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A Weblog, or a Blog, as it has become to be known, is a form of writing that entered the scene with the advent of the Internet and personal publishing. It could be described as a digital magazine feature article or a digital news article depending on the content. What makes it unique however is that it is personally published without needing permission from anyone except the author. The author becomes the publisher and determines what will be posted, which is the digital term for being published. The authors of blogs are Bloggers.

Now that we have established what a blog is, what does any of this have to do with Connected Educators? Blogs are having a profound effect on Journalism most specifically, and other industries in general. Blogs are becoming more than just a tool for information. By being able to comment in real-time about a post, the readers become part of the narrative. They give voice to support, objection, clarification, expansion, and validation in their comments. They help to immediately define, shape, and explain topics through their comments. None of this was ever possible in the print media, with the exception maybe of “Letters To The Editor”.  It is that ability and power, which the blogger gives to the audience that connects them.

Thought leaders can express their ideas for immediate feedback, so that they may reflect and adjust. Readers may respond, reflect and often add a blog post of their own. The give and take; reflect and respond; adjust and refine abilities of the audience and Blogger are all part of a collaborative learning experience. Collaboration is the key to connectedness for educators especially.

Where do Bloggers come from? At first many education Bloggers came from the ranks of authors and speakers from education. They were comfortable with public exposure and writing, as well as technology, so it was an easier transition. Later, more and more educators began to get comfortable with the idea of blogging as a result of their commenting on blogs, as well as public discussion groups on the Internet. The fact that they were able to write their thoughts in a public venue and have them validated by other professional educators turned out to be a great incentive to go further. This only strengthened the voice of education Bloggers with the experience of practicing professionals.

As the community of education Bloggers grew, so did the audience. Many Administrators, who were leery of public exposure, began to step up and blog. Parents in need of a clearer understanding of the system began to blog. Finally, students themselves, the very focus for which education exists began to join in with their voice. A big contributing factor was the growing use of Twitter as a social Media tool. It is micro-blogging, blogging in small bursts. As people tweeted more and more, gaining a following, they found a desire to say more than 140 characters could express. Blogging applications like WordPress, and Blogger simplified the process of establishing a Blog site. A comfort with writing for an audience, and an ease with technology led to more educators climbing onto the train of connectedness and collaboration.

The result of all of this Blog evolution and proliferation has had a great effect on Education. It has made public the good, the bad, and the ugly of education. It has created that transparency that so many people have talked about. It is openly discussing what needs to be talked about by practicing educators and thought leaders. Blogs are connecting educators with thought leaders and administrative leaders in a way that could never before be accomplished. Education theorists can open their ideas to practitioners for analysis and critique. Practitioners can share their victories and conquests, and hopefully their failures as well. It is through the analysis and reflection of all of this that we can improve to move forward.

To be part of the change, educators need to be part of the process. They need to connect, comment and contribute wherever possible in our connected community of educators. That is where our voice as educators is the strongest. Connectedness is our best chance for positive change that is not mandated, or legislated, but rather collaboratively established.

Blogs offer a daily snapshot of what is happening in education. Blogs offer educators a public platform for discourse, and the ability to comment and affect change in a system that needs to change in order to be relevant in a world of fast-paced, technology-driven evolution. After the Blogs have dealt with the heavy lift, the printed Journals of Education report it. Educators need to connect to better communicate, collaborate, and create in order to more effectively educate students, and even more importantly continue to be educated.

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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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There have been a great many comments and posts recently on both the successes and shortcomings of the BAMMY AWARDS. I was recognized at the ceremony as a Co-Founder of #Edchat and an innovator in education. There were some blatantly obvious mistakes made at that ceremony, but it should also be recognized that the entire event was set up to recognize and celebrate educators. I do not want to enter the fray on this, but I do need to take issue with one criticism that I have seen in a few posts that I think is off the mark.

