Time to Move

Posted by on Dec 10, 2010

We talk a lot about change around here. By we, I really mean me and assume there’s some of you here to. But talk, as they say, is cheap. There’s a point where it has to start costing. Or paying. Or doing something other than being a mere utterance.

I’m excited that my talk is one step closer to action.

Last night I held our first District Technology Committee meeting for Oak Lawn-Hometown District 123. I know there are some in the educational technology sphere who think there shouldn’t be such an existence of such a committee. Those individuals think that by starting a technology committee, we make technology a separate entity. I think otherwise.

Our committee is charged with creating a Five Year Technology Plan for our district. Obviously, that means we’re going to be looking through more global lenses and avoiding getting too specific about exact technologies to be put in place five years from now. Things change too fast for that. True, we will need to make some decisions about specific hardware to be purchased. If we kept waiting to predict the next thing, we’d end up always holding to the hope of what might be rather than moving and getting devices in the hands of our students. There will always be a better version just around the corner, but at some point you have to jump in the water if you want to get wet.

So, our plan has three pillars upon which we’re building. We’re going to begin by creating our district’s vision for learning with technology, then we’re going to create a professional development plan for our staff, and we’re then going to create scenarios to reduce our student to learning device ratios. At present, we lack the first two, and our student to computer ratio for computers four years old or younger sits at an average of 9:1. We must address that.

Our district is about to embark on significant curriculum work to align to the Common Core Standards. Our plan will partner technology with our curricular goals in a way that will make our technology a conduit for our learning experiences. Our focus will be on the impact these learning experiences will have on students and how we are creating well educated students in an ever changing world.

There’s lots of work to be done here. Lots of exciting, challenging, fascinating work.

I can’t wait.

Thanks to AGrinberg for the use of the Flickr image.


  1. Scott Meech
    December 10, 2010

    Sorry for the “book length” comment I have added here …

    The notion that we don’t need technology committees is silly. Technology crosses over every aspect of a school district and I can’t think of a more appropriate “comprehensive” committee. The issue that one might have is the expectations and the framework for such a committee. We need to allow our Tech Ed experts a greater voice without

    I believe in the process that you are taking in general but I am becoming less and less on board with the vignette / scenario piece. The technology committee should be focused on “essential” technologies and skills from a systemic approach. Everything beyond these essential skills and technologies can and should be embraced by “enriching engaging lessons”. Will scenarios really provide for a creative enriching approach or will it standardized project integration?

    I do believe there are technologies and learning activities with technology that provide learning experiences that you can’t replicate without them. I think about blogging, podcasting, digital storytelling, video production when I think about the process. Programming and coding are others as well. Can you really standardized when these activities are appropriate at different grade levels?

    I believe that we will never learn how to use technology well in the learning process until we have learned how to learn with technology. This is the essential issue and we can talk about all kinds of ways to improve technology and yet that is all there is too it.

    Technology integration had its time and place. I can share example after example of fantastic projects teachers and students have done and yet they are not any better at connecting technology with learning without guidance. Teachers need to learn how to learn with technology!

    I feel like we look at technology without appreciating the need for the “creative” process. Professional development focused on learning tools is useless because of the lack of connection. Furthermore, learning how to use a tool or piece of technology does not provide enough connectivity to newer technologies. We all know people who get really upset when the tool bar changes because they don’t know how to adapt. I think this is a major issue that will continue to prevent us from really improving education via technology.

    The only caveat I can see is that iOS and Android are finally operating systems that are so intuitive that the learning curve is minimal. We might finally be able to build upon these new platforms to see real impact in schools.

    I believe in the TPACK model. The problem is that you won’t be able to really overlap without learning how to learn! As Clay Shirky says that their are four stages for mastering the connected; share, cooperate (connect), collaborate, and collective action. How can we get through those phases and how can we really get to the center of the TPACK model? Learn how to learn with technology …

    Schools need to provide a framework for learning how to learn with technology, follow the Help Me to Learn Myself Model, and stop taking the “don’t get a whammy” approach at professional development. I would be more than happy to expand upon all of that as well.

  2. dave cormier
    December 10, 2010


    It seems like pillar three is really a subsection of pillar one… but…
    Any section of any organization that requires large expenditures in a unsure marketplace needs a coordinated arm. So the hardware part of that is pretty easy to talk about… you can’t handle large amounts of money without guidance.

    “training is what we do to animals” is my own guide to whether it makes sense to work with staff. If the ‘learning’ required could just as easily be done on their own if they had a reason to do so… then working on the reason to get them doing it is more important. Money/time is often better spent freeing teachers up than formally training them… but that might be part of your plan.

