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Archive for the ‘Accountability’ Category

At what point in time did schools obtain the power to suspend a teacher’s constitutional right to free speech? I know that social media is relatively new to our modern history, which is reason to give some institutions a little breathing space to catch up to all of social media’s ramifications on our society, but it doesn’t give any institution the power to suspend the constitutional rights of an individual, or to punish in any way an individual who exercises a constitutionally guaranteed right.

I read a post today about a teacher in a New Hampshire school district who was forced into retirement for refusing to unfriend students on Facebook. This is not an isolated incident. As a connected educator I have had many discussions with educators from all over the United States who are fearful of retaliation from their districts for involving themselves openly in social media communities.

I lived in the community in which I taught for 25 years. This is not unlike many educators in our country. At no time during my tenure in that district did anyone call me into an office and instruct me on how to interact with the children of the community. No one told me I could not be friends with children in the community. I was never told where I could, or could not go in that community. I don’t think any administrator would have even considered such a discussion. Yet, these are the discussions some administrators are having with teachers today about their social media communities.

I understand the need to protect children from a range of inappropriate adult behavior even to the extreme, contact with pedophiles. This however is not a reason to suspend every teacher’s right to free speech. Just because there are some inappropriate adults on the Internet, we can’t jump to a conclusion that all adults on the Internet are inappropriate, especially, those who have been vetted and entrusted with children face to face every day. Statistics tell us that our children are more in danger from family, close family friends, and even clergy, much more than people on the Internet. If we really want to protect our children on the Internet we need to educate them early and often, not ban them from what has become the world of today. They need to live in that world. I heard a TV celebrity say recently that parents need not prepare the road for their children, but they must prepare their children for the road.

Social media communities are open to the public where everyone sees all. It is transparency at its finest, and in some cases at its worst, but that is what we have come to expect from social media. We need to learn how to deal with that. There is no fixing stupid. Some people will be inappropriate, but the community will deal with that as it develops and matures. People are still adjusting and evolving in these social media communities. Having educators participating and modeling within these communities is exactly what is needed. The more they participate, the better the communities will all be. We, as well as our children, benefit.

Administrators are quick to use social media as a public relations tool to shout out the accolades of their schools. They have control over that. They do not have control over what others might say about the schools in a social media community. The blemishes are often exposed. If administrators are fearful that their image, or that of the school will be tarnished by people speaking publicly about the school, then maybe these administrators should look at themselves, or their policies. It may be indicating a need to assess a few things. Instead of trying to shut people down by limiting their right to free speech, they might try asking them to speak up. This is where listening skills become very important. This is why transparency is important.

Eventually, someone will take this issue to some court of law. After all, we are a very litigious society. It will be litigated and maybe even travel up to the Supreme Court. I cannot see any court supporting the idea that a person gives up a constitutional right, just because they are employed by some backward thinking school district.

Schools need to better understand the world our children will be living in, as well as the world that we live in today. Social Media communities are not going away. Technology is not moving backwards. It will always move forward bringing us new problems to deal with. We need to deal with the problems and not tell people they can’t use the technology.

It amazes me that I am even writing about this. It is very clear-cut to me. I know however that not everyone looks at this the same way. Before the comments start coming from protective parents and teachers, I need to say that I am the father of two girls. They were brought up using technology. They were taught the good and the bad, as well as how to deal with it. I live what I preach when it comes to kids and technology. I understand every parent has the right to bring up their kids as they see fit. I also believe that every person has the right to free speech. We need to find a way to respect everyone’s rights without denying anyone’s. The world is continually changing and we need to adjust and adapt if we are to survive and thrive.

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If there is one subject that most bloggers have written about, it is probably the act of blogging. I know for me, as well as many of my blogging friends, it is nothing like we imagined before we were immersed in the “blogosphere”. Bloggers start their blogs for many different and personal reasons. One step common to all however, is that it does take an act of courage to publish that first blog post.

When I first started, I thought that I would do apiece here and there for a little while, but that I would eventually run out of things to say. Three years later, after 237 posts, I am still waiting for that time to arrive. My areas of interest include education and social media. I guess as long as each of those areas continue to evolve, I will always have something to write about.

Another factor that affects what I blog is the continuing change in the audience. In order to access blog posts, a reader must be involved in some way with technology. That is a growing audience especially among educators. Most people use technology in everyday life, but more and more, educators are using technology for professional development in larger numbers. In order to access the most relevant information on the profession of education, educators are relying more on blog posts for relevancy. Many thought leaders and education authors are blogging their thoughts to share, test, and try out new ideas in education.

