July 2012

[cross-posted at Connected Principals]

Patrick Larkin wrote a piece yesterday about how his mind has changed over the past six or seven years; when he first read Collins’ Good to Great, he (as I did) essentially skipped over the technology as acceleration chapter.

I was happy to put technology discussions on the back burner and have one less thing to worry about. Fast forward to Burlington in the present and I have a different view of Chapter 7 from Good to Great

As a presenter, I am always looking for the most effective conversation starters for my audiences to break things up and mix in more dialogue, and earlier this month I stumbled into what seemed a very valuable one, asking small groups to discuss, and then share out, how their own views have changed and are evolving over the past six to eight years.

Watching these groups, I could see that the question wasn’t an easy one– which is something of a good thing, because sometimes conversation starters are just too easily answered– but once people started reflecting further, and discussing the topic, you could see deeper thinking emerge, and there came along greater recognition that indeed, for most of us, our minds and attitudes are changing– though not in any one direction.   It struck that me how useful it is for us to be more aware of, more meta-cognitive about, how they are changing. (more…)

In May, NAIS published a new report, preparing by Insightlink Commuications, regarding “mobile learning” in NAIS schools; the report is useful as an overview of the state of the association in moving toward effective integration of technology into learning, and stimulates thinking.   My reactions follow.

1. Mobile learning is a term some prefer to use for integrating digital and web-accessing tools into learning, but I find it it a bit clunky.  For the purposes of this report, the term seems to be defined this way:

use of mobile computing devices – laptops, tablet  computers (such as the iPad and similar devices), smartphones (such as the
iPhone, Android, Blackberry and similar phones with Internet and other advanced  capabilities) and 1:1 initiatives (individually assigned devices for students).

2. 90% of educators answering this survey (and voluntary survey response might have tilted the respondent pool toward those favoring usage) believe

that the use of mobile devices can transform how students learn (90 percent either agree strongly or agree) and that these devices make the learning experience more engaging for students (84 percent).

But, 40% of respondents do not agree (half neither agree nor disagree, and half disagree) that “schools have no choice but to adopt mobile devices into their classrooms.”   It may be that that statement is bizarrely worded: nobody likes to agree that they “have no choice.”   I always want to believe that schools have a choice.  But if it is not a matter of wording, then it is disappointing the disconnect between the recognition that these tools are transformative and the perception that it is only a matter of time before we put them into place.

3. BYOD is an approach regular readers here know I am particularly partial to, and I was glad to see that 72% is using, planning to use, or studying the use of BYOD (page 10-11).   That was higher than I’d have expected, and suggests as an association we are moving in a healthy direction.  For contrast, look to Lisa Nielsen’s campaign at the Innovative Educator to permit BYOD/BYOT policies in the enormous NYC public school district, and the obstinate opposition she is encountering.

However, unless I am just missing something, there is an oddity to the options five provided for the survey about use of laptops in each grade.

  1. Provide laptops to students on a shared basis such as a cart
  2. Provide laptops paid for by the schools individually to each student.
  3. Requires students to have a specific brand of laptop provided by their families.
  4. Permits students to bring their own laptops (any brand) with no laptops provided by the school.
  5. Does not use laptops at all.

What’s missing?  3B is missing, disappointingly, because 3B is the most logical approach today, I believe and argue, in our cloud-based, user-neutral,
open-source, environment.   3B is, of course, requiring students to have a laptop of any brand, meeting a minimum set of specs. (more…)

Choosing what I believe is the Book of the Year is always a fun task —what new book each year most informs, illuminates, and influences me?     2008 the nod went to Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap (Godin’s Tribes the close runner-up), 2009 Perkins’ Making Learning Whole,  and 2010 was the year of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From (with Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus close behind.)  In 2011 John Seely Brown’s New Culture of Learning took my prize.  (Christensen’s Innovators DNA and McGonigal’s Reality is Broken were also contenders.)

2012 is only half over, and it isn’t impossible that my current nominee will be toppled, but I don’t think it likely.   Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online is terrific: ambitious in scope but humble in tone; enthusiastic about opportunities but tempered by the recognition of the risks and downsides;  sweeping in its broad-brushed depiction of our new era of empowerment and participation while specific in its suggestions of precise techniques and initiatives we can take to best leverage our staggeringly new connectivity.

It should be said that this valuable book is a bit more work than most of the other titles mentioned above.   Johnson’s book was popular in airports, published by mainstream presses and written in a very general non-fiction manner, intended for wider audiences and reasonably easily read on a cross-country flight.   Brown’s book is breezy and accessible, with large font and charming anecdotes, easily able to be read over a 90 minute flight.   Rheingold, by contrast, is published by MIT press, with smaller font size and a greater seriousness— it isn’t an academic monograph, but will take more concentrated and extended attention than the others.

