In 1974, a young boy named Harold Whittles is about to experience his world in a new and astounding way. For the first five years of his life preceding this moment, Harold has not heard the sounds around him as he has been deaf since birth. This is about to change as technological advances have led to Harold’s meeting with a doctor to be fitted with a hearing aid.
The remarkable picture below captured the moment when Harold heard for the first time and was transported from a world of silence to one filled with seemingly countless different sounds emanating around him. Harold’s eyes are wide with astonishment and wonder.
It is this sense of wonder, conveyed in an emotional and extraordinary manner through Jack Bradley’s photo, that serves as a reminder of our role to nurture the natural curiosity in our students and their exploration to understand the world around them. Our students also remind us each day that we adults should never lose a child’s sense of awe and wonder.
As we prepare for our annual community Thanksgiving celebration, I was drawn back to Harold’s story and the importance of both gratitude and wonder. In the spirit of giving thanks, I would like to convey my deep levels of gratitude to be a member of a community dedicated to ensuring a learning environment that regularly leaves students and adults in a state of wonderment.
P.S. Thank you to our talented science teacher, Stephen Boyd, for introducing me to Harold’s story.
One of the many things I appreciate and admire about Switzerland is the collective commitment to civic responsibility. The pragmatic Swiss approach to the establishment of community norms in combination with both an individual and societal belief in supporting and adhering to these agreements have resulted in a country that runs incredibly well.
ISZL‘s commitment to these ideals was evident during last week’s road safety training. Our Kindergarten students had the opportunity to learn from a local police officer about traffic rules and, more precisely, how to navigate pedestrian crossings. The fact that young children in Switzerland take public transportation and make their way to school unaccompanied by an adult does not happen by accident. The effectiveness with which the local police partner with schools to educate young children about their civic responsibilities is clearly by design.
The police officer who met with our students demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism and impressive pedagogical skills. The traffic safety lesson, conducted in partnership with ISZL’s teachers, involved differentiated and personalised instruction, focused on building relationships, and provided students with an opportunity to develop their German language skill
The resulting demonstration of learning involved each student individually stopping traffic with a hand wave, looking both ways to ensure their safety, and then crossing the street at the designated crosswalk. Of course, the students were also encouraged to give a wave of thanks as they passed in front of the cars. For those students who were initially reluctant to cross the road, the police officer and teachers gently helped them to develop the understanding, skills, and confidence needed. It was exemplary teaching at every level!
ISZL’s vision is to help every student turn learning into action, creating opportunities for students to stretch themselves further and achieve more than they believe possible. The realisation of this vision will look different at every level of the school. At the Kindergarten level, our students were able to turn their learning into something they may not have thought possible – to cross a busy street alone.
Thank you to ISZL’s teachers and the Zuger Polizei for their important work to ensure our students continue to learn about their civic responsibilities and turn their learning into responsible action.
The Future of Education and Skills 2030, published by the OECD, identifies three “transformative competencies” that students need to contribute to and thrive in our world. The first competency is about creating new value and our commitment to innovate and “think outside the box” to shape better lives. This focus integrates a sense of purpose with critical thinking and creativity. The second competency considers our ability to be comfortable with complexity and ambiguity in an interdependent world, while also developing a high degree of empathy and respect. The third competency refers to the commitment to take responsibility for our actions as our students are guided by a strong moral compass that considers personal, ethical, and societal goals.
There is certainly alignment when considering ISZL’s vision in the context of the OECD’s aspirational goals. Our vision at ISZL is to help every student turn their learning into action – an approach that is designed to support every student in realising how much they’re capable of and to go on to make the most of who they are. In support of both ISZL and the OECD’s vision for learning are our school’s Personal Development Week (PDW) experiences that offer students exceptional learning environments and meaningful and relevant growth opportunities.
