My #ITEC13 Reflection

After two days of waking early and making the trek to Des Moines from Waterloo, I find myself on #ITEC13 +1 having trouble sleeping in to my normal 6am and instead thinking about everything I learned over the last two days…at 4am mind you… So, rather than have an isolated reflection while futilely trying to go back to sleep, I might as well get up and share my thoughts, my ideas with anyone who may be interested, which brings me to my first major takeaway: As educators, we find ourselves constantly taking resources and ideas from the internet, but when was the last time we contributed?

Jeff Utecht was the keynote on day two and I’ve been a big fan of his for a few years now. So having the chance to hear him speak in person was amazing. There were a number of things that he brought up, but perhaps one of the most compelling was the need for educators to contribute to the larger community. How are we giving back to others who we don’t directly interact with? Certainly we give back in our classroom, schools, and local communities, but what about the larger community? How are we contributing to the advancement of the profession? More and more I find myself thinking about non-positional leadership and how we are advocating, leading, and working with others to advance meaningful change. Hearing Jeff talk about sharing with the larger community only served to reinforce this concept that each of us are leaders and do have opportunities to lead within our profession and beyond the classroom. For me, I’ve seemed to fallen off the larger community radar a little over the last year. Things get busy, I have small children and I have a pretty full schedule. Yet, given all of that, I still feel this nagging feeling that I’m not contributing enough. I’m not posting enough about what I’m doing or enough about some of the ridiculous ideas that I have that I want to start putting legs on. This wasn’t a major theme Jeff had, but it was an important theme, and has given me pause for reflection, as I hope it will do for each of you.

Sticking with Jeff a little longer, there were two other things that really stuck out for me. The first was the idea of a moonshot idea. As Jeff described it, a moonshot idea is an idea that seeks to change something that appears almost impossible. However, we strive to make that moonshot idea happen because we are bothered by it. We want it to happen and refuse to let it pass us by. The name moonshot comes from when JFK said we would put a man on the moon. No one knew how to do it, but we were going to do it anyway. There was a drive, a passion for making it happen. For me, moonshot ideas are what keep me going, keep me asking questions, and make me challenge those around me. Things bother me. Some more than others, but being bothered is what has kept me feeling like I can make change happen. Probably the biggest thing that bothers me is ineffective use of technologies in the classroom that is then highlighted as increasing achievement, learning, (insert term here) when in fact nothing has really changed. Scott McLeod had a session on this called Gratuitous Use of Technology (or something to that effect). While I missed the session, that really sums up what bothers me. It may be a far cry in comparison to putting a man on the moon, but nevertheless, it still matters, it’s still important, and it really bothers me.

The other thing that really stood out from Jeff’s keynote was the video of the young man doing a Rube Goldberg, at what appeared to be his house. This child, I think he was in fourth grade, but can’t really remember, creates this impressive Rube Goldberg machine and he makes a prediction about how many times his machine is going to succeed and how many times it will fail. I think it was a two to 14 ratio. As the video continues, it starts showing the trials. The first three are a bust and then on the fourth a success. What happens next is the best thing. This kid literally flips out. He is so excited that it worked on the fourth time when he predicted that if would fail “umpteen” times. I immediately thought, when was the last time we were this excited and willing to fail “umpteen” times? The mantra seems to be if we can’t do it it right the first time, we better not even try. I’d say this was a common theme I ran into throughout the conference. It’s okay to make mistakes, but what we do next is what matters. What’s worse is that we appear to be sending this signal to our students via standardized tests with all the focus on getting the right scores and the high stakes nature of the tests. Nothing in life, at least in my life, is as high stakes as those tests are for students and schools. They aren’t realistic and the emphasis we place on them as a nation, state, and local community truly bothers me. This certainly is a moonshot idea and it’s almost embarrassing that it is.

