After 8 months of searching… I think I have found my Coding in the Classroom solution. What I was looking for was a product that gave me a means of some semblance of classroom control but gave the students the flexibility of an open learning environment. I also needed a product that gave me the confidence in saying “this is the one” to students, parents and administration.
What I have come to after months of searching is a Learn to Code solution called Grok Learning out of Australia. They have developed an all in one learn to code platform using Python as their first offering and from what I have played with thus far, it looks to be a tight little package.
Being a coding neophyte myself, I needed something I could learn quickly along side my students but at the same time had enough complexity and sophistication to challenge the aspiring Wozniaks in the room. From what I have read, Python is apparently the way to go. It is easy to learn, teaches good coding practices and is similar enough to the C languages that learning C & C++ is easier once Python is in the bag. Besides, if Python is good enough for Google and NASA, I am guessing it is probably good enough for a high school classroom.
Some of the things I like about Grok are the following:
Created by educators
No installations needed
Affordable(ish) $30 a head
Easy to set up online classroom
Student tracking and marking ready
Discussion forums to hash out coding challenges
Competitions to challenge students
Growing selection of tutorials
Custom courses available
Worked on my iPad
When speaking to the good folks of Grok, I mentioned that Canadian educators need an online classroom environment that doesn’t require ANY student information in order to comply with our privacy laws and they seemed to be willing to make that happen. As it stands, a teacher could still set up aliases for each kid and still be within the law.
The question you may now be asking is how Grok Learn To Code is different or better than the products already available? and to be honest, I am not completely sure. I have only just begun to play but at this point what I do like is the following.
Bang for buck – I originally looked at Code School. They provide a wide selection of courses, a really good delivery system and “team” discounts. Unfortunately, the cost is just way to much to ask kids or the school to pay. Sure if I was a good teacher, I would shell out the cash for it myself but I am a selfish sort and prefer to feed my kids so I passed
There are some Great Free Resources out there as well such as Code Academy, which my class is using now. They provide a very similar product to Grok including Python but it doesn’t give the teacher the opportunity to create an online classroom or delve into Python quite as deeply as Grok. In my opinion the ability to manage students under a single back-end interface is invaluable but being able to challenge the higher end kids is imperative. Grok also provides a unique level of support and opportunity for kids to interact with other young coders from around the world.
So after 6 short months and a long intensive search, I think I have come to a decision. it has been really quite astonishing how many learn to code options have come out of the woodwork while I have been looking. All offer a decent learn to code experience but at this moment… I think I will give Grok Learning a go for my coding program.
If anyone would like to give Grok a FREE trial run, they have given me 5 teacher subscriptions to give away. The first 5 insightful comments on this post will receive a link to join Grok.
I picked up a new class this year. Actually I was cajoled into taking a ICT class in exchange for one of my Planning 10’s. “Come on Keith your will be great! Besides you love techy stuff don’t yah?” Although I couldn’t argue the point, it was still a new course and I didn’t really know what was involved.
As any wily teaching veteran would do, I held off on committing to take the class until I checked out the IRP. (Integrated Resource Package) Once I had ferreted out a dusty old copy from the depths of the Tech office, I was perturbed to find that it was a 2003 version so I did what I should have done in the first place and went to the net and looked for something that had been written post Windows XP. As you have probably already guessed, the most recent version IS the 2003 version. In tech years, 2003 was a millennia ago. Essentially were still pounding out school work on stone tablets back then.
Taking a quick look through I wasn’t very inspired.
Microsoft Office (my grandmother uses Microsoft Office)
Web publishing tools (Could you be a bit more specific?)
Video editing (I thought that was film and TV)
However, I did see some mention of programming, some image editing and a few other snippets that lent me hope. I knew if I stuck with all the Prescribed learning outcomes, it would be a PAINFUL year for everyone involved, so I went down to talk to the all mighty and powerful people and said… “Sure, I will take ICT IF I don’t have to follow that IRP to the letter!” To which they said… “Giddy up!”
