Technology Belongs in the Learning Process

A few days ago the image in this post found its ways into my social media feed. I can’t find a source on the image to give proper attribution. If any who see my post do know the origins of the image, please let me know as I’d like to give credit where credit is due.

Re-living old sterotypes
Preparing Students for 1986 – Banning Technology In the Classroom

This image troubles me as a veteran educator and educational technologist. I don’t put my phone away when I go to work, do you? I use my laptop and other technology tools to do my job, do you? The job of our children is to learn and they should be learning to use technology to learn. They should also be learning how to live in this world with technology and use it appropriately and effectively. I have been to more movies, public gatherings and funerals where phones rang or dinged or otherwise interrupted time when they shouldn’t. If children don’t learn how to use technology and how to manage it, how can we expect them to know how manage it as adults?

Educators must employ technology to its best advantage to enhance, extend and expand learning for students; to develop students’ curiosity, creativity and critical thinking skills. Otherwise the education is preparing students for 1986.

I am troubled that we would celebrate preventing students from using technology for learning.

Do you learn without technology? When is the last time you researched something without using Google or Bing? Let’s be careful not to mythologize and inadvertently give credence to something that is a real issue going on in education right now.

Nurturing The Culture of Learning

This month I had the very good fortune to present a keynote at the Leading a Digital Schools Conference in Melbourne. It was a great opportunity to connect with some really interesting educators from the other side of the world. I attended a session by Aaron Davis on Communication, Collaboration and Creativity – Exploring the Tools of Change.

Nurturing the Culture of Learning
Nurturing the Culture of Learning

Aaron referenced Tom Barrett’s piece on Learning in Perpetual Beta in which Tom proposes that we shift the focus of learning towards failure being a norm of learning. Wow – oh wow! And yes! Everywhere except in school failure IS a normal part of learning. It’s accepted, tolerated and not exactly celebrated, but certainly routinely expected.

And what about the metaphor of the scientist in the lab working to find the next great discovery? How many times must she test the hypothesis? It’s a mindset, isn’t it? Failing forward to learn something new.

How is it that we’ve shaped school to make failure something shameful? Something to be avoided?

As educators, the evaluation process certainly doesn’t support a model of failing forward or failing up.

Lee Crockett and Will Richardson both keynoted as well (heady company, I know). They too spoke to the importance of the culture of learning. Lee and Will addressed the importance of leading change through learning.

Kate Matthew (@GaTechTeach) shared this wonderful thought about the culture of learning recently:


It surely seems that there is plenty of good thinking to fill this petri dish. Now what will cultures will you nurture where you are?

New Forms of Formative Assessment

I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with a long-time friend and colleague, Bernajean Porter. She shared some thoughts that were new to me about feedback and formative assessment. Before I jump into those ideas, let me reflect on some of the more generally accepted concepts.

Of course we need to gather data about a student’s understanding of concepts at the moment of learning. That’s really not news if you are a thinking, feeling, caring educator. This piece from Kathy Dyer at NWEA reviews the pedagogical value, provides instructional strategies and discusses a variety of technologies that can enhance formative assessment. Robert Marzano’s extensive work is also useful including these tips from his website. Thomas Gusky’s writes about the cycle of instruction and the role of formative assessment in it in this piece from ASCD’s Ed Leadership. So we know that mastering content and formative assessment go hand in hand.

What was so interesting about Bernajean’s work is her focus on assessing student interest and reflection. I’ve previously written about the importance of student interest in personalizing learning here. This fits perfectly into the idea that student’s need more than instruction that is tailored to their educational need and what better way to do that than by checking out how interested students are in a topic? A quick poll using a tool like ClassFlow can easily give teachers the ability to use that data to increase student engagement in the learning. I could divide students into groups not just based on what they understand about participle phrases but I could also have them write sentences using those participle phrases about something that interests them. Yes!

3-2-1 Reflect!
3-2-1 Reflect!

