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Archive for the ‘Banning’ Category

Have you ever been witness to a time capsule being opened?  If you are not familiar with such events it is very simple. People select items that represent their culture or personal lives, and place them in a container to be sealed up for a long period of time. After a few decades the container is opened up at some sort of ceremony and people look at what was the height of technology, and life, decades ago. I guess we older folks get to appreciate those types of events more than the younger people, because the items in the time capsule usually do not need to be explained to us, as they need to be to the younger generations. I guess the fascination with time capsules is dependent on the apparent and dramatic effect technology has had on the culture represented by the encapsulated items which were selected.

It is one thing to study and talk about how technology and learning has made great strides in the field of medicine, but it is another conversation entirely when one experiences finding blood-letting tools in a time capsule. It prompts a great conversation that is lost in a textbook version of such events. It usually elicits from the youth questions like “What the hell were they thinking?” Of course the field of Medicine has probably developed faster and in more directions than any other field. I used to do a presentation where I would show a slide of a 19th Century operating room, followed by a picture of an operating room of today. The contrast was inimitable. Since this was a presentation for educators I showed a picture of a 19th Century classroom, followed by a class of today. It was the laughter of the audience that was inimitable at that point. There was little change. The upsetting point here is that if I were to do that presentation again, it would probably still hold true for the slow change in too many American classrooms.

As I engaged some of my connected colleagues in Edchat last week, we were discussing how the education system pays lip service to asking for innovation in education and for teachers to be innovative, while at the same time putting in place policies and mandates to stifle any such notion a teacher might have.

I pointed out how we are supposed to be teaching our kids how to be effective, competitive, and educated in the world in which they will live, while using tools for communication, collaboration, and creation that will exist in their world.

One Connected colleague pointed out that there is one school, or it might even be considered an education franchise school, that prides itself in the fact that it teaches its students without the use of any technology whatsoever. I guess that school franchise really holds 19th and 20th century methodology in very high esteem. Many of us are products of that methodology, so I guess there is a comfort level for some. I do often wonder why an educator’s comfort level should supersede the real world needs of his or her students.

Looking to the past in education and creating my own mental time capsule, I remember when calculators were not allowed in schools. The slide rule was okay. I remember the blue spirits ditto machine with a hand crank. I remember real Blackboards. I remember fountain pens, the Osmiroid Pen in particular. I remember desks with inkwell holes in the upper right corner. Again I am an old guy and this was my past.

What would go into an education time capsule today? Maybe a “Cellphones Banned” sign. Possibly, Oregon Trail would go in. Certainly those four computers, covered with dust at the back of the room. Definitely we would include the overhead projector that is now 75 year-old technology. Maybe we should also consider putting “sit and get” methodology in the time capsule. Let’s include the idea of teaching in silos as a concept. What about adding the concept of desks in rows. Why not add the idea of a content expert at the front of the room filling the empty vessels of student minds? This might also be the right place for standardized tests. If we were to put all of these things into a capsule to be opened two decades from now, would we ever want to bring any of them back into the class? Maybe, Oregon Trail.

We need to reach out to those who are still teaching kids from the 20th Century perspective. We need them to commit to being learners again. Learning is ongoing and it must be a way of life for an educator. A relevant educator must continually learn to stay relevant. We can’t have time-capsule teaching in an ever-developing culture. At what point will we stop and look at what we are doing and say, “what the hell were we thinking”?

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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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On January 15, 2014 my Blog will be three years old. With this post included I have written 223 posts just for my blog. In addition, I have done several dozen guest posts for other blogs. On a week-to-week basis I strive to write something new about education, or at least a new take on an old subject, but there are some subjects that linger with very little change.

Social media’s influence in education is a great example of slow change under the influence social media itself on education. The acceptance of social media in our culture has allowed social media’s slow acceptance into our school system as a source of branding, collaboration, and communication. The idea of blanket banning of students and teachers from all social media, although, unbelievably, still existing in some less enlightened districts, has been a declining practice. There are far fewer posts about that narrowly considered practice. At least this is progress.

Technology’s acceptance in education however, seems to be a never-ending subject amongst bloggers. Many refer to the fear factor involved with educators and technology. I do not understand what there is to fear from technology. It is what we all depend on to drive our civilization at this point. It is part of our world, and will continue to be so into the future. Our kids will use it and rely on it more than we do, as we used it and relied on it more than our parents did.

