TED: Don Tapscott

Don Tapscott is a notable author and speaker on the influence of the Internet revolution. In other words, he discusses concepts like Web 2.0, Web 3.0 or the semantic web, and (this phrase just makes me cringe at the very thought of having to type it) digital natives and immigrants. I cannot believe how much those words have been abused and turned into excuses for ignorance. I will leave that rant for another day and post. That said, Tapscott has several published books on theses topics and has, at the very least, brought these ideas to the general masses. He has brought the Internet’s influence to center stage. I have to say that I am not overly fond or in agreement of his general assertions, but this TED video is absolutely spot on. In the wake of the Apple vs. Samsung calamity…you know the recent court case that will not ever help the consumer’s pocket or any company that even attempts to be innovative…, I cannot imagine a more appropriate attitude for our modern corporations to adopt. Tapscott explains the four principles of openness which are

  1. collaboration
  2. transparency
  3. sharing
  4. empowerment

A few phrases also stood out to me. I won’t comment on them specifically other than to note that they made me think. They where:

“Age of networked intelligence”

“There’s leadership, but no one leader”

“Humanity is building a machine”

“Understanding the new power of the commons”

What inspires you about his contentions? What got you thinking? Here’s the link to the Tapscott’s TED talk. Let’s start a conversation here!

iRecorder Update

A few months back, I referenced a great iOS app iRecorder Pro. I cannot say enough about this app. It records for hours without a hitch even when the device goes to sleep allowing for great battery life. I have had staff members record meetings for up to five hours and not have issues. It records in .m4a formats and does it economically with regards to both data size and quality.

The people at SimpleTouch Software made this app even better. The app will automatically “chunck” longer recordings for emailing so that it will meet the data caps imposed by most email servers. They added an audio meter during recording to ensure you are not peeking. The app will now employ integration into the stock media controls on the device…meaning that you can see transport controls in the lock screen. The developers have even improved the recording quality. Don’t forget the original features as well. The app has a simple interface, web server feature for easy transfer of files, will sync with iTunes if you want to, and great noise rejection.

The verdict: If you need an audio recording app that is a goto and does what it should time and time again, this is the one to get even at the price of $2.99. You may see nicer, more full featured apps that look like a pro audio solution, but why waste the effort or extra money.  For the classroom, it doesn’t get more reliable.

Improvisational Leadership? Yes!

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I recently read an article, If Miles Davis Taught Your Office To Improvise on Fast Company. This article was excerpted from the book Yes To The Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons From Jazz by Frank J. Barrett. Now that I have the attributions taken care of, I can move to why I found this article or general thought process interesting.

Anyone who has been around my life for more than a split second knows that a fair amount of what I do revolves around music. In fact, my undergraduate degree is from Temple University in music education and jazz performance. I have also spent fourteen years in public education as a teacher, technology coordinator, and until recently technology administrator leading the charge for not only great instructional practice, but, in addition, technological innovation. In other words, I can speak with some authority on the comparison between great organizational leadership (especially in education) and jazz. With that stated, Barrett does identify some key points of intersection between what great jazz musicians and great leaders accomplish on a daily basis.

What are these accomplishments? Let’s start first with the general idea of improvisation. Improvisation in jazz is NOT the art of just making it up with whatever inspiration you have at the moment. It is NOT the ultimate freedom to put just any notes into the musical second. If that was the case, we would have, well, pretty poor music by anyone’s standards. It turns out that we as listeners are pretty particular about what we like to hear. Make no doubt about it, people want to hear certain very predictable tone colors, harmonies, and melodies. When it comes down to it, improvisation is the art of creativity within a complex framework. The key word here is complex. The framework was and will never be a random or haphazardly thrown together set of rules. It is a representation of a long tradition of great musicians and their innovative developments. Jazz just didn’t happen one day or from one source. It is the confluence of many, many greats such as Miles Davis as Barrett concludes. Musicians who practice the craft today do the same. They innovate within the accepted norms of the jazz framework. It is important to realize that there is a lineage here. It isn’t crazy diversions that are celebrated. Prominent jazz musicians of today respect the art form’s traditions and enhance with their own personalities and creativity. What is celebrated and honored is the creative integration of both innovation and tradition.