Chris Argryris’ research on double loop learning (really just a fancy way of saying reflection) shows that by incorporate opportunities for reflection throughout the lesson students are more likely to retain the new ideas being presented. It’s that strategy of giving the brain an opportunity to make connections to existing knowledge that causes the new information to be retained more effectively. And again formative assessment tools – technology such a short text or the creative response poll in ClassFlow – are excellent ways to make that happen.

I came up with a quick image that could be incorporated into a reflection activity. What do you think? Would you use it?

Implementing Large Scale Technology Initatives

In the past 20+ years, I’ve had the privilege to implement many different technology initiatives. From the early days of issuing teachers laptops to installing interactive whiteboards to rolling out a learning management system and a “bring your own technology” program, I have covered hardware to software to processes and policies. Here are a few of my learnings that can make or break an implementation…

  • Engage stakeholders.
  • Go slow to go fast.
  • It takes 3 years minimum to achieve fidelity.
  • Consider all aspects of school operations that may be impacted.
  • Celebrate milestones and successes.

Engage Stakeholders

Implementing Large Scale Initiatives
Implementing Large Scale Initiatives

I’ve been involved in the top-down approach to starting a new implementation and while I understand the need for such activities, there is very little about them that leads to easy success. The best way to ensure success is to gather stakeholder buy-in and I mean ALL stakeholders – students, parents, teachers and leaders. Be transparent and communicate, communicate, communicate! Consider the impact of the initiative on every group and make sure you’ve got representation involved in the process of planning for and roll-out the implementation.

Go slow to go fast
Doing everything all at once leads to doing lots of things at a mediocre level. By planning a slow and incremental roll-out, you can ease people into the change and build their confidence. Don’t overwhelm users with trying to learn every aspect of a new application or hardware all at once. Try to break it into bite-sized chunks. In my experience adults need to feel early success or they will shut down and quit trying to change.

It takes 3 years minimum to achieve fidelity.
Because of my experience with lots of different implementations, I’ve found that expecting to have achieved complete transition in one year is usually a recipe for frustration and miscommunication. The first year usually means that some predominance of users are trying to hang onto the old and resisting the change which then mutates into awareness and exploration. As users go through the first professional learning experiences and hear from colleagues about the change, there will be tentative steps towards the new implementation. In year two, more and more people adopt and use the new implementation regularly. There are stories of success that become pervasive. Users begin to adopt additional functions within the new system. And then in the third year, the implementation hits the level of fidelity that matches the original vision.

Consider all aspects of school operations that may be impacted.
It’s critical to review and plan for the ways in which a new initiative will impact other areas of school operations. Does this make more work for teachers? Or less? Is there a way to stop doing something so that there is time and energy for starting the new? Have stakeholders in other divisions within the district been engaged as needed to be part of the new initiative? These are critical factors t5. o ensuring success.

Celebrate milestones and successes
Be sure to take time along the way to notice how far you’ve come in the implementation. So publish stories of success within the district, to the community, to the school board and beyond. Share your story with other districts so the education community as a whole can learn from your journey.

With some preparation and careful management, you can ensure success in implementing new initiatives.

Coaching for Learning

Coaching for LearningI was asked to write a few words about Assessment for Learning for another purpose and it got me thinking about the topic I assigned myself this month – coaching. Assessment for learning becomes a leading indicator rather than a lagging one because it is at the point of learning. Since the teacher (coach) has information on the strength and weaknesses of the learner, he/she can adjust the instruction accordingly. By offering feedback on incorrect responses, the learner can immediately learn and practice the correct response. And this is one of the reasons coaching educators is so powerful.

In my 20+ years in education, we’ve spent an awful lot of time focusing on “training teachers to use technology”. As if we just have them sit in a room long enough listening to step by step directions, it’ll transform their classrooms. My guess is that’s not going to work out if it hasn’t in the last 20 years! What I have found is that coaching is a much better way to lead transformational changes in teaching and learning with technology.

