difficult thing to engineer.

As much as the school system likes to categorize, rank and pigeonhole kids into groups, things just don’t work that way in a comprehensive high school like ours. Right out of the gate, we discovered that the diverse scheduling needs of our students, simply didn’t lend itself to a one group, one device model.

The first year we managed to keep the cohort together because we targeted kids who’s scheduling would be (mostly) the same but this year we opened things up and we immediately found that we could not keep the cohort together but that is ok. Like I said, we are a comprehensive school, we don’t want to schedule kids into a single track and as such the cohort model just didn’t work like we had hoped.

The other thing that happened along the way, is that our school quietly and unceremoniously hit the ever so elusive #EdTech tipping point (I think) and adopted a BYOD policy right under our noses. There is no longer a need to try and engineer a classroom where every kid has a device in hand, it just happened au natruel.

Regardless of how things shook down, we learned a lot from this little experiment. All the teachers involved came away with a greater knowledge and understanding of how best to utilize digital tools in the classroom and will continue to apply and expand their skills for the rest of their careers. Perhaps more importantly however, is that the group of teachers who were a part of the iPads in the classroom experiment are now sharing what they learned with colleagues both near and far. The iPads in the classroom pilot WAS a success, just not in the way we were expecting.

Bandwidth issues

As I had mentioned in the previous section, It would seem that we may have hit the #EdTech tipping point and what better measure to determine this than bandwidth use.

This year was a definite struggle with getting connected with the outside world, from within our schools. It was like we hit a wall this year and when I say “We” I mean the Royal “We”. Schools everywhere were discovering that a building full of people using the internet all at the same time, can pose a wee bit of a problem.

It has become painfully obvious that infrastructure upgrades are becoming an immediate need for schools that are going digital. The problem now, is figuring out how to pay for it. With shrinking education budgets, it becomes very difficult to justify spending money on improving connectivity when you are looking at cutting back on teaching staff and educational programs.

My prediction is that, we (public education) will be looking at corporate sponsored funding for these types of upgrades very soon. It is a Pandora’s box waiting to be opened but it is coming… mark my words.

Note: The bandwidth issues we were experiencing in my school this past year were recently addressed and access is much improved. 

Plight of the naysayer

Ok perhaps “naysayer” is a bit misleading, so lets use contentious practitioner, or constructive criticizer or at worst contentious objector…

This year was an interesting one as the #EdTech movement, gained some significant momentum and began pushing hard for greater use of technology in classrooms. Along with this has been a growing expectation that teachers embrace the digitization of their professional development and to some extent their professional identity. The Personal Learning Network or PLN, was the topic du jour at many a staff meeting, blog post and twitter chat.

Now if you recall, I am a bit of advocate for the integration of digital tools in the classroom and I am a REALLY BIG fan of the digital PLN but things are starting to get a little ugly out there.

You see it at staff meetings, on twitter, in blogs and in main stream media. Those who are not on the #EdTech train are getting hammered with criticism. I even got attacked on twitter a couple of months back for questioning a “EdTech GuRu”. It was really quite astonishing how quickly this individual and her disciples piled on in an attempt to marginalize my critique. My questions weren’t even addressed as they immediately labelled me as a #EdTech heretic and proceeded to try to discredit me through the medium of twitter.

I have to plead guilty of being an #EdTech bully myself. During a staff meeting, I disrespectfully responding to a colleague when he questioned the usefulness of social media as a professional development tool. Although I eventually tried to answer his question respectfully, I started off with a dismissive smart assed comment, which had no place in the discussion.

Beyond personal attacks, there seems to be a concerted effort to silence and marginalize anyone who questions the #EdTech movement and this isn’t just a personal observation. In the past two weeks alone, I have been DM’d on twitter, received emails and was even approached at a social function, about how to deal with a subtle and sometimes not so subtle message of “You are either with us or against us, pick your side!”

I never thought the #EdTech discussion between the Pro and Whoa camps, would ever degrade to a showdown but I am afraid we are heading down a path toward greater conflict. Lines are being drawn and they seem to be more ideological rather than pedagogical.

To Wrap Up

All in all it has been a good year. I certainly haven’t been as active in the #EdTech community as I was last year but I just couldn’t keep up the previous years pace. Next doesn’t look good either as I hope to begin my Masters in Education Technology (if I am accepted) and will probably have even less time to share my insight and opinion. One positive however, is that when I do show up, I might actually know what I am talking about since I will be all lerned up reel good.