Now you may be wondering what qualifications do I have to be teaching ICT and my answer is… None! Sure I am a tech geek but I haven’t taken any formal training in anything. Actually that is not true. I did take 4 weeks of first year computer science before I dropped it but that was in 1990 and in tech years, we were still killing wooly mammoths with our bare hands back then.
What I am familiar with is how to build websites for personal and retail purposes, how to optimize websites to be search engine friendly and I have a great deal of experience using and hacking the appearance of WordPress Sites. I also have been using Adobe Photoshop, Dream Weaver & Fireworks for a number of years as well. How this makes me worthy of being an ICT teacher, well that may be up for debate but it gave me enough of a leg up to say “YES! I will teach ICT”
Although I felt confident to take on the class, I realized that the kids I would be getting were going to be light years ahead of me in many respects, in one area especially. Coding!
Regardless of my inadequacies in this area, I still wanted to make coding a major part of the course because coding is all the rage these days and all the cool geeks are doing it. This is where Open Learning comes in.
The only way I could provide kids with any sort of learning experience around coding was to utilize the wealth of Open Learning resources available on how to code. I realized from the get go that there was no way I could learn this stuff and turn around a try to teach it day in day out, so I resolved to just set them loose.
For me this was unnerving. This would be the first time in 17 years where I have not been dishing out the information the kids needed to know and god help me if things went sideways.
Now, three months into the year, my role has become more of a director of resources. If a kid needs help and I can’t answer the questions, I find another kid who can. I find and present to the kids learning resources and opportunities which they can utilize to enhance their own self-directed learning. At times it feels like we are moving a little fast and loose but the kids always seem to be on task, get things done and enjoy what they are doing. I have yet to have any eye rolling or groaning, I never have any absentees, they are all in class on time… It is a remarkably efficient classroom. Having said that, I am sure things will now go to hell in a hand basket.
What I do find myself doing as a “teacher” is trying to get the kids to think about what it is they are doing. What are the ramifications of the app you want to develop, the image you have created or the digital footprint you have made? So many of these kids view what they are doing with or on a computer as isolated events. Rarely do they think about the social ramifications of their digital creations or actions. To combat this blinder effect, I will take a class every couple of weeks and look at the social consequences of what we create using technology.
This little experiment has made me realize that I may no longer have control of the content but I do have control of the context. The traditional sage on the stage approach gives the teacher the power / responsibility to deliver content and context all at once but with open learning, context can be glossed over by the learner or is missing entirely from the content. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the teacher to frame the individual learning within the appropriate context.
These past three months have reinforced with me that Open Education in the absence of a living breathing teacher will be doomed to failure or at least can’t be considered “education” because without the teacher it is just information. As I come to the end of this post and this course, I leave you with an article that appeared in the Washington Post by Larry Cuban, that makes this point very well: The technology mistake: Confusing access to information with becoming educated
I love the little digital world I have built for myself. 1248 tweeps, a handful of blog followers who hang on every word I type and the odd mention in local media. It is enough to make a grown man puff up like a ruffed grouse and do a little cock-a-doodle doo! At the risk of coming off as an arrogant jerk, I would have to say that I am probably the single most knowledgeable Ed Tech expert within a two block radius of my home. There is no other way to put it than to just say, I am FREEKING AWESOME!
These days, anyone who wants and audience can have one. Slap up a blog, make a few posts and boom… You are a star. For better or worse, people like me are a dime a dozen in the Ed Tech world and when we get together in an Open Learning situation it can be rather comical. What starts out as a well-intentioned learning opportunity, sometimes slides into a battle for the title of digital kingpin. It is like watching bad episode of the Big Bang Theory unfolding before your eyes. (I’m Leonard in this scenario by the way)
Now this isn’t the norm for Open Education. The “Ethos” of this movement, is to work collaboratively with others and share what we know for the common good and there are lots of good open learning opportunities out there sans egomaniacs. However, I have found the egos come out to play on occasion in the odd MOOC, CEETBC Meet and once at an EdCamp I attended.
