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Archive for April, 2012

Every educator knows what their school is like, but few really understand what Twitter is like. The Twitter experience, like school, is different for everyone. One’s contribution to the effort in either of these endeavors has a great deal to do with producing the outcomes. Simply put, the more you put in, the more you get out. That at least is the theory.

I am fortunate to have a very large base of educators that I follow on Twitter and an even larger number of educators follow me. This affords me an ability to see a great deal of activity on Twitter in regard to how educators use it on a daily basis. I wish all educators had Professional Learning Networks like mine, but it is not a style of learning suited for everyone.  Nevertheless, I began wondering what it would be like if the types of sharing, collaboration, reflection and discussion that are continuing activities on Twitter could at least be attempted in the school building environment.

A bulk of the information exchange available on Twitter for instance comes in the form of links, or URL’s, which are internet addresses to pages of information. They could be announcements, articles, posts, videos, podcasts, webcasts, personal opinions, or books. I guess in a school setting each teacher could take articles, videos and books to exchange and discuss with other faculty members. Admins could find education links run them off on paper, and insert them in teachers’ mailboxes daily. Of course personal opinions are the mainstay for faculty rooms.

Another thing that Twitter offers us is the ability to respond to ideas and have a general discussion about those responses. Often times the authors of the ideas participate in those discussions. In a school setting, I imagine that the administrator could offer ideas for discussion, or bring in speakers and lecturers for the faculty. This is usually done at the beginning of the year to get everyone pumped up for the New Year. It would need to be done more frequently however in order to emulate the Twitter experience.

Reflection is very big on Twitter. Many tweets cause people to discuss and reflect. After a short period of time some educators address those same issues on blog posts. That of course is shared, commented on, reflected upon, and the process repeats itself. I guess in the school setting the Admin could propose a topic for discussion and afterward people could respond and reflect and if they chose to do so, come back with articles they had written on the subject to present to the faculty or place a copy in everyone’s mailbox.

Twitter offers a great deal of variety in opinion. An obviously unique element to this is the fact that Twitter is a global effort. Educators from around the world offer their opinions on some of the many subjects that educators have in common around the world. As an example, I am amazed at how universally standardized tests are recognized by educators to be counterproductive in educating kids. In the school setting it would be difficult to get a global perspective on issues unless the guest speakers were flown in from other countries. Skyping might be a great alternative.

A big, big Twitter plus is the access educators have to education experts. Conversations are had between regular teachers and education luminaries on a daily basis. Many of education’s leaders actively participate on Twitter in order to stay on the pulse of education, as well as education reform. Many of the people forming the national and international education discussions are gathering and sharing information over the internet using Twitter. In a school setting Admins could probably make calls to these same education leaders and set up at the very least Skype calls. The faculty could be assembled in the auditorium for the Skype call. The discussion after would be great.

Twitter is a gateway to many free online webinars and online conferences. It also keeps educators posted on local and regional Edcamps and conferences. Edcamps are a product of social media and a great form of Professional Development for educators. In a school setting the Admin could post a daily, weekly, or monthly calendar of events for professional development. The mailboxes again would be a wonderful method of delivery for this.

On Twitter there are constant discussions and references to pedagogy and methodology in education. As one example Twitter has been discussing the Flipped Classroom for almost two years at this point. I imagine that admins should be the education leaders of their schools and be up to date on all things education. Once they get any new trends they could present the idea at a faculty meeting. Hopefully, the discussions of pedagogy and methodology will spill over into department meetings and faculty room gatherings.

I know that schools are doing the best that they can, given the restraints of time and money, to involve their teachers with as much as they can, but it is not enough in a world where new information is formed by the ton in a matter of minutes. The idea of using technology as a tool for professional development has not caught on. The idea of being a “Connected Educator” is too foreign to too many educators. If this post is to be effective it will have to be printed out, reproduced, and circulated in teachers’ mailboxes in order to reach them. In this age of technology, that should be an embarrassment to the most educated people this country or any country has to offer.

