The more digital our lives become, the more I need to make sense of it all. I find myself wanting to be more introspective, more deliberate, and less scattered in my use of technology. I'm always fascinated by studies that look at computers in society at large: how do we use our devices and what does it all mean in the big picture? So I've really enjoyed the book The Distraction Addiction by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. More on that later. 

First, and just because I wanted to, I've taken a 2-week hiatus from online connectivism. I've had family in town for the holidays and I wanted to give my loved ones my full attention. But it was more than that. As an educational technologist, my job IS technology. I have a lot of screentime in a given day, and I am constantly toggling between different applications, websites, and devices. I wanted to truly disconnect, turn off, and power down. I deleted most apps from my phone, including signing out of all email accounts. I used my phone to text if needed, look up locations of places we were visiting, find the nearest Metro stop, and -- shocker -- to make phone calls, but that was it. I didn't use it in bed. I didn't check it when I had a few spare minutes. I likely missed a few important emails. I didn't see anyone's holiday photos or status updates. And I found it incredibly liberating.

Instead, I read in bed. I breathed in the few quiet, calm moments as they came. I talked to fellow shoppers in line. I people-watched. I relaxed. 

Mr. Pang shares data (p. 10) that states in the course of a given day:
  • we send and receive 110 messages
  • check our phones 34 times
  • visit Facebook at least 5 times
For every hour we spend talking to someone, we spend five hours surfing the Web, checking e-mail, texting, and tweeting. We spend an average of 60 hours a month online (720 hours a year!). 

Now, I'm not suggesting, nor (I believe) is Mr. Pang, that we live in a bubble and revert to a pre-Internet era. Quite the contrary. Rather than shy away from it all or get completely overwhelmed, we should be more intentional in our digital lives.

Reading Mr. Pang's book has encouraged me to make a few goals for this new year. I won't share my specifics here, but these are the greater themes:

  • I will be deliberate in my use of technology. 
        Where, when, what device, and how often
  • I am in control of my use of technology.
        I will determine the urgency of emails and other tasks
  • I will honor a weekly digital sabbath.
        Turn off, power down, disconnect
  • I will focus on what is most important.
        People always come first
  • I will never, and I mean never, use my phone while driving.
        This is a no-brainer and one I've practiced for a long time
  • I will minimize multi-tasking unless my various tasks work together towards a greater whole
        Everything should focus on what I'm trying to accomplish

I'm not done thinking about this. And I'm certainly not done trying to figure out how to help my children and students be more deliberate in their digital lives. This is such an interesting issue and one I hope to continue to study and discuss.

Happy New Year!

On Dec. 3, 2013, I was awarded the Secretary of State's Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad. This award is open to all Foreign Service Officers and their spouses who make an effort to volunteer in whatever country they serve. I was awarded for my efforts with the students in Nepal as I taught them digital literacy skills. I've never been one for recognition or fame. I'm a quiet person, a hard worker, and happy to sit in the back and cheer others on. But, I'm all for making a difference and inspiring others to do the same, so I graciously accepted the award given to me.

It was most wonderful to have the support of colleagues, family, and friends. I left the ceremony feeling inspired by the good things that are happening throughout the world and wanting to do more. 
This year was the first year that awardees' congressmen were invited to attend the ceremony. I'm proud to say that my Congressman, Rep. Chris Stewart [UT-2] , was the only one who accepted. He represented Utah well and it was an honor to have him support me. 
Before the awards ceremony, I was allowed to bring two guests with me to tour the diplomatic rooms on the top floor of the State Department building. These rooms are beautiful, and are filled with a large collection of furniture, art, and other pieces with importance to U.S. diplomacy. Normally, the SOSA awards are presented in these rooms, but this year there were complications and we had to move to another location. The beautiful Christmas decorations were an added bonus. 

Below are my remarks -- I wanted to issue a call to action for all of us. This day wasn't really about me or the other awardees. It was about the efforts of many who serve so diligently for good. It was about the students of Nepal who welcomed me and my crazy ways so graciously and with energetic minds. 

May we all keep trying to make the world a little better.
I offered a workshop at the McLean Stake Relief Society Personal Preparedness Conference this weekend. This Prezi is full of resources, links, and ideas to help you get your digital life in order. 
I was asked to contribute to this month's edition of a blog that is published by Nepali English teachers. They are a great group of professionals who make a difference in the lives of their students. I've included some great resources. Enjoy!
And here's a Prezi I made that is linked to in the article but not embedded:
Attending a 20-year high school reunion has likely always been interesting, but in today's world it's even more so. 

