ISTE and Ed Tech – What comes next?

Having recently returned from ISTE 2014, I find myself in a constant state of reflection on exactly what comes next for educational technology.  ISTE is so huge an event it is difficult to avoid being overwhelmed, both by the sheer number of ideas that come at you, but more importantly by the sense of possibilities with which you are confronted.  As a person who has studied the role of technology in transforming education for nearly 20 years, I sometimes have little patience for ideas/products/methods which struggle to get past superficial contributions to the cause – and unfortunately, in my opinion, there does seem to be much of that.  That said, I was also reminded that everyone is in a different place and needs different supports to help them to succeed in their learning.  This is true as well for teachers as learners.  While I may look at some ideas as failing to get past superficial contributions to the learning experience, sometimes those experiences are an important step in the learning process for teachers, helping them to build confidence and develop skills which will gradually take them farther along the transformation continuum.

The challenge as a district leader is how to cut through the vastness of it all and be able to focus energy and ultimately resources on those things which successfully support teachers through all stages of that continuum.  Now, multiply the variables in that problem by way of rapid technology change – next year’s ISTE will have an entirely NEW set of possibilities, perhaps even before we have had an opportunity to understand the old ones!  It all adds up to the need to identify key focus areas, priorities, trends, whatever you prefer to call them – and then invest energy in developing knowledge in those areas.  For me, I come away from ISTE 2014 with a renewed energy to understand the latest ideas in these key areas:

  1. Technology facilitated professional development models
  2. Big Data
  3. Technology enabled assessment

Each of these areas surely represent entire fields of study on their own.  But as I enter the summer I plan to spend some of my time reading, exploring and hopefully understanding the issues and possibilities in these areas.  As I learn I commit to posting my reflections on each of these topics to stimulate further discussion in SD43.

My New Bell Drives Me Awesome

They say timing is everything…
Throughout my career I have been driven to pursue educational change through technology.  I have also been fortunate to have entered the field at exactly the right time to be part of, and ultimately help lead that change.  As an educator in the Coquitlam School District for the last 15 years I have remained heavily engaged in educational technologies in all my different roles, from teacher to administrator to district management, my interest has always remained the same.  But in reality, my history with educational technology here reaches much farther back.  As a former student in this district, I was fortunate to participate in the bringing of technology into our schools right from the very beginning, helping my then computer science teacher setup the district’s first network lab long before there was such thing as an Information Services department.  Now, as I sit in my current role looking at how I can help all members of our community use technology to transform the learning experience, I have reflected back to those times as a student at Banting Junior Secondary and how they shaped me as a person, or more specifically as a learner.  Again, I was a beneficiary of good timing for sure – there were no networks when I got to Banting and our school was getting one while I was there.  I was given the opportunity to participate – and learn.  Computers really first came to schools when I was in elementary and I was fortunate to be able to use them right from the very beginning, doing simple things: word processing (I can’t handwrite so this was huge); Logo; and simple programming in Basic, which allowed me to tell the computer what to do!  All of this was happening on a Commodore 64.  There was no Internet then, no multimedia games – we did have Yukon Trail, a social studies game of which we could not get enough even though it was entirely text-based!   Now, it is important to recognize that not all learners are the same and not every student might have been engaged with these tools in this way, but I was.  I was given the opportunity and was engaged, so I did create.

The point is that the notion of learning through creation is not something new, and it is also not new for technology to be able to facilitate the creation process in engaging ways.  But what has happened is that we have ever increasing capabilities which expand the ways in which technology can engage, and in doing so, draw increasing numbers of students into the process of learning through creation.

To this end, I have become interested in how to ensure we utilize the tools we have to their full educational potential.  I have always said “give me a Commodore 64 and I can do great things with kids”.  I believe that, but I also believe that our amazing new tools can provide so much opportunity to engage so many of our learners that it is imperative we strive to use them to achieve that potential.

I was bike riding with my 6 year old son the other day.  He had just gotten a new bell for his bike.  I admit it is a pretty nice bell.  His old one rang every time he rode over a bump.  When he commented on how much he loved his new bell, I replied “your old one drove me crazy” – he responded “my new one drives me awesome!”  He then proceeded to kick into gear and take off up a steep hill without stopping at a pace he had never done before.  That was awesome.  Sometimes, as human beings, we just need the right engagement to drive us to achieve.  Where technology meets education, I am excited to explore how emerging technologies will drive kids to achieve.  Our challenge, given the limited resources in education, is to make sure the technology investments we make achieve those outcomes – that challenge is what must drive us.

All our technology is capable of helping students learn – like the Commodore 64.  And like the Commodore 64, a time will come where we will label our current technology as useless and look towards the next generation of tools.  I think this looking to future possibilities is part of what engages us as educators.  The challenge is to be sure that before we label our current technology obsolete, we endeavor to achieve those goals which motivated the initial investment in those tools – and that will take a collective effort.  We all apprecitate the magical effect of new bells at engaging kids.  That is something we need to continue to provide.  But by working together, we can also be sure that great learning continues even as the initial shine inevitably begins to wear off.  We should never stop looking forward to the next great possibility – without question that is part of what drives us to be great. But it is equally important for us to keep our existing successes a valued part of the conversation and continuously reflect on the value those experiences have added to the lives of students.

This is my first blog post as SD43 District Manager of Information Services.  My goal is to post once per month and share my ruminations on educational technologies and related issues.  I appreciate you sharing your thoughts as part of the conversation.