Tag Archives: technology

Not So Hot for Teacher?

Disruptive Classroom Technologies: A Framework for Innovation in Education by Sonny Magana, Corwin, 152 pp., $29.95


To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection. Jules Henri Poincaré (1854 – 1912)


NOTE: I’ve heard it said that great writing is ‘clear thinking about mixed feelings,’ and I have a lot of them after working through Sonny Magana’s book and the research and marketing behind it.  As an experiment, I published this post and then published a follow up post after I saw Magana speak about his book in person at the ELMLE conference in Budapest. I wanted to be open to changing my mind if I was misunderstanding him or his work etc., The follow-up post is here.

NOTE2: By the way, the title of this post is a “riff” off of Magana’s “rock and roll!” related storytelling/style; that at some level the genesis for the book started around a campfire hearing Eddie Van Halen for the first time as a young man learning guitar.


What follows builds on my previous post where I wondered aloud if anyone had any evidence or data on technology’s positive effects on student achievement? I look at Magana’s work in the context of the wider Edtech zeitgeist and examine it not just for what it contains, but what it does not contain, how it is marketed, and who it is marketed towards.

By the end, I hope readers will not only better understand the issues Magana addresses in his book, but also hope you will be more confident in making an informed judgement when hearing your own heads of school and principals offer solutions to the challenges of technology integration.

First, my conclusions:

Magana’s framework is itself sound— (I know, I created one largely identical to it a decade ago as an MYP IT teacher.), so one can argue it could be an improvement over SAMR, Triple E. TPACK, etc., but the problem is that for generalist teachers, it’s akin to putting a new stereo in your car to fix a faulty transmission.  As “Julie’s” review of the book on Amazon.com explains perfectly: (click the review to open it in a new window to read)

Despite claiming “It’s important to refrain from assigning any kind of blame” in promotional pieces for the book, Magana’s claims teacher’s “tell and practice” model of teaching is the reason technology’s effect on student achievement is so “dismal.” He says it again, and again and again, over, and over in different ways. It’s most notable because of the contrast: Magana has nothing at all to say in his book about how leadership, policy, school programming and other actors actions or inaction around technology and teaching and learning bears any responsibility for what is happening in classrooms. I don’t mean he doesn’t focus on it, I mean he doesn’t say a word. I don’t understand how you get teachers to follow your framework if the first thing they need to do is get themselves out from underneath the bus.

Magana’s research partner, John Hattie, blurbs the book and seems to be saying the opposite, claiming that understanding why performance is so low is “critical”. I don’t get the sense that either Hattie or Magana understand very well what happens when you approach people and tell them “you’re doing it wrong,” especially without acknowledging/affirming first what they are up against that is completely outside their control.

Magana points to Hattie’s Visible Learning data which claims “computer technology” as having effects underneath the zone of desired effects for the past 50 years.  If this type of research and technology integration has been his “life’s work”, the lack of explanation, pushback or questioning of Hattie’s data, methodology or vague categorization of what exactly Hattie supposedly measured with regard to “computer technology”, seems incongruent.

In a promotional piece on Magana’s website written about a school that implemented his T3 framework, the actual changes made to implement it could only have been done by Administrators, not teachers. The piece claims success came from the provision of tech training for teachers through a “Curriculum Camp” and allowing demand from teachers to drive tech choices/integration instead of top down decision making. This does not square with the claim that the problem with tech failure stems from “tell and practice” teaching methods. What this piece actually demonstrates is that technology sprayed into classrooms without adequate teacher training is going to result in low teacher efficacy with technology. You have to change the admin approaches first, not the other way around.  Nowhere in Magana’s book are administrators asked to be responsible for these types of changes, yet they are front and center in the “success stories?”

Corwin’s stable of authors all blurb the book effusively on the Corwin site, on Amazon, LinkedIn, Sonny’s website, etc., without disclosing that they are all fellow Corwin authors. How is this different than Amazon product reviews where the financial incentives/conflicts of interest are not disclosed? If this kind of intra publisher back scratching is common practice, so be it, but it seems contrived.

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“Where are the nuts and bolts?”  

For two former teachers and tech integrationists who’ve no doubt shared many of same experiences in schools, I draw different conclusions than Magana does about the root cause of low impact technology integration. I began writing about these realities in TIE back in June of 2019. I called some of the phenomena Trickledown Edtechonomics, the Edtechochamber and Kabuki Integration.

During the decade and a half plus years I taught, coached and lead Edtech programs in several schools and countries, I worked with administrative leadership who more often than not had a limited grasp of technology but could both micromanage and starve IT programs of attention simultaneously; no small feat. My hope in publishing this review is to offer my experience so you can make up your own minds what you think makes sense as the best next step to invest scarce time and resources in your own school. On to the review.

The studies the book is based on some consider “Pseudoscience”

One cannot review Magana’s book without first reviewing the material on which Magana bases it on, which is the work of Australian researcher, John Hattie. 

Hattie’s partnership with the educational publisher Corwin (both Hattie’s and Magana’s publisher) is to develop professional publications and learning workshops.  Hattie has co-authored about twelve different books since publishing the original Visible Learning book in 2009, all variations on the same theme and all containing the same highly controversial analysis as a starting point.  One can find Visible Learning books for math, literacy, K-5, science, teaching, and a host of other spinoffs, the most recent being Magana’s book.  

There are many critics of Hattie’s work and it’s conclusions, but the core complaint is that the work is unscientific and his meta-methodology draws conclusions that simply cannot be drawn. Another is that Hattie’s work facilitates the rise of the guru, one who outlines how things could be and provides aspirational descriptions of a utopian future if we just do the work…often without any consideration of how the labor involved in the new work will be “paid for” and by whom.