Other highlights from my conference experience:

  • Teaching students how to search is truly critical. We don’t live in a world where we can organize everything into nice little units. Our knowledge is too large, complex, and changes way to fast to keep up. Being able to sift is going to be much more important that sorting. I actually started this with my son last night. We started searching for orange juice and he loved it! (Henry’s four BTW)
  • Our knowledge has a half life of 18 months. This is interesting for me since the work I did for my doctorate in my first couple semesters is going to be outdated by the time I write my dissertation. Let’s not even go to textbooks…
  • Some key things when it comes to searching on Google: find the ads, the more links to a website means Google thinks it’s an authority, use the search tools to refine results, site: and filetype: are very useful for getting the resources you want, reading level is also helpful, and it is possible to search for dated materials, such as newspapers from the Korean War era (type Korean War, limit results to 1950-1955, and click on the news link in Google).
  • It’s easy to make info grams. Some resources: infogr.am, easel.ly, and piktochart.
  • Never underestimate the power of Twitter. The majority of my resources, including those from the previous bullet, came from Twitter. One person was at ITEC, but the other was in Oklahoma. Not to mention all the things I would have missed that were captured by others via the back channel #ITEC13
  • Speaking of Twitter, it still has a spam issue. I hadn’t really noticed it for a long time, but during the conference it was certainly present in the hashtag. But I did learn that you can filter your results. For me I used #ITEC13 -hidelink (Hidelink was what was spamming everyone). Thanks to @jamiefath for that one!
  • Kids are important and are missed when they are gone. But do we let them know that? My guess is not enough.
  • We are social creatures, yet school is typically the place where we can’t interact either with those literally sitting next to us or those in the larger community. If we want students to be engaged, let’s give them something to be engaged in.
  • There are a number of apps in iOS 7 that use location and notification services that really don’t need to. All that does is suck my battery life down and shares more than I really want. Check it out in settings and take back control!
  • There were three 8th graders at the conference (perhaps more, but I only saw three). It seems like more and more young people are showing up at conferences and I love it. Young people have a voice and they should let it be heard. As I was working on this post I saw Ian Coon tweet out something that appears to be a student bill of rights (I don’t think that’s what it’s called, but something generally like that) about what they want from their school and their educational experience. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to later today when I get to work. I don’t know if K12 students have to pay for ITEC, but they shouldn’t. These are the people we need to invite in, because above all, their voice counts, yet they are the most underrepresented group in education. We should be inviting them in so we can learn from them.
  • I met a number of people I follow on Twitter. Always a fun experience. I also had the chance to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen in a few years, even since high school.
  • Looking for more? Check out #ITEC13 and http://www.jeffutecht.com/itec

Finally, perhaps the best part of the conference were the conversations I had with my colleagues on the way to and from the conference. We were able to talk about more things in the two hour drive there and back than any number of meetings would have accomplished. This is on top of the interactions we had during the conference. For me, I was able to get a ton of feedback on my dissertation topic and some new directions to keep my work moving forward.

So all in all, I had a great conference experience. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay for all the afternoon sessions. Time is a scarce resource, but even with my mostly limited ITEC experience, I still feel I’ve been rejuvenated and am ready to keep on being bothered.

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The Access Obligation

I’m taking a class right now that is NOT using a learning management system or LMS. During my undergrad, I only had a few courses using an LMS and my masters was mostly online, thus we relied heavily on our LMS for making the course happen. However, this is the first semester since I started my masters (I’m working towards an Ed.D. now) that I haven’t had an LMS for a course. While I generally don’t like the idea of college controlled LMS, I have grown to expect them to be used if at the very least to provide access to the syllabus and other general course information.

It may sound like I’m complaining, which is good, because I am. I don’t typically like to complain, or at least not in a public manner such as this, but I expect that course information is going to be available online, anytime, and every time I enroll in a course. The impetus of my complaint is that I’m stuck at work without my readings schedule. I have the time to read since class doesn’t start until 6pm, and have been, but now that I’ve finished my chapter I don’t know what other readings I have to do.

Now I could call my wife and have her tell my what I need to read next, or I could have been more organized and brought my folder with my paper copy of the readings with me to work…but I didn’t and that misses the point. I’m a paying customer and I have certain expectations when I spend a large amount of money. As far as my education goes, I expect to have access to my course materials regardless of where I am and when I’m accessing them. This is a base level expectation I have for my courses and is something I have become very accustomed to over the last four years.

