Dec 032013
 

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

 

Cheers,

Keith Rispin

 

Oct 182013
 

iStock_000026852527XSmallThis weeks topic for my #tiegrad class was inquiry based learning and how technology can facilitate it. I have to admit, I have not been caught up in this new fangled method of teaching yet. Perhaps it is just because I am just too long in the tooth or that back in the day, inquiry learning was known as being a kid.

As a result, I was not sure what I was going to write this week but as luck would have it, a colleague and I ended up having a bit of a chat on the subject and lo and behold! My blog post was born. He is much like me, a miserable curmudgeon who looks at education from more of an Eeyoresque point of view and quite frankly, neither he or I quite get this whole inquiry learning movement. 

We talked about the good old days when “inquiry learning” was a simple endeavour. Give something a go, fail, then try something else. There was always the alternate scenario as well. Give something a go, have a brush with failure’s evil twin success and get a pat on the back from your adoring fan. Either way, it was rarely planned. It just happened, no adults needed.

My concern here is why are we trying to apply rubrics and quantify that which was once called life? As well-intentioned as the inquiry learning model may be, why do we have to formalize learning that was once just part of growing up?

When I was a kid I learned all sorts of good things without an adult looking over my shoulder

Meteorology:  When your hair stands on end while standing in the middle of a baseball field as thunderheads are rolling in from the South, lightning is about to strike.

Physics & Firearm Safety: Don’t shoot a pellet gun at a power line insulator in -40 degree celsius weather.

Environmental Sciences: Don’t  play with matches, in the middle of a grass field during dry season.

Mechanics and family dynamics: If you crash your new moped into the side of a car, don’t try to hide it from your dad and fix it yourself.

Physics & Gravity: Jumping off your roof with hefty bag parachutes does not work.

Anatomy & Emergency Medicine: You break multiple bones when jumping off your roof with hefty bag parachutes.

I shudder to think of what we might have come up with if we had the internet at our disposal but even without the internet, the things we accomplished were monumental. All we had at our disposal was our imaginations our bikes, some sporting equipment and a couple of dogs. I guess what I am trying to get at here is that we didn’t need someone to set up learning opportunities, instead we discovered all on our own. It was just part of our daily lives but now, it seems that life has to be a curricular objective.

After our maudlin bit of meandering down memory lane, I did a Google search for: “what is inquiry based learning” and I found a site where I found this one line.

Inquiry based learning is mainly involving the learner and leading him to understand.  Teachnology, Inc.

I really don’t mean to be a buzz kill here but after reading that, I have two burning questions.

  • Is it true inquiry if students are being led to understanding?
  • Are we now trying to create curriculum to replace life experience?

Perhaps this is just the brave new world but I am sad for our children if we have come to a point in our society where everything in their lives has to come from a lesson plan.

JMHO.

Cheers!

Further Reading

Free Range Kids

Parenting Old School

Oct 042013
 

1380965427_teacherIt 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.

You can find out more about Bonnie and her Dissertation here: Scholars In The Open: Networked Identities Vs Institutional Identities

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?

Cheers,
Keith

Jul 152013
 

schoolreformThis 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.

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 8.33.36 AM

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.

  1. Tougher academic standards
  2. 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.

Latest attacks on education

North Carolina axes masters degree pay bump

Apr 072013
 

teachingKidsHiResCoverI had the opportunity the other week, to have a chat with Annie Fox; educator, novelist and radio host, about her new book Teaching Children to be Good PeopleAdmittedly, her book has absolutely nothing to do with iPads in the classroom but I figured I would try to mix things up a little. Bring some humanity back into my digital domain as it were, because when it comes right down to it… School is still about creating good people, good citizens and good learners. Isn’t it?

The following is the good stuff from our conversation and if the truth be known, it actually has a lot to do with going digital. I hope you enjoy it.

Me: When you say “good people” what are we talking about?

