Monday, September 29, 2014

Success through experimentation with edtech

I need to do some math one of these days: tracking all of the notifications of the "must-have" applications and other technology resources that I ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY MUST HAVE each school year. Then figure out how often I might be able to use any of those resources given a factor of how long it might take to test and become familiar with that resource and then attempt to integrate it in a lesson.

OR, ed tech coordinators and directors can do as Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) advises and just pick three things. What three applications make sense? Perhaps the ed tech coordinator/director can make a recommendation of up to a dozen tech resources that could be useful across the school, regardless of grade or content area. Then teachers divvy up the exploration of and experimentation with each of the resources to report back to the grade level meeting. Think Check, Please or its variations but for teachers and tech resources.

Then each teachers returns to the grade level meeting with recommendations for that particular resources: how it was used, the accompanying learning objectives, how students used the resource and responded to it, discoveries about implementation during and after class, etc. Having a checklist everyone uses would make the conversation easier.

Then, as a grade, teachers decide which of the resources they want to try to use throughout the year knowing that others have tried or are trying the same resources so they have folks of whom they can ask questions and with whom they can collaborate.

This doesn't preclude adding additional resources throughout the year, but it gives teachers a process for trying and evaluate resources, and for having someone else's perspective and insight.

I know there are schools and districts that have ed tech committees made up of a group of educators across grade levels and content areas who work with the ed tech coordinator or director (and that person's team if he or she is fortunate enough to have an actual team) to review new apps and resources and then make recommendations of which one to examine more closely. That is, I think, an ideal situation but not always possible. Still, having others who can make recommendations based on some agreed upon criteria not only helps the ed tech coordinator, but ensures the likelihood of a broader range of resources being examined.

As Ms. Coleman notes in her article 5 Reasons Why Great Edtech Products Don't Succeed, one of the reasons is the saturation of the market. So having some mechanism in place that offers a realistic product funnel may reduce some of the resistance to change and implementation of edtech products and resources.

P.S. Grammar note: The "why" isn't necessary in the title of Ms. Coleman's article.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The World IS Your Class[room]

There is a home school group in the Chicagoland area with that very name for its group: The World Is Your Classroom. And why not? Why not in this age of the Internet, Google Hangout, Voxer, Skype, and more? Why not in this age in which video can be so present and so powerful? Why not in this age of technological advancements that seem to spew every few seconds? Why not the world as a classroom? Other than assessments, standards, and other significant stuff that takes up resident in a brick-and-mortar classroom?

The Future of Education Eliminates the Classroom Because the World Is Your Class explores this very idea as what author Marina Gorbis calls "socialstructed learning." Never mind that the resource mentioned is Wikipedia. Wikipedia continues to get a bad rap for its sins of the past, omissions it has worked hard to resolve over the years. And keep in mind that Wikipedia is still free whereas the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica (yes, it still exists) is about $70 per year, which isn't a bad price considering all that one can get.

But let's get back to "socialstructed learning." As Ms. Gorbis points out, socialstructed learning is not really a new idea. It has its roots in early thinking about education. Read Socrates and Plato and you will see socialstructed learning. Take a closer look at constructivism and what fuels today's Maker Movement and you will see socialstructed learning. Think about project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and action research and what you will see is problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaborative learning with ties to or roots in what informs socialstructed learning. Do some research on the way one-room schoolhouses had to operate and you will see evidence of socialstructed learning. Examine the essence of personalized learning and you will find features of socialstructed learning.

Ms. Gobis also notes that "[i]n the early stages of technology introduction we try to fit new technologies into existing social structures in ways that have become familiar to us." She uses MOOCs as an example, a way of replacing lectures. But MOOCs are simply large-scale online courses. If we look at the fundamental disruption of online courses, we see that online learning started a shift in thinking about how we can learn--any time and in any place. Hmmm. Sort of like socialstructed learning.

I know there are educators who quiver at the idea of such a concept: who will manage student learning and make sure they learn what they need to know? How will such learning be assessed?

I don't think we are yet ready to replace the current classroom model, whether in K-12 or in higher education. I do think we're struggling to figure out what works in today's model and what could and should be changed as well as how to make that happen. I think that too many educators cling too firmly to certain ways of thinking about learning and about assessment--and that changing our thinking, mine included, about assessment and how we know what students know and can do will remain one of our greatest challenges.

However, being reminded that learning opportunities and learning resources can be found where we least expect them should reinforce our appreciation of serendipitous learning moments during which our students may learn far more than today's learning objectives and, even more importantly, may retain that learning.

