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We are now better than fifteen years into the 21st Century and educators are still discussing what role technology plays in education. The fact of the matter is no matter what educators, who are mostly products of a 20th Century education, think, our students today will need to be digitally literate in their world in order to survive and thrive. Digital Literacy is a 21st Century skill, but therein lies the rub. Most of our educators have been educated with a twentieth Century mindset using 20th Century methodology and pedagogy at best. I dare say there might be some 19th Century holdovers as well.

Digital literacy is recognized by the developers of common core to be important enough to be included as a component of the curriculum. This will however vary and be dependent on what each individual teacher knows, or does not know in regard to his or her own digital literacy. In other words teachers without digital literacy in a 21st Century education setting are illiterate educators for the purpose of this discussion. We can certainly wait for attrition to clean out the system, but that might take years at the expense of our kids. It also does not address a further infiltration of even more from entering the system.

These educators are not bad people. Many may be willing to change and learn to be digitally literate if it is prioritized and supported by administrators. The problem there is that digitally illiterate administrators fail to recognize the need, or understand how to support the new skills required using a new 21st Century mindset. That is not to say all administrators fall into this category, but certainly too many for any needed change to happen in a timely fashion do.

There certainly is enough blame to go around for what places the education system in this predicament and much of that lies in education programs from our institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately, too often student tech skills and digital literacy are assumed and not formally taught in schools of higher education. If students are getting by with email and desktop publishing it is assumed that they are “digital natives”, a term that has cut short education for digital skills in America.

The biggest problem we have with any digital education is the rapidity at which things change.This will only get worse as technology evolves. People learn something; they buy into it; they get comfortable with it; and then it evolves to something else. That comfort level is hard to shake, so change is slow, if it takes place at all. The system also generally fails to recognize the need to prioritize and support change in a way to keep all staff relevant. It is also failing to prioritize digital literacy for incoming teachers.

If we were to prioritize Digital Literacy as a job requirement it might speed up needed changes. Once colleges realized that placing their students in teaching positions required a knowledge of digital literacy they would need to revamp their curricula accordingly. An influx of digitally educated teachers would go a long way in changing the culture of elementary and secondary schools in regard to their acceptance and priorities concerning new tools for learning and the integration of technology and education.

We have always required new teachers to have specific skills in order to secure a job teaching. We also required that they demonstrate those skills before a job could be offered. I can’t think of one hiring committee, of the hundreds I participated in, that did not require a writing sample. How many teaching candidates are offered jobs without someone seeing them teach a class with a sample lesson? It would not be a stretch to require candidates to exhibit their technology skills for consideration.

Prioritizing digital skills will also signal a need for existing staff to get comfortable with change rather than retaining the status quo. It will shake up comfort zones to enable forward movement. It will also force administrators to get some game of their own. They will need digital awareness in order to objectively observe teachers using technology for learning.

Digitally illiterate educators will soon be irrelevant educators and that hurts all educators. As a community we need to support change and digital literacy or we may become as relevant as a typewriter, or film photography. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

I posed an #Edchat Topic recently based on a number of studies I have been reading about that are claiming millions of dollars are being spent, or wasted, on professional development, while very few teachers are benefitting from it. Again the age-old story of doing things the same old way but expecting different results defeats us as a profession. The method of doing professional development for educators has largely not changed over the decades. It may be time to re-examine a few things.

 

Pedagogy vs. Andragogy

I have addressed this in several earlier posts, but it needs to be re-stated until people finally begin to understand that there are differences in how adults effectively learn, andragogy, compared to the motivations in learning by children, which is pedagogy. Pedagogy is what most educators are familiar with because it was taught to them to enable them to teach kids. It is how kids learn best. The natural thing for an educator to do when he or she is teaching a professional development course however is to go with what he or she knows. The result is that professional development is taught to adults as if they were children learners. How effective is that result going to be?

 

Collaboration vs. Lecture

Key factors in adult learning, or the intrinsic motivations for adults to learn are ownership of the learning to meet personal needs and being able to use tomorrow what’s learned today. As a whole adults are better with collaborative learning since it gives them control to direct the learning to what they need to know. It also exposes them to things they may not be aware of through the experiences of others. Conversation is often the best way for them to learn. As an adult, think about your own experiences with how you have most recently learned things successfully. Do not use your childhood experiences of learning.

