Monday, August 20, 2012

Developing Critical Thinking Skills...By Being Flexible

Way back, when we started this whole movement toward student choice of Bring Your Own Technology we articulated the program objective:

The key to BYOT is choice… allowing students to access tools, evaluate their usage for the learning need and use the tool successfully.

Funny thing about choice... 

The Challenge

I've been in correspondence with ed tech colleagues throughout the US.  Many of them chose one device for their 1:1 initiatives... often citing the ease of selecting productivity tools when working with a single platform.  The device makes the choice for you: Office for Windows, iWorks for Mac, Pages App for iPad.... I can honestly say, 8 days in to BYOT, that yes - it is easier to narrow the field of productivity tools in a single platform environment.  So far we've lived the cross-platform challenges of:

  • The textbook works on Windows and various predatory cat species of Mac OS.  Not iPad or Android, contrary to publisher assurances (@jdferries has set the dogs of war on them)
  • You really can't upload a document to Blackboard Engage (formerly Edline) from an iPad.  To be fair, you can't upload any document off an iPad because the files structure is unreachable unless you perform an illegal maneuver which we do not advocate.
  • Another textbook came with a CD-ROM of supplemental material which runs only on OS 10.4 or EARLIER
  • MLA format is still biased to MS Word (see related mention to Office bias by guest blogger Layton Elliot over at Confessions of a Jesuit School CIO)
  • So.Many.Passwords.To.Remember


And then along comes Mr. Travis Curry from the depths of the Science Department (we hide Science in the basement)... with the words of wisdom "We have to be flexible."  And he's right.  These challenges are not inherently bad.  We learn from the failures, the frustrations, the work arounds.  The challenges of 5 operating systems in the hands of teenagers only make us more universal in designing lessons - we are learning there is more than one way to do an activity.  The challenges of 5 operating systems in the hands of teenagers is the TEENAGERS have to think critically about what they need to do and weigh the pros and cons of the tools available to perform the action.  The learning objective we set out to achieve - access, evaluate, use - is realized every time a document needs to be uploaded, a paper formatted, an etext accessed and a password recalled.  

In December of 2011, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story about employers and the need for critical thinking and problem solving skills by college graduates.  Actually, this idea has been around the media a couple of times: USA Today and even at a certain state's expense... well, I can say we are encouraging our students to think critically.  Juniors who ran into the file upload issue found CloudOn, created Dropbox accounts and successfully came up with a system for the class to work.  And the teacher was flexible - this student led solution was fine with him.  Spanish students who couldn't view the flash video assigned worked in collaborative groups - and the teacher was flexible realizing the learning objective was achieved equally in group work as it would have been independently.  One young man with a Dell and a dying network card learned how to troubleshoot hardware versus software to narrow the possible causes of his computer not connecting to any network home or school.

After all, it's about the verbs not the nouns.  In our case access, evaluate, use... 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

So What's Next?

As many of you know, Brebeuf launched it's 1:1 BYOT learning environment on Thursday, August 9th.  For those of you new readers... 1:1 refers to one computer per every one student.  BYOT refers to Bring Your Own Technology... students were able to chose the best personal learning device for them (we support iOS, Mac OS, Windows, Chromium, Android, Windows Mobile and are testing Windows 8).

@jdferries is blogging in somewhat live time over at Confessions of a Jesuit School CIO... and quite frankly knocking it out of the park so I won't even try.  Check out his reflection of Day 1 and Day 2 by following the links.

I've been reflecting on the Professional Development side of the process this weekend.

The anecdotal evidence... 

Anecodote #1: Social Studies teacher writes,

I had a good day with BYOT.  I was able to set up all my students with Edmodo in my Genocide class and my AP Macro and APUSH classes were able to connect. 

Excellent.  Technical side - check.  Then he continues:

I have a question regarding PDF's and what would be the best way for students to use them on a computer. 

Fair question...How best to use, navigate and annotate static content.

Anecdote #2: Vocal Music teacher requests,

Am thinking of where students should send recordings when I’ve had them all record themselves singing one of our choir pieces. 

