Category Archives: Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

“Ensuring Equity”

A question and concern that I often hear in my travels is “what about the kids that don’t have devices in school?”

These educators want to create “equity” among students and don’t want students to feel left out if they don’t have access to technology.  Interestingly enough, one of the goals of the Ministry of Education in Ontario is on the notion of “ensuring equity”:

All children and students will be inspired to reach their full potential, with access to rich learning experiences that begin at birth and continue to adulthood.

What I love about this is that it is focusing on ensuring high standards for what we provide our students.  There are many students that do not have access to devices or the Internet at home which means it is MORE IMPORTANT to provide these things for them at school.  We would never take a library away from a school because students don’t have books at home.  In fact, we would do the exact opposite.  We would provide more opportunities for kids to read rich resources.  So not finding ways to provide devices and access to the biggest library in the world (which happens to fit in your pocket) to our kids, in my opinion, is unacceptable.

If we are to ensure equity for our students, let’s make sure we do it at the highest levels possible.

The “Work Phone” Mentality

 

It was a few years ago while I was in Europe at a conference with several other educators, that I sat at a table while they all connected back home with people and information through their iPhones.  I sat there with my Blackberry, that might as well would have been a brick at the time.  Other than email, I just (at the time) couldn’t seem to do what they did with their phones.  It was not that we weren’t talking to each other, but in fact, some of the conversation we had was much richer because of their ability to go deeper into discussion items, look up things that we were talking about, or bring others into the conversation from anywhere in the world.  I decided that I wanted to be more a part of this “new” conversation and create a different experience for myself.  I purchased an iPhone, started using it differently than I had my Blackberry, and I saw a whole new world of potential for my own learning.  It wasn’t the phone that changed everything, but it was my way of thinking.

This mantra has stuck with me ever since:

“To innovate, disrupt your routine.” Frank Barrett

I was reminded of this moment the other day when I was delivering a workshop and one of the participants said that she was going to put away her device so that she could just pay attention and get away from work.  I asked her what she had called her device, and she referred to it as her “work phone”.  Then I proceeded to ask her if she saw it as a “learning tool”, to which she didn’t really answer.  I had the same conversation with students years ago while working with them, and not one of them saw their mobile device as something that was powerful for learning, but more of a communication device.  If they did see it as a learning tool, it was to use as a high powered calculator, and to “google stuff”.  They understood the ability to consume, but not the power to create.  This was one of the reasons why I felt I needed to immerse myself into these technologies and not look at a computer or a mobile device as “work stuff”, but as powerful ways to learn, both consuming and creating content.

Schools and classrooms will never look different, if our own actions and beliefs, look the same.

The “work phone” mentality is being transferred already to our kids.  With many schools and classrooms using iPads or other devices to either push “apps” or house textbooks, kids don’t really see the power of what they have in their hands.  I asked one set of students in a school that had 1-to-1 iPads what they thought of the devices and they had told me that they hated them.   I asked why, to which they responded, “All we do is read textbooks on them. It’s boring.”

Sounds pretty boring. I would probably hate them too.

The “tool” is one thing, but the way we look at it is much more important.  Are we trying to do what we did before better and faster, or trying to do something different?

When we started our “Learning Leader Project” years ago, each educator was given an iPad two months prior to the start of the program.  Here were the instructions…Open the box, play with the iPad, give it to your own kids, explore, and do whatever you want.  We did not “image” each device to be “work-ready”, but we wanted people to try things that they wouldn’t have usually done and give them the necessary time to play.  This was a calculated disruption for the program.  Did all educators play with them before?  Unfortunately not because we have grown up in a system where compliance is the norm and people often wait to be told what to do.  But compliance and innovation do not go hand-in-hand.  

To be different, we have to think and act different first.

Today, after the announcement of the death of Robin Williams, I am reminded of one of my favourite movies and inspirations for becoming a teacher, “Dead Poets Society”.  In the movie, this quote from his character, resonates:

“Why do I stand up here? Anybody? I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

Changing how we look at things is the first step in creating powerful and sustainable change.  Maybe it is time to ditch the proverbial “work phone” and look at what we hold in our hands with a new perspective.

A conversation starter…

I saw the following image online: Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 7.50.43 AMWhat surprised me about the conversation about it was that most educators (that I connect with) thought the student was ingenious for this “invention” and applauded them.  They were “fighting the power” and found a way to snuck in their device to a classroom. A couple of questions I have when I see this picture… Why would the kid have to create something like this? Why would adults not have to do this?  (I know that if I am disengaged I might gravitate to my device, but I also know that if I am engaged, I also tend to gravitate to my device.) Do you think this is wrong by the student, or cheer them on for their subversiveness? What do you think?

It’s not you Twitter, it’s me.

Yesterday, I read and shared an article from the Atlantic entitled, “A Eulogy for Twitter”.  It talked about the demise of the social network and how something is just not right:

Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing.

