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Invisible = irrelevant

TrappedIt’s 2011. If you’re invisible to the world, aren’t you also irrelevant to the world?

I use the Rapportive plugin for Gmail. It’s a pretty powerful little add-on that gives me enhanced profile information for the people that send me e-mail by tapping into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, Flickr, my Google contacts, and more. For example, if you used Rapportive, here’s what you’d see on the right side of your screen if I e-mailed you.

my social networks

You can see from my profile that I am richly connected and using a variety of social media tools. There are many ways to intersect with me, professionally and/or personally.

Although it’s happening less frequently every day, I still receive a great number of e-mails from people whose Rapportive profile looks like this:

Nosocialnetworks

This doesn’t mean that they lack a Rapportive profile. It means that they have no presence on any social networks. No Facebook, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no Flickr, no etc. Nothing.

I wonder about these people. They’re not just missing out. They’re missing out. In a world that’s hyperconnected and hypernetworked, these people are off the grid. Whatever ideas they have, whatever service they’re offering, whatever charity for which they’re trying to raise money, whatever product they’re selling – whatever they’re doing is invisible to anyone outside their local geography.

In 2011, it seems to me that these people are largely irrelevant to anyone other than their local community. And though it might be fine for many to make that individual choice, that decision should stem from intention rather than ignorance. I also believe that we should be doing better by our schoolchildren. They may decide to go off the grid when they’re older, but in the meantime we should be doing our damnedest as educators to teach them how to be networked and connected in positive, productive ways because in the future almost all of them will want their products or services or charities or ideas to have some traction.

If this were a review, I’d give Rapportive 4 highlighters for being a solid bit of software that does what it intends quite well.

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But I’d give the person above 0 highlighters because I don’t know about her. And neither do you.

Image credit: Invisible man sculpture, Harlem, NY

Book review – The new cool

TrappedThis post is a review of The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts by Neal Bascomb. My short recommendation? This book is a super-fun read that will get you into the hearts and minds of some of the most promising youth in our country.

What I liked about the book

Bascomb is a bestselling author, known for his books The Perfect Mile, Higher, and Hunting Eichmann. In this story, he profiles a California teacher and the students he is mentoring for Dean Kamen’s FIRST Robotics Competition. Bascomb hooked me as a reader early on; I was very quickly empathetic to and interested in what happened to these adolescents and their mentors.

The story is about a group of high school students who are trying to create a robot that will succeed in the national robotics competition. While that might not sound too exciting on its face, Bascomb does a superb job of conveying the thrill and agony of competitive robotics [Note: these are not battle bots; they’re more like a ‘Mars rover]. From the very beginning, the odds are stacked against these students. Not only do they not get along with each other very well, the technical challenges that they have to overcome are quite daunting and their competitors across the country are more experienced and have a long history of success.

As the book progresses, the tension mounts: Could anything more go wrong with their robot? Will they get it built by the deadline? Will it succeed in competition? Will they all keel over and die from exhaustion? I sighed in relief multiple times as the high school robotics team overcame many of its obstacles. The challenges of building a working team, the critical importance of the coaches, the win-or-go-home competitions – all of the elements are there, just as they are for competitive athletes or musicians.

One of the best parts of this book for me was learning more about the FIRST competitions. I am chagrined to say that I knew virtually nothing about FIRST beforehand other than that some kids in our middle school are involved in Lego League; now I’m a big fan. The hands-on engineering challenges that students across the country are working on are first-rate. If, like me, you know nothing about FIRST, I encourage you to learn more and to support one or more of its competitions: Lego League, Junior Lego League, Tech Challenge, and Robotics Competition.

Some quotes

Why do we do FIRST? Because the world’s a mess. Read the news. Look around you. We got lights, clean water, ways to get around. We have hospitals, schools, safe malls. But two-thirds of all people alive today, 4 billion people, live on less than $2 a day. Half of them live on $1 a day. That’s their whole life. We’re the richest in the world, by far. And the world’s a mess. Somebody’s got to fix it. Do you think the people living on a buck a day, who don’t have clean water, schools, technology, education, do you think those people can fix it? No. You have to fix it. (Kamen, p. 21)

AND

The robot is just a vehicle, just a tool. The skill sets you walk away with will give you careers for a lifetime. FIRST is a genuine card-carrying microcosm of the real world of engineering. We give you a little time, never as much as you need. We give you a little bit of material, never what you’d really want. You never know what the competitors are doing. FIRST really is a way to show you what the world of science, technology, inventing, and problem solving is. It’s all hard, and if this frustrates you, tough, it’s important. (Kamen, p. 22)

AND

The academy’s about analytical thinking, problem solving, and working with the team. . . . I think that we, as a country, need to improve our science and engineering, but I’m more of an advocate for all of our education to be structured like this – be it a business academy, engineering academy, et cetera. . . . Students are on the Internet these days, and information’s free. If we teachers don’t move beyond just being fountains of information, and instead focus on experiences, we’re losing touch with what students need. And the students know it. They’re sitting in class thinking ‘I can look up this stuff on Wikipedia right now.’ They can’t look up this experience on Wikipedia. (Amir, p. 73)

AND

Learning with always trumps learning from (p. 19)

AND

this is what distinguished the FIRST competition from a science fair where students took what they already knew and put together a project on their own. By intention, Dean Kamen had no rules about the level of mentor involvement, allowing the kids to get real experience working hand in hand with engineers.

