The NETS-A Refresh

I am currently sitting in the NETS-A release celebration at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC 2009).  The NETS are the National Educational Technology Standards written by ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education.

The NETS standards for administrators were created in 2002 and this refresh is a much-needed follow-up to the recent releases of standards for both students and teachers.  In a later post I will go further into my thoughts about the necessity of administrative leadership in this area.  This is a topic I have tapped on in the past, and will surely be one I continue to explore as we go forth. There is no doubt that carefully articulated transformational standards are needed.  What is even more important is that these standards are for not only our students, but for teachers and administrators as well.

NETS-A word cloud

What do you think about the new standards for leadership in regard to educational technology?  Do you think the focus is appropriate?  Do you believe they have both appropriate breadth as well as depth?  Check out the word cloud (Wordle) above that illustrates the standards.  Please click through to view the detail.  What do you think this view says?  Does this type of view provide a different look from the raw text?  Any interesting first thoughts?


Possibilities 2.0

Give me potential or give me death.

~Sean Nash


A Patrick Henry moment

Yep, I just quoted myself.  It’s OK, I’ll take that one.  In fact, I think I’ll take it and run with it for a bit.  Check it out.  See, I don’t deal well with what one of my science department colleagues refers to as the “Negative Nelson.”  These are folks who jump quickly to the most negative outlook possible to begin any task, discussion or debate.  Now I’m certainly not talking about people who exhibit the valuable skill of being able to ferret out potential pitfalls in any new endeavor.  Karl Fisch, in a recent workshop at MICDS in St. Louis, referred to those elements of a system as the “yeah, buts.”  His willingness that day to confront potential snags head-on is one of the marks of any successful project manager.

That said, negativity used as a strategy to push back from the table (whether conscious or unconscious) in order to avoid change or conflict is a very toxic thing.  Life is too short and too difficult as it is.  Stirring up extra negativity in such a challenging career field is more than a waste of time.  In my 18 years as an educator I have had the benefit of working in environments that were so positive and supportive that I was constantly inspired.  I have also had my years where “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right” is about the most polite way I can put it.  Negative Nelsons. Thanks, Jennifer.  That one is elegantly simple.  It made me laugh, and it made me reflect.  So obviously, I haven’t been able to get in here to write very much as of late.  Please excuse the rapid-fire unloading of thought here.  I’ll get back to succinct when I get more time.

“I would have written a shorter letter if I had more time.”

~Blaise Pascal

Why the “2.0?”

Now that I think of it, I probably could have just entitled this one “2.0” because this is now what this phrase means to me.  I’m not going to go off into the history of the quirk of using “2.0” to signify the newest iteration of…..  something.  Heck it is now used for pretty much anything:  Web 2.0, School 2.0, Library 2.0, Government 2.0, and on and on and on.  Tack a two at the end and instantly whatever you are talking about, planning, or selling becomes better, newer, shinier.  From my personal perspective, what at one point meant something to those pushing the envelope of using the Internet in education, now means means less.  The more you use something, right?  I get it.  I know.  After a while of having “2.0’s” ping-ponged about in the echo chamber of online communications… the meaning does tend to get stale.  If you subscribe to the tweets of some of the more connected edtechers out there, you’ll find more than a few who are just plain ol’ sick of the term.

Web 2.0 will save us

Why it doesn’t bother me

Let’s just get this out of the way first:  According to Global language Monitor, “Web 2.0″ is the  1,000,000th word added into the English language.  So there.  It means something.  For the “How’d they figure that?“, click here.

I’ll be honest.  I hate it too by now.  It is the height of cliche’ in my head.  However, I think I am just sick of it considering how much I actually feel the need to use the term in my current job as an instructional coach in the middle of a constructivist reformation/technology integration pilot.  I try to use a ton of helper phrases to describe this entity as well: read/write web, social web, participatory web, and other.  Those are great, and do help, but I still need two-oh.

In a recent technology summit in our school district, an administrator actually started out one of the segments declaring that in terms of education, Web 2.0 “doesn’t really mean anything,” and that people really can’t agree on whether it will have an impact or not.  This is one statement I had to disagree with point blank that day.  Really, I get why it might seem less-than-concrete on the surface.  With utmost respect, to an educator not using the participatory web in the classroom (or anywhere else professionally) “Web 2.0″ must look a bit like the wild west compared to the pricey and packaged comfort of a content management system like Blackboard, WebCT or E-Companion.  But think about it-  a constructivist classroom probably does look like Dodge City to the vast majority of people who were educated in the neat and tidy rows of desks in the American schools of our past.


