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…leave the kids alone?

October 15, 2015

Views Czech SwitzerlandThere is a belief that children nowadays are natural, “Digital Natives”, and that we adults on the sidelines are “Digital Immigrants”.  The dexterity and comfort many children demonstrate when interacting with digital devices and social media tools generates this image of them being “naturals”. This in turn contributes to the sense of disconnect between the so called “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants”.

In reaction to this sense of disconnect and divide, educators often restrict access to technology, keep the screens out of the classroom, or tightly dictate the parameters of its use on their own terms. This is often done in an effort to dampen the disconnect we feel when trying to understand the students’ perspectives.

Often, parents and teachers express a sense of having to “catch up” or “keep up” with children’s adeptness at using digital tools and environments. There is a feeling that a race is on, and somehow as adults we have the odds stacked against us.

Children are not born digital natives, they are born digital consumers. A child’s first encounter with digital devices and environments will be framed by their parent’s digital use: a mom walking with the stroller whilst talking on her phone, listening to her music player, or checking a social media post; a father texting while giving his child a bath; parents watching a video on their tablet, searching on their phones as they feed their child, checking email or wall posts while their kid watches from the stroller at a restaurant. These daily routines are part of our growing fractured attention – being here but actually somewhere else. This behaviour quickly frames the context and role of the devices in our relationships, as well as their role in communication and day to day actions. Children from a very early age are the audience to our digital behaviors. Children start constructing their own understanding of digital devices and their role in response to our actions. They use this experience as a guide, most often subconsciously at a young age, and ultimately frame their own interactions based on what they have seen.

As children start interacting with the digital devices, be it on their own or with ones shared by a sibling or parent, they are in consumption mode. This consumption often becomes the source of their relationship with these digital devices and ecosystems – playing a game, watching a video, chatting, posting, and searching. Often the experience can be a solitary one, disconnected from physical reality. The device becomes a babysitter, a tool to give parents a break, or an opportunity to allow us to have a split attention.

Yes, so-called digital natives are very adept at using devices and quickly working out the tools they provide. The strategy is one of press, try, press, click, try again. They have a sandbox mentality when it comes to exploring technology. Anything is okay, as long as the child is making progress. It is this blind capacity to forge ahead, try, and try again with a fail forward philosophy that throws us off as adults. For many of us, the point of reference is a more linear approach to problem solving, working sequentially and sometimes with more hesitation than blind confidence.

This difference should not be our exit card from the need to engage with children and digital device use. We as adults have a responsibility to be active participants in the digital device journey of children, both at home and at school. We have a responsibility to choreograph concrete strategies where we become active participants and guides. This starts with us understanding and being mindful of our own use, and how digital devices are tethered to our day to day workflows. We need to consciously reflect on how our own behaviors frame the context of digital device usage for our children.

The social media and digital ecosystems we have are the environment of our age. Throughout time there have been repeated instances where new technologies come into play, and a generation gravitates to these. This divide between the current generation of users and adults is one that has occurred time and time again – with the telephone, the radio, and television, just to name a few. The process of learning and adapting to these new cognitive interactions is part of being human. We frame our use of technology on human emotions, understandings and aspirations. Our role as mentors, educators and parents is to nurture these human emotions, as well as the aspirations of our children, as active partners.

As adults, being a proactive partner in learning with a child creates a rich opportunity for both to understand the shared experience. The partnership provides language development through the conversations between the adult and child.  Unpacking the context together and developing an ability for questions and comprehension is part of the process we use to construct new understanding. For adults these are precious moments. With our own development of this relationship, we scaffold a vital critical thinking experience for the child. This gives us a unique opportunity to understand the child’s experience. Throughout the ages, the sharing of knowledge and experience between adult and child has been an essential part of the building blocks of relationships between different generations.

Moving kids away from a consumer model with digital devices requires guidance and inspiration. What they are doing and how is more important than what digital device they are using. As adults, we can curate these experiences and provide inspiration by modeling less of a swipe and point consumption philosophy. By doing so, we would encourage children to engage with critical thinking skills through creative content and inspire them to get excited about creative problem solving.

With our society’s nearly ubiquitous access to digital devices, why have we as adults disengaged with the changes? Is our own digital consumption numbing our ability to find inspiration? Parenting is still parenting, be it in an online or offline environment. Children are still children. It boils down to our willingness to carve out the time. The world does not need a growing population of digital devices consumers. The world we live in is hungry for critical thinkers who are engaged in creative problem solving and in leveraging digital devices and ecosystems in a way that might create a more connected society.


