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Connected global youth and the Online Model United Nations movement [guest post]

I became an educational entrepreneur by accident. A humble social studies teacher and Model United Nations (MUN) director by training, I am now working with students in over 50 countries to develop one of the most innovative global ed programs around: Online Model United Nations, or O-MUN for short. Up until 2011 there had never been a fully online version of this popular academic simulation. While precise estimates are unknown, it is likely that close to half a million students – grade 6 through university – engage in MUN each year. Tapping into this enormous community and undertaking the complex task of developing a free and open program for youth around the globe has changed my views on education, technology, and youth forever. And along the way, I have learned a few lessons that are as telling about the state of education and our comfort/discomfort with student-empowering technology as it is about the actual online debates program itself. So a bit of background is in order.

O-MUN

The first attempt at online MUN was done while I was a teacher at a private, for-profit online high school. I decided to start a Model UN club as my required extra-curricular activity. Using my Blackboard Collaborate classroom, I quickly realized that I needed a model to show my students. With the help of a co-collaborator, we rounded up a dozen students from around the world to test the viability of this platform. For nineteen hours, wave after wave of students found us, logged in, and tested out the room’s features, and  found them to be fun and engaging. Many of the very procedures we use in our program today were discovered and tested  in that first open session. I went to sleep that night with my computer on, listening to the chatter of students in Singapore and Malaysia troubleshooting how to vote or submit amendments. I woke the following morning a changed educator. Like a thunderbolt, I knew I had fallen into something potentially huge. With barely-above-average tech skills and a fair amount of MUN experience, I set out on  a path to develop an online, global debating program for high school students. Two successful debates later, my online school’s administration and corporate leaders began to catch the online MUN fever too, and that is when trouble started.

Delegate at O-MUN

The response of my school was to pull the plug on the entire program. I was then entrusted to a minder and told not to publicly speak about the program. Attorneys were called in to assess how this program could be patented and monetized.  Figures were bandied about, with a princely $235 subscription fee per student the likely price for access to this online debates program. The program was to be run from behind the school’s enormous firewall, and developed in isolation and away from a larger international student population. People with no experience in MUN were put in charge of developing the program. So with the core values of this program at stake, and marginalized within the school for which I had developed the program, I made a tough decision. I walked away from my job and my expensive online classroom – the great enabler of the program. With no good alternatives in sight, and taking very seriously my non-compete clause, I sat it out for a year and, in September of 2011, relaunched the idea as O-MUN, a not-for-profit global education program offered up to students for free. (O-MUN’s vision can be found here.)

Delegate from Tanzania

I tell this story in order to set the stage for what happens next. Without resources, we patched together free and open source technology tools to meet our growing needs. Having to  innovate as we went along, our operating costs were (and remain) negligible. We won an online Blackboard classroom in a contest hosted by Steve Hargadon. With that one precious room as the cornerstone of our program, we launched O-MUN. There was no  institutional backing and very limited ability to connect with a larger audience; in fact, most of the over-25 crowd studiously ignored us during that first year. But we grew because students found us, primarily via  our growing community on Facebook. When our debates were small, we wrung our hands, put our heads together, and tried to figure out the next plan of attack. For the students who got actively involved that first year, they worked together to innovate our leadership structure, down to the positions needed and what their job descriptions would be, how to run our Facebook communities, and what worked/didn’t work with Google Docs. Students actively developed our website, our banners and graphics, and our training and moderating programs, so critical for a student-driven organization. No one made students do this. They certainly didn’t do it for grades. This was in the era of pre-digital badges, so they didn’t even get that (they do now, but more on that later). Most would never meet one another face-to-face, but the O-MUN community esprit des corps soared that year, as did the social currency that binds communities together: inside jokes, shared mythology and legend, even a currency and theme song.

