Follow that Conference

1. Type the conference tag (#otaem12) into the search box and press [Enter]

2. Look for the most prolific, sharing and insightful people and click them.

3. Learn a little more and then click to follow…

It’s going to be another long day, with a morning of presentations and then traveling the rest of the day from Oklahoma City to Seattle, where I’ll rent a car and drive on up to Vancouver tomorrow.  But today, I’m still at the Encyclomedia conference in OC, and it’s an impressive thing – over 1,600 educators at the general session yesterday morning.

This morning I will be delivering a presentation about self-directed professional development (learning networks), pretty similar to what I did at ISTE last year. But I’ve already been asked more than once here, “How do you follow the right people on Twitter?” It’s a common question for which I have never really been satisfied with my answer – look to my a twitter page and follow who I follow, or that of Will Richardson, or Jonathan Becker.

But something occurred to me yesterday (or perhaps last week, I’m not sure) that’s probably already part of the standard practice of many of you. Rather than focusing on one person’s followings as a starting place, focus on an event, a gathering, or even an issue.

I will suggest to folks today that they go to Twitter and use the search box to find tweets tagged with #otaem12 (hash tag for the Encyclomedia conference).  Then look to the people who are most frequently posting messages about the conference, linking to blog posts about the conference, or linking to resources being mentioned and demonstrated at sessions. Click to their twitter pages, and follow them.

Another great place to start would be Educon, perhaps the single greatest concentration of insightful ideas about education on the planet. Search for #educon and look for the most prolific, sharing and insightful contributors – better make a cup of coffee for this one. Understand that many of the best tweople engaged with the Educon event were not even there. But that may make them even more valuable to your following list.

It is so important to realize that a critical element of being a master learner today is the network of people you connect yourself to.

…Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

The Purpose of Education is…

One of the most interesting sessions at this year’s Educon was facilitated by Chad Sansing and Meenoo Rami, both of them Science Leadership Academy faculty.  The title was Hacking School: the EduCon 2.4 Hackjam.  I didn’t know what to expect – and what actually happened was beyond all expectations.

They gave groups of four or five of us, collections of objects (tiny cotton balls, crayons, blocks, etc.) and a complete Monopoly set. We were instructed to play the game, but told that players, as part of taking their turn, were required to change the rules in some way.  On my first turn, I was at such a loss that the best rule I could make was that if you couldn’t come up with a rule, then you had to figure out a way of wearing a colorful pipe cleaner.  Someone may have uploaded a photo to Flickr.

The rule I took away from the game was to never play monopoly with anyone more than 40 years younger than you.  None of us took the activity very seriously.

However, as the debriefing began, it became apparent that there was intent behind this exercise.  That follow-up conversation became part of the game.  We continued to change the rules, to hack our own insights – as we exchanged our exceedingly diverse experiences.

Then Sansing and Rami introduced us to Hackasaurus, a tool that enables you to take most any web page, examine it’s underlying code, and then hack that code to change the look and content of the page.  Learning about Web coding (HTML & CSS) is the ostensible purpose.  But I kept thinking about the playful learning that might result from asking students to hack particular web pages about their current topic of study in history, science, etc.

Then, what really kicked me in the head was when someone said that..

“..anyone who is not a programmer is part of the program.”

The earth trembled under my feet, as I began to parse out the statement’s meaning, and my previously held notions about teaching and learning broke down and recombined into something new.

“What is the purpose of education?” It’s a frequently asked question these days and I have long said and written that the purpose of education is to prepare our children for their future.  Now I believe that,

The purpose of school is to prepare our children
To Own Their Future!

Are we (educators) making programmers,
or are we just making software?

Sustaining an Innovation-Friendly School – Reflection 1 from Educon 2.4

Some might wonder about the sanity of taking a late afternoon flight out of Fort Worth, later arrival at the hotel, an almost descent night’s sleep, all to attend only the last day of Educon 2.4.  What I wonder about is the potential malign effects of three whole days of deep and enthrawling conversations, nearly every one pushing my thinking in subtile or dramatically new directions.

I reminded Chris Lehmann, at the end of the last session, that I talk about this stuff just about every day.  Then I confessed that there was a moment during the afternoon that I realized that every contribution I had made the entire day had come from something else I’d heard at the conference.  Educon is a cauldron where our ideas about education get stirred up and mixed with those of others.  Our concepts get disassembled and recombined through  forces of attraction and repulsion that dazzle me, and every time it happened, it left me a little stunned for a moment.

The one complaint that I have about the Educon experience is the inability to spend at least 15 minutes reflecting after every conversation.  I am not referring to the larger conversation sessions, but every single conversation with every single person I encountered, in the sessions, in the hall, fixing coffee, checking my coat ….

This is what I hope to be the first of my Educon reflections about what I learned, unlearned, and relearned. ((“The illiterate of the future are not those that cannot read or write. They are those that cannot learn, unlearn, relearn.” – Alvin Toffler))

Chris Emdin compellingly making his point

The first formal part of the Sunday installment of Educon was the large group panel discussion, entitled, “How do Schools Sustain Innovation?”  I found myself feeling a bit sorry for the moderator, Kevin Hogan, because the panelists pretty much took off from the start and didn’t land again until Chris Lehmann had to fairly frantically call for an end.

