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After watching the Jeff Bliss’s, viral video, as well as the remix of it, created to popularize the event even more, I was almost moved to do a reflective post on the subject. After viewing a number of supportive blog posts for the Bliss position I kind of backed off thinking that I was off base in my position. Then I read Why the Jeff Bliss story makes me want to quit by a fellow English teacher.
The end of the academic year has all teachers stressed out. After giving one's all for a year, and having it come to an end, hoping all along for the success of the students, leads one to question much of what had been done during the year, and even why it was done. When I first saw the Bliss video, I saw a kid being asked to leave the class for whatever the reason, and the kid trying to get back at the teacher. The kid began to use an attack that echoed the focus of many educators seeking to reform the system with the same rhetoric. Without knowing anything of the student, I determined he must be active on social media and had an interest in what was being said about the change in education. This was some evidence of intelligence. I also felt that everyone would see this teacher as the “devil teacher” responsible for all the ills of our system. There is probably some accuracy to both of those descriptions but I think neither is a reflection of the whole truth in this situation.
As a retired teacher I encountered many rants from students that I removed from class for disruptive behavior. What is different in this instance is the addition of social media and the educator’s perceived opposition of the position taken by the student. This was further advanced by the teacher's negative responses to the student's critique. All of this recorded and published to the world in You Tube Celebrity.
I was moved by the frustrations of the blogger who feels overwhelmed with the on going blogging, reflection, and discussion in social media about all of the turmoil in education. Much of this is flamed by the mindless, senseless and poorly planned reforms put forth by non-educators. I am not arrogant enough to think only educators can intelligently reform education, but the general feeling among educators is that the reforms are being mandated with very little educator input. That is the most frustrating part to many educators who are being targeted and maligned even by fellow educators. Educators seem to be circling the wagons and shooting to the inside.
Most educators are doing what they have been trained to do, or what is supported by their school’s culture. I hate the fact that so many teachers use the work packets to present material, but that again is what is supported by the system that they must work in. We need to improve our professional development and be open to more relevant teaching methods, employing more relevant tools for learning, as well as more relevant attitudes toward student-centric learning.
My friend and colleague Lisa Nielsen is a great student advocate and passionate education reformer. We have collaborated on a few very popular blog posts. I do not fault her for taking the side of Jeff Bliss in his rant against his teacher. Bliss made a convincing, and passionate speech against an outmoded method of teaching that stymies our system of education every day. I hope Lisa continues to follow her bliss (not the student) in supporting students in education reform. I would only hope that an “us and them” mentality does not dominate the discussion of education. There is no group more in favor of positive education reform than educators. We must keep in mind that educators are also products of the same education system that we seek to reform. They should not be the targets for the reform; they are in fact victims of that system as well. In order to educate our students, we need to first better educate our educators, and continue to educate them as part of their job. To be relevant educators, we need to be relevantly educated. That implies continuous education in a computer-driven, continuously developing culture.
I would hope that this blogger was not discouraged by the reflection and conversation going on about education reform. We need more educators involved in the discussion that has been hijacked by business profiteers and politicians. There is a planned assault on public education. We need more educators adding their voices to the needed change. We need educators to tell other educators that it is okay to give up methods of the past, that are not working in today’s system of education. It is a question of permission, as opposed to confrontation. Educators are all in favor of kids succeeding; it is but a question of how to accomplish that goal. I would encourage this blogger to hang in and continue to speak out.
If the post by this English teacher moved me, others may be moved as well. That is a skill that is not mastered by many and it is a powerful tool for change. We need more educators stepping up and speaking out if we as educators are to take back the discussion that we left to other less qualified people to dominate.
Each Sunday afternoon there are five Topic questions posted on a poll to determine which will be selected as that week’s #Edchat Topic. There are two #Edchat discussions each Tuesday on Twitter, so the top two topics selected by the poll become the topics of the chats. The number two choice goes at noon, Eastern Time, and the number one selection goes at 7 PM, Eastern Time. The larger audience is the 7 PM Chat. If you did not know it before, I am the person responsible for making up the #Edchat Topic questions that are voted on each week. I admit that I do have favorites each week, but, more often than not, they are not the favorites of the voting public. This week it was a little different. I actually had two favorites, and fortunately for me, they were the chosen topics for the chats. I found both yesterday’s #Edchat discussions thought-provoking, and very much in need of public discussion. The topics were very much connected as well.
#Edchat is very much an open, public discussion by educators from around the world. Ideas on each topic are presented from various points of view as we discuss the varied topics in education each week. As in any public discussion, a person may pick and choose those ideas that suit his/her needs and in this case, educational philosophy. Sometimes it is a new idea, and other times it is validation of what is already being done. Since it is a discussion using Twitter as the platform, most of the participants are educators who are somewhat familiar with technology and social media. As a generalization they tend to be a collaborative group, more progressive in their approach to education, and open to the use of technology as a tool for learning.
The other day I engaged an educator who described himself as a 20th century traditionalist educator (my words). He said that he participated in #Edchat so that he could know his “Enemy”. When I called him on this, he informed me that “Enemy” was in quotes in his tweet. I guess that was to make it humorous, but there is much truth in humor. The point here is that most of the participants are striving to move from the methods and pedagogy of 20th century education to a place that we have not yet found. It is also a great help when authors and experts on these various topics join in on the Chats giving clarity and direction in their areas of expertise. Many of these thought leaders are connected educators.
Usually the #Edchat question is a singular interrogative. The Topics this week had more than one part in the hope of generating more discussion. The noon Chat Topic: What is the BIG Shift in education that everyone is looking for? Is there one big idea that can positively affect education? If not why? Of course there is no single idea because education is too complex for an easy fix. A point lost to most politicians and business people. The question, I thought, would prompt the chatters to present and promote their best and biggest idea.
From the folks I engaged in conversation on this topic the overwhelming objective was support of student-centric as opposed to teacher-centric lessons. The shift being from Direct instruction, and lecture to problem-based, or project-based learning. The teacher would no longer be the content-delivery expert filling the empty vessels of students, but rather a mentor, guiding their learning direction rather than mandating it.
The 7 PM Question: Children are anxious learners in the early grades of education. What are the factors that turn kids off to learning, as they get older? This #Edchat started slowly. I hate when that happens. My biggest fear in doing these chats is that there may come a time when nobody responds to the question. Going into moderator mode, I broke the topic down, and peppered the chatters with a series of smaller questions to loosen them up. That worked which immediately calmed me down. It was like the priming of an old well. It took a minute to get it going, but it came on strong.
Words that popped up with those who I engaged were curiosity, authenticity, and ownership. What I took from it was that students at a young age are curious about learning because it is all new and exciting. It is also relevant ant authentic since what kids are learning enables them to participate in more stuff as well as society. However, some reach a point where they think they have as much as they need and the curiosity is gone. The direction however continues providing to them things that they no longer want to engage in. They do not own their learning and cannot direct its direction to things they would like to learn. If this occurs in a student, it comes at different times for each student. Some teachers saw it on the elementary level others in Middle school where hormones play an even bigger role. The point here is that it happens to many students.
Engagement in learning is the goal of education and the ability for students to own that learning and for it to be authentic, and relevant was a theme for this #Edchat. Again it came down to the teacher being the guide or mentor and not a content delivery person directing content to kids who don’t see it as relevant or authentic. They prefer to create content instead of memorizing it. They prefer to use content instead of regurgitating it on a test.
Both of these #Edchats led me to the same place. For kids to be engaged in learning it will be more effective if they own it and direct it. Teachers can always guide the direction and, as content experts, they have the capacity to do so. Teaching kids how to learn, and how to continue to learn, is more important than whatever content the curriculum tells us the students should know for a test. If we can use their interest to promote our content, fine. If our content doesn’t interest students at all, then what do we do?