    Good luck. I’m on both the ‘elearning committee’ and the ‘IT action committee’ at my institution. My feeling is that hard work will get you where you want to go, whatever your committee is called 🙂

    I’m not really sure what you’re getting at in your response.

    You seem to want ‘the essential’ and ‘the creative’ and ‘the systemic’.

    You want to ‘learn how to learn with technology’ as if we’re relearning learning all over again. The things you cite as ‘things to learn’ – blogging, podcasting, digital storytelling, video production are simply new takes on writing, speaking and storytelling.

    The technology is becoming pretty transparent, and will only be moreso in the next few years. The literacies that are paramount here… collaboration, filtering, clarity of expression etc… are not new. We may have to refocus our emphasis a little… but it’s hardly a revolution.

    The tools themselves… which are about budgets, and time, are not complex. The problem is that they are mostly about creativity… and our schools are only interested in creativity that can be measured. Many smart teachers look at them and think “not going to help my students pass the test” and walk away. Creativity now… they can foster that. Your problem is in what politicians believe society values… and that seems to be a school that can be quantitatively measured. Until we change that… we’re paddling upriver.

  3. Ben Grey
    December 11, 2010

    Scott- Thanks for the comment that outpaced my original post at least two-fold. I would be curious to hear more about your position. I believe the salient point you are working to establish is that we need to use technology to teach how to learn. I’d be curious to know a bit more about that as I think there might be just a bit more to it. Certain technologies certainly change the way we interface with learning and information, but I’m not sure our exclusive goal is to have kids/staff learn how to learn with technology. Like Dave said, there are some things that still stay the same, with or without technology. I would agree, though, that there are some very significant differences between the digital and analog context. I’d be interested to hear more about your position on that.

    Dave- My favourite [sic] Canadian comment left upon my blog for quite some time. Thanks. I agree about the committee work. Call it what we might, there’s still great work to be accomplished by a group of stakeholders who represent a strong cross-section of an organization working together to create a vision and action plan for a specific outcome. Also, careful about the literacy term. You knew I’d say that, but even so, collaboration is not a literacy. It’s a skill. An incredibly important skill, but not a literacy. Other than that, I agree with you entirely. Some of the landscape does change the way we interface with learning, but there are still foundational learning skills that remain, at their core, unchanged and still as relevant as they’ve always been.

    And you nailed the last paragraph.

  4. Dave cormier
    December 11, 2010

    no need to be careful re collaboration. I don’t agree with you 🙂

    care to explain your magnificent certainty on the subject?

  5. Ben Grey
    December 13, 2010


    I’m 2 for 2 on the Dave Cormier smiley comments. Hope I can continue the streak.

    Let me take one step sideways here and qualify this by saying I’m neither magnificent nor certain on this as it’s an issue of language, which is negotiated, and I concede I don’t always win in the bargaining.

    Literacy is founded in communication. It’s the ability to make and gather meaning through communicating. Collaborating is a skill of a larger context than that. Often literacy is used synonymously with proficiency, and I don’t think that’s accurate. Language matters, and English is a syntax built on precision. So, I think we need to be clear with what literacy is.

    If you were to say “the proficiencies that are paramount here…collaboration, filtering, etc.” then I would agree. And certainly, literacy executed in a digital medium is different than analog, but it’s still literacy and not a more broadly defined proficiency.

    So there’s one step, in some direction, of my explanation. Your turn.

  6. dave cormier
    December 13, 2010

    ok. now i see where we diverge… that’s a start.

    I don’t think that ‘literacy is founded in communication”. My feelings about the word are more embedded in critical literacy. We used to talk about literacy as “writing/reading (and maybe numeracy… depending on who you are)”. The argument that i hear you making in the expansion of that word is that those USED to be the primary modes of communication and now there are others that need to be equally valued.

    My interpretation is that the writing reading stuff used to be about access to the discourses of power in our society. Literacy is about ‘access to context’. In order to be literate you need to be able to participate in a conversation, to be able to function at a level that allows you to participate on a level with the context we are talking about. There are (and really always were) multiple versions of this kind of literacy… but now, as we have broken many of our traditional societal frameworks, and, more importantly, many of us want to do away with them… it has become more important to focus on them.

    To put it simply for me…

    The twitter skill involves the technical details of the process, as well as the basic forms of interaction that are part of the phenomenon (twitter). With the skill for twitter you could talk to your existing friends, plan your meeting times and tweet from church.

    The literacies implicit in twitter are more about how to collaborate so that people will want to collaborate with you… so that you can stay in the conversation. We all have people who ‘just don’t seem right’ in our communities/networks… maybe they’re too mean… or too nice or whatever. Depends on the community/network. Being able to navigate this, being able to be accepted… those are literacies. (for me)

    back to you.

