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The genie is definitely out of the bottle when we look at Social Media. Of course there are many who fail to recognize this, and continue to believe that somehow, someone must approve the use of social Media in order for it to be acceptable in our education system. The glaring problem with that is the lack of understanding on the part of many of those education policy makers to really understand what Social Media is. Many, in their arguments against social media, talk about its limits of 140 characters and the controversy of privacy settings. They fail to recognize that they are only considering Twitter and Facebook as Social Media. They seem to suggest that, whatever perceived problems they see in Twitter or Facebook, also apply to all forms of Social Media.

Here according to Merriam-Webster is the definition of Social Media: forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos). This goes way beyond Twitter and Facebook. This lack of understanding on the part of some, may be a divide or a gap, and it is very evident with the policy-makers in education. It is not a generational gap, but a learning gap. Age has nothing to do with it, since Social Media is effectively used by young and old alike.

Whenever someone says to me that Twitter is too limited because of the 140 character limits on tweets I quite often, in my mind at least, tag them as a non-user or at best a limited user of Twitter. If they used Twitter they would understand that although the tweets are limited to 140 characters, there is no limit on the number of tweets. Therefore, we often engage in discussions without the verbosity that has long been attributed to face to face discussions of education. The result of many of the twitter discussions often result in reflective blog posts another huge component of Social Media.

The argument of privacy settings needing to be a concern in using Facebook is also an indication of a lack of understanding. Today, the digital footprint we hear so much about begins very early in life for our children. Proud parents-to-be are placing fetus-photo albums on the internet every day. Toddlers are highlighted and identified on the internet, as the actual child sits on the laps of their parents as the entry of this information is being made. That same toddler interacts on Webkinz, or Penguin World, both huge Social Media sites for kids under 10. The take away here is that adults view this as technology to be learned. Kids don’t see it as technology; it has always been there for them; It is not new technology to them.

The idea that some policy-maker in education gets to decide whether or not Social Media should be part of the arsenal of learning tools used by educators comes a little late. Kids use Social Media in their everyday lives. Of course without the guidance of educators to use it critically, responsibly, collaboratively and creatively, kids might just be knowledgeable about sexting. That is our fault. Bad things can happen on the internet. It is a powerful tool. It is better to educate kids and use this tool for learning than to leave kids to their own devices to explore these tools on their own without guidance from those who should know better.

Of course the divide between those who are not Social Media aware and those who live in the world of Social Media continues to widen. There are some arrogant educational policy-makers who believe that they have the power to determine what is, and what is not used as a tool for learning. They think that they should take whatever time is needed to research and collect data before they can approve Social Media for educational consumption. The arguments continue today. No doubt one or two of those people may comment here, since I think only a few read education blogs.  Hoping that I will not be sent to Cliché’ Rehab (it has been suggested) That Train Has Left The Station. It is now time for educators to do the tough thing and play catch-up. Whether or not Social Media is an educator’s thing or not, it does not matter; Educators exist to teach. Social Media is what kids today are using to socially learn regardless of whether or not schools ban it. If kids are using it despite adult educators who oppose it, don’t we as educators have a responsibility to teach them how to use it responsibly and intelligently?

Social Media has had a huge impact on the world. It is part of the new technology to the older generations. It is not technology to our children; it is what they consider part of their world. They don’t have to learn it because they live it. We as educators need to make it part of our lives as well, if we want our children to learn how best to use it. The genie jumped out of the bottle, and onto a horse that left the barn, and went to the station, boarded a train that travelled to the dock, to board the boat that left the dock. No way is that genie going back in the bottle.

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Yesterday, I participated in a wonderful public discussion on Education. The best part about this discussion was that it was with predominantly real educators, people who actually teach, volunteering their time and expertise on the subject of education. They discussed real issues of education and the real impediments to reform from a real educator’s point of view. There were representatives of: teachers, administrators, IT people, school board members, and parents. Dell sponsored the event, so they had three members on the panel, but they were all personnel who worked with teachers in schools for technology solutions in education. Dell never once pitched their product. The only obvious missing representation was that of the student. This point was addressed late in the discussion. The entire five-hour discussion was Live Streamed in real-time and there was a constant flow of back channel tweets during the entire presentation. Back Channeling is a stream of comments on the discussion from observers. Twitter is most often the source of back channels. There was also a chat screen on the Live Stream site. This was a very transparent discussion, which was video-taped and posted online for all to see.

We should note that more and more companies are attempting to enter the social media arena with educators by providing content and promoting conferences, discussions, and webinars for both online and face to face presentation. The best support of course is when the companies provide content, or experts on a topic without pitching products. Some educators are turned off to this. Many view it as some sort of manipulation. Personally, I have found vendors to be a great source of Education information. They are experts on whatever their product was developed to address. More often than not, their representatives are well versed and highly educated. Many product people come from the ranks of educators. When it comes to teachers, many are trained, but few are chosen. Many choose to enter the world of Educational Technology.  On this subject I must admit a bias. My wife, a former teacher, has been in the Educational Technology business for 25+ years in both hardware and software. She is more aware of the educational needs of Special Needs students than many Special Ed teachers. It is her job to be knowledgeable, aware, and relevant in that area. This holds true for many industry professionals. They are a great source for educators.

Dell spearheaded this project. They contacted many outspoken educators from the social media ranks of education circles in the New York, and New Jersey area. They approached Scholastic for a location to hold and videotape the five-hour discussion and that is the lead up to yesterday’s event.

This discussion was not run and dominated by businessmen and politicians. It was not a discussion pandering to a group of tax-reduction fanatics. The topics were not the topics of labor reform for the purpose of lower costs and higher profits, or reducing taxes. The trumped-up and often hyped topic of merit-pay was never mentioned. I was ready to talk about the importance of tenure and seniority, but again, it never came up. This group of educators talked about LEARNING and the impediments to it in today’s system. Imagine that Education Nation, a discussion about education that focused on LEARNING. The learning that was discussed was not only the learning on the part of students, but also that of the teachers. To be better teachers, we need to be better learners.

