Product vs. Process

Do you know who these two guys are?Norm Abram and Roy Underhill

 

The man on the left is Norm Abram, host of PBS’ “The New Yankee Workshop” and “This Old House“.  Norm is a master carpenter.  Norm also has a penchant for using a wide range of common and exotic power tools to create masterpieces.  It is not unusual to see him use a variety of tools, bits, and jigs in his projects.

The man on the right is Roy Underhill, host of PBS’ “The Woodwright’s Shop“.   Roy is a master housewright.  Roy focuses his efforts on time-tested, traditional woodworking methods.  Roy uses no power tools at all, sticking to hand tools and human-powered machines.

If I offered you a piece of furniture that had been made by one of these two master craftsmen, would you care which one made it before accepting it?

No?

Neither would I.  And that’s the beauty of how technology should work in education.  When “use of technology” is seen as the product of our educational efforts, we get unnecessarily distracted from what the real goal should be.  When “use of technology” is part of the learning process, then we are better able to decide when and where it makes the most sense, to support what we are truly trying to accomplish.

For example, “creating a Google Slides presentation” shouldn’t be the goal.  “Deliver a presentation to convince an audience to fund your project” is a much better goal – and if the student can use Google Slides to support that work, so much the better.

Technology can help us do some things faster.  Technology can help us do some things easier.  Technology can help us do some things better.  But, technology should not be the “end game”.

When you consider infusing technology into your instruction, do it for one of the following reasons: 1) technology makes a task possible that wasn’t possible otherwise, or  2) technology makes the task more engaging and results in a better product.   Anything else is just a distraction from the real end product.

It’s an old axiom in marketing: “When you buy a drill, you don’t really want a drill.  You want a hole.”  A great drill can help you make an exceptional hole, much faster and more accurately than a hand-drill would.  But, a great drill is not the goal.

When you start with a great real-world authentic learning goal, infusing technology to support that goal stands far less chance of being a roadblock to real learning!

 

The Power of Stories and Storytelling

I heard this story on a radio station.  I have looked for it online, but am coming up empty.  Let me know if you know who I can attribute this story to.

A man opened a coffee shop in a nice little town.  Eager to get to know people in the town, and drum up some business, the shopkeeper put up a sign in his window.

cuppa_joe“Free coffee, if you listen to my story.”

The shopkeeper was very proud of his new shop, and wanted to share the story of his dream with everyone in town.  But, when he opened the doors, not a soul came in.

“What a terrible, unfriendly town this is,” bemoaned the shopkeeper to the bank’s business loan officer, who was there for the opening.  “I’ll never make it here!  You might as well take the deed to the shop now.”

“I have an idea,” the loan officer kindly offered.  “I think your sign needs a little change.”

He took the sign out of the window, found a thick marking pen, and changed the text.  He placed the sign back in the window and told the shopkeeper to get things ready for the next morning.

When the next morning came, the shopkeeper was stunned when he raised the blinds and turned the “Open” sign in the door.  The line was around the block!  As he fumbled to unlock the door for the crowd, the shopkeeper looked to the side at the changed sign in the window:

“Free coffee if you tell me your story.”

Everyone has a story.  And, they’re all worth telling.  If we want people to tell their stories, we have to first be willing to listen.  In education, in work, in life.  You have a story worth telling.  Be ready to tell it.  But first, be ready to listen to the stories of those around you.  They are worth hearing.

That is the first and biggest lesson I have learned in my new job as an educational technology coach this year.  I should probably say “re-learned,” because it’s something I already knew.  But I have not been doing a good job of putting into practice.  I often felt like there was too much to do to invest that time.  I felt like I needed to focus on the technology.  I felt like I needed to work in the short-term and go for immediate results.  In short, I made all of the mistakes I see some teachers make in allowing external pressures to steer us away from what we know are effective practices.

The problem is, even when focusing on the wrong things results in success, it is the wrong kind of success.  Fireworks are dazzling, for an instant; but a pilot light can be called upon to do its work at any time, and it will roar to life… only because it was always there, calmly and quietly waiting for the moment of need, and responding accordingly.

Everyone has a story worth hearing.


For further investigation, see Dave Isay’s TED Talk about his StoryCorps project:

And Karim Jovian’s “New Yorkers Share Their Story for a Dollar” project:

The Opposite of Tech Integration

“Technology Integration Specialist” is the title on my business card.  I like it.  It speaks directly to what the primary focus of my job is – how to use technology to intentionally increase achievement for all learners and close gaps for historically underserved subgroups.