During last week’s PDW experiences, more than 1,000 of our students were engaged in experiential learning opportunities ranging from locations in Zug and Switzerland to Europe, and around the world, including destinations such as Iceland, Ghana, and the Himalayas, among others Throughout the week, our students were actively developing the OECD’s three transformative competencies in meaningful and active ways. The long-term impact of the PDW trips was highlighted at a recent ISZL alumni barbecue when several former students shared how the PDW experience was transformative to their learning experience and a highlight of their time at ISZL.
One of ISZL’s longstanding PDW trips is related to our school’s involvement with the NAG program in Nepal, which is a charity in Kathmandu that provides critical and essential support for young children. To advance this important work, ISZL will be holding its annual NAG Charity Run later this month to raise awareness and financial support. All community members are encouraged to join this special event.
A heartfelt thank you to all of the teachers and staff members who coordinate and lead these unique learning experiences, in addition to travelling and supporting our students during the trips. Without the dedication and commitment of teachers and staff, these trips would not be possible.
“Never odd or even.” Why not start a blog post celebrating the beauty and oddities of language with an intriguingly perplexing phrase that is also a palindrome – a word or a sentence that reads the same backwards? First, my apologies in advance to anyone who suffers from a fear of palindromes, or what the Germans refer to as “Eibohphobie”, which is, in a deeply ironic twist, a palindrome itself! Okay, now on to what is already looking to be a higgledy-piggledy blog post originally designed to commemorate the September 26th European Day of Languages.
A day to celebrate language represents a fabulous or, borrowing from Mary Poppins, a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious opportunity. There are currently between 6,000 and 7,000 languages spoken among approximately 7 billion people. There are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe, representing about only 3% of the world’s total. Most of the world’s languages are spoken in Asia and Africa and at least half of the world’s population are bilingual or plurilingual.
The evolution of so many languages over the centuries has resulted in words that are especially descriptive and specific. For example, the Slovak word, prezvoniť, means to call someone’s mobile from your own without the other person picking up with the intention of leaving your number in their phone’s memory. The Albanian word, vetullhen, refers to an eyebrow arched like the crescent moon. The Dutch word, broodje-aap, refers to an awful, often invented story that is told as being true, thus becoming a myth. The Irish use the verb plubairnigh to describe the distinctive thick, bubbling sound that porridge makes when boiling. The Germans use the word, Zechpreller to describe the person who leaves without paying the bill. And, perhaps my favourite, the Finnish use the word poronkusema to describe the distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without a comfort break (about 5 kilometres if you were wondering).
With the risk you may think this is all poppycock or, worse still, tarradiddle, let’s take a look at some tongue twisters that challenge our language skills.
English speakers may recall reciting this children’s song: She sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure. So, if she sells seashells on the seashore, then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
How about this French tongue twister? Combien de sous sont ces saucissons-ci? Ces saucissons-ci sont six sous (How much are these sausages here? These sausages here are six cents).
Or, try this German tongue twister: Zwei schwarze schleimige Schlangen sitzen zwischen zwei spitzen Steinen und zischen (Two black slimy snakes sit between two pointed stones and hiss).
A Polish variation: Król Karol kupił Królowej Karolinie korale koloru koralowego (King Karl bought Queen Caroline coral-coloured bead).
And, finally, a Swedish tongue twister: Far, Får får får? Nej, inte får får får, får får lamm (Father, do sheep have sheep? No, sheep don’t have sheep, sheep have lambs).
Idioms also represent a deeply interesting aspect of language, usually highlighting cultural, historical, and traditional themes. By way of an example of how an idiom can span languages, all of the following idiomatic expressions are similar to “The apple does not fall far from the tree”:
Æblet falder ikke langt fra stammen. (Danish)
Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm. (German)
Nem esik messze az alma a fájától. (Hungarian)
Obuolys nuo obels netoli rieda. (Lithuanian)
Niedaleko pada jabłko od jabłoni. (Polish)
Jabolko ne pade daleč od drevesa. (Slovenian)
Äpplet faller inte långt från trädet. (Swedish)
Did you know that there is a word in the English language that describes the fear some people suffer from when they come across long words? The word for this phobia is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. While it is in no way my intention to diminish the suffering anyone with this phobia experiences, it is hard to ignore the irony here given the length of this word! So, if you are a hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic, please skip this next section as it will highlight some of the longest words found in languages.