As I noted already in my previous post, Rheingold deserves great credit for his carefully nuanced balance of enthusiasm and sobriety about digital engagement and connected-ness, for which I am so appreciative.    Digital media is (or are, if you prefer) a great gift to us and to our abilities to form community, to collaborate and create, and to gather information and to contribute information, to participate and contribute to the wider world in ways we never had before.

Used mindfully, how can digital media help us grow smarter?  My years of study and experience have led me to conclude that humans are humans because we invent thinking and communicating tools that enable us to do bigger, more powerful things together. (more…)

I woke up one morning last week with a bit of a jolt, recognizing in an epiphany that there is a contradiction, or at least a problematic tension, in the way I think about using digital media in learning and life.

After reading Howard Rheingold’s excellent Net Smart recently (review coming soon), and preparing a two hour presentation on Digital Citizenship, I’ve been concentrating more closely on the question of how we think and the metaphors we use about technology in our lives, in our learning, and in our classrooms.

For a long time, going back probably to 2006, I’ve been attracted to, and have often embraced and endorsed,  the idea and the metaphor of making technology “disappear,” or rendering it invisible.   A chief influence in bringing me to this understanding was the thinking and teaching of Howard Levin in San Francisco, which he shared in a 2006 presentation that year which I believe was for me the single most influential professional development session I have ever attended.   Entitled “Making the Laptop Disappear,” his talk about Urban School’s outstanding 1:1 laptop program used its funny and misleading title to confuse and then illuminate.  (It is, by the way, a great example of how as learners we proceed toward new and deeper understandings better when we first travel through confusion or misunderstanding.)  But even as the title, making laptops disappear, was something of a gimmick, it was also offered as a compelling metaphor for how we should view technology in the classroom, (or rather, how we should not view it), calling for a shift from foregrounded focus to backgrounded, integrated normality.

Levin’s idea, and forgive me if this is too obvious, is that the more we normalize the use of technology in learning, the more we become proficient and comfortable and consistent and regular in our use of it, and the more we make it subordinate to the larger learning goals and learning programs of each classroom, the less we will notice laptops as interlopers.   They will be neither jarringly disruptive intruders nor stunning new innovations; they will become effectively like pencils, so natural and normalized that there will be nothing to remark upon especially when encountering them.   Subordinating technology to learning goals and programs is of course incredibly important– but I am becoming less enthusiastic than I was about shifting technology to background, to render it less than fully conscious, to make it disappear.

A close parallel to Levin’s session title  is the often-quoted statement by Chris Lehmann, Principal of Science Leadership Academy, which I have emphatically endorsed in the past.   “Technology must be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.”    If I am interpreting him correctly, making technology more like oxygen, and more particularly, to shift our educational environments such that technology is, metaphorically, invisible,  is to make it more routine, regularized, embedded and normal, so much so that we don’t even notice it or think about it itself—we notice and think about instead only what we are using it for.   After all, how often are we conscious of our use of oxygen?  How often do we think to ourselves: ought I use oxygen this hour, or should I choose to use carbon dioxide instead? (more…)

[cross-posted from Connected Principals, posted there on July 23, 2012]

“Although it was a bit too long, I really appreciated your letter this summer,” is something I have heard many times in the past 15 years.   Like many of you, I write a “welcome back to school” letter to parents every summer, and I think it is a very valuable practice—but be sure to make the most of it.

Last summer I happened to post my letter to my blog, something I wasn’t sure was worth doing because it tends to be mostly “inside-baseball,” material primarily pertinent just to my own immediate constituents.   To my surprise,  it generated quite a bit of traffic, all of it from web searches for various variants on the term “welcome back to school letter.”     What I have learned from my search engine traffic is that the welcome back to school letter is something about which every summer hundreds or perhaps  thousands of school-leaders go to the internet to seek advice.

Accordingly, I thought I’d share a few thoughts for my principal colleagues about writing these important missives.

1.  Don’t be afraid to write at some length.   (Or, alternately, do as I do: apologize for it being too long without shortening it very much.)   Summer is the one time of the year when parents may actually have the time to dedicate to a longer letter, and even it if it is a relatively small proportion of them who will read its entirety, take advantage of it.   Remember that the ones who do read you carefully are the ones most able to share and inform other parents (the ones who don’t read) in the ongoing and inevitable chatter that happens about your leadership. (more…)