There is no longer a choice as to whether or not educators should incorporate technology tools for learning into education. That boat has sailed, that train left the station, that genie is out of the bottle, and that horse got out of the barn. Time to close that barn door and get on with it.

If there is nothing to fear about technology, why are so many educators fearful of it? I have often read that there is a technophobia among some educators. Could it be a fear of being replaced by a computer? I doubt it, because educated adults, especially educators, should be able to recognize that as a myth perpetrated by science fiction. Computers cannot replace teachers, but they can make teachers more effective and efficient.

I think the real pushback on technology from educators comes not from fear, but rather a reluctance to give up time and effort to have to learn something else. Teaching is not an easy job to begin with. It requires not only subject or content knowledge, but education knowledge as well. It requires mastery of two areas and that comes with a price. It requires more than a specialized degree, but additionally, an ongoing struggle to stay relevant in a society that is undergoing continual change at an ever-increasing rapid pace. Learning about technology and how to incorporate it into learning specific to one’s class may be a bridge too far for many educators.

This dilemma, as pervasive as it seems to be, is not totally the fault of the educators. Many educators have taken to learning on their own. They have personalized their learning to address their needs, as well as the needs of their students. As educators we know that self-motivation in learning is not a common commodity. It also holds true for educators who are learners as well.

If our education system requires that our educators maintain their relevance through education than the system should have a responsibility to provide the support and security to do so in terms of time and access to learning. Professional Development needs to be more than an occasional workshop that can then be checked off of an Administrator’s list of things that need to be done for the year. PD must be prioritized and supported on an ongoing basis. It must be part of the workweek. In addition to providing access to new ideas, technology, and methodology, time must be afforded for educators to collaborate on what they have learned. Educators need time and support to put into practice what they need to learn.

In an ideal world every educator would pursue relevance on their own as life long learners. They would seek out the latest and greatest methods and technologies to enhance their teaching and all would benefit. All would be right with the world. Unfortunately for us, we do not live in that world. Educators are strapped for time and money as much as anyone else. Fear of learning something new is far less a factor than time or inclination to do so. If we want to incent people to learn more, we need to prioritize it with time and money. It always comes down to this.

Professional Development for educators for the most part has been left to the individual educators. The hours spent on PD are often mandated by the district, or state and described in teacher contracts, but the learning often comes at the expense of the educator. This is a model that does not work. We are a system obsessed with assessments, yet we fail to assess many of the things that would really make a difference. Try assessing the effectiveness of PD in a district. Is it making a difference to the entire system, or are only a few educators benefitting? If your system’s method of PD does not do what PD is supposed to do, than maybe you need to change the way you are doing it.

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At a recent education award ceremony, a prominent education leader being recognized began the acceptance speech by saying “I am not a techie”. At first I was a little upset, because these awards were for educators, and not technology educators. I had to catch myself and hold back my criticism, because I often use that same phrase with educators, but for a different reason. It is actually a symptom of a decades old and continuing discussion in education.

We are now living in a world that is technology-driven, requiring a minimum amount of digital literacy from anyone who hopes to function, if not thrive, in that world. Many educators do not feel that they are sufficiently versed in technology to adequately prepare their students for the world in which the students will live. Much of this is a result of the way technology has evolved in education. Technology was not integrated as a tool for learning from the start, but rather it was almost a mystical, or a magical thing that had its own department and staff, as well as specially trained teachers to work with it. In the beginning it was an add-on. It also started in the wealthier schools. Colleges were not adequately preparing pre-service teachers in the use or integration of tech. Some colleges struggle with the very same issues today. Technology and education were like trains on two spate lines of track.

Some tech blended in immediately with little resistance. When the first electronic four-function pocket calculators came out in the seventies, teachers could not buy them fast enough at a time when report card grades were due. The cost back then was about $100. The other quickly accepted tech was the word processor. This was probably because it closely resembled an accepted form of tech, the typewriter. The methodology in using a word processor is very different from a typewriter. I am willing to bet however, that there are still teachers requiring kids to do a rough draft, final draft, on paper in pen, and then to type that into the word processor.