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism (English word for the love of long words; 33 letters)
ακτινοχρυσοφαιδροβροντολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος (Greek word meaning to be dressed in golden-shining, thundering and incandescent clothes; 47 letters)
Kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamheden (Dutch word related to the preparation activities for a children’s carnival procession; 48 letters)
Speciallægepraksisplanlægningsstabiliseringsperiode (Danish word for the period when a specialist doctor’s planning of the practice is stabilized; 52 letters)
Lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas (Finnish word for a technical warrant officer trainee specialized in aircraft jet engines; 61 letters)
Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung (German word for a regulation about competences; 67 letters)
Of a particularly impressive note, the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes coined the following 183 lettered word meaning a dish compounded of all kinds of dainties, fish, fowl and sauces:
While these are fascinating and interesting language facts to consider, I should move beyond what some would consider my lollygagging and return to the motivation for this post – the celebration of language. While I am currently living in Europe and the European Day of Languages is certainly of great importance to the region, I would also like to extend the celebration to all languages and areas of the world when highlighting how important language is to our cultural heritage, to our understanding of ourselves and others, and to our ability to see and understand the world in different and new ways.
The International School of Zug and Luzern (ISZL) is fortunate to have Lorna Caputo as a member of its team serving as a language specialist and overseeing, among her other duties, 16 after-school language programs. In her blog, Exploring Multilingualism, Lorna highlights the importance of all languages:
It is the harmonious coexistence of languages that enables people to develop intercultural understanding, appreciate cultural diversity and work together better. Multilingualism is what unites many different regions within countries and is at the core of many national identities. Even in multicultural cities, you can observe local dialects and languages coexisting with other international languages. It is helpful to understand how schools can often be located within this linguistic intersectionality, and how schools prepare their students to navigate their familial, local, national and global linguistic landscapes.
Lorna will also be quick to discuss the research supporting the advantages associated with children learning multiple languages at a young age, which features an important aspect of her work with ISZL’s learning program.
In a note to community members this week, Lorna asked us to build on our recent inclusion work (see Inclusion & Community) and translate the phrase, “We are all ISZL” into their native language. Here are some of the wonderful responses:
We are all ISZL (English)
Мы все ISZL (Russian)
Me ollaan kaikki ISZL (Finnish)
Vi är alla ISZL ( Swedish )
ISZL 我們是一家人 (Mandarin)
Siamo tutti ISZL (Italian)
Hepimiz ISZL’iz (Turkish)
Wir sind alle ISZL (German)
Nous sommes tous ISZL (French)
Todos somos ISZL (Spanish)
Tots som ISZL (Catalan)
Somos todos ISZL (Portuguese)
Wij zijn allemaal ISZL (Dutch)
Mi mind ISZL vagyunk (Hungarian)
Είμαστε όλοι ISZL (Greek)
Mi smo svi ISZL (Serbian)
Vi er alle ISZL (Danish)
In closing, I hope you didn’t find this post to be too higgledy-piggledy, but rather a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious experience! While my hope has been to highlight some of the interesting and unusual aspects of language, there is always the shadow of kakorrhaphiophobia, or the fear of failure, associated with this quixotic endeavour. There is a lurking feeling that perhaps I should have been more pauciloquent and that this text had been less argle-bargle in style, avoided goggledygook, and did not generate any bobsy-die. The last thing I want to do is to leave you bumfuzzled, frustrate you with the confusing “never odd or even” palindrome, or to diminish your status as a deipnosophist. Finally, I hope you don’t see me as a blatherskite, a hoddy-noddy, or a floccinaucinihilipilificator at heart!
Okay, this is probably enough tomfoolery, twaddle, and balderdash for today!
In the celebration and appreciation of all languages!