Twitter is only one source for teachers to connect. It is the easiest to use, and the hardest to understand. Teachers need to get started connecting to other teachers. If Twitter is too difficult, try Google +, or LinkedIn, or start a blog that accepts comments. If what we are now doing as teachers was keeping us relevant and effective as educators , the words “Education” and “Reform” would not be linked together so often in so much written about education today. We have a need to connect with other educators. It must be an imperative! In the words of Ben Franklin, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”


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For years I served on the board of directors of The New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education, a group known to most as NYSCATE. One thing that I always had a problem with while working with NYSCATE was the name of that group. The name gave the perception to teachers that this was a group for computer teachers. It is actually a wonderful, professional group that supports technology for all educators in any subject areas. As any honest politician worth his/her salt will tell you, facts don’t matter, perception is reality. As this is a rule of politics, it is also holds true for many people in the profession of education as well. Perception is Reality!

My teaching career started before computers of any kind were in education. I remember in the very early 70’s buying a four-function calculator from Sears for $99.00 in order to do averages. (Now they come free in the mail in order to solicit donations) In my experience the earliest introduction of computers into schools came through the Math department. Math teachers stepped right up to accept technology as quickly as it would arrive. Computers were not used as learning tools, but rather stand-alone technology that required its own language, and understanding, and courses were developed to support that. The math departments across the country developed and promoted computer courses to specifically teach about Languages, programing, hardware and software.

This created a mystique about computers that continues in the minds of many even today. The perception was that in order for anyone to use a computer, a course of study would be required to understand the languages and mechanisms of the mysterious world of computers. Computer companies struggled to remove that mystique in order to have people buy into the idea of ubiquitous computing. Apple understood this early on and simplified computers enough to make big advances in the education market. It was quite a while before computers began working into the classroom. This was also slowed down by the strategy of computer labs. Teachers again were given a level of obstacles to overcome to use computers in class. Schedules had to be followed and classes had to be physically moved. Laptops and mobile devices are improving this situation. But, getting beyond the desktop computer does add more technology for teachers to learn.

There are now two directions for computers in education to take. There is the study of computers, which is most necessary for the development and evolution of technology. This is very specific to computers as a course of study. The other direction and probably larger role for computers in education would be as a tool for learning for any of the courses in education at any level. These very same skills for using these tools for learning will probably become the same skills used for the tools of whatever profession or vocation a student may enter. This is one of the many ways we prepare our students for life. We are developing technological strategies and skills that will be a basis for a real life experience.

This is what NYSCATE and similar Educational Tech groups support. They help all teachers in all areas; understand how to apply technology in not only what they teach, but also how they teach. As a director of NYSCATE, I would invite teachers to attend the NYSCATE Conference. The response that I more often than not heard in response is one that I think is still a prevalent perception today. Many would say, “Why would I go to that Conference? I am not a computer teacher.”

Now, you might say that the name of the organization may have just been misleading to teachers, and that is why people responded in that manner. I would agree that this might apply to a few, but I don’t think a majority of the respondents. I say that because of my experience in proposing courses and changes in courses over the years. A majority of times that I have proposed adding technology tools or using technology strategies in classes or lessons, those who approve such proposals would immediately point out that I was not a computer teacher. Their perception was that you needed to be a computer teacher in order to use technology in a class. This happened not only in a public school setting, but the same type of objections has recently come from Higher Education as well.

Technology is progressing so quickly that many people are finding it difficult to keep up. As a practical matter it may be impossible to keep up with every change or development in technology. We can’t however ignore the fact that technology has an impact on everything within our culture today.  As educators we must understand that Technology can not follow the same procedures as textbook adoption. Schools have no power to control the development or acceptance of technology. Educators can’t approve or disapprove of parts of technology that they think people should find acceptable, or not.  Technology provides: the tools our kids now use to learn, the tools people use to work, the tools families use to live. This will all happen with or without teacher approval.

Technology teachers are teachers who teach technology-specific courses. A teacher is one who teaches children with tools for learning that will provide them with technology skills which will translate to skills needed for work and life. As professionals we need to stop separating out technology from learning. It has become part of everything we do. It will not go away or even take a single step back. We also do not need to know how every bell and whistle available works. As teachers we need not use every form of the technology ourselves, but we need to enable our students to use it. Teachers should not always limit the use of technology by their students. For some projects teachers should allow students to select technology tools for learning to explore, collaborate, create, record, and present content. The actual use of technology in a course does not always need to fall on the teacher. In many cases the student can be the teacher and the teacher can be the student. That takes an open mind and a flexible, adaptive approach to learning and teaching. These are not bad traits for any teacher to have; be it any teacher in general, or a computer teacher specifically. Technology has become a tool of our profession, whether we use it, teach it, or study it, we need to deal with it. It is now a required part of what we do in our profession. For technology to become ubiquitous we need to stop compartmentalizing it from what we do.

