You’ve all heard the analogy of a butterfly flapping its wings causes some legislator to cut educational funding. Ok, so maybe that’s my own take on that analogy. Fate is an interesting thing. My wife often says I’m one of the luckiest people she knows. She claims that great opportunities tend to find me, almost magically. While there’s a lot of hard work that goes into that “luck”, I won’t dismiss the fact that timing and decisions also play a big part of it.
My last two trips to the great city of Boston reminded me of how timing and decision-making really have a tremendous affect on fate.
My most recent trip, I was co-leading my first EdTechTeacher Workshop (more on that later). During the visit, a group of fellow ed colleagues decided to gather for dinner at a Texas BBQ restaurant called “Sweet Cheeks Q” near Fenway park. Now, ignoring the irony that I traveled all the way to Boston to have Texas Q, fate and timing played a role on my trip to and from the restaurant it would turn out.
When my friend, who I’ll call “Theo” to protect his identity, came to pick me up to take me to Sweet Cheeks, I could almost hear the “Flap, flap flap” of the butterfly’s wings. Traffic had delayed his arrival and when Theo finally did appear, he had to remove a car seat from his truck for me. In his haste to get out, say hello, and remove the carseat, he left his keys running in the car and somehow his car doors locked. After an awkward challenge that involved cracking open his back window and me using a pole and my monkey arms to unlock the truck, we were finally on our way. Or so we thought. The GPS on our phones had us going the wrong way! We quickly changed course and got turned in the right direction. Five minutes later, it happened.
We were rear-ended when a pedestrian cut-off a cab driver, who slammed his brakes, causing us to do the same. The valet driver in the Mercedes behind us was not so lucky. He crashed right into the tailgate of Theo’s pick-up. Aside from some sore necks and frustration, we were all fine. However, we were obviously going to be late for dinner.
I started thinking, what if he hadn’t been late to pick me up? What if he hadn’t locked his keys in his car? What if the GPS had us going the right direction from the get-go? Would the accident have happened?
Flap. Flap. Flap.
Rather than dwell on those what-ifs we went to the restaurant, an hour late, and had a nice late dinner of Texas BBQ. After some inspiring conversation and the usual debate about which John Cusack movies are his top 5, one of my colleagues offered to take me back to my hotel. This would require a 20 minute walk through Boston to get to his car, but feeling stuffed and needing the exercise, I accepted. And again, I heard the flapping butterfly wings, this time in the form of a Beatles tune. Turned out that Paul McCartney was playing in Fenway park and we could hear “Day Tripper” playing as clear as a bell from the stadium walls. Rather than continue to the car, we stood and enjoyed some tunes from one of the greatest musicians of all time. What a magical moment that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had been delayed by the car accident.
Flap. Flap. Flap.
In April, I was asked to present at Tech & Learning’s Tech Forum Boston. I was honored to be one of the few presenters that they like to bring in from out of state. I love the opportunity to share the successes and mistakes we’ve made on our road to 1:1, but I also enjoy learning what others have done. During this event, as fate would have it, Tom Daccord was in the crowd in my first presentation.
Flap. Flap. Flap.
Tom heads a great company called EdTechTeacher (ETT). After spending the day together sharing ideas and goals, Tom asked me to be a part-time consultant/trainer for the EdTechTeacher team. I was humbled by his request, but also wanted to learn more about his company before joining forces. I’ve had the good fortune of being approached by a few companies lately trying to hire my services, but all of those were based on a product, an app, or a sales pitch of some sort. This was different. Tom’s company does something that I truly believe is important in transforming education. ETT trains teachers and administrators on the concept of student-driven learning. It’s not about the tools, a certain app, or a certain state-mandated assessment. It’s about authentic learning for kids. For the first time in my life, I felt like this opportunity worked with my ideals and allowed me to remain grounded and based in a school district that I love working for.
One could say it was luck that Tom happened to be in the crowd that morning or that maybe fate brought us together to share ideas and goals. While I can’t disagree completely with either of those concepts, I do feel it was a combination of hard work, measured risk, and really good timing. Risk is a funny thing too. Sometimes not taking a risk on an opportunity is the right move to make. Out of the half-dozen or so opportunities laid before me prior to my trip to Boston, had I accepted any of those, my life would have changed. While there are still several hands that need to be played out in my career, I feel like I’m finally starting to see clearly what this is all about for me.
I can see that a combination of judgment, experience, and “gut” feelings can be powerful.
I can see that saying “no” in the short term could mean a big “yes” in the long run.
I can see that there are times when you really need to control your environment and other times when you need to kick back and enjoy the ride.
It took me so long….to find out….and I found out.
