Nice Try ClassDojo - But Go Back to the Drawing Board

Just checked out Class DoJo Seems to be another example of non-educators creating apps for education that seem like a good idea, but is wrought with problems. 

"ClassDojo works by setting up real-time feedback loops in the classroom, to recognize and reinforce specific, desirable behaviors, values and accomplishments. You can do this with just one click, and have real-time visual notifications appear on your smartboard, laptop or projector. All recognition is logged automatically, and student behavior records are automatically created and updated so you don't have to do any other data entry (unless you want to, of course!). ClassDojo automatically generates analytics, shareable character report cards and insight into your classroom that has never before been available."

While they emphasize the benefits of real-time visual feedback there is no ways students can see the online results if the teacher is using their SMART board, laptop, or projector to actually teach. 
They also highlight the benefit of being able to email or share the reports with students or parents. The problem is that most students will have a difficult time recalling what it is they did to acquire or lose points by the end of the day, let alone at the end of the week. 

Overall, I'm uncertain how they plan to make money or even why a teacher would try this out for free, but instead of being a negative Nelly I will make a couple of suggestions. 
  1. A widget that can be projected in a corner of your computer screen, may help to address the real time feedback issue. 
  2.  For the end of day/week reports to be meaningful, students need to be able to pair the feedback with what was taking place in the classroom at the time. A simple time log would not be enough (especially for students that can't tell time). Pairing the report log with the classroom schedule may help. Instead of a report that says a student was disruptive three times on Tuesday, being able to see that they were disruptive twice during reading, forgot their writing homework and but were helpful during science might reveal that their behaviour is being influenced by academic challenges. 
  3. For the app to be truly responsive and help students monitor their own behaviour there would also be an app on each students' mobile device, table, laptop that would privately notify the student when they were awarded or deducted points. Students could eventually award points to themselves as they become better at monitoring their own behaviour. 

Experimenting with Video Annotation

Despite being a relatively new concept, the backlash against the Flipped Classroom concept is growing each day. The main objections to flipping classroom instruction is that it simply replaces a passive classroom experience with a passive homework experience. What many opponents forget is that the ability to slow down, speed up or repeat the instructional video allows for a level of personalization that is not possible in the classroom. Flipped proponents suggest that getting the passive stuff out of the way can provide more time for engaging classroom activities.

What was often missing from the flipped scenario was an opportunity for students to readily engage with the video content. Using VideoANT may help to ensure that your flip doesn't flop by providing students with a means to interact with the video content and their peers.

VideoANT provides students with the ability to annotate online videos with comments or questions. Sharing these annotations with their peers can not only enhance their understanding of the content, but also provide clarification and answer the questions of their peers.

The ability it annotate online videos means that educators can tap into the vast supply of videos available on YouTube Edu and reduce the need to create all of the video content themselves. VideoANT can even be embedded into classroom websites or blogs making it easy to share the end result.

Embedded VideoANT example.

THINK: A Forum on the Future of Leadership

Becoming a SMART Leader

Just as the original SMART interactive whiteboard transformed educational technology by providing a new way for teachers to engage their students, the latest offerings by SMART Technologies has the potential to change how school leaders interact with their stakeholders as they become tech-enabled leaders.

In a departure from traditional leadership that is often closed, top-down, and rigid, SMART leaders focus on interactivity to ensure that their tech-enabled leadership actions are opencollaborative, or dynamic.

Open Leadership Action:
SMART's Notebook Express web application facilitates the sharing of interactive materials even if some recipients don't have a SMART board or SMART Notebook software. School leaders can now easily share presentations and information covered during with meeting with stakeholders even with they were unable to attend. Open leadership actions and the sharing of information can provide teachers and parents with the vital information that is necessary for them to actively support the education process. An informed parent is better able to become the engaged parent that is necessary to support individual student success.

Collaborative Leadership Actions:
In contract to unilateral control and top-down leadership, the multitouch capabilities of the latest 800 series SMART boards can bring a greater level of the interaction  to collaborative planning and brainstorming sessions.

The decision making process becomes a collaborative endeavour when school leaders use the SMART Response interactive response system to engage stakeholders by allowing them to provide input the school's decision making process. When used during staff or parent council meetings, school leaders can get quick and easy stakeholder feedback that can not only influence the final decision, but also the impact of the decision. Research has noted that stakeholder participation in the decision making process can enhance decision quality and eventual level of participant acceptance and satisfaction (Yukl, 2010).

Dynamic Leadership Actions:
Rather than a solitary act, school leadership has become a process more than the job of one person. Dynamic leadership acknowledges that school success is enhanced when leadership is distributed and a variety of formal and informal leaders contribute to school leadership.  SMART's Bridgit conferencing software can be used to facilitate dynamic leadership by allowing a variety of leaders to engage in vital leadership actions even if they can't be in the same room, school or city.  Outside experts, consultants and district leaders can be easily brought into a school to share their insight with staff or students without added transportation cost or time lost traveling to the school. Because Bridgit allows anyone to contribute to a meeting, by screen sharing or adding digital ink notes or instant text messages, this software can serve to support the distribution of leadership. Harnessing the potential of dynamic leadership can provide schools with ready access to knowledge and skills that only a collection of leaders can possess.