Annie: When I say, “S/he’s a good person,” I’m usually referring to a generosity of spirit. Someone who consciously looks out for the wellbeing of others. Someone who turns toward a person or situation that needs help rather than turning away.

Me: In your book you talk a lot about communication with your child and how this is the key to raising a “good person” In your introduction you say, “We parent-educators are gardeners. We plant seeds and offer nurturing lessons that our kids can internalize.”

Is it possible to communicate effectively or nurture another human being, through a digital device?

Annie: Of course you can communicate effectively through a digital device, but because we are social critters who have managed to survive throughout the millennia by “reading” each other’s subtle facial expressions and body language, And observing each other in the context of our relationships, I don’t think we can fully nurture another person without being right there with them… at least a good part of the time. So when tweens and teens tell me about some guy or girl they met online with whom they’re “in love” it gives me pause. I don’t doubt for a moment that their digital connection is important to each of them. And I don’t invalidate the support and encouragement they may be providing for each other. However, this isn’t the way teens truly learn the fundamentals of creating and maintaining healthy relationships. The digital connections can certainly support “real world” relationships, but they shouldn’t be a substitute for them. Same with parents and kids. Texting is not a substitution for parent-child conversations.

Me: There is a HUGE push education to make kids more digitally literate. They say it is a crucial skill for the future but it seems to me that the digital device can be extremely dehumanizing. Is it possible that the digitization of our schools is compounding the difficulties we seem to be encountering in raising, teaching and nurturing our children to become “good people”

Annie: I agree. Increasing reliance on digital communication reduces (in the minds of many kids) the need to actually have real conversations. And they seem to have lost confidence in their ability to have real conversations. Hey I understand if you’re having a conflict with a friend or a bf/gf, you’re going to feel uncomfortable, worried, confused, stressed, etc. When we’re uncomfortable we tend to want to avoid the source of that discomfort. I understand, if you’re really hurt or angry that it might seem easier to text your friend or your bf/gf: “I can’t believe you did that! You’re such a  #$%#@!!” rather than sit down, face to face and discuss what’s going on. But a face-to-face conversation (without technology), where I talk and you listen and then you talk and I listen is more likely to lead to greater understanding. And that’s going to lead to healthier relationships.

Kids need to understand how to manage their destructive emotions. That’s the biggest challenge in growing up. But the availability of the digital connection to peers discourages kids from taking the time they need to calm down and step back from the precipice before they respond. The result is a culture where the go-to place is anger and we’re all in the habit of adding to the “social garbage” that has become the air we breathe.

Schools embracing technology aren’t to “blame” for any of this. Nor are parents who provide their kids with access to tech toys. But it’s a question of balance, isn’t it? And I don’t see a lot of adults modeling and teaching that kind of balance within their family. When we fail to set limits on social media and web use, we fail to expose our kids to other ways to nurture our intellect, our creativity, and our relationships. Follow that path and it’s harder to teach kids to be good people.

Me: The next question I suppose has to be, is it possible to teach appropriate use of a digital device at school, if the same message is not being delivered at home?

Annie: If by, digital device you mean a cell phone, many schools wisely restrict their use during class or during school hours. That’s not to say though that schools shouldn’t teach their students to be responsible digital citizens. They should be part of the solution in that way! If the same message isn’t being reinforced at home, yeah, that’s a missed opportunity on the part of parents. And yes, it makes the school’s job that much harder. Better if parents, educators and students come together to discuss the use and abuse of technology in an open community forum. And together, as fellow stakeholders, come up with policy and guidelines for home and school.

Me: You mention in your book about the pressures kids feel to be someone else or something else in order to fit in. We see examples of how the digital world can facilitate the façade and sometimes ending with tragic results.

