What’s So Hard About the Digital Classroom?

Our lives are digital. The interwebs have changed everything, which sounds like the tagline for a really cheesy film. But in all seriousness, it’s amazing how we are using the applications and tools out there. The podcast “Spark” from CBC recently talked to people who are vision impaired about how the Amazon Echo is making a huge difference to accessibility and speed for them. I was up at a friend’s cottage and watched him set up dimmer switches for lights for his fire pit that can be controlled by an app on his smartphone (that was cool).

So what’s happening in our schools and classrooms? I’m considering how educators are using digital tools across our district. We are entering the fifth year of a 1:1 pilot in seven elementary schools and also in all of our secondary schools. In addition, the vast majority of teachers and all administrators have one to one access to a device. While change is exciting, and we have seen teachers, principals and vice principals embrace digital tech in many ways, there are still many barriers. Educators struggle to figure out how to use tools for more than handing assignments in through Dropbox and Google Drive, simple substitution with worksheets or games or posting the weekly memo on School Sites.

I’ve seen staff meetings where everyone brings a device, and I’ve seen others where almost no one does. I’ve talked to grade 9 and 10 students whose teacher expects the device at every class and uses it, and others where they don’t bother bringing it because the teacher never asks.

I’m left scratching my head. When people post all kinds of updates on social media, send e-transfer funds zipping around and book their vacations through online sites, what’s so hard about using the tools for workflow and to learn? I know we have amazing resources in our district to teach and help, but these seem to go largely untapped.

Please comment or engage in this conversation on Twitter. I’d love to know more about perspectives out there.

 

Four Ways to Extend My Digital Leadership

Digital spaces beckon me. I enjoy quickly scanning my Twitter feed for interesting tidbits. I’ve loved reading about Ontario educators’ #oneword in the Google+ community.  I blog here. Still, I wonder what more I need to do as a leader.  Jennifer Casa-Todd, digital educator, challenged the audience recently with a thought provoking question at a keynote address in our district. She asked, “How do you exemplify digital leadership?”

Leadership is the exercise of influence. It’s not about telling others what to do (much as some may dream of snapping their fingers and making it so), but rather building a culture where others take on new challenges, work to be their very best and openly share what they’ve learned.

Influencing the use of digital tools is a challenge for me, however. While I use those tools with relative ease to communicate, create and share, others do not feel comfortable doing so. So I’m not sure it’s about being an exemplar. When we exemplify something, we show how it can be done at its best. That’s important, but this kind of modelling only goes so far. Having a great model can inspire. It can also demotivate or even paralyze.

So I’m thinking more about how to extend my digital leadership to influence a culture where people may be willing to try.

  1. Using the digital spaces in our organization.  Be present in the platforms that are provided. I know what they are and how they work. Am I using them to their full advantage?
  2. Interacting on Twitter.  Retweeting. Commenting on tweets. Replying. Liking. Connecting with others.
  3. Sharing links and articles.  If it resonates, I share. If it made me think, I share. If I don’t completely agree, I share.
  4. Share the thinking in my blog.  This one is more difficult for me.  I’ve been leery of pushing myself forward, but why not? I welcome conversations about what I write here. Transparency may help others to be admit what they don’t know.

I feel comfortable in digital spaces. Can I help others feel the same way?

Giving In to the Temptation of Email

Photo Credit: mbiebusch via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mbiebusch via Compfight cc

This learning thing is hard.  In February 2014, I wrote a post about Learning From My Mistakes. One of the things I talked about was using email for communication and how tricky that can be. It was a good post, honest and true.  If only learning was as easy as writing a blog post!

Like you, I receive a fair bit of email. I also have a bit of an obsession about keeping my inbox clear. (On a side note, sometimes I delete too much. I’ve had to ask a colleague for a certain information email more than once – you’d think I would learn.) In any case, if I’m clearing my email later in the day and know it’s urgent to respond, I can succumb to the temptation of email. I put sensitive information that would be better shared in person or through a phone call.

This past week, I responded to several important emails that way. I tried to be ultra clear in my responses and read over the emails before I sent them. Of course, they lacked the human touch, because email can never convey that.  I went to bed, satisfied that I had dealt with those issues.

But I really hadn’t. Sometime over the course of the night, my brain realized that I had gone against my commitment to better communication. I needed to pick up the phone.

So I did. And I apologized and said I would do better.  Folks graciously accepted my apology and we had a good discussion about the issues. But I wish email wasn’t so seductive.