If there is one subject I have consistently written about for years, it is the idea of what a modern connected educator is. If there is one thing we should strive for as connected educators, it is collaboration. It shares, questions, refines and improves ideas. Collectively, we are smarter than we are individually. Collaboration makes education more transparent. It enables educators to examine, and explore what is relevant in their profession. It highlights the best and exposes the worst in education. Connected educators are educators who engage in this collaboration with the tools of technology to efficiently maximize their collaboration in ways that were never before possible.

The Bammy Awards were set up to recognize and celebrate that very aspect of education, the successful collaboration of educators. Why then are educators criticizing the Bammys for recognizing connected educators?

Some blog posts were critical that this was a popularity contest with the most popular connected educators. If an educator is a successful collaborator in social media, he, or she will attract a following. That following however is based on the ideas that the educator shares, and not on who likes them personally. There are many educators who have social media accounts, but that does not make them connected educators. I have a list of over 200 superintendents on Twitter. Most have barely tweeted 100 times, and I suspect they were more for PR than for collaboration. They have followings as well, but that is not necessarily based on their collaboration and most are not substantial.

Many of the connected educators at the BAMMY AWARDS, which was probably less than 50 or 60, are educators who do more than just tweet for collaboration. Most of them Blog, some of them have written books, many have done webinars, speak at conferences, and conduct sessions at Edcamps. All of these actions are forms of collaboration, and the result will be a following of educators, who recognize and appreciate the value of each of the contributions of each of these individuals. These connected educators are going beyond what we have now come to expect from educators, doing exactly what we need them to do to improve our profession through collaboration. Why would anyone then question or criticize them for being too popular. Why would anyone want to discount the validation of these educators? The number of followers is the very measure that validates their efforts.

If we did not want educators to be recognized for their ideas and have people publicly stand behind them, we should not put any names on any work. If the rule is to be that we need to collaborate, but not be recognized for that collaboration, then we should all write and collaborate anonymously.  No names on books, posts, speeches or any work that is public collaboration.

Connected educators cannot control their “popularity”. This following or “Popularity” is a consequence of how their ideas are vetted and approved by other educators and in so doing, their names are recognized. This to me is a good thing. I can name the best people who can model what it is to be a connected educator based not just as my opinion, but one born out by other educators as well. It makes no sense to me to say that we need to recognize collaboration in education and then condemn connected educators for being successful for doing it. It is a fact in collaboration in social media that one measure of successful collaboration will be the “popularity”, or following of the collaborator.

We are each entitled to our own opinions on how we measure and value things. I am becoming more and more aware however, that the forms of measurement that we use for things may need to be adjusted, or even scraped, as we change the way we do things. I would offer that advice to both the organizers of the BAMMY AWARDS as well as their critics.

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From time to time I am asked to answer interview questions for some organization, or upcoming conference, so that the interview can be shared with other educators. Many educators are asked to provide these videos as a common practice. It is not as timely, or spontaneous as SKYPE or a Google Hangout, but it is portable and controllable, so that makes it preferable too many people. They can edit and tie it into others and then send it out to their audience, or present it in a gala presentation for all to see.

Unfortunately, not every video interview makes it to the final production for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes only a snippet of a larger version makes it into the final production. For those of us who figured out how to make a video, and took the time to do so, it is always a little disappointing not to make it in the final production. My best takeaway is that I figured out how to use iMovie on my own to put it all together. Of course I should point out that this is but another connected learning benefit.

The organizers of The BAMMY AWARDS recently asked me to do such an interview tape. It was to be a rough-cut video that they would edit to professional status. It would include a quick introduction of myself, followed by my answers to three questions.

1 How has being a Connected Educator helped you in dealing with all the demands of an educator today?

2 Can you give a specific example of how being a Connected Educator has changed your practice?

3 What would you say to a non-Connected Educator to convince him/her of the value in being connected?

I pondered the questions, considered the creativity, checked out the App, found a relaxed setting, gathered costumes, screwed up my courage, and took the plunge. After a few starts and stops, I began to get the hang of it, and I was off on yet another thing that I was doing for the first time as a result of connected learning, and the support and encouragement from my social media colleagues. I even opened a YouTube account to house my production upon its conclusion. My 6 minute and 13 second production was uploaded to a predetermined file-sharing app, so that it could be edited by the BAMMY Staff before the big event.

