Finding Success in the Midst of Great Difficulty

I’m so grateful for those on my team and in public schools everywhere, who continue to spread joy and success despite difficult challenges.

Living well, in spite of difficult circumstances.

I took this picture while hiking through Canyonlands National Park last weekend. The resilient tree seen here, literally flourishing in spite of the rock, reminds me of the shining stars all around us, who persistently succeed against all odds.

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The Present and Future of Pedagogical Breakthroughs

Robert Slavin, in 2012:

While [computer-assisted instruction] will surely continue to play a role, I believe that real breakthroughs in teaching methods will come from classroom (as opposed to individualized) technologies that help teachers orchestrate diverse technological as well as non-technological resources.

He continues:

In theory, every lesson might contain some appropriate mix of all of these technology and non-technology resources, but an unaided teacher would have difficulty organizing all of this and adapting it in light of children’s responses on the fly. The future of instruction may be in exciting new technologies, but those technologies alone will not transform the classroom–we will always need an equal focus on new tools AND effective human methods paired with effective professional development.

True then, true now.

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My Take on #Gamergate

For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed that those arguing for and against Gamergate often seem to be at the point where they’ve forgotten why they’re even arguing.

#Gamergate: I don't think it means what you think it means.

Yes, people can be mean, the Internet can easily amplify that cruelty, and most solutions to the truly complex problems of humanity require far more than anonymous chatter.


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Hiring Good People

A friend and colleague of mine recently left her technology trainer position in Public Ed for a similar position in an education-related private company.

When she announced her excitement on Facebook, I replied with a less-than-popular response. In my response I mentioned that I thought this move was good for her, good for the company she was joining, and good for all who would embrace the privatization of Ed Tech everywhere. (After all, she IS highly skilled and would finally be making the kind of money she deserves.) I then clarified that I also thought this move was bad: Bad for Public Education, bad for the organization she was leaving behind, and bad for the taxpayers in our state who had invested so heavily in her throughout her career – to ultimately make her the high quality and coveted technology trainer that she had eventually become.

Because all told, if it weren’t for the growth and experience she’d gained while working in Public Ed, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars the public had invested in her, she wouldn’t really be the “best candidate” for this new position she’s been so excited to take.

Successful Hunt

I suppose the argument I’m trying to make here is that in spite (or because) of her experience and hard-earned expertise, she still might not “the best” candidate for this private company’s open position; because when private companies choose to hire good people that once occupied critical positions in Public Education, they damage the relationships that have made their private company so great. Additionally, when private companies exploit the hard-fought investment the public has made to make its employees and system great, the entire system suffers, as newly hired and inexperienced employees require new training and lots of experience and lots of time, to finally become the high quality asset every organization hopes to employ.

But then again, what do I know?

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To the Teachers of My Children

Inspired by Pam Moran’s excellent example, I thought it would be appropriate to resurrect one of the most heartfelt posts I’ve ever written. Since sharing this open letter three years ago, my love and appreciation for great teachers – everywhere – has only grown. There is no profession more impacting.

Thank you, teachers, for all you give and do to make this world a better place!

- – -

My grandfather’s passing last week accompanied, for me, several very important lessons that rarely come in any other fashion:

  1. Life is short.
  2. Time is precious.
  3. Quite often, we don’t fully appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

As a result, I’m writing with hopes that you’ll consider carefully how precious the time is that you’re able to spend with my children. Realistically, during this time of year, you’re able to spend more time with them than I. Do you realize how lucky you are?

Like many parents, I’m not as concerned with how well you teach my kids to take tests. I’m really not. In fact, I’d rather you use each priceless minute to captivate their imaginations, guide them in deep thinking, help them to create, and cultivate a love of learning so deeply engrained that they grow to no longer need your services.

Do that, and the scores will take care of themselves.

I’ve done my best to provide an energetic learning environment in our home, but am desperately relying on you, your skills, and the time you have to spend with my child to fill in any holes I might not even know exist. Because my kids have grown comfortable using technology when they learn (and they gravitate toward anything with a screen), I think you’ll have the best luck in leveraging technology’s potential for instruction. Nevertheless, I’ll also trust your judgment in determining how best to reach my child; and hope – earnestly hope – there’s consistently constructive purpose behind the ways you choose to spend the time that you’re given.

