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Archive for June, 2011

For the last four days I have been experiencing a great learning conference for educators. The International Society for Technology in Education Conference, ISTE, is held once a year. This year some 22,000 educators and 5,000 exhibitors came together in Philadelphia at The Pennsylvania Convention Center. I experienced this conference as a social media educator. This does not make me a better educator, but it does give me a unique perspective amongst educators. Social media has added a new dimension to educational conferences and the entire education system as well.

The idea of social media for educators is simple, it connects educators. What each educator does with that connection is a personal choice. Most use it to share, and collaborate on educational information, as well as social interaction with other educators. Theoretically, this keeps the participants relevant in sharing the latest and greatest in the field of education.  A Social Media educator is not better than a non-social media educator, but maybe a tad more relevant. Of course that would not be true if the non-social media educator kept up with educational journals, educational news, and educational trends as they came out in print. However, the expense of the printed journals and printed news sources needed to keep up, might prove cost prohibitive and too time-consuming for most educators.

Beyond relevance, social media offers an incredible amount of connectivity to educators on a global scale. The big three, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have connected tens of thousands of teachers worldwide. There are ongoing discussions and collaboration of educational topics taking place on these platforms worldwide, 24 hours a day, transcending boundaries of time and space. The biggest obstacle for me is the acceptance and understanding of time zones since this is a global endeavour.

Beyond the relevance, educators come to conferences prepared to network. Throughout the year they are connected to many of the very same educators who attend these conferences. These connections add a whole new dimension to an Education Conference. Like old friends meeting after a long absence, people pick up or begin discussions already begun online. Face-to-face meetings answer curiosities of longstanding online connections. People put the .5” x .5” Twitter Profile Pic to a real face. It is an experience that a non-connected educator might only get upon bumping into a noted keynote speaker. For connected educators at a conference as large as ISTE11, we may bump into our own personal keynote speakers 50 times in one day and be thrilled each and every time.

In addition to the recognition and connection factors, Social Media educators have the advantage of communicating with large numbers of people at any time to give out or request information: Who is where? What is good? Where should we eat?, Where should I go?, and my favorite, Come find me Steve Anderson, I am lost again. These were typical messages sent during the course of the four-day event. The other type of communications, going out consistently, was updating on valuable messages by presenters from their sessions. SM educators were connected in some ways to workshops and presentations even when not in attendance.

Back Channeling is having a big effect on conference presentations. SM educators are in direct control over messaging the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of each and every presentation at a conference. Tweets of praise or tweets of criticism fly from the workshops. Ideas of worth and value of presentations and presenters are not withheld. We can only hope that it is responsible, thought-out criticism, but that might not always be the case. This is the ugly side of social media that we must be aware of. I have seen great presenters labeled by some short-sighted and mean-spirited SM educators as stupid because of a simple spelling error. In the past the term “racist” was bandied about by some SM educators in regard to some #Edchat Topics. The power of social media also comes with great responsibilities. We all need to think before we speak even in digital terms. As a matter of fact, it may be even more so for digitally speaking. The spoken word will reach a determined number in the audience, while the digital word can go on forever to undetermined numbers of listeners.

As I described in my previous post, this is not your Father’s EDU Conference! Social Media has provided a new level to conferencing that may have profound implications in future conferencing. It certainly has changed conferences for me and other SM educators. There will be some who will play down its effect, but there were some who played down the effect of “Talkies” in the movie industry, the effect of the steam engine in the Shipping Industry, the effect of Magnetic recording tape in the entertainment industry, and, let us not forget, the doubters of technology in the Education Industry.

I had a great time at ISTE11 and I look forward to the next one. I believe my connections made me more aware, and made the conference, for me, more meaningful. I am also much more aware of my responsibility to think before I post. I believe that social media is making a difference in learning. If we make a difference in learning, we must consider making a difference in teaching. If learning is enhanced by technology, than it must be a consideration in teaching. I guess that is also the reason for a multi-million dollar International Technology in Education Conference. Technology is not the silver bullet for education, but it is also not a “should we use it, or should we leave it” decision.

If social Media is working for educators as a tool for learning, why not consider it as a tool for learning for students. Why not have students build their Personal Learning Networks to connect them through their education careers. Why not enable them access to content beyond what their teachers may be able to provide. The idea of learners connecting responsibly with other learners for the purpose of sharing and collaborating may move us from where education is, to where ever it is we should be. Social Media may be a tech tool that will move that idea forward. Again, if it works for educators, why shouldn’t it work for students. We are all Learners!

