Monday, March 17, 2014

SxSum Up: The StartUp District

I thought I would take a few sessions and merge their ideas here in one blog post. One of my favorite threads in the SxSW conference is the theme of workplace retention and design. As someone who provides professional development, I want my districts to provide more chances for innovative professional learning and SHARING. Often, the best one-day workshops are the ones that allow teachers to provide personal feedback on failures to develop better strategies as a group for going through obstacles. The feedback I generally receive from teachers is that this is the best part of technical training and they wish other pd opportunities gave them time to share and grow from the experiences of others. 

I remember in one district where we were all trained on appropriate email communications and we had to remove the all campus or all district posts about garage sales, items for sale, and those anniversary notifications to our colleagues. I decided to create an online space using a wiki to create a virtual "staff lounge" for teachers and staff to access where they could post the things that email would limit. It was successful for not only opening a dialogue place for teachers to share but also in showing them a tool like a wiki for creating a place for opening dialogue as a team or with their students. The focus wasn't on the tool itself but on using it in a desired way to encourage collaboration and communication. Teachers enjoyed having a place they could share (and yes, I only allowed staff in - principals and superintendents were not allowed in). 

In another district, the Human Resources director worked with me to find a way to connect new-to-the-profession teachers in a monthly group chat so they could share about what they were experiencing and feel free to ask questions for answers from the district leadership. It provided a way for them to get mentoring and learning after work hours. It gave them a channel for sharing. 

I was happy to see that the idea of "job retention" is now better titled "talent retention". Companies are focusing more on the talent they hire and what they can provide. In a previous post, I shared about the need for companies to learn to work with Millennials and the challenges they provide to the current work force. But overall, the message runs in similar veins across all generations and all types of workers. We need to be a more collaborative workforce with times to focus and times to discover. We need better feedback tools and ways to also provide feedback about the mission we are trying to accomplish. 

I want to stress the value of using my role to support what the initiatives of other departments are trying to do. I really support the idea of looking at the entire holistic view of our work environment - all factors including the digital, physical and philosophical to work together. Often in districts it feels as if departments aren't working well together even after the annual team-building retreats or book studies. It feels like we are all in silos and not working well together to improve the entire function of the district. 

I believe innovation should not be limited to the technology department of the district. In fact, the technology itself should never be the celebrated innovation in any workplace! And yet we see this celebrated only in education and it feels like a distraction from where we need to be focusing innovation in education. I don't think any newspaper raised a headline when a company gave everyone a laptop. ;p

What we celebrate is an artifact of our culture and when an item, a purchase, or a new initiative is the focus of innovation in my field of education, well I just get lost in my own purpose in why I am doing the job I am doing. And I believe it changes the culture of the entire district when the focus is pushed on the success of implementing an artifact. 

To me the best part of SxSW culture is focused on the startup company. It is what attracted me to attend the conference in the first place. I wanted to know what the difference was between their work organization and my own. I wanted to find people to ask them what their meetings are like, what their conference rooms look like, what their times merged as a team with creatives and business staff look like. I could see that a startup was a different culture and I hoped that by being in a conference with them, it would help me bring back that energy into my own workplace. 

Startups are vibrant, fresh, and innovation-focused companies. We see pictures of their workplaces with brightly colored walls, interesting furniture, and sometimes specially crafted food and eateries in their work areas. Startups have drive. And when drive is paired with innovation, it never stops. 

What if schools adopted a startup culture? 

I read about how Dropbox teaches every employee about the company's vision and culture by the CEO. An exercise for hiring new talent was to verbalize the characteristics they look for in new hires. What are the written, expressed values? Then using this to create the culture for the company based on the talent they acquire. The values list changes as items are altered, stretched or added at any time. 

5 Core Values:

1. "Have the drive to do important things"

2. Achieve a high quality standard on everything - from hiring to customer service to product design.
(Applied to schools - every department, every campus).

3. Break new ground; be inventive. "We want to do things better than any company ever before."

4. Push the limits: "No matter how hard we've done something, you want to do it better."

5. We, not I: "We frown on any activity where people take credit for something. We only want you to be successful as an individual because the company is successful. 

