Monday, July 22, 2013

More Than A Platform

If you haven't known me for an extended period of time and haven't read my blog post "A Cold Day In.... Boise," you would't know how narrow minded and stubborn I was when it came to operating systems and technology options. (sports teams too) I was not a Windows "fanboy," by any means but I refused to use or even acknowledge Apple products. It is true. I was an Android enthusiast (still am) and was determined to use my Android based tablets no matter how far they fell short in the area of apps and functionality in K12, and home too. My windows laptops and desktops didn't wow me, but they worked just fine for what I needed them to do.

OK, so I've come clean and admitted my stubborn biases, but please let me explain. As a Windows user, I never really doubted that Apple products like Macbooks or iPads were powerful pieces of technology, but the attitudes of a lot of Apple users really turned me off to all things Apple. Seriously, the words "It just works," or "Macs don't get viruses," were like nails on chalkboard while chewing on tin foil to me. Both online and in person some of the people I knew were so pompous when it came to talking about their precious Macs and iPhones that I would rather learn Linux or rock Windows Vista rather than succumb to caving to such haughtiness. Not only was I obstinate about not using anything Apple, but I  adamantly found ways to perform tasks both personally and in the educational environment even if it took hours of pain and anguish. I was pretty hardcore.

As I blogged previously here I've been learning extensively about all the fantastic educational technologies that are available for students and teachers. Additionally I've been reminded that it is not the device or technology that should be the primary focus but the learning process and desired outcomes we want as educators that is of utmost importance. I've also done pervasive reflecting and self evaluating in all that I believe and do in my career as a teacher-turned-technology-coordinator. It really was on that "Cold Day In.... Boise" that many things began to manifest and evolve for me both personally and professionally. Thanks to attending a great conference, and meeting a dear and long lost friend, my heart and mind were changed in many ways.

Some of my friends and family members will be shocked by what I'm about to write next. I'd say it started when traveling to China 2 years ago, to meet our 2nd daughter, Gemma, we bought an iPad2. Honestly, I loved it. It was thin, light, fast, and extremely easy to use. I still refused to let myself believe I could actually embrace it, however. But it only took a few months to see how value of a tool it was for not only our ELL daughter, but our 7 year old as well. I begun to see the thousands of ways this device could be used in a classroom by both students and teachers. OK, nothing Earth shattering so far right?

After buying our family the iPad2 and then returning from China, I had to experiment and learn more about this device and platform. I got an iPad at work. Slowly the demand and popularity for iPads grew in our district and this year after a few trips to conferences and connecting with many fantastic educators and administrators both in person and online, I was convinced we needed to deploy these in areas where they would transform teaching and learning. We purchased a few iPads here and there and then it happened. We took a leap of faith and purchased 3 classroom sets of iPads instead of textbooks in our high school. This required a more intensive model of deployment that was most efficient when using Apple's configurator (along with an MDM we would evaluate and learn later) which was easiest to run from a Mac. Yes, a Mac! What was happening to me?!

As part of the learning curve we purchased some Macbook Air laptops to help manage the growing population of iPads as well as to learn more about all things Mac. I took ownership of one of the Macbooks and I have to say I liked it much more than I wanted to. It was simple, easy to use, and very fast. Additionally, battery life was fantastic and this thing went into sleep mode and woke up like nothing I had ever used. It. Just. Worked. Ahhhh. I didn't say it but I thought it, which is just as bad! I found so many tasks that were agonizing on a PC were smooth as butter on the Mac. I made a birthday greeting video compilation by using my iPad and the webcam on the Macbook Air and had them combined and rendered in under an hour. I later made a slide show for my golf team and it was exponentially more pleasant and easy than the previous 10+ slideshows I had made on a PC.

So, enough tech mumbo jumbo. What is the point of this blog post? Well, I guess primarily (see I still can't believe it) my point is that I really like my Mac. In fact, when my laptop refresh is up, I will strongly consider a Macbook Air or Pro for my portable device. I also really like iPads. I love Google Chromebooks too! But it's more important than that. I'm not anti-Windows or anything like that. But I'm realizing that it is important to identify what outcomes we want as well as what we want to do with a particular device or devices, when we consider what we will use. Some environments, like Education have unique needs that can be met more effectively by one platform or another. Further, as technology continues to evolve the OS platform becomes less and less important.

So I have a Windows 7 desktop (don't care for Win8 at the moment), a Macbook Air laptop, iPad, Chromebook, and an Android Phone (Samsung Galaxy Note II). I am a technology enthusiast and I am proud of it! I'm excited to learn about more ways different platforms and devices can impact how we teach and how students and teachers learn together. It's an exciting time!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What just happened?!