 

Conferences vs. Unconferences

Most professional development today is often based on Power Point Presentations. These are nothing more than elaborate lectures. It is a lecture enhanced with visual aids, bells and whistles. If done properly, and not a victim of a death by power point delivery (having every word on every slide read to the audience by the presenter) these presentations are sometimes interesting. The question is, how much was retained by the audience? How many will take action on that lecture the next day in class with their students?

These presentation sessions are the mainstay of most education conferences that are counted on for professional development in the United States. All of these sessions are scheduled in elaborate form so that this menu of sessions can be presented to the attendees in a printed form. The only choice for events are those on the menu which for the most part were arranged through RFP’s almost a year prior to the conference. This holds true in local, state, regional and national conferences of most education organizations.

The Unconference or the Edcamp Model is completely different. It does not rely on Power Point Presentation sessions. It relies on conversational, collaborative sessions led by those who are either familiar with a topic, or by those who are interested in learning about the topic. The attendees decide upon the entire Edcamp schedule of sessions on the morning of the conference. It is designed to meet the needs of their interests. They have control of their own learning, which is a key factor of andragogy.

 

One way for everyone vs. Individualized instruction

 Gathering up all of the staff and forcing them all into sessions in order to check off a box stating that PD was delivered is no way to professionally develop a staff with knowledge, tools, or a mindset that is relevant to their needs. We need to take some time to determine a few things. What it is that the school must provide to reach its goal? What it is that the teachers and administrators have that will help get to that goal? What is the gap that each teacher or administrator must fill between what they know and practice and what they need to achieve the school’s goals? It will obviously be a range of things that will need to be individualized. There may be some common threads that may be presented to groups with similar needs, but a baseline for every individual needs to be established. Technology is often the area of most needed concern. It is the area that continually evolves and requires frequent visitations in order for users in this case teachers to maintain their relevance. Assessments are not done once and finished. They need to be done periodically to accommodate the changes that occur.

Here is a needs assessment form that was used in some North Carolina schools as an example:

School Technology Needs Assessment

Conclusion

 Professional Development over the last decades has not worked in education. If it were working we would not be spending all of the time and money on trying to reform the system. As a profession we deal in information and content. We are both consumers and creators. We also impart those methods of consuming and creating to kids. Everything that we rely on to consume and create however is changing at a rate never before experienced. This is all a result of living in a technology-driven society.Technology will continue to evolve and change and this will be a constant. Educators will need to be, to use a tech term, upgraded from time to time. Our problem right now is that we have not yet done it properly, so teachers and administrators are all over the map with experience. We need to account for where each is and get each to where they should be and update accordingly from there.

It is a waste and morally irresponsible to throw money at professional development without considering how it should be done. If it is not working and we know that from our assessment, then we need to change what we are doing. We are educators and we should know how to do this. One poor teacher makes all teachers look bad. Many poor teachers make things far worse. Perhaps the reality is that we have fewer poor teachers, but a number who simply need upgrading. To better educate our kids, we first need to better educate their educators.

Inigo and word meaning

As with many words, the word “connected “ can be used for many things. At one point in time “being connected” implied a criminal connection to some sort of organized crime. Being connected has also meant having ties to the higher ups in an organization for the purpose of favors and perks. The word connection, simply stated, means to be united, or linked.

At one point in history for people to connect with each other they had to be face to face. That changed when writing letters was introduced and used on a greater scale to connect many more people. Communications took another leap with the telephone being used to connect people in even greater numbers. Cell phones have taken all of this to another dimension. Yes, we have had connections and connected people from the beginning of humanity.

As to the quality of connections, that varies, depending on how connected people really want to be. When people work on their connections, they do evolve into relationships. For the record here, we are limiting this to intellectual relationships. There are many professions in which success is based on successful connections, or relationships between the professional and another individual, be it a patient, client, student, or colleague. Of all the existing, or potential connections that people have, or may have, they all vary in degrees of success in terms of relationships from poor to great.