Being an educator today requires that we be digitally literate. Beyond that we also need to have a basic understanding of these technology tools for learning. The ultimate plan for education is to have kids learn to intelligently communicate, critically think, collaborate and create in their world. The very tools that they will use today to do all of this are technological. The tools that they will use in their future will be even more advanced technology. Educators have a responsibility to deliver a relevant education to their students. That requires digital literacy.

I often had to debate some of my higher ed colleagues as I incorporated more and more technology into my education courses. Colleagues telling me that I was not teaching a technology course, but rather an education course often challenged me. I would insist that I was teaching an education course, and using technology tools for learning that the future educators in my class need to understand. However, in the minds of my colleagues technology and education were two separate entities.

If we are to accomplish the goal of educating our educators about digital literacy, we need to stop apologizing out of embarrassment for shortcomings. For an educator to say, “I am not a techie” and consider that ample reason not to use digital devices, or not to permit Internet access in a 21st Century classroom is depriving students of skills and sources that they will need for better understanding and a better ability to compete in their world.

That Award winning educator found herself in an auditorium of connected educators and made claim to not being a techie. She wrongly assumed that connected educators in that room were all techies. In fact although some were techies and some were geeks, most were just digitally literate educators; a goal that should be held by every educator who wants to be relevant and effective.

When I tell people I am not a techie, it is not because I fail to use technology as a tool. It is because at my age I learn about whatever it is that I need to know to stay relevant. I emphasize that digital literacy is not a generational thing; it is a learning thing. I am a life long learner and that requires digital literacy to maintain. Technology and education have merged in many ways. We cannot separate them out any longer. Educators should not need a degree in education and then another in Educational Technology in order to be a digitally literate educator.

Beyond the mindset we need to change the approach to professional development. We do not need to be teaching the bells and whistles of a technology application. We need to ask teachers what they are doing first, and then see if the introduction of an application will benefit that goal. Chances are good that it will. We need the Technology staff to understand pedagogy and methodology in order to incorporate technology into education more seamlessly.

We will not be effective as a profession of techies and teachers. We will succeed if we are all digitally literate educators. An illiterate educator is an ineffective educator. To better educate our children we need to better educate their educators.

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“Preparing kids for the Real World” is a phrase that many educators and schools use without regard for the consequence of what they selectively choose as reality for their students. Both educators and institutions in many cases are still choosing for students by educating them traditionally, or more progressively using technology tools for learning. This probably begins with educators’ misconception of the real world.

We cannot prepare kids for the Real World when we still have a 20th century view of it. We are over a dozen years into the 21st Century and some kids in the system have another dozen years before they need their real world experience to hit the streets. That would take us a quarter through the 21st century. How time flies.

Yes, one can be a good teacher without technology. I will not dispute that claim. I believe it to be true. That however deals with a method of teaching, and not what needs to be taught. It is the how versus the what. If one buys into the preparation for the real world argument, teachers methodology choice should take a back seat to  how kids learn and what kids need to learn.

First, I must say that the real world for kids does not begin when they graduate. They are living in the real world now. Their world is quite different from ours. Their world is even more technology driven than ours. Schools cannot be protective cocoons holding our youth until they are matured and educated well enough to spread out their wings and take on the reality of the world. It makes a nice picture, but the subject today is reality.

I remember how Math teachers at one time used the slide rule for calculations. It was even allowed to be used in class, and sometimes on tests. Calculators had a tougher battle getting into classes. Even today many teachers ban them from tests. I wonder if the math jobs in the real world ban the use of calculators? I wonder if students familiar with computer programs dealing with advanced math are disadvantaged in the job market?

When private companies tell us that employees today should be versed in collaboration and be willing to work in groups to fit into the models and structures of modern workspaces in today’s businesses, does that ring true with our students’ education experience? Do educators and schools understand the needs of business in order to prepare students for it in the real world?

When employers are seeking candidates for writing positions in business, will they interview candidates with pen and paper writing samples, or will they ask to see finished writing projects with style and flair produced for print quality? Mechanics having the ability to rebuild a ’58 Chevy may be in high demand in Cuba, but, in the real world that we must prepare our kids for, this is less desirable than a mechanic who knows how to address the automotive computer world of repairs.

We live in a technology-driven society. Unless we choose to live in a commune in the woods or the desert, that will not change. Technology has permeated every part of our lives. It takes one lightning strike on your house to learn that lesson. In addition to all phones and electronics, even your home heating unit and ice maker will have computer chips that will need to be replaced.

