Miami Device

Reacting to reactions

We all do this. We react to another’s reactions. We often react just as dramatically or irrationally as the reaction we are reacting to.

Yesterday, KCCI News reported on an Ames Community School District’s decision to shut down chat and video messaging within their Google Apps domain. And this was my immediate reaction.

If you read through the comments in my Facebook post, you’ll see that my reaction seems validated by some of the comments. I felt disgruntled by the news and sought to advocate for student rights! Yeah. Not so much. Then stepped in Mrs. “I’m going to be the adult here," or as her friends call her Rachel. She had a valid point. Our discussion surrounding this issue in Ames continued on through the morning. I decided that I wasn’t going to back down. In fact, I leaned in. Regardless of what reasonable explanations she approached me with, I turned it back around on the district. As the conversation came to a momentary conclusion, I realized that my issue wasn’t so much with the school district, or their decision even, but with how it was reported. If you go back and watch the video, it all seems a bit over dramatic and slightly staged. I’m not even sure why this would be news, let alone make the evening news. There are WAY too many details that aren’t explained here: Was the bullying and inappropriate behaviors wide-spread or isolated to a small group? Were the instigators and perpetuators of these behaviors identified? What additional digital citizenship curriculum has or hasn’t been provided to the teachers and middle schoolers? Did teachers receive any significant professional development on purposeful integration and classroom management strategies? Were teachers even using these in the classroom? And so on.

I don’t see this as a Chromebook problem. I see this as a behavioral problem and a teacher-readiness problem.

The Behavioral Problem
Bullying, sharing of sexually explicit images and content, inappropriate language, and the perpetuation of these acts are all behaviors. In fact, they are all behaviors that exist with or without technology. Technology has the power to amplify what we do. In this case it amplified a group of middle schoolers' propensity to show their age, their immaturity, and act, well, like middle schoolers. Their behaviors were obviously inappropriate and most (probably safe to say all) school districts have policies surrounding these types of misconduct. And I am confident that Ames will conduct themselves appropriately while dealing with the students.

But this isn’t a technology problem. Bullying is bullying; on or offline. Yes, as I mentioned before, it’s effects and extent are amplified by technology — but it is still bullying. To me, the news broadcast was about singling out the technology that led the students to do bad things.

Teacher-Readiness Problem
Were the teachers ready for something like this? Have they been reinforcing digital citizenship and appropriate online behaviors since the initial open-house in August? I don’t know. The teacher who took center stage to declare that the Chromebooks were "distracting them from staying focused in the class" sure didn’t seem ready (at least not for a distraction). To me, distraction is distraction is distraction. Distractions have and will always exist. Mobile devices and computers are just the latest iteration of distraction (for young and old). I would like to know how much professional development was provided to teachers prior to students getting their devices. And, if PD was provided, how much actually focused on instructional and learning strategies as opposed to how-tos and trouble-shooting? While both would be great for teachers, if there is no practical connection to instructional practices and student learning, the devices will remain a distraction — especially in classrooms where they aren’t being used regularly or appropriately (appropriately could be replaced with effectively, purposefully, relevantly, among other things).

And I’m not blaming the teachers. My concern is with what preparations were made to support teachers with such a transition.

All that said, I’m not sure I can say that I would have reacted differently. In fact, looking back, I think Ames’s reaction was measured and appropriate. The article even states that this may be just a temporary suspension of chat and video functions. They didn’t take away all of the devices; they didn’t suspend all of the student accounts; they didn’t blame the technology. Ames (hopefully) has only momentarily turned off the chat features to take a better look at how students are and should be using that particular tool, not necessarily the entire device.

I’m in a role now that shouldn’t be governed by knee-jerk reactions or judgmental overreactions. I have to be in the details to better understand the big picture. I don’t know all of the details here and I probably misreacted (I just made that word up) to the bigger picture. I actually hope to speak with Ames in the near future to discuss this situation and their course of action. This is a bigger deal than just one small school district in Iowa. These behaviors are happening all over the country (on and offline) and our teachers aren’t provided with the time and professional development they need to make these big changes in their classrooms.

What would you have done?

Never change

I think it is the O. Because it looks like Gru’s bald head and the others don’t.

My wife sent me this picture today. It’s put a smile on my face ever since I saw it. It is a perfect example of who my son is. He is silly and he enjoys indulging his imagination. I hope this never changes. He is fortunate to have a wonderful 2nd grade teacher this year that fosters these traits and has created an environment where my son feels comfortable, safe, and happy to be himself.

But what happens next year? What happens if he has a teacher that was looking for a more “academic" answer? What would have happened if he had another teacher that told him that his answer was wrong? Is it wrong? At what point do we as teachers and educators stop allowing our students to be themselves; stop allowing them to share a different answer that’s not on the answer key; stop allowing students to bring their world into their classroom and into their learning without consequence?