Stories About Growing (Tech-Enabled) Leaders

K12 Online Conference Presentation

Presenters: Zoe Branigan-Pipe, Dr. Camille Rutherford, Kyle Tuck
Presentation Description: Our story is about growing leaders in the Ed Tech Cohort at Brock University in Hamilton, Ontario. This story begins with planting the seeds of tech leadership by providing intensive hands-on educational technology training. Their growth was nurtured by helping them develop an online professional network and partnering them with Virtual Associate Teachers. As their technical and tech-social competencies grew, cohort participants also received instruction in pedagogical approaches that use technology to enhance teaching and learning, technical curriculum design and leadership theory. This training and support was essential so that they may become a future educational technology leaders and a ‘Forest of Leaders’ can take root. Throughout the presentation you will hear their voices and stories as they grow into 21st century teachers.

Take Your Online Teaching to the Next Level

Flickr Photo by Swisscan

Whether you are teaching a blended course (where a significant portion of the course takes place online) or have been using your institution's course management system to supplement your face to face course, there are a couple tools that can be used to take online teaching and learning to the next level.

 Level 1
YouTube has become a noted repository of high quality academic content from renowned universities. With the creation of YouTube Education, which aggregates the thousands of available videos into academic disciplines, finding informative videos to share online has become considerably easier. Including video that elaborates on concepts covered in the textbook or lecture can provide students with remedial support or enrichment opportunities without becoming a burdensome venture for the instructor.

Many of the institutionally created videos on YouTube Education often include captions or interactive transcripts. These interactive transcripts allow users to click on a specific line in the transcript, which will then sync the video to a corresponding portion of the video. By using the ‘find’ feature built into most Internet browsers, users can even search for specific terms used in the video. Here is an example video for a MIT Physics course that includes an interactive transcript (Look for the interactive transcript icon below the video beside the ‘share’ and ‘flag’ icons).

 Level 2
Asynchronous online discussion tools have been around for some time. Unlike traditional text-based discussion forums, Voice Thread is a multi-modal online discussion tool that allows users to contribute to discussion threads using text, audio or even video. Whether you choose to host your discussion on the Voice Thread website or embed the discussion into your course management system, this tool provides students with an opportunity to choose their medium of communication.

 Level 3
You can now annotate your own YouTube videos to include an interactive commentary that students can click on when needed. The annotations can include supplementary information about the video, links to other videos or websites or even create video with multiple possibilities as viewers can click to determine what they will see next.

 For an even greater level of student engagement, instructors can have students create annotations that pose questions or contribute comments regarding what is taking place in the video. Student created annotations could also be used as a means of assessment by providing learners with an opportunity to create annotations that highlight their analysis of the video content. In addition to facilitating professional reflection, having students provide annotations to their own performance videos could provide instructors with valuable insight into the student’s cognitive process.

Also posted on Academic Matters

Is Teaching a Meritocracy?

Flickr photo by Daviniodus
After reading the recent article,The face of education: Is it too white? I made the mistake of reading the comments that followed the article. More upsetting than the sad facts about the lack of diversity in the teacher population, were the many inflammatory comments that based their argument on the statement that teaching is a meritocracy and that "teachers are hired based on their teaching skills, not their skin colour".

Suggesting that this lack of diversity is simply a result of meritocracy ignores the reality of the diverse population that makes up the Canadian education system, other than the school staff room. 

What does it mean when the teaching population is not as diverse as the students they teach? - Maybe the system is not a meritocracy after all.

I recently came across a Tech Crunch article, Racism and Meritocracy, that highlights a similar problem in Silicon Valley. The author, Eric Ries, suggests we use a scientific approach to examine this problem. Even though I've included a few excerpts below, I strongly recommend that you read the entire article.

While it doesn't provide a complete solution for the lack of diversity in education, it may help the education community to begin thinking about the selection process and whether teaching is a meritocracy.

Excerpts from Racism and Meritocracy by Eric Ries

What accounts for the decidedly non-diverse results in places like Silicon Valley [or teaching] ? We have two competing theories. One is that deliberate racisms keeps people out. Another is that white men [people] are simply the ones that show up, because of some combination of aptitude and effort (which it is depends on who you ask), and that admissions to, say Y Combinator [teacher education programs or school district hiring], simply reflect the lack of diversity of the applicant pool, nothing more.

The problem with both of these theories is that the math just doesn’t work...

When we see extremely skewed demographics, we have very good reason to suspect that something is wrong with our selection process, that it’s not actually as meritocratic as it could be. And I believe that is exactly what is happening in Silicon Valley [and education].

*Please note I added the italics, bold and [ ] font colour for emphasis. 

What Happens When Leadership isn't Distributed

Flickr photo by Torrey Wiley
The 0-10 Indianapolis Colts lack of success should serve as a warning to all organizations that put their fate in the hands of a single person. Distributed leadership is needed to ensure sustained success. 

