Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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I find myself sitting here in Kota Kinabaul, Malaysisa reflecting on what has been a 5 country, I don’t know how many presentation, month. From Bahrain to Iowa with Asia and Australia in between, it’s been an amazing month of travel and I find myself thinking and reflecting on all I’ve been talking about and learning along the way.

So here’s my brain dump of themes that keep emerging for me:

The future is mobile

Whether in the heartland of America, or the deserts of the Middle East and Africa, moble phones are the future of connectivity. We’re also seeing this with Apple’s iPad and the ability to connect to a 3G connection. My guess….every mobile device in 3 years will have the built in ability to connect via a celluar network. We’re already doing this, but it will just become part of the hardware of every mobile device. What this will do to/for places like Africa and a large part of the developing word I can only imagine…….but it excites me.

Society expects us to be connected

I’ve been preaching this everywhere this month as it came out of the TED Talk I did back in September. i think we need to stop making excuses for all of us spending to much time connected and just realize this is now the world we live in. Once we own this fact then we can start having some deep discussions around how do we teach in this new society, how do we communicate, and how do we live in a world that is constantly connected? We continue to have conversations about being “balanced” and I agree that we need to find ways to get off the computer and get reconnected with nature. But balance in the term of 50/50 is not going to happen and it hasn’t been that way for a long time. TVs are in our homes, gaming systems have been around now for 30 years, and we all have a cell phone or soon will. We are now in a time where being connected is the norm and being disconnected is not. We need to make this shift in our thinking. We need to consiously think about disconnecting, taking trips with no connective devices, which goes again societies rules right now and that’s what makes it difficult. A goal of every family should be to take 1 trip a year with no connective device. The only screen that should be allowed is a GPS. Everything else stays at home. I’m not talking just about the kids I’m talking the whole family which is where parents start shaking their heads. They think kids should do this but not them…….and that is not setting the example we need. Disconnecting is good, it’s healthy, and we need to model that.

Standards are past their prime

Here comes the tomatos! This recent post by Clarence Fisher just drives home the point for me. Standards can’t keep up in a constantly changing landscape that no one can predict what the content is students will need in the future. When content is free and open we need to focus on skills, concepts and dispositions. Content based outcomes after 2nd grade are useless and continue to change faster than the curriculum review cycles of our schools. I don’t know how many times in the past 5 years I’ve heard “We’ll fix that in our next curriculum review cycle” meanwhile for 3, 4, or 5 years, depending on your review cycle, we’re teaching stuff we don’t believe in or know is not relavent to students in a digital, always on socieity.

Using my school as an example….I beleive the only outcomes we need for any lesson are these factors that my school has agreed upon:

Learning is the primary focus of our school and we recognize learning as a life-long adventure. We value meaningful learning where students construct enduring understanding by developing and applying knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Increased understanding is evidenced by students who:

– Explain its relevance

– Describe how it connects to or conflicts with prior learning

– Communicate it effectively to others

– Generalize and apply it effectively to new situations

– Reflect critically on their own and other’s learning

– Ask questions to extend learning

– Create meaningful solutions

If every lesson, everything we did with kids focused on this, we’d be much better off and we’d return true power of teaching back to teachers.

Socially Connected World

We live in a socailly connected word. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, or the next thing that comes along there is no turning back. As social-networks become part of our culture they are affecting the way we do bussiness (foursquare) the way we look for jobs and employees (92% of empolyers now use or plan to use social-networks) and how we communitcate with our friends and relatives. We know that learning is social, we know kids are going to need to understand how to get into college, or get a job being part of a social-network. So let’s start using them rather than continute to make excuses for not. FYI “We MIGHT get sued.” is an excuse.

