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Archive for the ‘EdChat’ Category

About a year ago Adam Bellow and I were discussing the possibility and the benefits of doing an Edcamp at the site of the United States Department of Education. Adam had just met with some members of the Department and I was in touch with many of them from the connected educator month committee on which I was serving. Our thought was to have an Edcamp take place in the Department of Ed and have all of the policy makers attend sessions with real, in-the-classroom educators to see, and feel their concerns as educators in regard to what is important in the classroom. We were thinking in terms of #Edcampwhitehouse.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, a brief explanation may be in order. The Edcamp model is a grassroots movement for professional development. Educators assemble at a location with no set agenda for PD sessions. The day starts early with a provided breakfast while everyone collaborates. There is usually a large board with session times and room assignments for each session, but there are no session descriptions. That is what the breakfast collaboration is for. As educators’ discussions emerge and develop there are usually two types of participants, those who know about a subject, and those who want to know about a subject. Either type may put up that subject in a session slot. Both the experts and the novices then will have an opportunity to discuss the topic. Edcamps are more about discussion than presentations. The discussions involve classroom experiences both successful and unsuccessful. Each session provides a safe discussion for educators to explore their understanding of any education topic.

Both Adam and I thought that this is what the policy makers within the Department of Education need to hear. This is a great way to put educators into the national discussion of education, that so many educators feel has been hijacked by business people and politicians. So, with the help of some key members of the Department of Education, we got the go ahead. The DOE was willing to provide a space and coordination, but the bulk of the organization and planning were to be up to the educators to complete. To me, that meant The Edcamp Foundation under the leadership of Kristen Swanson. The Edcamp Foundation is a volunteer group that helps organize and support Edcamps around the world. This US DOE Edcamp was a perfect opportunity for their leadership. They took on the project without hesitation.

Since the space at the DOE would have a limited capacity, the attendees needed to be limited as a result. The invitations to all went out on social media to enlist interested educators to enter a lottery for the Edcamp attendance. There was a huge response considering it is on June 6, a weekday. The DOE is closed on weekends. Edcamps are usually a Saturday event. The lottery was held and invitations to attend went out. Many educators at their own expense will be making the pilgrimage.

The Edcamp will take place this Friday. I truly hope that the people or surroundings that educators will encounter at this event will not intimidate them in any way.

We are hopeful that most of the participants will be tweeting out their experience. This entire project came as a result of social media and connected educators. It will be that connectedness that gets the experience and feelings of the event participants out to all educators. I look forward to thousands of tweets and many blog posts coming from this event on Friday. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statement with what educators do, and who educators are to possibly affect change. It is doubtful the President will show up, but at the very least Arne Duncan, The Secretary of Education, should have some level of engagement.

I often say: To better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators. Friday I will say to better affect change in education, we need first to better affect change in our policy makers.

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Educators like all learners have a preferred way of learning. Some think of it as different “styles of learning”, but even that theory of  “learning styles” has been questioned by some. In a profession, which resides in a world where content and information constantly change and evolve at a rapid rate of speed, educators need to maintain relevance in order to create an authentic and meaningful environment for their students to learn and create.

Educators have always needed to master the understanding of at least two fields of endeavor to be successful. First, they needed to master their content field. They are required to be experts of content. Second, they needed to master the field of education with a clear understanding of the latest and greatest methodology and pedagogy available. The 21st Century has now further complicated the teaching profession by requiring an additional third area of mastery, digital literacy. This is required to accomplish many of the necessary tasks in the space occupied by our nation in a computer-driven world. It is the mastery of this third element that educators struggle with today. It is this third element that also directly affecting the evolution of content and education.

The problems stemming from this are many. How do we stress the importance of digital literacy to a group of people, many of whom are digitally illiterate in the modern sense of the term? How do we get educators to remain relevant in their areas of expertise, if their access to content is limited to the methods and tools of the 20th Century? How do we get educators to participate in collaborative learning on a global basis, when they are comfortable with their day-to-day, face-to-face connections with only their building colleagues?