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The Role of Leadership, Teachers and Solutions in Technology Integration

Role of Leadership

Any school that believes the use of technology can improve instruction must find a way to provide training for teachers and opportunities for them to practice and prepare technology enhanced lessons.

If they can’t or don’t, then school administration should be held responsible for the failures and no one else. Otherwise, what does their “leadership” even mean?  Who is hiring all these “tell and practice” teachers Magana and Hattie say are mucking everything up?  Who is setting and directing the schedules that enable or disable the collaborative planning necessary to coordinate such “transformative education frameworks?” Who is controlling the PD budgets? The management of the IT department?  The overall school culture?  

It’s not teachers. 

At best it is disheartening when you see leadership responsibilities foisted on teachers who have zero power to make the programmatic decisions that would enable and increase the possibility of success for technology integration.

In a separate TIE article, I argue this behavior is a deeply ingrained pattern of deflecting responsibility that goes well beyond Education and I offered a parallel with the 737 Max disasters where the pattern of Boeing leadership blaming pilots and distracting attention from systemic issues led to the accidents.  Hattie and Magana’s type of “help” is music to administration ears because it eliminates any need for changes to school programming and policy, administrative leadership style and accountability or rebuilding for high-touch versus high-tech support

Nearly everyone would agree that Edtech has been successful in getting kid’s parents connected to the school, making student assessments viewable online, enabling endless variations on digital teaching, made many forms of collaboration a breeze, survey data collection is now easily done, the list goes on. Edtech’s successes are in command and control, communication and collaboration among teachers, but this is largely digital teaching, not digital learning, and thus it’s not really aimed at student achievement.  Magana does not address this or make any distinctions about what exactly he’s talking about when he talks about “computer technology.”

Schools have been successful with this kind of digital teaching, and I think that’s why more and more you’re seeing schools trying to commingle the success of command and control tech and sell it as part of “digital learning” that is benefiting students. It’s a very convenient conflagration for schools to make, sort of like digital “Kleenex”, but everything being lumped together makes real problem solving much more difficult.

Most schools have some kind of marketing for Information Technology, descriptions of their aim to provide 21st century, student centered learning and some even have a scope and sequence/curriculum for digital learning, a makerspace, etc..  On close inspection, a much smaller number of schools actually have an operational vision, processes, expertise and leadership to make it all function for powerful discovery and learning for students.

Underneath the high visibility, low impact provisioning for students is in large part I think the pernicious myth of the digital native.  This nearly 20 year old, evidence free myth was started by Marc Prensky (another Corwin author) and I would argue one of the myth’s most significant effects was that it gave school administrators a rationale and cover for minimizing time and resources deployed to train staff and students on the devices they were pushing into classrooms. 

Which has lead us to the reality of much of Edtech in the classroom, Kabuki Integration.  This is when culture hasn’t changed because no skill-sets nor mindsets were changed:  New boxes, old ideas.  Magana calls it “technology rich and innovation poor”, I call it FOMO and virtue signaling over virtuosity.   Whatever you call it, it is high concept performance art; the expensive hardware and software is all there, but the critical bits behind it all, the “mindware”, is largely missing. Without having done the work to create a functional digital culture, absent a user focus and the requisite socio-technical feedback and iteration processes, many of today’s Edtech implementations are the equivalent of giving teachers chainsaws:

It all depends on how teachers use it. We don’t buy a chain saw for every teacher. If we did, a few teachers would do brilliant work with the chain saws, a few others would cut off their thumbs, and the vast majority would just make a mess.” Dr. Gary Stager

So in a sense, Magana is right in that teachers would be better teachers if they were also better technologists, but what is interesting about Stager’s quote is that we in fact have given chainsaws to almost every teacher, many times with only the barest minimal of instruction/support in how to use it. The result?  A mess.  What else should we expect? 

Teachers

We’ve been steadily increasing the amount of operating systems, apps and hardware every teacher and student must know each year.  Our orientations and PD include a tiny fraction of the training teachers eventually piece together on their own just to stay afloat, let alone innovate. In my last school we had over a half-dozen major software platforms staff needed to navigate and that didn’t even include any “learning” apps for lessons, etc., that was just for infrastructure, grades, curriculum, communications, storage, etc..

Why aren’t teachers efficacious at imparting digital learning skills even when they have integration support? Because the tech integration process into units/lessons, the functional integration system and mechanisms that connect a schools digital learning “aspirations” to actual classroom activity are often completely absent or inconsistent at best in all but the smallest percentage of schools, even the “better” schools.  And this floundering is as at least as much or more the result of programming choices by administrators, as it is the way teachers teach, and Magana has nothing at all to say about this in his book.

There is no shame in being an “Average user” as without continual access to training and knowledge, without being told that it’s not worth pursuing a certain course of action because there’s a non-obvious roadblock that leads to negative results, without someone to tell them they should try procedure X in this specific step because “it just works better when you do it this way,” everyone struggles.   Getting access to this kind of hard earned tech knowledge and skill is an enormous performance advantage and that’s why it’s such a shame that so much tech is rolled out with so little time devoted to coaching and integration support. 

Also mentionable, in teachers defense, regarding the common refrain from the school community peanut gallery that “The kids are just sitting there on their devices watching/doing X instead of doing the work in class…”  To suggest that a teachers inability to defeat the work of professional psychologists, behaviorists, gamification experts, and all the other people paid to make devices, games and social media addicting is somehow the fault of the teacher is at best irksome.