Twitter, which is considered to be micro-blogging, has lured many people to blogging. It limits the author to 140 characters, but it does however, enable one to blast out ideas for quick responses. Success on Twitter leaves some people with a need to do more. There are ideas that need to be placed in explanations longer than a string of 140 character tweets may allow. Many ideas are introduced and tersely discussed in tweets and chats on Twitter, but they demand more reflection and more explanation, which leads to blogging. The biggest effect of Twitter chats is often reflected in the blog posts following, and resulting from the chats.

Blogging changes the way many people think about new, and old ideas. The difference between writing a Blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections. The blogger will not rush the idea in print, but develop it, so that it evolves before the reader. It is less a reaction, and more of a transparent reflection of thought, benefitting the writer as much as the reader. This will begin to carry over into the way the writer approaches almost everything.

For a blogging educator, as a teacher, or administrator, student or even a parent, there becomes a transparency in their thinking and reflecting. Before technology enabled us, this process had never been available, or had so much access to an individual’s thought process been given. Before the technology, books and magazines enabled us to view it in only a few people who were privileged to media access. Today the computer is the publisher. Good or bad, anyone can publish at anytime.

The stunningly apparent, positive take-away from blogging is that it gives voice to the blogger. A thoughtful, reflective, considered post can be picked up by an audience and sent out to thousands, or millions of readers through technology.

Blog posts can also be used for propaganda, or mindless ranting. As educators we need to emphasize critical thinking in our classes for that very reason. We need to model for our students how to responsibly question. We need to teach them how to comment and respond to blog posts. If blog posts are part of our ever-evolving, technology-driven culture, we need to educate our children in their use.

As educators we must also be learners. We need to model learning for our students who need to understand the necessity to be a life long learner. Educators are also people who work with ideas and share. It takes courage to put one’s self on the line to be scrutinized by others. Teachers do it every day in schools. The most effective way to have one’s voice recognized in sharing ideas in order to consider, reflect, modify, and improve with the greatest audience possible is through blogging.

We need courageous administrators blogging to give transparency to their thoughts and leadership.  We need educators to have the courage to experiment with blogging placing them squarely in the conversation of education from which they are too often blocked. Educators need to be models for their students. We need our students blogging to follow their teacher models. Blogging provides an audience for students’ work. It is an authentic audience and not an audience of one, as have been most of their previous writing experiences. It gives voice to their concerns, and it shows them direction for their personal learning. We need parents to blog to give voice to their concerns in directing the conversation for the needs of their children.

Since becoming a blogger, I view things differently. I question things more. I try to understand things well enough, so that I can explain them simply. Most importantly I have been recognized as a person to be taken seriously, because I have a voice. These are things I wish for everyone to experience. What good is education, if we do not have a voice to share what we have learned in order to benefit all?

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This is a topic I have written about before, and I will probably continue to write about in the future. I guess we should start by defining a big education conference. For the purpose of this post and my experience let’s make it conferences of over 1,000 attendees. Most big education conferences came about by professional organizations wanting to provide a gathering place for their constituents to meet and share ideas and best practices, as well as the latest tools for learning. The goal is to best educate educators about education. It seems like a simple goal, which should be easily accomplished. The easiest method of delivery is to have teachers teach other teachers. This shares experiences, successes and failures.

The first hurdle is the “when” of the conference. Someone determined that it must be held during the school year in order to get the best access to the most educators.

The conference can’t conflict with other big Education conferences. It would be a drain on the number of attendees, as well as a smaller pool of keynotes and key presenters to draw on.

The second hurdle is the “where” of the conference. Once a conference gets over a certain number of attendees there are limits to access to hotel accommodations. There is also the geographical deterrent. We live in big states in a big country. Whatever the location selected, some educators will need to travel further than others. To be equitable locations are often rotated in order to share the burden of travel. Unfortunately, some educators live in areas where the burden of travel will always be a consideration no matter where the location.

The third big hurdle of the big conference is planning. Most organizations planning the big events have some full-time staff, but they mostly rely on volunteer help to plan the big events. These volunteers are also full-time educators. Some organizations employ professional planning organizations to plan the event. Many of those planning organizations begin to determine the needs and direction of the event with less consideration to the culture of the organization. The event becomes the focus and not the organization.

The fourth big hurdle is the overall expense. The planning organization, the venue, and the need for a transportation system to and from the event all contribute to the overall expenses and ultimate ticket price of the event. To offset these expenses Education and Technology industry is often asked for contributions in the form of sponsorships. With great sponsorships there sometimes comes influence in the conference. Not every session is conducted by an educator. Often there are vendor sessions. Some are informative and objective, while others are blatant product pitches.