Being a “connected educator” requires collaborative learning as a key to expanding personal learning. It requires at the least, a basic understanding of digital literacy. It requires an understanding of the connected culture in order to reap the full benefits of collaboration. It requires an investment of time that will vary with each individual depending on their learning capacity. Being a Connected Educator is a mindset and not the result of a workshop or seminar for professional development. It is that leap of faith to adopt a mindset for connectedness that will prevent us from soon becoming a profession of connected educators. There will always be some that will keep their feet firmly planted in the 20th century, because, to their way of reasoning, it served them well then, so it should serve them well today.  The two biggest obstacles to change require leaving behind control and comfort zones. This is not easily done.

I don’t even know if the answer to the problem could be solved by top down, or bottom up solutions. It will be more reliant on the culture of each school. To change any system, we must first change the culture. We no longer have a choice about using technology in education, since the education system is part of a society that depends on technology to communicate, collaborate, communicate, and create. The children that educators are preparing for life in that society deserve to receive the most relevant education based on up-to-date information, using the latest methodology, pedagogy, and tools for learning that are available. Little from the 20th century will serve them as well, as that which is in their own century.

We need to help our colleagues be less intimidated by all that is new. We should not put unrealistic time limits on their progress. It is a mindset, and we each will arrive there at our own speed. We must however strive together to get there. Not to attempt to do so is being remiss in our responsibility or our solemn obligation to create in our students the ability to be life long learners through our words and our own actions as life long learners ourselves.

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I have been thinking lately about professional relationships and what role they play in how we learn as professionals, and as people. It would be difficult to learn much in total isolation. We are social beings, so exchanging ideas and opinions is a natural occurrence for us. I think we tend to seek out people with whom we can share things. We have personal relationships to share personal things, professional relationships to share professional things, and casual relationships to handle everything else. These relationships validate, negate, or modify our ideas. We learn from this.

Our culture’s support of these relationships may best be reflected in our support of the Restaurant and Bar industry. I guess these casual, and personal relationships are as much a part of that industry as food and booze. Places of business, and education are where professional relationships mostly reside.  Although many faculty have been known to gather on a Friday afternoon at a watering hole outside the school district limits.

Many of these relationships are very fluid depending on our need to share and learn specific things at various times of our lives. People come and go in our lives continuously. Many of us have people that we refer to as our mentors. A mentor, I believe, is a person who heavily influenced us at specific times in our careers by exchanging, supporting, questioning, and validating our ideas about our profession. All of this is based on trust, which can only be established within a relationship.

Professional relationships prior to the 21st Century were, with the exception of the occasional pen pal, a face-to-face endeavor. As educators, professional relationships were most often within the school building in which an educator worked. Depending on the size and quality of the faculty, as well as the school’s culture, this was a hit or miss proposition for professional learning. If an educator was limited in professional relationships within the work environment, he, or she could attend classes in local colleges seeking out professional relationships with other teachers attempting the same collegial connections. As the rates for taking courses, continued to rise, higher Ed became a very costly drain on a teacher’s salary. Local, statewide, or national education conferences also provided exposure to more professional relationships, but many teachers were not privy to attending these conferences on a regular basis.

I was recently made aware of the principle of 10,000 hours. That is the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to completely master a complex skill. If there ever was a list of complex skills, teaching would be at the top. To make it even more complex it is also a moving target. Teaching today is constantly changing and evolving. In order to stay relevant and up to date, today’s educators need to be in touch with those changes. They need to embrace, experiment, and improve, or reject new pedagogy and methodology in education. They need to absorb and understand new and developing content that pops up every day. Education is not a static profession.

Educators, more than ever, need to be able to take a new idea and “run it up the flagpole”. The responses to that idea however need to come from people who have a clue. The relationships that educators count on need to be with people who are relevant and open to new ideas. This type of educator may not be found in large numbers in all schools across our country. Relationships with people who are rooted in the past will be of little help in a world driven by technology and a need for evolving an education system to meet the needs of kids who will not be living in the 20th century.

