Back to school – what tech vision will you share?

Back to School time! How did this happen so quickly…

One thing that parents are faced with every fall is the giant packet. Everything you need to know, sign, and send back with checks attached as school starts. In the giant packet is the schools Acceptable Use Policy, known as the AUP to most techie educators. To parents, of course, it’s known as paper 23 of 42, likely to be ignored. To make sure that even diligent parents ignore it, schools create AUPs full of dense legalese, hoping that if anything bad happens, they are “covered.” Whatever that means.

When you see a principal on the news explaining why his school is suspected to be the center of a huge student porn network, does he ever hold up the AUP and say, “but we’re covered!” No, of course not. So why do schools believe that the AUP really does any good at all? And why, oh why do we send this out without a shred of explanation about the GOOD that we expect from students using technology?

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be policy in place, and that these policies shouldn’t be communicated. Of course they should. But why send something home guaranteed to intimidate, or worse, bore parents?

I’ve written about this before (What message does your AUP send home?)

I truly believe that EVERYTHING we do sends a message. It’s important to take a step back and try to put yourself in parent’s shoes for a moment and read the AUP from that perspective. In most AUPs, there is not a shred of positive vision for what “Use” means. They should be called UUPs, or Unacceptable Use & Punishments.

Where is your vision shared? How do you communicate with parents and students about your hopes and dreams for technology? If this is your one chance, and you have to send out the AUP anyway, why not rewrite it so it reads like a vision instead of a promise of punishment? At least add a cover letter to it!

Sure, parents will flip through the packet and might not read it. But then again, it’s your one chance – why not take it?


Thinking about revising your AUP? Visit David Warlick’s wiki School AUP 2.0 for links and an RSS feed to many schools with visionary AUPs.

TEDxNYED – the role of new media and technology in education

I’m excited to be participating in a new kind of event this weekend, March 6, 2010. You may have heard of TED – a once a year, incredibly expensive (but free online), invitation-only event where “riveting talks by remarkable people” are showcased. TEDx events, in contrast, are locally organized and run with a minimal entry fee. These events are meant to bring people together to share and talk around common interests.

TEDxNYED will  examine the role of new media and technology in shaping the future of education. There is an incredible line-up of speakers, and you can watch the conference live on Saturday from 10am-6pm EST.

You can also visit the TEDxNYED Facebook page and become a fan.


Say the change you want to see

For schools embarking on a change process, one key success factor is envisioning what that change looks like and sharing the vision widely.

In many of the schools we work with, the change involves a vision of students and teachers working together to use technology tools in new ways. They envision empowered students stepping up and taking part in the effort to improve education. They see teachers who feel more comfortable about technology. They see students and teachers as co-creators of the learning environment.

But often, the stated objectives don’t match the full vision. There are unspoken wishes, hopes and desires that go along with the hard statistics. The problem is that if you don’t explore these hidden wishes, you can’t plan for them, articulate them, or share the vision. Sometimes these are harder to measure or they sound “soft”. But sometimes these unspoken outcomes are the most powerful of all. Surprisingly, you may find that they are widely shared, but people feel that they aren’t important or scientific.

You shouldn’t be embarrassed to say them out loud. It’s not silly to hope that the work you do changes children’s lives and to make that clear.

If you put those goals in writing, you can plan for them, and more importantly, figure out how to measure them.

Finding hidden objectives
One exercise that we do with schools is to “say the change you want to see.” It’s a simple visioning exercise. First, imagine that everything you hope for comes true. Now write a story for your community newspaper about “what happened.”

The beauty of this exercise is:

  1. It has to be simple and clear. No academic citations, obtuse language, grant gobbledygook, or pages of distracting data. Using present tense and plain language creates impact. Make up quotes and anecdotes to make it come alive. Pretend you are writing for your Aunt Betty and you’ll end up capturing the heart of the project.
  2. It uncovers unspoken wishes. Often there are outcomes that are never really articulated, but people secretly hope for. You think that teachers will use technology more, but you also hope that students will be more engaged. You write in the grant that student achievement will rise, but you hope that students will love learning and feel empowered. You purchase technology and measure its use, but secretly hope that teachers will find that spark that made them want to be teachers in the first place.

Perhaps your fantasy newspaper story starts like this.

After a year of participating in the TEAMS project, student excitement about learning is at an all time high at Fallsburg Middle School. Mary K., a seventh grade student, says, “I love learning this way, I was getting bad grades but now I love coming to school.” Parents feel the same way and see the learning as being more “real world.” Before TEAMS, only 26% of FMS parents said they felt what their children were learning in school was relevant. After only one year, this rose dramatically to 87%.

