Blog Archives

My Attempt at Retreat 2.0

I’ve been in education for almost 20 years and some of the campuses I’ve worked for have made attempts to do a “retreat” as a way of team-building and goal-setting. When it comes to retreats run by public education, we are a bit limited in scope. As we are funded by tax payers, we can’t take our employees on a boat cruise to Hawaii or a weekend in Vegas. Private companies have been hosting get-away retreats for years as a way of celebrating past successes and setting goals and benchmarks for the future. In general, the anatomy of a retreat is made up of the following items:
  • An off-site location
  • Some sort of team-building activity
  • Some time dedicated to goal-setting

While I am , I have never attempted to host a retreat.  Sure, we’ve gathered at my house for happy hour or gone out to lunch together, but generally, these are social gatherings (which are necessary from time to time).  We’ve also done quite a bit of revamping of our meeting structure to make it more retreat-like (more on that later), but still not technically a retreat. With the pressure mounting on what would be our first ever retreat, I felt that we needed a mixture of the following:

  • Inspiration
  • Appreciating our differences
  • Problem-solving in collaborative teams
  • Opening up avenues of communication between the team
  • Identifying passion projects

Adding those elements into the previous anatomy of a retreat, I had a mission. And since I do my best thinking with others, I brought in a couple of team members, Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and Jennifer Flood (@floodedu) to help build some of the structures of the retreat.

Location

Finding places to meet around Austin isn’t a problem.  Finding FREE places to meet that also cultivate creativity is an issue. So rather than just meeting at a local coffee shop, I contacted Joshua Baer (@joshuabaer), head honcho at Capital Factory – the epicenter of entrepreneurs and start-up companies in the city.  Josh was kind enough to set us up in the “Willie Room” on the 16th floor of Capital Factory (located in the Omni downtown).  What I love about this space is not only the breathtaking views, but also the openness of the space and proximity to other start-up companies working in the same space. that we have access to for free.  With our base location set-up, it was time to build the agenda.

Ed Techs gathering in the Willie Room at Capital Factory (Can you see Willie in the background?)

Team-Building Activity #1 – Guess Who

During the retreat, we working on getting to know each other better. The first thing I sent the group was a pre-survey that asked them a few basic questions.  Some of these were for future activities, but for the retreat specifically, I asked the team to identify the following:
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What app do you love?
  • What was your childhood nickname?
  • Where is your dream place to visit?

Using this information, I printed out cards that read “FEAR” or “PLACE TO VISIT” with their answers on the back. We used this to play a pictionary-meets-charades version of the Guess Who? game. Splitting the group into two teams, each team member took turns either acting or drawing out the answer on the back of the card. The team had 1-minute to guess the answer and if they got it right, they got bonus points for identifying the correct Ed Tech who said the particular item.  While there were a lot of cherished moments during this activity, one of my faves was rookie Ed Tech Chris Hanson (@tejashanson) doing a flip to demonstrate the app FlipGrid in charade form.

This game could have gone on for a couple of hours, but after a few rounds and my “Who’s line is it anyway?” type scoring, we ended in a tie and then went through the remaining cards to guess who said what. This activity was a great way to start out the retreat and it really highlighted the unique-ness of each of us, including our strengths and weaknesses and ways in which we can support each other. Finding out that Ed Tech Debbie Smith (@dsmitheisd) had a fear of small spaces made it particularly interesting for an upcoming challenge where we all crammed into an elevator together.

Goal-setting (Individual & Team)

This team is composed of visionary thinkers and ideators with a wide variety of expertise. While it’s important that we create and share some common team goals, I wanted to use some time during the retreat for the team to reflect on individual goals as well. I set up this next portion to help the team answer the following questions:

  • What is something that you want to learn this year?
  • What are goals for your campus?
  • How do you know when you are achieving these goals successfully?
  • What is your BHAG or Passion Project for the future? (could be more than a year out)

We then gathered in teams (elementary and secondary) to discuss our individual goals and using district goals to guide the creation of one or two team goals for us this year. I think that third question above is one that I often struggle with. I love creating goals and ideas, but going back and checking on their success (or failure) is often a missed step.  I’m hoping these goals guide each of us individually and as a team, and that at next year’s retreat, we can check in and see how successful we were in accomplishing them.

VIP Tour & VR Room Experience

Another benefit of hosting the meeting in Capital Factory (besides the free food and beverages) was the VIP tour that we got of the complex for one of our breaks. One stop on the tour was the Virtual Reality Room. We each got to participate in a wide variety of games and simulations. I was immediately blown away with how far these VR simulations have come in recent years. In talking with the resident VR resident (who went by the name “Justin”), it was clear to see the educational impact a VR environment could provide to students and their learning experiences. One thing that was even more compelling was the idea that students could create and program their own worlds, which is certainly an area we want to investigate bringing into our schools in the future.

iVenger Fred & Chris (background) experiment with VR as Han Solo watches on frozen with anticipation

Creating Avenues for Collaboration

I’ve been experimenting on ideas to get our team to cross-collaborate more often. One of the benefits to having campus-based Ed Techs is that we are able to have a lot of just-in-time learning opportunities for staff on campuses. However, this does create more silos when it comes to the team sharing and collaborating on ideas. To battle this isolationism, I’m testing out something new that I call the “Ed Tech ShareCase“.  The concept is that one Ed Tech is the campus Lead and two other Ed Techs collaborate with them as assistants so to speak.  They collaborate on a project or professional learning experience for the campus and then go there to help deliver it.  My initial goal is for the team to do this a couple of times throughout the year in an effort to build cross-collaboration. Then, during our monthly meetings, Ed Techs will not share their own work, but instead the work of others that they are supporting.  

Going on an Adventure!

