Category Archives: Technology

There Is a Line

If you know me well, you’ll know that I’m liberal and progressive-minded in pretty much all aspects of life. If you read through all of my posts in this ToGa Learning site, which mostly focuses on issues in education, you’ll recognize that I’m an ardent supporter and practitioner for innovation, change, and  transformation in teaching and learning. I’m not a fan of the industrial model of education as I feel it does a disservice to how students need to learn in order to be successful in today’s world. I’m not a fan of the pervasive use of standards and benchmarks and standardized tests and I’m not a fan of policies like No Child Left Behind and Common Core.

Upon some personal reflection, I think part of this passionate attitude for innovation, change, and transformation was developed from being a huge fan of alternative and independent music from my youth in the early/mid-1980s until the present (You can read this post I wrote a while back about my life-long passion for music). My favorite musicians and influences have been those that have done things differently in music, upending the system in some way, being irreverent at times, and creating some controversy along the way. As Jack Black teaches the kids about rock-n-roll in the movie School of Rock, they “stuck it to the man!” Some of these influential musicians of mine are: Johnny Marr and Morrissey of The Smiths; Robert Smith of The Cure; Cocteau Twins; The Doors; Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz; David Bowie; Death Cab for Cutie; XTC; Jeff Buckley; The Pixies, and Radiohead.  These musicians and bands are ones people still talk about today, while other bands who played the status quo or mainstream style of the time have withered away.

Image Licensed from Shutterstock.

Image Licensed from Shutterstock.

Recently, U2, another very innovative band that has constantly evolved and pushed musical and social norms over the years, released a new album. Even though I was never a huge fan of U2 and I own only  few of their albums, I did always respect their innovative approach to making music. The Edge’s guitar style was like no one else’s before him, and I’ve always admired that. The way they released their new album, Songs of Innocence, however, pushing it into millions of unsuspecting iTunes users’ music libraries, crossed a line in my usually liberal opinion. In a recent article, Bono referred to their approach in releasing this new album as “punk rock.” I don’t think it was “punk rock.”

I’m all for the punk rock DIY ethic and attitude of sticking it to the man, but this manner in which they pushed their album into iTunes users’ accounts was a blatant invasion of privacy. As far as I know,  punk bands in the 70s and 80s didn’t break into people’s private houses uninvited, setting up their instruments and blasting out a set of music. This would have been illegal, considered an invasion of privacy, and the band would have been arrested. Also, as far as I know, no band has ever shipped out millions of cassettes, records, or CDs in the mail to random people around the world who didn’t ask for it. The investment of time and money to do such a thing never would have come back to benefit the band/label financially. Just because we now have the technology to push an album into people’s computers at little or no cost to the band and their label, it doesn’t give a band the right to make us receive the thing without wanting it, taking up space on our devices. It’s an invasion of privacy to do this. It’s really not any different than a hacker that pushes a virus or bug into your technology without your knowledge. Hackers that do this are usually arrested and tried as criminals if caught.

I’m not arguing here for U2 to be arrested. Apple is to blame for this, also. I just think the band needs to reconsider their action, apologize, and stop referring to it as being “punk rock.” If U2 want to give their album for free, that’s great. That’s their artistic choice, but let the people who actually want it go to iTunes or wherever to download it on their own free will. Many other bands have released an album for free in this more ethical manner.

U2 will never lose their place in history as an innovative and transformative alternative rock band. They’ve made some great music over the years and support some very important social causes. I also recently read that they are apparently working on a new digital music format with Apple. I’m very curious to see what this is and I hope it will be something awesome. As an educator and technology learning coach who works to instill ethical digital citizenship practices in my students, I hope this action U2 took doesn’t set a precedent for other bands and artists, both now and in the future. It will be a very slippery slope if it does, and I feel more problems than benefits will ensue.

If you want to remove U2’s album from your iTunes, follow this link.

Reflecting on #beyondlaptops

On April 19-20, 2012, I had the great opportunity to attend the Beyond Laptops conference at Yokohama International School in Yokohama, Japan. The conference was organized and facilitated by Kim Cofino and was attended by approximately 55 educators, administrators, tech directors/tech integrators, and curriculum coordinators from Asia. Great conversations occurred over the two days, and Kim did a fantastic job to facilitate the process so the diverse needs of the group could be best met. The most useful discussions for me where the ones where groups discussed and presented issues related to where they are at in the 1-1 technology implementation process (I’m currently at a school that’s been 1-1 for a while, but I’m going to a school that’s starting its 1-1 program in August); a  Q & A panel with a group of YIS students, and a jig-sawed discussion about our expectations of each other (administrators, tech coaches/IT directors, curriculum coordinators, and teachers). From those discussions, here are my take-aways.

Image by Kim Cofino (Superkimbo) on Flickr

Balance between tech and non-tech

One of the students in the student panel Q & A  stated that they still enjoy doing work that doesn’t involve technology and that we need to find a balance between tech and non-tech learning processes. In the same way that vinyl records still hold a much more warm and rich sound than their digital counterparts, we can’t ignore warm, effective learning processes that don’t necessarily need digital technology. Teachers that are resistant to technology for learning say that all essential learning processes can be done without technology. There is limited truth to that (they often don’t recognize how they world has changed and why we need to shift from the industrial model of education). So, we as future-oriented educators need to make informed choices as to what the best tool for the task is while keeping an eye on the future, developing skills with technology that will help build successful frames of mind and skills in students that will help them be successful in the technology-rich world in which we live.