I will not capsulate the discussion here. My intent is to get you to view it. You need to observe the passion of the participants to get the full effect of their struggles. You need to hear first-hand what educators view as the real impediments to learning. Like any discussion there are high points and low points, but in my view the low points are not that low and the high points clearly send an important message. This is the list of participants with their Twitter names, so you may follow them for your own Professional Learning Network.

Eric Sheninger, @NMHS_Principal (Moderator)
Tom Whitby, @tomwhitby (Online Correspondent)
Paul Allison, @paulallison
Adam Bellow, @adambellow
Dr. Brian Chinni, @drbpchinni
Erik Endreses, @erikendress
Karen Blumberg, @SpecialKRB
Renny Fong, @timeoutdad
Adam Garry, @agarry22
Michele Glaze, @PMicheleGlaze
Erica Hartman, @elh
Kathy Ishizuka, @kishizuka
Kevin Jarrett, @kjarrett
Michelle Lampinen, @MichLampinen
Susan McPherson, @susanmcp1
Lisa Nielsen, @InnovativeEdu
Mary Rice-Boothe, @Edu_Traveler
Ken Royal, @kenroyal
Sarah Thomas, @teach2connect
Snow White, @snowwhiteatdell

The video is still being processed, and hopefully it will be broken down by the four major topics which were discussed. I plan to place the video and subsequent interviews on The Educator’s PLN when they are ready. Until then, the entire discussion may be found here: http://livestre.am/15Mfm. I would urge you to view the discussion and share your thoughts with others. In the discussion of education and education reform, we have too many people without portfolio influencing the outcome. If anyone knows the shortcomings of education and the solutions to fix them, it should be the educators themselves. They are the experts. Let the politicians address politics and the businessmen address business. It should, by now, be evident to all that both of those areas need a great deal of fixing-up as well as reform. They should address getting their own houses in order.

If we, as educators, truly believe that changes need to be made in education, than we should be leading the way. We need a seat at the tables that other non-educators are discussing things that we do, and things that we know best. We can’t leave the fate of education and the future of learning for our students at the mercy of people, who know very little about what needs to be known most. We need a teacher’s voice to be heard!

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As an educational blogger I would love to think, that once I reflected on an issue in education, and addressed it in my blog, everyone would clearly understand the error of their ways and fall in line according to my sage advice. Of course the reform movement would move forward, and I would expect a small plaque would be placed on a bench in front of the lobby of some school commemorating my great contribution to the system that we call education.

That being said, the reality is that many educational bloggers have to continue to reflect and continue to revisit subjects that are like festering sores on the body of education. As we move forward in time, we are confronted with new technologies and new ideas that force us to make changes in our lives. If we make no change, we are destined to live in a place that will no longer exist for the majority. The culture moves on leaving some behind. This may be okay for some adults, but it is not okay for the children we are educating for the purpose of not only living in the future, but hopefully thriving. It is always frustrating when answers to problems are so obvious to some, but a large number still don’t get it.

With that in mind, I am again writing about a subject that continually pops up in media, wherever media may be these days. I was prompted to write this post when I saw yet another blogger writing on this very same subject, forcing me to again comment, again reflect, and start my own post, again. The post was “When Should We Introduce Social Media?” by Brian Bennet.

As parents and educators, one thing that becomes immediately apparent dealing with kids, is that you cannot control, limit, or stop kids from growing up. It happens, and we must accept it as a fact of life. Along with that growing up, kids adapt to the culture to which they are exposed, and make it their own. There is nothing adults can do about that either. The best adults can do, is to try to prepare kids to make the right decisions and to be critical thinkers in arriving at those decisions. That will prepare their generation for moving forward without the adults’ generation which in reality will be left behind.

Unless we are Luddites,we have no chance of stopping the future development of Technology and all that it affects. Technology is a given in the future of our children. Social Media is one such effect of technology. It is here and it is being embraced by young and old. It is accepted and will continue in the future to be with us. We can debate its effect on society, its merits, its pitfalls, and its relevance, but we can’t ignore it, hoping that it will go away. The same can be said of most technology. If we can’t control it, we must certainly learn and teach how to deal with it. Blinders may work well on horses, but they look silly on people.

What individuals do on the internet, stays on the internet for the entire world to see. This is referred to as a digital footprint. Everyone should Google themselves to determine their footprint. Most people began leaving their footprints as they became involved with social media. They made that choice as adults. In this post however, I am talking about kids. Kids today begin leaving their Digital footprints on the internet at birth. Let that sink in, AT BIRTH! “You are crazy, how can that be?” you may ask. The proud parents of any new-born will predictably announce, for all to see, by the essential announcement tool at hand today, Social Media. They continue their storytelling of their never-ending adventure with their children with every new milestone or vacation recorded on Facebook, Twitter or personal Blog.

Of course, you say, but the kid is not involved with Social Media! Not so fast. The toy manufacturers were in this, and saw where it was going, and recognized its potential way before parents and teachers. Webkinz World has over 5 million members and Penguin Club has over 12 million. Surprise! They are Social Media Sites for toddlers and kids under 10. Chances are if your toddler is not a member, he or she knows someone who is, and that someone is telling your toddler all about it. Now here is a ridiculous question: When should we introduce kids to Social Media? A better question must be: When will we begin to teach kids to use Social Media responsibly? If they are social Media aware as toddlers, and they are watching their parents and siblings modeling the use of Social Media at home, the age of introduction is a moot point.

Now that that question has been asked and answered, we need to ask another more important one, so that we may address our responsibility. Social Media is here to stay. It is now, and will continue to be, in the lives of our children. When will we begin to deal with that? Blocking and filtering are just stupid. We will look back at those policies some day and ask; What the hell were we thinking? We need our kids to learn how to be safe, collaborate, interact, critically analyze content and most importantly create content. In order to learn that it must be taught. We do not teach by blocking and filtering. Leave the blinders to the horses.

I live on Long Island, New York. We are fortunate to own a second house on Fire Island. I know what that means to the future of my daughters. I made sure that they could swim before they could walk. I was responsible for their safety and ability to thrive in the environment in which they were to live. I also taught them about Social Media and the internet. They now teach me. When will this senseless debate end?

