ECOO 2014

ECOO 2014 approaches this week.  Once again I get to step away from the classroom for a couple of days and see the forest for the trees.  Instead of day to day/trying to make things work, I get a couple of days of strategic space to consider how things might be.

The ECOO conference is all about possibilities for me.  I know a lot of people go there to learn how technology works, and that’s great, but for me it has always been about possibilities.

In school we’re all in the trenches trying to make things work.  For tech-savvy teachers this can be a very frustrating experience.  We’re not only battling the complications of getting complex information technology to function in the rough and tumble world of the classroom, we’re also battling the negativity of colleagues who aren’t buying in to the possibilities offered by this technology.

ECOO is a chance to get away from all that static and consider possibilities in a positive light.  The trick for me has always been not to get mired down in how-to sessions.  I like the big thinking/strategic talks.  The keynotes usually do this well, but it isn’t always possible to find that kind of opportunity in the breakout sessions because a big part of ECOO is assisting new edtech aficionados into the fold.  When I can’t find an edtech-philosophy or future-tech session I’m just as happy to bump into someone and have an unscripted chat.  You won’t find a greater edtech braintrust anywhere than you will at ECOO.

What will I get out of ECOO this week?  Inspiration, I hope, and some idea of what’s coming, so I can be ready for it before it gets here.


ECOO 2013 Presentation: Harness your nerdist ways

Still thinking about ECOO in a couple of weeks.  I’ve already taken a run at it on Dusty World once.  There is a lot in this, I’m still curious to see how it will unfold.

lanyrd.com/2013/ecoo13/schpzd/

We live in a time of profound change. The very definition of who and where we are is constantly changing. Never before in history have people been as connected to so many different people and places as they are now. Trends suggest it will only intensify. Are we doomed to a half existence in many places, constantly distracted, unable to complete a thought? Or will the person on the other side of this technological adolescence be multi-dimensional in ways we can’t currently imagine?

Come with me on an examination of recent history and future trends. How can we integrate or separate technology to better facilitate learning? How can we prepare students for the strange world they are about to graduate into? How can we survive and thrive in these times of profound change ourselves?

What started this line of thinking was a post in Dusty World in the spring called Digital House of Mirrors.  In that post I was trying to describe how digital technology is changing our sense of self:
.

“Our selves are being stretched and amplified in ways they never have before.  Nick Carr’s The Shallows puts us on a pretty stark trajectory towards idiocy with what is happening to us.  The digitization of the self stretches us flat, making continuity of thought impossible and turning us all into distracted, simplistic cogs in a consumerist machine designed to turn us all into the lowest common denominator; none of us any smarter than our smartphones.”

www.robinsloan.com/epic/
Way back in 2006 a student showed me the video above.  That it was made so long ago is quite prescient.  They didn’t have the future exactly right, but they come surprisingly close in many ways.  The part that stuck with me the most is this quote:
.

“At it’s best, edited for the most savvy readers, EPIC is a summary of the world, deeper, broader, and more nuanced than anything ever available before. But at it’s worst, and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow, and sensational.”

If that doesn’t describe the experience of most ‘digital natives’ online, then I don’t know what does.  This is exactly the kind of habitual ignorance I find in technology use.  Children who have been immersed in digital technology have only learned to do what pleases them and know nothing about the technology itself, they aren’t generally literate.  They are like self-taught readers who have memorized a single comic book.
Whereas digital immigrant ignorance arises out of fear or pride, though they do still have some sense of what they don’t know.  The digital native is blissfully ignorant of what they don’t know, though they spend most of their lives now in that virtual world they know nothing about.

That technology could retard our ability to think is a dangerous consideration that a number of people are concerned about.  I don’t doubt that digital tools can enhance us as human beings, I’m writing this and you’re able to read it entirely due to digital technology.  Digital tech lets people work around authoritarian governments and democratize media.

I occasionally see people who are able to harness technology as a personal amplifier, but for far too many it is a source of distraction, habitual time wasting and a net loss for them.