Kids Deserve Great Teachers!

I’m counting on you like no other, and want you to know how deeply grateful I am for your meaningful efforts. Yours is a difficult job, I know, but unquestionably invaluable. If there’s ever any way I can help in your classroom, I’ll jump at the chance to work by your side. I love my children, and will do all that it takes to prepare them for their future.

All that I ask is that you do the same.

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Why the Haters Hate: CCSS Edition

The more I analyze the contentions of those advocating for no common standards, the more I’m convinced of two important truths. Those who rationally oppose typically do so because:

  1. They didn’t play a role in creating the standards and would, therefore, have them shift.
  2. They misunderstand, resist, or ignore the critical role schools play in credentialing.

Regardless of motive, many so-called haters often land at the point of irrationality, embracing theories of conspiracy, with dreams for the day when school means little more than the feel of play-doh while dancing to the aroma of old-fashioned paste.

Long live 1984?

Essential School Supply

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When Should You Buy Your Child a Smartphone?

A few days ago, I did a riff off this Dan Tynan article – When Should You Buy Your Child a Smartphone? – in a brief interview for one of our local news outlets. I was hoping they would post our segment online (like they sometimes do), but apparently different news days produce varying quantities of news output. 1

I like the advice Tynan gives in his column. Younger children should be phased in to technology access, kids don’t instinctively know how to use all phone features, and parental controls should be responsibly used. Nevertheless, there are a few items he left out of the equation.

Texting Child

The answer to the question in this post’s title varies from family to family, and from child to child. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. As parents help their children to navigate digital waters, they should bear each of these recommendations in mind:

  1. Regularly speak with your children about technology and how they use the Internet.
    - Ask specific questions about apps and the people with whom they interact.
  2. Work with your children to define the boundaries of inappropriate and appropriate conduct, content, and times and places for technology use. 2
    - Ask about how they react when they come across something inappropriate. If you’re not comfortable with their response, then they’re not ready for a smartphone.
    – Consider the example you’re setting for your child. Most children follow the example we set for them.
  3. Remember that safe and appropriate technology use is a process, not an event.
    – Kids will make mistakes and parents will make mistakes.
    – The best advice is to always work together as a family to ensure technology use strengthens family relationships.

While there may be some (in highly influential circles) who argue that kids should run wild online, the experienced parent knows that a guided and safeguarded path is often best. 3 Do many kids need more freedom than they currently have? Probably, yes. Will they best benefit from blind trust? Absolutely not.

Finding safety and balance, together as a family, is the best way to run.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Translation: HDTV wasn’t real kind to this face.
  2. Typically, public schools focus teaching on how to keep kids safe online. Because the definition of “appropriate” can vary greatly from family to family, curriculum rarely sets such boundaries.
  3. Why put so much stock in the voice of one so inexperienced? See my comment to Ms. boyd at the end of her post.
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The Struggle Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators

I began the morning today reading Larry Cuban’s interesting comparison of the ideological differences of some teachers that use and don’t use Class Dojo. 1 In his post, Cuban discusses the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations students have for behaving the way they do, and cites a Lepper, Sethi, Dialdin, and Drake study (1997) that offers interesting insight in its culmination (see pages 44-45):

We come to learn to do things not only because they are fun or likely to lead to some immediate payoff, but because we have come to believe that we “ought” to do them, either to facilitate our own long-term goals (i.e., because it would be “good for” us) or to follow the norms of the group or the situation in which we find ourselves (i.e., because it seems the “right” thing to do).

I have struggled lately with the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and can empathize with the value inherent to both. While there’s something to the accountability and measurability of extrinsic motivators, lasting change seems most common when rising from within. Alas, one of the original, pure struggles of teaching (and of managing teachers of teachers).

Aspiration Management

In a fit of interesting irony this morning, I immediately thereafter read Class Dojo’s announcement that they (we?) had reached an exciting milestone:

As of February 14th, 2014, teachers have given students over 1 billion pieces of feedback on ClassDojo. That’s 1,000,000,000 moments when teachers have recognized students for doing something wonderful!