To answer the question you are now asking yourself, yes yours truly has been one of these pocket protector wearing egomaniacs. Shamefully I must admit to such self-serving behaviour but can you blame me? What I have to say is just so… awesome!
The answer as to why this is happening, is that in the past 3 or 4 years there has been a proliferation of “experts” in the world of 21 Century education and we all seem to gather in Open Education environments. Although the intention of Open Education or “Ethos” is not born of one-upmanship, some of us have tried to use the OE stage to jockey for the position as supreme leader of the Ed Tech geeks. I am just thankful it all occurs on-line. The aftermath of a face to face meeting would be messy. Torn and bloody corduroy, pocket protectors and broken glasses strewn about. It wouldn’t be pretty.
Although I have been thinking this for a while, I was hesitant to voice this observation for fear of retribution from the #EdTech Illuminati. Then a colleague of mine who has been broadening their 21 Century teaching skills expressed the same feelings about some of the Open Education situations they had encountered and thus, silent I could no longer be.
For the record, my intent here isn’t to try to diminish what people have to contribute to the world of education. Egomaniac or not, we all have some good stuff to share but we need to be able to identify when what we are doing is self-serving. The people who come to Open Learning environments are there to learn and broaden their knowledge not listen to self-proclaimed “experts” pontificate. They need us to listen and if we can’t get over ourselves, we will never hear them.
Even in today’s modern keyboard driven world, the old adage still applies. We are born with two eyes and two ears but only one tongue so just shut up and listen.
It would seem a new blogging schedule is starting to emerge. This going to school thing is forcing me to sit down with a glass of Shiraz in hand and hammer out a new blog post every Friday night. Not that I am complaining… I love Shiraz and I love Blogging, so here goes.
This weeks instalment is all about online identities and how it plays out as a connected educator. Bonnie Stewart dropped in as our guest moderator for this weeks #tiegrad class and shared some of her thoughts on what I found to be a riveting topic.
The discussion generated some very interesting questions about the ramifications of being a networked educator. For better or worse, teachers now have access to extraordinarily powerful tools with which to share their ideas and opinions about education. As a result, classroom teachers are changing the landscape of education in a way we have never seen before.
It was a discussion that went far beyond the usual spiel of “thou shalt not post pictures of your drunken escapades in Aruba last Christmas” It was a discussion about the consequences of letting a schmuck teacher such as myself, influence others in a way that was virtually impossible just a few short years ago.
This discussion was so interesting because it was about ME! I am living proof of the power of being a connected educator. Two(ish) years ago, I was just some guy who worked with at-risk kids. My influence hardly went beyond the confines of the staff room and even then my influence was negligible. The only reason my existence mattered was that I took up space around the lunch table. Then along came a my blog and a twitter account and whether it be warranted or not, all of a sudden I had influence that reached far beyond the small confines of our staff room.
Although I kinda realized it before, yesterday’s class got me thinking about my responsibility as a connected educator.
The questions we looked at revolved around the ramifications of being a connected teacher. What are my responsibilities and who should I answer to? We also got into how networked teachers are disrupting the traditional power structures in education and what the consequences could be?
These are the questions that frame what Stewart referred to as “Identities for a new ethos”. If I remember correctly, she also said it is a world for which societal norms have not yet been formed and as such we can sometimes get situations that look a wee bit like the Wild West where there is no Marshall in town to keep the gun slinging at bay… I paraphrase
Here are the significant questions I went away with. Anyone who has been following me for any length of time, will be able to figure out my answer to each so I would LOVE for you to chime in with your own answers to these questions. If you have a second please leave a comment and share your opinions/answers.
Questions to ponder for the connected teacher
What is the teachers place in the this new interconnected world?
How vocal should a teacher be on a social network?
Should connected teachers be expected to parrot their their school district’s party line?
Where is the line, how edgy or outspoken can a teacher be without being open to discipline?
Should your online identity stray from the person you are in the classroom?
Does a strong online presence threaten existing educational power structures and is that ok?
