Educators of the Future

Isaac Asimov stated in the early 1930’s……….

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

Undoubtedly, our world is changing drastically and rapidly.  These changes make us question the foundations of our systems of education and schooling.  It is becoming increasingly essential that educators continue to stay current and familiar with emerging technologies and that they are comfortable integrating a variety of technologies into their educational practices.  Technological literacy has emerged as an essential literacy of equal importance to reading, writing, mathematics, scientific inquiry, and critical and creative thought.  However, it is also important to remember that technology is often the medium, and should not be confused with the message.  Educators of the future face the challenge of implementing technology in order to aid in reaching the larger goals of education; in order to create motivated life-long learners who have the skills, abilities and the willingness to educate themselves.  As the Internet and the ‘world of Education’ continue to shift progressively toward a notion of open thinking, sharing, and collaboration, the role of the teacher must also shift from sole provider of knowledge to a facilitator of learning.  As our planet and the human race face a convergence of simultaneous crisis, the implementation of web technologies will not be education’s greatest challenge.  Teachers will increasingly be faced with the challenge to create projects and learning environments that aim towards solving real world problems and sustainability.

Digital Storytelling

In Dean Shareski’s latest post on his blog ‘Ideas and Thoughts”, he passes on the idea [with credit to Doug Peterson, ZeFrank, Stephen Downs among others] that Google Streetview and its ever growing database is an exceptional tool for storytelling.  Dean created and shared a video about his small hometown of Morden in Manitoba, which emphasizes the point about Google’s growing database – even relatively small towns have now been ‘Streetviewed’.

Dean also shares a link to a video by Jim Groom, saying that, “Watching Jim Groom’s video, was like literally like going for a walk with him.”  It was Jim’s video that really hit me with the power of Google Streetview.  Jim tells his story about growing up in a tight-knit community in Long Island.  This is a part of the world that I know almost nothing about, and yet after watching his video,  I feel that I would ‘know my way around’ if I was to go for a walk in his neighbourhood.  I feel that I’ve learned something about the culture that is associated with the place.  Now Jim’s story is not particularly exciting or interesting, although I do feel that I have learned about that part of New York.  It is the power of this technology that I have found exciting and interesting.  If this technology was used by someone who did have an interesting story to tell, it could be quite powerful.  Google Streetview allows anyone with the right technology, and a bit of time, to create engaging videos to support a story of a place.

So I got to thinking about place, and stories of place.  What place would I love to tell a story about, and share with my students?  I first Googled my house, and switched to Street View.  I thought that it was pretty cool that my property was on Street View, although not interesting enough to share with anyone.  Then I thought about one of my favourite places on this planet… the artists’ market square in Montmartre, Paris, France.  I Googled Montmartre, and sure enough Street View was available.  I had to call upon my memory from walking the streets of Montmartre several years ago, and eventually found my way to the artists’ square.  If done right, some very interesting stories could be told with the Street View images of this heavily trafficked place.

The man in the green shirt in the center of the image below is a painter by the name of Cawian Mahmud.   When I visited this square about six years ago with my wife, we bought four paintings from Cawian to decorate our newly purchased house.  It was quite interesting to me to ‘find’ him in street view, as I have often wondered if he still worked and painted in Paris.  Cawian’s story is just one of the details that could be interwoven into a Google Street View walk through Montmartre.

I doubt that my small attempt is a great example (especially since I haven’t yet made a video of the ‘streetview walk’), never-the-less, I think the power of Street View is evident.  Whether used by teachers, or by students, Street View can be used to create interesting stories about the culture of a place.

On-line PD – I’ll Get to the Point

In order for true quality professional development to take place, I think that we need to address some of the ways around which we think about professional development as educational systems.  Yes, it is certainly true that there are hundreds of on-line tools and resources available to enhance PD, but I don’t think that it would matter if we had hundreds of thousands of excellent tools to choose from.   These tools are simply the medium through which to facilitate PD.  If there is no unified direction of message, does it really matter what tools or media are used?

Herein lies the point.  There seems to be a lack of direction as to where we need to head in education.  There seems to be a lack of direction in aiming towards best practices in education, and there is certainly a lack of direction in how we should best utilize professional learning time.  Essentially, I believe this to be an issue of control, and I think it is time to let go.  Traditionally, educational systems and their leaders have prided themselves in their abilities to create quality professional development sessions that have been intended for the masses; a great majority of teachers.  I don’t think this works anymore.  We simply have too much choice, and that is a good thing.  Let’s embrace our power of choice.