#Edchat is not the best method to introduce people to online chats for the first time without preparation. It requires some knowledge and a little strategy. If you are interested, this may help: #Edchat Revisited. If you are interested in viewing the past #Edchat discussions, we have archived the last several years here: #Edchat Archives. If you do not have time to read, you can download a podcast analysis of several of the #Edchats from Bam Radio Network, and The #Edchat Radio Show. #Edchat is one of many education chats. It was started 4 years ago be Shelly Terrell,@shellterrell, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, and me,@tomwhitby. It was not the first chat, but it is the most enduring, and it has spawned many, many others.
Over this last year I have been fortunate to have been sent to many education conferences on behalf of SmartBrief in pursuit of content and guest bloggers forSmartBlog on Education. It is a dream job for a retired educator and an education blogger. The intent is to always keep the educator’s voice on SmartBlog authentic and relevant. In that capacity, I have attended and conducted a multitude of workshops on various education topics. Since I am no longer in the classroom, and have no need to apply what I learn about current teaching methods in a classroom setting, I often attend these workshops as an observer, or even a critical observer in some cases.
In conference after conference, and workshop after workshop I have observed successes and failures in the methods employed by presenters to get their material across to their audiences. Of course my biggest criticism is that too many presenters view the people in the room as audiences, and themselves as some sort of entertainer. Of course a successful presenter is part entertainer, as is any teacher, but more importantly, he or she is there at a conference workshop to educate educators and that is a primary goal. For that goal to be met presenters might be better served thinking of the people in the room as learners, and employ their best skills as an educator. In fairness to most presenters, the best do just that.
Much can be learned as an educator by watching what works with a bunch of teacher/learners. Of course there are some who would argue that these are adult learners and shouldn’t be compared to kids. I used to think that as well, but I am not as sure, after all that I have observed.
I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit.
According to the article Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.
Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:
After considering these principles and observing many of them first hand at these professional conferences, I started to wonder if the reason why these same principles do not apply to kids, at least on the secondary level, is because we prohibit them from happening in our education system. Do we limit our students learning by blocking access to the very things that motivate us as adults to learn?
Can Students be self-motivated and self-directed? As adults some might say we are “pursuing our bliss” therefore, we are self-motivated and self-directed. Are our students bereft of bliss, or are we blocking out their bliss?
At the more successful conferences providing adult learning environments I have observed many things that aided the learning of adults. The best conferences provided Internet access for all. This enabled adults to use varied and sundry laptops and mobile devices. I still revel at the memory of a room full of learners listening to Chris Lehmann at the Educon Conference as he placed notes on a white board. When he was finished with his illustrated point in the conversation, 40 adults stood up and took a picture of the whiteboard with their mobile devices (mostly cellphones) for later reference. Student classrooms might have over 40 students in them but how many are allowed to take pictures of the teachers’ notes?
Of course the resounding positive comments from any of these learning environments is that there is a love of the conversation, as opposed to the lecture. That is common at Educon and it is the mainstay of the most successful Edcamps. Of course that conversation method is not the focus of teaching kids. Most educators focus on direct instruction and lecture as the mainstay for their lessons.
Then there is the cry from a multitude of adult conference learners that they hold teacher-presenters in the highest regard, because they are authentic. They have been in the classroom, and have paid their dues, so to speak. When real classroom teachers talk about education, it is relevant and real. This is a common sentiment among adult conference learners. I guess that relevance is important to the adult learner. When it comes to the kid learners are they even given a smattering of relevance or are we steeped in curriculum some of which may have been around since the mid 1900’s?
Of course the biggest outcry from adult learners at conferences comes when they are subjected to PowerPoint presentations that are text-ladened and read to the learners word for word by the presenter. This is the most egregious of mistakes and often the initiator of an exodus by the adult learners from the room. What alternative do kid learners have given the same set of circumstances?
Maybe as adult learners we need to take a look in the mirror before we resume our role as teachers for kids. In the final analysis, I do not think that there are differences in the way we learn as adults, or kids, but rather the differences lie in the opportunities afforded to learn. If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. What learner wants to own something that is not in his, or her interest to own? If we can understand better how we learn best, maybe we can alter how we teach to be the best.
I recently participated in what might possibly be a one-time experience for an educator, an education conference in Las Vegas. Of course that probably doesn’t hold true for Nevada educators. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored the Leadership Now Conference in Vegas. It was a Quality event with high visibility speakers keynoted the event.
The speakers at the event were Solution Tree authors and each was a leading expert in their area of expertise. They were also all affiliated with the Marzano/DuFour group. This was a big showing of the PLC at Work institute. For the most part I happen to be a believer in most of what they preach, so I was quite happy with the topics presented.
Of course the backbone of most of what was discussed was the idea of collaborative learning communities within individual school districts. I love the idea and I believe in the concept that collaboratively we all benefit more in learning and teaching. I do find the idea of stopping that collaboration at the district level somewhat limiting however. We need global networks of collaboration. We should not stop at the borders of our own school district or just the network of a group of paying participants of some larger group. Collaboration through social media is free and global. We need to explore and use it to our best advantage as educators and as students.
The First keynotes by Robert Marzano and Richard DuFour lasted an hour and a half each. They were lectures with text-ladened slides to keep the audience (learners) on track while laying out the research and philosophy of the grand plan. There was a printed and bound compiled text of the presentations along with worksheets for the learners. I actually weighed it. It was THREE pounds.
The highlight for me was the keynote by Sir Ken Robinson. He did a keynote that covered many aspects of several of his TED Talk videos. Although I heard much of it before, it meant more live, presented in sir Ken’s unique blend of humor, irony and common sense. This was a vast improvement over the last time I saw him at ISTE with a disastrous panel presentation after what seemed like a ten-minute keynote. In contrast to that, Sir Ken’s Solution Tree retrospective presentation was one to remember.
The workshops following the keynotes were again 90-minute lectures with text-ladened slides that corresponded to the three-pound, bound, text workbook. The material covered in the workshops was essential. The research seemed sound. It was all a common sense approach to the complicated problem of education reform. Each workshop was a clear presentation of how we might best approach what we are doing now in education with what we might be doing even better.
I only wish that they applied the same amount of time, research, and development to their methods of teaching and presentation as they applied to their subject material. First rule of PowerPoint: Don’t read from text-ladened slides to the audience, even if it is from a book written by you, the presenter. To do such a presentation differently is not going to be an easy task and it will probably take several iterations of a presentation to eliminate so much text from slides, but it will help the learners or should I say audience. Although there is a certain element of entertainment in education presentations they are designed to inform and teach. That means the seats are filled with learners and not audience members.
The workshop leaders of the workshops that I attended were wonderful, knowledgeable, and experienced educators. Leaders included: Rebecca DuFour, Tammy Heflebower, Timothy Kanold, Anthony Muhammad, Phil Warrick, and Kenneth Williams. The workshops that were most striking and helpful to me however, were the workshops of Anthony Muhammad. He dealt with changing the culture of the school in order to affect any meaningful change in the structure of the school. I found him to be a shinning star in a room full of stars. He was dynamic, engaging, and most of all gave out meaningful ideas to deal with the real changes for education reform with the most “elephant in the room” problems. He later gave a rousing, closing keynote.
The low point for me anyway came when they had the panel discussion at the end of the sessions of the second day. It was not very well attended by the participants of the conference. The panel was made up of the key members of the Marzano group. Of course the lead panel members gave the longest answers. It was the questioning of the panel that struck me to be rather archaic in our world of technology. The audience was asked to write questions on a piece of paper that would be picked up and delivered to the moderator. There was no microphone stand for open questioning. There was no hashtag back channel screen. The moderator was not monitoring an iPad for questions. I guess this was made difficult because there was also no Internet service for the conference, which should be a mainstay of any education conference.
Criticisms aside, I found this to be a very informative conference. I wish it could have been live streamed to the many connected educators who were following the conference hashtag over the three days. I think the Marzano approach to collaboration and addressing the whole system in order to affect change is a sensible and sound approach. I would simply love to see an updated methodology in their approach.
If innovation is something new than the idea of technology-driven collaboration in the form of a PLN is old news and no longer innovation. Since it is no longer innovative, maybe educators will consider it, as a possible next step in education that will enable needed change. The idea that educators may be anti-innovative is my only explanation as to why the idea of a Personal Learning Network has not yet moved educators to accept it as a method to move educators, and education to a better place.