Now let’s jump to a 21st Century model of education in a Tech-driven culture. A model within a society that is dependent on computers in almost every industry and service in order to function. A population where a work force at all levels increasingly needs to be digitally literate for employment. A population in this computer-driven society is enduring change, which is occurring at a pace never before experienced in history. Information and content change, or are created in an instant every day in the year. An education system, designed for a world two centuries prior to this, is trying to, at the very least, cope and at best, effectively deal with the new dynamics. Educators either reject, struggle, work at moving forward, or are comfortable with the new literacy required to deal with this new dynamic.

The term “connected educator” in this context refers to educators who are exploring or embracing the development of collegial sources and access to all sources through connections made using technology. They are not abandoning their face-to-face connections. They are still maintaining relationships with colleagues in their buildings and district, and they still maintain connections with students and parents. They are expanding their reach however to global connections made possible through technology. They are taking advantage of the ability to connect with a vast array of education experts in order to improve their own expertise in education. They are connecting with authors, thought leaders and lead learners around the world in order to achieve this. We call these collaborative innovators, “connected educators”. Their number is growing and we call this a “connected community”.

Individuals in this “connected community” of educators are directing their own learning to meet their needs. They are exploring experiences of other educators to build on their own innovation. They are being exposed to new ideas and innovation from other connected educators daily. They are each developing Personalized Learning Networks to improve their personal skills and abilities to advance their profession. They are creating a relevant and meaningful environment in which their students may learn. These educators are modeling the mindset and tools of a 21st Century learner to the very people who will grow up and need to thrive in that Century.

In discussions of the “connected educator” in various blog posts, we should not need to redefine it time and again. It is an established term and it should be recognized after years of being used. We need not be reminded that there are other forms of connectedness. We need not hear how there is more to life than technology. We are probably all in agreement on all of those points. Do not diminish what educators are trying to do to advance their profession and our kids’ educations by using technology to learn, communicate, and create. Connected educators are a growing community in a continually, rapidly changing world. It is a world where once Tech was a choice for educators, but now Tech has become a large part of learning through collaboration and creation. Digital Literacy is still a choice for many educators, but it has never been a choice for their students. This is not a debate. Digital literacy is essential for educators. Being a connected educator is being a relevant educator. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators. Welcome to the 21st Century educators!

What is it about a mandated, contractually obligated, professional development conference that inspires some teachers and completely turns off many others? Why do some teachers glow with excitement at conferences and many others complain as they go through the motions? Is it the conference itself, or the attitude of the educators attending, or a combination of both?

When it comes to professional development for educators, conferences are believed to offer a great deal of choice with usually a seemingly wide array of sessions and workshops for educators to choose from to fill their blank schedules for a full day of learning. That is at least what is in the minds of the conference planners as they spend a huge amount of time planning these events. They seem to concentrate on the how and what of education, but fall short of the why.

The why refers to why we do things in the first place? Without at least discussions on that subject of why we should, or should not do certain things in order to examine their relevance, we might find we are doing things just because that’s the way they have always been done. To simplify an example: that is why we teach keyboarding and not typing. There are no longer any typewriters, but keyboards abound. Of course all of that goes out the window with mobile devices where thumbs and pointer fingers rule the keys. The point is that we examined why we were teaching typing, and found that we needed to teach something else to stay relevant, keyboarding.

We need more sessions in conferences that use panels to examine why we do the things that we do and engage educators in that discussion. We need more individuals leading discussions to explore and to challenge various things that we do in education. These panels and discussions should be sprinkled through conferences and repeated at least once, so that schedule conflicts will be less conflicted.

CHOICE in professional development is one of the biggest deterrents to learning. Yes, I said it. I know we are adults, and we are capable of making choices and we will all fight to the death to maintain that right of choice, but in most cases it doesn’t work. People do not know what they do not know; yet they will still make choices without sufficient information to do so. Why would an Administrator choose to attend a session on Blogging when he/she has no interest? That Admin might get a better understanding of why he/she should be blogging, as well as the need for their staff and students to blog, if they attended such a session. Again, this will be a selection that will probably not be made, because that admin did not have enough information to make an informed choice. The same applies to teachers choosing not to attend certain sessions based, not on their knowledge of a subject, but rather their lack of knowledge. I know we can’t know everything, but we need to recognize and admit to that. Maybe we are not capable of free choice 100% of the time in professional development.

