The human brain is wired to interpret events in a narrative fashion. Events unfold and the brain seeks patterns and pieces things together to make meaning. In his book, “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out that this property of the brain leads us to believe that history unfolds linearly. If “a” is a currently the accepted mode of thinking, we will likely go along believing that “a” will continue with its dominance. We see this in sports when a team looks a dynasty in the making and all prognosticators will groupthink and pick that team to win before the season starts.
Taleb’s book contends that life is largely shaped by black swan events rather than by straight lines or consistent timelines. As Taleb says, “History does not crawl, it jumps.” A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences. For example, the Chicago Bulls were a seemingly unstoppable dynasty with no end in sight until out of the blue, Michael Jordan decided to retire (for the first time) in the prime of his career to play baseball in the Chicago White Sox system. In his absence, a mini-dynasty for the Houston Rockets sprung up, only to be curtailed by the return of Jordan almost two seasons later. In both cases, an improbable act radically altered the NBA landscape.
There are countless examples from countless disciplines and aspects of life highlighting the power of black swans. We don’t see these highly improbable events coming because of the manner in which our brain is hardwired. We place way too much emphasis on past events as a predictor of things to come. After the Cold War was officially dead and buried during the Clinton era, Francis Fukuyama famously stated that: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Great line for selling books but the rapid rise of China and 9/11 radically undermined his sweeping statement.
Black swans don’t necessarily have to be improbable or unforeseen. I believe that we can manufacture them (kinda). Predicting the unpredictable is a tautology but we can set the framework and create the circumstances that might create educational black swans. Any successful organization, be it business, sports, technology or any other sort is able to create the conditions for success. These conditions allow for flexibility, rapid iteration, disruptive innovation, systems learning and creative resource management. While Steve Jobs was most definitely an unmatched visionary, he was not a psychic. There was no way that he could have predicted the iPod or the iPad back in the day but he was able to design the conditions that would allow for such a disruptive device to happen.
In education, we need to start doing a better job of creating the conditions that will foster black swans from our students, teachers, administrators and system leaders. Connective technology will help us to extend our reach and aid in greater knowledge creation. Approaching professional and student learning from an inquiry stance creates a mindset that is open to possibilities. We need to start thinking less about definitive outcomes and a lot more about positive structures.
The educational landscape will most definitely not remain status quo in the coming years. Do we know exactly what it will look like in the near or distant future? Not really to the first and no to the second. We need to stop trying to create packaged or canned views of the future and start fostering a love of learning and a desire to be life-long learners. This will allow our students and us as educators to be adaptive and flexible enough to meet whatever conditions we are to face. That’s why I love the quote in the feature image to this post. When we build connections and look to share more regularly, we impact others and the ripples keep growing.
Change be scary. It can be so scary because of the potential for extremes. A plan could be an extreme failure or an extreme success. Both realities can be equally scary. Education change is scary because it will require many of us to “let go”. This is concerning for some because they worry about students not learning in a non-traditional model while others are concerned because it is SO hard to let go and give up control. I can empathize with both camps and with those who lie somewhere in between.
We are a “wild west” period right now where change is scattershot and seemingly a moving target. Acceptable one day and repudiated the next. Some ideas seem to be enacted or considered simply for the sake of change rather than for the benefits of student learning; making change all the scarier. Change is worth the trouble if helps the kids. “Help” means many things to many people. I believe that “help” happens when we make changes or enact programs that empower students to take charge of their learning. Figuring out how to do this kind of change can be confounding.
I consider myself to be an “ideas guy” who is learning to get better on the operations side. I am a massive media consumer who pays attention to EVERYTHING which can lead to me paying attention to nothing! I crave frameworks and mental maps to help me coordinate ideas and make meaning. Those serendipitous moments when the right idea hits you at just the right moment are magic. At Connect 2013, I attended Chris Kennedy’s (@chrkennedy) session where he presented the three pillars that the West Vancouver School District is building programming around. Their focus is on 1) Inquiry 2) Self-Regulation and 3) Digital Access. EXACTLY the simplification that needed the focus our team at St. John. Empowering students to become life-long learners above all else is an identified priority but how do we operationalize such a broad concept? Thanks to Mr. Kennedy and WVSB, we have that foundation to put ideas into action.