I attended the Washington D.C. event awaiting the unveiling of the Connected Educator Production before the hundreds of educators in the audience. After all it was a red carpet, black tie affair, so I began to feel as if it was my personal premiere. The video came up on the big screen with the images of education thought leaders giving their answers to the very same questions that I had deftly dealt with. Of course they had no costume changes. That a little something extra that would most likely assure me the creativity award, if anyone were to give one. About three-quarters through the production, I was still on the edge of my seat knowing my digitized face should pop up at any second with pearls of wisdom cascading from my lips to the throngs of applause from the gathered crowd of educators. Then it happened. I did appear on the big screen. My heart stopped for about 10 seconds. Not that my heart stopped working for 10 seconds, but that was how long my appearance was in that very professional, and very impressive production – 10 seconds. My creative informative sage wisdom of 6 minutes and 13 seconds was edited down to about 10 seconds. The worst of it was that no one even knew I had three costume changes.

Of course I asked what happened of the folks in charge, and they had reasonable explanations for the cuts that they made and the pieces that they included. I had no recourse, but to accept my fate and go unrecognized for my video creation. That is when I realized I am a Connected Educator. I do not need an organization, producer, or publisher to share my ideas, works and accomplishments with other educators. I can count on myself to do that. I could also get it to a much greater audience with the added power of my Personal Learning Network and Social Media.

Without further ado, I would like to share with you, the very rough-cut version of “My Connected Educator Interview”. Please feel free to pass it along to friends and colleagues connected, or not. Please take special care to note the costume changes.

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It is most commonly known that the two things we should not open a discussion on at a friendly dinner party would be religion, or politics. These two topics stir up passions in people that may take some over the bounds set by acceptable civility at such gatherings. I have found myself a victim of this social imperative on a number of occasions. That is the price to be paid for being opinionated, and passionate about things.

Among educators, I would suggest that we add Awards and Lists to Religion and Politics as subjects that strike chords in people who cause them to cross over to the wild side. Whenever annual award presentations appear on the calendar the pro and con discussions begin. The merits and flaws of such ceremonies are debated in blog posts and tweets ad nauseam. Lines are drawn placing people on respective sides of what, at the time, seems like a very important issue. Actually, in the scheme of things that are of real important, it is actually a non-issue.

Often, a well-meaning effort to recognize the accomplishments of the few who stand up and stand out, are criticized or maligned to the point where people are discouraged from even suggesting to do such events. The irony is that those same critics of awards may also loudly complain about the lack of recognition for educators in the national discussion of education. I believe that any positive recognition any educators get, for whatever their accomplishments are, helps all educators. We might consider how that rising tide raises ALL boats here.

No criteria can be fair and all-encompassing for every educator in every category for whatever awards that are to be presented. Some deserving people will always be left off the winners’ list, and maybe not even nominated for a myriad of reasons. It is wrong however, to dismiss those who are nominated just because someone else may have been overlooked. (Interject here, if you will, the baby and the bath water analogy)

Lists of any kind are also big targets for many critics. I really do not like making lists of any kind. Some of this might be a result of the voluminous lists handed to me by my favorite list maker, my wife. Nevertheless, lists of things and people are a fact of life on social media. No matter how inclusive one is about the gathering of the list, someone or something is always left off. That is usually the first thing that critics will point to. Often they will name the very person, or thing left off the list that you are already kicking yourself about for leaving off. (Oh the sting of it)

Since we know lists of “Favorites”, or Top Ten, or “The Best Of” will always be with us, let us try to be less critical of the choices. We need to keep in mind that each person draws from a different pool of sources. Any particular list represents the best selection from that author’s pool of sources. Of course we all have better sources, so our choices would be similar, but different, and, of course in our eyes, much better. Don’t knock someone else’s list; just put out to the public your own list. Other people will judge any list’s value based on their specific needs. I both love, and hate lists.

