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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.


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

Google + Siri = Dumb people in math?

Google recently announced its tip calculator:

Google calculates tips

And of course Siri + WolframAlpha can do the same (along with more advanced math equations):

Siri tip calculator

We continue to outsource mental tasks to our mobile devices. Cue the ‘tech is making us all dumber’ pundits…

As our mobile computing devices evolve to become even easier and more powerful, the question of what math knowledge and skills [or insert other topic here] we still need to memorize and retain in our lives is an open one. And if we don’t memorize certain things, how will we be able to critically analyze and validate the information our devices (or others) give us?

Food for thought this Monday…

7 building blocks for the future of schools


If I had the chance to build a new school organization (or redesign an existing one), I would start by attending to the educational movements listed below. Every year we see these initiatives gain further ground in traditional educational systems. I see these as basic building blocks for the future of schooling and think that leaders and policymakers should be working toward greater implementation of all of these, both individually and in concert…

  1. Competency-based education and standards-based grading efforts that shift the focus from seat time to learning mastery.
  2. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments that emphasize greater student agency and active application of more cognitively-complex thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.
  3. 1:1 computing initiatives (and concurrent Internet bandwidth upgrades) that give students powerful digital learning devices and access to the world’s information, individuals, and organizations.
  4. The expansion of digital and online (and often open access) information resources that increase the availability of higher and deeper learning opportunities.
  5. Online communities of interest that supplement and augment more-traditional learning communities that are limited by geography and time.
  6. Adaptive software and data systems (and accompanying organizational models) that can facilitate greater individualization of learning content and pace.
  7. Alternative credentialing mechanisms that enable individuals to quickly reskill for and adapt to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and economic demands.
  8. ADDED: Simulations and problem-based learning experiences that foster students’ ability to engage in authentic, real-world work. (hat tip: Trent Grundmeyer)

What did I miss here? What would you revise or add to this list? Most importantly, how well is your school organization doing at paying attention to these 7 key components of future learning environments?

[I’m five days late with this, my own Leadership Day post. I figure that’s okay; we’ve always accepted stragglers! Thank you, everyone, for your fabulous posts to celebrate this annual event!]

8 great questions about techno-solutionism for schools

Anya Kamenetz asks:

What can technology solve? What is it helpless to solve?

Where do we need to innovate? What do we need to preserve?

What is really broken about school right now? What’s working? and finally,

Who is deciding? Who are we not hearing from?


A concatenation of glittering vagaries

Robert Shepherd says:

One cannot tell [how sophisticated the Xerox automated essay grader] is from the marketing literature, which is a concatenation of glittering vagaries. But even if one had a perfect system of this kind that almost perfectly correlated with scoring by human readers, it would still be the case that NO ONE was actually reading the student’s writing and attending to what he or she has to say and how it is said. The whole point of the enterprise of teaching kids how to write is for them to master a form of COMMUNICATION BETWEEN PERSONS, and one cannot eliminate the person who is the audience of the communication and have an authentic interchange.


Building the plane while flying it

“We’re building the plane while flying it!”

How many of us have heard this phrase in presentations about the need for schools to move more quickly toward an uncertain and unknowable future? [yes, I’ve used it myself once or twice] How many of us have had someone show us this video from EDS?

Nearly always there is a skeptic in the audience with the reasonably sarcastic response, “Would you let your own children fly in an airplane that was still being built?” The intent, of course, is to deflate the presenter’s message and to try and put some reins on whatever change is being advocated.

But here’s the thing: What choice do we have?

Most of us don’t have the option of starting over from scratch. The old saw of ‘If we had the chance to start over, would we build the schools we have today?” is great in theory but extremely difficult in practice.

Most of us don’t get to work in the Big Picture or New Tech or Envision schools. We don’t have the option of starting new like a charter school does. We don’t get to work within district- or state-created innovation zones.* Instead, we’re stuck with legacy structures, policies, facilities, personnel, and mindsets, all of which make it much, much harder to change how we do “school.”

So what CAN we do? Well, Clayton Christensen’s work shows us that the best way for an established organization to handle disruptive innovation may be to plant and protect seedlings based on different models and then grow its own replacements. And that gives us lots of internal options if we choose to exercise them as school leaders, even when we work in small systems. A great place to start would be to better nurture the change-makers that we already have in our classrooms: the teachers and students who want to push various envelopes when it comes to learning and teaching. If we’ve got educators and kids who are ready to dive deep into hands-on, technology-infused learning experiences that emphasize cognitive complexity and student agency, we should be doing everything in our power to support them. I’m amazed at how poorly many schools do at adequately supporting existing innovators. As Gloria Ladson-Billings said long ago, “Make sure the change people win.

