Tech for Creativity

Some of you may be aware that I have spent a good part of the last week in the air, about 27,000 miles as near as I can calculate, from Raleigh to Calgary, to New York, to Brisbane, to Christchurch, to Melbourn, to Los Angles, to…

Much of it is a dramamine induced blur, but for many enjoyable hours, I illustrated a point made by Kevin Kelly in a recent podcast that I watched. The Author of What Technology Wants, Kelly, like myself, has followed much of the emergence and evolution of personal information and communication technologies — and has had a hand in guiding its use for many people. Among his many contributions was Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World, which was required reading for the principal actors of the film, The Matrix.

I haven’t read What Technology Wants (yet), but it appears to be a cautionary tale. Kelly doesn’t tweet or participate in many of the techs de jour. However, one thing that he said that really stuck with me was that ICT’s power is in it’s providing new avenues for expressing ourselves creatively. As near as I can paraphrase, “We would never have had a Jimi Hendrix without the invention of the electric guitar.”

Rebirth by Propellerhead
Rebirth by Propellerhead
Back to my time in the sky — just before leaving I purchased a new music app for my iPad. I have pages of music apps, most of them mocks of musical instruments, and none of them have captured much of my attention. I’m not a very good musician. The exception was Propellerhead’s Rebirth (see right), which resembes no instrument I’ve ever actually played. ..and so, even that was not all that much fun. I did complete one project (Shangri La) and upload it to my Sound Cloud.

My new toy is MusicStudio, “..the only complete music production environment for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad” to quote the developers, and they’re not off the mark. It gives me access to a number of instruments (with more purchasable sounds), a virtual piano keyboard to perform and record from, audio effects devices, and a piano-roll style track system (see left) for fine tuning. This is where I spent my time, copying and pasting, dragging, and editing those little dots and dashes that represent individual musical notes.

Continuing the music work with Logic Express 8 on my office computer

I often demonstrate this process in some of my talks as an example of working numbers to accomplish goals — working the numbers embedded in digital sound. But doing music like this has always required me to break out some fairly sophisticated software, sit at a desk, with mouse, and sometimes an attached musical keyboard. Now, I can do it from a flat surface (iPad) that I can carry in a shoulder bag, sitting at the park or in an airline seat. (demo here)

Here are the results of my 50+ hours in the air! Because Brenda likes it, I am now refining the work using Logic, a more professional music editing tool. But this is the version done exclusively on the iPad.
Brenda’s Song by dwarlick

Sorry for the self-indulgence, but, you know, I’m getting old enough to not have to apologize for it.

The Value of Learning

(CC) Photo by Enoch Lai

I’ve been struggling for quite a few days with a question that has actually been on my mind (and tongue) for quite some time. The question emerged most recently a couple of weeks ago when I was sitting in the only session at the Laptop Institute that I had a chance to actually attend. It was Convincing Your Constituencies by Fort Worth Academy head of school, William Broderick. He skillfully outlined the DOs of selling a 1:1 initiative to teachers, parents and boards — and the DON’Ts.

One of the DON’Ts that Broderick shared, and one of the mistakes he said that his team had made in their initial campaign to promote a 1:1 program at their school, was selling the technology instead of the learning. “Technology” was actually a fairly easy sale. Most people equate computer technology and the Internet with the future and consider technology skills to be synonymous with 21st century skills. The problem came when they started implementing the program. The approach was to teach teachers how to use the computers rather than helping them learn to use this new connective environment to craft and manage effective and relevant learning experiences.

So we say to each other, “Its not about the technology. It’s about the learning.” But even that is not good enough, in my opinion. It Does not sufficiently answer the question, “If it’s not about the technology, then what is it about?”

Certainly, it’s the learning. But what kind of learning? How is the learning different? What is fundamentally new about learning with a computer in front of you, instead of a textbook? ..and perhaps an even more practical question is what does the “teaching” look like?

To answer these questions, I think that it is far more useful to take an approach that I shared today with a group of school administrators from across East Texas. I suggested that rather than wondering how learning might be accomplished with technology, we might, as I often urge people, think about the information. Rather than focusing on the machine, we should explore the new potentials of learning with, and within, an environment of networked, digital and abundant information.

What does learning look like when networking enables us to facility multiple channels of conversation that transcend classroom walls, school campuses, and bell schedules? What does the learning look like when digital information has less to do with something to be taught,and more to do with providing learners with information raw materials that the can shape, mix and remix to construct their own learning? And what does learning look like — for that matter, what does it mean to be educated — when we have increasingly ubiquitous access to increasingly abundant amounts information? The technology is simply the window.

