Google Apps for Education Summit

The Google Apps for Education Summit #gafesummit was one of the most transformative Professional Development experiences I have ever had in my 17 years as an educator.

source: Google

To start off day 2 +Mark Wagner asked us to consider a message that we would send from the future  to today's teachers.  My response is to continue to invest in Professional Development, continue to be in 'beta' with your adoption of educational technology and use these experiences to inform and evolve your practice.

Keynote speaker +Molly Schroeder talked about Google's philosophy to launch early and iterate.  They are always in the 'beta' phase developing new products and new ways for people to use technology. Molly cited examples of newly released products like Google Glass and some they have decided to drop like Google Reader (no longer available after July 1st). This is inevitable and just means that they are moving on to something more innovative. All the steps are integral because they have led to the current stage of development. Google loves being in beta because this is the place where learning and growth happens.

I think that as educators we need to allow ourselves more time to be in 'beta' with respect to our instruction. The number and scope of Ministry and school board policies and initiatives sometimes makes it difficult. However, by investing this time in trying new approaches we will continue to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our students.

While I am learning a lot about technical tools and tips, the part that amazes me the most is the change in the approach to teaching that is required in order to leverage these tools to the maximum. Admittedly, this is a difficult shift for most educators to make. Trying new things means operating out of one's comfort zone and possibly making mistakes due to our lack of understanding or experience. I think Tim Lee's greenfield approach (a project which lacks any constraints imposed by prior work, source: wikipedia) to 'Re-designing your School technology around the Cloud' is the same approach we need to take towards our instruction. Innovative teaching lacks constraints imposed by prior instructional approaches.

We need to have the courage to try new things, new instructional practices, new technologies and to model this for our students. Below is the video on Moonshot thinking. The basic message is that 'we choose to do things because they are hard. We need to find what you are passionate about and not be afraid to take risks because that is what is required to solve the really big challenges.'


In his keynote presentation +Jim Sill showed us quotes demonizing everyday technologies we now take for granted (like the bicycle) when they were first released. He suggested that we need to change our thinking about technology by changing our perspective (zoom in thinking routine). We need to adopt a more holistic view of the role that technology plays in the lives of our students. As educators we can no longer ignore the fact that '72 hours of video content is being uploaded to YouTube every minute'!! We can't let our fear of technology prevent us from embracing it and all of the forms of expression that it affords.

Molly said that we need to think about our students as being in beta. There is tremendous potential for them to learn and grow and that the focus should be on what they are going to do to find answers to questions and how they will represent the knowledge and skills they have acquired. We need to empower them to become active creators of knowledge by providing them with 'design challenges' that will allow them to flourish in beta.

They need to be involved in the process of understanding, building, designing and testing their ideas and to know why they are learning, much like the technology skills competition our students engage in every year. What if we allowed all of our students to participate in these kinds of projects on a regular basis throughout the school year. An excellent example of this is the 20% project. Make sure you watch the student testimonials about their final presentations on this project and why it is so important to them.

My subsequent blogposts will illustrate how I have begun to apply what I learned and experienced at this summit to my own professional practice. Specifically, I will demonstrate how I am using Google + Hangout to facilitate a #PLN around the planning and implementation of projects using Google docs to collaborate with my colleagues +Sylvia Duckworth and +Rolland Chidiac.

On The Rise K-12, eLearning Conference Part 2

How to encourage teachers to adopt #blendedlearning or #elearning to enhance their instruction? I continued to reflect on this question as the second day of the conference began and I was inspired by a number of examples of forward-thinking school boards.

In his keynote presentation, John Malloy, Director for the Hamilton Wentworth DSB made a point of saying that digital does not necessarily mean differentiated instruction or innovative teaching. I have always been a firm believer that pedagogy should drive the adoption of educational technology and that it is a tool not a strategy. I was not surprised to hear John Malloy mention that his board has a 21st century learning team with a variety of stakeholders to help define the vision and implementation for innovative teaching and learning. The Hamilton Wentworth DSB was one of our original partners in the EDEN project (Electronic Distributive Education Network) established in the mid 1990's to deliver elearning and blended learning courses to the member boards (Simcoe County DSB, York Region DSB, Upper Canada DSB, Toronto DSB and Dufferin-Peel CDSB). It is also no suprise that the Hamilton Wentworth DSB recently won the Ken Spencer Award a national prize for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. “Students develop personal blogs as online learning portfolios, and manage their digital footprint in a safe space while learning what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.”

