So what is Technology Integration?

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I was asked by a colleague in another school the other day if I could give her a snapshot into what I actually do, and what the role of an ICT Integrator actually looks like (from my perspective anyway). Apparently she wants to talk to her school leaders about having an integrator on their staff and was trying to get an idea of what the role would entail from someone who does it.

Whenever people I meet ask me what I do, they have often never heard the term “ICT Integrator”. It’s another one of those jobs that didn’t exist when most of us were in school. We say all the time that we should be preparing our students for jobs that don’t yet exist, and this role is a good example of that.

I have a couple of  simple “elevator pitch” descriptions that I often use to tell people what my job involves…

  • “I look at the stuff kids are supposed to learn in school and help teachers figure out where technology can help make that learning richer and more meaningful.”
  • ” I look at technology and curriculum and try to mash them together so that learning becomes more relevant and interesting.”
  • “I help combine technology that changes all the time, with schools that don’t.”

Basically, the role of a tech integrator is all about finding ways that technology can assist learning, and helping teachers and students make the most of it. To do that we try to think about things like the SAMR Model, the TPACK Model, Blooms Taxonomy, Multiple Intelligences, Visible Thinking, Dweck’s Mindsets, etc, etc, and figure out how technology can assist to make them work even better. We need to be able to identify opportunities in the curriculum where technology can help make it richer, and I think we also need to be wise enough to recognise when technology is not the right answer too.

To be a tech integrator requires a lot of dealing with people, both big people and little people. We work with kids of all ages and adults who sometimes act like kids of all ages. We have to be able to push people out of their comfort zone enough that they will take risks and try new things, but not so hard that they get their back up and refuse to play. We have to deal with the natural human tendency to resist change, while helping schools redefine themselves as they adapt to new ways of learning and teaching. We have to be teachers, learners, psychologists, trainers, guides. We need to be techie enough to understand how technology works and what we might do with it, but we need to play it down so that we don’t appear to be too geeky and nerdy. (Even if we secretly wear our nerdiness like  badge of honour)

We need to understand that 95% of the teachers we work with will never even think about changing the default settings on their computers, while 95% of the students we work with will refuse to leave the default settings alone.

We need to understand new technologies and be able to see the potential they offer for learning. We need to understand not only what’s new and hot, but also what’s solid and fundamental. We know about iPad and Apps and Chromebooks and Tablets, and we don’t just know what terms like Web 2.0 and the “Internet of Things” mean, we also know about Flipped Learning and the Jigsaw Classroom. We need to be as comfortable with new operating systems as we are with the new curriculum, and we need to know how to deal with both of them.

If you’re only a technician, you probably won’t make a good ICT Integrator. If you love devices and gadgets more than you love kids and learning, this job is not for you.

As an ICT Integrator you create an important interface between the teaching staff and the technical staff in a school. Each of these groups seems to think the others are obstructionists who just don’t understand what truly matters, so you need to be able to straddle both worlds and act as the interface between them. Integrators need to be able to talk tech and mean it. Although the people who speak all the technical mumbo jumbo are critically important in a school,  for god’s sake don’t let them make curriculum decisions! Too often in schools the technology decisions are  based on what’s convenient for the technical team, not what’s best for the learning of the kids. That happens way too often, in too many place, so don’t fall in to that trap. Schools are about learning. Let’s keep it that way.

As an integrator, you need to be flexible, creative and know a little about a lot. Good general knowledge really helps. You need to stay current with technological trends as well as educational shifts. You often work across grades and faculties, so you get to see the big picture across the school. But because you’re so close to the action in the classroom you also see the real picture. Your school might spin good PR, but as an ICT Integrator you get to cut through the crap and see what actually happens in classrooms. Sometimes it’s awe inspiring, and sometimes it ain’t pretty.

You understand that technology changes things in a classroom.  As Seymour Papert observed long ago, something very special happens when you put kids and computers together. It changes student motivation and enhances student engagement. The learning changes. The nature of the teaching changes. Or at least it should. When you put technology in the hands of kids, suddenly having them sit in rows and work at the same rate on the same problems doesn’t seem to make as much sense. Some teachers are not prepared for that shift, and that’s what the integrator is there to help with. To reassure them that learning can come from chaos and that they really don’t all need to be doing the same exercise in the same way at the same time.

It’s a pretty unique role.

Photo by Chris Betcher CC BY-SA

Research Strategies for Senior Students

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Our school has a subscription to a  website called the Study Skills Handbook which offers study tips to senior students. I’m sure it’s a valuable resource; so valuable in fact that it’s behind a $1200/year paywall that requires a login password in order to access it. What a bargain. I’m sure those tips wouldn’t be found anywhere else on  the Internet for free at all.