It is time for educational systems and their leaders to understand that TEACHERS ARE LIFE-LONG LEARNERS. It is time to give up the control over how PD time is to be spent.  We need to pass this control over to the individual teachers who, as dedicated life-long learners, will ultimately decide what their best possible learning path is, and how they should best go about it.  This is how true PD will take place.  Teachers must be invested in their learning in order for it to take place. A growing number of teachers are finding many current PD opportunities are simply not engaging.

Scenario A.  A PD session is implemented with mandatory attendance from all staff members.  The PD session is designed in a sort of ‘top down’ approach in which the direction was decided upon by an educational leader.  The topic is yet another of several ‘new initiatives’.  The session is well attended, and many staff members contribute to the discussion, however others are not engaged, even sowing buttons on shirts in the back of the room.

Scenario B.  A block of time is set aside for PD opportunities to take place.  Staff members were given advance notice and ample time to ‘choose their own adventure’.  Some staff members have decided to drive to other schools in the system to meet with teachers with a similar focus.  One group in particular meets to learn photography techniques from a teacher who has already set up a successful photography program.  Other teachers decide to head to their classrooms.  One teacher uses his lap-top to watch a lecture from professor Michael Wesch via Ustream.  Another spends time watching a few TED Talks videos about creativity [like Ken Robinson’s, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s].  A small group of teachers meet to discuss potential recycling and composting projects to be implemented in the school.  One of the teachers in this group logs in to Tapped In, and they meet up with a couple of other teachers in another city who have already begun similar projects.  Another teacher browses through a list of new Web 2.0 tools and begins to play with software she was not familiar with.  Several others meet in the library for a more traditional and guided PD session and discussion about literacy.

From these example scenarios, it is my opinion that the second involves a higher level of professional development.  More teachers are engaged in their learning, as they’ve had control over the design of their learning path.  In order for this to happen, we need to change our outlook about PD.  We need to understand that professional learning can take place on-line.  We need to understand that PD can be solitary, and that professional learning can take place by watching quality lectures or YouTube and TedTalk videos.  It’s time to give the control of professional learning over to the professional who is to be learning.

On-line PD – TEDx Indie

There are an ever-growing variety of Internet tools, programs, and technologies that pose great potential for professional development opportunities to take place either on a local or global scale.  Over the last week or so, I have taken a look at the following:

In my last post I talked about about the VWBPE Conference in Second Life and how that led me to some professional learning about augmented reality.  I began to contemplate and consider how augmented reality is already becoming a prominent part of our digital world, especially with GPS tools, smart phones, and iTools like iPads, iPhones, and iTouches.  This led me to some reflection about augmented reality in the classrooms and some thoughts about the iSchool initiative.

The next on-line PD resource that got my brainwave moving was TEDxTalks.  As most tech savy educators, I’ve been a fan of TED talks for a while.  Many of these lectures are quite exceptional, and I’ve often played TED talk videos in my classroom.  My favourite TED talks are lectures by visual artist and activist Chris Jordan, Al Gore,  and by Sir Ken RobinsonWill Richardson posted an early morning ‘brain dump’ after a mind jolting experience at TEDxNYED in New York.  As a fan of TED, I was already interested, and then Will’s list of speakers really had me intrigued: Michael Wesch, Lawrence Lessig, George Siemens, Chris Lehman, and many, many others.  What is this TEDxNYED?  I followed his link, and then another, and another, and I ended up on YouTube’s TEDx channel.  I was blown away by the number of very high quality lectures, and really just the very concept of TEDx.

TED has always been an excellent resource for professional development.  There are just so many great lectures on TED, and TEDx is a very welcome addition.  I browsed through, and quickly found a series of TED lectures from NASA.  After a few short lectures, I am now much more knowledgeable about the happenings on Mars, and about our advancement in the engineering science of robotics.  I haven’t managed to find any of the New York ED video here yet.  If you know where I can view them, let me know.  I’d like to see another lecture from Michael Wesch.

Want to know more about robots in 2010?

Playing with Prezi

The latest tool that I have discovered and added to my virtual portfolio [along with Wordle, Animoto, Visions, 23, and Voicethread] is the newly developed presentation software known as Prezi.  Prezi is a new web tool with great potential, and has been discussed by many of the great bloggers in the community of Ed. Tech experts [‘edubloggosphere’? ‘edtechosphere’?].  I believe I first read about it on David Warlick’s blog, 2 Cents Worth.