How many other school boards have a 21st century learning team in place to make sure that teachers have the training and infrastructure to be truly innovative?

I attended another inspiring presentation by Joe Sisco, WECDSB who talked about how his board integrates Google Apps for Education with the Desire2Learn platform. Joe showed examples of how students in his board help to peer-edit each other's work, collaborate on presentation and group projects and how teachers provide descriptive feedback to students in a seamless and intuitive manner. It was another example of a school board that has the vision and understands what needs to be in place in order to promote innovative teaching and learning.

Bill MacKenzie, President, ECOO also informed us about the upcoming Google in Education summit taking place at Eastwood Collegiate in Kitchener, April 20 & 21, 2013. I do not think that it is a coincidence that the summit is taking place at a school in the Waterloo Region DSB. Mark Carbone and his team have been working with local business leaders in Communitech to create a vision and plan for the future of teaching and learning. Not only are they participating in professional development designed to change teaching practice, but they are also working on the Future Forum Project which recognizes the need to engage learners in a variety of approaches and activities to better prepare them for tomorrow. 'The project strives to integrate promising practices and learning across schools to meet the needs of all students in a more effective, sustainable and progressive manner.'

While the above examples are truly inspirational and operate at a very high-level, my own focus is to target a more grass-roots transformation of teaching in the mainstream classroom. Now to return to my initial question about how to encourage teachers to consider changing their instructional practices and to use educational technology to achieve different learning outcomes. My colleague at Elearning Ontario, Dan Bodkin sent me a link to a great article on How to Get Hesitant Teachers to Use Technology. It contains many great suggestions especially about 'giving them time to play' and experiment with the new tools. Early in the consultation process I provide teachers with a number of different models and examples based on the learning outcomes they have selected. However, I think that their own experiences using the technology is what will transform their practice. The number one complaint I hear from teachers is that they do not have the time to reflect on how these new tools can impact the way they teach. They are often over-whelmed by the options and features available.

It occurs to me that the initial conversation with mainstream teachers should not begin by introducing web 2.0 tools, new features to the LMS or terms like blended learning. Without the experience of using these tools and approaches it is difficult for them to determine their value or how it can transform their practice because they have no frame of reference. It may be more productive to use the upcoming sessions for school and board effectiveness planning as the means by which they could receive a gentle introduction to blended learning. Shortly, educators will be deciding on specific literacy and numeracy goals and interventions based on previous evaluation data (i.e. EQAO, CAAT, etc..) for the upcoming school year.

Teachers that have defined specific literacy goals related to reading comprehension, writing or oral communication can be given access to the elementary elearning carousel where they can select relevant activities according to subject, strand and expectations. Teachers will appreciate the simplified interface and will come to realize the potential for differentiating instruction by providing enrichment or remediation as a result of the comprehension checks they perform while students work on the activities at their own pace. Teachers that express an interest in using tools to complement these activities can be given an introduction to areas like the discussion board so they can gain first-hand experience in helping students to apply creative thinking and writing skills to their online posts in order to promote higher level cognition.

At last year's Digital Learning Forum a group from the Near North DSB presented a pilot project where they created a number of online evaluations in D2L to prepare students in grades 3, 6, & 9 for the upcoming EQAO tests. Students used tablets to access a variety of questions they could expect to see on the tests and were provided with feedback based on the answers they submitted. They could also complete the evaluations multiple times. This kind of a project would work well for helping teachers to achieve the specific numeracy goals they have identified in their school improvement plan. I think they would quickly come to realize the benefits of students being able to work on relevant activities at different times of the day from multiple locations and devices.

I believe that mainstream teachers will be more willing to embrace digital tools that can transform their teaching if they are presented as a natural and complementary way to achieve learning outcomes. They can use their initial experiences in the online environment (both positive & negative) to inform their practice so they can decide what tools and approaches they will incorporate in the next iteration of their course.