The movie Field of Dreams celebrates the belief that we should dream and that if we create the “space” for our dreams they can become a reality. I like the simplicity of that notion and believe in it. Fully realizing it is a bit of a different story.
Given the pervasive nature of technology and that the majority of our users (students) are digital residents, it would seem that being able to systemically realize the power of technology for student learning would be relatively straightforward and almost natural. Not surprisingly, it’s not.
Consider that what can be realized isn’t always known or clear yet and that the technology solution – the version 1.0 of anything – destined to deliver the “possibilities” usually doesn’t fully demonstrate the dreaming, but will itself morph and grow alongside in response. Classic “chicken and egg” dilemma that often results in various forms of organizational paralysis or confusion. I believe it’s my role as an IT professional to identify the best technology solutions that can put the stake in the ground so we can collaborate and begin creating the spaces that enact the dream and push to expand that footprint in the direction of enhanced learning.
When we first started visioning for surreyschools.ca, our digital learning community, we had the basics identified to create an organization-wide space for information sharing, system collaboration, delivering learning opportunities and experiences and optimizing business processes. What our stakeholders couldn’t fully comprehend and articulate was the powerful possibilities this new environment could offer that aligned to relevant 21st century learning outcomes therefore, the dreaming struggled to take root.
To get back to the movie analogy, the “field” was ready. I had focused my team on getting anchored in (and living) a shared vision, principles and values, we focused (for years) on removing technology barriers (focusing on process, procedure and the dreaded “S” word – standardization), speeds and feeds (PLNet upgrades), ceilings and walls stuff (CMS, infrastructure), spinning wheels of death (bottlenecks), under the hood pieces (firewall rules/roadblocks, equipment upgrades, renewal plans, etc) culminating recently in second generation oxygen (district-wide wireless), not to mention cultivating positive relationships with both the education and business sides of the organization.
Even with the majority of technology barriers addressed, getting to the space – where the true creative magic happens – has been an ongoing and constant challenge. There are many foundational, moving and dynamic parts and the “technology” itself is actually a small piece of the overall equation for the dream. It has to be a collaborative and recursive process whether you’re identifying learning or business requirements, developing solutions (even conceptually), dreaming about the possibilities within those, securing funding, building systems or integrating them. We haven’t always achieved or experienced it. There are steps forward and steps back. We remove a barrier only to run into one created by removing the barrier (wicked problem in action). We are challenged with funding or staffing and competing requirements. It can be easy to lose faith yet we always remain anchored and focused on move forward plans. The power in the action of technology is starting to emerge from inside our classrooms in the form of exciting examples of student engagement and empowered learning inside and outside the “walled garden” (surreyschools.ca).
Last week we had a demonstration of some work flow software we are planning to layer onto surreyschools.ca. It was an amazing feeling to see how close we are to realizing this part of the vision via surreyschools.ca and to beginning the work of automating the dozens and dozens of paper-based, labour-intensive and inefficient processes that all organizations have inside them. This has actually been a dream since the beginning of my career. In the coordinating, tracking and aligning of all the various initiatives I had lost track of this one and it felt great to re-connect and know the organization is poised to realize these significant efficiencies, during a time of continued budget strain. By the end of the session the team was also connected to the vision and were excited about the possibilities. Everyone on the team had different examples and ideas – it had become a creative idea generating space.
We’re beginning to see the same energy in the education space and I truly believe that following a similar process of building the space – delivering surreyschools.ca 2.0 this summer – will support a deeper exploration of the possibilities associated with 21st Century Learning – the power of technology in learning. The dream.