Category Archives: Leading a Learning Community

Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Will Replace Face-to-Face Interaction”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

A fear for many is that the continuous interactions that we have with one another through technology will replace face-to-face interaction.

Sometimes it seems that we forget our own childhood and that we had many peers that had trouble with interactions before mobile devices were the norm.  Technology did not inhibit them from speaking to others, nor do we need to necessarily think less of someone who may be an introvert.  People have different strengths and some actually thrive in isolation.  Their issue or our issue?

What some teachers have done is use technology to actually give students a voice and options that they didn’t have before.  I thought it was brilliant to see one teacher use Google Forms to do a simple “check-in” with students to give them the opportunity to share what is going on in their lives to ensure that she could help them in any way possible.

What this actually facilitated was the opportunity for the teacher to get to know her students better through the use of technology and she saw it as a way of actually enhancing their face-to-face interactions.  Some students are fine going up to a teacher and sharing some of the struggles that they have in their lives, but from my experience, those students would actually be in the minority.

Instead of accepting that some people are more open than others, we have often tried to force students talk to a point which would be our ideal.  Many educators, including myself, used to give marks for “participation” in class discussions to push our students to talk.  What this would often do would force some kids to speak when they are totally uncomfortable, and not facilitate anything that would be beneficial outside of the classroom.  With others that continued to not talk, tying marks to their “lack” of participation, only makes them feel worse and punishes them for sometimes being shy.  Is this really helping the problem?

We have to see that for some students, technology actually can provide them the voice that they have never had before.  I spoke to one student that said the use of social media actually inspired them to start speaking publicly because they developed confidence through a medium that worked for them.  I think of how many students would benefit and feel more comfortable talking in public when they would be allowed to use a medium that works for them first.

Then you have the other argument that the constant use of technology actually takes away the ability for some students that are already social.  The reality with many people are social, means they will actually connect both online and offline.  Social media has not made me any less social when in an “offline” environment.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I now feel that I am always comfortable going to any conference on my own as I will know people there that I have connected with through Twitter.  Instead of simply going to workshops and being by myself, I now can easily find a group of friends and connect with them in person.  This only started happening for me when I started using social media and if anything, it has actually made me more social in face-to-face settings.  Before I would have never gone to a conference on my own, and now, I don’t even think twice about it.

What I have also seen is that technology and social media has actually given people the opportunity to connect with others that have similar interests or experiences.  I was moved, as many were, by the video of two girls that were both born with one arm, connecting continuously through Skype.  Although they had never met, they considered each other “best friends”, and talked constantly, even though they were on opposite sides of the world.  The moment they finally met was inspiring, and to say that this relationship is lesser because it started and grew online, would most likely be an insult to these two, as it would be to others who have met some of their best friends and partners online.

It is pretty amazing to see the opportunities we have to connect, see, and learn about one another because of technology, but sometimes the ease of use leads us to take it for granted.  As I see my nephews and nieces grow up through my brother’s sharing of their lives, our conversations are much richer and deeper each time I see them.  I know more about their lives and feel that even though I am living far away, I am still able to watch them grow up.  I would take opportunities to see them in person over online interactions, but since I do not always have that option, I will continue to enjoy connecting with them through technology in-between visits.

Technology can give us the opportunity to enhance face-to-face interactions, not replace them.  We just have to take advantage.

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Myths of Technology Series: “Don’t Talk To Strangers”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

As kids, we were continuously told “don’t talk to strangers”, and this generation has been told the same thing.  Times have changed and we have to really rethink this notion.

If you really think about it, everyone you are close with now was a stranger at one point.  Not only does that notion come to play, but as adults, we have to realize that it is much more common for people to meet someone online first.  Online dating has moved away from being “taboo”, it has become the norm.  If you took it even further, many people probably meet friends online first.  My time connecting online, has actually helped me to connect with some of my best friends in the world.  Similar to online dating, many of these friends that I have become closest with have a list of qualities that I was drawn to that I may not have necessarily met if I was only open to “offline” connections.

Kids are also starting to create those environments for themselves as well.  Danah Boyd discusses in her book on “Networked Teens”, how kids are using social media to connect with peers that have similar interests.  One example I have seen was a student in a small community who had a unique interest in gaming, use his Instagram account to connect with other gamers.  None of these people were in his class, and could have lived in different countries, yet they were all people that this student identified with and gave him a sense of belonging.  There are many kids in our schools that would benefit from a sense of belonging.

