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Posts Tagged ‘C21Canada CEO Academy’

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Mario is the most iconic fictional character in the global video game industry. At the height of his fame in the 1980s, he was the star of the Nintendo Super Mario series of games, capable of ‘powering-up’ to acquire greater abilities and surmount any obstacle in his path.  

            Today, the Canadian education world has, by strange coincidence, its own version of a video game super hero – Dr. Mario Chiasson, a super-charged technology evangelist with a title to match, Director of Research, Innovations and Change Management in New Brunswick’s Francophone South school district, based in Moncton.

            At last week’s virtual Canadian EdTech Summit 2021, sponsored by Toronto-based Mind Share Learning, Chiasson dazzled the audience of educational leaders and ed-techies with his usual high energy presentation. “We are living in COVID times,’ he declared, “and it’s the era of VUCA.” Succeeding in it, he added, means “embracing the three A’s – agility, adjusting, and adapting.”  “Everything is fast and deep and we need to be responsive to shifts in time, space, and technology.” 

            If you missed all that, you are not alone. Chiasson talks fast and speaks in fluent but nearly impenetrable ed-tech jargon. What is VUCA?  It’s short for today’s “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous” world driven by “the speed of technology” where the educational system is under pressure from a “digital environment” which is “collaborative and malleable” rather than ordered and set in its ways.

            Putting innovation at the centre of education is his mission and that of his latest visionary ed-tech project, Intrappreueur, aimed at transforming schools with digital technology, artificial intelligence, interconnected robotics, and new forms of management. “Shifting the education culture from an Ego-System to an Eco-Community,” is how Chiasson describes it with his usual vivid metaphoric language.  

            While it sounds like a pipe dream, the project is already underway in six pilot high schools in Francophone South. “We’re out to implify rather than implement innovation,” he told me in a recent interview. Some four out of ten students, he claims, are disengaged and to reconnect with them will require “inclusive, personalized learning.” In his vision, “the class will be transformed into the ‘learning lab’ and the school becomes an innovative community learning centre.”

            School leadership is a preoccupation of Chiasson and that may explain why he spends so much of his time ‘managing upwards’ in the K-12 system.  Since the inception of C21 Canada, the high-tech advocacy group of education executives, he has emerged as a darling of Canada’s CEOs and is closely aligned with the leading ed-tech vendors, including Apple Education, CISCO, InkSmith, and Steelcase Education. To no one’s surprise, Mario was honoured as Innovator of the Year in 2020 by the country’s leading ed-tech promoter, Mind Share Learning.

            Chiasson speaks a lot about what students need to thrive in the digital workplace and, more specifically, how to avoid being casualties of technological acceleration and automation. Today’s schools, he believes, need to set aside the old curricula and embrace the ‘recertification’ of students. “The labour force,” he contends, “needs to be recertified” because of workplace dislocations demanding a new set of skills. “Instead of developing workers, we need to develop young entrepreneurs or intrappreneurs.   

            Now entering his fifties, and after teaching for over 25 years, Chiasson has lost none of his zip and vitality. Born and raised near Tracadie-Sheila, N.B., he mastered coding at age 12 while wiling away the hours in the back of his father’s electrical supply store.  He honed his competitive instincts in provincial-level tennis and earned his first degree in Physical Education at Universite de Moncton (2002) before teaching French Immersion and going on to secure a Masters’ degree in School Administration with a specialty in technology (2004).  That Dr. honourific came in 2020 when Chiasson completed his Ed.D. at U de M under the guidance of Faculty of Education ICT professor Viktor Freiman.    

            Like most ed-tech champions, Chiasson strives to be cutting edge and exudes business savvy.  His own consulting firm, My Device, My Space, My Learning Inc., has a website overflowing with the latest high-tech buzz words.  “Personalized learning,” “project based-learning,” and “experiential learning” are among the most popular.  “It’s all about personalized learning,” he told me. “School is part of the journey and it’s important to introduce teachers to digital language, tools and ways of personalizing their teaching.”