"In the knowledge economy, one of the most important risks companies must manage is the one related to team building. A strong team is not the one where a single person disproportionally influences the team's results. We treasure the project champion and team leaders, but if we want business continuity, there must be structures in place to ensure that the other members are ready to lead if the commander is not available." ~ Ndubuisi Ekekwe, Harvard Business Review

"If a company can't function without its lone star, it could be time to break that power silo and put others in positions to fail or succeed. It's imperative that the overall performance of the lone star is measured not just by job performance, but also by how he or she discovers and nurtures those who could become backups when necessary." ~ Ndubuisi EkekweHarvard Business Review
Read the full article, What The Colts Can Teach Us about Team Building

Making I.T. Happen

In contrast to all the talk about digital natives being different from previous generations, the vast majority of teacher candidates we encountered five years ago did not appear able, and many weren't even willing, to embrace the use of technology to support teaching and learning. While I can understand how some people may not have the know how, we were often shocked by the candidates that were reluctant to becoming 21st century teachers, because they were more than happy to replicate the education they had received. Thus, our first step to Making I.T. Happen was to create converts.

Flickr photo by Jackal of all trades
Planting the Seeds 
When a colleague returned from a technology conference in the U.S. excited about a session he had attended - a session about creating your own tech conference, we felt that this is what we needed to start building a critical mass of educators ready to embrace 21st century teaching and learning. The Brock Teaching and Technology Collaborative Showcase provided teacher candidates and classroom teachers with an opportunity to see how a variety of educational technology resources were being integrated in the classroom. The individual sessions, sponsored by a educational technology company, allowed the participants to hear from skilled classroom teachers about how they were using technology in the classroom. Many sessions provided participants with their first hands-on experience using these resources. The end results was that participants left excited about the potential of integrating technology into their teaching practice. In three short years, the Brock Teaching and Technology Collaborative Showcase has grown to become one of the largest EdTech events in Ontario. It may even be the largest free EdTech event in the country. We feel that ensuring the event is free for participants (we even provide a free pizza lunch), will encourage all educators, even those that are apprehensive about using technology, to participate. Creating a critical mass of 21st century teachers will not be possible if teachers have to pay for their own professional development.

In addition to creating converts, the tech showcase also includes a luncheon for school and district leaders to gather and share ideas about promising practices that support technology integration. In addition to facilitating networking amongst education leaders, the luncheon provides a unique opportunity for school leaders, teacher educators and technology companies to collaborate on how we can work together to make I.T. happen.

The tech showcase has allowed us to build a relationship with a variety educational technology companies. These relations have become invaluable in getting the latest technology resources into the hands of our teacher candidates and their associate teachers. It can be very discouraging when teacher candidates have embraced everything they have learned in our program only to find that their school is devoid of the technology resources that they are excited about using in the classroom. As a result of the partnerships (Epson partnership case study) developed via the showcase and the revenue the event generates, we are able to provide our teacher candidates with many of the resources they learned about at the tech showcase, with an opportunity to use them during their teaching practicum. In addition to allowing our teacher candidates, their associate teacher and their students to experience 21st century teaching and learning first hand, our candidates are provided with a unique leadership opportunity, as their are often asked to provide training and support to teachers at their placement school.

Nurturing Growth 
In the fall of 2011 we welcomed the first cohort of Ed Tech Leaders to our Hamilton campus. These teacher candidates opted to participate in an additional 72 hours of training that included hands-on training with a variety of classroom technologies, training on professional development curriculum design, and an introduction to educational leadership and the current technological challenges and obstacles facing the education community

The first module of their technology training included hands-on training with LCD projectors, clicker, iPod Touches, Flip video cameras, Livescribe pens, Front Row classroom audio systems and SMART Notebook 1 & 2 certification. The goal of this training was to ensure that these teacher candidates would be knowledgeable in the technical use any technology resource they could encounter in the typical classroom. To demonstrate what they had learned, the candidates were asked to create a video that highlighted their knowledge of how to use a ed tech tool of their choosing.  The end result was a series of ed tech 'how to' videos that were posted to the cohort's YouTube channel.

This ed tech leadership training was in addition to the 20 hours of Teaching with Technology coursework teacher candidates receive at Brock University. This mandatory course develops the candidates' TPAK (technological and pedagogical knowledge) which is essential if they are to successfully use technology to enhance classroom teaching and learning.

Even before the first day of class, the candidates were asked to create a Twitter and blog account. Despite the fact that the majority of the teacher candidates admitted that had never used Twitter or a blog before, they quickly embraced these tools are a medium for professional development and reflection. To help guide their way through the Twitterverse and blogosphere, the Ed Tech Cohort members were provided with a list of Virtual Associate Teachers so that they could see how experience educators used these social technologies. Nurtured by the example of the educational leaders they were following online, the blogs and tweets created by the Ed Tech Cohort highlighted their professional reflection, but also posed questions and concerns about traditional education practices that supported critical reflection and professional dialogue. These interactions are the type of professional activities school leaders often desire from experienced teachers.