As I continue to do workshops with students, I have continuously asked them, “How many of you have met someone online first, and them met online.  Years ago, my guess would be that the percentage would be very low, but I consistently get above half of the room raising their hands.  I would also guess that several students chose not to raise their hands because they have been continuously told that this is something that they shouldn’t do, while we as adults, continue to do this ourselves.  Safety should always be our number one concern, so if we are going to help kids be safe in a networked world, we have to think differently.

One suggestion that I have given students is that they have connected with someone online that they want to meet in person, they should talk to their parents first and arrange a video chat with their mom or dad in the room.  Not hovering over their shoulder, but so that it is obvious that the parent is present.  They could arrange to meet somewhere where their parent drops them off, and is around.  Obviously this depends upon the age of the child, and some still might scoff at the idea, but it is a lot safer than pretending this could never happen and covering our eyes.  We have to start thinking about different approaches to keep our kids safe in such a networked world.

Many educators, such as Kelli Holden from Parkland School Division, understand the power there is connecting with “strangers” and has focused on modelling the power of social media with her students, which has made a tremendous impact on their learning.  Using a classroom Twitter account, Kelli will ask questions of the “world” that are often developed with her students, and they will learn a great deal about the rest of the world.  Using the hashtag, #whatsdoesyourspringlike, her students displayed a picture of the weather outside in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada, and received responses from around the world, including Palm Springs, Washington,  Norway , Tokyo, amongst many others.  If we want our students to have a “global awareness”, we have to teach them how to safely connect with others.

If I think about my experience with a subject such as science, I remember losing interest quickly.  This lack of passion for the subject probably spilled over to my own students in my first few years of teaching, as I never really understood or developed a love for the subject.  But now, with the ability to connect with biologists, physicists, astronauts, or even classes around the world, there is an opportunity to learn about science from “scientists”.

If we let our notion of what a “stranger” is and decide not to connect with these people, we are taking away tremendous opportunities from our students.  Instead of the idea that we “shouldn’t talk to strangers”, maybe we need to focus on Bill Nye’s notion that “everyone you meet knows something you don’t” and teach our students how to be safe in a world that is powerfully connected.

Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

There has been a lot of talk about this video that was anonymously shared by a teacher from Chicago Public Schools:

The outrage shared by many educators is that this is a terrible way of professional learning and it really undermines teachers.

It is almost like we are treating them like children…right?

I just wonder how many hits that video (over 130,000 at the time I am sharing it on this blog) would have received if it was a classroom full of students doing the same thing? Would people have cared as much? They should. I also wonder if someone in that session will use the same techniques with their own students? Often we teach the way we were taught and if we do not change the experiences teachers have in their own professional development, we can’t really expect them to change anything in their own classroom.

The question I have been asking a lot lately is, “would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

If this wouldn’t work for me (which it wouldn’t), then it is not going to work for my students.

3 Things That Should Never Change in Schools

Although I often speak about the things that we need to do to develop and further the way we teach and learn in schools, I would still consider myself a little “old school”.  Brought up by very traditional parents and being a part of a community that I loved, there are things that I believe should never change in the school environment and will be vital to educational institutions in the future, although they are rooted in the past.

1. The Focus on Relationships 

My best teachers during my time in school, are people that I still hold dear to my heart to this very day.  Was it because they inspired me by a test that I had to write in the classroom? Never.  What I appreciated was how they made me feel valued as a person, and not simply a student.

I had a science teacher when I was young, and since I struggled with the subject, I was quite a handful in the class.  The next year when we had a different teacher lead the course, the connection that I had with the teacher was different and I put much more effort into the course and my work.  I still never did truly well in the subject, but I cared a lot more, because I was cared for as a person.

As the old adage goes, students will never care to know, until they know you care.

In 100, 200, 300 years, relationships will always be the foundation of a good school.  Without that focus, schools would surely become irrelevant.

2. Opportunities Outside of the Classroom 

As schools continue to cut budgets, often programming outside of the classrooms tend to be one of the first things to go (unfortunately, mostly in the fine arts).  This is not a good thing for our students.

In my own experience, the opportunity to play sports in school led me to develop leadership skills, as well as understanding the importance of being on a team and working together.  The opportunity to take part in the drama program, gave me the confidence to speak in front of others.  Both of these programs have had more impact in what I do today than anything else than I have ever done in school.