Solutions

Magana is correct that we’re putting computers and other technology in a school system that was designed for a totally different epoch. In part, we’re still living under the legacy of the blackboard, the overhead projector and pencil and paper, technologies that required presentation bit by bit…which is why it had to be divided into curriculums, subjects, assignments…where children then had to be organized into age groups and rows because what could be taught was restricted by the conditions under which the knowledge was disseminated.  

Today, knowledge dissemination is largely the reason “computer technology” is assigned to students to use in schools—most often it’s used as an efficient content delivery and assessment system; and it’s prescriptive, not imaginative. It does things to children; rather than empower them to do things that are important to them.  Tech use in schools is largely about following rules and copyright, finding the right answers, consuming in the basic ways what you’ve been told to consume; it’s the way you process and turn in assignments.  Magana is correct that schools generally remain at this type of “translational”, surface learning.

Magana’s recommendations are in sync with the feedback I’ve gotten from students over the years is that information technology has been the most beneficial to students as an autodidactic launching pad; enabling self determined, independent learning.  Unfortunately, schools, leaders and teachers today are ill prepared, and often hostile towards this type of learning as it requires an entirely different approach to “School.” And no, you cannot single teachers out as the resistance, most I have worked with would love to loosen up how and what they teach, but parents, school leadership and even students often reject these “new teaching methods”.

As far as new ways of doing “School”, teachers largely do not seem to have the support systems necessary to re-conceptualize their educational roles and the requirements placed upon them. Whether it’s Magana’s framework or another, absent change at an administrative level that not only acknowledges the need for teacher training/support, but actually devotes adequate (ongoing) resources toward it; creating the culture, calendaring and communication systems to support the collaboration it requires, godspeed to you in “disrupting Education.”

Assuming the Status Quo in Schools Stays Pretty Much The Same (it’s a safe bet), What Might a Truly New Framework for Digital Learning Look Like?

So, if the computing “grammar” and ecosystem kids experience in school, its structure and constraints, stand in the way of the real possibilities computers and the internet represent for learning, what then? 

Outside of the school environment, digital tools can offer an incredible breadth of experience in a tiny footprint, — IF and it’s a big IF, you know how to use IT yourself and have the ability and patience to guide others in how to use IT. 

Assuming a person had the skills and patience, what might be possible?

What if you set schools aside completely, forgot about them as part of digital learning until the Magana’s and the Admins and the teachers of the world get their priorities and responsibilities worked out, and instead you focused on cultivating one of the most accurate (and uncontested) predictors of student achievement: parental involvement in their child’s education? 

In other words, what if you were to design a system that was about learning with technology, not teaching with it; acting as the curator and coach of students’ and parents learning experiences together? e.g., A framework that includes dedicated “mindware development” for digital learning, rather than focusing on the process and devices and apps for digital teaching which is a different animal altogether?

This way you could imprint the better angels of what technology is useful for and ingrain the right types of “screentime” from the start. Young children would then have a useful tool that follows them through the rest of the their schooling, not a debilitating distraction as many children today seem to relate primarily with devices.

Perhaps technology is best learned as an autodidactic launchpad, not taught as the way to turn in assignments?

I will have to generate some data on that idea.


Tech Support Problems, Apathy, & Solutions

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Recently I was reading a Technology Directors’ forum, and noticed that a few very well established schools were explicitly looking for people to assist them in improving their technology support system (Help Desk, Help Tickets, etc.)

Reflecting on how I design and implement such systems, I began to wonder if these schools have looked at the core foundation issues that cause problems in systems that support a variety of tech-ecosystems and networks.

Why Does Anyone Need Tech Support in 2018?

The question may seem obvious, but this question should be asked every year: Who actually needs support and why?

Why do teachers need someone to come to the classroom to help them? Is the equipment old and/or inconsistent? Is the classroom design too complicated? Does the classroom equipment not work well with the teacher’s issued device(s)? Are students unable to use or manage their devices? Are the deployed software and services too difficult to master?

For example, if a school is running Google Apps for Education or Office 365 for Education, is the school running these newer solutions using and old model? That would cause many problems for end users. End users would be trying to follow an internal plan, that conflicts with the external supplier’s solution. Google and Microsoft are external suppliers, and they do have  recommended implementation plans. In this case, the school has created a problem that will now need support.

The truth is, tech support and training are not the same thing. Asking support staff to execute tasks that an employee is required to do is a massive use of support time. The support staff is not the end user. Meaning, the support staff person is not a teacher. This means they will be very mechanical about explaining how things work, but possibly not very practical. Many issues are strictly job related, and require training from peers, not IT support staff.

The goal of anyone who is planning technology support, or facilities support, should be to eliminate the need for support. Expanding support around problems, will simply make those problems worse. Problems need to be eliminated to reduce the need for regular support.

Why Do Tech Support People Seem Apathetic and Annoyed?

Tech Support is actually a proper career. There are people who choose to be, and are employed as, tech support engineers or specialists.

In most schools tech support is usually an additional duty. Schools often have employees who are systems engineers, data base specialists, etc. assigned to do tech support. Why? Because, after all, if you have an IT job you can help people with IT. If that logic were true, every biology teacher could teach physics, and possibly serve on an ambulance as an EMT.

When people are spending most of their time away from their primary role, or outside of their primary comfort zone, they can develop a sense of resentment. In addition, people working outside their primary role will tend to make more mistakes doing other tasks. These mistakes often lead to public and unprofessional language exchanges. The cycle leads to further demoralization, and creates an environment of apathy.

