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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!

 

We are often bombarded with many posts and articles about the successes and failures of technology in education. Too often these assessments are based upon the technology as if it were the only factor having any effect on the students in the classroom. Of course this overlooks something that has been pounded into educators’ heads for years: The greatest influence on students in the classroom is the teacher. That holds true with or without technology in the classroom.

The environment for learning is created in the classroom by the teacher. The teacher determines the tools selected for learning in the classroom. The teacher determines how much time each subject gets and what should be emphasized over something else. Yes, there are restraints and mandates placed on every teacher by administration, but the majority of the individual learning environments that directly affect students, are environments made by classroom teachers. Whenever I read an article, or post, pointing out the failures of technology in the classroom, my first question is: How well was that teacher trained in the use of that technology and its new methodology in the classroom? My second thought is: was that technology mandated to be there without teacher buy-in, or support? Without both of those requirements being met, coupled with what we know of the teacher’s impact on students in the class, how could technology ever be successful?

Adding technology into a curriculum is not a passive exercise. It requires a teacher to not only understand the basics of the tech, but an understanding of whatever new pedagogies and methodologies accompany that tech. Using technology in the classroom is more than just going from a number 2 pencil to a ball point pen.

I have had too many discussions with adjunct professors/teachers who have just been thrown online to teach courses that they have only taught in the classroom for years, because that is now the direction colleges/schools are being directed to go. Little thought on the part of these colleges/schools has gone into what it means to teach online. What methodologies need to be refined or changed? What training a professor/teacher needs in the use of new and devolving technology seems to be an afterthought if a thought at all. Teaching online seems to be a politician’s choice of solution to getting a bigger bang for the tax-generated buck. Many politicians are legislating requirements to teach online with no support for the teacher training needed to support a successful program. There is always the “They’ll-figure-it-out mentality” that seems to drive most change in education. It’s a cheaper, more sellable solution to the problem, but a digital worksheet is still a worksheet. We need to teach using methodologies of the 21st Century to take our best shot with 21st Century tools for learning, collaboration, curation, communication, and creation.

We need to be more critical of the studies that we see on the use of technology in classrooms. We need to ask if and how the teachers were trained in that technology and all it entails. We need to examine the mindset of those educators as well. Are they supportive of tech in the classroom, or do they view it as an added burden that they were never prepared for. Not every educator is prepared to accept technology as a tool for learning. These attitudes have profound effects on results.

Teaching is complicated. It might be argued that teaching is more of an art than a science. Complicated tasks are not easily assessed. With so many variables for success in education, how do we get it right? We cannot accurately assess the effect of technology in the classroom without considering the teacher responsible for implementing and using that technology. We need to consider implementation, training, and support, as well as ongoing professional development of staff as the technology evolves, changes, or is replaced. All of these are factors we need to consider and evaluate, if we are to truly determine the effect technology is having on learning. If we are serious about better educating our kids, then we better get more serious about educating their educators.

Over the many years that I have been in education and around educators, I have never been able to understand why so many educators, so willingly and publicly, argue for their limitations. Why do they insist, as educators, on stating aloud, “ I don’t get technology and I am not going to start now”?

I taught many in-service courses to educators that required computer use. On many, many occasions educators sitting at their computers would say, “I can’t do this”. My response was simple but crude; I would turn off the computer of the person who had made that statement. After protestations about my action, I would explain that they had convinced me by their statements and attitude that they could not do the assigned task using the computer. I simply accepted their argument about their lack of ability to learn through technology. That was when the light bulb floating magically over their heads would light up. Actively trying and overcoming failures was the key to accomplishing the goal. They most often renewed their efforts after rebooting their computer.

Learning with or about technology for those who have not grown up with technology is an uncomfortable thing to do. It forces people to make mistakes and adjustments in order to learn. The idea of an educator making a mistake in regard to either teaching or in their own content area was something that could not be accepted according to most teacher preparation programs of the 20th century. That may be why so many people openly claim to be unable to “get it” when it comes to technology, rather than to bravely face the demons of discomfort.

Technology and tides stop for no man/woman. Technology that affects almost everything we do today is not going away. It will continue to evolve at even faster rates and have an even greater effect on the speed at which change takes place.

Educators today in addition to everything else they need to know must be digitally literate, because in the world in which their students will live, digital literacy will be essential to survive and more hopefully thrive.

A digitally literate educator is a relevant educator. Educators who are not digitally literate are not bad people. They may also be good teachers. However they may not be providing everything their students will need to meet their personal learning goals for their technology-driven world.

Educators do not need to argue for their limitations. There is no limit to the number of people, who for their own reasons, will do that for them, whether it is true or not. Ironically, politicians with their own multitude of shortcomings probably head that list of finger-pointers. Educators need to be aware of how the world has changed from the 20th century that has heavily influenced so many of our educators. Technology’s integration into learning is no longer a choice that educators have to make. Technology is with us to stay. As uncomfortable as it is, educators need to step up and stop making excuses for their digital illiteracy. Schools need to support professional development to get all educators up to speed on what they need to know. It will be an ongoing need since technology will continue to evolve. If we expect to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

The basic principle of Twitter is that if you follow ten people on Twitter, you will only see the tweets of those ten people. Additionally, the only people who will see your tweets will be those ten people. Of course with the advent of the hashtag that has changed. If you add a Hashtag, #Edchat for example, the range of your tweet is extended beyond your ten followers to thousands of educators who follow that specific #Edchat hashtag on a search column. People can now follow specific hashtags that are filtered from the stream.

After all is said and done, in regard to building a Personal Learning Network, who one follows is much more important than who follows back. Most tweeters have their own criteria for following people back. I generally follow people who I engage with in some substantive way. The number of people I follow is almost 3,500. NO, I do not read every tweet, but I am exposed to all of them.