Our Connected Data

June 6, 2015
unlearning learning


Over the last few weeks, an outstanding series produced by ARTE called “Do Not Track Me” has become available and is getting quite a bit of social media attention.

The different episodes explore and highlight the technologies, algorithms, data mining and aggregation of our online information through digital devices, tools, ecosystems and environments. Each of the episodes breaks down the architecture and rationales of companies, organizations and governments tracking in an interactive manner and examines how this impacts our privacy and digital footprint.

For many of the pre-internet generation, privacy both online and offline is an important right. Having full control of our privacy and being able to independently curate and choreograph where our information is and goes is an expectation. Naturally, there has always been an aspect of our information which we have not controlled, but in general, the collective expectation in most democratic countries has contained a certain level of privacy.

A paradigm shift has occurred in the last decade initiated by many companies realizing that instead of generating income from only paid advertising (remember pop ups?), they can also keep track and personalize their users’ internet experiences to generate far more valuable information, which can then be leveraged into an income. The incomes generated from a personalized web (where you get search results, ads, and information that is tailored to your tastes and based on a saved history of where you have been) are impressive. This interactive live stream shares the incomes generated by internet companies in real time.

We each are generating information that contributes to Big Data: large sets of aggregated information which we each create as we interact, live and work in the Internet’s ecosystem. Every click,”like,” scroll, connection, purchase, browse, download and action generates a footprint. This tracking and aggregation of our data is done on all of our devices connected to the internet and/or cellular networks. (A video that unpacks the technology behind tracking information)

There is no doubt that some of the tracking taking place is positive and provides us with certain efficiencies including a more tailored online experience. On the other hand, there is also a large amount of information that is collected without our knowledge which does not add to our browsing experience.

For many of us the convenience of a frictionless experience with our digital devices, tools, and environments is a huge plus. For this frictionless experience, many of us are willing to give up a level of our privacy to third parties. After all, a convenient and seamless experience is the key for users. Nowadays many of the actions, processes and uses we engage with on digital devices, tools, and environments are almost subconscious actions. Our usage is so embedded in our daily routine, both social and professional, it becomes a non-negotiable part of our life.

With this precedent, we have entered a world where personal information aggregated over time is combined, analyzed and then generated into a longitudinal profile of us. This rich set of information is then sold, traded, and curated by organizations, governments and companies. It is from these information landscapes that services and products we might need can be accommodated or altered based on our profile.

The question of course, is what our world will look like as every single digital device, tool and environment is consolidated, monitored, aggregated, and analyzed over time. Yes, maybe you could try to opt out, but it is unfortunately becoming harder and harder to do so as the internet becomes more integrated with our culture. Commerce, social media, communication, socialization and work have all moved to an online environment 24/7 in most parts of the world.

Does it matter? Are our online profiles and habits a true reflection of who we are? Does this aggregated information sold, traded, and curated by companies and organizations provide us with services and experiences that supersede the erosion of privacy? Either way, the discourse is clearly an integral component of our connected data experience.

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”

― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World



Stop Pretending in Education

April 23, 2015

In education, we have to stop pretending that

  • there is a separation between the digital world and the real world
  • all students have an excellent understanding of digital tools and ethics
  • technology is a learning outcome and not a tool
  • failure and open ended outcomes are bad
  • we are not in a state of constant accelerated change

Scott McLeod challenged others to participate in a conversation on how to #makeschooldifferent with the prompt “… we have to stop pretending”. In this challenge, I’d like to invite @pgreensoup  @jasonohler @arniebieber  @russiazurfluh

Control Room

January 22, 2015
Used with permission from Reid Wilson:

I caught a tweet about Reid Wilson’s post with this infographic and it simply jumped out at me. It got me thinking about my own learning. The idea of letting go, being open, okay to mess up, explore, tinker and celebrate being vulnerable and taking advantage of  my failures as a learning opportunity. The habits of mind Reid shared resonated with me. The powerful infographic highlights how in today’s rapidly changing world habits of mind are critical in engaging with these changes. Reid Wilson‘s  infographic does a wonderful job of challenging educators thinking and push one to reconsider the pedagogic discourse of learning in schools.