Lightning struck again quickly when I came across Kiran Bir Sethi’s TEDed talk regarding student empowerment. Through the mantra of ”I can”, her Riverside school in India designed a program for students to blur the lines between school and the real world. Students were given the chance to enact real change through a Project Based Learning on steroids kind of program. The goal was to turn learning over to the students through a three part plan:
1) AWARENESS: see the change 2) ENABLE: be changed and 2) EMPOWER: lead the change. The end goal is to create a student body that is more competent and less scared. As Marianne Williamson so timelessly and beautifully stated “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond Measure….And as we let our own light shine, We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presences automatically liberate other.” Empowering students to take charge of their learning, one student, one class or one school at a time has that ability to liberate others.
When our students start taking action because “they can” and not because “they are told”, good change has taken root.
The downside of social media and the digital era has been discussed ad nauseam. The medium itself has never been a problem, rather it often serves as an accelerator or multiplier of existing predilections. For every elitist who slags the digital youth or inaneness of social media, along comes a signpost with the power of social media in full display.
I came across one such signpost this morning while skimming through Mashable. To celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday, PrezenceDigital created a four minute video that shows how Mandela hypothetically would have used Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare and Instagram to fight Apartheid. We are only left to wonder how things would have played out if Mandela really had such tools at his disposal.
SOOOOOO next time we slag one of our students for wasting time online, remember that for every goofy online venture there is a powerful and life-changing activity taking place. Our job is to guide our students towards positive online activity rather than mock them for how they use it!
People are asked to commit to 67 minutes of service and share their story at www.mandelastory.com. The goal is to create another Mandela each day. Talk about tech becoming an accelerator of change!
The public education system, especially here in Canada, has made tremendous strides in terms of social equity. In Ontario, every school board has now created, adopted and implemented an equity and inclusive education plan. These plans articulate the need for open and accepting educational practices to respect all constituents of the system. The plans faced down opposition to pass certain components but in the end acceptance and openness were deemed to be important educational pillars that had to be supported.
The moral imperative of social equity is obviously foundational to any educational system. Society rightly demands that our system accepts everyone and provides services equitably. It is now time that society demands that same level of openness when it comes to information. Our system is organized in a manner that functionally prevents openness. School districts are largely bureaucratic bodies that exist to support the managerial side of education rather than the learning side. Individual schools have very weak bonds to the community and even weaker bonds with neighbouring schools. This has to end.
If we demand openness guided by social equity, then we must demand openness in learning as well.
The students in our system deserve a system that promotes the free flow of ideas throughout a unified system. No good principal would allow one Grade 5 class to go on an important field trip while the other stayed back at the school. All Grade 5 students would be afforded the opportunity to go on the trip. We must apply this same thinking at a systems level as well. Innovative ideas must be shared equitably across the whole system. Patchwork pockets of innovative practice will not shift the paradigm, we need a unified approach.
The good news is that we do not need to wait for central leadership to craft some hulking policy that will be governance heavy and years in the drafting stage. Educators have the power to change the system themselves (although it would be nice to have support from above!!!). We all know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Technology affords us the opportunity to find that shortest distance more regularly by cutting out the unpleasant intermediary steps. There is no need to wait for some PD session to swap ideas. School leaders and educators can now direct their own connections on their own time.
Anyone who has read this blog or heard me speak before knows that I have been hugely influenced by Don Tapscott. At the most recent TED conference, Tapscott laid out his four principles for an open world (the whole talk can found in the header of this post). These principles include:
- Collaboration. The way traditional organizations do business is changing. Organizations cannot survive as closed entities. We must work together to develop the WHOLE system.
- Transparency. Open communication to stakeholders is no longer optional, information is out their for people to find it. Organizations of integrity will make decision making open.
- Sharing. Giving up intellectual property, put ideas out their for everyone. In education, we must be respectful of student and family privacy but IDEAS should be shared with everyone.
- Empowerment. We must distribute leadership and bring more people into the decision making loop. Students, community members and educators must all be empowered.
If we adopt these principles as core values of the public education system and really put them into practice, great things can happen. We can have a system that values social equity and educational openness. Damn, that’s one powerful combination.
It’s time to walk the walk when it comes to equity and integrity.
Technology is on a supercharged feedback loop where quicker tech begets even quicker tech. Imagine what this means for our students. They are bombarded with benign, malignant and data that lies somewhere in between on a daily basis. The entry age for kids is lowering rapidly as well with children under 8 familiar with the workings of the online world. This is akin to dropping a 16 year old off at bar with good fake I.D and $500. Sounds fun for the kid but the ramifications are potentially catastrophic.
Digital literacy skills MUST begin the primary grades. We have to work with our kids and teach them how to interpret the information that is at their fingertips. I have dealt with some teachers who feel that the answer is to go digital cold turkey with them. To extend my metaphor a touch further, this is now like dropping off a 16 year old Mennonite at the club. Money, excitement, wide eyes but no experience at all…..trouble awaits our young friend! Critical thinking skills must be a core focus in the digital literacy development of our students. Teaching our students how to think and how to discern the useless from the valuable and more importantly the safe from the dangerous.