Delegate from UAE

In the waning days of 2013, I look back at what has been O-MUN’s true international debut: a partnership with THIMUN, exposure and collaboration with a small but growing number of organizations, and a proliferation of programs driven by the demand and ideas of students around the world, working collaboratively, simply for the sheer love of MUN and their O-MUN community: a middle school and university level program, the first online model International Court of Justice, national programs in places like Taiwan , Singapore, Turkey, and France (and more on the way), a recently-launched French language version of O-MUN, with Arabic planned for 2014. The frosting on the cake has been O-MUN’s travel teams, proving to others as well as ourselves that online activity can translate into real, face-to-face skill development and opening a path for participation that normally would have been denied students without an online avenue to connect with the larger MUN community.

beach

This week members of our community will share how Online Model United Nations has impacted them, professionally and personally, as delegates and as human beings. I believe they are the voices that educational thought leaders, teachers, administrators, and parents need to hear. What is driving O-MUN’s development is far removed from what we often talk about in education circles. It is my hope that the O-MUN story adds a fresh perspective to the global education conversation.

nick and Salam, opening ceremonies

Previously in this series

Lisa Martin is a 20+ year educator who has worked in places as far flung as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, San Diego, and, now, Amman, Jordan. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Online Model United Nations and would love to connect with like-minded educators. You can find her just about everyplace online, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

Upcoming guest series: Online Model United Nations

FYI, over the next week or so I am turning my blog over to Lisa Martin and the students who help her run the Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) program. Many of you may be familiar with the Model UN program and know what a wonderful experience that is for students. Now imagine taking that program and extending it online and across multiple continents and time zones!

The O-MUN story is an incredible tale of perseverance, creativity, and student empowerment. I hope that this guest series will get you thinking about some possibilities and that you’ll interact with Lisa and these amazing students over the next few days.

Making judgments about technologies we haven’t used and don’t understand

George Couros says:

“Kids don’t have enough balance.”

“We are dumber because of technology.”

“People are disconnected from one another because of how we use technology.”

“Technology kills our face-to-face interactions.”

In my travels, I have heard all of these arguments.

You will hear people say things like “Twitter is stupid.” Just to clarify, Twitter is a thing and can’t be stupid. It is the equivalent of a student not understanding math and then saying “math is stupid.” It is often our lack of understanding that leads us to make statements like this, which I made myself. One of the questions that I ask people when they make these remarks is, “from your use of Twitter, tell me why it is stupid?”, which is sometimes followed by, “Well, I have never used it.” That would be the equivalent of me saying that a Lamborghini handles terribly. I could say that, but I have never experienced driving one, nor have I ever done any research on the vehicle.

via http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/4271

The rhetoric of most educational technology ‘solutions’ is vastly overblown

Clicker

Justin Reich says:

if you are building things that are familiar, how are they going to substantially change education?

If our problems are mere inefficiencies – if we need students doing basically exactly what they’ve been doing before but faster – then the gambit of building apps that mirror typical classroom practices will work out great.

If you think that the problems in classrooms are not just about kids doing things a little faster, but doing different things than is current practice, then you need to build things that will be unfamiliar. If your technology is unfamiliar, you need to patiently build a network of educators experimenting with your ideas, reshaping systems – bells, exams, furniture, devices – to accomodate your new technology into a new vision. Initially, these people won’t buy your weirdness; you will practically have to pay them to implement your new ideas.

You, hungry entrepreneur, … you are going to take some familiar feature of classroom experience – the textbook, the flashcard, the lecture, the worksheet, the sticker, the behavior chart – and you will digitize that feature.

Wrapped in a language of transformation and disruption, the ed-tech start-up scene is profoundly conservative.

Our problems in schools go far beyond mere inefficiencies. Are inefficiencies rampant? Absolutely. Can various learning and management technologies help address these inefficiencies? Absolutely. Does merely addressing inefficiencies result in educational ‘transformation?’ Of course not. The rhetoric of most educational technology ‘solutions’ is vastly overblown…

Image credit: Clicker, Tom Magliery

What are we doing to foster ‘get stuff done with other people networks?’

Although you're far...

Kakul Srivastava says:

Millennials are more likely than any other previous generations to daily access their outside-of-work networks to get work done. The forces of micro-entrepreneurship are increasing making each of us our own “corporation,” reliant on our outside networks to make things happen. Finally, as our previous work experience becomes increasingly irrelevant to our future work problems, our real asset to bring to any endeavor becomes our network.

Will Richardson adds:

for most of us, our PLNs are “sharing networks” in that the main currency in our connections are links and or ideas that, in theory at least, amplify our own learning about whatever it is we’re interested in. But seeing our networks as “critical to getting our work done” is a step up for most

What are we doing as school leaders to foster our students’ and educators’ development of ‘get stuff done’ networks? Usually nothing.

Image credit: Although you’re far…, Aphrodite

If you’re afraid of change, social media is a distraction and a risk

Seth Godin says:

If you’re eager for change, every bit of information and every event represents an opportunity to learn, to grow and to change for the better. You hear some advice and you listen to it, consider it (possibly reject it), iterate on it and actually do something different in response.

