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Are You Building in Time for Contemplation?

One of the unfortunate byproducts of our continually accelerating internet and information age – especially now that we have a dizzying array of devices to connect and be always-on – is how challenging it is to take time away in the classroom for something we all take for granted: contemplation.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) published this article about a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey in 2008 that showed, ”people in professional services (consultants, investment bankers, accountants, lawyers, IT, and the like) simply expected to make work their top priority. They believe an “always on” ethic is essential if they and their firms are to succeed in the global marketplace.

I feel their pain since I’m absolutely “always on” and “always connected,” often feeling guilty if I'm not working or putzing around on some project. You probably are doing this too since it’s likely you’re at home in the evening, or on weekends, grading papers, preparing presentations, reading journals, checking email, and performing other tasks that are probably easier to accomplish when other workday distractions are at a minimum.

BCG also discovered in that study that, ”94% of 1,000 such professionals said they put in 50 or more hours a week, with nearly half that group turning in more than 65 hours a week. That doesn’t include the 20 to 25 hours a week most of them spend monitoring their BlackBerrys while outside the office. These individuals further say they almost always respond within an hour of receiving a message from a colleague or a client.

Whoa. That means that these consultants are, practically speaking, always working. The problem with that sort of response time too is an growing expectation that people will be paying attention to their turned on and connected devices, able to receive a notification of a message, and are willing and eager to get back to us and BCG’s consultants were suffering from significant (and increasing) stress related to being seemingly “on call” constantly.

Is this the sort of future workplace behaviors we want for our students?

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How Much Data Do We Consume?

How much data and information do we in the U.S. consume? What kind of data is it? University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers asked these, and many other questions, in a just released research report (PDF) which contains stunning results.

My emphasis from their executive summary: "In 2008, Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day. A zettabyte is 10 to the 21st power bytes, a million million gigabytes. These estimates are from an analysis of more than 20 different sources of information, from very old (newspapers and books) to very new (portable computer games, satellite radio, and Internet video). Information at work is not included."

That's a lot of data! What impressed me about their findings was that they took in to account multiple source inputs since, as I've found, many of these research studies focus on the new, internet-centric data consumption as though traditional forms of data delivery (the "old" above) are suddenly irrelevant.

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Acrobat in Education

As I pay attention to the strategic and tactical moves of the major players in computing -- Microsoft, Apple, Google, Adobe, to name a few -- there is no question that the struggles to be the dominant provider in a cloud computing world is far from settled.

With their proprietary approach to the runtime outputs from their various tools (e.g., Flash) coupled with what they're delivering to mainstream computing with PDF, for example, it's been interesting to watch the continued evolution in tools and capabilities surrounding all of these companies, but Adobe stands out in education, especially in the area of PDF and how they've extended it to the cloud.

When I first saw a technology called "Carousel" at the Federal Office Systems Expo in Washington, D.C. in the 1990's -- which later shipped as something called the Portable Document Format or "PDF" -- I was thrilled to see a cross-platform, runtime file format that would make it extremely easy to deliver a digital document to others that would retain the formatting and fidelity intended by the creator of that document.

We know the positive results of the PDF format, right? But did you know that there have been major strides in the free Adobe Reader software that is perfect for education? 

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Teaching Teachers Tech

TeachertechtrainingOne refrain runs through every single discussion I have with teachers in K-12: "I just can't keep up with all the changes and introductions in technology." Sound familiar?

Guess what? Neither can I and I pride myself on knowing 10x more than most people my age (53 years old). Since my level of tech savvy allows me to straddle generations and have one foot in the Millenials (i.e., Generation "Y") camp and the other in a camp that demands an executive-business level and strategic perspective, I'm constantly iterating my technology knowledge and skills but truly feel like I'm metaphorically drinking from the firehose of information in order to do so.

It's far too much effort.

So how do I keep up? By connecting and collaborating with people I know who are considerably more experienced in a technology category than I am. Sometimes it's a direct asking for information and occasionally I just read their blog or listen to their podcast. Usually much more learning occurs in a discussion about some area which I seem to understand but don't yet feel competent about such as, "How do you deliver ecommerce in your Wordpress installation?" and I listen, learn, ask questions another way and learn some more.

How do you teach teachers tech? Leave it up to them to figure out? Host classroom sessions or encourage them to attend technology in-service workshops? Or perhaps you have a district-wide teach-the-teacher technology coaching initiative? 

Apple has found that one-to-one personal teaching (or coaching) is most effective and they sell a $99/year One to One program so people can learn whatever they're interested in or are trying to accomplish on their computers. It's effective, minimizes Apple's need for theater-style seating in the Apple Stores, but one-on-one doesn't scale with faculty sizes enjoyed by most districts.