Here’s the first common characteristic. There is no doubt that the job of a leader happens within a very intricate organizational culture, series of expected “rules”/policies, and in a way that accounts for the entire system of activity…the framework. When great leaders improvise, they may reach for the wild innovations, but need to also massage them within the rules of the framework. The very art of improvising. When they forget the framework, leaders run the risk of disrespecting the organization and its cultural existence. Yes, some organizations may need reform, change, or even total makeovers, but that does not mean that the past activities and culture that have been created should be thrown away in one giant flush. It should be a gradual movement over time. Think about this with respect to music in general. The Beatles were at first rejected for their inappropriate sounds. Jazz was devils music. The list goes on and on. No one at first liked their music. We became to appreciate and enjoy over time. A leader can be absolutely correct in their innovative actions, but if it is too far away from what is accepted by the organizational culture, then it will be rejected at first as “noise.” Leadership ahead of its time. There must be a productive movement that first starts with the appreciation of change. This concept leads to Barrett’s central theme.

Barrett’s most basic claim is to break away from the groove of everyday decisions. He wants leaders to forge new grounds. Barrett wants leaders to consistently look to innovation and creative thought processes that will drive success. Barrett’s choice of Miles Davis was spot on. Miles was absolutely the epitome of “cracking the nut” of innovation both at the musical second during a performance and over his lifetime. It seems that every new decade he was alive, he sought and perfected a new musical genre drawn from the foundation traditions of jazz for all to follow. He did this not only because he was a superb musician himself, but because he surrounded himself with what Steve Jobs called “team A” players. People that were just as able to disrupt traditions in ways that were overtly respectful to the creators and yet amazingly visionary. Miles knew who would inspire himself, who would fit together, and who would be better together than apart. Great leaders do this as well. They understand the need to break out of the mundane norms of the moment and seek out individuals who can thrive in these environments.

This is all well and good on the surface. These are the obvious conclusions that can be drawn. Miles took this to new level because he placed an importance on the artform itself. The art of creativity, innovation, and composition was of utmost importance. Why do I say this? In your spare time, head to YouTube and search for any of Miles’ videos. Now tell me that you hear a great virtuoso trumpet performance in the traditions of such greats like Wynton Marsalis, Louie Armstrong, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, etc. Miles, although an awesome musician, has never been known because of his clean tone, fast fingers, or flawless execution. What? Is that possible? Then why was he so appreciated?

Miles understood how to take the good, the bad, and, yes, the ugly and sculpt it into something absolutely creative. He did it relentlessly. He did it instinctively. He knew what he had to work with and made everyone fall in love with it. Like Steve Jobs, he did not win over the hearts of his fans by his ultra smooth personality. Miles was at best rough and absurdly up front in his communications. He attracted the best musicians because he was the Apple of the jazz world. The force with a singular focus of producing the best and most innovative music. The most impressive element of his music was that he took what was considered by well trained musician (especially trumpet players) as poor performance techniques and made the audience fall in love with them. The audience seemed to not care that a note exploded, cracked, or splatted. In fact, they celebrated it as uniquely Miles’ style. Great leaders now why they exist. They know the purpose behind there daily actions. They make people wantto follow at all costs.

Jazz and leadership. Who would have thought?

There are so many more comparisons that can be drown between the complex art form of jazz and successful leaders…to many for this singular post. I guess that means more content to follow. Stay tuned!

NJASA Upadate: iRecorder Pro iOS App

For all those who attended the presentation last week, I mentioned and recommended the “free” app called iRecorder. Well, this app WAS once free and is now no longer since the addition of the word “Pro.” That said, the app is an absolutely drop dead simple recording solution that will record multiple hours without a glitch with very high sound quality. It also features built in wireless synch and accomplishes the task by creating a web address which can be accessed through a desktop/laptop web browser on the same network. This app is probably one of the most used on the iPads that we have deployed. Teachers use it to record guided reading sessions, create podcasts, assess fluency, and help special needs children. I would highly recommend this app even at its $2.99 price. It is available through the iTunes store at this address.

NJASA: iPads – From Pilot Program to Positive Pupil Performance

The New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA) will be holding their annual Spring Conference this week in Atlantic City, NJ. On Wednesday, May 23, I will be sharing, along with Jason Weber, my two years of experience with a revolutionary device, the iPad. Now I know exactly what everyone is thinking…”Just what I wanted…another sales demonstration about an iPad…or…I’ve had just about enough of this iPad stuff…can we get over it now!” I promise you that this will not be your typical presentation. At the very least, you will walk out of this event knowing WHY you absolutely need a tablet device, quite possibly the iPad, in your classrooms and how you CAN make it happen instructionally without being a technological wizard. You should leave that wizardry (you know the “back end” complications) to your tech staff anyway.