In full disclosure I should tell you that I, and the entire #Edchat team are being considered for a BAMMY AWARD to be presented in Washington D.C. this weekend. We are being recognized for the impact #Edchat has had as an innovative tool for connected educators. The entire Black Tie, Red Carpet event honoring many, many educators will be live streamed. This is the 2nd annual Award Presentation to recognize Educators on a National stage.

If you are unfamiliar with #Edchat it is a weekly discussion of education topics held on Twitter twice each Tuesday. The #edchat Team of educators who make that happen each week includes: Shelly Terrell Sanchez @ShellTerrell, Steven Anderson, @web20classroom, Kyle Pace, @kylepace, Nancy Blair, @Blairteach, Jerry Blumengarten, @cybraryman1, Jerry Swiatek, @jswiatek, Mary Beth Hertz, @MBTeach, and Berni Wall, @rliberni. I hope I did not leave anyone off the list.

Whether we agree with the choices for the BAMMY AWARDS or not, it is wonderfully refreshing to see educators being held up in high esteem and honored instead of being vilified and torn down as has been the trend of late.

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One of my reasons for becoming active on Social Media was to engage people of influence in the discussion of education. I soon found out that there were several circles of influence that were driving the discussion, but educators had very little influence in any of those circles and Social Media had even less influence on them. Business people, politicians, and people were driving the education discussion interested in entering the education industry for profit. Educators, whether by choice or circumstance, were not involved in the very reform discussions that were affecting their profession. Although educators are educated and experienced in the area of education, education expertise was claimed and permitted for the most part by those without either.

Many of these people used Social Media to put out a one-way information campaign to support their ideas of reform. It was not a discussion of ideas, but rather a statement of position. Teachers were praised as they were targeted. The public education system was condemned as a failure and alternatives were presented as a better, and cheaper. Standardized testing became a goal in education and an annual Billion-dollar industry in short order.

Educators were openly discussing ways to improve education and continue to do so on Social Media. Twitter is a mainstay for exchanging sources and discussing ideas of educators to improve and expand teaching and learning. Few of the non-educator reformers were actively engaged in these exchanges. The power of Social Media has yet to be discovered or used by many. Recognition of the fact that many education bloggers, authors, speakers, and thought leaders engage in thoughtful discussion and reflection on education in social media is just not a reality.

It was in the face of all of this that I happened upon The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan tweeting on Twitter the other day. I was familiar with his tweeting pattern, since I have been following him for quite a while. I also follow his assistants and PR people. He and his team would often tweet out positive tweets about his initiatives. It was rarely an exchange with educators, but usually a one-way conversation. I was also aware that his follow list included politicians, business people and organization leaders, many referring to themselves as education reformers. He followed few, if any connected educators, which was very ironic, since we are entering the Connected Educator Month in October for the second year in a row. Here is how the exchange went:

arneduncan's avatar

Arne Duncan @arneduncan

  1. As a nation we’re still spending $7-9B each year on textbooks that are obsolete the day we buy them. Why?

tomwhitby's avatar
Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

@arneduncan If you need a list of great connected Educators to follow on Twitter, let me know. I can make it happen. #Edchat #CEM

arneduncan's avatar
Arne Duncan @arneduncan

@tomwhitby absolutely.

@arneduncan GREAT! First follow me,then follow this Comprehensive list of the Most Connected Educators. bit.ly/W818Tt #Edchat #CEM

@tomwhitby Done. Thanks for the suggestion Tom.

tomwhitby's avatar
Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

@arneduncan You are very welcome. 15-20 minutes a day on Twitter will give you the pulse of the connected educator community. #Edchat #CEM

 

The list I provided was a list of about 100+ connected educators that I exchange information with most often from among the 2,500 educators that I follow. Of course I have left off some educators who belong on that list, but that is a problem inherent with any made-up list.