Maybe it’s time I start flapping the butterfly’s wings rather than wait for them to flap.
What a whirlwind the last week and a half have been. After wrapping up a successful 2-day iPadpalooza, I took a deep breath and headed to ISTE13 down the road in San Antonio. With all the time and energy thrown into planning and pulling off a big event like iPadpalooza, I had little time to really focus on what I’d be doing at ISTE13. I knew I wanted to learn from others doing 1:1 iPad implementations. I knew I wanted to connect with friends, both new and old, from Twitter. And lastly, I was going to force myself to take time to reflect each day. The idea of reflecting each day was definitely going to be the most challenging but thanks to my new partnership with EdTechTeacher.org, I knew that I would hold myself to this.
Day 1 -
As I mentioned in my Day 1 post, there were definitely some themes that became readily apparent the first 24-hours into this event. The idea that learning should be fun seemed to be an underlying theme of the whole event. From Jane McGonigal‘s opening keynote on gaming to Adam Bellow‘s powerful closing on change in the world, one thing is for certain, the pendulum is swinging swiftly away from standardized testing to more authentic learning. In visiting sessions, there was a sense that we had moved from “here’s a few cool apps” to here’s how to use these powerful mobile tools in effective ways. I also had a sense that this conference is evolving with the landscape, as there were more Playgrounds, Poster Sessions, and Lounges spread out through the event halls to give attendees (i.e. learners) a chance to connect and have more informal, collaborative discussions.
Day 2 -
By Day 2, I had made sure to shift some time in my schedule to really build relationships with people I had only met on twitter. One of the great quotes from Adam’s closing keynote was that an event like this is where “our bodies meet our brains”. This ISTE, much like the past couple since I’ve been on Twitter, really seemed to further that point. I had a riveting lunch discussion with Michelle Cordy, Shawn Rubin, Holly Clark and Don Orth about everything from writing rap lyrics to when it’s appropriate to cry over spilled coffee. While this sounds like typical non-sensical banter between friends, what was unique about this conversation is it was the first time I had every actually met these folks in person. We all share a common passion for student-led learning and a real desire to change the world’s views on public education.
Day 3 -
I spent a lot of Day 3 recovering from all the learning and collaborating from the previous 48 hours. I spent a fair amount of time in the vendor exhibit hall meeting vendors both new and old. One thing that really struck me were the overwhelming amount of companies in here that didn’t exist pre-iPad. I know there is always fast change in technology, but the amount of roll-over in the past 3 years because of mobile devices has really accelerated this rate of turn over. Mobile device accessories were the norm and all those companies held over from tech-generations past were shifted to the new mobile way of life.
While Microsoft made the biggest splash by giving away 10,000 Surface tablets to ISTE attendees. I never got a final count on how many they ended up giving away, but it seemed as though early reviews were mixed. The one thing I did notice was that by the middle of the day 3, as I looked around the Poster session area, there were still 90% Apple products being used. Whether that’s because they hadn’t been trained or were just more comfortable, I don’t know for certain. But I have a feeling if 10,000 iPad Minis were given away, I would have seen those everywhere by this point. We’ll see how this Microsoft gamble pays off down the road as I know eventually there will be something that takes the iPad place on top.
I felt like the mix of sessions, interactive spaces, lounges, and vendor space really allowed for a personalized learning environment we all crave in our schools. There we lots of little details that went a long way to making this event really pay off and after running #iPlza13, I can truly stand in awe at the level of organization it takes to pull off that feel. I never felt like it was 14,000 people crammed into a building for a few days and to that I give my kudos to this year’s ISTE organizers. As I posted here, one thing I’m working on doing this week is codifying all the learning that took place between myself, my team, and my PLN. The hope is then to use that as a tool going forward to share the learning with my staff that couldn’t be there.
On a final note, after taking the past couple of years off from presenting at ISTE, I plan to throw my name back into the ring for ISTE14 and be more of a contributor to this great event. With Adam’s final keynote inspiring me, it will be done in some way that gets the crowd going….and maybe even #pantless.
Despite my best efforts of pre-planning, preparing and delegating, I seemed to be on the verge of throwing up on a moment to moment basis. I’m finding large clumps of hair in my hands and seem to have a pain behind my right eye. No, this is not a Shel Silverstien short story, it’s my week before iPadpalooza.
Last year, we posted a web address, picked a date and just went with it. This year, I really wanted to step it up a notch. Food Trailers, more live music, better signage, Sir Ken! While we all know that sequels tend to do worse than the original in Hollywood, (Hello?! Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo?) I was bound and determined to make this year’s event much better than the last.
