Tag Archives: Community of Learners

It’s About Acculturation

Monday morning. Just got back from Yokohama/Tokyo and the Beyond Laptops Conference put on my Kim Cofino and the great people at the Yokohama International School. I have a million things to do, but I know that if I don’t pin this blog post, right now, onto some kind of solid wall in Cyber Space, it will will melt back into the ether with a million other thought and ideas. I need to strike the hammer while…..end cliche.

Conferences are exhilarating. Conferences are exhausting. They are empowering and frustrating. They can make you feel invincible, while somehow soul crushing at the same time. Before I continue, let me state that this post is not a criticism of the conference or Kim. She did an amazing job trying to satisfy a diverse group of people and our needs. She continually reached out for support and ideas before, during and after the conference and was more than flexible through the two day event. I had a great time and I learned so much. Thank you to everyone at YIS and all the participants. But you all now me well enough to know that I have opinions, and since I was not in the mood to elaborate in the feedback survey, I wanted to share my thoughts in the form of this post. I want to end on a positive note so I will start with the griping.

Not sure if you have heard, but technology is not about the tool. It’s not about devices or software. It’s not about numbers or proof. It’s not about, well apparently it’s not about a lot of things. We are all very good at pontificating what it is not about! Yet somehow, even though it is not about the tool, and even though we create smaller, more intensive conferences for people who realize that it is not about the tool, to discuss what it is about…we end up talking about the tool. We talk about BYOD, iPads verse laptops, or PD models based on– yes,  you guessed it, how to use the tool. We are very good about talking about the tool, while saying that technology is not about the tool. Hence the frustration.

My second gripe was data driven. I am an English teacher. I hate numbers. I hate statistics. I hate quantifying the unquantifiable things in life, like poetry, like nature, like learning. After speaking with so many IT directors and school administrators, however, I can understand the need for numbers to justify budgets to school boards hungry for charts and graphs proving that the millions of dollars they spend on computers are amounting to something, but that is not where I want to spend my energy. My problem is that the only thing I hate more than numbers and charts are budgets and money. I got into teaching to inspire kids, to create authentic learning communities and to change the world. I want to go to conferences and talk about these types of things. I will leave the graphs and charts to other people.

These are my gripes and by no ways reflective of the mood or organization of the conference.  Anyone who has ever organized any kind of PD, workshop, or conference know that you can NEVER please everyone. The small-group, hands-on, conversational tone of the conference was refreshing. It felt great to be able to express my viewpoint with so many of the decision makers from the major schools in Asia. It was valuable to be reminded that assessment of a program either for evaluation or justification has value. It was equally important for me to be the voice of a more qualitative look at the role of technology in our schools.

Throughout the conference, I was approached by several people who said they appreciated my frank, open and holistic look at educational technology. I want to spend the rest of this post trying to articulate just what that looks like. If technology is not about the tools, if it is not about data, then what is it about? How do we know it is “working?”

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by superkimbo

We are immersed in a new culture. It is fluid, it is changing, it is evolving, it is breathing and dreaming and waiting for our input, and for the first time the we is all of us, the our is mine and yours. The involvement with, the creation of, the influence from, the participation in this culture is what concerns me. Acculturation is my focus. We are on a frontier. Pressed up against a fast moving edge to places we have never been before as a society. This understanding is what educational technology should be about: What does this culture look like? How does it affect each of us? How do we participate in it. Learn its language? Learn from it? Teach it? What happens to the me in we? What happens to you in the us? Where are we going? How did we get here? What does school look like in this new culture?

You want to see numbers right? How can we measure and quantify participation in a culture that is still forming? How do we know teachers and students are using technology to learn? Let’s start with the Horizon Report:

The NMC Horizon Project charts the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning, research, creative inquiry, and information management. Launched in 2002, it epitomizes the mission of the NMC to help educators and thought leaders across the world build upon the innovation happening at their institutions by providing them with expert research and analysis.

