When it comes to edtech, be like Siddhartha

One of the conundrums within the field of education is the schizophrenic understanding of best practices. All you need to do to get a taste of this is create a Twitter account, follow a whole bunch of teachers, and read their tweets. Better yet, follow along during a Twitter chat. Edtech platitudes are plentiful.

There’s nothing wrong with teachers tweeting at each other in 140 characters or less to share ideas, but it sure is confusing when you sit back and try to decipher what our best practices should be as educators.

Should we spend time learning how to be better presenters, or should we become more accustomed to a student-centered, project based learning (PBL) approach? Is “play” important or is it better to squeeze each instruction minute through the use of Direct Interactive Instruction (DII)? Is spending money on 1:1 devices essential for students to learn in the 21st century, or should we listen to studies that say technology isn’t an important factor? (Side note: Many edtech proponents have marginalized the use of “Studies say…” when arguing against technology in the classroom. Unfortunately by doing this, these edtech proponents are doing a harmful spin job.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I think there’s a lot of truth to this sentiment, and maybe that goes for education as well, but it sure is hard as a teacher to always feel like you should be doing something other than what you’ve planned to do. This is why the advice of edtech gurus is so attractive right now.

I’m weary of the edtech experts out there who claim to have the solution for student learning. I’m reminded of Siddhartha, who came to the realization that truth isn’t going to arrive from any one enlightened person. Teachers must view the plethora of edtech opinions through this same lens, even if it’s uncomfortable. In this way, the Twitter cacophony can be harnessed effectively.

Yes, we have a lot to figure out in the field of education, mostly because every student is his and her own universe. My only suggestion is to avoid making gurus out of people who have Twitter accounts.

Build up teachers by crowdsourcing

Consultants are used in many fields. Business. Politics. Sports. Education is no different–especially with the influx of devices pouring into school sites due to 1:1 deployments.

There’s nothing wrong with consultants; they’re helpful in many instances. I do believe, however, it’s important to keep two things in mind when hiring an edtech consultant:

  1. Hiring a consultant to teach a specific program may be necessary, but remember that edtech programs are in a nascent state, which means free apps may start charging, websites could go under, and better technology might be right around the corner. Paying someone to teach you something that may rise in price, disappear, or become inferior is a waste of money.

  2. Teachers within your school or district may end up being the best consultants you’ll find. As of right now, the only reason I’d pay a consultant is to help build capacity within a school district by making teachers mini-consultants. This is a form of crowdsourcing that allows school districts to continually curate the best edtech programs on the market, train teachers, and save money. We should be making edtech experts out of teachers by helping them find their niches. In this way, the overwhelming task of combing through all the available resources is made more manageable. In addition, teachers are empowered and invigorated to not only help students, but also fellow educators.

In my opinion, avoiding traditional consultants and building up teachers as experts is the most sustainable way to provide professional development and build capacity as we enter the era of the Brave New Classroom. I implore all educational leaders to look within to foster professional growth and student learning.

No heads in the ground

I recently shared my thoughts concerning iCloud Photos and Google Photos. In light of this, I think the following excerpt from Tim Cook’s speech at EPIC’s Champions of Freedom event is worth noting (via Daring Fireball):

Matthew Panzarino:

Yesterday evening, Apple CEO Tim Cook was honored for ‘corporate leadership’ during EPIC’s Champions of Freedom event in Washington. Cook spoke remotely to the assembled audience on guarding customer privacy, ensuring security and protecting their right to encryption.

‘Like many of you, we at Apple reject the idea that our customers should have to make tradeoffs between privacy and security,’ Cook opened. ‘We can, and we must provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it, morality demands it.’ […]

‘We believe the customer should be in control of their own information. You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is.’

This gives some indication regarding whether or not unlimited storage in iCloud Photos will become free. If Apple doesn’t use photos and other data from iCloud to make money, then it’s probably not feasible to deliver it as a no cost service.

The Photos battle is an important conversation to have in the edtech community. I really respect Google’s products, but that doesn’t mean educators should stick their heads in the ground and not think about tech implications. (As of right now, I’m still sticking to my photos strategy.)