Argle-bargle: copious but meaningless talk or writing
Balderdash: senseless talk or writing
Blatherskite: a person who talks at great length without making much sense
Bobsy-die: a great deal of fuss or trouble
Bumfuzzled: to be confused
Deipnosophist: a person skilled in table talk
Floccinaucinihilipilificator: the action or habit of estimating something as worthless
Goggledygook: language that is meaningless
Higgledy-piggledy: in confusion or disorder
Hoddy-noddy: a foolish person
Kakorrhaphiophobia: an irrational fear of failure
Lollygagging: to spend time aimlessly
Pauciloquent: using few words in speech or conversation
Quixotic: extremely idealistic; unrealistic and impractical
Tarradiddle: pretentious nonsense
Tomfoolery: foolish or silly behaviour
Reference: The majority of the sources for this article are from the following website: https://edl.ecml.at/(Take their language challenge: QUIZ)
As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other?
This is the question clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle asks in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, which is based on 30 years of her work studying the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. While she is not anti-technology, Turkle presents a compelling case that our current communication revolution is degrading the quality of human relationships.
Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and workplaces, Turkle argues that many of us, “would prefer to send an electronic message or mail than commit to a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call” (Turkle, 2015, p.3). Her concern is the cost associated with this new type of connection and how technology allows us to find ways around conversation. She argues that “face-to-face conversation is the most human – and humanizing – thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy” (Turkle, 2015, p.3).
Reclaiming Conversation argues that, while technology presents us with seemingly endless possibilities to improve our lives, it also allows us to hide from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other. And, it is this loss of connection and conversation that should give us pause and cause for concern. In having fewer meaningful conversations on a regular basis, we are losing skills such as the ability to focus deeply, reflect, read emotions, and empathise with others, all of which are needed to actually engage in meaningful conversations.
Turkle further argues that the ability to have meaningful conversations also depends on our engagement with solitude and self-reflection. If we are always connected, then we may see loneliness as a problem that technology needs to solve and that being connected is going to make us less lonely. However, Turkle cautions that it is actually the reverse: “If we are unable to be alone, we will be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely” (Turkle, 2015, p.23). Research in this area indicates that being comfortable with solitude and, correspondingly, our vulnerabilities is central to happiness, creativity, and productivity.
Building on these considerations and thinking about Turkle’s writing in the context of ISZL, the book presents several compelling arguments for any school and community to consider, particularly given our collective work to support student learning and development. On a personal note, the book challenged me in several ways in terms of my own relationship with technology and my practices as a father, husband, educator, and community member. By way of an example, the following passage from the book has led me to further consider the implications of the presence of a cell phone during conversations:
“What phones do to in-person conversation is a problem. Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on the table (even a phone turned off) changes what people talk about. If we think we might be interrupted, we keep conversations light, on topics of little controversy or consequence. And conversations with phones on the landscape block empathic connection. If two people are speaking and there is a phone on a nearby desk, each feels less connected to the other than when there is no phone present. Even a silent phone disconnects us ” (Turkle, 2015, p.20).
A central question emerged during the reading of this book: Are we unintentionally inhibiting our students’ development in terms of the skills and tools that are crucial to friendship, love, happiness, work, creativity, and sense of worth? Like anything that is of deep significance, there is no simple response to this question as we continue to understand the benefits and impacts technology is having and will have on our lives.
Turkle believes that our regular connection to be online and “elsewhere” will likely lead to the erosion of the essential human qualities of empathy, generativity, and the mentoring of our young. If this is true, then there are obvious and compelling reasons for our school community to further our reflections, conversations, and actions associated with this challenge. These thoughts may perhaps be best summed up by Cameron, a student Turkle interviewed, when he shared what he sees around him: “Our texts are fine. It’s what texting does to our conversations when we are together, that’s the problem” (Turkle, 2015, p.21).
Turkle, S. (2015). Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Kindle Edition. Penguin Press.