What it means for me is that frankly…  I don’t have to wait for anyone any longer.  When I want to go, I go.  When my students are ready for something better (that fits good pedagogy) we go.  With a robust and lightly filtered network-  no longer did I have to wait for more software to be decided upon, purchased, server space to be allocated, or passwords to be doled out.  With Web2, I was able to immediately make a go at what I, my administrators, my students, and my parents thought was the right path to follow.  I could hone a web tool to my liking in a weekend.  I didn’t need to wait for a comprehensive plan filled with multiple opportunities for job-embedded professional development and one-on-one coaching.  I was ready, and I rolled on.

All of a sudden, more than at any time previously in my career, I was able to model myself as a learner in the classroom right alongside my students.  I was able to show them what it looked like to be a connected learner in the digital world of current information and communications technology.  Now I am ready to go back and help build that comprehensive implementation plan for our teachers and students.  I hope I am continually able to model those experiences in the other direction as well…  still as a learner modeling the navigation of our newly-digital terrain, though not only for our students but also for those who make far-reaching decisions for each of the students in our town.

We are climbing...

Positivity and possibility

I need positivity.  My engine thrives upon it.  I need open potential.  I need new possibilities.  Here’s why I decided today to “re-like” the terminology of 2.0:  It is just so full of possibility.  School 2.0?  Seriously, who isn’t interested in reforming the future for the largest open-schooling system in the world?  Don’t answer that.  Good point.  I’m sure there are plenty who aren’t.  But look how many really are.  Because of Web 2.0, the folks who want to step up and have a hand in the remaking of our outmoded schools, libraries and governmental participation models…   can.

Web 2.0 is still a novel and effective tool for democracy.  It is still a new way to interact via the Internet.  Why not let it remind you of the shiny possibility of doing something better the next time you try?  Sticking a two at the end of something doesn’t automatically make it better.  However, possibility is as contagious as negativity.  Spread some love, will ya’?


*Inspiration by h.koppdelaney on Flickr
*Web 2.0 will save us by Ben Sheldon on Flickr
*Web 2.0 is web 0.0 future by Will Lion on Flickr
*We are climbing… by Duane Romanell on Flickr

The Curse of… “Default Settings?”

This post begins with a bigfat pointyfinger toward a recent post on Dean Shareski’s blog: “Ideas and Thoughts.”  The title was so fitting that I couldn’t bring the idea without it somewhat as well.


Nuts & bolts

Though I took the post pretty lightly through the first paragraph, I then started seeing the relevance of this in my world.  The post rants away at the fact that so many people take technological tools at face value-  rarely digging down beyond default settings to see what all the tool might actually be able to do.  By actually changing each potential setting to fit the needs of the user, the device becomes a much better tool in the hands of the owner.  Always seemed pretty simple to me.  In fact, at one point in the post he describes working with students who were all using smartphones.  He noted that the students in that setting who were familiar with the customization of the device were much more satisfied users.

“I told them to start thinking like hackers. I asked them to think of their devices in terms of what it should be able to do rather than only what it does.”  ~Dean Shareski

These stories made my brain go in two directions, really.  One was a nuts & bolts connection where I realized how purposefully I take teachers new to the MacBook Pro (our weapon of choice) almost directly to the System Preferences pane before beginning any real work.  In my comment on Dean’s blog I spoke of this in a bit more detail.  Towards the end of my rather lengthy comment, I took the idea of defeating default settings (much as Dean vaguely suggested at the end) to its other destination in my brain.  That is, when we as teachers immediately jump purposefully and directly into a new world with new possibilities that we truly feel control over, then we can move into new dimensions.

Up there -- somewhere

And beyond

The next pointyfinger goes here.  By the time I read this post, Will Richardson had just dropped a post that seemed to take the seeds of that idea into full-blown question.  Entitled “If We Could Start Over, What Could We Build?“, the piece references a 2000 CITE article and looks at how nearly true reform is when it is retrofitted over the top of what we are currently doing.  To me, the difficulties of this are immediately apparent.  In fact, a book I am reading right now speaks, at least metaphorically, to the problems with building cumbersome entities on top of existing ones as a quick fix for the immediate moment.  While the book, (Kluge by Gary Marcus) speaks about the human brain’s construction and modification throughout evolution, school leaders at any level will likely be able to draw parallels with their situation.