Luke was now about to learn how to take a conceptual sketch, break it down to its individual working parts, design them to precise measurements for machining, and see how they meshed to form a functioning, efficiently designed mechanism. As Chase said, it was the difference between figuring out how to put together a go-cart on one’s own versus learning how to build a Maserati with help. (pp. 99–100)

. . . . He stopped, restarted, changed his sequence, asked Chase and his programmers questions, and listened to their input until he know how to fix the PenguinBot before the first qualifying match. In that moment, it was clear that the boundaries between teacher and students had broken down. They were equals. (p. 254)

AND

Before the first matches of the day, students and their coaches scrambled for the quick fix. They relinked broken chains, riveted loose frames, soldered wires, debugged code, and straightened bent aluminum rods with their bare hands. The smell of burnt metal, adrenaline, and sawdust saturated the air.

“ROBOT!” a kid shouted.

“Coming through! ROBOT!” echoed another. (p. 3)

Questions I have after reading the book

  • What percentage of school districts across the country are involved in one or more of the FIRST competitions? Heck, what percentage even know about the FIRST competitions?
  • What’s happening here locally in my school district? I need to find out more…
  • Can I talk my wife into letting me (and maybe my kids) go see the national finals?

Rating

There’s a quote that is repeated several times in the book: Societies get the best of what they celebrate. There’s also a part where one of the students on the team says the word ‘nerds’ as he’s walking out the door. Another teammate takes offense. The first one then says:

What? I didn’t say ‘nerds’ and point at you. I said ‘nerds’ and you flipped your head. If I said ‘badasses,’ then you should look up, but not ‘nerds.’ (p. 61)

I concur. We’ve got some serious problems to solve. We need to do a better job of celebrating our scientists and programmers and inventors. We need a whole lot more graduates who think of themselves as ‘badass’ engineers.

Is this a life-changing book? Nope. Is it a great read and a fascinating story? Absolutely. A pageturner that I stayed up late to finish because I just had to know how it ended, I give The New Cool a solid 4 highlighters (out of 5).

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[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Tools for school – Digital document annotation on an iPad, iPod Touch, or laptop

[FYI, this post also has been translated into Croatian by the WHGeeks Science section!]

[Warning: this is a long post. Cross-posted at LeaderTalk.]

I’ve been playing around with digital document annotation on various portable computing devices. Here is an overview of where I am right now…

The old way!

First of all, just as a reminder, the image below is the way that we’ve traditionally annotated ink on paper. Some of you like to use pencils or pens to underline, write notes in the margins, etc. In my life I’ve spent a small fortune on yellow highlighters.

Annotation01

Kindle App for the iPad

Will Richardson got me thinking with his post on using the Kindle app, his iPhone, and Evernote together for document annotation and sharing. So I decided to try it myself with the Kindle app. I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have an iPad and two iPod Touches.

Here is what it looks like when you press and hold on a word to begin your highlight (or note) in the Kindle app for the iPad:

Annotation05

Once the word is selected, you can push and drag on either of the dots to resize the selection and cover more text. Note that the magnifying box helps you see where you are.

Annotation06

Once you’ve got your text selected, you click on Highlight or Note and it gets saved with your document. Repeat as desired.

Kindle App for the iPod Touch (or iPhone)

The process is the same for the Kindle App for the iPod Touch (or iPhone). Here are two images that show you what it looks like on the smaller screen. Again, note the draggable dots as well as the magnifying box.

Annotation23

Kindle App for the PC

The Kindle App for the PC essentially works the same way. Use your mouse to click and drag, selecting the text you want in a highlight or note. When you’re done, select the option you want from the popup box. The gray text background then turns to yellow. See in the image below that the Notes & Marks button is selected at the top right, allowing me to see all of my notes and highlights in a scrollable list on the right.

Annotation18

Note: The text you select in the Kindle App for the PC is NOT copyable for future pasting into another document.

Your notes online: Why this is better than marking up ink on paper

So far, so good. The process basically works like a traditional highlighter. Every time I sync the Kindle app with Amazon’s server, my notes and highlights show up on all of my other devices too. I don’t have to lug multiple, heavy books around. I can just carry my ultralight laptop, my svelte iPad, or my pocket-size iPod Touch and have access to my reading and the accompanying highlights / notes.

As Will noted in his post, the beauty of all of this, however, is that Amazon also makes available a web site where you can see all of your Kindle notes and highlights. I can even see an aggregation of others’ highlights if I wish (which is pretty cool).

Annotation07

The text on the web site is selectable, which means you can copy and paste it into other applications. For example, you could put all of your highlights into a Word document, a blog post, or a note in Evernote. Will did the latter, and I’ll walk you through that process…

Using Evernote to publicly share your notes

Here’s what it looks like in Evernote if you just copy-and-paste directly into a new note:

Annotation19

If you clean it up first – using some judicious search-and-replace – then it can look more like this:

Annotation08

You can share your notes and highlights with others by making a public notebook (or tag) in Evernote. In the image below, I’ve right-clicked on the notebook I want to share and then selected Properties.

