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Archive for July, 2011

I recently read a post from Andrew Marcinek, an educator who I greatly respect and often agree with. Are We Chasing Technology or Mastering It? His post however caused me, for the first time after several years of connection, to disagree with him. In his post he asserts that we should slow down the way we expect teachers to learn and use technology as a tool for learning. He makes some valid points. We can never be on the cutting edge of Technology, since it changes and advances so rapidly. I totally agree. There is also an explosion of education applications available which causes information overload for even the most Tech-Savvy educator. Again I agree. I agree with Andy’s approach to teaching teachers. We cannot shove Technology down their throats with an arrogant approach espousing what we know as the best thing for all teachers to do.

There was a passage however that grabbed me, and set me off a bit. For those of you who know me, it really does not take too much. The passage read:

If your colleagues use PowerPoint effectively and the kids are learning from it then let them go. Let them check it off as technology integration! Don’t be one of the Tech-jocks and scoff at their slow uptake on the tech wave. Embrace them! Give them a short, resounding golf clap for stepping out of their comfort zone. And remember, not everyone teaches like you; just as our students don’t all learn the same way.

If PowerPoint were the lowest common denominator in the area of technology and learning, I might be less upset. The fact is that the chalk board is probably the lowest, followed by, 60 year old technology, the overhead projector. These are not bad tools for learning and each still may have a place in teaching and learning in the minds of some, but they should not be the focal point. The pinnacle of technology in the classroom cannot be PowerPoint.

I agree that we need to be patient and help educators along, but let us not forget who this education system is for. It is for the students. They are the learners that we must address as the focus of education. It is the comfort of the students with which we need to be concerned. It will always be the skills which students need, that must be the key to education. The tools of learning that kids need to master should be our main concern. Some teachers will never be comfortable with Technology and we must accept that. I was engaged in these very same arguments in the 80’s. We must however keep trying to engage them to engage. It is professional, as an educator, to be relevant. It is professional as an educator to be a learner. It is professional as an educator to be professional.

We are not educators to teach kids within the limits of our comfort zones. Hell, I grew up in the 50’s; my comfort zone no longer exists. As learners we need to move our comfort zones forward. We are teaching kids for their future not our past. (That is an oldie, but a goodie.) There is a place for blackboards, overheads, and even PowerPoint in education, but it is not where the focus of learning should rest. We need to prod and push people in the nicest of ways to strive forward. Yes, it would be counterproductive to overload them with the plethora of tools available today, but we need to move forward. That very same plethora will not go away in the future, it will grow. Standing in place is moving backwards in today’s technologically competitive culture.

I appreciate Andy’s concern for his colleagues. I agree with Andy’s approach to compassionate teaching. I part ways when it comes to placing the comforts of a few over the needs of the many, the students whom we have a responsibility to teach. We cannot be expected to be treated and respected as professionals unless we act professionally. Continuing to learn and to be relevant, as is required by our profession, is what we need to do as professionals. If I hold myself accountable to those standards, I cannot expect less from my colleagues.

Thank you, Andrew Marcinek for causing me to commit this to text on my blog.

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Every three years I force myself to do something that, although it is geared to save me money and provide for my safety, I dread it more than the possibility of Kidney Stones. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the DMV provides a Defensive Driving Course for drivers to complete and earn a reduction on their insurance premium, or a reduction on points on their license as a result of traffic infractions. Not wanting to suffer alone, and needing to get the highest reduction possible on my insurance premium, I enlisted my wife and daughter to attend the SIX hour course with me. Misery loves company. We did have a choice of two, three-hour sessions, or one, SIX hour course. Our choice was to not prolong the agony over two sessions. We opted for the SIX hour course

I do not know for sure, but I imagine other states offer such courses for their drivers. The entire SIX hour course was developed by the DMV. The instructors are all certified by the DMV. The 56 page workbook was developed by the DMV. The 20 question course Exam with multiple choice answers as the culminating event was developed by the DMV. The course was delivered on a DVD which was produced by the DMV. The course was delivered by a private driving school. The classroom was provided by the driving school. The fee for the course went to the driving school.

