How can technology make us more human?

Seattle-based Internet-celebrity and all-around-awesome-person Matt once again reminds us that technology’s greatest potential is more than skill proficiency. Technology is most successful when it allows us to become more human…when it enhances our ability to connect and communicate:

ISTE Ignite sessions

The ISTE conference in San Diego will have over 1000 official events (lecutures, keynotes, workshops, meetups) over 4 days. One of my favorite additions to this year’s schedule is Ignite sessions, 5 minute presentations supported with 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds.

Ignite sessions, started in Seattle by Bre Pettis (MakerBot fame) and Brady Forrest, are typically high-energy and inspiring. ISTE will have 2 sessions – one on Monday the 25th at 8am and the other on Tuesday the 26th at 3:45.

I’m honored to have been selected to present an Ignite session on Tuesday. I thought it would be fun to take screenshots of my presentation as I built it and turn them into a time-lapse video. The result is below for your enjoyment:

Hope to see you on June 26th at 3:45 in room 6A for ISTE Ignite!

iPad open house – lessons learned

This is the slidedeck I recently presented to Northwest area educators and IT directors at Seattle’s first iPad Open House, hosted by the Westside School.

The topic was “10 months into a 1-to-1 iPad deployment: lessons learned.” Main take-aways:

3 things we did right

  1. Scaffold for teachers – devices into teacher hands early in the summer. Professional development early in the summer. Regular check-ins to discuss discoveries and obstacles.
  2. Scaffold for students – started the year with no iPads. Conversations around the purpose and benefits of technology. Worked up to single-class use of iPads, then multiple periods, then all-day, and finally students took ownership of the iPads and they move freely between school and home.
  3. Scheduled reflections – students create e-portfolios that demonstrate learning at the end of each term. They use iPads to organize and present their reflections to peers, teachers and the parent community. Students also participate in periodic technology surveys that focus on using devices as a learning tool.

5 things we learned the hard way

  1. Evolving curriculum – middle school is 1-to-1, lower school uses a cart-based system. Teachers will be required to re-envision curriculum every year as upcoming students have a greater fluency with devices in a learning environment. (This is a good problem.)
  2. Device dependence – All students are under 13 so we have not asked them to create any cloud-based accounts. Content is typically locked in the iPad without using Dropbox, YouTube, etc to move files. Apple doesn’t have a great solution for this yet and email is less than ideal for the amount of video, music, photo content that students are generating.
  3. Version control – Google Docs isn’t ready for prime-time on the iPads. This leaves students emailing content back and forth to teachers, and thus ending up with multiple versions of the same document to manage. iPads don’t really have a “file structure” so past lessons on folder organization don’t apply.
  4. Technical support – Apple tech support are super nice people who don’t have solutions for most of the issues facing school deployments. Apple tech typically suggests iCloud or OSX Server, both of which perpetuate the brand lock-in and don’t solve issues. Many school IT consultants are running Windows-based systems and aren’t staffed with Apple experts, let alone iPad experts.
  5. Cleaning schedule – regular time set aside for physically cleaning each device is necessary. Same goes for the files in the devices too – iMovie projects take up tons of space even if you’ve already exported the final version.
surfer surrogate: jobs from the future

Jobs from the future: Surfer Surrogate

Editor note: discussing “jobs from the future” may be a creative compliment to high school classes studying economics, sociology, media literacy, entrepreneurism,  etc.

We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist . . . in
order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

In pondering the Fisch & McLeod’s quote from Shift Happens 2.0, I can’t help but imagine what these jobs will be. While social science fiction focuses on the more glamorous possibilities, the reality is many employment opportunities will be rather pedestrian – back in 1990, a full-time job as a bulletin board moderator seemed futuristic.
surfer surrogate: jobs from the future

Assuming capitalism & consumerism march onward, we still have electricity, and everything that can be outsourced will be, what are opportunities for recent grad employment?

Young people may turn to stints as Surfer Surrogates. A surfer surrogate effectively rents their online identity: travelling with high-profile clients (sports stars, movie stars, politicians, executives) and allowing them to use/tarnish the surrogate digital footprint and geo-location data.

The boss can use a surrogate’s interactive devices to do what he or she wants to online…without the search terms, frequented sites and online interactions being traced back to their own name. A candidate for governor could sit on a tourbus watching honey badger videos all day on a surrogate computer while other staff members use the candidate’s devices & accounts to post video/micro-blog/photo updates and visit pertinent “grown-up” sites (legal, federal, news-based, political, etc).

Physical surrogates will be preferable to tech-based cloaking systems because there will be someone to take the blame for illegal data downloads or questionably moral activity. Surrogate contracts will include non-disclosure agreements and enormous legal penalties for violation.

Have your own ideas of “jobs from the future”? Please comment or post and link back! 

Example surfer surrogate posting:

Help wanted: Love to travel? Looking to get paid just for showing up?

National political candidate is hiring a dependable and discreet team member. Great entry-level position for recent graduates.