Have a great summer all… Cheers!

Some 2012/2013 Articles about #EdTech

Little gain from technology in the classroom

Outdated education model opens doors for tech companies

Technology changing how students learn, teachers say

 Teacher knows if you have done the E Reading

Feb 3

Microsoft Surface – An EdTech Smack down

Posted on Sunday, February 3, 2013 in EdTech

Got my hands on a new Surface RT this week. Found it just sitting there on my Principal’s desk doing nothing, so I absconded with it. Actually, being a charitable fellow, Le Grand Fromage let me have it so I could give it a good going over. So I present to you, the Microsoft Surface – Ed Tech Smack down. I will have it for about a week, during which time, me and my cracker jack team of digital device experts will put the device through its paces.

The Testing Team

SONY DSC

Grumpy old dad Seasoned Educational Technology Expert with a keen eye for innovative design and application

Crazy 14-year-old Emerging Ed Tech aficionado who has a knack for finding practical Ed Tech solutions for herself and classmates.

Tenacious 10-year-old Ready willing and able to lay thumpin on the 14-year-old to get equal time on the household digital devices. Budding Blogger and Ed Tech neophyte

The First 24 hours

Grumpy Old Dad

Really like the look and feel of the surface. Doesn’t feel cheap and has some heft to it. The iPad… Well it is the iPad what more is there to say that hasn’t already been said

After trying to set up my user profile on the surface, I thought to myself “Man the iPad is Fisher Price Simple” but here is the thing. The iPad is a one person device. You set it up the way you like it quick and easy and it is a reflection of that one user. The surface on the other hand, might not be Fisher Price Simple BUT you can set up multiple users on one device.

This makes me think the surface would be a better device for a school, which might have dozens of different users, especially districts that are running on a Microsoft Network. With the surface you can set up workgroups and other useful multi user functions, especially if your organization is running a Share Point Network. (SPN) This leads me to the second important distinction between the iPad & Surface.

Historically, Share Point did not to play nice with Apple products. It would drive me nuts when kids using an Apple product couldn’t access my online classroom. With the most recent version of Share Point however, Apple users can navigate through an SP site without too much trouble BUT with that said. The iPad still has some annoying issues with scrolling and rendering a SP site. The Surface on the other hand has full functionality in a SP environment.

Once I set up my profile and visited my Share Point classroom, I figured I would grab Google Chrome and load it onto the Surface. Unfortunately Chrome does not have a Windows Surface RT version… I assume it is coming but for now I am stuck with Windows Exploder.

After I mucked about trying to get Chrome loaded on the surface, I had to get to an Online meeting so I tried to load the Blackboard Collaborate applet and lo and behold… No applet for the Windows Surface RT operating system.

I see a theme building here…

14 Year old

  • “COOL! Is that the new Windows thingy? Can I play on it!?”
  • “Keyboard is cool but it is weird”
  • “Too much moving around to get to stuff”
  • “The corners are too sharp”
  • “WHAT! Angry birds is $4.99?”

10 Year old

  • “What is that?… Oh cool!… Where is the iPad?”

48 Hours

I am a little less pleased with the surface at the moment. It is almost like the Surface tries to be too much, both a tablet and a computer. As such, it is not Fisher Price simple like the iPad. Perhaps it will just take some time to unlearn Apple and get the functions of the Surface burned into my thick skull.

A couple other negatives I discovered in the past 2 days. I haven’t found a decent twitter app and Internet Explorer wants to render everything in compatibility mode. Both are little things but very annoying, sorta like a thorn in your sock that you can’t track down.

What I do like about the Surface is that I can upload documents into Edmodo with it, something that has been a Royal Pain in my backside with the iPad since I started using it in the classroom. As user-friendly as the iPad may be up front, it is far too restrictive when it comes to moving YOUR OWN FLIPPING FILES! around. The old “Apple way or the highway” thing gets a bit wearing when you are trying to get work done. This is something that the Surface does not do to you. Need to put a file someplace, no Problem! Just like a regular computer.

I also found that I liked the sound quality of the Surface when the kids discovered the live streaming radio feature. It is part of the Xbox live integration on the device. I have a deluxe Xbox live membership, so all the cool features available to me on the TV, are now available on the surface. Kinda nifty!

