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Common courtesy, like common sense, is a rare commodity.
Common courtesy, like common sense, is a rare commodity.

I enjoy being an independent consultant. However, a flipside of being one is how some potential clients treat me.

They make promises, but do not deliver. They do not keep to deadlines. They change the changes they made to the previously changed changes.

When I make contact, I try to establish a relationship and create trust. When I am first contacted, I reply quickly. Then we chat over the phone or in person for an hour or two.

Then I typically write a proposal that is customised to my potential client’s needs and this takes a few days. As my proposals are detailed, I provide my potential client a month to digest and negotiate.

My preliminary work often involves on-site visits, focus group interviews, observations, and/or polls. All this when I have not even started delivering yet.

And yet I sometimes get no responses or no followups after the preliminary work. 

If you want to negotiate or wish to say no, let me know. It is the professional and courteous thing to do.

This is a continuation of a rant I started yesterday against an STonline article.

I can almost understand why parents would want to attend a forum on factors that influence early childhood cognition. It is hard for any informed parent to believe what they read in the press and they would rather visit the stable and hear from the horses’ mouths. But I worry when the stable opening is organized by the press.

The answer to the question of letting your child use technology is not yes or no. It is knowing about when and how instead of being blinded by fear.

It is never too early to introduce technology to kids, just as it is never too early to teach them about setting rules, how to self-regulate, the consequences of one’s actions, etc. You do not do one (let kids use technology) without doing the other (learn discipline). If you leave kids unsupervised or unmanaged, you cannot expect good to come from it.

All this sounds like common sense. So why are we allowing organizations to not only take advantage of parental fear, but also get parents to part with money to hear expert opinion?
 

ttl by Stitch, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Stitch 

 
The fundamental problem is that we are shortsighted. We tend not to be concerned about the foreseeable future or choose not to learn from our past.

If we let kids watch videos with a mobile device at meals, they will keep doing so because the videos are motivating. This does not seem harmful over the short term because the child is easier to manage. However, the ease of the here-and-now hides longer term problems like an unreasonable dependency on the device, a lack of discipline or internal locus of control, and selfish or antisocial behaviour.

We are just as myopic looking back as we are looking forward. We do not learn from the history of our fear of technology.

This graphic was originally created by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham in their book Bad For You. The image was shared here in 2013.

Every previous generation fears what it does not understand about the current one. It treats the current generation’s technologies and preferences with suspicion. Some might call this neophobia, the fear of the new. Such a fear stems from the fact that the old is established and comforting. The new is the exact opposite.

We need to look back and realize that history repeats itself with every major technology. If we do, we learn that such fear is irrational. We have progressed because a few people chose to ignore that fear and even what passes as expert opinion. They relied on an uncommon common sense to do what they knew was right.

I wonder how much glee STonline had when it sponsored a forum and then ran with the headline Curb use of IT devices by the young, say childhood experts.

The title and writeup [archive] conveniently left out what the two experts they featured seemed to be focusing on in shaping early childhood cognition: The importance of play and a rich language environment. This does not mean that one should exclude technology-based play or interaction.

The first expert, Dr Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, briefly mentioned a range of play in his interview: object, body, social, imaginative, and narrative. The last time I checked, well designed and managed technology enhances and enables all those.

The second expert, Dana Suskin, while cautioning against complete reliance on technology for language development, added that “Skype or FaceTime, or similar response-based interactive style communication tools, do help” [quote from video].

Brown and Suskin were the experts because they probably have the research to back up what they say. But when explained plainly to laypersons, it sounds like common sense to let kids play and to develop language humanistically.

If common sense was that common, why pay good money to fly in experts and run an event to validate or reinforce what you claim you already know?

If we had that collective common sense, why are some parents foolish enough to let mobiles replace person-to-person interaction? They deserve what is coming to them if they do. Like one parent with a seven-year-old reportedly said: “My older son sometimes refuses to feed himself and asks that I feed him while he uses the iPad” [quote from article].

It also seems like the article and video editor did not work in sync.

The article was decidedly anti-technology and old-school. On the other hand, a soundbite from Dr Brown in the embedded video indicated that “parents should let children decide how to play” [quote from video]. Parts of the video were decidedly progressive.

Perhaps STonline was submitting a weird General Paper essay where cons were delivered in text and pros in video. Maybe, but not likely. Folks who read the dead tree version of ST or choose not to watch the video will not see the other side of the story.

