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.

Do we want our curriculum to become “Institutionalized”?

I read something a few minutes ago that said something to the effect that when we begin using a new curriculum, teachers want to get to the point where they have institutionalized the process, so that it becomes a routine. My question is, do we really want to get to the point where our curriculum becomes institutionalized? Doesn’t that admit that we want to routinize the what and how of our courses so that nothing unexpected happens?

After reading and spending some time thinking about it, this is at the root of many of our struggles in education and making “change” (whatever that is by the way) happen. We want routine. We want the expected. It’s comfortable, reassuring. But it’s also damaging considering how quickly the world is changing. Content continues to expand at a more rapid rate everyday. Students are more diverse and thus have differing needs. And society in general is demanding different knowledge and skills, most of which we haven’t, as an education system, been able address adequately.

We need the unexpected, even though it’s messy and chaotic. That’s how the world works. Nothing of any real value comes in nice little packages.

Leadership Day 2012: Don’t Adopt Technology on a Whim!

My message for this year’s leadership day is going to be simple: Stop making decisions to adopt technology on a whim! You are damaging your school every time you decide to adopt a new technology initiative, because your faculty, staff, and students cannot be expected to change every time you attend a conference and come back with the latest flyer from the vendor hall. Gather a team that represents all stakeholders in the school and work together to create a vision that has student needs at heart.*  Once you have that vision, bring every resource the school has into making it happen, including technology.

I may seem a little harsh, but I have become frustrated with both administrators and teachers, who lack the common vision for where they need to be and how they are going to get there. When this happens, numerous initiatives are started and the disconnect is so great that it is difficult from an organizational standpoint to support everything everyone is doing. The cliché, a mile wide and an inch deep, is very reflective of where many schools find themselves. Everyone has their vision for what needs to happen, but since many of these visions compete against each other, no one can do them well, not to mention enact meaningful change.

If you find yourself in any leadership position, I urge you to stop and take a step back. Gather key stakeholders that represent your school community and take a deep breath and consider where you want to go. What’s important? What skills do your students need to leave with as they enter college or the workforce? What is the light at the end of the tunnel that each student needs to reach when they leave? Define what that is, and then begin talking about how you can get there. How will you use every resource the school can leverage, including technology resources and funding, to make that vision happen? Most important, how are you going to  build capacity within those around you? Figure out what it is that you need do and do it extremely well. This isn’t going to be easy, but it has to be done.

I want to conclude by saying that once you have made your plans and it comes time for implementation, be sure to encourage a culture where change is embraced. Any meaningful change you implement is likely going to be different from what has been done in the past. Teachers are going to need support and lots of it. If a major technology initiative is being implemented to support the vision, be sure to support a culture where teachers and administrators are willing to work with each other and willing to fail together. Perfection isn’t achieved on the first run, so be willing to re-invent your plans, your techniques, and most important, yourself. The road is going to be bumpy and mistakes are going to be made. Lead by example and take risks that could end in failure,  learning from your mistakes. Be willing to move on to find the right solution.  And above all, be true to your vision and stick it out. Don’t let the static of vendor halls and technological novelties interfere with your vision. Don’t adopt a technological innovation on a whim.

 

*Yes I know schools have these teams, but I often question their effectiveness. How much is what these teams accomplish for show and how much is for real change? Is the culture present within these teams to allow for failure without blame? Is this team really helping your school move forward? If not, maybe it’s time for a change? Certainly not all schools are like this, but I’m sure too many are.

Make time for the important things…

I’ve been busy lately.  If you come here often, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t done much writing this month.  In fact, this is only my second post this month, but I’ve been busy and writing on my blog hasn’t been the most pressing thing lately.  I mean, c’mon, I have two small children, a busy job, and I’m a doc student!  You’re probably thinking, “Stop complaining, everybody’s busy, suck it up!”  We are all busy in our own ways and as I’ve said before, when you add something to your daily routine, you have to give something up.  Essentially, you make time for the things that are important to YOU!

This is essentially what I’ve done for my doc classes.  I have a professional goal that I want to achieve and I’ve committed to waking up early to do my readings and other homework for my courses.  This may seem like a small commitment for many of you, but for me 5am would have been out of the question a few years ago.  Now, let’s apply this to the classroom.

We are all busy and have only so much time in the day to devote to our courses.  However, sometimes, a new innovation comes along that we are really interested in and want to pursue.  But where do we find the time?  The truth is we prioritize what’s important and make the time.  Just like I’m giving up sleep, you too may have to give up something you really like or want to do.  It’s part of change and part of becoming a better teacher.  You may not want to do it, but if the innovation is something you really believe in and something you think will help you be more effective or improve student achievement, then you make the difficult decision to make the time where you can.  Because in the end, it’s not about you, it’s about what’s best for your students.

As an aside, if any of you know of a good way to stay awake that doesn’t include drinking coffee, PLEASE leave a comment!!!

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?

Barriers

I’ve been thinking about barriers a lot lately.  It seems like whenever a new innovation rises to the top, there are a number of barriers we need to overcome before we can take advantage of the innovation.  I’m not sure who said this, but someone once said that “Roadblocks are there to make you show how badly you want something.” I think I agree with this statement mostly, and often find myself trying to overcome barriers.  As a person who typically pushes change, regardless of the form it takes, I’ve had some experiences overcoming barriers and thought I’d share my experiences.

  • The first thing I typically do is explain clearly the innovation.  Most people don’t like change because it’s easier to keep doing what they’re already doing, even if there are potential benefits in changing.
  • Next I listen to my audience.  People being targeted for change need to have time to process the innovation and they will naturally have questions.  This also gives me the opportunity to address any misconceptions the audience may have about the innovation.
  • As questions come up, I try to find examples of the innovation.  If I can’t find an example, I do my best to create an example of my own.  Allowing the audience to see the innovation can help them develop a better conceptual understanding of the innovation and will remove some barriers.
  • At about this time, I usually take time to find the people in the school who might be most interested in the innovation and target them for early adoption.  This again expands the opportunity for others to see the innovation while allowing some to actually try the innovation.  This is a crucial time in the adoption process since the early adopters are going to develop a favorable or unfavorable opinion about the innovation.  Therefore I do my best to make sure these early adopters are supported in whatever way they need.
  • At this point, I usually am limited to supporting those adopting the innovation and trying to persuade other would be adopters.  The best path to success here is by word of mouth of those who are the pulse or opinion leaders of the school.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of things you can do to overcome barriers to implement change, but these are the common steps I take.  Frustration is often the biggest barrier to change and I find that if there is a process to follow, frustration and other barriers can be minimized.  If you’d like to learn more about change and how to make it happen, check out Diffusions of Innovations.  It’s a bit of a read, but it does give a good perspective on how to approach change.  If you’re the Wikipedia type, here’s the Diffusions of Innovations page.