Category Archives: Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

The Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Dehumanizes”

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 the Internet has become more central in our lives, we have begun to witness a revival of the importance of being human.” Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

One of my favourite books that I have read in the past few years was called “Humanize”, and it really helped me to think of technology in a much different way than I had in the past.  As an assistant principal years ago, I remember actually arguing against the use of technology because of the way that I had seen it used.  Students would often go to a lab, which became an event, and teachers would often have students interact with websites or programs, instead of people.  I watched kids focused on a screen and losing connections with one another.  If I continuously talked about the importance of relationships in schools, it didn’t make much senses to talk about technology this way.

When I became a principal however, Twitter started becoming all the rage amongst educators, although I never really understood it.  Once I started connecting and sharing with real people, I was hooked.  Not only were these people brilliant educators, but they were great people that I connected with.  I learned not about their philosophies and thoughts on education, but about their families, their likes, their interests, and who they were as people.  I don’t come back to Twitter for the technology but for the connection.  If you build relationships in any area of your life, online or offline, you are going to come back.  Relationships are built with people and the people are what brought me back.  The ability to show one’s self was the draw for me.

Although I was proud of all that my school was achieving, while also sharing my own thoughts on education, I decided to show other aspects of my life as well.  People saw through the sharing of my love of basketball, music, and humour, that I was not just a “principal”, but a person who happened to be a principal.  But it was not only the “good” times that I shared.  When I lost my first dog Kobe, or went through another stressful time in my life, and even lost my dad, I felt that the Internet cried with me and gave me a virtual hug.  People came together to help me through trying times, many that would be considered “strangers”.  My willingness to share myself made me more than an avatar, but a human being.  This past weekend when I got engaged to the girl of my dreams,  I got another giant virtual hug.  Because I have been willing to share my ups and downs, I have been able to connect with so many people that I would consider good friends.

I have experienced this, but I have also seen these stories over and over again online.  John Berlin, made a video asking Facebook for his deceased son’s “Look Back” video, and when it was picked up by a Reddit user, people shared and reshared the video, which quickly caught the attention of Facebook and led to the video being released.

There is more good than bad in the world and the Internet has given us the opportunity to really tap into one another as human beings.

As a school administrator, I think often about the opportunity social media gives us to connect in ways that we couldn’t before.  If you look at large school districts such as Peel District School Board in Ontario and Surrey Schools in British Columbia, they have made their world a lot smaller by their use of social media.  In large geographical areas, they have used social media to create a “small town” feeling within their communities. Although you might see their leaders only once in person within the school, you have the ability to connect with them often online.  It is all in the way that you are willing to use the technology.

If a school leader uses social media as a way to simply share messages, and not engage with their community, it will not be very beneficial and does not create much more than existed without the technology.  Recently, I saw my good friend Jimmy Casas (who I met in person first but have become very good friends with because of technology) share a post about being vulnerable.  In it, Jimmy shared an anonymous tweet that was targeted against his work as a principal:

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Jimmy could have simply ignored it and moved on, but instead showed his vulnerability and addressed it openly.  That is courageous leadership.  The ability to openly share and discuss a criticism in a space that is totally open.  The irony of the post is that technology was used in an anonymous way from someone who was not willing to be brave enough to address Jimmy in person.  If you think about it, people dehumanize one another, not technology.  We have to always remember that on the other end of that Twitter, YouTube, Facebook account is a person, and when we choose to use technology in such a manner, we do more harm than any social media account ever could.

I often hear people talk about losing special things such as handwritten cards because we are often focused on teaching technology to our kids.  There is something sweet and sentimental about a card, but then I think about the video my brother shared of my dad below:

I wouldn’t trade seeing my dad in this video for any handwritten card that he could have ever  written.  His humanness shows here and I am reminded of his loving, goofy, and caring heart even though he is not with us anymore.

If you think about it, this type of technology can makes us even more human than we were before, it’s simply on the way we choose to use it.

