Tag Archives: educational technology

Jumping In First

 

A common thing I hear in regards to technology and our understanding of it goes along the lines of, “Kids are amazing…we can just learn it from them!”

Although I really believe in the power of learning with our students and that in the area of technology, I wonder sometimes if we use that thinking as an excuse to get out of learning.

Let me explain…

The ability for us to connect and learn from a vast amount of information in a highly networked world is daunting for most, including our students.  Navigating some of these murky waters, can be extremely complicated.  Because of that, I think this is all the more reason that we have to jump in ourselves and learn so we can help guide our students through these networks.  SImply saying, “I am going to learn from our kids”, leaves us often waiting for those moments and we could possibly miss out on many opportunities that we could have created for our students.  Sometimes we “don’t know what we don’t know”, and when we wait for our students to “teach us”, we might miss out on what we can show them as well.

Do I think that we can learn from kids? Absolutely.  I highly encourage it as it empowers our students to act as both teachers and learners.

Is it possible for us to know about all of the technology out there? Not a chance.  Even the most tech savvy educators in the world will not know every facet of technology.  There is just too much stuff.

But for us to simply wait for our kids to teach us, we could miss so many amazing opportunities that we could have helped create in our school if we would have jumped into those waters on our own first.

Transformative to everyone?

If you are in the educational technology field, you have probably heard about the “SAMR Model” and “TPACK” as ways to implement technology in powerful ways in our classrooms.  Many of these models (and others) say something similar; how are we using technology in ways that we couldn’t do before?   For example, should we use technology to write notes (which we could do with a pen) or are we going to use something like blogs so that students can connect with the world? Technology is transformational and the opportunities that exist today in schools are pretty amazing and these “models” encourage teachers to take advantage of that.  This is a good thing.

So when we talk about things like “differentiation” and “inclusion”, how does this apply?  Well if we are expecting all students to do the same “transformative” thing, it feels like we are still expecting all kids to do the same thing.

Maybe instead of asking, “what does the technology allow us to do now, that we couldn’t do before”, maybe we should ask, “what does the technology allow the student to do now that they couldn’t do before”?  The ability to write notes on a document  might not be transformative to all of us, but to the student who does not have the same ability to write using a piece of paper that others might have, this (what many would consider simple) use of technology may be transformative to that student.  In our race to put everything in education into a neat acronym, we often give standardized solutions for individual people.

Perhaps we should step back and see that what technology provides is often the ability for a teacher to help make learning very personal  for our kids and create opportunities that didn’t exist before (for them).  Every standardized solution often seems to reduce our kids to a name on a piece of paper or simply a number, when they deserve so much more than that.

Jumping to Conclusions

Google Glass is stupid.

There I said it.

I have been thinking this since I first saw someone wearing them at a conference and tried them on.  They were hard to work and took a long time to get to do anything.  They also looked weird.  Really weird.  “Cyborg from the future” weird.

These are all things I thought but didn’t say.

I am a pretty outspoken person so why wouldn’t I say it out loud to others?

Well, because I also thought Twitter was stupid, as well as Instagram, and Facebook. Pinterest was also something that I thought was stupid but man is it helping Paige and I plan a wedding.  I said all of those things out loud.

I have been wrong before and have openly said that something is “stupid” without using it or understanding how it could be used.

I waited for something to prove me wrong with Google Glass.

And waited.

Then I saw the video below:

I was moved. I was in tears.  It was a great way to tell a story.  It was powerful.  Although I know this was made for Google by students at USC, I could finally see the potential.

I know that I waited and even though they are still pretty expensive, they could have some pretty amazing potential in schools.  I just had to wait long enough to see it and I know better to not jump to conclusions so fast.

I have done that before and will not to do it again.

P.S.  Except for Snapchat. That’s stupid. ;)

(Prove me wrong!)

