How does this apply to education policy?




As I was flipping through my Facebook feeds on Sunday, I noticed the following post from Fast Company.


I see their point, and I do understand that the behavior of some people can be labeled with no other word than distraction. However, I think it is how we use the technology that is often missing from the conversation. Yes, it is unacceptable (and rude) to engage with your phone when you are in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with someone. But is it so bad to be checking your Feedly while sitting at a stop light?

Speaking from my own personal experience, my digital devices are used so much for learning rather than as a distraction from the current moment, whatever that may be. This understanding of my digital device usage surfaced for me on a recent trip out of the country. As my smartphone was on the “international plan” with a small number of minutes, texts and data, I was particularly careful not to use it but in the most necessary of instances. But I found that there were many, many times that I wanted to use it….for learning. Whether it was the tour guide sharing something I wanted to learn more about, or me needing to figure out the quickest route to get from one point to another, I missed using my digital device for learning!

So I ask the question: What are most of the people in our society of IDIOTs doing with their smartphones? Are they using them as distractors from the moment at hand, or are they using them to harness a learning opportunity? While I have my moments of distraction (who doesn’t?), I’m pretty confident I can manage how I use my devices….and that, I am realizing, is mostly for the possibilities of learning.

By Randy Ziegenfuss Posted in Learning

Making the Time for Social Media

It’s sometimes a challenge during the school year to keep from getting absorbed in the “urgent” things that need to get done. Personal learning time is often the first thing that gets sacrificed. With the summer, though, comes a gentler pace that allows for more reflection and the opportunity to more easily commit the time to engage with various social media tools. Over the last few weeks, I have enjoyed engaging more with my social media streams – Facebook, Twitter, Feedly and various blogs. I even set school accounts on Pinterest and LinkedIn. It feels good to once again have the time (or shall I say, make the time) for learning!

The infographic below got me thinking about social media and time. It is a complaint I hear often from colleagues. Or maybe it’s just an excuse. While I don’t necessarily use all the networks mentioned in the infographic, I think the point is that in just 30 minutes a day, you can experience valuable engagement across your networks. Add that up over time! It’s just a matter of making a priority.

The Seven Essential Life Skills and Policy

Policymakers' path to educational excellence...

Policymakers’ path to educational excellence…

The 7 essential life skills outlined in the video below are nothing new. We have been talking about these skills for nearly a decade, when educators started to feel the need to prepare students for the “21st century.” Here are the skills:

  • Focus and self-control (this is the idea of attention and managing distractions)
  • Perspective taking
  • Communicating
  • Making connections
  • Critical thinking
  • Taking on challenges
  • Self-directed, engaged learning

Having come off a week of addressing the myriad of initiatives coming down the policy chute from our state department of education, I couldn’t help but watch this video and wonder why the things that consume such valuable (and scarce) time, money and energy have NO relationship to developing these qualities in our students. (Help me if I’m missing the connection.)

Take for instance our new state teacher evaluation system, deemed the “Teacher Effectiveness Model.” In theory, we all want to improve the quality of teaching in our classrooms. But is this the best way to do it – to discourage teachers from taking risks and embracing instruction that will provide students with opportunities to develop the “7 essential life skills”? To humiliate teachers with a performance rating that partially relies on the performance of students on standardized tests? (I won’t even begin to describe the time that is going to go into gathering the data for this new evaluation system.)

And then there are standardized tests – nothing but the cheapest, most efficient way to see what our students have “learned.” Find me a standardized test that even comes close to measuring the skills that are valued in the “real” world. Can anyone explain how the educational policy cesspool is supporting educators to provide learning opportunities for students to develop these skills and then assessment systems that fairly and accurate gauge progress. I’m afraid we have a long way to go.

The challenge of educational leadership in 2013 (and surely beyond) is to manage the never-ending mandates of policy while supporting those on the ground to do what needs to be done in the best interest of our students – to minimize the mandates, calm the hysteria over them, and still provide the best education grounded in what students truly need to know and be able to do for success. My concern is that our plates are overflowing with policy mandates. It seems the theory from policymakers these days is to throw as much as they possibly can at us so we have no time to do the important, innovative work. And then sanction us for doing a terrible job.

Check out the video and let me know what you’re thinking.

Infographics…a way to manage large amounts of information

I’m currently listening to a very interesting audiobook – Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. I am enjoying the book because the suggested strategies for dealing with distraction are rooted in how the brain works. Distraction, especially in our hyper-connected world, is a topic that interests me very much.

Early on in the book, the author talks about creating visuals to deal with large amounts of information. Our brains process visuals more quickly than text. This makes sense as there seem to be so many new infographics coming out on a daily basis. One of my summer goals is to learn how to make infographics, and I think I will start by attempting to make an infographic of the “distraction” chapter in the book.

While I have been thinking about infographics, I ran across this excellent video, Storytelling with Inforgraphics. It seems as if infographics have certainly caught on, allowing us to process large amounts of information more quickly. How can infographics be utilized more effectively in school? How can infographics support deeper thinking and inquiry? How can they be used as a form of assessment? All questions I hope to explore in the remaining weeks of summer.

By Randy Ziegenfuss Posted in Learning