Steve Jobs’ adopted father taught him the importance of building the back of wooden cabinets with as much care and attention as the front. This lesson on detail and care for the whole product stuck with Jobs throughout his career.
On the High Tech High (USA) web site, Dr. Kaleb Rashad states, “Young people long to do substantive, intellectual and beautiful work that contributes to making this world more just, verdant, biodiverse, healthier, and harmonious.”
So, how have changes in quality and process in the outside world impacted the learning environments we are creating 19 years into 21st century learning? Uber anyone?
Maker spaces, STEAM and Design, Digital Audio Workstations, Netflix original films, etc. etc. It’s amazing how these innovations have impacted the creation of products. A decade ago Netflix was a DVD rental service. Now it’s producing Academy Award nominated films. Instead of live performers, people will pay to stand for hours to watch a DJ or watch gamers video themselves playing video games as they talk about random parts of their day. Now that anyone can create products, what do we need process for? That’s what old people do.
So, it’s official. Our generation of teachers have officially become old. We ramble on about the lessons of history, doing math without a calculator, writing with a pencil, and mixing potions of chemicals for something that seems to have little meaning other than a 6 on the summative.
A frustrated music teacher lamented to me last week that her students could compose on the computer without any training and create really sophisticated pieces with hardly any training and 1/10th of the equipment she had to labor over in grad school. An electronics teacher complained to me that his students were tired of making ‘junk’ and frustrated over the substandard results that looked like gizmos their grandparents grew up with. A film teacher shrugged his shoulders and said, “These kids have no concept of what it means to create a real film. They think they just slap together some random YouTube clip and it’s quality.
We’ve become so fixated on process and (I could be wrong) our young people on product that I fear we’re at risk of missing an opportunity. For some reason, achievement has become passé, vulgar, one dimensional. We’re de-emphasizing grades and instead focusing on feedback, standards and criteria. Process. Of course, I get the logic, but kids want to hold something up and say, “I did this and it’s beautiful and it didn’t take six months of listening to a teacher to create.”
We could be experiencing a crisis of process. After all, if someone with absolutely no political experience can get elected President of the United States, can’t anyone?
So, the old people have some things right. It is important to build the back of the cabinet as well as the front for many reasons. There’s something necessary to the quality of things unseen that brings thought, deliberation and planning to making a film.
But we can’t just take the trophies and grades away and make everything about the journey.
When our students came back from the Knowledge Bowl and Speech and Debate competitions, there were actual winners and losers. They competed. They were ranked. Some won. Some lost. It’s so 20th century but the clarity of what it took to win and lose brought the students closer together as a team than they’d ever imagined, and it felt good.
A very successful businessman visited our school a few weeks ago and a student asked him a fascinating question. She said, “How do you think process compares to the outcome?” He smiled and thanked her. After a moment of reflection, he looked up and said, “I used to think process was important and of course in many ways I still do. But I was once at a big meeting with a very successful company and the CFO raised the point of process being a serious issue and proposing to change structures to improve it. The CEO asked if the company was doing well to which the CFO responded, “Yes, very,” to which the CEO concluded. “Then don’t change anything.”
It was a good dichotomy for the students to hear someone apply some cold reality to their process oriented days. I don’t think his message was just get good grades and the rest doesn’t matter. But rather he was bringing clarity to the importance of outcome and performance. You can have all the process around film-making you want, but if someone puts together a fantastic video in 30 minutes that goes viral, which is better?
So, as the pendulum continues to swing between process and product, design and outcomes, grades and feedback, performance and practice, I have to remind myself that in order for people to do ‘substantive, important and beautiful work’ they have to see what that product looks like from time to time, regardless of what path it took to get there.
Questions are the important thing, answers are less important. Learning to ask a good question is the heart of intelligence. Learning the answer-well, answers are for students. Questions are for thinkers. ~Roger Schank
Elevators are interesting. I use elevators as a model on the first day of any programming class, interface design unit, or STEM class. I find it fascinating to have students stop and think about how everything works and how everything is designed.