Annotation10

A popup box appears. Click on Sharing and collaboration options:

Annotation11

The Web version of Evernote launches and you get to choose if you want to share with individuals or the world at large:

Annotation12

If you start sharing with the world, you get a personalized URL to which you can send others (e.g., www.evernote.com/pub/scottmcleod/shared). They can click on the appropriate note and see everything you’ve put in the now-public notebook. Pretty nifty!

Annotation20

Another alternative: iAnnotate PDF

In addition to doing what Will did, I’ve also been experimenting with the iAnnotate PDF app for the iPad. I wanted a way to edit dissertation drafts, online reports and white papers, and other documents in PDF format. Although the GoodReader app (and, maybe soon, the iBooks app?) works great for viewing PDF files, you can’t edit them within the app. I read good things about iAnnotate and decided to try it.

I had some initial trouble getting documents into iAnnotate. I finally figured out, however, that the best way to do it is to synchronize it with a DropBox folder. That works pretty well (for GoodReader too!). Once you open a PDF file within iAnnotate, you have a number of tools at your disposal, including the ability to highlight, underline, strike out text, draw freehand, and leave yourself a pop-up note:

Annotation25

Although iAnnotate doesn’t give you the option of synchronizing to a web page like the Kindle app does, it does let you e-mail your annotations (with or without the document). When the annotation summary is received as an e-mail, it looks like this:

Annotation24

That text is then selectable, which means you can cut and paste it into other applications. Managing documents within iAnnotate is very easy, just as it is for the Kindle apps.

Reflections and implications

Here are a few thoughts:

  • The possibilities of all of this for academic work are endless. I will use the Kindle app to read nonfiction books like Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus and capture the quotes and notes that I think are important. I’ll use iAnnotate PDF to do the same for those documents and research reports that I’m always digging up online. When my students send me their writing, I’ll quickly convert those documents to PDF and then be able to comfortably annotate anywhere on my iPad, without being tethered to my laptop or desktop computers. And so on…
  • I love having all of the text from a book or report that I think is important – and ONLY that text – in one place. It’s searchable, it’s editable, it’s MINE. No more flipping through pages trying to find something. No more using multiple bookmarks and Post-It flags. A quick search and the text I want is there.
  • It would be nice if you could cut and paste from the Kindle App (particularly the one for the PC) into other applications.
  • The Pogo Sketchup Stylus - a special stylus for the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch - is worth every penny when it comes to annotation. Highlighting text – particularly on the iPad - is a breeze compared to using my (apparently too fat) finger because the stylus has a smaller surface area and thus is more precise.

Annotation26

  • As digital annotation and sharing tools continue to become more robust, it becomes much more feasible to use iPads and other mobile computing devices as replacements for books and textbooks.
  • Like Will, I may never buy a nonfiction book on paper again (unless I have to).
  • I like Will’s idea of getting notes off of the Amazon web page and into Evernote. If iAnnote or the iBooks app or other e-book readers and annotation tools also make available online or e-mail versions of highlights and notes, I’ll do the same for those too. That way I won’t have to worry about particular proprietary formats becoming obsolete. Now, if Evernote ever goes out of style, I’m in big trouble!

So this is where I am right now with all of this. Although digital annotation using these tools is not yet as smooth as I would like, I’m deriving a lot of benefit from the new capabilities that I do have.

How about you? How are you annotating digital documents on portable computing devices? Got any tips or suggestions?

Book review – The future of management

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. This post is a review of The Future of Management by Gary Hamel (and Bill Breen). My short recommendation? This book was easily the best leadership book I read in 2009 and should be required reading for all practicing and preservice school administrators.

What I liked about the book

Hamel is one of the leading leadership and business scholars of our time; he has won numerous awards for his writing. As you read through this review, whenever you see the word company or business, substitute school organization. The essential premise of this book is stated early on:

What ultimately constrains the performance of [an] organization is not its operating model, nor its business model, but its management model (p. x). [Unfortunately,] the equipment of [current] management is now groaning under the strain of a load it was never meant to carry. Whiplash change, fleeting advantages, technological disruptions, seditious competitors, fractured markets, omnipotent customers, rebellious shareholders – these 21st-century challenges are testing the design limits of organizations around the world and are exposing the limitations of a management model that has failed to keep pace with the times (p. x).

In other words, as Charles Leadbeater says, “old groaning corporations are the wrong shape” for the fast-paced, ever-changing, innovation-driven, global economy in which we now live.

Hamel notes a number of new environmental factors that now exist for organizations, including reduced barriers to entry across a wide range of industries; a shift in bargaining power to consumers rather than producers; a world of near-perfect information; and the rise of more nimble, global competitors “eager to exploit legacy costs of the old guard” (pp. 9–10). He then goes on to describe why management, rather than other factors, is the key to resolving many of these dilemmas. He also outlines three formidable challenges that now confront organizations:

  • Dramatically accelerating the pace of strategic renewal in organizations large and small;
  • Making innovation everyone’s job, every day; and
  • Creating a highly engaging work environment that inspires employees to give the very best of themselves. (p. 41)

These ring true for school systems as well as corporations.