It is great to see districts like Chris Kennedy’s in West Vancouver not only promote these opportunities, but give kids different opportunities that are new to school.  If schools are to develop well rounded individuals, there is a huge importance in offering different programs to our students outside of the classroom.

(By the way…many teachers around the world provide these opportunities on a volunteer basis!)

3. Learning in a Respectful Environment 

I have to admit that I have walked into schools and have cringed at some of the words that I have read on clothing.  Surprisingly, it was not only by students but sometimes even staff.  It is important that as an educator or student you feel comfortable, not only physically but mentally as well.  I believe in the importance of relationships (as outlined in this post), but also of being able to work in an environment where people’s differences are respected and free from derogatory remarks.

Schools should be a “safe” place, and safety also deals with the notion of being comfortable to share ideas and be respected by one another, no matter who you are.

The idea that we need to continuously prepare kids for their future is something that always sits in the back of my mind.  Pedagogy often needs to change as we continue to see different ways of learning and understand how the brain works.  That being said, there are some fundamentals they should never go away and will make schools a place that students want to be.

Some ideas will never get old.

A Focus on Consumption

I’ve hit a slump.

Blogging has been slow and an arduous task as of late, and I seemingly have struggled to find inspiration to write.  I have committed myself to continuously write in this blog because it helps me to focus not only my growth as an educator, but as a person.  Thinking and sharing out loud has truly made me grow in my thinking and has helped to clarify my thoughts.  The process of blogging has been extremely helpful.

So why the slump when once it was so easy to write?

Probably one of the reasons is that I am trying to spend more quality time with those that I care about, and putting down the phone, hiding the computer, and just valuing someone else’s presence.  Finding balance is key so I have been comfortable with writing less.

I don’t think thats’ it though.

To me, one of the biggest reasons that I have had trouble with writing is that I have focused on creating and sharing more, and consumption less.  I attribute this to not only having less time to read the work of other educators, but also I have been spending a lot of my time on the road, preparing and delivering presentations, not having the time to simply sit and get.

Yup, I need more sit and get.

The importance of creation in schools is something that I truly believe in and should be a huge focus, but I also believe that there is still a huge value in the delivery of content and information.  Learning from hearing others, reading, viewing, watching, and simply consuming information, often gives us the inspiration to create.  Several years ago, John Medina, writer of “Brain Rules”, talked about the idea that creation without consumption would be similar to playing “air guitar”; you would have an idea of the motions, but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to create any meaningful.  That makes sense to me.

So I am going to make more of a concerted effort to try and get to other sessions at conferences, spend more times in classrooms when I am home, read more educator blogs, and happily consume some information.  WIthout that focus on consumption, the ability to connect, create, and develop my own thoughts will continue to be a struggle.

The Small Ripple

Working with my good friend Shaye Patras, Principal at Blueberry School, I have had the opportunity to do one-on-one visits with his school in the last 12 months.  A few years ago, one of my suggestions I made to many administrators, Shaye included, in the area of using Google Apps, was to move all of your work you do as a principal to using Google Apps with staff. Although this is a little change, it can make a big impact.  Doing simple things such as sending agendas out to your staff on a Google Document, or asking for feedback through a Google Form, can make a big impact.  It doesn’t make much sense to encourage the use of Google Apps for Education by sending your staff a Word Document.

This goes back to the notion that if you want to innovate, you must disrupt your routine.  It also lends to the idea that if you want to change things in the classroom, you have to change the way we do things organizationally.  People are more likely to embrace change when they experience it.

So with these opportunities of visiting every three months or so, I have seen HUGE changes not only in skill level, but openness by staff and students to try different things.  I give a ton of credit to the teachers in the school for being open and wanting to grow, but with Shaye willing to try something new and model that he was willing to take risks, he opened the door for his staff to do the same.  You can never expect people to take risks unless leaders model it; saying it is not enough.

With little changes in the way that we do the things we have always done, you can start a ripple that can lead to a big wave.

Being mindful or…?

