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:,, 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

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.

#iPad App of the Week: CloudOn

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but I came across a useful app so I thought I’d share. The app is called CloudOn and it is an office app. It opens most files and for most people we really are only talking about Microsoft Office files. The app connects with Google Drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Box, which means for most people it is going to integrate into a service you are already using. I found that feature to be the most beneficial since I don’t want to sync my content manually, which really is the biggest downfall for things like Pages or Keynote. That is unless you are using iCloud, but I don’t want another service either.

As far as the app features, the feel when you’re in an app is really like you are using Word or PowerPoint on a computer. For me that’s both good and bad, but in general I like it. The resolution seems a little low and words on the screen are a little pixelated, but it’s still acceptable. The navigation on the app is logical and flows easily. There’s also a decent tutorial at the beginning to help with learning the navigation within the app.

All in all, if you are looking for a free office app for the iPad, this one might be your ticket.  If you’re a Google Drive user, I’d probably still recommend the Drive app, but this one is probably a close second, especially if you are editing actual Word files and want some of the more Word features. It really depends on how you are going to use it on your iPad. For most of us, we likely aren’t doing a ton of document editing on the iPad, but this at least provides a nice option if we need to make some changes when we’re away from the computer.

The app is free.

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

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?

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:

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!



Reconciling my beliefs about #IWB

IWBs have been a difficult topic for me.  I like the idea of them and think they are “cool,” but I’ve had a difficult time really seeing how they transform education.  Yes, they can do many of the things we currently are doing, however that isn’t what gets me excited about technology in education.  I want to see innovation.  What can we do with IWBs that we couldn’t do without them?  This has been my internal quest for some time now and by no means have I completed my quest.  I still have a gut feeling to loathe IWBs, but I am beginning to reconcile my beliefs…some.

I recently was on and came across a topic on IWBs and in the comments Chris Betcher said the following:

I’m endlessly amused by those who think that the word “interactive” in “interactive Whiteboard” refers the the act of coming to the board and physically maneuvering objects around on a screen. In my opinion, that is missing the whole point. If you measure the success of IWBs by how “interactive” they are, and you measure the success of “interactivity” by how many people get to physically manipulate objects on the board, then yes, there will always be a ceiling on how successful they are in your eyes. However, I see the interactivity not as the physical interactivity of touching the board, but in the intellectual interactivity that can be created when a classroom is able to embed rich media into lesson, when it can flexibly divert off the planned course of a lesson by quickly calling up relevant web resources, when it can easily use media to juxtapose differing viewpoints that require students to think more critically or to have to defend their points of view. When you can have a large screen digital convergence facility in your classroom that adds richness and depth to the teaching and learning process, then I think you start to see the intellectual interactivity rise in that class. It is these deeper classroom discussions that arise by stimulating ideas in your students heads that really add interactivity to your classroom.

I think about it like this… it’s not what happens on the IWB that matters. It’s what happens because of what happens on the IWB that matters.

I think this is what my problem with IWBs has been.  I keep thinking students need to be engaged physically with the IWB.  So Chris is right, there is a ceiling limiting the value of IWBs in my eyes.  But by framing the use of the IWB to be intellectually interactive, then I think we’re on to something.  I’ve been working under the assumption lately that the IWB can be a device allowing us to unleash the curiosity and creativity of students to solve problems and complete real world tasks.  By thinking about how IWBs can be intellectually interactive aligns nicely with the notion that if students are presented with a real problem, that they can work as a group to solve it using real world tools and technologies.  I’m talking about more than just the IWB.  I’m talking about many of the same things Chris mentions in his comment.  Connecting to the Internet, visualizing arguments and ideas, and most importantly, debating and discussing those ideas as a large group.  His last sentence is really what we should be focusing on: Not what we can do with the IWB, but what we can do because of what we have done with the IWB.

While I may be in my infancy with this new perception of IWBs, I think there is great potential with these devices.  The real potential comes, however, when you have an effective educator who can facilitate this type of learning environment.  I think I can firmly consider this to be what Dr. Zeitz calls a technology-rich learning environment.  Getting us there is the challenge ahead, and I’m ready!

#iPad app of the week: Polycom RealPresence Mobile

It’s been a while since I’ve done an iPad app of the week, so I thought it would be prudent to catch up with a doesy!  This week I’m all about the Polycom RealPresence Mobile app for the iPad.  At work we are deploying Polycom HDX video conferencing units in five rural school districts and this app is going to complement that deployment very nicely.  But thinking big picture, if you are a teacher who is looking to connect with other teachers and their students whom are physically distant from yourself, then this app might be just what you need.

You may be asking yourself why you would want to use a Polycom app over say Facetime or the Skype app.  Well, it might very well be that you don’t want to use this over those, but this app does provide a couple extras that might make it all the more useful.  First, this app allows you to video conference at a low bandwidth rates, which means even if you are in a school that has very, very slow Internet, you can still bring in others using your Internet connection.  Beyond that, you don’t need any kind of account to start using the app.  You can give the person you are trying to video conference with your IP (the app will tell you what this is) and presto, you’re video conferencing!  Lastly, the app is very simple.  There isn’t much to it other than a keypad to dial the IP address you want to call.

This app works with any “standards based” video conferencing device, which means you can call both other iPads as well as any other fancy standards based device, like the Polycom HDX 7000.  This expands your pool of potential experts and other educators/students you and your students can learn from.  The app is free and is in the grey zone between content creation and content consumption.  You can easily argue consumption since it is a video conference, but you can also argue creation since the app can lead you to create amazing deliverables.  So, you choose what you want to call it.  I’ll call it exciting and a great resource!

I don’t have time to take original pictures today, but you can see some stock pictures here.  Enjoy!