This mid summer blogpost comes to you courtesy of a tweet I sent a few weeks back. It got a retweet or two and I had a wee bit of a discussion about what it all meant with my twitter friend @HGG, which eventually brought up an obvious question. If parenting is more important to a child’s academic achievement than school, why doesn’t the education reform movement focus their vitriol on the living room rather than the classroom?
Ultimately, I think we all know why reformers don’t point fingers at parents, it’s just bad politics and teachers are ripe for the whipping. The other problem is that there is a laundry list of things beyond the classroom that can derail a child’s academic progress, something I call “Academic Disruptors”. Some of these disruptors are related to parenting but much of it is simply a reflection of the twisted society we live in. The unpopular reality is that failure to thrive in school, is a MUCH larger issue than just a lack of rigorous academic standards or teacher accountability measures but reformers don’t want to hear that, they just want someone to blame other than taking a look at a socioeconomic system that has come to ruin.
Out of curiosity I asked a few people (teachers and civilians) to give me three things they feel get in the way of a child’s success in school. Obviously the teachers looked beyond the classroom but curiously, I did not get a single response from a non teacher who pointed to the classroom. The list of “academic disrupters” I compiled are essentially all forces beyond the hallowed halls of your local school.
The list has some fairly obvious items but there are some not so obvious ones in there too. Many are interrelated but I mention them separately because they can stand on their own as an academic disruptor. What follows are the items from that list, juxtaposed with the two pillars of education reform as we see it being sold by reformers.
Tougher academic standards
Greater teacher accountability
As you read through, you may ask yourself “Yes well… how many of kids does this list really represent?”
My response is that any single item may not represent all that many kids but collectively, I would say that it represents a significant percentage of any school population. The other thing to remember is that this list is far from complete and could potentially be endless.
I hope as you read through, it becomes clear just how ludicrous the education reform movement in North America has become. The simplistic bifocal solution of tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability cannot fix the education system, simply because it does not address the real academic disruptors in our schools.
Poverty – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will immediately address the daily effects of poverty on a child’s ability to be academically successful.
Hunger – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will provide a child the daily nourishment they need to be ready to actively engaged with the curriculum.
Divorce – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will mitigate the emotional turmoil that can be created by divorce and ensure that students experience academic success.
Mental Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will negate any mental health issue that could impede a child’s cognition or ability to build positive relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.
Addiction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the root causes of addiction and substance abuse in our society and pave the way for academic success for our children.
Fitness & Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the epidemic of poor health and fitness issues faced by North American society and empower children to become more academically successful.
Body Image Disorders – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will protect our adolescents from the biological, psychological and environmental factors that are believed to cause body dysmorphic disorders and allow all children to be academically successful.
Digital Distraction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will keep children from spending inordinate amounts of time outside of school on passive non academic activities such as gaming, surfing the web and playing on their smart phone.
Nutrition – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will prevent children from starting their day with a bag of chips and a can of coke. This will ensure that all children eat nutritious meals before during and after school, enabling them to be ready for their academic day.
Enabling – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will stop parents from enabling their children to engage in behaviours that negatively affect their academic performance and ensure academic success.
Pregnancy – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability, will prevent teens from having sex and conceiving children, allowing children to stay in school and be academically successful.
Employment – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that academically successful students will be gainfully employed once they have completed school.
Death – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will shelter children from the detrimental emotional effects of death in the family or amongst their friends, allowing them to be academically successful.
Developmental disabilities – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that children with developmental disabilities will no longer need psycho educational assessments or classroom assistance and they will still be academically successful.
Bullying – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will eliminate all bullying regardless of where or when it takes place, allowing for all children to feel included in the school community and become academically successful.
Relationships – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that students do not get themselves involved in distracting or harmful relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.
Now if anyone tries to tell you schools can be fixed within the walls of a classroom, you can call BS with confidence that it can’t.
If you come up with anything else, feel free to add to the list. I would love to hear more.