There is no doubt that I believe in the importance of technology and it’s impact on relationships and learning in education.  If you asked people twenty years ago how they found information, their answers would be all over the place.  Ask them five years ago, and many would have said, “Google”.  Ask them today, and answers might range from not only search engines like Google and YouTube, but they might also look towards social networks such as Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter.  We are not only connecting to information but more importantly, people.  If this does not make a difference in how we teach and learn, we are denying our kids something that adults use all of the time and sometimes, don’t even really notice.

Yet I often hear about people warning ideas that we need to be “mindful” of the impact of technology, to which I agree.  I believe that if you are going to find meaningful ways for your students to engage using technology, teachers should focus on learning with technology first.  I would consider hiring someone to teach math that had never taught the subject before, but I would have a hard time hiring someone who never learnt math before.  This is the position many schools are in with technology and its impact on our world and the way we learn.

Some would see this lack of knowledge as a hindrance, yet I see it as an opportunity as there has been a huge refocus on the “teacher as learner”.  If you want students to become expert “learners” then we nee to be expert “learners” as well.  Conveying that to a student is what makes someone a great teacher, but if we don’t understand the new opportunities for learning for our students, how can we effectively teach them to thrive in our world today and in the future?

My concern is the “mindful” argument with many is a means to end a conversation as opposed to starting one.  I have heard many make the argument about our lack of “mindfulness” on the use of technology, that do not give suggestions on meaningful ways to use it with our students or even educators.  This is not all, but often pushing to be more “mindful” with no other suggestions of meaningful use really is “anti-technology” just disguised by another name.

Here would be my first question when I hear that argument…What are some meaningful ways that you would suggest students use technology in their learning?  I often get a question on the other side of the spectrum dealing with some of the “pitfalls of technology” and I answer it often from a place of experience as opposed to avoiding the question altogether.

If we can’t offer the negative impacts of technology without sharing the positive, are we truly being mindful or are we simply hiding a negative bias with a more acceptable term?

 

Forced Learning?

I shared an article that I wrote about things that we should do in professional development, and many educators either loved or hated the idea of having reflection built into the day.  My belief is that if you believe it is important as an administrator, you make time for it.

One comment was one that I found interesting in the discussion:

So if we ask kids to reflect in class, does it not fit into the “restricted time frame” category?  Many would suggest that kids should “reflect” at home, but we make some very strong assumptions about their lives when we leave things for them to do after or before school.

I thought about these questions:

Do we “force” kids to learn like this all of the time? If it isn’t effective for us, why is it effective for them?  

So do all teachers take the time to reflect about their learning? I had one educator outright say in a workshop, “I know that reflection is valuable for learning but who has time for it?”  If we are to model the idea of being “lifelong learners”, should reflection (and I am not simply talking about writing, but any type of open reflection) be a part of the work that we do?  This does not have to be about what we learn in a PD day, but it could also be about any learning that an educator has done.

If the teachers feel “forced” to reflect and learn things that they might now want to do in restricted time frames, I wonder how the kids feel.  Are we hoping they just don’t know any better?  I hope not.

Stating the Obvious

Spending a lot of time at conferences, I have heard the question, “What do we do with kids that are so distracted by their devices in the classroom?”  My initial thoughts is that in a world where there are so many amazing things and easy ways to connect, kids are not always simply distracted, but sometimes they are just bored.  There is often pushback to that idea from many participants.

Then I observe and state the obvious.

If adults are sitting through any opportunity that they find boring, many adults are quick to grab their phones, go to their computers, check email, text family, head to Facebook, read Tweets, and so on.  When they are bored, they look elsewhere.

The best “classroom management” is engaging learning opportunities no matter if you are 16 or 60.  Let’s quit pointing the finger at kids that do the same thing that we often do as adults.

5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be Online

“My prediction is that in the next ten years, resumes will be less common, and your online presence will become what your resume is today, at all types and sizes of companies.” Dan Schawbel, 2011

Having a conversation with teachers and administrators, I asked how many of them still had “paper portfolios”. Surprisingly, it was over half of the room, and many of them had developed it in university, updating it only when job opportunities arose.  I remember actually having a paper portfolio and applying for jobs, and hating the process of dusting off a binder, adding a ton of great information into it, only to walk into an interview and have the person hiring not even look at it.  It was extremely frustrating as I had put a lot of work into it, only to have it ignored, and I never really understood why.

And then I became a principal.

