Just Jump In - Exploring Options for Netbooks, iPads and More

Note: This is a continuation of the blog entry, The CTO's Role - Involving Stakeholders.

Image Source: http://cannonballpools.ca/content/images/stories/main/1.jpg
"Just jump in, Dad!" my children will often call out to me from the deep end of the neighborhood swimming pool each summer. Invariably, the resulting question to them is, "How cold is it?" At that moment, I'll extend a toe into the water, feeling the chill wrap around my foot, and wonder, "Why am I doing this?" Two seconds later, as I'm surfacing from a cannonball a foot away from my kids, I'll look up at my wife and counsel, "Just jump in, hon'! It's not that cold!" as a smile cracks my face in half. 

We need the same assurance that we experience with jumping into a pool of cold water, knowing that our effort will warm us up, with technology selection and adoption process in schools today. What process can we follow that will provide us with that level of assurance for accepting and supporting change in a technology-rich ecology?

A colleague--who is applying for Director of Technology positions--recently sent me the following question and I thought it was worth sharing for open discussion:
If you were a Director of Technology of a school district, would you consider implementing the Ubermix netbooks at that district?   Would you allow multiple options if the district has already invested a lot in lets say iPads?  What would your ideal district look like in regards to technology in the classroom for teachers and students as well as administrators?
My response follows and I invite you to share your approach in the comments or a separately linked blog entry:

The real issue question isn't the technology, whether it's netbooks running Linux or iPads. This sets us up for a choice that is all or nothing. It's NOT all or nothing. 
We have to first, as a group of educators in an organization, clarify what it is that we want, what we don't want, and then find a better problem to solve than whether we choose netbooks or iPads. 

For fun, let's play a bit with this using Crucial Conversations approach:
What we want: In conversation with one's school district, what is it that we want for the District? What I want for students in my school district is to be able to use technology as a way to create content in collaboration with each other, publish it online to a worldwide audience, as well as appreciate how to curate the unending content available online, connecting it in ways that are relevant to their learning work.  I want them to be able to nimbly embrace new web-based technologies without having to constantly patrol and restrict their usage for every new cloud computin' tool that becomes available.
What we don't want: What I don't want is to choose technology options for students that fundamentally limit their interactions, close off reciprocal, multi-modal, multimedia dialogue with others, and impair their learning work. 
A Better Problem: How can I facilitate technology options that maximize student learning opportunities and avoid technologies that limit student interaction and learning?
Once we decide what to accomplish with technology, then we can bring others in to consult and vote on the options available. The reason why we have to involve others is that while there will always be some folks who can use any technology, some that won't use any, there are always those who care passionately about its application. As a tech director, I fall into the first group and the third. However, I don't want MY preferences--and what I think is easy to support/manage--to prejudice the decision-making process for the third group. 

This conversation makes it possible to recognize that there may be ways to accomplish both:
  • Is there a way to select linux netbooks as well as iPads and expand student ability to accomplish learning activities that are relevant to working in an online 4Cs environment?
  • Is there a way to have stakeholders come together to discuss all the options and not get stuck with a solution that is technically impossible to support (e.g. synching iPads at home because iTunes is blocked at work, or conversely, running updates on linux netbooks because package updates take too long)?
As you might guess, we need to have a similar dialogue about how we get this job done with others. 

It's the culture of the school district and how willingly they would embrace new technologies. If one had to follow a step by step approach, I would first involve decision-makers/stakeholders in conversation about what they hope to achieve through the use of technology, then use that group as the committee to begin change adoption.
Image Source: http://goo.gl/PSL4y
Aside: The fun starts with the conversations and connections that develop among the group and between members. Invariably, people will start to make connections that some may see as unproductive. When those situations arise, it's fun to remember the veracity of this statement:
A cracked water pot may fill a shorter glass but it creates brighter blossoms along the bearer's path.@RoyReid 
The journey will definitely result in some brighter blossoms for the organization, provided you're open to the opportunity to see them as such. I've seen firsthand how easy it is to "tamp down" on these, or "smooth them over" as one deputy superintendent of a small school district I worked in put it in exasperation (a point I promptly encouraged him to reframe).
Encourage the committee to identify and test drive the different technologies after outlining what students are expected to do with them per national or international standards, like 21st Century Learning and ISTE NETS-S/T/A. Encourage pilots of identified technologies and then have the students and teachers involved present at a district conference for all to attend, such as Board members, etc. 

In this way, people can see that "riskier"--and it's all perception--technologies can work in school settings for their specific populations. I've seen this type of process ignored simply because we don't want the exercise of conversation or have ONE solution in mind that one person or group wants to impose because it is easier to support than another. Rather than close the conversation, we need to open it up and ensure that technical support aspect of each option is introduced into the "pool of shared meaning." Consider this quote from Crucial Conversations:
“Each of us enters conversations with our own opinions, feelings, theories, and experiences about the topic at hand. This unique combination of thoughts and feelings makes up our personal pool of meaning. This pool not only informs us but also propels our ever action.”
“When two or more of us enter crucial conversations, by definition we don’t share the same pool. Our opinions differ. I believe one thing, you another. I have one history, you another.”
“People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool—even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. Now, obviously they don’t agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open. The time you spend up front establishing a shared pool of meaning is more than paid for by faster, more
committed action later on.”
To accomplish the approach suggested in this blog entry, we have to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open. As a director of technology, you serve as an expert witness to what some of those ideas are, saving the group time, effort and money by bringing them forward. Yet, if you only bring forward those ideas YOU like--maybe you only want to use webOS tablets from HP (not my choice!)--then you are in danger of ending up with a dry pool of shared meaning, lessening the synergy possible. 

Once the decision is made, you become the person who actualizes the decision the group made rather than just a witness offering testimony. I suspect that some individuals who have trouble with this fail to unleash the synergy possible because they are worried about the implementation challenges.

This approach is supported by research, such as the one cited below:

Rather than taking a top-down approach, [the principal] attempted to facilitate technology adoption among teachers in a way that gave them ownership of the transition...educators involved displayed leadership in transforming organizational culture, extending the effect of their experience beyond the level of their personal development to create change at the school level.Source: Janson, A., and R. Janson. 2009. Integrating digital learning objects in the classroom: A need for educational leadership.Innovate 5 (3). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=581 (accessed July 23, 2009).
For me, this suggests that the real, long-term goal isn't adoption of one technology (e.g. iPads, netbooks running Linux, etc.) against the culture of an organization, but rather, the adoption of practices that empower educators to display leadership and transform their culture through the strategic application of technology for learning, teaching and leading.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Tim Holt said…
What you are doing here is limiting the extent that the device can function in terms of what a laptop can do. How about asking these questions as well?

Can we find a device that can modify itself to the needs of the user? For instance, if the user wants to play the piano, can the device become a piano? If the user needs a camcorder, can the device become a camcorder? If the user needs to read a book, can the device become an ebook reader? If the user needs a word processor, can the device become a word processor? If the user needs a digital camera, can the device become a digital camera? If the user needs a whiteboard, can it become a whiteboard? Can the device become a digital piece of paper for scribbling a drawing? Can the device become a pad for painting on? Can the device become a microscope? Can the device become a digital document camera?

The iPad, unlike anything else, can morph easily into any of these devices. Are you couching the argument in terms of what a notebook computer can do, or what a truly transformational piece of hardware can do? Can the netbook with linux adapt to the user like an iPad, or does the user have to adapt, like all other notebooks, to the operating system?
Tim Holt said…

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