The term “innovation” has been thrown around through the halls of education for several years. Its creation in our education system is a stated goal by our Department of Education. It is a reason, although some would call it a justification, for charter schools being formed. Charter schools were supposed to lead the way to innovation for public education. A problem with innovation however is that we often do not know it when we see it.
The whole idea of innovation is that it is something new. The other part of that, which is implied, is that it is also a successful improvement. That may be the piece that prevents recognizing innovation in education. Teachers, when it comes to education, are a conservative group. Change comes slowly, and there is a comfort in holding on to what has worked in the past. This has long been reinforced by the many trends and fads in education that have come and gone. Teachers have been programmed to believe that whatever the change being mandated by the powers that be, it will be gone with the next change of power. “If we wait a little while, this to will pass” becomes the educators’ mindset.
The newness of innovation is probably its greatest obstacle to acceptance. Teachers generally rely on the tried and true methods, proven to work over a long period of time. Innovation requires a leap of faith on the part of educators that the innovation will be a success. Unfortunately for innovation, the conservative nature of educators does not support taking risks. It may have something to do with self-perceptions of many teachers that as “content experts” they shouldn’t make public mistakes. Supporting innovation that fails would be a commitment to failure in the eyes of many educators. Obviously, this slows innovation acceptance.
This entire process has been further complicated by the rate of speed that technology moves and affects change. Committees, research and approval are very big parts of change in education. Today however, change comes faster and more significantly than in years past primarily because of the advancements in technology. These advancements continue to move forward regardless of anyone’s committee, research, or approval.
Collaboration has long been an element of learning. The term social learning is now creeping into discussions more and more giving collaboration a facelift. Face to face collaboration is the oldest and most easily recognized form. It is also a positive reason for department and faculty meetings. When learning individually we are good, but more often than not, learning collaboratively we are better. Technology tools for collaboration have moved collaboration to the forefront.
Now, let us combine collaboration with technology and see if it fits into our education system. Technology has most recently provided many tools, or applications for collaboration. Social Media is not one tool, but rather a network of many that overlap and intertwine. Educators can: join a Ning community,and meet a colleague from anywhere, converse on that site, connect and collaborate on Twitter, continue face to face collaboration on a Google Hangout, or Skype, collaboratively create and publish documents, presentations, Podcasts and videos. The potential ability for educators to harness this power and use it to model and guide learning for their students is mind-boggling to me, as a 40-year educator. It is only surpassed by the idea that the same potential ability in the hands of the students will take collaboration, creation, and learning even further.
We have labeled this innovation the Personal Learning Network. It is what we use to connect educators for collaboration beyond their buildings, districts, towns, and countries. It is technology-driven innovation that may profoundly affect education in regard to collaboration and professional development. It connects teachers with students, administrators, thought leaders, authors, and experts in all areas. It enables collaboration and creation on every level for educators to learn and teach. We become connected educators giving us insights and relevance that has been enabled by technology.
This innovation has been percolating for several years now, yet it has failed to be accepted as innovation. There is a growing gap between the adapters, or the connected educators, and the unconnected educators. The continuous discussions of the connected are directed and led by thought leaders and collaborative reflections, discussions, and content. The unconnected educators rely on the past and whatever direction is given by the powers that be in their districts.
I just spent the morning viewing a livestream from an Education Forum from Education Week. For those who may be unaware a livestream is a live transmission of an event over the Internet. This was a forum that recognized Education Leaders. It was titled Leaders To Learn From 2013. I think what Education Week did was great and I hope not to diminish their contribution. I do have some observations that I would like to share.
My friend and colleague Kyle Pace, @kylepace, was the person who drew me to this forum. Kyle is a connected educator known to tens of thousands of educators as a collaborative, connected educator who engages people with knowledge and information in the realm of technology in education. If any educator deserves an award for collaborative leadership, Kyle would top my list of candidates. It is a well-deserved recognition.
What struck me about the other award winners recognized for their leadership accomplishments that other educators are supposed to learn from was that we as an education community have not heard from them before? I realize that not all educators are connected through social media. It also seems to me as an observer of social media in education that it is often more difficult for Administrators to connect than teachers. There are reasons for that, both real and imagined, and I understand that. It would seem to me however, that if collaboration is part of a reason for recognition, the award winners should demonstrate some proficiency in modern collaboration as educators.
I also attended a Discovery Education forum recently where a number of Superintendents were recognized. When asked about their professional Social media involvement and collaboration, each claimed Twitter accounts and some claimed to have blogs. Of course sitting with Josh Stumpenhorst, @stumpteacher, we were able to quickly fact-check each of their claims to discover that most of them rarely tweeted and few had Blogs.
In a time when mobile devices can vet any speaker in a few seconds, people should not speak out of hand. In addition to education leaders, all leaders should get the fact that they can, and will be held more accountable for what they do compared to what they say. The world and information distribution has changed. Their failure to recognize that fact is testament to their relevance in a technology-driven society.
I have made my views on sharing as a professional responsibility known in many previous posts. A question from Dean Shareski really summed it up for me in regard to professional collaboration. What would we say about a doctor who found a cure for cancer or even a partial pathway to that end, but failed to share it with medical colleagues?
If educators are doing things in a better way, why are they not collaborating using the methods of today? Educators may not have the Journal of the American Medical Association, but we do have Twitter and we do have Blogs. I am tired of educators who espouse technology for everyone else, but fail to employ it for themselves and their profession.
Many Administrators use the Internet to vet out teaching candidates. They get to Google information about individuals that they are legally precluded from asking about in an interview. If that has become the standard then let’s have at it. We should look at everyone’s digital footprint including administrators. What is their educational philosophy as it is stated in the digital world? What does their Professional Learning Network include? What is it they have collaborated on in the Social media world? How effective are they in the very collaboration skills that they claim to have? How reflective are they based on their public blog? Do they hold to their principles in their public reflections?
We are moving forward in the way we access and obtain information. If an administrator has not contributed and that information is not obtainable, then that may be an indication of ability, or relevance, or both. At the very least it should be a red flag. I am not suggesting that any administrator who is not on social media is a Luddite. I am suggesting that the best leaders in an age of technology are those who understand it as a result of effectively using it, as well as modeling it for those who follow. We need to consider relevant collaborative skills as a requisite for administrative positions if we have hope for changing the system in positive ways.
An advantage that I have as one who is fortunate enough to attend many education conferences, or special education events is the contact I have with many of the thought leaders in education. Of course most of those folks do not think of themselves as thought leaders, but just educators. The fact is that we are often defined by the perception of others. This holds true for institutions as well.
I recently bumped into a friend at an education Conference. This friend is what I consider a thought leader in education. He is a well-known speaker and author and a person who many educators deservingly look up to for both guidance and wisdom. I thought that I would take advantage of the encounter by asking for a guest post for SmartBlog on Education, an education blog with which I am associated. He must have been having a bad day based on his response.
“I am tired of teaching everyone”, he said.
Knowing how much this person always offers to all who listen, this reaction was out of character and a clear indication of a frustrating day. Sharing is a learned behavior. It is not a behavior common to everyone. It can be easily abused and discouraged. If a person shares and gets the feeling that his or her sharing is not appreciated or under-valued, that spigot of sharing may quickly be turned off.
My teaching career started about two days after the last Dinosaur died in the eyes of many. Back in the day there was not a great deal of sharing. People would share advice very quickly, but lessons were kept under lock and key of the filing cabinet. It was at the end of the year if one was lucky enough to know a retiring teacher that the sharing took place. If someone from your department were retiring, on the last day of their service there would be a gathering in their room. The File cabinet would be opened and the sharing would begin. Files, annotated books, tests, lessons, worksheets, overheads, and dittoes would all be bestowed onto the junior members of the department. The senior members actually got the empty file cabinets. The senior members of the department always had the largest collection of file cabinets.
