How To Become An EdTech Leader

by Noël Zia Lee at flickr.com, CC-BY 2.0 licence.

by Noël Zia Lee at flickr.com, CC-BY 2.0 licence.

I hosted a session at On The Rise this year. I’ve posted my slides as a PDF, but I knew from the start that a 60-minute session would be too short for the topic. Here is the previously-mentioned, obscenely long, supplementary blog post.

Introduction

Being a leader in educational technology does not mean becoming technically skilled. It doesn’t mean you can write code, recover crashed hard drives, or configure a router. You don’t even have to know what those phrases mean.

Being an EdTech leader means that you have relationships with others, and that you share with them using technology.

Goals

In order to lead effectively, you need some goals. Here are a few generic examples of goal types:

  • Develop skills and knowledge to improve yourself and your work
  • Develop skills and knowledge in your team
  • Foster collaboration in your team
  • Give to the larger community (beyond your team)
  • Develop personal and professional relationships
  • Share resources

For example, you might have a goal of learning how to use audio recordings for assessment as learning in a language class. You might have a goal of connecting your teachers to teachers in other school boards. You might want to develop closer professional relationships within your department. You might want to collect and curate resources to support newer teachers.

All of these are great goals, but make sure you follow one simple rule:

Have goals for yourself and goals for others

One or the other type isn’t enough if you’re trying to consciously lead. If you only have goals for yourself, you have no reason to share and support others. If you only have goals for others, you’re just trying to “improve” them without being honest about your own needs. Have both.

Kinds of Communities

There are a lot of ways to categorize communities, but the “publicness” of a community is fundamental.

Public vs. Private

This is really a continuum.

At one extreme end of the continuum we have completely public communities, which anyone can observe and in which anyone can participate. For example, Twitter is generally* publicly and globally available. What you say there is readable by anyone, even those who don’t have user accounts with the service.

(*I’m not going to put asterisks all through this post, but be aware most of these statements can be modified by user settings. For example, on Twitter you can protect your tweets so that only approved users can read them.)

At the other extremity we have completely private communities, which are only visible to the “invited” few. For example, you may have a Facebook group that only approved participants can join. The rest of the world isn’t allowed inside.

What’s best depends on who wants to participate, what their level of comfort is, and what everyone’s talking about.

You might have a private community when you need to talk about something sensitive or confidential, or when the participants are worried about making very public mistakes (particularly if this sort of community is new to them). You might protect the conversation when you need to prevent self-censorship in order to have honest dialogue.

You might have a public community when your local community (e.g. the people you work with) is a small one, and you want outside voices. It’s good to be public with universal issues, like assessment or writing.

You might partially protect the conversation by making it “read-only” to the uninvited. For example, perhaps you share the work you’re doing with your department members on a departmental blog/wiki/etc. The rest of the world can view your resources, but only your department members can update the work or comment on it.

Constructed vs. Organic

Some communities are organized and constructed. For example, you might set up a discussion group about instructional strategies, or you might create a sharing folder for rubrics. The purposes of those communities or activities are clear, and so they’re constructed.

Instead you might just set up a space for conversation to happen. Twitter is my favourite place for this. The topic isn’t defined in advance, so we can talk about anything we want to. The connectedness of the participants is what matters, not the quality of the prompt. Organic communities tend to be participant-directed and very welcoming of tangential thinking.

Halfway between these is the ConstrOrganic community (yes, I just made that up. I’m sure it’ll catch on). This is a community of people which doesn’t have a tight restriction on the conversation, but does sometimes provide prompts. For example, you might ask an open-ended or reflective question on Twitter: “How does your experience with technology in your personal life affect your use of technology in the classroom?” The question itself is posed in an otherwise organic community, but you can try to mould the conversation for a while. In my experience we don’t stay “on-topic” for very long, but that’s fine: the talk goes where it needs to, not where I aim it.

Required vs. Optional

This is one of the hardest to deal with, and it very much depends on (a) who you are, (b) what your role is in your organization, (c) who you are leading or hoping to lead, and (d) what your goals are for the people you lead.

