Digital learning for everyone – project management + socio-emotional support

I’m into Year Two (of two) leading digital strategy for the K-12 system here in PEI. I landed in a wonderful situation where almost all the hardware (computers and wires) system-wide had just been replaced when I arrived, and where the educators and curriculum/governance people involved are interested in having conversations about a way forward. But we want a way forward for everyone. How do we make a plan that is inclusive, that develops web literacy and helps support our learners becoming good digital citizens? I’ve become really interested in trying to build some key strategies into the process to help everyone succeed. This is where that thinking is at now.

Where we are in the digital strategy
Year One was mostly about setting the stage for change.

  1. We’ve built a system wide committee with decision making responsibilities (more on this in another post)
  2. We’ve built a platform to house curriculum and resources for each course
  3. We’ve developed a two course approach to building literacy (my own digital practices course and Google Certified Educator)
  4. We’ve identified and started working on a massive list of things that need attention
  5. We’re working on grants and partnerships to bring cool stuff (and training) to the system

The targets we’re looking to address
Digital citizenship
This one is first because it’s the most important. We need to understand what literacies we need to be good members of our society in a world that has the internet in it. The internet can give us access to wonderful things, and it also contains piles of people who are purposely trying to mislead us so they can make money off of ads. The internet has entertainment for us and also has terrifying Peppa Pig videos. I would love to be part of a society where each individual is trying to make good choices based on their values and not on fears stoked by some kid in Veles.

Equity
For so many reasons. Once we start talking about technology, the idea of gender equality inevitably comes up. And it should. Our numbers around tech and girls are still not great and there is still way more work to be done. But there are lots of other issues in here as well. Technology (as its often taught) favours the autodidact. It also favours people who have certain kinds of support at home, whether it be access to tech or the habits that are privileged by our education system. I have seen countless folks over the years, big and small, who come to this work with a great deal of fear. I like to think that I have helped some of them succeed through that, but how do you plan that for a system?

Silicon Valley Narrative
I could call this a lot of different things, but lets just say that it’s the ‘we all need to be coders because coding is the future’ argument. The idea that the purpose of this technology is somehow that we are all going to make millions or have nice cushy jobs pushing the world through its fourth revolution. Go and read Hack Education. It’s amazing and will cover these issues way better than I can. Suffice it to say there are more reasons to work on internet things than coding. Coding isn’t bad… it’s just not some panacea that will save the children.

Technology is hard
Well… it is. I have no interest in taking something like an Arduino, or blogging or web literacy and breaking it into tiny bits that will slowly combine over 13 years in our education system. I want each interaction with this stuff to be meaningful, so that means it’s going to be hard to do. I’m not terribly worried about that. Kids are actually quite smart if you let them be. But it’s important always to remember that this stuff can be difficult technically, socially and emotionally.

Project management and socio-emotional support – a partnership
My solution to address this has developed over 15 years. Much of it comes from my experience working with the concepts around rhizomatic learning and watching people struggle to come-to-know using the rhizomatic approach. My approach is based in hundreds of conversations with educators, research I did for Academic Planning at UPEI two years ago, researchy stuff and lots of time spent staring out the window.

Project Management
Nothing has had a bigger impact of my professional career than learning how manage a project properly. I certainly wouldn’t claim that I have fully reached that goal, but it’s something I’m working on constantly. I’ve learned to ask questions like: What is the real goal we’re working on? What change are we trying to make in the world? What objectives will tell me that I’m getting there? What strategies will I use? Who will do the actions? When?

I’d like to see these concepts applied constantly to our work around tech. We do…kinda. What I’m hoping to encourage (I don’t write the curriculum, I’m working with the people who do) is that we standardize the language around project management and the literacies required. We can use it with 7 year old and with 17 year olds. Imagine a school system graduating people that could directly go into the workforce with strong project management skills. Forget about the workforce. Just imagine how much easier it would be for them to plan a weekend party.

