Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Six Ideas for EdCamp

So Enjoyed myself immensely at EdCampOmaha. At the same time my brain could not stop thinking about ways we could make it better. These are ideas and not critiques nor do I think I have a monopoly over these ideas in fact I will not be surprised if I learned that some have already been tried and may have even failed. I will not be able to sleep if I did not share them so here goes.
1. Newbie sessions. I noticed that most of the presenters/ session orgizers were veterans. There is nothing wrong with that but I wonder if allocating a room or a time slot that has to be reserved for first time session leaders will encourage others to dare and cross the threshold from attendee to session leader.
2. Requests online. Google employees have an online discussion page with voting to suggest topics for their weekly meetings. We can use a similar approach in which everyone interested in coming can suggest topics or vote on existing ones. This way people can have an idea of what attendees have on their mind.
3. Planning session. How about giving some morning time to plan joint sessions by people who have never before worked together and give those sessions their own time slot/ room. This can encourage new and wonderful sessions.
4. Going to scale- I would just love a district that does a professional development day like that. Ah to dream.
5. Un-poster session- most of the conferences I go to have poster sessions. These are some of my favorite since you can stop at one idea and have a long discussion. In an un-poster session paper and markers are provided and many presenters draw/ write a few key ideas from their practice or experience. Everyone else walks around and interacts.
6. EdCamp is right now mostly about technology (though @mrbalcom gamification session was decidedly low tech). Could we think of ways to bring in art, music or engineering?

Now that I shared I would like to repeat that I loved EdCamp and would come again no matter what the format. Keep it going...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Five things I Learned at EdCampOmaha

I just came back from EdCampOmaha and I am still
 processing. EdCamp is an unconference without a program, fees or a hierarchy. You just show up, offer a session and join others. The experience was immersive, so much enthusiasm passion and powerful learning moments that you cannot but feel hopeful about education teachers and the future. Teachers came from as far as Minnesota and Oklahoma but also Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri.

The energy was undeniable and I wish every one of my students was there to experience it. So here are five things I learned or relearned:

1. Democracy in professional development works, to a degree. In EdCamp sessions are arranged on the fly and teachers choose by title. In essence anyone can create a session that anyone can attend. Participation is key. The afternoon crowd also showed that people vote with their feet and choose to come back in smaller numbers.

2. Gamification can be effective without technology. And easier to implement in some ways. Physical badges, leaderboards and other ideas can put a spin on tedious tasks. Thank you Nate Balcom. The session has renewed my interest in gamifying a portion of my classes.

3. It is fun to be a learner and just enjoy. Its been awhile since I've been to a PD conference just to learn and not be in charge, worry about details or prep another presentation. I've been doing so many TechEDGE conferences and presenting in others that I forgot the joy of just being open to new ideas.

4. Some people are so impacted by circumstance and professional isolation that they find it hard to open up to other possibilities. In a few of the conversations I had it became clear that professional isolation in some schools created an environment in which educators find it hard to innovate. They want to, and I guess they came to edcamp to get energized but the isolation was so severe that they actually sucked the energy out of discussions. My heart went out to them.

5. Teachers are focusing on student creation. Student creation is a literacy multiplier and some teachers have figured it out. The teachers I talked with (especially from Bellvue) were on fire saying: "I have been one to one iPads since January, it has transformed my teaching. I cannot go back!" Thank you Brent for an exceptional opportunity.

Great learning with great colleagues! I do have some ideas and concerns but those will come at another post.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Five ways to jump start your tech integration

Warning: this post was written in a moment of professional frustration and fully reflects the way I feel a good part of the time. So, be forewarned!

Lately I have had the sense that some of the groups around me are standing still. The official reason is that we are waiting for infrastructure/ resources to come. Then and only then will we be able to move forward on technology projects, literacy projects, after school ideas just about anything that would change the educational needle. Wait? Really? I would argue that we needed jlots of cars driving here and there cars before we actually invested in roads.

Some people might say (and rightfully so) aren't we already there? Don't we know we need roads? Yes we do. Everyone in education, k12 and higher, is talking about technology, devices, mobility, Open educational resources. Talking yes. But at my little corner of the world, it seems like talking into the wind.

A large district I work with is moving ahead with technology, what you ask? student management system will come first. Why? I am pretty sure that student learning was not a top priority. My campus at a top 50 public university still does not a universal device requirement and many of its faculty completely ignore the connected world our students live.