As for the teaching? Well a simple way of expressing this might be the vision of the textbook equipped classroom, with the teacher in the front of the class, leading the way. In a classroom that is equipped with networked, digital, and abundant information, well the teacher stands behind the learner, looking over his shoulder, suggesting questions, provoking conversations, rewarding success and celebrating mistakes, and, expressing the wonder that new learning causes — because she, perhaps, might be learning something new as well.

Stager Nails It

Flickr Photo – by ViaMoi

NPR calls him an education “technology leading light.” Some who know Gary Stager might rather call him an education “bold of lightning,” inspiring some and irritating others. Regardless, what ever Gary says, we listen to it — and National Public Radio (NPR) was listening yesterday.

The issue was India’s recently announced $35 Tablet for Education, and NPR heard it when Gary tweeted…

Newsflash: India invents schools so its children have a place to store their useless “$35 laptops.” #vaporware ((??Stager, Gary. 24 Jul 2010. Online Posting to Twitter. Web. 29 Jul 2010.))

Contacting him as a source for his story (A $35 Tablet For Education? Cost Isn’t The Only Factor To Consider)?, NPR contributor, Wright Bryan, asked Gary to expand on the tweet. I’ll let you read what he said in the article, which is pretty much what his readers would expect when a fully charged Gary Stager faces any initiative that short-changes learning for the sake of being able to say, “Look how we’re advancing education so cheaply.”

I want to point you to a part of his statement that really nailed it for me. This short paragraph shows why Gary is so much more of a contributor on Twitter than I am — he can put in a few striking words a quality of ideas that expand my own thinking regarding topics that take me an hour to express on a stage.

He says that a computer,

..especially if it’s the only one we can be sure they (students in India) have access to, must be capable of making the poems, musical compositions, movies, radio programs, simulations, video games, scientific breakthroughs and acts of civic participation that we know children are able to create with the right software, support, time and high expectations. ((?Bryan, Wright. “A $35 Tablet For Education? Cost Isn’t The Only Factor To Consider.” All Tech Considered 28 Jul 2010: n. pag. Web. 29 Jul 2010. .))


Learning is Work!

..because, today, Work is Learning!

In case you are not reading the comments, last night Gary Stager provided this link to an open letter from Nicholas Negroponte (the visionary behind the the One Laptop Per Child) project.  It was sent to the Times of India.  You can read the text here.

ISTE Excellence Cafe — Characteristics of Formal Learning

One of the best times that I had a ISTE this year was facilitating one of the ISTE Excellence Cafes.  They took place on Sunday, and each cafe was devoted to a conversation about one of the ISTE NET-S and what excellence looks like in that context.  Weeks before, I’d missed the initial conference call for facilitators, and when I was finally able to connect, there were only two NET-S standards left to choose from.  This was good.  I chose Technology Operations and Concepts, which is the standard that I am least interested in.  I chose it for two reasons.  One, I was more likely to keep my own mouth shut, making it easier to facilitate the conversation.  Secondly, I felt that I might learn more by leading a conversation about something, to which I do not pay a lot of attention.

Technology Operation & Concepts

Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations. Students:

  1. understand and use technology systems.
  2. select and use applications effectively and productively.
  3. troubleshoot systems and applications.
  4. transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies.

ISTE was about conversations

I was worried when the conversation was about to start.  It seemed that Tech and Concepts were not terribly interesting to anyone, except for an enthusiastic educator from Vietnam, and two venders — both of which shared valuable perspectives, but not broad enough to even begin the conversation.  But, when the time finally came, folks started coming in, and we had wonderful input from teachers, administrators, technology educators and directors, international educators and vendors — and it was one of the most exhilarating conversations, of which I have been a part.

We had almost no guidance on where we should steer the conversations except for the goal of excellence.  We wanted the cafes to take the discussions in their own directions.  It was my job to keep it productive.

We looked at each of the goals of the Technology Operations and Concepts standard, and our conversations broke down into what does the learning of the items look like, and what kind of teacher/learning environment would nurture that learning.  There was an enormous amount of overlap.

Here is my own condensing of the ideas down to an almost manageable list of teaching/learning characteristics that I think extends way beyond technology operation and concepts.