Taking kids to the computer lab to play literacy or numeracy games has limited value but sadly a disproportionately large part of the primary digital experience. The kids already know HOW to work the equipment, they need to be taught to THINK about what they are accessing.
The world is changing fast. As a prisoner of hope, I believe this change is for the better. As educators, we also have to remember that only the adults perceive the change, for the kids the digital world is their present reality. There is no change, this is just the way it is. We just need to make sure that our kids are equipped with the skills to navigate these quick waters. Watch the SHIFT HAPPENS video in the header to get a nice visual on these quick waters.
Let’s support each other in our digital development. We need to help each other before we can help the kids!
Education Week posted an article today entitled, “It’s Not What Natives Do, It’s Why They Do It” by Ian Quillen. The article focuses on ISTE speaker David Warlick of the Landmark Project. Warlick suggests that educators should be less concerned with the type of media that digital natives use and focus more on why they use it. The “gamification” (I HATE THAT WORD!) of the classroom is a popular buzz phrase recently in the world of student engagement. Warlick rightly points out that simply including more education based games is not a silver bullet. Instead, researchers should be trying to identify the particular aspects of games that the students really enjoy. Warlick contends,
”If we could identify some of those elements and integrate those … if we could crack the code … and then use that to hack the activities we’re doing in our classrooms, then maybe we could create more learning activities that are relevant to today’s children,” Warlick said.
In “Stratosphere”, Fullan makes a similar argument. The technology alone does not improve student learning. Technology must be a tool for engagement and making learning easier. Good pedagogy and strong teaching must be coupled with technology for it to be truly effective. Quite frankly, gaming alone in the classroom is a cop-out. If we crack the code and apply the “hook” to different lesson activities, we have the potential to really affect student outcomes.
If we simply push more games we risk two potential problems. First, we began pandering to our students. Games simply for the sake of engagement pacifies but does not necessarily teach. Secondly, we provide a market for the big ed companies to swoop in with prepackaged platforms that do not involve any form of local feedback or input.
Educational leaders must cognizant of Warlick’s suggestions as they formulate working plans for 21st Century Learning. The tools alone will not do the job. Tech should engage and make learning easier but it cannot substitute for teachers. Games have many lessons to teach and we should look to apply those ideas to our teaching practices. The focus should not just be on what tools they like to use but why they like to use them.
Michael Fullan’s new book “Stratosphere” takes a critical look at 21st Century Learning. Specific attention is paid to the relationship between technology and pedagogy. The book title “Stratosphere” refers to the relationship of technology, pedagogy and change knowledge. This book provides and very nuanced perspective of 21st Century Learning. Far from advocating the independent learning power of platforms like Khan Academy as a panacea for education, Fullan presents the dangers that students face without the guiding hand of a teacher.
I really appreciate Fullan’s framework for effective ed tech. If schools are going to reap the benefit of what technology has to offer, the tech needs to be:
- Irresistibly engaging for students and teachers.
- Elegantly efficient and easy to use.
- Technologically ubiquitous 24/7/
- Steeped in real-life problem solving.
The goal is to move away from marvelling at tech specifications towards reliable and real integration of technology. Tech with a focus and not simply tech for tech’s sake. It must help students to link curriculum to real life problem solving situations.
Most importantly, Fullan deals with the new role of teachers in the 21st Century. Rather than being pushers of content, teachers must form partnerships with students. Teachers have a huge role to play in this new era of education as change agents. Technology and independent learning alone cannot provide these change conditions. Fullan quotes John Hattie when discussing the fundamental role of teachers, “to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement.” A partnership rather than the sage on the stage.
This is a powerful book that anyone involved in education must read. It comes in at roughly 80 pages. I purchased my copy from Pearson online. It is a critical, nuanced and valuable perspective on this new era of learning.
For me to get excited about any digital learning tool, there must be a collaborative element to it. Storybird is a digital storytelling tool that allows students to create and publish extremely smooth picture books. Users are provided with numerous illustration styles that can easily be dragged into place on a blank page. Students can add their own text at the side or on the bottom of a page.
The Storybird desktop is very user friendly:
Collaboration is integrated into Storybird in an authentic manner. Creators can invite others to contribute or “take a turn” on a story through an email invitation. Stories can be set-up as collaborative from the outset as well. The Storybird community is invited to leave comments and share stories. Students can benefit from simply reading the stories of other community members.