Something indescribably edu-amazing happened today, and I almost missed it. I've blogged previously about actually using Twitter for something other than pure entertainment and growing a PLN without even realizing it was happening. I also blogged about how this flood of professional educational collaborative awesomeness was a bit overwhelming and how I  was now unable to turn off the avalanche of ideas and concepts that were overloading my brain. As I've previously stated, my Twitter timeline is not a firehose anymore, it's a river. I still treat it like a Facebook timeline, or a DVR however and think I am going to miss something if I don't read every single tweet! (more on that later)

So "why the rehash?" you ask. Well, with several non-work, non-computer projects that I had to do, coupled with a family and other duties, my ability to keep up with my Twitter timeline of spectacular educators was lagging at best. I had seen some references and hashtags to this #edcamphome concept but honestly, I thought it was a sarcastic way of saying that people would be at home and not at a conference. I passed it off as some "inside" joke that I wasn't privy to since I hadn't been attending ISTE or ADE13 or GAFESUMMIT. So I really never looked it up or did any research, not that I would have had time to do so anyway.

Fast forward to this Saturday morning. After sleeping in, or at least sleeping in as long as a parent of 6 and 9 year olds are afforded, I went for my Saturday run. Upon returning, I poured a cup of coffee and planned to watch some of the Open Championship on ESPN. I check my Twitter timeline and see this #edcamphome hashtag going crazy. I follow a few links and lo and behold Edcamp Home was not only a real event but it was going on! I tweeted  Karl Lindgren-Streicher to inquire, and he tweeted back immediately, which I would learn later was even more impressive because of all the awesomeness he was facilitating simultaneously!

Two hours later, my mind was not only blown, but I was so fired up that I couldn't contain my excitement. How did I almost miss this?! Thankfully for me, I'm an uber-dedicated (some say obsessive, but who's counting?) tech nerd, so that learning curve didn't phase me. I was able to use my GAFE/GHO experience to get up to speed immediately. I navigated through Google+, Twitter, Google Docs, and Youtube and instantly joined the event. OK, I probably didn't register correctly and I also didn't shorten my Google+ Profile URL, but this community of unbelievably amazing educators welcomed me with open arms hangouts. I first watched what I called "Command Central," as  David Theriault, Karl Lindgren-Streicher, Kelly Kermode, and Shawn White facilitated the whole thing. Curt Rees tweeted something to the effect that it looked like NASA or mission control. It was a perfect description. These 4 individuals tied this all together with inspirational improvisation and persistence. Additionally, in the Minecraft session, Jo-Ann Fox and a bunch of us were wowed by Jo-Ann's daughter's fearless sharing with us, while unknowingly epitomizing what learning/teaching should look like. It was this amazing (I'm overusing that word I know!) experience that I am not ashamed to admit was life changing.

The slam session at the closing was equally as mind-blowing-ly awesome as people shared and highlighted things they were using or learning about. It was all I could do to contain my excitement and energy and manage to get a coherent stream of consciousness across the hangout for my portion. I could go on and on about how inspirational this experience was for me. Getting to hangout (pun intended) with such amazing, caring, passionate, knowledgable people was career impacting edu-domination! Where there glitches? Yes, but it is not whether or not there were glitches/challenges but how we responded to them. Thanks to the fearless and courageous leaders the glitches were turned into learning opportunities and when everyone showed patience and grace, it was even more powerful. Learning at its purest form. Again... amazing.

I apologize if this blog is more like a mind-dump/ramble mashup, but it's the best I can do at the moment. I'm still processing and reflecting on all that happened and hoping to increase connections with all who participated directly and indirectly.  Additionally I just got back from a few hours of analog family time at our local pool with my daughters. My mind is still racing with excitement!

Thank you to everyone for allowing me to participate in such an amazing, inspiring event. I was already an advocate of Education and Technology but I'm even more passionate after being a part of this!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Drinking From the Firehose & Reflecting

Thanks to some encouragement from some of my awesome Twitter PLN, including Rafranz Davis, I managed to bust out a blog post a couple days ago. So as I blogged in "How I Grew My Twitter PLN Without Even Knowing It" a few days ago, it kind of took on a life of its own. For as long as I can remember, I have not particularly enjoyed writing, nor do I consider myself a good writer. But once I reflected and cranked out a blog, I felt immediate gratification and validation upon getting a few comments. It was amazing to feel that sense of community as I read responses and comments. It was one of those "lightbulb" moments where I immediately thought about how authentic and beneficial this sort of activity/process is for our students! I was so moved, that I've decided to reflect and blog again. The writing part is getting a little easier, but there are still some struggles for me as I wrestle with my reflections and thoughts and formulate a coherent plan to share them. 

I presented at a conference a few weeks ago and I compared using Twitter as a PLN to drinking from a firehose. The past few weeks I've learned that a firehose was perhaps an underestimation. It's more like a river!  I'm getting so much from my Twitter experience, I still can't make myself organize lists and "dip into the river," and I have been taking it all in as much as I possibly can. Now, I do have a few things going for me that allow me to do this. I have a whack sack of devices (that was for you @shareski) that I can use to stay connected. It is also my few weeks of Summer Vacation, where I force myself to stay away from the office for a little bit. 

While I continue to learn and grow with my PLN, the overwhelming flood if information and resources have caused me to want, and need, to reflect on successes, failures, and areas for improvement in my district. It has also both helped and forced me to set aside some of the larger items that I cannot control, and instead focus on what will help teachers and students and administrators be even better at what they do. To keep this post a reasonable length, and to focus things down for simplicity, I'll outline my thoughts. Likewise, I have to take the wealth of information I'm seeing daily and narrow it down to a few areas and then prioritize. 