Much of the work of the NMC Horizon Project takes place in a wiki where international experts across all different educational sectors openly exchange ideas and engage in insightful discourse. In this sense, the NMC Horizon Project represents a new ideal in education: free, open forums that facilitate global collaboration and encourage smarter discovery and dissemination of emerging learning approaches. All NMC Horizon Project reports and papers are published as open content, under a Creative Commons Attribution License, so permission is granted to replicate, copy, distribute, transmit, or adapt the content freely.

Not a bad place to start right? We spend so much time discussing the things that technology is not (a tool) that we never really talk about what it is. There is a nebulous list of 21st century skills that everyone seems to be referencing, but even that term is becoming laden with the heavy baggage of jargon. “Arghh, can we stop saying 21st century skills, it is 2012 already!” is the new “It’s not about the tool.” So what are we doing here? What are we talking about? Back to the Horizon Report. You can read more about the NMC or download the report on their website. I want to distill the key points from A Communique from the Horizon Report Retreat, January 2012. (One of many great resources from the Beyond Laptop reading list.) I have taken the already brief points and carved them down to a few free-standing words:

  • Global  
  • Collaborative
  • Diverse
  • Mobile
  • Access, Efficiency, and Scale
  • Redefining Literacy
  • Information Everywhere
  • Openness
  • Ownership and Privacy
  • Change

This is what our new culture looks like. This is what we need to prepare ourselves, our students, our teachers and parents, for. The question stops being about iPads or PCs, and becomes– Is your school a global, collaborative, diverse, mobile environment with access to people and information? Are you helping to redefine literacy, showing your stakeholders how and when to access information that is everywhere? Are you showing them what to do with it, once they find it, in an open community of learners who understand  the power of ownership and privacy? Most importantly is your institution not only ready for change but seeking it? Are you on the edge of your seat with your nose pressed up against the moving frontier or are you running to catch up, weighed down by stacks of charts and graphs justifying giving students and teachers access to a tool that is so unimportant that it doesn’t even warrant mention? Too simple? Perhaps, but if I could work at a school that understands these concepts and is working toward creating an ethos that values them, I would be a happy camper.

You want to know if your 1:1 program is working? Forget about in-house surveys and data, take a look at the ethos of your school, it’s online presence, its openness and connectivity?  Take a look at the list above, how many of those concepts are you actively promoting and preparing for? Are they part of your vision statement? How much of your professional development is skills-based training and how much of it is cultural understanding? Are these ideas disrupting your school in a good way? Are you embracing them? Are you redesigning existing traditions like reports, timetables and content management to make room for them?

My suggestions for the next Beyond Laptops is that we focus on this new culture. Sorry, Kim. I know this is too little too late, but I had to go through the conference to realize want I needed from it. How do we create schools that are relevant in the age we live in and beyond? How do we teach the Web Kids? How are we all participating in this new culture?




I was talking to some friends/co-workers the other night when inevitably the subject turned to school. After some initial chatter about curriculum, school governance etc… I came up with an outrageous idea! I am quite certain that no school will ever implement what I am about to propose, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since last week. I will share the idea here, then I will share this post with every administrator I work with from now until the end of my career and see if, perhaps, at some point, it will be possible. If the idea appeals to you, I suggest you do the same.

We were, my friends and I, talking about the Grade 12 IB art exhibition and discussing the mind-blowing work most students produce at the end of this two-year course. I mentioned how impressed I have always been with the accompanying process journals, when I casually mentioned that I would love to take an IB art course. Like right now! As an adult. While I am at school. With the grade 12 students. While I teach. As part of my schedule.

Here is my idea:

What if part of your teaching load as a teacher was to take one course at your school with the students. It could be IB or AP or any course you find interesting. You teach one less class and use that time to sit in with the class of your choice as a student. You do the work, you participate, you model learning. You are a Teacher-learner.