A Forest of Leaders 
Within days of the start of the Ed Tech Leadership Cohort it became apparent that we had unleashed a tech-enabled virus into the education community.  Even before formally studying the leadership theories that serve as the foundation of the third Ed Tech Leadership module, the teacher candidates began to organically demonstrate their understanding of educational leadership and tech-enabled leadership. Their use of Twitter, blogs, Ning, and Google+ highlighted their understanding about the benefits of being open and transparent about their professional practice. Being open helped them to realize that they were not alone and served to develop a sense of community. Their commitment to being open facilitated the sharing of resources and ideas that serves as one of the hallmarks of leadership - the ability to influence the professional knowledge, practice or motivation of others.

As their professional learning community grew, they embraced the realization that using technology to foster collaboration would not only make their lives easier, but also contribute to their professional success. The candidates noted that without the use of collaboration tools such as Google Docs, they would not have been able to benefit from the insight of their colleagues or successfully complete many of their group assignments. Their easy acceptance of the virtues of collaborative practice is a realization that many educators have yet to acknowledge.

Through their use of a variety of social technologies it became apparent they were interacting with and being influenced by education leaders from across the globe. Participating in Twitter chats, Ning discussions, online and offline conferences and webinaires allowed them to be exposed to ideas and resources from around the world. It also provide them with an opportunity to share their ideas and possibly influence the practice of the educators they came in contact with. Watching their Tweets being retweeted and blog being commented on by experienced educators reinforced the notion that leadership is dynamic as it can come from a variety of places and is not dependent on formal roles.

By engaging in actions that were open, collaborative or dynamic that influenced the educational knowledge, practice or motivation or other educators, these teacher candidates have exercised tech-enabled leadership and have directly contributed to the advancement of classroom technology integration, and Making I.T. Happen.

Creating a Favourable Climate for Innovation

Courtesy Sir Ken Robinson:
"This series of short videos from Microsoft shows how digital technologies are transforming learning and opportunities to learn for students around the world. Understanding the nature and significance of these opportunities is part of what I mean by the education revolution." 

In the video he notes the importance of policy makers in creating a favourable climate in which innovation can take place. The end result - "A harvest of human achievement."

Solutions to the Education Blame Game

Flickr photo by A2gemma
I'm tired of hearing complaints about teacher training, teacher evaluation and teacher tenure that point the finger at teachers, but fail to hold educational leadership accountable for their contribution to these problems. 

The core function of schools is teaching and learning, and yet most school leaders spend a great deal of their time dealing with issues that are only indirectly related to teaching and learning. 

Many of the issues related to teacher performance could be eliminated if educators were provided with an appropriate amount of time to attend to the core function. School principal are supposed to be instructional leaders, but often do not have enough time to supervise and support instructional practice. 

The new teacher attrition rate is often a result of novices being thrown into a new profession with little support or mentoring, not because of inadequate training.  Even if they hold an advanced degree, many corporations spend thousands of dollars and countless hours preparing new employees to successfully enter their workplace. In contrast,  new teachers are often given the least desirable teaching assignments, with busy schedules that don't provide them with the time needed to interact, collaborate and learn from their colleagues. 

I have always found it ironic when educational administrators complain about teacher tenure, as the only way for a teacher to get tenure is by having a principal recommend them for tenure. Providing principals with enough time to properly interview and assess teacher candidates during the hiring process and then the time and resources to evaluate their performance during their first years of teaching would help to ensure that under-qualified or poor performing teachers don't get tenure in the first place.

Using standardized test results as a measure of teacher skill is just another cheap (not so cheap) and easy way to pretend that school systems are addressing the issue of teacher quality. Let's be honest - Principals can't do it all, nor should they have to. Teachers, students, and parents all have a role to play in determining what good teaching looks like. Teacher leaders, those master teachers that are found in every school, need to be provided with the time to work with the principal to support instructional practice. As the first line of defence, teacher leaders could provide invaluable support for new teachers, while facilitating a collaborative environment that sets high expectations for student and teacher performance.

Despite the image accompanying this blog post, these statements are not meant to point the finger at principals, but to draw attention to the challenging work they do and the systemic deficiencies that persist. These challenges will continue to persist until the education community carefully examines all the factors that have contributed to these problems and realizes that we have to work together and draw on the talents of all leaders to find solutions. 
Flickr photo by Lumaxart

Leadership is Everywhere - Preservice Teacher Leadership

While the research and policy literature frequently highlights the importance of leadership to school success and student achievement, the 'leadership' they have in mind is primarily that of the principal. As teachers have become more involved in school administration, the importance of teacher leadership and its impact on student success and teacher professionalism have occasionally been noted in the school leadership literature.

 EdTech Heros/Leaders
What I have yet to read about is the contributions of novice or preservice teachers to the knowledge, practice or motivation of other educators. As an advocate of distributed leadership and the notion that leadership is everywhere, I am a firm believer that influencing the knowledge, practice or motivation of others in the service of organizational goals can indicate leadership influence. While some may feel that their newness to the profession precludes novice and preservice teachers from being considered leaders I would like to highlight the contributions of Brock's EdTech Cohort as a case for acknowledging preservice teacher leadership.