Annie: Like I said before, it’s a matter of balance. Technology’s not going away and that’s a good thing! We need it to solve many of our current problems on the local, regional, national and international levels. Technology makes a powerful servant. But it’s a lousy master. But we have to recognize that there is an addictive quality to using technology. Changes in the brain have been observed after a relatively short amount of time surfing the net! Our brains are adapting to the new ways of searching for and processing information. What has also been observed is a change in the part of the brain that is associated with empathy. Which may explain why teens aren’t always responding with their “higher angels” when they’re online with peers. Combine the “connection addiction” with changes in the “empathy sector” of the brain” and add in the fact that most tweens and teens suffer from peer approval addiction (doing and saying whatever it takes to fit in) and we’re faced with the perfect storm.

Me: Can you suggest any possible ways that a digital device and the digital world could be used to help kids become secure in their identity and ultimately the kind of “good person” you are talking about?

Annie: There are plenty of game and story apps that use the technology as a way to get kids thinking about themselves and others in respectful and compassionate ways. My own Middle School Confidential graphic novel apps do that. And there are thousands of wonderful websites that promote just causes that appeal to the hearts and minds of young people. Remember the Save the Rainforest campaigns that got elementary school kids raising money in the ‘80’s? Well I just googled “Save the rainforest” and got to an incredible site by the Nature Conservancy! What an awesome example of technology teaching kids about philanthropy and social responsibility and environmental activism.

Bottom line, we’ve got to insert balance in our kids’ lives. There’s great stuff to be had through digital connections and there’s also great stuff to be learned from unplugging, talking to each other and stepping outside and looking around at the natural world.

THE END

So there you have it folks, human connections are still required to raise a functional, caring human being… Hooda thunk it?

Nov 102012
 

Well it is over. Months of prep and anticipation leading up to the Ed Tech Teacher – iPad Summit USA 2012, has come to pass. By all accounts it was a roaring success and in spite of what the title might suggest, it wasn’t an unrestrained orgy of apple awesomeness. Sure I have never seen so many apple products in one place at one time in my life and PC users hid in the shadows so’s to not attract attention to their digital deviance but the discussions were rarely about the hardware.

Although it was impossible to for me to attend all the sessions, there were some common themes that seemed to thread their way through most of the presentations. It was as though all the experience gained from two years of iPad use, had come to a confluence at this conference. Everyone seemed to have come to the conference with the same conclusions about the state of education and the role of technology… thus far. Some of it good, some of it bad and some of it, people didn’t really know what to make of it.

So here is what I am calling my Stuck in an airport, missed my connection, sleeping in Dallas, conference take aways. None of which I am endorsing or panning, it is purely my read on the conference.