The Way Forward

Over the years I have developed a few simple rules to handle support issues:

  1. De-personalize the process
  2. Divide-and-Conquer
  3. Follow-up Often
  4. Predict the future

De-personalize the process

The worse thing you can do is use personal email for tech support, or facilities support. There are some systems that work with a group email address ( eg. helpdesk@myschool.com).

However, even those systems trick the end-user in believing the email is going to a person. Email request systems, at least professional ones, route based-on criteria; or get posted in a list until a person delegates the work to someone.

The basic rule to follow is to use online forms or support groups (like Google Groups). Make certain individuals are not connected by name when they give support. Never allow teachers, or other stakeholders, to use personal email addresses for routine support.

Divide-and-Conquer

Support needs to be assigned to the person best suited for the job. Although some support can be generic and auto assigned, it is best to have routing system to send certain requests to certain people. For example, I have a form that has PowerSchool as an option. If someone selects PowerSchool, the request goes to the best two PowerSchool support people on staff.

Follow-up Often

From the moment a ticket is submitted, the end-user should automatically get a confirmation their problem is in process. When the problem is solved, they should get a notice. If their problem is pending for some reason, they should get another notice. If the issue is not solvable, the end-user needs a personal email, phone call, or face-to-face visit to explain in detail what is happening.  Complaints from end-users are often regarding a lack of communication.

Currently, my support form tells each user what their number is in the queue. This small feature has been very well received.

Predict the Future

This is not as mystical as it sounds. Support issues should be collected as data. This is another reason email is a bad option, unless the emails go into a categorized database. Patterns emerge in the data. Patterns can be used to find the next problem.

Sometimes technology fails in a single instance, but usually technology failure happens in batches or waves.

If you would like to know more about building custom and free Support Systems with Google Apps and Office 365, please contact me at: tony.deprato@gmail.com  . 

Keeping Your Campus Safe: Who Can Do What

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

When a school network is designed, various levels of access have to be created to manage content access. The easiest way to approach this is to place students, teachers, staff, and others into groups. The group is then managed. If an individual becomes untrusted, they become a non-group member, and thus cannot access anything.

Groups have an ID, this is something people never see. To get into the group, people have a personal ID, this is something people use everyday. They never consider all the places their ID (username and password) travels.

In the physical space, group IDs and access indicators are also needed. These need to be designed so they can be visually recognized by members of the community. In addition, buildings and facilities need to be designed to accommodate certain groups, but not allow others.

Group IDs in the Visual Space

I have already spoken about uniforms, but many schools do not use uniforms. Dress code is definitely a manner to identify a group students, but beyond that, there are many other ways to know who is who and what they should be doing.

IDs

Student IDs are often the same for all student, and many are the same template as staff IDs.

IDs for different groups should vary visually. This allows anyone to quickly look at the color, and make a decision about access to facilities, food options, etc. Having to stop and read, requires engagement. Engagement either requires a sense of authority, or it can make a person feel as if conflict might ensue. Colors remove the direct engagement aspect of managing people in physical spaces from those who might only want to report a problem.

For example:

K-5 Students

6-12 Students

K-5 Teachers

No Go Zones

Libraries, Cafeterias, and other large areas should have spaces that are “student only” and “parent/guest only”. These spaces should separate students by age group when possible.

People who are managing these spaces need to manage problems over a larger landscape. They should be able to politely direct anyone to their proper area, without conflict. These areas can be labeled, and color coded. Colors could match IDs (or guest passes) to help everyone navigate.

For example, students in the middle school might have red ID cards. Middle school bulletin boards, information screens, etc., could all have a red border. Anyone noticing a student with a blue ID, would immediately realize that student is in the wrong building. Trying to sort students by size is something teachers try to do, but that practice is not very accurate when students are close in age.

Driving and Parking

Access to campus often starts with transportation. Although schools usually have buses and public transportation options planned, personal vehicles are often loosely managed, or not managed.

Schools tend to believe that issuing parking stickers to people, and then assigning them a parking lot/space, is enough. However, schools need to consider why people need to drive, and if it should be a right or a very limited privilege.

I have worked at one school that had no parking at all. It was in a city, and space was at a premium. If people needed to drive and park, they had to use public parking options. This meant that it was nearly impossible to have unscheduled visitors. Anyone coming to the school would make an appointment to ensure their paid parking was used efficiently.

As people evaluate campus safety, they need to consider that anyone looking to create a negative situation would need a staging area. There would need to be access close enough to the school to allow someone to prepare. Vehicles make excellent staging areas. The closer vehicles are to buildings and entrances, the greater the risk.

In addition, schools are full of children running around and not always paying attention. Vehicles allowed to move within spaces where children are walking can be very dangerous. Ideally, these types of vehicles should only be allowed if escorted or properly directed.

If I really wanted to make campus access secure, I would run shuttles from designated areas. In an ideal world, those areas would be owned by the school, but at least 5 minutes from the campus by shuttle.

A small parking area could be created for certain groups of people, but all visitors and guests would be scheduled and shuttled into the campus.

Students would never be allowed to drive to campus. They would need to park and shuttle; or park and bike/walk to school.

School’s should be friendly communities, but communities are often not in the public domain. Access management is important, and it does not have to be overly complicated or expensive.

Group privilege is a privilege. It can be earned. It can be lost. It must be managed.

Tech Integration: Are you mapping it?

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By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A few weeks ago I was on a campus, but not my campus. I was speaking with some technology teachers. They would prefer to be called tech-integrators. After a short and very succinct speech about their beliefs in the technology integration model, I ask them two questions. In both cases, the answers were not what they should have been.