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#Edchat, as well as about 50 other educational twitterchats, Digital Personal Learning Networks, Online Discussion Groups, Twitter, LinkedIn and a number of other Web 2.0 social media applications are often attributed by educators for offering professional development, or PD. Social Media is also credited with helping the emergence of Edcamps and Teachmeets, as well as online conferences like #140edu Conference and the Reform Symposium Conference. These are all considered by many to be PD.

I recently came across a very informative, somewhat scholarly post from Education Week which was first published in August 2004 and updated, June 29, 2011, Professional Development.  My take-away from the research referenced in the post was that it is difficult to connect the teacher’s professional development to an increase in their students’ success or at the very least improvement in student performance. Of course after teaching for many years, I ask myself, “Did the PD courses these teachers took have anything to do with what it was that they taught?

Many states require that teachers be provided or otherwise obtain PD. Often this comes in the form of workshops or even an expert or consultant coming into a school to work with staff in small groups. Other PD may be in the form of mini-classes offered by professional organizations or institutions of higher learning. Most schools have procedures to approve requests for PD since it is often a requirement for maintaining a license or obtaining a pay increase. Consequently, a wide array of subjects for educators may be deemed acceptable. Some schools even have committees to approve PD requests for credit.

This does leave open the possibility that a class approved for PD may not align with what a teacher teaches. A Phys Ed teacher may be getting his or her required PD in reading. That fulfills the requirement, but it may have little impact on their students since Physical Education requires little in the way of reading. An English teacher taking a cinematography or video course makes sense, unless the curriculum for what they teach does not allow the opportunity for cinematography or videography. There are many opportunities in the existing system for teachers to take approved PD courses that will not impact the performance of their students directly. It would seem even if the teacher takes a PD course directly related to what will be taught in his or her class, quantifying the results of the impact on learning would have its problems.

Now let us consider Social Media as a conduit for PD.I hear from educators almost daily how their Social Media involvement, Twitter/#Edchat is the best PD they have ever experienced. That is where I think I part ways. I do not see social media as the PD, but as a portal to the PD. It comes from educators engaging other educators in discussions and exchanging ideas that lead to the best sources in order to access the specific PD. It is this self-determined direction which is what involves learners in a deeper more meaningful understanding of a subject. This is regardless of extra pay or outside approval from the school district.

Now the question arises, is this PD resulting in an improvement in the students’ learning? I have often said, “To be better teachers, we must first be better learners”. It would seem to me educators who are seeking Professional Development to meet their specific needs as an educator, would certainly be a first step to better learning. The astonishment on the part of so many may not be in what they are learning, but rather how they are learning. They are being rejuvenated in many ways. This is having a very positive effect on individual educators. They are being energized by their learning. Many are being listened to by appreciative digital colleagues. It is bolstering many who have wavered under the constant attack on education and educators. Relevant discussions of content and pedagogy on an ongoing basis, 24/7, goes a long way in improving self-image, confidence, and understanding of one’s profession.

Social Media, in any of its many forms, enables educators to tap into a vast number of sources in the form of people and content. It enables educators to direct their learning to meet their needs. It enables educators to feel good about learning and continue down that path. Whenever a person can be picked up dusted off and respected for what they do, it must have a positive impact. If that happens to an educator, it must in some way impact their students in a positive way. I need not get caught up in the paralyzing analyzing, because I know it works that way for me. I can only hope it works that way for others.

An even more important point is that, if we view this as a positive form of learning for educators, why would it not apply to students as well? We are all learners. Social Media should be yet another tool in an arsenal of tools used by educators to enable kids to become better learners. They need to continue to learn long after their contact with teachers has ended. Most of my teachers are now gone, yet I continue learning. That is a lesson we all must keep in mind.

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For the last four days I have been experiencing a great learning conference for educators. The International Society for Technology in Education Conference, ISTE, is held once a year. This year some 22,000 educators and 5,000 exhibitors came together in Philadelphia at The Pennsylvania Convention Center. I experienced this conference as a social media educator. This does not make me a better educator, but it does give me a unique perspective amongst educators. Social media has added a new dimension to educational conferences and the entire education system as well.

The idea of social media for educators is simple, it connects educators. What each educator does with that connection is a personal choice. Most use it to share, and collaborate on educational information, as well as social interaction with other educators. Theoretically, this keeps the participants relevant in sharing the latest and greatest in the field of education.  A Social Media educator is not better than a non-social media educator, but maybe a tad more relevant. Of course that would not be true if the non-social media educator kept up with educational journals, educational news, and educational trends as they came out in print. However, the expense of the printed journals and printed news sources needed to keep up, might prove cost prohibitive and too time-consuming for most educators.

Beyond relevance, social media offers an incredible amount of connectivity to educators on a global scale. The big three, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have connected tens of thousands of teachers worldwide. There are ongoing discussions and collaboration of educational topics taking place on these platforms worldwide, 24 hours a day, transcending boundaries of time and space. The biggest obstacle for me is the acceptance and understanding of time zones since this is a global endeavour.

Beyond the relevance, educators come to conferences prepared to network. Throughout the year they are connected to many of the very same educators who attend these conferences. These connections add a whole new dimension to an Education Conference. Like old friends meeting after a long absence, people pick up or begin discussions already begun online. Face-to-face meetings answer curiosities of longstanding online connections. People put the .5” x .5” Twitter Profile Pic to a real face. It is an experience that a non-connected educator might only get upon bumping into a noted keynote speaker. For connected educators at a conference as large as ISTE11, we may bump into our own personal keynote speakers 50 times in one day and be thrilled each and every time.

In addition to the recognition and connection factors, Social Media educators have the advantage of communicating with large numbers of people at any time to give out or request information: Who is where? What is good? Where should we eat?, Where should I go?, and my favorite, Come find me Steve Anderson, I am lost again. These were typical messages sent during the course of the four-day event. The other type of communications, going out consistently, was updating on valuable messages by presenters from their sessions. SM educators were connected in some ways to workshops and presentations even when not in attendance.