If technology is seen as the problem in driving the culture too fast for education to adjust and keep up, it may also be seen as a solution to that very same problem. If relationships are the stuff of better learning, then let technology provide better ways to relate. It is technology that can expand an educator’s relationships beyond the limits of a school, or district, or state, or even a country. Relationships with other educators, without the expense of taking costly courses are made possible. Contacts can be made with leading thought leaders, authors, and renowned experts in the field of education. Webinars are rapidly replacing the lecture halls. Through technology face-to-Face interactions are now possible with multiple people in multiple locations. The potential for meaningful relationships through technology are endless.

All of this is taking place today with connected educators worldwide. It only takes about twenty minutes a day, at any time of day, to maintain. That 10,000 hour goal will be whittled away after a while, but it would go more quickly with more time spent in these relationships which are both uplifting and thought-provoking. Those factors encourage more engagement with each visit to the connected community. Learning becomes self-directed, authentic, and, dare I say, fun.

The big picture of this can be overwhelming to a novice. It is a mindset change that requires understanding the culture of connectedness before a real immersion can take place. Educators need a basic knowledge of digital literacy to get started. This will quickly, and very painlessly grow with continued connectedness. There are several connected communities to help educators get started. The Educator’s PLN is a start. www.edupln.com.

Twitter is probably the best way to experience the need and benefit to connectedness in developing both professional and personal relationships with other educators. Remember that in a group of like-minded people, as smart as any individual is, the group is always smarter. Of course, if you are reading this online, you are probably already connected and all of this makes sense, since you have already drunk the Kool-aid. Please print it out and share with an unconnected colleague. To better educate our kids we need to better educate their educators.

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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 a provocative session at Educon. For those who don’t know Educon is an annual education Conference held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia each year on the week before the Super Bowl. It is a conference of discussion as opposed to a conference of presentation. Each of the sessions is a facilitated discussion that involves the participants.

It was in one such session that #Edchat received what I thought was an unwarranted criticism from one of the participants in the session.

For those who may be new to social media scheduled chats take place on Twitter on various topics in education throughout the week.  Each is hosted and moderated by an educator who has an interest in the topic of discussion. This real-time chat is conducted through the use of hash tags (#Edchat), which curate all the tweets, so that the chat can be followed without interference from other tweets on the stream. One would simply create a column to follow the specific hash tag and all other tweets would be filtered out so that only hash-tagged tweets would appear in that column. I gave a complete description of education Chats in this post: Chats: What are they and why do we need them?

The Edchat criticism came in a discussion that I attended on The Privileged Voices in Education; facilitated by two people I greatly admire Jose Vilson, and Audrey Watters. I attended that particular session in need of making myself more aware of how I might be unknowingly offending and even demeaning people, as I address things from a position of privilege as a white, heterosexual, male educator. Those are all factors that have been brought to my attention lately, specifically because I have a voice in social media, and I haven’t been aware of my privilege in our very diverse culture. This need for awareness comes with the added responsibility of being an educator. I was unaware of my micro-aggression. As I consulted Wikipedia for specifics I found Micro-aggression: “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color ” I need to reflect on that discussion more before attempting to delve deeper in a later post. A follow-up post on this is my intention.

Of course the Edchat criticism came during this particular educator’s comments within this larger more important discussion, so I did not feel it appropriate to respond to him at the time. It was later however, that it occurred to me that we, as educators, are also privileged and must be aware of the less educated or informed. The comment about Edchat was not horrible. It was not even offensive. As a founder of Edchat, I am always listening to educators’ comments. Of course it doesn’t help, when a comment is made about Edchat in a room full of educators, and that a half-dozen, or so, immediately turn to me to see if I will respond. It reminds me of a group of kids gathered to watch a fight afterschool.

This educator said he was introduced to Edchat nine months ago and he felt that Twitter, and Edchat specifically was not the right place to have education discussions. He felt that 140-character format was insufficient for discussion. That was when it occurred to me that he might be speaking from a position of privilege as an educator who is exposed to education discourse. He certainly is an educator who was afforded an opportunity to attend a $200 conference in Philadelphia. His experience is not that of educators in other regions of America and even further from those of educators outside America. Who was he, to make the judgment for other people who an education chat had little, or no value? Opportunity to freely discuss issues in education does not take place in every school globally. Education chats are global, and they offer a glimpse, yes, just a glimpse, of only some of the things that concern educators. It is also mainly an American point of view for most of the chats probably dominated by a northeast influence. Additionally, I have no idea how many people of color are involved. I might assume that not as many as we should have. For anyone to consider all of this and feel that their experience outweighs all others in a judgment on the worth of a chat, may be a little too much, but, the again, I have already made too much of even this.