That was then and this is now! Sharing has become part of the culture of teaching. It is the currency of social media. We can’t be just takers. If we are using social media to gain information, we should have an obligation to provide information as well. It does not have to be original. It can be something that we learned from others. In Twitter terms that would be a ReTweet or an RT. Never assume people know what you know. Always share information at all levels of expertise. Social Media has people from all levels participating in the exchange of ideas.
Every person has a different level of understanding and participation in social media. Some folks read more blog posts than others. Not everyone reads the same Blogs. If you find a good post share it. There are hundreds of thousands of educators on social media. Most Blogs do not have those numbers reading their posts each day. A good post needs to be shared. “A rising tide raises all boats.” The more we share, the better off our profession will be.
Also keep in mind that everyone has a different Personal Learning Network. No two people are following the exact same list of people on Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook. If you see something of value, share it. Others may not have seen it. Even if they did, your emphasis on it may cause them to view it differently. Never underestimate your influence on others.
Education is about the free exchange of ideas. The exchange part is where the sharing comes in. Without sharing, there is no exchange. At one time content was a commodity that was doled out for a price by institutions that housed the texts that contained the content. That is no longer the case. A combination of content on the Internet as well as the advance of social media and it is a whole new paradigm. Of course this only works if exchanges of information takes place.
If we are to benefit from the Internet as a profession or a society we need to feel an obligation to be more than takers. We need to be makers and exchangers as well. We need to keep the exchange alive by not counting on the few, but by involving the many. We need to believe in the premise of Share and Share alike.
I am still waiting for that guest post that I requested.
People who know me understand that I have hot buttons that set me off when it comes to certain topics of education. That would actually encompass a huge number of topics including the rights of teachers. As I scanned the news channels last week, I came upon a story covering a teacher strike in one of the urban districts of the U.S. The reporter covering the event kept repeating and repeating a single line during his coverage that just set me off. “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”.
What is it that enables people to vilify teachers for placing the security of their families before the demands of their job? Of course the security of a teacher’s family must come before the demands of the job. Doesn’t everyone value their family and want to insure their safety and security as a first consideration in life?
The fact is that here are many teachers who grapple with this very issue throughout their career. Teaching is a noble profession that does require sacrifice on the part of each educator to do right by his or her students. It is that self-sacrifice and “teacher’s guilt” that has enabled some districts to take advantage of teachers in regard to labor issues since the beginning of public education.
As a generalization most teachers do not market themselves well. They do not expound upon their accomplishments. They view that as flaunting one’s self, and that is frowned upon by teachers. They do not like it when any teacher publicly claims credit for accomplishments. They consider it as bragging or showboating. Most teachers are humbled by public recognition. By and large teachers do what they do, not just because the public expects it, but it is they who expect it of themselves. That is their strength and their weakness. It is that very feature in teachers that enables a reporter to repeatedly state: “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”. That question tears at the teacher more than it resonates with the public.
People have been convinced that the American Education system is failing our country. Too often we try to simplify complicated issues. There are many, many reasons why our education system needs improvement. An objective analysis of the issues is warranted and should be done. Tax reformers, politicians, and business people looking to profit in an education market however often obscure that needed objectivity. To sell the snake oil, they simplify the problem, and target a simple solution, the teacher. It is a travesty that the very group that is maintaining the best of a system, which is in need of repair, while being maligned and even corrupted by the interference of non-educators, has come under attack. Teacher morale is the lowest it has ever been. Teachers are leaving the profession and youngsters are hesitant to enter it. This will only add to the problem.
Teachers need to take back the discussion of education that has been hijacked by so many non-educators. They need to shout out their accomplishments. Administrators need to lead, as well as call out the praises of their teachers. Superintendents need to claim their leadership positions in education to stand against mandates being imposed that are detrimental to education and educators. We must have our leaders connect and collaborate on the needs and solutions for education and not have them dictated to educators by non-educators who are unaware. Public Education is very much in jeopardy if left to the politicians and profiteers. Timidity is not a virtue in a modern educator.
I was recently contacted by Barbara Madden, a Missouri educator with a Mississippi dialect, who is conducting a survey of educators, who use Twitter for Professional Development asking for some feedback. Barbara had been in contact with a college professor who wanted to know the effect of Twitter as PD and it’s effect on student outcomes. That really got me thinking about PD and Twitter. I have heard many, many educators claiming that Twitter is the best PD that they have ever had. Others have said they learned more from Twitter than any graduate, or undergraduate education course they have taken. I would have doubts about both of those statements, or at the least questions about our higher education system if that were true.
Education has always been an isolated profession that called out for collaboration, but it did not have an effective way to collaborate. Department meetings and faculty meetings potentially provided limited collaboration. Education conferences were slightly more collaborative, but educators really had to put themselves out there to find ways to collaborate with other educators in an effective way. Collaboration is a very personal way for an individual to learn. It requires trusting other individuals, which is not easy for many, but it is also, for many people, the best way to learn.
Social Media is simply a conduit for connections. These connections then lead to collaboration. It enables connections to be made globally with ease and in numbers never before possible. It is this ease and quantity of connectedness that fosters collaborative learning on subjects that interest the connected participants. When educators are connected to other educators the natural discussion is education.
The way I look at it is that educators discussing education force each other to think and reflect on what it is that they do in education. Educators are a reflective bunch as a profession. It is the resulting change from all of this collaboration and reflection that enables educators to view what they have been staring at for so long with a new lens.
In addition to viewing things differently, a new level of relevance is added with technological advances being shared. Technology changes so fast that few can keep up with all that is going on. Collectively however, and through the power of collaboration, things are shared, discussed, and experimented with. This is all done with the safety net of collaboration. Failure becomes an option because do-overs become possible. It’s not about how many times you are knocked down, but rather how many times people help you back up. That is what educators do with Twitter.
If we were to measure anything, we would need to know what educators were like before Twitter to evaluate how they interact, reflect and teach or administrate after the Twitter emersion.
Can we measure how an educator views education differently after experiencing collaborative learning as a professional tool? If that experience changes that educator’s outlook, relevance, and educational philosophy, does it change that person as an educator? In what way do we measure that? How do we measure that in regard to its effect on the students’ outcomes? If a teacher is employing different methods of teaching that he, or she has never used before, how do we gauge that as effective or not? If a teacher has gained a better sense of confidence in the classroom, how does that translate to positives for students? Giving teachers the confidence in knowing that there are no longer boundaries to the questions they may ask, or the people they may ask them from may not be measurable. Twitter is more about ideas than titles. In the area of education Administrators, Authors, Teachers, Students, and Parents are all equals on Twitter. Exchange of ideas and experience is the currency of that medium. How do we measure the effect of that on education?
There is now a new gap in education. In a system riddled with too many gaps, this is not good news. Technology and social media specifically have provided tools that enable educators to connect, communicate collaborate and create. That ability makes a difference in individuals. It enables reflection and relevance. It is also creating two groups of educators, the connected, and the unconnected. The discussions of the connected seem to be focused on the future and moving toward it. The discussions of the unconnected seem to be steeped in the past with little or very slow-moving forward movement.
I do not think of Twitter as a tool for providing Professional Development, but rather a tool that enables collaboration. That leads to a curiosity, or more, a love for learning that takes some learners further down the road that all educators should be travelling. By any measure that must be a positive result for educators, that will impact their students in a positive way as well.
I have long been a David Letterman fan on any of the shows he has hosted. Over the years one of my favorite Letterman bits has been when he and Paul Shaffer would discuss the possible ability of a specific item to float in water. After their predictions the item would be tossed into a giant, transparent vat of water to determine who was correct. The results were apparent and immediate.
Professional Development has long been an element in American education. At one time things changed slowly so that the need for development seemed less a concern. The country’s shift to being a technology-driven society has increased the rate of change, forcing a need for a more rapid rate of absorption of developments for people in all jobs and professions, but especially education.