Back Channeling is having a big effect on conference presentations. SM educators are in direct control over messaging the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of each and every presentation at a conference. Tweets of praise or tweets of criticism fly from the workshops. Ideas of worth and value of presentations and presenters are not withheld. We can only hope that it is responsible, thought-out criticism, but that might not always be the case. This is the ugly side of social media that we must be aware of. I have seen great presenters labeled by some short-sighted and mean-spirited SM educators as stupid because of a simple spelling error. In the past the term “racist” was bandied about by some SM educators in regard to some #Edchat Topics. The power of social media also comes with great responsibilities. We all need to think before we speak even in digital terms. As a matter of fact, it may be even more so for digitally speaking. The spoken word will reach a determined number in the audience, while the digital word can go on forever to undetermined numbers of listeners.

As I described in my previous post, this is not your Father’s EDU Conference! Social Media has provided a new level to conferencing that may have profound implications in future conferencing. It certainly has changed conferences for me and other SM educators. There will be some who will play down its effect, but there were some who played down the effect of “Talkies” in the movie industry, the effect of the steam engine in the Shipping Industry, the effect of Magnetic recording tape in the entertainment industry, and, let us not forget, the doubters of technology in the Education Industry.

I had a great time at ISTE11 and I look forward to the next one. I believe my connections made me more aware, and made the conference, for me, more meaningful. I am also much more aware of my responsibility to think before I post. I believe that social media is making a difference in learning. If we make a difference in learning, we must consider making a difference in teaching. If learning is enhanced by technology, than it must be a consideration in teaching. I guess that is also the reason for a multi-million dollar International Technology in Education Conference. Technology is not the silver bullet for education, but it is also not a “should we use it, or should we leave it” decision.

If social Media is working for educators as a tool for learning, why not consider it as a tool for learning for students. Why not have students build their Personal Learning Networks to connect them through their education careers. Why not enable them access to content beyond what their teachers may be able to provide. The idea of learners connecting responsibly with other learners for the purpose of sharing and collaborating may move us from where education is, to where ever it is we should be. Social Media may be a tech tool that will move that idea forward. Again, if it works for educators, why shouldn’t it work for students. We are all Learners!

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With a premiere Technology-in-Education Conference, ISTE11, coming in a matter of days, I find myself comparing the Education conferences of old to the social media-influenced Education conferences of today. There is a world of differences, but, unfortunately, many of these differences have yet to be discovered by educators who have failed to recognize the juggernaut of social media. For many years I was a board member of NYSCATE, an educational technology group for New York educators. A primary purpose of this group is to conduct an annual conference that draws thousands of educators in order to discuss technology in education. In addition to my participation in this conference, I have over the years presented in many others, both large and small.

A huge difference about today’s conferences is the connectedness of the participants. Educators through social media have been able to connect with other educators without regard to geographical boundaries. Many productive online relationships have continued over a period of time without actual face to face meetings. These conferences are an opportunity for face to face connections. That translates to more time for socialization for the participants. Plans and discussions have taken place weeks before the conference about who to see and what to do. The conference provides a place for people, who have never met face to face, to meet as long-lost best friends would meet after a long separation. Places for social gatherings need to at least be considered, and at most be expanded. These personal connections of connected people may be misinterpreted as cliques, but this is often a perspective of educators not yet involved with social media. The unfortunate result may be a perception of a class distinction between the connected and the disconnected (or not yet connected).

Back Channeling is another big difference between old and new. This is when participants in a workshop or presentation tweet out on Twitter, or Facebook the points that the presenter is making in real-time. Not only are the facts of the presentation, but editorial comments as well tweeted out. This may have a great effect on presentations moving forward. I remember a recent conference having a keynote speaker using a data heavy PowerPoint presentation, and not being very aware of back channeling. After a few Tweets came out about the quality of the presentation, there was an avalanche of negatives flying out from that presentation. Needless to say these tweets were global messages going public to thousands of educators. On the other hand, a great presentation has the potential for going out beyond the limited audience in the presentation. Ustreaming is being done more and more as well. Presentations limited to small audiences are broadcast globally to any educator with a connection. Local conferences have the ability to gain global recognition.

The social media hierarchy is now replacing the superstars of higher education and industry at these conferences. Keynote speakers of the past were often professors from Higher Education or Captains of industry from the world of Technology in Education. Today, social media has chosen its own superstars, people who continue to contribute and influence education through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, online Webinars, Podcasts, and Blog Posts. Some of the best have feet in both worlds. The conference of today is an opportunity for participants to meet those whom they consider to be social media Gurus.

I think an underestimated influence on conference participants is the effect of free online Professional Development. More and more free symposiums are being offered through social Media. Webinars and online interviews are becoming daily occurrences. The conference participants are becoming more aware of trends and issues prior to attending the conference. Presenters need to at least be where their audience is in their knowledge of the subject. Relevance means more to connected educators than it ever has before.

Another influence is the effect that the growing “Unconference” movement is having. Born from Social Media, “Teachmeets”, and “Unconferences” are changing what educators expect from a conference. These are self-directed-learning format conferences. They give most, if not all, of the control for learning to the learner. The learners direct the conference from the beginning until the end forcing the conference to be flexible and adaptive.

Blogging is another Social Media-influenced activity which has a lasting touch on conferencing. On the very first day of any conference, there will be at least one blogger who will publish a post on his or her experience. First impressions last a lifetime. Bloggers will continue to post their experiences and impressions throughout and beyond the time that the conference takes place. Once it took weeks for the word to get out about the success of a conference. On the spot blog posts have changed that dynamic. Micro blogs (Twitter) and Blog posts determine and create conference “BUZZ”. It may determine whether individuals with limited funds may or may not attend a specific conference in the future.

If Education Conferences are to benefit the educators that they hope to have participate, now and in the future, all of these new influences must be considered. Just like education as a system, conferences are dealing with participants who are becoming self- learning aware. The days of content being controlled by a few and the need to seek those few out to obtain it, are gone. Free access to almost endless information and the ability to select only information which is needed by the learner is changing the game.

If you are a person who questions the need for Mobile Learning Devices in education, look around you at your next conference. Take note of the Laptops, Smart Phones, iPads, and Tablets. Watch how long it takes people to scope out an electrical outlet to power up, or recharge. See what happens if people don’t have passwords to access WiFi.