Question 1: Is the integration scheduled, or do you wait for teachers to come to you? 

The answer was a very common one, teachers come to us. This model has some very defensible merits. The driving force is that a few technology integrators can focus on class projects, over longer periods of time, and use their own initiative to improve technology in the classroom.

This main issue with this model is learning accountability. The is no accountability for what students need, and no metric stating what students need.

For example, the IB Design Technology SL programme recommends 150 total teaching hours. This indicates that a group of people looked at the entire course experience and the desired outcomes can concluded that students need 150 hours.

A technology integration model needs the same discussion and it needs some metrics. Since technology integration is not a new concept, determining how many hours students need to be engaging with a differentiated curriculum in a “knowable thing”.

Without determining the metrics, how can anyone conclude an on-demand model is the best way to proceed?

The school should have a core set of technology related standards for teachers and students. The technology integration program needs to be able to add metrics to these standards, set standards for contact time, and track how all these requirements are being met. This is normal accountability.

Aside from accountability within the integration technology curriculum, another major issue with the on-demand planning is that people tend to work in their comfort zones. People tend to develop patterns. Because of this, they will often want to engage students in a routine and predictable way. Routine and predictable does not equal learning. Trial and error equal learning.

Breaking routine and creating opportunity takes a plan. A plan in a school needs some type of schedule so that people can jump in and join. Just like any class (in school and out of school) students need to find a time to explore, and finding time means knowing the options.

Question 2: How are you mapping or tracking what you are doing?

The answer was not straightforward. I do believe, if under the scope of certification, there would be evidence in lesson plans and emails. However, as a school administrator I want to be able to have a quick snapshot of what is happening in any and all classrooms. Whatever tools the teachers are using for curriculum tracking and mapping, the integration team should be using as well.

Let’s talk about Atlas Rubicon.

I am not an Atlas Rubicon pundit. However, when I work with their developers, and I have a clear report driven goal, I get results. In other words, my school gets results.

If a school is running a technology integration model, and the school is using Atlas or any other curriculum tracking system, there should be a mandate to track integration technology and cross-curricular integrations. The latter is often forgotten, but it goes hand-in-glove with integration technology.

This what modifying an Atlas template to track technology integration and cross-curricular integrations would look like:

tech_intcrosscurricular

Here is what a simple report looks like in terms of data entry on every subject, and every map:

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-9-03-36-am

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-9-04-12-am

I can run this report for all year levels in about 10 minutes. I can review the work planned and the work that has already been done. The cross-curricular report is great for discussions. The data is simple, and could easily be part of monthly department level meetings.

With systems like Atlas, the integration team can have access to all the maps. They can make certain this data is collected, they can add notes, and they can contribute to the reflections.

Question 3: Whose fault is it?

This is the question that was on my mind for a few weeks after the initial experience. Upon reflecting on programs that I have been involved in, and programs I am currently involved in, I decided the blame was always clearly on my shoulders when accountability was lacking. As the administrator providing oversight I should require accountability on a level that is reportable, encapsulated, and not taxing for the educational technology team.

If I am the person who leads or supervises the educational technology planning, I should be assigning metrics for minimum contact time, maximum exposure, and differentiation. The technology integration team should be focused on delivery an excellent program to meet those metrics.

I guess the question is, do we know what we don’t know and how can we find out?

 

 

Software in a Suitcase vs The Learner Profile

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By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Problem

Curriculum in a Suitcase, this is a common term and point of discussion in international schools. For anyone not familiar with the reference, it addresses the common practice of teachers arriving at a new school and bringing with them a curriculum they are comfortable delivering.

The current practice around curriculum planning and mapping is to avoid this practice. A school should have a curriculum that students and families can depend on, regardless of the staffing.

In Educational Technology there is similar practice known as Software in a Suitcase. Using the word software is being simplistic. Software, subscriptions, services, and even computer brands and operating systems are included.When teachers move from one school to another, they often try to avoid the new school’s technology plan, and attempt to implement an ad-hoc technology plan they are familiar with.

Technology plans can be flexible, but if a school is a Windows 10 Tablet school, or if they are using PowerSchool, those core structural pieces are not flexible. In fact, they are required from the first day. Usage is not negotiable.

Unfortunately, publishing a list of resources before new teachers arrive is not very helpful. They are counting on a miracle, because the motivating force is being comfortable and confident in what they are using. I cannot fault anyone for wanting to use tools that work or tools they have mastered. Nor can I blame a teacher for making a persuasive argument for trying to acquire a resource that has proven track record improving learning for their students.

The fact remains, limitations are limitations. Long term multi-year technology plans create a structure, but they also form boundaries and budgets. Creating niche technology projects around a large campus, without a planned budget, is impossible to support and sustain.

The Solution

The IB Learner Profile and ISTE Teacher Standards hold the solution to the problem of software in a suitcase. If schools want students to embody the ideals of the IB Learner Profile, then teachers and administrators need to model those ideals. Technology is the perfect medium to demonstrate communication, risk-taking, inquiry, and subject knowledge.

Being dependent on a set method and set of resources does not achieve the outcomes expected of IB students, nor does it meet the ISTE criteria for teachers to Model digital age work and learning and Engage in professional growth and leadership. 

Every year when new teachers are completing orientation, these core concepts should be part of every discussion around curriculum, assessment, and technology. Pushing people to see themselves in the light of the IB and/or the ITSE standards actually creates the middle ground needed to move beyond the problem. The challenge to be an adaptable problem solver, as a model to students, is one every teacher should accept. Adapting to a new technology structure should be seamlessly integrated into adapting to a new curriculum structure.