Hamel states that “if we were to measure the relative contribution that each of these human capabilities makes to value creation, . . . the scale would look something like this“

  • Passion 35%
  • Creativity 25%
  • Initiative 20%
  • Intellect 15%
  • Diligence 5%
  • Obedience 0% (p. 59)

The Future of Management, Gary HamelGuess which ones school systems reward, both for their students and their employees?

I liked Hamel’s emphasis on organizational learning. For example, he notes that “there is no surer way to undermine a new business venture than to measure it by the profits generated, rather than by the learning accumulated” (p. 225). Unfortunately, this happens all too often in the public schooling context when it comes to standardized testing results.

One section of the book profiles different companies that are management outliers and identifies some key management lessons to be learned from them. For example, a key idea from Whole Foods Market is that “the biggest obstacle to management innovation may be what you already believe about management” (p. 79). One of the key lessons from W.L. Gore is that “management innovation often redistributes power (so don’t expect everyone to be enthusiastic)” (p. 96). A key lesson from Google is that “experienced managers may not make the best management innovators” (p. 119).

The middle of the book had a statement that really resonated with me:

The people who have a stake in the old technology are never the ones to embrace the new technology. It’s always someone a bit on the periphery, who hasn’t got anything to gain by the status quo, who is interested in changing it” (pp. 127–128).

There are a small handful of us in educational leadership academe for whom this directly applies. We are trying to figure out how to publish or perish and become recognized as national experts in this new information landscape rather than the traditional one of peer-reviewed academic journals. We have little interest in burying our writing in places that educators in the field never read. We have little interest in writing that is disconnected from conversation and collaborative knowledge-building. We’re all in the first decade (or less) of our scholarly careers, however; we don’t have the legacy disability of having built our reputations in the world of ink on paper. Time will tell if we’re successful at challenging the old system or if we get beaten down and/or driven out by our collective peers.

Hamel notes that current management was built around some core principles: standardization, specialization, hierarchy, alignment, planning and control, and the use of extrinsic rewards to shape human behavior (p. 151). All of these are under assault in our new technology-suffused, hyperconnected, globally-interconnected society. Some of the new management principles that now are ascendant include variety, flexibility, activism, meaning, and organization for serendipity (p. 179).

Near the end of the book, Hamel postulates some key questions (and gives some potential answers):

  • How do you build a democracy of ideas?,
  • How do you amplify human imagination?,
  • How do you dynamically reallocate resources?,
  • How do you aggregate collective wisdom?,
  • How do you minimize the drag of old mental models?, and
  • How do you give everyone the chance to opt in? (pp. 189–190)

Those are great issues around which to invent the future of management.

Key quotes

The most critical question for every 21st-century company is this: Are we changing as fast as the world around us? (p. 42)

AND

Regulatory barriers, patent protection, distribution monopolies, disempowered customers, proprietary standards, scale advantages, import protection, and capital hurdles were bulwarks that protected industry incumbents from the margin-crushing impact of Darwinian competition. Today, many of these fortifications are collapsing. (p. 48)

Does this sound like public schools to you? It does to me.

AND

No one has a blueprint for building an innovators’ paradise. It isn’t just your company – every big organization is inhospitable to innovation. If you want to build an innovation-friendly management system, you’re going to have to invent it. (p. 84)

AND

Some of your colleagues are likely to protest that while “it might work there, it will never work here.” When you’re up against a belief that seems set in concrete, it may be helpful to ask, whose interests does this belief serve? . . . It’s hardly surprising that most managers believe you can’t manage without managers. (p. 138)

AND

Vociferous, honest dissent is not a hallmark of hierarchical organizations. . . . Adaptability requires alternatives. Alternatives require dissenters. (pp. 167–168) Does anyone suppose that pathbreaking innovation will come out of intellectually homogenous companies? (p. 175)

Questions I have after reading the book

  • How many public school systems have a hope of ever pulling off even a fraction of this?
  • What will it take for school leaders to recognize the organizational dangers that accompany
  • How long will it be before policymakers and parents recognize the limitations of current management strategies and begin advocating for something different?
  • Are ANY educational leadership preparation programs talking about this stuff?

Rating

In the first section of the book, Hamel notes that

When it comes to innovation, a company’s legacy beliefs are a much bigger liability than its legacy costs. . . . Few companies have a systematic process for challenging deeply held strategic assumptions. Few have taken bold steps to open up their strategy process to contrarian points of view. Few explicitly encourage disruptive innovation. (p. 54)

The challenge for all school leaders – and the university programs that prepare them - is how to initiate and sustain these kinds of changes. This is what I’m wrestling with as an educational leadership professor.

This is an excellent book. I have no hesitation giving it 5 highlighters (out of 5).

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[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Book review – Education unbound

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. This post is a review of Education Unbound: The Promise and Practice of Greenfield Schooling by Rick Hess. My short recommendation? I believe that this is a book that will substantially stretch educators and policymakers and should be required reading for any university educational leadership program’s education policy course.