Besides securing one of the hottest Keynote speakers in the biz, this year’s event will have a distinctly Austin-feel to it. There will be more than 100 sessions. There will be speakers from multiple states and different countries. (Ok, technically only one different country, Canada) The closing band is Blue October!
This is all well and good, but at some point in the middle of all the stress and pressure, I was struck with an “AHA” moment that couldn’t help but me smile. While meeting with our security and safety officer, I realized something – This event has become a true district-wide team effort.
Our transportation department is providing shuttle buses to and from guest hotels.
Our maintenance department is pitching in with signage and power.
The Technology department is offering tech support on the days of the event and even opening up the WiFi network for guests.
Our WHS TEC crew will be handling lighting, filming, live-streaming and all sorts of small touches to make this event professional.
Community Ed is working overtime to handle all the registrations.
My amazing team of Ed Techs have been taking on the load of summer training while my hours have been spent dedicated to this unique event.
This event will be so much better than last year’s, not because of keynote speakers or Blue October, but because it’s become a true team effort. It’ll be better because everyone wants it to be and everyone believes it’s worth it. During a moment of office stress today, my peers in the office took a much-needed break from disaggregating test data and dealing with summer school issues to help me find coffee urns and water buckets.
They looked me in the eyes and asked – “What can we take off your plate?” And for the first time that I can ever remember, I actually listened and gave up some of the load. While this seems like such a simple concept, it’s one I’ve always grappled with. I have a vision in my head of how everything should look and often, I think it’s easier to just do it myself than explain it to someone else. But that brief moment of unloading my plate may have changed me forever. Not only do I work with some of the most amazing and talented colleagues, I work with people who care about me and this crazy idea of a “Learning Festival for All”.
To write a list of all the thank you’s would take too long and not represent the true value of how I feel about all of them. The best way to say thank you is for them to enjoy what I feel will be one of the greatest learning events this state has ever seen. And you know what will make it so great and why it will be a better sequel than the original?
UPDATE: Right around the time of this post – Google released the ability to insert images into forms! However, you still cannot put images as choices in multiple choice categories, so this script will still help.
In the midst of our iPadpalooza Tshirt contest I was faced with a conundrum even Google couldn’t help me with. How do we post images to our forms so that people can vote? I thought about just sending the images separately with names and then having people open a Google Form to choose their choice based on names. That seemed terrible inefficient so I did a little bit of research and came across this guy’s blog: Making Technology Work at School
In the post he’s pretty much detailed how he wrote a script that will work for anyone out there just following his simple steps. I posted my own tips adding to his instructions here if you’d like to follow but want to make sure full credit is given to the original source. A note here – I’ve had some people reply that they are getting a “404 Source” error when using Chrome. You might want to try with a different browser if that’s the case. I used Safari with these instructions and it worked like a charm.
Since my district has some level of restrictions on publicly sharing folders/files, I did have to use a personal gmail account. You’ll be able to tell what restrictions your district has by step number three.
1. Log into your Drive.google.com account
2. Create a folder called “GFWI” (no quotes)- This is the folder that his script will pull images from.
3. Share the folder and make it publicly viewable on the web. If your district restricts this, you’ll have to go to a personal google account or create one. (maybe a “MyISDForms@gmail.com” type of account)
4. Inside that GFWI folder, make another folder called “img” (without quotes). It’ll have the same settings as the parent folder so no need to share that as well since the GFWI folder is already viewable by the public.
5. BEFORE you upload your images – a few tips – Make sure your images are 500 X 500 pixels or smaller. I uploaded some original images and they were WAY too big. I just threw mine into photoshop and resized them. Save them as .jpg and give them some easy file names before you move on to the next step of uploading.
6. Upload the images to the ‘img’ folder.
7. Make your form or add to a current form. Wherever you want the image to appear you’ll have to make a double bracket (i.e. [[imagename.jpg]] in the form itself. Since I was doing this for a vote, I just put those bracketed names in the multiple choice section.
8. Copy your live form URL.
9. Go to his form which will convert it and run the script here: http://goo.gl/RXToK
10. You will likely have to authorize at this point before going any further.
11. Paste your form URL into his script and it’ll run the conversion.
12. You’ll get a link to view the new form with images now embedded. That’s it!
In the late 90′s to around 2001, the internet boom was on. Venture capitalists were experiencing meteoric rises in revenue and stock prices because the internet was taking off all over the world. It seemed that this new avenue of commerce was as close to a “can’t lose” scenario when it came to investment. Back then, companies were funded on the idea that “growth of profits” would rule the day in this new economy.
