Thursday, November 24, 2011

Revisiting the Tetrad of Effects

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing principals and teachers as part of my research.  It was an incredibly energizing experience to hear more about the stories behind great schools and great school leaders. 

In discussion with some of the participants, I had the opportunity to revisit a visual created during one of my grad courses to provoke dialogue around new technologies and innovations in schools.  In an earlier blog post, I described the idea of combining Feenberg’s methodological dualism with McLuhan’s idea of the tetrad of effects– ( which gave rise to the diagram (tool) shown below:

How does the tetrad of effects diagram work?
The tetrad has been used with grad students, teachers, consultants and school principals ranging from small unstructured settings to large formal gatherings as a conversation tool.  It takes about 20-30 minutes to discuss the tetrad with a group of 4-5 participants.

First, begin by cutting out the square shape, fold on the red lines first - this reveals the tetrad. In the centre of the tetrad choose a technology or innovation to narrow the focus of the conversation.  (example: ipad). The tetrad can also be provided electronically.  I’m not sure what it is about paper, but I have noted that many participants did not want to write on the tetrad and would leave it blank while writing thier notes and responses on another sheet of paper.  Some even wrote the responses on post-it notes and then attached to the tetrad. 

In the Global Village (1989), Marshall McLuhan posited every new technology has a “tetrad of media effects” or four simultaneous effects:
Discuss the four effects:
(1) enhances something;
(2) makes something obsolete;

(3) retrieves or brings back something; and
(4) when pushed to the limits, it reverses or turns into something else.

Example  of a discussion regarding ipads (the following is a sample of the responses heard)
What does the ipad enhance? The ipad enhances the ability to access information quickly.  It turns on quickly and there are many apps that allow instant access.  What becomes obsolete?  One example was the tape recorder, now obsolete for recording interviews. What do we retrieve from the past with the ipad? In the past when we had apple IIe’s in schools and there were countless simple programs available for students to practice letter recognition, matching, math facts, etc.  As we moved to more powerful computer systems, we moved away from these very simple programs and instead invested in productivity tools such as word processors, spreadsheets, presentation programs and internet browsers.  It seems that with the adoption of ipads there has been a resurgence of simple apps.  What has the ipad reversed or turned into that was unexpected? I don’t think the ipad has been pushed to the limits yet but everyone seems to have examples of unexpected uses for the ipad.  Personally, I did not expect to use the device as my main tool for research data collection and at the same time my son uses the ipad as a guitar tuner and my daughter to practice writing the letters of her name. It’s definitely getting more difficult to share the device in our home!

Once the four effects are discussed, then fold each point away from the tetrad (symbolism: double-edged sword). When each fold is lifted it reveals a place to indicate both possibilities and challenges.

The following are some of the possibilities and challenges discussed with ipads:
(1) enhances – ability to access information quickly ( possibilities – a small device for student use in the classroom, no need to wait for computers to start and launch applications, supports student centered learning and inquiry based learning; challenges  - include costs for purchasing/managing apps for school devices).
(2) obsolete – tape recorders (possibilities - recording podcasts and having students demonstrate learning; challenges  - privacy concerns, editing/managing large audio files)
(3) retrieves – the return of many simple programs or apps (possibilities - great to have so many options for apps and many are free; challenge - the selection of apps as there are too many available and difficult to know which ones are best for learning)
(4) reverses – all in one personal tool (possibilities - great to have a tool with so many capabilities and accessibility for all ages/diverse learners; challenge - to have one for each individual, access for all, fear of the unknown)

Generally, the conversation ended at the point where everyone would brainstorm possibilities and challenges.  I also noted the conversation typically moved from a technology (tool) focus to a conversation about learning.  I wonder what would happen if participants take an additional step and rework the challenges into goal statements.  Perhaps the tetrad of tools could be used to help with goal setting when implementing a new technology and moving from the known to the unknown. 

The following video also reminds me of the leaders I met and their ability to vision and believe in the unexpected – the ability to confidently shift from the known to the unknown. 
Deadlines video

Saturday, October 22, 2011

One can make a difference

I heard a story this week about a monk named Almachius and how he tried to separate two gladiators in an effort to put an end to gladiator games – at the time a culturally acceptable social sport.  Spectators would regularly fill the coliseum to cheer on the gladiators as they fought until the game ended in bloodshed.  Almachius bravely went into the arena in order to stop the gladiators in the name of God and sadly he was stoned to death.  However, it was the death of Saint Almachius that awakened the people to reject status quo and reject this form of violent entertainment.  It was ultimately his death that prompted the emperor to put an end to the gladiator games. 

Can a leader make a difference?  “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy” is video that I have used for many presentations.  It is another example showing that one person has the power to make a difference and make a movement happen.  The video shows a spectator at an outdoor concert enjoying the music and publicly dancing alone.  Slowly others start to join in and dance with him.  Derek Sivers did an outstanding job later providing narration to the video of the dancing guy and outlining the leadership lessons we can learn:
“A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous….Now comes the first follower with a crucial role: he publicly shows everyone how to follow….the first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader.  If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.”