Storybird is teacher friendly as well by allowing for the creation of classes. Storybird is a “freemium” site. The free version is all that is needed to create stories. The premium features include tools for teachers such as an assessment and descriptive feedback function. The free version allows for one PDF download per student with the premium plans allowing for 150 – 300 per student. All plans allow for unlimited online creations.
Teachers are also able to assign stories online through the created class lists. The assignment screen is simple for the user and the teacher:
One of my favourite aspects of the NFL is that it can serve as an analogy for almost anything. Seemingly each year, some great coach comes up with an innovative new system or scheme – the West Coast offense, the zone blitz, the Wildcat offense or the new 3-3-5 defense. As soon as a team achieves success with a certain style of play, everyone jumps on board. The NFL is the ultimate “copycat” league. The new trend of adoption of Ed Teach is perfectly analogous to this copycat mentality.
One of my concerns is that the for-profit companies are jumping on board the “Ed Tech Train” with great zeal. The text book companies are starting to offer prepackaged and multi-layered programs online instead of in print. Rather than revolutionizing education, they are simply repacking their programs to a digital format. This will prove successful in the short-term because of the fuzziness of this transition time. Boards will want to give their communities something digital. The big education companies will copy the success of the upstarts and the true ed revolutionaries. The results will sadly dilute the whole movement.
As educators, we must make use of digital tools and not digital programs. As I write I can hear John Lennon singing, “You say you want a revolution” and that revolution will only happen through connecting communities of educators and learners. Cloud education is an agent of change if it allows for free movement of ideas. Teachers working in specific communities now have the opportunity to connect with teachers in similar communities. Ideas no longer have to stay within a school, board, city, province or even country. We can tear down traditional barriers and rapidly connect ideas.
Boards do not need to make huge investments in for-profit companies, they need to make investment in their constituents. Build infrastructure, build a culture of collaboration, invest in capacity build, encourage innovation and invest in digital tools that facilitate connections and home grown lesson creation. Buying a digital textbook series is simply a lateral move. This new age of online learning should be empowering to educators and not simply a method to move the status quo to a new platform.
In the header video, Tiffany Shlain, makes reference to power of the “The Declaration of Interdependence“. This short film is a crowdsourced creation, translation and reading of this declaration. As educators, we should likewise make such a declaration. We are dependent on each other. We can make use of the digital tools out their to share ideas, craft lessons and work collaboratively.
Cloud education should empower communities of learners, not provide a new market for textbook companies.
Taking that tourist approach to your own education system can be equally enlightening. I found this video on Edutopia from the OECD Education Everywhere series about education in Ontario. The video focused on Unionville High School (part of the northern Toronto suburb of Markham ). Markham is an extremely diverse city with a very large Chinese and south Asian population.
The video paid specific attention to the role of the “Student Success” teacher and the larger Student Success team. The team meets weekly and focuses on coordinating supports for the transition of new Canadian students. The goal is to provide supports for the whole child and not only the academic side.
Additional information and perspectives can be found in this OECD document:
The ubiquity of content is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it has created greater freedom, enhanced transparency and put the focus of education on matters of higher order. It can be a curse because there is just so damn much of it! I often find myself overwhelmed by content, not really sure where to start or how to process. I came across this great slide from Steve Wheeler that says it all:
If adults are confused when searching for information, how do you think our students feel?
As tech integration moves full steam ahead in our schools, we have to step back for a moment and prioritize. The access and proliferation of tools are key aspects of building infrastructure but they do not represent 21st century learning alone. The priority in education must be on teaching our students how to handle the deluge of information that they face daily.
Many people of my generation (shout out to the Gen Xers!) learned about the birds and the bees by osmosis. We learned about the mechanics through playground whispers, urban legend, contraband reading material and our older siblings! Only the few progressive schools and parents had “the talk” with their children. I fear that much the same is going on when it comes to digital literacy. Students are being taught about privacy and personal safety on the web but they are being left to fend for themselves when it comes to interpreting and using the vast amounts of information available to them. This is far too big of an undertaking for them to face alone.
Students struggle to determine the credibility of sites and content. How many times have you had an intermediate or high school aged student present you with ironclad proof that 9/11 was an inside job? It happened to me at least a half dozen times. One or two Youtube videos later, the conspiracy minded become experts in covert operations and structural engineering. Students equate a well-polished site as “the truth”. Sadly, they don’t recognize that a polished turd is still a turd! It is only through a focus on digital literacy leading to digital fluency that they will develop the “crap detection” of which Howard Rheingold speaks.
Take a look at the picture below. What do you think?