Again, repeating my deeper connections to some of these ideas here seems silly when reading the referenced post/commentary in context makes better sense.  So therefore, I won’t do a repeat here.  But suffice it to say, I state my quite practical belief in finding ways to make this sort of “system redo” possible.  To me, the only practical way to hit reset and start anew within your own complex system today, is to build a pilot.  Pilot programs that are allowed the charge of innovation can truly create a fishbowl of study in your neck of the woods.  Do it differently.  Do it now.  Think hard, set something up…  then set about doing it.  Don’t just talk about what it would be like if you followed another approach, actually find out.  In science, we call this a controlled experimental setup.  In the rest of the world, we just call this smart practice.

“Pilot programs that are allowed the charge of innovation can truly create a fishbowl of study in your neck of the woods.”

Read both posts/comments.  And if you’re really adventurous, get the book.  Think of starting from scratch.  Think of rebuilding your system.  Think of rewiring your brain.  Hey…  if that all seems a bit much to you, at the very least think of changing the settings on your iPhone.  You might be surprised what all it can do!


*Point by Sarah G on Flickr
*Up there — somewhere by Adrian Black on Flickr

Back On The Horse

Whenever I find myself in a reflective mood anymore this is where I find myself.  Tonight is certainly one of those times.  Earlier I spent some time tuning up my bike for an early morning ride.  Big deal, right?  Normally I would agree.  The difference here is the fact that I haven’t pointed my bike down a single-track trail for over two years.

Sunbridge Hills trails

The past two years have been full of a ton of changes for me- the vast majority all good- read:  finally being a dad, leading a successful edtech pilot, etc.  However, at that time I also had a pretty gruesome neck surgery stemming from an old wrestling injury about fifteen years prior.  From that time I fought with my neck going out several times a year.  Anyone who knows me close knows that I spent weeks each year in pretty good pain when it would “go out.”  That summer (2006) I finally had two cervical disks blow out completely and started rapidly losing pretty much everything in my right arm, including size.

All of that paled in comparison to the pain.  For a solid month it felt like a a dump truck had backed itself up onto my right arm and parked.  I didn’t sleep more than about 40 minutes solid at any time during that month.  After the surgeon very deftly put my spine back together with bone marrow from my hip and a solid bit of titanium, I was painless pretty much instantly for the first time in years.  My neck still feels like a million bucks today.  That surgery really is a rather raw and unsophisticated thing in some respects.  The guy put me back together with what must have been similar to wood tools.  If you don’t believe that, just look at the screws that are embedded in my vertebrae.  Awesome images.  You know me  -the sciencegeek-  if there is data to be had, I want it.  I got all of those images on CD not long after the surgery.  Hopefully you aren’t too freaked out by the ghastly pics…

cervical x-ray #1

Since that time I have completely removed myself from coaching wrestling after 18 years of doing what I grew up with and loved doing.  That has been a tough transition for me.  I wormed my way out gracefully though by contacting a smart guy to step in a take the reins at my school with my brother while I stayed on one last year as an assistant coach.  The deal is this:  wrestling is just not a “lifetime sport.”  I always despised those coaches who led by words alone.  The sport is far too technical nowadays to not roll up your sleeves and get into the mix.  learning wrestling is true athletic apprenticeship.  For me it was just too painful to stand and talk when I was used to actually doing for so many years of my life.  So today I remain fan #1 for our athletes and coaches, but I just wanted better for our guys.

cervical x-ray #2

So how does that relate to riding a mountain bike down uneven trails?  It is pretty simple really.  I have just never done “halfway” very well when it comes to anything.  Teaching- full blast.  Instructional coaching- full blast.  Educational technology leadership- full blast.  Mountain biking-  full blast.  Writing-  full blast.  You name it-  full blast.  My fear (or intelligence, we’ll see) has kept me off of my bike since that time.  I could have chilled down the concrete of the local trails or roads, but to me…  that felt too much like coaching wrestling from the edge of the mat.  It just felt too “halfway” to me.

cervical x-ray #3

So tomorrow, with a clean, toned bike and tight tires I will glide down the trails of our river bluffs for the first time in a long long while.  I can assure that the views I take in on that ride will be absorbed in a much different way.  At the speed I will be traveling I will likely take in more sights than I have ever seen even in some very familiar places.  But I think I am finally OK with that.  Though I’ll never really be able to coach wrestling the way I always did, the risk of a bike ride is a fair trade for the thrill.  It’s high time to kick off the second forty years of my life with the intent of returning to some semblance of the fitness I was used to.

Hey-  I might not being going full blast, but at least I will be back on the horse…  Wish me luck.

Park City, Utah trails