Anyway, I got an email from someone at school today promoting this resource, and amongst the several study tips it suggested, it listed this one…

3. DISCOVER OTHER RESOURCES:
You could also ask your local librarian for any additional direction on where to look for resource material for your assignment. Librarians are often your best source of information. They know how to help people access relevant and appropriate information, in books, the Internet or computer based references. One of the challenging aspects of Internet based searches for school students is the complexity, language and purpose of websites, not to mention bias and reliability.

It’s true that the Internet can be a wild and woolly place to find information, with the potential for complexity, bias and reliability concerns. However, it is also the environment that most resembles real life, where complexity, bias and reliability concerns are just part of the way the world actually works. While it would be nice to think that the real world could be packaged up into nice neat little packages, decoding the messiness of real life and sorting through all that stuff is one of the real skills our students need.

That said, here are a few suggestions that students can do when they are given a research task on any topic . Of course, the suitability of each of these suggestions will depend on the topic being researched.

1. Start with the Wikipedia article. For whatever potential concerns that people might have about the public edit-ability of Wikipedia, the fact is that for the VAST majority of topics it will be the most current, most accurate and most well researched summary of the topic. Start there.

2. Having read the Wikipedia article on the topic, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and look at the citations list. One of the requirements of Wikipedia articles is that they include a citation for every statement made, and any uncited statements are challenged and eventually removed. So for many topics, looking at the citation list (and links) will provide a treasure trove of further research ideas.

3. Go to Google Scholar at scholar.google.com and search for your topic there. These articles are all reviewed academic papers and usually provide excellent reading on most topics. Not only that, but each article in Scholar shows a link to the downstream papers that cited them, which again provides further reading. If an article has dozens, or hundreds of papers citing it as a source, then you can assume that other researchers have found them valuable. Your students probably will too.

4. Set up a bookmarking system that allows you to keep a collection of relevant links in one place. I HIGHLY recommend Diigo, not just because it is by far the best online bookmarking service around, but it also allows group collaboration on shared bookmarks and online markup of webpages. Using Diigo, a student can make comments and leave sticky notes directly ON a webpage, share those annotations with their partners, keep an organised list of relevant research articles and much more. Diigo is probably the number one tool that students should be using with web research, yet I wonder how many of them actually even know about it?

5: While in Diigo, do a search for the obvious tags related to your topic that are being used by others. This will reveal another rich resource of ideas on a topic by connecting with links and sources that other people have already found useful. It’s often a much better way to narrow in on relevant study resources than a regular Internet search because it has already been through a kind of social approval process. As more people tag a resource it gains social credibility and value, making it more likely to be the kind of resource that others will find valuable.

6. Set up some kind of tool that allows them to curate content. I recommend Flipboard, but there are many others like Zite, ScoopIt or even Pinterest. By curating relevant content into one place it builds a go-to resource for more reading on a topic. Curation like this should be a key digital information strategy.

7. Then there is the use of Internet search in general, such as Google or Bing. But too often students take a very limited approach to search because they simply don’t know any better. As well as using a rich array of search strategies and search operators (there is way more to it than just typing a couple of words into Google!) there is also Book SearchMap searchImage search, etc, each with their own nuances and advantages. While these various search tools and techniques won’t be applicable to every topic and subject, many will. Our students need to be taught about them so they know when is appropriate to use them.

8. Finally, particularly if you;re researching something that is fairly current or topical, go to Google Alerts and set up an alert for anytime that topic is mentioned online. You can be as specific or general as you like in your search terms, but whenever a new result matches that query it can send you an email to let you know about it.

So there are a few ideas for helping your students deal with those “Other Resources” that might be out there on the big scary Internet. There’s a LOT more that could be included in there, but this is a start. Maybe some of these ideas and tools are new to you, so you might like to take a look at them yourself in order to be best able to assist your students navigate this information rich, and often overwhelming, world of information they live in.

And none of that information I just shared was behind a paywall. You’re welcome.

Creative Commons Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nomadic_lass/6820209341/

Launching our BYO iPads

At my school, PLC Sydney, we just launched a BYO iPad program for our Year 5 and 6 students. This followed on from a fairly successful trial of iPads last year and the subsequent decision that we wanted our upper primary kids to have full time access to this technology. We initially looked at the idea of the school providing and managing the iPads, but in talking to the students it turned out that a very large percentage of them already owned iPads, so it didn’t seem to make much sense to spend a whole lot of money providing something that most of them already had. The general feeling from the parents was supportive of the BYO idea and the kids were keen of course.