As I sit and laugh at my son’s answer, my eyes well up with appreciation for who he is becoming…but they also well up because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that someone might say something that discourages him from being himself; that discourages him feeling safe to share his thoughts and explain his learning in ways that are meaningful and relevant to him. I’m afraid that person could be me. Maybe I’m over thinking this. Maybe I’m not.

bubbles and fog

Are we in or on an edtech bubble? When is it going to finally pop?

While I grow into my new role, I’ve been hyper critical of a lot more. I’m not sure why. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with budgets, man power, and capacity…but I’d like to think that it’s because I’m seeing things from a different angle.

So much effort is being put into evaluating apps and arguing over which device is better, I’m starting to feel a little jaded. It’s not that I’m bored, it’s just that I’ve had my fill of these discussions and I’m ready to look beyond all of this.

When I was in the classroom, nothing could stop me. You couldn’t tell me, “No. That’s not possible." I would find a way and from somewhere, somehow the technology would be there and off we went. I was spoiled. (Disclaimer: I wrote grants. Lots of them. But spoiled none the less.) I’ve gone through spells of infatuation (even obsession) for the latest and greatest tool or app. I’d use them with students and teachers. I’d blog about it. I’d tweet about it. I’d present about it. And then, like yesterday’s lunch, it was forgotten.

Granted, you’ll still find me using things like Google Apps, or Evernote, or my iPad. But that’s because they found a way to make themselves useful in more than just my classroom. They became habits. They became routine. And most importantly, they became effortless. It doesn’t take me 20 minutes to spin up a shared doc or take a quick photo of student work.

And to me, that’s it. I think we are putting way too much effort into which app or apps (go on…say, “app smashing"...I dare you) students should be using to complete some of the simplest tasks. We are still getting lost in the how, instead of letting the kids find the how while we focus on the why and what.

And another thing, testing is real. It isn’t going away anytime soon. I wish I could ignore Smarter Balance in my role, but I can’t. It is difficult for me to see the stress and pressure that schools feel to prepare kids for this test…over the excitement and joy that we should feel preparing our kids for more meaningful learning. Labs are turning into typing classes, and computers are seen as “secure browsers" instead of gateways to the world. I’m sure that this isn’t happening everywhere, but it is in MY district.

Where would we be, where would my district be, if our efforts were focused more on why and what our kids were learning? Where could we be if the tools were just seen as tools, and just like any other tool, was used when necessary and not just because? Do we find ourselves forcing technology into our classrooms and schools? I think we do. The discussions we’re having and the trainings we’re delivering need to be on the learning, not around the learning.

There is so much more swirling around my head. So much more things to say, but sometimes the fog has to settle before you can take another step. Hopefully some of this makes sense. Hopefully some of it doesn’t.

buzz words are my new buzz kill

It’s obvious that Dissolve nails this. What I love about it most is that Dissolve is in the business of selling stock footage. Again, clever advertising wins me over. Well done Dissolve. Well done. #slowclap
On another note, it reminded me of something that Scott Berkun said at integratED|PDX just last month. During his closing keynote, Scott mentioned a few words we have to stop using, and the one I feel stood out the most was innovation.
Innovation is one of those words that we think we all understand and assume we all understand it in the same way.
I’m not so sure of that.
All it really means is, “A new method, idea, product, etc." It’s a rather simple, even lackluster word. It’s just a fancy way of saying, “New!" Inherently, it doesn’t even imply that this newness makes anything better. Yet some of us wear it like a badge. We wield it, cutting through the tangled mess of the old school to make way for the illustriousness of the new school…I mean, innovative school.
I used to love throwing this word around. But I never really explained what I meant when I used innovative to precede words like: teaching, instruction, content, or learning. This is where the assumption that we all understand it the same way causes problems. My idea of new can and is often different than yours.
As part of this same keynote, Scott Berkun argued that in place of the word innovation (or any of it’s derivatives), we should actually explain what we are talking about; explain what is new and why it matters.
The overuse of the word innovation gives me the same buzz kill that I get when I hear people over use the word reform. Both words essentially have the same meaning (though reform does imply an actual improvement). They both denote making changes in something established. What changes, though? Both words are often used as an adjective or verb, but that is often it. Just an adjective. Just a verb. Only words. Words that fill blog post titles, tweets, or updates. I’d rather you explain the change to me. I’d rather see the change that is happening. Rhetoric only works on so many.
Buzzwords are my new buzz kill. That said, let me cast the first stone by dropping a large rock on my foot. I’ve drenched grant proposals with buzzwords. I’ve overused buzzwords in previous blog posts. I’ve smattered job applications and resumes with buzzwords. All for the same reason, to be pretentious. Buzzwords sound good. They make us sound smart. They catch your eye.
Is that who we really are? Is that who I really am? I don’t think so. I hope not.
We need to be more conscious of the words we use and how we toss them around. Sometimes less is more, but in this case I’d argue that more is more. Describe for me what you mean when you say innovation. Show me what new looks like and why it matters.
But that’s just me. Push back.