Or, at least, the kind of people we hang around with on Twitter are noticing. And it’s maybe not a very important demographic, this very weird and specific kind of user: audience-obsessed, curious, newsy. Twitter’s earnings last quarter, after all, were an improvement on the period before, and it added 14 million new users for a total of 255 million. The thing is: Its users are less active than they once were. Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight.

There already have been rebuttals to the article, and although it talks a lot about the demographics and use of the platform, I would actually challenge that the rise and fall of Twitter (or any other social network) might not be something that we would look at from the viewpoint of group, but more from a personal perspective.

Stay with me here…

Twitter, depending on the day, can be either the greatest thing, the most boring thing, the most overwhelming thing, or something I simply don’t pay attention to.  But is it really Twitter or my use of it?

It’s not you Twitter, it’s me.

From my perspective, Twitter shares two main purposes in my own use that are extremely valuable.  The first is the “social” aspect.  I can go on there and see familiar faces, talk about happenings in the world, sporting events, or just joke around.  Some of my best friends that I have met started simply as profile pictures and a 140 character bio.  Avatars to friends.

The other aspect is the “learning” component.  I would say that since I started using Twitter to connect with educators and see not only what was happening in other schools, but to also get ideas and perspectives about education as a whole.  I have learned a lot about education systems in other countries around the world when five years ago, I might not have had that perspective.  The ability to talk to people, and not just “look up stuff”, has made this network invaluable to the work that I do in my own practice.

Social + Learning = Engagement (for me)

From what I have seen, people that use it for simply one or the other, and not both (in the education field), don’t stick around too long.  Our minds can get full and I do not need to continuously learn every second of the day, and the social aspect is something that many people can get from the connections that already exist in their world.  After a full week, the last thing I want to do sometimes is read an article on education related.  My mind is full and I want to decompress.  When I am watching a game with friends, I don’t need to tweet about it because I would rather enjoy the experience with the people in the room.  Yet, when I am by myself, the connection to others through social media makes the game that much more interesting.

So what does this mean?

Well, Twitter has already seen it’s demise in the eyes of individuals.  If the user experience is not being met, why stay on the network?  And that experience is not necessarily defined by the usability of the social network (although I am not a fan of the new profile), but in the way individuals use it.  There are people that I used to always connect with on Twitter that don’t share much on the network anymore.  Is it because Twitter has become meaningless to them, or something else in their life has grabbed more attention?  When I looked at my own use of Twitter through the archives, I could see a decrease or increase in tweets and I could directly correlate that with events happening in my life.

It’s not you Twitter, it’s me.

The thing that I do love about Twitter, is that the experience is personal and although some are predicting it’s demise, if it works for you, that’s what matters.   I know that when I have those times in my life where I want to take a break from that large network, it’s okay, because it’s going to be there when I am ready to come back, along with many of the people I have met, and the people I am looking forward to meet in the future.  The learning aspect of Twitter has been tremendous in my development, but the social aspect, the people that I have met and don’t want to lose that continuous connection with, that’s why I continuously come back.

If no one is looking at your Twitter account, it could be for a couple of reasons.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 12.26.00 PMMost organizations or schools feel that jumping on the social media bandwagon is something that they should do because it is becoming the norm for others.  If you think that Twitter is just about tweeting, you are missing a huge cultural shift that is happening.

Too many people use Twitter as a “one-way” communication.  They simply use it to deliver messages with no engagement at all.  This might work if you are a huge celebrity, otherwise you are spending time doing something that is really going to do nothing but take up your time.  If you are just sending information out, with no interaction, you are becoming the new “spam”.

Communication is key with organizations, but the huge cultural shift is that people do not want to just hear, they also want to be heard.  You might have a lot of followers on your account, but that does not mean people are engaged in what you are doing.

For example, @AirCanada used to be a horrible Twitter account.  It was used to share deals and tell about how awesome they were.  If anything, their presence and lack of true communication did more harm than good.  People wonder why would organization be in a space that is about back-and-forth communication, but only talk, and not listen?  Now, the account is doing an amazing job to connect with customers when they have concerns or problems.  I would never use email with Air Canada as I know their Twitter account is much more effective and faster.  They have to be, because the whole world can see their reaction (or lack thereof).

What is also important is heart.  Creating an emotional connection through a social media account is an art form and the Edmonton Humane Society does this beautifully.  It is not that hard to make people feel something when you are sharing puppies, but not everyone understands how to do it.  They share amazing stuff on their Facebook page, and often connect with people sharing it.  They have taken an organization and made it “human”.

To sum it up, if you want people to not just “follow” your school or business, you can’t just share.  You need to listen and engage, while also connecting and tapping into the humanness of people.

It is not just about “tweeting”.  There is a major shift that has happened in our world because of these different ways we can communicate.  Are you really paying attention?

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:

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 11.25.11 AM

 

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.