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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#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.

iPad Literacy

Paper Weight iPad

A colleague of mine emailed me a link to this article and I thought it was very interesting in the approach the author took when developing knowledge about the iPad.  The author clearly articulates the frustration many have with the iPad as not being a computer, making it difficult for many people to find a meaningful use for the device.  She reference iPad Fluency and Literacy in her discussion, which makes a lot of sense given the high paced, multi-literacy world we live.  Traditionally, literacy was pretty straightforward and only meant one thing.  Now, literacy is very dynamic with multiple meanings depending on the context it is used.

Here is a link to the article.  It’s a great read with ten useful apps that may assist you as you develop your iPad Literacy.  Enjoy!

I wanted to share with you an article about becoming fluent on the iPad.  It seems as we as a society become more advanced in a variety of ways, new literacies are created that require us to re-think how we interact within the world we live.  The iPad, to an extent, has done this as well.  Many people, including myself at one point, found the concept of the iPad difficult to comprehend.  It’s not a laptop and not a phone, so what does it do?  This article does a great job of explaining how an iPad can function as a meaningful TOOL rather than as simply a toy or paper weight.  This article also has a list of apps that may help you develop an iPad literacy.  If you see an app you like, download it.  If the app costs money, let us know and we will pay for it out of TQP.

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.

Staying organized

I’m like a lot of people, who like to be organized, but don’t always like getting organized.  It seems like a lot of work and a bit of a hassle, but it is really nice when I’m done.  I always like being able to clearly see what I’m doing and how I can get things accomplished.  I’ve tried a variety of things to get organized, but I tend to have a problem with follow through.  I like making lists, but I often can’t find a way to keep all my lists organized and sometimes I end up with lists of lists, which really shows how poor my organization tends to be.  Lately I have been looking for some new ways to keep things in order, trying both high tech and low tech tools.

What has been key as I have worked to get organized over the past few years, is having access anytime, anywhere.  I am a mobile person.  I’m usually out working with others or in meetings where I don’t have access to a computer.  I’ve tried planners, but I’m sick of buying them and not using them.  So I have to have a mobile solution and a clear process.

The first thing I did was start using a calendar.  I have two calendars I use, GCal and my work Oracle calendar.  I am not the biggest fan of using both, but I have to since Oracle doesn’t have an app for my phone.  It suffices to say that whatever is on one, goes on the other.  For this conversation I’m going to focus only on GCal, because that is what keeps me organized.  What I like about GCal is that I can use it on a variety of platforms.  For example, if I’m in a meeting and we want to schedule a follow-up, I can pull out my phone and see when I have free time to meet.  I could also hop on my computer and open iCal or open up a Web browser and log into the calendar that way.  So, no matter where I am, I can tell people when I have free time.  As I have adjusted to a working environment that has required more meetings, I’ve noticed that most people don’t have access to their calendar, which typically requires a number of emails after the meeting has ended to determine when we can meet again.  Needless to say this is frustrating beyond belief, but I am learning to adapt. As we become more of a mobile society, which I think we are everyday, I think this is something many people are going to need to take an honest look at.  How are you managing your time if you don’t have access to your calendar in meetings or when we are on the road?

I think it is also important to say that I use my calendar as a quasi to do list as well.  If I know something is coming up that needs my attention, I put it on my calendar.  This way in the morning while I’m getting ready I can see what’s coming up and can start to plan my day before I even leave the house.  It’s important to point out that if something doesn’t get put on my calendar, I don’t do it.  I’m not trying to ignore work that needs to be done, but if someone thinks something is truly important and needs my attention, then I think they have a responsibility to add it to my calendar or talk to me so I can add it myself.  Too often someone says something that needs to be addressed, but fail to delegate the said something.  I show initiative all the time and I consider myself a leader, but I’m also a follower.  I follow the lead of my instructors, mentors, supervisors, wife, etc.  There is always someone at the top and I’m not always it.  This is why when I’m in leadership roles I am direct and to the point so there isn’t any ambiguity.  I simply request the same in return.

The next area I needed some help with was getting my notes organized.  I take a lot of notes.  Sometimes in meetings, talking with others, when I’m reviewing software, hardware, etc., and sometimes when I’m working on abstract ideas in my office either by myself or as part of a team.  Depending on the task, I have a pretty straight forward process.  I first document whatever it is I want to remember.  I do this either by writing it down on paper or a white board, or by taking a picture of it on my phone.  Either way, they both end up in Evernote.  I wish I was one of those people who take notes on a computer, but I tend to fall behind or get distracted.  It’s not because I’m a slow typer.  Instead I think it is more of a convenience problem.  Typing on the computer isn’t really all that convenient to do sometimes and I’m awful at typing on my phone (fat fingers).  So in the end, I go for the legal pad or the small notebook because I can write down my thought and move on without much thought.  Then later, I take a few minutes to type the notes into Evernote and reflect on it to see if there is anything I need to add.  The best part of Evernote is that I can upload any media type and can tag each of my notes.