Explaining what that looks like can be difficult.  It’s as difficult as explaining what “good teaching” really looks like, especially once you get beyond definitions that are all about compliance (“students are quiet”, “desks are in neat rows”, “assigned work is turned in on time”) and get to definitions that actually reflect learning (intellectual, emotional, and behavioral advances made by the students).

Sometimes, we can get a clearer picture of what something is by defining what it isn’t.  So, what would be the opposite of Tech Integration?

How about “Tech Segregation”?

“Tech Segregation” separates the technology from the learning process, or relegates it to its own learning path.  Learning to use technology becomes a separate subject, like English, math, social studies, or science.  Or maybe even more like a foreign language.  And anytime learning in one field helps a student make advances in another field, the effect is a happy accident instead of an intentional outcome.  We are misusing students’ time when students in a Technology class learn to create PowerPoint presentations about topics with no explicit connection to the curriculum, and then type or hand-write a book report for Language Arts.

“Tech Segregation” relegates technology to extension activities, only for students who have already achieved the day’s academic goal.  Or, the technology becomes a reward for compliance – something students get to do after they finish the stuff they don’t want to do.  In that system, students have to find a way to perform without the technology before they can use it.  It’s as senseless as making kids prove they can walk all the way to school before they’re allowed to get on a bus.

“Tech Segregation” makes kids achieve a standard or pre-qualify before they can have access.  Access to technology is seen as inherently motivational for students, but that attribute is used as the carrot on a stick to get kids to do things the old way, instead of transforming the way we teach to take fuller advantage of the way we learn.

“Tech Segregation” preserves the rank-and-sort, label-and-identify system that has resulted in significant gaps for students who don’t fit typical socio-economic and cultural norms.  Kids who are “good at school” get the bells and whistles.  Kids who don’t are told to try harder, while we turn away and suck our teeth at the sad state of their homes and families.

Conversely, Tech Integration acknowledges that quality tools in the hands of practiced learners makes amazing things possible.  When that position is paired with the belief that every student can learn, then it becomes unconscionable to keep those tools out of the hands of the very students who need the most support when it comes to accessing the general curriculum.

End Tech Segregation.

 

Why I blog… and why you should, too.

In February of 2014, I made a decision.

I started a blog.

This one.

A little over three years later, I have to admit that part of the reason I did it was because it seemed like all the cool kids were doing it.  I didn’t really think I had enough to say to make a blog worthwhile.  Anything I could say was already being said by other people who already have established blogs with large numbers of followers.  I had lots of reasons why starting a blog wasn’t a practical thing to do.

But, I did have some good reasons to try it.  I told myself it wasn’t a lifetime choice, I could easily stop doing it at any time (but isn’t that what smokers say?).  I knew I wanted to become a better writer, and one of the best things a person can do to become a better writer is to, well, actually start writing.

There have been some additional benefits that I was not expecting.  First, I found that my own blog was a great place to organize and archive things that I wanted to go back and access later.  Resources such as links to my previous presentations and snippets about news stories or other online materials go in posts or pages that get categories and tags.  Spending a few extra seconds setting categories and tags for my posts makes it much easier for me to go back and find things later when something reminds me of a useful resource.  And, I don’t have to try to remember if I saw that resource on Twitter, or Facebook, or in an e-mail, or….

Second, I have been able to incorporate the practice of reflective writing via blogs with my college students.  Reflective writing assignments in the form of neatly typed paragraphs or pages are a staple of many education courses, but I wanted to take it a step further with my students.  My class (Communication Tools and Strategies for Students with Moderate to Intensive Special Needs) was reading Ellen Notbohm’s excellent book “Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew”.  Rather than having the students write reflections on the chapters that would only be seen be me, I asked them to publish their reflections on a publicly available class blog.  Years ago, I heard Rushton Hurley tell a room of educators, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good.  If they are sharing it with the teacher, they want it to be good enough.”  There is a big difference between good and good enough.  An authentic, global audience can be the key to making that leap.

Third, when I go back and read some of my old posts, I am noticing changes to my writing style and the language that I use.  I hope I am also becoming better at getting my ideas across.

Enter “Blogging Buddies!”

ISTE’s Ed Tech Coaches’ Network is starting a new program called “Blogging Buddies”.  The idea is based on Jennifer Hogan’s “Compelled Blogger Tribe” idea from her blog.  I am committing to producing at least one new blog post each month.  I am also committing to visit the blogs of four specific individuals and leave comments on their posts once a month as well.  The second part is the “new adventure” for me.  There are a couple of blogs I peruse regularly, but most of my blog-watching comes from links I happen across via Twitter.