            The New Brunswick intrappreneur high school redesign project now being piloted in Francophone South is explicitly designed to disrupt prevailing school culture. With the support of Superintendent Monique Boudreau and a business-education alliance, Chiasson is out to transform high schools with technology-driven ‘21st century learning’ philosophy, constructivist, student-centred pedagogy and the latest digital tools.

            “Digital IT is the new sandbox of innovation,” he says with a flush of exhilaration. Five years ago, his research revealed a “mismatch of leadership” because senior administrators simply could not understand, or see the value of. digital tools.  That is why changing school leadership outlook and attitudes is deemed to be critical. “We call it ‘Operation Leapfrog’,” he told me, because we’re moving from Leadership 2.0 to Leadership 4.0 embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” When it is fully realized, learning spaces will be totally revolutionized. Instead of learning in a six-pack of regular classrooms, high school students may find themselves in large ‘open concept’ spaces looking more like an experimental learning lab with break-out rooms.  

            Chiasson’s futuristic vision pushes at the boundaries with some radical mutations. His Atlantic Institute of Education Summer Institute program July 26 to August 6, 2021, featured a keynote address British high-tech management guru Richard Kelly, the world’s leading proponent of “swarm leadership.”  The core concept was initially conceived by Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher Leonard J. Marcus to explain the massive manhunt following the Boston Marathon bombings. Applying it to educational leadership, Kelly promotes “swarm leadership” inspired by “the ways ants, bees, and termites engage in collective work and decision making.”

            Educational visionaries project a certainty that comes from knowing the answers. Change is the only real constant in the world of the ed-tech evangelist. While leading regional IT initiatives from 2000 to 2004, he saw, first hand, the rise and fall of over-hyped projects such as 1:1 laptops and BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices). “Every two years,” he says now, “there’s a new phase of innovation.”  They didn’t work because “students were not performing” and there was “a gap between the vision and the actual adoption of technology.”

            One of Chiasson’s close allies, Karen Yamada, Chief Learning Officer of C21 Canada and the CEO Academy, cut through the tech-ed bafflegab at last week’s Canadian EdTech Summit. “We were rolling the rock uphill, then COVID-19 hit. It presented us with an opportunity to shake it up,” she said. “People, at all levels, focused on technology for the first time. It breathed new life into moving forward with the OECD Compass for 2030, embracing technology enhanced global competencies.” 

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            New Brunswick’s “Super Mario” of digital innovation is an eternal optimist. Like most true believers, Chiasson remains undeterred by old fossils, skeptics, or the wreckage of jettisoned initiatives. “I’m a positivist and aspirational by nature,” he confessed. Confronted by skeptics or nay-sayers, he powers-up and remains steadfast. “I take the time to explain it, so they can understand it better.”  There is, after all, no turning back.

* Adapted from The Telegraph Journal, Brunswick News, November 5, 2021. 

What motivates ed-tech evangelists like New Brunswick’s Dr. Mario Chiasson?  What role does C21 Canada and the C21 CEO Academy play in seeding “21st century learning” in provincial school systems? How much faith should we place in technology as a source of innovative thinking and the route to educational transformation?  To what extent does the ed-tech industry blur the distinctions between private interests and the public good?  Do education technology designers promote innovations based upon forecasts of the “next big thing” or sound educational practice? 

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Eighteen months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic hit us and turned the K-12 education world upside down. School superintendents responsible for regional districts were left scrambling to find their bearings, like everyone else. School shutdowns sent the vast majority of their employees, teachers, district staff and in-school personnel home for weeks on end. Chief superintendents found it lonelier than usual at the top of regional systems of education. Instead of delivering stirring speeches to captive audiences of educators, many resorted to producing improvised, low-tech inspirational Zoom videos to get the message out to ‘the system.’ Frontline educators, in all likelihood, barely noticed because they were totally absorbed in shifts to “emergency home learning,” hybrid model scheduling, and ministering to the needs of anxious children and parents.