The difficulty in education is its goal; it is not just to educate kids about their past and how it relates to the present, but also what to expect in the future. Of course we have no idea what the future holds, because the present is moving so quickly. Consider for a moment the effect of Smartphones and iPads on our culture. iPad technology is but three years old and has had a profound effect on those places that have embraced it. Smartphones have been around a little longer and have taken longer to be accepted by educators, but they are creeping successfully into the system after changing forever how the country communicates and accesses information. All of the technology and its effects have had a great influence on how kids learn and are motivated to learn, as well as what it is they are learning for. In many cases teachers have no idea what they are preparing their students for because their students’ future will be different from our present, and light years from our past. These are all reasons for educators to be relevant in terms of what is needed to teach as well as how to teach today.
The question is: does the system address the need for relevance in education? Many systems require teachers to acquire a specific number of PD hours over a period of time by selecting and taking courses or workshops on topics pertaining to education. These choices are left to the individual teacher to select and obtain. Of course some obvious questions pop up here. If the teacher is not comfortable with technology will technology be part of that teacher’s training. If a teacher has not kept up with current trends and research in education, how will he/she make choices that will best benefit his/her students? Is the teacher versed well enough in technology to relate to the technological changes that effect our population? It always comes down to relevance. Is the teacher able to make relevant decisions based on experience in a technologically driven culture?
Rather than try to hold millions of teachers accountable for these questions, a better method might be to look to the districts and the education leaders. Are they maintaining relevance? Are they providing professional development to their staffs to maintain relevance? Are they supporting teachers with time to collaborate in order to incorporate what they should be doing. Have they gotten beyond the keynote lecture and hourly workshops once, or twice a year as their total commitment to teacher training?
Most educators consider Professional Development a key component to what they need to be an effective teacher. Most Administrators point to Professional Development as a key component to what their teachers need to be effective teachers. Most districts point to Professional Development as the key component to what their district needs to be an effective district. Yet after all of this, TEST Preparation and not Teacher Preparation is still the priority in American education.
Professional Development must be part of a teacher’s workweek. It must be prioritized, paid for, and most importantly PROVIDED. We should not expect anyone to take an uncomfortable path down into unfamiliar territory without some sort of guidance or leadership. It cannot be left up to people who may not know what it is that they do not know to decide on what they need to be effective.
A lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client, and physician heal thy self are commonly understood. Maybe we need a phrase for educators trying to educate themselves? The system of PD in most American schools has become another victim of a fast paced technology driven culture. It no longer works as it did. If we do not change and adapt to meet the changes in our culture, we will surely be irrelevant as an institution. Now here is my question: PD in its present form; Will it Float?
As I have traveled around this country participating in education conferences I have made several observations in regard to the effects of the Internet and social media on various levels of education as a profession, as an industry, and as an institution. These are often the topics of sessions at education conferences that draw thousands of educators in to look at, examine, talk over, consider, and move on. This all takes time and has been going on since tech was first introduced to education in various forms as tools for learning. It may be time to step back and look at the bigger picture.
As technology advances there are consequences for many industries that either fail to adapt, or whose product is replaced by what technology offers. Horse drawn carriages were replaced by horseless carriages. Typewriters were replaced by word processors. Instamatic cameras were replaced by digital cameras, which are now being replaced by cell phones. Photographic film is not found in any of the millions of stores from which it was previously sold in mass quantities. The news cycle no longer faces deadlines because of 24-hour news cycles. Newspaper and magazine stands have only a fraction of the offerings they had even five years ago. There is no longer a Kodak, Polaroid, Underwood Typewriter, or Newsweek magazine. They were all giants taken out by technology.
With all that, we as educators should have learned from all the examples of those industries that preceded us as victims in the advancement of technology. Why is education so slow in making decisions that would employ tech rather than resist it. Kodak was huge. It was in the “too big to fail” category. Its products included cameras, but its main product was film. Once digital photography moved into the industry it was a very short run to ruin.
The product of education is content. My path of reasoning must be getting clear about now. The key to content was always held by the academics to be shared by those who attended and prevailed in the education system. Teachers were the content experts. The Internet has now strained the value of content experts. Few content experts will ever be able to retain and command the content held by the power of the Internet. The shift that should take place in education is to teach students the skills to responsibly and critically access that content in order to create additional content.
We shouldn’t be guided by the demands of industry to teach skills that may not be in existence over the course of a student’s academic career. The idea that business can best direct the needs of learners is surpassed by the fact that business will only direct education to meet the present needs of business.
If education is to direct its own path and avoid becoming as irrelevant as a film company in a digital world, as educators we need to change. We can’t continue contemplating the use of technology for the sake of protecting our comfort zones. We need to update and restructure the way we administer Professional Development. We need to employ strategies to incorporate social media for collaboration. We need to better understand how to use technology to help us do what we do best even better. Our professional organizations need to move from the models of the past and lead teachers through professional development, discussion, and collaboration to a deeper understanding of their profession in a modern world. We are not a profession of the 1800’s, yet in many ways we carry ourselves and approach it that way. This to must change.
Professional development is a necessary component of the teaching profession. It must be part of every teacher’s workweek. It needs to be prioritized, funded and supported with time. Too many educators have no idea how much they do not know about their own profession. This will require a good amount of directed professional development, which is never popular with educators. Technology has changed things and continues to do so at an incredible rate of speed. If educators are to be effective they must be relevant. If harnessed, technology can be used to our advantage with proper training. If ignored, or not taken seriously by the entire profession, it could very well make educators irrelevant. Our education system is not too big to fail.
I have traveled the world going to Education conferences. All have good points and bad points. All of these conferences have come from the sweat, tears and blood of many volunteers. They are all well-intentioned and I believe in their necessity in our system for Professional Development. The point I feel we must fight for however is the need for relevance in the world in which we teach. This is the same thing we should strive for in all of education. Many of the goals we strive for to support our students should also be the same goals to address our needs to educate our educators.
After a marathon attendance at a number of education conferences this year I have stored up many observations on the approach these conferences use to engage educators in their profession. Since I began attending them over 35 years ago I do have some historical perspective. More often than not my experience on the planning of the “Education Conference” is: So it is written, so it shall be done! Many reshuffle the deck and deal out the same old hands. If we always plan conferences on what worked last year, progress will never catch up to relevance.
In our technology-driven society we have come to recognize that our students are learning differently. I would suggest that our educators are learning differently as well. That difference needs to be addressed by the conferences that help educate our educators. The reasons we as educators are reflecting and changing our methods of education to meet the needs of our students are the very reasons education conferences need to change to meet the needs of our changing educators. Resistance that we too often provide does not prevent the fact that there comes a time when we just must reinvent the wheel.
If all educators need to do, in order to keep up with modern education, is to listen to lectures, they can do that cheaper and more conveniently with webinars and podcasts over the Internet. What do conferences provide beyond the lecture? If the answer is face to face networking, then provide the spaces and times to do that. Select venues with ample lounging spaces or build them into the venue. Sessions must be planned with time between sessions for educators to connect and network. Schedule, encourage, or incent presenters, and featured speakers to circulate in these spaces.
Reflection rooms might be a unique addition. Spaces where speakers, presenters, and attendees could gather for reflection and discussion. This would be the best place for educators to connect face to face as well as digitally through social media to continue discussions online, beyond the conference and through the year. Those creative juices that flow during the conference will continue throughout the year. Current models get people thinking during the conference and in many cases the juices will not flow again until the next conference.
Planning the sessions is key to success in any Edu conference. If, as educators, we know that lecture is not the best way to learn, why would we encourage it in sessions? Interactive sessions, as well as discussions, and even interactive panel sessions are the very things that excite, engage, and educate educators. These should be encouraged and highlighted. The method of delivery should always be a prime consideration in addition to being clearly stated on the session description.
The selection of speakers and sessions needs to be examined. Connected educators are often on the cutting edge discussing education topics as much as a year before it hits Faculty meeting and lounges. If the committees made up to judge and select RFP for sessions than those educators need to be relevant as well. Again, a topic that was popular last year may not be as relevant this year. What upset me was that some of this year’s presenters were filling out and submitting RFP’s for next year’s conference. Maybe we should have staggered RFP deadlines with a quota for each date. Planners could then observe trends and avoid replication over a period of time. It also offers the opportunity to analyze the needs and send out requests for specific RFP’s.