With some goal-setting and team-building under our belts, and a much needed lunch break, we set out for our next challenge. Using the EventZee app that we’ve used at past iPadpalooza events for photo-hunts, I created a city-wide scavenger hunt for the team to complete. My goal for this part of the retreat was not just getting everyone up and moving around our fabulous city, but also getting breaking up the teams into groups that don’t get to collaborate often. A couple of days before this challenge, I actually walked the course myself as I wanted the hunt to end in a specific final location. (see below). I perched myself on top of a tall parking garage structure to see the teams walking towards various clues throughout the city and sent them occasional alerts when their time was running out. I love the scavenger hunt concept for the competitiveness and collaborative problem-solving aspects. Plus the walking makes for a great “after lunch” activity.

Ed Techs Tanna Fiske, Lisa Johnson, and Rich Lombardo caught wandering down a random alley during the Scavenger Hunt

Escape!

The final stop during our retreat was the Escape Game Austin. Having never been a part of an escape room experience I didn’t know what to expect, but this ending event really brought our team together and as a great way to wrap up the retreat. The rooms/games you can choose from vary in size (4 to 12 people) are complex and really encourage collaboration, communication and problem-solving. The particular room we chose was called “Playground” and actually involved several elements from a school (ironically enough). Once I heard about escape rooms, I’ve always wanted to do one with this team.  I brag to anyone that listens to me about how clever and collaborative our team is and how we would escape without an issue despite the 11%-15% success rate of most teams.
I’m happy to share we escaped with 10+ minutes to spare!

The iVengers Escape!

Summary 

The retreat was a major success in accomplishing the goals we set forth at the beginning. While there were a couple of activities we didn’t have time to accomplish, it did a great job of getting us all on the same page and also gave us much fodder to harass each other for the rest of the year.  If you are planning a retreat, think about the experience and what you hope your team to gain out of it. And what ever you do, don’t just make it a meeting only longer. Otherwise, you may have your team trying to escape!

Review of 2016 Bold Predictions

review

Photo credit – goo.gl/YPq23i

Every year I since 2013, I like to take a few risks and attempt to predict which new trends will catch on in the world of education and ed tech.  Some years I’ll get it right, some I’ll get wrong. Among my best predictions were:

2015 – Pearson will lose its massive testing contract in Texas. (100% accurate prediction)

2015 – Drones will make their way into education (mostly true and happening now)

2015 – I will finally publish a book. (took until 2016, but it happened)

2014 – The “21st Century Skills” will be renamed something more appropriate and clever – (sort of happening now with “Future Ready” skills)

Of course, they ain’t all winners folks. Some of my more famous failed predictions were:

2013 – A non-Apple tablet will rule them all (Chromebooks now surpassed iPads in sales in schools, but they aren’t technically a “tablet”)

2015 – A human battery level app will be invented (not yet….)

All in all, I feel like my track record is about 50/50 on these. With that said, let’s see how I did on this past year’s bold predictions sure to be wrong:

Prediction – A school will try a self-driving bus

Outcome – not yet

I know this prediction seems completely unfeasible, but when you think about the practicality of it, should they get the safety part down, I think this will happen in the next 5-10 years. In fact, this year in Helsinki they actually have the world’s first self-driving bus, so it’s only a matter of time until education catches on.

Prediction – MYOT (“Make Your Own Textbook”) Becomes a Reality

Outcome – trending in the right direction

This is actually getting closer and closer to being a reality. With colleges like Rice’s Openstax and MIT’s Open Courseware now entering the fray, I think K-12 will continue to travel down this path sooner rather than later.

Prediction – A “Teen Social Media Prediction” app will be invented

Outcome – Wrong

The truth is, even if there was an app that could predict what kids were doing online it wouldn’t matter. As I wrote in this post (Everything is Social Media) last spring, technically, everything that kids do online can be social. From making comments on Amazon to chatting with friends on XBox, social media is here to stay and it doesn’t really matter if we can predict the next big platform or not.

Prediction – In a district far, far away….someone will develop Star Wars school.

Outcome – NO

Wishful thinking on my part. Learn we must. Create we will.

Prediction – Speaking of Star Wars…the Learning will awaken at iPadpalooza this summer

Outcome – True

We had one of our most engaging iPadpaloozas ever this past summer.  With the theme of “May the Learning be with You”, the event featured lightsabers, stormtroopers (in the bathroom even) and a bantha’s worth of high quality speakers and sessions. Can’t wait until 2017!  Here’s a highlight video of this year’s event:

 

Prediction – The Election Will Be Televised…via Periscope

Outcome – Mostly True

While I was right about the fact that social media would play a large role in the election, I was wrong about the tool.  Periscope and Facebook Live did play a role in the messages online, but in the end, it was the president-elect’s use of twitter to sway the masses that ended up tipping the tide in his favor. Whether you like him or not, in an age where “who ever says it first must be right”, the reality TV star played that card masterfully to craft his message and sway people into his camp. Now comes the hard part for him….actually being the president.

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-8-20-41-am

Prediction – The “Undead” learning movement will happen!

Outcome – Still hopeful

As much as I would have loved a protest of broken #2 pencils being tweeted, snapped, and instagrammed out, this movement never quite took off. That said, more and more schools (like these in San Diego) are seeing the damage of too much standardized testing and thus reducing it from their daily practices.

Prediction – A School will go 1:1 cardboard

Outcome – Almost a reality

With the launch of Google Expeditions spreading like wild fire and the addition of Nearpod’s VR box, we are seeing more and more of these cardboard modeled phone-based VR goggles.  Zapbox even makes a headset that does mixed reality.  I’m a sucker for cool kickerstarters!

Prediction – I’ll Write a Children’s Book

Outcome – I still have a couple of weeks left

I’m in the middle of finishing my 6th book in the 6-book Mobile Learning Mindset series, so my time is very short here. That said, I have some early leads and a couple of ideas that might help me self-publish my first children’s book in 2017.  Here’s hoping!

So there you have it. Some winners. Some losers. Some that remain to be seen. Now comes the hard chore of researching trends from 2016 and attempting to gather them into some sort of coherent list for 2017.  Come back in January to see what crazy ideas come to fruition then and place your bets on which I’ll get right or…more than likely….wrong.