The planning of the vendor floor is also a hurdle. It is a great source of revenue, so it must have a prominent part in the conference. Sessions are planned around access to the vendor floor. The organization and support of the vendor floor is a priority at most conferences. Technology and scheduling are the biggest considerations for this segment. The vendor floor is the conference bread and butter.

Of course the heart and soul of any conference is the session planning. The printing of the program has a very big influence over submitting, approving and scheduling sessions. It creates the deadlines for the Requests For Proposals often ten months to a year before the next conference. Once RFP’s are approved, rooms need to be assigned in consideration of anticipated attendance to the session. Times need to be adjusted to address the length of the sessions. Signage must be made up.

These conferences are not just thrown together, but meticulously planned. We need to give more thanks and recognition to those who take this on every year.

The complexity of this endeavor however, tends to shift the focus from the original goal of way back when to that of a new goal. Somehow we got from “how to best educate educators about education”, to “how to best deliver a conference”.

Of course this does not apply in total to any conference, but every conference shares some responsibility for going at least a little astray from the original goal. It must be about the learning and not just the conference.

It would be great for educators to have a list of expectations for a session before they write their RFP. Having the rubrics used for assessing the RFP is also a winning strategy. It is most important to provide feedback to the rejected RFP’s so that educators have an understanding of why they were rejected. We do that as educators working with kid learners, why would we not apply the same method to adult learners.

We realize and appreciate the need to meet a printing schedule for session descriptions, but would it be possible to stagger RFP submissions, so they were not all submitted a year before the conference. How is a year-old plan relevant in a technology driven society?

If we as educators recognize that lecture and direct instruction are not the most effective methods of learning, should we not expect conferences to rely on those types of sessions less? Maybe more interactive sessions, more conversation driven sessions, more panel discussions weighed more heavily with audience questioning would all reach that goal of learning more effectively at a conference

In light of the Edcamp model of PD, as well as the connected PD of the personal Learning Network, maybe the big conferences need to seek more relevance. We need to understand all that goes into planning and executing a big conference, but conferences may need to reassess their goals. Educators need to learn more about their ever-changing profession in the most efficient, effective and relevant ways possible. That will take a number of methods to accomplish. None of it can be done at a conference unless it is efficient, effective and relevant. We need better ways to share what we learn from conferences. More live streaming and hashtags might be a strategy.

Conferences are much-needed for educators, but if we add up all the attendees at all the conferences for an entire year, it is a very small percentage of the total number of educators in schools. Sharing and collaboration need to be a focus for attaining the goals that we have set. We need to better educate our educators in order to better educate our kids.

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Well, if you watched the Academy Awards last week, you witnessed the global impact that social media has in the world. Ellen DeGeneres was able to take a picture of a group of actors that, in the first half hour of it being posted, was re-tweeted 700,000 times, which temporarily knocked Twitter off the Internet. It has now become the number one tweet of all time. That is one example of the effect that social media is continuing to have in countries around the world. We should not lose sight of the fact that many, many people were following the Oscar show hashtag to share the experience of the program with others.

Many actors are using social media to connect with fans. The same fans, which a generation ago resorted to fan mail to connect with their idols, now have an opportunity to connect in real life through social media. This is not an opportunity that is ignored by the entertainment industry. TV fans are now being continually bombarded with hashtags to follow shows. The news business is also asking people to follow and exchange information through hashtags. This is creating more interactive involvement with TV. Not since Winky Dink and You, where Winky Dink, an animated character, had us draw with crayons on a plastic sheet placed over a TV screen in the 50’s, have we seen such interaction. We traced lines placed on the magic screen one at a time, until we had a bridge drawn for Winky Dink to cross and escape danger. It was way ahead of its time. It was however interactive and a definite attention-grabber.

What does any of this have to do with education? The idea that social media gives us a platform to send out information and have people interact with it, or just digest it, would seem to be an idea that would be snapped up and embraced by educators. They are the very people who make a living trying to get folks to get information and interact with it, or just digest it. We shouldn’t need a magical plastic screen to connect the lines in order to build a bridge for educators to reach this idea.

Ellen DeGeneres’s picture is small potatoes to what educators can put out. Educators have access to real sources. In addition to pictures they have: Websites, Documents, Blog posts, Videos, Podcasts, webinars, articles, interviews, and maybe even some sensible worksheets to share. To share with whom you may ask. To share with each other, I would answer. Imagine if every teacher shared just one of their best sources with other educators, who in turn could tweet them out to the tune of 700,000 tweets in a half hour. Everyone would benefit. The idea here is to get educators familiar with the concept of connectedness and its possibilities, so that getting comfortable with social media itself becomes less of an obstacle.