Contemporary leadership portrayals highlight the importance of how leaders influence those around them (Leithwood et al, 1999; Northouse, 2010; Spillane, 2006; Yukl, 2010). From a social influence perspective, leadership can be considered to be any activities that attempt to influence the knowledge, practice and motivation of other organizational members in the service of the organization’s core work (Spillane, 2006). Within the context of the schoolhouse, school leaders are seen as ‘‘those persons, occupying various roles in the school, who work with others to provide direction and who exert influence on persons and things in order to achieve the school’s goal” (Leithwood and Riehl, 2003, p. 9). Thus, by exerting influence in the service of school/educational goals preservice teachers deserved to be considered leaders.

The use of social media has made finding examples of leadership influence much easier for researchers and potential followers alike. In fact, this is the basis of tech-enabled leadership:

Tech-enabled leadership can be defined as leadership that take advantage of the affordance of technology to enable leadership actions that are open, collaborative or dynamic. With a focus on leadership influence, tech-enabled leadership transforms the scale and scope of traditional leadership structures to facilitate the distribution of leadership actions that influence the fulfillment of organizational goals.

In a very short period of time the preservice teachers in Brock's EdTech Cohort have capitalized on the benefits of using technology to exert leadership influence. While it is to be expected that these teacher candidates would influence their peers, what has been notable is how the scale of their leadership influence has left the confines of Brock's teacher education program to influence the knowledge, practice or motivation of educators outside of the program.

Following the blog and Twitter feeds of the EdTech Cohort in addition to their educational technology videos available on YouTube highlights their collective contribution to enhancing educator professional knowledge. More importantly, a careful examination of the blog comments and retweets from educators not associated with the teacher education program provides encouraging evidence that these preservice teachers have influenced the knowledge, practice or motivation of other educators.

While I began this blog post with the goal of drawing attention to the leadership influence of preservice teachers, what I find more exciting is the future leadership potential of these educators that have already demonstrated their ability to support the professional knowledge and growth of the profession even before their first day employed as a teacher. This bodes very well for the future of education.

I look forward to watching them learn and grow and you can too. To see these leaders in action visit:

Leadership is Everywhere

I recently took some time to re-visit the Ontario Leadership Framework published in 2008 by the Ontario Institute for Educational Leadership. With a goal to "support leadership excellence in Ontario",  the framework and the accompanying self assessment tools are great resources that advance the institute's goals.

The framework is research-based, yet practical, and as the title suggests, easy to put into practice. Despite this, each time I read it I am left with a nagging critique. Upon reading the framework, you are left with the impression that educational leadership resides solely in the office of school principals and district  supervisory officers.

The research demonstrates that:
  • Principals and vice-principals are critical to the development of excellent teaching, excellent schools and, ultimately, enhanced student achievement;
  • Supervisory officers play an essential role by putting in place supportive system practices and procedures for school and system leaders, and provide critical system-wide leadership. p.3.
While I don't question the validity of statements such as these, the over-emphasis on the 'leader' as opposed to 'leadership' discounts the contributions of teacher leaders, informal leaders and educational stakeholders can play in contributing to school leadership. 

The document is very helpful in highlighting the specific leadership practices and competencies that contribute to school success and student learning. The level of detail included the skills, knowledge and attitude school leaders should exhibit, not only creates a common language, but also supports the ease in applying the framework. Unfortunately, what the framework fails to acknowledge is that a variety of educators and school stakeholders may also possess these skills, knowledge and attitudes.

All educators within a school need to be actively engaged in "Setting Directions"  by "building a shared vision, fostering the acceptance of group goals" as well as "setting and communicating high performance expectations". In addition to principals and vice principal, teachers, students, parents, and community members play a key role in "Developing the Organization" by engaging in  leadership actions that "build a collaborative culture and connect the school to the wider environment". The document similarly ignores the contributions of teacher, students, parents and external community members to "Building Relationships and Developing People" and "Leading the Instructional Program". 

While the document and even the institute's website haven't been updated of late, I hope that future iterations include a more inclusive portrayal of school leadership and an acknowledgement that leadership is everywhere.

Defining Tech-Enabled Leadership

Tech-enabled leadership can be defined as leadership that takes advantage of the affordance of technology to enable leadership actions that are open, collaborative or dynamic. With a focus on leadership influence, tech-enabled leadership transforms the scale and scope of traditional leadership structures to facilitate the distribution of leadership actions that influence the fulfillment of organizational goals.

Photo by greeblie

The Impact of Technology on Leadership

Traditional leadership patterns are often opaque, unilateral and rigid in nature not because formal leaders want to maintain a stranglehold on leadership influence, but more because of the challenges and constraints of acting in a contrary manner. 

Formal leaders are often at the epicentre of organizational information, serving as gatekeepers to the essential information and resources that are needed to keep an organization running. Before the advent of digital resources, sharing information and information was often a costly and time consuming process. Access to vital information was frequently limited because it would have been prohibitively expensive and logistically complicated to freely share these resources with all stakeholders. 