Ms. Gobis speaks of learning as a flow: resources are available and "opportunities for learning are abundant" which seems to suggest that teachers say, in effect, "This is our plan for learning today and this is what I hope you will achieve, but if you can do more--and I won't prescribe what 'more' means, then let's do that!" And that means letting go some (which reminds me of one of things I learned from reading Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart) and not just permitting but inviting learners to "have the ability to autonomously dip into and out of continuous learning flows."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Inventive Innovation

[Cross-posted on LinkedIn]

In The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997), Clayton M. Christensen summed up the insights as follows. He noted first that “the pace of progress that markets demand or can absorb may be different from the progress offered by technology” (p. 258). Christensen goes on to say “[r]ecognizing this possibility, we cannot expect our customers to lead us towards innovations that they do not now need.” Except in the case, I suppose, of Google Glass when businesses signaled uses that Google hadn’t anticipated.

Christensen’s second insight is that “the major reason for the difficulty of managing innovation is the complexity of managing the resource allocation progress” (p. 258). That was true until crowdfunding so perhaps it is slightly less true now.

The third insight is that another innovation problem is “matching the market to the technology” (p. 258). “Successful companies have a practiced capability in taking sustaining technologies to market, routinely giving their customers more and better versions of what they say they want” (p. 258-259). Except in the case of Apple that has made an art form of offering products for which we have no need and trying to convince us otherwise.

However, Christensen also states that “[d]isruptive technology should be framed as a marketing challenge, not a technological one” (p. 259).

I’m going to skip to the sixth insight which I think is more valuable for my purposes and that is that “it is not wise to adopt a blanket technology strategy to be always a leader or always a follower. . . . Disruptive innovations entail significant first-mover advantages” (p. 260). Unless, of course, you are the tipping point in which case you garner the advantages and the acclaim for taking advantage of the work leading towards the disruption and appearing to be the disruptive innovator. Kudos, and take your bows.

In 2003, Christensen published The Innovator’s Solution. Again I skip past most of the pages to the end of the book, though I highly recommend the “Managing the Strategy Development Process” chapter. Chapter Ten is titled “The Role of Senior Executives in Leading New Growth.” Yawn. Let me sum up: the senior executive 1) manages the resource and process flow between the “disruptive growth” and “the mainstream” businesses; 2) shepherds the “disruptive growth engine;” and 3) senses when the wind is changing direction and teaches the grasshoppers this skill.

Before we’re all in a snit that only senior executives get to play these roles, let me point out there is a reason there is only one head chef, only one ship captain, only one field commander, only one. . . well, you get the idea. Someone has to keep an eye on what is and what could be. But I also want to say that the senior executive who does teach others how to recognize the signals of disruptive growth will also have trained the staff how to make productive use of the disruptive growth engine. There are only four steps: 1) start before you need to; 2) appoint a senior executive to be in charge; 3) create a team; and 4) train people what to identify disruptive ideas. I would add that once folks know how and what to look for—and recognize that some of your people will already have these skills, perhaps intuitively—get out of the way.

In 2007, Scott Berkun published The Myth of Innovation. Say what? A book of which John Seely Brown said (and I quote the inside book jacket), “. . .insightful, inspiring, evocative, and just plain fun to read. . . it’s totally great.” I agree. I loved this book. In “There is a method for innovation,” Berkun reminds us there is little magic, but often a lot of hard work in what we see as innovation: “Innovation is best compared to exploration, and like Magellan or Captain Cook, you can’t find something new if you limit your travels to places others have already found” (p. 39).

“Name an emotion, motivation, or situation, and you’ll find an innovation somewhere that it seeded” (p. 40). So how do we get to innovation, disruptive or otherwise? There is no specific path to such righteousness, but there are categories.

Hard work in a specific direction: frame the problem; enumerate possible solutions; experiment and analyze results; adjust as needed; keep experimenting with the focus on the problem to be solved
Hard work with direction change: frame a problem and find an unexpected solution to an unknown problem so ask the question, “Huh. Wonder what I can do with this?”
Curiosity: as in the stories behind Velcro and Linux

Wealth and money: “The Internet boom and bust of the 1990s was driven by start-up firms innovating, or pretending to innovate, just enough for established corporations to acquire them” (p. 42). So have an idea and hope someone will buy into to take the risk of innovation, which is back to Christensen’s points about resources, etc.

Necessity: Well, Plato did say that “Necessity, who is the mother of our invention” (The Republic, Book II) and who is going to argue with an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician who has been proven right time and time (and time) again?
Innovations that change the world often begin with humble aspirations” (p. 43).

The good people of Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) remind us that “Innovation is for rethinking things in order to do them better, not merely differently. Ideally, it is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation to leverage innovation to help them achieve whatever it is they need to achieve.”