What would happen if we forced those educators to leave their mobile learning devices at the door? What would happen if we singled out and punished individuals for texting during a presentation? What would happen after you informed educators that the filtering will limit their access? What would happen if we required participants to agree to an Acceptable Use Policy before they could connect? Participants at these conferences are learners. Let us keep that in mind when we return to the learners in our own schools.

All in all, this isn’t your father’s Education Conference!

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My post today is on a topic which I have discussed before and probably will discuss more in the future. As much as we talk about reform in education, the system is very slow to change. Many of the people shouting the loudest for a need for sweeping improvements are some of the same people who are ardent supporters of the status quo. For whatever reasons they may publicly state, their preference is to keep things the way that they have been. Whether it is comfort or ease, things in a system, as large as education, are very slow to change. Even though we are educated adults, with adult experience, more often than not we hear the term “baby steps” used in conversations of education reform.

My school district for many years spent what may have been thousands of dollars each year on the first day back to school in order to provide an inspirational keynote speaker for the entire district faculty meeting to kick off the new year. It was an expense, and a practice which I always found to be a waste of time and money. There is however, one memory of one such speaker sharing an experience, which I remember lo these many years.

According to this speaker, each Christmas her family had a traditional family dinner featuring a ham for the main course. Through the decades the ham was always prepared the same way. In its preparation each end of the ham had a portion of the meat sliced away, literally inches of meat removed prior to cooking. One day, the speaker asked her mother why the removal of the ends of the ham. Her mother replied that it was always done that way, and so, it was how she learned to cook it from her mother. Since the Grandmother was still alive, although not in attendance at the dinner, a phone call was placed to inquire about the method requiring the cutting of the ham. When the question was posed, “Why do we cut the ends of the ham before we cook it?” the answer came as a shock. The grandmother explained that when they started the family dinner, decades back, they only had a small roasting pan and needed to cut the ham to fit it into the pan. Hence, the cutting of the ham continued for years without regard to origin or reason. They just did it and continued to do it, because that is how it was done.

With that as my backdrop, it is now time to get to the meat of this matter. With the beginning of the internet (sometimes attributed to Al Gore) and its incursion into education, many educators and parents were unaware and fearful of the unknown. That very fear drove the development of policies that were adopted to protect kids from the evil that was the internet. The very fears that are used as hot buttons by the media to drum up huge audiences for shows like “To Catch a Predator”. The very fears that are used as hot buttons to sell filtering software to schools to block out any site mentioning sex, drugs, or rock and roll, not to mention Facebook, and Twitter. These very same fears fostered ideas like Acceptable Use Policies limiting personal rights and academic freedom.

It would be irresponsible, as well as idiotic to say that the internet is free from any of the same dangers we encounter anywhere in the world digital or not. How we deal with these dangers is what we must consider. The subject of child predators has changed. TV and Movies would have you believe a majority of kids as victims are molested by strangers. For years we pounded into kids heads beware of strangers. We now have evidence that there is better than a 90% chance that the predator is a family member, close family friend, or even a clergyman. We have had to change or at least adjust the focus on strangers in our lecture about “don’t let ANYBODY touch you in an inappropriate way”.

It is time that we make adjustments to our internet policies in our schools as well. We need to be educated about the internet not fearful. We need to control our use of it, and not allow it to control us. We don’t need to refuse access to it, but rather educate kids how to responsibly access it in order to be responsible digital citizens. There is a big difference between signing an Acceptable Use Policy and teaching, learning and modeling an Acceptable Use Policy. Abuse of the internet is a discipline infraction and should be dealt with as such. A comprehensive code of conduct for any school must include technology abuses.

Access to, and understanding of the internet is becoming a needed skill if one is to compete in a technologically competitive society.  The sooner we educate our children to be responsible digital citizens, the sooner we can hold them responsible for their actions. Internet awareness must begin on the elementary level. We cannot hold children responsible for that which we have not taught them. Education is the key to safety. Filtering eliminates the ability to teach children to be responsible. It may allay the flamed fears of parents which are fanned by software companies and TV producers, but it does nothing for preparing kids for the technologically competitive world in which they must live, compete, survive, and thrive. The educator’s job is to prepare kids for the world in which the students will live. It is not the world in which the educators lived. It is not the world in which the kids’ parents lived. It is the world yet to come. There are many pitfalls and safety precautions kids must be aware of, and that cannot be denied. Teaching rather than blocking is a better strategy to defend against these pitfalls. Fear-mongering to parents may sell software to schools, and build big TV ratings, but in the long run it does not address the issue. We cannot educate kids about content that is filtered and blocked. Subjects like Breast Cancer or sexually transmitted diseases are often blocked to those students who need the information for school reports or personal inquiry. Teachers, who are also adults, are blocked access as well. This blocks needed relevant sources that would help lessons to teach. Is this what we need for our schools? Is this what we want for our kids? I do not want it for my Kids. I would hope most parents would opt for education as opposed to the void of banning.

Until we re-examine our policies to match them to the world in which we now live, as well as the world our kids will live in, I imagine I will write similar posts in the future. Technology isn’t going away. It will continue to flow no matter how many dams we build. It’s time to ask real questions, in order to understand what we really need, and how do we get there. A small roasting pan from days gone by should not determine the education that our kids need for the future.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

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Twitter’s biggest obstacle to being the number one tool of Professional Development for educators is Twitter. It is a simple tool, based on a simple idea, which is complicated by its simplicity. To use twitter is to get it. To explain Twitter is a losing proposition. Twitter’s reputation as an application is its worst enemy. It has been the brunt of comedians’ jokes since it began. Members of the Hollywood crowd embraced it for the purpose of engaging their fans with a majority of mindless tweets to build a following. Many have a following in the millions. The concept most accepted by the public is that Twitter is used by individuals to broadcast to people the meaningless actions and events in their day-to-day existence. How could this ever be taken seriously, not to even mention being used as a tool for Professional Development for educators?

Social learning is common to all. We learn through social encounters. We pass along information in social settings. We collaborate with others in our social engagements. A committee is simply a gathering of individuals for social interaction for the purpose of learning and creating. This all occurs in our face to face world. This all takes place with people who can assemble in close proximity at predetermined location and a pre-determined, in-common, time period. Our face to face learning has the boundaries of time and space, but when those boundaries are accounted for, meaningful learning may take place.