The last thing on today’s list is the keyboard cover combo. I like the ergonomics of it but I don’t really like the feel of the keyboard but with that said, it is better than having to pack around a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. My dislike of the touch and feel of it is probably more a function of 30 years of using real keys. I don’t even like my Macbook keyboard. I like big, stiff, noisy keys like those on an old Hewlett Packard electric typewriter. The kind that you can actually feel the mechanical parts clicking and clacking under your fingertips. Ahhh Those were the good old days.

14 Year old

  • “I still can’t believe that angry birds is $4.99!”
  • “I like how Google Docs is exactly like it is on the computer, using the surface. I hate trying to work on Google docs with the iPad, it doesn’t work right!”
  • “I don’t like the onscreen keyboard, getting to the numbers is stupid! Why can’ they all be lined up on the top like the iPad keyboard?”

10 Year old

  • “It works good with my classroom blog but I didn’t type anything in so I don’t know if that works or not”
  • “I like the music streaming! I can listen while I play Cut The Rope.”
  • “I don’t like how the on-screen number pad works, it is weird that you have to change keyboards to get to the numbers”
Dec 22

iPads In The Classroom – Christmas Reflection 2012

Posted on Saturday, December 22, 2012 in EdTech

Christmas tree on streetWow! Another year has come and gone and I am still employed. Not that I shouldn’t be, just that this blogging thing puts you under a bit of a microscope. One wrong word and BAM! You are collecting unemployment and rummaging through people’s road side recycling, while the kids are at school and the wife is at work.

This year has certainly been eventful and rewarding but I am definitely not on the same track I was last year at this time. Last year’s Christmas reflection was all about the student, the device and the classroom. This year, my iPad cohort went to hell in a handbasket and thus my attentions are not quite so focused on iPads In The Classroom so much as they are Technology and the Classroom Teacher.

As a result of this shift in focus, this years reflection has a more teacher centered slant… and defies the laws of physics apparently. 😛 So here goes this years moments that make you say “hmmmmmmmmm?”

The PLN

This was the Acronym of the year and perhaps the single most important part of my professional development over the past year. The Personal Learning Network has gone digital and in doing so, has revolutionized how we communicate as professionals.

I have gone with a three-legged stool approach and have built my PLN on the following.

  • My Blog
  • My Twitter Account
  • An information source (Zite)

These three items have come together and have profoundly changed the way I do my job but more importantly, how I see my self as a teacher. The Digital PLN is a POWERFUL tool and I highly recommend it to any and all teachers.

See further resources below

Building Your Personal Learning Network

21 Century Literacies: An iPad Resource

Pinterest – Personal Learning Networks

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Time / ProD

It has become crystal clear, that if we expect teachers to make digital technology a more significant part of their teaching practice, they need more Professional Development. When I say “More ProD…” I don’t mean a series of rinky dink hour-long workshops on “using twitter in the classroom” or “The latest apps for teaching…” I mean purposeful hands-on experience with technology both in and out of the classroom.

In order to get an idea of just how much time the “experts” with educational technology have put in, I will use myself as a “Average Joe Blow Educational Tech Geek” example.

The very first day of my practicum in 1993, I was introduced to a program that made word searches and crosswords that you could print out for use in the classroom. Since that day, I have logged innumerable hours using technology to make my life in the classroom easier and hopefully my teaching practise better.

To get an idea of just how much time I have spent, assume that since that day in 1993, I averaged a single hour a day using technology for the purpose of improving my teaching practice. Multiply an hour a day by approximately 180 school days for 19 years and you get 3429 hrs of hands on time with educational technology. I am quite certain however, that number should be doubled if not quadrupled. In the past 12 years, I have easily met and far surpassed Malcome Gladwells magic 10,000 hour mark to becoming an “expert” in anything.

What is most important to keep in mind here, is that these 10,000+ hrs have been purposeful. It wasn’t just time sending emails, surfing the net, watching silly kitty videos or squandering time on some social network. What is also important to note here is that, until this year, the hardware used and the time spent has been almost entirely on my nickel. This time has been a HUGE investment for me and I did it because I love the stuff but other people have other areas of pedagogical interest; therefore, we can’t expect that everyone is willing to put in the hours on their own dime, like I have.

Finally, if we look at proficiency with Ed Tech from a purposeful time spent” perspective, it goes a long way in explaining why “digital literacy” is not all that common in the classroom. It also helps to dispel the digital native myth and explain why new teachers are not coming hard out of the gates, with the digital skills necessary for the 21 Century Classroom.