There are a few key strategies to coaching teachers towards effective technology use. One of which Elena Aguilar writes about in “Five Practices that Could Transform Your Coaching”. And that is one teacher, one goal. I would put this as finding the key influencers. Often instructional technologists find themselves in a position of coaching literally hundreds of teachers. A daunting task for which I have the utmost respect! Just keep it all in perspective – if you are able to reach one teacher and help them through a transformation that’s a huge accomplishment. Once the teacher begins to have success and feel confidence, he/she will send out ripples of success to all those around him/her.

Another critical strategy for coaches is that of questioning. Rather than telling a teacher “fix this, change that, do this”, ask questions. Open ended questions that force the user to be reflective about their own practice. As this kind of coaching is often about planning for a lesson, start with “what do you want kids to know and be able to do”? Focus not on the technology, but on the learning. You might ask “do you know of any tools that would help accomplish this goal?”

The transformed classroom moves from teacher-centered to student-centered, so as the teacher becomes more comfortable it’s important to work towards student use of technology. This change in the locus of control can be unsettling. It’s important to focus on classroom management techniques at this stage. Always have a Plan B (and maybe C).

Finally, stretch people, don’t hurt them. Just like exercising muscles the goal should be to make enough change that it’s a challenge but not so much that it’s painful. Trying to make the full swing to the optimally desired level of technology use will only result in frustration and shut-down. Make small changes over time and the results will be much more powerful and satisfying.

Pete Carroll probably says it best. “Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.” Add coaching into your instructional technology tool belt and make great things happen where you are!

Creating a Culture of Innovation

Public Education could learn a lot from some businesses about innovation. My experience with public education was that there was a tendency to become complacent in believing that public education is an institution that can’t be dismantled. And as such the motivation and urgency to change seem less clear than my experience has been working in the corporate world.

In my short tenure in the corporate world, I’ve felt a sense at all times of needing to stay out in front in order to stay relevant and to ensure ongoing success. That culture tends to promote innovation and a willingness to take calculated risks.

Newton County Schools' Innovation Expo
Newton County Schools’ Innovation Expo

One school district in Georgia (Newton County Schools) has found a way to promote a culture of innovation. The third annual Innovation Expo happened recently. Teachers are given an opportunity to create a presentation selling an idea for a project that they’ve been working on in their class and for which they would like to get funding. All attendees at the expo (community members, parents, students, other school system employees, etc) are given a chance to vote for the projects they believe should receive the funding.

It’s a novel approach to innovation. Some projects focused on augmented reality, others had elements of gamification and still others were focused on various hardware – tablets, wearable cameras, etc. The teachers who participated learned from each other and explored new ideas for engaging students. Some created videos to present their work while others engaged those visiting their booth in experiencing the project directly.

But where is the line between innovation and improvement? When does an idea cross over from improving the existing to innovating to new? Tom Vander Ark writes quite eloquently about this on the Getting Smart blog in a post titled Improvement vs. Innovation. Vander Ark says “Improvement is playing for singles and doubles. Innovation is swinging for the fences.”

As education leaders we need to keep innovation front and center. It’s important to stretch people not break them. Watch for the tolerance for change, support people through the anxiety around change, break change into manageable bite-sized pieces and reflect and celebrate every small win. And consider an innovation expo as you create a culture of innovation in your own place.

Student Privacy – Four Key Actions for Educators

Four Key Actions for Protecting Student Privacy
Four Key Actions for Protecting Student Privacy

There’s been a groundswell of concern around student privacy over the past couple of years. For instance, InBloom was a lightening rod around the issue even if much of the criticisms of InBloom were inaccurate. The bottomline is that educators have valid concerns about data privacy and finding out how each company uses data can be quite daunting.

Recently SIIA and the Future of Privacy Forum created the Student Privacy Pledge. What’s different about this approach is that rather than focusing on what the educator and student (consumers) can do, the pledge is for the industry. To date over 100 companies have signed the pledge and President Obama has endorsed it. I’m proud that the company that I work for, Promethean, has signed the pledge.