The Secretary did as I had asked; He followed every educator and me on that list. He more than doubled his Follow list on Twitter. Educators immediately responded on Twitter in astonishment that The U.S. Secretary of Education was following them on Twitter. They were wondering why they were selected. Obviously, they were not following me, as closely as I was following them.

It was at this point that I began to see a problem. People were openly questioning whether or not Secretary Duncan was really going to engage educators. They were openly asking what they could DM the Secretary to affect the education discussion. They had expectations of the Secretary that they would not have of anyone else after just entering the culture of connected educators. They were already expecting too much. There is no tweet or comment that could so profoundly affect the education discussion to turn it all around making everyone hug and dance in jubilation.

To make this even more interesting some of The Secretary’s team tweeted me hoping that he hadn’t made a mistake connecting to educators who had a potential of haranguing him. I only hoped that I was right. I would hope that people would give The Secretary time to acclimate to the culture. He has not engaged with connected educators to any great extent and now he is connected to over 100 of the most active and most passionate. It could be the best effort yet to engage connected educators in the national discussion of education reform, or a disastrous conflagration. I am hopeful that the patience of these educators will allow Secretary Duncan to observe, enter and participate in the connected culture with the same respect offered to any other member of that community.

The connected educator List.

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Social media has had an effect on almost every aspect of life in America. Like it or not, use it or not, agree with it or not, social media has changed the way we live our lives in America no matter what the generation is in which we reside. There are some aspects of our culture that are affected more. Certainly News, Entertainment, and Advertising are areas that all would agree have most dramatically been changed with the social media intrusion on our culture. The speed at which that change took place was accelerated by the quick adoption of strategies by those industries to harness the power of social media to advance their respective industries.

Now let us consider the education industry. There are still educators saying things like: We need to prepare our students for the 21st Century.” Students graduating for the last two years began their education IN THE 21ST CENTURY! The time for preparation has long past over a decade ago.

Social Media is a large part of the 21st Century, which is our present. Of course to understand and utilize social media to our advantage as educators, we need to call upon our knowledge of digital literacy. It is the very digital literacy that all educators will be held responsible to teach under the common core. Of course for educators to teach digital literacy and administrators to assess lessons on digital literacy, we must assume that our educators are digitally literate. The last thing we need to improve education would be illiterate educators.

What does it mean to be digitally literate? Trusting the ever-controversial Wikipedia, a product itself of social media, we have this: Digital literacy is the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. It requires one “to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms”.

Understanding the use of technology and teaching it is one thing, using it to advance educators and education is a step further. The idea of connecting educators digitally for the purpose of curating and sharing information, collaborating with other educators, creating lessons and methods for teaching and learning, discussing and exploring mandates and political edicts in a transparent way are all strategies that engage technology in a meaningful way for education. The technology has made what was never before possible, a commonplace occurrence among connected educators.

What is resulting from all of this seems to be different types of educators. Those who are digitally literate and using that literacy to learn and share with other educators. These are the connected educators. Relevance is a primary concern. They don’t want to read about change, they want to lead it, or at least be involved with it. They write blogs and Tweet rather than email. Those educators, who are somewhat digitally literate, but choose to be strictly consumers of information through technology are semi-connected educators. They want to be relevant, but are content with reading about what is relevant. They may use that information in face-to-face discussions. They read blogs and they email. The unconnected educator is more in line with the 20th century model of teacher. Access to the Internet is limited for whatever reason. Relevance in the 21st century is not a concern. Whatever they need to know, someone will tell them. If they email anyone, they will follow it up with a phone call to make sure it was received.

These are the results of the effects of technology on educators that I have observed.

These are just my musings that you may agree with, or dismiss at will. I do however travel in big education circles, and I do engage, and observe educators regularly about education as a profession and as a passion. I think many of my observations are more accurate than not.

October is going to be Connected Educator Month, #CEM. This initiative is so important that it is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of Education. I would urge all educators to take advantage of the sources, which will be provided to connect. Being a connected educator does not happen in a day. It is a mindset. It becomes a great part of who you are as an educator. It enables you to hone in on your needs as a learner. I could not recommend anything else more strongly. If there is one thing that could best advance educators and education, it is teachers and administrators becoming connected educators.