The best part is that making these items available is something that could be done for the instructor if requested. At the very least, someone in the department or within the instructional design services on campus could help walk the instructor through the process of uploading the syllabus, readings and assignment schedule, as well as any other general course information. I’m not asking for my courses to be taught online in any fashion as much as I am asking for access. And higher education has an obligation to provide me that access, because even though I’m not likely to switch institutions, others may and others may not choose to attend a school that doesn’t provide this basic type of service.  Millennials have and will continue to enter higher education and are coming with very specific expectations for their courses. Much higher expectations than uploading a syllabus and readings schedule to BlackBoard. Are you ready higher ed? For some reason, I doubt it…

Take Aways from Class

Tapping a Pencil
The semester is in full swing and this has been my first week back in the Ed.D. program.  Here are some take aways I came up with while sitting in class.

  • Students come to school (K12/College) expecting to be engaged, however, when they come to school they aren’t engaged, at least not in the way they want to be engaged. It’s no wonder students drift off to Facebook, Twitter, texting, or even sleep. Sitting in lecture/discussion is not engaging and as the size of the class increases, motivation and accountability to be engaged decreases.
  • Just because students stray from lecture/discussion does not mean they have short attention spans. Rather they have better things to do than participate. How engaged would you be if someone talked to you for an hour or more and didn’t interact with you in any way. Saying they have short attention spans and that technology is to blame is a copout for the traditional teacher. See how attentive they are when you engage with them in meaningful ways, perhaps using technology. You might be surprised.

Image Credit: http://flic.kr/p/5y2Uqm

Missing in Action

I’ve been missing for the last few months, at least in terms of blogging and Twitter. My last post here was in May at the end of my first semester of my Ed.D. program, which needless to say was a hectic time in my life. However, since then I’ve found it hard to open the computer and do some non-academic writing.  Not sure what has been blocking me. Perhaps it has been the massive rush of taking a summer course while still being a little worn down from the spring semester. Or perhaps I was too exhausted from playing and having fun with my kids at home this summer. Regardless of why I’ve been absent, I’m back now and will slowly start getting back into the swing of things, which includes more blogging and more tweeting. I’m looking forward to the school year ahead. There should be plenty of fun and interesting things to keep me busy. Here are some things I’ve got coming up that I’ll probably be writing about:

  • TPACK and how to develop it in educators: I’m reading the Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge for Educators and am really looking at how we can make teachers more effective educators by developing their knowledge of technology, content, and pedagogy.
  • Instructional design work: I’ll be doing more instructional design work this year at work with both faculty at UNI and our partner school districts. As we create and implement different lessons, I’ll be sure to share those experiences with everyone here.
  • Interesting technologies: I’m a geek at heart and love finding and using new technologies, so count on more of that here, along with possible ideas for using them.  One I’m looking at now is Aurasma, which is an augmented reality app. Still trying to figure out the workflow, but from what I’ve experience so far I can’t wait until it is ready for the classroom!
  • Advocating for change: And as always, I’ll keep advocating for change that matters. The world is changing but our practice in the classroom tends to remain static and this needs to change if we truly are going to make a difference in the world. I feel I can make a difference, even if it is only with one teacher in one school.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming school year with anticipation and excitement. I hope you are too and I wish you the best of luck and success this school year.

Technology as an assignment vs using technology to support classroom activities

This is cross posted at http://tqpplc.blogspot.com.

I think there are two ways you can look at technology in education.  The first, and most often way people look at it, is through the assignments students complete using technology.  This could include basically any assignment students are required to do through the use of technology.  I’m thinking digital storytelling projects that require students to use cameras, software, and the like.  But there’s also another aspect that is overlooked, which I’m going to term lesson-based technology use.

Technology use doesn’t need to be an assignment to be used effectively.  Rather, technology can be leveraged in the classroom to enhance the teaching that is already taking place, not to mention the opportunity for something new to happen.  In this regard, I’m thinking of lesson-based things you could do with technology such as: setting up a back channel during a lecture, bringing in an expert through a video conference, or something as easy as having access to the Internet to bring in outside resources and opinions.