 

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There are few questions that I get from teachers about social media, or sources that I haven’t gotten in some form before over the last three or four years. Two similar questions that I get with frequency are: How do you know all that stuff? And where do you get the time to get all this stuff? My immediate response is that Twitter is my guide to relevant education sources. Those educators who are “unconnected” should know that many “connected educators” consider Twitter an indispensable source for all things education. Twitter if properly connected to thoughtful and collaborative educators is a virtual cornucopia of endless links for: Posts, Videos, Articles, Podcasts, Webinars, Websites, Lessons, Announcements, Original thoughts, Chats, and all else Education that the internet has to offer.

That being said; Where do all those “connected educators” find things to send out on Twitter? Many educators contribute their links to the Twitter Stream based on what they are personally doing within their field of expertise. Some of us are more generalists in education, or we are using Social Media to reform or, as I like to think of it, advance Education. My life in retirement from public education has become one big sharing fest with educators. It has gotten to a point where I am now reading about stuff not to use it personally, but to consider its value in sharing with other educators who may benefit from it. I am forever advancing links and ideas in math, and I have never been able to legitimately balance a check book.

Where does one find the time to locate all of these sources? This is a commonly asked question since lack of time to do anything is always on an educator’s list of shortcomings. In additions to tweets of other educators, I depend on two sources for keeping up with the huge amount of stuff flowing through the internet. One delivers posts to my email and the other delivers to my iPad. Delivery is an important element for me. I have an extensive amount of blogs feeding into Google Reader, but since I don’t open it up that often, I hesitate to open it at all for fear of facing the mountain of unread blogs. Dumb as it sounds, I often open Google Reader up just to mark all the blogs as read (without reading them) so the pile goes away.

The two sources that I count on most for collecting blog posts and delivering them to me in a brief form are SmartBrief and Zite. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but in tandem, I seem to be able to accomplish a great deal in surveying and sharing on the topic of education as it is delivered over the internet.

SmartBrief is a free service that offers a subscription delivered directly to me by email. It curates the very best education blog posts, and newspaper and journal articles dealing with education. It comes in a capsulated form that I can expand if I want to read the entire post. SmartBrief does this for other industries as well, but in the area of Education there are twelve separate SmartBriefs that deal with offerings from specific education organizations. Probably the best known to educators is ASCD SmartBrief. This is a link to all the Education SmartBriefs http://www.smartbrief.com/news/education. Again these are all free subscriptions that can be dropped, hassle-free at any time. The advantage is that it is delivered by email accessed by any device. It also has an iPad app.

My other source strategy is ZITE. I originally started off with Flipboard on my iPad, but after I discovered Zite, I have spent little time on Flipboard. I start the day with Zite and coffee. Like SmartBrief, Zite also provides a capsulated form of posts and articles that can be expanded on demand. Most, but not all articles are easily tweeted out using a tweet icon. The tweets pop up for easy edits before you actually seal the deal with a send button. Zite is a free app that one personalizes to desired topics that are delivered to your Zite site. There is a constant turnover with posts being added hourly. A week seems to be the longest any post will last. The posts are time-stamped by hours/days on Zite.

SmartBrief and Zite are both source providers that get me the latest and greatest in Education to share with others. Being a “connected educator” does give me the ability to take what others are sharing and pass it along to even more educators. Taking what is shared comes with a responsibility to give back as well. How much we give back varies with every individual. In order to maximize any of this, a strategy should be in place. Smart, and convenient sources like SmartBrief and Zite take us a long way into utilizing what little time we have to affect the most amount of positive collaboration.

