Wednesday, 17 July 2013

My network

I had one of those conversations yesterday that I won’t forget. But first, let me provide some context to this story. While I was teaching the help desk course last fall at Burlington High School, I had a student ask his Guidance Counselor if he could work on one of the iMac machines that had XCODE installed on it during 5th period every Thursday. I agreed and took on Gilad as an independent study.

Every Thursday Gilad quietly entered the help desk room and opened XCODE. Our interaction was limited, but over his shoulder I could see he was doing work far beyond my knowledge base. Gilad entered the same way every Thursday for four months. Around January, he asked me if we had a developer account with Apple. We did. I set him up with Bob Cunha (BPS Director of Technology) and Bob got him set up, his device registered and explained the process of app submission.

In a matter of a few months Gilad had taken time out of his study hall and developed a voice recording and submission application that will eventually be used by the BHS Guidance Department for setting up appointments with students.

A few months later, Gilad approached me during lunch and asked if I knew of any programming opportunities or internships for the summer. I said I would check back with him and started seeking out my network. I contacted two friends at Google in Cambridge first. Unfortunately they did not have anything at the time. Plus, most of their deadlines had already past. I continued to search until I remembered my brief consulting work I did with MobileAware in early 2012. I contacted my friend, and MobileAware CEO, Armin Gebauer to see if he had any openings for internships. He mentioned that they had just created an iOS development team. I connected Armin with Gilad and they eventually set up an interview. Gilad soon accepted the internship and has been working there for the past few weeks.

Yesterday, I decided to check in with Gilad to see how he was doing. Here is the transcript of our brief conversation:

And this is why yesterday was a good day for me. I was able to establish a connection for a student and help him find a learning environment that not only challenges him, but connects him with professionals who can mentor and inspire him. And that, I feel, is part of being a good teacher and connected educator.

I’m not writing this post to boast. I simply phoned up a connection and made a match. The piece of this that caused me to pause and reflect is how the connection was made. In many circles I hear the first step to being a connected educator is Twitter. It’s imperative that we, as educators, sign up for Twitter and dive head first into an oncoming wave. Respectfully, I have to disagree with this sentiment (which is a generalization for the most part). While Twitter has its merits, it will never match personal connections.

I connected with Armin by accident. I just happened to sit next to him and his wife one night out for dinner. Being two extroverts, Armin and I began discussing our work and it led to me getting hired as a consultant with MobileAware. When my tenure ended at MobileAware, I continued to connect with Armin. I connected with Gilad through his Guidance Counselor. And finally I connected Armin with Gilad.

I’m not trying to argue the merits of Twitter, but simply offer a different path for new teachers looking to test the waters of social media. There are days when I can’t quite grasp the credibility of Twitter voices: the blind re-tweeting, the pseudo celebrity aura, the echo chamber, the hierarchy, the “let’s change the etymology of the word cheating (and every other word in order to show what a progressive, disruptor I am” persona. It’s deafening. And quite frankly, if I were mentoring a new teacher, I’d tell them to hold off on Twitter.

Consider making personal, in person connections in lieu of Twitter. And, when you’re ready, embrace Twitter develop a way to filter your stream and vet your following for credibility. Spend a lot of time listening, processing, and actually reading what’s being shared. And finally, don’t get caught up in the noise. I encourage Twitter use amongst educators, but balk at the idea of it being necessary for all new and current teachers. It’s simply a tool. A tool that I’ve embraced criticized and used to share many of these posts.

Before we rush our new teachers or students into the world of Twitter, let’s take a moment to forge a personal, meaningful connection with them.  Establish credibility and take time to listen and engage. In doing so you may just help find that student or teacher find their passion.

Friday, 12 July 2013

My Fenway moment

I had an awesome Tuesday. In fact, I accomplished two things in one night that I consider to fall in the epic moment category. I had the opportunity to see Paul McCartney play at Fenway Park. Yeah, I know. And, if you haven’t already guessed, I am going to present a correlation between this moment and current technologies, both in education and our daily lives.

But first, a little narrative...

My brother and his wife convinced me late Saturday night that I must attend and that I would regret not going. They had the opportunity to see Paul at Fenway in 2009 and recalled that it was an experience of epic proportions. I didn’t take much convincing. The next day I purchased a ticket. I will never reveal the price. Ever.

When I arrived at the show, I followed the signs to my section, B6. I walked down an old, steel staircase that was probably an original piece in the Fenway construction. At the end of the staircase was an opening. In the opening I could see the Fenway Green and subtle sunlight peeking through in the foreground. As I got closer to the door I realised that I was underneath the left field foul pole. And to the right of it was the Green Monster. Undoubtedly the most famous left field in all of baseball.

I walked through the door and placed my left hand on the Green Monster facade. I was touching history. So many great moments happened around that great wall of baseball. And I was touching it. I continued down to the field and stood at the foot of the Green Monster and looked up at its intimidating height. I slapped my hand against it to hear it echo. In this echo you could hear over one hundred years of heartache and triumph.

But I wasn’t here to see a baseball field; I was here to see a Beatle. Sir Paul.

I arrived at my seat and waited for the show to begin. My seat was roughly in the same spot that a left fielder
would play in the bottom of the ninth, one out, man on third. As I turned and looked at my surroundings, I again realized how lucky I was and how few have gotten to enjoy this vantage point. The house music stopped and soon after Paul was on stage. The roar of Fenway launched into a frenzy that could only be rivaled by a David Ortiz home run. And amidst the cheering and repressed Beatlemania, I noticed something. Everyone had their phone out and raised in the air, including myself.  

As Paul finished, “Eight days a Week” I noticed that the phones in the air persisted. I snapped a few more pictures, but eventually put my phone away. As I did this, a few things came to mind. Have we gotten to the point that we attend events simply for others to see? Do we really ever experience an event if we are only half there, while the other half manages broadcasting on social media? Can I really say that I saw Paul McCartney if I watched 75% of it through my iPhone screen?

As these questions traversed through my mind, I briefly reflected on modern experiences. Who am I here for, myself, or my audience? While I agree that sharing what we do is, as Dean Shareski put it, “our moral imperative” and a great way of connecting people to experiences,  I find it hard to really experience a moment, a presenter, or, as Louis CK pointed out, Jesus coming back to tell people everything while I’m playing the role of broadcast journalist.

“Nobody takes in life unless it comes through this(referencing his phone)”  
-Louis CK, On Conan O’Brien

So is the above statement true? Are we missing out on life, nature, and people while immersed in the world of social media, real-time reporting, and on demand conversations? Similarly, are some of our students missing out on learning important skill sets or the experience of getting lost in a book because they are seeing it all through a digital lens? Would I have been able to compose such a detailed recollection of my epic Tuesday night had I been glued to my phone’s screen? Or, am I doubling my experience by engaging my mind in two worlds at once?

This is the conversation I would like to evolve, and that needs to happen about technology in the classroom. Let’s move the rhetoric away from which device is better and how kids can use social media to change the world, to how can we leverage new and emerging technologies to enhance and amplify student learning while experiencing, absorbing and processing the ride.