I don't know about you but I would love to work in a culture with those values. What can we do to move to startup culture in our schools? 

SxSW Millennials as Supervisors: Strategies for Success


Speaker: Jennifer Selke +Jenn Selke @jennselke
Jennifer Selke is a supporter and trainer for the millennial workforce and helping this generation with finding jobs.

It is interesting to hear from the work force on how the graduated Millennial and GenY students are doing out in the real world. We've heard the horror stories of how some of these kids were raised by helicopter parenting and how these parents continue to fill out applications for their kids and even attend interviews with them.

Even with these drawbacks, these "kids" are in the workforce now and based on the number of attendees in this session at SxSW, there is a need to figure out how to use them effectively in the workplace.

The stereotype of the Millennial is that they are entitled, narcissistic, needy, and lazy job hoppers. Research predicted that 25% of this generation should expect to have six or more employers in their career. By 2020, 46% of the workforce will be Millennials.

Generational Workplace Characteristics
Baby Boomer Mindeset: "Work hard for that gold watch and pension." Keep it simple. Work hard for the payoff in the end. Boomers have an idea of when work started and stopped. Investing in a company meant moving up.

GenX was the lost generation, the slackers, the under socialized, cynical. They redefined the time between work and reward. They looked for ways to standout. They initiated the concept of good ideas = opportunity. The people with the profitable ideas moved up and got the better jobs.

Millennials are learner-centric. They want to learn and to grow. They believe ideas can come from anyone. They require feedback constantly and want to grow. They also love working in teams.

Millennials will join a company but they will quit a manager. The idea here is to manage Millennials to leave. Coach them with the expectation to grow. Expect it and it engages their work. Talk to them about their next steps. When a Millennial learns the company "why", it makes them want to stay. 

Successful Strategies for Working with Millennials:

1. Age Diversity - Multigenerational Leadership
Diversity in generations within teams is valuable as each generation brings different strengths to the mix.

2. Growth & Development - Lifeskills training
Millennials are learner-centric; education oriented; and desire feedback because they want to grow. They will join a company but they will quit a manager. The idea here is to manage Millennials to leave. Coach them with the expectation to grow. Expect it and it engages their work. Talk to them about their next steps. When a Millennial learns the company "why", it makes them want to stay. Companies should invest more in professional development and growth with Millennials.

Millennials desire REAL feedback. They received a lot of empty feedback in growing up ("You are great and unique!").

3. Engagement: Engaged workers unleash the potential for growth
As a Millennial Manager, you must create an engaged environment. Give your employees resources to succeed. Use a strength-based management approach. Know what your employees are great at.

Suggests posting the question to the group: "What makes a great day at work for you?" which is similar to building the classroom rules in schools by letting the group dictate the rules for the room.

4. Strenghts-Based Management - Play to your team's strengths.
Become more productive as a team by building around individual's strengths. Employees working in the "strengths zone" look forward to going to work, have positive work relationships.

Question: What 20% of your job would you give up?

*You know you have a problem in your company if your workers aren't referring their friends. Investing in a Millennial's development can lead to them referring others and speaking highly of you when they leave.

5.  Finding a coach at work: Professional Development; moving-up mindset
Millennials need to have a coach, a mentor, etc. at work to keep them engaged. Millennials want to communicate with their bosses several times a day. Keep communication open! Also, they want to meet several times a person.

Understanding Millennials in the Workplace:

If a Millennial isn't having their needs met in the workplace, they will leave.

ASK them what their goals are. That will change HOW you manage them.

Don't be afraid to talk to millennials about their expectations, strengths, and where they want to move. Have a dialogue.

Speaker suggests adding a way for 360-degree feedback for staff and peers to get information on performances. Millennials have already received a lot of "empty" feedback (you are wonderful and unique!) so they desire REAL feedback.

Day 1: Millennials want to make and impact and get involved. Make sure their desk is ready.

Millennials are comfortable challenging norms and equality vs. hierarchy.

