Friday, July 7, 2017

Time to Change the Vocabulary of #EdTech Leadership


Often when administrators are asked about the current state of education technology in their school or district, they make declarative statements:

  • We are 1-to-1.
  • We use Google Classroom.
  • We adopted Microsoft 365.
  • We have a makerspace.

I've learned that those are unfinished statements. The sentiment they express is not the vision or leadership that educators and learners need. I'm shifting my perspective. Here's why.

The "roll-out" of new devices or tools is often the first edtech goal an administrator has for her district, but it should not – it cannot – be the last. A roll-out is all about strategy and planning. Once equipment, software, and programs are in place, the work has just begun. How will student learning be affected? The statements above should look more like these:

  • We are working toward...
  • We are excited about...
  • Our plan is to...
  • We have started to...

Each of these 4 statements should be finished with phrases that include the words "student" and "learning" in some way.

Education is a moving target. As soon as a district team writes a goal, that goal is both outdated and worth pursuing. It is outdated because district leadership needs to achieve that goal while planning for what comes next. It is worth pursuing because it is a necessary and big step along the journey of progress toward the best possible student learning.

While it is essential for education leaders to celebrate the good work that is being done, it is just as essential for those leaders to communicate an inspiring vision that includes tangible benchmarks to measure progress, especially when it comes to measuring the value of any type of technology in schools.

To help me think more deeply about what technology in education might look like in 5 or 10 years, I recently read LeiLani Cauthen's The Consumerization of Learning. Cauthen skillfully explains the past, present, and potential future of our learning and growth as educators in a world that blends digital and analog at every turn. Some of her predictions are jarring, but others are inspiring and even comforting. When creating a vision and the benchmarks that will be a part of the journey, school and district leaders should consider the possibilities Cauthen shares in this book. For instance, when it comes to the continuum of education progress, is your school in the:

  • Strategy Years?
  • Tactics Years?
  • Sustainability Years?
  • Analytics Years?
  • Design Age?
  • Age of Experience?

Cauthen's advice for each stage is worth considering. Be aware of where your school is, but remain focused on where it needs to be. Her vision for a more personalized (a.k.a. consumerized) education experience for students and teachers is exciting. Educators may not agree with everything in this book, but it is a very good thing that these ideas are now part of the discourse about how public education needs to change.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

This is Your Brain on Technology #ISTE17 #IGNITE

Access to our screens – and the information and connections those screens make possible – is an essential part of our personal, academic, and professional lives. But the amount of time we spend looking at those screens is having an impact on our brain development. Based on my research into neuroscience and my work every day in schools and classrooms, I put together this Ignite talk (5 minutes total, 20 slides, 15 seconds each) for the 2017 International Society for Technology in Education Conference.



It answers many of the questions we have about how much is too much and which uses of technology are worthwhile.


How are you incorporating screens in healthy ways at home and in your school? How are you working with all stakeholders – students, teachers, parents, administrators – in your community to establish a clear culture of healthy technology use?

The research and testing doesn't stop here. This is just the beginning. I'm looking forward to learning and sharing more in the coming months, and next year at #ISTE18 in Chicago.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Talking to Our Children About the President's Tweets

Click here to listen the the segments.
For adults this fast-paced tech-rich world can be intimidating. And yet, children are the focus of my work. Imagine how overwhelming this world can look to them!

While many dismiss that perspective and argue that they are "digital natives" for whom navigating our tech-rich world is easier, I know first hand that is it not.

Children are the focus of my work in 3 ways:

  • I'm the mother of 2 young girls who are eager to explore the media and opportunities of the online world.
  • My profession is educator and I work with teachers and students in grade 6 through 12 at St. John's Prep. We are focused on how to make the world a better place today and in the future.
  • I have a passion for advocacy of digital citizenship, literacy, and safety through writing, speaking, and organizing with the non-profit ConnectSafely.org.
Often, when certain events occur – like President Trump's tweets yesterday that focused on insults rather than substance – I'm asked how we can realistically insist that children, adolescents, and teens refrain from acting the same way online. 