I always go to this course waiting to see the original Blood on the Asphalt, an old Driver’s Ed standby 16mm film from the 60’s. It never appears. It must be residing in some Driver Ed museum. The DVD used to present the course provides a number of very modern videos during the course, all of which are of a higher quality than those of the 60’s. The pre-packaged curriculum is very well thought-out. What wasn’t so well-thought-out was the rows of folding chairs in the room for the SIX hour course. There was a non-interactive whiteboard in the front of the room. It could have been a blackboard. All in all, it looked like a modern version of a 19th century classroom without the Franklin stove.

The instructor was a very nice guy. He had been specifically trained to teach this defensive Driving course by the DMV. He was, as many of these instructors are, a retired teacher. He was also a driving instructor. He was friendly, engaging, and humorous. He did however need to follow the curriculum set out by the DMV and complete the 56 pages within the allotted SIX hour time slot. Additionally he needed to confirm our completion of the 20 question multiple choice Exam.

Here is what really struck me during the course. We went step by step following the curriculum and doing the worksheets at the appropriate times. We watched the prescribed videos as they appeared on the DVD. I had a cup of coffee and a bagel early on, so I was somewhat awake. My daughter however, was nodding off, and had to get off the somewhat padded folding chair for the comfort of the carpeted floor. Halfway through the SIX hour course, that’s when it happened. We watched one of the prescribed videos on driver safety. The subject of the video was putting people through a driving simulator. They encountered various scenarios in the simulator. The subjects drove in the simulators and adapted to various defensive driving scenarios. We got to look at the results. As the video ended, the blaring question in my brain was, “Where the Hell is this damned simulator?”.

If we all took turns in the simulator, my family and our 8 classmates would all be better defensive drivers in a much shorter period of time than SIX hours. We would be the “Ninja Warriors” of defensive drivers. Instead, we were being prepared over a SIX hour period to pass a 20 Question Multiple choice test developed and delivered by the DMV. That is when I realized why fate had me endure this SIX hour agonizing experience. It was to view the future of Education.

This was a course developed by the government. The instructor was trained by the government to stick to the curriculum. The curriculum was canned on a DVD so that there would be little deviation from the prescribed material. The consumable worksheets were developed for the course by the government. Private industry partnered to make all of this possible. The classroom, furniture, instructor’s pay, tech and whiteboard were all provided by independent business and no taxpayer expense.

It was all too obvious. As all of this went through my head, I could not believe the parallels I was beginning to formulate. Consider: the government mandates, the call for a standardized curriculum, the certification of teachers, the goal of passing a standardized test, and even the arrangement of seats in rows. Let us also consider the incursion of private business into the education space. The best thing of all is that we can do all of this in just SIX hours. I believe I have seen the future of Education. What is even worse is that I have experienced it. It is not learning.

The best thing is that the DMV offers an online alternative. It may be quicker than SIX hours, but I do not know if it is better. The best part is that the worksheets and test are presented online. The key, for a less scrupulous person, would be another Tab on the computer. During the Test a student could open a Tab and go to. From that point on it is a matter of cut and paste. So much for “Ninja Warrior” Defensive Drivers. The 20 Question Test however, the real indicator of defensive driving readiness, would have been aced, to make the student a certified defensive driver. I feel so much safer on the road.

If this is a path for education, and there are indications that it may be, what can we expect as the outcome for our kids? We need to rethink prescribed curriculum, standardized tests, the use of technology and all of the rest. There are no easy answers. I have experienced the future of education in SIX hours. I have seen the enemy and it is us.

