Learning About Emerging Technologies

Learning About Emerging Technologies

Superintendent of Schools – Last week I spent about 48 hours in California’s Silicon Valley with 150-200 leaders from school divisions across Canada. The event was a leadership forum organized by IBM Canada’s K-12 division. They hold this event every two years and the focus is on emerging technologies that are believed to impact education. This was the first time I attended this event and the theme was around artificial or augmented intelligence (AI). I must say while the sessions were very interesting, I’m not sure of the imminent impact on schools, but I saw the impact on all our lives.

Being IBM, there was plenty of talk about Watson. For most of us, Watson was the computer that won Jeopardy back in 2011, but that technology has improved drastically since then. As computing power, connectivity and bandwidth have improved, so has the relevance of AI. New algorithms have been created to support experiential learning of systems based on experience. The field has grown through concepts like machine learning, deep learning, reinforcement learning and neural networks. Learning about how companies are using these technologies to make a positive difference in the world was very inspiring. We met 14 year old Canadian Tanmay Bakshi who fell in love with computers at five, released his first iPhone app at nine, and now at just 14 years old is working with IBM on artificial intelligence. He is a teen artificial intelligence superstar who challenges us to teach coding to all students. He shared examples of tools he built to improve the world (e.g. depression identification). He is a very impressive young man.

Part of the discussions also were about the use of technology to positively impact the world. Tanmay’s examples were just a few of how people are using AI to make a difference in the world. We also heard about a group that is supporting parent-child maker evenings across the globe as a means to broaden exposure about design thinking and the maker movement. This same group leads Technovation Challenge which invites teams of girls from all over the world to learn and apply the skills needed to solve real-world problems through technology. We met four high school students who are Technovation ambassadors from the Silicon Valley area who all participated in the global competition. Through their participation they learned to code, market, and pitch a solution for a real world challenge their community is facing. One Grade 12 student shared that she and her friends needed to pick a college, but want to know campus crime stats. These stats are not readily available, so they built an app to help expose those numbers so fellow students could make informed decisions.

We also heard from a panel of Canadians working in the sector in Silicon Valley. They are proud Canadians, but felt that for them to succeed they needed to be embedded in a culture of innovation, risk taking, and competition. They felt that Silicon Valley was the home of that culture and that in Canada people were more focused on why something could not work, rather than how to make it work. They all had early exposures to technology, but I was pleasantly surprised when each talked about the importance of competencies such as grit, creativity and communication. We also heard about how AI is being used to address human resources (or talent management) challenges in an effort to best place and support people in roles they can be successful in.

Lastly, we heard about Amazon’s innovation culture via a VP of Web Services. She shared various strategies used by the company in an effort to provide excellent customer experiences. She shared insights into their culture which helped me understand how Amazon can be so nimble and innovative. Their “two pizza” teams – any team working on a product or innovation should be small enough to be fed by two pizzas – and use of design thinking protocols all are examples of how they continue to build a culture where innovation and informed risk taking is delivering countless innovations, including Amazon’s Go store, which is a check-out free, no cashier store in Seattle.

It was a whirlwind trip, but good professional learning for me.


My Life with Tech

My Life with Tech

Superintendent of Schools – Let me start by saying this… I’m a real techie. I love a wide variety of technologies and enjoy the challenge of learning and teaching new technologies. I’ve owned and used the latest device X or software Y for 25 years. My interest is combined with formal education in the domain – my B.Ed. was with a Computer Science major and my M.Ed. was in Educational Technology. Not just a user of technology, I’m also very interested and experienced in network design and optimization, security, programming, and many other foundational technologies. Deep down, I’m a serious techie.

Until I rejoined RVS in 2016, I have directly overseen technology as part of my role since 1990. Now, I just bug the RVS tech team every once and a while. I still read about the latest in technology almost daily.

In the mid-90s, I was part of a pilot project between the University of Saskatchewan and Saskatoon Public Schools where I was given an Internet account to see if there was anything to use with students. At that time, most members of the general public did not have access to the Internet as it was still really a research network. Google did not even exist at that time. The Internet was so “small” at that time that I could read/review every website in the world that came online in any one day (only 25-30 sites created in any one day). Creating websites was a programming exercise with no simple or click and drag creation tools. I taught my Grade 10s HTML (the language of websites) in 1996.

Like many hardcore techies, I do not have a Facebook nor Instagram account. I use Twitter (@gregluterbach) as part of my personal learning network, but I also have a Snapchat account. (I just wanted to learn about it.) I love to analyze large volumes of data using tech tools to look for patterns, find ways to represent complex data in different views, or to create visualizations to help others make meaning of numbers. I enjoy helping others use technologies (although I am least patient with my family members). I love that technology can be used to level the playing field for so many learners.

Over the years I have found that vendors have merged concepts so that people can interchangeably use all operating systems. I like to think that you could give me any device or any operating system and I can make it work.

What is next in my tech journey? I think I am finally going to jump on the home automation bandwagon – I’m a late adopter on this trend. I have some privacy and security concerns, but the tech is so cool and has dropped in price that I’ll probably need to dive in. There go a few days on my next vacation as I bring this to life. Sorry family!!!