Of course the biggest change in PD for educators in years has been the EDCAMP model of conference. Sessions are planned on the fly based on interest and expertise with the assembled group. These sessions are dynamic discussions, which dive into the depths of the selected topic. Every conference should set aside time for the EDCAMP model. Four hours should do it. Planning it for the middle of the conference will enable educators to get a handle on the topics they would need to delve deeply into.
Today’s technology has enabled educators to connect and collaborate globally. Only a few conferences have understood how to harness the power of the tweet. In order to show a conference to the world, the attendees, when moved by engagement will tweet out all that is needed. This draws into the conferences many who are not physically in attendance.
Every conference should have a connected educator space. Many Bloggers have claimed the Blogger’s Lounge as their space and have continued with great connections with other bloggers. We need that for all educators. The connected educator space must be present at every conference.
My final concern is in the Registration fees. Conferences are expensive to run. There is no option on charging money for attendance. The structure however may be flexible with several options. Consideration should be given to discounting for teams of teachers coming from the same district. Maybe we should have a discount for first-time attendees.
Whenever I attend an education conference, which I am doing with great frequency these days, I do so as an educator with an educator’s eye, and an educator’s attitude. It is through that lens that I view education conferences either as a conference for the education profession or the education industry. Sometimes conferences are a combination of both. An easy distinction is that the industry side is made up of the business side of education, while the profession side is composed of classroom educators. Of course the most effective conferences are a balanced blend of both. It is that balance that eludes so many conferences.
This balance in education conferences is also what we should seek in professional development. Instead of making it about the bells and whistles of the applications, we should ask the educators about their goals and methods and then see if that can be enhanced by technology. If the educator has an established goal and an established method that can be made easier and more efficient, and more effective with technology, most educators will move toward that technology addition. The alternative way to do this is to have an administrative commitment to the technology and then to tell teachers to work it into what they do in order to make curriculum better. If teacher acceptance and cooperation is required for success, I think one method might work better than the other.
SxSWEdu 2013 was different from many other education conferences. There was no vendor floor. There were no booths to pursue. There were still tchotchkes, but they were given out at sessions or special events at various sponsored suites used as workplace spaces or meet-up lounges. I was told that the attendance was in the area of 5,000 attendees with one-third of that number representing educators. The few educator speakers who attended were of the very best education has to offer. There were fewer educators however than those speakers provided by the education technology industry.
I attended one workshop by a featured speaker that I thought was described as gaming for learning. Of course this idea of gaming in education is getting a great deal of attention recently, so with my educator lens in hand, I attended the session. The bulk of the session was about a history and development of specific computer generated games, as well as a strategy for working them into education. Monetizing games for education was also mentioned. The topic of learning as it relates to gaming was never the focus or was it barely mentioned. Again it was a business perspective, which is great for the industry folks in attendance, and there were many.
Finally, the time for the closing keynote approached. People began lining up 90 minutes before the designated time. Bill Gates was speaking to represent the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation. Many educators have strong feelings both pro and con about the Gates involvement in education and his influence on education reform. That however was not the issue here. He was at SxSWEdu to give an inspiring education speech. He chose to speak at the start of the allotted time and then bring on a panel for questioning to end his session. I was ready. I positioned myself directly next to the only microphone set up for audience questioners. The Microphone stand actually touched my chair. It was the perfect spot.
The Gates speech for me lacked passion or even enthusiasm. A highlight came as he extolled the almost national acceptance of the Common Core State Standards. He put a giant emphasis on his point with a huge map of the United States with all of the accepting CCSS States brightly colored-in and the non-conforming states in a drab beige color. Of course the audience began to snicker and chuckle when in the center of this display the most prominent of the beige outcasts stood out as a huge section of the map. It was Texas, the very state we were all seated in. The irony grasped and tickled the audience, but it ignored Bill who did not seem to get it.
Bill’s address came to an end and he then introduced his panel. The part that assaulted my educator lens at this education conference was the fact that he introduced his panel as three outstanding CEO’s. It was more business people addressing educators about education. He chose to bring them out and individually question them one at a time. The questions were prepared as expected, but even the follow –up questions from Bill in response to their answers were wooden and staged. The Panel included: InBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger, Dreambox Learning Inc. CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson, and for the Charter Schools, Summit Schools CEO Diane Tavenner.
Toward the end of the presentation I was mentally preparing to step up to the microphone that was standing at attention by my side. As Bill asked the last wooden question however, something sudden and unexpected happened. I looked down to my phone to tweet out a quick comment to the twitterverse, and as I looked up from the tweet, Bill and his friends were GONE! They literally ran off the stage. NO QUESTIONS FOR YOU! I was dejected all the way to the airport. I was a little lifted when I saw that the flight had Wi-Fi. I connected up and started seeing posts about the Gates Keynote already popping up. The first one I read referred to Gates inspiring the crowd and receiving a standing ovation. I was there and saw little inspiration, and absolutely no ovation. The only standing was when the panel fled the stage and the audience stood in confusion of the abrupt ending.
The emphasis of much of the conference, to me at least, was on data and content delivery. I guess they can be viewed as commodities and, as such, they are easily measured and more conveniently priced. After all, it is about the business. As an educator I tend to lean toward content creation, and formative assessment. Learning is not so easily measured and requires feedback and reflection and sometimes correction, or at least a restatement. After all, it is about the learning
None of what I have mentioned is meant as a negative, but rather just observation. People should understand the make-up and culture of conferences before committing whatever little time and money is available to them in today’s climate. Education is about learning, but it requires more than a slate and chalk to get it done in a technology driven society. If we are to really benefit from these conferences, we may need more education as an education profession and an education industry.
I am very fortunate to have a position that gets me invited to education conferences around the country, and occasionally out of it as well. I have written a number of posts describing the benefits, and the blemishes of many of them over the last year. I am writing this post, as I am enroute to Austin, Texas to participate in one of the big ones, the SxSWEdu Conference. Last week however, I attended a gem of a Conference conducted by the Illinois ISTE affiliate, The Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference referred to as ICE13.
After attending so many conferences, it is easy to point out the flaws of any, or each. Most conferences require RFP’s, the requests for proposals, to determine the sessions for the conference program far too many months in advance of the conference. The need for this is to have several, and in some cases, too many people, read over the proposals in order to determine which sessions to approve. Perhaps several staggered deadlines for RFP’s might allow a more varied and relevant program. Another gateway to relevance could be a period of time within the conference to conduct an Edcamp format for a segment of the conference. I think all conferences could benefit by some innovative schedule planning.
ICE13 was a little different from many of the other statewide education conferences by virtue of its venue. Although I flew into Chicago, I had to drive what, according to my GPS, was a 45-minute trip outside of Chicago to St Charles and a resort called Pheasant Run. This venue made a big difference in the tenor of this conference. The presentation rooms were spacious and well equipped as most conferences, but what made the difference was the sprawling hotel itself. There were two bars and several gathering areas with couches and comfy chairs throughout. It was hive of connectivity and networking based on discussions and discourse. It was a great place for presenters, keynotes and participants to meditate, mingle, and mashup ideas and concepts in education.
For me the highlight of the conference was what was called the PLN Plaza. It was used as an overflow area for the keynotes as those speeches were streamed in. The best part however was that the keynotes, as well as many presenters, were scheduled for drop-ins to conduct discussions on their topics with anyone who stopped by. It was up close and personal in the best way. This is an experience many bloggers benefit from at the Blogger’s Café at large national conferences. The PLN Plaza was the brainchild of a group of people including: Dan Rezac, Elizabeth Greene, and Amanda Pelsor all of whom kept things moving along there for the entire conference. It was a comfortable gathering place where I hung out engaging in many discussions, as well as networking, and connecting throughout my entire stay.
There seemed to be more Twitter activity at this conference as well. Connected educators seemed to be a topic that was emphasized by many of the keynotes and several of the presenters. Camaraderie between the presenters because of their connectedness was very evident at ICE13. The conference also had more than one WiFi network to connect to which made many people very happy.