I use elevators because they are a universal norm; a mode of transport every student is familiar with using. However, the best part about using elevators on the first day of class, is everyone thinks they know everything about them. As students deconstruct the elevator, they realize there is an entire world of creation they have never noticed.
The day after the initial class, students often tell me they are angry. They are angry because now they are studying every small detail when they use the elevator, it is not longer just a quick hassle free ride.
Recently I experienced two elevators in two very different hotels. The first hotel was a fairly standard US chain. The second hotel was on the upper end of the luxury scale in Asia. In both places, the elevators had horrible design flaws. I am certain that elevator number two was significantly more expensive to purchase. That fact did not negate the issues with user interface or reliability.
I began to wonder about the people who worked on designing these elevators, building them, and selling them to the hotels. These teams had to be worlds apart, yet, making the same mistakes. These teams obviously had very different and diverse backgrounds, yet, they ended-up in the same place with the same problems.
In a connected world this type of outcome should be fairly rare. It seems as if people should be able to study existing models, research back through history, physically explore and test systems that already exist, and easily interview people about their experiences. Yet, these team did not do that. I believe they worked in an insular fashion, and over complicated a traditional and reliable system.
Over Design and Over Development
Solutions are normally constructed with a series of processes all working together, and usually in some required order. There is a tendency for people to focus on a single link in the chain and the over develop that particular area. When this happens, the solutions and/or design weakens as a whole.
For example, assume someone is designing the security system in an elevator. The default process is to use a simple card swipe. Someone decides to make the product and solution more modern by removing the card swipe and switching to bio-metrics. This requires the use of fingerprints for everyone who is known to work in the building. The technology works, but many challenges start to appear:
Dust on the surface is tough to manage
The scanner is not adjustable, and not accessible to people who are in wheelchairs or on crutches
The fingerprint database has an additional cost due to backups and emergency power
A by-pass has to be installed for VIPs who may take the wrong elevator, thus allowing anonymous access
Updating the system is slow, and requires all security guards to have an additional 6 hours of training
Another consequence of over designing and over thinking is stagnation. Good ideas simply never get off the ground. The desire for perfection starts to consume the project, and eventually, the momentum fades. People will generally find a solution or work around for their problems, even if that means compromising in areas that should be held to a high standard.
When solving a problem or developing a new idea the best rule to follow is to look-up and look-out. Explore the world and the ideas of the past and present. Find the same idea, or similar idea, and ask questions. Get the story, including the anecdotes, because facts and function are rarely where the secrets live.
In a recent conversation with an International School of Zug and Luzern (ISZL) parent, he commented on how much he values ISZL’s approach to education and the school’s learning process. When pressed for specifics, he highlighted an appreciation of the achievements associated with academic success, such as impressive IB test scores, but, even more importantly, he values the focus on holistic development. He further elaborated by sharing how much he holds in high regard ISZL’s emphasis on social development, emotional intelligence, confidence levels, independent thinking, and communication skills, among others. I share these sentiments, both from my personal and professional perspectives but also based on the feedback I have received from staff, parents, and students during last semester’s transition interviews. One of ISZL’s greatest strengths is our teachers’ abilities to personalise learning in a manner that enables our students to realise their potentials in individual and unique ways.
This approach to teaching and learning also corresponds with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) recent report on The Future of Education and Skills 2030. The document is guided by a shared vision stating, “We are committed to helping every learner develop as a whole person, fulfil his or her potential and help shape a shared future built on the well-being of individuals, communities and the planet.” With a broad focus on global challenges that are economic, social, and environmental in nature (excuse the pun), the 2030 vision maps out an educational view that is framed by five distinct but related approaches.
The first frame is a belief in the need for broader education goals that encompass individual and collective well-being. The concept of well-being goes beyond material resources to include quality of life as defined by, for example, health, civic engagement, social connections, education, security, and life satisfaction.
The second frame is related to learner agency and the ability of our students to navigate through a complex and uncertain world. This focus involves both the building of a solid academic foundation and an approach to personalised learning.
