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Archive for June, 2012

For several years, I have been involved with social media as an educator — asking questions and sometimes providing answers with other educators. I was once asked for my special power. My answer: “My ability to connect the dots.”

It enables me to look smart without knowing the answer to the question, because I connect people with questions to those with answers. That is one of the advantages of being a connected educator. Social media is a great vehicle for these connections because of the vast variety of collaboration-minded educators who populate it and their willingness to help. It’s a teacher thing. What I like the best about social media is that ideas are considered on their own merit, without regard to the title of the person offering them. Administrators, teachers and students are all equals.

Some of the brightest educators I have known over my 40-year career are people I met through social media. Without Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and others, I would not be connected to as many educators as I am. At best, my personal learning network would consist of teachers in my district and those I connected with at whatever conference I was lucky enough to attend. If I did not meet with them in person, I would need to call them. With social media, however, my connections are global and endless. I exchange ideas with educators worldwide. I have seen my blog posts translated into other languages.

I find that one of the big myths of social media is that it doesn’t allow for strong relationships. I have found the opposite to be true. The strongest relationships I have had with educators have all been formed through social media. I have opened my home, as people have opened theirs for me, as a result of our social media connections. Authors are more than pictures on a book sleeve to me. I exchange ideas with many all of the time. My ideas appear in their books. All of this could not happen with the frequency it does without social media.

Now, I have been offered a unique position. I am able to call on many of those connected educators to share their ideas with more educators. These ideas will be appear on SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Education. These are educators talking about education. Many have their own blogs and are on Twitter or LinkedIn, and I would encourage all educators to follow them. These are our education thought leaders. Their perspectives are a welcome refuge from politicians and business people who have dominated the national discussion on education for the past several years.

It is our intention to show you what can be accomplished in education with the latest methodology, as well as the newest technology for learning. This will be an educator’s perspective, delivered to other educators and addressing some of the oldest needs of our education system. It is a great opportunity to strengthen the educator’s voice in the national conversation on education.

SmartBlog on Education has a potential readership of almost three-quarters of a million educators. Guests whom we hope to provide represent the best thought leaders in education that social media has to offer. Your support and comments will be an important element in guiding us.

Do you read SmartBrief’s roster of free, concise, daily e-mail newsletters for education professionals? Sign up!

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My last post, Hypocrisy in the Profession of Education, seems to have gotten quite a few people talking about educators needing to learn more. Of course there were some who disagreed, which is an inevitable consequence of blogging. One of the comments that caused me to think even more about this educator/learner topic was a comment that I had received concerning the methods I suggested might need a revisit of learning. Authentic learning and project-based learning were two that were specifically mentioned by a commenter. The comment was to the effect that these were methods of teaching that have been with us for years, so why would educators need to learn them? That set me to examining why, or even if, we need to revisit any of the things we should be teaching. What is different about: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation from 20, 50 or 100 years ago? Obviously, the function, and purpose of those skills remains the same, so what is different? Why are we being told our students need better preparation in these skills? If we have always taught these skills before with success, what makes it different now?

We always taught kids how to write and encouraged them to get published. This was the goal of any good writer, the success of publication. The idea of submitting transcripts to publishers in great numbers as a buffer against the inevitable rejection slips was also advised. For many English teachers their greatest pride came from having a published student. What’s the difference today? The computer is the publisher. There are no rejection slips other than an audience response. Kids understand this, but many educators are playing catch up if they get it at all. I recently listened to two college professors describe their writing program and not once did they mention the words “Blog”, or “Post”. Writing for a post for an audience is different than writing a composition for your teacher to read. This is an area that all educators need to discuss and learn.

We always taught critical thinking, and how to vet sources. We taught which newspapers and magazines were reliable, trustworthy sources. Today newspapers and magazines are disappearing. They are being replaced by 24/7, cable news cycles, websites, blog posts, and social media. There is much more of a need for critical thinking skills than ever before. There are fewer reliable sources to count on. The super-pacs have proven that sound bites and images are more persuasive than facts. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Communication has always been taught. We have always had kids stand before the class and deliver reports and presentations. Science fairs in every county in America have kids communicating their data on poster boards. That happens with such frequency that Poster Board manufacturing became an industry in this country. How many job seekers will put “great poster board skills” on a resume’? Yes, I know there are other important things kids learn from this beyond the poster board, but why not take them beyond the poster board? Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Creation is the highest point on Bloom’s Pyramid. Some educators think that it is the peak of the pyramid because it is so hard to get to without mastering all the other skills. Some people may not think everyone is capable of getting to that peak of higher order thinking skills. We might find that the reason many students don’t reach a point of creating is that we have always limited the means they had to do so. We were only equipped to receive prescribed reports, oral projects, and an occasional video project. That has all been blown up by the evolution of technology and social media. Justin Bieber was barely in his teens when he launched and promoted his creations into a multi-million dollar industry. He did not use a report, oral report, or a video tape to do this. When it comes to creation, we as educators shouldn’t limit our students. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Technology has evolved at a rate which has changed our culture as a society, and has had a profound effect on education. Society’s demands on what it expects from contributors has evolved, so that what we turned out as literate in the past, is no longer literate in today’s world. Even with that being said there are many who doubt it. There are schools that refuse to recognize technology as a factor in education. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