While the development of the personal computer and the Internet made it easier to distribute materials, the exchange of information was still most often unilateral with knowledgeable leader disseminating information to their followers. The complexity of creating web resources limited the number of people that could participate in the creation of information or resources that could influence the knowledge, practice or motivation of others. These early web resources were also read only, leaving little or no opportunity for readers to contribute their input or alter the original document. Even email, which revolutionized organizational communication, was reliant on direct person to person communication and unwieldy when it came to interacting with large numbers of people.

With the new millennium came the development of the read-write web or Web 2.0 resources like social media. It was the use of social media with its emphasis on active participation, connectivity, and collaboration, that finally enabled leaders to easily and efficiently share their knowledge and ideas with an unlimited number of followers. Thus, technology enabled leaders could overcome many of the challenges and constraints of traditional leadership to engage in leadership actions that are more open, collaborative and dynamic.

How has technology changed your leadership?

Photo by thinkpanama

Understanding Student Engagement

Simply put, student engagement can best be understood as a relationship. The relationship between:
  • the student and the school community;
  • the student and school adults; 
  • the student and peers; 
  • the student and instruction; and
  • the student and curriculum (Yazzie-Mint, 2009)
 Researchers have noted that there are four key indicators or contributing factors to student engagement. These include academic, behavioural, cognitive, and affective engagement (Furlong Christenson, 2008; Yazzie-Mint, 2009).

While standardized test results are considered the primary indicator of academic achievement, they do not reveal what is required to achieve academic success. Academic engagement captures what is often required for students to be academically successful. This is reflected in the amount of time a student spends actually doing schoolwork or related projects in school or at home, the number of credits the student has accrued, and the amount of homework completed (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).

More important that just the time students spend at school, behavioural engagement captures not only student attendance, but also active participation in classes and involvement in extracurricular activities (Furlong & Christenson, 2008). Going to school, completing their homework and participating in class, are just two parts of the engagement puzzle. To be considered cognitively engaged students need to perceive the relevance of school to their future aspirations. Thus, cognitive engagement is expressed as academic relevance, an interest in learning, goal setting, and the self-regulation of performance (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).

An over emphasis on standardized test results has created an environment where many educators are often fixated on direct instruction and a narrow band of academic indicators and have forgotten about the importance of relationships. Both the academic and social aspects of school life are integral for student success. Consequently, student to student, student to teacher, and student to school community relationships are vital components of student engagement. This is especially true for those students who are vulnerable to educational failure, show signs of withdrawal from learning or experiences motivational difficulties (Furlong & Christenson, 2008). Thus, affective engagement refers to a sense of belonging and connection to and support by parents, teachers, and peers (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).

While the education community works hard to provide a positive education experience for all young people, the number of students that frequently skip class or school, and eventually drop out, highlight the reality that many students are not readily engaged at school. The three most-cited reasons — given by students who have considered dropping out — are all focused on school-related factors:
  •  “I didn’t like the school” (50%), 
  •  “I didn’t see the value in the work I was being asked to do” (42%), 
  •  “I didn’t like the teachers” (39%). 
  •  While 35% of respondents considered dropping out because of the difficulty of the work, 13% considered dropping out because “The work was too easy (Yazzie-Mint, 2009; p.7).
Understanding how academic, behavioural, cognitive, and affective engagement affect how students perceive their educational experience is key to assessing the level of student engagement within individual schools and creating a plan to address engagement shortcomings. 

Furlong, M. & Christenson, S. L. (2008).  Educating students at schools with learning: A relevant construct for all student. Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 45(5).
Yazzie-Mint, E. (2009). Charting the Path from Engagement to Achievement: A Report on the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement. Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation & Education Policy Indiana. Retrieved from

Photo by breity

School Leadership & Educational Trail Blazing

UnPlug’d 2011 brought together Canadian educational change agents to share their first-hand experiences and to collectively consider modern approaches to learning. The summit culminated with the release of a publication that communicates a vision for the future of K-12 education in Canada.

More than any other group, I hope that school leaders will take the time to read the collected stories and review the videos that highlight the experiences of these trail blazers that use technology to support the development of global citizens.

Why Social Justice Matters: A Story Shared by Shelley Wright from unplugd on Vimeo.

Why Sharing Our Stories Matters: Story by Bryan Jackson from unplugd on Vimeo.

Not captured in their stories and video are the challenges they faced and the obstacles that school leaders often placed in front of the them as they attempted to empower their students to become technologically literate, global citizens.

While getting to know the Unplu'd participants during meals, relaxing by the lake or hanging out at the dock, it became apparent that intertwined with the stories of innovative teaching and learning were disheartening examples of principals and superintendents interceding to pull these trail blazers back into the confines of the status quo. Instead of empowering these explorers to be technology stewards that are charged with clearing a path for others to follow, they often felt alone and vulnerable in a jungle of technological fear and policy sink holes.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that school leaders move beyond traditional and rigid notions of school leadership to embrace leadership practices that empower others to be leaders and trail blazers. Instead of needing to captain every ship, school leader should see themselves as the nobel leaders that funded and equipped the explorers that charted the course to the new world. Confident leaders realize that regardless of who first sets foot on a new territory, we can all benefit from the discovery.

