If you build it they will come…

fieldofdreams-280-420The 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.

Power of Technology venn - v2-350-310Even 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.

6 thoughts on “If you build it they will come…

    • Thanks Iram, We are excited by the possibilites and plan to have more info/details to share very soon!


  1. Hi Dan,

    You and your team have amazed me with your perseverance, dedication, and positive attitude. It is so difficult to try to win people over and get them to try new things. You all have been very supportive of anyone who has questions, or make suggestions. Thank you for that!

    With all of your continued hard work and dedication, I have no doubt that the next version of surreyschools will really help to bring people back and get them more involved in surreyschools.ca. It really does have great possibility!

    It was nice to read your reflections, Dan.

    Take care,

    • Thanks for your comment Tia and for the time and effort you have put into exploring/using surreyschools.ca. Your feedback is really important to shaping future versions! There really is a lot of potential and we are excited to work together as we explore them.


  2. Where to start :-) I have known to be a bit of a dreamer myself. I like the analogy to the movie. I think a lot of technology adoption or better yet, infusion, is about seeing the possibilities. Most people don’t know what they don’t know so it’s hard to imagine what they’re missing or what they want or need. That’s one group. The other group are those that have already branched out, seen the possibilities out on the Internet, and have adopted tools that they felt were missing from what you could provide. Getting them to engage in your dream and your District provided spaces, will be a challenge for sure. But I think you need to dream and build with and for a variety of people – the key is to differentiate between what you will/should build/provide and what they can only (should) get outside. It will likely be a moving target as well.

    I say keep up the great work. I’ve seen, read, and heard great classroom stories coming from Surrey schools so already you, your team, and others are obviously getting it right!


    • There are a number of “big ideas” under the hood of surreyschools.ca ranging from providing relevant virtual spaces for all surrey staff and students, to creating sharing spaces and an enhanced sense of community with varying levels of security for teachers to easily create age appropriate areas that parents can access. I believe the 80/20 rule is at play here, in that a very high percentage of people, including parents are wanting more “one stop shopping” that is reliable and easy to use. There are powerful possibilities in better connecting the great work inside classrooms, with school, district and public/internet sites. We are working to mesh surreyschools in this way. There are lots of choices and options for teachers and as you know navigating FOIPPA compliance can be complicated. Surryschools.ca “walled garden” is an important option and piece of the puzzle. As you say, very much of a “moving target” and look forward to continuing to collaborate with you and your team. Thanks for the comment Brian.

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