Picture of John O'BrienDr. John O’Brien is a community college president and an expert on integrating technology in education.  He spoke  at our conference Tuesday morning.   He is associated with Mark Milliron, who spoke to this group (ISAS Heads) in November.

Dr. O’Brien was here to advocate for the wisdom and power of blended learning, something I too am enthusiastic about, but because the power was out, his presentation was unavailable to be screened, and instead it turned to more of a discussion of the implications of our new era.  (I will say, very gently, that though I found the conversation important and provocative, it would also have been great to learn more about blended learning from O’Brien, and I hope both that the presentation will be shared and that I have the opportunity to post and comment upon it here.)

Key topics that especially interested me were the following five, each of which I have commented upon:

We used technology committees to consider what technologies to bring into our schools, but we don’t have ongoing learning committees (or attention) to determine how learning needs to evolve to align with these new tools.

I know Dr. O’Brien, or John as I will refer to him here-on, would agree with me that this is perhaps the most important point made in the session.   We don’t implement tech for the sake of the tech, but for the sake of the learning, and we need to never stop thinking how learning changes with tech to become more effective and more powerful.   Since Aristotle we have know we learn best by doing; since Socrates that we learn best by questioning received wisdom.   Tech empowers our students to do both these things better, and to spend less time receiving, recording, and re-stating teacher’s wisdom (which, in “blended learning” still will and should happen), and to spend more time inquiring, investigating, researching, analyzing, problem-solving real world problems, collaborating and producing.

Peer mentoring is the most valuable way for teachers to strengthen their tech skills, and it is better not to assign this work over to an ed. tech director.

There are many amazing ed.tech directors in our association and beyond, and I believe that many of them are our association’s most important though-leaders.  But as Pat Bassett says, we must think about downsizing our staffs, and we need to ask more of our teachers, and we need to insist on a faculty which tries new things, innovates, experiments, tests, and adapts.  Ed. Tech directors offer great wisdom, but some of our schools will need to forgo this role and instead recognize and affirm and uplift the shared wisdom among our teachers who are doing great work with tech already, and then find more and more ways for those teachers to coach each other.

We know that NO authority is more influential on teachers than a peer/colleague, and the best we can do is provide more time and structure for the sharing of knowledge.   I think the most interesting and intentional schools around the country are ones where schools start at 8:45 or 9 and many or all mornings of the week, and this is where they are investing their precious resources.

As technology swiftly grows in importance inside our classrooms, we need also do more adventure & experiential education outdoors.

I know that some might be surprised to read me say this, but I endorse this message whole-heartedly.  I am passionate about empowering our students with technology in their learning, but I am just as passionate about the learning that happens in the out-of-doors, on the ropes courses and rock climbing and hiking and exploring and all the rest.   I think our students will be deeply deprived of the physical health, mental well being, and social, risk-taking, and collaboration skills they need if we don’t continue, even expand, adventure, experiential, out-doors learning.

School-leaders must lead with tech, and use it themselves in leadership, if they expect teachers to use tech in learning!   Yes.   It is ridiculous to imagine that leaders can excuse themselves from leading by example; it is foolish that a school-leader who needs emails printed for him or her can ask teachers to integrate laptops into their classrooms and use wikis for student collaboration.   Now, I will say that technology is wide in its applications, and so I have to point out that I don’t think it is essential for school-leaders to be proficient in every and any tech-application that can be imagined.

This is also just another way of saying that leading is learning, and that our roles as School-Heads can often be best expressed as “Learners-in-Chief.”  I am the chief learner of my school, as well as chief of learning, and I need to demonstrate regularly that I too am learning to use for my purposes the best contemporary tools available for whatever endeavor I am embarked upon.

Einstein: I never try to teach my students anything, I only try to create an environment in which they can learn. Note that in the above passage I actually resist calling myself Head-Teacher or Headmaster.  I am happy to be Head Learner, or Head of Learning, but we have to remember, as Tony Wagner insisted at the ISAS Teacher meeting in February, that it is not Teaching that Matters, but rather Learning that Matters Most.  We need to provide environments and tools in and with our students are prompted (and held accountable) for learning.

Some notes jotted from his talk:
Dr. O’Brien opens by noting the Irony of having power out for session on use of technology in education.

Nuts and bolts of how to integrate has been O’Brien’s focus—working on campuses, working with faculty, working to make tech work in schools.    He is now about to become a community college President.

Reiterating Mark Milliron’s messages:

Students are used to learning in a certain way, getting used to swift and instaneous access, and then they get to school and it slows so far down.

Blended learning is the right way to go: find the right balancing point of learning using internet and using traditional environments.

Mobility is a key development—using cell phones for learning is the wave of the future of learning, as is gaming,w hcih will become farmore important in the next five years to learning.

Prensky  is a key figure in this: that gaming speeds intellects, and we must ask if we recreated our curriculum not following from textbooks.

Analytics must be a bigger part of school culture: tracking very, very  minute details of student learning progress, and tracking micro-data, they can act to intervene.

Question arises referring to the very current NYTimes article about the mental and cognitive impacts of online learning—and the problematic nature of multi-tasking.   O’Brien: There are not clear answers; we must bring the conversation to school, and ask kids if multi-tasking is helping or hurting our brains.   O’Brien refers to an article: Is Google making us stupid? From the Atlantic.

Now the challenge for educators is which technologies do we want to import, how do we “curate” the new tech for learning environments?

O’Brien makes the point it is no longer valid to filter and block and ban websites, but we have to realize there is no good way to limit access in this day and age.

Pat Bassett calls for more research into which learning methods are most effective for learning, and says there is a deep lack of this research knowledge.  Dr. O’Brien responds there are some 400 studies which have supported, for 20 years, now, for college students, that blended learning is strongly effective.   O’Brien cites a book which supports this, No Significant difference.

Discussion moves to how to support the transition in our schools: the use of peer mentoring by teachers is highly valuable.  We need to encourage our younger teachers too that they can, respectfully, support the growth of more veteran teachers in this important direction.   One school, Phoenix Country Day, has a lab location where students can work with teachers, and students can teach teachers, on creating lessons which use technology.  Pair our students with their fluency to help teaches to make great lesson plans.

Nice discussion of the ways in which schools are advancing:  a favorite point is that when you move to integrate tech, some say you must hire an educational tech director to show teachers where the websites are and how to use them– but administrators should resist.  It is far better to support the knowledge growth in and among the teachers and promote peer mentoring than to leave the knowledge all in one base.

O’Brien urges educational leaders to use technology in their communications and leadership, and to model for the faculty: You cannot insist teachers use tech if leaders are not.

Pat Bassett asks about how teachers can and should handle the changing dynamic, where students have information constantly available to them to challenge the accuracy of the lecturer.   This new era and the information available empower students, but may undermine the authority of the teacher.

Strong recommendation made for the ISTE conference in Denver:  a place to see really excellent technology integrated learning.   An awesome point is made: in this age of increasing tech, there is no better time to enhance outdoor and experiential learning.

O’Brien advocates for more volunteerism and less conscription in supporting teacher technology skill development.

Call comes for the human element in teaching: one of the most important thing we do as teachers is listening– we must still listen to kids!

About 10-20%  of schools report having significantly web enhanced courses and/or on-line learning.

Important conversation about it is not just about technology, but about using tech to support evolution of learning, and how students better learn in this age using tech.

Einstein quote, a fitting conclusion: I never try to teach my students anything, I only try to create an environment in which they can learn.