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With a premiere Technology-in-Education Conference, ISTE11, coming in a matter of days, I find myself comparing the Education conferences of old to the social media-influenced Education conferences of today. There is a world of differences, but, unfortunately, many of these differences have yet to be discovered by educators who have failed to recognize the juggernaut of social media. For many years I was a board member of NYSCATE, an educational technology group for New York educators. A primary purpose of this group is to conduct an annual conference that draws thousands of educators in order to discuss technology in education. In addition to my participation in this conference, I have over the years presented in many others, both large and small.

A huge difference about today’s conferences is the connectedness of the participants. Educators through social media have been able to connect with other educators without regard to geographical boundaries. Many productive online relationships have continued over a period of time without actual face to face meetings. These conferences are an opportunity for face to face connections. That translates to more time for socialization for the participants. Plans and discussions have taken place weeks before the conference about who to see and what to do. The conference provides a place for people, who have never met face to face, to meet as long-lost best friends would meet after a long separation. Places for social gatherings need to at least be considered, and at most be expanded. These personal connections of connected people may be misinterpreted as cliques, but this is often a perspective of educators not yet involved with social media. The unfortunate result may be a perception of a class distinction between the connected and the disconnected (or not yet connected).

Back Channeling is another big difference between old and new. This is when participants in a workshop or presentation tweet out on Twitter, or Facebook the points that the presenter is making in real-time. Not only are the facts of the presentation, but editorial comments as well tweeted out. This may have a great effect on presentations moving forward. I remember a recent conference having a keynote speaker using a data heavy PowerPoint presentation, and not being very aware of back channeling. After a few Tweets came out about the quality of the presentation, there was an avalanche of negatives flying out from that presentation. Needless to say these tweets were global messages going public to thousands of educators. On the other hand, a great presentation has the potential for going out beyond the limited audience in the presentation. Ustreaming is being done more and more as well. Presentations limited to small audiences are broadcast globally to any educator with a connection. Local conferences have the ability to gain global recognition.

The social media hierarchy is now replacing the superstars of higher education and industry at these conferences. Keynote speakers of the past were often professors from Higher Education or Captains of industry from the world of Technology in Education. Today, social media has chosen its own superstars, people who continue to contribute and influence education through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, online Webinars, Podcasts, and Blog Posts. Some of the best have feet in both worlds. The conference of today is an opportunity for participants to meet those whom they consider to be social media Gurus.

I think an underestimated influence on conference participants is the effect of free online Professional Development. More and more free symposiums are being offered through social Media. Webinars and online interviews are becoming daily occurrences. The conference participants are becoming more aware of trends and issues prior to attending the conference. Presenters need to at least be where their audience is in their knowledge of the subject. Relevance means more to connected educators than it ever has before.

Another influence is the effect that the growing “Unconference” movement is having. Born from Social Media, “Teachmeets”, and “Unconferences” are changing what educators expect from a conference. These are self-directed-learning format conferences. They give most, if not all, of the control for learning to the learner. The learners direct the conference from the beginning until the end forcing the conference to be flexible and adaptive.

Blogging is another Social Media-influenced activity which has a lasting touch on conferencing. On the very first day of any conference, there will be at least one blogger who will publish a post on his or her experience. First impressions last a lifetime. Bloggers will continue to post their experiences and impressions throughout and beyond the time that the conference takes place. Once it took weeks for the word to get out about the success of a conference. On the spot blog posts have changed that dynamic. Micro blogs (Twitter) and Blog posts determine and create conference “BUZZ”. It may determine whether individuals with limited funds may or may not attend a specific conference in the future.

If Education Conferences are to benefit the educators that they hope to have participate, now and in the future, all of these new influences must be considered. Just like education as a system, conferences are dealing with participants who are becoming self- learning aware. The days of content being controlled by a few and the need to seek those few out to obtain it, are gone. Free access to almost endless information and the ability to select only information which is needed by the learner is changing the game.

If you are a person who questions the need for Mobile Learning Devices in education, look around you at your next conference. Take note of the Laptops, Smart Phones, iPads, and Tablets. Watch how long it takes people to scope out an electrical outlet to power up, or recharge. See what happens if people don’t have passwords to access WiFi.

What would happen if we forced those educators to leave their mobile learning devices at the door? What would happen if we singled out and punished individuals for texting during a presentation? What would happen after you informed educators that the filtering will limit their access? What would happen if we required participants to agree to an Acceptable Use Policy before they could connect? Participants at these conferences are learners. Let us keep that in mind when we return to the learners in our own schools.

All in all, this isn’t your father’s Education Conference!

