October is going to be a busy month…

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October is going to be a busy month. My girlfriend and I are expecting a daughter any day now and the anticipation is almost unbearable. Her birthday is also coming up, we have plans almost every weekend, and my 11 year-old is struggling to acclimate to sixth grade. I’m in week four of a nine-week Entrepreneurship course through University of the People, I’m trying to get through the SQL and Ruby courses at Codecademy, and I’m still trying to sort out some long- and short-term goals at work.

Now we can add two teaching roles to the mix: I’ll be teaching an adult education course on Digital Literacy and a student enrichment course on Scratch Programming through the Southern York County School District’s community education program. Both classes are set to begin in the third full week of October. It’s exciting – there has already been some interest in both classes – but at the same time, I’m already swamped and now I’ve got to prepare curricula to make sure that my students will be successful.

Fortunately, I do not have to reinvent the wheel for either class. I’ll be using the Digital Literacy curriculum created by Broadband Rhode Island, which I’ve already had success with in an adult education setting. I also located a nice Scratch lesson guide created by WeCan{Code}IT that has a haunted house adventure theme. Students will work independently and in teams to create spooky games.

I’m always looking for some additional content, suggestions, and best practices so if you have taught courses on either subject feel free to put links in the comments!

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Generalists vs. Specialists, Part II

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I was doing some more research into the topic of Generalists vs. Specialists today and found some additional interesting information. Several articles that I read presented the idea that as technological innovation increases, generalists will become more and more important in our society and economy.

“Isaiah Berlin’s 1953 essay “The Fox and the Hedgehog” contrasts hedgehogs that “relate everything to a single, central vision” with foxes who “pursue many ends connected…if at all, only in some de facto way.” It’s really a story of specialists vs. generalists.” — Harvard Business Review, “All Hail the Generalist”

One interesting point made was that generalists tend to navigate uncertainty better than specialists. While a specialist (like the hedgehog) has earned his or her stripes by focusing on the minutiae, we find that generalists (like the fox) are able to see the “big picture” and their breadth of perspective allows them to make connections and more smoothly transition from role to role, task to task, etc. Breadth is the key word there – where generalists’ knowledge is broad, specialists’ knowledge is deep.

“The declining returns to expertise have implications at the national, company, and even individual level. A collection of specialists creates a less flexible labor force, one that requires “retraining” with technological developments creating constantly shifting human resource needs. In this regard, the recent emphasis in American education on “job-specific” skills is disturbing. Within a company, employees skilled in numerous functions are more valuable as management can dynamically adjust their roles. Many forward-looking companies are specifically mandating multi-functional experience as a requirement for career progress. Finally, individuals should manage their careers around obtaining a diversity of geographic and functional experiences. Professionals armed with the analytical capabilities (e.g. basic statistical skills, critical reasoning, etc.) developed via these experiences will fare particularly well when competing against others more focused on domain-specific skill development.” — Harvard Business Review, “All Hail the Generalist”

Does this mean that expertise is dead? Surely not. While the number of generalists may be rising, and the number of *true* experts may be shrinking, specialists are driving the innovation that may eventually lead to their own replacement. Think about it. We have some incredible specialists working in the tech industry – people who are in the business of making computers do more and more of our work for us. They’re changing our world, but it’s possible that as they change our world they might eventually create a world where they’re no longer useful. That’s a weird thing to think about.

This all connects with my first post on the subject which highlighted the need for Generalizing-Specialists and Specializing-Generalists. There’s a balance to be had. If a specialist can, over time, become more broad in their knowledge and skills then they are a valuable asset to be had. And similarly, a generalist who, over time, becomes deeper in certain knowledge and skill sets certainly has a place in most industries.

For me, a dedicated generalist, the struggle is trying to figure out which tactic to embrace. My own career has grown first through generalization and then through specialization. My generalist skills got my foot in the door, and when an opportunity for specialization presented itself I took it and have been successful. When additional areas of specialization are offered, do I take them and deepen certain knowledge and skill sets or do I stick to my generalist roots and look for additional breadth? That’s the part I haven’t figured out yet.