Some people seem to come out of the womb with these skills. I am one of the legion that did not.

Socio-emotional support
I’ve waffled on what to call this. I started out by calling it resilience… but I’m finding that I don’t like the connotations sometimes attached to this. Resilience also, to me, suggests that growth as a human is somehow just about sucking it up and trying harder. That’s not what I mean here. I’m talking more about that reflection that allows you to process your feelings when you’re working. The pressure of idea generation. The frustration when something doesn’t work. That feeling you’re falling behind. What do we do about those things? Is it really about just trying harder?

I’ve been walking around with an Arduino kit in my backpack and doing a little test with it. I’ve been putting it in front of people, opening it up and asking them how it makes them feel. Some people say they are really excited by it. Most are not. The majority of the response I get sits somewhere between revulsion and fear. That kind of response doesn’t encourage learning.

How do we build supports to work and talk our way through those feelings, as learners of whatever age? How do we encourage the kind of reflection that allows people to ‘succeed’ AND feel supported and good about themselves in the process?

Putting them together
I think both approaches get stronger when you think of them as a team. Some learners will certainly favour one approach over the other – but I’m fine with that. Structured conversations about what your goal looks like and how to create a timeline are going to keep people on task and give them success milestones. Reflecting on your feelings in that process – “What did you do when you felt like you were lost in the process?” “How did you deal with having too many ideas (or none)?” and, eventually, “How did your idea generation impact your project charter? Did you have to change your timelines?” is important too.

I would love to see us focus our assessment on these two things. I don’t particularly care if your tech project is perfect, or all the lights blink or whatever… what I care about is how much you’ve grown through that process. Did you develop your search literacies when you got stuck? Did you hit your timelines? Did your goal change as you learned more about the process?

I’m not 100% convinced that this needs to stop at digital. I can totally see it applied in the exact same way to a science project or an essay. Imagine if we focused all the project work we work around those two pieces? If we all used the same language, and pulled together towards preparing our kids to have healthy approaches to running projects?

Wish me luck 🙂

Community Supported Agriculture on PEI

Had an excellent meeting with two different representatives from the province regarding the social networking plan for farmers. The upshot of it was that we’re going to give this a try. I’ll sketch out the plan as it stands right now and, after some time for feedback, will hopefully have things ready to get going mid-next week.

I don’t mean to be secretive, but I think we may be on to something here and don’t want to ruin it by talking out of turn. So far, I’m still working pro bono, and will advise folks if that stops and i have some kind of contract. Not that it should matter…

Phase 1
We’re going to be asking the people who are currently buying from farmers (or would like to start)to do two things. We’re going to ask them to

1. register over at http://peicsa.ca (I’ll be posting instructions on how to do this next week… stay tuned)

and then we’re going to ask them to

2. contribute their story buying locally here on the island. (I’ll be posting instructions on how to do this next week… stay tuned)

Pictures are good, video is good, but any story that talks about who where the farmer was, what the experience was like, what it tasted like… anything. We’re trying to accomplish three things.

it’s normal, it’s easy and it’s good to buy local

I want a list of people who are interested in finding out where the good local food is WHEN it is ready. Once the system is ready you’ll be able to either get ALL messages of ‘food is ready to come be picked up, bought or picked’ or be able to subscribe to certain kinds of food or certain producers.

I also want to get a group of people together to prove to the local farmers that we are here. So far, the people I’ve talked to think this is a really exciting idea. I’d like to get those people together so that when i meet with farmers i can say “look, these people want your product, and they want to buy locally”.

Phase 2
I’m hoping to approach the fall season farmers (lets say apple or pumpkin) as a test case for trying out the system. We would have the apple farmers, for instance, posting when different apples were ready and when picking was ready to start. Nice simple test case, and hopefully will generate more good news stories as like phase 1. I’m particularly interested in trying to track connections between people being notified and actually going to the farms.