Social Media is here to stay. Its form may change, and certainly the applications we use will not remain the same, but the idea of openly exchanging information in whatever forms it is produced is not going away. As educators we can use it or lose it. If we don’t start to understand and use this technology soon, we will lose the opportunity to harness it, because we will be irrelevant. We don’t need social media to teach, as much as we need it to learn. It is a cornucopia of information. We can tailor that information to personalize our learning. This is the way of today’s world. For the scholar, the tomes are no longer stored in the monasteries, they reside on the Internet, and collectively, if we all share that which we know, we will all benefit. Collectively we are smarter than we are individually. That is the basis of collaborative learning. It is no longer a face-to-face endeavor limited in time and space. It happens anywhere, and anytime through the use of technology. Technology is the game-changer. As educated individuals, how can we ignore the possibilities?

Becoming a connected educator requires the use of 21st Century skills. This should not come as a surprise 14 years into that Century. Educators need to be digitally literate. We do not need educators who loudly proclaim to not get it when it comes to computers. We would not tolerate an educator in the 19th and 20th Centuries to loudly proclaim to not get it when it comes to reading books. This Century requires a new literacy and there is less and less room for illiterate educators to work alongside those who constantly strive to remain relevant. To better educate our kids we need to better educate their educators.

Maybe educators should do a Selfie with their class behind them in the picture. These are the faces of kids that this educator leaves an impression on each and every day. They are the educator’s charges. Are they the faces of kids who got from that teacher the best that that teacher had to offer. Does what that teacher offered meet the needs of what those kids will have to know in their world in order to live, thrive, and compete? What’s in a Selfie?

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After five decades of being an educator, I am growing weary of the constant discussion over the divide between education and technology. When will we reach a point where we will discuss Education, teaching and learning without having to debate technology? The idea of learning hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. We learn to survive and improve. Much like breathing, it is what we do naturally. Unlike breathing, some learn better than others, but the concept is the same for everyone. It is the degree of learning that is the variable.

Education addresses learning and teaching for specific goals. Of course what those specific goals are, is a point of contention among many people, both educators and non-educators alike. I think we can agree that education teaches many skills, which people can use to exist, thrive, compete, and create in society. This should hold true for whatever skills are taught in whatever society they are taught in, be it primitive, or advanced. Obviously, the more complicated the society is, the more sophisticated the skills that must be taught.

If we analyze and list all the skills that we deem essential to teach, I think there would be a great deal of commonality without regard to any country. The languages may vary, but the skills would be the same. Discussions of education in these terms would sound similar no matter what country in which these discussions took place. For the sake of this discussion, we could break down all education to its basic elements of reading, writing, and speaking.  I am sure that there are some educators who remember education being just as simple as that from back in their day. Actually, it wasn’t all that long ago.

What has changed in education since the late seventies is not the specific skills we teach, but how they will be used. Technology has crept into our society in both obvious, and subtle ways. It has changed the way many of us do things, but for our children it is the only way they can or ever knew how do things. We old folks grew up watching TV. It was part of our culture. Kids today do not view it the same way. We used to dress up as an occasion to travel on a plane. Today, never a second thought is given to jumping on a plane dressed in any manner to get anywhere. A second phone in a household was once a luxury, and today each member of a family carries their own phone. The world has changed and continues to do so at a frightening pace. It is not something we control. IT has become part of the infrastructure. It is as important as roads, rails, planes and power grids.

The very skills that we as educators are charged to teach our kids will be used in a technology-driven society. The skills remain the same, but their application has drastically changed over the last decades. We can discuss education as education without technology, but at some point we must address how kids will be using that which they have learned. If the application of their learned skills will be technology driven than the very tools they should be learning with should also be technology-driven.

The biggest problem with technology is the pace at which it evolves. It moves faster than folks can catch up to it. Because of that, it becomes a burden on educators to learn what they need to know in order to teach skills in an environment close to what kids will be expected to live in. Many educators are running as fast as they can to catch up, but too many others are reluctant.

Some believe that just teaching the skills is enough. They feel kids will adapt, after all they are digital natives.  I don’t feel that way. I have come to see that kids are great at exploring the Internet, Google searching, downloading music and movies, and texting at lightening speed with two thumbs. Beyond that, kids need to be shown how the skills that they have learned fit into the world in which they will live. This requires using tech in education as a tool and not a skill. We need not teach tech, to use it. It should be a tool for curating data, collaborating, communicating, and creating. This requires an application of their learned skills to produce and create stuff in a format that society recognizes as relevant.