What is on the list to discuss? First and most important is the construct that the result of any technology implementation should be a more effective and efficient instructional process. If it does not fulfill this requirement, stop using it and rethink. As absurd as it sounds, districts have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on large implementations of technology with little positive impact on instructional practice. This is not because the tools are inappropriate or inherently flawed. It is because we have forgotten that the priority in the classroom should be on instruction and not the tools of trade. Sounds obvious, but everyday thousands of teachers allow the tools…tablets, laptops, interactive whiteboards…to rule the classroom. They forget to ask WHY they are implanting their existence into their lives and the students they touch. Every teacher must start with these questions when they begin there integrations:

What is the technology enhancing?

What is the technology allowing me to do more quickly?

Why can’t I teach as effectively or efficiently without this device?

The preceding questions are critical to successful implementations. Technology cannot be a bolt on. It cannot be simply a superfluous engagement tool that invokes the short term novelty effect in students. It needs to serve a purpose or function that elevates the quality of instruction. My last post (Are you on the correct road to a 1:1 implementation?) highlighted the functions or capabilities that I wanted from a piece of educational technology. Content creation, access to resources, communication channels, assessment tools, and personalization for efficiency are all necessities for a student and teacher device. If you notice, these are also all the activities that we expect from students and teachers alike. Students need to demonstrate comprehension or mastery of content and be able to construct new individualized knowledge sets. Teachers need to create content for support resources. Students need to research and validate information efficiently using appropriate resources. Teachers need this same access for all the reasons you would expect. Students need to collaborate with pears and content experts to empower the community brain. Teachers desperately need to collaborate with experts in the field, administrators, and colleagues in order to produce the best results in their classrooms. Both teachers and students need to have access to efficient and effective assessment methods that quickly quantify results for more informed instruction and learning. This type of focus places the teacher in control of the device and not the reverse. It is the function of the device that should rule the thought process.

With iPad implementations, it has become an app game. Apple boasts some absurd number of apps and hopes that they can get you to purchase them all. I am here to tell you that you can substantially change instructional practice with around ten…that’s right, just 10 apps. How can that be? When you take into account the above feature sets or activities, you begin to purchase (many are even free) apps for the iPad that allow the device to perform those tasks or functions. Take a look at the list below:

Content Creation:
iWork: Pages, Numbers, Keynote
iLife: iMovie, Garage Band
Skitch (Free)
iRecorder (Free)

Resource:
Safari (Free and a default install)
iBooks with ePubs (Free and a default install)
iTunesU (Free and a default install)

Collaboration:
Apple (or comparable) wiki service (Free) – Not an iPad app, but a complimentary server tool
Apple (or comparable) WebDav service (Free) – Not an iPad app, but a complimentary server tool
WiFi Photo (Free)

I guarantee that these apps will serve most if not all of your instructional needs. They are not teacherless apps and they all can provide an instructional purpose or function. The only category not represented is assessment. This is intentional. Although there are classroom polling tools available for the platform, they are either very expensive or do little on the data reporting side. That said, I have seen many in beta that have the potential to be an addition to the list. As well, let’s not forget that the tools listed in content creation are also a very effective method of demonstrating comprehension, application of skills, or the ability to evaluate.

Last on the list for this presentation will be the discussion of professional development. How do we meet the needs of the teacher? How do we get this grand concept to happen in the classroom? The discussion will center on the deployment of authentic, informal versus classroom based, formal learning environments. It will also dive into the frameworks such as Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPaCK), the Princeton Model, and quantitative scoring tools. In addition, it will touch on co-teaching or coaching with regards to content delivery.

I hope to see you at NJASA!

Are you on the correct road to a 1:1 implementation?

Often prophetically proclaimed as the “holy grail” of educational experiences, one-to-one technology implementations are what everyone wants, but no one (or not many) in these economic times can afford. Educators think and discuss in the hallways…”What would it be like if everyone had access to a laptop, tablet, or smartphone all the time?”…”Wouldn’t it just be awesome to have constant access to the tools students relate to best?” Although not all teachers openly embrace the future design of educational environments, few can argue that some sort of device will be necessary in students’ hands sooner than later. It merely becomes a matter of WHAT device they will carry.