When I would look at applicants for interviews and have a limited amount of time to talk with them and interact, the thought of flipping through a binder with them sitting in the room in front of me, seemed a little ludicrous.  I wanted to spend as much time getting to know them as possible.  At the end of the interview, sometimes they would offer to leave the portfolio with me to peruse at my leisure and they would either come back to pick it up or I would have to mail it (does anyone go to the post office anymore?).  I might have been the exception in my process a few years ago, but this is becoming more of the norm now, not only in education, but all aspects.  A portfolio could be great for the process of an interview, but shouldn’t the things you do help you get the interview in the first place?  Sending mass binders out to potential employers doesn’t make much sense.

I believe it is time (it has been for awhile) to ditch the paper portfolio and move it online.  Here are some reasons below.

1. The Google Factor – We talk to students a lot about developing their digital footprint, yet how often do we help them build this footprint in schools?  A digital portfolio is hugely beneficial to this type of work as it helps you to create your own online presence and shares the great work that you, or your students are doing.  The nice thing about a digital portfolio is that it is also not limited to text, but can be anything that you can see or create.  If I want to be a photographer, animator, actor, athlete, or anything else, digital can help share that information and make it accessible to others.  A portfolio that is able to bring together all of these different elements into one space will make your “footprint” that much better and easier to find.

2.  Searching and Organization - My own blog is a “portfolio” of my work (if you want to see how it is set up, check out this video) that I have been working on for over four years, in a constant and continuous basis.  That is a lot of information over time, but with thoughtful “tagging” and “categorizing”, I am able to google myself and find my own work.  For example, if I want to find any time that I referenced “Daniel Pink”, I simply do a search for his name om my blog and voila!  Even using something as simple as “Command + F” (“Control + F” on Windows) can help me find a word instantly on amy page.  This is much easier than flipping through pages in a binder.

3. Anywhere, any place, any time access - If you were to have a paper portfolio and I asked to see it while you did not have it in hand, how would you get it to me?  If you ask my for my portfolio, I would simply give you the URL to my website and peruse away.  This was the nice thing about applicants that had an online portfolio to share with me.  It was accessible before, during, and after an interview and at my convenience.  In a world where there is always a shortage of time, accessibility at a time of your convenience is important.

4.  Creating opportunities instead of looking for them - In a market where jobs are scarce and a university degree guarantees nothing, the competition for positions is tough.  With a online portfolio, especially one that continuously invites people to look at it (every time I write a blog post and you read it, you are looking at my portfolio), you have the ability to have opportunities come to you, instead of the other way around.  I know many people that have simply shared the work that they have always done on their online portfolio, and then were asked to speak at conferences or consult with schools, simply because their work was visible.  Simply sharing your work is not enough to create those opportunities, but you will never know what is the one thing that you share that someone else will deem valuable to their organization and call in your expertise.

5. Continuous learning - One of the most powerful things I have found by doing an online portfolio is the growth in my own learning that I have done by sharing.  By simply knowing that other people will see what I write or share, I put a lot more thought into what I am doing.  I also find tremendous value in the comments and conversation that is started from some of the things that I share; they push my learning.  If we are to look at online portfolios as both a way to “showcase” and “learn”, they are hugely beneficial to our growth.

Although I have listed several reasons why an online portfolio is beneficial (and I am sure I could list a lot more), many educators are happy where they are in their career, and would argue that there is no need for them to have an online portfolio themselves as they will never apply for another job.  My belief is that if we are truly doing what is best for kids, we have to learn how to do it ourselves to help our students in the future.  Wayne Gretzky once said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”  We need to look ahead for our kids sake.

Another question that I get is, “Well what if no one googles me?  Then I have done all of this work for nothing.”  To be honest, if you get not one single opportunity from an online portfolio and only went deep into your own learning, isn’t that still a pretty good thing?  The other suggestion I would make is that when you submit a resume, right at the top of it share the following:

“For more information, please refer to my portfolio located at…”.

This ensures that you lead people to the great work that you have already done.

In my view, there is a difference between a “digital” and “online” portfolio.  An online portfolio is usually digital, but it is not necessarily the other way around.  There are many benefits to both professionals and students to share our work in an open way.  As Chris Lehmann has said before, ”it is no longer enough to do powerful work if no one sees it”.

Where can I see your powerful work?

Resources

If you are interested in some help for Online Portfolios, here are some links:

Blog as Portfolio Workshop

Blog as Portfolio (Video)

Digital Portfolio Project (Write Up)