I think the point that I am painstakingly trying to make is that technology needs not to be in discussions of education, but rather in how will the education of any kid be applied in an ever-evolving, technology-driven world in which tour kids will be required to live. We need to recognize what it is we are educating kids for. Where will they apply their education? If it is a world void of technology, than technology is less important in education. If not, than we need to better prepare them for what they will need.

In order to accomplish that, we need to better prepare ourselves as educators to deal with that. Educators need to be digitally literate and that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes an effort. The excuse of “too much on the plate already” doesn’t hold up against the argument of professional responsibility. The argument of education for the sake of education and the hell with technology doesn’t hold up in light of the technological world in which these kids will live. Yes, we need to do more, and it isn’t always easy. If we are to better educate our children, we need to better educate our educators. It is not an easy job. Isn’t that what we tell people all the time?

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I am very fortunate to be able to attend a number of Education Conferences each year. This offers me a perspective of education conferences that is not afforded to a majority of educators. When one considers the total number of American educators compared to the total attendance at these conferences and then factor out the people who repeatedly attend each year, it is easy to see that most educators do not get to these national conferences. That is a shortcoming I believe that hurts the profession. There is much to be learned and shared at these conferences that can make a difference to an educator.

Of course many of these conferences are so vast that it is difficult to report on the whole conference when one can only experience a small part of it. It brings to mind the five blind men trying to describe what an elephant looked like based on only one part of the elephant that each had physical contact with. Each description was completely different, and not one accurately described the whole elephant.

My last three conferences were Educon, FETC, and TCEA, wonderful conferences all. In each of these I met with many connected educators and participated exclusively in sessions of discussion or panel-driven discussion. I find these types of sessions more in line with what suits me in learning. I feel that I can personalize the sessions for my needs, and I can even participate in the content of the discussion personally becoming a part of the learning.  Educon of all the conferences is the one conference that focuses on these types of sessions. Of course that would make it my conference of preference.

The other conferences generally depend on “sit and get” PowerPoint demonstrations, or “bells and whistles” software presentations. There will always be a need for these sessions, but I question the balance, or lack of balance, they have when compared with discussion sessions at any given conference.

The glaring deficiency in any session is that it must be submitted and approved 8 to 12 months in advance. How does that maintain relevance? How is the latest and greatest in education even represented at these conferences, unless it is discussion? Discussion can be more timely than any presentation that is eight months old.

Discussion adds the ability to deal with topics of pedagogy and methodology as opposed to just the mechanics of a lesson. Discussions of education that do not take place in school buildings can take place with educators of varied experience to share and elaborate. This is the fodder for reflection. Reflection goes a long way in changing the way we approach things. It often prompts change and promotes reform.

I believe that the success of the Edcamp format where discussion and collaboration are the focus, and the popularity of real-time chats on Twitter and Google Hangouts are all indicators of change. Educators are personalizing their learning in larger numbers. This may be a trend or something bigger. Whatever it is, we need to adjust the way conferences are providing what educators need as a profession.

As a connected educator, I loved being with and sharing ideas and discussions with other educators with whom I am connected. Our conversations were not the same as those of unconnected educators at these conferences. As I talked with educators who were not in collaboration with others on a regular basis, I found a need to define and explain things to them that are discussed and understood online by connected educators daily. I am not saying that these unconnected educators are not good teachers, but maybe not as informed as a  professional needs to be, or as relevant as a professional could be. We are in a profession that deals with information and learning. We need to be relevant in two areas, content and education. Online collaboration enables that to happen more efficiently and on a constant basis. These online discussions are carried further in a face-to-face setting of a conference. Those not involved with online collaboration are often playing catch up in the discussion. A worse alternative is that they withdraw from involvement in the discussion altogether.

Technology has moved collaboration from a way of learning that only happened in a limiting face-to-face setting, to one that takes place anywhere at anytime breaking down the previous borders of time and space. For educators not to take full advantage of this new-found ability is a missed opportunity. We need to support, enhance, and encourage collaboration in all of its forms, online and face-to-face. Ideas that are born at conferences can be continually evolved online. The discussion need no longer end after the closing keynote. Ideas that are born online may be expanded and improved in the face-to-face collaboration of the conferences. We don’t need the opening keynote to start the thinking and connecting. We are professional educators who need to do a better job educating ourselves as educators. If we are to better educate kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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I recently attended one of the largest education conferences in the United States, FETC in Orlando, Florida. The focus of the conference was the use of Technology in Education. The sessions and vendors were for the most part all technology-driven. Education and technology today are often linked together and are the predominant force in education conferences today.