“The Gauntlet” – An Innovative Way to Hire Talent

When I started this position in 2010, hiring new educational technologists followed the same lines as all other positions in the district. A group would get together, look at resumes, and basically determine which 4-6 candidates made the most sense on paper to come in and interview for the position.  The interview was a standard 1-hour process made up of the typical questions like “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Tell us more about yourself.”  While this process had been in place for years, it really didn’t shed much light on the ins and outs of the position itself nor did it give other candidates a chance to participate if they didn’t have what it takes on paper.

Something else I noticed in education (and somewhat in private business as well) is that it’s much easier to hire someone than it is to fire them.  If hiring consists of a 1-hour interview and a couple of reference checks, firing takes months to years worth of documentation, discussions, mediations, and even at times, legal involvement.  With that background, over the past few years, we’ve set out to make the hiring process much more robust.  In December of 2011, I thought I had nailed it by adding a presentation component to the process.

Alas, it was just the beginning.

What follows is the now 9-part process we implement when it comes to hiring an Ed Tech at Eanes ISD.  I’m sharing this because other districts may benefit from reviewing and updating their hiring practices and I would also love to learn from other districts that have a more rigorous or innovative process.

Round 1 – Application Score

Looking through the field of applicants, any that match the minimum criteria for the position as posted on the job description  make it into this initial round. Putting all the applicant resumes and cover letters in a shared folder, my team reviews each and gives them a rating based on the campus that needs to be filled and how well their resume aligns.To keep consistent, each scoring section carries a 1 to 5 scale for interviewers to score the applicants.

Round 2 – Social Media Background Check

According to Career Builder, 43% of companies now add a social media background check as part of the hiring process. As our position involves sharing online as well as gathering content via virtual PLNs, I individually search each of the qualified candidates on social media.  A candidate with no profile online can’t hurt them, but it also doesn’t help them. In some cases I’ve come across questionable material which has caused me to pass on a candidate and in other cases, I’ve seen some amazing digital profiles that could nudge the candidate into the next round if there is a tie or they are below the cut-off line.  Based on profiles I either award a single point, a zero, or a negative point to the process. Taking the applicant score and social media background check bonus, we narrow the field down to 12-14 applicants which will then process to the next round.

Round 3 – Video Resume

Those 12-14 candidates that survive round one and the social media check are then asked to create a video resume. This is a 2-minute or less video that highlights the best of the candidate.  We encourage candidates to be as creative and to not make the video Eanes specific (more on that later).  Usually at this point, a few candidates drop out and some have even claimed they “don’t have time for this” which is somewhat telling.  The candidates have 5 days to create their video and submit at which point I put each video into a form to be scored by the interview team.  Here’s a mock version of the form (added some of my favorite video projects to protect the innocent).  Following the scoring round, we reduce the field to either 4 or 8 candidates depending on the positions we need to fill.  Those candidates are then invited to participate in “The Gauntlet”.

A classic game from the 80's or a new hiring practice?

A classic game from the 80’s or a new hiring practice?

“The Gauntlet” 

No, not that classic video game from the 1980’s, but it is somewhat equally challenging. In fact, at some point during the process I can almost hear the game narrator say, “Valkyrie, your life force is running out.” The Gauntlet all takes place on the same day.  The idea is to give each applicant a snap-shot of a day in the life of an Ed Tech.  It also optimizes the time of the interview committee.  In the traditional interview method (1-hour Q&A with a candidate), reviewing 4 applicants would take 4 hours plus time in between each candidate as well as prep and debrief time.  Looking at 4 candidates in this traditional format would generally take up to 6 hours. This process reduces the actual time with the candidates to 2.5 hours and gives us a much broader look at the skills and talents of each candidate.  Here’s a matrix of what the day might look like for four applicants (A-D):

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 8.52.25 AM

Rounds 4-7 – The Gauntlet Matrix

Each candidate participates in these 4 components.  They are all done in a different order for each candidate but laid out as such that the interview portion doesn’t back up to the presentation portion, as those tend to involve the most stress.  Each component takes 30 minutes or less.

Round 4 – One-on-One time

Each candidate gets an opportunity to ask a previous Ed Tech questions.  In some cases, it could be an Ed Tech that was previously posted at the school hiring or one that has retired. Which this seems like a pretty easy step, you can tell a lot about a candidate based on the questions he/she asks. The Ed Tech being questioned returns at the end of the process to report out their view on each of the candidates based on the questions asked.

Round 5 – Interview

This is the most traditional component, but we tried to update some of the traditional questions to make it more modern.  George Couros has a great post here that ties the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (his book) to interview questions. To prepare the candidates, I email them the general topics around what questions are asked so they can have a story or two in mind. (i.e. Perseverance, handling failure, leadership, etc) Then, each person in the interview room is given a scoring form with each question asked.  Here’s an example of what that form looks like.

Round 6 – Problem-Solving Room

Candidates are placed in a private office and asked to answer three different email scenarios on a Google doc (see example below). The scenarios involve an email from a parent, a teacher, and a principal that pose a problem or concern that needs to be addressed. The Google doc is viewable by the rest of the interview team which are then asked to score them (blindly) based on the candidate responses.  (Mock example here)  As a wild-card, during this process I walk in wearing a wig (yes…a wig) and different outfit.  I’m playing the role of a teacher who’s iPad won’t work as well as someone who questions why we even have iPads in the classroom.  As part of this role is constantly getting interrupted for just-in-time troubleshooting and problem-solving, the purpose of this wild-card isn’t to see how they fix the problem as much as how they deal with me.  I then awarded a bonus point to the candidates with the best responses.

Mock email scenario

Mock email scenario

Round 7 – Mini-Presentation

Each applicant is asked to prepare a mini-presentation that lasts no longer than 20 minutes which builds in some time for set-up and Q&A afterwards. The audience is made up of administrators, Ed Techs, and staff from the campuses that are hiring. The candidates are encouraged to use this time to showcase their presentation/training style while also teaching the group an idea/topic/concept. Following each mini-presentation, the audience scores the candidate using a form like this one.