The trap with technology is discussing brands. People will often say, “I need XYZ software.” Replying, “Well we have WTY software.”, is not going to resolve the situation. This dialogue only creates a partisan debate.

The best way to approach issues related to technology is simply to ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” The focus should always be on the why first, or the outcome. From there, people can brainstorm the how.  Sometimes, the why is not even inline or aligned to the curriculum. Reiterating the technology plan is also not very useful. The core problem stems from an emotional reaction to change not a misunderstanding of a written plan.

Here is a common dialogue I have with new teachers coming to China:
Teacher: I just came from a Google School, and I need to use Google Drive even though I know it is not accessible in China.
Me: Ok. What do you use it for? (Avoiding the name immediately)
Teacher: I use it to store files and share files with students.
Me: Ok. So you need to have a solution to store files and collaborate with students.
Teacher: Yes.
Me: We have that. Can I show you? I can even help you move your resources quickly.

In most cases, there is a solution. Often, the solution is just time. Time to adjust. Time to privately realise the influence a brand is having on decisions. Time to see other options.
Support cannot be forced. People have to be ready to change. Creating the middle ground and bringing a person back to the core ideals they are working towards with students is definitely the best path to positive outcomes. In an IB school, that is The Learner Profile. The ISTE Standards, those are just for an extra shot of professionalism.

Innovation and Creativity

I am writing this week’s posting from 44G, my assigned seat on the plane returning me to Brasilia. It has been nearly two weeks since I departed from Brazil to attend a series of international teacher recruitment fairs, planning meetings, conferences, professional development workshops, and school visits. As with any professional trip of this nature, the challenge with the follow-up is to determine how best to consolidate and apply the essential outcomes within the context of our school’s ongoing growth and development strategies. To that end, the concepts of creativity and innovation, among several other resulting focus areas, emerged as one of the dominant themes of this trip.

During a retreat hosted by the Academy for International School Heads, the school directors in attendance agreed to the American School of Bombay’s proposed working definition for the word innovation:

Innovation: an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by an individual, team, organization, or community.

Equipped with this definition, the directors were then asked to rank the following industries from the most innovative and relevant to the least:

Agriculture, Communications, Education, Entertainment, Medicine, and Military.

While a debate about the ranking order ensued, there was a general consensus that education was the least innovative among this list of industries. While the reasons for this are varied and complex, it is clear that inhibitors to innovation in education can be attributed to two key areas: (i) the challenge of teaching in a manner that is different from how teachers were taught; (ii) overcoming the adult expectation for children to learn in a manner that is similar to how these same adults learned as students.

David Burkus’ book, The Myths of Creativity, presents the metaphor of a mousetrap, which may be used to better understand the challenge of innovation in schools. While the catchphrase, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” may be widely believed as a fact, is not necessarily true. Our initial reaction to an innovative idea is usually to reject or ignore the idea. Burkus emphasizes, “Creative ideas, by their very nature, invite judgment. People need to know if the value promised by the new idea is worth the abandonment of the old.”

Since the original and current version of the spring-loaded mousetrap was patented in 1899, over forty-four hundred new versions of a mousetrap have been patented, with several identified as more effective than the original. Yet, it is the original model that continues to be the most popular. Why? Burkus highlights several other examples of resistance to key innovative ideas, such as Kodak’s rejection of their own digital camera invention in 1975, as Kodak did not believe people would prefer digital to film pictures. Sony, in contrast, is now a digital photography industry leader, and has been a key benefactor of Kodak’s inability to embrace its own innovation.

According to Burkus, our natural tendency is to inherently reject innovation, resist change, and act with bias against new ideas, the later of which has been established through validated psychological research. Based on these arguments and the deep, personal nature of education, it is easy to see why education is ranked as one of the least innovative industries. So, how do we move forward in the face of these challenges? Burkus again provides us with helpful advice:

“It’s not enough to merely generate great ideas. Though we live in a world of complex challenges and our organizations need innovative solutions, we also live in a world biased against creative ideas. It’s not enough for an organization to have creative people; it has to develop a culture that doesn’t reject great ideas. It’s not enough for people to learn how to be more creative; they also need to be persistent through the rejection they might face.”

I am not alone in my belief that education is currently undergoing a transformative change process representative of an inflection point in the history of educational reform. While we can speculate, no one can be certain about where this change process will eventually lead us. Only time will determine which of the current innovations in the world of education will prove to be highly effective and become standard practice. EAB is no exception to facing this challenge. However, there are innovative approaches, such as EAB’s new assessment policy, the focus on collaborative learning and associated learning spaces, like the iCommons, that educational research has established and validated as best practices.

Like other industries, education will continue to face challenges associated with establishing and embracing an effective culture of creativity and innovation. Based on Burkus’ work, it is probable that several key innovations, which would likely lead to significant improvements in education, may not come to fruition in the near future. However, we also know that some innovative ideas will be accepted and will soon be recognized as standard practice. By way of example, it is predicted that, in the near future, the pervasive use of technology in learning environments will be second nature, rather than new and innovative.

As I submit this note for publication from seat 44G, I can’t help but reflect on Burkus’ theories about our inherent nature to reject innovation in the context of my current travels. How outlandish it must have seemed when someone first proposed the idea of passengers sending email messages from their airplane seats while jetting across the sky.