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My post today is on a topic which I have discussed before and probably will discuss more in the future. As much as we talk about reform in education, the system is very slow to change. Many of the people shouting the loudest for a need for sweeping improvements are some of the same people who are ardent supporters of the status quo. For whatever reasons they may publicly state, their preference is to keep things the way that they have been. Whether it is comfort or ease, things in a system, as large as education, are very slow to change. Even though we are educated adults, with adult experience, more often than not we hear the term “baby steps” used in conversations of education reform.

My school district for many years spent what may have been thousands of dollars each year on the first day back to school in order to provide an inspirational keynote speaker for the entire district faculty meeting to kick off the new year. It was an expense, and a practice which I always found to be a waste of time and money. There is however, one memory of one such speaker sharing an experience, which I remember lo these many years.

According to this speaker, each Christmas her family had a traditional family dinner featuring a ham for the main course. Through the decades the ham was always prepared the same way. In its preparation each end of the ham had a portion of the meat sliced away, literally inches of meat removed prior to cooking. One day, the speaker asked her mother why the removal of the ends of the ham. Her mother replied that it was always done that way, and so, it was how she learned to cook it from her mother. Since the Grandmother was still alive, although not in attendance at the dinner, a phone call was placed to inquire about the method requiring the cutting of the ham. When the question was posed, “Why do we cut the ends of the ham before we cook it?” the answer came as a shock. The grandmother explained that when they started the family dinner, decades back, they only had a small roasting pan and needed to cut the ham to fit it into the pan. Hence, the cutting of the ham continued for years without regard to origin or reason. They just did it and continued to do it, because that is how it was done.

With that as my backdrop, it is now time to get to the meat of this matter. With the beginning of the internet (sometimes attributed to Al Gore) and its incursion into education, many educators and parents were unaware and fearful of the unknown. That very fear drove the development of policies that were adopted to protect kids from the evil that was the internet. The very fears that are used as hot buttons by the media to drum up huge audiences for shows like “To Catch a Predator”. The very fears that are used as hot buttons to sell filtering software to schools to block out any site mentioning sex, drugs, or rock and roll, not to mention Facebook, and Twitter. These very same fears fostered ideas like Acceptable Use Policies limiting personal rights and academic freedom.

It would be irresponsible, as well as idiotic to say that the internet is free from any of the same dangers we encounter anywhere in the world digital or not. How we deal with these dangers is what we must consider. The subject of child predators has changed. TV and Movies would have you believe a majority of kids as victims are molested by strangers. For years we pounded into kids heads beware of strangers. We now have evidence that there is better than a 90% chance that the predator is a family member, close family friend, or even a clergyman. We have had to change or at least adjust the focus on strangers in our lecture about “don’t let ANYBODY touch you in an inappropriate way”.

It is time that we make adjustments to our internet policies in our schools as well. We need to be educated about the internet not fearful. We need to control our use of it, and not allow it to control us. We don’t need to refuse access to it, but rather educate kids how to responsibly access it in order to be responsible digital citizens. There is a big difference between signing an Acceptable Use Policy and teaching, learning and modeling an Acceptable Use Policy. Abuse of the internet is a discipline infraction and should be dealt with as such. A comprehensive code of conduct for any school must include technology abuses.

Access to, and understanding of the internet is becoming a needed skill if one is to compete in a technologically competitive society.  The sooner we educate our children to be responsible digital citizens, the sooner we can hold them responsible for their actions. Internet awareness must begin on the elementary level. We cannot hold children responsible for that which we have not taught them. Education is the key to safety. Filtering eliminates the ability to teach children to be responsible. It may allay the flamed fears of parents which are fanned by software companies and TV producers, but it does nothing for preparing kids for the technologically competitive world in which they must live, compete, survive, and thrive. The educator’s job is to prepare kids for the world in which the students will live. It is not the world in which the educators lived. It is not the world in which the kids’ parents lived. It is the world yet to come. There are many pitfalls and safety precautions kids must be aware of, and that cannot be denied. Teaching rather than blocking is a better strategy to defend against these pitfalls. Fear-mongering to parents may sell software to schools, and build big TV ratings, but in the long run it does not address the issue. We cannot educate kids about content that is filtered and blocked. Subjects like Breast Cancer or sexually transmitted diseases are often blocked to those students who need the information for school reports or personal inquiry. Teachers, who are also adults, are blocked access as well. This blocks needed relevant sources that would help lessons to teach. Is this what we need for our schools? Is this what we want for our kids? I do not want it for my Kids. I would hope most parents would opt for education as opposed to the void of banning.

Until we re-examine our policies to match them to the world in which we now live, as well as the world our kids will live in, I imagine I will write similar posts in the future. Technology isn’t going away. It will continue to flow no matter how many dams we build. It’s time to ask real questions, in order to understand what we really need, and how do we get there. A small roasting pan from days gone by should not determine the education that our kids need for the future.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

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