I am not attacking educators on this. Our society in general needs to discuss and learn. We need more people to be connected. Technology is not going away or standing still. It will continue to evolve whether individuals accept that or not. If it is a factor in our society as a tool for: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation, then we must teach our citizens how to use it as a tool. Our kids will be required to do so in their world, which is not here yet. It should change priorities in education as to what we teach and how we teach it. Authentic learning and critical thinking are now huge factors because kids are learning and interacting without the benefit of a classroom or a school.   Education must not be limited by standardized testing. Our responsibility as educators is too great. These topics of discussion would best be served through leadership. Education administrators may need to prioritize these discussions over those of budgets and tests. These are the concerns that need to be driven by Professional Development. This is an area that educators and parents need to discuss and learn.

 

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Whenever I think of a teacher, I also think of a scholar. It has always been apparent to me that if one is to be an effective teacher, one must continually learn. Of course that is not always a path that individuals are able follow as a straight line. Often things, or situations get in the way over the course of a lifetime and many stray from that path for the sake of time, money, or most often family. I attended a retirement party recently for some retiring colleagues, and I engaged in several conversations with a number of teachers who were attending the party about various education topics. I was most surprised on the lack of depth of knowledge on the part of most of these teachers about topics they should at least have had at the very least an opinion.

I brought up topics like authentic learning; project based learning, the flipped classroom, and connected educators. Most of the teachers I spoke to, young and old had little idea about what I was asking. More often than not, they would offer reasons why they were not up to speed on these topics: No time, small kids at home, another job, not techy enough to follow stuff on the internet, or just a lack of interest, were all excuses that surfaced in these conversations. These were the reasons these educators were not in on the many conversations taking place with “connected educators”.

I clearly understand that teachers are under attack, both locally and nationally. I clearly understand that morale for educators is at a low point that has never been experienced before. I clearly understand what a pain in the ass it is to try to defend ourselves as educators to anyone who has bought into the mindless and baseless sound bites put out by mindless and baseless attackers. I am under no illusions that education is under attack by large numbers of people. That is why I find it so unbelievable to come across educators, so willingly abandoning any position of defense for education through learning or more precisely, not learning.

As educators, we strive to create life-long learners in our students. Many schools make mention of life-long learning in their mission statements. But why, I ask, does it only apply to students? As teachers, should we not be scholars? Should we not continue to learn in order to maintain relevance as a teacher? Do we not have a responsibility, or more, an obligation, to offer our students the most up-to-date education, adhering to the most up-to-date methodology based on the most up-to-date pedagogy? Should we not base our lessons on the most up-to-date information and employ the most up-to-date methods of acquiring, analyzing, understanding, creating, and communicating this information? Educators did not secure a diploma or a teaching license with all of this etched and updating in their brains. This stuff evolves almost daily. Most educators are not evolving at the same rate. Staying relevant is not a passive endeavor. It takes work, time, and effort.

As educators we must be learners first. If we are to be better educators, we must first be better learners. We may not always have a choice in what we learn. After so long not being involved with learning, many educators do not know how much they do not know. How can they make decisions on what they need to learn, if they are unaware of the existence of many of the things they need to know? If teachers are reluctant to leave their comfort zones, why will they choose to do so, even if leaving that comfort zone would make them better for it? Yes, educators should help decide what they need to learn and take ownership of their learning when possible. There will be times however, when this is not possible. It is also incumbent on districts to make all of this learning or Professional Development a priority. We need educators to be learned people, and that does not end at any point. It is a continuing process and Professional Development must reflect that. It can’t happen once a year in a workshop with a lunch break and discussion to follow. If teaching is to be ongoing, so is learning, both for the teachers and the students.