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As I attend more and more conferences explaining the effect Social Media is having on education, the subject of Back Channeling often comes up. Educators at conferences are beginning to accept the fact that it is okay for audience members to twitter out to their followers the statements of the presenter as well as their own impressions of the speaker and topic. As I explained this to a number of people at a conference this week, I remembered the first post I did on this very subject way back on November 25, 2009. This is the guest Blog post I did on my good friend Shelly Terrell’s Blog. (BTW, I no longer have a blackberry.)

I am on a flight returning home after a successful Presentation at the New York State Association of Computers and Technologies in Education Annual Conference, NYSCATE. I was pleased with the outcome, but I did make a few observations about how presenting at these conferences is beginning to change and may never be the same.

Presentations for any educational conference are the backbone of the conference. They are usually the main reason why educators attend conferences, wild parties notwithstanding. It is a great accomplishment for an educator to have a proposal for a conference presentation accepted and placed on the Program. Being judged and accepted by one’s colleagues is both an accomplishment and a thrill and for some, the process could also be terrifying. Presenting is considered by many to be one of those thresholds in an educator’s career. I have done several presentations at various conferences over the years and I have been moved by the positive experience with each event. Because it requires putting one’s self out there for all to see, most presenters do a great job of preparing and presenting to the best of their ability.

There has recently come a change for presenters that I just became aware of with my recent experience. I was at a keynote speech by David Jakes. He made a huge impression with his introduction to Augmented Reality. It was very cool. Jakes was engaging and informative, everything we have come to expect from a keynote speaker. He could have smiled more, but otherwise he was great. During his speech my Blackberry gonged. This was not a notification that an angel got her wings, but an alert that a message arrived. As I took out the Blackberry to turn off the sound, I thought I would sneak a peek at Ubertwitter.  Twitterers understand the call of the stream.

I was amazed to find ten tweets about the very keynote speech I was watching. I could not believe how rude these audience members could be tweeting during a speech. I immediately tweeted out to these people. If they could be rude, I should be allowed to be rude too. I sent out about five tweets. Jakes received rave reviews from all the tweeters present. He deserved it, because he was excellent. I came away inspired by Jakes and terrified by Twitter.

The terror came in the fact that the next day I had to present my PLN Presentation and I knew many of those same tweeters would be in my room. I attended a panel discussion the next morning and there were over a hundred people in attendance. The Panel was again excellent and again several tweets went out saying so. In addition Tweeters were quoting the pearls of wisdom from the panelists, word for word. I had two hours to go and no pearls of wisdom from me were even on the horizon.

The idea of a Twitter test entered my mind and now I had another standard to meet. Not only did the presentation have to be accepted by educators in general, but it needed to be accepted by Tweeters specifically. In my mind’s eye I envisioned my three thousand followers opening their Twitterstream and seeing a tweet “Whitby sucks in Real time” or worse “RT: Whitby sucks in Real time” GLOBAL sounded in my brain. Even Europe, Asia, and Australia will know I suck in real-time.

I showed up in my room early and of course, the technology that we tweet about all the time, let me down. The computer screen appeared sideways and it was the same on the projection screen as well. A frantic call to the tech folks scrambled three techs to the room. Any more than one is a problem, since there is not one opinion but three to resolve the problem of the sideways screen. I am a dead man in the eyes of the world. It was time to start, and I could not wait for the fix, so I began the presentation. Shortly after my introduction, the techies came through and the projector and computer were up and running with a picture in the correct orientation.

Somehow I managed to conceal my fears until this public outing in this Blog. The point that I think needs to be made, however, is that twitter, or whatever app is to follow, will forever change the way we receive Presentations. Hopefully, Twitter will force us all to do better or be exposed globally. A real concern is what about those twitterers who don’t get it and tweet out bad stuff about the speaker with little regard for reason or feelings. Twitter will have a significant effect on presenters and presentations. Maybe we should ban it?