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.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.42.29 AM

Technology and the Basics

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 10.56.05 PMWe talk a lot in education about the use of technology and giving us the ability to do things that we couldn’t do before.  This “transformative” use of technology is something that many school division aspire to and focus on.  They use things such as the SAMR model or Bernajean Porter’s focus on “Literate, Adaptive, and Transformative”, when measuring their use of technology, but what about the “basic” uses of technology?

For example, as I am sitting at a dinner table with people I don’t know, in a culture that is foreign to me, talking about education, I heard many great insights on the future of learning and the possibilities that are out there for our system.  As I watched others write notes on pen and paper (which is accepted as normal by the majority of educators), I struggled with pulling my phone out of my pocket and writing in a way that I felt comfortable with, as I did not want to seem out of place in this new environment.  When I brought it up, I was encouraged to use my phone because that is what worked best for me.  How many times do we lose out when a kid is not allowed to use their device, not because they don’t want to write “notes”, but because they don’t feel comfortable writing them in a way that makes sense and is easy for them?

What I was doing with this technology was very basic and it was something old done with the new.  I wasn’t creating videos, reaching out across the world, but simply writing notes.  Nothing transformative at all.  Kids need this option as well.  All kids. All learners.

So I guess if we look at what technology can give us now that we couldn’t have before, I would say for some people, it gives them the opportunity to finally learn in a way that works for them, whether it is very basic, or very advanced.  We all need options and if we are to truly empower our learners, we have to ensure we help them figure out what works for them, not us.

Technology does not equal engagement

A picture is worth a thousand words and I had a good laugh at the picture below:

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 12.44.03 PMIf we do not design learning experiences for our students that help them get into that “flow” state, don’t expect technology to keep them engaged or from being distracted.

It is all about how we think, engage, and interact with our students, not about “stuff”.  The “stuff” gives us opportunities to do things that we couldn’t do before, but if we teach the same way we always have, not much will change.

 

The Math of Educational Technology


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by James Lee

Technology can be transformative in learning.  I have moved away from the notion of technology being “just a tool” and know the power of it in doing something that we were not able to do before.  Kids can learn without technology, but the ones that use it, will have opportunities that others wont.

These are things that I know.

I also know that many educators still see technology as an add-on to the work that they already do.  When many talk about technology, they will say something like, “Well this is great, but when do I find the time to do this?”  Fair question.

We have to really think about the idea of technology as an addition to the work that we do, and start thinking about technology making the work we do so much more powerful.  I often use the example of blogging v. journals.  I can have a student write once in a journal, and then multiply that by 25 students, followed up by the teacher writing back to each student to ensure that they each have a comment and that they model writing.  Let’s do the writing tally.

Student – 1
Teacher – 25

Who is becoming more literate in this example?

I could, however, use a blog to have a student write once in their own space and then ask them to comment on five other blogs.  Perhaps though, they are really excited about comments they have received and decide to respond to each one.  The teacher can then choose five blogs that they comment on this round.  Let’s do the new tally.

Student – 6 (minimum)
Teacher – 5

Much better.

The problem that we often run into, though, is we talk about “educational technology,” and many have that in their titles.  I am not saying that anyone that has this in their title isn’t doing great work, but the name say something to others.

Education + Technology = More Work

This sends the message to many people that you have to do everything that you have always done PLUS find a way to add technology. This automatically equates to more time.

My suggestion?  If technology doesn’t make the learning better, you shouldn’t be using it.  The other aspect is that we have to rethink how we do a lot of the learning that we do now and how technology can make it better or transform the opportunity, not simply add technology into the mix.

An important distinction.

Removing Barriers and Educational Technology

I was recently asked to share my thoughts on the current state of educational technology and the connection it has to education in British Columbia (for a BC website).  Here are some of the questions that came my way with my responses below.

    • What are you currently obsessed with at work right now? 

One of my big focus areas is on how we give both teachers and students a voice in their learning. We live in a world where we all have the opportunity to share our thoughts instantly with the entire world, but schools have traditionally kept that learning within the confines of the building and have only shared during “special events”. If we give our students an authentic audience, we give them the opportunity to make a difference in their own lives, as well as the lives of others.