Millennials need communication training; when to use the phone vs. text vs. email. There is a lot lost in text message and e-mail. Know when you HAVE to call or meet in person.

The speaker shared the tweet below from a millennial employee on being late for work in the morning. Notice the 7:30am timestamp, this employee owned up to the issue.

Beyond the corporate workspace, what will our Millennial generation teacher or principal be like? Is the public education system ready to provide authentic feedback, use strength-based management, create engaged environments for success, develop a 360-degree feedback loop on performance, and be comfortable with challenging norms and equality vs. hierarchy with this new generation of teachers/leaders?

SxSW A Fearless Approach to Social Change

I was really impressed by the presentation at SxSW by Jean Case (@jeancase), wife of Steve Case and co-founder of the Case Foundation.

Her session focused on not being afraid to tell the truth about the ups and downs of our organizations and movements, even when we have been wrong. Advice: "Make failure matter. If you are not failing, you are not progressing." Emphasis on this point with the new hashtag #failforward. If failure happens: learn from it, make it matter, fail fast, and fail forward.

Mrs. Case also advocated for philanthropy in the recipe for social good with the recipe of adding 1 part be fearless to 1 part be helpful. A great video on this concept is on the Be Fearless website for "What it Means to be Fearless".

She even used the Eleanor Roosevelt quote "You must do the things you think you cannot do" to emphasize her point. Be strong when you are weak. Be brave when you are scared, and humble when you are victorious. And Bill Gates was cited with "Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."

Part of the Case Foundation website is the new section "Be Fearless" which includes a pledge to "ignite a more fearless approach to changemaking" - http:/

The 5 key elements of a Fearless Approach include:

1. Make Big Bets - set audacious, not incremental, goals. 

You can learn about the Big Hairy Audacious Goal which was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

2. Experiment Early & Often - don't be afraid to go first.

When you think a certain intervention is working, that's when you need to be looking down the road to see what new tools or dynamics will challenge your assumptions or provide even better solutions. 

3. Make Failure Matter - failure teachers. Learn from it.

The greatest innovators experienced moments of failure but the truly great among them wear those failures as a badge of honor. 

4. Reach Beyond Your Bubble - It's comfortable to go it alone. But innovation happens at intersections. 

This isn't just adapting new ideas but for forging new partnerships and collaborations within and across your field. 

5. Let Urgency Conquer Fear - Don't overthink and overanalyze. Do. 

Don't get stuck in a spiral of contemplation where perpetual study replaces action. 

Based on the retweets and favorited comments, most of the audience responded positively to the idea of failing fast and failing forward. Letting the momentum of fail carry them down in order to quickly get back up and dream even bigger than before. 

In another session on innovation and change, a panelist shared about FailCon, which is a one-day conference for technology entrepreneurs, investors, developers, and designers to study their own and other's failures and prepare for success. 

I find this incredibly fascinating. It isn't often we are given opportunity to embrace our failure and share it with others in order to help us all along the way. A good church is about the only place where you have people step up to the plate and take responsibility for their failure and accept the humility of their own stumble. In our field, where is the place where we share our failures? A conference? Could a session on failure include a panel of change-makers going to that dark point and sharing their own failure to help others?

I look at Twitter and see a lot of self-congratulatory, self-promotion in most of my feeds and it makes me wonder if given a chance, how many would admit failure? Not system failure or how an event failed out of your control, but how they failed by mistake or inaction. Can we allow ourselves to share about failing? Even more, could we share a fail without adding the element of the turn-around? Do all stories need a happy ending?

Imagine opening this up as a summer PD with teachers about their struggles and failings in the classroom. What can a group learn from each other when opening up about failure? What could principals learn from each other or from their campus if failure was openly discussed?

Friday, March 14, 2014

SxSW The Internet of Things

I play games. I like board games, card games, and video games. When I was teaching Multimedia, I was able to sneak in a unit on video game design with my students. I found it to be interesting because it introduced design, animation, storyboarding, and programming in one program. Kids who were design-oriented enjoyed designing characters and lands. Kids who were engineer-oriented enjoyed the variable programming aspect of the games they made and shared. 