I showed this slide to a few of my best and brightest students (a few colleagues as well!). Their immediate reaction was to agree with the quote. I got responses like “Yeah, the internet is full of garbage.” They were so quick to agree with the quote that they did not take a look at the whole slide. They completely ignored the fact that the quotation was attributed to a man who was long dead before the internet was even a dream! Proof positive that digital literacy is still in its infancy. Knowing how to search for information does not equate to knowing how to process or interpret information.
The goal then is to help our students learn how to handle information. We must also recognize the need to support our fellow educators through this process as well. In the slideshow at the bottom of this post, Alex Couros (an outstanding Canadian Ed Tech educator) presents the case for digital fluency. The argument being that we need to go beyond “knowing how” to the deeper stage of understanding “why”. This diagram pulled from his presentation provides a nice overview:
Digital fluency brings students into the realm of “knowledge wisdom”. At this stage, analysis of the information can occur. Students will have a framework to judge information, organize it and categorize it. Steve Wheeler provides us with this excellent summary:
When our kids get to the stage of digital fluency, they become much more self-sufficient. Controlling content allows them to be better at creating, curating, remixing and sharing content. Collaboration becomes more effective and networks that much stronger.
How do we get there? What are your strategies? What works? What doesn’t?
Fun video from SMART, it’s a little commercial but still effective. I think that its really interesting how the technology at each stage served as an extension of the teacher until the current period. This was most apparent in the “computer age” animation. The screens were simply reproducing what was going on at the front of the room. The teacher was still the centrepiece and the technology was simply a tool to provide passive content.
It is only in the final “interactive age” that things become more decentralized. The students are using the technology in a much more self-directed manner. The goal is interaction and not content delivery.
Last week I wrote a post about “the haters who just keep hating”. We all know those teachers and adults who label this generation shallow, stupid and epic wasters of time. One person went so far as to write the regrettably titled book, “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30)” . Sadly many educators view our Digital Youth as caricatures:
The new digital divide is not about access, it is about usage. As Christina Cupaiuolo writes in the article, “Connecting the Digital Divide to Digital Literacies”, the new paradigm is one of content creators and content consumers. Our job is not to be dismissive of our students and their online habits, it is to help focus those habits.
Jerry Springer and Maury Povich made careers out of reducing people into neat little stereotypes. There are many teachers doing the same to our students. Anthony Muhammad wrote a great book called “Transforming School Culture”. Based on his research, he lists four categories of teachers. The most dangerous of these four are “the fundamentalists”. They resist change at all costs. They seize on difficulties to support their opposition and seek to recruit others to the side of “no”. We all know educators out there who use the “time-wasting” mantra as a shield to slow down tech integration.
Do we call for limits on math education because some students use calculators to take shortcuts? Do we call for limits on teaching English because some students have bad grammar? OF COURSE NOT! Instead, we TEACH them to do better! We must take this same approach to digital literacy. The misuse of online time is a teachable moment, not a reason to slow down. We have to help students use their “cognitive surplus” effectively rather than beating them over the head with our own personal biases.
Howard Rheingold says it best,
If, like many others, you are concerned social media is making people and cultures shallow, I propose we teach more people how to swim and together explore the deeper end of the pool.
The problem with the fundamentalists is that they want to empty the pool! I don’t want to blame the technophobes for everything. We have to develop a culture of support so no one feels isolated or alone. We must shift the focus from the shiny new toys towards a culture of learning. Simply providing access is not enough, we must focus on digital literacy skills. We must help our students become discerning consumers of content or as Rheingold says, teach them “crap detection”. The video in the header is a brief overview of Rheingold’s five part digital plan.
As much as I love Ed Tech, I am an English teacher at heart. Bringing the real world into the classroom was always a priority. The richness and complexity of news items really helped to develop core literacy skills. The absolute best tool for bringing the real world to your Language Arts class is Storify. This web based digital tool allows you to use social media to aggregate information about a given topic.
Features and Functions:
- Storify allows users to search for news items on Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram,YouTube and a variety of other sources. Users can customize their choice of sources as well.
- Drag the text or video onto the Storify board. Users can rearrange the order of the media items by dragging and dropping.
- Users are able to add their own text as well.
- Stories can be published with the option of being public or private. Public stories are available for viewing on the Storify site. Stories can also be shared on a variety of platforms.
Below is a an example created by some of my students regarding the recent Toronto ban on plastic bags:
In this RSA Animates -ish video, Don Tapscott stakes out his case for the macro level changes occurring around the world as a result of collaborative technology.
Tapscott, besides being a good Canadian, is always full of really thought-provoking ideas. He is exactly the type of hopeful person that I wrote about yesterday. He is a person of game-changing vision.