If you’re a principal of a school and you want all the teachers you work with to reflect on their assessment practices in an online space, you might be considering requiring a writing activity in a private, online space. When you imagine how that will play out, you might be concerned that some folks might not participate, or that the participation might not be as deep and reflective as you want.

Rule of thumb: don’t require participation (at least at the beginning) if it’s not anonymous (and therefore safe). People need to trust you in order to follow you. If you don’t already have the level of trust that makes an optional task work well, then you don’t have the level of trust that makes a required task work well with names attached. By removing the names, you’ll remove a good portion of the (legitimate) fear associated with putting thoughts out there.

For example, you can create a shared online document (like a Google Doc) and make it editable to anyone who has the link. Participants can modify the document without identifying themselves, which makes it a lot more likely to be honest and complete.

Instant? Persistent?

Your interactions within your community can be synchronous (instant), like a tweet, or asynchronous, like a blog post and a comment. This is often a tradeoff between speed (synchronous) and depth (asynchronous).

Online conversations are usually persistent (they stay there forever), but they may not be easy to return to or make quick sense of later. Sometimes conversations are temporary, like a back-and-forth on TodaysMeet.com or a Google Hangout.

I wonder if having persistent, asynchronous conversations creates a thoughtful-but-cautious environment, possibly erecting a barrier or self-censorship. Is it true that instant, casual, organic conversations are more honest and allow for experimental thinking?

Email is not an effective community

It could be, I suppose, but don’t just do this. Mass email isn’t personal, interactive, or persistent (for most people), which can be good things to have. It’s typically one-way communication, and you can’t really opt-in or opt out. Other types of services will work better for you.

Possible Roles

In your participation in any community in which work is being done, you usually take on one of four roles. You’ll move between them freely and frequently once you’re a solid member of a functional community.

Quester

I have a question or problem, and I’m looking for an answer or solution.

For example, I post to Twitter, “Anyone have a good summative task for the quadratics section in MCF3M?” That’s a specific quest, and I’m the Quester. Anyone else in the community can answer, and anyone else can benefit from the answer.

Adventurer

I am trying something new, and I’m going to share my journey.

For example, I decided to try some physical demonstrations in my classroom for quadratic motion. I wrote a blog post explaining what I had come up with, shared some video from class, and reflected on how effective it was. I wasn’t an expert, but I shared what I found out (even if it turned out to be wrong).

Neophyte

I am learning something new from you, and I may ask questions.

This is great when there is a source of wisdom you can tap into. For example, I can read all about how to use Screencast-o-matic to improve an e-Learning course by watching someone’s videos or reading their tutorials. If there is something I don’t understand, I can ask questions. The answers help me, and both the answers and the questions help others (including that expert).

Adept

I have some special skills or knowledge, and I’ll demonstrate or share.

For example, I post instructional videos about how to program a computer using the Java programming language. I’m sharing some niche knowledge that I have, and I invite conversation and questions about it. I’m not looking for anything specific, but that knowledge does very little good bottled up in my own skull.

Choosing a Platform

There are three major considerations:

  1. Does the platform have the level of privacy that I want or need? This is a dealbreaker if it doesn’t. Also consider the granularity of privacy settings, because you might want to “reduce” them later (e.g. become somewhat more public).
  2. Does the platform have the functions I want or need? Think about formats, ease of use, technical support, exportability (if I leave, can I bring my stuff with me?), and cost.
  3. Will/does the community use the platform? If a platform is popular, the community might already exist or be easier to create. No one wants another password to remember.

Some possibilities

Lots of platforms serve multiple purposes. YouTube is for video, but it includes commenting. WordPress is for blogging, but it can serve as a fully functional website. Facebook is a social network, but it has private community pages. Here are a few loose categories and some popular services:

  • Blogging (WordPress, Blogger, Medium)
  • Video or Vlogging (YouTube)
  • Social Networking (Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook)
  • Curating (Pinterest, Scoop.it)

Some Challenges and Cautions

Here are some other considerations when you’re adventuring online.

Be careful what you say

Think about maintaining loyalty to your employer, respecting copyright and other licences, and protecting student identity and information. There are some things that you simply can’t say in public.

Who’s listening?

You might draw unwanted attention, even if what you say is “allowed” and isn’t “wrong”. For example, what will you do if a parent has a concern about the conversation between two teachers revealing a lack of professional understanding? Also consider students, other schools, and community members.