Phase 3
Education and role out. With the lessons learned from our first two phases, i’d like to develop a training system to get farmers up to speed (even though i hope to be able to provide a pretty simple system, at this point i’m willing to sacrifice some functionality for simplicity) There are a number of people making positive investment noises. There are connections to rural development, the local tech community, training and the agriculture communities…. All VERY early days at this point, but i’ve heard very few negative noises at this point.

Notes
I’d originally intended to try and torture farmers to get involved now, but it was suggested (and i should have thought of this) that it’s not really fair for them to use their VERY limited time this time of the season for this when we can’t guarantee immediate results. That doesn’t mean we don’t want you if you are a farmer. You can leave a message here or send me an email through the email button on the top right hand corner of this page if you are interested in being more involved sooner.

An open letter to farmers wanting to sell me stuff grown on PEI

note after the fact: http://www.gov.pe.ca/af/farmfresh/index.php3 this exists. It is static, but contains lots of information.
Hi,

My name is dave. If you are a farmer on this island, odds are I don’t know you. I’m the web projects lead at UPEI and a social media consultant in Charlottetown. I didn’t grow up on the island and, while i’ve been here 4 years I’ve still not done a particularly great job getting to know the people who grow food here on Prince Edward Island. (i grew up in norther new brunswick) I’ve bought fresh eggs from one farmer, been to an apple orchard a few times, and am currently in the process of trying to go out an strawberry pick. I have a share in a cow currently being raised by a friend in his yard in NS.

I want to have a connection to the food i eat. I want my kids to understand that food comes from somewhere, and really like the health, taste and environmental advantages of buying local food that grows here on the island. We called around today, after looking at a bunch of websites (and i talked to people at the farm fairs last year who assured me that there were “lots of opportunities” to buy fresh food, but had no system other than ‘call whozit who has lettuce early). Some people told us that strawberries picking was starting monday, some said later next week, some told us our information was outdated and one nice lady called us back today and said “we don’t even grow strawberries, i don’t know where you got that idea”.

This is not going to work. I need a simple, one stop place to go to get this information, and I need to not have to call twenty people to find strawberries that aren’t shipped in from who knows where. Same goes for everything else grown on the island. This is not very hard to do. You can do this. I can help, advise, or send you to others who can help you do this. Consider this as my commitment paid or unpaid to be part of a solution for this.

Here’s what i think we need for a Farm 2 Plate website. (in broad terms, think about a page like amazon.com but for farming products on PEI)

  1. We need a website that you yourselves can update with times and products that are available. I currently have a few hundred people doing this at the university… you can learn how, and we can teach you how.
  2. We need a back up person committed to answering phone calls from people who are having trouble. Someone who will teach first but, most importantly, ensure that the information is posted.
  3. We need an automatic way of updating people from around the island when a new ‘availability’ has been posted. This is also not hard. People would be able to subscribe to this website like they would to a newspaper, except they would get the update by email or other means as soon as you put it on the website.
  4. People would need to accept that their product and the ‘client experience’ would be rated. Ratings are critical to success. We need to spread the good news and encourage others to do a little better.

There are a few technical details around this, we would need to decide what the ‘categories’ of food were, and how the content would get spread out. This is also not that difficult. It would require some cooperation, and someone in a position to make decisions, but it’s very easy to change this stuff on the fly. We could do it this way for this season and then talk about it over the winter when the timelines weren’t so short.

And that’s the thing. We could the earliest version of this running by next week. It would need to be worked on, adjusted and, if you’ll pardon the metaphor, weeded, but that’s not a problem either. It’s an organic process and there will be disagreements and frustrations, but i think this is important, and, as you will be in charge of your own content, you can make sure that things look the way you want them to.

I don’t know where we go from here. I would like to hear if you are interested, and how we can go about doing this. It may be that we talk to the government, or some other organization… i don’t know… but i do know that this is possible.

If you are out there and have done or are doing this… let me know about it. If i can help, great. If that help is just telling people about it… that’s great too.