 

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What is not to love about a zone of comfort; it is a comfy cocoon. It is a pleasurable place that is safe, sound, and satisfying. It is a place where alliterative adjectives may abound with abandon. Comfort zones are safe havens where residents of those zones need not do anything that would in any way slow the flow of comfort. Comfort zones exist in our personal lives as well as our professional lives.

My personal favorite comfort zone is created on Friday nights. I have a Pizza delivered; open a bottle of wine; turn the computer off, and the TV on, and all is right with the world. It is difficult for me to accept any alternate plan for my Friday evening. If my wife commits us to anything else, I put on “the Grumpy Face” and very reluctantly go along with whatever uncomfortable thing I am forced to do, and almost anything else will be uncomfortable. Comfort zones seem to create patterns of habit that way.

There is little that people will not do to create, or maintain their comfort zones. Basketball fans are a great example of this. During “March Madness” the number of vasectomies performed takes a huge statistical jump. That operation in particular allows men to recover uninterrupted for several days with a real need to remain on the couch in front of the television set, or in a more relevant term in front of the big screen. All of this occurs with the willing support of the wife who may even be the willing server of beverages and snacks. This of course only happens once, but for some it is the ultimate comfort zone.

Pizza, wine, and vasectomies have little to do with today’s education, but comfort zones are a major factor in retarding reform in education. Change in any form is the one thing that destroys zones of comfort. Reform of any kind in education will require changing what we are doing now, to something else. That is change and for too many educators that is uncomfortable.

Direct instruction and lecture are probably the two most basic forms of instruction familiar to educators. It is how many, if not most, educators were instructed in their education. It is familiar. It is comfortable. Those methods are necessary and in some form, they will always be a part of education. The change however, is that those methods will probably no longer be the focus for education. There are other methods that are moving in. Problem based learning, collaborative learning, and social learning are all terms that have crept into the everyday discussion of education. To many educators these are not new terms, but their position in education is being elevated. These methods are moving up the ladder of acceptance. They must now be recognized as a force to be reckoned with in education. It will require both work and even more discomforting; CHANGE.

To compound the problem that some have with these emerging methods of instruction, there are new tools for learning that must be introduced. These tools are all in the form of new technology that enables or enhances the shift in education. This requires educators to travel away from the lectern, the chalkboard, the overhead and the rows, and the front of the classroom. That is difficult for these are the very things that formulate the comfort zones that many refuse to leave.

The biggest threat however is the self-image many educators have. They have been programmed by decades of previous teachers to hold fast to the belief that they are the keepers of content. They are experts in their areas. They are the masters of their domain (Seinfeld episode not withstanding). The internet and its easy access have changed that forever. Technology has changed the self-image that many educators have had. There are even some educators who buy into the myth that someday teachers will be replaced by technology. For some this goes beyond discomfort to actually threatening one’s self-worth and livelihood.

For many educators the use of new methodologies and the technology to utilize these methods are very foreign. Employing them will require change. This change requires more education, more training, different attitudes, and a different self-perception. Educators will need to advance from not just content experts, but to facilitators, or moderators, or guides. These are different roles for educators. It is not the understanding of the role that many had when they entered the profession. All of this is very uncomfortable. Too many will have to leave their zones. This is not limited to teachers. Administrators, parents, and even students have their comfort zones in today’s education system. We all are invested in our comfort zones, even when we are pointing to others demanding that they leave their zones.

Change in the education system must happen, if we expect different outcomes for our children. How do we do that with so many uncomfortable alternatives? We need to educate the educators. Comfort zones are obstacles to reform. We need to make professional development an integral part of the educator’s profession. Pedagogy and technology tools for learning need to have a balance in discussions. These are the reform discussions educators should be having for real reform. We cannot be sidetracked with the labor, tax, and accountability issues pushed forward by politicians who would refuse to judge themselves by the same standards they want to force on educators.

I love my pizza and wine on a Friday evening, as I sit in front of the TV. If tomorrow however, the doctor told me that my self-described, comfort zone has become a detriment to my health, and that I must change things or possibly die before my time, then my comfort zone is no longer comfortable. It is time to get comfortable with some other set of things. That is the state of education today. It is a change-or-die situation. We are running out of time for people to ease out of their comfort zones. We need to prioritize professional development. We need to make everyone comfortable with learning. That should be the only comfort zone for students and educators.

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