Wow!  Great question...There’s a specific learning need met by a 1:1 environment – recording the individual voice.

Anecdote #3: Math Teacher writes,

...It is changing the way that we do our graphing calculators (let the students be responsible for learning the tech), too. And it is very empowering. I am witnessing teachers in my own department adopting a more advanced online presence that implements multiple cloud services, each with a specific purpose…

I am feeling pretty good right about now...then he continues...

So…, how do we sustain this in the long term? 

And there it is… the dust hasn’t even settled and the question of sustaining momentum come up.  I have been a little torn on this.  I thought JD and I could sit back, at least for a month, to regroup and rest a bit.  I truly expected a slower grasp of enthusiasm and sense of adventure in change. I thought we'd still be building some momentum. I am forced to accept the error of my thinking.

So how to we sustain for the long term?  This summer, at the International Colloquium for Jesuit Secondary Education, I listened to Daniel Villanueva, SJ (@danivillanueva)  lay out what is probably going to be my focus for the next three years.  He spoke of moving technology from systems of support to systems of advocacy.  Right now, Brebeuf is in a system of support.  We have structure to support learning – BlackBoard Engage as learning management system.  Google Docs to support production of documents, spreadsheets, presentations… the business of being a student.  We have Rediker Administrators Plus and Admissions Plus to support the business of our academic and admissions processes.  We have a wireless network to support 6 or so operating systems. The next step is to move beyond these supports and into advocacy.  Advocacy as in morally and ethically working to influence social, political, economic decision making.  In Jesuit terms – developing men and women for others in our students and faculty/staff.  Men and women who will use their talents, resources and technologies to promote equality of education (local, state, global).  Men and women who promote excellence in teaching not only within our walls but into the national scene.  Men and women who fight for justice, who engage in dialogue and act with solidarity with the poor.  In his keynote, Dani spoke of the power of social media at World Youth Day in 2012.  Empowering young people to speak with the voice of social media.   The adults created the system of support (wifi hotspots, starter blog, couches) and the students created advocacy structuring dialogues on justice via Facebook, Twitter and blogs.  As I have written before, point the way and get out of the way.  

Moving from systems of support to systems of advocacy will sustain the remarkable momentum we have going.   We have the support systems in place.  Now we can turn our eyes to the power of these systems in our student’s hands.  Not sure exactly how this will play out... but it’s exciting to think about!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Global Connections With One Click

Those of you following me on Twitter know I have spent the week in Boston, MA at the first ever International Colloquium of Jesuit Secondary Education (#ICJSE if interested).  My mind is still spinning on the week - the conversations, keynotes, break out sessions, friendships... I even met face to face with PLN'rs @danivillanueva and @rectorsrumbles among others (@bhobbb63 and @marijsea I already see regularly but if I don't mention them I will hear about it).

As I sit here at Logan Airport (and a shout out to the TSA guard who teased me about the number of electronic devices in my backpack....), I am just starting to process my experiences.  I will start with a story of my morning today... I was in a break out informal session on Faculty/Staff Development.  Circled up were educators from Tanzania, China, Madagascar, Micronesia, Phillippines, India, Australia, Spain... After sharing challenges and successes the question was asked "Can we continue to share resources beyond this time and space?". Within 2 minutes the moderator from India had volunteers from each major region (guess who is representing the United States?) providing emails for a listserv.  Within 5 minutes, the Australians had a Wordpress blog set up.  Instant, global connections...sharing resources, ideas and a passion for educating young people was realized.

I write this reflection to tell this story.  Technology empowers relationships.  450 years ago, St. Ignatius could not have imagined the potential we have in 2012 for connections.  It was difficult if not impossible to communicate across nations.  Imagining these global relationships was a focus of ICJSE... and I feel applies to all in education.  I leave you with this reflection from Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, SJ as we enter this 2012-13 school year:

What if...the art of education was about making the impossible possible?

Today I saw the impossiblity of global collaboration made possible.  Going forth into the world, with a click and a little imagination for the children across the globe.