What I liked about the book

Hess’ essential premise is that we need more innovation and entrepreneurship in K-12 schooling. He believes that the “greatest challenge for teaching and learning is the creaky, rule-bound system in which they unfold” (p. 3) and that school organizations are “so hobbled [by various legacy characteristics] that even sensible efforts will fall short” (p. 3). He advocates for a greenfield approach to schooling, one that clears the ground for innovation and allows reform efforts to proceed unhindered by restrictive policies, mindsets, and other constraints.

Education Unbound, by Rick HessThis is not just a book about school choice. As Hess notes, greenfield approaches to schooling require “that choice be coupled with opportunities for entrepreneurs to enter the field, obtain resources, recruit talent, try new approaches, develop new products, compete fairly, and benefit from their successes. . . . [We] have paid little attention to the development of the infrastructure, quality control, and policy environment needed to turn school choice plans into greenfield” (p. 33).

In Chapter 2, Hess identifies four tasks that are crucial to greenfield educational reform: “removing obstacles, ensuring quality, and supplying both talent and financial resources” (p. 41). He then describes in detail in Chapters 3 through 6 the issues, the challenges, and some potential solutions in each of those four areas. Unfortunately, as Hess notes, “for all their virtues, [American] schools … are not noted for their embrace of creative problem solvers” (p. 1) and that “the vast majority of superintendents [and principals] have learned to regard precedent-breaking action as risky and conflict as something to be avoided” (p. 61).

I liked Hess’ recognition that we tolerate wide discrepancies in outcomes when it comes to public education but not when it comes to for-profit educational services. For example, he says that “in education, we … are much more squeamish about [for-profit] approaches that may yield uneven quality (even if we quietly tolerate massive mediocrity and unevenness among existing school districts)” (p. 85). I think that’s an important point worth emphasizing. We are so afraid that for-profit solutions will cause harm to students. Of course some will. They already do, and we should work to prevent those from happening as much as we can. But the same is true for public education. We shouldn’t stifle opportunities for innovation for some perceived notion of educational quality that, in reality, is also variable in the public sector. Instead, as he advocates, we need better oversight and better mechanisms for accountabilty, ones that go far beyond - and are more robust and complex than – the simplistic bubble-sheet accountability measures that we have now.

Key quotes

We routinely look at new learning tools and ask only how they might be used to improve traditional classrooms rather than how they might revolutionize schooling. . . . Technology is not a way to augment yesterday’s classrooms but rather a tool with which to revolutionize schooling. (pp. 27–28)

AND

The dysfunction that limns our school systems is like the air we breathe. It’s so familiar and accepted that, after a while, we take it for granted. We forget that things might be otherwise – that there’s no reason choosing to be an educator should mean accepting bureacracy, standardization, and inept management. (p. x)

AND

It is hard to see how even souped-up versions of existing approaches will recruit or prepare the kind of talent needed to fundamentally improve K-12 education. (p. 87)

AND

[An] often overlooked operational barrier is the tendency of district leaders to regard staff time and salaries as sunk costs. . . . Districts typically do not eliminate teaching or staff positions, even if an innovation allows nine employees to accomplish what used to take ten. The result is that school and district leaders have a hard time seeing labor-saving technologies or services as cost-effective. . . . A management style that ignores cost efficiencies in staff time and salaries constitutes an enormous obstacle . . . Rather than ask whether a tutoring program would allow a district to reduce the number of paraprofessionals or whether a more sophisticated diagnostic tool might allow talented elementary teachers to accommodate more students, . . . officials seemingly operate from the premise that technology and service providers must “supplement but not supplant” personnel. (p. 59)

AND

The failure of most [best practices-oriented reform] efforts is due to barnacles that encumber today’s school systems, including inefficient human resource departments, intrusive collective bargaining agreements, outdated technology, poorly designed management information systems, and other structural impediments. Greenfielders do not reject the utility of sensible best practices, but they question the assumption that the best practice mind-set will be enough to overcome these obstacles. . . . If we are to deliver transformative improvement, it is not enough to wedge new practices into familiar schools and districts; we must re-imagine the system itself. (pp. 6–7)

Questions I have after reading this book

  • What is the likelihood of us ever achieving even some of the greenfield approaches that Hess advocates?
  • What are the best ways to address the “supplement but not supplant” mindsent of school leaders, teachers unions, and policymakers when it comes to technology and personnel?
  • Can we get educators to recognize that digital technologies will supplant some of their work - and some of them - and that this will be a good thing for students?

Rating

I liked this book a LOT. I like any book that really stretches my own thinking and pushes me into new areas that I haven’t considered much. This is one of those books and I bet it will be for you too. I give it 5 highlighters (out of 5).

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[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Disclosure

This book was sent to me gratis by the publisher. I was not compensated in any way for this review and was not asked by the author or the publisher to write positively about this book.

Book review – Teaching with wikis, blogs, podcasts, & more

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. Today’s book is Teaching With Wikis, Blogs, Podcasts, & More: Dozens of Easy Ideas for Using Technology to Get Kids Excited About Learning, by Kathleen Fitzgibbon. My short recommendation? Stay away from this book.

What I liked about the book

TeachingwithwikisThe only redeeming aspect of this book is that the author gives some ideas for classroom lessons and projects that may be useful for educators who are new to social media.