Measuring hidden objectives
So the next part of this exercise is figuring out what in your story needs to be measured and planned for. The numbers don’t have to be the actual goals, that’s not the important part. The important part is to unpack those hidden agendas and make them tangible. If some of your goals are not currently being measured, MEASURE THEM. If you don’t measure them they won’t happen and a year from now, you’ll wonder why. Do what you must NOW so you CAN write that story a year from now.

If a goal is to have happier students or more satisfied teachers, how will you know? Somebody better ask them. How will you show it? Somebody better shoot some video and collect some quotes. Plan for that now! Is one of your goals community involvement? Better ask them too! Plan some surveys both before and after the big project. If you want to say there is an improvement, you have to measure before, after, and maybe in between.

And ask what you really want to know; don’t let naysayers drain the life out of it. Some people think dry and colorless means authoritative. Don’t let it bother you when somebody rolls their eyes when you say you want to ask students if they like school better. Ask for the change you want to see.

If you don’t plan this, you won’t be able to document the real hidden hopes and dreams that bolster all the hard work and long hours. It may sound more “scientific” to collect “hard data”, but collecting targeted qualitative data can be extremely valuable.

Say the change you want to see. Ask the change you want to see. Be the change you want to see.

The people in the room are the right people

Last week I was the closing keynote at NEIT 2008, the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Education and Information Technology conference. It was an “unconference” and used a structure called “Open Space” to plan and manage the meetings. Other than the two keynote “anchors”, there were no planned sessions.

Open Space Technology is “a simple way to run productive meetings, for five to 2000+ people, and a powerful way to lead any kind of organization, in everyday practice and extraordinary change.”

At NAIS 2008, I found it very successful, and at the same time, a powerful metaphor for learning.

At the beginning of the conference, everyone is free to step up and propose any session they want. Not just ones they want to present, but anything they want to know more about. And then as these suggestions begin to fill the slots, more ideas come forward. After a few sessions, you have another meeting and fill more slots, propose more ideas. (More about how this works)

When it started, it seemed like there were way too many open spots and not enough ideas. People worried that voting would help sort out what to do, that their ideas wouldn’t be popular, that they would miss things, or that we would run out of ideas. But as we heard the Open Space Four Principles and One Law it started to make more sense:

Four Principles

  • Whoever comes is the right people
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • When it’s over, it’s over

The one law is The Law of Two Feet, meaning, if you want to be somewhere else, do it – just don’t waste the time.

How it worked
Sure enough, most sessions had enough people. Part of the success was due to the facility having many small rooms, enough to accommodate all the proposed sessions. Some had projectors, some didn’t but it all worked out. When we re-gathered for the next planning sessions, people were energized, more sessions were proposed, people decided to continue or repeat a session, and slowly the open slots were filled

I’ve been to other unconferences, and this one was different. Because there was no voting, there was no competitive element and no hidden message that only the most popular ideas or people are important. While I understand that often the physical space is a limitation, I think there must be ways to acknowledge that everyone can contribute.

As I went to various sessions, people were passionate and focused. It’s the first conference in years where I went to every session and wished there were more. Lots of people said the same thing. You know when you go to a conference and the best part is the conversation in the hall? This was all hall.

The kids in the room are the right kids
But really, isn’t this what we hope for classrooms, especially project-based learning environments? Sometimes it’s hard to explain project-based learning. It’s hard to convince others that it actually works, because it’s hard to “see” the learning when the teaching is not continuous direct instruction. You have to trust the process, design situations that will engage students, and then give students time to become immersed in them. You have to trust the students and allow them to take risks, make mistakes, overcome frustrations and work through momentary distractions. You have to believe that your kids are the right kids, that you are the right teacher, and that when it all works, it will be magic.

I took a risk too, I didn’t prepare my keynote presentation until the night before. I felt I wanted to honor the process and trust that the experience of the conference would provide support for my topic of leadership vision to action, especially student leadership. And it did. I liked what I came up with, and the audience seemed to as well. It was videotaped, but apparently only the audio worked. Oh well!

I knew I wasn’t going THAT far out on a limb; I have enough videos and examples that I can pull together fairly quickly. But the theme of trusting the process and the participants ended up providing the perfect context.

Your kids are the right kids, you are the right teacher, and now is the right time. Trust them, trust yourself, trust the process. Now let’s get busy.