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Anyone who has ever attended a national state or even local Education Conference can tell you that there are vast numbers of education products out there. How do educators know what works and what doesn’t? Is there a way educators can share their product experience with others? How can educators talk to the designers of education products? How can we collaboratively discuss education products so that educators may make a difference?

The answers to each of these questions would depend on each individual’s connection to the product, or the people who created it. Some of us have more contact than others. Some companies seek out teachers to solicit their opinions and perspectives. This however is not usually done on a large-scale.

Steven Anderson and I have been moderating #Edchat for more than five years now. We are often approached by education industry people asking to sponsor, or host an #Edchat session. #Edchat has always been independent and has not been affiliated with any company or product unless it was for the purpose of conducting the chat. Obviously we need Twitter, Facebook, our archiving app, and from time to time we have used Skype, and most recently REMIND. We have never taken money or have we endorsed any product as #Edchat.

Nevertheless, we have determined that there is a need for educators to interact with education industry people in some form on some venue. In that pursuit Steven and I have decided to start a product showcase chat for education products of all types. We will not be endorsing these products, but simply offering to educators a forum to chat with specific companies about their specific product in a twitter chat forum. The chats will be open to all educators on a weekly basis, and moderated by Steven and me. The companies will provide their own experts to answer questions and engage in discussion without a sales pitch. It will be an exploration of how the product may or may not be a fit for the specific needs of specific educators or educators in general.

Our #EdProdChat will take place each Thursday at 8 PM Eastern time. We will promote the chat through informative tweets during the week using @EdProdChat and the #EdProdChat hashtag. We have also created a REMIND account, so that educators can sign up for text reminders of the whom, and when of each weekly chat.

Our first Chat is scheduled for September 18th at 8 PM Eastern time. Please add that to your calendar. The product that we will be chatting about is a project based learning App called WeLearnedIt. Hosting that chat will be the company’s CEO, Adam Bellow. The continuing weekly #EdProdChat schedule will then begin on the first Thursday in October, 10/2/14. Please, in the meantime, sign up for the #EdProdChat REMIND account. (You can learn how by clicking here.) And don’t worry. We value your privacy. Your information will be protected and not shared with anyone. You will be welcomed in joining us on Thursdays for #EdProdChat.

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I just read a post by my friend, Tony Sinanis, #EdCamp: What’s The Point? Tony had an unconnected colleague attend an Edcamp. The colleague was most impressed with the ever-present passion. According to Tony’s friend:

This whole experience seems to be one of the best examples I have ever seen about the power and importance of self-directed learning…

The organic way this whole day unfolded blew me away… 

All seemed to be going well in winning a convert to the connected side and then it came.

The only thing I am wondering about is the heavy emphasis on technology and sometimes I think the technology tool or tip became the focus as opposed to the conversation or overarching topic… is that always the way?

For too many educators the second statement wipes out all of the wonderment that the first statement brought to the table. It always comes down to the requirement of educators having a need to know or have some perspective on technology in today’s world. That however, is the very least we must prepare our children for. How can we prepare them for their future when so many educators have yet to learn about the needs of learning today in the present?

Let’s place two classrooms side by side and instruct each teacher to use collaborative learning to explore a given subject. One teacher will be limited to 20th Century methodology, pair share or group work at their seats using chart paper, posters and the always-present overhead projector. The second teacher may use 21st Century methodology and tools: Skype, Google hangout, Google Documents, Social Media, PowerPoint, and Prezi. Both classes will learn stuff, but which class will take with them presentation and collaboration skills that are career ready in a tech driven society?

Using that same two-classroom scenario let us teach a writing class on voice in writing. Again one class will do compositions and hand them in to the teacher to grade. Of course 20th century methodology is fine. Peer editing should be employed. The second class will teach Blogging. Students will create blogs, comment on blogs and respond to comments on their own blogs. Again, which class is getting real world authentic experience in the 21st Century? Which class will get a deeper understanding of voice, the class with an audience of one, or the class with an unlimited audience that interacts, comments critiques, criticizes and praises?