What I didn’t like about the book

There’s not much in this book. It’s only 48 pages long and is intended for grades 3 and higher. We bought this book thinking that it would be an interesting end-of-year gift for our son’s 4th-grade teacher. When it arrived from Amazon and we saw what it was, we gave her Will Richardson’s book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcats, and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms, instead.

The back cover of the book says “This book of quick tips and practical ideas shows how to fuse technology with everyday teaching. Readers will learn ways to use presentation software, e-portfolios, digital cameras, interactive whiteboards, and other teacher-tested tools to enhance learning and motivate students.” What you get, however, is simplistic and fairly unhelpful.

Key quotes

Here are a couple of examples of what’s in the book…

Have students go online and find a free software tool for creating blogs. They name their blogs and create a blog address or URL. Encourage students to make the title catchy. Have students choose a template, a tool that creates the page where they write and categorizes content. Have students write their first blog posting. (p. 16)

That’s it. That’s the kind of advice you get for setting up your students’ blogs. If you can navigate these instructions successfully, you don’t need the book in the first place because you already know enough about blogs to make this happen.

Here’s another one…

Publish the podcast. Go to any free online server that provides a server for uploading audio files. (p. 32)

Again, I’m thinking that any educator that can do this successfully with the given instructions has no need for the book. The book is full of stuff like this.

Rating

I give this book 1 highlighter (out of a possible 5). I was tempted to give it 0, but there are some redeeming ideas for future lessons scattered throughout the book. As far as I can tell, there isn’t much other reason for anyone to buy this book. Whatever’s in here can be better found on web sites and blogs.

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[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Book review – Rethinking education in the age of technology

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. Today’s book is Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, by Allan Collins and Richard (Rich) Halverson. This book is a worthy addition to any school administrator’s nightstand and should be required reading in university educational leadership preparation programs or teacher education programs’ history of education courses.

What I liked about the book

rethinkingeducationThe authors blend a historical perspective on schooling with a keen understanding of the potential of technology for the present and future of learning. Notice the distinction between schooling and learning. In this book, that distinction is important. As the authors say early on, “It is time that educators and policymakers start to rethink education apart from schooling” (p. xiv, emphasis added). They also note that “most of the changes in the way people acquire information are occurring outside of schools” (p. 5) rather than in them.

Collins and Halverson state that our society already made the shift from an apprenticeship model of education to the universal schooling era. At present time we are living through a new shift: a move from universal schooling to an era of lifelong learning. This is resulting in big changes related to responsibility, expectations, academic content, pedagogy, assessment, location, culture, and relationships (see Chapter 6). The authors emphasize that the local school will not be replaced, but the role of new alternatives such as community-based learning centers where students and adults work side by side, workplace learning, home schooling, and virtual schooling “will make us rethink the dominant role of K-12 public schools” (pp. 3–4).

I liked how the authors devoted a chapter apiece to the arguments of technology enthusiasts (Chapter 2) and technology skeptics (Chapter 3). While they are admitted technology enthusiasts, I thought they did a pretty good job of presenting the opposing arguments fairly and thoughtfully, particularly when one also adds in Chapter 7, which addresses what we might gain and lose in a new educational paradigm. I also liked the discussion in the book about the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. As the authors note, “if educators cannot successfully integrate new technologies into what it means to be a school, . . . students with the means and ability will pursue their learning outside of the public school” (p. xv). We are not talking enough about these social justice / equity issues.

One of the key points of the book is that there are “deep incompatibilities” between current schooling practices and the “demands” of new technologies (p. 6). Significantly, the authors recognize that technology makes teachers’ work more difficult: it requires instructors to acquire new skills, undercuts the lockstep model of schooling, and undermines educators’ classroom expertise (p. 6). Many technology enthusiasts - including myself - often don’t pay enough attention to the complexity and difficulty of what we’re asking educators to do.

Halverson has done a great deal of work related to educational gaming. I’m glad that he and Collins integrated throughout the book some discussion of the enormous potential of computer simulations for both student and adult learning.

Key quotes

While the imperatives of the industrial-age learning technologies can be thought of as uniformity, didactism, and teacher control, the knowledge-age learning technologies have their own imperatives of customization, interaction, and user-control. (p. 4)

AND

We are not going to fix education by fixing the schools. (p. 142)

AND

Apprenticeship was not a viable pedagogy for mass schooling. . . . The pedagogy of computer tutors echoes the apprenticeship model in setting individual tasks for learners and offering guidance and feedback as they work. (p. 97)

AND

We suspect that someday it will occur to people that these certifications are more valuable than high school diplomas, in the sense that they specify more precisely what a person can do in some area of knowledge. (p. 88) 

Questions I have after reading this book

  • How many parents will really pull their students out of school because of learning concerns? Will credentialing concerns, historical affection for local schools, and/or child care issues trump more abstract issues related to “learning?”
  • Could / will we create certificates of mastery in other fields like the ones that have been developed for information technology professionals? If so, will those eventually replace to some degree the credentialing role that typically has belonged to secondary and postsecondary institutions?
  • Will we see the re-emergence of the apprenticeship model, this time facilitated by online mentors, software, and/or simulations?
  • Are technology skeptics looking at and assessing relevant, appropriate student outcomes? For that matter, are technology enthusiasts?