What is privacy, really?

When you post something in a private or protected space, you’re trusting the other people in that space to maintain the privacy of your thoughts. Before you post something, consider what might happen if it were “leaked”.

Will this be personal, professional, both?

Each has advantages and disadvantages. Your decision will depend on your goals. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter from a while ago:

No takers?

What if your team doesn’t follow you? What if they want to do something else? What if your team is already doing something different? What if your team is afraid?

You’ll have to work through the reasons for your particular situation, and talk with your team. There might be nothing you can do, except for continuing to share and model good practice.

What if my preferred platform is filtered by my organization?

Is there a good reason for the filtering? Are the people who make those decisions aware of what you’re trying to accomplish? Are they supportive? Have you talked with them about it (really talked, not just made a request by email)?

Sometimes the decision makers have parameters that you’re unaware of, and sometimes you have insight they are unaware of. Talk to each other. In the best situations, neither party thinks they have all the answers.

Final thoughts

At On The Rise: K-12 in 2014 Catherine Montreuil (then of Bruce-Grey Catholic DSB) said, “Private practice is inconsistent with professional practice.”

Being connected makes someone a leader, and being open and transparent are the best ways to get connected. You don’t need to be expert, articulate, or tech-savvy.

You just need to be willing to share.

 

Late deadlines make for sleepy students

I set 11:30pm deadlines for assignments in my e-Learning course because I want to respect that students work on their courses at times outside of the instructional day. Some students take online courses specifically because of the flexibility of learning anytime, anywhere.

But most students behave like temporal gases: they will fill whatever container of time you put them in. So a side effect of that graciously long submission window is that students who could finish their assignment during the school day don’t, and they all try to cram it into their evening instead. Then they stay up far too late, which is bad for a ton of reasons.

Photo "Library visitor" by umjanedoan via Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

Photo “Library visitor” by umjanedoan via Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

So setting an 11:30pm deadline might have been a mistake. In the future I might set it for 3:00pm and simply expect that some folks will be a little late. At least the punctual kids will get to bed on time.

Tweets from #OTRK12

Here are some tweets that I wrote, retweeted, or favourited during OTRK12. I still have to write my OTRK12 reflections in a post, and a summary of the session I hosted. Hopefully I’ll get those done this week. In the meantime, here’s OTRK12 in bite-sized chunks:

Tweets and Retweets

(Note: “the” = “they” in above tweet. You knew what I meant, right?)

Favourites

Session Preparation for #OTRK12

Yup, On The Rise is this week. It’s hard to believe we’re that far into the school year already, and it’s harder to believe that it’s been over year since OTRK12 2014.

This year I’m very happy to be presenting on Friday morning. The session title is “How To Become An EdTech Leader” and it’s for school and system leaders. Here’s the official description:

What does it take to be a leader in educational technology (EdTech) today? You don’t need to be a technical wizard. You do need to be willing to connect to a community, listen to others, and share what you’re doing.

We’ll talk about how to create or join different kinds of communities online. We’ll explain some different roles you can have. We’ll have hands-on time for you to get started using a platform of your choice based on your personal goals. And we’ll look at the challenges you can experience trying to lead at different levels of your organization (and propose some solutions!).

You’re coming to this session because you want to be a better leader with EdTech. If you’re a highly connected, social media guru, you probably want to go to a different session.

Did I mention it’s only an hour long? Yup, it’s a big topic. I’m paring down the stuff I’m going to talk about, and I think I’ll have to write an obscenely long blog post to get the rest of it out there.

My basic outline for myself is the following:

  1. Introduce myself (and participants, if there aren’t too many)
  2. Share some types of communities
  3. Develop some goals that participants might have as leaders
  4. Share some roles or stances that leaders can take
  5. List some possible/preferred online platforms
  6. Share challenges/cautions and solutions/suggestions to go with them
  7. Breathe a bit

I’m definitely feeling the time crunch. Sadly, I’m more verbose in person than I am in writing (shocking, I know), so I’ll need to strictly monitor myself. Of course, the actual path I take during the hour will depend on the other learners in the room with me.

Suggestions are very welcome, as always.