A book I half read a while back was The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick.  I wasn’t able to get through the self help bit at the back, but the first half was an interesting autobiography of a guy immersed in technology to such a degree that it derailed him.  His philosophical change allowed him to regain control of his career and put what he describes as his nerdist ways to productive use.   Rather than spending eight hours a day playing World of Warcraft, Chris chose to focus his nerdly powers of concentration on productive activities.  He describes a nerd as someone who is able to hyper focus on minutia that fascinates them.  He broke his habitual use of technology by demanding that his fixations serve him instead of the other way around.  If it can work for a nerd (and we’re all nerds according to that definition) then it’ll work for everyone.

Is always on exhausting or exhilerating?  Is it functionally better to be connected?  What is the golden ratio for communicating f2f or remotely?  How could technology itself assist us in optimizing our presence both physically and virtually?  How can we highlight ineffective use of technology, analyze it and resolve it?

I suspect this is going to become a timeline.  With a bit of perspective I might be able to make some reasonably accurate predictions about where we going, because this is one big weird rabbit hole we’re all going down together and a lot of people are getting lost in it.

The followup post analyzing the ECOO13 conference can be found HERE.

Mastery Learning, Digitally Empowering Idiocy & Being Humble Before the Task

I ended up presenting on what mastery learning is and what mastery might look like in digital realms at ECOO13 last week .   

HERE is the prezi.

Developing digital mastery in a digital world

The Humble Egotist: A teacher who encourages learning…

In untangling what digital mastery might look like I had to back up and describe mastery learning in general.  This ended up clarifying my ideas around the process of learning itself.  As much as we’d like to think we impart learning as teachers, the process itself is very much internal to the learner.  Teachers aren’t nearly as central to the process as they like to think they are.

I started studying instructional technique when I was still a teen in air cadets and through coaching sports.  That progressed into technology instruction in business and then language instruction in Japan.  Finally getting my B.Ed. years later was just the latest in an ongoing personal journey to understand learning.

I’m self taught in so many things that I have trouble remembering being taught.  I’ve dropped out of every kind of education you can imagine, and finished some too.  I have real trouble with authority for the sake of authority and I’ve always found a strong element of that in teaching.  There is no doubt that a teacher can be an important influence in a young person’s growth (I have several who were, we all do), but those people were never magical because they taught me something, they were magical because they enabled me to learn something.  No one else has ever been the architect of my learning, it has always failed or succeeded because of how I tackled it.  A good teacher looked at me and figured out how to enable my tendencies toward learning something effectively.  A bad teacher would sabotage my learning, usually because my hero worship wasn’t up to their standards.

Teaching is a tricky business.  It takes a lot of self confidence to do the job, but it also takes a lot of humility to get out of the way and let people learn.  Self confidence and humility seldom co-exist comfortably in the same person.  The urge to sage on the stage is strong in a lot of teachers, they really enjoy the attention and the social status (no matter how staged it is).

Not unless you do it you don’t,
learning isn’t downloaded,
it isn’t given, it isn’t easy

But learning is an internal process, you can’t have learning implanted in you (this was one of the reasons it seems so magical in The Matrix), as the learner you have to be the active agent, learning is hard work.   We confuse this with a lot of edu-babble about engagement and over-focus on how entertaining a teacher can be but this ignores the essential issue.  If a student doesn’t want to learn then they won’t.  The value of learning should be self evident.  It takes a colossal amount of work by the education system to assume responsibility for learning and hide the truth that students are the real agents of their learning.

During the ECOO presentation I described a good teacher as an awesome roadie, you can’t even tell they are there until they adjust or fix something to better enable the show.  The learner is the one on stage doing the learning, a good teacher, like a good roadie, makes the show run smoothly but they aren’t the main act.

I see far too many full period lectures with sages on stages.  Those people retire and are immediately back in the classroom because they miss the audience, they miss being in a socially constructed place where people have to listen to them.  They don’t do much in the way of encouraging learning, but boy do they talk a lot, and they have no idea that students live in an information rich world and don’t have to wait for the slow drip of a teacher’s talk to learn a fact.

This isn’t to say that the flipped classroom is the obvious way to manage this.  Learners have to internalize their own learning, but students who are many miles away from what they need to be broken out of their habitual patterns if they are going to learn something new.  Sometimes this takes a teacher who is the centre of focus in a classroom.

How do you manage a room full of digitally super charged ids?