For one thing, social media has changed the entire experience. At our 10-year reunion it was fun to see what everyone looked like, who they married, where they were working, where they were living, etc. Now, through Facebook, we've already covered a lot of that ground. I know what some of them ate for dinner last week, I've seen first day of school photos and summer vacations, I've watched their children be born and grow up. Some of their children I would recognize at the park before I would recognize my own classmate. 

The face to face reconnection is still far greater than anything online, but we start at a different level. As I wandered around visiting with classmates and their spouses, there wasn't a lot of small talk. With most it was like we picked up mid-conversation, like we just spoke recently and got interrupted. "How'd your son do in that golf tournament?", "How's the marathon training going?", "How do you like living in Southern CA?", "How was your recent trip to London?" Stuff like that. 

Initially it seemed we had less to talk about because much of it has already been communicated. On the other hand, we got deeper quicker, and covered more ground than we ever would have otherwise in that amount of time. It was kind of cool. 

Reunion 2.0

Part of my responsibility as a Google Certified Teacher is to use technology to make a difference and I developed an action plan on ways I would try to do that. For this I decided that I would try to take our reunion to the next level and called it Reunion 2.0.

I created a website with reunion information, Google RSVP and other forms, PayPal payment buttons, and such. I created a private Google+ community so we could better connect and share with each other. I encouraged everyone to use some sort of Web 2.0 tool to tell their story, and many contributed and shared. People used Prezi, Animoto, Mixbook, GoAnimate, and other tools to create short snippets of their lives since high school. They didn't have to be fancy or professional to be really fun to watch. It will be a great way to capture this milestone in our lives and maybe, depending on how the technology evolves, we will be able to look back from other reunions and see how young we looked at our 20th and where we were at.

A Call to Change the World

Click on the image for my edited presentation on Google Presentations
I was asked to speak and chose to talk on how education has changed during the last 20 years and what it means for our kids. This took me out of my comfort zone for sure, and qualified as serious risk-taking in my book. Give me a group of students in rural Nepal any day over this experience. As often seems to be the case, the technology itself failed me which left me a bit flustered, scrambling, and floundering. I would have liked it go as seamlessly as I had hoped and practiced for. Instead, I barely made it through without fainting. 

But isn't that what we're ultimately trying to teach our kids: to try, to reach, to make an effort, to risk, to swim no matter what pond they're dropped in, to fail, to keep on going no matter what? 

I streamed using Google Hangouts on Air and more than 40 of our classmates who couldn't attend were able to watch live. Others will watch the recording. Sure, I wish I would have had a professional team that was able to man the camera, sound, and lighting. It was certainly a makeshift effort to wander around the room with my laptop, angle it just right to catch the action, all while trying to visit with people, eat, man multiple devices, and speak. It was far from perfect. 

Yet, it was an effort and efforts matter. People who couldn't make it were at least able to catch a choppy glimpse of the action, which was more than they could have otherwise.

So, I'm not sure where things will be in another 5 or 10 years. Many of our children will have graduated from high school. Some of the things I briefly touched on (MOOCs, the Maker Movement, Google Glass) will have either taken off or flopped. New ideas and technology will have become ubiquitous.

We've got some hard questions to answer about education and where we're headed. My goal was to encourage everyone to keep on asking the hard questions, keep on searching, keep on reaching. 

I know I will.

There are a few times I have been moved so deeply that I can’t say anything. Instead, I calmly close my eyes, breathe in a long breath, and just feel the moment. Today, Adam Bellow’s ISTE keynote, was one such time. His words were so true, so powerful, that they resonated to my very soul. Breathe in, breathe out.

The ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education) conference brings together roughly 13,000 educators and education leaders from around the world for three days of learning, playgrounds, discussion, BYOD sessions, and an overwhelmingly massive expo hall with vendors. This year’s conference, held in San Antonio, was my first and did not disappoint. [I even had the guts to present two poster sessions Project: 140 and Project: Me]

I’ve seen various forms of this picture before, including during the conference, but this really was what it was like:

Information was full force and powerful. Like-minded people were everywhere: in every nook and cranny, every seat, every line, and near every charging outlet. Anyone who is anyone in edtech was either there or wished they were. It is a hi-energy, overwlhelmingly huge deal and gave me blisters from massive amounts of walking. My QR-code scanner and Diigo library is packed with resources to look up later.