Education as much as any other industry has been deluged with technological tools for learning, communication, collaboration, and creation. These tools represent and are used with everything that we teach and hold dear. Some are good and some are not. Our choice as educators should be between the good and the bad, the useful and the frivolous, the productive and the time wasters. As educators we no longer get to choose whether or not we use technology. If our goals, as well as we as educators, are to be believed, and we truly are preparing our students for the real world, we must concede that that world abounds with technology and there are no other choices. We would be more than remiss in our obligation as educators if we chose not to employ technology where it fits. There are times when it may not.

Now the questions arise, are our teachers trained and supported in technology use. Are the buildings adequately tooled for technology? Are administrators devising new, and updating antiquated policies to meet the challenges of teaching with technology? If we are not doing these things, are we then lying to our children when we tell them that we are preparing them for their future?

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When it comes to the use of technology in education, I often say that it is not a generational gap, but a learning gap that prevents our older generations from accepting new technology tools for learning. I think I may have to amend my position. There are a few things about mobile devices that point to a generational gap that may be preventing by some an acceptance of these devices as tools for learning. I am a true believer that we consider an item as technology if it was invented in our lifetime. Therefore, I consider a cellphone technology, but my car in some form or another has always been with me since the 60’s and to me that is my car and not technology.

My younger daughter has had her own cellphone since Grammar school and full access to the Internet at home all of her life. She was Social Media involved as a toddler with Penguin World. She has always had a laptop, iPad and an iPod. We are fortunate enough and grateful to have afforded her those tools. She is now headed off to college with these experiences and tools in place. I often learn from her simply by observing how she uses things to learn.

This weekend we were spending time at the beach house that is pretty much cut off from the world. My daughter was working on a final paper and asked if she could download a book she needed from Amazon. I gave her permission and watched her download it to her Smartphone as she continued working on her laptop. In consideration of my own ailments and frailties, I asked if she would not better be able to read the book if it were on her laptop instead of her smartphone?

“No, this will be just fine,” was the answer.

That is when I got it. I would struggle with reading a book from a Smartphone, but not so much a teen’s problem. Teens are reading text on their phones 24/7. They watch full-length movies and TV shows on their Smartphones. They do not need to make adjustments from previous habits. I had to adjust from Desktop use to laptop use as an adult. That is not a problem for kids who are multi-users when it comes to the devices of technology.

The other big stumbling point when it comes to the acceptance of mobile devices used as tools for learning is the fact that the older generation perceives a cellphone as a phone, as the name would imply. Actually, the smartphone is a complex computer with phone capabilities in addition to thousands of other applications. Again, the youthful generation just uses the technology for communication, curation, entertainment, research, and photography without the oohs and aahs, while the older generation just marvels at all the bells and whistles of the new technology vicariously, through the experiences of others, often younger. While the older generation tries to figure out how to grant permission, while maintaining control over this new-fangled technology, the youth is employing it everywhere and all of the time, except in some cases in school. Adults are delusional to think that they have the power to control this technology.

If schools need to control Smartphone use, let them figure out ways to incorporate them interactively into lessons. Teaching kids responsible use is the best form of control. It is lifelong skill. Mobile devices provide a gateway to more relevant content than could ever be placed in a textbook. Why are we not preparing our kids with the skills to access, assess and utilize that content? Will they not need these skills in the technology-driven world in which they will live? They come to us trusting that we will be preparing them with what they need to thrive in their world in the future, but many of our educators are not even in the world of today. I have said this before. If we are going to educate our children for what they will need, we must educate our educators first. Technology is changing things too fast for us all to keep up without a little help from others. There is so much to know, that we have reached a point where many of us do not know what it is that we do not know.  Whether this roadblock to technology use in education is a learning thing or a generational thing, collaboration may be the map to the way out. Educators need to connect and collaborate in all of the methods we have available to us in order to learn and share.

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I think I have always been a connected educator even before “Al Gore invented the internets”. I received journals in the mail, signed up for numerous workshops, attended any and all conferences I could get sent to, continually joined school committees, and I taught many in-service courses. With that type of exposure, I developed a fairly evident footprint in my school and district. People knew who I was, and what my educational philosophy was because I lived it. Of course looking back to my 20th Century career with a 21st Century eye, there are many things I did then that I would never do today.

