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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Getting Your Technology to "Bing"

Four years ago I got a Kobo for my birthday.  I was really excited to have an e-reader, but after downloading my first book, I actually found it kind of hard to read on the Kobo. I had trouble navigating the pages, I'd try to turn the page but instead the menu screen would pop up. Sometimes the screen would freeze on me too. I couldn't figure out how to use the highlight or search features. So, while I read the occasional book on my Kobo, I mostly continued to read conventional books.

Then, two years ago, I went on an extended European holiday. Traditional books would be too heavy for my suitcase so I loaded up the Kobo and I've been using it ever since. But the other day I stumbled upon a book titled "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" in a book store; I was so intrigued I bought the book on the spot - in hard copy!

Harold did not let me down, it was a great read, but the whole time I was reading it I was quite frustrated. I couldn't highlight or bookmark the pages the way I had finally learned to do with my Kobo. I had also gotten into the habit of emailing favourite quotes I'd highlighted to my friends. I couldn't do that with a traditional book. While reading "Harold Fry" I suddenly realized that all of the things I used to find difficult and frustrating when using the e-reader had now become automatic. I guess it had happened so gradually, that I didn't even notice that I had moved to that level of not just being comfortable with my Kobo, I actually preferred it, and why wouldn't I? I can do much more with the Kobo than with a traditional book. I can search for a line or even a word and find it in seconds and my Kobo tells me exactly how many hours it will take me to finish my book. With my Kobo app on my phone and iPad, I can read my book wherever I happen to be waiting, and it asks if I want to sync my devices so I never have to search for my page.
While reading "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" I had to keep sticking tabs in for my favourite quotes, and I couldn't forward them on through email without first typing them up!

Learning how to use new technology is exactly that - it is learning. Learning can be uncomfortable and it requires lots of practice. With technology, you have to put in enough practice time to develop a level of automaticity and fluency to actually make using the technology worthwhile.

It is June now, and in the world of Curriculum, it is time to purchase textbooks. I've asked teachers if they would prefer to have a digital text - a text that includes a PDF version kids could download and print if they truly prefer a hard copy, but also includes online quizzes, videos, highlighting features, note-taking features, interactive activities, links to online resources, a calendar, and options for teachers to push notifications through to students. But the teachers I've offered this option to say that they, and their students, prefer to have a traditional text.  I couldn't understand at all why.

Then I thought of me and my Kobo. I actually preferred reading my traditional books at first too. Why? Because I was fluent at reading a book, I could get right to it and there was no new learning involved. But once I made the effort to learn how to use my e-reader, and got over that initial learning hump, I discovered that I preferred to read on my Kobo hands-down. There really was no competition.

I can remember back in the Seventies my grandmother telling my mom she didn't need an automatic washer, she preferred her wringer washer. I thought she was crazy, but now I realize she was afraid of the effort involved in learning something new.

Can you imagine using a wringer washer now? Or a rotary dial phone? Or getting up to change the channels on the t.v.? Making the switch to an automatic washer, a remote control, a tablet, a smart phone, all require new learning and are uncomfortable at first. (It took me a year to get comfortable at using the remote to switch from the DVR to my Apple t.v. or the Blue Ray). In the end, making the effort to learn is always worth while!

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? You sure can. I got this iMessage from my 73 year old mom the other day.

My mom meant to send this message to her 76 year old sister Eleanor. She was trying to help my aunt turn on her notifications button on the iPad. I think it is a beautiful example of learning made visible and persistence when something is uncomfortable and difficult. I think I owe my love of technology to my mom, she has every new gadget known to man, and won't sleep until she can get her newest gadget up and running, whatever it may be.

Making the switch to new technologies requires new learning, whether it's moving to a digital text or a Learning Management System. But in the end, we know that the tools and features they provide offer more and better opportunities for our students to learn.

As a teacher, are you making sure you are keeping up with the new technologies available to help your students get the best learning experience possible?