This was a bit of a random post and related less to education than to just making sense of my day.  Hopefully my ideas will get you thinking about how you stay organized and maybe I will make a difference by inspiring you to try something different.  You can help me become more organized by giving me feedback.  Am I missing something?  Are you doing something different?  Let my know my leaving a comment below.

23 More Google Apps

It seems like it has been a while since I have posted an update, but with the holiday, I’m not surprised.  One thing I found while on vacation was that Google has made 23 more apps available for Google Apps users.  This has been a long time coming and I’m excited that schools finally have the opportunity to begin using more of these tools in their classrooms.  Here are a couple of the apps that are new that I’m excited about:

Blogger: For those who don’t know, blogger is a Google’s blogging platform and is quite simple for teachers and students to begin blogging and sharing their ideas with the rest of the world.  I know many teachers that have been frustrated in the past with the lack of access to this app.  However, now teachers can begin having their students complete blogging activities in their courses and help students develop a reflective voice that is necessary for life long learning.

Reader: Central to my PLN is my Google Reader page.  I follow a number of blogs from educational techology, to politics, to design, to weird and wacky news.  I have found that through the use of Google Reader that I have become more informed with what is happening in my field as well as staying abreast of what’s happening in the rest of the world.  Living in a rural state it is easy to become isolated with the lack of different ideas coming at you everyday.  Through the use of Google Reader I have been able to have my beliefs challenged, which has made me a better educator and person.

Picasa Web Albums: Picasa has become one of the ways I share pictures with family, friends, and co-workers, not to mention it is the place that I use to upload images to use on Web sites as slideshows.  This may be a simple app, but it does open the doors for increased multimedia applications in the classroom, whether it be through an annotated slideshow that tells a story or simply a way to share pictures of a class field trip.

Having access to additional google apps has made teaching more flexible.  Teachers now have more resources in their arsenal that are now easier to use since students don’t need to have an additional email account to access certain apps.  Not to mention the fact that IT admins now have greater control over these sites, so if a student violates an AUP, they can now restrict access to the apps, as well as follow other compliance policies.  This is a very exciting time and I can’t wait to see how teachers in all areas integrate some of these apps into their instruction.

ePortfolio follow-up

portfolios

I thought I would post a follow-up to my last post about eportfolios, which focused more on what I thought about ePortfolios as a medium for showing what we know and how I think they can best be done.  In the world we live in today, we need to consider the resources we draw upon to teach our students.  With very little effort, and maybe just a bit of thought, most teachers can find a media rich resource to use in class.  But how do we document the effective use of such rich resources if we are completing paper based portfolios?

The easiest way is to ditch the paper and go with an electronic portfolio or ePortfolio.  ePortfolios can take many forms, from non-linear PowerPoints to simple Web pages to full fledge Web 2.0 wikis, blogs, or even social networks.  The main thing to keep in mind is that the person creating the ePortfolio chooses the platform that works best for them, not their administrator or next door teacher.  Finding the right platform can be a little overwhelming, but here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Pick a platform that represents your work the best.
  • Pick a platform that doesn’t require a significant time commitment to learn the basics of “how” to use the software.  Some time investment will be required, but it shouldn’t be so much that you don’t have time for anything else.
  • Think about the type of media you will be using.  If you have video, but no way to embed said video you might want to find a different platform.
  • If you don’t know what platform will work for you, ask for help.  Talk to your administrator, the teachers in your hallway, or even ask for help on Twitter or Facebook.  Many people have been where you are and can help show you the way out.

What I like about ePortfolios, and really paper portfolios, is how easy it is to reflect on the “artifact.”  In most Web 2.0 platforms we have today, there are comment features for nearly everything associated with the software being used.  Whether it be a blog, wiki, podcast, etc., there is almost always some way to make a comment.  This easy access allows us to not only reflect on what we are doing and teaching, but it also allows others to comment on our work and provide feedback.  The power is in the feedback, not the process.  We are often blinded when we look at our own work, so it helps when someone we trust or even someone we haven’t built a trust with, takes a look at our work.

While this post focused more on teachers and ePortfolios, I think they are a great idea for students as well.  If I were teaching a class, I would have all students create an ePortfolio where they could submit their assignments for the course.  I would also have them share the URLs for the ePortfolios with other students in the class, and even other students, teachers, or experts in the state, nation, and world.  Give students the means and platform to speak from and to receive feedback from the rest of the world.  While you may be a very accomplished and educated teacher, receiving feedback from others may make more of an impact on your students’ education than you ever can.  And that’s okay.

Here are some platform ideas for creating ePortfolios.  Note: this is not a how-to perse or an exhaustive list, but rather a list of possibilities.

  • Blog
  • Wiki
  • Web Page
  • Social Networking site: Ning, Facebook Page
  • Podcasts
  • PowerPoint
  • Moodle
  • BlackBoard