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Reference: Burkus, D. (2013). The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. John Wiley & Sons.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Morten F
Flying from Copenhagen to Oslo https://www.flickr.com/photos/glimt1916/15506061634

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Social Media: A Dog’s Story

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” ~Isaac Newton

A friend of mine from Brasilia is known for habitually reposting to Facebook, on behalf of desperate dog owners, photos of missing dogs. Gisela’s hope is that neighborhood residents will recognize the dogs in the photos and reunite these beloved, missing canines with their owners.

As a fellow dog owner, I quietly grieve for owners each time I see one of these missing dog announcements. This feeling of grief was no different when a posting of a cute, elderly dog with a broken ear and a lazy eye appeared in my newsfeed. What was different about this posting, however, was that my name was linked to this posting with the following message: “The dog has a tag that appears to be from the United States. Barry, with your connection to the international community, could you reach out to your contacts?” I would of course reach out, but, as a busy workday was about to begin, I made a mental note to send messages in the early evening.

While the day did turn out to be very busy and productive, it was about to end on a high note as I made my way to visit the after-school chess activity. While watching two five-year-old students discover the nuances associated with the beautiful game of chess, I noticed one of the students was in a lackluster, almost despondent mood. When I asked the student if anything was wrong, he turned to me and lamented that his dog Crawford was missing and not been home for nearly a week.

It was then that I recalled the Facebook posting from the morning. While it seemed highly unlikely for there to be such a coincidence of circumstances, I went ahead and showed the student the Facebook posting of the missing dog with a broken ear and lazy eye. Upon seeing the photo, the student beamed an enormous smile and shouted, Crawford!!!”

After a series of phone calls and messages, Crawford was finally reunited with his owners later that evening.

The events of the day served as an important reminder of the inherent power associated with social networks, particularly when used in an ethical, meaningful, and purposeful manner. It is clear that the way we communicate, connect, problem solve, and learn has been forever changed. While we need to continue addressing the challenges of social media, the potential for creative and positive change derived from the harnessing and application of seemingly endless resources offers a unique set of tools to solve problems and ensure a better future.

Isaac Newton’s iconic quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” refers to Newton’s gratitude for the contributions of those who have preceded him. In today’s context, I wonder if Newton would have considered the “shoulders of giants” to also include the learning and understanding resulting from the use of technology to exponentially increase levels of collaboration, networking, and sharing?

If social networks can be used to rally a community’s resources towards reuniting Crawford with his family, it is exciting to imagine how these same networks and associated resources will continue to redefine not only our daily lives but the paradigm of traditional education and learning. It is the challenge of educators to determine how these new technologies will be employed to improve the learning process.

There is no doubt we are living through a fascinating inflection point in the history of educational development in addition to our understanding of how we learn. Nevertheless, through all of this change, we must never lose sight of the “why?” and “to what end?” questions. I am confident that Crawford would approve of this guiding principle as he again basks in the warmth of his home and loving family.

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

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Featured image: cc licensed ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ) flickr photo by Tarek Harbi: https://www.flickr.com/photos/53813549@N08/15090632281

Digital Fluency Project

During a recent school governance conference, the attendees, who include school directors and board members, reflected on how schools of the future will be different from what we know today. Our facilitator, Lee Crockett, invoked the often used but, at times, little understood concept of a “21st Century School” to challenge our current thinking (If you are interested in learning more about these concepts, Lee Crockett overviews his book, “Literacy is not Enough,” in an informative video interview).

While I was interested in the substance of the discussion, I was also intrigued by our collective reactions and discomfort as we struggled to predict the future of education. Given the rate of technological change, few people, if any, are likely able to accurately predict how technology will ultimately influence the traditional nature of schools. What we do know is that schools and learning will look very different from what we experienced as children.

So, how do we move forward? Fortunately, educational and technological theorists are thinking deeply about the future of education and the result is the emergence of several frameworks. The Global Digital Citizen Foundation and its 21st Century Fluency Project represent one such framework that articulates an educational focus on ensuring that learning continues to be meaningful. While there are indeed other helpful models, the 21st Century Fluency Project presents a framework that will challenge all of us to reflect on the role technology plays in the learning process, both at home and at school. In summary, the model complements traditional learning with a concentration on attaining five related digital fluencies: creativity, collaboration, solution, media, and information.

The future of booksEAB is strategically addressing these changes in several different manners, ranging from the implementation of a 1-to-1 program, to a shift from one traditional library to three iCommons (Information Commons), to weekly technology training workshops for teachers, to a change in instructional practices and collaboration expectations. On a personal note, I am teaching a high school Leadership class this year, which includes experimenting with a blended learning model, meaning that learning is taking place both in person and through an online setting. We are using an infrastructure called Haiku, which is a digital K-12 online platform. An exciting element of the course is that this platform enables us to learn, in collaboration, with students from two other international schools, one in the U.S.A, and one in Mumbai. Through the power of the Internet and technology, our class has been expanded and enriched through the inclusion of students from other parts of the world. This has taken the learning experience of our students to a higher level of interest, diversity, and engagement.

A question: If you were asked to highlight the most important skills students will need for future success, what skills would you list? How does your list compare with the following list of the most important skills generated by professional educators and researchers?

  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Ethics, Action, Accountability

Now, let’s examine these skills in the context of Bloom’s taxonomy:

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The list of skills generated by professional educators and researchers correspond directly with the higher level thinking skills of Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating associated with Bloom’s taxonomy, rather than the lower level skills of Remembering, Understanding, and Applying. It is these higher-level thinking skills that guide the ongoing development of EAB’s educational program.

As EAB continues its work towards the continued implementation of effective and relevant teaching and learning practices, we will also continue to be guided by the approaches presented above in conjunction with Lee Crockett’s guiding concepts of relevance, creativity, and real-world application.