Too often educators view new methodology and tools with a 20th century mindset. It is their own educational experience that is driving their teaching. A big problem is that we are no longer in that time period. Many educators are losing relevance. It is not something that we can point out without creating friction, and most people refrain from doing so for that reason. Educators like to be fair and let people learn for themselves when it comes to their colleagues. Of course students and parents assume that they are getting the biggest bang for their buck for an education that will provide a path to, at the very least, a safe and competent ability to make a living in a world that will be using technology that advances further even that which we are using today.

Teaching is not easy. It is a profession that requires educators to be relevant. Being relevant doesn’t come with age. Just the opposite occurs, and it requires work to keep up. Teaching is not a profession that enables one to stop learning after the degree is earned and the job is secured. Technology is moving us all too fast for anyone to sit back relying on old methods and tools. With a Masters degree in Educational technology I can assure you that not one piece of hardware, or software that I studied with and used so much to get that degree exists today.

The pedagogy should always be the focus of education discussions, but the technology will always continue to be the accelerant of the pedagogy. Educators no longer get to decide whether or not to use tech as a tool. If they are scared to learn about it, that creates a problem. Technology is not going away as many expect that mythological pendulum to swing back. Educators have been programmed to believe that, if one waits long enough, the worst things will eventually go away. Barring apocalyptic disaster, technology is here to stay and it is a tool for learning, as well as curation, collaboration, communication, and creation, which include many of the things that we need to teach Again, to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators. Edcamps do just that, and most will be dominated by technology discussions, because that is the very discussion educators need to engage in to maintain relevance. As an educator if you are just standing still in your personal development, you are falling behind.

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Being connected as an educator offers a unique perspective. It is almost as if there are two different world’s in education, and a connected educator must travel within both. Technology in our computer-driven society has enabled collaboration to occur at a level and pace never before available in the 19th and 20th century versions of education. For the modern educators who have embraced the idea of connectedness, the world of education looks very different from it has been in previous centuries.

Regardless of technology, many educators express a curiosity about what it would be like to talk to and engage people from history. How often have we heard the expression “ I wish I could pick his/her brain for ten minutes”? The whole idea would be to collaborate with individuals who in some way have made a mark on history or education. We could all benefit from discussing and reflecting on the successes and failures of valued individuals who have proven their worth in their profession. That is what is done everyday in the connected world of education. It does not involve picking the brains of historical people, but those of education practitioners.

It is social media in the 21st Century that has boosted collaboration to a scale never before experienced. It enables educators the ability to collaborate beyond their own borders and way beyond their local connections to a global reach. Such collaboration forces transparency. Pedagogy, methodology and policy are all topics of discussion amongst educators worldwide. Education is being analyzed and scrutinized under a huge magnifying glass with the results, blemishes and all, being shared globally.

The overall result is that educators are beginning to adopt that which shows promise in education and they are turning away from that which is not effective. The one sticking point however, to this entire picture of progressive education evolution, which I have just painted with words, is that not all educators are so connected.

I have had the good fortune to attend many education conferences worldwide. Some of the most sought-after speakers, keynoters, and authors at these conferences are connected educators. They are the thought leaders in education moving education from its past to its future.

The result of all of this is the separation of education into two different places, the world of connected educators, and the world of the disconnected. The best example of the difference would be in the group’s discussions. The discussions online with connected educators are very different in tone and content when compared to the discussions in most faculty rooms and department meetings. Ideas such as the flipped classroom or BYOD were discussions in the connected world long before the mainstream media began writing about them to alert the unconnected.

There is one irony of all of this two-worlds discussion that upsets me most. When I talk to many of the thought leaders in the connected world of education, who are still practicing educators, I ask a simple question. Are you recognized in your school or district for the value you bring to the connected community of educators? Most, if not all, tell me that their district has little or no idea of who they are or what they bring to the world of education. How is it possible that the value of these educators, and their contribution to education, are not recognized within their own unconnected education world?