Minor additional editing July 23, 2010

The learning & the learner
  • Student-centered
    • Student Choice
    • Personalized (not individualized)
    • Building expertise more than meeting standards
    • Working toward a meaningful product
  • Technology is personal — It is not handed out.  It comes in with the learners
  • Assessment
    • Not “right” or “wrong” but “did it work?”
    • Permission to get it wrong, and then describe what was learned
    • Self-reflection and peer-evaluation (critiquing)
  • Regular exposure to and conversation about
    • Current events
    • New ideas
    • New (emerging) technologies
  • Learning is…
    • problem-based
    • project-based
    • product-based
    • with external goals and audiences that extend beyond standards
  • Technology literacy is not platform or application based.  It is saying, “This tool should be able to do this.  Let me figure out how to make it work.”
The Teacher and Learning Experience
  • Open minded and open ended
  • Comfortable with authority that is fluid and porous.
  • Willing to take risks and make mistakes, and say, “Here’s what I just learned.”
  • Willing to grant students permission to make mistakes and say, “Here’s what I just learned.”
  • Publicly learning as professional practice
  • High expectations for students — higher than the status quo
  • A vision or philosophy of ICT in formal learning that is purposeful, rigorous, and product oriented and that ICT is THE literacy tool of our time.
  • Engaged in learning conversations within a cultivated network of colleagues
  • Willing to say, “You figure it out!”
  • Willing to learn from students
  • Willing to give students space to be learners, but hold them accountable for their learning and make them defend their learning, “How do you know that’s true?”
  • Be willing to share classroom learning experiences with the community, to invite the community in.
  • Respect and utilize the knowledge and skills that students gain outside the formal learning environment
  • Be involved in selecting new ICTs, developing curriculum, and setting information and communication policies for the school/district
Aspects of Classroom Culture:
  • Reflection
  • Peer Review
  • Confidence
  • Computer application not computer applications. (the difference is one “s”)
  • Multidimensional Conversations about context, values, and leveraging change, potentials, and opportunities
  • Information as raw material to be mixed and shaped into new valuable information products
  • Student learning affects other people




A Couple of Weeks of Some Very Interesting Conferences

It all started with ISTE, and interesting is one of many discriptors that might be applied. I’ve already said almost enough about the congpference formally known as NECC.

Speaking to school leaders at the NPLI in NYC

After a wonderful week at home, I headed up to New York City for the National Principals Leadership Institute. Here, leadership teams from a criss the US and Canada gathered to talk about leadership and to answer three questions.

  1. how might I describe these times?
  2. What are the imp,ications to education?
  3. what does it mean to me as a school leader?

A ruin on the Hudson I was lucky enough to capture from the moving train

Nothing more need be said here

Where I found a delicious pulled pork omelet while waiting for my room at the Peabody

Participants worked in mixed teams, formed by the event staff, spending part of each day loosening to speakers and the rest of the day working together on the questions and the ultimate presentation of their answers. Among others, the institute invited soledet O’Brien of CNN, legal activist Cornell West, and students of local performing arts high schools. The day after my presentation, they were to visit local institutions, including a hospital, police department, and Panasonic, one pf the sponsors of the event.

From NYC, I took a train up the Hudson River to Syracuse, for the Central New York 21st Century Conference, three days of presentations and discussion work. Organized by several of the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, the group listened to Ken Kay, formerly of The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Bernie Trillin, author of 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, Yong Zhao, myself, and Debra Adams Roethke, of Henrico County Schools. The challenge here, for me, was to follow two of the most successful articulators of 21st Century skills and Zhao, who speaks so compellingly and authoritatively about many of the same ideas that I discuss.

Today, I am finally in Memphis, for the Lausanne Laptop Institute, perhaps the premier laptop (1:1) event in the nation and beyond, as evidenced by the number of attendees coming in from Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America.

This is one of those very unique conferences, the quality of which I first saw when I keynoted the state ed tech conference (ACTEM) in Maine a number if years ago. It took me months to realize what was different — what that quality was, even though it was really quite obvious. It was a prevailing sense that anything/everything that was being suggested, introduced, taught, or discussed at that conference could be taken back to the schools and implemented.

The educators here to Memphis are coming from schools where ubiquitous access to networked, digital and abundant information is assumed. It is a part of the culture of the school. This is a huge distinction in a world — in a country — where most students are still learning via information and communication technology that was invented in the 15th century, and that’s if the budget cuts haven’t limited access to textbooks.