“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.”
Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

Myths of Technology Series: “Technology Makes Us Narcissistic”

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 a teenager, I remember seeing my friends after they came home from a vacation and going through a ton of pictures that they had just taken after their trip. Sometimes I would be mesmerized, and sometimes I would be thoroughly bored. Some pictures were amazing, and some had a thumb covering the shot. The roll of film didn’t allow you to delete, so you had to take the good with the bad.

I experienced this as most had in my generation, but was this an act of narcissism or simply was it an act of wanting someone to care? I would say the majority of people that I know share things and want to know others care, whether it is sharing pictures of their family, trips, or their own ideas. Many people love to share, while also enjoying being acknowledged. When my sister-in-law shares images of my nephews and nieces growing up, or even of her own life, I do not see it as a narcissistic act. In fact, those images allow me to connect with my family that I was not able to experience even 15 years ago. What may be seen as narcissistic to some, is gold to others We just have the option whether we want to look or not.

When I saw this video of a young boy asking for a single “like” on his first YouTube video, I thought, “is this a narcissistic kid or someone who just wants to know somebody cares?” I have no idea of this kid’s situation, but I remember being an awkward, chubby kid, and having that feeling that I would wish someone would pay attention to me. I was teased mercilessly and wanted to be recognized for doing something well, not for being overweight and I wonder how this audience can actually shape someone’s own self-perception in a positive way.

So what happened when the boy got a single like? Well he was so excited that he made another video asking for 3-5 likes, and ended up getting millions.

We tell kids to embrace themselves, yet when we see them share “selfless”. we label them as inward focused. Is this their narcissism, or is this our insecurity.  I actually saw one educator talk about how one student out of a panel of ten should be commended for giving up his smartphone and stated, “Wouldn’t every parent want a child like him?”  What does that say about the other kids?

And what about selfies?  A “Dove” commercial challenged the notion of selfies about being narcissistic and actually a way to celebrate ourselves, no matter what shape or form, as being beautiful.  The film tries to paint a different narrative on what a selfie can actually say to a young woman:

The film, directed by Academy Award-winner Cynthia Wade, dives right into the heart of Dove’s brand mission: Convincing young women that the things they hate most about themselves are the features that make them most beautiful. The twist is that the high school girls are assigned not just to rethink their own selfies, but to give their equally self-loathing moms a selfie lesson too.

So instead of painting kids as “narcissistic”, why not help them see themselves in a more positive light?

Personally, I love this picture taken by my brother of his three year old daughter Bea taking a selfie.  If you know Bea, she is a very confident young girl, while also having a warm and loving heart.  Is any of that bad?  Is this not what we would want for our kids as they grow up?

There are definitely people who are out there that are narcissistic, but technology didn’t do that to them, it just gave them an audience.  Instead of painting everyone with the same brush, I think it is important to take an inward look at ourselves and see why people sharing themselves would bother us so much.

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.

Choosing Not to Know

I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.

One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it.  The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.

The other told me about how their school district has all social media sites open to their students and have very few issues.  In fact, he had shared that since the network was opened, the issues lessened because of their focus on teaching digital citizenship.

Huh.

The question that came to my mind was, are these districts talking to one another?  My other thought was, do the districts that have things opened even try to talk to the ones that are open?  Seriously, people have open networks and have very few issues yet so many others with closed networks talk about the fear of what could be if schools decided to open their network.

Does looking only within our own organizations and focusing on the “fear factor” really help our students?  I am guessing you can figure out what I think.

If you are interested, here is a simple rubrics to start a conversation on this topic: Is Your School’s DIgital Citizenship Practice a Pass or Fail?

On Demand Learning

My oldest brother led me this video regarding Google Helpouts:

When I looked deeper into the site, I saw a few interesting things.  First of all, the site is growing and growing, and pretty soon you will be able to learn about what you want. From “art” to “home and garden”, there are a lot of options for a site that I am assuming that not many people know about.  Some are free, and some you pay for, but the interesting thing is that if you wanted to learn to play the guitar, you may pay $60 an hour, but there is also travel time, travel cost, and other elements.  Many will look at that and choose to stay at home and learn in their pajamas.