The third frame is the ability to apply a broad set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values. This focus is about students’ abilities to mobilise their learning to meet complex demands.
The fourth frame is about taking responsibility for our society and future, in addition to the corresponding and necessary student competencies. These competencies will require that students be innovative, committed, and aware with respect to creating new value, reconciling tensions and dilemmas, and taking responsibility.
The fifth frame is about the design principles needed to move toward an eco-system in which a students’ different competencies are inter-related in nature and application.
While the challenges for schools to adapt to this philosophical shift are not insignificant, it is encouraging to see a movement among schools to embrace these design principles. ISZL has made important progress in these areas, though the fifth frame is, perhaps, the most challenging as the inherent structures of schools, including our physical spaces, do not necessarily lend themselves well to the concept of inter-related, cross-curricular learning and the application of competencies in a holistic manner. As with any change, this is a process that takes time and commitment, which will also continue to build on past developments while furthering current initiatives and implementing future strategies.
Fortunately, the OECD provides a framework to guide learning programme development through concept, content, and topic design that includes a focus on student agency, rigour, coherence, alignment, transferability, and choice. This framework also relies on process design and the related importance of teacher agency in which teachers are empowered to use their professional knowledge, skills, and expertise to develop an authentic, inter-related, flexible, and engaging learning programme. It is these design principles that ISZL embraces as we continue our work to ensure our students are benefiting from the most relevant and meaningful learning programme possible.
I was speaking to a friend recently about an argument he had with a teacher. The teacher was adamant that if they could not use one particular app, their classes would come to a halt, and learning would immediately be suspended until further notice.
Obviously, I cannot think of a single application or subscription that is that critical to learning. I am not referring to a complete environment like Google Apps for Education. I am referring to people getting angry, and going into a panic, over a single application or service.
Schools and teachers need to be aware that being a fanboy or fangirl will not be rewarded. In fact, the odds are that being too connected to a particular solution will more than likely lead to a lack of resources and very real disappointment.
There are 43 services listed that have been cancelled, even though many were used by numerous people. Google Wave was hugely popular with schools, and then one day, Google closed it down with very little notice.
In 2017, the popular library service RefMe was bought by a competitor and shutdown. This service had a popular paid version, and customers still lost access to the product they wanted.
The fact is many of these companies are funded by venture capital. If they do not meet their required metrics, they lose their funding and are quickly shutdown or sold. Often when companies are sold, the services they provide are shutdown. The intellectual property and user data is more valuable than the actual application.
Where does all this leave a person who has built their entire practice around a single service or product? Desperate and angry.
A Basket of Solutions
A basket of currencies is an interesting model to reflect on when setting asset management policies. A basket of currencies helps set a value, so that if one currency happens to plummet in value, the value of the target currency is not impacted significantly.
Applying this to educational technology asset management, schools would:
Make a requirement that departments have a defined set of resources they are using
Complete a regular review of those resources
Develop a process to allow teachers to regularly propose and pilot new resources
The influx of a few new solutions will buffer the school against big changes made by products and services they are using. Thus, not allowing a single company’s decisions to shift the learning, purchasing, or culture of the school.
In addition, there must be an annual expectation that technology will change and training will happen. Having a culture where people expect stagnation is dangerous in a technology driven environment that is based on companies constantly cannibalizing one another.
Brands Do Not Care About Learning
I have been recommending Apple laptops for many years. However, after the recent round of Apple changes to their base laptops, I am no longer recommending Apple without a discussion about the current downside of the new designs; and a review of the briefly held negative status of the Macbook Pro published by Consumer Reports.
The truth is, there are many options now that are better for many types of schools and users. Apple changed. They changed to meet their market. They did not make decisions to improve learning at K-12 organizations. Apple chose to make more money.
This holds true for all the big players in educational technology. Their decisions are focused on growth and profit. They want to take as much of the market as possible. Sometimes that means creating innovative new features, and sometimes it means making a cheaper product to increase margins.