What else can we do as leaders? If we’ve got high-flying classrooms or schools, we can do a much better job of ‘infecting’ others with that positive work. We can carve out explicit structures and time and personnel that have the purposeful intention of fostering innovation AND connecting others to it. We can make it safe – and, indeed, expected – to take risks, to fail early and often, to engage in rapid iteration, to live in perpetual beta. We can give people permission to fail and fail again as long as they’re failing smarter each time. We can set up classroom observation rubrics and professional growth protocols and hiring criteria that focus on innovative work, not just traditional work. We can match action to rhetoric and identify concrete performances that let us know if innovative work is actually occurring. We can identify and remedy internal policies and decision-making that impede innovation. We can hold regular celebrations that highlight the innovative work that is happening. And so on…

As leaders, it is both our privilege and responsibility to create, nurture, and protect innovation within our school systems. And of course we need to engage in those efforts as thoughtfully and respectfully as we can. But we don’t get there with snarky resistance, nor do we get there by allowing such sentiments to dominate our internal conversations.

Lead bigger. Dream bigger.

* Be sure to check out Bob Pearlman’s list of innovation zones and the resources from Education Evolving.

Young people are desperate for learning that is relevant

Mimi Ito says:

parents more often than not have a negative view of the role of the Internet in learning, but young people almost always have a positive one

Young people are desperate for learning that is relevant and part of the fabric of their social lives, where they are making choices about how, when, and what to learn, without it all being mapped for them in advance


Which students don’t get to use technology, then?

Next time you question whether one-to-one is relevant, count the number of devices you use in a day.

A school board member recently echoed on her Facebook page a community member’s desire to stop funding the district’s 1:1 initiative. Here are the community member’s comments that were shared by the board member:

Technology is a wonderful thing and is much needed BUT these kids needs to know how to take a pencil and paper, spell worlds with out spell check, make a sentence with out using grammar check an do math with a calculator. Seems all the school board can see is the good sides of everything before buying it. They don’t seem to be able to think of what bad can come from things or if what they are purchasing with other money is redundant. I’d like to see results of an old fashioned math, and spelling test and even writing. Many young people can’t spell these day and only print, have no idea of how to do cursive writing. Schools need to stop “dumbing down” our future which is our children.

Below is my contribution to the discussion on the school board member’s Facebook page…

Some quick thoughts:

  1. Our information landscape is no longer ink on paper. It’s digital bits in the ether. It’s completely technology-suffused and EVERYTHING is moving as quickly as possible to the Internet. There is no foreseeable future in which the primacy of printed text is not superseded by electronic text and multimedia. Given this fact, how are you going to prepare students for this digital information landscape if you don’t put digital technologies in their hands?
  2. Our hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global economy requires that developed countries move as rapidly as possible to creative and services work rather than manufacturing and agricultural work, with an emphasis on higher-level thinking skills rather than low-level fact and procedure regurgitation. All of the job growth in this country is in knowledge work sectors. BUT… knowledge work is done with computers these days. You can’t prepare graduates to do real-world knowledge work in a digital landscape by going back to ringbinders and notebook paper. Do you want your students to have jobs? Ignore the comments about ‘spell check’ and ‘old fashioned math’ (which have no basis in actual data or reality) and instead ask whether your students are immersed in cognitively-complex, technology-suffused learning environments that actually prepare them for the demands of knowledge work after high school. As pretty as it is, we must admit to ourselves that cursive writing is not a 21st century skill and neither are many of the other practices that we are trying so desperately to cling to in P-12 education. The biggest barriers to change are our own mindsets of what schooling should look like, which unfortunately are usually based on a past that no longer exists.
  3. It is the job of schools to prepare students to master the dominant information landscape of their time, to be productive workers, and to be successful citizens. All of these require digital fluency, something that is not achieved by a few hours per month in a computer lab. All that said, we also must recognize that change is scary, it’s complex, and it takes time. There’s a learning curve to navigate for students, teachers, parents, and community members. Acknowledge the difficulty of the challenge. Work to make the change as smooth as possible. Learn from mistakes and keep moving forward. Give yourselves time to make the transition. But don’t regress. Don’t give up. Does the district actually believe that NOT using computers is the path to future success for its children? If so, it will be the only one in America that does and it will be dooming its youth to irrelevance. As Abraham Maslow said, “You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” In rapidly-changing information and economic environments, we all need to be future-focused, not nostalgic.
  4. [School board member], you say that putting technology into the hands of all students is ‘not the way to go.’ Which students get to use technology, then? Which students get to be prepared for the world as it is and will be (and which ones don’t)? Which students are you going to intentionally disadvantage by hobbling their college and career readiness by removing technology from their hands?

I’m happy to have a further conversation with you and/or the rest of the board about this. I work with schools, districts, and communities all over the world as they struggle to meet the needs of students and educators regarding technology. All my best.


Image credit: One-to-one