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The conventional structure and routines of school district administration, based upon in-person schooling delivered in bricks-and-mortar schools, gave way to what Michael K. Barbour and Can-eLearn aptly termed “toggling between shutdowns” from March 2020 to June 2021. Such disruptions affected top-down educational leadership by playing havoc with the normal ‘span of control’ extending from central office to principals and teachers in the classroom. An April 2021 Canadian study of “pandemic shifts” in British Columbia secondary schools let the cat out of the bag. Caught off-guard by the massive disruption, schools defaulted to pre-COVID practice focusing on ensuring the “social well-being’ of students, an approach in which “academics took a back seat,” even after the resumption of in-person schooling.

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What were Superintendents actually doing during the pandemic education crisis? It was difficult to determine, until quite recently, when some research evidence materialized in British Columbia. It was produced by West Vancouver superintendent Chris Kennedy, one of B.C.s most networked school leaders and a leading champion of “21st century learning.” His study, “How British Columbia School Superintendents Spend Their Time,” submitted for his PhD in Education dissertation at the University of Kansas, demonstrated how hard regional bureaucrats work, but – far more significantly – what absorbed their time during the COVID-19 interrupted 2020-21 school year.

Some 59 of B.C.’s 60 superintendents participated in Kennedy’s survey of superintendents’ work and so they were very representative of their peer group. The B.C. group of CEOs is top-heavy with men, 39 of 60 or 65 per cent, even though K-12 education is largely a women’s field in that province and right across North America. Since 2012, the BC Ministry of Education has embraced system “transformation” and its main tenets, innovation, personalization, and inquiry, usually packaged as “21st century learning.” “Being a passionate learning leader with a strong background in curriculum and assessment,” Kennedy reports, “is now mandatory for the superintendent position.” Getting ahead, typically involves engaging with C21 Canada’s  CEO Academy, generously funded by learning corporations and purveyors of educational technology for schools.

The Pandemic completely disrupted the B.C. school system and threatened to completely derail the implementation of that massive transformation. While the B.C. Learns initiative was high sounding aspirational, and technology-driven, it was conceived when online and virtual learning enrolled 6 to 8 per cent of all students, not the 100 per cent thrust into e-learning, at various times, during the pandemic. The sheer speed and scale of the transformation overtook curriculum and program innovation plans, leaving superintendents, curriculum consultants, and local principals scrambling to keep up with changes in delivery, cohorting, scheduling, and assessment.

Superintendents are often heralded as visionaries, generating outsized expectations, only to find themselves enmeshed in operational problems and spending much of their time ‘putting out fires.”  During the COVID-19 disruptions, with the education house on fire, the B.C. superintendents were compelled to keep their heads down and focus on the immediate and urgent. Thirteen of the 59 superintendents surveyed revealed that they were caught up in the “tyranny of the urgent’ and fully 20 of them, one-third of the group, made direct reference to “urgent issues” dominating their time and eating into longer-term planning and implementation of systemic transformation. One first year superintendent reported that he/she had “no control over my time” and felt “pulled in many directions.” Putting out fires during the pandemic was widespread. “When something comes up in the district, it takes over everything,” was a common refrain. “Priorities are dictated by emergent situations.”

One prime indicator of the COVID-19 impact was revealed during B.C. administrative planning sessions involving superintendents and senior staff during the 2020-21 school year. Prominent Canadian education consultant Dean Shareski, a super-positive former Moose Jaw principal and author of Embracing a Culture of Joy (2016), was hired as the provincial facilitator and attempted to work his usual magic on the assembled educators. Famous for his “Learning is a Joyful Act” motivational school district presentations, Shareski attempted to seize the opportunity to promote “school improvement,” “21st century skills,” “global citizenship,” and “competency-based assessment.” Superintendents, senior administrators and high school principals defaulted to immediate and practical concerns.