Priorities/Things to improve:
  • Ed Tech Focus: Due to varying circumstances and limitations, the first few years of my tenure as Tech Coordinator were focused on the "IT" side of things and I'll readily admit that the "Ed Tech" side of things suffered.  A few years of survival mode prevented me from encouraging effective Ed Tech proactively to staff. I was definitely not "glass half empty," but was forced to have tunnel vision. I'll re-read this post  by George Couros and this post by Tom Murray and do as much as I can to promote Ed Tech daily.
  • Digital Citizenship: Again, due to limitations, and maybe even fear, we've blocked all social media for students and in some cases staff as well. I think we need to dispel the taboo/myth status of social networking and instead focus on showing how to use them responsibly. We will need to place a priority on Digital Citizenship K-12 and involve parents and community as well.
  • Pedagogy, not Shiny Gadgets: Everyone, including myself loves a shiny gadget. But I want to emphasize and encourage Teachers to identify the things they want their students to learn, and then find technology to fit and engage and make the learning even more relevant.
  • Build on Success: Hey, we've done some great things too. Ubiquitous WiFi in all schools, and we are 4 years into our Google Apps For Education (GAFE) suite. It is time to dive in 100% and commit to our strengths and maximize the limitless benefits of our Google solutions. We can use the SAMR model and transform how our kids are learning and creating/sharing.
  • Professional Development: Continue to find ways to make teachers and staff want to learn more! Gamify? Be creative. Organize our social media presence and give staff lots of resources they can explore on their own. Identify tech users/leaders and let them lead their buildings and departments. 

Wow, I could really go crazy on this post and keep going but I don't want to lose my potential readers and learning community. I value the feedback tremendously. But I do know that I'm passionate about focusing on Educational Technology. Yes the IT stuff and nuts/bolts are important, and Laws and Mandates must be understood and respected. But those things will always be changing and evolving. I want to focus my energy on helping Teachers and students use technology for authentic, meaningful teaching and learning. Thanks for reading! Feedback is encouraged!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How I Grew My Twitter PLN Without Even Knowing It

So far 2013 has been quite a journey for me, both personally and professionally. But in the context of this blog, I'm going to focus on the professional/career side of things. (But hey, if you are interested in the personal side of things, my wife and I have a blog here.)

In my tenure as a Technology Coordinator, I've been to a few educational technology conferences such as NCCE and IETA, but due to several circumstances over the last few years, I have not attended many such events. Before January of 2013, I had not attended a conference in roughly 3 years, just long enough to believe I wasn't missing anything important. Boy was I mistaken!

Thankfully in January I attended my state educational technology conference in Boise. Little did I know it would be an event that would re-ignite and invigorate my energy to learn more about EdTech and reflect and evaluate all areas of how we do things in my district. The sessions at the IETA 2013 Conference were fantastic, but I'd say that the keynote, given by Dean Shareski, was the spark that got things going for me. It is funny because looking back, I distinctly remember seeing Dean in the Hotel lobby the first morning of the conference, but not knowing who he was, I did not say hello. A short time later, he gave a great keynote and got me thinking. Additionally, I got to attend some awesome breakout sessions by Zac Chase, Bud Hunt, Tim Chase, and Jennifer Gingerich. 

Up until that day, I used Twitter for entertainment only, and I really enjoyed it. But at that conference in late January, I decided to follow and tweet with some of the presenters. I was starting a PLN and I didn't even realize it. I continued to interact with those few mentioned above, and then started to naturally add Twitter users from their PLNs and slowly the network grew! If I could go back and trace the follows and Twitter interactions, it would point back to that 2 day conference in Boise. Thanks Dean!

Later, I would attend NCCE 2013 in Portland. Once again, I continued to grow my PLN, without really knowing that is what I was doing. That is the cool part. I was building a PLN without even knowing what a PLN was! A few great days and informative breakout sessions later, Portland came and went, and I had an even bigger Twitter PLN than before. I was learning so much I couldn't contain it. All I could think about was how I could go so long without knowing this!

By this time, my PLN was approaching "firehose" level of information and I was soaking as much in as I could muster. Through these new connections I soon learned of another conference called iPDX IntegratED in Portland. Unfortunately I was unable to make arrangements in time to make the conference. Later, I'd learn of this little gathering called ISTE13, and I wanted to attend that as well, but it was not meant to be. I did however discover a fantastic EdTech podcast called Techlandia by Jon Samuelson, Curt Rees, and Alison Anderson and became instantly hooked. Shortly thereafter I discovered EdTrends and another Idahoan, Dave Guymon. So, even though I didn't attend either of those conferences, I was able to continue to grow my PLN and learn more than I ever imagined. 

Along the way I've met and collaborated with too many awesome people to even begin to name them all. But I've learned more about EdTech in 6 months on Twitter than I have in 6 years as a Technology Coordinator. I hope to blog about that in my next post, as that was the original plan for this post, but it didn't turn out that way! Blogging and reflecting is not something I'm particularly strong at, but another #educhampion Twitter user named Rafranz Davis  motivated me to reflect and share. Stay tuned!