Conferences Handouts are Changing

I use to use my own wiki for handouts. This year I haven’t had to use it once. Each conference I’ve gone to has had their own wiki, or site to put digital material one….well all except this admin conference I’m at now. But even I’m finding the wiki hard to keep up on, so I’ve moved to just creating a tag or using a tag I already have in Diigo and just giving that as the link to resources. For example, my talk on why we should be teaching students Facebook (read that as social-networking) in schools tomorrow is just using my Diigo tag of Facebook. Easy to update and I can update the list as the presentation is going on. I think this also shows a difference in my presentation style where I’m being much more convesation based and less giving of content. You can view the content when you want/have time. I only have you for 60 minutes and we need to have a discussion on why you aren’t doing these things, or what your fears are.

Social Media Community Manager

In many of the conversations I’ve been having someone also brings up “Who’s job is it to monitor all this stuff? I mean the schools Facebook Page, the Wikipedia entry, the Twitter account, the YouTube account, etc, etc.?

This a great question and my response is, and will be tomorrow to admin here in Asia, that we need a new position in our schools. We need Social Media Community Managers. A quick Google Search brought up some great job discriptions that any school could use to get started. I might write my own for schools when I get a change. This isn’t a new position in the business world, but is a new concept to education. I do think it’s time that we hire people or put someone in charge of managing our online school communities. Someone who has deep knowledge of social-networks and can get the most value out of them for schools.

Well…that’s what has been on my mind this last month…..feel better actually writing it down so I don’t forget. There might be more, but I can feel the jet lag settling in and I’ve gotta talk about Facebook and Twitter tomorrow with administartors……we’re gonna have some fun!

Yawn……stretch…..nothing like a week off relaxing to get the creative juices flowing. Spring Break is now over and we’re in the home stretch here in Bangkok with 7 weeks of school to go before summer vacation starts.

Over Spring Break, my wife and I spent four days in beautiful Luang Prabang, Laos (pictures can be found here).

While in Laos, I learned a couple things that I’d like to share with you.

1. How to keep your cell phone dry during Songkran

Songkran is New Year’s in South East Asia and it typically calls for country wide water fights. No better way to celebrate New Years in 100+ degree heat than to have a huge water fight. Nobody is safe, and your cell phone is definitely not safe if kept in your pocket. But while riding a bike or motorcycle if you keep your phone high you’ll keep it dry. While riding in a Tuk Tuk, I kept my iPhone in a plastic bag…worked great!

2. Cell Phone technology is the future of wireless

So here I am in arguably one of the poorest countries in South East Asia and at the morning market, I happen upon this shop selling cell phones. The cheapest one sells for $22.45 and the most expensive one for $35.44.

The phones had the following features:

  • Calls
  • SMS
  • MMS
  • Camera
  • Radio (both AM and FM)
  • Weather

Cell service plans are very cheap as well. I didn’t actually price out complete plans but a SIM card to get you started with basic calls and sms sells for $5.

In many of my presentations, I talk about the future is truly in the palm of our hands. According to the International Telecommunication Union, there are 4.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide and we are on pace to pass 5 billion this year. There are just about 7 billion people on the plant. Or in other words just over 70% of the world’s population has a cell phone.

Now these phones are not iPhones, but if I was a betting man I’d say within 5 years we’d see phones at this same price that have internet capability. What happens when farmers in Laos have access to information without going to the city for internet access? Just ask Kenyan farmer Zack Matere what the cell phone and Internet access means to him.

I’m sorry to break the news to everyone….but I don’t care where you live….teaching kids today how to access information and create knowledge with it is the future. Whether you are in Kenya, Laos, or the USA.

3. The ability to connect from everywhere is the future

US Telecoms need to wake up and smell the coffee. The ability to travel anywhere and expect cheap cell phone coverage appears in most of the word except the USA (from personal experience). When a SIM card in Laos cost $5 and a SIM card in Thailand cost me $5 and a SIM card in Switzerland cost me $15. Someone please tell me why I can’t get one for less than $50 in the US? And spending less than $80 a month for service is hardly possible. I mean, when I pass a monk on a cell phone on the banks of the MeKong River and I know in the middle of seemingly nowhere he has cell service for pennies…..it’s just frustrating!