For me, the article reeks of maintaining the status quo by repurposing progressive expert opinion and research.

One of Dr Brown’s slides on screen (citing Einstein) stated “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”.

  • How intelligent are we when it comes to rolling with change?
  • How much longer are we going to let headlines with “curb use of devices” hold us back?
  • When will we develop enough scientific literacy to find and evaluate such studies so that we make up our own minds?

Ask any well-read person to predict the future of education and they might a) say they have no answer, b) suggest some rough ideas, or c) warn of impending doom. If they do this, they are looking toward the future aimlessly, wishfully, or fearfully.

An alternative strategy is to look forward by focusing on what you can do now.


Video source

In his TED talk, Joi Ito, head of the MIT Media Lab, suggested we be “now-ists” by:

  • Not asking for permission first
  • Relying on the power of pull (finding what/who you need when you need it)
  • Learning constantly and rapidly
  • Knowing which direction (not necessarily which destination) to head for

What does this have to do with predicting the future of education? Not much. But it has everything to do with shaping it.

Changing education is sometimes about moving when you are not quite sure or ready. It is less about having a concrete or traditionally laid-out plan. It is more about having a direction or vision.

For example, visions or directions in assessment might include “not paper”, not just high stakes examinations, or personal portfolios linked to identity. No one, especially vendors, can say they are ready to roll out systemic changes like these.

Instead of large ocean liners of change, change agents are already smaller, agile boats heading in the same general direction. They also learn to operate their boats differently from large ships.

Progressive change agents learn to leverage on these properties:

  1. Personal relevance
  2. Emotional ties, and
  3. Common causes.

Consider the example of the teacher who started the #iwishmyteacherknew trend. Concerned for her students, she asked them to share something she might not know about them.

The answers were very revealing and moving. They ranged from kids not having pencils at home to do homework, coming from broken families, and not having friends to play with.

The responses locally, in the traditional broadcast media, and on social media were disproportionate to the initial effort. Classmates of a girl who had no friends at the playground rallied around her saying “we’ve got your back”. News sites and broadcast media spread the word [example]. The hashtag #iwishmyteacherknew trended on Twitter and is still active with examples from all over the world.

One teacher’s effort went viral because of personal relevance, emotional ties, and a common cause. But viruses come and go. This effort persists because other caring teachers can relate to it (personal relevance), are moved by it (emotional), and share the same vision (common cause).

The same could be said for Ito’s mission to measure the nuclear fallout in 2011 in Japan because of his concern for his family. He reached out online and found like-minded folk and collaborators.

Ito did not wait for a system to be invented. The #iwishmyteacherknew teacher did not ask for permission to collect data on her students. They did not wait for a better future to come; they made it happen.

If you want to spark and sustain a worthwhile future in education, your effort must connect: It must be personal, emotional, and a shared vision.


Video source

Last week, my son and I caught Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (GoG) on the big screen. I was more entertained than I thought I would be, so I wondered why.

I also peered though my lens as an educational technology consultant and examined my thoughts against what I facilitate at change management workshops.

There are five main heroes in the movie and the creators did a pretty good job explaining the backstories of four of them. This is quite a feat given that backstories sometimes slow the main story down.

But the individual stories, brief and spread out in the movie, only strengthened the connection with the fictitious characters. They not only seemed more real, you also understood why they did what they did.

In any change management, it is easy to lose sight of the change agents in favour of the change processes or products. One tenet I stand by is that the most important and difficult change involves people.

Products like programs will change with affordances of newer technologies. Processes will change to take advantage of those technologies. But people tend to hold these processes and products back.

For ICT-mediated change to be effective, each person must develop their own story of technology integration. This might involve a process they use that results in a product, or a product they use to create a process. People only start to write and tell their own stories when they buy in to the benefits of using technology and take ownership of both the problems and solutions.

The other concept I took away from GoG was how the Guardians abandoned their personal agendas to adopt a common mission. It was only when they focused on something larger than themselves that they started to support each other and fight a common enemy.

Sometimes that common mission, enemy, or goal is not obvious. It takes a leader, often one that emerges without a top-down vote from the pack, to inspire by example, articulate a group’s purpose, and show the way. Taking any one of those three ingredients out leaves you with change entropy.

Like a good movie, positive change can be designed. But instead of focusing on special effects or the budget, I say we start with a good storyline. When the going gets tough, we should return to the narrative because that is what people relate to. It is what brings people together so that they can tell their own stories. When those stories intertwine, you see the change happening.


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