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Professional Learning in the 21st Century

Thursday was a good day.  I was invited to attend a day of sharing and reflection with teachers who had participated in some action research on 21st Century Teaching and Learning.  I got to listen to and take part in some terrific conversations that included more questions than they did answers.  I find that exciting.  I hope the teachers who attended felt the same way that I did.

More so than ever, I've been trying hard to pay attention to the impact Professional Development opportunities have on professional learning. I still have a hard time understanding the difference between "Professional Development" and "Professional Learning." I get the feeling that "Professional Development" is something that is done to you and it may or may not result in Professional Learning.  I see "Professional Learning" more as something you actively participate in and take ownership for.

The issue I'm concerned about is that many educators often complain about Professional Development (with good reason).  It takes them away from their class and students, often makes them feel incompetent suggesting that they could and should be doing most things differently and better, and can seem irrelevant to what they believe their students need to be successful learners, i.e. they don't buy in. It is not life-giving and it does not often result in positive changes in student learning.

I've tried hard this year to move away from providing "Professional Development" but rather support teachers in their professional learning. With some schools and with some teachers, I think this has worked out very well. There are many teachers who truly have a learning stance and they welcome opportunities to learn together.  But I've also encountered teachers who feel overwhelmed when it is suggested they learn something new, who feel there is no time, no support, and no follow-up.

We have adopted the ISTE standards for students in our board. We want to help our students develop into collaborative and creative problem solvers who use technology in innovative ways to make the world a better place, and who can successfully communicate their ideas with others. It is not enough for them to be consumers of information, we want them to be knowledge creators. But what about our teachers? There are ISTE standards for teachers too. As teachers in the 21st Century, we need to facilitate and inspire students' creativity and learning. We need to be comfortable with trying out new technologies that enhance student learning and empower our students to be drivers of their own education. We need to use formative assessment practices to evaluate the impact of our teaching and make adjustments accordingly. We need to teach our students to be metacognitive and set their own goals for learning. To do all of this, we need to engage in continuous professional learning and reflection.

But so much of the Professional Development we provide for educators uses archaic structures and methodologies. The Power Point presentation just doesn't cut it anymore. If we believe in 21st Century teaching and learning, then those of us providing professional learning opportunities for educators must model what we know are effective teaching and learning practices. If it works for students, I believe it will work for adult learners as well.

How do we "light a fire" in tired, over-whelmed teachers who are often just trying to keep their heads above water?  How do we empower them to be leaders and changers in education? Making the shift to student-driven education can be a huge learning curve, but somehow, if we can convince teachers that the effort up-front will lead not only to improvements in learning for their students but also increased engagement for teachers themselves, perhaps they will buy in and be open to making that shift.

But the shift is a huge one, and the learning curve, especially for some teachers, can be steep. No, it is not all about the technology, but digital fluency is a big part of helping students become collaborative problem-solvers who communicate beyond the classroom walls. Teachers need to become digitally fluent if they are going to support their students in becoming 21st Century learners. This can be a huge challenge for many teachers, and they need to know that they will be supported in their efforts and that their efforts will be worth while.

In order to support teachers with this shift, our Professional Development needs to be teacher-driven. We should differentiate the support we provide based on teacher need. It is important to encourage our teachers to be metacognitive, asking them, what do YOU need to learn about in order to be effective in moving toward technology-enabled student-driven eduction? Formative assessment practices, particularly self-assessment practices, are necessary for teachers as well as for students. Teachers need to have a voice in what the professional learning they are engaging in will look like. As leaders, we have to ask, "what is working for you; what isn't working? What do you need me to do differently so that you can be successful?"

Then we need to model and support teachers in becoming networked learners and provide on-going, "guided" support as they learn. 21st Century teachers are knowledge-builders, establishing parameters for our professional practice, leaders who support and learn from one another.

It stands to reason that taking a blended learning approach to professional learning is a logical next step for Professional Development and one that I hope to develop next year.

What would your ideal Professional Learning opportunity look like?