Technology provides both educators and students a means to Communicate, Collaborate, and most importantly to Create. All of these “C Words” however revolve about the biggest  “C Word” of all in education, Content. Every teacher is familiar with the expression “Content is King” It is what has driven education since its beginning. It is the focus of lecture and direct instruction alike. It also, to my casual observation, appears to be the biggest draw for educators at these education conferences. The products that offer content delivery seem to draw the largest gatherings at the vendor booths on the exhibit floor. Of course, when this observation first gelled in my mind, I may have only then viewed the entire conference through that lens which might have skewed the results in my head.

Content delivery, however seems to be the magnet that draws in educators because that is how many educators envision themselves, as content experts. Of course that has been drilled into the heads of American educators for two centuries, so it should come as no surprise. The 19th and 20th centuries did not have the wherewithal in technology to support educators the ability to Communicate, Collaborate, or Create with any efficient, or convenient way. If it could not be done face-to-face and created by hand, then it could not be done. Of course this began to slowly change in the second half of the 20th century and sped up as that century closed out.

The addition of electricity first, and then computers moved everything forward at a rapid pace, but again it was all for content delivery. Movies and filmstrips dominated the 20th century. The overhead projector, which is still used to deliver content today, is technology that is over 75 years old. Video was a great step forward, but again for presenting content. As videotaping became easier, cheaper and a more convenient technologically, more creation began in the form of TV shows and videotaped presentations. Once students discovered the power of video, it was a game changer. Think MTV.

As technology advances, our abilities to use it to expand what we can do, and how we can communicate, collaborate, and most importantly create has changed. We can do all of this more effectively and efficiently than any of the previous centuries allowed.

Communication has taken on many new forms that affect us every day. Texting was only an idea in the 20th century and now we live by it. Collaboration was a face-to-face process in the bygone days of the 20th Century. Today, we are not bound by time or space for collaboration. It takes place anywhere, at any time, both locally and globally. The ability to create has surpassed anyone’s imagination in the 20th century. The computer can replace publishers. Movie, TV, and Sound recording studios also now can be computer-based. Creation of content has never been so easily accomplished.

Yet, with all of this change in our ability to Communicate, Collaborate and Create with content, many educators insist on focusing on content delivery. This is squandering a great opportunity to educate. Whatever happened to Bloom’s Taxonomy? If we fail to change the way we teach, we will have quickly outlived our ability to do so. Our kids do not need content experts, or content deliverers. The Internet does a far better job of that, than any educator can do. Content may always be King, but the approach to it must change in education. Educators need to be sounding boards and mentors, guides and counselors. We need to teach kids what is worthy and what is not – Critical Thinking. That is the biggest “C word” of all.

Kids are no longer limited to learning in the classroom. That is a myth that many believed in for decades. Access to information takes place 24 hours a day, but that is not education. We need to stop viewing technology as a distraction from education and see it as an attraction to it. It is only a distraction to students who have teachers who do not know how to approach technology meaningfully to use it to educate.

Technology is not the silver bullet for education. It is a tool for information and content that continually develops. Content and information are the basis for all education. If educators can’t adapt to the developing tools for communication, collaboration, and creation students will find their own mentors and guides. Educators are left with two choices, Relevance or Irrelevance. There will be little time to catch up at the rate technology is changing. Open minds and a continuing need to learn must be part of the profession. We need to continually develop as professionals and share out what we have learned to our community of educators. Technology is as much of a tool for the educators as it is for the students. Educators need to employ the best methods of; communication, collaboration and creation to do with content that which needs to be done to educate technologically driven students. This will require a change in both attitude and methodology on the part of today’s educators. The big problem is to get this concept across to educators who are not reading this post, or any other education Blog, the unconnected educators. How do we change the minds and hearts of people not connected to the means to do that? The other “C word”, Connected.

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My career as a teacher began way before the introduction of Rubrics to education. As an English teacher I was required to assess students’ writing and convert that assessment into a grade for the student. Back in the 70’s the most progressive grading method I was exposed to was giving a grade over another grade  (85/95). The top grade was for the piece and the bottom grade was for the effort exhibited. The entire grade was almost totally subjective, and dependent on the good will of the teacher to attempt to be as objective as possible. I always considered the effort grade a way to clear the conscience.