In addition I also enjoyed The UDL Playground. I first saw this at the NYSCATE Conference in New York. It is a place where a number of vendors can demonstrate tools as participants ask questions to learn about Universal Design for Learning. The activities there were interactive and very instructive and continual during the conference. In full disclosure my wife’s company VIZZLE was quite active in its participation at both conferences. It would be great if more vendors participated in activities like the UDL Playground to enable educators to engage authentically beyond a basic booth demonstration.
Education conferences are a needed component of professional development for teachers, and administrators, but they are not going to maintain relevance without connecting their members in greater numbers during each conference. Unconnected educators are pumped-up and energized with each annual conference. That occurs annually. They need to meet people and network with the new people that they meet at the conference. Connected educators are pumped-up and energized year-round, and go into hyper-drive at conferences as they connect face to face with all of the educators they have been exchanging information and sources with continually during the year. We need to stop just talking about innovation as a goal and practice it as professionals. We need to innovate in every aspect of what we do, and how we do it wherever and whenever we can. Connectedness has been digitally enhanced through technology and it is an innovation we need to employ extensively.
I love when they do on the street interviews on Jimmy Kimmel Live. They have a set of questions on a topic and they go outside the studio and ask people on the street a series of questions. One of my favorites was a survey they did on the improvements of the iPhone 5 over the iPhone 4. They handed an iPhone to each person surveyed and asked them how they liked the improvements of this iPhone 5 over the earlier model the iPhone 4. Each respondent went into great detail on the vast improvements of the phone that they held in their hand over the older iPhone 4. What the respondents failed to recognize was that they were actually holding an iPhone 4.
Another interview asked people’s reaction to the Grammy awards televised the night before. The questioner even asked about specific artists and incidents that occurred. Each respondent had something to say about each of the questions and some were passionate about their answers. Of course the joke was that the Grammy’s were scheduled to air the following week and had not yet happened. So much for passionate answers. Yes, I do know that many other interviews were probably edited out, but the point made here is that people will answer questions whether or not they have a real knowledge of the subject, or in some cases ANY knowledge of the subject.
Now, I go to consider what is often done in education, surveys. Let’s consider a tech survey. Do we qualify the people taking the survey or do we ask everything of everyone? Do we define terms? Technically, overhead projectors, email, and PowerPoint are all technologies. If a teacher uses all of these technologies, is he or she a technology-savvy educator? Is the use of a PowerPoint presentation the incorporation of technology into a lesson?
When we ask if a teacher is using technology in lessons, do we assume that technology is being used properly? Many, many schools have purchased IWB’s, Interactive White Boards. Not as many schools have purchased proper training for their teachers in the correct use of those whiteboards. Consequently, we have a great many Interactive Whiteboards being used as blackboards and video projectors. Any computer used as a hat rack is hardly an effective use of technology. How does that fit in our tech use survey? The same is true of the tablets and 1 to 1 use of laptops. Naming a program and providing tools does not insure proper use unless adequate training and support are included. Teachers having access to the tools and not the training are still part of these Tech surveys and their opinions might very well skew whatever results are obtained. In a world of data based decision-making how does faulty research affect important decisions? It brings to mind that old tech expression: Garbage in, Garbage out.
Let us consider what we do when someone throws out a survey on a school or district wide level. Let’s make sure we are asking the right questions of the right people, who have a full understanding of the questions. Getting even passionate answers from individuals who have no real knowledge of the topic can only lead to poorly made decisions. Of course the best solution to all of this is to make sure all teachers are trained well enough to be relevant and have a working knowledge of all that is needed to teach in a technology-driven society. We should do a survey on that!
Every Friday on Twitter, Tweeters will make recommendations based on their personal experience of exceptional people to follow on Twitter. As an educator, if I follow those recommendations I will almost certainly improve the quality and quantity of tweets I get on education since educators are the people who I follow for my own Personal Learning Network. Each of these tweets of recommendation will be tagged with the telltale hashtag #FF. This identifies them as such a recommendation and allows the hashtagged tweets to be aggregated.
In the evolution of Twitter it has become possible for each tweeter to create lists of people being followed into categories. Lists could be created for math teachers, or Administrators, or organizations. This would allow a tweeter the ability to aggregate tweets from a specific list dealing with a specific area of concern. It is another method of organizing information. These lists may be found in the profile of the Tweeter. A unique spin-off of this is that anyone can access anyone else’s profile giving access to those lists, as well as the ability to follow those very same people. If I have a great person that I follow offering great information, I might access that person’s lists to follow the same people they do. Their specific lists will focus my efforts even more.
Today, ever-trying to share good stuff, I decided to link out what I call “My Stalwart List” on an #FF tweet. It is a list of those, less than 100 people, from my big list of 2,000+ that I follow, who offer me up my best sources of education information. This is my personal Crème de la crème Twitter List. I shared that Link with my 29,000 followers, nice guy that I am. It was that act of sharing that brought my list to the attention of one of my female tweeters, a fact that I never even considered. I must admit to oblivious ignorance on this observation she made. My list was predominantly, male oriented.
How could that be? Of the 83 educators on my Stalwart list, only 23 were women, 28%. I asked, in a profession dominated by women, why do I have so few on my most influential list? I could understand it if I was dealing only with administrators because that is skewed in favor of men. The percentage of male administrators is not representative of the percentage of males in the education profession. It definitely exceeds it. Is it that Twitter itself appeals to males more than females? Could it be that women offer information more sparingly than men do? Could women be more passive when it comes to engagement in discussion on Twitter?
When I made my list up, my only consideration was who provided the most and best information and sources to me on Twitter. I never considered male or female, only tweeter. Do differences in men and women display themselves in the way each approach Twitter (The Venus and Mars debate)?
Thanks to Jennifer Borgioli @DataDiva I will never look at these lists the same. My #FF recommendation would be to follow her. She does vigorously promote gender awareness. The next big thing should be Educators of color on Twitter. Are they truly represented in the numbers that offer an equal share in the Social Media discussion on Education? I think not!
I read a post recently talking about education leaders coming from teachers. That, in my experience, is a very difficult transition for really dedicated classroom teachers to make. They are too often consumed with doing what is needed to be a great classroom teacher. Even when professional education organizations recruit leaders for their own organizations on the state, or national levels, teachers from their ranks often cannot get enough release time from their individual schools to serve in the high-time-demanding positions required to move up the ladder of leadership in those organizations. Often times, administrators, or education consultants move into these organizational leadership positions.
I am not saying that Administrators are poor leaders, or bad people. I am pointing out that they have a unique perspective and often one not close to that of a classroom teacher. YES, there are exceptions, and every administrator reading this post probably sees himself, or herself as such an exception. The point here however is that, in many instances, the further away from a classroom that an Education leader gets, the less the leadership becomes about education and the more it is affected by other influences.
It is understandable how this change in perspective happens. Moving from the decisions about learning to the decisions about building management, staff management, budget management, public relations, labor relations, teacher observations, schedule maintenance, community relations, Board meetings, and political considerations as a focus to lead a school or district is a shift from learning considerations being the focus. Such is the stuff of administration, and understandably there is little time left for much else. It is no wonder that the average career lifespan in a district of an administrator is less than three years. Of course administrators leaving buildings and districts after such short periods of time complicates things even more in a negative way for a variety of reasons, but that requires another post.
Next, we need to consider the influence of technology on our leaders. Data is King. Administrative decisions can now be more easily made and numbers can be tallied in the blink of an eye. We can call it researched-based decision-making, because we have the ability to easily quantify things. We have the all-powerful numbers. The question facing our leaders would be what things to quantify. Do we have the right numbers answering the right questions? What should we be assessing and how do we do it? Does assessment always require testing?
Who gets to make up the questions becomes key. Our politicians are concerned with elections and they will be driven by whatever the popular sentiment is, whether or not it is based in fact, or if it has an impact on learning. Our business leaders will be driven by whatever is profit bearing, whether or not has any bearing on learning. Then we have the media leaders who are driven by both the leaders of politics, as well as the leaders of business, and of course popular sentiment will drive the entire bus with all on board.