I am not sure of the logistics, or how it would work contractually. I am sure there is an administrator, somewhere out there who can work that out. I am an ideas guy! Perhaps, I need to actually sit down and work out the logistics, because let’s face it, for all the jargon of life-long learning, most schools would never seriously consider a plan like this. Paying teachers not only to teach classes, but also take them? Radical. I know.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cayoup

Just think of the community a model like this would create. Think of how the students would perceive teachers as learners, as people who love the act of learning new things. Teacher-learners would model behavior in terms of tech use, discussions, work ethic and more. Imagine siting with a group of grade 10 students trying to figure out how to graph a slope. (Yeah, I still don’t know what that means) Imagine showing students that you are not an expert in all fields. Yes, I can teach grade 8’s how to find inspiration and write poetry, but I am just like you when it comes to the final Drama assessment.

Here are some course I would love to take:

  • IB Art, Drama, and/or Music.
  •  Any basic math class (maybe Algebra again)
  • TOK
  • Language B Chinese Foundation
  • IB Econmics
  • IB Film
  • IB Language A Lit (Yes, I know I can technically teach this class, but maybe it would be more fun to take it)

Like I said, I am not sure how all of  this translates into pay-scales or teachable hours, but I do know that a school with Teacher-learners would be a pretty amazing place to work…I mean learn. It would be a school that takes learning communities and life-long learning pretty seriously. What do you think? Ridiculous or the best idea you have ever heard. Looks like I am may not be the only one and this is nothing new. Take a look at Freedom to Learn by Carl R. Rogers.


Big Wheel Keep On Turning

It has been a while since my last post, and man have I been busy. I was quite pleased with the reaction that, There’s No Such Thing As Virtual: It Is All Teaching, received, so I wanted to write a follow up on the progress we have made thus far this year.

Let me start by saying that we have been in school for nearly eight weeks now, but have only had three complete weeks without some sort of interruption. First we dealt with the Swine Flu closure, then we had a week holiday, then I was out for a few days since my wife had a baby, and now because of some government licensing issues we have been asked to teach at another campus. Needless to say, we have had a difficultly time establishing routines and consistency.

Having said that, the work my classes are doing online has been progressing very well. I was going through my spreadsheets today tracking who has done what, and I am pleased to announce that the majority of the students have:

1. Created a Blog
•    Written and published their first post
•    Created links
•    Some have uploaded images and some video
•    Learned the basics of Creative Commons images and citing

2. Created a Gmail account
•    My 8th graders have been working with collaborative Google Doc assignements
•    Completed online Google Forms

3. Begun work on note collection and group work on our class wiki

I have also invited parents to join our community and while it is still early, some of them shown interested and curiosity during our parent teacher conferences this week. So although we are still not operating in a comfortable reliable setting- poor internet connections, unreliable laptops, and overcrowding these kids are learning how to use these tools to extend their learning where they feel most comfortable.

Picture 1
Picture 1

It is strange because of the poor quality of the gadgets and tools at my disposable, I feel most of my best work is being done when the kids are at home. I physically cannot do the things I want in my classroom, so I train them to do them at home. Like I told the parents this week, I figure if their child is spending time online at home, I want that time to be productive and exciting, because they are using different tools to learn.

I want them doing research and posting the info on a wiki. I want them to be reading and reflecting on our blog. I want them to be commenting on each other’s work and really communicating instead of chatting on MSN. I want the first thing that they do when they log in and start their homework to be to see if they “missed” anything from our blog.  I am realizing that the more comfortable they become, the more these contagious these interactions and excitement for our collective work becomes.
This is exciting because we are still learning how to interact within our own small community. I am looking forward to the time when they are ready to branch out and meet some of the schools we will work with this year.

Of course there are the stragglers. The students who still can’t log into their blog, or still only have the generic “Hello World” post from edublogs,  or do not have a Gmail account,  but I have identified those kids this week, and want to mandate that they  come in during break or lunch, get help, and get connected. For most of them all of these tools are still only designed for school,  but I can’t wait until they start to see that they can use these tools to explore, connect and create with a much larger world.

Feels great to be back in the Middle School and able to get back to the work I love.