This is a major development! Fantastic that the industry is partnering with educators and demonstrating that major players do care about students and don’t want to exploit them for profit.

And looking at it from the other side of the tracks, as an educator, it’s critical to have a plan for what the school/school district will do in the area of student privacy. To that end, here are four keys to include:

  • Have a privacy policy – The Consortium of School Networking has a great toolkit to assist in the development process.
    1. Read the T & C’s – Read the terms and conditions and the privacy policy of websites that you use with students. It’s important to understand what data is being collected, how it’s being used and for whom the site is designed. I’m continually astonished by educators who use websites that clearly say a website is only for users age 18 and up.
    1. Educate families – This area is still pretty new territory for parents. It’s not as if many parents have had this kind of conversation with their parents. Educators need to step up their efforts to support the families that they serve. There are great resources out there. Common Sense Media has an area especially for parents on privacy and internet safety.
    1. Educate students – The issue of privacy, digital citizenship and internet safety are critical to address with students of all ages. For students grades 3-5, the Digital Passport series of games from Common Sense Media are a great resource. For older students, Net Smartz for Teens is a great place to start.

The worst thing to do is put your head in the sand and hope that these issues won’t effect you. Instead be proactive in addressing student privacy whatever your role in the education system.

Engaging Students Is More Than Sparkledust

I’m troubled by the use of the term student engagement. I’m troubled because the phrase has been so overused as to lose any real meaning in most cases. I’m concerned that in some cases it seems that engagement means being attracted to the new-ness, the sizzle of technology. And that kind of engagement won’t last more than a few minutes or hours.

Lights at Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Lights at Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Phil Schlechty informs my definition of student engagement. He says students are volunteers at learning. Once you accept that to be the case, the role of the teacher in designing work can been seen through a different lens. The latest and greatest technology isn’t a substitute for well design learning experiences. It’ll entertain for a while and then it will become a distraction – again if the learning experience isn’t well designed.

Student engagement develops from plugging into relevant, targeted learning. Angela Maiers, a foremost expert on passion-based learning, writes “If our desire is for students to engage, the work they do must be significant, valuable, and real.

Engagement exists on a continuum from rebellion to authentically engaged and references the learners of all kinds including students, teachers, parents and leaders. Think of all the professional development/continuing education experiences out there where participants are expected to learn a new teaching technique but it isn’t even modeled in the learning process instead there is a lecture. “CLICK” – yes we just turned you off!

Let’s make an agreement from here on out that we’ll not use technology as pixie dust that can “magically” improve teaching and learning. Let’s recognize that good teaching is based on sound pedagogy and student engagement is a result of good instructional design!

Authentically Collaborating? Collaborating Authentically

Students collaborate using their BYOT Tools.
Students collaborate using their BYOT Tools.

Collaboration has been on my mind often in the last several weeks. What exactly is effective, authentic collaboration? I’m finding it harder to define it than I am to tell you what it isn’t.

Authentic collaboration isn’t having students draw a colored strip of paper in order to determine groups. It isn’t having student sit at a table together while each completes the same assigned task and is evaluated only for his or her individual work.

I read Gillian Wilson’s post “Why It’s Time to Put Students in the Driver’s Seat” with great interest. She writes, “If we have only trained them to follow a listed set of instructions to achieve a pre-planned end goal, we are not preparing them for a successful future.”

Aha! This seems to inform concerns about collaboration in the classroom. It seems we’ve moved into territory where teachers feel a responsibility to engineer every step of students’ teamwork. Certainly there is a scaffolding necessary to assist in building social skills for effective student partnerships. However, when we control every aspect of the process, students don’t have to wrestle with how to work with others effectively. Te@chThought suggests that the learning process should be part of the assessment.

Microsoft Partners In Learning along with SRI International posit that effective collaboration is “students hav[ing] shared responsibility for their work” and “the learning activity is designed in a way that requires students to make substantive decisions together”.