  1. Best practice has yet to be established. No we have not gotten it right yet and it is going to take time and mistakes will be made. “Failure is inevitable” had become the unofficial slogan of the conference. The Conference Keynote speaker, Tony Wagner, uttered these words right out of the gate and it seemed to catch on. We are only just beginning to create this new paradigm for learning and so we need to expect mistakes to occur but perhaps more importantly, attendees came away with the understanding that we need teachers who are willing to make those mistakes, if we are going to get anywhere.
  2. How can I teach differently using technology was the single most significant question being asked. Without exception, everyone came to conclusion that in order for technology to truly reshape the learning environment, our teaching practice had to change. Without a change in teaching practice, technology will continue to be ineffective and relegated to a position of novelty item. Now the trick is to figure out what different looks like and the people at this conference are up to the challenge.
  3. Being a slave to test hampers innovative teaching, including innovative use of technology. I tweeted this out during a session and it seemed to resonate. This is where I am glad to be a Canadian teacher. From my point of view, standardized testing has handcuffed many of my colleagues south of the border. Much of teaching revolves around making sure their kids will “pass the test” first and foremost and if they have time they can try some innovative teaching using technology. I am not sure how a teacher can be expected to “teach differently” – “make mistakes” and “be innovative” if their students have to demonstrate their learning using a century old method. What is more, a teacher’s performance is measured with the results of these outdated tests. It makes no sense AT ALL.
  4. We have to let go of the traditional view of teacher. This discussion had a bit of an elephant in the room feel to it. How do you tell a teacher they have to change their practice or make a teacher change their practice? On more than one occasion I had heard the chilling “time to cut loose those who can’t or are unwilling to change”. In one session I suggested that it might not just be an “old teacher problem” as many young teachers have the same struggle with letting go of the “look at me model”. By the end of one session in particular, the issue wasn’t seen as just a teacher problem but instead a systemic problem. At one end we have people saying we need to get back to basics and the other we have people saying we have to change everything. All the while, teachers are evaluated and judged by old school criteria, just as their students are. Want teachers to change their practice. Change their job description.
  5. The age of the “Free Agent Learner” is upon us. I love this label. I have been trying to come up with an explanation for those kids who take control of their learning and these three words encapsulate it perfectly. Keeping in mind that access to information does not an education make, those people who are able to “educate” themselves using the information at their disposal are truly Free Agent Learners. With the advent of MOOCS, iTunes university and masses of FREE courses being offered via the internet, we are going to soon be faced with the problem of how do we accredit this type of learning.
  6. We have to give teachers the support needed to become comfortable with using technology in the classroom. Although there was a lot of talk about “not fearing technology” one tweet in particular by @sjunkins “I’ve yet to have student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t received any PD on it…” sort of rubbed me the wrong way a bit. The general consensus was that you can’t just hand out a bunch of devices to students and teachers and expect magic. “Give teachers time!” seemed to be the view of most but not time to adapt, if we did that it would take decades. If you want teachers to adopt technology into their practice, you need to Give teachers time to learn, to prep and to experiment. Someone even suggested adopting Google’s Twenty Percent Time so that teachers would have time to change their teaching practice. I liked that idea very much!
  7. Teachers who are using tech need to share! the phrase “pockets of innovation” was used repeatedly at this conference. Although there were some people who were coming from schools that had made some significant changes across the board using technology, most people were in situations where tech use is isolated. Teachers need to share their experience and expertise with others. Simple as that.
  8. PLN’s are a must for tech using teachers. I have spoken about this very thing more than once in this very blog. It would seem that the Personal Learning Network is a MUST for today’s tech using teacher. There is just so much going on and so much to learn that the traditional face to face learning network of days gone by just isn’t going to cut it. Whether you start by trolling on twitter, taking an iTunes U course, using a Zite for news and views… it doesn’t really matter. Educators who are looking to change their practice, need to actively seek information about the new world of education, if they hope to keep up.

Some other minor themes came up as well but I won’t flesh them out.

  • Tech HAS to be school supported. You can’t expect teachers to fund it.
  • Admin has to be as innovative as teachers.
  • Politicos have to stop making bad education decisions.
  • Innovation is incompatible with back to basics.
  • Kids can write, they just don’t write with a voice anymore.

I am sure I missed some things here and I would hope other attendees who happened to read this will pipe in as it was a lot to take in. In addition to the above, I would like to add what I found was missing from most of these discussions. I know this is my own personal opinion but I am sure others would share it.

With all this said however, there seemed to be one thing missing. One little but significant piece of the puzzle, without which all is for not. There was surprisingly little if any discussion on the role of student in this little learning revolution. We talked about how teachers have to change, education systems have to change, teaching practice has to change, the physical aspects of school have to change but NOTHING about how the student will have to change. Sure we talked about what kids should be able to do when they walk out the door but we did not discuss how the learner has to change their practice but there is no need to worry…

I think I stumbled upon a little hint as to how learners will have to change as we move ahead. It lies in the single most important thing I took away from this conference. People need to become “free agent learners” It does not matter if you are student or teacher. Those who will excel in the Twenty First Century Learning environment, will take on the responsibility for their own learning. The days of being a passive recipient of the information that comes your way is over. Those who don’t, will be left in the dust.

Thanks to the team at www.edtechteacher.org for inviting me to an outstanding conference.