On the other hand, if you’re afraid of change or in love with the path you’re on or focused obsessively on your GTD list, then incoming represents a distraction and a risk. So you process it with the narrative, “how can this input be used to further what I’ve already decided to do?” At worst, you ignore it. At best, you use a tiny percentage of it to your advantage.

via http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/11/your-incoming-process.html

Two awesome tech leadership webinars for our Connected Educator Month book club

McLeod Lehmann book

At 7pm Eastern on Monday, October 28, we launch the fourth and final Connected Educator Month book club. Contributors Joyce Valenza, Kevin Jarrett, Richard Byrne, Kristin Hokanson, and Stephanie Sandifer will join Chris Lehmann, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and myself for a 1-hour online discussion of technology leadership issues. We will discuss topics from our book, What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media, as well as anything else that we or our audience brings up. Please join us!

At 7pm Eastern on Monday, December 2, our book club will conclude with a second webinar. Joining Sheryl and I that evening will be Doug Johnson, Steve Dembo, Dean Shareski, David Jakes, and Pamela Livingston. Hope you’ll join us for that one too!

And, in between, we’ll be talking about the book in our online discussion space. Learn more about the book club and sign up to participate with us. See you online!

[It’s been a good month for our book. Not only did the U.S. Department of Education pick our book to be one of the four featured for Connected Educator Month, last week the Illinois Principals Association offered a copy to every attendee at its annual conference. Woo hoo!]

Thank you

Thank you

Dear Prairie Lakes principals and superintendents,

Over the past six weeks, you’ve been getting to know our new tech integration team. We’ve made it a top priority to try and get into your buildings, meet you and your teachers on your turf, and start to build meaningful connections and relationships.

By now you’re probably starting to realize that… well, we’re a little bit different!  :)  Not different just to be different, but different to be better. We’re passionate about what we do, we’re willing to think as far outside the box as necessary, and, yes, when it comes to ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it,’ we confess that sometimes we’re a bit irreverent.

Commitments

  1. We are deeply committed to the idea that professional work and professional learning both should be fun. And meaningful. And challenging. And so should our classrooms.
  2. We are deeply committed to quality. We’re building around principles of effective adult learning and we’re using the Influencer design framework to maximize possibility of actual implementation. No more sit-and-get. No more yawn-inducing, one-size-fits-all ‘training.’ And as little drive-by, short-term work as possible.
  3. We are deeply committed to trust and transparency. We will publicly post every single one of our evaluations. We will actively solicit and act upon your feedback. If you’ve got ideas for us, we will listen and adapt. We promise.
  4. We are deeply committed to service. It’s about you and your needs, not ours. We’ve got lots of ideas – and beliefs about powerful learning - but ultimately we’re here to serve you. No dictates. No mandates. Wherever you are, wherever you want to go, we’ll do our best to be of help.

We’re on a mission. A mission to #dreambigger, #designforit, and #makeitbetter. We hope that you’ll join us.

Thank you for the warm welcome, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to be of service to your amazing educators and students. Please stay in touch, and be sure to connect with us online. We are looking forward to our continued work together.

All our best.

SCOTT

Image credit: for Flickr friends 2011, mengjie jo

[cross-posted at rethink. redesign.]

Moon shots

Astro Teller says:

I think if we’re aspiring to take moon shots, designing things for today’s cultural norms, on any front, doesn’t make any sense.

via http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2152422,00.html

Implications for how we redesign learning, teaching, and schooling?

3 big shifts

Three

Trying to keep things conceptually simple, I see schools needing to make 3 big shifts:

  1. From Low-Level Thinking to High-Level Thinking. From an overwhelming emphasis on students doing lower-level thinking tasks (factual recall, procedural regurgitation) to students more often engaging in tasks of greater cognitive complexity (creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, effective communication).
  2. From Analog to Digital. From local classrooms that are largely based on pens/pencils, notebook paper, ring binders, and printed textbooks to local and global learning spaces that are deeply and richly technology-infused (devices + Internet).
  3. From Teacher-Directed to Student-Directed. From classrooms that are overwhelmingly teacher-controlled to learning environments that enable greater student agency (ownership and control of what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn).

I think the third one’s going to be most difficult. As educators we are not ready to give up control…

How is your school doing with these 3 big shifts?

3bigshifts
Download graphic of this table

Image credit: 3Brittney Bush Bollay

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