Why I’m happy with the design of my first e-Learning course

I’m teaching ICS3C/3U (Computer Programming/Computer Science) online this semester. I was the e-Learning Contact for my board for several years, but this is my first time teaching online in “real life” (i.e. not a professional learning session).

Overall I’m fairly happy with how I approached the design of my course, and I’ve also learned a few things that I’ll improve upon.

I work in Ontario using the Desire2Learn/Brightspace platform. The Ministry of Education here has provided a “starter course” for each of my classes. I’ve discussed the problems with the format of that course before (see here), and thoughts I had about improving on it. I mostly followed my own advice.

In the end, there were significant differences between the provided course materials and the approach I wanted to take with the course, so I ventured out on my own.

News

I use the News area to share interesting links, reminders, and extra details. Notice I don’t post a news item every day; I’ve decided that’s too much without a real payoff.

A screen capture of a news feed.

 

YouTube

I post a lot of “instructional videos” in the course. The videos show me coding applications live, so students can hear my thinking while I work, see the errors I make and how I correct them, and see how the development environment works visually.

A screen capture of a link to a YouTube playlist.

Of course, playing videos successfully in the online learning environment is a bit device-dependent, so I also post every video to YouTube. I maintain them in a playlist (here) and I post a link in a widget on the course homepage. The YouTube videos also have the advantage of sometimes being faster to download, and users can change the resolution on the fly (not very helpful for code, I suppose).

And most importantly, those videos are available for anyone on the Internet to use. That makes me feel good in my heart.

Other Resources

In an out-of-the-way place on the course homepage I maintain a Padlet. I use this to post related-but-not-necessary links.

A screen capture of a Padlet.

Calendar

I don’t use the Calendar directly, but I do use due dates for Content items so they show up in the Upcoming Events list. More on that later.

 

A screen capture of a calendar and upcoming events list.

 

Units, Activities, Modules

I divide up a Unit into Activities, and I number everything:

 

A screen capture showing the activities of a unit.

 

Within each Activity I also “letter” my items sequentially (3.1A, 3.1B, etc.):

 

A screen capture showing activities organized into modules.

Due Dates

I used to only put due dates on the items that needed to be submitted/completed, like Dropboxes and Discussions. After helping an e-Learning student in the library here with her English class, I realized that students were using the Upcoming Events list in the Content area. I had never explored it before, but it was a sparse list in my course.

Now I add due dates to Content items which I want students to consume as well; for example, I put a due date on 3.2E, which is a video I want them to watch by the end of today. They don’t have to submit anything, but I’m hoping the due date helps to keep them on track.

(Note: This is not an “end date”, which would make the item unavailable after the date has passed.)

A screen capture showing upcoming events.

 Content in PDF

I have tried to use HTML, Word documents, and PDF files to post CS content, but I’m happiest posting a PDF that I generate in Word. I get excellent control over the look and feel of the text/images, but the links I put in there still work. It’s also universally-readable.

HTML takes too long to format correctly/beautifully, and Word documents are rendered as images by D2L (disabling any links).

In the end I think the videos are more valuable for the students, especially later in the course. I have several students now requesting videos explaining a certain aspect of the course, but not a lot of PDF requests.

A screenshot showing a PDF file from the course

Still Thinking

I have a lot more to learn, but I’m pretty happy with the workflow I’ve developed now. Suggestions are very welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When are different devices most useful in K-12 education? (Survey to complete!)

An image of a young person cuddling with a pile of electronic devices.

Photo by Jeremy Keith, CC-BY-2.0 via flickr

I’m having lots of conversations right now with teachers across Ontario about what kinds of devices should be in schools. More and more we’re agreeing that there should be a mixture of devices, for a variety of reasons. We’re working on a document to articulate some of those thoughts.

However, when a board/school is trying to purchase technology it often is trying to meet the bulk of student needs, not necessarily provide a device for every possible use case. So, if a school can have iPads or laptops, which should they choose? The answers aren’t simple or clear, and always involve the phrase “it depends on…”.

So I’ve made a short survey that I’d love for you to complete if you’re a teacher in K-12. It doesn’t take long. Just let me know what your thoughts and experiences are with different types of devices. If you need to take the survey multiple times, that’s fine (let’s say because you have experience in elementary and secondary, or your math and music classes are very different).