**NOTE** This post is intended to be a critique of the school reform movement in the USA, not a critique of the Canadian education reform movement. It can however, be seen as a “Don’t go there” warning to Canadian education reformers.
As 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.
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.
Well I called it. My powers of EdTech prognostication have once again hit the mark. Way back in December 23, 2011, I did a post called Digital Learning in 2012 – My Predictions. In this post, I predicted a push back from parents and other concerned individuals and groups about WiFi in schools.
Although I was a tad off the mark in my prediction, In 2013 the anti WiFi movement began to get some legs in British Columbia when the representatives at the 2013 British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) AGM tabled a four resolutions which addressed the membership’s concerns over WiFi in schools.
In the middle of the four resolution Anti WiFi package is Resolution 138, which backs up parents in BC and supports the BCCPAC’s May 2012 AGM resolution, calling for WiFi free education choices at both elementary and secondary levels in Province of British Columbia.
Resolution 137: The BCTF recognizes the World Health Organization’s classification of Radio-frequency Electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless devices as a 2B possible cancer risk to humans; that the BCTF ensures all teachers have the right to work in a safe environment, including the right to work in a Wi-Fi/ wireless-free environment.
Resolution 138: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Council’s May 2012 resolution, which calls on each Board of Education to allocate one public school at each educational level (elementary, middle, secondary) to be free of wireless technology such as Wi-Fi, cordless phones and cell phones.
Resolution 139: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils’ May 2012 resolution calling Boards of Education to cease to install Wi-Fi and other wireless networks in schools where other networking technology is feasible.
Resolution 140: The BCTF supports members who are suffering from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity by ensuring that their medical needs are accommodated in the workplace.
Further to these resolutions, some School Districts in both Canada and the USA have already moved to ban WiFi outright and some WiFi wary administrators are making executive decisions and pulling the plug here there and everywhere.
The push back is here and it is looking like things are about to get heated but I do have some questions about people’s understanding and motivations behind the WiFi bans. Sure I get it, we want our kids to be safe from what MIGHT be harmful but look around, everything is deemed as “possibly harmful” these days. Whats more, it is hard to take people seriously when they are rallying against WiFi with clenched fists in the air and inside that fist is their beloved cell phone.
I am not sure if people really understand that EMF’s or Electro Magnetic Fields are everywhere and emitted from things as mundane as your clock radio, hairdryer, kitchen appliances and baby monitors. EMF’s are even emitted from every wall socket in your home and yet WiFi is singled out as the lone crocodile in the reeds.
If this is an issue we are going to choose to fight in our schools we need to look beyond just WiFi. We should ban cell phones in schools (Good luck with that), get rid of computer labs, microwaves in cooking classes; welders, band saws, table saws and all other electric-powered tools in our shop programs… While we are at it, I am not sure if I should put my students in work experience placements where EMF’s are abundant or supporting their career choices where they might be at risk of EMF exposure. IF we are going to make this an issue in our schools, we are opening the door to liability issues way beyond the walls of the padded cells we call our classrooms and I am not sure I want to expose myself to that.
Whether you like it or not, Lightning the horse has been let out of the barn long ago and unless we can pinpoint examples of people dropping dead from the EMF’s emitted from WiFi, she ain’t gunna come back in any time soon.
Perhaps our time might be better spent trying to educate kids (and parents) about appropriate use of personal digital devices. Not unlike they way we do with sex and relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet and fitness and a litany of other 21 Century lifestyle pitfalls. Planting a scarlet letter on WiFi and calling for a good ole fashion public linchin solves nothing and eliminates any positive outcome WiFi might be able to deliver to our children’s learning environment.
Well, as usual… I am light years behind the curve. I always seem to be a little slow to arrive at the party and when i finally do, all the cool people have already left but I never no mind, it’s all good. Better late then never my dear old pappy use to say.
My most recent late arrival, was a book called The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. I found it sitting on the old and irrelevant table at Indigo while doing some Christmas shopping. Normally, I would have never even noticed the unassuming title but since I spent most of 2012 listening to educators yammer on about the “Ed Tech Tipping Point…” When I saw a book with “Tipping Point” in the title, it caught my eye.