Another question is how many people will choose to attend a session that takes them out of their comfort zone? Admittedly, some do make that hard choice, but the majority of folks in attendance will not make that uncomfortable choice unless they are attending the conference with a friend who drags them into such a session. These conferences need to find a way to allow for some choice while limiting it in other ways. Maybe a “Chinese menu style” conference with two choices from Column A and three from Column B for every attendee might be a solution. Column A would be pedagogy, methodology, and education philosophy sessions with panels and discussions, and Column B would be the how to sessions.

My final critique on these conferences is one I have made in the past. Most of the sessions in these conferences are conducted by teachers who are presenting to attendees on how they teach in class with specific tools. This is usually an explanation with a PowerPoint presentation. It is a reasonable assumption that they run these sessions based on their experience as a teacher teaching children. Their methodology becomes flawed because adults do not benefit from pedagogy. Adults learn differently. Andragogy is adult learning. Conversation and collaboration work best for adults, not sit and get while sitting in rows. This is why the sessions that usually get the highest ratings from participants are the sessions that addressed the participants as adults to meet their needs.

None of this is new. I have addressed these issues many times since I began as an education blogger. I think the term “yelling into the wind’ comes to mind whenever I cover this topic. If we prioritize professional development as a continuing need in education, eventually someone might listen to these suggestions. When that happens in whatever decade it does, please remember you heard it here first.

I must add to this that the people who plan these conferences are hard-working, dedicated individuals who do their best to provide the conferences with which they have been entrusted with the best presentations available. They do the best they can based on what they have experienced from other conferences.

Maybe we need apply that “why” question here. Why are we doing this conference? If it is to get educators to learn more about their profession and teach more efficiently and effectively with purpose and understanding, then maybe we need to change things up. Let’s teach teachers in ways that they learn best. If we are still teaching for the typewriter in this age of computers, we have it all wrong. We need to re-examine, re-evaluate, and re-vamp what we do with education conferences and professional development. To better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

Two of the most common excuses for not doing something new in education are time and money. They are probably the same excuses for not making change in any profession. People seem to understand and accept these excuses because they themselves use them whenever needed. These excuses are used so often for so many things, that they have come to mean, “I really don’t care to change the status quo, and it is too much trouble for me to do so”.

Many educators through the centuries have observed and commented that the teaching profession is an isolated profession. Many educators, then and now, feel alone in their efforts to educate kids. They often reflect on their efforts, accomplishments, and failures, without the ability to share with a variety of others within their circles in order to improve. Educators were limited to their buildings for collaboration, which occasionally might widen out to include other educators in their district, but that was often less likely to occur. Of course collaboration on a greater scale would take both time and money, and that has rarely been a priority in most schools.

Collaborative learning has always been with us from the beginning of learning, however, it required that the learners occupied the same space at the same time. In a modern world, where people tend to spread out and separate, the boundaries of collaboration, time and space, began to impede professional collaborative learning for educators. It required effort, time and money to get people together for substantive collaboration. Professional organizations stepped up to fill the collaborative void with annual conferences, but these conferences cost money and took away precious time to attend. Budgets were created to support administrators’ attendance, but teachers were more problematic becoming less of a priority to attend. Conferences, dependent on vendor support, soon recognized the benefit of administrator attendance, since administrators were the movers and shakers of the purse strings of schools. The result of all this supported a proportionally greater number of administrators over teachers’ attendance at collaborative conferences. The collaboration among teachers was limited.

It has often been said that if you fill a room with very smart people, the smartest mind is the room itself. We all benefit through collaboration. We each help define, refine, challenge, and support ideas collectively until we settle on a final idea. We all contribute to that process to some degree.

Collaboration is also a preferred method of learning for adults. We are studying adult learning more and finding a difference between adult learning, Andragogy, and child learning, Pedagogy. Since educators are child experts, many wrongly assume that all individuals learn according to pedagogy. Adults however are motivated differently with different needs. Collaboration and problem solving suit adult learning best. This misconception forcing pedagogy on adult learning has had a profound effect on how we handle PD as discussed in a previous post, The Importance of Andragogy in Education. I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit. 

