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

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What has becoming somewhat of a tradition….ok…it’s really just my geek side coming out (yes this would imply I have another side….not sure what that is though), I sat down on Thursday last week to watch the Google I/O conference. For years now I have watched the Google I/O conference as well as the Apple’s WWDC (coming June 8th) for no other reason (or so I tell myself) than to fill in teachers at my school what was announced and how it might impact them. When living and working in China and Thailand this meant staying up until 2am or so to watch it live and write an email that would be in every teachers inbox by the next morning. Now living in Seattle it means a cup of coffee, four devices and watching it on my TV.

flickr photo shared by pestoverde under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license
flickr photo shared by pestoverde under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

It also means I no longer work in a school or have teachers to send this to…so you get my thoughts this year. Basically a brain dump of things I’m thinking after watching Google layout the next year and beyond of the future of technology.

Education was at the front of this year’s talk. I say that every year of course because I hear and see things through an educational lens. For example, Google’s new Photos app (Android, iOS) had nothing to do with education…or they just made it even easier for students to take pictures, create movies, stories and share those photos with their classmates and teacher. A common photo app on both Android and iOS devices with unlimited upload and storage space for all the photos and video you want to take. Yes…this can and will impact some classrooms.

“Please take out your phones and record via videos and photos your experiment today please. One person in your group needs to be the recorder for the experiment and I expect to see written notes along with video and image evidence of what happened.”

Google Expeditions

One of the biggest educational announcements was the release of Google Expedition. A virtual reality toolkit for educators being released, I’m going to guess, in time for next school year. Using Google Cardboard and any Smartphone (again both Android and iOS) you turn every classroom into a 3D immersive experience. This is very early stages but if you think 2 or 3 years down the road what this means for classrooms it could be very powerful.

“OK class….please get out your cardboard and we’re going to go live to Martin Luther King Jr. speech today. Group A  you will be viewing it from the back of the crowd. Group B I’ve put you in the middle of the crowd and Group C you are towards the front. I would like your group to experience the speech from these different perspectives and then discuss how your view and angle of the speech impacted you and notice the people around you within Cardboard. How did it impact them?”

What if we can “be there”. Instead of saying “Oh…you had to be there to see it, or to feel it” can we get one step closer of actually being there?

Google Sidestepping Universities

However, the announcement that has me still thinking and still blowing my mind is the announcement Google made about teaming up with Udacity to offer an Android Developer Nanodegree. Udacity has been rolling out these Nanodegrees for awhile now and this latest announcement from Google just adds to what could be a real movement in higher education.

The “NanoDegree” offering a narrow set of skills that can be clearly applied to a job, providing learners with a bite-size chunk of knowledge and an immediate motivation to acquire it. (NYTimes, 2014)

nanodegreesThat motivation being both AT&T and now Google are backing these degrees saying they will consider graduates of these degrees as being qualified for hiring within their companies. So instead of going to University and having to take all those classes you don’t want to take or you know don’t really point you in the direction you want to go, you get a Nanodegree instead. $200 a month for 8 months or so? Basically I get a degree for $1600? That’s a lot less than any public University where I live.

Now I could go on and on about where I think this is going and the future of nanodegrees. What I really want to focus on is what do students need in order to complete one of these degrees?

If we go to the “Prerequisites and Requirements” section for the new Android Developers degree. We see a list of prerequisites including some background knowledge you’ll need in Java and other programs. All of which can be found on Udacity’s website of course. But the one that caught my eye was this one:

Dedication and Mindset

In addition to 1-2 years of prior programming experience and intermediate technical skills, students are expected to demonstrate the following characteristics:

Resourcefulness: Ability to search for and find solutions in documentation, backed by the belief that all problems in code are discoverable;

Grit: Ability to work through challenges and persevere when code breaks and tests fail.

Growth Mindset: Belief that intelligence is NOT a fixed entity, and can be boosted by hard work in the process of learning and practice.

Let’s make these just a bit less techie for a second:

Resourcefulness: Ability to search for and find solutions in documentation, backed by the belief that finding problems is just as important as solving them.

Grit: Ability to work through challenges and persevere when things don’t go as expected and failure is seen as leading to solutions.

Growth Mindset: Belief that intelligence is NOT a fixed entity, and can be boosted by hard work in the process of learning and practice.

Are we making sure that students that graduate from high schools all around the world this month are leaving with this Mindset? I hope so….because this mindset will get you farther in life than any degree no matter how major or nano it might be.

300px eduro

There has been a lot going on with my new adventure that is Eduro Learning. Kim Cofino and I, along with 5 others, founded the company last May. The idea behind the company was that there were many conferences, summits, and PD opportunities to learn about technology tools however very few focused on the change in classroom culture that needs to happen or the change in the mindset of educators that needs to happen to truly take advantage of what technology has to offer.