These twitter chats and even blog posts are not the deep discussions needed for us to make all the right decisions in education, or even our personal lives. They are however starting points. They are flags, signposts, billboards, and bulletin boards to concerns that educators have. They are forerunners and precursors to the needed deeper discussions. Please don’t criticize Chats like Edchat for not being the needed deep discussion. They were never intended to be that. They were set up to create awareness for the community. The very deep discussion that was taking place at Educon was in great part a result of the tweets and chats of social media as explained by the facilitators. We should remember that sometimes a chat is just a chat.

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As a tweeter of education tweets (many, many education tweets), I often find myself on lists that people put out as recommendations. Whenever that happens there will be a number of people who will pass their judgment over the quality of the list or the quality of the qualifications of individuals on that list. Of course, there are no rules in social media, so that will go on no matter what. I do think that we need a perspective on these lists in order to gauge the intensity of criticism.

First, we should state that anyone putting out a list, recommending people to follow, has found worth in the information that those people have put out. We can’t judge the value of that information to that individual, since we all come from varied backgrounds with varied experiences. What an inexperienced educator finds of value from others may not be as valuable to an educator of many years experience. That does not mean that the information is worthless. It is still valuable to a new educator. It indicates only that that particular list would not meet all the needs of a more experienced educator.

The biggest problem with any list is that someone is always left out. Even in listing your best ten recommendations there is sure to be someone you want on that list equal to all the others, but that would be eleven. Not gonna happen.

We should keep in mind that these are all personal recommendations. As we personalize our learning, we follow those people who best speak to our needs for learning. Again, who works for me might not work for you. I know that I have seen people on list who I follow, or have stopped following because they do not offer enough to supplement or challenge my learning. Those recommendations would not meet my needs, so although I would not take them, that gives me no license to publicly criticize the list, or individuals on it.

Another criticism that I have become most sensitive to recently is faulting an educator for “not even being a teacher”. Not every educator is a classroom teacher. That does not mean they aren’t educators. That doesn’t mean they can’t offer valid information, or considered opinions. (I do draw the line at non-educators making education policy. That is another discussion for another bottle of wine.) Administrators technically are not classroom teachers.

Quite honestly, many classroom teachers have little time to spend on social media when compared to those who educate educators as a vocation. Many consultants, bloggers, vendors, and retired educators spend greater amounts of time sharing information. We need to remind ourselves that sharing in social media allows us to judge the worth of the idea rather than who proposed it. I have become somewhat of a social media professional educator, hence my sensitivity to the criticism. That position however, is based on a 40-year classroom career (for the haters).

The main benefit of any lists recommending people to follow is that there are lists of people to follow. Social media, although no longer in its infancy, is still new to many educators. New educators are joining the community daily. All of us can take recommendations of people to follow. Lists offer a starting point for some, and additional value to established Personal Learning Networks for others. We must however, determine on our own, if any person warrants a continued “follow”, or a quick, unheralded “unfollow”. We design our own learning. We have a say, a voice in who we choose to learn from. Lists are introductions to people we might not yet have been exposed to.

I would hope that lists could be viewed with more tolerance, if not appreciation. Remember that the people on the lists did not choose to be there. Their appearance on the list came from another. They do not deserve to be publicly criticized for that. They are not to be targeted because someone else doesn’t get it. Respect is key to social media succeeding as a vehicle for our learning.

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Of course the end of this year is about to slam us in the face with the fact that all of those well-intended resolutions, both personal and professional, for 2013 will no longer have the time to be fulfilled. Undoubtedly, we will feel really bad about it this year, because they were all great resolutions. As far as the professional resolutions go, many of the ideas may have come from connected colleagues and blogs, so they were very relevant as well, and specifically designed for 2013. Maybe there is a possibility that we can repackage a few for 2014.