Tom Friedman of the NY Times wrote about the flattening of hierarchies in his book, “The World is Flat”. It is only recently though that we are really starting to see this idea being put into action. From Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement to the Quebec Student protests, we are seeing people “self-organize”. Social media and collaborative technology have aided movements to turn ideas into action.
Tapscott highlights five key pillars of that are being ushered in by the information age:
Instagrok is a dedicated search engine for educational queries.
I have been reading about Instagrok on Ed Tech pages so I decided to check it out for myself. I was not very enthusiastic prior to my search because I was anticipating another run of the mill tailored search engine. After playing around with it for quite awhile, I came away very impressed.
Users type in their topic of interest in the search area and the site begins to “Grok”.
- Search results come back in the form of a web.
- Clicking on the sub-topics in the web will drill down to further sub-topics.
- On the sidebar several drop-down menus appear with related information. The menu items include: Key Facts, Websites, Videos, Images, Quizzes and Concepts.
- Users can delete information in order to streamline the search.
- Useful information can be pinned to a journal in order to collate ideas in one place.
- Journals are not dedicated to a particular search. You can populate the journals with information from multiple searches.
The search results can be filtered by the required depth of information and by grade level through a scrolling bar at the top of the page. The default position is in the middle but you can move it to a more basic level by sliding to the chalkboard icon or find more advanced information by sliding it towards the Eisteinish cartoon.
Click below to view the Instagrok created brochure:
“Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tends to be based on the notion that there’s enough evidence out there to believe things are gonna be better, much more rational, deeply secular, whereas hope looks at the evidence and says, “It doesn’t look good at all. Doesn’t look good at all. Gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.” That’s hope. I’m a prisoner of hope, though. Gonna die a prisoner of hope.”
― Cornell West
Like Dr. West, I too am a prisoner of hope. I have a really hard time with optimism. It is too shallow and thin of a concept. The hopeful person acknowledges that there are problems in the world and does not hide from them. The hopeful person decides to fight the problems rather than pretending that they are not so bad. I see optimism as an empty smile or an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. Rather than rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty fixing a problem, the optimist takes a passive approach.
My biggest problem with optimism is that it leads to incrementalism. The change agenda is slow and plodding with a complete lack of bold action. As Dr. West says, hope is based on visions of new possibilities. The incrementalist approach brought on by optimism also leads to low expectations. The hopeful person sets audacious goals and fights hard to achieve them.
So what does this have to do with education?
I really believe that we must have high expectations for our system, our boards, our leaders and ourselves. If we want education to move into the 21st Century, then we have to be bold and fearless. We have to map out a real vision for progress and not just a piecemeal or retread plan packaged as a vision. The best way to craft such a vision is collaboratively. When we are supported, we are more confident. When we are engaged and involved, we are more passionate. If we want big change, we need a larger pool of ideas from which to draw. Take bold action to incorporate collaborative technology into our system.
The video in the header is from the Case Foundation started by Steve and Jean Case (early builders of AOL). The goal of the foundation is to spark innovation and collaboration around the world. The plan that they set out for collaboration and innovation is bold yet attainable. Please take their pledge seriously. Real change comes from a collective and hopeful vision.
Please click on their logo to view the Case Foundation site:
BE BOLD. BE HOPEFUL. BE FEARLESS. Remember, we are all in this together!
Clay Shirky is an author and media expert out of New York University. He specializes in a subject near and dear to my heart, technology as a tool to create and empower networks. I am most intrigued by Shirky’s concept of “cognitive surplus”. Essentially, cognitive surplus is the free time that is afforded to people as a result of our modern society. We don’t have to spend all of our time finding ways to survive like our ancestors.
The 35+ age cohort spent the majority of their youthful free time watching T.V. The net generation has used their free time in a much more creative manner. We (as in adults and educators) are VERY quick to dismiss much of this work as nonsense. Be honest, how many times have you described a student’s time online as a waste of time?
Shirky uses the site lolcats as a cognitive surplus case study. This lovely site is a repository for funny cat pictures that have been digitally annotated or altered as seen here:
As silly as this picture may be, it is still a creative act. It was then shared with a larger audience helping to create community. Creative acts like this are gateways to more productive and powerful online activities. Wikipedia represents one of those higher forms of collaborative action. Rather than spending countless hours viewing a one way medium like T.V, the digital youth are creating and curating content. They are creating audiences of their own, rather than being a Nielson statistic.
