Sunday, March 27, 2016

What my Ski Accident Made Me Learn about Ed Tech

It is the last day of spring break, and I hobble around on crutches. Our family travelled to our favorite spring skiing spot in Park City Utah where we had a fantastic time, and where I had a skiing accident.
I was skiing down the slope on the last run of the day. My skis got caught, and suddenly I found myself on the ground facing the wrong way with one string of thought flooding my brain: "pain, knee, stupid." Someone came to my aid (thank you whoever you are) undid my skis and called for help. Ski patrol took me down the mountain, and an enthusiastic intern at the clinic informed me that I had an MCL injury.
Having gone through this delightful experience has been an opportunity to think about what I can learn from the accident beyond being more careful when I ski. So, here are some of the lessons I came up with that are relevant to my daily life.

1. The affordances of technology. The first two items I got from the clinic were crutches and a knee brace. The crutches are ancient technology, effective and crude. The knee brace, though, is fantastic. The treatment for my torn MCL in the past would have been a cast for an extended amount of time. It being my right knee it would have prevented driving and exercising for a prolonged period. Instead, this knee brace is hinged, flexible and removable, allowing me to function more normally and start walking within days instead of weeks. We sometimes focus on the downsides of technology and the burdens it adds that we forget the joyful affordances it introduces into our lives.

2. The power of partnership. I was on the slope on my own. There were other skiers around but none that were with me. My dad (78 and till skis better than me) lamented that had he been there this would not have happened. After joking about the way we parent at any age, I started thinking that he was right. Having a partner that helps you have a perspective on the path if he is in front of you, on speed if he is by you, or the responsibility of leading, if he is behind, would have probably caused me to slow down and be more aware of my environment. The parallel to innovating with technology is evident. When we innovate with colleagues, we can prevent burnout (or ski accidents) by working with others. That someone else has to be on the slope with us to help us pace, consider our surroundings, signal when to slow down and rest and help us when we fall. Without this kind of collaboration may be doomed to refuse to put on skis ever again.

3A. Fear is good. A healthy amount of apprehension is good. It keeps us from making catastrophic mistakes. Yes, I fell and got hurt, but I up and about and will be able to do most things within a few weeks. Fear kept me from going much faster and kept me focused on the path.

3B. Fear is bad. I cannot let my recent experience dictate that I will never ski again. I will do so cautiously, but I will certainly try. It is common to fail the first few times we use new technology in teaching. These failures increase apprehension in many practitioners; we must make sure that it does not paralyze us from trying again. As teachers, if we model giving up, how can we foster a "try, try again" attitude in our students.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tech EDGE Reflections. The end?

Laurie Friedrich and I have been doing Tech EDGE for 6 years. We have just finished our 16th! conference. Each conference has served on average between 100-150 participants. Our channel on youtube has about 40,000 views and over 600 subscribers we are also watched on iTunesU as a podcast on iTunes, on YouKu (in China) and on UNL's media hub. On all channels, we are approaching 200,000 views.
What have I learned? I learned that it is hard work. As soon as we finish one event we start nailing down details for another. We are constantly looking for great presenters who live meaningful technology integration not just talk about it. I learned that there are many dedicated educators who are looking to do well by their students and are craving support, ideas, and recognition. This is a simple process in a way. Simple does not mean easy, though. The trick is to keep on going, to find ways to motivate yourself and others as you keep going.

This week Laurie asked me if I was sad. Sad?I asked. Not really. Just tired. Many things piled up, and for a moment, I thought: Maybe, we're done? Perhaps, I've ran out of gas? It's hard to let go of a project you've poured your mind and soul into for 6 years, but I need to know to walk away. 

Participating yesterday, hearing classroom teachers sharing their moments of triumph, learning and sometimes failure gave me energy. The interaction with practicing educators working hard reminded me that I am not doing this alone, nor am I doing it to satisfy my need to be famous. I am doing it because this way I am helping shape the way we educate. Hopefully coming a bit closer to the vision of a creative, caring and competent citizenry.

That said, I am happy next week is spring break!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Binge Learning?

Binge had a negative connotation for a long time. We discussed binge drinking and worried about the impact on our systems.We have this sense that high-intensity short duration behaviors can lead to negative outcomes. The advent of Netflix has transformed the notion of binging into a less destructive more socially acceptable behavior.

In fact, we have been advocating this behavior for years, calling on students to get a lost in a book. We discuss books we cannot put down, or have to read in one sitting. It speaks to a motivation that leads to a very focused behavior.

Right now I am binging on history podcasts. It started with History of the English Language then transferred to History of Byzantium. Yes, I know I am a history geek. But listening to 3-5 podcasts daily (when I walk my dog or drive on my own, I do listen at 1.5 speed) I have started to have questions about learning. I caught my first serial history podcast about 3 months ago. History of the English language has been a deep and joyful experience because by the time I found it it had over 60 episodes. As I listened I enjoyed the level of detail and the build up of facts and ways of thinking. Once I caught up with the podcaster, however, I find it much harder to engage with episodes released once a week or less. I thought I just got tired of the subject so I switched to History of Byzantium, the effect is identical. Once I caught up with the podcasts and have to wait, I find myself a lot less engaged and need a lot more scaffolding to remember where I am in the story.

I argue that binging on content can be a powerful way to experience learning. Intensely sinking into a topic can be powerful and motivating which is exactly the opposite of the way we engage kids in schooling shifting our focus every 20-48 minutes in most cases. Binging on content is of course not enough but it can provide an exceptional starting point for deep understanding. If we follow binge consumption with an attempt to organize the information and then to creating an original product we might have a much better chance of learning. I think this notion fits well into the ideas of project-based learning (PBL) but not limited to it.

As for me, I will keep binging and enjoy learning intensely.