Rating

This book was probably my favorite educational technology book that I read in 2009. I gave a copy to Will Richardson when he visited Iowa last December and he liked it too. It’s a very thoughtful, insightful work and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I have known Rich Halverson a long time and am absolutely delighted to award his book 5 highlighters (out of 5).

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[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Book review – Liberating learning: Technology, politics, and the future of American education

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. Today’s book is Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education by Terry Moe and John Chubb. I posted seven quotes from the book last fall. Several readers asked me to chime in with my opinion of the book. I’m finally getting around to doing so!

What I liked about the book

Moe and Chubb’s book can be summarized by two quotations from page 145:

  • To the powers that be, innovations of true consequence are not attractive. They are threatening - and they need to be stopped, whatever advantages they might offer to children and the nation’s education system. That is why, in state after state, what we see . . . [is] political action by the defenders of the system - mainly the unions - to defuse change and keep the system pretty much as it is.
  • There is . . . something unique about technology that sets it apart from the other sources of education reform. It is a social force that is essentially out of control. No one is in charge of it. No one can really stop it.

Chapters 3 and 5 elaborate most fully on the first premise. Chapter 6 is where the authors explain most of their second premise. I agree with the authors’ assertion that technology is

an exogenous social force that originates from outside the education system, is transforming nearly every aspect of American . . . life, and will keep transforming it in the decades ahead. (p. 151)

I liked the authors’ discussions of both virtual schooling and data-informed teacher evaluation. I didn’t always agree with what the authors said on these topics but they gave me much food for thought.

I also appreciated learning more about the two charter schools in Dayton, Ohio that the authors profiled. I’d like to learn more about those schools’ day-to-day operations in order to get a better sense of the students’ experience.

The authors gave me LOTS to think about in this book. Several of their perspectives on educational technology are ones to which I hadn’t given much attention. I’m not informed enough yet to have a definite opinion about some of their assertions, but at least I now know that I’ve got some new cognitive roads to travel.

What I didn’t like about the book

I was really excited to read this book after Chapter 1, which was a short, 12–page introduction. Chapter 2 was fine (and expected): a restatement of international test results and other indicators of American schools’ current struggles. Then I read Chapter 3, which was essentially a 27–page rant against teachers unions:

if anything is stone-cold certain about the current structure of power, it is that technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions and their allies. This is “their” system, and they are compelled by their own interests to preserve and protect it. They will go to the ramparts to see that technology does not have real transformative effects. (p. 55)

Although I got the authors’ point (quite clearly!), and even agreed with some of what they said, I thought that the tone and overall approach of the chapter was over-the-top. Many educators will not make it through Chapter 3 because they’re too disgusted - not with what the authors say but how they say it. This is too bad because I think the book is definitely worth reading.

The other main problem I had with the book is that the authors seemed to make a large jump from correlation to causation in Chapter 5. They had several graphs that are intended to illustrate teacher unions’ resistance to desired reforms. However, I would have liked to have seen more concrete examples of teacher unions’ opposition to various educational technology initiatives. Although they do this somewhat within the contexts of virtual schooling and data-informed teacher evaluation, those are only two of the many, many issues related to P-12 educational technology. It’s a leap to say that unions’ objections to certain aspects of these specific reforms are equivalent to an overall resistance to technology integration in the classroom. I have yet to see many teachers unions at any level come out with explicit policy statements or bargaining actions against classroom-level uses of technology (if you have some, I’d love too see them).

Key quotes

See these quotes from last fall:

AND ALSO

Teachers and administrators . . . are subject to expectations all around that they modernize their schools and keep up with the times. They also live in the same technologically oriented society that parents, students, and public officials do. . . .  they have good reasons to seek out technology on their own, and not to remain permanently stuck in the outdated pencil-and-paper mode of yesteryear. The problem, however, is that they only have incentives to make the most incremental of changes - changes that are helpful but don’t threaten anyone’s jobs or established routines. Their approach to technology is rooted in the status quo. It is about how to make the existing system work better without really changing it. (pp. 104–105, emphasis added)

AND

The common theme [of student surveys] is one of frustration. Students complain that there are too few computers, too many limits on computer time and Internet use, and too little reliance on computers for class assignments and research. . . . What they want is a technology-rich educational environment in which they have the freedom to roam and discover and interact. What they get . . . are limited computer and Internet resources, lots of restrictions, teachers who lack knowledge and interest in technology - and an approach to education that looks pretty much as it always did. (pp. 105–106).

AND

The long-standing idea that there is something intrinsic to schooling that makes it immutably labor intensive and immune to technological change is simply not true. Maybe it was in the past. But it isn’t now. Technology can be substituted for labor. (p. 157)

Questions I have after reading this book

  • Are teachers’ unions really against educational technology generally or do they only oppose specific aspects of specific reforms?
  • Are teachers’ unions really against educational technology generally or are they mostly ignorant of / apathetic about the true issues?
  • Are most teachers’ unions thinking or talking about educational technology issues and the potential impact on their classroom practice or job security? [I’m guessing not]
  • How long will it take for the elimination of geography and time as barriers to learning to truly impact most teachers’ jobs or school systems’ day-to-day practices? [the authors guess 20 years or more]

Rating

I give this book 4 highlighters (out of 5). Although the incessant bashing of teachers unions gets old pretty quick, the authors also gave me many new lenses through which to view educational technology policy and reform. Take Chapters 3 and 5 with a grain of salt, but don’t avoid the book because of them.

