How I Spent My Summer Vacation

            This year’s summer vacation took a decidedly different path. It was summer of discovery – particularly in the world of technology and learning. Instead of walking the beach, I surfed the web in search of YouTube videos. Instead of reading my favorite novel I have pored over Friedman (2007) and Shirky (2008). If you are reading this, you have obviously found your way to my blog – another new summer pastime. This blog represents some of the abundant fruit that has come from my participation in the Technology and Leadership class at Creighton University. This class is an elective in Creighton’s doctoral program in Interdisciplinary Leadership. After having participated in the course for the past two months, I strongly recommend that it be part of the requirements for this entire program of studies. The issues involved in the overwhelming pace of technological advancement and its effects on people, systems, organizations, and countries should be thoroughly studied and, as best as possible, understood by all who would aspire to lead.

 The Role of Leadership

            I believe that one of the most memorable lessons from this course came early on as we learned of the impact of social media on humbling and bypassing the authoritative regulatory structures of the communication system in the Chinese government as that country was hit by an enormous earthquake. Amateur videos like this one took Twitter, Facebook and YouTube by storm making it impossible for the historically secretive Chinese government to cloak its temporary vulnerability in ways that it had done so often in the past. It is obvious that a new day was upon all those who hope to lead in a society immersed in the tools of the technological age. Global societies are evolving as a result of unprecedented interconnectivity and the massive increases in abilities to gather, store, and utilize data. 

          As we move toward a new age of the “Internet of Things” where the devices that we all own are interconnected, it is incumbent upon leaders to stay abreast of the changes in spite of the bewildering pace that threatens to overwhelm us.

Leadership In Education

            Those of us who are in the field of education are faced with not only deciding how they themselves will utilize technological developments but must remain current in the ways that technology can be implemented by both teachers and students to facilitate the teaching and learning process. There are explosive developments that demand our attention if for no other reason than there is so much money involved. Even more important than the investment required is that the future abilities of our students to successfully compete in a global economy seems to be at stake. At one time it may have been true that in previous generations what was going on across the schools of the world did not matter. However, in today’s hyper-connected world and global economy, our competitors are no longer in neighboring cities and towns but now reside throughout the world. The competitive advantage will go to that society than develops and maintains the most effective system for educating its youth.

Changes as A Result of the This Course

            Today’s learner operates in a technologically rich context. Teachers and schools that are more sensitive to students who are digital natives will maximize the abundance of tools available to today’s classroom. Our thinking as educators needs to evolve as we consider the most effective way students learn.

            In an attempt to better understand this technologically rich context I began by seeking out this class. After talking to other students in the ILD program I was convinced that it would provide me with a much-needed format to review and discuss these developments. I have not been disappointed. Through our review of these tools I have become an active user of Google Docs, Linked In, Twitter, and Feedly. Now that I have a better understanding of the power and value of short visual messages that can be shared, retweeted, and distributed inexpensively I have also immersed myself in a project to develop a series of YouTube videos that will serve as messages to our faculty, parents, students, and alumni. These videos will focus on issues related to our shared mission, stewardship of the students placed in our care, the importance of parental involvement in the education of high school students, the proper role of technology in the learning process, and a host of other activities pertinent to the life of a high school. Vogt (2011) has written and spoken about the power of New Media to spread the Gospel – a task that is deeply connected to the evangelizing mission of a Catholic school. It would be my desire to see our school participating in this method of developing the faith of the young people.

Conclusion

            There is pressure on leaders to adopt and conform to these new technologies. However, as we were constantly challenged in this class to think about ways to accommodate the rapid pace of adjustment that is sometimes demanded, I was constantly brought back to consider how critical it is for leaders to remain focused on the moral implications of their decisions. Leaders need to be people of integrity who can be trusted to make decisions for the general advancement of the common good. To be effective, a person who aspires to lead must develop a track record of wise and reasoned decision-making. It is only in developing such a reputation that a leader can build the trust required to be truly transformative in their community. It is not the tools of technology that develop this trust. It is a real human person making sound decisions for the benefit of others. The tools of communication that technology allows today are simply tools that a leader can use to help build the trust that is at the core of good leadership.

             It has been good to have a chance to learn more about these tools and their most effective use. I am grateful for having the experience of participating in this class.

References

Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

Vogt, B. (2011). The church and new media: Blogging converts, online activists, and bishops who tweet. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor.

Act Justly, Love What Is good, Walk Humbly With Your God

Once again, this week’s material has provided much food for thought for all aspiring leaders. I think this is especially true for those of us among this group of doctoral students who are older. I will be celebrating my 60th birthday this month and I certainly consider myself among that group of old-timers. Needless to say, I am not a digital native. I am constantly reminded of this fact and this week provided me with yet another reminder. As I watched the videos on Google Glass, which I had read about but had assumed were simply a product in the prototype stage in the same way that we have engineers working on driverless cars, it occurred to me that these may actually be on the market. I quickly got on Amazon and found that for $1,500-$1,900 I could buy myself a new pair! My point being that what I assumed was still in the “science fiction” stage had already reached the open market with unprecedented speed.