This also opens up opportunities for smaller areas that may not have the same opportunities that are afforded in larger centres.  For example, when I was a kid and I wanted to learn violin, I would have had to travel an hour for this opportunity.  I wouldn’t now.  It is the shift from “Blockbuster to Netflix“ for learning.

The other element that I found interesting was the “user rating” system that was used.  Many of the paid courses had several ratings, and usually what I found was, the higher the rating, the more expensive for the “tutoring”.  A smart start is to give away lessons for free, get ratings, and charge based on what you get after that.  It had a very “trip advisor” feel to it.

There are many questions that this has provoked for me…

What changes in school when I cannot only access information, but connect with a “teacher” that is willing to give me one-on-one guidance?

There are so many people that share their learning online for free now.  What happens to “sharing” when people learn they can monetize this teaching online because of the basic elements of “supply and demand”?

Not everyone can afford to pay for this type of learning, but do we need to?  I actually learned to play the guitar from watching YouTube and using sites such as “Ultimate Guitar”.  I can’t see myself ever paying for this type of learning when I know that if I dig deep enough, I can find experts sharing in a field for free.  I

f we don’t teach kids the skills to access the things that they want to learn about for free and turn on, as Howard Rheingold would say, their “crap detectors“, to know the difference between “good” and “bad” information.  Why do I have to do my own search and filter information when a community has done this for me already?  How many times do you go to a movie without looking up a rating for it from some type of community such as IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes?

I am not sure how I see this type of learning playing out, or what it’s impact is on schools, but I do know that we should really pay attention.

The Fear Behind Opening Pandora’s Box

As I work with schools and talk about the power of connecting and learning with educators around the world, I give a warning to leadership that they are about to open “Pandora’s Box”. Although I do not mean that it will unleash all the “evils of the world”, I do believe that it does open up teachers to practices, teaching, learning, and leadership from around the world.  Once educators (and more and more students everyday) see what is happening in other schools, the expectation gets higher for their own organization.

To many leaders, this is exciting.  To others, it is terrifying.  When you know that your school and your practices can be openly compared to the world, it can be daunting, but many will see it as an opportunity to do something great.  Those leaders that see it this way, are the ones that usually have little to worry about.  They don’t want their teachers to be better solely because of them; they just want their teachers to be better.

What I have seen with many people that have started to connect is a struggle with what they see, and what they have.  Oftentimes, what they see is not as great as they may perceive, as schools rarely, if ever, post the things that they struggle with (many times because of professional and confidentiality reasons), and there is a “grass is always greener” mindset.  That being said, when educators see others have an openness in learning and promote innovative teaching and learning, many educators are wondering why they are often stifled in their own career.  Sometimes it is perception, but sometimes it is reality.

Many people that are already striving to be better are sponges and crave mentorship, but this is something that you should always be able to get within.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case  (Kristen Swanson writes a nice piece on finding someone to push you to be better), and people start to tap into “virtual mentors”, whether the “mentor” knows it or not.

Should schools be afraid of this?  Probably as much as a hotel should be scared of Trip Advisor. Everyone can say they are great but when you are held to the standard of others, it is not as easy to get away with if it is not true.  I see the accountability to one another, which creates an inherent need to be better for students, as a positive. I continue to struggle why others wouldn’t see it the same way.

The Old and the New

There has been several news articles on a group of educators and parents fighting for the “old” ways of math, due to declining scores in mathematics for Canada.  Although I am an advocate of innovative ways to teach, I also believe that we don’t get deep into a lot of learning without having a basic understanding of numeracy and literacy.  One of the commenters on the Global News article had some interesting thoughts on the subject:

Here’s the opinion of a PhD in Astrophysics with 25 years of math expertise both personally and teaching at the university level. Both the old process of memorization, with a pencil in hand, learning long division, and multiplication tables is important *and* the new method of problem solving being the focus is important. An “either-or” advocacy for either the old or the new is lunacy. Most citizens in a society would benefit from straight up memorization. Doing your taxes, learning to budget, quickly calculating your grocery total, and not being victim to a financial scam requires basic math skills and very little problem solving. The vast majority of public education should start here. Learn the fundamentals first by whatever means possible – even if you are a parrot rehashing your masters voice. Problem solving should come second. Problem solving requires having already mastered the fundamentals. It is great to think that by presenting a problem students will go learn the basic skills as part of the problem solving. It has been my experience that such an approach only amplifies learning difficulty. The math skills and problem solving skills are separate cognitive functions and should be learned separately at first and then combined. At the university level I see students who struggle with the basic math and are great problem solvers and students who are great with math and can’t problem solve in the least. You need both, so teach both. Teach the old and the new. It does not have to be either-or.

Here is something that dawned on me as I read this comment.  Being in the position where I have spoken with media (on the subject of cursive handwriting), it is a lot more interesting to divide people up into separate “camps”, then it is to have them meet somewhere in the middle.  The lack of debate in the media would be boring to most.  You may not agree with everything in the comment above, but I believe in the idea of not being “either/or”, and I think most educators and parents would agree.  We need to work with students to develop the skills so that they can go deep into learning.

For example, I would prefer students would become fluent, as opposed to simply literate. To become fluent though, you would have to become literate.  There are some educators that would want to totally destroy the system and start from scratch, and there are some that would gladly hold onto the past.  I think there are a lot of great things that are already happening in schools, and we could build a solid foundation from there.

Maybe we have to see that the bar is not different, but higher.

A Few Options…

If you haven’t heard the Justine Sacco story, it is one educators should be aware of.  In short, with only a small social network (it was reported around 200 followers on Twitter at the time), a very inappropriate tweet got around the world, very quickly.  She was on a plane, not knowing that her name and a hashtag bearing it were trending throughout the world, and by the time she landed, her life was forever changed.

How quickly did it spread?  Check out the tweet below:

 

So as I see it, schools will see this and make a few choices.

1.  They will ignore it.

2.  They will talk about it with students and give them warnings about how social media can destroy lives and try to scare them off the medium.

3.  They will see the opportunity in this teachable moment to not only warn of the bad, but see that if something bad can spread so quickly, something good can do so as well.

Where is your school in this “Digital Citizenship” spectrum?  Hopefully we can turn stories like this around and focus on the idea of Digital Leadership and that our kids can do something powerful to make a positive impact on others, not simply focus on the negatives.

Quick to Judge

In the last four hours, three items were shared with me that are basically (in my mind) all on the same topic.  The first was an article by Sherry Turkle from The New York Times entitled, “The Documented Life.”  Turkle has been known to have a negative view on the impact of technology on our lives, and although I believe that we should always be thoughtful of the impact on anything that happens in our lives, I do believe that she has a narrow minded view of technology.  In the article she says,

It is not too late to reclaim our composure. I see the most hope in young people who have grown up with this technology and begin to see its cost. They respond when adults provide them with sacred spaces (the kitchen, the family room, the car) as device-free zones to reclaim conversation and self-reflection.

The irony of this quote is that because of technology and the ability to share this piece, I have the ability to have a conversation about it with others that may be interested in the content, while also having the ability to reflect it in this blog post.

Could I reflect on this piece in a journal, notebook, or sitting in a room alone? Absolutely.  That being said, I do think a lot more about what I am reflecting on because I know others can see it.  As author Clive Thompson stated,

Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.

The next article, a rebuttal to Turkle’s piece, was fascinating.  Not only did it provide great counter arguments, but it talked about a few other times where people questioned the validity of things in history that we now just accept as normal:

Socrates, who came from a culture with a strong oral tradition, was concerned by the rise of people writing things down: “[Writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.”

In 1906, composer John Philip Sousa feared how recorded music would destroy the ability to socialize at parties: “The country dance orchestra of violin, guitar and melodeon had to rest at times, and the resultant interruption afforded the opportunity for general sociability and rest among the entire company. Now a tireless mechanism can keep everlastingly at it, and much of what made the dance a wholesome recreation is eliminated.”