It’s 2015 if you hadn’t noticed, and we’re still in a place where very rarely is technology replacing learning in the classroom in meaningful ways. I believe that’s because “integrate” is the wrong word…the wrong mindset. In 2015 we need to start thinking about replacing

What skills need to be replaced in our curriculum because of technology?

You see replacing is a different mindset. It’s a different way of looking at technology. We don’t have a lesson created already and try and integrate technology into it. No…we need to start replacing the whole lesson with something different because of the technology we have available to us.

We’re not talking about small changes here….we’re talking about shifting the way technology is viewed. Shifting the way technology is used and thought about.

Of course this culture shift needs to be understood by the administration. It needs to be more than we’re giving every student a laptop and move into a deeper question of how do we change the culture of our school?

MSD Logo_Only_MSOfficeI’m excited that we found a school district, an administrative team, and a staff hungry for a new way of looking at learning in 2015 and beyond. Eduro Learning has entered into a five year contract with Marysville School District in Washington State to do just that….to take 450+ educators through a program that changes the culture of the way learning happens (Press Release).

This goes beyond conferences, summits and institutes. Beyond one-off PD days and looks at long term embedded learning. Each educator who teaches 4th – 12th grade in Marysville will spend three years with the Eduro Team. This is the type of long term professional development that truly can change the culture of a school or district. Very few school boards and school leaders are willing to invest this type of money and resources into changing the culture of their school. Even fewer are willing to sell it to their community and make it happen. We’re looking for those type of schools, school boards, school leaders. Ones that truly understand that it’s 2015 and we need to start thinking differently about the tools available to us and look at how society operates with technology today and bring the education of students inline with the way technology is being utilized in our global society.

I have no doubt you’ll be hearing more about this project here and across the web as we get started in May.

Of course not every educator is lucky enough to work at a school district like this, so professional development opportunities in the form of institutes, conferences and summits is still the default way that schools support educator professionally.

Because of that we have been thinking how we take those opportunities and make them the best they possibly can be within the time frame we have.

How do we make institutes social, collaborative and in-depth?

It means moving away from a model of learning a lot of stuff and learning something really well. It’s moving away from 45 minute or 90 minute sit-and-get conference sessions to a full day of in-depth, interactive learning in a single strand.

Eduro Learning is launching four events starting this summer focused on in-depth, interactive professional development.

google-plus-profileSeattle, WA One-Day Institute:

The first thing you’ll notice when you head over to the event page is that you sign up for a strand within the institute. Yes…we make you chose what you want to spend a full day learning about. You do not go to this session or that session….you go to a full day, in-depth, interactive learning session on a given topic. The three strands will interact with each other and overlap their learning as social is a key component of learning for all ages.

Secondly you’ll notice that these are not big events. We’re keeping them at 150 people. Small, focused, intense learning sessions that allow us to differentiate the learning for the participants. When’s the last time you went to a conference or summit that tried to meet your specific needs as a professional learner?

Wired with Wine in Walla Walla Two-Day Institute:

This is my brainchild (OK….I give my wife 51% of the credit) and I’m excited to see if we can make this work. Why can’t educational professional development be fun? Be is beautiful locations and treat educators like adults and provide a little responsible fun with the learning?

The idea here is we spend two days going in-depth in learning while mixing in wine tasting in one of the great wine regions of Washington State. Learning is still the focus however, we’re infusing some fund wine tasting and wine knowledge into the learning experience. What if…for example we talk about how you can use a Google Form to collect data and get instantly results and then use that same approach in a blind wine tasting test to see which wine is viewed best by the participants. Not only do we talk about what you can do, we’ll actually do it…with wine of course. Once again making the institute interactive and learning focused in a fun and….OK….we’ll just stop at a really fun way.

Online Courses:

Of course if you don’t work at a school district likes Marysville or you can’t join us for a face-to-face institute we also offer online courses. These are six week courses that we are continuing to tweak and create moving forward. We have bigger plans of how these courses will all come together in the future to create something a bit different. For now…they are one off courses that you can use for recertification credit or if you are an International Educator (outside the US) you can take for graduate credit from SUNY-Buffalo State. Keep an eye here for more information and more ideas around these classes and learning experiences.

It’s amazing how far Eduro Learning has come in less than a year. What can happen when you bring together people who are passionate about what they do, about education and about providing the best professional development we can for educators. We’re off to a great start….and this is only the beginning.

Photo Credit: MaceyBuchanan via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: MaceyBuchanan via Compfight cc

Seeing that I’m fully invested in online professional development for educators through both COETAIL and Eduro Learning, I’m always on the look out for research on how to make online learning better. What is it that sets good online learning apart from the OK online learning systems? How can we use that research to start blending our classrooms more and more to prepare students for the universities that away them? Universities that more and more are requiring students to learn online.