Well, I’m here to tell you, I see another bubble coming and this one is in the Ed Tech market. I don’t have any hard evidence to support this theory other than my own experiences in the last 2+ years. There’s a lot of money in the field, as Bill Gates spoke of during his SXSWedu keynote, so everyone is trying to rush to market in order to capitalize. However, some signs are pretty glaring that this market place is about to implode. Let’s look at three examples of Ed Tech fields to see if these trends mirror those of the late 90′s.
What was a blundering area of the tech market over the 90′s and first decade of the 2000′s has blown up all around us in education. Much of the reason for this can be singularly pointed to Apple’s launch of the iPad in 2010. For the first time, a consumer-centric device was useful enough and cost-effective for educational circles. Back then, there were really only a couple of choices on the market other than Apple’s iPad. The HP Touchpad with WebOS caught fire before quickly burning out in late 2011 and RIMs Playbook followed a similar trajectory and as of this year no longer exists. Little did we know this would just be the beginning.
Once the Android and Windows 8 operating systems caught hold, a whole new market of tablets hit the market place with furious demand. Nook, Kindle Fire, Samsung’s Galaxy, Microsoft Surface, Asus Transformer, and Google’s Nexus tablets now all hold some share of the consumer market but little break in educational circles to the iPad.
Enter the new world of the “educational tablet” with the LearnPad and Fox NewsCorp’s Amplify. These, and their consumer counterparts have all hit the market in the last 6-9 months and continue to increase at an exponential pace. Where the consumer models have some staying power over the long haul, the fickle purchasing of K-12 educational systems spells some rough roads ahead for those in this new educational tablet space.
The biggest reason? If we are focusing on authentic learning and digital wellness with our kids in the every day world, will that be able to happen on a tablet built to just be used K-12? Sure, tech directors get more control of the device and teachers can control the screens and learning from their desks, but isn’t that just a digital extension of the militarized structure of teaching we’ve had for hundreds of years? In the words of 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra, “We need schools…not factories”
Back in the early 2000′s when I was teaching first grade, my software choices were pretty simple. I could go with a read and repeat type of game like Reader Rabbit or focus on creation using a tool like Clarisworks. In order to get some highfalutin software like Adobe Photoshop, it would take several committees, an act of congress and the blessing of the Pope to purchase it and add it to my 3 computers in my class. This process usually took about 2-3 years and tech departments banked on teachers becoming frustrated and giving up or the software becoming obsolete before it was even installed.
Welcome to the wild west of apps in 2013. All the sudden, having 10 CD’s or 30 floppy disks aren’t required to install software. In fact, most software isn’t even loaded at all, it exists on the web. Apps aren’t seen as software, but they are in essence. Of course, with apps, it only requires a quick couple of taps and BLAM!! Instant installation and gratification. This consumerization of IT has a lot of benefits to personalized and customized learning, but there is a downside. When are these apps and web tools being vetting for educational value? Who is making the district purchasing decision now?
It seems that in the last year especially, app and web-based tools are praying on the “first one is free” approach to break into school districts. I like the idea of organically grown tools being brought up by the end-users, but wonder if there isn’t some sort of legal line that’s being crossed in all of this. I mean, we had 80 teachers using Edmodo with their Eanes email address when Edmodo finally called me to say “Hey, we noticed a lot of your teachers using our product, want to have your own domain with us?” While Edmodo is a great (and free) service, many other companies are following that lead and giving away “30-seat classroom licenses” for free in the hopes that enough users getting hooked will over-power the purchasers.
With over a million mobile apps on the market, how can our teachers hope to sort through all of that to find relevant, useful educational tools? Add in the new tablets hitting the market, along with the expansion of Google Apps for Education, and the market is ripe to burst.
Learning Management Systems
The race to build the perfect LMS has almost become so flooded its hard to make sense of it all. This market place was dominated by two choices about 5 years ago: the paid route of Blackboard or the free route of Moodle. While Blackboard was still focused on higher ed, it was the first to really jump in with both feet in the K-12 market. However,unlike the tablet market, just because it was in there first, doesn’t mean it will win out.
While there it’s hard to determine how many K-12-centric LMS companies are out there now. Findings from this June 2012 Education Week study show that there 163 commercial educational LMSs and 66 Open source LMS platforms. Those numbers alone are staggering, but when coupled with the fact that I have personally seen at least 6 start-up LMS-based companies since then, tells me this market is over-flooded.
This level of healthy competition can spawn some amazing advances in a fairly dull field, but there is a lot of risk for the administrator taking a gamble on a company that might not be around in a couple of years. I think a company that is device-agnostic, web-able, and inexpensive on a per-user basis has a firm ground to stand on in K-12 space. But in terms of staying power, it has to be transformative for teaching and learning, not just digital extensions of the classroom.