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Another Reflection on ISTE 2010 — Soloway & Norris

4754425231_18b874a851_b-20100706-141612.pngThere are lots of reasons to attend an Elliott Soloway presentation. To get an energy fix is one of them.  Another reason is to tap into an avenue of fresh ideas about contemporary ICT in the classroom.  I attended “From Add-on Technology to Essential Technology: Constructing 1-to-1 Aware Curriculum” because of my interest in ubiquitous access to digital and networked information technology, and I know that Cathleen Norris and Elliott Soloway are smart folks who have immersed themselves in these aims for a long time.

I’m not a buyer of the hand-held solution. Although I think that there are some amazingly useful ways that smart phones and PDAs can be used in learning, I keep going back to what Nicholas Negroponte said when asked why he was promoting laptops when so many children in the developing world already have cell phones. He said that learning about the world should not be happening through a keyhole.  This comparison possible comes from an observation he makes in his 1995 book, Being Digital, about an Admiral’s preference to a large map, of a small computer display. ((Negroponte, Nicholas. Being Digital. New York: Knopf, 1995. 97-98. Print.))

That said, the takeaway from the Soloway and Norris session that I am already taking into other conversations is the distinction between essential and supplemental technology use. They made a compelling case that the research being done to assess the instructional benefits of technology that are looking at schools and classrooms where the technology is being used to merely supplement existing techniques, is not giving a true picture of the teaching and learning that those who advocate transformative technologies are calling for.

My iPhone and iPad are essential for me. They are where I go for the latest news from Afganistan or the Gulf Coast, movie showtimes, the weather forecast, or a synonym for “anticipation.” Without them, I have to lay my hands on the daily paper, hope that my wife hasn’t already put it in recycling, or that my son isn’t currently using the local section, or that the whole thing isn’t in the bottom of the bird cage already.  The iAccess to the information that I need is essential.

Today, we are working, playing and living in a networked, digital, and information-abundant environment, and learning today requires tools that are essential for accessing, working and expressing ideas and knowledge within this environment.

Supplementing old-school does not prepare our children for their future.

The Big Buzz at ISTE this Year — Another “R”?


I may (or may not) remember ISTE 2010 for receiving the first copies of my new book, A Gardener’s Approach to Learning. I gave copies to some of the educators I’ve worked with repeatedly over the years. Here, Jeff Whipple, New Brunswick, Canada, receives the first copy. Doug Peterson blogged about the book here, after reading it on the plane home.

It seems like each year we come away from this international conference realizing some new big buzz, some new technology or application to wrap our technology integration attention around. It’s been digital story telling, blogging, podcasts, Twitter, and others going back — probably to The Print Shop.

This year interactive white boards (IWB) had a big presence. But their prominence owed to two related factors. Many schools, ripe with stimulus money, invested in their classrooms by installing projectors and IWBs. It was an obvious choice, from a perspective of supporting teachers, (though not so much from the view point of transforming teaching and learning — I’m not getting into that in this blog post). Secondly, with the sell of who-knows-how-many IWBs, Smart, Promethean, and others were able to impose a heavy visual presence on the conference.

But that doesn’t make a buzz.

Apple’s iPad also made its presence felt with far more lit of faces than I would have ever imagined. I carried mine with me everywhere and will report on that experience later.  But just about everyone I talked to felt that the jury is still out on how much transformative impact this device will have on teaching and learning.

All in all, I think that Chris Lehmann said it best in his ..ISTE reflections.

..This year, to me, it felt like there was a deepening at work. People weren’t running around as much for what’s new. Many of the people I talked to were looking to figure out how to make sense of what they already had learned.

I felt drawn to sessions and conversations that seemed to be taking me to where we need to go with what we’ve got. There seemed to be two kinds of conversations going on in the presentation rooms and in the halls. There was training, and then there was professional development. There were those who pursued new tools and their mastery. And then there were those who wished to walk away from the presentations and conversations with new insights, better understandings, new stories, more philosophical backing, and a richer and more practical vision of contemporary education.

I think that both areas were exceedingly covered by ISTE 2010.

After re-reading this post several times, it occurs to me that there was one word that kept popping up in conversations.  ..and it is fitting that I share this on July 4th, the celebrated date of my countries signing of its Declaration of Independence.

The word was Revolution.