Having an intention to do something is different from accomplishing that as a goal. Resolutions only require the intention to do it. If we want to increase the odds for success, we need to keep the resolution simple and limited. I am a big believer in the KISS method, (Keep It Simple Stupid). The intention of creating and implementing several new great ideas in the coming year may be more than most of us can handle. I would suggest that we resolve to design and implement ONE new thing in our world of influence. To accomplish more than that would be a bonus, but not necessary to complete our resolution list.

There are so many ideas that are flying around the connected educator hangouts, that selecting but one to act on should be a simple task. A difficult task to arrange would be to have everyone in the world jump as high as they could at the exact same time to see what effect gravity would produce as a result. That is a real challenge.

To ask every educator to select one new idea and implement it in the coming year pales in comparison to the mass jump. The total effect of such a singular accomplishment could take education closer to where it should be in addressing the real needs of students. The other consideration is that other educators often adopt successful, new ideas. The snowball-rolling-down-the-hill effect could result in that unattainable “Paradigm Shift” that we have heard so much about over the years.

In order for this to work, we need to make a selection for the right idea. That may require that we connect with other both connected and unconnected educators to find what new ideas have worked for them.

We can collaborate with other educators for specifics. We may need to connect our unconnected colleagues for help. We may want to keep up with Education Blogs for relevant posts because they are often the result of our thought leaders in education. We must be sure to connect our unconnected colleagues with those blogs as well. We can also access webinars that are becoming so prevalent on the Internet and share them as well. We can seek out education chats for relevant ideas for change.We can even take along an unconnected friend to a chat. Education communities on Ning sites are another great way to gain access to these new ideas. There may be a need to share those sites with the unconnected. If we are lucky enough to attend an education conference, we could access new ideas face-to-face with other educators. The digital Face-to-Face method would involve Skype, or Google hangouts. Both are easily shared with unconnected colleagues.

Once we determine the best new idea that we can embrace, understand, and implement, we need to put our energy into it. We need to commit. If it doesn’t work the first time through, we need to assess why, and make adjustments, and repeat as necessary. Once we have fulfilled our New Year’s resolution, we need to examine the process that got us there. If it worked successfully once, chances are it will work again. The best part is whom else we involved and benefitted in the process, even beyond our students. Happy New Year!

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This week’s #Edchat was about teacher-centric learning vs. student-centric learning. It is a topic that often gets teachers actively involved in discussion. The reason why so many teachers are so passionate about this subject is unclear, but if Twitter chats and tweets are any indication, it is obvious that many of our connected educators strongly favor student–centric learning. Many view it as 20th century education vs. 21st century. In fact we have been having the “sage on the stage” vs. “ guide on the side” argument for quite a few decades.

Direct Instruction and Lecture are methods of education that have dominated our lessons in education for centuries. They are probably the lessons that most Americans imagine when they are asked to think of what a typical lesson in school should look like. It is the way that most content experts often deliver content to their students. Lecturing is the mainstay of college courses. The majority of the work in this model falls on the teacher to take in and understand the content and deliver it in digestible chunks to the students. This is then noted and memorized by the students for a later summative assessment. That would be the model applied from: chapter to chapter, unit to unit, subject to subject, and textbook to textbook. Both teachers and students were programmed into this model for the most part. Does any of this sound familiar?

The last few decades however have had teachers experimenting with other ways to deliver content. I remember the first time I used simulations in an integrated social studies and English project in the late eighties. It seems a little lame by today’s standards, but we were pushing the envelope back then. The classroom was noisy, the kids were all over the room, the furniture was used as anything but furniture, but we were all engaged in learning. It was active learning and not passive listening.

Moving ahead to the 21st Century we see the use of Project-Based learning, Problem-based learning, and now the Maker movement. None of this is really new, but many educators in larger numbers are newly employing it. We are seeing in more and more literature that lecture and direct instruction may not be as effective as these other forms of learning.