So this week we officially launched the BYO program. We invited all the parents and students to come to an information night where we explained exactly how we wanted things to work, and far more importantly, why we felt this was the right move to be making. The response from parents was very positive, although a few were concerned that their children would not develop  proper typing skills (which is amusing because it doesn’t seem that long ago when the big parental concern was that their children would not develop proper handwriting skills, so I guess we’re making progress!)

As well as uploading the slide deck to Slideshare, I also recorded the audio from the talk on my Nexus 4 using a Rode SmartLav Mic, then synced it up to the slides  using the Slidecast feature. This lets viewers listen to the accompanying soundtrack while the slides change in sync.

Slidecasting on Slideshare is, or rather, was, a very cool feature that I used quite a bit. Unfortunately they decided to deprecate that feature as of today, and it will stop working altogether by the end of next month, so if you’re seeing this blog post after that time I guess the audio Slidecast won’t be working. Sorry!

Do you know of any other slideware services that allow the syncing of an audio track? It’s a great feature and I’ll miss it if I can’t find a replacement.

The Difficulty Differential

Yesterday, I ran an all day iPad workshop for the teachers at my school. There were two things that were a bit unusual about it. One is that it was an all day event. Usually in a school – or at least in my school – it’s hard finding time for staff professional learning that allows for any real immersion and play. The second unusual thing is that it was held on a Saturday.  (And not just any Saturday, but the Saturday of the first week back after the Summer break!)

No coincidentally, the fact that it was a Saturday was the whole reason we were able to get that extended period of time for learning. When I offered it to our staff (as an entirely optional event for anyone that was interested in coming along) I thought maybe we’d get 3 or 4 teachers show up. Surprisingly, we had 25. Some even brought their children and spouses along. They didn’t get paid for attending, and there was no pressure to be there. But 25 turned up. I was impressed.

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We had a fun day of learning what iPads could do, digging into the nooks and crannies of iOS, learning a bunch of tips and tricks to be more expert users, but then spending most of the day actually making things with the iPads. My goal for the day was to make it learner-centred, fun, hands-on and practical, and I think we achieved all that. I had the teachers looking for information, using maps, browsing the web, creating documents. making videos… all the sorts of things that they might typically ask students to do.

I think it’s really important that teachers attempt to produce the same kind of tasks that they ask their kids to do. Often, we teachers come from a background of using a laptop or desktop computer and although we’ve all mostly used an iPad for our personal use, it’s a very different use-case when you have to actually be productive with an iPad as your only device. Assumptions about the iPad’s ease of use as a device quickly get a reality check when you try to use them yourself for real work. You soon hit the wall with workflow issues, data transfer issues, filesharing issues… none of which are insurmountable but it is amazing how many casual iPad users have never had to deal with some of these problems that become very real when the iPad is your only device. I needed my teachers to see that while the iPad might be “revolutionary and magical”, don’t expect it to be the same as your laptop computer. It isn’t. And you need to take that into account when you ask kids to live with one as their only device.

I gave this group of teachers an hour or so to work on making a video using either iMovie or iMotionHD. I know from experience that many teachers are intimidated by the idea of moviemaking because they think it’s too difficult. And some avoid using it with their students because they feel that they need to be really good at it themselves before they can do it with the kids. The classic case of “needing to know how it all works so I don’t look silly in front of the students” syndrome.

I gave this group a very quick demonstration of the main skills they need to shoot a movie – shooting footage, editing clips, adding transitions, adding sound and narration. That sounds like a lot, but it can be easily explained in less than 10 minutes with a simple demonstration, and everyone seemed pretty comfortable with the ideas even though most of them had ever done any video editing before.  So off they went to work on their movies.

When they came back about an hour later, many were totally engrossed in the editing process. One group shot an amazing stop frame movie and added a soundtrack to it. Others made mini documentaries about the school gardens. We exported the final films, and had a little film festival on the Apple TV so everyone could share what they made.

But here’s what I found interesting.  After they had made their first ever movie, I asked them “On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult is it to make a movie?” This group (who remember had never made videos before) thought about it for a moment and agreed it was only about a 3. In other words, they thought the iMovie software was pretty easy to use and the skills required to make a video were straightforward enough to master.

Of course, just because it’s easy to use,does not mean that they all made amazingly professional looking videos. Most were, shall we say, “a good first attempt”. So then I asked them a second question. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult is it to make a good movie?” This time they agreed that it was more like a 9. Much harder.

The interesting thing about this is that they saw the “difficulty differential” between making just any old movie and making a really good movie is about a 6. In other words, more than half of what’s required to make a good movie is just polishing up the same basic skills that would be required to make a bad movie.

The really encouraging thing is that most the skills required to make a good movie are not technology skills. If you can make a bad movie, you already have the technology skills you need to make a really great movie. What you need to move from ordinary to good (and on to great) are things like a critical eye for lighting and sound, helpful advice on plot and story, and useful feedback on your visuals. None of which are technology skills.