There is a powerful message here for teachers. We have to facilitate purposeful connections for our students and most importantly, we have to stop judging! Am I tempted to call lolcats a waste of time? Sure, but I really believe that any creative act is better than nothing. At least it is a starting point for something more. The goal is not to criticize but to guide. The more authentic opportunities for collaboration that we provide for our students, the more Wikipedia type ventures we foster. If we don’t provide rich and collaborative digital activites, lolcats and the like will be the extent of our students digitally creative acts. So, repeat after me, “I solemnly swear to bite my tongue and no longer describe my students online time as a waste. I will provide rich collaborative opportunities to guide them towards more productive and powerful creative acts.”
As evolutionary ideas become nuanced, there seems to be a move away from Dawkins’ reductionist ideas of the “selfish gene” where humans are simply hosts for gene survival and any form of altruism or desire for the greater good is reduced to kin selection. The new movement focuses much more on the benefits of cooperation and working together for the greater good. Martin Nowak of Harvard university penned the book “Supercooperators” where he argues that cooperation is hardwired into our very genetic make-up and he just happens to be a devote Roman Catholic (another nail in the coffin in the false dichotomy of science vs. religion).
Of particular interest to this post are the ideas of J.Haidt and his work with “Hive Psychology”. Haidt’s work focuses on happiness and its relationship to losing oneself in a greater whole or cause. An article on Scott Belsky’s the99% highlights two major tenets of Hive Psychology:
(1) “The most effective moral communities – from a well-being perspective – are those that offer occasional experiences in which self-consciousness is greatly reduced and one feels merged with or part of something greater than the self.”
(2) “The self can be an obstacle to happiness (given our inherent limitations as humans!), so people need to lose their selves occasionally by becoming part of an emergent social organism in order to reach the highest level of human flourishing.”
-From “Hive Psychology, Happiness & Public Policy” by J. Haidt, P. Seder & S. Kesebir
The goal of this post is not to debate evolutionary science or explore the relatively new field of evolutionary psychology, instead I want to underline the importance of cooperation and teamwork at school. Student success must ALWAYS be paramount to any initiative undertaken in any school but the well-being of the staff within a school is vitally important as well.
We live in a world of ubiquitous connectivity. As educators and educational leaders, the goal is to ensure that these connections are purposeful. There are times of deep isolation in our profession and I have teachers become completely disconnected as a result. Building a strong community of support based upon professional development, mental health and most importantly student success is just the type of moral engagement that Haidt discusses. Building a true community of learners that advances the lives of parents, students and staff members is a powerful thing. It is the type of thing in which we should seek to lose ourselves.
How often have you found yourself excited by the “ping” on your phone which signifies a new message? We get excited because it is the potential for a connection to another person or group. The haters will tell you that this type of virtual connection is empty and only leads to more empty connections. I think that’s nonsense. When my wife, who is home on maternity leave, sends me a picture of our daughters on my phone, I am not satisfied. It only makes me want to see them in person all the more. The pictures alone are not an end, instead they represent another layer of connection. Let’s harness these virtual connections and use them to make our face to face connections more meaningful, productive and vibrant. Rather than viewing collaborative tech platforms as an empty connection, view them as a tool to expand connectivity. The goal is not to replace face to face contact rather it is to diversify connectivity and deepen bonds.
Technology like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Google Groups, Chatter, Edmodo and many more, provides us with a chance to share information as well as build community. We can end isolation and build deeper supports so that we do not feel overwhelmed or bogged down my minutiae when we do have opportunities for face to face collaboration at school.
Let’s get lost in education together. The more purpose that we create in education, the happier that everyone will be. Remember, we are all in this together!
I have several daily must-reads. Fast Company is my favourite from that list. For those unfamiliar with the magazine and its website, this excerpt from their “about us” section encapsulates its purpose well,
Fast Company is the world’s leading progressive business media brand, with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, ethonomics (ethical economics), leadership, and design. Written for, by, and about the most progressive business leaders, Fast Company and FastCompany.com inspire readers and users to think beyond traditional boundaries, lead conversations, and create the future of business.
While pulling the early shift with my 9 month old, I found an article on FastCompany.com entitled, “To Bring Out the Best in Millennials, Put on Your Coaching Hat”. The article was written by Tony Wagner , the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard. While the article may be aimed at corporations, the ideas presented prove helpful for schools as well. Wagner points out that this generation has a passion for creation like no other generation but this passion is sometimes misunderstood or under-appreciated. The gap between millennials and older generations lies in their approach to work, tradition and definitions of success.