The real game-changer for collaborative learning is technology. With the introduction of social media applications, we have the ability to connect with anyone at anytime. The cost is minimal and the time is adjustable. Time and money excuses no longer serve the status quo when it comes to collaboration. What that means in terms of education is that educators are only isolated by choice. As I have said in the past, any educator has the right to choose to live in a cave, but they don’t have the right to drag students in there with them.

Connecting for collegial sourcing is becoming a standard for educators. Educators in greater numbers are connecting to build Personal Learning Networks through technology. What was once a method of the tech-savvy educators is now becoming a staple of the profession. Of course when the objections of resistance are answered, objectors will come up with new objections to stave off their involvement. Many teachers now say, I am doing well enough with my kids, I don’t need to make connections.” Those teachers will need to live with that decision, for they may never get beyond “well enough” with their students. Imagine telling parents that you will teach their kids well enough?

Of course we know the biggest obstacle to change is leaving that place we all love to reside in, the “comfort zone”. Educators do not have that as an option as professionals. As professionals, we deal in content and fact. Technology is changing both at a rate never before experienced. If we do not keep up with these changes we become irrelevant. What can an irrelevant educator accomplish? Most importantly, an educator’s comfort zone must never take precedence over a student’s education.

The latest and greatest excuse is that face-to-face connections are the best. Connecting down the hallway is better than connecting around the world. I do not entirely disagree with that. If the connection with a person down the hall works then use it. My question is why would anyone interested in learning limit his or her collaboration to only his or her own building? As good as any building’s staff may be, why would one not want to expand collaboration and share with the world. Remember that collaboration works two ways. It is not always what you can get. It is also about what you can give. I believe as educators we all have a moral imperative to share.
Technology provides the means to collaborate on a scale never before available. It requires some effort on the part of educators to happen. It requires a mindset that our 20th Century education has never prepared us for. Connectedness becomes a way of life for an educator, but this does not happen overnight. We need to take it one step at a time, as we need it. We can now take control of our own learning. None of this will happen however, unless that first step is taken. If you don’t know or can’t decide on a first step, talk it over with someone. It’s collaborative learning. By choosing not to engage in order to be connected, educators today make a conscious choice to be isolated. Yes, Isolation is a choice. It is not the choice of a Life Long Learner. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

When it comes to the use of technology for learning within our education systems there seems to be two different pictures of our current status. As a connected educator interacting online with many other tech-savvy educators, I see an image of a slow, but steady evolvement of technology-driven innovation in education.

As a person who travels the country engaging educators in conversation, face-to-face conversation, wherever, and whenever the opportunity arises, I get a very different picture. I see a status quo supporting a 20th century model of education with little professional development that is directed by districts to update their teachers. Too often I am getting stories of administrators discouraging change and teachers not willing to evolve beyond where they are. I am not sure how to get an actual picture of what education really looks like today when considering the branding, public relations, and political posturing that is a constant in the system. I do believe we have a distorted view of what education in the 21st century actually looks like.

Of course anyone reading this post will match it up against his or her personal experience to judge its accuracy, but I am not sure that is the total perspective needed to make that judgment. Few schools will stand up to say they support the status quo in education. They will point to whatever thread of innovation that exists in their school and portray it as the rule rather than the exception.

Of course the political climate in this country does not support innovation in education since standardization and high stakes testing determine status and funding for schools. Teachers needing to rely or survive on their students’ test results are hesitant to go beyond that which is required in order to retain their own livelihood. States attempting or succeeding in doing away with tenure leave innovative teachers dependent on the whim of politicians, vocal parents, or popular sentiment without regard for due process in matters of retaining a teaching position. That is hardly a catalyst for innovative change.

Most new ideas have more enemies than friends. Education needs new ideas and people who can stand up and lead those ideas over rather perilous roads to completion. For this to succeed we need to make sure educators are being exposed to the latest and best ideas for learning through professional development. Once they have the knowledge, teachers need to be supported in collaboration with others to refine, plan, and implement ideas. Once in place, time and support must be given in order to develop, assess, refine, and improve the idea. All of this takes time and time translates to money.