Collaborative learning, which has always been with us, has been turbo-boosted by technology. It once required face-to-face environment to even be considered. It was always effective, but the requirements of time and space limited its use in the classroom, and made it almost impossible outside the education setting. Technology changed all of that. Collaboration now has no boundaries of time and space. Collaborative learning can take place anytime and anywhere. Connections are both local and global. This has become the heart of connected education, and collaborative learning on a global sc

Direct Instruction and Lecture are elements of education that will always be with us. They should not however be the focus of education. Technology now provides the means for student-centric lessons. We need to educate our educators in the benefits and implementation. We also need to get our students familiar with having a voice in personalizing their learning. We cannot hold them responsible for learning, if we don’t teach them the skills of learning. This student-centric learning strongly supports lifelong learning. It creates independent learners and thinkers. It is a learning-by-doing philosophy.

The deterrents to this oncoming wave in education are few, but they are daunting. Observations by administrators are used to assess a teacher’s performance. The easiest observations to do are teacher-centric lessons. Otherwise, in a student-centric lesson, an administrator would have to observe student learning as opposed to teacher delivery of content. Although not impossible, it is a more difficult way to do things. Nevertheless, there are forms of observations that accommodate student-centric lessons. We need to prepare administrators with those tools. More importantly we need to get them as supporters of a method of teaching and learning that has not been the mainstay of education. This is a difficult task in an institution as conservative as Education.

Technology is a driving force for much of the student-centric learning. We need our educators to be at the very least literate in this relatively new digital literacy. It is not a generational thing that people over 30 cannot ever understand. It is a learning thing that teachers can be taught through collaboration, support, and prioritizing ongoing teacher learning for professional development.

The idea that content is king may just be a passing phase in education. Content should be the tool that we use to teach kids the skills of learning. What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn. Once we know how to learn, the content will come to us, as we need it. We need to prepare this generation not only to learn, but also to think critically as well. Learning and thinking are a far cry from listening, memorizing and regurgitating facts.

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This post originally appeared on the ISTE Connects Blog.

Back in 2009 I was becoming quite acquainted with the ins and outs of Twitter. I had migrated to Twitter from a heavy involvement on LinkedIn. While on LinkedIn I had founded a very active education group called Technology-Using Professors. The LinkedIn discussions often referred to sources picked up on Twitter. It wasn’t long after that I found myself spending more and more time on Twitter and less on LinkedIn. I did however miss the discussion component that was so prevalent with the groups on LinkedIn.

I began to ask somewhat engaging questions on education in order to start discussions on Twitter. The discussions were at random times when the mood would strike me to start one up. A probing question here, and a provocative statement there would always strike a chord with a few folks. It was however limited to my followers, which was at the time only a few hundred. It was a great experience, but it was limited. The only beneficiaries were those few of my followers who were on the twitterstream when the question was posed.

I was fortunate to have discovered and virtually assembled a number of collaborative, knowledgeable, and intelligent people in my network of connected educators for the purpose of advancing my own professional development. This was my Professional Learning Network, my PLN. I found myself engaging two individuals more than any others, Shelly Terrell from Germany, @ShellTerrell, and Steve Anderson from North Carolina, @Web20classroom. I asked them to help me set up a discussion on education that we could do on Twitter. Of course Steve and Shelly brought along their followers, so pretty soon we were already expanding the audience for our chat.

With the creation of a hashtag, a set time on a prescribed day, and a poll to determine specific topics for discussion, #Edchat was launched. It was not the first-ever discussion or CHAT on Twitter, but it was consistent and successful with an unprecedented amount of participation. #Edchat was often a trending topic on Twitter when the chats were in progress. We were driven to create an archive page so that educators around the world, restricted by time zones, could keep up with the chats. We received many requests from educators in Europe to start #Edchat earlier to accommodate their time zones. We answer the requests with a second chat beginning earlier in the day.

The #Edchat hashtag then took on a life of its own. It went beyond just marking the tweets for the chat. It became a hashtag added to any tweet dealing with education related information. Tweeters realized that they could extend their range of tweets beyond their own followers to the thousands of educators who follow the #Edchat hashtag.

With the success of #edchat and using it as a model there are several hundred education chats active on Twitter today. Education chats have become a great source for connected educators to access and follow thought leaders, and educators who are leading the discussions that are having profound effects on the development of 21st Century education. Beyond the actual discussion of relevant topics, educators can make direct connections with the chat participants. They can add to their PLN’S with educators who have engaged them. Tom Murray and Jerry Blumengarten have created a great source list for the current number of education chats. It was creatively named WEEKLY TWITTER CHATS.

