Sunday, July 29, 2012

Talking About His (My) Generation

My oldest Erez is now 18, for a few years now he has been drawing on the generational divide between us as he makes his point about pop culture discussions. While I have a very different way of looking at the world I truly appreciate his point of view. It matters because this is how our students learn and if we do not adapt we will stop being relevant.

More than anything else I learned from Erez how to flow with change. He is an early adopter of new ways of doing and social media. At the same time he is an early deserter of new technologies as they wear thin.
This is how I observe the cycle. First he finds a new technology, a few years back it was StumbleUpon. For a few months Erez was on StumbleUpon everyday for a few others. In fact he stumbled so much that the service told him they were out of new webpages to share with him. For a while he continued visiting occasionally but now he rarely uses it anymore if at all.

So, contrary to commonly held beliefs, his generation does problems with attention. Instead they just use attention differently. It seems that he has learned to concentrate on one problem very intensely for short period of time and develop expertise that is very local. Once, however, that the technology has been mastered and maximized attention shifts quickly to something else. Considering the current and projected rates of change in technology it seems to be a very effective strategy- that holds no emotional or cognitive ties to a specific technology. Instead concentrates on maximizing short term benefits (even if they are social) and then moving to the next technology.

Erez adds:
I find it exciting to discover new ways to manipulate technologies that I am given. As before mentioned I master different technologies and move on. Though sometimes rather than move to a different technology I just modify the one I am given. For example after playing Fallout New Vegas non-stop until I finished, rather than immediately move on I stayed with FNV and installed mods which modify the game whether it be graphics or actual gameplay. This allowed me to be comfortable in the fact that I had basic knowledge of the technology, but now I have a new technology to master.

Frankly I am reminded of a book from a time when I still read books, I Robot by Isaac Asimov. In this book robots are powered by a brain that has become so complex that all the scientists are unsure of how its basics work, rather they just add on to it. I believe this is where my future is headed, the mods I have on FNV will have mods, and those mods will have more mods and so on and so forth until the original game no longer resembles what I play now. However, no one will complain because no one remembers the original, not because it's taken a long time, but rather because no one was attached to it like my father says above, "no emotion or cognitive ties to a specific technology." In truth I am unsure if this is a good thing that will continue until we have super robots, or a bad thing that will see us hit a capacity of understanding and watch the latest generation struggle to stay focused on one technology for a long time. Anyways, all we can do is wait and see.

Last word from Guy:
I find it interesting that Erez's goto metaphor is from gaming. I was thinking about it as I wrote my piece but was wondering if I was stretching the concept too far. Apparently it was not far enough.

Thank you to Erez for being a co-Blogger

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What Tech Startups can Teach Educational Reform

Photo from:
Let me start by saying that I have never been part of a tech startup so my view may very well be skewed. I recently read that many venture capitalists prefer investing in entrepreneurs that have already failed once. Actually in a phone conversation with my father he quoted the late Uri Menashe who told him once that he likes hiring retired IDF officers after they had failed their first civilian position. The main lesson for me is that to be successful you need to fail a few times, sometimes many times.

The problem is as Sir Ken Robinson likes to point out repeatedly is that we are building educational systems that seem to converge on the exact opposite direction. High stakes tests that constantly push one answer and the notion that failure is not an option.

So what are the lessons of startups?

1. Collaboration: most if not all startups are based on a group of individuals with different capacities and skills working together to accomplish something that hasn't been done yet. Relationships and the ability to work with others are crucial.
2. Failure must be an option: while the long term must be successful the road to success must include many short term failures.
3. High expectations: startups are successful only if they do something new, or something old considerably more efficiently that it essentially becomes something new.
4. Continued innovation: Once you do succeed you must work to improve and work on the next problem.

There might more and different ones for those who are inside startups but these are my takeaways. What does that mean in education? I believe that points to a very different system than the one we have now. Instead of a high stakes low expectation system I advocate a low-stakes high-expectation system. That is true in the classroom and in the school, for students, teachers, and administrators.