 

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Over the years, as I have discussed collaboration in education with thousands of educators, there is one sentiment, or opinion of collaboration that has popped up among some of these educators that I just don’t get. Many of these educators have expressed to me the opinion that collaborative teachers who share personal sources such as lesson plans, personal websites, or even blog posts are not humble enough. They feel as if sharing on the Internet is like bragging about being better than other educators. They consider it to be gloating. Publicizing personal achievements to appear superior to other educators. That whole mindset seems counter to the idea of collaboration. It actually seems counter to a philosophy of teaching and learning. Maybe that’s why I don’t get it, especially coming from educators.

The whole idea behind being a connected educator is for educators to share sources that will benefit learners. It would be very limiting if the only sources educators shared were those developed by others, but at least they would appear to be humble. Would people really consider educators to be more humble, if they didn’t mention their own accomplishments? I often wonder why teachers are supposed to be humble anyway. What makes being humble so virtuous? Could this be one reason for the reluctance on the part of so many educators to connect and collaborate?

Arrogant, privileged, brazen braggart that I am, I would like to share a part of my accomplishments that I am quite proud of and that could benefit educators who take advantage of my sharing. The #Edchat Radio Show produced by the BAM Radio Network is a weekly show for educators. It is produced in the form of 10 to 12 minute podcasts, so that educators can play it on any device in a form and length that enables educators to take full advantage of time and place.

On a recent family road trip to college my daughter asked me to play an episode of the #Edchat Radio show so she could better understand what it is that I do these days. It was any easy request to fill. I had all of the shows on a podcast app on my phone. I connected the phone to the car radio and I became the voice on the radio for the road trip.

The purpose of the show is to share with the audience what transpired in that week’s #Edchat. The 7 PM chat is the one most often covered on the show, since it is the most popular and more heavily attended. However, when the noon chat produces an interesting and lively topic that is covered as well. Each show contains a guest. Sometimes the guest is just a chatter involved in that specific chat, or an author, or an education thought leader. The #Edchat moderator team guests as well: Steve Anderson, Shelly Terrell, Jerry Blumengarten, Kyle Pace, Jerry Swiatek, and Mary Beth Hertz. The constants on each show would be the hosts, myself, and Nancy Blair.

I love working with Nancy. She is an experienced educator, and now an education consultant with expertise in Professional Development. She is the detail person that I am not. She keeps us focused and on target. Nancy tends to smooth out my rough edges with a great depth of knowledge on any given topic.

I should make it clear that this entire project does not benefit us in any way other than a satisfaction that we are sharing the community’s ideas from each chat. There is no money to be had here. The idea has always been to share the #Edchat collaboration in as many ways as possible. We had the #Edchat live, and the #Edchat Archives, the #Edchat Facebook Page, and now we have the #Edchat Radio Show. The complete list of #Edchat Radio Show podcasts is available on iTunes. They are free and yours for the download.

As we drove the highways headed for college, I was listening to the shows with a fresh ear. It had been months since I listened to many of them and I was now listening as a consumer and not a producer. Each show was lively and very informative. What interested me most was how much each of the guests contributed. We had and hopefully will continue to have some of the most informed and collaborative educators who continually contribute the best portions of each of the radio show podcasts.

Of course the best outcome from this family adventure was that my daughter could understand what it is that I do in the world of connected educators. A vast majority of teachers that I taught with for years have no clue what that is. We need to share more of what we as educators do in any form that reaches an audience. If we need to do it humbly, that’s okay. If we can do it with confidence and pride, I think that may be better. I am proud of what I do and I love sharing it. But then again I am an arrogant, privileged, brazen braggart and proud of it.