Check out the conference Back Channel #ettipad

iPad Summit Wordle

Oct 222012
 

I have been struggling to come up with a topic lately, especially since I no longer have my muse. The collapse of the iPad cohort in exchange for a BYOD (sometimes) classroom has made for interesting times. If the truth be known, I actually have even more to write about then I did last year but none of it is earth shattering or ground breaking enough to spend much time on. I have just been keeping my ear to the rail waiting for the next freight train of a topic to come down the line and so I present to you the BYOD Vs iPad Classroom

Those who know me, know that I am not really married to one platform or the other. Yes I have an iPhone an iPad and a Mac Book but the last two are the property of the school district. My own personal computer is a PC and even though I have an iPhone, I am actually partial to Android devices. My apparent “love” for apple products is actually more a requirement of my job than anything else, so I hope to give equal treatment to both sides.

In two short years, the iPad has undoubtedly changed the landscape of education. The device has proven to be a powerful digital tool in the hands of skilled users but its “must have” status seems to be more about marketing then it is about any proven utility. Sure there are cool things going on in the classrooms of the world using iPads but there are other powerful devices out there doing cool things too. The reality is that the iPad is not the only game in town and BYOD recognizes that.

I for one applaud digital diversity because one device does not fit the needs of all. Yes the iPad is marvellous but so are half-dozen other devices out there made by Samsung, Asus, Motorola, Sony, Acer and this doesn’t even include the recent addition of ultra books to the market place but this discussion isn’t about simple device comparisons. This post is about looking at the realities of digitizing the classroom with school owned devices versus student owned devices.

In this blog post, when I refer to the iPad classroom, I am referring a model where a school owns one or more sets of iPads, to be shared within the school. when i say BYOD, I am referring to a model where kids bring their own technology to class and the device can be any type, make or platform. What we are looking at are the realities of each implementation model and where they are best suited.

Cost of technology has always been an issue with school districts. Hardware costs and tech support are a significant chunk of the budget. Although hardware costs have come down over the years, the rate at which technology becomes obsolete has made it financially impossible to keep up. If School Districts could off load some of that cost by having kids bring their own device, that is a financial burden they do not have to bare. With that said, not all families can afford to buy their child(ren) a digital device to take to school so where does that leave us. You are either leaving some out of the loop or the school is still buying a handful of devices for use by those who cannot afford to buy.

Control seems to be a smouldering issue when it comes to any digital device in the classroom. For any number of reasons teachers want some if not total control of the content dispensed by the device and how it is used in their class. For the most part this desire for control is simply to ensure that a lesson goes as planned but there are other issues around inappropriate use of the device on class time which opens a teacher up to liability. With BYOD, it is FAR more difficult to control the content being dispensed and how the device is used. In the iPad classroom, teachers have far greater control of what is going on, simply by virtue of the way the device is set up as a school device.

Apps are a common thread which runs through many of the pros and cons of these two models. In an iPad classroom, the apps on the device are the ones the teacher needs for the purpose of running their class. Although we can recommend App sets to students, when a kid brings their own device, the applications they have on their device can be quite the potpourri. This means a student may or may not have an app you would like them to have so they may not be able to participate in the class the way you would like them to, or they are constantly distracted by the less than “academic” apps they have loaded on it. The result is…

Planning for a BYOD classroom is far more difficult than a iPad classroom because you have to take into account all the different types of devices kids are carrying and what it is kids are able to do with them. Not all devices can run all apps, some won’t run flash and some devices won’t let you upload files while others can… On any given day, the list of possible compatibility issues between device and lesson is staggering. The iPad classroom is easy, you know what you are working with and what to expect from the device, so planning your lessons and assignments is pretty straight forward.

As a result, the degree of Digital Literacy required in the BYOD classroom is significantly higher than in the iPad classroom. If both teacher and student are not competent in how to make a particular device work for the task at hand, far too much time is spent troubleshooting. If a teacher demonstrates a task using an App on a iPad but a student has a PC Laptop, that student should be able to quickly find a suitable way to do the task. Although I would suggest that a BYOD teacher should have a good idea as to what alternatives are available, their primary role of “teacher”, should not be to figure things out for students.