Tying into that notion is the idea of “entrepreneurship”. Students are creating some pretty amazing things in schools, whether it is in an art class, technology course, or english. How do we give them an opportunity to share their ideas to actually learn how to make a living doing something that they love? One of the things that I looked back upon during my time in the faculty of education was that we spent a lot of time learning how to “teach”, but no time learning how to actually get a job teaching. I believe that students should not only have great opportunities for learning in school, but we need to teach them how to create opportunities for themselves.

    • How is technology changing the face and pace of K-12 education? 

Information is abundant and as Daniel Pink discusses in his latest book, it is not about accessing information, but about curating it. When you have access to all of the information in the world, there is obviously some great stuff, and some stuff that is of a poor quality. How are students critical of what they see, and how do they reflect and share? Too many schools are worried about students “googling” answers on test because that would make them “cheaters”, yet as adults, we would be considered resourceful if we did the same thing. What we do with the information is much more important now than simply finding it. We need to look at how students are not only consumers of information, but creators of content as well. That is where the real learning happens and technology gives us the opportunity to be able to share easily with the entire world.

    • What are some of the smartest teachers doing in this space? 

Many teachers are looking outside of their schools and classrooms for new ideas to inspire and engage their students. Nothing in our world seems as stagnant as the “curriculum”, and many educators are learning to continuously embrace change and bring it into their classroom. They are looking at what successful organizations outside of education are doing and bringing those experiences to their students. They are not only making learning relevant, but real. There are teachers in pockets that are doing this, but many of them struggle with the politics of school and administrators that sometimes encourage risk, yet do not model it. As Chris Kennedy states, administrators need to be “elbows deep in the learning” with their students and faculty. In the area of British Columbia, Surrey School District (SD36) has been making some tremendous strides in becoming a “culture of innovation”, but I am guessing that even in their situation, they never feel like they are “there” and are striving to continuously get better.  Learning constantly changes and grows and the best organizations continuously grow and adapt so that they can always excel.

    • What opportunities are there for collaboration and transition between K-12 and higher ed given current technologies?

With learning having the ability to be so visible in our time, K-12 and higher education need to spend a lot more time working together to improve education for our students. You often hear K-12 complaining that universities are out of date and are forcing schools to go to an old model (grading practices are a prime example of this), and many universities are saying that students are not coming into their schools with the skills that they deem valuable. Instead of talking about each other, they need to spend more time working with each other and figuring how to do best for the students, and not take the easy way out. Within our school division, we are looking at working with our university to work with teachers to give them an idea of the skills that we expect them to have and be able to teach their students. We are hoping that we can build a partnership to learn from each other and really have education take the next step.

    • What are some of the challenges? (BC’s Privacy Legislation any others?)

The privacy laws in BC are outdated and holding schools back significantly. They often talk about data being stored in the cloud as being “unsafe” but it seems that it is more about controlling it from an outsider perspective. These policies were created in a totally different world and are now holding schools back to help students understand and thrive in the world that we live in currently. This is similar to the outdated election laws in 2011 and how many became subversive because of those policies.

If provinces were really about “moving education forward”, they would look at removing barriers, not putting them in the way.

Engaging Parents in the Learning Process


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by bestlibrarian

“The role of parents in the education of their children cannot be overestimated.” ~Unknown

When you ask parents from any country in the world, what they ask their children at the end of the day about school, their question is very similar:

“What did you learn today?”

The disconcerting thing is that the answer is almost always exactly the same.

“Nothing.”

With some of the work that we are doing in Parkland School Division, we are really trying to engage parents in the learning of their child by opening the door into the classroom.  Through the use of blogs, twitter, and other social media outlets, the question can change to something similar to, “I saw that you were learning about (blank) today; can you tell me more about it?”

Different questions usually get different responses.  Improve the question and you are more likely to get a better answer.

