“Don’t be afraid to experiment and fail. Because you will fail. Over and over. Things will go wrong, things won’t work, approaches won’t be effective, and people will resist change. And then celebrate every small win.” – Chris Dawson, USA
It’s tough to categorize Chris Dawson. He’s a consultant, teacher, parent, speaker and writer for ZDNet, EDUKWEST, and WizIQ focusing on how to bring education into the 21st century. But in the world of edutech, one word that fits him is “influential.”
“I would love to see technology be a catalyst for real change – not to get an iPad in every person’s hands or to have technology be this pervasive thing – but to have it be what can drive real educational reform,” says Dawson. “And by that I mean being able to use data in great ways to personalize education for students.”
Dawson is encouraged by where we are today. In fact, he believes “we’re on the edge” of being able to see the true change in learning and what learners and teachers are doing – with the help of technology. One of the biggest challenges we face, however, is scaling that innovation across the education landscape. How do we affect change at a broad level? Dawson, along with Richard Byrne and Steve Hargadon, have embarked on a project called Classroom 2.0, a book that assembles essays from teachers about the things they are doing in the classroom, so they can share their experiences with other teachers who can then replicate the ideas. “A lot of teachers still don’t talk to each other,” he says. “Doing something to make it very easy for teachers to have a conversation is very important.”
Dawson is also outspoken on the world of edu-preneurship, or as he says, “the emergence of the private sector jumping into the business of education.”
According to Dawson, the businesses that are actually successful in the world of edu-preneurship usually involve a teacher. “For many, many years, there has been this imposition of technology on teachers because a company thinks they know how to shoehorn a piece of technology into the classroom,” says Dawson. “Teachers absolutely must be a pivotal part of this. Edu-preneurship is really about being an entrepreneur, doing it within the educational space, and drawing teachers into it.”
It is very encouraging to see thought-leaders like Dawson confirming the belief that we need to hold up teachers and students. Instead of asking them to serve technology, technology should serve them. See this and more on today’s Daily Edventure.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
Through my work on the ground as a teacher, technology director, educational leader, writer for ZDNet Education, and executive for WizIQ, I have become a voice for real, drastic change in our very institutional (and very outdated) educational system. My message has not just been about the use of technology in the classroom, but about using technology as a catalyst to shift how we educate students. I have brought my message to parents, administrators, teachers, policymakers, business people, and lawmakers.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Not enough. We still need to fundamentally change the way we do business and until I can get through personally to the right lawmakers, as well as lead change at a grassroots level, my efforts are far from complete. What I have accomplished, however, is to bring individual teachers to a point where they feel comfortable enough with technology in the classroom to weave it into everything they do. I have taught teachers to use data in innovative ways and I have helped them turn data first into information, and then into action.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Lead by example. Let every change they suggest have an underlying scaffolding of data and evidence. Don’t be afraid to experiment and fail. Because you will fail. Over and over. Things will go wrong, things won’t work, approaches won’t be effective, and people will resist change. And then celebrate every small win.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
The use of synchronous meeting and collaboration tools has been the most recent and the most successful means of innovating in education with technology. Virtual classrooms and tools like Google Docs create personal and immediate connections with peers, educators, and students.
About Chris Dawson
Christopher Dawson grew up in Seattle, back in the days of coffee shops owned by something other than Starbucks, and really loud, inarticulate music. He escaped to the right coast in the early 90’s and received a degree in Information Systems from Johns Hopkins University. While there, he began a career in health and educational information systems, with a focus on clinical trials and related statistical programming and database modeling. This focus led him to several positions at Johns Hopkins, a couple-year stint in private industry, teaching high school math and technology, and two years as the technology director for his local school district. Most recently, he started his own consulting business and is now the Vice President of Marketing for WizIQ, Inc., a virtual classroom and learning network provider. He lives with his wife, five kids (yes, 5), two dogs, and a hateful cat in a small town in north-central Massachusetts. Although he is no longer teaching, his roles with WizIQ and ZDNet allow him to continue helping students and teachers add value to education with technology rather than merely adding to the bottom line.
- Birthplace: Bozeman, Montana
- Current residence: Royalston, Massachusetts
- Education: BS, Information Technology, Johns Hopkins University; MME (all coursework complete – Thesis to be written), Worcester Polytechnic Institute
- Website I check every day: http://news.google.com, http://cnn.com, http://classroom20.com
- Person who inspires me most: My wife and kids.
- Favorite childhood memory: Winning the spelling bee in the 8th grade.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Seattle (road trip with the family this coming summer) – doing my best not to travel for work.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? This morning – a squirrel was stuck in our chicken coop and my two-year-old was insisting I help it out. She was very concerned about the little guy.
- Favorite book: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
- Favorite music: Heavy metal
- Your favorite quote or motto: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”