Is this something teachers should celebrate? Absolutely. Schools would be far brighter places if more successes were recognized and celebrated than failures. PBIS, for the win. 2

Show 2 footnotes

  1. As a personal policy, I have ceased linking to any of Cuban’s work – regardless of quality – in my own form of protest. An odd type of extrinsic motivator, to be sure, but his continued, blatant disregard for the copyrights of others is simply inexcusable. As a teacher and example to others, he “ought” to behave better because it’s the “right” thing to do.
  2. Does your school implement PBIS in some form? A praise to reprimand ratio of 4:1 or higher is the goal our schools have set.
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My Take on the Proposed 5th R of Openness

In 2007, David Wiley introduced the world to the 4Rs of Open Content:

    • Reuse – Use the work verbatim, just exactly as you found it
    • Rework – Alter or transform the work so that it better meets your needs
    • Remix – Combine the (verbatim or altered) work with other works to better meet your needs
    • Redistribute – Share the verbatim work, the reworked work, or the remixed work with others

In other words, the above actions were identified in 2007 as “the four main types of activity enabled by open content.” 1 They also now constitute four of the activities for which explicit permission can be subsequently granted when creators choose to license their content using most CC licenses. 2 Since 2007, many have used the 4Rs Framework to assess the degree of content openness; or, the extent to which content can be reused, reworked, remixed, and redistributed without violating copyright law. Furthermore, people and societies have been pushed toward greater openness – gracious nod to openwashingbecause of our newfound ability to assess philosophy using the 4Rs Framework.

Creative Commons

Last week, Wiley argued to expand his original 4Rs, such that a fifth might now be included:

    • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content

In an attempt to move publishers toward a position of granting ownership of learning content to (strapped college student) licensees, Wiley also argued that “any advances toward ownership will have to come from the field of open education.” 3 4

As one invested in the field, I’m not sure this is entirely true. Why must it fall on a field in education to define ownership bounds and nuance? 5 While I’m relatively comfortable saying that an unwillingness to transfer ownership indicates a lack of openness, and can clearly see that explicitness and transparency in licensing can be used to move individuals and corporations toward increased openness in practice, a number of questions give me pause.

What does ownership really mean?

Assuming that open licensing (e.g., Creative Commons) eventually embraces the 5th R, then what potential consequences will result? For example, when a licensor grants permission for users to own copies of the content that the licensor has created, will “ownership” mean that licensees will then be able to sell these copies as if they had originally created the content? How about licensees and content twenty iterations down the line? If I were to license this post with a CC-BY-RO (Retain Ownership) license, and you were to share your now-owned, remixed copy of it, will the people that acquire your copy be required to credit me when they choose to share? Twenty iterations down the line, how will users know that I created the original copy – particularly if you, as the new owner, chose to remix my work in such a way that my contributions are hardly recognizable? In order to ensure continuity, will all RO licenses also inherently require the Share Alike attribute? Similarly, will this whole process also require that licenses be transferrable, from one content owner to the next?

Currently, there’s no need for license transfers because all CC licenses are irrevocable and ownership remains with the creator. “Once you apply a CC license to your material, anyone who receives it may rely on that license for as long as the material is protected by copyright and similar rights, even if you later stop distributing it.” However, extending ownership to others will likely create this odd new relationship between (1) the original licensor, (2) early iteration licensees as new owners, and then (3) subsequent owners of content shared. Because of this domino effect, how will creators or original licensors be recognized infinitely down the line? Or, because licensees are now owners of copies of once-open content, are they now free to license their newly created re-works however they’d like, or even not at all? Are owners not entitled to freedom? Again, what does ownership really mean?

Can the technology of licensing really facilitate eternal life?

The evolution of digital content sharing has given rise to new revenue models, including some that enable an expiration date to content accessibility. While some (corporations) need this model to survive, others object to the limitations these models place on the quantity and quality of learning. I can certainly empathize with these objections. However, can the issue of content expiration really be solved through licensing and/or mere declarations of openness? Should it be? Or is disappearing ink a necessary evil when market economies are used to improve quality?