In 1925, Princeton University Dean Howard McClenahan tied the car to a moral crisis: “The automobile gave increased opportunities on Sunday and thus lessened the chances of church attendance. The general effect of the automobile was to make the present generation look lightly at the moral code, and to decrease the value of the home.”

History is full of Turkles, and naturally so. Hers is such a terrifying idea, and yet such an appealing one: If we are at the vanguard of social change, then we–that is, we the elders, roughly ages 30 and up, who can remember a time before the latest disruption–are the precious and special last bearers of humanity.

At some point, our youth will probably embrace the technology they use now as normal and question the new technologies that will be appearing in their world.  If we know anything, this process is cyclical and it will happen again, yet many will forget that.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t question and critically think about the developments in our world, but we should also not to be so quick to judge.

Which brings me to the last item that was shared with me.  Apple has recently released a new holiday ad that, to me, highlights how we often wrongly judge how people that they are not “enjoying” the moment, when they are simply enjoying it in a different way:

I have felt this judgment many times sitting in staff professional development where someone looks over at me and wonders what I am doing on their phone, yet never questions the person doodling in a notebook.  Why?  Because the notebook is familiar to most.  The interesting thing that I have learned is that I don’t even question the person “doodling” as I am not sure of their learning style and sometimes this motion helps people to process ideas.

Are all kids like the one in the Apple video? Absolutely not and it would be naive for me to say that technology hasn’t changed the way we do things. It definitely has.

Many would question the kid in the Apple video that he is not living in the moment and the device is distracting, yet I believe that sometimes documenting that moment, and having the ability to relive it over and over again, is something that is extremely powerful.  As I go into my first Christmas holidays without my dad, I am thankful that my brother was willing to take time to create this:

The above video creates such emotion every time I see it, and although it was not a moment that I lived in, I feel like I am living it every time I see and hear my father’s voice.  Memories are one thing, but don’t tell me that this “documentation” doesn’t create something powerful.

Instead of trying to “judge” what other people do with technology and simply wag our finger from our proverbial porch, I believe we need to try to understand the good and the bad by immersing ourselves into this world.  Just because

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.” —Marshall McLuhan

The Innovator Mindset


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Moyan Brenn

When I first started to get online, I used Internet Explorer, then Firefox, and now I use Google Chrome, but am able to use any of those other browsers depending upon the site and what works best.

I also signed up years ago for a Hotmail account, but then at work I was given “First Class” email, followed by Outlook account, and now Gmail.

Do you remember Word Perfect?  I used that as well, followed by Word (a ton of different versions), and now exclusively Google Drive for word processing.

Other than all of these things leading to Google products (I do love Google stuff but am also a big fan of an iPhone), what do all of these things have in common?

Change.

To clarify this isn’t change for the sake of change.  All of the technologies that I have left behind and have moved onto are for something better, yet they have more than likely iterations of one another.   Innovation is not always entirely new, but it should always be better.

I would be surprised that in 10 years I am using the same things that I am now as I know in the world of technology, things continuously evolve.  It is norm in the world of technology, and in reality, the world.  Change is inevitable, and many people in the world of educational technology see change as the constant and something to embrace, not fear. This is not everyone (there are a lot of people in educational technology that are still terrified of the “cloud”) but it is a common mindset with many that are in the field.

This is one of the reasons why I believe educational technology seems to be creeping into every conversation and every level of school at this moment in time.  Not because change hasn’t been the constant, but because of the pace that change is happening.  What is awesome about this development is that you are seeing traditional “technology” conferences (such as ISTE), have a different audience.  You are not only finding tech coordinators anymore, but teachers of every level and administrators.  These educators are not necessarily coming to check out the technology, but are embracing the mindset that at every level, educators are looking to become innovators.  Many educators outside of the EdTech have had this same “innovator” mindset for a long time, and it seems like now is the “perfect storm” of educators coming together.

To try and predict the important technology that we will be using years from now in education is much too hard; just expect to be doing something different.  Yet, to hire and look for and develop people that see change as an opportunity to do something amazing should be a standard in our organizations.

The “Innovator Mindset” is something that educators should embrace as a whole.