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EdTech Update





BFTP: Re-create please

Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.   ~ Maya Angelou (from the Quoteflections blog)

My then-fifteen-year-old daughter and I took a trip through the Far East back in 1988. One of the places we visited was a section of the Great Wall of China outside Beijing. We climbed the wall, hiked a bit of its length, posed sitting on a Bactrian camel, dickered with the touts selling souvenirs, and generally had a memorable time. 

But from the top of the Wall, I could look down and see that some of the tour buses still had people in them - people too old, too tired, too disinterested to get off the bus, to interact with this strange, wonderful place even at a tourist level. At the time, I wondered how many of these folks had delayed travel and leisure and adventure until "after retirement." I vowed at that moment to adopt Travis McGee's strategy of taking one's retirement in small increments throughout one's life.

I worry about people, especially educators, who never seem to take a day off. From blogging. From Tweeting. From e-mail. From showing up at work. From worrying about their jobs, their students, and their schools. I am somewhat appalled when 80% of my co-workers when asked about what kind of vacation they took this summer reply "none."

Recreation, should always be spelled "re-creation." Getting away gives one perspective. Gives one time to reflect. Gives one time to get to know one's significant other, one's children, and one's self better - for good or for bad. 

Re-creation doesn't necessarily mean travelling to a new place. It can be going to a well-loved resort, To a quiet park.  It can be a day at the pool. At home alone with a good book. On a walk or a bike ride or a run at lunchtime. Maybe it just means turning off the computer and the phone for a few blissful hours.

We all need to truly leave work now and then - for both our physical and mental health. When we are gone, we give those who remain practice making responsible choices, thus strengthening our organizations. A little distance between ourselves and our challenges brings them into focus. 

I've often wondered if professionals stopped putting in unpaid overtime, if unemployment would disappear. While we all pride ourselves on our work "ethic," I often ask if we are treating ourselves ethically? What happened to those promised 30 hour work weeks that automation was supposed to produce?

Perhaps this is all just rationalization since I take every available day permitted in my contract to re-create. Perhaps. But I do believe in the value to both oneself and those with whom one works to get away now and then.

Try it if you haven't. 

Original post July 9, 2013


A Blue Skunk Rant: Back-to-School cartoons

Cartoons with themes like the one above are common in the funny pages this time of year. T-shirts, TV programs, and advertisements often display a "too bad, kids, school starts again soon" message.

I find such messages depressing, not because they are true, but because they don't reflect reality for so many of our children. I would be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that a majority of kids look forward to the start of school - seeing friends, getting involved in activities, having fun in classes, and for many, finding a certain place of safety and of meals.

How might different kids respond to the "school is bad" message:
  • For kids who already don't like school, their feelings are validated. "I am right not to like school because nobody does."
  • For kids who like school, they may question their feelings. "Is something wrong with me to like school? Am I weird?"
  • And for the kids who may be neutral, they may be encouraged to go negative. "I'll be watching for all the things not to like about school."
I suspect that trying to change the perception of back-to-school time as being a time for mourning is impossible. Humor tends to be associated with negativity, not the positive. (Funnier to see someone slip on a banana peel that to eat a banana and get healthier.) And this view of school has been around for a very, very long time.

But I still wish our society would communicate a little happier message about school starting back up. I know I am looking forward to it!


5 "soft" tech skills


Soft skills are the personal attributes, personality traits, inherent social cues, and communication abilities needed for success on the job. Soft skills characterize how a person interacts in his or her relationships with others. the balance careers

Last week our district hosted a day-long workshop on coding. And that's fine. If one looks at coding as technique of problem-solving and means of developing rational problem-solving abilities, I am all for it. If teaching coding is about creating life-long tech skills at third grade, it is a waste of time.

Computer programming and coding when seriously undertaken at high level can be valuable work place skills. Programmers and data integration specialists can make a good living and the need for their skills will only increase. Still, even computer professionals need "soft skills." I'd argue that these soft skills (especially needed by a group often stereotyped as asocial) are a better predictor of career success than programming or other hard technical skills. 

Here are five of those soft skills that come to mind:

  1. Communication for understanding. People in the technical field have a reputation for being poor communicators. The specialized language of technology is not familiar to the lay user and far too often, techs delight in compounding the problem of clear understandings by flaunting acronyms to demonstrate some sort of intellectual superiority. The successful technologist of the future will be able to "translate" tech talk in ways that users, decision-makers, and even politicians might understand.
  2. Programming with empathy for user needs. A program can be extraordinarily powerful, but without at least a semi-intuitive interface, most of that power will go unused. Or the training will be long and very painful resulting in the number of people able to use the product in the organization being small and resentful. What seems simple and straightforward to those of who work with technology on a daily base, can be puzzling and frustrating to the end user. Great technologists view their products from the user POV.
  3. Project management. Any time a task requires more than one person having responsibility for its completion, project management will be critical to its success. I am living this in real time currently when trying to get separate large databases to share data reliably. It is no longer enough just to be competent at one's own job as a programmer - you have understand your role in the larger project and even add value by managing the project, helping with building timelines, objectives, responsibilities, etc.
  4. Ethical decision-making. As AI become more powerful, ethical considerations for technologists become vital. We are already seeing reports of search engines with cultural and sexual biases in their returns. The technologist who programs thinking about right and wrong, equity, and cultural proficiency will be of more value not just to his organization, but to society as a whole.
  5. Attention to creativity. Too often coding classes and programming are teaching and testing the ability to simply follow a recipe. The heart of good technology skills is creative problem-solving. This is not creativity for the sake of being creative, but in designing new ways to solve stubborn problems, increase efficiency, or add value. What problems are you asking students to solve in their programming lessons?

The technologists to whom some of these soft skills come naturally will rise to the top of the tech pool. But many will need to asked to consider and practice improving their ability to interact with people, not just with keyboards.