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EdTech Update





I expect my grandchildren to get a college education and ...

Whatever complaints people may have about their local school or college costs, most have no doubt that their children need a good education. People see it as the most reliable path to a good life, and they are right.

The unemployment rate for college graduates is a mere 2.3 percent. College graduates earn vastly more than non-graduates. Educational gaps in life expectancy and health status are growing too.

When you start to dig into the education skepticism, you find that much of it collapses. Those journalists and academics publicly questioning the value of education? Many are desperately trying to get their own children into strong school systems and colleges. Their skepticism apparently applies only to other people’s kids. David Leonhardt, March 18, 2018

My grandmother kept a plastic piggie bank on a kitchen counter of her small home. It was my college fund. Each day as I was growing up, she put a silver coin (no pennies) in that bank. When the pig filled up, she and I ceremoniously took it to the bank to deposit the contents in a special account with a handwritten update in the paper bank book meticulously added. By the time I graduated from high school in 1970, I had $600 - probably about $6000 in 2018 dollars - in the account. It was Grannie's way of showing me, as well as telling me, that I was expected to go to college.

My four-year college degree was a first in my family.

I thought about this when my grandson Paul and his dad came to do a college visit to the U of Minnesota campus last weekend. Paul's parents and all his grandparents are college graduates, most of with advanced degrees. That Paul and his brother would go to college more or less has gone without saying.

I've read some of the same concerns about the "value" of a college education that Leonhardt refers to in his NYT piece quoted above. Massive post-college debt and low entry level salaries raise the question of whether college is still a good financial move. But personally, I think that people who graduate with huge college debts were not really smart enough to go to college in the first place.

My concern about sending kids to college is that it very much inculcates social conformity and compliance. The rabblerousers, the entrepreneurs, the artists, the change agents are often those without post secondary degrees. College (well any formal education) is a test that society gives to determine whether you are willing to play by the rules.

Playing by social rules and obeying social norms is not necessarily a bad thing. A regular income, a good neighborhood, decent medical care, time and funds for recreation and hobbies are not exactly exciting, but one can find happiness and contentment in them. So one might "sellout" but the price for which one sells one's freedom is a pretty decent one for most of us who have shown we will be model citizens by going to college.

I would like it both ways for my grandsons. I would like them to get good educations and have solid careers. But I also hope they have the courage and confidence to challenge systems when needed. To risk that comfortable place in society where the education has placed them when the need is there.

Is this possible? Are you encouraging your children and grandchildren to pursue a formal post-secondary education?


BFTP: Advice to strivers

Strive not be a success, but rather to be a value.

Our district-level technology integration specialists, Tracy and Marti - the best evidence one would ever need of the wisdom of hiring people who are smarter than you are - have been holding after school professional development sessions using Google Hangouts. Using this powerful tool, we have teachers from across our 15 school district sharing best practices, doing joint problem-solving, and modeling effective uses of technology for their peers. And having fun. Between them, they have re-energized staff development efforts in technology, moved curriculum and technology into closer collaboration on shared goals, and have even tackled efforts in training district administration in technology uses. It's been amazing. 

Jacob my network manager elegantly solves problems on a daily basis, volunteers for a role in new tasks such as building camera security systems and computerized test monitor training. He's working with our building technicians to optimize their scheduling and prioritize work. Our student information systems manager, Cassandra, this year has headed a centralized registration task force, taken on the management of both the library and data mining programs, and is setting up new calling lists to better inform our staff, families, and public about school closings. Our accounts secretary, Jocelin, has done more to automate ordering in the past year that we had accomplished in the previous 10.

While I would like to think they do all these things just to please me, even I am not that delusional. They do it to make a difference, to challenge themselves, and, yes, to prepare for bigger roles in their careers. I would disappointed if that were not one of their objectives.

These sorts of folks present managers with a dilemma. I want to encourage them to stretch, to succeed, to excel, to advance, to "self actualize." But I don't want them to ever leave - and given the small size of our organization, career paths are short. So, subversively, I encourage them to explore positions outside the district that will allow them to grow.

But I also suggest that one be careful in changing positions. While people often look at salary and title in deciding to move on, I'd base my change on:

  • Does the new position allow me to grow? (Will it be challenging? Will it be interesting? Does it fit me?)
  • Does the new position require a physical move or long commute? (Commuting and housework are the two biggest causes of unhappiness in modern life - (Buetrner, NPR, 2-18-13) Children do not like to leave friends. Divide any salary bump by 12 and then take out taxes and benefits.)
  • Does the new position have a favorable work environment? (Flexible hours, congenial co-workers, supportive supervisor. See Getting the Job You Deserve.)