Money for education is rarely seen as anything but a problem. We fund education through taxation and that is a burden and also a rallying cry for politicians. If education were as much a priority as defense is, there would be no burden. Since education funding is political however, it will always be political and subject to the ebb and flow of popular trends, economic downturns, and popular myths. None of this supports innovation.

Innovation is change and most people are not comfortable with change. It requires risk. The bigger the risk, the less likely the change will occur. Couple this with the fact that most people want the best and most up to date education system in the world. We are left with some, if not most, administrators, the folks in charge, painting a rosy picture of innovation and modernization with whatever programs, small portions of programs, or even lessons their schools have to offer, giving the impression that it is system-wide.

Yes, there are some wonderful schools doing wonderful things with progressive education leadership and teachers who are supported with PD and time to do wonderful things. There are also schools that focus on the tests and maintaining what they believe the status quo provides stability and predictability to cope with required standardization and high stakes testing. Control and compliance for teachers, as well as students, are the proven commodities in these environments.

The question is where are we now, and when will we get to where we need to be? I tend to think we are not yet supportive enough of innovation. Support requires action, not just spouting off words. We need brave leadership to stand up to status-quo supporters. No, not everything from the past is bad. We need to determine what has value and what needs to be changed in a computer-driven society that looks very different from what it was in the 20th Century. Change is disruptive and a conservative institution like education does not tolerate disruption very well. We all need to look at education as a needed investment for our kids and for our country. An educated citizenry is our best defense for dealing with things we have not yet imagined. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

If educators can count on one sure-fired outcome of the largest national education conference in America, it is the information feeding frenzy that accompanies it. Each year that ISTE holds its Annual Conference with 20+ thousand attendees social media lights up all over the world with exchanges of information between educators emanating from whatever city ISTE is in that year. This year it is Philadelphia. I think there might be more social media interaction with east coast events because of the time zones. The east coast is favored by a longer period of time to get to people while they are awake, active and reactive. The #ISTE15 hashtag will probably trend on Twitter several times during the ISTE conference.

There is a reason why Tweets on Twitter are dominated by education topics. It is not that a majority of Twitter users are educators, but rather those educators who are Twitter users are very collaborative and prolific in their use of Twitter. They use Twitter for exchanging and expanding ideas. They are very active in hundreds of education Twitter Chats. I am sure that Twitter’s founders did, not foresee the educators’ use of Twitter as a form of professional development.

The use of social media by educators underscores the glaring need for a better system of professional development for educators. While there are some districts that make PD part of their culture, most districts allow it to continue as it always has: haphazardly, at the whim of administrators, often ill-conceived and too often with minimal impact on student learning. Trends often dominate the choices. A demonstration of some newly acquired App may count for PD for the entire year.

The adoption of social media to deliver “Do It Yourself PD” is an indication for the need, as well as recognition that educators are hungry for direction.

Only a small percentage of educators will ever get to attend an education conference like ISTE. Districts do not budget for teachers to attend. Conferences are not cheap. Often Admins and Tech Directors will attend such events year after year. Those educators who do attend education conferences however use social media to share out what their experiences are like with those folks not able to attend.

Over the next few weeks the #ISTE15 hashtag will begin to appear more frequently building to a crescendo during the conference and continuing a short time after the conference concludes. These “sharings”, whether on Twitter or any other form of social media, are an effort on the part of educators to involve other educators in a collaboration of learning in their own profession. Educators more than anyone see the need for effective PD and are trying to provide what the system is failing to do. Even when the education system wanted to implement something as big as common core, all of its focus, support, and money went to everything but professional development for those who were to be key in its implementation. That was left to individual districts to do and most had no clue what that meant. As a result we have to ask if educators were properly prepared to implement the common core?

Educators as evidenced through their collaborative efforts recognize the need for PD. The evolving collaborative communities are filling the void left by the system to keep educators relevant in a rapidly changing, computer-driven society. The real key to better educating our kids is, and always has been, to better educate their educators. The #ISTE15 hashtag frenzy that we will experience in the next few weeks is a best-case scenario of dealing with a poorly supported system of professional development. It is yet another symptom of a system in need of change in order to be relevant.

If you attend ISTE15, send out those tweets. If you can’t attend ISTE15 read those tweets. Everyone should Retweet #ISTE15 tweets. Sharing is Caring!

 

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