Game dynamics are pretty similar whether they are in video or board form. 

In the book Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo, the authors outline the components of all games: 

Game Space - rules of life are halted and replaced with rules of the game

Boundaries - the time the game starts and ends as well as the physical space of the game itself. The Monopoly boundaries are the properties and landing spots. The grid spaces on RPG Maker are the programmable boundaries for programming variables of occurrences. 

Rules for Interaction - The rules define the way the game world operates. 

Artifacts - Objects that hold information about the game. Think of game pieces, cards, dice, characters, actions, objects, etc. that are the physical (or virtual) components of a game. 

Goal - The end-state or way of knowing when a game is completed. 

RPG Maker Screen shot
Monopoly board artifacts

In the above pictures, you see the squares of information are the points by which the gamer interacts with a variable. In a board game, a square is usually defined by the image you land on. You can see and hope a dice roll moves you to a particular interactive square or go around it. In a video game, as you establish play, you do not not see the variables until you interact with the game. The variables could be a certain place you step, an object you bounce, or based on the objects you carry at the time of movement. 

In 3D gaming, the grid changes to where all objects in time and space are programmable variables. Not only is it the ground you walk on but it is the air around you and the actual environment you navigate. Each green-box is a programmable variable in this type of video game. 

Now why am I talking about gaming when it comes to Internet of Things?

I started this post to explain gaming because I am fascinated by the parallels of programming games with the new experiences combining Internet of Things with wearable technology and life automation. 

So with all this in mind from gaming, let's look at why IoT is important. 

First, I don't like my phone. I don't like the idea that I still have to open specific apps to interact with information. I think watching Tony Stark in the Iron Movies has ruined me. I am frustrated that my technology isn't working like his technology. And we are so close to it working that way. 

But I want to know why can't my phone use the data that I am inputting into it to give me options from the world around me without requiring me to swipe and input more data into it?

What input? My calendar outlines not only my day but includes physical locations of where I will be at any given hour. I provide descriptive information on my feelings (adjectives) into Twitter and Facebook during the day. My phone knows my location because my location settings are on. My phone has voice recognition software. My phone gauges pressure. 

These are all input. Currently these inputs are collected in specific silos (apps) and not really shared across the operating system of the phone. But I think we are moving there. It's coming. 

What is missing is that the world around me isn't programmed to provide data automatically to my device or its apps. I still have to input. 

Let's take it a step further. I wear a Fitbit. A fitbit is wearable technology. It collects data from me based on the number of steps I take, the amount of calories burned, and how much uninterrupted sleep I have. The sensor collects the data. It beams that data to a sensor on my computer when I am in close proximity to it. The computer then collects the data and sends it up to the web via my account. I can then view the data in an app on my phone or on my computer. 

The wearable technology is passively collecting information from me. I am not having to input a thing. 

So this is the question and focus of what IoT can bring to our world. 

We have all this data we are putting into devices. We have personal data on our health collecting in apps and in the cloud. We are typing adjectives about our personal feelings at the exact moment we are locationally based to products or places where businesses know they can engage us based on the adjective we used at that exact moment. 

But everything is in silos now. 

What happens when our life has its own operating platform and all the data and all the objects we interact with are programmable and accessing the same data? That is Internet of Things. 


The Internet of Things is the idea of adding programmable tech to everyday individual non-tech items. RFID tags were the initial step of Internet of Things in that you had a sticker tag that was beaming information from an object to some sort of reader. A QR-code is also a type of Internet of Things because the code connects a user to information from a stationary non-tech source (paper). 

IoT is about programming non-tech items into data points of interaction.


Car Automation is about turning a non-technical device into another node on our personal networks. Apple announced CarPlay last week which is available in some 2014 car models. Automatic is another resource for those who aren't buying a new 2014 Apple car device. 

Imagine as your car gets closer to your home, the lights automatically turn on and your A/C unit starts cooling or heating to your desired temperature. Perhaps your TV automatically sets up to your favorite show for that given day waiting for you to voice-command "start" as soon as you are sitting. 

