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Archive for December, 2011

The latest trend in education may be to shift teaching and learning from the classroom to the internet. We are seeing more and more states tuning to this as an answer to their education woes. Colleges have been transitioning in that direction for years. Online course have exploded over the years. I served on a committee for the New York State United Teachers examining those online possibilities for the secondary level back in the turn of the century, about the year 2000.

My personal experience with online learning, beyond the theoretical, came with my daughter as an eighth grader participating in an online-writing program sponsored by Johns Hopkins University. This occurred in 2007. I have two daughters and they have grown up in a technology-rich home environment. We are most fortunate and are thankful every day for what we have. The experience of my kids however, is probably not typical for every kid in America. That experience is what my daughter brought to the table as her preparation for this writing program.

Two things impressed me about this program. First, I was intrigued with the approach and methodology of the teacher .It was not assignments and worksheets, but rather explorations and feedback. Second, I witnessed how effective it was in engaging and advancing my daughter in writing. Of course the obvious, to be stated, is that if it were not for the first, the second would never have resulted. It was obvious that the educator on the other side of the computer screen was trained and experienced in delivering more than material and worksheets to spark more than just involvement on my daughter’s part. She was participating with interest. As a “classroom teacher”, I was most impressed. As a father, I was very proud of my daughter’s accomplishments. As an educator, I began to think, is this the way to go?

Stepping back into the “Wayback Machine” and returning to today, I need to ask many more questions. There are many who see this as a silver bullet for education. It addresses the concerns of politicians and business people. Online learning can be cheaper and more cost-effective than classroom teaching. They foresee one educator reaching larger numbers of students than could be done with conventional teaching methods. Less overhead, more profit, lower taxes.  With the Kahn Academy and the popularity of the TED Talk Lectures how can online learning miss the mark? It is the one stop answer many have been looking for. That would be the many who are not educators, but seem to direct the reform discussions.

If we are to travel the path to online learning, we need people to lead the way. Most colleges are preparing teachers for classroom teaching. Technology itself has found it difficult to break into the teacher preparation mindset. The idea that a teacher can teach solely over the internet, or even for part of the day, has not yet been accepted by many of those who teach teachers. The blended classroom may be happening, but it is through pioneering and not engineering. We need more than a workshop to train teachers to teach over the internet.

The idea of the blended class on the secondary level, which is far less a goal than complete immersion into online learning, cannot depend on happening with just students coming from colleges as new teachers. With over 7 million teachers in the United States we can’t expect that all of them have the ability or inclination to self-teach themselves the skills necessary to support an online teaching initiative.

The other big obstacle to this online learning is the same thing that is an obstacle to conventional education that we continue to ignore, poverty. There are families that are not financially capable of supporting that which is necessary for online learning. They do not have the bandwidth metaphorically or literally to do this.

I also question the ability of the students to be prepared for such a change. Being educated in an environment that at best has mixed feelings about technology in education, are our students properly versed in, not only the skills needed, but the mindset required for online learning? We have schools that still ban the internet. We have teachers who will not give up the chalk board. We still budget for overhead projectors and textbooks. These are not bad things. They are however indicators that we may not yet be prepared for immersion into online education. As always, the use of technology for the sake of using technology in an education setting is doomed for failure.

As an adult, I am all for online learning. Adults however, learn differently than children. As an educator I support the use of technology as a tool for learning. I would use it anywhere that it fits into what I teach and how I teach it. I believe we need to teach our students for the lives they will be living, which is not the same as the lives led by us, their teachers. I believe we must move forward to stay relevant. None of this can be successful however without the proper preparation.

The agenda for online learning may be misguided by people whose motivations are guided less by quality education and more by cutting costs and taxes, or, in the case of private schooling, to increase profits. Online learning, to be done properly, will require educating the educators, and providing the poor with that which they must have to participate in education. Students will also have to be provided the skills to participate in the process. Colleges will need to prepare teachers differently. Oh, and here is the elephant in the room. Who stays home with the kids as they are receiving their online education?

