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CoSN conference goers learn how to be innovative educators

Larry Keeley, a noted global innovation expert, urged education leaders to think to the future.
Larry Keeley, a noted global innovation expert, urged education leaders to think to the future.

“The challenges in our field are Olympic in proportion,” said Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) CEO Keith Krueger in kicking off the organization’s 2010 conference March 1. But teamwork in leading technology integration is key in helping ed-tech projects succeed, he said, as is making sure that education technology leaders have the skills and support they need.

To meet this latter goal, CoSN has launched the CoSN Exchange, a new social networking site for ed-tech leaders and advocates to share successes, ideas, and learn valuable information from their peers across the nation.

Several CoSN reports will be coming out this spring, Krueger said, and they will examine issues such as how Web 2.0 technologies can best be used in the classroom.

As school district leaders know, education often lags behind other sectors when it comes to change. There are “vibrant islands” of innovation across the country, said Karen Greenwood Henke—who founded Nimble Press and is a member of CoSN’s Board of Directors—but the system as a whole is slow to adapt.

That’s the issue opening keynote speaker Larry Keeley sought to address.

“You can either ride a wave of technology or you can make your own wave,” said Keeley, a noted global innovation expert and co-founder and president of Doblin Inc.

Keeley encouraged attendees to use education’s current challenges as an opportunity to really reinvent the system, instead of simply making tiny adjustments that skirt around the edges of true innovation.

When students’ lives change faster than the classroom, “every day education becomes less relevant to students,” Keeley said.

“If we can’t change our pace of change, then we are absolutely falling behind” in the eyes of students whose lives outside of the classroom are more interesting and more stimulating than inside the classroom, he explained.

Keeley pointed to the iPod’s reign as the top MP3 player, accompanied by iTunes. But Apple’s device was not the first player to come out, and iTunes did not launch alongside the iPod.

Today it’s evident that people should be able to purchase an individual song as desired, but a few years ago, Keeley said, it wasn’t so obvious.

“Often a good strategy is to be the last in but the best dressed,” Keeley said—and that’s what Apple did with the iPod.

Keeley said schools, educators, and ed-tech leaders should focus on a number of areas to innovate and create real, lasting change, including:

• Think big and “stand in the future.”
• Do not try to optimize what already exists; instead, think beyond what exists today.
• Create a compelling prototype or model solution.
• Integrate ideas, educators, and processes.

Ed-tech lessons from abroad

CoSN periodically sends educators and ed-tech advocates to different countries in hopes of building international conversations and relationships, as well as to learn about different methods in education.

U.S. policy makers spend a lot of time talking about technology in education, whereas Scotland and the Netherlands seem to have accepted technology as a part of education and life, said Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association. The focus is less on the “if” of technology and more on the “how” to make it happen, she added.

For instance, Flynn said, the CoSN team spoke with educators from one school in Amsterdam who said technology does not have to be used every minute of every school day. But the tools are present for students to use whenever they want or need to.

Flynn was speaking as part of a session in which U.S. delegates on the most recent CoSN trip abroad shared the lessons they learned. (See “CoSN seeks more ICT lessons from abroad.”)

Steve Nordmark, vice president of solutions management and development for netTrekker, said he was most struck by the difference in ed-tech research funding.

Schools in Scotland and the Netherlands are spending about 10 times the amount that the U.S. spends on ed-tech research.

“We give lip service to using data to improve instruction, but it’s not at the point where it should be. … We have to get beyond data for accountability purposes,” said Irene Spero, CoSN’s chief operating officer.

“The overall focus [we saw] on innovation is something that needs to infuse lots of U.S. conversation,” Flynn said.

All those who attended the trip agreed that the countries’ rationale behind implementing technology in schools—which goes beyond simply using technology for its own sake—is something the U.S. should try to emulate.

Delegates explored programs operating under Scotland’s Glow Network, the Netherlands’ Kennisnet —a public ICT support organization—and Becta (the British Educational Communications and Technology Authority). The Glow Network, described as the world’s first national intranet for education, is a safe online environment for students, teachers, and parents. Users can create personalized work spaces and share other resources online.

The CoSN delegation’s trip can be tracked in more detail on its video blog. A final written report about the trip will be released soon.

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