With the advancement of technology, and its integration with the internet, the ability to make social contact with individuals is enhanced because the internet takes us beyond boundaries of space and time. We can contact individuals around the globe. Our thoughts and ideas can be suspended in time until retrieved by others. We can exchange ideas or information in the form of: text, audio files, photos, videos, Blog posts, articles, URL’s (links), charts, data, and live interaction. All of this is made possible with Social Media.

Twitter is a social media application. It enables people to use it as a conduit for information to other individuals. That is the simple part. Now let us consider the complications that come from trying to keep Twitter simple. First, the Tweet, or the message, can only be 140 characters in length. Many find this too limiting. I expect those individuals might be long-winded in a face to face setting as well.

A huge problem with Twitter for some is understanding who is getting the message. Remember Twitter is Social Media and is based on social interaction. If you walked into an auditorium full of people and started talking without engaging someone first, no one would be listening. You would be talking out loud to yourself.  If you introduced yourself to someone and then began a conversation you now have someone listening and interacting. You would then do the same with a second, third, and fourth person. You have connected with those people and selected them as persons you may interact with, and they have selected you as well, based on your intelligent contributions to the discussion. As that works in life, so it works in Twitter.

Simply stated, the only people who get your tweets are those who follow you, your “followers”. The only Tweets that will come to you are those from people you choose to follow. They are called “Following” If you follow family members, you may expect Tweets about family matters would monopolize your tweets. If the idea is to use Twitter as a professional Development tool, then the people you should follow would be educators. You will build a personal, professional learning Network by limiting the people you follow to educators. In addition, if your Tweets are educationally topical, those who follow you will also be educators, or people interested in topics of education.

All Tweets are public and will be seen by all who follow you. A Direct Message is private. A” DM” can only be sent to a person you follow and he, or she must be following you as well. You cannot “DM someone who does not follow you.

Educators tweet educational things including: text, audio files, photos, videos, Blog posts, articles, URL’s (links), Charts, data, and live interaction. These could be a lesson specific tweet, or a topic involving methods of education. Personal experiences from educators globally. It could be a question from an educator seeking an answer. Having information and collaborating on ideas creates an environment for Professional Development. It can be used at any time without regard to boundaries that impede face to face socialization. The number of participants is not limited to a school, district, city, state, or country. There is no isolation of Elementary, Secondary, or Higher Ed educators.

Not knowing how to find educators to follow may have been a problem in the past, but it is being made easier all of the time. Educational Blogs may have a “Follow Me on Twitter” Icon. Click and follow. Always check out the profile of a perspective person to follow. You will be able to see that person’s last tweets as well as their profile. Additionally, you can view icons of who they follow. Click on any of those icons and you are transported to that person’s profile. Repeat the process as long as needed, or return to the original profile to start a new path of follow research. Profiles may also contain lists of followers. A twitter list may contain a large number of educators. One click will follow every member of the list. There are several educational chats ongoing weekly. Educators from around the world are involved. If you find interesting participants in the chat, follow them on Twitter.

Twitter is only one component of a comprehensive PLN. There are many Social Media applications that serve educators well for communication, collaboration, and creation. All of these applications are constantly evolving or disappearing, to be replaced by new applications. We need to buy into the method and not the tool. Tools change, but learning continues. To be better educators we need to be better learners.

Those of us who successfully use Twitter as a tool for Professional Development need to act as ambassadors of information. We need to share that which we glean from our Personal Learning Networks and not be shy about telling other educators where it came from. It was not Ashton Kutcher,  Linsay Lohan, or Paris Hilton who shared that information, but collaborative educators.

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This week we had a much energized #Edchat. #Edchat is an online discussion involving over 1,000 educators on a specific topic each week. This week’s Topic dealt with Professional Development being relevant for educators. This seems to be one subject that rivals in popularity the opposition to standardized, high-stakes testing. It seems that most educators have an opinion on PD. There are so many aspects of this subject that one post will not cover it all. It may however, be able to at least frame a discussion.

The best first change for Professional Development would be to rename it. PD has become a hot button issue amongst many educators. Since each district develops its own policy, there are some districts that do a fine job. Based on comments by many educators on social media sites however, these districts seem to be few, and far between. In addition to district mandates, there are also different PD requirements enforced by individual states.  Before the movement to change the name takes hold, let’s talk about PD as we know it today.

The most recent statements supported by Secretary Duncan tell us that a teacher with Master’s degree has little effect on students’ learning. Following this line of reasoning through, it would seem that the government would want our teachers to begin and end with a bachelor’s degree. Of course that would be a less expensive way to go, but the burden on PD would be that much greater in the future.

Demanding that any labor force spend time beyond that which is established by the job description requires that the employer pay the employee additional compensation. Since PD requires a time commitment in addition to an educator’s work week, this is what is done in most districts. Of course, if the school district is paying for additional hours, it has a right to make requirements for what it expects. Those requirements often become a point of contention.  This seems to create an “Us vs. Them” dynamic and the beginning of the PD problems.

Regardless of how far any educator travels in his or her academic career, information does not stop flowing when the degree is conferred. Although teachers are expected to be content experts, the content itself continues to develop and evolve. Of course that may not be as true for Math as other subjects, but most content for most academic areas continues to accumulate and evolve. Experts cannot be experts if they do not keep up with the evolving content. A writing teacher who knows nothing of blogging is a questionable expert. A social studies teacher without an understanding of social media can hardly explain the revolution taking place in the Middle East.

Aside from the continuing development in content areas, the methods used to teach and learn also continue to evolve. Methods are also affected by the culture of our society and that continues to change. The Huck Finn controversy certainly underscores this. The culture of the community, or the school itself, has an incredible effect on the school’s approach to learning. Sharing and reflecting on the ways we teach is the best way to change and evolve. The introduction of Social Media to PD gives it a new dimension. Ning sites creating collaborative learning communities; Twitter and Facebook connecting educators locally and globally; YouTube enabling creation of content to be shared and commented upon, are all influences of social media that affect culture.