Superintendent Kennedy’s final June 2021 thesis, completed under the guidance of Dr. Yong Zhou, a Chinese-born scholar turned American education progressive, made the case that superintendents worked harder than ever, often over weekends, to stay on-top of their responsibilities. Many and perhaps most regional education leaders experienced the stress of the “tyranny of the urgent” and, perhaps for the first time, “a lack of control.” COVID-19 was, in Kennedy’s words, “all-consuming” and involved working long hours with external partners, including public health and ministry officials.

B.C.’s “Pandemic Shifts” are packaged by Shareski as innovations consistent with OECD prescriptions for the educational future. He’s quite adept at winning over B.C. audiences by referring to Finland as “the world’s best educational system” and citing a New York Times piece claiming that B.C. is essentially ‘the new Finland.’ Pandemic high school schedules such as “quadmesters” are invoked as examples of ‘building back better.’

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That’s quite a stretch, judging from Kennedy’s research findings:  New high school schedules were adopted in response to public health mandates and many chose to view it as “necessity is the mother of invention.” While Shareski and his camp followers waxed philosophical about “silver linings,” only a minority of superintendents saw it that way. The minority who did saw advantages in getting rid of long-standing pre-COVID irritants and accountabilities, and specifically provincial assessments, student grades, and conventional marks-based graduation requirements.

How did COVID-19 impact senior education administration? What challenges to management control were presented by the shift to ‘emergency home learning’?  With regular educators teaching students at home or online, were school administrators sidelined and, if so, for how long during the March 2020 to June 2021 period?  Will the massive shift to online learning during 2020-21 ultimately help or hurt the movement for system transformation?    

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A tectonic shift is underway in global K-12 education in response to the rapid and unpredictable spread of the frightening COVID-19 pandemic. Schools, colleges and universities have shut down almost everywhere leaving students, teachers and families in uncharted territory. With our educational institutions closed, parents are stepping-up to provide improvised ‘homebound’ education and educators are abruptly transitioning, almost by default, to e-learning in the form of distance education or video enhanced online programs. Provincial school authorities are playing catch-up and trotting out hastily-packaged Learn at Home distance learning programs to fill the extended interruption of regular, in-person classes.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, gave the first signal on Saturday March 14 of a significant change in the official public health response to the pandemic. Public health officials right across Canada are now routinely forecasting lengthy school closures beyond two weeks and possibly until the end of the year.

Closing schools for an additional two weeks after March break came first, and now educators are scrambling to make the sometimes rough and difficult transition to providing e-learning for students unable to report to ‘bricks-and-mortar’ schools. Some schools districts may be able to patch-together short-term e-learning modules, but few are prepared for the shift to online leaning on a system-wide scale.

The global COVID-19 pandemic looks like the realization of the wildest dream of the purveyors of technology-driven “disruptive innovation.” Almost overnight, the competition for online learning is not face-to-face, in-person classes, because those classes are cancelled. Now, it’s down to two options — distance learning and online teaching or nothing at all.   It’s happening so fast that even champions of radical technology innovation such as Michael B. Horn of the Christensen Institute are fearful that it may actually backfire.

Transitioning online cannot happen overnight. Recognized experts on digital learning, including the University of Limerick’s Ann Marcus Quinn, warn that technology is essentially a tool and transitioning is for more complex than simply swapping traditional textbook content for digital material is not the answer.

“Online teaching takes preparation and planning,” says Michael K. Barbour, co-author (with Randy LaBonte) of the annual report, The State of Online Learning in CanadaIt requires “the careful consideration of the tools,” their strengths and ,imitations,  and the adoption of “pedagogical strategies” best suited to the means of delivery. “The situation we currently find ourselves in is one of triage,” Barbour claims. “It is’t online teaching, it is remote teaching in an emergency situation.”

Closing schools makes good sense in the midst of acute public health emergencies if it helps to save lives. Yet it does not necessarily have to mean suspending all teacher-guided instruction and learning.  While Alberta announced on March 15, 2020 that all of its K-12 schools and day care centres were closed indefinitely, elementary and secondary teachers are at school and engaged in developing plans for e-learning to support students.  In the case of the Calgary Board of Education, the top priority became gearing up to offer learning online, especially for high school students in their Grade 12 graduating year.