Now enters all the creative solutions that have been devised by manufacturers and marketed to educational institutions…netbooks, Chromebooks, iTouches, tablets…all the devices that carry a smaller financial burden and, unfortunately, a corresponding compromise. Acronyms such as B.Y.O.T. or B.Y.O.D also take center stage as thoughtful and practical means to go about filling the funding gap because, well, they are perceived as “free” (more on that later in later posts) to the district. Technology directors, superintendents, instructional leaders, and the like have and are crunching the numbers, timelines, and presentations for this new technological paradigm that promises smaller barriers to entry. But is it enough? Are any of these solutions ready for the masses?

Let’s stop for a second and forget about money. Let’s forget about all the hurdles to actual implementation and look solely at an idealistic classroom primed for success. Let’s act as though someone just handed us a menu of popular tools and said “order now, please!” All of the sudden the focus wouldn’t center on what we could afford and the associated compromises or sacrifices, but how we could actually enhance in our instructional practice. Questions like, “What is it that these devices need to do? and What functionality do we expect the said device to bring to the instructional environment?” would bubble to the surface instead of “How do we convince the stakeholders that this is an appropriate and necessary direction and oh, by the way…get them willing to pay the bill?” I challenge educational leaders to do this exercise. I challenge leadership teams to have discussions that shed all the noneducational problems that surround initiatives even if price IS an issue of great concern. Innovate with your expertise, idealism, and “wouldn’t it be great if…” mentalities. Let reality hit later in the process as subsequent hurdle to overcome and do not allow it to stifle development of great ideas.

Simon Sinek discussed in his book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Actions, the Golden Circle of why, how, and what. In other words, first know why you want the tool, figure out how you are going to use it, and then subsequently develop what you will do with it. As the title suggests, you need to start with the why…the vision, reason, overarching philosophy, the gut reason you are moving in a certain direction…in this case not so much 1:1 technologies, but why we infuse technology into our practice. That’s a huge discussion not slated for this post. The how is really where this post is targeted. How are we going to integrate technology into our instructional paradigm and more specifically what device will serve as that 1:1 tool? What should it provide?

Naturally, we need to first start with the feature set. What is it that we really want the device to do? How are we going to create a 1:1 that is effective in achieving our academic goals? Although this sounds extremely obvious, many do not start here. They start with a specific device or product in mind and move on from there. They have allowed an advertising campaign or a convincing sales representative to set their direction and, more importantly, corresponding set of sacrifices. Decision makers forget that they are the experts of not only their craft, but also their environment. Shopping on feature sets alone or the convincing argument of a societal trend should not be the sole focus. Who knows the environment better…a sales person, journal, or advertising agency or the organizational leader? Yes, this sounds so easy when exposed, but many district leaders fail every day in this area.

What do I want from a 1:1 product? I want…

  • content creation
  • access to both district and worldwide resources
  • channels for communication (social media, email, shared documents)
  • an efficient and effective means for assessment (both formative and summative)
  • the ability to personalize the tool
  • a valid tool that fosters solutions and not barriers

Is this a groundbreaking feature set? I do not believe it is at any level. In fact, I think many of us in the field have wanted these abilities for years, but had not found a tool that could accomplish the task without substantial barriers to implementation. That does not mean that we should abandon the correct process just because we want a solution. Keep close to you need the device and work from there. This is where the innovative thought processes or decisions will be found. It won’t be found in societal tends, manufacturer persuasion, or a field reps sample set. The results may surprise even the most informed and may reveal the plausibility of the “holy grail.”

In full disclosure, my current district is knee deep in iPad implementations. Yes, we did choose the trendy and many have accused “bling-ridden” device. The device everyone wants. The one everyone was “told” they needed in their district. With that in mind, I guarantee that the above feature set was taken into consideration from day one. I also guarantee that the implementation currently in place is not riddled with superfluous, app centric, non-student centered activities that have had little effect on instructional practice. We use very few apps…iWork suite, iMovie, Camera app (still and video), Safari, iBooks, iRecorder, a few scientific measurement tools, and Proloquo2Go for our special needs students without means to communicate. Just because the apps are affordable and very attractive does not mean you need to have multitudes installed.