I thought that this subjective method of grading was pretty much gone until I had a recent conversation with my daughter about her college writing class. It would seem her professor was old school and assigned grades on assignments using the holistic method of just reading and assigning a grade. Little explanation, or justification for the grade was presented. I began to wonder how many educators still employ these methods. I have seen research that indicated most kids do not read or respond to comments on papers left by instructors, but whatever was the basis for any assessed grade should be explained somewhere. We often tell students it is more about the learning than it is about the grade, yet we give the grade without an explanation, so how can learning take place? Of course time, or a lack of it, is often the reason for this, and that is a factor to be dealt with. As a former English teacher I know my visceral reaction to those who argue that class size should not matter; the more kids we have the less time we get.

Again, back in the day, I would underline mistakes without comment. My intent was to have students attempt to figure out why segments were underlined on their own. I even provided collaboration time so they could check with a “study buddy”. I would then meet with them for a brief face-to-face meeting for feedback and comments. This was time-consuming, but effective for some, not all. It was still difficult to objectify what was, so obviously, a subjective assessment. Can tone outweigh a few grammatical mistakes? Are two simple sentences worth less than a compound, or even more a complex sentence? Does the grasp of the content overshadow the poor sentence structure? Was I being consistent for every paper from each of my students? Were all papers being assessed equally? I was rarely satisfied with the answers to these questions that kept popping up in my head with every graded assignment.

I remember the first time I heard the term “Rubric” in a department meeting. I had no idea what it was, but I did not want that to be found out through my questioning, so I sat quietly until the conclusion of the meeting. My mistaken impression was that we were to break down the components that we were grading for, and assign a rating scale for each. That seemed simple enough. I have come to learn that many educators hold this simplistic view today. It is not truly what I came to understand as to what a Rubric is.

We were, as a department, giving a grade level assignment, so to make sure that the assessment of the assignment was as fair and objective as possible, we were to develop rubrics that all concerned teachers could live by. That would also enable anyone in the department to grade any paper with consistency.  We discussed what was to be graded. What each section was to be worth. We described in detail what the top of the scale should include for each section, as well as the middle, and the bottom. We even defined what specifically constitutes a zero paper in the event that we got one.

I found the process in developing these Rubrics eye-opening. For the first time, I had a clear understanding of what it was I was looking for with specific guidelines and values. It was no longer a gut thing. We developed the entire list of Rubrics, arranged them in boxes, and placed the entire elaborate display horizontally on a single piece of paper. This was going to be great. I would include this with each of the assignment packets, and all would be clear to each of my students.

That clarity never came to my kids. I failed to recognize that what took me time to analyze, digest, and appreciate with understanding, only occurred over a period of time while developing the rubrics. That experience could not translate to reading a document, no matter how elaborate, or eye appealing it might be. I realized after the first class which I tried this in, that I needed a better strategy. I needed to spend more time up front, so I could use less time and get better results on the back-end.

My plan was simple: I was going to develop the Rubrics with my students. I reasoned that the process that worked for me, should work for them as well. I knew where I wanted to take them, because I worked out the rubrics already. I needed to guide them through it, taking their ideas, while explaining not only my expectations, but also what my means of assessment would be in determining their grade. They became part of the process and took ownership of the rubrics. I made some small adjustments based on their suggestions.

From that day forward, they had an understanding of Rubrics that lasted. It actually gave some means of control to the students. I was as limited to adhering to the Rubrics as the students were. It was a pact to be honored by all parties. The Students had a clear understanding of expectations on the assignment. They understood what would be graded and how it would be counted.

Some might argue that Rubrics enabled students to do less work to attain a minimum-passing grade. Rubrics might limit a few students in some ways to go beyond the rubrics. I did not find that to be true.

I know as an adult I want to know what is expected of me in given situations. As an adult, if I am to be judged on something, I want to know on what am I being judged and in what way. Kids should be afforded the same answers and it should not matter what subject in school this happens. This is how we learn. Is learning not what education is about?

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As long as I have been involved with education there has been a discussion of whether or not technology is making a difference in learning, and whether or not we should use it in schools. This discussion takes place on a teacher-to-teacher level, as well as an administrative level. It occurs on primary, secondary and higher education levels. It may be time to shift the discussions to what we need our kids to learn and how they will implement that learning in our culture, and continue to learn, as the life long learners, which we, as educators, supposedly strive to make them to be.

The more we learn about learning, the further we seem to be getting away from the primary teaching lessons of the past. Lectures, although necessary, are no longer the focus of teaching methodology. Today’s methods seem to be relying on more collaborative and authentic learning. Actually doing and making, as opposed to having descriptions and theories delivered by lectures, is a shift, which is taking place in education today. Critical thinking, always addressed to some extent in learning, is now becoming more prominent in education.