Entering any of these chats requires some strategies. It is impossible to follow every tweet in the discussion and keep a focus on any specific aspect of it. It would be like trying to listen to and follow every discussion at a party with a hundred people. It is not something that can be done literally, so why would we expect to be able to do it virtually?

I approach a topic and devise my own question that answers my needs on the subject. I put the question out fishing for people to engage. I usually pick up a few people and we are off to discuss. I also monitor the chat for things that draw me in. I engage those folks who have their own questions on the subject. The best part of the chats is the engagement, but not everyone engages. There are people who follow the chat and take it all in without ever revealing their presence. They are quiet consumers of information, lurkers for learning.

Chats on Twitter have become a staple for information and contacts. They are great sources of relevant information that educators need to promote change and improve their own methodology. Chats are wonderful sources for connecting to educators with proven worth to add value to Professional Learning Networks. It adds to the many ways educators can now personalize their learning for professional development. In order to provide kids a relevant education, we need to provide relevant educators. A connected educator, engaging in education chats, is one method that enables this much-needed relevance.

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To answer this question in the very month that the United States Department of Education has set aside to recognize as Connected Educator Month, we need to first examine what a connected educator is. We also need to understand to what it is that educators are connected.

The way information and content is housed and disseminated today has little resemblance to the housing and disseminating of a few short decades ago. Information then was stored in a manner that required some form of physical media. Text was stored in print on paper, and film. Movies were stored on both film, and videotape. Sound was stored on audiotape.  All of this media needed to be stored somewhere until someone needed access to learn from it, or to share it with others. Colleges, schools, and libraries served as hubs of information to give access to specific people for that purpose. That was the model for centuries. Access to information was limited to few, and that often came at a price. There has always been a cost for education and access to information.

The speed at which technology has changed this dynamic is mind-boggling. The conversion of all information and content spanning centuries of history in any form to a digital version took less than 50 years. Access to the Internet is now almost seamless using many different devices. Access is no longer limited to a select few, but rather it is available to anyone who is digitally literate.

Ubiquitous access is one reason why digital literacy is now going to be taught in American schools as we move forward. Students in our school system today will be given the keys to the information lock boxes of our society for their consumption. That addresses the needs of the digital savvy students, but what about the educators who came from another era? Believe it or not, some educators are still pondering whether or not technology tools for learning even belong in education.

There is a growing group of educators who are digitally literate. Some may be techies, but most are self-motivated life long learners. Using technology is less generational and more about learning. Social media and its acceptance in our culture has been a catalyst to connectedness. Social media applications like Twitter and Facebook offer an easy means to exchange Internet addresses of: Websites, Blogs, Videos, Podcasts, Books, Articles, Webinars, Panel Discussions, Skype Interviews, and Google Hangouts. More importantly, it connects teachers with the thought leaders of their profession. These are often practicing educators who have expertise in specific areas of education. Educators can now connect for a first hand account of how to affect changes in their practice in meaningful ways.

Who educators connect with is a very critical consideration. Acquiring numbers of educators who share concerns and interests is essential. Once an educator connects with other educators, they begin to collect them as sources in a Professional Learning Network of educators, a PLN. A connected educator may then access any or all of these sources for the purpose of communication, collaboration, or creation. This connectedness is not bound by bricks and mortar. It is not bound by city limits or state lines. It is not limited by countries borders. The only nagging inconvenience is dealing with time zones on a global level.

In a technology-driven society, things change at a faster rate than ever before in history. Educators who are connected use that technology to maintain relevance in the fast-paced, changing world of education. Being connected is not an add-on or a luxury for educators; it has become a necessity. We must have digitally literate educators, if we want digitally literate students. We need relevant educators in order to provide relevant teaching. We need connected educators, if we are to expect them to be life long learners and to model that for our children. Yes, we really need to have connected educators.

This is Connected Educator Month. There are many connected events taking place online during the entire month. We need to get the unconnected educators to become aware of the advantages and sources available through connectedness. Please share!

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