With the rapid advancement of technology, the tools for learning are changing continually. Whatever tools teachers used in their methods classes in years past, would be hard pressed to be found today. Of course, Overheads and PowerPoint are still around. The concepts of Social networks, mobile learning devices, web 2.0, webinars, podcasts, blended learning, and cloud computing are new to all. They will have a huge impact on learning, but unless educators are up to speed, they will not have an effect in education. That is when education becomes irrelevant because our educators are technology illiterate.

Approaching PD as an extra item in a labor contract may not be the best approach. PD is something that should be part of the work week. It needs to be there in order to maintain relevance for all educators. It cannot be a one size fits all approach. Different educators have different needs. We insist on this for our students, why not for our educators.

The best hope we have for real reform may lie in reforming PD first. IT directors are tech content experts, and may not know what educators need to know in order to teach their respective subjects. Educators are content experts in their respective areas, and technology is not necessarily their strength. Educators need to learn what to ask, and IT managers need to learn how to answer to meet the needs of the educators. IT people seem to view many problems as insurmountable obstacles and are quick to deliver edicts and bans to stop the problems from occurring, rather than trying to solve the problem. IT staff are educators of educators. The same approach of guidance and patience to analyze and problem-solve should be employed by IT people when working with educators.

Administrators have a big role in PD as well. Too often when it comes to PD, administrators use the “do as I say, not as I do” method. They need to be a part of the PD as well. They are the leaders in education, and that requires that they must be out front. Being out front requires some idea of what is going on. Too often, too many administrators have no clue. If PD can lead education to reform our leaders must be there as well. Sitting in an office having IT directors develop PowerPoint presentations for board meetings does not make for cutting edge educational leadership. I know not all Administrators fall in this category, but what is an acceptable percentage of those who do?

If we want reform in education, we better start paying attention to how educators learn and teach to enable that learning. They are not yet teachers when they leave their college classrooms with a degree. Great teachers come from what they learn in their own classrooms as a teacher. They need guidance and support to maintain relevance in the ever-changing world for which they are preparing kids. To be better teachers and better leaders, we need to first be better learners. Without a thoughtful system in place to enable that, the results will be limited at best.

Instead of forcing a merit pay model in education, which will not work, let’s consider using that money differently. Why not use it to compensate teachers who are being successful with their methods and are willing to share their methods with colleagues. Teacher to teacher sharing is a great way to professionally develop teachers. It also supports innovation and excellence in learning. When asked how to reform education, we should consider reforming how we educate our educators, and our educational leaders. We need to reform Professional Development in order to reform education.

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Lisa Nielsen and I co-wrote and cross posted this post.

When it comes to upgrading education to the 21st Century, those who are less supportive of change, often hide behind, or are frightened of acronyms like FERPA, CIPA, COPPA. This is sometimes done intentionally for convenience, or unwittingly out of ignorance. Of course in a litigious society such as ours has become, law suits are foremost in the minds of administrators. It is for that reason that a clear understanding is needed by all constituents. Our students need adults to stop being afraid, and stop hiding, so education can get out of the shadows and into the light of the world in which our children live.

These acts were created to protect children. They were not created to keep students stuck in the past, educated in a disconnected school environment that shares little resemblance to the real world for which we should be preparing our children.  These acts do not say we can’t publish online student’s names, videos, work, pictures, etc. They do not prevent us from using social media, YouTube, email, or any of those things that may be blocked in many school districts. An important goal of education is to strive for creation and publication of content by students. In today’s world technology and the Internet are an essential components of that process.

By blocking students from the digital world, the jobs of administrators and educators are made easier, but if people became teachers, education leaders or parents because it was easy, they’ve selected the wrong profession.While it is true that banning is an easy way out, doing so is short-sighted and not visionary. It does not approach the innovative status that we hear so much about.  If you’re wondering how to navigate these waters and what is really allowed, read on to find a simple policy that addresses the three main acts: FERPA, CIPA, and COPPA explaining:

  • a simple policy
  • how to do it
  • why to do it
  • safety
  • a link to each act
  • a brief overview of each act
  • what it means to educators
  • a real life example of each

World’s simplest online safety policy

Students can access websites that do not contain or that filter mature content. They can use their real names, pictures, and work (as long it doesn’t have a grade/score from a school) with the notification and/or permission of the student and their parent or guardian.

How
Notify parents/guardians that their child’s work, likeness, name will be shared across the year, and let them know the procedure for opting out.  Have the permission release provided and signed as part of the student registration packet that includes things like emergency notification contact.

As specific projects come up, notify parents/guardians in traditional ways i.e. a note home and/or using methods like a voice or texting notification system to parents, or an email.  You may also want to have updates on a parent page of your school website, or on a class website or class blog.

Why Not Ban?
Establishing a purposeful online identity of which one can be proud is an important skill to teach students. Equally important is conveying the idea that being safe and responsible online does not mean hiding your identity, but rather defining it and owning it.  After all, If your child is not developing his/her digital footprint, who is?  In elementary school students like Armond McFadden are publicly publishing work and engaging in real learning communities about his area of passion, both online and in life.  Anyone can begin making a difference and contributing real work at any age.

Never before in history have kids had the ability to create and publish so much content, so easily. Never ever  have people had the ability to access so much information without leaving a seat. These are awesome abilities that come with awesome responsibilities. These abilities and responsibilities require skills that are taught and not inherited. Educators need to have the authority to teach these skills. Educators need to be trusted to teach these skills. The world, in which our kids will live, will require their knowledge and skills in this area in order for them to be competitive and relevant.Banning Internet access for misguided reasoning will prevent educators from accomplishing this much-needed goal.

These articles provide additional insight and information for parents and educators interested in supporting their children in developing and managing a purposeful and powerful digital footprint.

What about Safety?
Shows like To Catch a Predator sensationalize and feed the fear of parents having their child exposed to a child predator. It is a real fear and certainly a serious consideration.The facts however support evidence that over 90% of child predators are family members, close family friends, or clergy. We do not ban family picnics, playgrounds, family reunions, or church functions. There are no laws addressing these issues.The best way to defend our children against these threats is to educate them. Warn or rather teach them of the dangers,make them aware of the possibilities.Or, we can lock them away, effectively banning them from the outside world in which they will eventually have to live, leaving them to use whatever they picked up on their own about responsible digital citizenship, a topic probably not stressed outside of education.