Another student in the Q & A declared that she doesn’t want teachers to be replaced by technology since teachers bring the passion and that’s still important for learning. I think this was a very telling statement that regardless of what we can get technology to do, the face-to-face educator-learner relationship factor in learning will always be critical. Yes, our learning spaces can be transformed; our school day schedule can be transformed; we can better break down the walls of our classrooms and schools and interact more with other learners and experts globally; the amount of content and how we process and generate content in learning can be transformed, but the basic human interaction and connection that occurs between educator and learner can’t be outsourced to technology. Our human-ness begets this need.

Balance in Professional Development for teaching tech tools and developing transformed learning cultures

Image by ClayOgre via Open ClipArt Library

A substantial and important side discussion that occurred at the conference was about what should be emphasized at a PD conference like this. Most of us in the ed tech community frequently say these changes needed in education aren’t about the technology tools. They are about learning. But at ed tech conferences, tools are what seemed to be emphasized. More emphasis needs to be placed on developing the learning cultures that are essential to moving our educational systems forward and making them more relevant to today’s learners (Check out this passionate response by Jabiz Raisdana about this acculturation issue). I agree with this acculturation issue, but we can’t ignore discussions of what effective use of tools look like and even taking some time to share and up-skill people’s use of tools. I think the balance of these two elements is what needs to occur.

In rolling out or being in the early stages of a 1-1 technology program, the technology device(s) and apps tend to take front-and-center in PD and training. This is unavoidable since many teachers need the direct assistance in how to use technology tools effectively. At the same time, however, we need to be sure that PD in this context focuses on transforming the learning culture of the school. If schools don’t address this shift in learning cultures, real change won’t occur. Many teachers will just end up using the technology the same way they taught previously, doing things the old way through new technology (like distributing handouts electronically instead of on paper).

Image by Kim Cofino (Superkimbo) on Flickr

Student involvement

Kim had students from YIS involved in the discussions with the teachers on both days and had a special Q & A session with the students on the second day. I think it became very clear to all of us that having students directly involved in these discussions and decision-making processes about their education is absolutely essential. The students provided impressive and insightful comments and feedback in these discussions. In the Q & A, one of the students stated how their ideas and opinions should be just as important as administrators, teachers, parents, and board members. Kudos to the kids for advocating for themselves. They are right. And, I will work to ensure that students get more involved in these kinds of decision-making committees at schools in which I work.

Professional development

The changes and transformations that need to be made in education, including using technology tools effectively and transforming learning cultures, can’t occur without the majority of the members of an institution understanding the how and why. Getting people to this point requires professional development. Most international schools have technology integrators (or technology learning coaches, digital literacy specialists, or whatever you want to title the role). People in these roles, including myself, work tirelessly to assist colleagues and students in developing their effective use of technology for learning. However, this assistance can only go so far when it comes to subject or grade level specific aspects related to the curriculum. For example, my teaching background and experience is in the social sciences and humanities. So, when I work with colleagues in these departments, I do a much more thorough job in connecting the use of technology with learning objectives in the curriculum. When it comes to math, science, or even PE, that assistance weakens in making the connections with learning outcomes in the curriculum since I don’t have academic background or expertise in those areas.

The idea that came out of the conference is that of a Tech Pilot or Pioneer group. At least one person from every subject area/department and grade level would join this team. This team would then go on a retreat early in the school year with technology learning coaches/curriculum coordinators to develop their understanding of essential technology learning tools and new learning culture ideas. These people would then be the first level of support for their immediate subject area/department and grade level colleagues. Technology learning coaches/curriculum coordinators would continue in their roles and provide continued assistance throughout the year. The full Pilot/Pioneer team would surely meet throughout the year to debrief and continue learning together. This model is supported by recent data collected at my school where a substantial percentage of colleagues said they preferred to learn from a colleague who has used a tool before. This makes sense since there is a more intimate curriculum connection between these subject area/department and grade level colleagues. For this model to work, however, it needs to be clear to the community of who all is involved, and the goals and expectations of all members of the professional learning community need to be clearly delineated.

Social Media and Digital Citizenship

YIS was finishing its Digital Citizenship (DC) Week during the conference. The Beyond Laptops participants were invited to attend the end of week assembly where students summarized all of their learning about DC over the year. It was great to see the students talking soundly about these important issues that face us every day as we navigate through our digital worlds. The use of social media came up often during the conference, as well. During the Q & A with the students, quite a few comments were made about social media. One student said that blocking social media only causes anger and rebellion. Another student stated that social media makes it very easy to share resources with each other. Another student even stated that using Facebook and having an open network at school helped her to learn how to manage distractions that can come from such mediums. I think all of these comments show the importance and emotion that surrounds these great tools that help us to communicate and collaborate. Yes, they can be problematic for some students, but that’s where we as educators come through and develop Digital Citizenship awareness to help students understand how to navigate their digital landscapes effectively. Moreover, schools and educators need to harness the power of social media themselves as ways to reach out and connect with both their immediate local and extended global communities. Schools and teachers need to model this effective use, not block it and deny its existence.

Overall, it was great conference with great conversations. A lot of work still needs to be done so that technology is being used effectively for learning and so that more relevant learning cultures are developed and sustained in our schools. As Dana Watts stated in one of the break out meetings, everyone just needs to Suck It Up to ensure these things happen! The #beyondlaptops Twitter back-channel feed can be seen here.

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