This job package includes:

  • $43,000 salary
  • paid cell phone contract, unlimited data plan, stipend for digital device purchases
  • full medical/dental/vision benefits
  • up to 6% retirement match
  • mobile housing – private room on a support staff bus
Please note: you will be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement prior to interview.


The Flip – a complete picture

This position piece was a response to a Learning & Leading prompt, submitted April 9, 2012:

While many teachers have been introduced to “the flip” via the video lessons of pioneers, video is just one example of an evolving flipped teaching sensibility. Flipping is the act of identifying rote or procedural elements of a lesson, shifting this repetitive content to a medium not bound by teacher availability, and empowering students to take an active role in their education.

Flipping is a natural compliment to a 21st century learning environment. The teacher moves through the roles of manager, coach, facilitator & mentor. Class time is spent exploring, discovering, succeeding and sometimes failing. Students work on project-based work and collaborate as appropriate to share information and successes. When a common vocabulary or foundational concept is required, the teacher (or students) can choose how to provide that information in a way that is archived for future reference.

Flipped instruction today is defined by a teacher’s willingness to help students learn how/when they see fit, release control of the classroom experience, and engage in a process of finding the best way to reach and respond to students individually. The appropriate medium to convey information beyond class (videos, podcasts, worksheets, books, articles, etc) is selected based on content, community needs & teaching style.

Critics of flipped instruction suggest that the concept is about shifting bad lecture to an unresponsive, technology-dependent format. This argument focuses on a narrow definition of flipping taken out of context of the learning community it was designed for. Successful educators use the flipped model as one of an array of tools to support students – often employing a number of communication media (email, IM, bulletin boards, blogs learning management systems) to create a culture of information sharing within a cohort.

Flipped content allows viewers to control the content they interact with, the time it is engaged, and the speed at which it is consumed. It is essential to note that this content typically focuses on the lower-order thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy: leaving class time for application, analysis & evaluation. Students can access content during study hall, library-time, electives, homeroom, class free-time or from home.

Khan Academy is not, and has never, served as a model of flipping – KA video tutorials are a library of academic concepts & quizzes that might be used to support a flipped classroom. The term “flipped teaching” merely highlights a method of untangling student learning opportunity from teacher availability. The flipped opportunity is the prospect that an educator can move beyond the mechanics of content-delivery to the art of teaching.

Flipping is not a dummy-proof solution to education. Anyone seeking such a goal discounts the devotion and expertise that teachers bring to a classroom day after day, year after year. Whether to flip or not is no longer a relevant question. With 21st century learning, a more apropos question is, “What can our community accomplish in the classroom if everyone has, or has the ability to obtain, a foundation of understanding from which to succeed?

Google Glasses + Emotiv = the future

Spoiler alert: many of us are addicted to connectivity and hyper-awareness of the data streams surrounding our physical world. Manners & cultural values currently create cognitive dissonance as we suppress the urge to look at a smartphone while having a face-to-face conversation, which results in distraction, which results in not being fully present with the person we are speaking with.

Google takes a step towards reducing this internal struggle with the introduction of its  Project Glass – a heads-up smartphone display that provides information by projecting onto a lens while you pretend to be fully engaged with whatever you are looking at.

The issue with Project Glass in its current interation is that it requires vocal commands to navigate the interface. What will it take to get from Google’s vision all the way to the vision that Cory Doctorow presented in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom?

The missing link is a technology that already exists. Emotiv has been working on an product to detect EEG brainwaves and translate them into computer commands. Users can manipulate computers just by thinking.

We are one device convergence away from a completely computer-mediated existence! Yeay?

Thomas Hawk's image of Google Glasses on Sergey Brin

Music as technology

On Tuesdays & Thursdays I get to hang out with a group of amazing middle school technologists who recently crowd-sourced the following definition:

“Technology is the use of new knowledge to improve our lives by solving problems or making us more productive.”

These world are the culmination of hours worth of discussion about the benefits and consequences of technology. At one moment in a conversation, a fifth grade student dropped this gem:

“Even music can be technology, because it uses knowledge to make our lives better.”

It took me a few seconds of bumbling to wrap my head & heart around the comment – such a profound and innocent statement that fuses the desire to create with technology’s potential to connect us with each other and the world around us.

There’s a beautiful illustration of this concept in Alive Inside, a new documentary that sits at the intersection of technology, music and therapy. Get past concerns of the word “iPod” dropping a bunch of times and watch through to the 5-minute mark where music reveals itself as technology, based on the above student definitions.

“It gives me the feeling of love, romance. I figure right now the world needs to come into music – singing you’ve got beautiful music here. Beautiful, lovely. I feel  a band of love, of dreams.”


original source: (

Growing up digital: parent community conversation

Looking forward to working with parents in West Seattle this week as they gather to discuss the joys and challenges of raising digital natives. It is always exciting to bring educators and families together to talk as a team about how to best support the fluidity with which youth move between the real and digital worlds.

The flyer for this event is posted after the jump…