Hardware is normally purchased in cycles of 3-5 years. That means, every year 2 or year 4, a platform review should occur. The practice of always buying the same brand without a critical analysis of that brand is the equivalent of letting the brand dictate the options available for teachers and students.
Schools should make good choices and be able to adjust to the market. Teachers should be aware that change is always on the horizon, and using technology is an agnostic endeavor.
Buy into the school. Buy into the curriculum. Buy into people and ideas. Do not sellout to software, services, and nicely branded machines.
A very significant part of Educational Technology Leadership is devoted to professional development, new systems implementation, and the long term planning of support.
Every year as the semester starts-up, administrators around the world are planning for professional development (PD). There is pressure during those initial weeks to try and rapidly develop the faculty within new areas, to help everyone review all current requirements, and to re-train in areas of concern. Many of these areas rely highly, or solely, upon technology; technology is often the center of the professional development process.
Year after year, group after group, and plan after plan, results tend to be the same. There is never enough time to meet everyone’s agenda, teachers feel rushed, and confidence among many is low but silenced. So why do organizations follow this same pattern?
After many years of asking this question, and proposing options, the answers seem to come down to:
This is the only fair way to expose EVERYONE to EVERYTHING.
The goal is not mastery; the goal is introduction; mastery comes later.
Large groups working together help to create future support groups; the process is team building.
Support and resources for PD are easier to manager in mass; the first week or two of the new year shift support to critical needs.
Everyone is 100% and 100% is Wrong
The Pareto principle (80/20) is taught in economics, business, marketing, etc., because when tested, it tests true.
20% of users create 80% of the technology support tickets.
80/20 is often seen as a negative metric, when in fact, is a great opportunity to improve PD outcomes.
Following the 80/20 rule, any given PD item needs to be mastered by only 20% of the organization in order for the entire organization to benefit.
As an example, an international school wanting to implement a new system like Google Apps for Education only needs to formally train 20% of the end-users in each user group (Administrators, Teachers, Students, etc.). This 20% can then work with the remaining 80% to achieve the desired results; results which are often very niche and vary by division and department.
In another case, consider a school purchasing Microsoft Surface Laptops for their staff. Only 20% of the end-users need to have the full training on the hardware and software in order to fuel the future deployment.
The optics of 100% are not really fair when the majority of the 100% are not actually gaining the information and skills need for mastery. In education there is always pressure on students to reach mastery. That same expectation should be placed on everyone, and embedded in every initiative. Organizations working towards a good introduction, are not working towards their full potential.
Words to Actions
Randomly selecting 20% of a group to master a new PD initiative is a mistake. That would only work if the entire group were known equals. New and existing staff should be surveyed to identify their current knowledge and aptitude. Identifying aptitude is essential. New initiatives tend to have a limited experienced population within the organization; but aptitude is around every corner.
Years ago I took the 80/20 approach when switching a very large campus to Apple. I made certain all required hardware and software was available for 20% of the staff before summer. I selected the staff based-on their current familiarity with Apple and their ability to work with their colleagues.
The switch went very well, and after about three weeks the technology support issues declined by 75% from the previous year. The switch to Apple while following a 80/20 implementation plan reduced the non-Apple issues as well as the issues with the new hardware.
Recently, using an 80/20 plan, I sent a core group of people for training on a new school information system. Those people were tasked at training, and evangelism, within a hostile environment.
Knowing the system was actually in competition with other plans, a final meeting was held to determine if the school would continue with the new information system. The option was on the table to remove the new and bring back the old. The old was rejected. I do not believe this would have been possible without the core 80/20 group.
Keep in mind during each of these difficult transitional experiences the remaining 80% were not always happy. They new change had arrived, they were being delayed access at different stages, and they were not being trained or equipment immediately. This was noise. And noise should never dictate a plan or process.
The optics of 80/20 do not look as “nice” compared to working with 100%. However, the outcomes will be fair, balanced, and better. Most importantly, those suffering in silence will have a smaller more agile group for support.