Now that I have finally arrived at the party, long over though it may be, I can finally put my two bits worth into the Ed Tech Tipping Point discussion.
First of all, I have to say, I enjoyed the book. Gladwell brings up some very interesting points about social epidemics and I certainly understand why some educators are looking for just such an epidemic to occur with Education Technology. However, after hours of careful consideration, my conclusion is that there wont be a Gladwellian Tipping Point in Ed Tech. Instead, advances in Educational Technology will to continue to be (as it has always been) more of a slow submersion into the digital domain. A dipping point as it were.
Coincidentally, not a week after having come to this conclusion, I stumbled upon a Blogpost from Mind Share Learning, talking about the Ed Tech Tipping Point in their Top Ten EdTech Predictions for 2013. They seem to think that 2013 WILL be the year the Ed Tech tipping point occurs but I am holding my ground…. There will be no tipping point in 2013 or any other year and here is why.
I will try best I can, to relate Education Technology to Gladwell’s book. If you haven’t read the book, give the original article (on which the book is based) a quick read The Tipping Point – June 3, 1996 (New Yorker Magazine).
From a purely hardware perspective, the tipping point has already happened. If you don’t believe me, just look in your nearest high school classroom. There is a digital device in the hand of 90% of the kids and based on the degree of digital distraction going on at staff meetings, one in the hand of 90% of the staff as well. If I ask kids if they have a digital device to use for any given lesson, the majority of the class reaches in their bag or pocket and pull out more computing power then put a man on the moon. Now I realize that this situation is not the same for every school community but at my school, we long since tipped and are swimming in the digital deep end. The hardware is here and in the hands of many if not most but still we have not seen an Ed Tech tipping point.
Just as Gladwell tells us in his book, in order for an epidemic to occur we need “it” to stick and technology stuck to education long ago. The jump from scroll to bound books is an example of technological change. A little more recently, I remember how people thought VHS was going to revolutionize education; then desktop computers came along and were suppose to change everything; then the internet came along and distributed leaning systems were born, which promised to change the way we learn. Now mobile devices are being held on high and trumpeted by proponents as the most revolutionary thing education has ever seen… Adoption of new technology has always been a part of education but there is still no tipping point as Gladwell describes it.
In my mind this can only mean one thing, although technology itself is sticky, hardware is not. We find ourselves chasing the hardware, not unlike a heroin addict chases the dragon. The last hit is never enough and this is one of the reasons we have not seen an Ed Tech tipping point. When we focus on hardware acquisition, what we end up doing is moving the tipping point further and further away. If this continues, a Gladwellian tipping point will never occur.
Law of the Few
This is the idea that there is a small group of people who start, champion and spread a social epidemic to the masses. Gladwell refers to these people as Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople. Any one of these types of people can act as a tipping point but these types of people frequently act in more than just one of these roles. For example, many well-connected people are also good sales people, like Chris Kennedy (my superintendent). He has taken on the role of consummate Ed Tech ambassador. Myself, I am more of a grunt or as Gladwell calls it, “a Maven”. I don’t do a very good job of connecting with others or selling the idea of Ed Tech but if anyone asks for information or help with Ed Tech, I am your man.
Believe it or not, Gladwell’s law of the few is alive and well in education. These types of people are littered about the education profession and they have done a very good job selling the idea of Education Technology to their colleagues. New converts are joining the Ed Tech epidemic daily but just like the social epidemics Gladwell uses in the Tipping Point, it doesn’t infect everyone. Not everyone in Gladwell’s social epidemics bought Hush Puppies, got syphilis or committed suicide and just like a Gladwellian epidemic, not everyone in the teaching profession has bought into the epidemic of Education Technology.
Championing, Connecting and convincing others to join or become a part of a social epidemic is a difficult task and there is no reason to expect that everyone in the teaching profession will buy into the Ed Tech Revolution. Does this mean these are bad teachers? No… By Gladwell’s measure, it simply means they didn’t need, connect or were sold on the value of Education Technology.