Parent Participation vs Parent Engagement

Although the more parents can have a positive presence in our schools, the more they will build relationships within the school community, engagement is something different.  Children are shown to have a much better chance at success if their parent is actively engaged and reinforces the learning that is happening in the school.  Case in point; if you want to improve your child’s reading, read to them at a young age and model what you want to see.

Yet as students get older, many parents are uncertain about the learning that is happening and feel uncomfortable with the content.  The benefit of a lot of learning in our schools today is that it is not solely focused on learning content, but skills and process which are important aspects in a learner’s development.  Being able to engage in the process with your child, like reading, will help improve their learning.  That type of engagement brings learning to a different level in the home.

Are we becoming illiterate?

One of the most influential articles that I have read was by Will Richardson on the notion of expanding literacy. In it, Will discusses The National Council of Teachers of English definition of “21st Century Literacies”, and how many adults, not just kids, are becoming or illiterate.  For many, the notion of literacy boils down to reading and writing, yet it is much more.

“Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups.” NCTE

So with that in mind, what are parents doing at home?  Are they creating websites with their children, assessing what is good and bad information, creating videos and podcasts, and so on?  The majority of our students see the Internet as a place of consumption, not creation.  We need to shift that focus.

Mitch Resnick challenged this notion of consumption when he stated:

“We wouldn’t consider someone literate if they could read but couldn’t write. Are we literate if we consume content online, but don’t produce?”

Based on this ever-changing definition, we have to ask, “Are we literate?”

Keeping Kids Safe

People are quick to jump on using these new types of technologies as either “dumbing down” education (David Crystal’s research shows that reading and writing improve through the use of mobile devices as opposed to the other way around) or that kids will be unsafe.   The reality is that schools in partnership with parents, need to guide children to not only be safe, but to leverage these technologies so that children will have opportunities that we did not.

Carlene Oleksyn, a parent and pharmacist, has immersed herself in the use of social media, not only for the benefit of her own learning, but to ensure that she safely guides her children.  In a recent post on her blog titled, “The Talk”, she shares a conversation that she has with her children:

It started like this:

“Boys, when I need to hire someone do you know what one of the first things is I do?”

Nope, they had no idea.

“I google them,” I said. “I see what they post on Facebook, Twitter, blogs. If they have posted anything that is calling someone else down, is sexually inappropriate, or if they’ve made blatantly disrespectful comments on other people’s postings, I would tend not to hire that person.”

The difference between Carlene and many is not this talk, but it is the credibility that Carlene has from immersing herself in using these technologies herself.  By having a Twitter account, blog, amongst  other things, she has learned how to keep safe by stepping out and looking around first, as opposed to simply letting her kids run wild when they reach the age they are allowed to use social media based on a company’s terms of service.

From her experience, she is able to give some very relevant advice:

I think as parents we need to do three things for our kids:

  • Be aware of what our children are doing on the internet

  • Be on sites with them and teach as they go.

  • Be examples with our own digital identity.

Carlene understands that the world is changing, so she is taking advantage of the learning that can be done while helping her children navigate some murky waters to find a much more positive place.  She is setting a high standard for her kids not only through her words, but through her actions.

Concluding Thoughts

Kids existing online is not enough.  Many schools talk about the notion of “digital citizenship” but simply being a “citizen” is not the heights we should be aiming for offline, so why is it online?

Through my work, I have tried to focus on the idea of “Digital Leadership”; the notion of using the technologies that we have to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  I try to model this simply by writing this post and trying to build more awareness of the opportunities that technology affords parents and children in learning.  Some kids are doing amazing things.

Millgrove School was recently highlighted on Global TV for their work on trying to use social media for learning, but by doing good for their community and hoping to inspire others around the globe.  Isn’t that the standard we should be aiming for as school communities?

To be successful, educators do not only need the support of parents, we need their engagement.  The door is opening more every day to your child’s classroom.  Are you ready to step through?