Here’s the link. Please share widely. And thanks!

http://bit.ly/K12-devices

Teaching teachers about technology

A note to the reader

The following post generalized a problem/solution that I see in my board. It’s not a problem everywhere. It is not universal, but it is common. I’m not pointing fingers; there is no subtext here. I don’t want anyone to be upset, so I’m just letting you know that I’m not talking about you specifically. If you feel like I am, then please consider what I’m saying carefully, because I’m hoping this is valuable reading for you.

New tech in our board

We’re rolling out Office 365 to all staff and students in September. I’m not part of the planning team, so I don’t know what that rollout will look like. I’m thinking back to past “initiatives” (I kind of hate that word), some of which I’ve bumbled up myself, and I feel we need several approaches to learning about this (and any!) new technology.

Learning culture

We’ve done it to ourselves. We’ve developed a culture among our teachers (and students, to a lesser degree) of expecting learning to be “delivered”. It’s happened over many, many years of generic, one-size-fits-all, drive-by-PD in all areas of our profession. We have been passive recipients of knowledge and skills, and there is an expectation that “learning” continues this way. After all, we’re adults, right? The presenter said stuff, and the participants now have the skills!

Except that it doesn’t work like that, and everyone knows it. Two problems here:

  1. Learners have dramatically different entry points; presentations don’t allow for that
  2. Learners need to do work to learn; presentations don’t encourage that

Okay, maybe your presentations deal with problems 1 and/or 2 above, and you’re doing something better than “delivering” to your participants. I’m not talking about your presentations specifically. No need to get huffy. :)

Technology learning culture

In learning about technology, most teachers I know expect “training” in how to use a device/app/web service. They want someone to show them how it works, what it can do. In my experience, that’s the easy part to show, and the least useful part to show. The developers probably included a document (help file or tutorial) that explains all of that. No one reads these things, of course, but they’re perfectly legitimate and often just as effective.

No, the hard part is learning how to use a technology well and for a purpose. Instead of expecting to be trained in the technical details of a tool, I want teachers to expect to learn to use that tool in the context of pedagogy. Better still, I want teachers to consider what their students need for learning, then work together to figure out how to use different tools to help meet those needs.

Learning approaches

Learners will need different levels and types of support depending on a variety of factors (preference, experience, available time, opportunities to implement on the job). Maybe someone will benefit from a tutorial to follow. Another person might appreciate some videos explaining procedures. Lots of people want (and expect) an expert at the elbow, but that’s really expensive and kind of impractical; it can only happen sometimes.

I’m a fan of learning through a project. For example, if I think it’ll be valuable to learn to use a blogging platform, maybe I should try a 7-day blogging challenge. Or perhaps I can learn to use my new tablet by deciding to record and edit video clips for my students. If I have a clear purpose, I’ve given myself a route to follow, and I’m likely to learn things I didn’t know in advance that I would learn.

One other helpful approach is developing or joining a support group. Find other people who are interested in learning the same things, and talk about it. Help each other. Invest in other peoples’ learning and they will reciprocate as well.

Valuing different approaches

There is still the issue of “accountability” and “qualification” and so on. How do we ensure that teachers are learning what they need to? How do we “know” that someone has developed skill with a technology?

We currently don’t value all of the approaches equally. In fact, many people won’t value or even recognize learning that isn’t a structured “course” or “workshop”. Who takes a course in learning to use YouTube? Isn’t it easier/faster/more efficient/more effective to just ask for help or try it out independently?

School boards usually don’t properly value learning that isn’t schooling, and they overvalue accountability. Both contribute to a lack of trust in teachers’ professionalism, which neither encourages nor empowers us. They poo-poo learner choice, favouring homogeneity of delivery over actual learning.

Freedom with support and expectation

I think it’s best to encourage learning (not training!), provide supports for those who want them, and the freedom to choose our own paths.

Take a step back and look objectively: tightly controlled “professional development” clearly hasn’t been working, and it’s been tried for decades. Time to try something else, and to give it a fair shake. It takes long-term commitment to change a culture, so we’d better get started.