The fear of high-stakes is driving administrators, teachers and students to focus on the most direct route to a known answer- the exact opposite of a startup. Low stakes allow honest discussion and the option to fail occasionally so you can succeed in the long run. If every failure has high stakes we who are a risk averse species (see Arieli) shy away and stop innovating and taking risks. For education to match the needs and fast paced changes in modern society we must make room for low stakes so educators can experiment and provide room for short term failures leading to subsequent spectacular successes. We do not need to give up on high expectations instead we need to be patient for long term gains while short term fluctuations occur. In essence its what your investment advisor told you- don't pay attention to short term. In essence it makes all the leaders managing our educational systems akin to day traders instead of high-tech entrepreneurs.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Making Connections through Art

A few days back I was invited to the Kamishibai presentations in the Arts and Literacy workshop class. Monique and Nancy led the class which ran for the fourth time in five years. The presentations were on the last day of the workshop and were as always fun, creative, and thoughtful. One of the groups presented a fractured Goldilocks allegory to their preservice program.
While it was funny and creative what struck most of all was their conclusion. They explained that the arts integration workshop helped them put all the rest of the information together. In that way art didn't just integrate different subject matter but instead it helped them connect theory and practice in a way that didn't just replicate what there was. It allowed them to imagine what might be possible if you imagine.

Monique then introduced me and asked me to say a few words. I naturally wanted to extend their thinking to the ways technology fits in all of this. The point I tried to focus on (on the fly) is that technology has changed the arts equation once again. Once technology gave access to art to all through reproduction, book, and poster making art possible in all homes, consuming art stopped being just for the rich. Now technology has enabled all of us to produce art for an audience.

Music, movies, poetry, and visual art can be created and shared through digital means. It is a revolution in creativity, in art and in consumption.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Future of Teacher Education

In the last few weeks the videos describing the demise of higher education institutions has been making the rounds on my discussion boards. If you haven't seen it take a peek at EPIC 2020. Obviously I do not take this projection literally. It is one of many possible turns we can take. It does point to a problem that has been well identified. It seems that many perhaps most of the colleges and universities have adopted a wait and see attitude. Let's see how it turns out attitude that watches the few pioneers or the leading institutions and then turns to act.

This attitude served institutions well over the last 100+ years. Higher education seems to be averse to risk and very slow to react and move in new directions. The question that EPIC 2020 asks is relevant though. It is relevant because the pace of change has accelerated so much that the wait and see attitude may very well have some devastating outcomes.

If you have read my blog in the past you probably know that I believe that in teacher education we must move to mobile, social, and flipped learning. I have yet to have serious institutional backing. I would argue that universities should use multiple pilot projects to find out what works and constantly explore the boundaries of what's possible.

When I think of teacher education I am referring to both pre-service and in-service. I believe that we can create large scale classes that can serve many practicing teachers in schools around the country (the world?). Thinking about this brought me back to the work the exceptional Dave Brooks have been doing at UNL more than a decade ago. In many ways the learning paths in massive courses have been outlined in the work he did then and is still doing.

This topic with some ideas about mobile learning may very well be the topics that guide my work this fall. Welcoming thoughts and partnerships. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Technology, Art, and Social Justice- The Face of Integration

Photo from Akhila's Blog
I usually focus of the problems of integration teacher quality etc. But at the heart of what we do as educators we should always ask ourselves- who are we leaving behind? This is especially important in the digital age. Our ability to focus on channels, devices, and technologies can obscure the fact that not everyone has critical access to technology, media, and the arts. Not seeing our audience obscures the fact that it is too often just like us!

I am using the term critical access in the same way the Bob Calfee used critical literacy two decades ago. The idea is that physical access to devices and networks is not enough. Instead we have to think about ways to encourage the development of media skills and the participation that comes with them.
The ever present focus on "basic skills" for all students (see world literacy summit video) practically guarantee that both nationally and internationally students who are behind will find themselves progressively lagging. What are we doing to make sure that all students are getting critical access to technology? That they have the skills to engage with media? I believe that the solution is making sure that all schools provide critical access and that we do not assume that students, just because they were born in what we think of as the digital age, posses critical access to technology, media, and the arts. 

My cousin Amit Trainin is an illustrator, graphic designer and currently the head of the visual Arts Dept. at Minshar Art School. Seeing the recent graduate exhibition strengthened in me the notion that arts, media and technology are intertwined and are at the very core of our everyday life. People can choose to live outside the digital, artistic world but they can do so only if they first have critical access that allows them to make such a choice.

So when I focus on technology and the arts I put an emphasis on access, not just to the physical (though it is necessary) but also the skills that lead to Critical Access. As teachers it is what we all must do!