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Dreaming of what can be

It’s the break at TEDxDenverED and I’m hungry. I didn’t have time to eat today, being on the verge of being late just about all day long. But I’ve gotten some nourishment here at TDE. There have been some excellent, amazing and inspiring presentations. It’s surprising how fast 18 minutes can go by.

But I would like to make one observation here, which I tried to make to the speaker, Brian Cosby, in the hall, during the break. But he was way to distracted by all of the people who wanted to shake his hand.

I can’t go into a lot of detail here, but Cosby said something early in his presentation that really struck me. After describing the lack of knowledge that his 4th graders (mostly poverty-locked and transient student) had about their world and their local geography, he asked, “How can you imagine what might be, if you don’t know what is?

This was followed by an inspiring story of how his students started blogging, making connections with other blogging classrooms around the world and then generated a collection of comments from their new global community, comments about their wishes for their greater and local communities.

At the same time, they decided to make a hot air balloon, and then equip it with a camera, and a payload, to carry that mass of world-wide wishes. Brian included a moving video of the launch — and watching the event, it occurred to me that he was demonstrating that to know what is, you can’t just be taught it. You must connect with it.

I’ve seen Mr. Cosby present before, and I wasn’t expecting to be surprised. Thank you for surprising me, Brian.

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A New Addition to My PLN

I just found an education blogger to add to my personal learning network. Yong Zhao was the opening keynote speaker for the Wisconsin School Leadership Academy this week, a conference that I will be closing tomorrow. I checked out the conference site just before boarding the plane in Burlington, VT and then linked over to his site and blog, saving a number of his most recent entries to Instapaper for read during the flight.

The bad news is that I’m completely changing my closing address. I’d be pretty much delivering the same message with a different accent and without his academic authority. The good news is finding a new teacher.

Even though we have spoken at the same conference on several occasions, I’ve only seen him present once. He was clear in his presentation, compelling, and very good at something that only a few keynoters do well, turning his message into a story — complete with surprise ending. But his blog hammers through to some of the fundamental reasons why the Obama Administration’s approach to education reform is wrong and why our current Secretary of Education should be replaced.

One of the pieces that caught my eye was A Pretense of Science and Objectivity: Data and Race to the Top, where he does not criticize data, but our worship of it’s collection and use as what’s going to save education in America.

I’ve written about data-god on several occasions and agree with Yong that good data can be a good thing. But the government’s monotheistic approach devalues the rich and telling data that is exchanged during typical learning conversations that happen in the classroom everyday and effectively hobbles the teacher’s role in working these data exchanges with wisdom, passion, creativity, and confidence. This is the greatest loss and most costly to our children — the loss of our confidence.

I’ll leave the rest to you, and look forward to reading more from Yong Zhao.

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Location:Access Rd,Chicago,United States

More on iPad

Flickr image from Steve Rhodes

I was reading an interesting piece on the plane by Stephen Levy, author of many things, not the least of which was a 1980 book, about the history of interactive computing. I read the short article on the new WIRED app on my iPad, and THIS is what is pushing my thinking more than anything else about this amazing, appealing, and still befuddling device.

While anticipating the launch of the Apple tablet, I imagined what it might do for the publishing industry, especially the magazine and newspaper sectors. What I envisioned was a slew of reader applications, similar to the Kindle book reader and to what Zinio has promised for years. But this concept of the APP was totally out of the blue for me, and I’ve been in this long enough that I am pretty hard to surprise.

The advantages are numerous. But perhaps the most important is innovation, as different publishers seek to compete not merely with content but with what they can make the content do, and how easily and interestingly they can make it accessible to us — interface.

I’ve purchased only a few, expecting with them each to astonish me. Hasn’t happened yet. The Wall Street journal was one that left me ho humm’ing the day long. I finally figured out it’s organizational theme and then gave up. WIRED was a little better, especially with it’s ability to browse what is essentially a thumbnail version of the publication. But then when I tried to highlight and copy portions of the Levy article and found that I couldn’t, I was deeply disappointed.

The most interesting example I’ve seen is Cool Hunting, a web-based publication. They are already networked and digital, but so too is WIRED. The interface flows under your fingers, as it should on a touch device, and the interface is consistent, fairly predictable, but also relatable.

Anyway, Levy goes on to suggest that the iPad, and it’s ilk will need to accomplish three things before it is truly more than an elitist’s machine. It must be,

  • Cheap enough to lose, suggesting a price that starts with a 1

  • As light as paper

  • Always connected to the web

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