This is especially true when educators attempt to integrate digital devices into learning.  Digital devices slavishly satisfy the desires of their users no matter how asinine or repetitive.  An idiot on a digital device becomes an empowered idiot.  A teacher can be a vital influence in breaking that destructive, repetitive cycle, but not if they are as habitual and limited in their use of digital tools as their students.  Being humble before the task of learning gets even harder in a digital environment where every stupid urge is moments away from being satisfied. The teacher cannot facilitate student learning in an environment that they themselves are also oppressed by.

One of the key pressure points in learning is breaking someone out of
habitual use in technology (the pink bit), but that’s impossible if the
teacher is as habitual and illiterate as the student is…

If you’ve ever seen how many students (and  teachers) treat school computer labs you know what I’m talking about.  Rather than selecting the tool for the job, a teacher with low digital fluency will ask students to use computers as an analogue for something else.  The computer is treated like a book, or a paper and pen.  Booking a lab for this purpose is akin to renting a car to drive to the end of your street.  You’re not using the technology for it’s capabilities, you’re using it to exacerbate your own habits.

That’s assuming the teacher didn’t book the lab as a digital babysitter while they get marking done (or so they could just surf the net in the same way as their students).  In those classes I’m having to replace vandalized computers and students may as well be at home doing whatever they do there online.  This damages digital fluency for everyone in the room by actually encouraging habitual usage, and it’s expensive.

Trying to focus on learning is difficult in the hyper-personally empowering digital realm.

Developing mastery of any kind isn’t a focus in education, trying to do it now with digital narcissism at every fingertip is even more difficult.  Classes are set with 50% credits and minimal expectations around attendance in order to facilitate pass rates.  In terms of digital mastery, administration seems to think this is about device access, but it’s more about people, self-discipline and work habits.  Digital mastery falls back on the habits of the learner.  A strong, self-directed learner is empowered by a digital environment,  a weak, dependent one is impoverished by it.  For the strong it empowers their ability to learn, for the weak it offers them a constant stream of distractions so that they can stay in the most base, trivial, superficial and habitual parts of their minds.

 If we practiced mastery learning across education then digital mastery would follow.  If we took teaching digital fluency seriously (in both staff and students) we would have a chance at using technology to create amplified learners who are able to access information and self direct their learning at a rate unseen before.

Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t dropping the digital football just to keep the traditional power structures in play.

note:  this is the 4th re-write of this post, it’s an ongoing attempt to figure out some big ideas, I’m still not happy with it but I’m going to let it lie and move on.  I suspect I’ll be trying to clarify the ideas in here in future posts.

ECOO 2013 Cometh

Last year I was getting primed for ECOO 2012 by constructing a process for transitioning from school provided, generic educational technology to a bring-your-own-device learning situation.  The idea was to assist this evolution toward personalized technology following some sort of pedagogical imperative rather than what appears to be a financially motivated top down drive to minimize school purchased tech.

Digital technology is intensely personal because it interacts with our
most personal selves, our minds…

Critically examining how we make use of technology has always been at the core of my teaching.  As I transitioned from academically focused English to technology orientated computer engineering my willingness to look for easy answers in educational technology has dried up.

Since the last ECOO a couple of events have made me question the branded nature of #edtech.  It began with the Google Education Summit in Kitchener in the spring, and then culminated with the Pearson Summit a week later.  As educators it is incumbent upon us to be technologically agnostic, this is getting more and more difficult as cash strapped teachers and boards look for financial advantage courtesy of corporate offers.  I’ve been battling my own understanding of this all year.

Can you imagine if your chalk board had a ‘courtesy of Crayola’ sign in the top corner?  Or the paper you hand out to students had a ‘brought to you by Hilroy’ on it?  Yet we don’t think twice about branding the digital technology.  A student can’t get on to a school machine without getting Delled, BenQed, Microsoft’d, Jinged and Googled, and we actually enjoy that branding, we encourage it.

In only a few weeks I’m talking about our digital selves at ECOO 13.  I’m excited about going to ECOO, doing Minds On Media for the first time (nurture your inner hacker, I’ll show you how to code a microcontroller and become your own I.T. support!)  My worry is that I’m finding edtech increasingly owned, controlled and not focused on developing student (and educator) fluency.

I’m still being haunted by Matt Crawford’s Shopclass as Soulcraft.  Crawford’s description of the consumer as a victim of their own technological ignorance resonates:

“Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political.”