What does all this mean for us in the Ed Tech field? It’s obvious the iron is hot. As Gates said in his keynote, there is upwards of $9 Billion dollars available in this market place so someone is going to grab a large slice of that pie. The question for the users and purchasers of these devices and software packages is, will it have any level of sustainability? Does that even matter any more? Maybe instead of looking for stable-long term solutions, we need to start being more flexible and able to pivot when the situation calls for it.
Then again, we are in education and the reality is this growth is exciting but while the Ed Tech marketplace is exploding, we need to take the focus off the “what” and focus more on the “why” when it comes to anything we do. That’s the key to surviving any future bubble that might be coming our way.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some .cwk files that need converting…
The Boston Marathon bombing was a tragic event for a myriad of reasons. Attack on our own soil adds a layer of harsh reality, whether it be an international faction or a domestic “lone wolf” at the heart of the attack, we are left to deal with the aftermath. I was teaching first grade on September 11, 2001 and remember the day as if it were yesterday. Teachers coming in and giving me updates (via television) about what was happening. Me trying to keep a “game face” on with my students even when my own worst fears were creeping into my mind. The reality hitting all of us when we took our kids outside to recess and noticed the strangely silent sky as all air traffic had been grounded.
We all have stories about that day and until yesterday’s events in Boston, I didn’t think much of the effects of our technology integration tying to these national disasters. However, when every student in your school district has a portal to the internet in their hands, there has to be a discussion about what is our role in this? I’m not sure there is a right answer to this question. What age is it appropriate for kids to “discover” the carnage of reality? We can’t shield them forever and teachable moments are important, but how do we as a school district set that level of “old enough to understand.”
My first answer is, that’s a parent’s decision and not ours. However, with 1:1 and BYOD access, that line has been blurred when we welcome and encourage technology usage in our schools. We play a role in how information is being monitored and guided with our kids. I had a middle school principal call me today to ask if we should consider “turning off the internet” if a tragic event of the 9/11 scale ever happens again, god forbid.
I had two responses to that request. The first was: “Yes! We need to shield/protect our kids from this in whatever way possible.” The second response was: “I wonder if others out there have considered this already?” Feeling that my first response was more based on emotion than logic, I took to twitter. Here’s a few of the discussion points brought back my way and some of my non 140-character responses.
I’ll address this point a little later, but Chris is right, if students want to find something inappropriate on the internet, they can. Us blocking them on their school-issued device may make us feel better and think we did the right thing but….
To Vin’s point, they all have the access available to them through other means. Maybe us turning off the internet isn’t enough, especially with older students. Better for us to take the lead in learning and adjusting to tragic events rather than just turning a blind eye?
These are both understatements and also harsh reality. These stories become such big deals in our news and online world because they are rare. However, I wonder (and worry) a bit about how desensitized we and our kids have become? Not saying the media is solely to blame for this, but think about how prevalent death, dismemberment, explosions, etc are in our media culture? Heck, I’m a zombie-show lover myself but I can feel the difference between the reality of yesterday and what’s on a show. I spoke with my boss about this and he brought up the Kennedy assassination. He said, no one had ever seen anything like that before. When Jack Ruby shot Oswald on live national television, it was completely un-fathom-able. Is that not the case anymore?
Laura is an 1:1 elementary teacher. The elementary setting is a lot more controlled in terms of access to technology and smartphones aren’t quite as rampant. Turning off the internet (or WiFi likely) at that level, especially at the time immediately following event could avoid any chance lasting images a child may stumble across. At any rate, her response made me harken back to my 9/11 experience. The teachable moment has a lot of value and I think as a parent, I want to have that discussion with my child even if just to soften the blow of reality.
I think Lucas and Renaud land on a solution that makes the most sense. With the older students (middle school to high school), we need to be there to support in the moment as well as the day after when it’s on every students’ mind. Validation of resources, historical attacks, and in some cases, rumor control, are all important discussions to have with your students during moments like this.
So it appears that there is not a true “right answer” to this other than we need to be aware and ready to leap into action should a crisis happen. That could mean restricting some level of access at the elementary level or having the teachers prepared to change plans when looking at their tech-integration lessons. I do think at all levels a crisis plan for student access should be discussed. Staff need to be prepared and ready to discuss when unfortunate moments in our history happen. It’s our job to not only protect our nation’s most valued resources, but also to teach them when tragedy strikes.Thanks to my Twitter PLN for their viewpoints - @rbolsjoly, @jacobtech, @kreyus, @profvinnycho @wrightsbatclass, @KSLibraryGuy Please add to the discussion by commenting your thoughts below. Thanks.
