Monthly Archives: March 2015

Let’s Make Tech All About Learning

I have found myself lately in several conversations about the price of technology. The conversations have focused on laptops and tablets and folks wondering if we could find devices that were less expensive.

And I realized that, in their thinking, all laptops and devices were created equal, in such a way that the only variable is cost (and, if this were true, I would have to agree).

But it made me realize that we were having the wrong conversation completely. The conversation shouldn’t be about price; it should be about value.

Further, I realized that we miss the boat on the value conversation when we spend too much time talking about the technology and the tools, or about providing technology and procurement. We need to spend most of our time talking about what kinds of learning we would like to make happen with the technology. You can only get to the value conversation when you can discuss what you want to do with the devices and compare different devices around how well suited they are to those purposes.

I used to teach with a really wonderful professor of elementary educational technology, named Ralph Granger. He used to say, when you go to the hardware store to buy a new drill bit, you don’t really want a new drill bit. You want a hole. When it comes to educational technology, we need to talk less about our “drill bits” and more about the “holes” we want.

Or as Marc Prensky says, we need more verbs and fewer nouns.

And, as TPACK reminds us, when we align our educational arrows, we are talking about content, pedagogy, and technology (What instructional strategies might we use to teach this learning target, and what role could our devices play?).

I believe that part of that conversation needs to be around student engagement and motivation.

So I was very happy to see that the National Association of School Boards of Education is pointing out that student engagement needs to be a critical criteria for judging the value of our educational investments (including technology). One article on their recent report starts, “Education is a $600 billion a year industry, but that investment means little unless students are physically and mentally present and engaged to benefit from it.”

How are you prepared to help make our educational technology conversations focus more on learning?

 

Classroom Management is the Opposite of Motivation and Engagement

Recently, I attended a conference where table talks were a part of the lunch program. There were 12 or 13 topics, and we chose which table/topic we wanted to sit in on. Who ever was at the table collaboratively guided the personalized conversation on that topic. Twenty minutes later, a timekeeper let us know it was time to go to the next table of our choice.

During one of the rounds, I floated over to the Motivating Students table. This is clearly one of my favorite topics.

But very quickly, the teachers and school leaders at the table started talking about which classroom management strategies they use when students are not motivated. The talk focused on punishments and rewards.

And I started to panic, because I really wanted to get the conversation back onto motivation and engagement (and I know how counterproductive punishments and rewards actually are to learning!). How could I do that without offending these educators who were clearly struggling with what to do to motivate disengaged learners…

And finally I found a diplomatic way to redirect the conversation: “I find that when I'm doing a class activity that the students are really into and engaged, I really don't have any classroom management issues.” Everyone nodded that they had the same experiences. “So what do those activities look like? What is it about those activities that seems to engage the students?” And “boom” the conversation was focused on what motivates students.

But it was also in that moment that I realized for the first time that classroom management wasn't a sister skill set to motivation and engagement. It was the direct opposite of motivation and engagement.

Classroom management is what we do when our kids aren't motivated and engaged.

And, for the most part, we don't need to worry about classroom management when they are engaged.

Yes, orderliness helps students learn. And let's see if we can encourage and support our teachers in focusing more on proactive motivation and engagement, so they can focus less on reactive classroom management.

 

Shared Visioning in Action

I recently started a new job: Policy Director of the Learning Through Technology Team (LTTT) at the Maine Department of Education. It’s essentially the state tech director position, and its largest responsibility is managing the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI – 1to1 in 7th & 8th statewide – since 2001! – and making it easy for districts to buy in at other grades), and supporting schools as they think about how technology can support learning.

I have a small (but awesome!) team of 7 colleagues that help make all this happen. If you follow this blog, you already know I’m a strong believer in “Leading Beside” which includes both shared leadership and working from a shared vision. So it won’t surprise you that one of the first things I did with my new team was set aside a morning for us to build a shared vision.

We used the same process that Bette Manchester introduced to districts at the very beginning of MLTI: To think of a preferred future for young people we care about (the Preferred Future), then think about about what students need to start doing today to get ready for that Preferred Future (the Vision for Learning), then think about what teachers, schools – and the Learning Through Technology Team – need to do today so students can do what they need to do (the Strategic Plan). (A process Bette would credit to Bruce Wellman’s work.)

Building a Preferred Future

We started by thinking about a young person we care deeply about. Then thought out into the future, beyond middle school, beyond high school, beyond college or job training or military, and then a few more years, until that person was getting settled in their jobs and, perhaps, their family.

And then we thought about three questions:

  • Where would we like them to be able to work?
  • Where would we like them to be able to live?
  • Where would we like for them to be able to learn?

Here’s what the team generated:

These charts represent the Team’s Preferred Future.

 

Identifying Our Shared Vision Vision for Learning

The next step was to think about these same students today. If the charts above represent our preferred future for these young people, what do they need to do today to get ready for it?

Here is what we generated:

So, these charts represent the Team’s Vision for Learning.

 

Creating Our Strategic Plan

So, if this is what we believe students need to start doing today to get ready for the Preferred Future, what do do we believe teachers need to do, so students can do what they need to? Our thoughts:

 

And then, what do we believe schools (principals, tech directors, district administration, etc.) need to do so teachers and students can do what they need to? The Team’s lists:

These charts represent what we hope teachers and schools might adopt as their strategic plan.

But they also lead us to think about our own work and responsibility for making our Vision for Learning a reality. What does the Learning Through Technology Team need to do to support the work of students, teachers, and schools?

 

Prioritizing

Accomplishing 3 pages of strategic steps is a daunting task! (Actually, self defeating! We need a little focus!) I gave each Team member 6 dots to place on the charts. The prompt was, “Which are the most important pieces for us to work on right now.” All of them are important, and should be tackled as some time, but we needed to identify where to start. Team members could distribute their dots in an way they wanted (all 6 on one item, or spread out across items, etc.), but they each only had the 6 dots.

You can see where they placed their dots above.

That translates into the following as the Learning Through Technology Team’s Strategic Plan for the coming year:

  • Collaborate with our Vendors/Partners to give life to our Vision
  • Foster Postive Collaboration with School Leaders
  • Know the Field – where are their successes and challenges?
  • Improve Communications (Organizations, Schools, Partners)
  • Capturing data / Evidence of Impact

 

Where We’ll Go Next

It’s not enough to capture a Vision on paper. It needs to be used as a filter and a compass.

In order to do that, we’ll have to polish our Vision for Learning into a shareable document (it’s a little too rough for sharing in this current form), and create a mission statement. Then we can put together a “Compass and Filter” document (that includes our vision, mission, and strategic plan goals). We will use it to help us decide how to prioritize and do our work, and help us decide which new opportunities to take on. We can also share it with the schools, organizations, and other partners we work with (or might start working with) to see where there is alignment between our work and theirs.

But I’ll save that for future blog posts…