Technology in the classroom will always remain on the fringes if teachers are not provided the opportunity to play, practice and implement the technology they are being asked to use.

All in or All out

There are two sides in this Educational Technology debate and I have tried to situate myself squarely in the middle of them, not because I am afraid to take sides but because I firmly believe both sides have value and can coexist.

There are those however, who are hunkered down in their respective battlements and are preparing for the looming battle that lies ahead but like any war, little good will come of it.

This past week our director of Educational Technology in West Vancouver said to me, something along the lines of… “With my own kids, I just wish “we” (as in education system) would just decide to which world we are going to educate in” He then suggest that I read a book by Steve Johnson – “Future Perfect”. I have yet to crack the binding but my understanding is that the premise is that technology is changing the way we think and that going digital is just part of our evolution.

Although I can appreciate the premise, I cannot buy into it. As a classroom teacher and a parent, I watch the kids who straddle the two worlds (hardcopy and digital) and they are excelling. The ones who are all digital and in the rare case, all hardcopy, seem to me to be struggling.

At this point in the game, I don’t think all in or all out is wise. Kids need to be able to think and function in both, in order to be successful.

BYOD or Single OS

At the beginning of this year, I was much more Pro BYOD then I am now but I will go out on a limb and say it here and now. For instructional purposes, having a set of single platform devices in the classroom is far superior to having a rag-tag, hodgepodge, mix-in-match, dogs breakfast set of devices in the classroom.

I know that there are a number of people out there saying how wonderful BYOD is BUT! It is not a plug and play scenario. A single OS classroom makes things simple because it is easy to have everyone seeing and doing the same things on the same application at the same time. Yes we need to personalize education but there are times when uniformity kicks the stuffing out of diversity and instructional time is just one of those times.

Situations where BYOD works

  • Classes with highly digitally literate students.
  • When the applications you use are available across all platforms.
  • When you just feel like pulling your hair out in frustration.

For the past 2+ years, the iPad has been seen as the only single OS option worth considering because of its portability, functionality and moderate price but now with the new $250 Chromebook on the market, that should change. I am really quite excited about the Chromebook and think it will go a long way in making the single OS classroom, an easier task.

Access

This is a biggie. Access to digital tools and digital networks is simply a must have, in order for Educational Technology to be effective.

Get the a device in the hands of the learner piece, is a no brainer. No device, then no digital assisted learning. Although 1:1 seems to be the “ideal” scenario, lately I have been hearing noise that 2:1 is actually better. It creates a situation where kids have to work together because they actually have to talk to each other, share the device, their ideas and even plan how they can best accomplish the task at hand. In a 1:1 situation, you have kids so immersed in their device, nary a word is spoken.

The second piece is Access to a network that will give you access to the Web, without which, much is for not.

Late last summer, I was doing an iPad workshop at a school that didn’t have any wifi and from what the staff said, there didn’t seem to be any plans to have it installed. It was certainly a challenge, running a show and do workshop with no wifi but it wasn’t near as difficult as it was going to be for them, trying to implement iPads in the classroom with no wifi.

Wifi access is even an issue in a wired school district like West Vancouver. We have become victims of our own digital success. We are stretching our wifi capacity to its limits and using your digital device is frequently more of an exercise in frustration, then it is a learning experience. I have even had to used my phone as a wifi hot spot, just to get through a lesson. Not only is this an annoyance, it is costing me $$$ in data use.

The thing that makes the digital device so powerful as a learning too, is its ability to access and share information. Without network access, both you and your students are handcuffed.

Some Quick Thoughts

I will wrap up with a couple one liners I heard over the year that resonated with me and are worth sharing, as I think they are very important as we move ahead in the world of Technology in Education. All but one I agree with.

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“Failure is inevitable but from this failure will come innovative teaching practice” – Tony Wagner

“Teachers who are using technology effectively in their classrooms, need to share” – ???

“I take offence to the notion that I cannot do my job without a digital crutch” – Spencer Capier

I’ve yet to have student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t received any PD on it.”Sean Junkins

“The B.E.S.T. conversations I have had with the people who know THE MOST about TECH has never been about TECH.” – Jen Wagner

“A notion of public education that’s anchored in technocratic values functionally inhibits the realization of democratic values.” – Toby Steeves

And so wraps up another year of iPads In The Classroom.

Stay Tuned for an exciting project my good friend and colleague @Scapier are working. We will release it in the new yearand hope to turn the teaching world on its ear!

Merry Christmas!