I have, however, seen several models of teaching teachers technology skills and have settled on a perspective of a best-practice that has emerged: a combination of classroom-style overviews with either a set number of staff just for teacher technology learning or an ongoing and formalized cooperative learning model (as either an adjunct to the classroom training or as standalone and ongoing group assistance). Though one-on-one support is preferred by teachers, it doesn't scale and collaborative learning seems to be the one that enables the quickest path to mastery and, surprisingly, sparks innovative thinking as teachers collectively discover technologies (or their use) that makes a meaningful impact on student outcomes, budget pressures and personal satisfaction.

Especially since technology as a category is changing faster than any other.

Fortunately in every school system I've been in there are an increasing number of tech-savvy teachers who have developed a competency or mastery in a given technology or approach. The sad part is few of them are formally engaged in collaborative learning activities or groups (ad hoc and informal is the norm. Formally collaborating -- with systemic infrastructure to support it like open source software for collaboration -- can be a strong positive for those savvy teachers as well as for the teachers who have not yet learned a specific technology or approach.

Tools abound from collaborative and internal blogs or forums (e.g., phpBB), to Yammer which allows teachers to ask a question, the person answering to do so when he/she is able, and it's trivial to do a quick screenshot or tell someone what to do next when time allows. The point is to be a catalyst for methods that will motivate teachers to become more collaborative as it pertains to learning technology.

You *Will* Teach in a Virtual World

As our internet connections, computer power, and continued drive to perform more and more tasks virtually occurs, the rapidly evolving virtual worlds within the metaverse promise to become easy enough to use that we'll increasingly partake of them for what we do socially, collaboratively, and as emergent virtual learning environments.

When the virtual world There became all the rage back in 2003, I joined and began climbing the learning curve. Even though a few buddies were in it, I quickly became bored as I realized little of use would come from virtual socializing and what felt like a lame video game.

The next hot thing to join was Second Life (SL) and I did so. SL sported a significantly better in-world building capability and other in-world features. Quite soon the tech cognoscenti flocked to it and began holding virtual lectures and events within it. That waned fairly quickly too, as many found the learning curve too steep for others they'd invited in while the benefits seemed to be too few of holding virtual meetings (vs. a conference call and computer desktop screensharing or even live video streaming of an event). The novelty wore off for all but the diehard fans and my use is every other month at best. 

Many of us were still quite eager to partake of virtual spaces, especially since they hold one quite tangible benefit: they're immersive. A 3D space, viewed through a 2D computer display, is amazingly captivating and the usual distractions that tug our attention away from conference calls or webinars dissolve when one is within a virtual space manipulating our avatar and interacting with other avatars in-world.

There is a key trend that points the way to my argument that you will be teaching in a virtual world at some point in the very near future: virtual worlds are becoming easier to use and more powerful.  

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Catching the Google Wave

After a couple of weeks of extensive use of Google Wave, I can state unequivocally that I have NO idea how I'm going to use it going forward, but can see the promise of it and its potential in education.  

If you haven't heard about Google Wave, it's "a personal communication and collaboration tool" announced by Google at the Google I/O conference in May of this year. It's intended to bring together email, wikis, instant messaging, and other collaborative technologies but, it must be noted, it's still a "preview" release and certainly not ready for most people, save for those technoweenies out there like me.

For those of you who've heard about this "reinvention of email" software, it's likely you don't yet have an invitation so I'll try to describe what it does and why there are so many people quite curious yet puzzled by it, how most are uncertain as to how they'll use it going forward, and why there is so much excitement about something that seems so benign when you finally begin to use it. 

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Screencasting: From Concept to Video

In our increasingly virtual world, one of the biggest challenges we face is succinctly and effectively delivering ideas, concepts, and richly detailed knowledge to those with whom we collaborate and connect over great distances or in the school across town. One easy, inexpensive and fun way to do that is with screencasting, an amazingly low cost method of imparting high quality knowledge to those who need it.

Used for many years in computer based training and video production, recording activity on a computer screen used to require very expensive scan convertors in order to record screen activity and merge it with voiceovers, ultimately ending up as a video. 

The great news is that tools have emerged that are either low cost or free and quite easy to use. Along with these new tools are the rapid developments in broadband deployments, computers with the horsepower and capability required to deliver screencasts (even in HD), tools for capturing what's on your screen and editing it into a video, along with services like YouTube for free delivery of that video, means that anyone who is a communicator is now in the sweet spot for leveraging screencasting. 

Why would you use screencasting and why now? 

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Leaps Forward in Neuroscience

TraumaticBrainInjury The leaps forward in neuroscience are quickly deepening our understanding of the brain and how it functions. With imagers like a SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography), brain scanning is a straightforward diagnostic nuclear medicine imaging procedure that permits physicians to visualize brain function by obtaining three-dimensional images of the brain.  