Shirky’s epilogue (2008) offered a reflection on some advantages of youth in the tech arena and I wholeheartedly agree. However, aspiring leaders cannot forget that the workforce in the organizations that we lead are made up of lots of people such as myself who are reasonably well educated and yet consistently surprised and overwhelmed by the technological capabilities that are suddenly placed at our fingertips. Sensitivity to the steepness of the learning curve for some is called for. We should be less tolerant of those who show no interest in learning or no desire to change their ways. If we are to remain productive at the level that competitive societies demand, these new tools have to be learned and incorporated into our daily means of living productive lives. Just show a bit of patience with those of us born in the 1950s!

My other bit of advice to aspiring leaders is to not be overwhelmed by the flash, bells, and whistles of technologies to the point that we think that our job as leaders is to simply provide these tools for a modernized workforce. I believe that good leaders must always be well grounded in a personal integrity that is blended with a set of interpersonal relational skills that allows for good communication and an ability to convey a vision about the ultimate purpose of the work of an organization. Vision, and the ability to articulate it , remains critical.

There is a passage from Scripture which has always been referred to by many spiritual teachers as a succinct summary of what is asked of all of us.

“You have been told, oh Mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: “Only to do justice, love what is good, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

No matter how much change technology brings to the world, nor how fast it comes, great leaders will still 1) act justly 2) love what is good and 3) remain humble. The past two years at Creighton have taught me that this set of principles for living are deeply congruent with Jesuit values that have stood the test of time for the past five centuries – a time of tumultuous technological advance. I am fully confident in placing my trust in these same three principles written 3,000 years ago.

Reference

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

Gift from God or Tool of the Devil?

          There has been no ambivalence on the position of the past three Popes regarding the value of the Internet to human society. Most recently Pope Francis weighed in by proclaiming that the Internet is a “gift from God” (Kington, 2014). Previously, Pope Benedict had claimed that if the Internet had been around during the time of St. Paul that he would have used every tool available as a result of this technology. Pope Benedict (2013) also taught that the Internet itself is an extraordinarily powerful but morally neutral means of communication that can be used as a tool to achieve unprecedented good. At the same time Benedict recognized that there are great evils that are associated with the ways in which humanity uses the Internet. It is with this dichotomy of possibilities that the discussion regarding the Internet follows a path similar to that of nuclear energy as society recognizes the great potential for good existing simultaneously with the great potential for evil.

            It is instructive that we see this same pattern evolving with the use of technology in the realm of education. For the purposes of this assignment in which we have been asked to blog about the ethical issues related to the use of technology in education I decided to turn to the local team of experts with whom I live (also known as my children) to get their perspectives based on their own experiences of education today. One just graduated from college, two will be returning to college next month, and the fourth will be a junior in high school.

“Scatterbrained Idiots”

It is interesting to me that the most common response I got was exemplified by my daughter who said “It turns kids into scatterbrained idiots.” This is admittedly a pretty harsh judgment. When I probed for details I was given countless anecdotes related to classmates using cell phones, visiting Pinterest sites, Instagram accounts, playing Candy Crush, and actively Facebooking during class. When I asked my children why they felt this was an ethical issue they responded that it all became an enormous distraction. It robbed the students of their best opportunities to learn. Additionally, their fellow classmates were unable to actively participate in class because they were not actually paying attention to the subject matter the instructor was trying to teach. They also felt that there were ethical issues related to the individual schools touting their ability to develop technologically savvy graduates when in reality the technical expertise had little to do with the areas in which students were studying for degrees.

“Dishonesty”

The second most common response that I got was that the technology offered numerous temptations to be dishonest. This dishonesty can take place in many ways. Fellow classmates can take pictures of test questions for students who will be taking the test the next period, week, or semester. Another means by which dishonesty takes place is, of course, plagiarism. I did not have to go to my children to understand this one. However, it was instructive that they each knew it was possible to not only “copy and paste” text from a web source into their own paper but that it was not unheard of for people to purchase papers over the Internet. This practice can be curbed somewhat through the use of websites such as turnitin.com commonly used by English composition teachers. This website compares the text from papers that students submit to a massive database of papers that have been seriously published. However, even turnitin.com is no match for the student who wants to go out and purchase one of the many services available that will provide you with a freshly researched and written original term paper at a cost of $12.00 – $40.00 per page depending upon how fast you need it.

“Cyber-bullying”

The final issue, which I hear about nearly every week in my role as a school administrator, is cyber-bullying. Bullying has been with us for millennia. However, there is something about the pervasiveness of social media combined with the adolescent tendency to be harshly critical of peers, along with the lack of face-to-face contact when we type messages on computer screens which combines to bring out the worst instincts in teenagers. For some of the worst examples of the results of such bullying you can visit this resource provided by nobullying.com.

Conclusion

Just as nuclear fission and fusion are not going anywhere in the near future, the use of technology in education has similarly become rooted in our way of doing things. The wise practitioner in the field of education learns where the pitfalls are, tries to protect the integrity of the teaching–learning process, and instructs their students in the prudent use of the resources provided by technology. It is a tall task but one that must be addressed vigorously.

References

Kington, T. (2014, January 23). Pope Francis says the Internet is a “gift from God” Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-internet-pope-gift-god-20140123-story.html

Pope Benedict XVI. (2013, May 12). Message for the 47th World Communications Day. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/communications/index_en.htm

Six Unforgettable Cyberbullying Cases. (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://nobullying.com/six-unforgettable-cyber-bullying-cases/