While technology can be of great assistance to distribute leadership, technological resources are not necessary to foster leadership practices that are collaborative, open and dynamic, that in the end will empower educational trail blazers.

Why Tech-Enabled Leadership Matters
With the exception of E-mail, the toolbox of resources available to school leaders has remained virtually unchanged for the last twenty-five years. Despite the previously slow pace of change, a new generation of leadership tools that include blogs, wikis, and RSS feeds, appear to have the potential to significantly alter the who and how of leadership practice, and rapidly disrupt previous notions of school leadership.

These new leadership resources, that are often labelled ‘social media’, have already demonstrated that they are capable of disrupting traditional patterns of knowledge management and information distribution. One needs to only look to the impact of Wikipedia and blogs on the information and news industries to grasp the disruptive nature of these resources.

When harnessed as a leadership tool, these social media resources may have the potential to disrupt the traditional distribution of leadership and how leaders influence followers. Just as recent technological advances have changed traditional notions of the workplace and collaboration by creating a flat world where telecommuting across time zones and collaborating across continents is possible, technology-enabled leadership has the potential to alter school leadership to the point that it warrants the label “leadership 2.0.”

The designation 2.0 is generally associated with web applications that afford greater levels of user interaction, collaboration, and engagement than the static, pre-millennium internet. It is also commonly used by computer programmers to highlight an incremental improvement in software code that is built on the strengths of a previous version. Consequently, leadership 2.0 can be considered a new iteration of leadership practice that goes beyond traditional models of rigid leadership that were often opaque and hierarchical to facilitate leadership practices that are open, collaborative and dynamic in nature.

Photo by Stephen Poff

Mobile Learning in the 21st Century Classroom

The Challenge
Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat notes that cheap and ubiquitous technological resources have reshaped our geopolitical and economic realities, by providing individuals with almost instant access to the collective knowledge of humankind. It is this quick and easy access to information that has caused many corporations and governmental bodies to re-think how they interact with and support their stakeholders, causing them to flatten their hierarchies and distribute information and control more evenly. In contrast, traditional educational organizations have yet to fully embrace the flattening of their organizational structures and distribute teaching learning so that the learning process can take place anywhere and at any time.

Despite the technological advances that have taken place in the 21st century, most classroom practices are still rooted in the 20th century (Christensen et al, 2008). As a result, students report that “Whenever I go into class, I have to power down (Puttnam, 2007).” To capitalize on the technological capabilities of the digital generation, educators need to become more skilled at incorporating the technological resources that have become an integral part of the lives of today's students into the classroom.

Unfortunately, teacher training and professional development have been slow to incorporate the latest technological resources into their training programs. While there may be many factors that have contributed to this dire situation, the greatest obstacle is a lack of access to latest technological resources that can be used to support teaching and learning. Consequently, current and even future generations of teachers continue to be trained in a manner that simply replicates traditional classroom practice. Increasing access to 21st century teaching tools, will not only better prepare current and new teachers to thrive in technologically enriched classrooms, it may also provide them with greater insight into future possibilities and thus limit resistance when these possibilities become reality.

The Possibilities
To support anywhere, anytime learning, it is essential that the learning resources required to support 21st century teaching and learning are highly portable and mobile. This will allow students to engage in the learning process both inside and outside of the classroom.

While not currently available, a student friendly smartphone should serve as the central learning resource in the 21st century classroom. These devices would include a scientific/graphing calculator, digital/video camera, audio recorder, as well as pre-installed learning resources such as applications that can be used to access their schools' learning management or online learning resources (i.e. Blackboard, Moodle, WebCT), e-book reader, classroom response system (clickers), dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, etc. Supplying students with unlocked phones that are wi-fi accessible, would allow students to tap into the resources of cloud computing while they are at school and have access to wi-fi, but would also allow them the option of adding a pay-as-you-go phone and data plan should they desire.

The results of the 2010 Speak Up survey, which polled 294,399 students and 42,267 parents about student access to various electronic devices, found that “67 percent of parents said they would purchase a mobile device for their child to use for schoolwork if the school allowed it, and 61 percent said they liked the idea of students using mobile devices to access online textbooks (Project Tomorrow, 2011).”

The survey also noted that both student and parents believe that mobile devices can be used to extend learning beyond the classroom and school day (Project Tomorrow, 2011). This is a clear indication that education consumers are ready for the change that education providers have been slow to deliver.

Christensen, C.; Johnson C.W.; Horn, M.B. (2008). Disrupting class. How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Friedman, T.L. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Farr, Straus and Giroux.

Project Tomorrow (2011). The new 3 E's of education: Enabled, engaged, empowered – How today's students are leveraging emerging technologies for learning. Irvine: CA. Retrieved from

Puttnam, D. (2007, May 8). In class, I have to power down. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Photo by Johan Larsson

Software & Preparing Kids for the Future

Two great articles that should be read back to back: Why Software is Eating the World & How Do We Prepare Our Children for What's Next?