Last week I was going through some "to-be-read" materials and ran across Stephen Abram's long but very wise Editorial Commentary: 51 Insights, Perceptions, and a Few Things That I Think Are Important to Professional and Personal Progress, December 11, 2012. These jumped out at me:

it’s not just management’s responsibility to develop staff but that it’s also a staff and personal responsibility to take some ownership of their own careers and personal development. 

...the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct because the climate changed, many disappeared because they couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to the changes.  The one’s that succeeded may have become birds or stayed smaller and more flexible.  Some moved to better environments. 

If you hide your ideas (or worse, start to believe that the only reason your idea is rejected is because you’re ‘hated’), you risk maturing well as a professional leader. 

Make it clear that you want opportunities.  Seek promotion.  Seek developmental opportunities on projects, teams, and committees. ... Don’t let your professional development happen by default.

Your personality is your greatest strength and hiding it too much in a false sense that it is more professional is a mistake.  Not being yourself, or showing too little of your personality, will often just look phony.  On the other hand, fully developed leaders and managers bring many behaviours and styles to work and make choices about when to use which aspects of their personality and when to use which skills. 

Don’t say ‘no’ too often.  When you’re offered the opportunity to stretch yourself at work or in association activity, jump at it. 

... attend every association event you can.  If your employer doesn’t pay, go anyway.  It’s often the cost of a meal and if my experience is any indication, I’ve found positions that increased my pay a lot over the cost of the investment in learning and networking that comes from involvement in associations.

Really focus on building a good professional reputation above and beyond your workplace. ... Write. Blog. Tweet. Share.  ...  Try to remain professional and positive, but don’t shy away from difficult problems and issues.

If you or your team is studying something to death – remember that death was not the original goal! 

Remember the 15% rule Humans have extreme difficulty in actually seeing a comparative difference of less than 15%.  I once read that research shows that when we see the light from 100 candles, we don’t see a difference in brightness until 115 candles are lit.  Interesting – I understand that the same thing is true of sound volume, colour variation, and other matters of human perception.  Indeed, in job evaluation systems, job bands are not considered sufficiently different until there is a 12.5-15% difference in the job’s points.  

I need to understand the user’s context and needs and not project my own them.  For instance, it is likely that the end-user doesn’t actually want ‘information’ but, more likely, wants to be informed, learn, be entertained, taught and/or transformed in some manner. 

 Ask everyone, including your management team and users, the three magic questions:

  1. What keeps you awake at night?
  2. If you could solve only one problem at work, what would it be?
  3. If you could change one thing and one thing only, what would it be?

Don’t overvalue one piece of out-of-context feedback or let it loom out of perspective and balance.  Avoid lasting emotional responses to single instances of both negative and positive feedback.  Feedback is best digested in the aggregate rather than in small doses.  

When you have 100 good ideas to choose from the critical skill isn’t choosing 5 but sacrificing 95.  Learn the skill of temporary sacrifice.  You can store your good ideas in an idea parking lot and bring them forward into the strategic planning process as projects are completed and new priorities are set.

We are often too serious.  Our work is serious and our impact on our communities is enormous!  However, I don’t believe that serious means professional and it gets in the way of progress and teamwork when it is overly evident.  Working creatively, trying new things and being innovative are fun.  Take the time to recognize that and live your life to the fullest.

I hope "my strivers" take these to heart - and of course read all of Mr. Abram's post. 


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Do you work with Millennials?

Thanks to a post by my friend and colleague Shabbi Lutha, I downloaded a summary of the 2016 Gallup report "How Millennials Want to Work and Live." It's an important read.

Ranging in age from roughly 22 to 38, my son and the majority of my technical staff are among the 73 million Americans so labeled. As are a large number of teachers with whom I work. So studies like the one from Gallup are both interesting and useful.

Sadly, it does not look like we as leaders are doing a very good job of meeting this generation's workplace needs. The lack of engagment too often displayed in the classroom is now transferring to the workplace:

Could the cause of disengagement be similar - that we are not treating our Millennials as whole people? The most telling Gallup chart may hold some answers (as I think Shabbi would agree):

Could a similar chart be made of students?

My Grades - > My Skills and Knowledge and Understandings

My Accomplishments -> My Growth

My Teacher - > My Coach

My Report Card - > My Formative Assessments

My Academic Weaknesses -> My Academic (and Social amd Personal) strengths

My Schooling -> My Life

About a dozen years ago, an online book called Educating the the Net Generation published by Educause had a profound impact on my thinking about schools and libraries. (See "School Media Services for the Net Generation" Part One and Part Two, and the workshop Schools and Libraries for the Net Generation. The Net Gen was the description given to those born between 1982 and 2000 close to Millenials - 1980-1996 birth years.

The question I asked then and will continue to ask is "How do we as institutions need to adapt - rather than expect a large demographic group to adapt to us?"

It's still a great question and the Gallup work might be able to help us anwer that question.


See also: How Millennials today compare with their grandparents 50 years ago. Pew, 3-16-18