Saturday, 4 December 2010

jeff utecht what did i learn and how

Jeff Utecht: What did I learn and how could it affect me as a principal?
The Thinking Stick: Technology
What does it mean to be information literate these days?

This post is from the perspective of an educational technology leader, teacher librarian, and aspiring school principal. 

[If you don’t know him: Jeff Utecht is an international teacher currently working in Bangkok, Tailand as an Elementary and Technology Learning Coordinator at Shanghai American School. Through education, he acquired his BA in Elementary Education; MS in Curriculum and Instruction; and added his Administration Certification. He began teaching 4th-6th grade classes and later technology classes while also serving as a technology coordinator. Jeff served as an administrative intern (where he worked 720 hours in various leadership roles), implementation leader, professional growth and evaluation coordinator, and K-12 Technology Specialist. In addition to teaching university courses and presenting to educators, he authored the recently published book, Reach and created the blog, The Thinking Stick.]

Snippet of the Presentation: Jeff presented at the Principal Leadership Network Conference (at the Prairie Lakes AEA) on behalf of Scott McLeod. The content was geared toward administrators and their views on technology in schools. The vehicle for Jeff’s content was real-world applicable lessons that administrators could take back to teachers. Now that’s a presentation worth attending. The beginning of Jeff’s presentation revolved around the evolution of technology, especially the Internet, and how schools are responding. Some schools choose to block, some choose to be wide open, while the rest sit on the fence providing limited access to the WWW. The theme question for this discussion was “What is the educational purpose behind blocking versus providing access beyond school walls?” So, how many schools block YouTube? …YouTube as in the 2nd most frequented search engine (providing news, entertainment, tutorials, etc. in video rather than written format)? Many schools choose to block YouTube due to the risk of students finding inappropriate content. Jeff posed this question for us to consider, “If you block YouTube, do you block Google? …There’s bad stuff there too.”

My thoughts after this discussion: Are we teaching students how to use the tool, or are we denying them a very important educational lesson on information literacy that is needed throughout each student’s lifetime? Are we teaching them how to make good choices in the digital world beyond our walls, or are we going to hope they make good choices based on the traditional content and tools we are so, in some cases, so desperately hanging on to providing them? Yikes. We as adults know the dangers are out there, and I would hope that part of my own children’s schooling involves digital literacy coupled with skills in problem-solving and decision-making… and in a way that engages them with tools of their generation!

Policy-making was another topic that continues to stay with me. How many schools are creating policies that address new digital tools and behaviors? I mentioned this in a prior post… It’s going to take a lot of paper and a great deal of wasted time keeping up with technology. Think about it in terms of an electronic evolution: school Apple IIe's with the Oregon Trail to PCs at homes to adults with cell phones to mobile laptops to LeapFrog learning devices to 10-year-olds with cell phones to iPods to iPads… and this doesn’t touch on the digital evolution of the listed devices’ inner-workings. Maybe I’m na├»ve and not as versed in school law as more veteran education leaders, but it seems an act of practicality and good sense to keep policies focused on behaviors rather than tools and programs that may be extinct the next day (follow link to Scott McLeod's Mind Dump).

Memorable: The most memorable part of Jeff’s time with us was the level of engagement of all of the participants (from what I could observe). Jeff started the day by assigning us (students) tasks. Volunteers had the following duties: three Google Docs note-takers recording discussions on the topic of A New Learning Landscape (one from the perspective of a student, one from the perspective of an administrator, and one recording links and resources), a moderator on Twitter along with volunteer tweeters, a moderator on a back channel along with willing participants, and a doodler up on the white board.

Imagine the links for learning with the various note-taking strategies!

Hands-on Activity: Jeff led us through a fifteen-minute activity (total of about 25-35 minutes including the introduction and the debriefing of “student” responses). But the meat of the activity – 15 minutes. For fifteen minutes, 20-30 students were sweatin’ bullets, including myself, as we worked with partners to complete a small research task given to us by our boss, Mr. Utecht. We had to email our findings within that time, or if we did not meet the deadline - face being fired. Each group had the freedom to choose the topic of their interest, making the activity even more attractive. Again, from my observation, it seemed that each member in each group was on task, and the group conversations were productive and meaningful. Finally, the debriefing is where I learned the most because I was eager to compare my group’s answers to that of our peers.

The summary above is just part of the thinking that was taking place within that conference room. What is inspiring is that the learning and discussion continue well beyond that session. Below are the questions Jeff left us with:

Where is your school?

  • Is the technology being used "Just because it's there?"
  • Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in Old ways?
  • Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in New ways?
  • Is the technology creating new and different learning experiences for the students?

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