Venture capitalist and Netscape co-founder, Marc Andreessen's article notes that "more and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services."
As a result, "software programming tools and Internet-based services make it easy to launch new global software-powered start-ups in many industries—without the need to invest in new infrastructure and train new employees."

He asserts that "companies in every industry need to assume that a software revolution is coming. He goes on to predict that "health care and education, in my view, are next up for fundamental software-based transformation. My venture capital firm is backing aggressive start-ups in both of these gigantic and critical industries. We believe both of these industries, which historically have been highly resistant to entrepreneurial change, are primed for tipping by great new software-centric entrepreneurs." This statement provides a perfect segue to Tina Barseghian's 'How Do We Prepare Our Children for What's Next?' article.

By highlighting the work of Cathy Davidson, author of 'Now You See it: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn', we begin to see that to prepare our children for the future we need to encourage them to be responsible digital citizens. This includes providing them with an opportunity to become familiar with the building blocks of programming that drives the software that as Andreessen's says is "eating the world".

Davidson recommends that children experiment with Scratch, but they could also use Kodu. I still have a fondness for the HyperCard program that I used with my student in the 90's for the same purpose - to encourage students to be creators and not just consumers, to provide students with a basic understanding of what happens in the black box that drives their games, apps, computers ...... world.

Digital citizenry requires us to be informed decision-makers. Having an basic understanding of the technology and software that increasingly influences business, government, health and education, is and will be an essential skill for global citizens in a technologically-enhanced, flat world.


Why Software is Eating the World

How Do We Prepare Our Children for What's Next?

Using QR Codes to Provide Homework Assistance

A QR (quick response) code is a fast and easy way to access web content. Any smartphone with web access, a camera, and a QR code reader can use a QR code to quickly get to a specific website.

Sharing Google Docs with their lengthy URLs can be annoying. With QR codes you can point and click, no need to type at all.

A number of teachers have started sharing the ways they use QR codes in the classroom:

While the above blogs include a number of great ideas, I thought that QR codes could be a great way to provide homework assistance to students. Students often struggle to complete their homework when they don't have the teacher or someone to help them when they struggle with a specific question. Teachers could ensure that students have the necessary supports by providing a QR code that would link to a specific resource that could help students complete a task they were struggling with.

Here is an example:

4x=24, solve for x

If a student doesn't know how to solve this algebra problem they could use the above QR code to quickly access a video that highlights the steps to solve a similar problem. While this code leads to a Khan Academy video, teachers could link to videos, podcasts, screen captures, or pencasts that they created themselves.

Gamification of Learning

I recently attended the Interacting with Immersive Worlds Conference and spent the time pondering the gamification of learning. More than integrating games into classroom learning, "the gamification of education is a relatively new approach to education that employs game play mechanics to creating a more engaging and playful learning experience. It works by using ideas from game design to encourage people to learn and complete tasks with more enthusiasm. Gamification can also provide the necessary external motivators for the important learning that must occur outside the classroom (Pearce, 2011).

Gamifying the education experience can help hammer home the idea that people control their future. It can help students develop a sense of agency where they feel they have control over their lives and more confidence in their ability to change their circumstances" (Pearce, 2011).

Kyle Pearce (2011) suggests that there are some key game elements that can be applied to learning.

A goal: Every game has a win condition: the combination of events and accomplishments that players need to achieve in order to end the game. In every good game, the goal is clear, and the rest of the game is constructed to create a system in which the tools necessary to reach the goal are available. Ultimately, what's most important about the goal is that players care enough to want to accomplish it.

Obstacles: Easy games aren't much fun to play. Though the tools necessary to reach the goal should be part of the game, difficulties and challenges should be part as well. Without those obstacles, winning wouldn't mean much.

Collaboration or competition: Games come in two basic flavours: those in which winning is determined by defeating another player, and those in which winning is determined by beating the game itself. The former can create competition among players. The second encourages a player to compete against him/herself until the player beats the game (Pearce, 2011).

If you are interested in how you can gamify learning in your classroom, Sarah Smith-Robbins has some suggestions.
  1. Make goals clear, and explain how the course content prepares learners to achieve those goals. Ensure that students align on the goals and want to achieve them.
  2. Spend as much time in class covering the importance of the learning goals as is spent explaining the grading system of the class.
  3. When writing assignment descriptions, include a "How you can use this in the future" section.
  4. Make progress transparent to each learner. Grades and assignment completion are not the only ways to measure progress toward achieving the goals.
  5. Give students a way to track their progress on each learning goal of the class. An online checklist that students fill out on their own can help them stay on track.
  6. Create commodities for desired behaviour. For example, hand out poker chips to students who contribute in class; a student who cashes in ten poker chips earns a "Top Contributor" badge.
  7. Add peer voting to class activities such as discussions and online forums. Allowing students to identify the contributions that they see as valuable will highlight good models for other students to follow, as well as provide positive feedback to the contributing student.
Further reading:

Photo by cappenstance