In a case similar to that of disappearing ink, Apple has remained arguably closed in its terms and conditions related to the transferability and ownership of content purchased in the iTunes Store. It was rumored in 2012 that Bruce Willis was planning to sue Apple because their terms didn’t allow for him to bequeath his rightfully-purchased iTunes library to his children upon the time of his passing. As it was confirmed that this episode was only a rumor, it was also clarified that even though Apple now provides users with DRM-free files, the only thing iTunes Store users really own is a license to play the content on up to five devices. Actual music and movie ownership never changes hands. And while I’m comfortable proclaiming that Apple is not open because they’ve failed to provide customers with the right to retain, I wonder what good this proclamation will do. Will people stop using the iTunes Store to purchase convenient access to music; or is the convenience, quality, and seamless experience worth the costs and alarming lack of openness?

Why should the act of declaring content openness be used to limit or extend its longevity? Surely there must be a better way.

Why is ownership necessary?

Wherein lies the true value of openness ownership? Must students own learning content – along with the history of their interactions with that content – in order to fully enjoy the benefits enabled through their access?

I don’t think so. Access trumps ownership, but only when access can be guaranteed without it.

Beyond the disappearing ink and Bruce Willis iTunes dilemmas, I now struggle to see an overwhelming need for content ownership. This wasn’t always the case. In the ’80s and early 1990s, our family purchased an extensive movie collection on VHS. With the increased clarity and longevity of DVD technology, we then chose to repurchase many identical titles throughout the late ’90s. Why? Because we wanted to own the highest quality copy of the content that we loved. Why did we want to own, instead of rent, lease, or borrow? Because we wanted the guarantee of timely access to the content that we loved, in a format we could actually use. 6 Not surprisingly, this is also exactly why we repeated the cycle ten years later, this time because of our newly acquired Blu-ray snobbery.

Does anyone else see a problem here? 7

With this cycle in mind, what will stop us from wanting to repurchase this same content again in 2025, so that we might then be able to fully enjoy it using the latest technology? (400K televisions, I can’t wait!) Nothing will stop us, really, minus the lessons we learn along the way. Did we really need to own Star Wars in every format? No, but we certainly wanted access to it; and ownership was the best way in those days to ensure dedicated access.

Is ownership still the best way to guarantee access?

Probably not. The crazy irony of this whole situation is that the thing we’ll probably need most in 2025 is a content purchasing model similar to Apple’s.

When I originally purchased (access to) music in the iTunes Music Store back in 2003, it was encoded at 128 kbit/s using then-current AAC technology. In 2009, Apple updated their music distribution practices to parallel improvements being made in popular consumer technology. Consequently, they’ve since released music at higher-quality bit-rates (256 kbit/s) and with enhancements built into the AAC standard of encoding. In spite of these improvements to the format of the music, I can log into Apple’s Music Store today and download an improved copy of the music to which I purchased access in 2003. Do I own the music I’ve purchased from Apple? No, but convenient access to it – in a format that works well today – is worth far more to me as a consumer than the cassettes I own and have stored in boxes through the years.

My suspicion is that when it comes to access to learning content in a useable format, tomorrow’s students will probably feel the same way. Hence, the rub with this entire dilemma is that better access can probably be provided using a relatively closed model for sharing (like that enabled by Apple), even though our hope is to enable greater access through increased openness. Can people and societies be pushed toward greater openness because of our newfound ability to assess philosophy using the 5Rs Framework? Probably, as long as we value quantity of access over quality of access.

When will this post ever end?

In conclusion, the issues of usage and ownership reside in parallel, but discrete universes.

  • Because ownership is no longer required for high-quality access, I question the value of measuring it.
  • The issues surrounding ownership are complex, particularly when mingled with licensing.
  • Combining openness with ownership may have a tendency to emphasize quantity of access over quality of access.

Can a car be owned today without maintaining its license? Of course it can, but it can’t be legally driven. (Just like open content.) Is a license required to transfer a car’s ownership? Not really. (Just like open content.) Why muddy the waters of openness with ownership, if ownership isn’t really what’s needed most?

Show 7 footnotes

  1. This material was created by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution license at:
  2. CC-ND does not, for example, allow the licensee to rework or remix.
  3. This material was created by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution license at:
  4. Both of these Wiley posts illustrate a refreshing shift in academic publishing: professional and open; unlike the amateur label some might hope to promote.
  5. IP lawyers, unite!
  6. Yes, this is the very argument Wiley has used for including the 5th R.
  7. I mean, besides the snobbery…
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