If we are going to go in the direction of online learning, than we must prepare for it. I think if we do so, it may change not only the way we teach, but it will affect the way everyone learns. It cannot be done on the cheap. Professional development in our system is, and continues to be the weak link of education. We cannot again add-on something else without training and supporting those who must use it, and then blaming them when it ultimately fails. There are so many unanswered questions.  Even as we answer the questions however, we must keep in mind, that there is no single answer. There is no silver bullet.

 

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Last night was the Edublog Awards Presentation, also known as the “Eddie” Awards. This event happens once a year at this time honoring those who excel in the area of Educational Social Media. Categories include educators, students, groups, and vendors. It originally started out recognizing Blogs and Bloggers, but has now expanded to all forms of Social Media as Social Media itself has expanded. This is an example that schools should emulate; the ability to be flexible and change to meet the needs of an ever-changing and developing culture.

The Edublog process is simple. Categories are established with little description other than the title of the category, and people in Social Media nominate people in Social Media. They could nominate others or themselves. This year there were nineteen categories and thousands of nominations.  After the nominations are posted, the voting begins, and continues, so that everyone has an opportunity to vote. Yes, that opportunity includes the ability to vote once a day for everyone as the voting continues. There are no judges; just nominators and voters. This is the element that has brought out the voices of discontent each and every year since 2004. Of course when this started it was a smaller community. With the advent of Twitter and Facebook, the Education Social Media community has grown to huge proportions, and, hopefully, will continue to do so.

The Presentation of the Edublog Awards is a virtual gala event. It takes place in a virtual room and all are invited to attend. It usually draws between 100-200 people. There is a dialog box where participants exchange pleasantries and jabs, as a fun time is had by all. Some of us jab and joke more than others. The event is hosted by Steve Hargadon, Sue Waters and this year Ron Burt. These people are also great contributors to the connected community of educators in their own right, beyond their Edublog contribution.

The best part of the presentation is when the winners take the mic for a very few short words. This is nothing like the Oscar speeches. Student winners always bring on the most Ooohs and Ahhhs from the audience as evidenced in the chat box. Last night one young, very young, winner took the mic to thank the group for his award. His name was Royce and obviously, Royce failed to tell his Mom about the award ceremony being held virtually. As Royce quietly thanked the group from what was evidently a computer in his room, his mother was heard yelling to him from another room “Royce it’s getting late turn that computer off”.

Now here is the not so funny part of this piece. The process, the awards, and even the nominees are often targeted by some disgruntled (for whatever reason) educators. These individuals find fault with and gripe about the process. They try to trivialize the award itself. They comment to the nominees that they shouldn’t use social media to tell anyone about their nomination. They sometimes even call for standardization of the awards with judges and criteria for assessment of sites. This has gone on every year that I have been involved in Social Media. Whatever happened to “A rising tide lifts all boats”?

I LOVE what the Edublog Awards represent. They recognize the hard work that individuals so unselfishly offer to a community. They recognize and publicize many education social media sites that might otherwise go unrecognized and unseen by those educators who need to see them most. They put a face to the text voices that we all see and hear every day. They enable connected educators to be further connected. Why would anyone object to any of this? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that such people are in the very circles that I travel.

I was nominated in five categories and I did not win one award. I was so impressed by the people I was nominated with, that winning really did not matter. The idea that people actually saw me in the same light as the individuals that I shared the nominations with just blew me away. Of course, I would have loved to have won in every category and create an Edublog record that would last for years, but that did not happen. I was still proud to be involved. Everyone who won deserved all the accolades this award brings. These are people who have a vision and act on it. It is hard work, albeit a labor of love, to consistently put out a product for Social Media that remains meaningful to others. The best incentive to continue happens when public recognition in any form comes your way. The true reward however, is never in the Edublog Award itself. It is in the connections you make with others. Affirmation of those efforts by connected educators is always a shot in the arm.

Next year, if I am nominated again, I will tell all my friends and neighbors that I am an Edublog Nominee. After all this is social media and the social thing to do is share news with others. We do it every day. I will nominate people who are adding meaningful content to our community of connected educators. I will participate in the presentation ceremony to honor those who so deservedly receive their Eddie awards. This is truly a supportive effort to those who support us with ideas, links, and sources all year-long. I will also speak out publicly to those who find fault in these awards or the process. I will also publicly thank Steve Hargadon, Sue Waters, and Ron Burt for yearly designing, accumulating, tallying, and presenting all that they do to make the Edublog Awards happen. Now as Royce’s Mom’s voice still rings in my ears. It’s late, so I better turn off the computer. Congratulations to all of the Nominees and the winners of the 2011 Edublog Awards.