Following the jigsaw matrix of the 4 rounds above, the candidates are all invited into our main room to participate in the final collaboration challenge.

Round 8 – Collaboration Challenge

Each candidate sits with a team of 3 teachers to help solve a dilemma or disagreement.  The teachers are asked to play three different roles: a teacher that is super excited to integrate technology, one that is not, and one that is in-between.  They are then asked to choose one of two different blind scenarios and read them aloud.  Over the course of the next 20 minutes, we observe how the candidates listen, ask questions, and help mediate the mock team meeting. Afterwards, each group assigns a collaboration score using a form like this one.

Following all the challenges, the entire group meets to debrief.  We hear the strengths of each candidates as well as the areas which they would need support if hired.  We don’t rank the applicants or ask for a ranking as the scores will bear that out.  Even with the scoring system, it’s always good to hear from members of the interview crew.  As this group is made up of teachers from hiring campuses, administrators and Ed Techs, they each provide a unique perspective on the candidates and how they can fit with the campus culture. I then ask them to submit their final thoughts on an open-ended form as sometimes, sharing in a group of 16-18 educators can be intimidating and I want to hear the thoughts of everyone on the committee.

Round 9 – Reference Checks

Pretty standard, but necessary.  I use this time to ask not only the strengths, but also what supports the candidate might need going forward in our district.

Summary

While this is an exhaustive process, using technology helps us optimize time spent with the candidates as well as receive feedback from a wide variety of people.  While this is the first year, we’ve implemented the “Gauntlet”, we have done the mock presentation, email scenarios and video resumes in the past.  In looking at the blind scores and coupling that with the feedback from the group, EACH time the candidate with the highest overall score also gets the most positive feedback.

Communication is key for this to work.  From the moment the applicant applies to the day I offer them the job, I’ve sent them an email with an updated timeline and instructions for each step along the process. I’m doing this not only to inform them, but to also see if they follow-up for questions or respond to let me know they received the instructions (testing their professionalism a bit).  In many way, this process begins when that first email is sent.

For those candidates that don’t get hired, I try and give them feedback on things they could improve to earn the position in the future.  In some cases, applicants return the following year and get hired based on this feedback and campus match. In other cases, I’ve had candidates tell me they’ve received offers in other districts based on their video resume (which is why I ask them to not make it “Eanes specific”).

Hiring will never be as hard as letting an employee go. I know this process isn’t perfect and we are constantly trying to improve it.  One thought from the team is to weight the scores of different components based on importance (like the collaboration or presentation components). Regardless, my hope with this process is that we can be as informed about a candidate’s personality, skill-set, work ethic, and overall ability so that firing will never be an option.

Reviewing my 2015 “Bold” Predictions for Ed Tech

Making predictions can be a messy game.  I mean not all of us can have a Miss Cleo in our back pocket for getting things right.  Part of why I do these predictions is to get me to think about the future direction of educational technology, including some likely absurd ideas.  The other part is what I’m doing right now; reflecting on the year that has been and how many of these actually came true.  In looking at 2014’s review, I hit on a few, missed on a few (giving up Google for lent? C’mon!) and sort of in between on others.  In January of this year, I made a set of ten more predictions that I thought were sure to go wrong in 2015 (remember, “bold” is in the title). Now for the moment of truth, let’s see how I did.

1. Classrooms will become automated

Outcome: Not yet

I’ve seen more sessions at conferences around the idea of automated or “smart” classrooms, but the technology is still a far ways off.  I think as beacon technology becomes more ubiquitous and more and more devices enter schools, this one will become a reality. I do think with the recent debates over student privacy, we will have to go through some legal loopholes before a truly automated classroom becomes a reality.

2. Pearson will lose its testing contract in Texas

Outcome: BINGO!

I am actually still in a state of shock that Texas would go a different direction, but with the exception of a few hold over assessments, we essentially dropped our contract with Pearson.  While I’m still not sure that replacement system ETS is much better, one thing is for certain, those people looking for jobs scoring 4th grade writing tests on Craigslist are surely going to be disappointed.

3. Wearables will take over the world…and then regress

Outcome: Getting warmer

CLWjmS6VAAA1RsA

Lighting up the world (and my shirt) with sound!

I made some jokes about the soon-to-be-formed P.A.W. (“People Against Wearables”) but in reality wearables came on like gang-busters in 2015, especially early in the year. After the Apple Watch hit the market, it became commonplace to see people checking their wrists for cute emoji-based text messages.  While I heard some rumors of a school in Australia going 1:1 with Apple Watches (for health data research), I think the fervor over wearables, coupled with the afore mentioned data privacy has slowed down the wearable market.  It still didn’t stop me from wearing this cool Matrix-like light up shirt at iPadpaloozaSouthTx this past summer!

4. A human battery level app will be invented

Outcome: Uh…no

So we haven’t entered cyborg-level yet, but I can tell you this partially came true this week when my dad went in to replace the battery on his heart defibrillator. That’s close right?

5. This year’s iPadpalooza APPmazing Race will bend the mind.

Outcome: Not quite, but it was a blast!

We ramped up the challenges to over 30 in the 3 days of iPadpalooza and dozens of teams rose to the challenge.  We had people doing “jumper” pics into swimming pools, putting bunny ears on Felix Jacomino, and tearing up the stage at lunch-time karaoke. The winning team each walked away with their own Apple Watch! All of this sets up for a crazy 2016 race as we continue to raise the bar and up the ante.  Check out the highlight video here and be sure to register now as the early bird rates are going on through the holidays!

6. 3D Printers will become common classroom (& household) items

Outcome: Still a ways off

We did see the price of 3D printers continue to drop and even got introduced to these snazzy $99 3D doodler pens, they are not quite common place yet.  I do think in several years we will be at a place where we can truly “download” the parts we need to fix something, but for now I’ll just patiently wait for hours as this machine prints out a mini-bust of my own head.

7. Someone will complete the 21 things every 21st century educator should do

Outcome: Not yet

This blog post made the rounds for the past year and half as a list of things every teachers should try to do in their classroom.  Many tried it, but I’ve yet to find one person who completed all of them.  Rather than rest on my laurels, I decided to up the game and create this “36 Weeks of Innovation” post for teachers to try one thing in their classroom every week.  As of this writing, I know of many that have done some, but none that have done them all.

8. Drones will make their way into education

Outcome: True

This was sort of a joke when I wrote it last January, but it is actually now becoming a reality.  Last week we completed our national “Hour of code” and I saw many posts on social media about kids programming and coding their own drones.  In fact, amazingly enough, I may have predicted what iPadpalooza Keynote Adam Bellow would do this year during his presentation.  During the middle of his keynote, he use the Tickle App to successfully program and fly a drone out into the crowd and then watch it turn around and come back.  Check out his full keynote (post on YouTube for the first time today!) below and watch the magic happen:

9. Someone will complete the Billy Madison #Student4aDay Challenge….maybe me?

Outcome: Not even close

I had grand plans this past year to follow up my #Student4aDay challenge in 2014 with a gauntlet of going through every grade level as a student. While I’m not dismissing this one for myself, I did see more and more people trying the #Student4aDay challenge in their own schools.  I think it’s one of the best ways to really experience what kids go through on a daily basis as well as seeing how administrative decisions (like 1:1 technology) impact the classroom.

10. Carl Hooker will FINALLY publish a book

Outcome: TRUE! (in 2016)

This was more of a way to blackmail myself then anything, but after searching for a publishing house in early 2015, ISTE Publishing came knocking on my virtual door.  I am excited to announce that I will be creating a 6-book series titled “Mobile Learning Mindset” in 2016 & 2017.  Each book will focus on a different area of the school environment.  The first two books (focusing on district and campus leadership) will hit shelves in early March of 2016.  The last four books will dive into mobile learning in the classroom, professional learning, technical support and the role of parents and community during a mobile learning initiative.  While I’m extremely honored and blessed to be a published author, I can tell you that it is NOTHING like blog writing.  I’m hopeful that these books will go a long way in helping schools on their own mobile learning journey and can’t wait to see them in print (both real print and virtual).

And that puts a bow on 2015.  All in all, I was surprised by some of the results and not so much about others.  I’m now going to start brainstorming for 2016 and will publish those after the New Year.  What did you think about these predictions? What predictions do you have for 2016? Comment below, and if I use it in my next post (as a “guest prediction”) I’ll give you full credit!

 

We’re Bringing Boutique Back…

…..and all those mega-conferences don’t know how to act.

There’s a movement afoot in the Ed Tech world. It started with Ed Camps and has evolved into something even bigger.

It’s the “boutique” conference.

A couple of years ago I was chatting with good friend and fellow “boutiquer” Felix Jacomino (head cheese of Miami Device). We were chatting about iPadpalooza and his (then) upcoming first event.  We were talking about ISTE, the preeminent Ed Tech conference in the United States when he said something both profound and prophetic.

“ISTE is like the Walmart of Ed Tech conferences.”

That phrase resonated in my brain like a Taylor Swift ear worm. I couldn’t escape it or put my finger on it but Felix was dead on.

At ISTE you have thousands upon thousands of people attending for any variety of reasons and from any variety of places. Some come to learn about interactive white boards (still). Others come to learn about Microsoft Office. Others iPads. Others Chromebooks. Windows. Mac. Apps. GAFE. CCSS. PDFs. Gifs. Etc.

This year's theme: "Summer Blockbuster"

This year’s theme: “Summer Blockbuster”

If you are an event like ISTE you have no choice but to go the “Walmart route” when it comes to sessions to ensure your customers have access to everything even if it might taste a little bland. While I think there will always be a time and a place for that, districts are also looking for something more meaningful. They are looking for something more tailored for their staff and their Ed tech goals. In the past, like Walmart, the attendee was forced to sort through the hundreds of isles of products (sessions) looking for that one specific item (learning) and try not to get lost or end up on stage at EdTech Karaoke (guilty as charged).

As we formerly launch the registration for our 5th annual iPadpalooza, there is a growing abundance of options available to educators and leaders. iPadpalooza started as a learning festival to share and grow in the realm of iPads but it’s now grown into something more than that (we welcome all devices!). While at its heart it’s meant to inspire and make learning fun, it’s also meant to be an experience. No not some sort of Burning Man in the desert experience (do they have wifi out there?), but more like you are a part of the learning experience and not just an attendee.

This year’s theme is “Summer Blockbuster” and is centered around the explosive potential of mobile learning but also the movie stars we have in and around education.  Because this is a “boutique” event, we can offer flexibility in terms of when you can come (we have single-day passes this year) and a little extra for those wanting to dive even deeper (this year we have added some “Pre-Palooza” workshops in addition to our iLead Academy).

While my heart belongs to the mothership event here in Austin, I love the fact that these are now starting to spread into other states (not unlike TEDx events) including Indiana, Minnesota and now Louisiana.  Each one is unique in that it brings in local talent and flavor into the festival-like atmosphere.  At iPadpaloozaSouthTX they even created their own theme of “Day of the Tech” based on the “Dia de los muertos” holiday.

Pic courtesy ‏@LaChinaAndrea

Pic courtesy ‏@LaChinaAndrea

What I love most about these spin-off events is the ownership taken by districts and educators as part of the mobile learning movement.  It’s not just seeing someone experience the stress and joy of hosting an event that MUST have a level of fun and local spirit, but also seeing them experience the smiles on the faces of attendees. It’s about the tweets of minds being blown and passion being ignited. It’s about discovering something they haven’t seen or thought of before and rethinking how learning can change in their classroom.

Ultimately, that is why you go to a boutique conference. Not necessarily to look for a specific thing, but to have a specific thing find you.

Who’s ready to go shopping?

The Most Amazing Conference You’ll Never Attend

YETI logoThere are very few moments in life when you know you are a part of greatness.  I recently returned from a trip to the Youth Education & Technology Integration (Y.E.T.I.) conference and let me tell you, this was true greatness manifest in a conference.  The event itself is kind of like burning man for educational technology (only with out all the fire and naked people). To keep mass-media and the twitteratti on their toes, event organizers actually keep the location secret until mere days before the event.  Both the speakers and attendees are selected completely at random using a complex algorithm of Twitter followers multiplied by latest eBook ISBN number downloaded.  I was lucky enough to be picked as both an attendee and panelist for this year’s event.  An while I signed an agreement not to share what I saw (they have a Vegas-like motto of “what happens at YETI doesn’t get tweeted”) I can’t help myself.  This event is too powerful not to share with others.  So here goes my recap, I’ll leave it posted as long as I can:

Location

A meeting "grotto"

A meeting “grotto” at YETI

This year’s event took place at the gorgeous [omitted] over a mild, partly cloudy weekend. Due to the natural terrain and the landscape of the area, no rooms were needed. Many of the natural grottoes acted as small meeting rooms and the larger caves served as auditoriums.  The acoustics were incredible and because of the location being near the equator, cell carriers signals were amplified along the walls giving attendees incredible 5G WiFi connections.

Speakers & Sessions

One of the most incredible parts of this event are the absolutely ridiculous variety of speakers and educators they have on hand.  I attended a session that was an actual a hologram of Bill Gates speaking to Jaime Escalante.  Some sessions lasted only for only a few minutes and others, like Bill Nye’s lengthy monologue, lasted several hours.

1024px-Alphorn_player_in_Wallis

The YETI Session Starter

There were no start or stop times for sessions too which was a little disconcerting at first.  Sessions were declared over when an organizer or attendee elected to bang a giant ceremonial gong.  To announce the beginning of a new session, a giant alphorn (you know, like the ones from those Ricola commercials?) would blow signifying a new session and new gathering of folks.

 

Sponsors

Another thing that sets this conference apart are the sponsors.  With the terrain being what it was at YETI, sponsors got creative.  Most of their “booths” were actually giant floating platforms, controlled by drones. I was excited to see that both Google and Apple were working in partnership with Facebook as sponsors for the event, even handing out free “Privacy Jackets” (a jacket that apparently blocks all outward internet traffic and data tracking from your devices).

My Panel

The "Thought Band"

The “Thought Band”

I was asked to be on a panel discussing the legitimacy behind this new wearable idea called a “thoughtband.”  The concept is simple.  Wearing a piece of technology on their foreheads like a Bill Walton headband, students’ thoughts are displayed in scrolling LED fashion.  Before we were even able to get into the discussion about data-mining or mind-mining for that matter, someone (who looked like a famous politician) got up and banged the gong, thus ending our session. I wish I knew what he was thinking…

Keynote

Nothing is normal at YETI, including the keynote.  This year’s closing keynote session started at midnight and lasted until the sun began to rise. The closing keynote was delivered by noted scholar and thespian Jon Lovitz.  His message of prosperity, educational equality and the need for more 80’s rap music in education rang true with the crowd of thousands. Following his talk, he asked the crowd to initiate in an awkward flash-mob edu-rave of sorts.  With the 80’s band Baltimora playing their one-hit wonder “Tarzan Boy” in the background,  the attendees went into a sort of strange crowd-surfing/internet-surfing mosh pit of sorts. Culminating in one of the strangest multi-tasking activities I’ve ever witnessed as attendees danced and texted on their smartphones, responding digitally to YETI’s essential question for 2015: Will the wearable flip-flop change the foot of education?

The video

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately, my violation of one of YETI’s 7 tenets of attendance (though shalt not video-record) caused my immediate removal before the end of the event. Organizers wiped the video off my phone, but I was able to sneak back over a hill and capture about 11 seconds of the closing coronation where they named one attendee the Patron Saint of YETI15.

While I may risk prosecution or worse yet, not be invited back, I’m making this video public in the hopes that the rest of the world will have a chance to experience just a little taste of what I got to experience. Enjoy:

YETI15 Video Footage

Happy April 1st everybody.

How Does Staffing Affect Technology Integration & Support?

How does staffing affect technology integration and support? That was the question I sent out to districts across the state of Texas and twitter.  I asked those districts to fill out a survey and self-evaluate how well they support technology (Technology Services) and how well they integrate technology in the classroom and curriculum (Instructional Technology).  I also asked how many of those districts were involved in some level of 1:1 device program in their districts. (here’s a link to that original survey)

What follows are the results of that survey followed by an infographic that summarizes the findings:

Participating districts data:

There were 28 districts participating in the survey, primarily from Texas.  Of those the largest had a student enrollment of 45,000 and the smallest had just 362 students.  12 of the 28 districts surveyed (43%) had a 1:1 program on one or more of their campuses.  There was a combined student enrollment of 256,000 students with over 210,000 devices being supported.

Who filled out the survey:

The majority of those responding to the survey were either technology directors, CTOs, or instructional technology coordinators. I recognize there can be a level of bias when it comes to evaluating your own level of support or integration, but I found these answers to be extremely realistic and the outliers tended to cancel each other out.  In fact, taking that bias inflation out of the results actually make the findings even more impactful in some ways.

Staffing Ratios:

In general, districts fund two technology support technicians for every one of their  instructional technology specialists.  As the survey data revealed, this has a direct impact on how well they are supporting technology (most felt they did a strong job of supporting technology) to how well they are integrating it (most felt they did a weak or adequate job of integration).

Outcomes:

A majority of districts (69%) surveyed felt they had adequate to excellent level of support for technology. By contrast, only 41% of districts felt they were integrating technology at least adequately with only one stating they were doing an excellent job integrating technology.

Those districts that scored the highest on integration of technology into classroom and curriculum had either one full-time staff member on a campus dedicated to that role or a full-time staff member that shared multiple campuses. Those with only one full-time district person to support the entire district or no person dedicated to this role scored the lowest.

Almost all (96%) stated that turnaround time on a technology work order was expected to be 5 days or less.

Only 28% of districts surveyed felt that they had “Strong” or “Exceptional” professional development around the area of technology integration on their campuses.  Those campuses that rated high in professional development also had more staff members dedicated to integration of technology.

Conclusion:

More people equals better support and integration of technology.  While that seems like a no-brainer, digging into the data revealed the a level of disparity between “support” and “integration” in these districts.  The ratio of technicians (1 per 999 students) vs that of instructional technology specialists (1 per 1910 students) seems to be the highest contributing factor to this.  If the technology doesn’t work, then you can’t integrate it.  That seems to be the mantra districts are following with these staffing ratios (we follow a similar ratio at Eanes). However, if districts truly want to utilize these tools for learning, it would appear the next step is figuring out a way to fund that professional support person to help integrate the technology, whether it be at one campus (ideally) or at multiple campuses.

Thank you to all the districts that participated in this survey.  I’ve conducted a similar internal survey with our own staff and would love another district to do the same so we can compare internal data.  If you are interested, comment below and I’ll send you the link.

Here’s the infographic:

K-12 Tech Staffing Infographic (1)

Reviewing my 2014 “Bold” Predictions for Ed Tech

This is the second year in a row I’ve made some predictions about the upcoming calendar year. (Here are my 2013 prediction reviews) I do this for a couple of reasons.  One is to stimulate my own thinking on what’s possible in education with technology. The other reason is to force myself to try something new in the upcoming year. These predictions are in fact “bold” and somewhat unlikely, but with the pace of change in technology you never know what is possible. Let’s take a look and see how my predictions turned out.

1. MOOCs rebound 

Outcome – A little

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 10.01.02 AM

Open to the world in 2015!

In the end of 2013, there was a lot of fervor around the quality of learning in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and the amount of students that actually complete the course.  I actually took a MOOC (on the Walking Dead of course) last year just to see what it was like.  Like many of my 5000+ classmates, I didn’t finish the course.  That said, I don’t hear quite as much fuss about these as I did a year ago so there seems to be a little bit of leveling in the Ed Tech community about these courses.  This next year, I’m going to step it up and actually offer my own MOOC on Digital Parenting. (link here if you’d like to sign-up for free)  I have some predictions for how that will go, but we’ll save that for my 2015 prediction post.

2. Textbooks become obsolete –

Outcome – Not yet

This one was really trying (and hoping) to step out there and change the way we think about textbooks in schools.  The internet is our new textbook, but that is going to take time to change that traditional mindset in schools.  This year we’ll be working with our teachers to build their own “textbook” and I’m hoping that’s the tipping point to ridding ourselves of the overpriced “Big 3” textbook providers out there.

YikYak reared it's ugly head

YikYak reared it’s ugly head

3. A new social media platform will take off with teens –

Outcome – Yes….unfortunately

This prediction is not really that bold in retrospect.  Kids have been social media platform hoping for the better part of 3 years now thanks to us “old people” getting on Facebook. Last year it was SnapChat and Instagram.  This year it was YikYak and Whisper. Next year? Who knows.  We’ve had a personal experience with YikYak here in our district this year and I’m hopeful that wherever they go next, it will at least be for a positive experience.

4. Wearable tech makes its way into the classroom –

Outcome – On track

Google Glass was supposed to be a harbinger of things to come in technology (and education).  However, I still haven’t see the tipping point with this one. The fine folks over at Edudemic are doing their part releasing this “Teacher’s Guide to Google Glass in the Classroom” and here’s a handy infographic from TeachThought, but for the most part, it’s still too expensive to be used in everyday classrooms.  With the release of the Apple Watch in 2015, the wearable tech space just got a little more crowded.   That said, I’d be shocked to see a 1:1 Apple Watch school, though I’m sure it will happen. (imagine typing up your papers on that!)

5. Augmented Reality becomes reality

Outcome – True

I think with expansion of uses of Augmented Reality in learning (from NASA’s Mars Rover app to teacher fave Aurasma), this is an area of significant growth in education.  And why not?  With augmented reality you could take those boring textbook that has yet left the classroom and put a layer of augmented reality on top of it to make it interactive!

IMG_1246

Scaring the crowd at SXSW

 

6. My SXSW presentation on “Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse” will make someone sick

Outcome – False, but…

Someone did almost shoot me in the streets of Austin.  Note to self: Next time you dress up like a zombie, make sure you aren’t in an open-carry state like Texas.

7. The classroom desk will truly die – 

Outcome – Not yet

After being a #Student4aDay a few weeks ago, I really think we need to rethink what we are doing to students.  I know what adults will say – “I sat in those desks when I went to school, so why can’t they?”.  The truth of the matter is, these things are just a notch above being a torture device.  It really makes you think…where are the most comfortable chairs in your district?  Who do they belong to? I’m hopeful this will change in my lifetime, or at least before my kids hit middle school.

8. My “Giving Up Google” for lent experiment will be the stuff of legends

Outcome – WRONG

Unlike my giving up email for lent experiment in 2013, I only lasted 3 days without a search engine of any type. I ended up asking people for help on social media or calling people whenever I had a question I couldn’t find the answer too. (essentially outsourcing my Google search)  Realizing I couldn’t lean on my friends and colleagues for 40 days (and have them remain friends and colleagues) I gave it up after the third day.

So that wraps up 2014.  Some interesting outcomes there and I already have a few in mind for 2015.  What are some things you predict for the next year?  Comment below and if I use it I’ll give you full credit!

 

What If We Said “NO” to 1:1?

Last night, I had the opportunity to present in front of our School Board on the state of technology in our district.  We reflected on the first three years of our LEAP initiative that brought 1:1 iPads to hands of every student at Eanes ISD.  We talked about successes and we talked about mistakes and how we’ve fixed them. While we are still far from where we would like to be, I am blessed to have such a supportive staff, community and board that have helped make this program a success.  In the coming months there will be discussions about what to do with future technology funding.  While I made a strong case to continue the program, we know it costs money and that money has to come from somewhere.

As I slept last night, a vision came to me in the form of a dream.  It was a vision of an alternate universe that would have been my life and the life of this school district if we decided in 2011 not to pilot this innovative idea of 1:1 iPads.

In this dream my life was pretty boring.  I was doing a lot of training on Powerpoint.  We were constantly struggling to buy enough digital cameras for classes.  My budget was getting burned up on licensing Adobe software for film-producing and photo-editing. But as boring as my life was, it was worse for kids.

As I visited classrooms, there was no technology except for the A/V equipment and the teacher’s desktop. The computer labs were still there, but they were now 7-8 year old machines that barely worked.  Teachers fought for 45-minute time periods in the lab when they could, but ultimately, many decided it was better not to even go. We had mobile technology in the form of netbooks (maybe this was more of a nightmare than a dream) that were really nothing more than expensive paper weights.

When I woke up this morning, the dream/nightmare stuck with me.  I started thinking…what if we didn’t go 1:1? What if we took the easy way out?  What would be different?  What would be lost? Here’s just a few things that came to mind:

Apps would disappear

ASL App Not_edited-1

ASL App no longer exists…

When we first bought the iPads, the common perception was these were solely consumptive devices.  You could read books with them and that was about it. I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve seen students creating amazing works of art, publish books and produce movies because they had the power to do all of that at their fingertips.  One very creative example came from Westlake High School Student Michael Bartmess. He was in need of an app to help himself and classmates with ASL finger spelling.  When he couldn’t find one in the App Store, he decided to make his own.  Where would his motivation to create this have come from without these devices?  In this alternate universe, his app wouldn’t exist and thousands of kids would struggle with finger spelling in ASL classes around the world.

The library would just be a library

One of the most inspirational spaces in our district is the “Juice Bar” at Westlake High School.  It’s a unique mix of Starbucks cafe and Apple Genius bar all-in-one. Digital librarian Carolyn Foote’s vision for this space was transformative and ahead of its time.  It provides students with a place to plan, collaborate and troubleshoot. In the world without 1:1, this area of the library would just be a sleepy corner that exists for 10-year old reference books to collect dust.

The iVengers would just be computer lab teachers

I am blessed with the best team of Educational Technologists on the planet (a.k.a. the “iVengers”). In a 1:1 environment, the role of a Ed Tech as technology integrator is vital to success. Prior to our 1:1, this position was based primarily in a computer lab (because that’s where the technology was) and was centered mainly around delivering 45-minute lessons once a week. Now they are truly coaches working to collaborate, co-teach, and design lessons with teachers in the classrooms.  In this alternate world, I think this position and the highly successful rock-stars holding the Ed Tech title would be long gone from this district and our teachers and students would suffer as a result.

Sir Ken at iPadpalooza in 2013

Sir Ken at iPadpalooza in 2013

A Global Learning Festival Would Not Exist

iPadpalooza was born out of the idea that we need to gather as a group and share our successes. While it’s turned into a global event, at it’s core it’s still based on that idea that learning and sharing can be engaging and fun. In my bizarro world, this festival wouldn’t exist and the thousands that attended would have missed the inspiring words of a Sir Ken Robinson, the creative madness of a Kevin Honeycutt, and the thought-provoking questions of Sugata Mitra and the creative conversations amongst colleagues.  After all, who would want to attend “Netbook-a-palooza?”

Parents would be in the dark about digital footprints

Having a 1:1 means having continual and ongoing conversations with parents about their role in the lives of our digital kids. I’ve spent hundreds of hours talking with parents, working with parents, and now teaching parents online about what it means to raise a kid in the 21st century.  While I’d like to think that would have happened regardless of our 1:1, the reality is, in a world where every kid doesn’t have a device, what is the motivation for a district to support parents in this realm?  We blurred the line between school and home, so we need to be the ones helping in both fronts. Without this initiative, the parents of our 8000 students would be left on their own to figure out how to navigate the world of social media, how to balance screen time, and how to help their children build a positive digital footprint for themselves.

There would be a few less trees in the world

We are far from a paperless district.  However, we have more and more content being moved digitally across our network then ever before.  Pulling up our Google Drive stats today reveals that we have have more than 170,000 files, docs, sheets, and forms that have been uploaded or created digitally since 2011. Moreover, we just had our 50,000th document shared.  That’s a lot of collaboration that doesn’t take place if everyone doesn’t have a device.   If you take into account that many of those files would have likely been photo-copied and distributed and that a typical tree is made of about 80,000 pieces of paper, think about how many trees would not be here now if we said “no” way back when?

Students’ voices would be muted

iPadLess_edited-1

Blank screens instead of blank stares

While it’s nice to save paper, create an app, redesign a library and connect with community, this one to me is the most important. Students that are trusted with a device are also empowered.  Traditional schooling exists to teach kids how to answer questions rather than ask them.  Empowered students can amaze the world and we’ve been lucky enough to have multiple examples of this over and over again in our 1:1.  From an entire class of 3rd graders becoming published authors in the iBook Store to a student creating an entire website to help her nephew with his illness, when you give students an opportunity to express themselves, you’ll be amazed at what they produce.

In this no-student-device universe, their voices might not be heard.  A universe like that means that a teacher’s job might be a little easier because they don’t have to change anything about their practice.  It means a parent doesn’t have to even think about what their child is putting on-line.  It means that administrators don’t have to wrestle with Apple IDs or filters or restrictions.  It makes the lives of all of those people a little more easier and a little more boring.  But who are we forgetting in that scenario?

Students.

They are the reason schools exist, not the other way around.  We need to do everything we can to prepare them for an uncertain future and that means NOT taking the easy way out.

For me, it means never resting until that becomes a full-fledged reality for this world.

It means more work and less sleep.

But in reality, why do I need to sleep when I’m already living the dream?