It is that lack of appreciation or even a failure to validate an educator’s success that is costing us the brightest and best in education. We have long been losing our newest teachers at a rate of 50% in the first five years of service. Obvious fixes would include more support with effective mentorship programs, as well as a salary more in line with the requirements and demands of the job.

Now, because of the growing world of connected education, we are seeing educators at the top end being lured into the business side of education because they are being recognized as valuable assets to education. That recognition however is coming from private industry and not their own education leaders. The private sector is luring away many of the education thought leaders by doing in the connected world what the unconnected world fails to do, recognize, validate, and reward leadership and innovation. Complacency is not considered an asset in this new connected world of education.

In a world that is being driven by technology at an ever-increasing rate that has never before been experienced, educators cannot be standing still. If educators do stand still, they will rapidly fall behind and become irrelevant. It is not a question of being a good or bad educator at that point. One can have great skills, but without being relevant to the students, how is that educator to be effective? Gone are the days when all learning took place in the rows of the classroom. Self-directed learning is now a way of the world. Educators will be needed more than ever, but the 19th and 20th Century models of educators are not relevant in our latest century. There is a pressing need to get more educators to be connected, self-directed, reflective, inspired, and relevant. We also need administrators to include themselves in this shift. Administrators need to maintain relevance as well. The longer it takes for our two worlds of educators to merge into one, the longer it will take us to reform our own culture and the education system overall.

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If there is one thing that could be said of what I do professionally it might be that I do get around to many education conferences. This past month I attended two International conferences ISTE14, BLC14 and one Indiana regional conference, the Greater Clark County Schools Conference in Indiana. All of these conferences were outstanding in their offerings to educators. I usually comment on the structure and quality of the conferences, but today I think I need to address the educators who attend these conferences based on some recent observations. What set me to thinking about this post were two separate comments from very different educators.

A short time after attending ISTE14, I flew to Boston for Alan Novmber’s BLC14 conference. It was there that I saw a keynote by Michael Fullan, a Canadian education researcher and former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. From that speech my main take-away was that in education today Pedagogy is the foundation and technology is the accelerator. For me that was a statement that was clear, concise, and right on the money.

After a one-day layover at my home, I was off to the GCCC14. It was the 2nd annual conference created and directed by Brett Clark of the Greater Clark County Schools. I landed in Louisville Kentucky, which is just over the river from my Indiana destination. A GCC educator, JT who was transporting me to my hotel, picked me up. I met JT when he performed the same task last year. He is quite an affable fellow and easy to talk with. On our ride we talked about this year’s conference compared to the last. JT shared a conversation he had with a colleague about the conference. His friend asked if JT was going to be at the “day-long computer training”. Obviously, some Indiana educators did not view the Michael Fullan keynote on livestream. Unfortunately, it is an attitude or a mindset that is shared by more educators than just those in Indiana. Many conferences are viewed as computer training and not education methodology or pedagogy.

It is the way of learning that should be the focus of education conferences and the goal for the attendees. The technology should always be secondary. We should first explore the place collaboration has in learning before we talk about the tools we need to collaborate. We should explore the need and benefits of communication and understand where and how it benefits students in their everyday lives before we explore the modern tools that enable and enhance communication. We need to understand the differences and the effects between lecture, direct instruction and authentic learning before commit to developing a year’s curriculum. Understanding the need for formative assessment is essential to determining what tools we will use to assess formatively, as well as what adjustments we need to make when we get that information. Let us get a full understanding of summative assessment to determine whether to use tools for testing, or tools for digital portfolio assessments.
Conferences should be more about the learning first and then balanced out with the tools to make it all happen efficiently and effectively. These conferences are not about computer training, but about learning and education.