The ideal way to follow someone back is to first examine his or her Twitter Profile, which has public access. There is important information beyond the person’s name and location. Information on not only the number of people they follow, but specifically who they are. Additionally, the number of people who follow them back, as well as who those people are, will be listed. A very important number on that profile is how many tweets the person has tweeted while on Twitter. It speaks to their Twitter interaction. I too often find administrators who claim to be connected on Twitter, but have profiles showing about 100-200 tweets as their lifetime total. Of course that is not limited to administrators, but that is one of my personal hot buttons.

Checking the profile is simply verifying a source. Each selection of a person to be connected to for a Personal Learning Network is actually a collegial source. It stands to reason that his or her credibility should be checked. It is our due diligence as critical thinkers to check this out when possible. I always go back to that old adage: Tell me about a person’s friends and I will tell you about that person.

One of the most important elements of the Twitter Profile is that it shows a history of the last tweets the person has posted. That is probably the best indicator of how each person engages Twitter. The profile allows you to go back in their Twitter timeline.

I enjoy examining profiles of the high-profile “Education Reformers” to see whom they interact with. I wonder if any of their perspective is influenced by their Twitter connections. I have found that many follow organizations, politicians, celebrities, and not regular educators. This is something you can try as well and draw your own conclusions.

I think that there are two very important takeaways from all of this. First, have a clear, concise profile describing who you are as an educator. This way people can quickly identify you as a serious educator to follow. Second, use the profiles of others to determine if they meet the standards that you have set for your own Personalized Learning Network. Do you want that person as a collegial source?

Although I have a huge number of folks I follow, I use TweetDeck to organize that number. I have created lists of folks that can be filtered to specific columns in TweetDeck in order to see those tweets in isolation. I do the same for specific hashtags. These lists that I have created are also available on my profile since I leave them as public.

A great way to expand your own PLN is to find great people whom you already trust and examine their profiles to see the people that they follow, the lists that they keep and follow the very same people. You can unfollow anyone at anytime without him or her being notified.

The more time we spend finding the right people to follow will go a long way in getting to good stuff in less time. Each of us has individual interests, concerns, and needs, so we all need different collegial sources to get to where we eventually want to be. With a little forethought and investigation that destination can be just a little closer before moving on to the next. Use the Twitter Profile to your own best advantage. Check it out: @tomwhitby

Earlier this week my friend Scott McLeod challenged educator/bloggers to post their five choices of things we have to stop pretending in education and hashtag it with #MakeSchoolDifferent. I was asked to meet the challenge by Robert Schuetz , which prompted my post here.

I encourage you to read Scott’s post along with the collection of statements others have made. These are my contributions:

We have to stop pretending…

  • That teachers have a choice in using technology as a tool for teaching and learning.
  • That the college education made unaffordable to a majority of U.S. citizens is the common standard of success in education.
  • That content which is being taught is more important than teaching students how to curate, critically think, communicate, collaborate, and create as life long skills.
  • That seat time in a classroom is a measurement of accomplishment (placing more significance on the ass over that of the brain).
  • That once teachers are licensed and working, their relevance and mastery in the classroom is locked in without a need for further investment of money, time and support.

What do you think? What are the 5 things we need to stop pretending? When you write your post tag it with #MakeSchoolDifferent so everyone can reflect.

As educators one would expect that teachers and teacher/administrators should be experts on the best most effective and efficient methods of getting large groups of children to understand, learn, and use information responsibly to create more information. Theoretically, these educators have an understanding of pedagogy and methodology in order to accomplish these goals. I firmly believe most educators have these very skills to accomplish this with kids.

A question that haunts me however, at almost any education conference that I attend is: Why are so many (not all) of these educators, who are so skilled in a classroom of kids, so bad at teaching in a room full of adults for professional development?

The obvious answer may be that children have a motivation to learn that is different from adults. I have addressed this in a previous post, Pedagogy vs. Andragogy.

According to an article, “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit, Malcolm Knowles, an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.

Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

If we consider these adult motivations in terms of presenting for the purpose of professional development for educators, it is obvious that presentations should not be the conventional “sit and get” Power Point extravaganzas that we have come to recognize as commonplace at education conference sessions. It would also rule out those very inspirational TED Talks as real tools for adult learning.

An adult will get a great deal more if he/she is part of the presentation as a conversationalist. In that way they will be respected and able to not only impart their expertise, and experiences, but also address their specific needs on the topic. This makes the session personally relevant and more self-directed. Another important part of adult learning is to be able to learn something today that can be used tomorrow.

This is not a format unfamiliar to educators. It is probably the key to the success of the Edcamp movement. All of the Edcamp sessions are guided conversations. It is also a key factor in the Education Twitter chats that happen globally around the clock. Even panel discussions would benefit by limiting the panel discussion time in favor of more audience participation for interactive involvement. This would extend, or, in some cases, create a designated question and answer portion with every panel session.

Lecture has a place in any presentation, but how much time it is given even with a glitzy Power Point Presentation should be a major concern of any presenter. The goal in professional development should never be to show how much the speaker has learned, but how much we can get the participants to learn.

Maybe when local, state, and national conferences call for RFP’s for sessions in their conferences, they should have an audience participation requirement. That would not be for just responding to questions from the speaker, but rather participatory learning. That participation would require more than passive responses.

This is not easy to do, which makes it uncomfortable, so it will probably not receive a great deal of attention from those who run conferences. It may not receive much attention from those who do district-wide professional development. I do however hope someone pays attention. If in fact our existing professional development strategies were effectively working over the decades that we have been practicing them, we might not be having all of these discussions of education reform that dominate our profession. Our PD efforts are not currently meeting the needs of teachers or administrators. If we are to better educate our children, we must first better educate their educators.

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