I Don’t Think I’m an EdTech Guy Anymore

I have a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology. For 9 years I had the job title of Digital Learning Consultant. I held another job for a software/media company. I’ve taught post-secondary courses that focus on the role of technology in schools. I’ve spoken at dozens of technology conferences. And yet today I feel more removed from educational technology than ever.

Workshop Preparations
Workshop Prep circa 2006

My relationship with technology is like many people I know. With a limited computer background, I became interested in technology because of its increasing ability to connect us at a very human level, I started becoming interested in computer software systems like Ubuntu. Knowing it just opened a lot more doors for me in the industry. Beginning in the late 1990s, I became an early adopter. It was at this point I began to use computers and cameras, specifically in my classroom. This is when I began to see technology as magic. Doing things I was not previously able to do. At that time, interfaces were clunky, hardware was slow and unreliable and so it was only those that saw the magic and potential that preserved and learned. That enthusiasm allowed me opportunities to share and eventually take a leadership role in my district. An M.Ed and high ranking blog, utilization of Web 2.0 tools, conference presentations and invitations all positioned me to be an EdTech advocate and recognized leader. I identified as a “tech guy” even though I freely admitted my lack of “geekery”.

And somewhere in the last 5 years or so, my relationship with edtech has changed. To be fair, It’s a bit of “it’s not you, it’s me” In my early years, I was busy convincing educators and leaders that technology afforded new opportunities and innovations that would shift and transform learning. For the most part, this message and belief is pervasive in most schools and yet actualizing and implementing this remains a challenge. To that end, my interest has shifted to talking about learning more broadly, stripping away the specifics and focusing on what matters most whether or not it includes a specific technology or not. I noticed recently that many of my talks rarely include much of a reference to technology. The other part of the change for me is that much of what constituted technology in my early years has been either adopted or embedded into learning. Using digital media to create and consume, expanding classrooms to connect with experts and other learners, connecting assessment to technology, effectively using mobile devices as well as exploring the growing interest in digital citizenship were all topics and areas I spent time teaching and supporting. Today those topics, while still of interest do not have the same “newness” that we associate when with think of technology.

If we rely on the Alan Kay definition of technology that “Technology is anything that was invented after you were born” we can see that for our students, most of the things I’ve mentioned are not technology. What I currently see as educational technology would be things like:

  • Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • 3D Printing
  • Coding (arguably coding has been around for a long time but has become a newly sought after skill/experience)
  • ESports
  • BlockChain (data security)

See Horizon Report for similar topics

Some people might add a few more to the list and when I look at what ISTE suggests are “hot topics” in edtech I tend to dismiss things like, professional learning, global learning and digital citizenships given these are not really new but being embraced more and are analog concepts trying to include more digital components.

All this to reflect and acknowledge that those things I think are today’s EdTech issues, are not something that I’m particularly interested in exploring. Not to say they don’t have value but my interest in technology was not because it offered a few students new opportunities but because I believed that the things I was passionate about were in some respects ideas and dispositions there useful for all. I might be wrong about the current edtech trends. Perhaps they will become more inclusive and be things that all students find valuable. I did concede that coding was an important thing to at least explore.

Either way, I’m not sure I identify as an edtech guy any longer. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. What about you?

Watershed Moments of Learning

I was chatting with someone the other day and the idea of watershed moments came up. Specifically, we reflected on watershed moments in our own learning and careers. Watershed moments are those occasions where there the lightbulb came on or something profound was shared or understood. They happen in various contexts no doubt. As I thought about my own I was instantly curious about other people’s experiences.

A few years ago I shared what about believe were seminal moments in edtech history but this is a more personal look at important events that transform my thinking and practices. I thought I’d share my watershed moments in the following format. Professional Learning event or conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

PD/Conference:
I go to a lot of conferences and can be pretty critical. It’s a challenge to try and make an event have the kind of impact organizations plan. I’ve been to a number of really good events but the one that stands out is Un’Plugd. It took place in the summer of 2011 and was a one of a kind event. 40 educators from across Canada gathered for a weekend in northern Ontario to spend time writing a manifest of sorts around what matters in education. A unique setting with a mix of familiar and new people with time to reflect and unplug from technology. We canoed, sat around the campfire, went for walks and had some of the best conversations with some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. I’ve never had a better experience of collaborative writing and helped set me on a continuing journey of speaking and writing about joy. Coming a close to this is the DEN Summer Institute which brings together a larger group and continues to be instrumental in changing practice and lives.

Presentation:
Again, I’ve seen more presentations that most people but the one that comes to mind as one that impacted me the most was from ISTE 2005, known back then as NECC. I actually didn’t attend the conference but watched the stream of the event. Dave Weinberger gave an extraordinary talk on The New Shape of Knowledge. I probably watched it 3 or 4 times. The ideas and his delivery provided one of the most thought provocating presentation I’d ever seen. Since then I’ve used many of his ideas, read his books and continue to explore how knowledge is changing and what that means for us as educators. That talk from 2005 isn’t online but this is a very similar talk that he gave at google.

Book:
The book that has most influenced my thinking is The Book of Learning and Forgetting. A short book that suggests that learning is essentially a social and natural act and that our efforts are best spent in making schools understand these important truths.