As Chris Lehmann said at the GCCC14 conference, we don’t teach math, English, or social studies, we teach kids. Conferences should not be viewed as computer training, but rather teacher training. They teach teachers the ways of education and all of the necessary, modern tools to enhance authentic learning to attain the teachers’ intended goals. Connecting with the educators from each conference is an additional way of continuing the education discussion beyond the conference. It helps create collegial sources to be called upon at anytime for clarification, validation, new ideas, sources, or just to say hello. It makes no sense whatsoever to meet great people with great ideas at a conference and never to connect with them again.

Educators should come to conferences eager to learn about their evolving profession. It is not a stagnant profession. There are constant changes and developments that happen at a pace never before experienced in education. We need these conferences to offer a balance of pedagogy, methodology and tools for educators to learn, understand, develop, and evolve. We also need educators to connect in order to live the change and not just experience it at an annual conference. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.

Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.

I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.

I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.

I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.

The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.

One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.

As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.

It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their name tags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.

For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?

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On June 6, 2014, almost 100 educators from all over the U.S. arrived at the United States Department of Education to participate in the first-ever Edcamp to be held there. Most of these educators paid their own way to attend incurring a personal expense of time and money, two days and $500 to $900, depending on where they came from.

The question comes to mind, why would any educator give up personal time and money to attend an event at the U.S. Department of Education? Actually, the organizers were limited in the number of educators that could be accommodated, because of space and security issues. There were over 1,000 requests to participate the day after the EdcampUSA was announced. This was a huge number when we consider that many educators are in the closing weeks of their schools and could not apply.

Most of the participants had attended previous Edcamps, and many had organized their own local Edcamps. There have been well over 500 of these conducted in the US and some in other nations. Edcamp is being recognized as a grassroots professional development movement for educators. This was suggested to the US DOE in order to involve them in some way in the movement. The whole idea of doing an Edcamp at the DOE was probably an effort not only to inform the DOE, but also to seek some form of validation for trying to fill a professional development need that is felt by so many educators today. It was also a statement that educators are very interested and invested in improving their profession by taking up that cause without any help from the very system for which they work.

My hope was for the DOE to become more than aware. I hoped for the participation of top policy makers in the sessions to observe first hand the discussions of educators and their efforts, needs, and desires for real education reform. Edcamps are known for their frank and experienced views on the problems in education. These are views that take place through a lens of experience and not theory.

My view however was not to be realized. The DOE did assign a few people to attend the sessions. Some rotated in and out during the course of the day. The policy makers however did not participate in any numbers. There were a very few at the beginning of the day, but after just two sessions they went on to other obligations in their day.

The chief liaison person, Emily Davis, who headed up the Edcamp on behalf of the DOE, was an educator working as the Secretary’s direct assistant in such matters. She was a great contributor, and participant. It was her first Edcamp and she participated with excitement and enthusiasm, as well as awe, throughout the entire day. I know that she will enthusiastically report the success of the Edcamp at the DOE, but I admittedly wanted more. I wanted the Secretary and other policy makers to experience an Edcamp as opposed to receiving a feedback report. That desired involvement however, was not to be. We were granted a very quick visit and a limited photo-op with Secretary Duncan before the opening session.

I know we often refer to Edcamps as a place for professional development to take place, but it is not PD in the conventional sense of the term. It is more of self-examination of what we do to bring learning to students. Some of it is steeped in tradition, education as it was in the 19th & 20th Centuries. Some of it is very progressive, involving the latest technological tools for learning. It is also an examination of pedagogy. It is an open reflection of the educator’s role in education today. It is an experience that gives direction to educators as to how to direct their professional development to achieve the outcomes discussed in these sessions. It is an eye-opener for many, and an expansion of progressive ideas for others. All of it is based on education experience and pedagogy of educators. These are not opinions of politicians, business people, or for-profit reformers.

The Edcamp itself was very exhilarating. It is always great to respectfully test someone’s ideas on education, as well as having your own ideas tested. It was that open transparency in examining the problems and possible solutions that I wished could have been experienced by some of the people who are in a position to make education policy.