- more interested in making a contribution than making money
- they see work as an adult form of play
- they seek experiences that are engaging in the moment, that excite them both intellectually and emotionally
- they are looking for opportunities to give back and seek change
- feel stifled by the 9 to 5 routine – want to be held accountable for more than following simple protocol
- engaged in passion, play and purpose
I am quite sure that this list of observations would neatly overlap with those of any teacher in any classroom from grade 7 to 12. Rather than being excited about the possibilities of the millennial mindset, many educators and corporate managers have their reservations. Instead of castigating them for a different mindset, we should recognize that it has the power to fuel innovation and generate social equity. One of the chief complaints that I hear regularly is that this generation lacks respect for authority. I agree with that perspective to a point. Students have lost respect for the traditional authority based on position and hierarchy. I suppose that every generation says the same about the next.
Wagner argues that the authority that matters is that of expertise, modelling of good values, the enabling of innovation, and authority that enables teams to come up with better solutions. In other words, authority is an earned construct rather a simple function of position on the pyramid.
Wagner suggests that the best way to develop this generation is with a coaching mindset. Manager, teacher, principal, or any other position needs to focus on developing strengths and guiding students rather than constraining them. In an era where access to information is ubiquitous, content knowledge is no longer king. We must develop the skills in our students that will allow them to be innovators and to create social change. Innovation flows from an open environment.
Below is one of Wagner’s presentations about developing an innovators mindset:
My favourite part about technology is its connective ability. The opportunity to build vast networks of individuals from across the world to solve problems or build knowledge can prove to be game-changing. Approaching situations with a one-size fits all/bureaucratic approach is becoming less necessary and less relevant.
Organizations that are dealing with overwhelmingly large issues have been able to harness community to create solutions. Kiva has provided a platform for people to become micro-lenders to entrepreneurs in developing countries, Linux is an entirely open-sourced and collaboratively created operating system, Kickstarter gathers people together to fund creative ventures but the one that fascinates me the most is OpenIDEO.
IDEO is a leading design firm that has entered into the field of social innovation. They are using design principles to solve MAJOR global issues, for example How might we restore vibrancy in cities and regions facing economic decline? The site aggregates ideas from participants and follows a process leading to action. This open-source approach uses technology as a vehicle to CONNECT. Check out the video below for a quick overview:
Imagine the potential for this type of innovation in education. When I am looking for a book on a topic, I don’t read the publisher’s overview; I read the user comments on the Amazon page. The number of stars that an app receives on the App Store can largely determine the fate of that app. As an educator, I am FAR more likely to go with the opinions of a collective of educators rather than with a for-profit company’s opinion. We need to harness the collective knowledge of colleagues to solve educational problems and questions in an open-source manner.
Picture a site similar to OpenIDEO with an educational slant that would allow educators to post big questions and collect ideas from fellow educators. Questions could range from the local (pertaining to a single issue or school) outward to more open ideas that would affect a larger sample. I am a VP with the Toronto Catholic District School Board which is compromised of 201 schools. There are countless fragments of innovation and wisdom within the staffs of these schools that when connected could prove revolutionary. The idea is not to simply post lesson plans or worksheets but to engage in substantive discussion to address issues.
We need the forum to connect these ideas. Its time to value the knowledge within the system and use technology to connect educators in a revolutionary and solutions based manner. What would the educational version look like?
This summer I was part of an amazing team charged with developing a 21st century learning articulation for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Under the name of Project Next, we set out to create a multimedia document that focused on developing a new mindset for educators.
The TCDSB is aligning resources with priorities in an exciting way. We now have a superintendent of 21st Century Learning who is leading our board forward with the full support of the Director and Associate Director of the board.
I will be sharing information about Project Next on this blog over the upcoming months and I would really appreciate feedback to help shape our board’s direction.
The video in the header is the Project Next perspective on Professional Learning. Enjoy and PLEASE offer suggestions.
I just returned home from Connect 2013 in Niagara Falls with an AMAZING collection of teachers, administrators and business leaders from the Toronto Catholic District School Board. The conference proved inspirational in many ways but the “Blog as Portfolio” session presented by George Couros (@gcouros)was the most impactful. I started “The Digital Frontline” last year with the intentions of affecting change through regular blog posts. A new baby and a new job (as vice-principal) derailed those plans. Watching George’s impassioned plea to teachers and administrators to document learning (both professional and student) through blogging created simultaneous feelings of excitement and guilt; excitement for the potential of a new emphasis on blogging and guilt for letting it slip.
Anyways, I’m back! My goal is to blog at least twice a week. Hopefully I can share some insights that might spur action in others like @gcouros did for me!
― Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
Powerful quote from a thought provoking book. Content information is ubiquitous, so teachers are freed up far more to support learning rather than direct it. Thoughts?