The scattered, distracted 21st Century human being seems more a victim of digital technology than empowered by it.  When I realize that the ‘I’m tech-savvy’ high school student doesn’t know what a disk partition or an IP address is, or how to boot to external media, I realize that what little expertise they’ve gained is almost entirely at the hands of commercial or political persuasion, and teachers are no different.  This kind of fluency doesn’t suit corporate interests who would rather be able to sell you on marketing rather than engineering.  The kind of ignorance this brews is staggering.

I want to produce a constructive solution to hard pedagogical questions around technology use.  I’m finding this increasingly difficult as edu-tech becomes a managed, mainstream expectation rather than an experimental, fringe element.  The urge to simplify with dictated systems that encourage ignorance has me wondering how education will prevent rather than produce more dysfunctional digital natives.

The perfect platform for teaching students effective use of technology is an open source system that they build from scratch and have to maintain themselves.  The more you do for them, the less necessary fluency becomes.  Technology literacy is a 21st Century fluency that we should be teaching curriculum wide, much like literacy or numeracy.

That ideal technology learning platform is agnostic, varied and offers redundancy and resilience.  Students should never be in a position where the network technology is broken, but the hands on technology shouldn’t be done for them.  What I’m seeing in educational technology is completely backwards; everything is locked down and done for students, and it seldom works.  This is a recipe for ignorance and about as far from pedagogically useful as we can get.

There is precious little open source software used in education, mostly because it demands competence and

Don’t you wish there were a shared,open source
option for educational technology
?  There is,

but there is no money in it and it requires
competence.

responsibility.  Buying a corporate system offers you turn key technology.  We could offer cheap, debranded technology with open source, shared development software, but we don’t because we’d rather be consumers than makers.  This is a result of teacher indifference as much as anything else.  Basic fluencies should be attended to and you’d have to be obtuse to think that effective use of digital tools isn’t going to be as important as literacy and numeracy in the 21st Century.

I’m still not sure where I’m going with ECOO13…

The DIY Computer Lab

Teaching computer technology has me expanding and
enhancing our program to make it as current and
relevant as possible – the DIY lab is a key to that.

My ECOO16 presentation suggestion:

We’re used to being handed locked down, turn key computer labs by our school boards, but this approach doesn’t teach technological understanding.  The future of technology is diverse and individualized and we should be striving to encourage a deeper understanding so that students can find the devices and software that suit their needs.  Many boards have suggested BYOD as a solution, but this amplifies socio-economic differences that public schools should be trying to mitigate.  There is another way.

I’m a teacher who gave back the lab that was given to me.  Over the past two years I’ve developed a digital learning space that is made by students at the beginning of each semester.  Students build PCs, upgrade parts and install and maintain software.  In doing so they learn how to build current and relevant technology to suit their own needs.

In this presentation I’ll explain the process, costs (and free things!) as well as how the lab works on a day to day basis.  DIY computer access offers students a chance to become authors of their technology use instead of being mere users.

Interested?  I’ll be presenting on this at ECOO in November.  This whole post is pasted out of my application to present.

Learning Goals
– how to make DIY technology work in the classroom
– using current (like, made THIS YEAR!) software in a classroom
– learning technology by building it rather than just using it
– developing technological fluency in students and staff
– exploring educational freeware
– exploring beta software available for free use
– how to source hardware (suggestions based on experience)
– changing students & staff from users to authors of technology

Windows 10, the latest in graphics and processor technology and twice the memory of your typical school PC.  What do we do with all that horsepower?  We run Unity (professional license given freely by Unity for our educational needs), and build 3d models in Blender.  None of this would be possible on existing school board basic Dell PCs.
With flexibility in how we build a lab, we can pursue advanced technology, giving our
students authorship over their technological fluency.
Agility is key if you want to keep up with technology – you’ll never develop it if you’re kept as a pet user.

 

A Blender model made by one of our grade 12s last year – this kind of experience allowed her to build the kind of portfolio that got her into the heavily contested Sheridan College video game design program

 

ECOOs1: Nerd Machismo & Other Barriers That Prevent Technology Learning

Nerdismo works like any other kind of machismo,
insecure boys belittle others and make the most
of what little they know to establish a social
space they can control.

I attended an excellent talk by Anne Shillolo on how to engage girls in technology at the ECOO Conference this year.