Saint Almachius is the flint and started an individual protest to end the gladiator games in a public place.  Similarly, the dancing guy was a flint and made his movement in public.  The first spectator that made a move to leave the games was the spark.  Similar to the first person who stood up and started dancing alongside the dancing guy – it was this first person that was the key.  In both cases, other spectators then followed. 

So, what really prompted the emperor to put an end to the gladiator games – was it the brutal death of the monk or was it the spectators that were distressed by the event and left the games?  Likely it was a combination of both but would not have happened without the flint and the spark.

Another example is the “Free Hugs” campaign, a selfless act inspired by Juan Mann in 2004.  Distraught by personal difficulties and arriving in his home town airport with no family or friends there to welcome him home, Juan decided to go on a mission to offer free hugs to strangers in public places in order to brighten their day.  He made a cardboard sign with the words “Free Hugs” and stood on a street busy with pedestrians.  Similar to Saint Almachius and the dancing guy, Juan Mann made his movement alone in a public place.  Again, the spark was the first person who stopped and hugged him. Juan was the flint and the elderly lady that first stopped to hug him was the spark for a “random act of kindness” movement now involving individuals all over the world.  The first Saturday of July is dedicated to International Free Hugs Day. (Interesting note: see the campaign site to read more about how public liability caused the movement to get banned in some communities -

 You can make a difference! Will you be the flint or the spark? 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sabbatical Reflection

I started my academic sabbatical this school year and thought I would take some time to reflect on my experience so far…

My overall goal for the year is to collect data for my doctoral research and write the dissertation.  I find it really helpful to meet with my supervisor every two weeks for a Skype conference to follow up on short-term goals and discuss progress.

I now understand why former students recommended that it is critical to select a research topic/question that really captures your interest.  It would be difficult to continue wrestling with a topic that no longer is of interest to you. Luckily, I am still fascinated with my topic in the area of educational technology and leadership.  I am interested in examining the innovative leadership practices or specific actions of principals involved in making real improvements while integrating technology in teaching and learning.  I am also interested in exploring how principals utilize social and technological networks to support learning. Unquestionably, the sabbatical has met my expectation to dedicate time to research and writing.   However, it is also the unexpected benefits that leave me feeling in awe and thankful each day. 

I am thankful for so many things including the beauty that surrounds me. Fall has always been my favourite season.  The beauty of the trees and leaves in the fall never cease to amaze me.  I am also thankful for taking time to notice the things that have been around me all along and I previously missed. For example, I noticed a group of birds (not sure on the type…) congregated in a large circle on a school field.  They looked like they were having an organized meeting and discussing important matters.  Later on, my son and I passed by the field again and interestingly they were still in the same formation.  Days later, we passed again and they were no longer in a circle but now in smaller groups evenly spaced out throughout the field.  We passed by today and they were no longer there.  My hope is to continue finding and appreciating the hidden gems this year.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Identity Day

Identity Day - We are all different, yet we are all the same!
Last year, it was named “Diversity Day” and this year “Identity Day” – both appropriate ways of describing a celebration of our differences. A group of K-9 students and their teachers came together yesterday and celebrated individual differences and let their light shine! All adults and children were sporting matching white t-shirts to show that we are all the same. However, when looking closely at the shining yellow light bulb on each t-shirt, one would note individual differences written in black marker (i.e. “I am proud of …my favorite things…3 words about me…”). In celebrating differences, we recognize that it is our identity that is powerful; it is our identity that unites us and strengthens our connections with each other. The day started out in the gymnasium where the students were greeted by a motivational video address by the mayor emphasizing each individual has the power to make a difference in our community.

We circulated through many of the classrooms as the students and teachers shared cross-curricular projects of identity. It was evident the projects were thoughtfully constructed to foster inquiry and deep learning – the type of the learning I’m certain the students will cherish and not soon forget. There were so many classrooms to visit and so many outstanding student projects to view, that a morning was definitely not sufficient time to see it all. However, the collaborative knowledge building across the classrooms I did visit was evident and many teachers thanked colleagues and acknowledged the dedication of the students for making the projects and celebration a success. It is my hope the teachers and students will take time to share more detail about their projects so they can extend the learning beyond their classroom walls and reach others globally.

The teachers and students shared their creativity through the messages of artwork, music, drama and technology. It brought tears to my eyes (as I’m sure it did for many!) as the teacher held up the pages of the book while the “Don’t Laugh at Me” song played in the background. We can all see ourselves in the characters of the book and can relate to the feelings of disrespect due to our differences. Listening to the audio book/song “Don’t Laugh at Me” by by Steve Seskin & Allen Shamblin captured the essence of the day and the need to focus on our social responsibility of honoring our differences. The creativity of “Identity Day” provides inspiration, faith and hope for a community of compassion and peace.

Thank you to everyone that made “Identity Day” a reality and especially for inviting me and a visiting principal from Edmonton to take part in the celebration and the learning!