Cell coverage is the fast growing type of Internet/communication coverage world wide. Take some time to study the GSM World Coverage Map and just think about all those places that are covered…and really to cover the rest means just putting up more cell towers. As the need for the service arises putting up the tower is the easy part…and once the tower is in place upgrading the signal from tower to tower is even easier. So here in Laos now that the towers are in place, the ability to switch on 3G or heck probably 4G by the time the country is ready, is a simple upgrade of switches at hub centers.

We expect to be able to connect from everywhere. In Luang Prabang, our hotel had free WiFi and if you weren’t staying at a place that offered it, there were Internet cafes on every other corner for you to use.

What I’ve taken away from all this is as a content creator, my information better be accessible on a cell phone and I need to find a way to get our student blogs at school accessible on a cell phone as well so that they can teach students in Laos. Because those kids will all have a cell phone before they have a computer.

4. Solutions to things we didn’t know were problems

At the morning market we happened to walk by a couple people with the following set up. Before you read on take a look at this picture (click to see larger size) and see if you can figure out what this person was making money doing.

So if your guess was that this person was making $1.18 a digital picture you’re right! Yes….that is a car battery connected to a transformer that is connected to a power strip that is plugged into four little photo printers.

See here’s the thing, all these people in these rural villages now have cell phones or even a digital camera. Which is all great…but when you don’t own a computer to put those digital photos onto you have to print them. Hence a solution to a problem. The street in this particular part of the market was lined with people making money printing digital pictures. Here’s another picture of a single printer operation.

The technology had created a problem….people had pictures that they couldn’t develop, but with a little creative work technology also solved the problem. I stood and watched for a while as people stepped up paid their $1.18 and handed over their SD card to get a couple pictures printed for safe keeping.

Are we giving our students the skills to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet? Technology doesn’t solve all our problems and in some cases it actually creates new ones for us. Are we preparing our students to be creative and solve interesting, out of the box problems?

5. Connecting with people is what it’s all about

On our first full day in Luang Prabang, we booked a four hour trek through the Lao jungle to this amazing waterfall (yes…you could actually drive to it in about 40 minutes…but what’s the fun in that!)

When we signed up for the trip there was one other couple signed up as well. I had second thoughts about the trip because being on a trek in 100 degree heat with people that you might not get along with is just….well…let’s just say we’ve done it and it’s not a good experience.

In the end, my wife talked me into it and I’m sure glad she did. The other couple turned out to be Allie and Mark (or was it Mark and Allie…I don’t remember 😉 ) A couple from San Francisco who quit their jobs and on January 28th set off to see South East Asia.

We hit it off on the trek, chatting the whole way to the waterfalls, four hours in the jungle never seemed so short. After the hike and a dip in the water, we headed back to Luang Prabang. We ended up agreeing to meet the next night for dinner. Mark, it turns out, was one of the founders of The Flip Video Camcorder. In March of last year, Pure Digital Technologies (the company that made The Flip) was bought by Cisco Systems. Mark became the national account manager at Cisco, selling the Flip and other Cisco products.

Allie is in the tech world as well. She is a consultant for companies working on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and helping web site content be more relevant in search results.

No wonder we got along so well. 🙂

Mark actually gave me a Flip UltraHD which is like the coolest gift I’ve ever gotten on a vacation! We also talked about their new product the SlideHD which was released just last week while we were together.

Allie and Mark few back through Bangkok on their way to Japan and we invited them to stay with us and showed them the local side of Bangkok. We ate a lot…and then ate some more!

When it’s all said and done, it is the connections with people that we take with us. Whether they are made via a cell phone call on the banks of the Mekong River, or they are a picture we want to keep to remember that moment, or just dinners and conversations with new found friends. The connections between people are what we need to remember this world is really about.