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I think everyone has certain phrases, or catchwords that tend to set them off. Some of us, of the more passionate persuasion, have phrases that send us over the edge. I am not talking about the conference clichés like “that’s where the tire meets the road” or “Let’s not kick that can down the road” and the ever-popular “I wouldn’t give your troubles to a monkey on a rock’. I am talking about phrases that are couched in the comfort of country-speak to conceal the true intentions of what the phrase represents. I attended a wonderful Edcamp this week where I shared and learned a great deal, but I encountered the frequent use of two such expressions in more than a couple of sessions.

If you need an explanation of what an Edcamp is, I will make an assumption that you are not yet connected, or at best a newly connected educator. Edcamps started a few years back and have become a growing movement for educators to personalize their learning of their much-needed professional development. The existing models of PD provided by the education system over the last few centuries don’t seem to be providing the necessary elements for success for educators. A growing number of educators have designed a new form of PD called Edcamps. Edcamp sessions are discussions of what the participants find relevant. There is no pre-set schedule of approved sessions. People volunteer to lead discussions on topics chosen by the attendees. There are no vendor sessions. There are only educators. If a session is not meeting an attendees needs they are free to move on to another session.

These Edcamps are a direct result of connected educators efforts. They are organized, advertised, criticized and evangelized all through the means provided by social media as it is used and refined by educators to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create within their own profession. It enables individuals to adjust and refine their learning to meet their specific needs. Connections made at the Edcamps provide ongoing support and a perpetual flow of sources to arm educators with the means necessary for their own learning and that of their students.

Ironically, when this concept was presented to a group of administrators at an ISTE Conference a few years back, it was not warmly received as acceptable alternative to the existing outdated models. The seemingly preponderance of concern was the lack of CONTROL. Administrators had no control, over the learning either as a group or for individuals who have the ability to personalize their learning. It baffles me how we individualize our students’ learning with IEP’s, differentiation, and accommodations, but when it comes to educating educators we strive to control the learning, so the group gets its proper dose. It doesn’t matter that educators learn; it only matters that it can be demonstrated that it was taught and everyone was exposed to that teaching. It is but a check on an administrator’s list. How often do we talk about assessing PD? How often do we study the effect of educator learning on student learning in specific schools?  What support do schools supply to educators to share and collaborate what they do learn in the form of PD?

An amazingly large number of educators fully see the urgent need and agree that we need to drastically change the system. Get ready for me to go over the cliff at this point. Many say however “WE NEED TO TAKE BABY STEPS”. Why??? We are not babies. We are among the most educated group of people this country has to offer. We hold advanced degrees. We are proven thinkers and learners. Taking baby steps implies a lack of consideration, a lack of understanding, lack willingness, a lack of confidence, a lack of urgency, and most obvious to me is a lack in taking full responsibility for change. Taking baby steps to me means moving slowly enough to gauge the reactions of others. It goes to that “Teacher mentality” of “educators make no mistakes in public”. The fear of failure is often the thing that produces failure. It is a combination of all of this that has allowed the national discussion on education to be taken over by non-educators. The very baby steps educators are taking to move from a 19th century model of education to a model for educating kids for their future has made educators targets and not innovators. Educators are being held accountable only for the shortcomings and none of the successes. If our baby steps take us 100 years to move into the 21st century, we will need to start all over again in the 22nd.

“Comfort Level” is another over-the-edge term for me. It is the one phrase I find to be the biggest obstacle to reform. Learning is not always easy. It can be fun, and engaging, but for many it can be hard. Something that is hard to do is rarely comfortable. When I hear an educator say that there is something that is not in their comfort level, I think that they are saying “that is more than I am willing to learn because it’s hard for me”. That is not a comfort thing; that is a learning thing. We can’t have educators, the very people we need to learn and maintain relevance, not be willing to learn because they find it hard, and not comfortable.

Connected educators and Edcamps are bold steps, not baby steps. Being a connected educator is not always comfortable, because sometimes it’s hard. We need more bold steps to take us forward as uncomfortable as that may be. We need bold leaders to take us forward. We have no time for baby steps because we are not babies. We are thinking, learning, educated educators and sometimes that’s hard and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable however, should never be a roadblock. We need to take strides with confidence not baby steps.

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