We all lie. Plain and simple, there is no way around it. The depth at which we lie depends on the reasons and motivation behind lying. No matter what the excuse, if there’s any truth it’s that we all lie. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the basis for why we lie, specifically in education, and how new technology now enables us to lie with greater ease.
A study on cognitive neuroscience by the Discovery channel posts the following explanations of why we lie:
We tell untruths for several reasons. Sometimes we actually lie to gain others’ respect. For example, maybe a coffee-fetching intern tells friends he’s a “research assistant.” Other fibs help stave off the consequences of making a mistake. Still others, a great many people, perhaps, will lie to spare someone’s feelings. While their hearts might be in the right place, and diplomacy may best trump the absolute truth, technically they’re still telling a lie. Want more reasons? Some men and women may lie to each other to present a better first impression. (So much for a good foundation for a relationship!) Clearly, there’s no end to the reasons people lie.
With all this lying taking place on a regular basis, it only makes sense that our educational systems provide the early fertile grounds for this learned behavior. We in education may not like to take blame for this and rather eschew blame to the parents (lie #1). The truth of the matter is, we can’t help but lie in education. When little Johnny comes up to us to show us his “work of art” (that looks more like a lower intestine) we applaud him for his work and effort. We don’t say, “You know John, I have to say, what you’ve made there is quite disgusting. It looks nothing like the object I asked you to create. As a matter of fact, it looks like some sort of internal organ.” We tell this fib to instill confidence in little Johnny, so we pass it off as allowable. Since we are trying to develop confidence in our pupils, let’s take the teacher-student interactions out of the equation and see what that leaves us with.
Even without that interaction, we are still borderline pathological in our lying habits. One only need to observe a parent-teacher conference to see the tapestry of fabrications weaved to make the parent feel at ease about their child’s short-comings. Make no mistake about it, this deception also helps the teacher. With a giant class-size, testing pressure, administrative oversight, and all other things that weigh into a teacher’s day, it’s a miracle they can even come up with an helpful anecdotes about their students. Luckily, with the invention of technology, we know have “hard data” that we can easily show parents that want more evidence. We are data-driven junkies, not because we like interpreting data, but because we need it as back-up for the brief observations we may have with one of our students during the day. Having a report or graph to show a worried parent, informs the parent that his/her child may have some faults, but it’s not the teacher saying it. It’s the computer-generated read-out’s fault.
Technology allows us to be more impersonal and in some cases avoid possible conflicts too. A few decades ago, when a principal or administrator had a problem with a teacher, he/she would call the accused into his/her office. There would be a conversation, albeit an uncomfortable one, about how that teacher needs to improve upon his/her practice. This is not only hard for the teacher to hear (imagine being told how to parent better) but it’s also uncomfortable for the boss trying to communicate steps for improvement. Enter the magical world of technology and specifically in this case, email. Rather than point out some faults to a few teachers, a carefully crafted “all staff” email can now point out the fact that jeans are only acceptable on Fridays or that recess should be no longer than 20 minutes in length.
Instantly, through the power of quickly delivered written words, a suggestion for improvement switches from personally threatening to professionally informative. The teachers “hear” the message and the administrator avoids any uncomfortable situations. We can also wield technology to help us out of sticky situations. Like in the above “jean” scenario, when the boss sees an employee in jeans on a Thursday, he/she can refer to the email sent clarifying dress code. ”Don’t shoot the messenger, heh heh, it’s the email that said it.” It’s amazing how brave people can be over email and how that impersonal communication can be a scape-goat much like the “office memo” in this great Office Space scene:
Of course, lies can also flow in the other direction in this scenario. Technology like text messages, give us a false sense of immediacy in conversations. I will admit that I have seen part of an email or read a text message from someone and not acted on it right away. The amazing thing about all the ways we communicate now is that email or texts are seemingly equated to the spoken word. ”Didn’t you get my text?” is a favorite comment relayed at my house. While I don’t try to avoid, neglect, or ignore a text message asking me to pick up even more specialty diapers or the seemingly endless amount of prescriptions required to raise my three girls, I have seen a message and not acted on it right away. And what happens when I’m called into question about whether or not I received the text? I lie.
The ultimate vehicle for lying with technology is social media. Look no further than Facebook to see not only how rampant lying is, but also how it’s become the new normal when it comes to how we tell our story. For instance, if you examined my page from last Easter Sunday, you’d see that my estrogen-abundant family had quite the special day. We woke up to presents from the Easter bunny, full of smiles and joy. My kids spent the day, posed beautifully in their Easter clothes, exploring the grandparent’s backyard with our cousins. We ended the day dancing and laughing with Grandma before quietly settling to bed preparing for the next week to begin anew. The reality of the day is a lot less picturesque than the one I painted on my page. Sisters screaming at each other over candy, a near death incident with a baseball bat and an Easter pinata, and three very cranky, sugar-laiden girls that refused to go to sleep. With social media tools like Facebook, we can now paint pictures of ourselves that are far from reality.
