EXCLUSIVE NEW LEARNING TIMES INTERVIEW
Question: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
Answer: I am a former middle school history teacher and Educational Leadership university professor (preparing principals and superintendents). As an undergrad and Master's student, I also did a lot of university student affairs work, including serving as Hall Director of the largest freshman residence hall at the College of William and Mary. All of those experiences afforded me great communication and leadership training. When I was a Law / Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa, my graduate assistantship consisted of learning new technologies and then teaching them to other graduate students and faculty. When I graduated, I decided to focus on the intersection of technology and school leadership because no one else was really doing so. That kicked off a whole career, CASTLE, my blog, and lots of other good stuff!
Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: As a faculty member at the University of Minnesota, I received a large federal grant to create the first graduate program in the country that was designed to prepare tech-savvy administrators. That $2.5 million project led to the creation of CASTLE, the nation's only academic center focused on the technology needs of school leaders. Other professional experiences that have significantly shaped my career trajectory include creation of my blog (Dangerously Irrelevant), the Did You Know? (Shift Happens) video series, and having the opportunity to become a speaker and workshop facilitator.
Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Answer: Most of the factors that affect effective technology integration and implementation in schools are under the purview of school leaders, not classroom teachers: vision, money, time, professional development, personnel allocation, internal policy and decision-making, etc. That's why my mantra for years has been, "If the leaders don't get it, it's not going to happen." Unfortunately, most educational technology initiatives focus on students and/or teachers. That work also is needed, but it doesn't lead to systemic reform because the technology learning needs of the people who most influence schools as systems - principals and superintendents - are routinely neglected. By highlighting the need to focus on leaders and then resource and support them - and by doing that work myself and with others - I hope that my work can help transition more schools into digital, global learning environments that are relevant, meaningful, and authentic for youth.
Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: We are seeing rapid and radical changes in our information, economic, and learning landscapes, yet educators and educational institutions have been fairly slow to adapt to the upheavals that are happening in other societal sectors. That said, we are seeing some promising initiatives begin to take root, including:
1. Competency-based education and standards-based grading efforts that shift the focus from seat time to learning mastery.
2. 1:1 computing initiatives (and concurrent Internet bandwidth upgrades) that give students powerful digital learning devices and access to the world’s information, individuals, and organizations.
3. Problem- and inquiry-based learning environments that emphasize greater student agency and more cognitively complex, applied thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.
4. The expansion of digital and online (and often open access) information resources that increase the availability of higher and deeper learning opportunities.
5. Adaptive software and data systems (and accompanying organizational models) that can facilitate greater individualization of learning content and pace.
6. Online communities of interest that supplement and augment more-traditional learning communities that are limited by geography and time.
7. Alternative credentialing mechanisms that enable individuals to quickly reskill for and adapt to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and economic demands.
Question:What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
Answer: I'm currently working on getting the new technology integration team at Prairie Lakes (IA) Area Education Agency up and running (they started August 1). We are working on group beliefs and processes (want to work with us??!) and creating a menu of learning opportunities that we can offer the educators and schools that we serve. I have two big projects that I'm about to initiate. The first is a classroom walk-through template that aims to capture whether technology usage by students and teachers reflects higher-order thinking skills (or not). The second is a technology leadership 'checklist' that would allow school leaders to ask themselves questions about the presence (or absence) of various components of technology-rich learning environments.
Image: Courtesy Scott McLeod