The point is not to absorb it all at once or try every new tool or product. It will take time, gradually, to digest it all and I’ll write more later about specific tools and takeaways. For now, let’s talk about making a difference.

I don’t know Adam Bellows personally, though I did introduce myself to him at our Google Certified Teacher gathering and he even let me try on his infamous Google Glass

I follow Adam's amazing work on eduTecher and now his new brilliant eduClipper (a Pinterest for educators). His talk today You're Invited To Change The World was powerful because it wasn’t about him. It was about us. It was about me. I was about you. It was about the kids we love and the kids we teach and the future we are trying to influence. He was able to rouse a gigantic room of exhausted, overwhelmed educators to their feet and send us out the door running to make a difference. He claimed he was no superman but I truly beg to differ. He helped everyone in that room remember the great teachers in their own lives and why they wanted to be a teacher in the first place. He reminded them that when they touch a child they touch the future and that we are all builders. 

As he spoke nuggets of truth in such rapid fire I could barely jot down a word, I was taken back to when I delivered a similar topic to a group of at-risk teenagers in Nepal who had gathered for a leadership conference. I was invited to speak, and while I’m certainly no Adam, I chose a very similar topic Creativity and Innovation: Leveraging Technology to Change YOUR World. I wanted those students, all of whom faced very difficult life circumstances and most of whom had little hope for a bright future, to realize beyond anything else that they could improve their lives and make a difference. 

Here are a few key takeaways for me: 
Lastly, find a teacher and thank him or her. Encourage him. Learn with her. Hug him. Then find a child and do the same. Turn problems into exciting possibilities. I’m ready to start fresh...are you?

Let’s do this.
I love summer. I love having the kids home, moving at a slower pace, and doing things that we normally don't fit in during the rest of the year. Since we generally live overseas, our summers also mean traveling and visiting family and friends. Our routines are disrupted, we enjoy long daylight hours, and we don't have a set schedule. Yet, as a mother of four I've learned that my children still need some element of structure. 
It’s also no surprise that children forget a lot of what they learned at school during the year. According to research reported by the National Summer Learning Association, we're lucky if our kids stay on par. Most of the time, it states, they lose 1-3 months of academic knowledge (especially in math and spelling) over the course of the summer. That means they start off in the Fall worse off than they ended in the Spring. Who wants that? This summer, even though we're in the middle of an international move, I've decided to make a student-centered proactive learning plan. 

Summer Learning Adventures
Each child signed up for a private one-on-one meeting with me called "Summer Learning Adventures." We talked about what they have enjoyed learning about this year, what they have struggled with. I then helped them set two sets of goals. One set is Stretch goals and these include self-identified areas of improvement (involving some reading and math). The other area is Fun goals and these include anything they want to learn that they just don't have time for during the year. One wants to learn about space and the world (Google World Wonders Project and Google Earth are winners for these). One wants to learn about birds. One wants to take an online photography course on SkillShare or try out ModernLessons. They each had a list of things they really want to learn about: just because. We've discussed apps, websites, and field trips we can take to support their goals. 

This isn't about rigorous structure, because that's not what summer looks like in our house. It's about making an effort – together – to keep our brains alive and growing. Bring it on!

Here's the Symbaloo (also linked to in the Prezi above). Click on 'View on Symbaloo' to see the whole thing:
And here's the Google Doc (also linked to in the Prezi above full of some creative iPad apps we'll be using:
In a few weeks I will present this Learning Station Session at ISTE 2013 in San Antonio. Here's a sneak peek:
If you're going to ISTE, stop by and say hi!
This is a new resource from Edudemic's Jeff Dunn and appears to be a Khan-Academy-like free video tutorial system on real-world skills. Here's a sampling on social media tutorials. The list is small but it is growing. I dare you to walk away without learning something new!


I'm excited to take my first course. If you try it out, let me know what you think!
I'm going over this document with a few teachers today who want to know more of what I learned at the recent Google Teacher Academy. It's by no means comprehensive but it represents a few recent favorites. I dare you to walk away without something you're itching to try.

Some are fun but most have strong (and fun) potential to improve student learning in exciting ways. For example, Voice Comments Chrome extension allows you to leave easy audio feedback right within Google Docs -- now that has some powerful potential for student reflection and feedback.

Wish you could join us!