  7. Ben Grey
    December 14, 2010

    Ah, progress.

    Looks like you ascribe, to some degree, to the E.D. Hirsch school of thought on literacy. That it’s your knowledge base in a specific context. For example, his idea of cultural literacy being your base of understanding of culture.

    I’d like to take your example of twitter and distill it a bit. Because at the heart of your example is exactly what you said “USED to be the primary mode[s] of communication…”

    To be literate, you must be able to communicate. I still hold fast to my construct of the term as such. What you and I are doing now involves any number of skills, but strip away the reading and writing, and this conversation never happened. Not to say that it couldn’t in some other context, but it would require speaking and listening then. Otherwise, I can’t think of any other way we could possibly communicate back and forth and have a discourse on the topic.

    Yes, the other bits matter. Collaboration, communities, networks, etc. are all important, but they move in and out of the literacy. They are a subset that transcend and reapply themselves both in and out of literacy.

    The technical details of navigating Twitter and the application skills of getting people to want to collaborate with me are a step beyond the foundation. Because that remains entirely irrelevant if I can’t read or write in the conversation. Or have someone read it to me while I listen and speak back my response.

    Once I can read and write, I can activate Twitter. And there are plenty of folks around who are downright terrible at collaboration. Or simply don’t care about collaboration. Or who even work, to some extent, not to collaborate. Yet they still find and make value on Twitter. Or some other context. Because the collaboration is an extension step beyond the literacy.

    Now, how does one actually read and write and speak and listen. There’s a whole other fascinating conversation as the application of such skills gets into what you are talking about, and I think something like the Four Resource Model begins to frame out nicely. http://www.kingstonprimary.tased.edu.au/e-Learning/four_resources_model_of_literacy.htm

    Pawn e4.

  8. dave cormier
    December 14, 2010

    And so… we come to the end of discussion and move on to positioning. IF you are unwilling to engage my premise, its a bit unfair of you to criticize my conclusions. You think

    Literacy is premised in being able to ‘communicate’

    I think Literacy is wrapped up in power and meaning making.

    Your interpretation of my views as being similar to something they are almost antithetical to suggests that we are simply speaking at cross purposes.

    E. D. Hirsch believed in a script of cultural knowledge that would be a gateway to success. It could be handed off to people… you just needed to learn it! Study more!

    Broadly speaking the differences are many

    1. there is no one culture to learn from to then be part of. E.D. Hirsch is another of a long succession of white, empowered males who saw attainment of success as becoming just like them.

    2. In the view of literacy I ascribe to, people don’t need to ‘know’ anything. they need to be able to make meaning from text… whatever that text might be. There are different types of knowledge that can help in that, but it’s not about knowing, it’s about making meaning. And when you make the meaning, you are engaging in ‘power’.

    Re: twitter.

    You’re position seems to be that the ‘foundation’ of reading and writing underwrite out ability to communicate effectively. Uh. ok. In many ways that’s true. If i can’t read or write I can’t use twitter. Agreed. Not sure why that’s relevant. If electricity didn’t flow through copper we wouldn’t have twitter. True. Also not relevant to the literacy discussion.

    Literacy (again, in my view, which if you wont at least explore, we aren’t having a conversation) isn’t about ‘being able to get value’, it is, at least partially, about being able to perform in the dominant discourse…

    why is this important?

    I don’t want my students to only be able to read a government news release. I don’t want them to just understand the words. I want them to make meaning from it, so they can be critical participants in their society. THIS is the basic literacy that I strive for.

  9. Ben Grey
    December 14, 2010

    Ah, the restrictions of text.

    No, I’m not ready to concede that we’ve moved into positioning. I made an error in my approach, and I apologize for that. I was working through your position, and projected. Sorry.

    Perhaps this would have been a better conversation to have using speech instead of text. Obviously, context matters.

    Our first two premises, I believe, are intertwined. I absolutely agree that literacy is wrapped in meaning making. I’m still not sure if you mean power as in how strong it is or power as in power of authority. I suspect I know the answer. I believe the context of literacy is the power of meaning making through communicating.

    And as I look back on our conversation, I think all of your examples have been used as such. You said, “the literacies that are paramount here… collaboration, filtering, clarity of expression etc… are not new.” I likely overreacted to that, as I’m prone to do. I was hasty and read that as I usually see people use literacies to mean general proficiencies in any given area. Your four examples stated are still vital components to the communication process.

    I do think, though, that the reading and writing piece of Twitter is much more relevant than not having electricity run through the wire. Because the reading and writing part is a skill we control and learn. The electrify part is not.

    I absolutely agree with your last paragraph. Which is in alignment with the Four Resource Model. And, that’s still rooted in communication.

    I’m willing to keep working on this if you are.


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