I look forward to getting familiar with not just the ideas that my “randomly selected” blogging buddies will produce, but getting to know something about them as people as well.  I don’t just want to know what they know about what works in educational technology, I want to know why they do what they do.

More to come….

 

 

Try Eyegaze on Windows!

Have you ever wanted to type on your Windows computer without using your hands or your voice?  A growing number of people are controlling the computer using little more than small head movements.  This technology, commonly referred to as “Eyegaze,” benefits users with motor issues that prevent them from operating a computer in ways that are considered basic to many people.  Such users may include those with ALS (aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), Cerebral Palsy, or Muscular Dystrophy.

In its early days, eyegaze technology was incredibly expensive.  The only way most people who could most benefit from this technology could acquire it was by participating in medical or therapeutic studies where the cost of the technology was covered.

Now, you can download an eyegaze interface program to your Windows computer for free.  Actually, Camera Mouse is nearing its 10th anniversary as a freely available program, thanks to the people at Boston College.  When paired with on-screen keyboard software, everything that you could do with the keyboard and mouse can be done with your computer’s webcam, just by moving your head.

So, where can you get on-screen keyboard software?  In Windows, you already have it.  The one that comes with Windows is perfectly adequate.  In fact, the on-screen keyboard built-in to Windows 10 includes word prediction capability.  This can make eyegaze typing significantly faster.  Eyegaze typing typically works by registering a “click” after the mouse cursor stays in the same space for a set period of time (“dwell time”).

Simpler on-screen keyboard software is also available.  Two programs that are designed to work well with Camera Mouse and incorporate a text-to-speech option are Midas Touch and Staggered Speech.

I am typing this sentence using eyegaze and the Windows 10 on-screen keyboard.

Yes, it’s slow.  That sentence took me over one minute to type.  But for a person who cannot use a standard keyboard or speech-to-text technology, typing a sentence in 60 seconds is a gateway to a fundamental communication option that opens up meaningful participation in the world.  Once a user gets more practice with eyegaze technology, they generally will want the “dwell time” reduced from one or two seconds to a half-second or less.  If I were to practice, and tweak the software settings, I could soon get to a point where I can reproduce that sentence in under a minute.

And, thanks to the technology, if I store a commonly-used sentence in a memory bank, I can reproduce the sentence in far less time than it would take me to type it conventionally, with my 55wpm fingers.

So, why would you want to use Camera Mouse and the Windows on-screen keyboard?  Here are three great reasons!

  1. The Lure of the Gadget – Some people avoid unfamiliar technology because of a fear of it not doing what is expected.  Some people, on the other hand, just can’t resist trying a technology just to see what it does.  If you’re the type who has a natural curiosity for technological wizardry, eyegaze is a super-cool interface to try out!  Camera Mouse doesn’t disable your built-in keyboard and mouse, so any time you need to bail out and shut off the eyegaze tracker, you can do so easily.
  2. Contribute to advancement – Eyegaze technology – and other assistive technologies – continue to get better because of the feedback developers get from users who try their software and give them feedback.  Most advancements in software design and capability started with a user who said, “Y’know, it would be great if this could….”
  3. Build Empathy – If you ever encounter a person who relies on such technology, you will have first-hand experience with what they deal with – both the struggle and the possibilities.  Also, should you happen to work with an individual who has difficulty using typical computer interface controls (e.g., keyboard and mouse), you can more effectively introduce and support the use of eyegaze technology for that individual.  Supplementary or alternative interfaces such as eyegaze give people with significant motor impairments a way to use computers to do many things that typical people take for granted.

For the college course I am teaching, I plan to have each of my students take a turn at using Camera Mouse and an on-screen keyboard to type a sentence.  I will not be grading them on how fast they type the sentence.  I will not be grading them on how few mistakes there are.  I don’t even care (much) if they remember the name of the program we will use or if they practice and get better at it.  My goal is for them to build empathy for the kids they will one day work with who either rely on eyegaze technology to effectively communicate, or who could significantly benefit from such technology.  When the rest of the group is in a typing class, there is no good reason why a student who does not have the physical capacity to type on a standard keyboard should be given some alternate activity that has nothing to do with typing.

But, making that a reality in our schools will require the efforts of educators who demand equity and excellence for every student, regardless of any disability label they’ve been given.