I’ve been struggling for a number of years to convince girls to hang in there in senior computer classes.  In the grade nine introduction course I have a number of girls who are often front runners in terms of skills and ability to learn tech, but they all drift away in the senior grades.

Anne covered the systemic and social issues around this in great detail during her presentation.  Hopefully those issues will begin to resolve themselves now that many tech companies are conscious of the problem.  As much as I’d like to I can’t model being a woman in technology, but there are some other angles I can pursue.

In grade nine, especially in semester one, you tend not to get a lot of attitude because they are all fairly terrified to be in high school for the first time and are cautious.  As students become acclimatized to their new school they look for where they are strongest and tend to establish dominance in those areas; the jocks own the gym, the drama kids rule the stage, etc.  I was dismissively told by a university professor once that tribalism is dead as a theory of human socialization, but that guy was an idiot.  In the world of high school (and pretty much everywhere else, including online) tribalism is alive and well.  Computer society is more tribalistic than most.

In the senior grades the (mostly male) computer geeks do to computer lab what the jocks do to the gymnasium, they establish dominance.  I’ve seen a number of girls begin a senior computer studies course only to bail after the first week because of all the posturing.  The most frustrating was a coding prodigy whose parents were both programmers who vanished to take an alternate course online where she didn’t have to put up with the drama.  This nerdismo ends up damaging the field of computer studies in all sorts of ways, not the least of which is choking it of sections in high school because the vast majority of students feel ostracized by the culture of the students in the room.

Anne’s girls missing out on technology presentation led me to consider just how insular computer culture can be.  The idea of barriers to learning mathematics, sciences and technology came up in Anne’s presentation.  As someone who wanted to be an astronomer before he almost failed grade 10 physics (and did fail grade 11), I know that it takes a fair amount of effort by the alpha-nerds of the world to shake otherwise interested right-brained kids out of ‘their’ fields of study.  From the science teachers who seemed to take great joy in pointing out that this wasn’t my thing to the computer science teacher who watched me drown in mathematical abstraction with an absent smile on his face when all I wanted to do was tinker with code, I’ve experienced those barriers first hand.

As a non-linear/tactile/intuitive/experimental thinker I was intentionally bludgeoned by numbers until I couldn’t care less about computers.  Watching the tribe of like-minded students (many of whom were good friends) form around those teachers and pass beyond that semi-permeable membrane into the math/science/tech wonderland scarred me.

My tactile nature eventually paid off when I got back into computers (years later – scars heal) through information technology, but I’ve never forgotten how those left brained mathletes made me doubt myself and turn away from the computer technology I loved.  I went from being the first kid in our school to publish code and own his own printer to going to college for art (and dropping out) because that was what I thought was left to me.  There was certainly nothing like code.org leading a charge for greater accessibility in learning coding (Anne showed this in her presentation):


I can’t help but wonder how many kids we shake out of technology because they don’t approach it in an orthodox manner, or don’t fit the stereotype of what we think a person in tech is.  It might be slowly changing, but the gateway to learning technology is guarded by your stereotypical computer geek, and they are as fierce about guarding it as any athlete in a locker room. 

When I see teachers putting students in silos because of this kind of thinking, or worse, punishing students who don’t follow their discipline in the same way that they do, I can’t help but remember that I was once that kid who ended up dropping out and walking away.

Everyone can learn coding and computers.  Anyone who says, “I’m no good at that stuff” (including all the teachers I hear say it daily) are responding to the barriers that surround it.  Exclusivity driven by arrogance has defined how many people see the computer field.  Digital technology is so big now that any kind of thinker and doer can survive and thrive in the field, but we need the traditional computer experts to tone down the nerdismo.

The people who build the digital world we inhabit have as much swagger as a professional athlete does nowadays, and it starts in high school with insecure boys chasing everyone who isn’t like them out of the lab.  Until we take steps to open up technology to more diverse learners it’ll continue to chase the girls and atypical thinkers out of this left brained, male dominated industry.


Perhaps I can convince more girls and alternative thinkers to keep learning technology into senior high school by not being an arrogant git, but I’m also fighting this well established conception of what a computer geek is.  Until I can tone down the nerdismo in the classroom, I fear that preconceptions and the aggressive nerdismo in the computer lab will dictate who takes my courses.  The field of computer studies would greatly benefit from an influx of creative/alternative thinkers, but until the geeks loosen their grip, nothing will change.