The truth is that all of us, children and adults alike, are learning how to use the powerful communication tools the online world has to offer. This means that all of us are making mistakes and learning from them. I had the opportunity to talk with CBS News Radio this morning and share my advice for parents and teachers. Click here to listen to the interviews.

For more resources to help in both the classroom and at home, check out ConnectSafely.org's parent and educator guides here.


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Freedom (and Consequences) of Our Students' Digital Speech

In the past two weeks, two big news reports based in my home state of Massachusetts demonstrate how crucial it is to teach our children about the impact even the smallest online communication can have. Despite these stories with no winners, we shouldn't censor our children. We should encourage them to share their highest quality work online, and have ongoing conversations with them about being upstanders when "drama" happens among their peers online. Here are the specifics:



Harvard Withdraws Acceptances

Harvard University revoked the admissions offers of 10 incoming freshman – recently graduated high school seniors – who created their own messaging group. The creation of the group was not the problem. According to the report in the Harvard Crimson, the prospective students "sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children." The story made national news. It wasn't because of a few rescinded acceptances, a common practice for colleges this time of year. It is because of the reason for rescinding was new.

Michelle Carter's Verdict

Today, in a courthouse in Taunton, Massachusetts, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter of Conrad Roy in a bench trial. Once again, it isn't the charge and trial that are shocking. It is the evidence and context for how Carter acted. According to the New York Times, "When he became sick from the fumes and stepped out, prosecutors said, Ms. Carter ordered him by phone [in a text message] to 'get back in.'” Roy was found dead in his car the next day.

In both cases, it was digital messages sent by teens in seemingly private contexts that led to serious public and life-changing consequences. When talking to your teens – whether they are your children or your students – about these two situations, here are some key messages they need to hear:

1. Be the Real You at All Times

Whether words are verbalized face-to-face or typed in a text message, they are representing your thoughts and your personality. What do you want people to think about when they think of your name? Are you someone who adds energy and positivity to a conversation? Are you someone who lifts others up? Are others grateful for the information and messages you share?

2. Take Care of Yourself and the People You Care About

At some point each of us will face a difficult situation due to online communication. Some of us will be a target, some of us will see a friend suffering as a target, and some of us will see a debate raging about an issue that touches close to home. Ask your teens: What will you do? Will you take action that matters without contributing to a toxic online dialogue? Will you stand up for the people who need allies? Will you show calm reasoned strength in the midst of a negative online tornado?

3. Nothing is Private. Harness the Power of Public.

Both of the examples above involve messages and media exchanged between teenagers who believed they had privacy. Whether our shares are in the form of public posts, DMs, or text messages, the Harvard and Carter cases both illustrate the risk we take when tapping Post, Publish, or the share arrow. Rather than taking in this information and feeling handcuffed, our youth should feel empowered to make great change with the tap of a keyboard. If nothing is private, imagine how many people could be reached with innovative ideas, new artwork, and fresh music. Use this power of sharing for good! Avoid getting bogged down in any negativity.

How will we parents and educators frame this new era of online communication – and consequences – for the children and teens we care about? Will we fill our conversations with warnings and negativity? Or will we share these stories so that our children can feel a sense of duty to better represent their generation and build a positive vibe that drowns out the negativity?

Perhaps you think my ideas seem naive. I assert that they are not.

The balance of sharing positivity and protecting against negativity is the key to cracking open the digital world we all want for the future.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's Never Too Early


Our children are eager to try out the devices they see their parents and older siblings using. Adults worry about how much time they are spending with screens.

As an educator, I understand the importance of incorporating technology in learning so that our students are prepared for the future jobs that await them. As a parent, I understand the desire many parents have for their children to explore the natural world and use their hands to create. It is possible to balance these two important goals. Here are a few ideas for parents and teachers of young children. (I've tested them with my own small children!)

Storytelling

The Simple Shift
My 2nd grader accesses Drive
through her school district's portal.
My second grader sees me typing blog posts, watches my fingers move over the keyboard, and asks questions about how I use formatting features like headings and creating and adding images. Of course, now that she can read and write, she wants to record her own stories and ideas. Although she is young, with some help from our local public school district, she is set up with an school Gmail and her very own Google Drive. After watching me organize mine over the years, she thought carefully about what she wanted to name her folders. Then she started writing stories. Her first was about a neighbor with a haunted house who coaxed children with cookies to come in. Once she was done writing it she wanted to share it.