I think this is really encouraging news for teachers, because all of those are things you can give your kids even if you don’t have strong technical skills yourself. You can say to a student “I like your opening scene but I think it’s about 10 seconds too long”. You can tell a student that “the soundtrack music you’ve chosen is not the right fit for the visuals you’re using”. You can let a student know that “your voiceover track is too soft and needs more volume”. You can give a student feedback that a “scene is too dark and needs to be fixed”.

You can give students good advice, wisdom, and adult perspective. You can help them be better by pointing out what can be improved. You can help them make great movies, even though your own technical skills in moviemaking might not be any better than theirs. And that is an incredibly important realisation. It means that we shouldn’t be intimidated about using technology in our classrooms. It means that we can feel ok about the idea that we don’t know all the answers. It means that we don’t need to know more than the students in order to give them opportunities to create.

I would love it if all teachers had my passion for what technology can bring to their classrooms. I love to see teachers pushing themselves forward to learn new technology tools and getting excited about what they might do with them. But I’m realistic enough to know that teachers have so many other demands upon them that technology is not always going to be their number one concern all the time.

I think as teachers we need to commit to at least knowing enough about technology to understand what things might be possible, even if we don’t have the high level skills required to do some of those things ourselves. And if we understand what’s possible with these technology tools, and we can get over being scared that the kids might know more than us, and instead of worrying about what we don’t know about technology and instead we fill the “difficulty differential” with our adult wisdom, advice and feedback, that’s a pretty good recipe for letting the kids unleash the potential of classroom technology for themselves.

We just need to be willing to get out of their way while providing them with some wise guidance.

PS: If you want the notes from the workshop session, you can get them here.

Predicting the Future

Practical Television, Visions of the Future, Televisions DIY Futuristic Magazine, UK, 1950 Art PrintPredicting the future is challenging.

I remember reading Nicholas Negroponte’s book Being Digital many years ago, and it’s been amazing to see so many of his predictions come to pass. In particular, I remember reading about his “trading places” idea, or what become known as the “Negroponte Switch”. It’s basically the idea that we used to have static devices that don’t move, like televisions, getting their signal delivered wirelessly through the air, while other devices that should be mobile, like telephones, required the use of cables in order to connect.

The “Switch”, predicted by Negroponte back in the 1980s, would be that telephones would one day get their signal wirelessly and televisions would get theirs via cables.  It took about 20 years for that to happen, but happen it certainly did.  Looking back now, if you understood the technologies that brought the changes, the signs were probably there and it made sense but it took someone like Negroponte to recognise it.

Thinking about that reminded me of another article I read sometime around the year 2000 where Jeff Hawkins, the founder of Palm Computing, predicted that one day more people would access the Internet using a phone or other handheld device than would access it using a regular personal computer.  In the late 90s, when I read that statement, I must admit I had a hard time imagining how you would get a legitimately decent Internet experience on a tiny underpowered handheld device with a small screen and a ridiculously slow connection. At the time, I owned a Palm III handheld device and even had a modem for it that I could plug-in to “dial in” to the Internet. Even though I felt I was pretty au-fait with technology and I thought I understood the principle of Moore’s Law, based on what I could do at the time it was still a struggle to envision a world where the main way to get access to the Internet was via a handheld device.

Of course, it’s easy to envision that now. Those technologies moved quickly and we had breakthrough devices like the iPhone that helped redefine the entire mobile experience. Depending on what report you read, we are pretty much at that point now where more people in the world are accessing the web on a handheld device of some sort than via a PC.  What once seemed far-fetched now seems obvious.

In this newspaper report from the New York PC Expo in 2000, Jeff Hawkins points out that Palm devices will soon be able to browse the web at speeds  of 8 to 9 kbps. Yes, kbps!  A recent article on mobile broadband speed in Australia says that some Aussie telcos are getting around 34Mbps over 4G wireless networks.  It took 14 years, but that’s nearly 4000 times faster.  And you can bet that speed will just get better and better.

The challenge with predicting the future is that we are generally far too conservative about it. Most of us find it difficult to make wild predictions because we still can’t quite picture how dramatic the changes will actually be. Basically, for most of us, even our wildest dreams are not really all that wild. When we do make bold predictions, most of us still underestimate the impact of those changes over time. And of course it only takes one unanticipated breakthrough technology to come along and change all the rules again.

If you could predict the future, aside from flying cars and robot brides, what does it look like for you? What are the big, huge, fundamental shifts that will shape the way we live in 20 years from now?

Image credit: Practical Television, Visions of the Future, Televisions DIY Futuristic Magazine, UK, 1950 Art Print