This is the basis for our own personal “PR” if you will, but it’s also true with school districts. Don’t believe me? Go look at any school’s Facebook or Twitter page. You won’t find anything about the fight that broke out in the cafeteria or a heart-warming story about the C-student that quietly sits in the back of the class. We promote what we chose to promote. This isn’t lying to the true sense of the word, but it is deception. One of my most read posts of all-time is the 10 Things Not to Do in a 1:1 implementation. I wrote it to show the ugly truth and hard work that goes into these sort of initiatives. I did it to help inform others, but also to show that while it may seem all rosy in the press, the reality is this new technology is messy, disruptive and hard to adjust to for everyone. We need to continue to tell those stories in education as well as the good ones to paint a more accurate picture of what is taking place in our institutions. Otherwise, we may not be telling lies, but instead, revealing only the truths that we deem worthy of telling. Paint that picture for too long and we may end up with something short of a work of art and more like little Johnny’s lower intestinal masterpiece.
What started out with a bang, ended with a whimper on Sunday afternoon. I had made it nearly 19 days without interacting with email but the wheels were starting to come off some time late last week.
Our district is in the midst of it’s final iPad roll-out to 6th & 7th graders to complete an entire K-12 1:1 district. My position plays a key role in a lot of the decisions being made about these roll-out events and I have been out of pocket from these conversations to the point it was starting to hurt.
So, on Sunday (appropriately) at 4:53PM, I ended my ban on email by taking part in some discussions around the roll-out. My immediate reaction was a mix of depression and relief. I had made it a lot longer than many thought (including myself) and gained quite a bit of knowledge out of this experiment.
Logistics - If I had to do it all over again, I would have planned this better. I didn’t need 15 ways to get in touch with me. Turns out I only needed about 6 or 7. Every night while doing my counts for the day, I would catch myself skimming the previews of each email in case there was something exciting happening. While I focused my energy on my work email, I included my consultant email, my personal email and even my iPadpalooza account in the initial research.
Timing - It’s everything, right? At least that’s how the saying goes. While Lent seemed to outline a good amount of days to do this research, I had other events begin to get in the way. One was the fact that we were closing the early bird registration on iPadpalooza and the only way districts could register with PO was by emailing iPadpalooza@gmail.com. That meant I had to check those email’s and auto-forward them to our PO person. Not exactly fair to her.
Personally, I had two major events happen in my life within 12 hours of each other. I was named an Apple Distinguished Educator and became a father of 3 all in the same day. The ADE notice came….via email. My twitter friends quickly pointed that out to me. It was nerve-racking but once people started to tell me they were in or out, I had to sneak a peak.
The birth of my 3rd daughter meant time away from work, which meant the experiment and data changed course. Before I went on paternity leave, face to face interaction had definitely increased and in fact, led all other non-email interactions. Now that I wasn’t there in person (and a little pre-occupied) I had to rely on other means to communicate with people. To be quite honest, unless you were on Facebook, text, or Twitter, you probably didn’t hear from me for a while.
The Hypothesis -
The original hypothesis was that by giving up email as a primary communication tools, others would be forced to try out new means and hopefully expand their horizons. This both succeeded and failed in some senses. I noticed within the first day or two that while almost everyone was on board, there were a few that felt I was cutting myself off from them by not being on email. I got called to task about making others find different ways to get a hold of me when “email is just the easiest.” While that was the point of the experiment, I didn’t want it to negatively effect teachers who already have a lot on their plate, much less trying to figure out how to reach the tech guy.
Other (hopeful) outcomes -
I had hoped that I’d be able to do “more meaningful” work while not checking email. While I did get quite a few more personal chores done in the evening, work seemed largely unaffected. It seems much of my “meaningful work” came from the sometimes mundane tasks assigned to me via email. I feel like this wasn’t as much of a success also largely to the fact that I had to spend more time checking all the various methods of communication. (see Logistics above) That said, I was able to read an entire book for the first time since I can remember (World War Z – zombies of course).
My other hope was that not sitting behind my screen as much would force more face to face communication and collaboration. I can say without a doubt, this was the greatest success of this experiment. I spent more time with my family, talked to district staff I hadn’t seen in a while and even got to sub in a first grade classroom! While this seems like a simple idea, I was amazed at how touched people were by this concept of walking away from email to spend more time with others. I even had a small group of people (in admin no less) suggest we have an “unEmail Day” once a month to get out and see the kids, campuses, and staff. This will be something I employ going forward every month.