The important premise is that these new habits of mind are about educators cognitive capacity to build new frameworks with a significantly different set of behaviors and beliefs connected to a world that is in a constant state of accelerated change.

There are some concrete outside forces which come into play challenging our learning communities. The shifts caused by these outside forces are significant and only highlight the importance of seriously engaging with Reid Wilson‘s premise.

One of the biggest shifts is how the work place, employment and jobs are radically changing due to the adoption of new technologies and more importantly a break from traditional business models.  Examples like Air B and B, Uber, the apps market and the rash of start ups fueled by the E-economy are re-framing employment rules in the work place. The dynamics of this shift are nicely broken down in this article: Workers on tap @Economist. A whole generation of students in schools today, are entering a new work place being choreographed by these changes.  The social contract of employment we have lived with is being turned upside down.

If tools can be emailed at a click of a button (Nasa emails spanner to space station @BBC) and constructed in the confines of our homes with a 3D printer. How does that shift the dynamic of manufacturing and in tandem the role of design, location, innovation and production. As this develops we are seeing a re-framing of manufacturing, and it will not be about location but innovation, creativity, flexibility and adaptability.

The growing field of machine intelligence and the complex dynamics of the ethical implications are starting to challenge our own moral construct and the relationship between machines and humans. Shivon Zilis shares out an interesting graphic on her blog (the Current State of Machine Intelligence.) that delineates the companies and organizations involved in machine intelligence and the accelerated growth of areas unheard off a few years back. The growing investment tied to the development of machine intelligence coupled with the field of “learning machines” as described by  Jeremy Howard’s Tedtalk  are ushering a science fiction like future which actually is being constructed today!

These are just a few of the many new shifts changing our world, and being unpacked before our eyes. A term which encapsulates these forces well, is VUCA, an acronym for “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity” initially coined as a military term in the 1990’s and now often shared in the context of companies and organization engaging with a variety of  leadership frameworks.

Schools and education leaders are in a unique position to engage, lead and model Reid Wilson‘s  construct of the 21 century habits of mind in response to the forces of accelerated change. Education leaders must be risk takers themselves and engage with the responsibility to scaffold, curate and facilitate this new construct that prepares not only our students for a world  of “ volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity” but the educators that are in the control room of learning.


Special thank you to Reid Wilson for sharing the graphic. Do make a point of checking out his blog:

The Death of ” Digital”.

May 22, 2014
Santa Cruz California

Santa Cruz California

Words are a powerful vehicle for meaning and understanding,  connected to individual or group perspectives, interpretations,  and connections. The word “Digital” has been part of our vocabulary landscape for a long time.  It was only after reading Nicholas Negroponte’s  book, “Being Digital” in 1995, that I began to be aware of the term and its impact on the world to come, but in 2014, the word “digital”  has now blended itself into the daily fabric of our lives. When we think of the word “digital”, it creates a sense of disconnect from our world and implies that the digital world is a separate part of our reality. However, this is no longer true. Our lives are so embedded within this digital realm that the two have become inseparable. So, I invite us to use a new set of vocabularies to frame this paradigm:  Appliances, Utilities, Information Flows, Ethics and Algorithms.

Appliances are the consumables that we connect and interact with (laptops, phones, tablets, GPS, and other hardware). These tools have become the default to our connectedness; disposable and with each new version more seamless, simple and integrated.

Utilities frame our day to day interactions. These social medias, networks, email, RSS, professional learning networks and Web 2.0/ 3.0 tools have become the architectural  framework of communication and information for our connected world.

Information flows are the 150,000,000 Blogs posted a year, 5 million tweets per day, 200,000 videos uploaded on YouTube daily, and the petabytes of information created, aggregated, shared, and circulated daily around the earth.

Ethics is the why, how, when, where and who of our digital footprint in today’s world. It is the wide ranging issues from Killer Robots to the impact of a Filter Bubble (where search, news, and information algorithms choreograph what information types we get based on our personal browsing habits). The curation of our online and offline privacy as governments, corporations, and organizations juggle a treasure trove of information created by our respective digital footprints, is the new ethical dilemma we all deal with, as individuals, groups and as societies at large.

Algorithms are the backbone to the intelligent softwares that inhabit the engine of the internet. These are predictive, anticipatory, intelligent and analytical. The are the lifeblood of the internet ecosystems for individuals, governments, corporations, and organizations which then create, develop, build, facilitate, monitor, analyze, synthesize and evaluate our day to day interactions. The algorithms have become the life line to the information flows, ethics, utilities and appliances.