Achieving a deeper level of understanding through technology

Achieving a deeper level of understanding through technology

Director of Technology for Learning – Remember a time when information wasn’t at our fingertips? The days of not being able to quickly and easily access information are fading fast and will soon be a distant memory. Personal computing and web-based technologies provide people around the world with instant connections to data, allowing us to operate in ways that are more immediate and more convenient than before.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) compiles the vast array of information to help us make sense of it all. Instead of spending time memorizing mass amounts of material, we can use computing tools to help us make sense of information to arrive at a deeper level of understanding.

The Internet of things (IoT) is expanding through the addition of network enabled sensors and data collectors. Whether it’s collision avoidance in cars or heating and lighting management in our buildings, our vehicles, homes, schools and workplaces use technologies to make them safer and more efficient.

Our smart phones and personal computers also collect hundreds of other data points. Our location, activities and interests, among other things, can be used to help our devices provide more relevant information to us and help us manage our lives.

Despite the innovations and conveniences these technologies bring, there are many cyber risks, such as security breaches, ransomware attacks and identity thefts, we need to be aware of. We need to be conscious about the data being collected, built-in biases within the algorithms, and misinterpretation of the information. That being said, I believe that for Canadians to remain competitive in a global economy, “going dark” is not an option as the benefits of being online outweigh the risks.

Note: This blog post was written using Text to Speech. My voice was analyzed and converted to text over the Internet then sent back to my word processor. The ideas in this blog have become part of the Internet. Hopefully this post plants a few seeds so that you explore this topic further to arrive at a deeper understanding of both the benefits of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and the need to manage your own privacy in this digital world.

Digital Literacy

Digital Literacy

Learning Specialist – Becoming more advanced in the critical element of digital literacies involves thinking about your own literacy practices. It involves reflecting on how they have come about, what has influenced you, and how your actions affect others. Belshaw

Rocky View Schools is known for being progressive and making every attempt to support learners in terms of technology. The Technology for Learning Team recently brought Doug Belshaw to Banded Peak School and the Cochrane RancheHouse to do some professional learning around how to connect digital literacies to our other district initiatives including the 21st Century competencies and RVS’ Literacy and Numeracy Framework.

Doug Belshaw is a leading educational consultant in digital literacies, open learning and open badges. His TEDTalk and PhD research focus on the essential elements of digital Literacies. On May 1 and May 2 Rocky View Schools staff from across the district worked with Doug to learn more about supporting and developing digital literacies for our learners.

Currently, RVS offers online courses to learn more about digital citizenship and media literacy through MediaSmarts. Students can take Passport to the Internet: Student tutorial for Internet literacy and MyWorld: A digital literacy tutorial for secondary students. Information Communication and Technology (ICT) is the Alberta Education program of studies integrated into every class at all grade levels in our district.

On a daily basis our learners use technology to learn at school and at home. The ubiquitous nature of connecting of learners anyplace, anytime can be amazing and frustrating. How do we ensure that RVS learners develop authentic digital literacies that are timely and relevant in an ever changing world?

With Doug Belshaw, RVS staff discussed the strategies to provide deliberate practice around technology to develop digital skills while at the same time balancing digital learning contexts and mindsets.

We spent time defining and clarifying the context of  Digital Literacies at Rocky View Schools:


Then, we spent time introducing the 8 Elements of Digital Literacies to RVS staff which include:

More information about these digital literacies can be found in Doug Belshaw’s book, the Essential Elements of Digital Literacies and from Doug’s slideshare presentation.

The next step is not creating a new digital literacies framework. Instead, we will be examining all the ideas and strategies suggested over the two days by looking for common themes. We will then focus on aligning and connecting the themes offered through Alberta Education and current teaching practice throughout the district. Rather than creating a new vision, we will be working on enriching and supporting digital literacies by focusing on how we communicate and learn in online environments to ensure learners are successful, are engaged and are supported.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Verena Roberts, Learning for Technology Specialist.

The Hour of Code is for Everyone!

The Hour of Code is for Everyone!

RVS Learning Specialist – Every year during Computer Science Week millions of students participate in an Hour of Code in their schools. Join Rocky View Schools and other schools around the world in the Hour of Code December 5 – 11th, 2016. This event is free and is suitable for K-12. Register your class or your whole school at https://hourofcode.com/ca   Use #rvsedcodes to tweet!

Coding, or computer programming, is what makes it possible for us to tell a computer what to do. Any application or function on your computer or your phone or tablet is a code someone created especially to run on your device. A calendar appointment pops up on your phone? Someone coded that. Your computer launches a program for you to watch a video? That was coded too. Learning to code is a little like learning a new language – in fact, it is considered a literacy. We know now that everyone can code. #EveryoneCanCodeswift-playground

Many begin with visual coding (using graphical images) for younger children and move into block coding (a form of visual coding) and then into textual coding languages such as Scratch, Swift and Java. Don’t be hesitant to try the visual coding – it helps builds the foundation for the others and it’s fun too!

Even our kindergarten and early elementary students can learn to code with the many websites and apps available and you do not need a robot or other device to learn. Lightbot is great for students just beginning to code while older students can use the code.org website with coding games such as Minecraft, Star Wars and Frozen.
Scratch is another website designed to help students learn to code (requires sign-in but teachers can create a class account or students can go directly to Create). Apple developed Swift Playground so if you have a newer iPad you can download this free app and the accompanying Anyone Can Code and Swift Playground guides from iBooks. They also just released a new Hour of Code Challenge in the App store and this Facilitator Guide.

There are many more free resources available to support teachers and students, whether they have years of experience or none at all. Contact your RVS Learning Specialists – Technology for more information.