When you stop doing something the longer you…

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When you stop doing something, the longer you wait to do it again the harder it becomes to do it again.

running goal

I cracked my goal of running 100 miles this year back in July and since then I have really slacked…I’ve gained about 10 pounds during that time, been eating a lot of junk and drinking soda & tea. The longer I go without running, the harder it becomes to get myself out on the road.

Screw that. I’m going for a run this evening.

Today’s post on Seth Godin’s blog struck a…

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Today’s post on Seth Godin’s blog struck a chord with me. The topic was idea adoption which, of course, directly relates to my post on #digitalfirst schools.

Godin provided the following graphic to highlight his message:

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I think that many of my own frustrations are a product of my work at the fringe. I’m not sure why, but I like to operate out on the leading edges…I like to see what’s coming, research it, evaluate it, and put it to use if it’s going to be helpful. I’m not just talking about products either, this relates to ideas too. The problem is that when you’re out on the fringes, it is natural that it will take some time for the majority to come around and adopt the ideas and products that the fringe may be well into already. I want everyone to hurry up, catch up, etc. but I need to temper my expectations. Good advice, Seth.

Following up on #digitalfirst schools

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On July 22, 2012 an op-ed piece that I authored appeared in the York Daily Record/Sunday News. The title of my article was “Schools must embrace a digital-first mindset”. In short, my research into digital disruption of various industries led me to make a connection between changes that our local newspaper had undergone and changes that, it seemed, our local schools were going to have to make sooner or later in order to remain relevant in the Internet Age. As I put it:

“…pieces at a time, I have been building on the idea that schools and newspapers alike can discover a new sense of purpose and greater success through technological innovation.”

I learned a few lessons that could be applied in schools that wanted to be pioneers in the digital era.

Going #digitalfirst doesn’t mean going completely digital. What it does mean is embracing technology to improve communication, collaboration, creation, and critical thinking. All of those things can happen in a traditional classroom…and they can all happen in digital environments too. But since we spend most of our time outside of the classroom, let’s make sure that those digital environments are available to learners 24x7x365, right?

Our local school district is now using Google Apps for Education. That’s progress.

Going #digitalfirst means schools can truly own their public information processes. Sure, it’s good to make sure the newspapers, TV, and radio stations are aware of what’s going on. But technology allows schools to open lines of communication with their geographical and virtual communities. Schools can broadcast relevant, interesting information at all hours of the day or night. Student journalists can create their own news cycles and work with teachers and staff to make sure that parents and community members get a better look into day-to-day school operations and events. Transparency can be improved.

Our local school district now has approximately 32 “official” Twitter accounts – one for the whole district, one for each school, one for district administration, and then individual accounts for athletics, activities, and even specific classes and teachers. That’s progress.

Going #digitalfirst means teachers and administrators can connect with other educators for professional development. Social media tools like Twitter and Google+ allow for hashtag chats, Hangouts, and sharing/collaborating without any time/space limitations. People are blogging about what is working and what isn’t working. People are talking.

I’ve given several sessions to teachers, administrators, and office staff about using Twitter and Google+ for professional development…and people are doing it. Almost 30 of our teachers and staff attended a Google Summit last school year and they got connected. That’s progress.

Yesterday and today we began handing a Google Chromebook to every child in our high school. And while #digitalfirst isn’t about the device, having a device will certainly help to provide learners with opportunities to collaborate, communicate, create, and engage in critical thinking. That’s progress.

The last paragraph of my article focused on patience. It’s easy to preach patience, but extremely difficult to practice it. The last three years have been full of moments where I felt like I was beating my head against the metaphorical wall. Going #digitalfirst doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes in the rush to change we have to be reminded to take time to plan and develop clear policies and frameworks for use. It’s really easy to skip over the planning process and jump straight into implementation but, as we’ve come to find out, you can make your life a whole lot easier by devoting a significant amount of time to crafting an effective and captivating vision for what #digitalfirst will mean for students, teachers, staff, parents, and the community at large. As we learn our lessons, I hope we share them with our communities and keep working toward that “new and exciting era of learning”.