Saturday, January 31, 2009

Staff Development, Part One

First of Three Parts
I'm preparing some material for a staff development brainstorming session. I'd love to have your input and feedback, too

Resistance to organizational change is normal but the introduction of IT into a school brings out a pronounced range of behavior. Leavening my personal observations with research, I have divided a typical faculty into four stereotypes:

A) "Pathfinders" In the first category we have the teachers who have embrace technology the way Dona Hickey's great-grandfather embraced electricity:
"Hey, that’s for me!". This group is curious and open to the experimentation and implementation of new technologies.

B) "Jumpstarts" This group is
willing to consider change, but they are sincerely concerned about striking the right balance between book and byte. Several who voluntarily attended my Jan 6, after school "Tech Shortcuts" in-service would exemplify this type. They are curious and eager, but may lack the impetus for taking the plunge. "Jumpstarts" probably lack confidence that the time they invest in IT will pay dividends. "Time, time, time" is invariably mentioned as an obstacle. At any rate, they have not hit the right "comfort level" to truly integrate the technology into their instruction.

C) "Too Old/Too Late" This group responds to
technology with amazement and professes wonder at even superficial incursions that OTHERS are making. But usually they resignedly assert that they are too "old" or "far behind." Often they worry that "computers" create impersonal classrooms pose grave threats to personal privacy. They seem to accept a changing world, but are running out the clock until retirement or until someone magically provides them with a 21st century command center. George Siemen describes their deep seated reserve: "People resist what the technology may represent - change, confusion, loss of control, impersonalization."

D) "Naysayers". This is my gentler term for those Theodore Creighton describes as "Resisters, Sabateurs" who use a broad arsenal of passive-aggressive weapons to slow down change. This type of staff member is a deeper, angrier version of "Too Old,/Too Late". If forced to attend, he or she sits at the back of the room during in-service and shows disdain through body language. As I've noted in "Red Herring" they love to set up false choices between technology and face-to-face learning. This teacher's "sage on stage" identity is threatened by technology. As Bray notes, "they may just be afraid of letting others know what they don't know." To them, the Pathfinders are obnoxious and the administrators amoral. (Creighton supplies an interesting list of ten reasons people resist change).

Observations on Where We've Just Been
My four stereotypes are certainly open to debate, but if one accepts that we have significant numbers of teachers spread across such a wide spectrum, then it is obvious that a one-size-fits-all approach to staff-development will fall short. A presentation directed to the whole staff and aimed at the "middle" may not reach half of the staff.

This year, our school
successfully inspired seven "Pathfinders" in a Technology Integration Committee experience . This created a positive ripple effect as Committee in-services enticed "Jumpstarts" (and some "Too Olds"). But we were time-limited to spraying lots of ideas and tricks at attendees, hoping that something would stick (and time will tell if anything did).

The Tech Integration experience was excellent for developing Pathfinders, but going forward, how will this year's group be enlisted in further staff development? In what ways can the integration experience be more pervasive? More to the point, what sort of staff development program can address the "
Too Old/Too Late" and "Naysayers" groups so that our students can exploit the terrific advantages of their wireless classrooms?

Come back Monday for Part Two.

"Technology" Flickr photo with kind permission of zinkwazi

Thank you, Theodore Creighton for reviewing the full document from which this post is adapted.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Vast Tinker Toy Playland

I have shifted my perspective on curriculum in two major ways. I now think of my courses as Tinker Toys which I construct and then reassemble each time I take out the course and play with it. This is a major conceptual change for me. Previously, I thought of courses as made up of units -- blocks of instruction about the Supreme Court or Hamlet. I strove to construct the perfect combination of activities, assignments, minutes, and days for each unit. A "new prep" meant trying to compile materials for the creation of a product that would serve my students well, semester after semester. This view guided me as I developed my online course in American Government. I set about replacing the prepackaged units of the book with comparable online materials. If you had clicked into Moodle last year, you would have seen giant chunks of postings under broad topics like "The Constitution." But as I recently commented at QRS Gateway, I just finished deconstructing those giant blocks of Moodle, and my curriculum is now far more accessible and dynamic. I can update instantly thanks to the publishing features of iCal and Google Docs which integrate seamlessly with Moodle. More significantly, the hyperlink options of iWork and Google Apps allow for interconnecting the pieces of instruction beyond my wildest Tinker-Toy-on-steroids dreams. I can remix my course with the same delight as creating a new playlist from iTunes.