When it comes to sharing student information and student work, there is a lot of misinformation.  The reality is there is no evidence that doing so, responsibly and appropriately, compromises student safety.  Instead, representatives from the Crimes Against Children Research Center and the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee explain that what puts kids at risk are things like:

  • having a lot of conflict with your parents
  • being depressed and socially isolated
  • being hyper
  • communicating with a lot of people who you don’t know
  • being willing to talk about sex with people that you don’t know
  • having a pattern of multiple risky activities
  • going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there, and behaving like an Internet daredevil.

Sure banning is easy, but it is educational neglect to keep our heads in the sand or look the other way.  How better to support and empower kids in being safe and appropriate then to be their guides?  We certainly can’t help kids with proper and appropriate use, if the very tools they want to use are blocked.   The best way to ensure students are behaving safe online and in life is to be their partners, guiding and supporting them as necessary. We must also keep in mind that Being Safe Online Is Being Safe In Life. Rules for tools don’t make sense. Rules for behaviors do.

To follow are brief overviews of each of the acts that address online safety along with a link to the original act, what this means for educators and examples of each.

The Educator’s Guide to CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA

Children’s Internet Protection Act
Overview:
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. It applies only to minors in places that apply for erate funds.  The law requires an Internet safety policy that addresses:

  • blocking or filtering Internet access to pictures that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).
  • a method for monitoring (not tracking) activities.
  • access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; the safety and security of minors when communicating electronically, unauthorized access to hacking, unauthorized use of  personal information, restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them.

What educators should know:
First, you can and should request that the teacher computer is unfiltered.  There is nothing worse than frustration in not being able to do work because you get blocked at every turn.  I’ve been in teacher training centers where they’ve falsely claimed they could not unblock because of CIPA requirements. Not true.  Educators need to be empowered not only with access, but also with a way to preview sites to choose for use and have unblocked for students.

When working with students, we want to empower them to independently use online tools not only at school, but in life.  Ensure you have conversations with students about appropriate use and consequences. Additionally, when planning lessons and units, you should have the sites students will use vetted in advance with proper safety settings selected i.e. “safe search” in Google.  You should also consider creating a learning outline or guide for students with directions and direct links to sites.  This helps keep the lesson on track and the students focused.

There are services like Renzulli Learning that provide educators and students access to thousands of vetted sites that are aligned to students passions, talents, interests, abilities, and learning styles.  This might be a service to investigate.  When doing searches, there are safe search sites such as KidsClick which is great for elementary students and also sorts by reading level.  For secondary students Google is a terrific site where not only can you do a Safe Search, but you can also search by reading level, language, and you can choose to translate the results.

Example:
I served as a library media specialist in Central Harlem in a Pre-K to 8 school where I complied with CIPA rules by using myself as the method for monitoring and teaching students to use their brain as a powerful filtering tool. I empowered my students to be able to be safe and appropriate online not only in school, but in life.  Sure, there were times when a site was accidentally accessed.  The students knew to hit “ctrl w” to close the window and continue.  We also set “safe” settings on the sites we were using.  Perhaps most important, when working with students, I vetted our list of sites in advance, knowing exactly where students would be accessing information.  I, as their teacher, was their filter and monitor. I had an unfiltered environment at a tough school in Harlem.  Students appreciated the privilege to use the computers and the respect afforded to them.  They didn’t want to lose that opportunity, which they would, had they purposely abused their right to use them appropriately.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
Overview:
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) applies to the online collection of personal information by persons or entities under U.S. jurisdiction from children under 13 years of age. It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.

What educators should know:
This law makes the job of today’s educators easier putting responsibility on website providers to keep children under 13 years of age safe.  While children under 13 can legally give out personal information with their parents’ permission, many websites disallow underage children from using their services because they don’t want to bother setting up such accommodations.  If there is a site which you are interested in using for learning purposes that restricts use of those under 13, consider contacting the site to see if they would be interested in supporting you in using the site with children under the supervision of a teacher, parent or guardian with proper consent.  Many organizations (Google, Wikispaces, Voki, Voicethread, Facebook) are interested in supporting learning and appreciate having educators and parents as partners.

Example:
First grade teacher Erin Schoening knew Facebook would be a great tool to build 21st century literacy with her students and strengthen the home-school connection. She uses Facebook with her First grade students and their parents with the permission of parents, updated appropriate use policies in place with her district and blessing of Facebook in Education Division.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
Overview:
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. It applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. Most of the act addresses children’s education records providing parents and students the right to inspect, review, question, and have updated incorrect records.  It also states that schools must receive permission from a parent or guardian to release information from a student’s education record. There are exceptions to needing consents such as the case of audits, evaluation, financial aid, judicial orders, etc.

Schools may disclose, without consent, information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students and allow parents and students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose information about them.

What educators should know:
FERPA does not prevent many of the things you hear people saying it does. As long as parents/guardians are informed, schools may disclose, or allow students to disclose, information about themselves as long as it is not a grade or score. Notice permission is not necessary under FERPA.  They only need to inform parents/guardians this is taking place. Parents can ask their child not be included and schools must comply, but schools can still engage in planned activities. Remember though when it comes to websites, under COPPA you must obtain parental permission for students under 13 to share information or work online.

Example:
Students and teachers are sharing successes through videos and pictures at http://innovatemyclass.org.  There you will find examples of real projects students and their teachers are doing with technology.  Schools have consent forms from parents/guardians and a link to the page featuring their child is sent to parents so they can get an insight into and share the success of their children with others.

These laws were passed to keep children safe, not keep children out of the 21st century.  With a little common sense we can ensure schools are not committing educational neglect by keeping students stuck in the past.


Contributors:
Lisa Nielsen, Creator of The Innovative Educator blog, Twitter: @InnovativeEdu

Tom Whitby St. Joseph’s College, New York.Twitter: @tomwhitby
My Blog: My Island View

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