The third element of a Gladwellian epidemic is context, or the place where the would-be epidemic lives. This element can involve social, geographic, economic and other factors both big and small. It is here, I believe, that the most significant Ed Tech’s tipping point is hiding. The two most significant being, access too and pedagogical value of, Educational Technology.
Access to Educational Technology comes in many forms. As I described in the stickiness section, the school I work in is not starved for hardware. It is readily available but we still struggle with access to what we need to run a technology rich classroom environment. We have become victims of our own success and as such, we have significant difficulties assessing resources on the web because we frequently exceed the bandwidth capabilities of our network. (insert eye roll here and say… “Rich people problems!”) As ridiculous as it sounds however, if our digital tools don’t work, there isn’t much point in using them and teachers tend not to use things that don’t work.
If we want teachers to use all the latest gadgets, we need to give them access to not just the gadgets but the information sources they are built to use. I have done workshops where staff want to use iPads in the classroom but they have no wifi. This immediately relegates the iPad to nothing more than a high-tech paper weight. There are other school districts in this world that can’t afford to maintain their existing hardwired networks, never mind creating a learning environment that delivers ubiquitous access to all staff and students.
Without dependable and equitable access to the digital landscape for all stakeholders, we will not be seeing an Ed Tech Tipping point anytime soon, never mind in 2013.
As for the value of Educational Technology, It has to be said… The jury is still out. Proponents see wonderful things just waiting to be unleashed on our children’s learning spaces, yet the stalwart traditionalists have yet to be sold on its value. Kids who function well in the absence digital tools or perhaps I should say are not dependant on digital tools, still seem to out perform those who are immersed in the digital world. My own children are a case in point, they excel because they have strong reading, writing and numeracy skills, learned the old-fashioned way. In my household, digital skills are an adjunct to these old school skills not the means by which these skills are acquired.
The fear amongst many however, is that we are trying to replace the tried and true with the flashy and new. In doing so we are moving in a direction that puts engagement before good old-school foundational skills. A colleague said to me the other day.
“Our push to adopt digital learning environments seems to be an effort to engage the academically weak kids at the expense of the academically strong kids”
It is this kind of thinking on which Educational Technology has become hung up. Does technology really improve learning outcomes and who are we sacrificing in the process? Some feel the solution is to simply “unload the dinosaurs” then you will be rid of this kind of fear mongering but it has been my experience that this question resonates within the teaching profession, from newbie to retiree.
It is here that I believe the most significant Ed Tech tipping point lies. Prove to the world that technology improves learning outcomes for everyone. Make people understand that Ed Tech is not a replacement but an addition to a child’s foundational skills. Show people that old-school and new-school can coexist, that a learner who uses technology to amplify their foundational skills, will out perform those who don’t. If we do this, you might have a Gladwellian epidemic on our hands.
As I said early on in this post, in some respects, the Education Technology Tipping point has already happened. Thousands of teachers have bought in and are using technology in their classroom on a daily basis but people like me, seem to look at EdTech integration as an all or nothing proposition. It is almost like we are in a bad episode of Star Trek – The next Generation and the Ed Techies have taken on the roll of the Borg and Old-School Teachers must be assimilated into the continuum but this is not how Gladwell’s epidemics work.
Not everyone is a part of a social epidemic. Technology has its place in education and it is becoming more significant as the years go by but an en masse adoption of technology in the classroom will not happen because epidemics don’t infect everyone, nor should they. As with any population that is exposed to an infectious agent, you don’t want everyone to get the plague. You need a portion of the population to survive and carry on.
I am glad there are people in our education system that stop and say “What the hell are we doing?” “Is this right?” and “Is this what is best for everyone?” Our education system doesn’t need lemmings, it needs thoughtful practitioners who challenge social or technological epidemics.
My final word… There will be no Ed Tech Tipping Point in 2013.
Wow! 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?”
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 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.
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.
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.
“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!