This is what Internet of Things is about. 

Programming non-tech to be on our own personal network of interactivity without us having to initiate each time. Wearable technology is Internet of Things. A previous post included how Gatorade is delivered automatically to your doorstep once you run 10 miles. 

Our cars, shoes, clothes, vehicles, heart rate, brain wave activity, kitchen appliances, etc. become data points along our personalized platforms of interactivity. 


I keep thinking of all the discussions in education now about creating new learning spaces by applying new paint colors and mobile furniture. I think we are missing the boat by just looking at the objects as objects to be painted or given wheels. 

As a programmer, I don't see just a classroom with four walls and furniture. I see the grid of the room where objects are programmable to receive and transmit data by location and interaction in the physical and virtual spaces. 

I see learning opportunities in all areas of the school like a layer of learning accessible by cloud activation. Having trouble teaching 21st century learning in your classrooms? Why not create an online training accessible by kids who have 10-minutes while waiting in the cafeteria for food? Why not share a 6-minute financial guide lesson accessible as you walk down D-wing? Why not provide nutritional information about the food served in the cafeteria as well as guidelines for shopping for nutrition in the learning space?

Do your teachers get confused when they take students to the computer lab? Pull up your device in the lab for the menu of options on how to login, what to do when a keyboard is missing, or how to turn on the projector. Automate our interaction with the objects in the room. 

Are you a school that provides walkthroughs for visitors? Why are you pulling staff off their assignments to do that? Why not give out the app to let visitors take a self-guided tour while in your campus? 

You really want to revolutionize classroom instruction and create interactive learning spaces or are you just wanting brighter paint palettes and furniture with wheels?
PE has been using wheels for a while now.

I really hope there is feedback on this post. It is a mind-blowing idea to me and I feel we are just scratching the surface.

SxSW Branding - Reaching Audience

As a former Webmastering teacher, I have tried to keep a close eye on what is trending in the field of web design. In my various districts I have worked in, I usually have some responsibility toward the design and/or management of the website.

As a web designer, I like to discover the TSPRA Gold Star performers each year and I regularly check out other district websites to see how the "competition" is doing. So the sessions on branding and connecting to your audience are of interest to me because of the public relations component of our jobs in education.

In my opinion, most school district websites are not connected to their target audience in any way. The website is just a placeholder for sharing information and no one analyzes the data about what the audience is needing from the district in the form of information or the flow to find that info. If a district is able to afford it, they will hire a public relations staff who have the training to not only develop press releases but also manage a variety of social media outlets for sharing information.

In most districts though, the webmaster is usually a technical person (usually a person who is known as being able to use technology without committing physical violence against it). A template is chosen and this person adds information to it. That person usually has no training or experience with design, usability, responsive design, branding, or managing multiple mediums for information sharing. There is no analytic tool in place for seeing where the visitors go, how much time it takes for them to find information, or where the drop-off occurs. Usually the only analytic for the webpage is the one question in the biennial survey to parents asking them to rate the effectiveness (1-5) of the website. Can you tell I have strong feelings about this topic?!

The SxSW Interactive Experience...without Interacting or Experience

Subheading: AKA Curating a Conference

In previous years, I have been blessed to have participated in attending the South by Southwest (SxSW) Interactive conference in Austin. While some of my peers in ed tech continue to attend the SxSW Edu conference, I find more value in the Interactive part of the SxSW conference. SxSW kicks off each year with EDU, then Interactive, then Film, and then Music. The Interactive attendees come from a varied background including social media, gaming, journalism, business, non-profits, media, education, emerging technology, web design, interface design, and a large group of industry leaders.

So it isn't an "education" conference by any means. It is a conference for exploring what is going on in emerging technology across all these mediums in a way to allow attendees to interact more with each other and the panels presenting what is going on in these diverse fields.

For me, it is my GT conference experience because it broadens my knowledge base outside the edu field to see what is going on in the world outside of education in areas that affect business, industry, media, gaming, television, film, audience participation, and the diverse work force.

The conversations at SxSW Interactive now are conversations EDU starts years later.