There are many things that are wrong with our education system, which cries out for leadership and change. Of course the greatest negative influences on education, which are often overlooked, come from the outside. Issues like poverty, security, safety, nutrition, health, and family support are some of these issues. That is all further complicated by political interference, as well as a mythology built around learning, motivation, and real assessment of learning. How are these measured? How will any core curriculum or standardization change these factors of influence? Non-educators claiming enough knowledge about education constantly legislate, and mandate many things that prove to educators to be counter productive to learning. Why is this met with such little resistance from educators? A better question might be why have educators been quiet about their objections?
Why were educators removed from the national discussion on education? How did education leaders allow this to happen? Who stood up for education?
Ask educators today where they stand on standardized testing and compare that answer to the national agenda. I believe they will be diametrically opposing positions. Who are the education leaders that allowed this to get so far from where we should be going? I wish I could point to the leaders standing up for education. I wish we could point to specific people directing the reform movement beyond just Diane Ravitch, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Michael Bloomberg. Those are the voices that have a platform, but how many have an education portfolio of experience?
I know the standout leaders of connected educators who speak out on many issues. I know Keynote speakers and education authors at National and statewide Education Conferences who regularly express many of the same the same concerns. They all seem to be cheerleaders for the cause of education, but have not found a way to lead educators. Is it the lack of leaders or the lack of access to a medium to get the message out?“Why is this post filled with so many unanswered questions?” is a question that a leader should answer. Who steps up for education? Where are our leaders? What medium do we use for the educator’s voice? Politicians, business people and media people always have access to media and the public audience. Educators after being demoralized in too many cases are limited and seem to be far less inclined to speak out about needed reforms in education. But then again, even if politicians, business people and media folks were to manage their own industries and get out of education, who will step up to fill the void? Who are the real educators who will lead the real reform for education?
I recently got into a discussion with my friend Errol St. Clair Smith, Executive Producer at BAM Radio Network on the effect that technology has had on the news media. Many of the old tried and true guidelines of journalism have been forever changed with the 24-hour news cycle, as well as, news on demand. There is also the ability of anyone to publish at anytime and have the capacity of communicating tolarge masses with the click of an enter button (return button for Apple Folks). This has had a vast and yet-to-be-determined effect on not just the media, but our entire culture as well. The computer is now the Publisher. The smartphone is the video cameraman. Woe has been the newspapers and magazines that had failed to heed the call.
As educators we tend to only consider the effects of technology in Education. Technology has always moved us forward with many industries and professions falling by the wayside. Where have the blacksmiths gone? How many shopping center parking lots have one-hour Photo processing booths? When was the last time a college student walked the halls of the dorm trying to borrow a portable typewriter to finish a paper? How many surgeons can operate today based on scalpel skills alone? How many factory workers have been replaced by mechanical Robots? This list could go on for several pages of text, but I will end it here, hoping the point has been made.
Almost all industries and professions have been at the very least affected by tech, and at most, some industries have been eliminated as a result of it. Where does that leave education and educators? I have often said that the biggest myth in education is that computers will someday replace teachers. Now in some respects, I am not so sure it is still a myth. There is the often-quoted expression any educator who can be replaced by a computer should be. I am not sure that the best of teaching may survive at the hands of ill-informed legislators. I am definitely not a conspiracy theorist. There are however, a number of efforts taking place in legislatures around this country that may have a profound effect on the way we deliver education.
There are any number of initiatives going on that, taken as single events, may be non-threatening, or even having a positive effect on education. The combination of these initiatives however, may have a profound effect on the way we deliver education.
Some states have now passed legislation requiring a percentage of education be delivered in a blended form. Blended learning is a combination of delivery of instruction using the classroom and the computer. There is legislation allowing Charter schools to circumvent many of the restrictions of public education. There is the movement to increase class size in every state. Even more troubling, most recently one state is considering legislation to remove certification requirements of teachers.
Looking at all of those pieces as a whole, there seems to be emerging a possible threat to end Public Education, as we know it. States can create an atmosphere where kids can be placed in charter schools with few restrictions using computer-driven education, directed by non-certified technicians, delivering education to hundreds of kids, maybe in a single class, who do not even need to be physically present in a school. All of which was made possible through state legislation. It is cost cutting and might address the tax concerns of many.
We do not want to start a movement for educators calling for a Rebirth of the LUDDITES. We do however need to have educators be educated on the need to understand and use technology as a tool for learning in an environment that supports it. Professional Development must be continual and supported by districts. Educators are the professionals of Education and representative of some of the very smartest people in our country. They should not need to look to politicians and business people to determine how best to educate our children. However, if educators relinquish their relevance, they may be eliminating their profession. Educators need to be in the discussion of education as relevant, educated, informed advocates. I believe this can best be accomplished by being connected and collaborative through technology. We can make it work for us, or surely it will be turned against us.
I have read what seems like several, but in reality is probably a few blog posts recently that have claimed to have examined technology in schools and found that it has made little difference in learning. Of course many of these speak in generalities lacking specifics other than there is technology and there is a classroom and they observed stuff. When it comes to technology too many believe that by dropping it into a classroom magic happens. Even the most ardent supporter of tech will tell you that does not, and never will happen.
I recently talked to an educator in higher education who told me that they had just put a pilot plan in place to explore the use of a tablet in the classroom. On the surface this sounds great. The possibility of a class full of tablets and students exploring, collaborating, creating, and publishing through a relatively intuitive and somewhat inexpensive means of technology was inspiring. I asked exactly how the “Pilot Project” was structured. (Here it comes, be prepared.) Two teachers were given tablets, one an iPad and the other another type. They were secured by some grant. The professors were told to explore the possibilities. That was the pilot. It began and ended with the purchase of the hardware.
The teachers were not trained in the use of the tablets. The teachers were not trained in the applications that could be applicable to their course. The class was not supplied tablets to use in the class. The teachers were not given any direction other than “try this out”. This was a pilot for frustration and failure. Of course the outcome is going to be that Tablets Do Not Work as effectively as the tried and true methods of Lecture and Direct Instruction.
I have read other posts that talk about textbooks being placed on iPads having the same effect as textbooks in paper form with the exception of being cheaper. Why would anyone expect digital text to be different from printed text? The idea of technology melding with textbooks is to change the dynamic of the textbook altogether. Create a medium where text can be retrieved, read, manipulated, and used for creation collaboration and publication of new ideas. Enable that created project to be archived for future reference or portfolio assessment. That is the potential of a digital textbook.
Analyzing the effect of technology in the classroom cannot be effective or dependable unless we examine the training, and understanding, of the teacher, as well as the creative and consistent application of that technology for learning in the class. Does the technology address the needs of lesson?
I also want to be very clear on this next statement. Technology may not work for every lesson in learning. There are times when it works well; enabling things to be done that would be less effective without it. There are also times where it may not fit. If the technology is being forced where it doesn’t belong, the result will not bode well for technology in the classroom. This must be a consideration. We can’t use technology for the sake of using technology. I must add that with the pace at which technology is evolving, there are fewer instances where tech does not offer better alternatives.
Of course the call from many, including educators, asks for limiting technology access. Often the argument is for more face-to-face interaction being needed by the youth of today. More and more in their world, our students are texting and using social media for their interaction. That is not something that adults can control. What is foreign to adults in regard to technology is just another aspect of their life for our students. The control of technology is no longer in the hands of educators. We cannot decide technology use for our students. If our culture slows down or decides to NOT use technology than we can stop teaching with it. Realistically however, technology will continue to evolve and that is the world in which our students will live.
Learning about technology and its application may be uncomfortable for some educators, but it is a necessity for all students. Understanding what we need to know and do in order to implement these tools for learning is a big step that many educators, have yet to take. A technology-driven culture moves at a rapid pace as the technology continues to evolve at an even faster pace. We need educators to understand that technology is not changing what we teach as much as it is changing how we teach. With continual change, we will need continual professional development. This cannot be done effectively if we base decisions on flawed observations and misconceptions about technology’s place in education. A worksheet is still a worksheet whether the text is printed or digital.