Collaboration is messy and hard and often takes multiple attempts. And when the learners persist in the process the results are far more useful and beneficial. It’s worth the hard work both for the teacher and the learners. Perhaps Don Tapscott says it best: “Learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.”

Opening the Floodgates? Making the Move from Acceptable Use to Responsible Use

(Cross-posted at Bold Visions and BYOT Network and cowritten by Jill Hobson, Director of Instructional Technology and Dr. Tim Clark, Coordinator of Instructional Technology – Forsyth County Schools)

Opening The Flood Gates, By Cads, Retrieved From
Opening The Flood Gates, By Cads, Retrieved From

We’ve written previously on our decision to implement a Responsible Use Procedure rather than an Acceptable Use Procedure. And while we’ve shared some of the philosophical reasons why we believe in the idea of a Responsible Use Procedure, we’ve not spent much time on strategies to make that move successfully.

Grappling with and being ready to break from a long list of things that users shouldn’t do and moving to a shorter (and more memorable) list of responsibilities is both a philosophical and operational shift that takes consensus building. And it might seem like this would be opening the floodgates of disciplinary issues without the necessary “rules” to shore up necessary response. We have found that through consistent communication and ongoing training those things are not happening.

These strategies have been essential to our successful transition.

Engaging the Stakeholders

Is everyone swimming in the same direction? Are you involving members of your Safety, Academics, Student Support, Special Education, Educational Leadership and Technology Services departments? Did you consider all levels of school leaders? Don’t forget to include Media Specialists. By being inclusive and transparent throughout the process, stronger support can be garnered.

Educating Everyone

Don’t drown as people start considering their worst fears. Take a look at the research, blogs and tweets about responsible use. SEDTA’s Broadband Imperative is a helpful white paper as is Grunwald and Associate’s Living and Learning with Mobile Devices. Look at other school systems’ policies on responsible use. A few that were particularly useful in our process were Katy ISD, TX, Canyon School District and Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division. Check out this post from Katrina Schwartz on MindShift: Teach Kids to Be Their Own Internet Filters. NPR’s All Tech Considered blogged about this issue in “For The Tablet Generation, A Lesson In Digital Citizenship” as well.

Focus on Digital Age Skills

The vision for instructional technology within our district is embedded within the FCS Learner Profile. This profile describes the attributes of students attending and graduating from a Forsyth County school, and digital age skills are reflected within those hallmarks.  When highlighting how the responsible use of technology is an essential digital age skill rippling through each student’s path to success, it is possible to achieve a growing groundswell of support and buy-in throughout the district.

Review Data

What are the statistics on current issues with “appropriate use” in your district or school? What percentage of students is being reported for inappropriate use? Is there a surge of issues or is it a small minority of students (maybe 5 percent or so) and the imagined problems are bigger than the reality. Maybe the “rules” are being written for the 5% of students who may make poor choices rather than the 95% who will usually make appropriate decisions.

Incremental Changes

Are there ways to ease up on filtering (for example, unblocking YouTube for teachers and then later for students) to test the waters? What about allowing students to use devices before and after class as a first step (like in the lunchroom or between classes)?

Technology Rules Shouldn’t Be Separate

In Forsyth we were able to take some of the most important ideas from our Acceptable Use Procedure and have them flow into the Code of Conduct. For instance, we had an AUP rule about not vandalizing computer equipment. So we incorporated that statement into the existing statement about not vandalizing school property. Since we already had a statement in Code of Conduct, we didn’t feel that we should have a separate and different rule for technology.

Provide Learning Resources – For Staff and Students

By providing videos and other resources to educate staff as well as students on the new procedures, we were able to ensure a consistent message throughout our schools.  Whether you develop your own materials or rely on those from places like Common Sense Media, consistency of message is essential.

When we started on our implementation of BYOT about six years ago, we would never have been able to predict that our community would embrace changes to our Appropriate Use Procedure as they have. We’ve gradually seen the rise in the tide of support as we have all been able to understand how much our students need us to model being a responsible digital citizen and learner.



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