Much can be learned from the abrupt change to distance learning in countries ravaged by the pandemic.  Surveying the challenges faced by China over the first month of school closures, Adam Tyner, a former American visiting scholar at Shanghai’s Fudan University, identified  some vitally important lessons.

  • Expand your learning management system capabilities so that teachers can post videos and interactive content, students can submit work, and teachers and students can easily engage in ongoing communication.. Upgrade your limited, ‘bare-bones’ student information management system by adding a new module, and hold teacher training sessions to bring teachers up to speed on how to utilize the tech tools;
  • Increase your bandwidth and assume that not all students own smartphones or have computers at home.  Regular television stations can be required to air community programming and to include televised elementary school lessons, on a rotating basis, grade-by-grade during the daytime hours. Secure free internet access, for the duration of the crisis, following the lead of major Chinese providers such as Huawei.
  • Encourage teacher experimentation with every means of communication to maintain active links with students.  Lessons and teacher-guided activities can be delivered in small videos or on podcasts, and mini-lessons or discussions carried out utilizing Zoom and other commercial apps.
  • Address the technology access digital disparities gap: Purchasing 4G-equipped tablets and service may help to bridge the “digital divide” between ‘haves’ and have nots’ when it comes to access to technology and the Internet.
  • Plan for Learning-Challenged Students: Switching from in-class to distance online learning is jolting for many students, and particularly for those who are struggling, need more attention, and perform better in guided activities.
  • Tailoring E-Learning for High School: Teenage students experiencing more freedom than usual need more motivational strategies, ongoing monitoring, and accountability to keep them on track with their learning plans.

Ministries of education and school leaders are gradually recovering from the school culture shock delivered by a totally unexpected and dire public health emergency. Some school district superintendents have lost their bearings and continue to promote conventional system-bound thinking in a rapidly changing educational order. With students being educated at home during the regular school hiatus, e-learning has emerged, almost by default. First off the mark were Alberta and New York City schools,, Ontario is now on board with the March 20, 2020 launch of the first phase of its Learn at Home e-learning initiative.

New challenges are surfacing as high-tech entrepreneurs and dominant learning corporations such as Nelson LC see an opportunity to expand their market share in K-12 education.  Educational leaders, closely aligned with learning corporations and working through the C21Canada CEO Academy, see an opening to advance “21st century learning” as the best preparation for the workplace of the future. Teachers’ concerns, on this score, about the encroachment of corporate interests and the fuzziness of such programs are well founded.

Educational technology has its place when it’s serving the needs of teachers rather than complicating and overburdening their working lives. A brand-new book, Daisy Christodoulou‘s Teachers Versus Tech ?, tackles the question squarely and demonstrates its value, particularly in the case of spaced repetition adaptive algorithms and comparative judgement assessment. 

Seasoned technology learning analysts, such as Henry Fletcher Wood  recognize that online learning has, so far, over-promised and under-delivered when it comes to improving teaching and raising student achievement. Practicing classroom educators like Minnesota K-6 teacher Jon Gustafson are actively engaged in translating and adapting “effective principles of instruction” to online and blended learning. Eschewing jazzy e-learning strategies such as student-centred “PBL/inquiry projects” and video chats, Gustafson is applying best practice, including retrieval practice, explicit writing instruction, and formative assessment.

Getting schools, teachers and students prepared for a longer period of distance learning is fast becoming a priority for provincial education policy-makers and school-level management and curriculum leaders. Let’s hope that evidence-based pedagogy and best teaching practice do not get swept aside in the transformation to e-learning in K-12 education.

How is student learning changing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis?  What is emerging in the hiatus to fill the gap left by the prolonged cancellation of K-12 schools?  Should classroom educators be wary of learning corporations appearing bearing charitable gifts to school systems?  Why are teachers so skeptical of system-wide e-learning and online learning panaceas? Going forward, will teachers and ed tech find a way to live in peaceful coexistence in K-12 education? 

 

 

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