Secondly, I have fully embraced the idea of the Creative Commons. Instead of seeing my lessons as private treasures, I have literally unlocked everything I have posted to Moodle (no more enrollment key), and I am linking my newest projects to the in-service resources I freely provide to my peers. I have also begun to publish best practices to networks like ALI and CUE. No longer do I see my teaching materials as paper to be filed in the physical world of folders and locked cabinets. My digital curriculum is unbounded by classroom walls and scheduled periods. And the social media I have injected into class projects have enlisted students as co-authors of the lessons. My reason for sharing is not based on arrogant presumption or simple altruism. It is driven by my confidence that I possess a unique combination of knowledge and skills that make my teaching special, not the materials. I am changing and learning. As I do, I feel more alive and essential than ever.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Friend, Flickr

As noted in At Long Last..., my brother's interest in geneaology sent me a-googling. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a gorgeous 1914 photo of my Grandfather Walker's Ann Arbor taxi company with his dad posing in the driveway.

This discovery formed a notion of collecting enough old and new photos of Ann Arbor to make my dad (an Ann Arbor native) a calendar for his January birthday. But when I moved to Flickr searches, the whole nature of the project changed. I accessed the collections of thousands of photographers and uploaders. With so many options, I ended up compiling and publishing an iPhoto hard cover book that, modesty aside, is really pretty cool.

The most unexpected pleasure of this project was the social interaction I had with the photographers. Over thirty conveyed well-wishing permissions. Some like Jeff Lamb, and Bonnie Reardon, and Gary Priest took the time over the holidays to look for high resolution jpegs and send them by email so that I could print the best photos available.

Flickr has terrific potential for the classroom. Many of the photos are in the Creative Commons, so students and teachers can freely use them, sometimes even for "mash-ups". The Library of Congress has just added a fabulous Photostream that I have only just begun to explore. I use Flickr to decorate my blog and Twitter pages. For school, Flickr photos now supplement a Third Man Slide Show and appear in a new wiki I have started.

I would love to hear your idea for tapping into this vast treasure trove.

The Grad" Phil Dokas

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My 21st Century Stimulation [sic]

I began teaching American Government in 1993, and my Congressional simulation has been with me for the entire ride. The idea came from a product called, "Committee" by Interact, but from the beginning I made modifications. It evolved slowly from semester to semester with two enormous convulsive changes along the way. One year I completely updated all the legislation, and another year I recreated and expanded the entire cast of 35 imaginary characters.

Most students love playing "The Game" as they usually call it. And every semester a few will journal about it and mistakenly refer to it as a "stimulation". I still chuckle.

I have recently conducted another radical revision due to the convergence of three factors:
1) "The game" is getting a little stale for me.
2) I have never liked having the players' roles and goals prescripted for them.
3) I've found some great Google tools that will help me and open up the game and make it far more dynamic.

The latest version of the game will revolve around Google Docs and Google Sites. This will provide students with the easy ability to use templates to build their roles and goals. The sites will allow students to post and share some work. I will also be able to make the project 75% more paperless (See Red Herring and Black Book Bag).

Check out the latest '09 Version of the Game. I'd love to have some feedback. And feel free stop by and observe the interaction when we are hip deep in the next semester. Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Resolved......a Book, a Blog and a Black Back Pack

I have three resolutions for the New Year:

#1 My short term resolution is to finish reading David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous by the next blog. I believe this book was a recommended by Will Richardson, and I'm glad I put it on my Christmas list.

#2 My second resolution, to carry my black back pack through June, relates to this quote from chapter 1 in Miscellaneous :

We have entire industries and institutions built on the fact that the paper order severely limits how things can be organized. Museums, educational curricula, newspapers . . . But now we
. . . do it ourselves and, more significantly, we can do it together, figuring out the arrangements that make sense for us now and the new arrangements that make sense a minute later . . . The miscellaneous order is changing how we think the world itself is organized and—perhaps more important—who we think has the authority to tell us so.

The black book bag resolution is pretty significant, because until this year I have always carried a brief case to and from work....and it was always packed with student papers. Of course for the English teacher this is a badge of martyrdom, but also considered a necessary trade-off for loving lit. But this year, I put the briefcase aside, and to date, I have not taken a single paper home. Now, as my Red Herring post indicates, I am not phobic about paper, but I am trying to radically change my approach to "work" and to vary the media that my students and I use to communicate and (I hope) learn. This change was not a cinch for me, but I feel I am over the hump, and I look at it as a lifestyle change instead of an experiment.

#3 This blog began as a sprint with a backlog of material. Now I am going to ease off the throttle and shoot for one a week in 2009. I still look forward to writing each post as I have not enjoyed composition for some time. If my job were to accommodate more time for writing, I think I would really enjoy it. In the mean time I am going to strive for a steady pace as well as quality over quantity. (Check back soon for my favorite multi media class project).

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