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Johan Larsson: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johanl/6966883093

Thank You Mr. Hacker For This Teachable Moment

Last week my email account was hacked. You know the message (or you might have even gotten the message from me!):

“Subject: Important Message

Please view the document i uploaded for you using Google docs. CLICK HERE just sign in with your email to view the document its very important.

Thank you”

Which would then lead anyone who did “Click” to a non-existent document.

Yes. It was a pain. Within 24 hours I had 50 emails from people asking me if I sent them this weird message. That, of course, meant I had to respond to all those people telling them no, unfortunately/fortunately it wasn’t me, but it was SPAM and maybe they should consider changing their own email passwords.

Most people were understanding, and had either experienced something similar or knew someone who did. Many had seen this message with another fake document “attached” before. No one was angry or upset. It is very much part of our digital lives- to be hacked.

What I wasn’t ready for though, was explaining what happened, what it meant and how to handle it to students in my elementary school who were sent the message- and of course opened it! (An “Important Message” from the Assistant Principal- what 8-10 year old wouldn’t open it?)

I was surprised then when a 4th grade girl sent me a series of emails about the hacking episode.  She took the situation, worked through it and then learned from it all. Here is how our correspondence went:

Student: Ms.Munnerlyn I am wondering what is this, because when I clicked on it, it said it was suspicious and when I click on it nothing comes up.
Me: Please don’t open. My email was hacked, and it was sent out. Thanks for letting me know. Please tell others. Mrs. M
 A few minutes later…
Student: OK, my mom thinks it’s a virus and it happened to one other friend.
A few minutes later…
Student: I just looked at it in Google and it is a scam, what it said is that scammers will see my password (had to log in) and start sending e-mails that scam other people. That website said to change password immediately, what do I do???
Me: To be safe, it might be good to change your password. Today at school I learned of 3 parents who had the same situation happen to them. Do you know how to change your password? If not, I will be happy to help you with that tomorrow. Tell your teacher you need to come to me with your computer ok?
Don’t worry- our tech director has told me this isn’t dangerous or anything. They are trying to get people to send them money. However- you and I are too smart for that. The problem for us is that this is an inconvenience only.
Thanks for checking with me. Your friend, Mrs. Munnerlyn

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Not the conversation I would expect to have with a 10-year-old, but one which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as it is the exact conversation I should be having with her- and others like her at our school.

You see, we offer digital citizenship weeks, and days and courses, and tell kids to be careful, cautious and aware online. We have given them examples and talked to them about reasons. Our students, for the most part, are good online. If anything it is a back and forth email spat which gets out of control. However, this is the first time I have had a real example like this: a scenario from the real, big, unpredictable world out there.

So who got schooled through Mr. Hacker’s teachable moment?

I did, of course. My student taught me that she is not only internalizing what we’ve been teaching, but maybe more importantly, she is showing signs of being a truly independent, savvy, and resourceful technology user.

It isn’t getting hacked that counts; it’s how you handle it. 

Photo credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/bb/No-spam.png

Timing is Everything

It’s 8am, Monday.

“Okay, everyone, sit down and take out your books and go to page 37 and do the exercise B now. Why aren’t you listening? Richard, please sit down. You don’t have your book? Why are you late?”

And so on. And so on.

Why is it that we educators insist that our students tune into what we want our students to do at the exact time or moment that they need them to? How many of us can do that? How many of us switch between various tasks (and usually end up on email) when we just can’t do that thing at that specific time?

So, what are you saying? Just let students not pay attention to what you are doing?

Well, kind of. I know this is difficult to understand, but learning is becoming less and less about YOU. By the end of this blog, I think you’ll be thanking me, although it is still a scary thing to comprehend. From DuFour to Marzano, the research tells us over and over and over the importance of the learning climate and learner engagement.

I am a Principal who also teaches a class called digital literacy. No, the seniors don’t care that I am the Principal. They still come late, usually holding a coffee, at times out of uniform, and often texting while I am talking. Yes, I get annoyed and tell them to close their devices, but since the class is called DL, I have a love/hate relationship with allowing them to keep said devices.

So, I had a class meeting one day. Ever have one of those? They can be quite liberating. “I know this is hard for you,” I started. “But I need you to listen to me for a minute. This is what is not working for me today.” (And I listed a bunch of stuff). Then it was their turn. What came out of it was startling.

“You don’t trust us to do our work. You think we’re always slacking where you just need to tell us what to do and we will get it done. Maybe we just have something else we need to do at that time.”

“Why do we always have to do what you want at the exact moment? We will get to it, we just have so many other things we need to do right now, like a big project next class I am worried about.”

Now, I know where some of you will go with this, allowing a bunch of seniors to turn my class into a study hall where they can do what they want with no accountability. I couldn’t help but think of the reaction to Khan Academy when it first started.

Today we had our final projects. The girl with whom I have had quite a few challenges with texting during class, you tube videos, online shopping, and goodness knows what other distractions during class, had done exactly as I had asked. In fact, her digital portfolio was one of the best. She gave me a “told you so” smile at the end of her presentation. I was astonished.

I don’t know all of the implications for classroom management or control. What I do know is that we have to accept the humbling reality that the teacher cannot be the center of attention in the 21st century. Maybe you’re not the most important thing at that particular moment. And God forbid, maybe what you’re insisting is the most important thing at that particular time, just isn’t. When you are mixing dangerous chemicals, it is probably a good idea that you are the center of attention. Otherwise, start changing your skill set or you’re going to keep handing out a lot of detentions and completely missing a lot of learning opportunities.