They also suggest it might be a good idea to think inside the box because sometimes we can be so distracted by trying to be exceptionally innovative to imagine the Next Big Thing we fail to see the possibilities in front of us.

So as we are investing in 3D printers and other technologies for our schools and standing back, awaiting student innovation, perhaps with excessive expectation, let’s keep in mind some basic principles for innovation and invention. Let’s give kids the foundations they need but let’s also give
them time for tinkering. And in the work place, let’s not put people in a conference room with chart paper and blank whiteboards and expect miraculous innovative thinking because the most likely results are heartburn and headaches.

In starting early and in putting processes in place, one of the key reminders is that to be inventive and innovative, kids of all ages need time. . . to experiment.

Other stuff you should read on this topic:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Standardized and summative tests: Let's think about why

The other day I wrote about standardized tests. I suggested they are bunkum, or nonsense. Maybe not so much nonsense as nonsensical in that we give and give and give standardized tests but seem to have forgotten why we give standardized tests except to gather data that tells us how terrible our teachers or students or schools are.

After I posted those observations, I was reading about the PISA 2012 results. It should come as no surprise that the US did not do well. But I also found research that shows state-by-state analysis of the results based on parental education. The US still doesn't measure up too well though some states are more competitive than others.

My reading led to a rather heated discussion about the value of such assessments. I contend the assessments themselves aren't useful if we overtest (and we do overtest) because teachers spend too much time preparing students for tests. Is there residual learning as a result of test preparation? Good question. If there is, I can't imagine it's substantive.

There are many discussions about the use of "big data" though when teachers (or anyone) will find time to sift through all of the data, and aggregate or disaggregate it in ways that are meaningful to individual teachers for their grades levels and for specific content areas is a concern. And then if teachers will get any of that data in a sufficiently timely fashion to make any difference in the way they plan and implement their lessons.

Which leads me to a recent post by Dr. Justin Tarte who asks if summative assessments are obsolete. Now this could be poking the wrong bear, but I believe he has a point.

We know students don't learn at the same pace or the same way. We have to provide some structure and it's not unreasonable to expect students to work together on the same thing at the same time. In the "real world" those experiences are meetings of some sort.

Dr. Tarte also notes that if teachers are using formative assessments. . . . well, I need to stop there. Because we have to assume that teachers are using formative assessments and by that I mean that a) teachers know what formative assessments are and how to use them effectively; and b) teachers are using formative assessments consistently and continuously so at any time they have a general idea of their students' capabilities and challenges.

Don't be hatin' on the first supposition because we all know teachers who are not clear on the concept of formative assessments, who believe that all they have to do is give their students exit slips at the end of the class but never bother to do anything with that information.

In all forms of assessment, the differentiator is using the information from the assessment to help students continue to learn and to improve their learning. As one teacher said, "The test is too late."

And if the test is too late, if that summative assessment is too late, why bother with the summative assessment?

Dr. Tarte points out that if we know where kids are and aren't in their learning, why give a summative assessment? Why lose part of or an entire class period to give a test that is essentially unnecessary?

Kids cramming for tests isn't learning. It's cramming for a test. It's the student hoping to remember too many unlearned things for as long as the test takes. It's the teacher hoping. . . . I don't know what the teacher is hoping. That the students will retain the results of their cramming for longer than the test period?

I'm not really a fan of eliminating tests. I think rethinking why a test is given makes sense and what the test actually assesses, other than students' abilities to stay up late and memorize a bunch of stuff that is otherwise meaningless to them.

So I appreciate the article that tells us it's a waste of time for students to cram for tests. Years ago I would give my students the option of completing a project for their literature class. They could write a paper if they wanted, or they could create something: write a song, make a game, create a video, whatever. Whatever they did, they also had to include a short explanation of how this thing they created demonstrates what they learned in the class. I got amazingly creative stuff from students. I got to the point that I asked students if they wanted a take-home final or an in-class open book final. Either way it was going to be open book. Why? Because in the work place I get to open books or do research on the Internet any time I need or want to. Those skills are important, especially when working under a deadline. If the kids hadn't read the texts or done any of the work for class, cramming wasn't going to help anyway. They knew up front they'd have the choice, so they still needed to do the work to know where to go to find support for whatever they had to say about the questions. And most of my tests were short answer or essay because I wanted them to write. Maybe intuitively I knew that any other kind of exam was a waste of their time and mine.

As we think about assessments--formative, summative, and standardized--I think it's really important for us to think about why we give these assessments, and what we hope to glean from the results. Not for our benefit, but for that of the students and their learning.