I've had personal and profound experiences with brain imaging. In the early part of this decade, my wife read a book by a Dr. Daniel Amen called "Healing ADD", which leveraged his more than 10,000 brain SPECT scans -- a body of scans which enabled him to subtype forms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) -- and she begged me to drop everything and read it. 

I did...and it changed our lives.

Knowing that I had likely passed on my ADD genetics to both kids due to their observed behaviors and clinical diagnoses, we struggled to find an optimal way of dealing with the kids ADD, were not successful, so after reading this book and learning more online about Dr. Amen, we invested six months in getting set for a visit to California and a three day adventure at the Amen Clinic.

Not only did we discover both kids subtypes -- and our son's (Ring of Fire) which was exacerbated by our prior medicating of him with Ritalin ("It's like throwing gasoline on a fire," we learned at the Clinic) -- three of the four of us who have this gift of ADD/ADHD made major leaps forward on finding ways of managing it, which led my wife and I to even more learning in subsequent years about dietary impacts (especially the gluten and casein intolerance the kids and I share) and what managing those dietary aspects do to mitigate the effects of non-stop cognitive inputs, the hallmark of ADD and ADHD and at the core of their distractive nature.

The consequence? A continual increase in the ability to achieve academically by both kids! This ability is one that my wife and I are convinced would not have been theirs had it not been for this multi-year pursuit of cutting edge knowledge and the rapid acceleration in the science itself (and our access to a wealth of knowledge because of the web).

Do you struggle with kids that have ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities and a myriad of other "conditions"? I'm sure you do and with individualized learning plans, a focus on the individual, and budgets that make it tougher by the year to personalize each student's education, how can you not be a bit jaded and overwhelmed trying to deal with each and every student's personal needs?

Hold out hope since I believe that this acceleration in neuroscientific understanding means that it will get easier to deal with "conditions" and "syndromes" for individualized learning. But why am I so optimistic? 

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Crossroads for Public Education


This weekend I carved out some time to watch one of my favorite internet TV sites, FORA, and came across this video of a presentation given at the Momentum Conference by John Stocks, described in his bio as "a national leader in the fight to transform America's public schools. Since 2003, he has served as a top-ranking official of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, the nation's largest union, with a $330 million budget and 555 staff. As NEA's Deputy Executive Director, Stocks spearheaded NEA's top policy, political, and membership priorities."

A few things struck me and these are why I'm embedding the video for your viewing:

  • Mr. Stocks describes two approaches: one upholding the status quo and the other creating a new "transformative architecture for public education"
  • Up until two years or so ago, there would've been NO way that I'd have been able to see this content since video sites didn't exist and I certainly would've been unable to share it with you so easily
  • I watched this on my HDTV since I have a Mac mini hooked to it, a bluetooth keyboard, and used the open source Boxee to watch the videos contained within the Fora.tv video feed which again, would not have been easy even two years ago 
  • In the video I've embedded below (at the 7:52 mark), Mr. Stocks covers the attributes of the "new architects" and his points are central to his argument on transforming education and what the teacher's union members must do to "change who we are."
The lens through which I view this tranformation and rearchitecting is admittedly a technology one, but systemic technology is out there just waiting for you to decide to move forward and take advantage of it, much of it already covered here in Accelerating Change.

Education Futures & the Concept of Knowmads

Edufutures There is no shortage of thought leaders who will expound in papers and blogs about their particular perspective, approach and beliefs about the future of education. Then there are others who do that but add in a healthy dose of pragmatism that clearly demonstrates they're explorers of the topic and are eagerly seeking trends and the influences driving the exponentially accelerating shift toward a digital future for education.

As a huge fan of serendipity, I can't tell you how often I've been at a conference, trade show or event while in "seek mode" looking for answers to questions about some topic and by happenstance something occurred that changed the course of my seeking. Often my exploration is quite focused, but sometimes it is so vague that I simply point myself in the general direction of an answer and let myself be carried along by the flow of information being revealed. In either scenario, some person, piece of knowledge or technology demonstration appears and I smile as I let the "Aha!" unfold and the dots get connected in my mind.

I had that sort of experience as I was seeking stories and events around Minnesota innovation for a technology site I lead called Minnov8. Clicking on a link brought me to Education Futures, a site founded in Minnesota by a group of educators and theorists who view the rate of change like I do: "Founded on November 20, 2004, Education Futures explores a New Paradigm in human capital development, fueled by globalization, the rise of innovative knowledge societies, and driven by exponential, accelerating change.

Earlier today I reached out to the Education Futures founder by email asking if we could get together at some point and commiserate about accelerating change and my intention is to interview John Moravec, PhD and gain access to insights and bring that to you on this blog.

What I found with their site is yet another data point that validates what you've been reading here at Accelerating Change. Their point of view is something worth discussing as you continue to strive for an educational model that meets and exceeds today and tomorrow's student needs and the world they'll enter in the not-too-distant future. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Accelerating Change are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.