New research out of MIT, Tsinghua University, and Harvard came to the conclusion that online learning…specifically MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) do work….or at least work as good as traditional teaching. An article overview of the the research can be found here

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google-plus-profileCheck out our online courses at Eduro Learning here.

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What’s even more interesting is in part because of this research, MIT released their Future of Education Report. There are whole sections of the report looking at blended learning and game-based learning. What I find most interesting however is their commitment to creating communities both online and offline. Personally this is what sets apart good online courses and why MOOCs work. MOOCs are about creating a community of learners, good online courses do the same. They create a community that allows everyone to learn from each other, to support each other and not rely on a traditional teacher to “teach” the course. That is the mindshift that needs to happen. Not only in our traditional classroom settings but specifically in online courses. Online courses work when a community forms and learns together. 

We continue to improve our systems both at COETAIL and Eduro Learning to be more community centered. Setting up the system to create a community is one thing….helping people to understand how to learn in a community and not from a teacher is tougher.

If you have taken online courses before. What aspects do you like and don’t like about them?

There is more than one way to get a school to start looking at online learning as a way to reach students. As an international educator, I have found no greater motivation to get the conversation started around online learning than planning for the worst…..school closure.

In 2003 it was the attacks on the compound in Riyadh that led my school to think about how we were to educate students if we were to shut our doors. The following year we implemented Moodle and started training teachers.

In 2005 we moved to Shanghai, China and within weeks of getting my feet on the ground I found myself in a meeting talking about how could we sustain learning if SARS was to return to Asia. Luckily SAS did not have to shut their doors during SARS but other schools had to and they were now looking for ways to sustain learning if the worst was to occur. Two months later we install and start using Moodle, we got a couple teacher on board and we started to build a wave of technology users. In my eyes that was the true start to online learning systems at SAS. Of course now they have a whole e-learning portal system and are going 1:1.

A couple days ago I get an e-mail from the leadership team here at ISB who are starting to have conversations around H1N1 and what systems do we have in place that would allow us to carry on the learning process. There have been international schools that have already had short term closures throughout Asia do to H1N1 and just last week we saw our first confirmed case at school.

These are not the best ways to bring attention to e-learning systems, but honestly I’ll take what I can get! 🙂

Here’s the problem with all three of the above stories. Online learning is not something you can “switch on” and do well. There is so much training to be done on both the teachers end and the students end that switching it on is the least of your worries.

Why every classroom should be a blended classroom:

Of course I could go into the learning theory on why I believe every classroom today, especially in the middle school and high school where students are more tech savvy should be a blended model of both classroom learning and online learning…but you can read the rest of this blog for that. 😉

Let’s just look at it from a ‘preparing for the worst’ perspective. If your school or class is already use to using a blended model for learning, moving to a full time model either way is a much shorter jump than moving all the way without having a system in place. Both teachers and students understand how the system works, where to go, what to do. If online learning is just part of their daily routine in school, than we do not need to worry….we just continue on the journey of learning.

In all three stories above I’ve helped my schools start with Moodle:

  1. It’s cost is minimal (free, you just need a server).
  2. Setting up and getting classes going is easy.
  3. It’s secure (walled garden) which both teachers and administrators like and feel comfortable with.
  4. It can do everything you need in one nice package (Not everything….but everything you need)

All three of these schools are in a much better place today to deal with a school closure. Here at ISB most teachers in the middle school and high school have moved to some form of blended learning. Whether it be blogs, Moodle, Elgg, or Google Apps. What H1N1 will do is force the rest of the teachers to move there so we are prepared for the worst…not a bad thing!

The elementary school is always a bit harder, as students rely on more guidance when it comes to learning. Our teachers continue to adopt blogs as a communication device with parents and turning that into an educational learning communication to parents if they were at home with their students is not a far leap. Uploading worksheets, having discussions, and even giving advice to parents on how and what they should spend their time doing is a simple switch on the teachers part. The parents are already trained to look at the blogs for class information, teachers are getting better at understanding the software and uploading documentation, an open communication learning platform already in place.

We talk about needing a Sputnik type reason to change education. Internationally I’ve found mine! It might not be the best way to shift a school or teachers thinking around using online tools. But I’ll take it! In the case of SAS that simple step of installing Moodle lead to a shift in thinking, school culture, and their belief on what a blended classroom can do for both teaching and learning. It allowed new conversations, new ideas, and a new outlook on what was possible. So, as much as I hate to fear H1N1 I also see it as an opportunity to start new conversations and new ways of thinking about education.