I always come away from these experiences wondering after all this is said and done, what is the next action to be taken by all who attended. I think the educators there came away with a number of ideas to implement. I am not sure what the next steps from the DOE will be. That, after all, was the reason for locating this Edcamp at the DOE in the first place.

The DOE’s awareness of Edcamps is a big step. The positive force of social media that was evident at the event was another lesson for the DOE. I would also hope that the dedication of educators to unselfishly sacrifice for their profession was another lesson learned. I know that the members of the DOE are often targets for the wrath of frustrated educators, but that is not part of Edcamp. Hopefully, that was learned as well, so that, if this ever happens again, policy makers will engage rather than just do a quick walk through and photo op.

BTW: If you get an opportunity to attend an Edcamp, jump on it!

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I just finished reading a post from my good friend and co-author of The Relevant Educator, Steve Anderson. His recent post, “Why Formative Assessments Matter” got me thinking about assessments in general and how often they are misunderstood and often abused by well-meaning educators.

We have all been taught that there are two categories of assessment, Formative and Summative. Formative assessment is done during a particular lesson to gauge student learning and understanding as the lesson progresses. This often takes the form of quizzes, but there are less formal forms that are as effective. The summative assessment is usually, but not always an exam of some type. It is to determine how much the student learned and understood from the overall experience. This could be a unit exam with various types of questions, or possibly some type of report done by the student.

With my education students I would explain assessments with a cooking metaphor. As a chef prepares a meal he or she would taste it along the preparation process. Based on those tastings adjustments are made. Spices may be added. Cooking time may be lengthened. Some components of the meal may even be eliminated. All of this is formative assessment. This assessment is for the chef to read the results of his or her preparation in order to adjust for the best outcome.

The summative assessment has nothing to do with the preparation, and everything to do with the final outcome. The summative assessment happens when the diner experiences the dish by eating it. How successful was the preparation in the final outcome?

Now, how can such a simple concept get corrupted? Grades! We are all held accountable by some measure. We have determined that grades are what we will use to hold students accountable. We will measure their every effort to learn and assess it with a grade. I guess if the chef assigned a grade to the dish with every tasting and averaged the grades it would not be an outstanding average. But then again how can the dish be measured when it has not yet been completed in the preparation process. Similarly we hold students responsible for quiz grades on assessments, which were originally intended for the teacher to consider in order to make adjustments to a lesson. If the kids do not get it, is it their fault or could it be a shortcoming in the lesson? Yes, students do have a responsibility to bring something to the table as well, but the bulk of the responsibility lies with the teacher.

Grading formative assessments to measure students understanding makes little sense. They all learn in different ways and arrive at learning specific things at different times. To use formative assessment to grade a student is a misuse of the assessment. It is expected that some will get it others won’t, but that is for the teacher to understand and adjust accordingly. That is the purpose of formative assessment.

Of course grading the summative assessment might have some value, as long as the summative assessment is assessing the learning. Too many unit tests however are nitpicking questions for content recall. I guess that lends itself well to Scranton testing. We all know how quickly we can bang out those Scranton test results. It is as easy as ABCD. Essays take too long to grade.

Of course not every teacher does this, but how many is too many? We need to better understand why we do things as educators. Often times the only reason for doing something is because that’s how others do it, or that’s the way it’s always been done.

If we better understand how to utilize assessments, maybe we can better our delivery of lessons without penalizing kids for things that they have little control over. Formative assessment comes in many forms and none really require grades. Summative assessments come in many forms as well. We need to choose those forms that show what individual kids have learned overall. To aim for the low hanging fruit of content questions is missing the mark. They have their place, but they should not be the focus of any test.

This should be a topic of faculty or department meetings. These are the things that need to be addressed by educators more than the usual fare of such meetings. We need to better understand what we do, and why we do it as educators. We need to be more reflective and critical within our own profession.

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