With technology today teachers can be connected to the information, sources and other educators to maintain relevancy. Before you ask, no I do not think you can be as effective as an unconnected and irrelevant educator. Yes, there are those who read journals and books and write magazine articles without the use of technology and maintain relevance. Chances are good that is not you. Most educators today need to be relevant and being connected through technology is the best means to do that. It takes time, work, and commitment. That is what we demand of our students, yet excuse it when it comes to us. Making Professional development a priority to teach educators the most up-to-date ways to teach should be one the major aspects of education reform. The biggest hypocrisy of the Education Profession is that the educators too often have become poor learners unwilling to leave their comfort zones to improve their learning. They are not “bad teachers” they are however victims of bad practices of a complacent education system. To be better educators, we first need to be better learners.

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My friend, John Carver, a prominent education leader in Iowa, Skyped me the other day just to kick around some ideas in education that he was considering.  John and I often have discussions about education. Of course my favorite thing about our discussions is that John often likes what I have to say. As always, things came around to the role of technology in education. John has been a leader in the 1:1 laptop movement in Iowa schools.

During the course of our discussion we both agreed that there is a need to clarify and agree on quite a few of the things that many of us take for granted. These are things that we all assume are commonly understood in education. The most obvious being an agreement on what the goal of education is. It has been my experience in my observations that if you ask 50 educators, “what is the goal of education?”, there will be as many as 49 different answers. Of course point of view has a great deal to do with one’s definition. Students, teachers, administrators, and parents would each approach it from their own perspective, but that would be true of anything.

There is no subject however, that this is more obviously less definable than when we attempt to define technology. Ironically, many believe that the definition is universally agreed upon. I often argue that when it comes to using technology that there is not a generation gap, but a learning gap. I do believe that. The idea of what anyone considers technology however, is very different depending on a person’s age. This may be a reason for a slow adoption of technology as a tool for learning. I have written about this before, inspired by a Sir Ken Robinson video. The idea being that, what we consider to be technology, is totally dependent on when it was introduced into our lives.

There is a book and a movie that immediately come to mind that underscore this: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; and Back to The Future. In both stories the main characters introduced tools from their culture that were no longer considered technology, to a culture unfamiliar with them, and therefore astounded at their existence as well as their capabilities. That is a concept that we easily understand, as long as the future is brought back into the past. It gets tricky trying to apply the same idea from the present moving forward.

Let us consider the automobile. When it comes to travel today, beyond using our feet, the automobile is probably our transportation of choice. Rarely do we refer to it or even think about the car as technology, because it has always been with us. We were born after that technology was invented, so it has become a tool of our everyday life. We don’t research its worth or try to decide whether people should use it or not. It is here to stay and evolve without another thought other than how to make it better or cheaper. The same is probably true of TV’s and Phones. We have them. We use them. We always expect that they will be with us in some form.

Now let’s address computers. Much of our adult population can readily remember when this technology was introduced. They have a memory of the first PC’s and Mac’s. They can track memories of rotary phones, princess phones, car phones, and mobile phones. These were all invented within their lifetime. Most adults knew where they were when “Al Gore invented the Internets”. This, to them, is technology. They reserve the right to use it, or not, since they know the benefits of what came before. Not too many are holding on to rotary phones, but I have not yet given up my land line (My Choice).This attitude accounts for the experience of many, many educators today. They grew up and learned without technology. It was invented in their lifetime so they have a choice to use it or stay with the tried and true of days gone by.

Now let’s look at the student perspective. There isn’t one kid today in our modern culture that doesn’t have access to a computer. Most kids today live with cellphones, if not Smartphones specifically. If you don’t know it already, a smartphone is simply a complex computer with phone capabilities.What many adults don’t get is that computers and smartphones are not considered technology by kids. They are not in awe of the capabilities of these tools. They expect it. It is part of their world. Educators should not be so arrogant as to think they have the ability to decide whether or not kids can use these tools for learning. The kids do it with, or without adult permission. Any educator has the right to choose to live in a cave, however, they do not have the right to drag their students in there with them.

As long as these technologies exist and continue to move forward, we as educators have an obligation to teach responsible and thoughtful use of these tools. We as educators have a responsibility to be relevant in what and how we teach. I do not know if kids’ brains are wired differently as a result of all that is new in technology. I do know that what astounds me with these tools, is thought to be expected by students. They sleep with their Smartphones. Just ask them. Their perspective to this technology is the perspective we must deal with, and not our own. Our perspective becomes more irrelevant each day.

I love this video. If you have any doubts of what I have just said, watch this video. This is how a one year old approaches something that we all take for granted, a magazine. The child’s perspective however, is one that assumes the very technology that many adults have yet to accept. Learn from this small, but tech-savvy, one-year-old. Click here to view the video.

I now will send this post to my friend, John Carver to use any way he sees fit. I welcome you to do the same. Of course your comments are welcomed.

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