 

Supreme Court Renders Decision in Special Education Case

The current eight-member Supreme Court has handed down a unanimous decision in the case of Endrew F. v Douglas County (Colorado) School District.  The decision vacated the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.  The Tenth Circuit had decided in favor of the school district,  ruling that “the child received some educational benefit while in the District’s care and that is enough to satisfy the District’s obligation to provide a free appropriate public education.”

As the case was argued before the Supreme Court, that standard of “some educational benefit” was a central issue.  Had the district in fact done enough to provide Endrew the legally-mandated free and appropriate public education (FAPE)?  If not, the parents would be able to recoup the cost of tuition for the private school Endrew began attending.

The Supreme Court’s opinion establishes that merely providing “some educational benefit” for a student does not meet the district’s obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

My thoughts…

  • How on earth did every lower court rule in favor of the school district?  This fact shows me that we still face a great number of people, in and out of the education world, who believe “every kid deserves a good education… well, but not THOSE kids.  They can’t handle it.”
  • Even in ruling for the student in this case, the Court left plenty of indication that it’s perfectly acceptable to settle for a lesser level of achievement for students who have a disability solely on that basis.  This is flat wrong.  If the student’s label were one of race, religion, or socio-economic status, there would be outrage about low expectations for the student.  Presence of a disability should be no different.
  • In its opinion, the Court holds that “[t]o meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  That last phrase will be taken as permission to greatly reduce expectations for students with disabilities, but doing so violates the first part of the statement.  Defining “appropriate” progress is the core of any IEP meeting for any student with a disability.  But, wholly discarding the state’s regular academic standards is not required for developing an IEP.  In fact, the IEP should outline the steps that will be taken to permit the student to reach those standards, not what the student will do instead of them.
  • Even the NEA filed an amicus brief in support of the student, against the district.  Bravo, NEA.  In a case where many typically-vocal proponents of high-quality public education have remained strangely silent, the NEA stood for the student over the system.  I appreciate the political volatility of speaking up in this case (either speaking against a public school district, or speaking in favor of low academic expectations), but silence cannot improve this struggle.
  • The Supreme Court’s opinion in Rowley was that students with disabilities must be offered educational opportunities that are “substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities,” and that standard has not been changed.

The conclusion of the opinion of the Court states, “At that point, a reviewing court may fairly expect those authorities to be able to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions that shows the IEP is reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.”  And because the Court didn’t (and shouldn’t) define appropriate progress, it is imperative that every parent and every educator strongly advocate for appropriate progress towards the same standard every student is expected to achieve, and not a barely-more-than-minimum substitute.

The Power of Stories to Share Hope

On March 1, 2017, I saw a whole lot of awesome.

My daughter, Amelia, was invited to attend a private “Launch Party” for a brand new booklet, published by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s (CCHMC) Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (DDBP).  The booklet is titled “Sharing Hope: The Stories of our Patients and Families”, and it will be distributed free of charge to families of individuals who are referred to DDBP for various reasons.  The booklet contains brief articles written by individuals who have previously been referred to DDBP, and their family members.

[Download the booklet, PDF (6MB)]

sharing-hope-amelia
Amelia’s page in “Sharing Hope”.  By the way, that stone wall behind her is Chateau LaRoche, the Loveland Castle!

Amelia’s story is one of 26 articles featured in the booklet.  The article is a summation of the contents of my “Ten Important Things Amelia Needs You to Know” Ignite-style presentation.

I had an opportunity to meet some of the other honored guests there, and I feel very privileged to have met such wonderful people!  Reading some of their stories after meeting them just makes it even more powerful to me.  Families of people like Lily, Vineet, Patrick, Andrew, and so many more, have willingly told their stories with the intent of conveying encouragement and hope to others who are just learning what a diagnosis of “autism” or “down syndrome” or “spina bifida” will mean for their lives.

The impact of a powerful network of caring professionals is what keeps CCHMC near the very top of U.S. News & World Report’s list of best children’s hospitals.  But, there is something extra to be gained from hearing the experiences of others at a time when most families find themselves starting a journey nobody they know has gone through.

Alongside the best medical treatment available, there is something soothing about a voice that can tell you honestly, “I know how you feel.”  That’s something no medicine can provide.  And, it has a lot to do with why these families chose to own their story and tell it, rather than try to hide the diagnosis that, quite honestly, changed their lives forever.

Amelia’s diagnosis is a challenge, but it is not a shame.  She rises to meet that challenge every day.  That message of love, belief, and hope is conveyed throughout the pages of this booklet, and I am proud to be dad to such an inspiring young lady.