The tech. + Soc. Sem. conflation

I had a conversation recently at a conference with some edtech teachers who didn’t look highly upon AVID teaching strategies. This surprised me. I credit AVID for making me a much better English teacher–especially after I attended a Critical Reading session at the AVID Summer Institute in San Diego many years ago. One of the bones the teachers had to pick with AVID was the use of Socratic Seminars.

In short, a Socratic Seminar is when students split into two circles: a small inner circle and a large outer circle. The inner circle students are the only ones who are allowed to discuss high level questions. The outer circle students take Cornell Notes concerning what the inner circle participants say. At the end of the discussion, all students write a summary.

The problem the edtech teachers have with this strategy is the outer circle students aren’t participating. Technically, the students are participating because they’re listening, taking notes, and then devising a summary at the end of the discussion–but I understand the teachers’ point: The outer circle students aren’t allowed to communicate with the rest of the class.

The solution is found in a conflation of technology and AVID. Instead of making the outer circle write Cornell Notes, the students should all have devices on which they’re backchanneling via Google+, Edmodo,  or whichever LMS of their choice. In this way they kids are communicating but not interrupting the flow of conversation that’s happening in the inner circle. Instead of traditional note taking and summary writing at the end of the Socratic Seminar, the teacher can put up the backchanneling thread on a projector, and the students can either write about or discuss what was shared during the seminar.

This is an effective combination of sound teaching with technology augmentation. I’ve found oftentimes that edtech teachers ignore good teaching strategies while AVID ignores edtech. When you begin moving across the SAMR model, the marriage of both sides becomes very appealing.

Putting technology in a classroom is like starting a fire

The landscape is forever changed once a fire has devoured everything in its path. Trees may grow back over time, but nothing will be the same as before.

Introducing technology into a classroom is the same way. Laptops and tablets are tiny sparks, and the conflagration begins once the teacher allows students to freely use them. From what I’ve observed, a teacher’s classroom is altered once the fire begins. Desks in rows go up in smoke, and groups blossom in the aftermath. A teacher-centric model disintegrates as student-centric learning blooms.

Ideas have done this throughout history. Sometimes it takes a certain person to start the fire, but once the flames engulf people’s minds, change is coming. I’ve spoken to multiple teachers this school year who told me they could never go back to a classroom without devices. They weren’t joking–they really never want to teach without laptops or tablets again because 1) the classroom wasn’t as exciting before and 2) there are so many wonderful ways the students can learn and produce.

The effects of this edtech renaissance we’re presently experiencing have yet to be fully realized, but there’s one thing we know for sure: Everything will change once students have access to the internet and can create and produce with devices at their fingertips. 

Apple, Scorsese, and blended learning

Here are Martin Scorsese’s words:

You can’t do your work according to other people’s values. I’m not talking about also ‘following your dream,’ either. I never liked the inspirational value of that phrase. Dreaming is a way of trivializing the process, the obsession that carries you through the failure as well as the successes which could be harder to get through.

I mean, if you’re dreaming, you’re sleeping, and it’s important and imperative to always be awake to your feelings, your possibilities, your ambitions. But you also know this, for your work, for your passion, every day is a rededication.

Painters, dancers, actors, writers, filmmakers, it’s the same for all of you, all of us. Every step is a first step, every brush stroke is a test, every scene is a lesson, every shot is a school. So, let the learning continue.

According to Mashable:

…the images tell the true tale of a collection of Los Angeles County High School for the Arts students who assigned to make a movie with an iPad. The one-minute spot features clips of various teams using the tablet to shoot and edit a variety of scenes.

Apparently, the spot was shot entirely on an iPad Air 2.

I know the commercial is going to really bother those who don’t like Apple. The reason I like it so much, in addition to being an Apple fan, is that it encapsulates why I work every day. The ad shows students creating movies, which means they’re learning about audio, visual, screenwriting, geography, editing software, collaboration, decision making, budgeting, time management, model plane flying, and a lot more. This is what blended learning is all about: Exploring multiple subjects by using technology as a tool to accomplish a goal. This is the process for engaging and effectively teaching young people in the 21st century. Throwing iPads and laptops at them is not enough; teachers need to lead them through the SAMR Model so that a redefinition of learning can occur.