My graduate students wonder. What can schools, teachers do? I argue that all they can is DO. Don't wait for a campus or district wide policy change or infrastructure. Just do, infrastructure will follow behind trying to catch up. Does it make the going more difficult? Yes. It can get frustrating sometimes just downright discouraging. But the alternative is to fail our students and in my case my students future students impacts that will last a long time. Time to stop kicking the can down the road and just do. For me it all starts with people skills.

1. Be passionate- people may disagree with you but when you are passionate people accept it as a genuine effort and are more likely to rethink their position. If they do not at least they know exactly where you stand and are unlikely to stand in your way. This leads to everything else. To be truly passionate you will have to pour time and energy, you cannot be passionate about something 3 hours a week- commit.

2. Link with likeminded people- they may be everywhere, they may not in you field even, but they are out there looking for people to talk to. Find them it'll keep you going when you hit walls of resistance.

3. Find a sponsor- there is someone higher ranking than you in your organization that will give you some support as long as they risk very little. Find them and make them con-conspirators. When you have something to show their support will increase until the impact start reaching others. You want to be the teacher/ faculty that gets mentioned when people discuss innovation, passion, and creativity.

4. Communicate- write, blog, perform, present. Start with 3 people or two (I presented to 5 just). Its a great way to find likeminded people, and to convince those on the fence.

5. Find the ones who are on the fence- everywhere I go I find people on the fence, just waiting for someone to come and pull them into action. Be that person!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

EdTech and Gender in 4 Scenes

This post started out as a post about getting large systems to move forward with EdTech and notions of frontier. The more I thought about it the more my examples seemed to be about gender roles as much as about technology. I think this much less true in higher ed than k12 but still. You may disagree, even then the post might illuminate something.

1. All of my students have tablets (it is a requirement) and most have an iPad or iPad mini. In a conversation one of my students confided that her dad hates the iPad. I smiled and said: "let me guess, he loves tinkering and hates the fact that you do not need him to conduct maintenance and problem solve your computer problems." She paused, thought about it and admitted: "yep that's pretty much it".

2. In a work with a specific district the school technology guy refused to get iPads for the teachers. He was an old army guy (I can relate) used to the age where we could fix anything with pliers, a screwdriver and a few components he rebelled against the blackbox. His main defense was "how will we change the batteries once they start running out?" Once again it was an issue of control of a male "techie" over mostly female staff. By the way there was a lot less patronizing over the high school staff in the same school with many more male teachers.

3. Two weeks back I was in Western Nebraska participating in the ESU 13 MidWinter Conference. We had two great sessions with teachers (60 in one session and over 100 in the second). A few kindergarten teachers complained that they have yet to receive the iPads because the technology person at the district will not release the iPads until they take a class and a test. They were frustrated as was I. I've seen 3 year olds and cats manage the iPad effectively- a course?

4. A large district I work with bought i devices, but gave the elementary teachers (predominantly women) sets of predefined apps and no passwords. The devices were updated 1-2 times a year. Again, the same women we trust with 16-30 of our children (a woman's role) cannot be trusted with technology and access to a password or just the freedom to create their own.

Each one of these scenes on its own is just a tiny sliver of reality but taken together we start seeing a whole picture. I am not "blaming" anyone I just think that we have persisted with stereotypes and attitudes that go unexamined. Why do teachers need to pass a "test" or a "cours" to use a device meant to be used out of the box? Mainly because we want to "protect" the womenfolk from their own foley. Some of it is based on previous experience. Elementary teachers (again mostly but not exclusively women) disliked using computers that required constant tinkering and time wasting on just getting things to work. They needed machines that worked and for that they needed techies (mostly menfolk). Now with new devices that do not require support it is the techies that resist because these new devices make their role as gate keepers and winners of admiration less somehow.

Because as we all know the role of the tech experts is actually much greater than ever, security, network, wireless and privacy are all necessary, crucial to the operation of any school system. But that puts the techies away from the teacher and her gratitude. Teachers as a result developed a dislike of technology and its many obstacles. How many passwords will you try before you give up on that Youtube video?

Technology in it's modern transparency is part of literacy. Devices let us express ourselves and experience others in a multitude of ways that are crucial for raising this next generation- remembering that the kindergarteners of today will graduate college (or the open-badge factory) in 2030. As a result we cannot heap obstacles in their way we should be opening doors to seamless technologies and let everyone- EVERYONE- play.