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After a wonderful experience at the ISTE11 Conference in Philadelphia, I finally made the decision to get away from any computer and get myself to the beach for a week to decompress. Of course, I have my Droid, so I am still somewhat connected, but frustratingly so. A mobile device doesn’t yet fully replace the speed and convenience of a loaded laptop or desktop. Yet, it is that very inconvenience with only a mobile phone at the beach that enables me to say to my family that I am, for the most part, disconnected. If truth be told I have gotten a few socially oriented Tweets off with beach and sunset pictures. I needed to share some of those moments. I guess my reality is that I am not so good at decompression by disconnecting.

During my stay at the beach, I am constantly asked by folks what is it that I am doing these days. Of course explaining my involvement in Social Media in Education is a discussion that eradicates decompression, so I try to simplify. “I am involved with using technology as a learning tool in education.” This often brings the response about how kids today know everything they need to know about computers. They are “Digital Natives!”

It is that very attitude by adults that had a generation of kids programming the family VCR’s to record shows, or to at least stop the blinking “12 AM” light. That single task may have marked the very time when adults relinquished responsibility for technology to kids. It is true that when it comes to Technology stuff, kids approach it differently. They are less intimidated, and less concerned with breaking something. They are more intuitive when it comes to technology use. Most devices and applications now have many more common bells and whistles that carry through to other devices and applications. Of course this behavior in tech use is learned through repetitive actions, as a result of this commonality of devices and applications and may suggest or give an appearance to a non-tech user that it is an example of a native intelligence for technology. However, it is, in fact, very much a learned behavior. It is that very attitude however, that is misleading to many educators.

If there is one thing that can be learned from politicians it is this: Facts do not matter! If you say something often enough, and long enough, people will believe it, regardless of the facts. That seems to be the case when it comes to adult perceptions of youth and Technology.

I have written about this before, but obviously a majority of our vast population has missed or not gotten around to my earlier posts. I now teach in Higher Education. My experience is that most students are experienced in texting, downloading music and video, creating some music and many ringtones, and having a fair knowledge of word-processing. Lest I forget, they are master Googlers (I am not even sure that is a word), as well as copy-and-paste superstars.

Primary teachers leave technology to the secondary teachers; Secondary teachers leave technology to the Higher Ed Teachers; and Higher Ed teachers assume that students are “digital natives”. Tech skills of Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Research, Social Learning, and Media Literacy in general are not being taught by some educators, but rather being assumed to be mastered by our digital natives. Of course a question obvious to many is, if these are skills required for media literacy, how many of our educators are media literate? The answer to that is critical to how many educators will enthusiastically embrace teaching with tools of technology. No, this does not apply to all educators, but if it does apply to some, then that is too many.

If we are making assumptions that our students are digital natives and using Tech intuitively, then we need not require further technology education of our educators. Of course this is ridiculous. But then again, the more I speak about relevance in education by using Technology as a tool for learning for both educators and students, the more I experience resistance to do so. The objection that always pops up is we don’t need technology to be good teachers. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with that. If we are teaching kids to master skills that will make them at least productive and at most competitive in their world, which is still developing its technology then we do need it in education. As educators, how can we teach kids what they need for their world in a technologically competitive society, if we are not keeping up with it. These skills are not intuitive; they are learned. In order to be learned, they need to be taught. In order to be taught by educators, these skills need to be learned by educators. Again, to be better educators, we need to be better learners. Believing in the myth of digital natives does not relieve us of the responsibility to teaching with tools of technology. We need not teach all the bells and whistles, but, as relevant educators, we need to employ Technology as a tool for learning where it is appropriate. Technology will never replace teachers but it will change the way they teach. Content may be delivered more by mentoring than lecturing. The best content experts cannot compare their knowledge to that which becomes available on the internet. Teaching how to access, process and communicate that requires technology and mentoring skills. The creation of content may become a shared experience with teachers and students.

If we, as educators, personally use and teach with technology consistently throughout the education system, we will need not teach technology, because our kids will be digital natives.

 

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