The idea of an educator’s digital footprint is a far more than just a reaching reputation. If one is to have any involvement online, that involvement better be positive and constructive, for it is there for eternity and for all to see. If one has amassed a number of good positives in one’s digital impression, it is not usually offset by the occasional misstep that we are all prone to have from time to time.

In regard to the recent “Jeff Bliss” viral video, I felt bad at first for the teacher in the class at Duncanville High School. Too many people were out to demonize her without knowing who she was, or if this packet curriculum she handed out was her personal style, or a mandated, packaged, paid-for curriculum of the school district. She had no digital footprint to go to. I looked, and I could not find one.

I am fortunate to work for SmartBrief as a contributing editor. I am sent to many education conferences in order to promote my connections with educators. Even before this however, I found the digital connections made through Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook were, for those people I wanted to get to know, more than introductions to people. They were the beginnings of relationships. Most of the people in education, that I call on as friends today, began as digital connections. Technology has helped me expand and deepen professional relationships to a degree never before possible. As a regular teacher I was now able to connect, and interact with authors and experts as an equal in discussions on education. These digital relationships were further expanded with face-to-face contacts at education conferences.

Since the interactions were digital, they took many forms on several places: groups, discussions, comments, and interviews, and my footprint grew. As I ventured out to write a Blog my educational philosophy took on a life of its own. People could now read my thoughts and views, as well as my personal beliefs, likes, and dislikes. All of this has fit into my lifestyle. I love the connectedness, I thrive on the interaction, and I live for talking about where we are going, as well as, where we should be in education. All of this, and age, has morphed me from an educator of kids to hopefully a wiser educator of educators. It has always been about the connectedness.

This year I was fortunate to attend the MACUL conference in Detroit. That is a statewide education conference for Michigan educators. MACUL is an ISTE affiliate. My connectedness led me to friendships with many of the featured and keynote speakers; Steve Dembo, Adam Bellow, Nick Provenzano, Kevin Honeycutt, Erin Klein and Gwyneth Jones to mention only a few. It was a great lineup of educators at The Cabo Center in Detroit.

My connectedness and its range along with my responsibility to be true to my image was driven home to me with an email from Matt Keillor an educator connected to me and who also attended the MACUL Conference. I left the conference as it ended. Having my luggage with me I found a line of cabs outside and went to the first in line. I had a pleasant conversation with the cabbie who was originally from an African country. As I was in the airport Matt tweeted me saying that he had a ride in the same cab as I did and he would email me the details. Here is Matt’s account:

MACUL13 Cab Story

From Matt Keillor

I hopped into a cab from Cabo to Detroit airport on Friday afternoon.  The conversation with the cab driver went like this:

Me: Airport please

Driver: Sure. Are you a teacher?

Me: Why yes I am! There are thousands of us swarming Detroit, have you had many teacher customers?

Driver: My last customer was a teacher.  He lives in New York and has been teaching for over 40 years!

Me: Did he have a mustache?

Driver: Yes he did!

Me: A nice full manly one…not a wimpy pencil ‘stache.

Driver: Ha Ha! Yes he did.

Me: I believe that was Tom Whitby! I pulled up Twitter and showed him a pic…

Driver: Yep. that’s him!! He was a very nice man, I could tell he is a man of principle…I saw him walking out and another cab driver tried to lure him in.  He refused, kept walking and continued to my cab at the front of the line.  He is a very nice man!

Me: Great to hear!  I’ll be sure to tell him you said hello.  

Driver: Ah yes, please do!

Lessons learned: It’s a small world. Twitter is cool. Always do the right thing; you may never know the impact has on others.

I am proud of my digital footprint. I am happy to be recognized for as much what I am as who I am. In addition to educators maintaining connections and providing a positive footprint, we need to also stress this with our students. There may come a time when your digital footprint will be your accomplishments for portfolio. Interviews may be have less of an impact on job procurement. It may also go a long way in maintaining a position. Of course that brings us back to our teacher on the viral video. Given the information on hand and their digital footprints, who looks better, the teacher, or the student? What impact will that video, and all that follows from it, have on each of their lives? YES, Technology and Social Media are important in our culture. It cannot be effectively and responsibly self-taught.

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