The Big Shift
So, the next step was to teach her how to share her documents. I showed her the  Share  button in Google Docs and taught her about email addresses. The first share was with her first grade teacher, the teacher she had last year. To her delight, two days later she found her teacher left comments on her haunted neighbor story. Now she was motivated to write and share more. As long as we are talking about who she is sharing with and how to properly communicate online, I'm happy to encourage her desires to write and share her ideas.

YouTube and Video Creation

The Simple Shift
Responding to the outcries of parents, Common Sense Media is gathering funding to help them review and rate the most popular YouTube channels that our kids love. Common Sense is using the tagline, "Have you lost your kids to YouTube?" to motivate parents to donate.

Yikes. No one should feel like they have lost their own children.

An approach that has worked well for my family includes early exposure to YouTube with gradual release of control. It isn't foolproof and it isn't a silver bullet, but it forces ongoing conversations about media consumption as a part of our day-to-day lives. I started showing my children short online videos once or twice a day when they were babies – while I prepared a quick lunch, took a coveted private bathroom break, or tended to a sibling's diaper change – so they recognized online media and only saw short clips and content I was comfortable with. Then we'd sing the songs from the videos together. As they've gotten older, we've refurbished old laptops that they can use to explore YouTube, among other things online, as long as we talk about the search terms they are typing and the content they are watching. Their screen time is limited and is mixed with lots of outdoor play, reading, art lessons, and sports. It is all about teaching them how to balance.

The Big Shift
The girls filmed their video after a lot of planning.
After finding a YouTube channel with sisters who challenge each other to fun contests, my two daughters wanted to learn how to make and share their own videos. This ignited a conversation between the 3 of us in which I asked how they wanted to plan the video. We talked about storyboarding, script writing, finding our props, creating a set in our house, and rehearsing. Then we completed all those steps! Once the filming was done, I walked them through the video editing process including adding royalty free music and on-screen titles and graphics. We even created a YouTube channel and uploaded their videos. So far is it private and we've only shared the videos with a few select family members. If and when they are ready to go public, we will decide together after a clear explanation of what "going public" really means in terms of feedback and online interaction with others.

The one theme consistent with all of these approaches to technology with young children is continuous communication with parents and other adults they can trust. Technology should not be used as a "babysitter" or a way to keep children quiet. Rather, it is just another tool children should be taught to use. Like many tools – in the kitchen, in the yard, and in school – it carries some risk. But just as we teach preschoolers to use sharp scissors with our supervision or encourage them to jump in a pool for swimming lessons, we need to teach that same age group how to navigate the vast and amazing online world through our devices. 

There is no guarantee that my young children will not make mistakes with technology as they get older, even with these careful and intentional conversations we are having now. But when they do make mistakes, we can reference these conversations and remind them about our values and priorities. Their digital record will be so overwhelmingly positive and their mistakes will be vastly outnumbered by the goodness they've shared.

What do you do with your youngest children/students to teach them about devices and the internet?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What is the One Thing All Learners Need?

This time I'm going to give away the answer in the first line: Personal Connection

We know that student-teacher relationships are important when it comes to students' academic success. But, how does this apply to professional learning for educators?

Earlier this week I had the privilege of working with the teachers, therapists, and specialists at the Valley Collaborative School. They asked me to share both a high quality curated list of openly licensed digital education resources (OER) and an instructional design method to help their educators customize learning based on both those resources and the varied needs of the children they serve. Based on my experience yesterday, combined with the work I've done with a few other districts, I have developed a theory: When it comes to professional learning, there are 3 levels of participation. Each level serves an important purpose, but if we never dig deep enough to get to Level 3 then the learning needs of participating educators may never truly be met.