Where the BYOD plan comes into its own is with student to device RATIOS. With the Class Set model, the iPads have to be shared amongst an entire school and frequently that class set has fewer devices then there are kids in the class. This limits access for students and creates logistical issues around saving and sharing files but perhaps more significant is that hands on time with the device is rarely consistent. The BYOD student on the other hand, is free to access their work anywhere,any time. The device becomes an extension of the their academic life and in a perfect world, the BYOD student becomes far more digitally literate.

The question then becomes, which model is best? and my answer is simply this. There is room for both models in our education system.

The reality is that most students will need to be digitally literate at some point in their lives and they should be well on their way to being so by the time they leave High School. For this to happen, they need regular access to a digital device and the BYOD model provides this. At elementary however, constant access to a device isn’t really necessary or even desirable. As my wife says, “at grade 1 you are just trying keep the kids from putting their fingers up their nose… Smearing those same fingers all over an iPad is more of a health hazard then it is a learning experience” with that pleasant image in mind, the iPad model is perfect for the elementary classroom because you can utilize the device when the learning conditions are right.

When you look at the two models they can be seen as the two ends of a digital literacy continuum. As the child moves through the grades, they move toward digital independence and these two models can be implemented independent of each other or in combination to achieve this end.

Of course I have over simplified things in the diagram above as there are all sorts of details I have left out in my description. Even if I had gone into detail, there are at least as many things that could turn my best laid plans to dust. What you should take from this post is that the implementation of digital devices in a school system is not a one or the other choice. What is required is a program of diverse digital deployment.

FURTHER READING

Why BYOD Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen For Schools

Are Schools Prepared to Let Students BYOD?

BYOD in school not as easy as ABC

 

Sep 282012
 

This week I have an outstanding guest post by Sophia Coppolla from Onlinecollege.org  to share with you. It is a detailed look at building your Personal Learning Network. This is something I spoke briefly about this past summer in Personal Learning Networks – Not Just For Adults Anymore but Sophia ramps it up a bit in her take on building your PLN with a TON more suggestions and resources.

It is a great read and I am very pleased to present it to my readers.

The Social Media Guide to Growing Your Personal Learning Network

Personal learning networks are a great way for educators to get connected with learning opportunities, access professional development resources, and to build camaraderie with other education professionals. Although PLNs have been around for years, in recent years social media has made it possible for these networks to grow exponentially. Now, it’s possible to expand and connect your network around the world anytime, anywhere. But how exactly do you go about doing that? Check out our guide to growing your personal learning network with social media, full of more than 30 different tips, ideas, useful resources, and social media tools that can make it all possible.

Tips & Ideas

Get started developing your social media PLN with these tips and ideas for great ways to make use of social tools.

Guides

Check out these guides to find out how other educators have used social media and other tools to grow their personal learning networks.

Tools & Resources

Want to really make the most of your PLN? Use these popular social media tools for learning to grow and take advantage of your network with the latest technology.