My last hopeful outcome was that I would have others communicate in different ways. Aside from a few folks that were stuck on email as the only method of communication, I felt this was a success as well. I had a principal join twitter, a GT teacher chat with me via Edmodo, and I got to chat with someone face to face (virtually) via Skype rather than a back-n-forth email exchange. I even had one parent communicate with me using smoke signals. The use of Dispatch for collaboration came in handy and will likely be a continued resource going forward with the team. I also finally got myself on Instagram (hookertech) since that seems to be the preferred communication method of kids. While the only letter I got was a printed off email, I really feel like making others aware of the alternative methods and the way kids communicate put things in perspective for most.
Final Data -
Thanks to Google Docs, I was able to track all the data on a spreadsheet. Final numbers:Unread email = 1545 Twitter conversations = 299* Facebook = 256 Face to face = 185 Text = 149
Next steps -
As stated, I’m going to continue to increase my face to face time in the district via self-imposed “unEmail Days”. I’m also in the process of sorting and labeling all 1500+ emails I received while I was away. Once I gather that data, I’ll go through and see areas that I can optimize in my own email to make it a more efficient tool for myself and hopefully others. While this social media experiment is over, I’m actually still in the midst of a 12-week social media diet challenge (via Facebook group). Only 5 weeks to go, but I’m down 25 pounds and in second place!
As for the next experiment, my wife has kindly suggested (or insisted) that the next challenge be giving up my iPhone for Lent. Just the thought of that makes my stomach hurt. How will I get anywhere? How will I contact people? That sounds a little too crazy for me. But then again, maybe that’s why I should do it…
Week one of not using email to communicate is in the books and let me just tell you…it was HARD! Despite some smirky grins and sighs from colleagues I made it all the way to 5:14 PM today without checking my email.
What happened at 5:14? I cracked. When I started seeing the news fly about the Apple Distinguished Educators acceptance/rejection I had to go in and check. I felt guilty about it (hey, I’m Catholic). However, technically I didn’t use it to communicate or interact so I think I’m still in the clear.
Week 1 Challenges:
First off, I could tell this would be tough when on day one I had 15 screens going at once. Getting “meaningful work” done would be a problem with all those screens going for communication. I needed to streamline it. Today I altered my auto-response to list ways to get in touch with me immediately (chat, text, twitter, phone, f2f) and ways to send me a longer message (Google Docs, Dispatch.io) or other ways to send me general stuff (Facebook, G+, Edmodo, etc).
My bigger challenge is that I’m starting to find that I’ve missed out on some important conversations or work related topics going around. I started feeling bad for others that would have to work harder to get in touch with me. While the point of this is make them think of other methods of communication, I don’t want this to turn into a situation where teachers can’t get help because of my Lenten goals. I’m trying to figure out a way to make that work.
Week 1 Positives:
From day one, I could tell right away that I’d be more apt to face to face conversations than before. Whereas in the past I might have either hid behind email or opted to send someone an email rather than have an actual conversation, I couldn’t do that any more. I even had random people tell me that it might be a good idea for all of us to do this once a month or so. I loved that idea! I’m hoping to start an “Un-email” day around the office to encourage people to get out to campuses and talking more.
Another positive has been the amount of different ways people have gotten in touch with me and the overwhelming support many have shown from the community, from member of our School Board to my Superintendent to even my wife (who was one of the biggest skeptics in this whole experiment). It’s been nice to hear stories from all over and people sharing ideas with me. I had a class of students from the Dallas area offer to send me letters which I thought was sweet. I even had one community member try to send me smoke signals (via his Brisket smoker) as an alternate form of communication not on my list.
Week 1 Data:
Some interesting findings for week one. I only counted email in my inbox for my 4 email addresses that get the most email (yes, officially I have 8 email addresses, could be part of my problem there). That means many hundred filtered messages were not counted. Final week one numbers:
Unread email = 725
Non-email interactions = 406
Top 3 forms of non-email communication:
1. Face to face = 68 (doesn’t include repeats)
2. Twitter = 51 (not tweets, just interactions)
3. Texts = 23
Here’s what the 7 days look like in Graph form, ranking from highest to lowest.
You can tell when the weekend hit (days 4 & 5) and also that Monday (day 6) was a holiday for our district. Email has started to decline slightly, but not much at this point.
Week 2 forecast:
We are having our third child this Thursday, at which point my auto-response will change to “Paternity Leave”. I’ll be curious to see if that affects people in any way. Anyway, should see a dip in interactions, especially face to face. (except for doctors and nurses
Follow my daily log here: #EmailLess