These words are not the definitive list, but reflect a vocabulary we use both from our past and present. They highlight how the “digital” world is ingrained in our daily lives, to the point we often are not even conscious of its presence. This connectedness fueled by our devices and ecosystems now are part of the fabric of our lives, often out of our control, and a non negotiable aspect of our own participation with the day.

A critical understanding of these words and their respective dynamics should be an essential ingredient in School and Organizational curricula. We can no longer think of them as separate entities. We have inherited this reality which now has us connected in ways where opting out becomes the abnormality . These Appliances, Utilities, Information Flows, Ethics and Algorithms are part of the fabric of our world and impact us as humans both consciously and unconsciously.

This discourse needs be given equal time in all educational settings; imbedded as seamlessly in the curriculum as they are in our lives. A responsibility to highlight the power, richness and cautions that come with tying ourselves to a set of appliances, utilities, information flows, ethics and algorithms that have and will continue to change the fabric of our interactions as humans and organizations.

So how do we do this? The key is that these terms and their meanings are introduced as part of the learning landscape in all units of study. Creating authentic connections between these words and the learning environment will then scaffold a clearer understanding of their real world applications. In our school ecosystems most subjects and curricular areas are using technology, often as a separate tool, or as a side show, but, if it is so seamless and embedded in our day to day lives, then we need to translate this into our learning. One of the first steps is to give ourselves permission to change the way we work with this vocabulary. As we change the vocabulary, and with it the meaning and role of these words, we are engaging in an active learning process connected to the changing world.

To ignore this vocabulary is to short change future generations of their awareness of a world that has become more invisible, seamless and blended both in our conscious and unconscious day.  The death of “digital” is here.



“Welcome to the Machine”

December 9, 2013
picture by John Mikton

one of the many wonderful buildings from my visit to New York City

Yes, there is the Internet of Things: a world in parallel to ours were our devices, data, algorithms, gadgets, smart phones and digital tools interconnect, communicate, and work independently of our own input or monitoring. They provide us with efficiencies, automation, services and information, and even do things for us we often do not have time for. Some are invisible to our day to day interactions, while others are an integral part of our toolkit  of our communication and of our work. The convenience, cost savings and growing reliability of the Internet of Things has become a necessary part of our daily work-flow.

This growth is somewhat unbelievable if you take the time to visualize it. We now live in a world where the amount of devices is three times the global population; a growth which shows no signs of stopping

So what does this mean for us? What does it mean to live in a world where our dependence on digital devices and hardware ecosystems is non negotiable? As our lives get tied up in a world of machines, how do we balance, control, monitor and engage with the Internet of Things in a manner which allows us to still feel in control?

The digital devices we use, connect and interact with have become seamless parts of our day. Many of the processes and tasks that they complete are invisible to us. Rarely do we need to take our digital devices and tools apart, or sit down and understand how they work or why they are working, and this growing disconnect between our own understanding and participation with the Internet of Things is creating a gap. A gap where we are becoming more and more sidelined; where we are no longer active but passive consumers of the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things is predictive and intelligent. This dynamic will impact our world significantly: redefining organizations, work forces, how we function as economies and societies. In tandem, it will challenge our ethics, relationship and interactions with machines.

For educators and educational institutions, this reality should be putting pressure on how we engage and deliver learning models so we may remain relevant in a world of machines. There is no doubt that continuing with our current models still seems acceptable, but are we avoiding the present with a belief and a pedagogy rooted in our past? How much longer can we allow this disconnect to occur in the walled gardens of our educational organizations?

The fact is, the world of today, and more importantly, the world of tomorrow, needs us to re-evaluate and redefine our pedagogy. We have a responsibility to ensure that every learner is immersed in a curriculum deeply rooted in authentic, relevant, connected, personalized, differentiated and collaborative learning ecosystems. The Internet of Things and our world require all of us to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. The worlds accelerated rate of change will not wait for our hesitations and indecisiveness to radically redefine our pedagogy. To feel comfortable and continue with a system that is outdated is a terrible way to model and mentor our learners.

The future actually happened yesterday, so let us engage and be proactive in taking the dive to reshape and redesign our educational organizations to bridge the growing disconnect with the Internet of Things. It is the present and our student’s future which we need to act on.