The skills that educators are emphasizing more and more are skills of: curating information, analyzing information, understanding information, communicating information in various forms, collaborating on information both locally and globally, ultimately, creating information for the purpose of publishing and sharing. These are the goals of 21st Century educators. These are also the today’s needs of industry, business, and banking. Many of these skills are also needs of artists, writers, and musicians. Even politicians could use these skills, which are apparently lacking in a majority of our current leaders.

Now that we have seen how the needs of society have structured the needs of skills for students, and now that we have seen how the needs of education have structured the changes in methodology to address those skills, we now need to consider the best way to deliver access to information for curation, analysis, understanding, communicating and creating. For that direction let us consider what tools are used by Industry, Business, Banking, and the Arts. If the answer is TECHNOLOGY, why is there any debate about why, and how much technology should play a role in education? Yes, good teachers can teach without technology, but to what end, if the student will need to master technology to compete, or even exist in a technology-driven environment?
It is time that this debate ends. There are no choices for educators to make here. If we are educating our children to live and thrive in their world, we cannot limit them to what we were limited to in our world. As things change and evolve, so must education. As educators we have a professional obligation to change as well. We must retain a sense of relevance and that requires effort. Relevance does not come to us as we sleep in the night. Educators need to employ the very skills they are passing along to their students. They need to: curate, collaborate, communicate, critically think, and create. All of this is best accomplished through the use of tools of technology. An education without technology does not prepare our students with the skills that their world will require. Technology should be ubiquitous in education.

 

 

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Collaborative learning has always been with us. Educators have for ages shared ideas and methods with other educators that they came in contact with on a face-to-face basis. Most educators insist that face to face connections are their best connections. Unfortunately, for some educators, it is their only form of professional collaboration. Technology, however, has been a game changer in the area of collaboration. It has enabled at least hundreds of thousands, if not a million educators to connect in various ways to share and collaborate professionally, learning and growing in the process. This has become a growing movement recognized as connected educators. The U.S Department of Education has recognized and supported the movement for the last two years with Connected Educator Month. Although many are connected, a majority has yet to reap the benefits.

What has bothered me for several years now has been the lack of support by the State and National Education organizations for the connected educator. The conferences of these organizations do have some sessions on Personal Learning Networks and how to connect educators, but the need for more information on those topics always seems to exceed the supply of sessions at these conferences.

Two State conferences of ISTE affiliates that I am familiar with have gone out of their way for connected educator education. Both NYSCATE of New York, and ICE of Illinois have created booths and lounges to educate and connect educators on the advantages of being connected educators. NYSCATE even gave out mugs to those who connected to other educators on site.

The irony of this dilemma comes in the fact that all of the Education organizations are now very quick to develop hashtags for their conferences, in order to create a buzz, and branding for both the conference, and the organization among connected educators. They fail however, to support that connectedness at the conference itself.

Few programs offer Twitter handles of educators and speakers in their programs. Nametags do not contain contact info for connecting.

Friday night I put out a tweet that we should start a movement petitioning all education organizations to at least support connected education by including Twitter handles on Nametags at conferences. Educators are connected in many ways using a cadre of applications to do so. Twitter in my estimation has been in place the longest supporting and promoting connected educators in developing collaborative personal Learning Networks.

Three people who I respect and admire from my own PLN immediately jumped on the tweet pointing out that an endorsement of one application over all of the others might be unfair. I was surprised that anyone was even on Twitter late on a Friday night so close to the holidays. As educators I guess we strive to be fair to everyone even if that one is an application. Both Pintrest and FaceBook were mentioned as additional ways to connect, and we should not favor one over the other. I would add that LinkedIn and Plurk are also in the mix. There are any number of Social Media applications that afford educators the ability to connect.

I chose Twitter because it was the one application that has been used specifically for professional collaboration over the longest period of time, by the greatest number of professionals. I wanted organizations to be able, in a simple way, to support and promote connectedness with educators. My connected colleagues however do have a valid point. Maybe a better method would be to allow conference participants to place on their nametags their preferred method of connecting with the name of their choice. Educators should not have to ink in their own information. It needs to be recognized by organizations as a legitimate for of professionalism for educators. The unconnected educators need to be educated and convinced of the legitimacy of connectedness.

The larger picture here is to get these Education Organizations to support connected educators and not just use them. PLN’s will never take the place of conferences, just as computers will never take the place of educators. Our world is changing and to stay relevant we need to change as well. In the garden of ideas we must weed out the bad and fertilize the good, but we can never ignore the ideas that are popping up at a rate never before imagined. Collaborative, connected educators are making a difference and creating transparency in a system that before operated behind closed classroom doors. Sharing the good and shining a light on the bad benefits all educators and in turn all students. That deserves to be supported and promoted by our own professional organizations.

 

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