Take a look at the short intro video by clicking the image above.  I love the idea and potential of Prezi, however, I haven’t decided whether or not I actually love the app itself yet.   Prezi promises to replace Powerpoint as a standard for presentations.  Instead of creating slideshows that flip from one slide to the next, Prezi allows you to create a very large ‘canvas’ and move around the canvas to present information.  It’s flashy, it’s interesting, and more captivating than a traditional presentation.  However, I’ve had some trouble, and the application seems to still have some ‘bugs’.  I’m sure it works just fine for straight text presentations, but I’ve had some trouble when inserting images.  Although Prezi promises that the program is easy to learn [in ten minutes], I’ve spent hours trying to get things just right.  In the end, I’ve got a presentation that runs great from my hard-drive, but when streamed on-line, it is quite choppy.  See below for the example I’ve created.

There are a few things that I really like about Prezi.  I love how the information is presented in a linear format as an interactive Flash video.  All of the presentation editing can be done on-line, right at Prezi.com, or you can download an off-line editor to work on your own computer.  If I manage to figure my way around some of the choppyness of the final video [perhaps my images are too large], I will likely use Prezi for all of my future presentations.  I’m currently working on a presentation for my EC&I 874 project, and I think Prezi will work great if it can handle the large images.

In this video, educator Ryan McCAllum, shows the true potential of Prezi with his interactive video explanation of Web 2.o in the classroom.

The (Digital) Writing on the Walls… Dr. Michael Wesch

If you haven’t yet found the time to watch Dr. Michael Wesch’s lecture at the University of Regina this January, I would highly recommend that you do.  Wesch’s lecture entitled The (Digital) Writing on the Walls (and why the walls don’t matter anymore) was recorded live and is available here.  This is a fantastic lecture, one which I wish I could have attended, but I am certainly glad to have experienced it via the technology of Ustream [and from the comfort of my couch as well].

Michael Wesch is clearly at the center of exploring the changing landscapes  of technology and education.  Dr. Wesch is professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, where he studies the effect of new media on human interaction.  Wesch’s greatest claim to fame has been the creation of YouTube videos explaining the state of world of Web 2.0 technologies.  His videos on culture, technology, education, and information have been viewed by tens of millions, and have earned him the nickname “the explainer” by Wired magazine.  I have viewed his videos with students in a variety of situations.  They are excellent windows into the world of the second generation web, and are available here.

Michael Wesch portrays a very clear picture of today’s landscape of learning environments, and the attitudes of students.  In this video lecture, Wesch outlines a model of learning theories titled Transformations in Learning (to which he credits Balinki and Klinchi,2005).

This model has 4 major levels:

  1. Receptive (acquiring knowledge)
  2. Subjective (analyze and critique)
  3. Procedural (separate & connectivist)
  4. Constructive (constructing new information and knowledge)

He explains that many learners in today’s learning environments get hung up as Subjective knowers, and he explains the hazards of this. Many students believe that everything is subjective, everything is just opinion.  “This is a dangerous position.  These students are almost adverse to learning.  ‘Ah, What do you know?;  Nobody knows anything.  Everything is just opinion.’”  Students do not respect elders or teachers as worthy sources of knowledge or wisdom.

This hits home for me.  This describes very well many of the learners that I encounter every day.   In an age of interactive Web 2.0 technologies, students seem to think that all knowledge is available on-line, and that there is perhaps little value in many school activities.  ‘Why learn information if you can just Google it, right?’

Dr. Wesch identifies that many educators aim to move students beyond the levels of receptive and subjective knowers, but that many get caught setting the bar too low.  This creates a move to procedural and subjective knowers [critical thinkers], and he states that “I don’t think critical thinking is enough.”

He discusses possible solutions to this chaotic learning environment.    He talks about constructivist and and essentially connectivist theory as solutions to these modern learning obstacles.  He recommends that we need to go beyond enabling critical thinking in order to create learners who can be critical about and analyze information, but also who can create new knowledge and have the ability to share knowledge, by creating meaningful connections.  I suggest that this is interdisciplinarity, and this comes through the application of all learning modes, including the higher levels of constructivist, contructionist, and connectivist.

Overall, the aim is to move students from knowledgeable (receptive learners) to knowledge-able (constructive, connective, interdisciplinary) students who are able to create their own knowledge and find ways to connect and share their understanding.   This begs the question:  “Which tests are we preparing students for – the standard tests, or the test of the real world – to deal with real world events and help to create change in positive directions?”