It struck me during the discussion, that innovation – a means of finding or inventing a new and better way of accomplishing a goal (my definition) – has become “a goal.”  This is understandable within the education arena, because being an inventive, resourceful, free-thinking goal-achiever is part of the skill-set that we are coming to consider basic.  But innovation for innovation’s sake risks going down the same confusing road of technology for technology’s sake.  It gets taken apart, sequenced, classified, curriculumized — and it simply stops making sense.  Chris Emdin pointed this out when he suggested that innovations can get cooped, branded, and become dogma.  One of the many threads that I rode throughout the day was that there is no one-size-fits-all “vision” for schooling.

To me, the question at hand is, “How do we sustain an innvoation-friendly school?” and even though the general discussion was riveting, I did not get any clear message on how this is done.  So at some point, I started a branch on the concept map I was using to take notes where I added and eventually sorted a list of principles or process for sustaining an innovation-friendly environment.

At the heart is permission and facility.  An educational community that adapts to changing conditions grants its members permission to innovate and facilities or procedures for pursuing a better way.  It is part of the school’s culture.

Here is the list that I ended with.  Even though it is numbered, I now see that other arrangements are at least as appropriate as this.

  1. Permission to Identify and Describe a Problem
  2. I added permission here because several times during the day people described environments that were unwilling to admit problems or listen to those who suggested any course other than “business as usual.”

  3. Permission to Solve the Problem
  4. This one might actually be tougher to allow than it seems.  Having worked in state government, I know how risky it is to do anything that jeopardizes your reputation – or that of your boss.  In some environments, it is your job to make your boss look good.

    This one might better be labeled, “Permission to take a Chance.”

  5. Willingness to Let Go
  6. I suspect that many worthwhile innovations fail, because they are simply mounted on top of existing practices, rather than transforming existing practices.  This is illustrated by the three challenges, made by American education reformers, to the Finnish education model (see Finnish Miracles and American Myths).  The U.S. education reform movement seems unwilling to consider letting go of government testing, school competition, and accountability.

  7. Awareness of Other Boxes
  8. This is a bit of a twist from my usual reference to “outside the box” thinking.  It was actually sparked by a previous conversation with the Director of Applications Development at a large school district I recently worked in.  He told me that what he looks for in prospective hires for his programming staff is “creativity.”  He went on to say that the best part of his education was all of the history, literature, science, etc. that he took.

    I think that innovation does not necessarily come from outside the box, but from having access to other boxes that rearrange our perspectives and enable us to come at a problem from a different angle.

  9. Engineer a New Way
  10. This, I guess, is where the innovation happens, and much has been written about this by smarter people than me. I will humbly suggest that it requires research, design, collaboration, negotiation, and flexibility, to mention only a few of the skills.

  11. Permission to fail and re-engineer
  12. This may well be the toughest part to accomplish.  Innovation in business and industry are easy.  Failure in the public sector is fuel to those with political agendas.  In the private sector, R & D are considered a legitimate and necessary cost of doing business.  For schools, it is a waste of tax-payer money.  You can tell that I speak from some experience here.

Should they Know it in 20 Years?

A couple of weeks ago, I started a blog post recalling a course that I once took as part of my Masters degree. The 1992 course was about developing applications using dBase (look it up). The buzz in tech circles at the time was about Gopher, Veronica, FTP, and something brand new called the World Wide Web. The course was mostly programming – and I loved it. I suspect that many of my classmates (mostly educators in the same degree program) were not so thrilled nor the least bit interested in programming.

The gist of this story concerns the final exam.  A couple of weeks before the end of the semester, I sent an email to the professor suggesting that real programmers, as they worked, almost certainly did not rely on memory alone. They had reference books open on their desks so that they could look up various obscure coding options and syntax that might help them solve problems peculiar to the task at hand.

“Shouldn’t we be tested the same way, with the book open on our desks?”

He bought it, announcing at our next class meeting that, “Thanks to Mr. Warlick’s suggestion,” the exam would be open book. “Cheers!” He added that he was changing the exam appropriately. “Silence.” I suspect that some of my classmates felt more confidence with the memory of the solutions to problems they had studied.

I got my “A.”  But it occurs to me now that the difference between the exam given and the one intended, was that we ended out not being tested on what we knew – that is to say, just what we’d been taught.  Instead, it tested us on what we could do with what we’d learned.

I initially intended for this story to promote open book or open content learning. But I want to come at this from a different angle, owing partly to several pre-Educon blog articles I’ve recently read.  You see, if I were to take the originally planned dBase test today, under the originally intended conditions (memory only test), then I would fail it miserably — and I would probably be none-the-worse for the knowledge I’d lost.

However, if I were to sit down and take the test the professor actually administered, with appropriate reference materials available to me, I would probably do respectably well — even 20 years later.

My point is this. What should we, as educators, really care about? Is it just what students can recall at the end of the year or the course? or is it what they can do and whom they will be 20 years later?

If it’s the long haul that we are about, then I wonder, as we write our final exams for the students in our class – or end-of-year state tests, shouldn’t we be willing to ask ourselves, “Can I reasonably expect these children to be able to pass this test 20 years from now?”

If the honest answer is, “No!” then we’re just playing a game.

 

…Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad