Thursday, May 10, 2012

If I Were the Valedictorian

 A Message to the Class of 2012

The time of year is upon us. A time where we celebrate academic success and identify our future leaders of the world. The time for our next generation that signifies they have accomplished something of worth and value. The end of an era and the beginning of a new world: Graduation.

With graduation comes caps, gowns, teary-eyed parents, pomp & circumstance (never really knew what that meant), and speeches that will enlighten. As we graduate another set of young men from BA, I can't help but remember my own graduation experiences and my missed opportunities to deliver the valedictorian speech. In High School, I wasn't even close to that position (graduating in the bottom half of my class). In college, I was too focused on social life to worry about being able to spell GPA. Through the marvels of technology and a moment of vanity for me, you will now hear what my message would be if I were a valedictorian of the Class of 2012. Lucky you! ..... Bueller? ...... Bueller?

Deep thought #1 - Your worth in life is not based upon your pedigree.
It is not a question of where you come from, where you went to school or how much information you remember that is important. It is what you do from today on that will make you successful.

I spend most of my day with a group of young men that are sometimes so focused on gaining admission to "good schools" that they lose sight of the skills they acquired over the course of the year. They look for that athletic or academic acceptance as a sign of success because it is granted by what Seth Godin would term the "famous school". Keep in mind: famous does not mean good. Charles Manson became famous and most of us know where he ended up.

Success will not be defined by where you have been, but by where you can go. A place of employment, or a business venture does not immediately become successful by hiring a Harvard grad. It becomes successful by what that individual can accomplish in the years that follow. All that coming from a guy who spent some time in public schools, went to a Maine state university and received his Master's in an online environment. Did I mention I was never the valedictorian in any of those schools either?

Deep thought #2 - People skills are more important now than ever.
In a connected economy, environment or web, who are we connecting to? .... Other people - that's who!

If you have read any of my other blog posts, you know that I believe technology is a powerful tool. It is a tool that can be used for both good and evil. It is also a tool that our graduates need to understand to be successful in the future. The use of social media has opened up the world of communication at a rapid pace and our kids depend on it for many different reasons. We just need to make sure the same lessons we taught in kindergarten about how to treat people are not lost. Whether you are talking to somebody face to face or posting on a Facebook wall, people are interacting and the successful interactions are based on people skills.

Although written in 1936, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People continues to be one of my favorite books. Amazon has it as a digital download. I bet there might even be a few online Carnegie courses that still discuss the principles in that book. I would encourage any graduate looking to get ahead in life in the Information Age to read that book. Sounds crazy but I think Carnegie's message is even more important today. I don't blame the car / vehicle (technology), I would like to think that I help make the driver better (people).

Good luck to the class of 2012 and may you realize that it is a new world you are about to enter. A world that, although dominated by change and technical advancement, continues to be human centered. ..... Live long and prosper ..... (I always wanted to say that...)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Badges... We Don't Need No Stinking Badges"

The classic clip from Treasure of the Sierra Madre has been rehashed many times including one in Blazing Saddles. you can check out the YouTube movie clip here for a laugh:

Well - I have news for you... In the future, you might need some stinking badges in order to get the job or credentials you want. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education sheds some light on the controversy of job force skills and the acquisition of credentials to get those future jobs.
The article entitled "A Future Full of Badges" by Kevin Carey discusses a UC Davis initiative to give credentials to students in a sustainable agriculture and food systems major. Not that anything here sounds new except everything is new, including the major. The program focuses on giving the students more than just the content of the major, it focuses on giving the students much needed experience within the subject matter. Experiential learning is something that students have always defined as meaningful learning. The problem has always been that most schools struggle with the experiential piece and the assessment of that experience. Carey ascertains that digital badges may be the wave of the future to accredit students with respect to skills learned in a field of study.

The current higher education track places our youth in a direction to acquire the almighty degree. Employers have always been focused on the degree as well as if to say that if you don't have a degree then you cannot possibly accomplish the tasks that the job requires. Degrees have become the currency of success for some. Some degrees are worth more than others. Some jobs require higher degrees. Some employers are just looking for people with a degree period.

Online learning modules are responsible for flipping the classroom and now those same models are looking to flip the degree philosophy as well. If a student now can acquire the needed knowledge and skills from various sources and not just one singular institution, how will the degree program continue to work? And... even though a student has a degree in a body of knowledge, do they necessarily have the skill base or experience to effectively do the job? Who is going to vouch for the competency level of these new hybrid employees since the institution can no longer hand out degrees?

Carey's solution is the digital badge. A digital badge is a representation of mastery of either a skill or body of knowledge that is bestowed to a student upon exhibition of that mastery. They tend to be more granular and could be how we merit the abilities of all within a profession. Badges can be given by institutions upon completion of courses or by individuals upon example of mastery of a certain skill.

I can't help but relate it to a popular reality TV show called Hell's Kitchen. Although one winner gets to work for Gordon Ramsey in a brand new restaurant, what happens to all the other participants after the show? If you owned a restaurant and needed a chef, would you think twice about hiring the 45-year-old breakfast line cook who comes in second on the show? After all the impossible situations that show puts those contestants in, you can't help but think they are gaining valuable experience every day at a rapid pace. Ginny Fredrickson of Brockton, Mass shows up in your restaurant with a Hell's Kitchen badge and says "I was the runner up and Gordon Ramsey gave me this badge indicating that I was the second best cook there." I think I would probably hire her on the spot, having no idea what her background was. She didn't need a degree - she proved it in experience and someone who is respected in the field gave her the badge of approval.

This concept is a new one but it does shed light on what we as human beings choose to put weight on. The badge gives all of us a way to prove that our life experiences say something about us and will also give our future employers the chance to see what we have accomplished. Credibility is gained in the court of public approval similar to the way in which most of us shop online. We look for an item and then read the reviews of what other people think before we buy. If a potential employee came in with digital badges signifying expertise in all skill sets of a job and was able to identify who awarded the badges to him / her, would it help in determining whether the candidate is suitable for the position? Instead, we look to where they attended school, ask for a copy of their degree and decide whether or not they should be hired. What does a B+ in MAT101 mean anyway?

The higher education world will look drastically different in a few years for the majority of the population getting ready to enter it. Digital badges offer a way to identify qualified and motivated individuals who wish to see the educational process as a learning process instead of a ticket for admission to a good job. What does it say to us when transcripts from one accredited school are not accepted for transfer at another accredited school? It says that there is great ambiguity and vagueness in terms of real skills associated with degree programs. The reality is: it's not what you say you know that is important, it's what you can do that will propel you to success. To have a system that both accurately reflects your accomplishments and provides credible sources of reference, look out Harvard, here comes the hybrid employee. One who has had experience in a multitude of educational environments and can prove that they can handle the job requirements.

Although I never was a Boy Scout, maybe someday I can get my Eagle Scout badge for blogging.....

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Still the Sage - On a Different Stage

I recently watched a 60 Minutes piece on Sal Khan and Khan Academy. The piece portrays Khan as a hedge fund coordinator who falls into an idea that is "revolutionizing" education. He started his non-profit site by initially trying to give his niece some help in math. Khan creates teaching videos by recording his voice and capturing his ideas on a tablet connected to a computer. Teaching, but using a different delivery method. Although the news piece portrays him as an exceptionally good teacher, he downplays his ability to relay a concept to his audience. If you have ever viewed a Kahn lesson, you would agree that he is engaging in his own way and his voice is distinct.
Strong terms like "revolutionary" and "game-changing" are lightning rods when it comes to education. If you profess to have the next best way to educate our youths' - look out because you are going to get some criticism coming your way from the traditional classroom teacher. The teacher that will tell you that it has been tried before and it is just another fad that will go away. They believe that the only way to teach our students is to present information in an engaging way in a classroom, with the teacher in front of some type of presentation medium. The term "sage on the stage" is now commonplace in the world of educational jargon.

In the last few years, technology has changed every traditional business model that we can think of. Education, on the other hand, has been slow to jump in. You might think that a technology professional in education is just there to show off the bells and whistles and what could be accomplished using technology. I find myself trying to battle fear more than anything else.

Everybody has an opinion about what Sal Khan is trying to accomplish. The negative opinions focus on his inability to teach and the discussion surrounding what makes a good teacher. His delivery methods are traditional and his style is straight forward but Khan has found a way to deliver information to a digital audience that is consuming it at a surprising rate. He really does nothing special in terms of his delivery, he is just one of the first ones to convert to a new digital delivery system. Khan is someone who has hit upon an idea that may work and his value is that he was one of the first ones to do it. He is still a Sage but on a different Stage.

I relate this transition to the birth of the motion picture industry as compared to the theatre culture in the late 1800's. The birth of a new idea that will kill another cultural phenomenon. Last I looked, Broadway was still doing fine and the motion picture industry seemed to be doing pretty well also. Why? Because no matter what the delivery method, people who are successful at their craft will continue to engage the masses.

Khan's new digital delivery system will make good teachers better teachers. Your crowd just went from the 15 - 20 kids in your class to a mass market of students. What if, as a teacher, you could capture the feeling of the best class you ever taught? That day when you were "on" and every student in your class seemed to be clicking and learning. The ideas you were trying to present seemed insanely clear and concise. All the right words came to you and every student was engaged. You capture that moment in time and share it with more students than you can possibly imagine.

The new delivery system is just a new stage, a new platform, a new vehicle by which good teachers can excel at what they do. Don't look at what Sal Kahn is doing as threatening the nature of how teachers teach. As far as I can tell, he has no background in education and has never taught in an actual classroom setting, yet he is seen as a very good teacher. What happens when we take trained professionals who are adept at helping kids learn and give them a better, more engaging and wide-reaching vehicle? A vehicle that Khan has proved will work.

We are now ready to see the other side of educational creativity. We have long been witness to the theatre style of teaching where you had to be there to experience. Technology advancement has allowed us to change stages and create experiences with many students with a medium not too dissimilar to the motion picture camera. We can plan, create storyboards, add engaging content, film and film again if need be - all with the goal of making the best educational experience.

These two methods are not mutually exclusive. If I wish to see a Broadway show - I still have the ability to do that. I can continue to experience very talented individuals at their craft entertaining people in a live setting. If I wish to see a movie, I can experience that as well - once again, taking witness in talented artists doing what they do best. If Sal Kahn is the Charlie Chaplin of the new medium, who will be the next Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese?

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Death of Memorization

There have been countless movies in the past few years where the idea of instant knowledge has been given super human status. Films like The Matrix and Limitless toy with the ability for a normal human to be instantaneously given the ability to carry out a task or have some level of knowledge about a subject.

For example, your car breaks down on the freeway and you have never fixed a car in your life and possibly have never even opened up the hood to see what an engine looks like. At this point in time, you summon your special abilities ( push on a charm or pound fists with your friend and say something about wonder twin powers activating) and batta bing! You now realize that your spark plug cable is loose. You know exactly what cylinder of your car is the problem. You identify the correct area of the engine, push on the cable, the car starts and you are on your way.

Sounds crazy, I know but quite honestly, I sometimes think that people do not realize how close we are to that scenario. Welcome to the age of mobile computing, where we do have the ability to acquire knowledge about a subject no matter where you are. If you are fortunate enough to have access to a smart phone, you already carry the ability to acquire knowledge at a rapid rate. That is, if you know where the information is.

I recently was approached by a student of mine asking if I could give him a definition from a study guide for a mid term. Being the empowering teacher that I am, I quickly informed him that I would not give him the definition and he needed to find it himself. I also asked him if he had tried to look it up on Google, because that is where I usually go to find information about a topic. He looked at me as he was having his "A HA" moment and quickly pulled out his smart phone only to find the same definition that I gave him in class.

So the $25 question is..... If we have the ability to summon any piece of information we need at any given time, why as teachers do we still think our students need to memorize content? In Math class, the discussion focuses on the use of a calculator vs. memorizing multiplication facts. Most third grade students will ask this very question as they get tired looking at flash cards.

Traditionalists would tell you that a memorized body of knowledge shows intelligence. I do not disagree but I also think since vast amounts of information is now readily available at the touch of a button, we also have to enable our students to think about those possibilities as well. Do they really have to memorize who Abraham Lincoln's first wife is when they can push a button on their iPhone and ask Siri?

Most times that I have needed to know something in my professional career, I have not been required to have answers off the top of my head. I have been required, though, to know where to get those answers in a timely fashion and to evaluate if that answer is the correct one. Fortunately, I have been able to hone the art of Googling for some time now and it has served me well.

By the way... Siri told me Abraham Lincoln's first wife's name was Mary Todd.

Thank you Siri...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Flipping" from Teacher to Coach

Buzz words these days seem to get created overnight. In looking over my RSS feeds, I found an interesting article about the idea of “flipping” the classroom. After I read that article, I was off on a web search about the title which caused me to spend a good portion of my Sunday morning reading watching and gaining as much information about this new buzz word in education. For many of you educators out there, this may be just another fad but for me it seemed to formalize some small ideas that had been brewing around in my head for some time now. That’s what happens when a buzz word  has meaning to you. It is no longer just a buzz word and it becomes part of your every waking moment of thought. An idea to test.  A lab experiment that may just become a major component of your educational philosophy.  If it works for you…

Most articles that I read have mentioned that the idea of flipping your classroom has been around for a while but advancements in educational technology have made this even easier than before. Flipping a classroom means changing the traditional time usage of a class and making the class time more student centric and less content delivery. The content or lecture portion is done as homework and the class time is spent by the student completing exercises or by working on some project either collectively or individually with the help and guidance of the teacher. Most flipped classrooms are tied to the notion of digital delivery of content by many different means. Screencasts and lecture videos seem to be the common delivery method.

In essence an example would be in an Algebra class, the student would go home, fire up YouTube and watch the instructor or some other resource deliver the knowledge necessary to balance an equation. The student can stop and replay the video at any time and can choose to watch as much or as little as needed to understand the material. If they are using an outside source such as the ones found at Kahn Academy (, then they can take a quick quiz on their own as well to check for understanding. Once they enter the classroom the next day, the teacher will then provide a class work assignment or a project for the students to complete and the teacher would then help the students work through the assignment to check for learning.

Although this idea has many different concepts of merit, the change in role for the teacher is the one idea that I think is the most dramatic. In this new world, the role of the teacher being the “sage on the stage” is dead. Content delivery is best handled outside the classroom and now the classrooms of the new world are practice fields where students can learn by doing. Teachers are now coaches - Guiding the student through the motions of learning. Teachers observe students doing and then make small one to one adjustments based upon what the student is showing. This concept seems to work well in most athletic programs across the country, why wouldn’t it work in the classroom?

Could you imagine trying to teach an athlete how to play hockey just by giving a lecture on the finer points of edge control on skates? After the lecture, the athlete goes home and tries it on their own without the coach. They come back the next day,  placed in a game to test their progress. The game does not go well (they flunked their test because they couldn’t skate). OK – Let’s show them how to shoot a slapshot now in the same pattern. After weeks of content delivery, non-guided practice and assessments, the hockey player is ready for the big game right? After that process, the athlete is probably ready to go back to watching TV and quitting the sport. Reminds me of my Algebra I class in 8th grade…

I have the luxury of being able to test out this new flipping approach this year with my 18 and 19 year old students. It will take some adjustment on both of our parts but I am really excited to see what can happen when you make a switch of this nature with students who have been taught in a traditional manner for so long. Many things are working in my favor though. For one, many of my students are familiar with the coach-player relationship. I have an interesting sport (class) to coach and a wonderful arena / field (technology) to utilize. I feel confident in my coaching staff (computers) and I am looking forward to big success from my team.

To me, flipping makes sense because it puts the student first in the education process. Once content delivery is taken out of class time, the relationship between teacher and student becomes stronger because it is a one to one relationship now. Time is spent by truly helping the student to fill knowledge gaps they may have and coaching them to become better students. The role of the teacher in all of this becomes clear. Let’s make sure our students (athletes) can effectively execute the skills needed for success to win the big game of life (to become life-long learners).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Senioritis Redux

So here is a snapshot of my class last week. I needed to cover some items in Adobe Premiere for my Multimedia class. Mainly, how to do the cool transitions between video clips. You know the ones - the cool page turns or the cube rotation or the diamond dissolve or the most dramatic of all - the fade. I am getting fired up about this because when I made my last video of my daughter's first grade gymnastics meet (she is now 15), I used every one of those transitions. Once the video was complete - I sat back and marveled about how cool those effects were. Bottom line - I was fired up to teach this topic. What I didn't realize was that I was the only one in a class of 15 that was motivated to cover this topic.

I set out on an epic quest to show each and every student the wonders of including transitions in their video productions. I had a Prezi ready to go for the SMART board, I had all of my lesson files in order. I was going to introduce at the board, they would take notes and then we would work through the lesson files together as we perfected our Bike Race masterpiece. That was the beginning of the class. By the end of the class my hair looked like I stuck my finger in an electrical outlet. My face was as red as a tomato and my voice was quivering with anger as I found myself saying close your mouths and follow along for the hundredth time in a 50 - minute span. I was also half tempted to cut the wheels off of the entire classroom of chairs. Brilliant educational idea - Let's put wheels on the lab chairs so that our students can move around in the class whenever they want. Some days it looks like the Kentucky Derby in here and that day was no different.

After my description of the class, you might think that I teach young kids or even pre-school but the reality is that I am at a one year postgraduate institution for young men. A class full of 18 to 19-year-old males that are all (hopefully) going to college next year. I have been doing this for 15 years now and what I have realized is that our lucky young bucks are going through their second bout of senioritis. You see, we graduate in less than two weeks and no matter what content I wanted to teach, they were going to be uninspired. I could have been teaching them how to make millions of dollars and get any girl they wanted and all they would be thinking about is wondering how fast they can physically go in the chairs before they bruise.