Tool:
I could have listed a few but I suppose the watershed tool for me is the blog. Having spent years learning html and ftp in order to create webpages and get them online, the blog allowed me to do this with a simplicity that soon became a gateway to connected learning. A close second would be video editing software.

Person:
So this is extremely difficult to nail down to one person but I suppose I would give this moniker to Will Richardson. Will has often been referred to as the godfather of educational blogging. Will is someone that consistently taught me through is blog and the number of personal interactions I’ve had with him over the years.

Back in the days of ping backs and tagging, bloggers often posted something and encouraged or invited others to write a response. This is my request to ask you to do the same. Don’t feel compelled to respond to all five of my categories but I’d really love to hear about your watershed moments of learning. Feel free to respond in the comments or write your own post and link to mine so I’ll be notified. By the way, that person I was talking with about watershed moments was Stephen Hurley. I wrote about his moment too.

The Good Old Days

It’s not my birthday. More on the photo in a bit.

Today I was introduced by Jennifer Cronk as someone who has been around the world of edtech for a while. She’s right. I started blogging 10 years ago, opened my twitter account 9 years ago. That’s like a 100 in normal people years. It’s odd to look back at the changes but today’s post by George Couros has me reminiscing.

I also liked this quote and have used it often.

People seem to get nostalgic about a lot of things they weren’t so crazy about the first time around. ~Author Unknown

In 2005 the world of blogging was a bit like being a pioneer. Few people were doing it and most people didn’t even know what it was. I was able to connect with people around the world, have people comment and interact on topics most people I knew weren’t that interested in discussing. In those days, spending time online made you a nerd. I blogged a lot because I was finding new things all the time. It was my way of documenting and sharing that really. As I become more confident, I tackled more challenging topics. In many cases, my posts were an extended respond to other people’s writing.

I’ve written quite about my twitter experience, with this one being a particular favourite. Twitter for me was a playground. “Back in the day” there were no hashtags, no mentions. Just the simple prompt of “What are you doing?” which taken in that vain meant you told people you were eating a sandwich. Twitter had a reputation for being a place of banality. Rightfully so. But what emerged was an odd sense of connection. Unlike blogging where most folks wrote about their professional learning, twitter was playful. It was social. Then came the educators. They attempted to “edufy” it. And they succeeded. Instead of a staff room feel where you escaped the challenges of teaching, now conversations  about teaching dominated the space. I totally get that this is my little perspective and while I make that sound negative, for others, it remains a wonderful entry point to new learning. For me, something has been lost, for others, something gained. While my followers have grown, my interaction has decreased. If I post a pithy quote, it tends to get lost of attention. Certainly a lot more than if I make a joke or try to engage in playful banter. As I’ve said before, on twitter, I would rather make someone smile than share something educational. That’s just me, I get it. I’m not trying to suggest I’m right.

But…..

When people talk about the “good old days” of school, I think for the most part they’re delusional. The good old days weren’t that great in general. However, I do see elements of the past that deserve some consideration. Field trips are a great example of something we used to do more of but because of money and logistics have decreased significantly. In its place, we now offer many outstanding virtual experiences. I would like more of both. I think teachers are more stressed today. The demands of the job make folks long for a time when initiatives and change are happening at such a frantic rate.

When I think about blogging, I remember when commenting was a thing. Bill Ferriter has lamented the decline of commenting for a while. He’s a faithful blogger and commenter and we all could learn from his commitment to extend conversations. I think people still read blogs, they just aren’t commenting.

As far as twitter, I see my own interactions decline. In 2012, I tweeted almost 13,000 times. Last year it was about half. I get it, that’s still an insane amount but nonetheless, it’s a significant drop. It’s just not as playful. I’ve shifted much of my conversation to places like Voxer with smaller numbers and that’s likely a reasonable and healthy transition. But I miss the opportunity to connect with new people in an informal way because most new folks have been told that twitter is a great space for PD. They’ve come for the learning. By the way, the photo above is from Steve Ransom who shared it via twitter after some banter and jesting around my age on a recent birthday. Those things rarely happen anymore.

I get it, this probably sounds grumpy old mannish. I truly don’t want to be that guy and George is right, there isn’t a right way or wrong way to use any of these spaces. But there is a part of me that remembers the past with some fondness. That’s not bad is it?

 

 

Great Stories of IT


IT guy

 

Weird title I know.

Next week I’m speaking to a mix of educators and IT people essentially about how the boxes and wires folks can and should work together with the teaching and learning folks. The dominant narrative seems to be that often these two groups don’t get along all that well, mostly from teachers wanting to innovative feeling confined and restricted.

My personal experience is pretty positive and I recognize that’s not how everyone sees this. I think more examples and stories are helpful.I’m trying to offer ways and means that these two groups can work successfully together.  I’d love to hear your story.  It doesn’t have to be a grand story of organizational change. It might be a simple act of support or kindness from a teacher or IT person that made a difference in a small way. Perhaps it’s a policy decision that impacted you in ways others might not understand.  I’m mostly looking for positive stories but certainly the not so great stories can be useful examples of what not to do as well.

So if you would be so kind, leave a comment, include a link or two if you’ve read or written about this elsewhere. Retweet it, send it to others you know have a story. 

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwwresnet/7650593390/