Level 1: Keynote to Inspire

Keynote addresses are exciting. The audience buckles in for an experience. They expect to laugh, wonder, hear Tweetable soundbites, perhaps shed a tear, and leave inspired by new ideas. As educators, we sometimes need our souls to be fed by the inspiring big ideas of a keynote speaker. I know I always have room for improvement, but I hope the educators yesterday felt a sense of urgency and energy when the keynote was done. Many times I have left a big conference theater or even the auditorium of my local school and hoped to bring the energy I felt from the keynote to my students.

But, how, exactly? What are the actionable steps we should take?

Level 2: Demo to Experience

Often, when hired by a district or brought on by conference organizers, a keynote speaker will facilitate an interactive follow-up session that demonstrates the theories and practices they highlighted in their address. In my case yesterday, this meant walking educators through the Start With a Question method that incorporated OER, digital formative assessment, and collaboration. The teachers were working together to tinker with online simulations, experiment with video and gaming, and teach one another about the most efficient uses of their devices. I saw them engaged, talking, thinking, and sharing. Educators deserve to experience the joy of learning in this way often.

But, when the demo was over, would this experience and my instructions truly affect their teaching and their students' learning?

Level 3: Personal Engagement to Connect

Although it occurs less often in formal professional development, educators might need to engage one-on-one with the speaker/facilitator. Thankfully, this is exactly what I was able to do during the last of the 3 hours I'd planned with the teachers at the Valley Collaborative School yesterday. As I moved from table to table and sat down with the different small groups of educators, I discovered there were questions and ideas I never would have heard if I hadn't pursued those personal conversations. Much like many of our students, some teachers are unlikely to speak up in a large group and ask questions.

Some educators were already running with the resources and tools I'd demoed for them. They were exploring, designing, and building lessons. When I sat down to talk to them I wanted to encourage them, point out more advanced features they might want to use, and answer their higher level questions about how my approach compared to others they were already familiar with. I loved these interactions!

A few educators were open minded and able to get started, but then got stuck. I could recognize them by their facial expressions of body language and made an effort to get to them as quickly as possible. In most cases, they'd found some great digital resources, starting building a lesson, but weren't sure how this activity would fit into their teaching. We chatted about what their classroom space looked like, their students' personalities and needs, and how they normally start and end a lesson. Then we worked together to brainstorm how the Start With a Question method could improve on both the teaching experience for them and the learning experience for their students. I loved these interactions too!

Finally, there were educators in the room who stalled before they started. Since quite a few of the professionals who work in education are actually specialists, therapists, and clinicians it is important to connect to their unique but vital roles in our schools. During these conversations I asked a lot of questions about their typical day, the children they serve, and the resources and activities they currently depend on. I had much to learn from them. As a result of talking and learning from one another, we were able to develop some new approaches to their work that incorporate digital resources, devices, and new kinds of interaction. I'm grateful for these interactions because I learned the most from them.

These Level 3 interactions helped the professionals make clear connections between what they do each day with children and the method, resources, and tools I was sharing. Without personal conversations, those connections would have either taken longer to form or may have never formed at all. The efficacy of that 3 hour professional development afternoon was enhanced because we took the time to talk to one another face-to-face. When designing professional learning in the future, whether it is in the form of a keynote, an interactive session, or a very small group, I'm going to make a concerted effort to set aside time to have as many of those face-to-face conversations as possible.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Vetting Student Apps Isn't Enough: Data Privacy for Teachers and Parents


If you're still skeptical that student data privacy issues are of the utmost importance in school communities, check out the latest information about the massive data breach from a prominent edtech company. Implementation of a vetting process for new apps or programs in school districts is essential to protect students' personally identifiable information (PII) and aggregated data. (If you're looking for information on setting up your own vetting policy, download this toolkit from CoSN and check out some resources from Cambridge Public Schools.) The alphabet soup of regulations – like FERPA and COPPA – can be dizzying, but they need attention. But once your vetting process is in place, it isn't time to relax just yet. Rather, schools and districts should push themselves even further.

As a teacher, I sometimes found it frustrating when I had to wait to get access to the digital tools I wanted my students to be able to use. (If I had decided that a video creation tool was great, I wanted my students to be able to try it out right away!) Now, as a digital learning specialist, I want to make sure the teachers I work with feel as little frustration as possible and develop an understanding of why short delays are sometimes inevitable. Based on my experiences as a classroom teacher and a digital instructional coach, I have some recommendations for the steps schools should take.