Here is the link to the Top Edublog Nominees and the winners, as well as the addresses to their sites: http://edublogawards.com/

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I am often intrigued by the controversy surrounding the contraction, “ain’t” which, to the best of my knowledge, has been created by the American education system. Contractions are an informal form of the English Language and should not be used when formal language is required. We generally speak informally, but when it comes to writing, we employ the formal language. That being said, the acceptable contraction for “am not” is “ain’t”, therefore it can only be correctly used with the pronoun “I” as in I ain’t going to do that!” The problem occurred when people tried using it with other nouns or pronouns. “We ain’t going!” would then mean “We am not going!” “Jim ain’t here” would be Jim am not here, hence the misuses grew. The solution was easy. Rather than teach to correct use of that contraction, teachers banned its use altogether and made every attempt to have it stricken from every lexicon in the English-speaking world. Even as I write this post, the application, Microsoft Word is red-marking this paragraph like there will be no tomorrow. Of course I will need to ignore the rule, since it has now been established as a rule. The banning of this word from our language is so engrained in the minds of Americans that I will probably get comments from readers taking issue with this entire paragraph. Of course that works to underscore the success of the “Ban the word ‘AIN’T’ Campaign”.

Now that the stage has been set, let me get on to where I want to take you on this journey. This week I took my student teacher group to listen to a guest speaker. The speaker was a personnel director from a local school district who was discussing the ins and outs of securing a teaching position in today’s job market. After we got past the usual things about resume’s and panel interviews, the speaker delved into what she thought first year teachers should do to protect themselves as new teachers. When she told the group that they should not email anything to parents for their first three years of teaching, all of my students turned their heads to see if mine blew off my head. Some of my colleagues nodded and voiced their agreement. I said nothing out of respect for the speaker, but later told my kids that I totally disagreed with that strategy.

Our world is rapidly changing. I will not debate whether it is for the better or worse, but I will clearly agree that we are a culture that is connecting in many ways beyond the age-old face-to-face method employed for thousands of years. We talk, phone, email, text, tweet, Skype, post, and sometimes write letters in order to communicate. If involving parents in the education of their children is a goal for educators, we need to employ whatever form of communication that parents use to accomplish that. We can’t demand that parents conform to our limiting choices that are convenient for us. Email and texting are becoming the methods of choice for communication in our world today.

I fully understand the reasoning behind telling teachers to avoid emailing or texting parents. There are times when these things can be used against a well-intentioned teacher. Teachers live in a fishbowl and are held to a higher standard. They are also targets for people who need to place blame on anyone rather than accept personal responsibility. These are the hazards of our profession and they seem to be being amplified in a society which is growing more dependent on what social media and technology have to offer. The solution to the problem, however, does not lie in banning its use. As teachers, we should always rely on education as our first answer. Learning how to do something correctly is always a better alternative to not doing it at all.

Rather than condemning the use of tools that our society is embracing, we need to teach the correct way to use them. It is true that the written word can be used against a teacher, but any words written or spoken can be turned. Look at our political system where that happens every day.  We need to teach teachers to consider their words and communicate clearly no matter what form of communication they use. It is not the tool that makes teachers look bad; it is what they say that does that. A parent who is informed about his or her child’s progress and shortcomings has a fighting chance to affect change in their child’s education. The sooner they have that information the quicker things can happen. Of course if the parent has been informed and chooses not to act that is not the fault of the teacher. If email or texting is the preferred method for the parent to get this information then why are we trying to fight that?

We need to streamline the communication for quick results. For years teachers complained that they had no phones in the classroom to communicate with parents. In its day the phone was the technology tool for communication. Today, many, many classrooms have phones for accessing parents. The technology however, has developed forms of communication beyond the phone as we once knew it. For that reason most schools provide email accounts for teachers. What schools now need to do is teach the teachers how to best use that tool. Schools need to teach what to say and how to say it for best results, because this stuff is not intuitive. As I often say, we no longer have a choice about technology. It is what we use in our everyday lives. It does not matter that we can remember when we did not have it. We do not move backwards in time. We need to teach people how to move forward, because no one has been there yet.