  • Classroom 2.0: In this networking group, you can get connected with other educators who are interested in Web 2.0, social media, and more in the classroom.
  • Ning: On Ning, you can create your own social website to bring your PLN together all in one place.
  • Diigo: Collect, highlight, remember, and share all of the great resources you find online with your PLN on Diigo, and annotation and online bookmarking tool.
  • Google Reader: With Google Reader or any other great RSS tool, you can subscribe to blogs and stay on top of it all.
  • Slideshare: On SlideShare, you can upload presentations to share with your personal learning network.
  • Twitter: Perfect for finding people to add to your PLN, participating in chats, and sharing what you’ve found, Twitter is one of your most powerful tools for growing and maintaining a personal network.
  • Facebook: Another powerhouse for PLNs, Facebook is a great place to connect, share, and grow your network.
  • Scribd: Read, publish, and share documents on Scribd with your PLN, whether you’re sharing classic novels or lectures you’ve delivered. Plus, you can find documents and get connected with their owners.
  • Yahoo! Answers: Find and share information, connect with others, and build upon your personal learning network on this popular answers site.
  • LinkedIn: The gold standard in professional networking, LinkedIn is a great place for education professionals to get connected.
  • Quora: Similar to Yahoo! Answers, Quora offers a professional place to share your knowledge and grow your network.
  • Google+: Often overlooked in favor of Facebook and Twitter, Google+ is a growing network that offers lots of great possibilities for developing PLNs.
  • Pinterest: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ get a lot of love from personal learning networks, but Pinterest offers a great way to find other educators, and great resources.
  • Delicious: One of the most popular social bookmarking sites on the web, Delicious makes it easy to share what you’ve found and find new followers for your PLN.
  • Paper.li: Using Paper.li, you can curate and share your favorite PLN tweets on a daily basis.
  • Scoop.it: Like Paper.li, Scoop.it is a great tool for curating an engaging PLN magazine based on resources from your network.
  • AddThis: Become a sharing machine with the AddThis toolbar, a great way to immediately share web resources on the web’s most popular social media tools.
Sep 062012
 

Well I am closing in on my first Friday of the school year and I survived. Ok I more than survived. I had a great week! So great I am able to sit down and peel off a new blog post on our preseason Pro D event.

Every year the Thursday before school starts; our School Board brings in some highbrow intellectual, to bestow us teachers with some tid bits of wisdom that we can take with us as we navigate another school year. It is generally a pretty good show as Keynote Speakers are always top-drawer. Some of the A lister’s who have graced the stage of our school theater, include the likes of Sir Kenneth Robinson, Alfie Kohn and Stewart Shenkman, to name a few. I have forgotten the names of the others but they were big names, I swear! So good are these speakers, I even learn a thing or two each year. (insert dumbfounded slack jawed look here)

This years Keynote was Jennifer James, a renowned anthropologist from Seattle. I obviously don’t go to Seattle enough because up until last Thursday, I had never heard of her before but I have to say she was every bit as good as Sir Ken.

The topic this year was about change and James discussed how we (society) use cultural myths and belief systems to make sense of the world around us. Up until recently our world has changed slowly enough that we could seamlessly adapt these belief systems and myths to accommodate and make sense of changes in our world. Today however, technology is changing things so fast, that we can no longer adapt our beliefs and myths quickly enough. As a result, we are seeing conflict between what we believed to be true and the realities of the modern world.

James went on to imply that the education system is based on an outdated belief system, which is simply not adaptable to the modern world or the modern student. She went on in a round about way to say that, we (teachers) need to change if we hope to continue making positive change in young peoples lives. As much as I hate to admit it, she made a ton of sense but then again I am easily convinced. I have been lead down the garden path before because of a good keynote, as my brief association with AMWAY would suggest… but I like to think I am much older and wiser now. ;-)

but James is kinda right.

In the past 20 years, technology has kicked the stuffing out of our education system and left those of us who work as educators bruised and bewildered. As a result, we have come to a crossroads in the world of education and quite frankly, no one seems really know which way to turn. The only thing that is certain, there is no going back.

The problem with moving ahead however, is that we need to let go of the belief system and cultural myths which built the education system we have. The way we teach our children is so culturally engrained that any change, regardless of how small, is going to cause some level of duress for someone whether it be teachers, parents or students.

A perfect example is changing the school calendar. The one we currently use is based on the needs of an agrarian society. In North America, the majority of us are no longer living on farms or harvesting crops but suggest changing the school calendar and all hell breaks loose. Education is a part of culture and cannot be seen as simply a service that can be adapted on a whim as the demand changes.

When we take a look at resistance to change in education, the assumption is that the resistance resides solely within the ranks of the educators themselves but that is a simplistic view.