Above all, make sure your vetting and deployment process is thorough, but also quick and clear. Ideally, teachers should not have to wait more than a couple of days to find out whether a tool they have requested will be permitted in their classrooms. Even the best-laid lesson plans are constantly shifting. Teachers need their administrators and technology experts to remain cognizant of that reality. After developing your expedient vetting policy and process, here are the steps I recommend so that the entire school community is informed and on board:

Step 1: Informal Teacher Professional Learning

Start by informing classroom teachers about the vetting process within normal conversations in regular team or department meetings. Make sure it is clear that teachers are not responsible for vetting on their own, but that the information is being shared with them so they can be more informed educators and users of digital tools. To help calm any anxieties, emphasize that the research, investigation, and communication with companies will be handled by district technology and administrative professionals.

At this stage, I have found it is also helpful to highlight a few examples of what the vetting team will look for when they read privacy policies and terms of use for any new apps or programs.  (At my school this short list included ad tracking, SSOs with social media, and age restrictions among others.) At the end of these discussions, it might be helpful to send teachers off with a little more information to read and digest on their own. I recommend the Educator's Guide to Data Privacy from ConnectSafely and the Future of Privacy Forum.

Step 2: Formal Teacher Professional Learning

After allowing a few months – either a summer break or a quarter grading period – for the new policy to settle in and become part of the routine, it is time to share more sophisticated information about data privacy and digital citizenship with teachers. Here's why: It is no longer uncommon practice for educators to share information about their profession, school, or even students online. It may be shared in a professional blog post, as part of an education-focused Twitter chat, or just as a funny anecdote on their personal social media account. Teachers need to understand that their personal and professional online identities are not separate because of the way their data trail connects everything they do.

No teacher should be told not to use digital tools or social media. Their positive modeling for the students and parents in your community is invaluable. In addition to the Educator's Guide to Student Data Privacy mentioned above, resources like the Educator's Guide to Social Media, a free guide from Larry Magid and I, and BrandED, a new book from Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin, are excellent resources to help you plan those formal professional learning sessions with your teachers. This video or this video from Common Sense Education might be a great way to kick off your session.

Step 3: Curriculum Integration for Students

Now that your teachers understand privacy implications (based on the vetting process for student apps shared in Step 1 and the implications for their personal and professional lives in Step 2) they are better prepared to inform their students. Here are my top privacy integration tips:

  1. Planned integration of data privacy concepts in regular lessons. For example, when introducing a new vetted tool for which students have to sign in, the teacher could take a few moments to skim through the Terms of Use with students so they know the highlights to look for before they check the box during the account creation process. 
  2. In the moment discussion. Teachers like to call these "teachable moments." For instance, if your school has a one-to-one program and fully manages student devices, students might question why they are not permitted to download certain games or apps. Teachers can seize on this question to invite discussion about whether students think about what developers do with the information we share when we download and start using new un-vetted programs. (Hint: Unless the privacy policy says they do not share or sell that information with advertisers and companies looking to target new customers, it is likely that they do.)

Of course, this should be part of a thorough digital citizenship school-wide program. Data privacy is an essential part of helping our learners understand how their behavior online can have an impact on their in-person lives.

Step 4: Informal and Formal Parent Education

As part of that digital citizenship school-wide program, parent programming should be prioritized. At my school we provide webinars that are both live and recorded, parent council presentations, and interactive experiences specifically for grandparents, incoming parents, and more. While some offerings are compulsory and others are optional, there is no way to offer too much parent education around digital health and safety in schools and at home. In my experience, parents are hungry for help when it comes to managing their children's screen time, online interactions, and developing a healthy balance of technology use. In fact, we are constantly looking for new ways to reach more parents and are hoping to offer even more programming next year.

Some of my favorite resources for parents include ConnectSafely's library of Parent Guides and Janell Burley Hoffman's iRules.

Now, in you district, the order of these steps might be different based on the interests and involvement of your stakeholders. This post is not meant to be a decisive solution. It presents options and ideas to provide guidance for schools that are in the midst of the process.