So, in order to save my sanity I started thinking of ways that I could get the content over to them in a way that will allow me to stay calm and feel like I had some sense of classroom control. I decided to create screencasts of my lessons. Screencasts are recordings of a user's actions on a computer that can be posted to YouTube or Vimeo or any other streaming video site. Screencast programs like Camtasia Studio and Jing as well as Adobe Captivate allow the user to record either a program you are using or the entire screen and make a movie for training. I used Camtasia Studio because it also adds functionality such as captions, zooms, recording voice audio and picture-in-picture as well.

So there I sat at the computer on the first morning, ready to make my lesson with my coffee in hand. I methodically went through the lesson, cracking some jokes but being clear about the main points of the lesson. All recorded into one movie file. Some even with my image on the screen as well. That must have been a sight for my students. I then posted it to YouTube and voila - I am a published screencaster.

The plan in class was simple - hand out headphones, send them a link to all of the lessons and give them the questions that I wanted them to answer. Once I received the first question from a student that didn't get an answer (this took all of 10 seconds into class), I put on my stern face and said "If you missed it then rewind the video." I then sat on my desk in amazement as they were all fully engaged in the lessons. For those who don't believe I have posted a video of the class working on this project below:

Although most were not overly thrilled about the delivery, they all took part in the lesson. Most were relatively engaged and worked on their own quite successfully. I will post again with more of my ideas about why this worked and as to when and where to use this type of delivery but for now I am just going to bask in the quietness of the moment, take a breath and have another sip of my coffee while my calmer, better-groomed virtual self explains the finer points of burning a DVD to my students.

By the way - the students were capable of answering all of the questions correctly on their own. This never happened when I lectured.

I think I'm on to something.....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Are Schools Ready for the Mobile Hot Spot?

Controlling Access or Teaching Access Skills

A few weeks ago I realized that my cellular phone was out of contract and I had the opportunity to upgrade to something new. Bonanza right? It is one of the few moments in your life that you can think about the latest technologies and how they will affect your life. Like most people who use Verizon for their wireless company, I had heard the rumors about the iPhone possibly making it's way to that service. I waited, I hoped and then I just got flat out impatient so I caved. I started to research the Droid and made the call to switch. Here I wait as my Droid X is being shipped.

You might ask why I actually picked the Droid. You might also ask why that has anything to do with mobile hot spots and education. My reasons for picking the Droid revolve around the limitless amount of features that come with the phone. The apps, the HDMI Jack, Yahtzee, Angry Birds, touch screen and what? The Droid can act as a mobile WI-FI hotspot for up to three other devices? Yee Haw... Sign me up! That means that I can take my Droid and my iPad anywhere that I have Verizon service and I have full Internet access as part of my phone plan. Oh... Wait a minute... If my daughter is with me then she could have access to the Internet as well on her iTouch or laptop if she stays near me. I guess that is one way to make sure she still loves me.

Then I put my teaching hat on for a moment and said, "If I think this is pretty cool, then most young students (a group of individuals that are buying Droids by the masses) will probably think this is pretty cool as well". Picture this, every student in your class having a mobile hotspot in their pocket. Schools that have worked for years to control Internet access in the hallowed halls of their building have now lost the ability to shape their students Internet experience. All of the money spent on firewalls, bandwidth meters and content filtering are no longer the tools of control. So how is this going to play out?

There has always been two diverse rules of thought when it comes to the Internet expience for our students. Some believe that we can mold their experience by controlling every aspect of their experience. Let's limit what they can see and limit the time that it is on. Many schools have taken that approach in the last few years and it has worked to a certain extent. Those schools have been successful in curbing inappropriate activities for the most part but it has always created an adversarial relationship. Students would always be looking for ways around the system.

Other teachers and educational leaders have taken another approach in the meantime by really trying to teach the access skills that are sorely needed for our young minds. These skills include time management, information retrieval and assessment, critical thinking skills and general proper Internet use. Access is given all of the time and there is no content filtering. Those leaders believe that through proper educational techniques and some behavior modification, teachers can create good habits in our students when it comes to Internet usage.

So now that control through technological means becomes a less viable option. One would think that some schools would tend to now lean toward the educational nature of Internet usage. Or will they use other forms of control? Do we now not allow cell phones in buildings? Will wireless signal scanners or blockers now become tools of the trade for teachers? Whatever the solution will look like, as a teacher I would hope that we as a community do not loose sight of what we are hear to do. Teach students how to obtain information, synthesis it and learn from it. Even if it is acquired from their own WI-FI signal coming from their pocket.