But it isn’t always as easy as…which is why many teachers resist. Often teachers don’t have faith in the technology working or that they won’t get the intended outcomes they wanted from the technology.  The locus of control is beyond their grasp and when it comes down to it, we don’t have the required trust in other people, the system, or simply that the technology will work.  Usually this is due to past experience.

That doesn’t mean we have to like it, and I often don’t, which is why I try to eliminate barriers that prevent teachers from doing something really amazing with technology in their classrooms.  Will things go right the first time you try it in the classroom, probably not.  But that doesn’t mean we need to stop trying to make it work.  Innovation doesn’t happen overnight and it often takes a considerable amount of time.  I understand that teaching time is sacred, but only to the extent that we fail to be relevant.

So my question to you is, are there ways you want to use technology in your classrooms?  If so, are there any barriers that I can help remove or reduce to make this happen?

The key to innovations: No barriers

I once again come back to the topic of barriers and innovations.  This issue came to the forefront on Friday when I was leading a training session on how to use an innovation.  I had been planning for days to ensure there weren’t any issues that would prevent us from getting through the training, but as it were, when I arrived on Friday, there were immediate problems related to the main part of the innovation.  I won’t bore you with details, but it suffices to say that I prepared a back up plan that would have achieved nearly the same results.  However, after soon running into another barrier I quickly needed a back up for my back up.  Needless to say, the day was pretty much shot before it started.

Why am I bothering to tell you this?  It’s plain and simple.  If we expect innovation to take place in our schools, whether at the elementary, secondary, or post-secondary levels, we must meet the basic needs of people to allow the minimum conditions required for innovation to occur.  If we can’t do this, then we shouldn’t expect an innovation to diffuse across a population.  It just isn’t going to happen.  If you think otherwise, you’re naive and need to really consider the system you are working within.

I understand that innovation by design pushes the limits of the system.  Failure is to be expected and should be welcomed.  But it’s what we do after the failure that is the metric of our commitment to innovations.  If we do nothing, NOTHING, then we shouldn’t expect anything to change.  No new innovations, no new plans, no new learning.  Just business as usual.

Are there innovations taking place in your school?  Are you supporting them by removing barriers?  If not, why?

My comment on: To Control Technology or Unleash It

I just commented on Dr. Daniel Frazier‘s post “To Control technology or Unleash It” and thought I’d post it here as well. You can read his full post here: http://teched4reform.blogspot.com/2012/01/to-control-technology-or-unleash-it.html?showComment=1328109569678#c3631164630713592491

My comment:
Dr. Frazier,

I agree with you, that if schools are going to remain relevant, we need to begin embracing technology in all forms, especially having devices for all students to use. However, I’m going to play devils advocate here for a minute, even though I whole heartedly feel the same as you.

How does the district change and establish a culture that encourages the type of learning environment that is relevant for our young people? How does the leadership approach issues like allowing cell phone use in the classroom when there are over 600 students in the middle school? Essentially, how do they create a plan that doesn’t create a culture of chaos and backlash from the teachers? While there may be some leadership issues that should be addressed, I think we also need to look at the context of the school. They are a larger middle school, at least by Iowa standards, and we are quickly approaching the end of the school year, albiet there is still a few months left.

From the non administrator standpoint, I would probably impose the same type of ban on cell phones at this point in the school year. This would only be a temporary ban until the end of the school year, because I’m guessing that the teachers aren’t knocking on the principal’s door to start using these devices. Then for the rest of the school year I’d start building a movement amongst the teachers and a number of student representatives to begin creating the type of learning environment that is supportive of cell phones, computers, etc. This process is going to take more than the summer, but I think great strides could be made to begin making real change in classrooms by the end of summer, where any ban on cell phones can be lifted.

I think the key with situations like the Pottstown Middle School is to have a plan and a lot of patience. The decision to allow any new innovation shouldn’t be a top down decision. It also can’t be a bottom up one either. There has to be discussion and there has to be a plan in place that makes full use of them in the classroom. If not, then it’s almost better off not allowing them at all.

Sorry for the long comment, but you are touching on something many people overlook when it comes to “new” innovations. It’s the process we go through as we adopt the innovation that is going to be the indicator of our success. If we don’t do it just right, the results might not be what we want.

Great post!

 

Thoughts?