[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Book review – Ignore everybody: And 39 other keys to creativity

I’ve set an ambitious goal for this June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. I’m going to start with what probably was my favorite book from last year, Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity, by Hugh MacLeod (the author and I are not direct relatives).

Things I liked about the book

ignoreeverybodyMacLeod starts off with a bang. In the first chapter, he says “The more original your idea, the less good advice other people will be able to give you” (p. 1) and “a big idea will change you” (p. 2). I was hooked from that moment. I’ve been breaking new ground in educational leadership academe for years now and have consistently found that the vast majority of my peers don’t have much to offer me in terms of insight or direction. I don’t know where all of this social-media-and-tribe-building-as-an-alternative-to-traditional-measures-of-success-for-research-faculty stuff is going to go. But it sure is an interesting ride. And MacLeod is correct – it has changed my thinking substantially.

Each chapter is short. Just enough to give you some context and get you thinking about your life and your job. And think you will…

MacLeod is a popular cartoonist. He punctuates his writing with some of his art. Awesome.

Key quotes

Here are a few key quotes:

Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships. That is why good ideas are always initially resisted. (p. 2)

Boy, I’ve lived this one several hundred times over the past few years. Either I’m ahead of my time (in my field) or I’m completely insane. Time will tell!

AND

Your wee [creative] voice came back because your soul somehow depends on it. There’s something you haven’t said, something you haven’t done, some light that needs to be switched on, and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

So you have to listen to the wee voice or it will die … taking a big chunk of you along with it. (p. 28)

The peer-review publication paradigm – where your writing goes in places that educators never visit – never made a lot of sense to me. Blogging and other social media have given me different outlets and a different voice. And I’m much, much happier for it. My wee voice was crying out for something different. I just didn’t know it.

AND

Don’t make excuses. Just shut the hell up and get on with it. (p. 82)

AND

The ease with which a blog (or whatever social medium you prefer) can circumvent the gatekeepers is staggering. (p. 140)

Questions I have after reading this book

  • Am I brave enough to never publish a peer-reviewed article again?
  • Is there enough space in my day job as a professor to accommodate my non-peer-review writing and social media passions?
  • What should I be working on next? Where do I want to go and what do I want to be doing in 5 years?
  • How do I reach school leaders when most are not yet active in social media?
  • How many graduating high school seniors can I give this book to before a parent complains about the language (some of which is a bit crude)?

Rating

I give this book 5 highlighters (out of 5) to reflect a) the amount of yellow ink in my copy, and b) the affirmation of much of what I believe (or would like to believe) about myself and my work. Extra credit for the author’s last name!

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[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Laptops and the Social Web are dangerous!

A while back I shared one of my two favorite passages from Pamela Livingston’s excellent book, 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work. Here's the other one:

[W]e need to make “The Shift.” The Shift: to classrooms that are not solely teacher-centric, with the teacher as lone disseminator of knowledge and the children in the awe-stricken and lesser role of recipients of the knowledge. The Shift: where the teacher sometimes has the central role when he or she explains and coaches and elaborates on work to be done … but not always. The Shift: where the learners sometimes have the central role, either individually or in groups. The Shift: where the roles of teacher and learner are fuzzy; sometimes the teacher learns from the students; sometimes the students learn from one another; and, yes, sometimes the students learn from the teacher. The Shift: where sometimes it’s hard to know who has the central role, where activities are buzzing along, learning is happening, dynamics are shifting, and no one is “looking up” to anyone as the sole source of knowledge.

Nothing jumpstarts The Shift quite like 1–to-1. Because when every student in the room has a [laptop], he or she does not have to look “up” to the teacher for resources or ideas – the student has resources at his or her fingertips. There is no distribution or retrieval of materials, no sole purveyor of information, and no firm start or stop to learning because it can continue beyond the classroom into the library, or home, or anywhere.

Some find The Shift dangerous. And in a way, it is. It’s dangerous to the educator who controls the classroom with an iron fist and wants all the answers on the test to be things he or she said in class, repeated word-for-word. It’s dangerous to educators who have assigned the same report on Gandhi over the past 20 years and haven’t started to require synthesis or analysis of information. It’s dangerous to teachers who physically stay in one place – the front of the classroom – and move only to write on the chalkboard or whiteboard. It’s dangerous to educators who don’t want anyone to “read ahead” or to “think ahead.”

It’s dangerous to educators who view themselves as the most knowledgeable person in the room and are personally invested in staying that way. It’s dangerous to teachers who haven’t paid attention to their unengaged students and keep covering the material anyway, they way they think it ought to be covered, believing students should adapt to their approach.

If you haven’t checked out Pamela’s book, it’s well worth the read. I give it 4 highlighters.

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