Yes teachers frequently view the discussion around change in education as an affront to what it is they do. Some have been in the game for as many as 40 years and much of the talk around how the education system needs to change, is downright disrespectful to good people who have have spent a career doing a great job. To tell them that what it is they are doing is wrong, invalidates an entire career. To many it seems like the powers that be, simply want out with the old and in with the new. You can’t blame teachers for getting edgy at the mention of spring thaw and south bound ice flows.

Parents are a funny group when it comes to change. Here you have a situation where the majority of people’s concept of what education is like, is their own school career. Using that frame of reference, they view their own children’s educational experience. Obviously parents want what is best for their kids and that includes the latest and greatest in technology and pedagogy. If for some reason they feel their child isn’t getting it, there is hell to pay.

The irony in all this is that, while teachers are on the line for being current and school districts are expected to provide the latest and greatest in facilities and technologies, when things go bad the most common laments among parents go right back to their own experience in school. “School isn’t what it use to be!” “Teachers aren’t as good as they once were!” “We need to get back to basics and start teaching what really matters!”

Talk to a parent and you quickly realize that parents are as stuck in the past as teachers.

For the kids, well… They are the pawns in all this, trapped between what was and what could be but kids are resistant to change as well. Many kids are still anchored securely in the old ways of teaching and learning, just like their teachers and parents. Every year I will have kids who just want to know “What will I be tested on?” and “What do I need to do to get an A?” Ask a kid to think for themselves and they are lost. “Uh… What is the answer?” They are as stuck in the teacher centered model as the rest of us.

Of the three groups, the students are undoubtedly the most receptive to change, then I would say teachers are next and surprisingly perhaps… parents are the least receptive to change in school system. The reason for this is that parents are frozen in the past. Change that they cannot gauge or measure against their own experience is frightening. It is a classic case of, better the devil you know then the devil you don’t.

The other reason I say parents are the most resistant to change is that, it always comes back to the ultimate question. “What is my child’s mark?” Parents want to know how their child is doing and their concept of success is based on old school measures of performance. Anecdotal descriptions of what their child can or cannot do are meaningless to many. “That is great! I am so glad my kids is outstanding at working collaboratively but what is his mark?” In the end, teachers give parents what they want. Marks based solely on content knowledge is a thing of the past but who are we to argue with a parent.

Yes James is right, we need change and resistance is futile but there is more than enough resistance to go around but it essentially comes down to this. As long as our education system is a slave to the culturally engrained belief that education is all about the mark, we will never be able to build a new belief system for our Education System.

Aug 242012
 

With only a few glorious sunny days left in summer and the start of a new school year looming large, I figured I should get up to date on the wild and woolly education scene in British Columbia. My go to source for what is “hip and happanin” in education is the Vancouver Sun’s very own @jsteffenhagen. Janet seems to keep people interested in education regardless of political leanings and always fosters some heated discussion that riles up left-wing nut-bars like me.

You would think after returning from a two month-long, Five Star summer vacation in such exotic climes as Prince George, Vernon and South Surrey, there would be something new and exciting being discussed in the press. it would seem however, that the @bcedplan is still the topic du jour.

This week, the Ministry has released a new BC Ed Plan document which “is a summary of the comments people made on the @bcedplan site”. (@mikesher) and I have to say, that it is a really pretty document. It is also pretty light weight and lacks in any sort of functional detail or “plan”

As it seems to be turning out, the BCEdplan isn’t really a plan as of yet. It is more of a mish-mash of theory, ideas and opinion, not that there is anything particularly wrong with that. I just feel I was sold a bill of goods. The BCEdplan was presented as the document that would guide us to a Twenty First Century education system but it is far from being that document.

In reality, we have a long way to go before we reinvent our education system and it will take time, effort and useful dialog, which I think the Ministry is trying to do. The problem is that, from the outside looking in, no one can figure out what is going on?

As a contentious naysayer, I am just trying to do my part in ensuring we reinvent responsibly. The following is a page out of the new “what you’ve said” annotated with the first things that came to my mind as I read Theme 4: Digital Technologies in Schools. As you will see, there are far more questions than answers, therefore much work needs to be done.