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I had a busy morning today. I observed a student teacher for her final observation, and I made it home in time to participate in the weekly noon #Edchat on Twitter. As I participated in the #Edchat I was struck by the fact that it had a great deal to do with a conversation I had with my student’s cooperating teacher in a high school that morning.

The conversation that I had with this high school teacher took place in the school’s computer lab. It was a very relaxed session, as all of the students were involved in a Web Quest in support of their recent reading of  Inherit the Wind. They were now learning first-hand about the “Scopes Monkey Trial”.  I observed that the computer Lab had an Interactive White Board installed on the wall. I remarked to the teacher that it struck me that this is not the most effective place for an IWB, since every student sat at a desktop computer. A simple, less-expensive digital projector could serve as well, and that would free up an IWB for a classroom. That started the conversation ball rolling.

The teacher told me that the school received a grant for the IWB’s and Boards were placed in many of the classroom’s two summers ago. There was little regard for where they were placed in the rooms, or what rooms were to receive them. Since, according to our discussion, it was not evident that teachers were consulted in the planning stage, or the implementation stage, so the teachers had little to say in what rooms or where in those rooms boards were to be installed. That is why the board in this teacher’s room is not at a focal point, but on the side of the room. No one ever asked! The teacher continues to be upset over this every time she uses the board. Students must be repositioned or redirected to use the IWB.

Of course, professional development always at the top of my list, I asked if the staff received adequate preparation before using the IWB’s in the class. The staff received an overview workshop was the answer. There was a second training workshop later in the year for those who attended. Obviously, someone must have thought that just the mere fact the district is installing technology in a classroom should be incentive enough for a teacher to self-teach him or herself in order to use that technology. Could you imagine the airline, or medical industries using the same strategies for their people to learn and be incented to use the technology in their respective industries? Here’s a 747 pilots. Aren’t you excited?  The overview will be next week. Here is Robotic Laser, doctors. Be careful when you use it. You can sign up for a workshop at our next training day.

So, here is what seems to have happened. The district got a grant for IWB’s. It had to move quickly to install them, since they arrived in the summer. They put the IWB’s where they could be easily installed in classrooms that gave good visibility to the public. Professional development was either not part of the grant or too expensive to pay for in addition, so they settled for the overview provided by the manufacturer. There is little time during the year to provide Professional Development, so teachers had to wait for a conference day.

The result could have been predicted. Teachers were never on board or even consulted. Teachers begin to resent the entire effort. They use the IWB’s as projectors and cite this as another example of wasteful spending at the expense of larger classes. The administrators say that they are providing cutting edge Technology to the teachers, who refuse to use it. Of course the New York Times could pick up the story and say Schools are spending too much on technology that teachers fail to use with any positive outcome for student learning.

Of course, there must be more to this than I was able to get from a brief conversation. I do know that I have heard many similar stories from many educators from all over our country. I do not think this scenario falls too short of the mark even with my liberal use of poetic license. As you read this, I am sure many similar cases are speeding through your head. Of course, I will get comments from some IT people and administrators who just don’t get it. That is to be expected since they view things through a different lens.

When I participated in the afternoon #Edchat the topic was:  What changes could be made to the present management structure of education to make it more effective for educators? Of course this topic had my head swimming with the ideas from the earlier conversation. Administrators need to lead not mandate, or dictate initiatives and policy. They need to engage their staff. Education has the highest percentage of educated people in its industry. They are education experts. They have degrees in education. Why not consult with them on affairs of education? The more that we involve teachers with the development of policies, the more they will buy into the success of those policies. The more teachers point out flaws and misconceptions, the stronger the policy becomes in consideration of those shortcomings. Administrators should not view teachers as a problem. They are not the enemy. Teachers have much to offer as education experts. Lead and work with them as consultants. Education administrators need more staff consultation and leadership and less control and reactive policy directives.

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