There is a needle in the haystack, Ground Control.

September 1, 2013

All of us are engaged daily in the process of looking for information on the Internet, or “searching“. Sometimes, we search for clarification, facts, confirmation, projects, solutions, while other times our searches help us broaden our views, come to terms with a concept, make a plan, find a definition, or cross check a fact. Watch yourself or a friend at your next social function. Someone is bound to pull out their portable digital device (phone, tablet and/or computer) before long to make sure something that was said is correct. They might look up an actor, a city, an album, a song, a title, or an author. This is now part of our daily digital diet: a quick hop onto our device and off into the Internet to “search” for information.

  • 51 million – Number of websites added during the year.
  • 1.2 trillion Number of searches on Google  in 2012.
  • 43,339,547 gigabytes are sent across all mobile phones globally everyday.
  • Humankind in 2007 successfully sent 1.9 zettabytes of information through broadcast technology such as televisions and GPS. That’s equivalent to every person in the world reading 174 newspapers every day.
  • There are 5 million tweets per day enough to fill New York Times for 19 years.
  • Humankind shared 65 exabytes of information through two-way telecommunications in 2007
    That’s the equivalent of every person in the world communicating the contents of six newspapers every day
  • 58 – Number of photos uploaded every second to Instagram.
  • 5 billion – How many times per day the +1 button on Google+ is used
  • 1.3 exabytes – Estimated global mobile data traffic per month in 2012.
  • Bloggers post 900,000 new articles everyday.
  • Over 210 billion emails are sent daily which is more than a whole year worth of letter mail in the USA.
  • Daily around 200 000 videos are uploaded on youtube which will require over 600 years to view them all.

(Source: Economist  The World 2013 and Internet 2012 in numbers by Tech Blog Pingdom and Science Daily: How Much Information Is There in the World? Feb. 11, 2011)

Information grows from Terabyte to Petabyte . As a human race, we cannot actually view, analyze, or keep track of all the information we generate without third party digital tools and softwares. We now defer to sophisticated algorithms and intelligent softwares to store, track, synthesis, analysis, aggregate, and deliver information in amounts we have the time and capacity to digest. And most of us today expect to have this information available non-stop, over multiple devices.

Information overload, information stress, information pollution and information anxiety are part of the narrative of the digital age. With the amount of information increasing at accelerated speeds, we have relinquished any control we once had over its exponential growth. What we need to do is develop strategies, skills and understanding on how to filter, sift, analyze and juggle information, so we feel some level of control.

As we embed ourselves in this vast information landscape and wish to remain critical thinkers, we need to be ready to retool ourselves:

  • Coming to terms with the “Filter Bubble : this is where information is processed and delivered through algorithms based on what our viewing and search habits are, thus filtering information to our perspectives and not providing alternative views and information. The balance of information is vital to building a broad understanding of different views. Nowadays however, through the “Filter Bubble, this balance is being diluted. We need to understand this and be able to counter it as critical thinkers.
  • Developing a strong searching expertise:  We need to understand the capacity of search engine tools, their variables, and limitations so we can refine and sift information in a manner which gives us manageable amounts of results.
  • Be able to Aggregate:  Learn how to leverage news aggregators, real time syndication, social media, micro blogging, and social bookmarking sites.  These tools can help in sorting different formats, cull large amounts of information and deliver it in digestible portions for us to develop new capacities.
  • Engage in Connectivism: A learning theory constructed on the idea we can learn with digital, social and cultural connections, and from this interchange build individual and/or collective capacity to gain knowledge and understanding. Through our social and professional connections create networks of expertise, knowledge, and understanding to support learning. Use the “cognitive surplus” we have available in our social and professional groups to increase our own knowledge so we can create, communicate, produce and share effectively as critical thinkers.
  • Learn, unlearn and relearn: We need to develop the strategies and methodologies that allow us to engage effectively in this process of “learning, unlearning and relearning” daily. In tandem, we need to ensure that everyone has the opportunity, support and resources to do this.

From this point forward, there is not going to be any less information – that is a fact. As the world moves into a state of constant change, and the pace accelerates, we have a responsibility to ourselves, our peers and our communities to make the process of learning, unlearning and relearning permanent. If we do not, we could potentially lose our ability to participate as critical thinkers and control the information landscape we live in.



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