Archive for the ‘FaceBook’ Category

Collaboration in education is not a new concept, but the idea of using social media for collaboration in education is relatively new considering the age of our education system. Technology has only recently provided the tools to make this possible on a large, even global, scale. In order to successfully engage in this most recent form of collaboration two things need to be understood; the use of technology, and its applications designed for collaboration, and the culture of collaboration among those using that technology. Our most effective education collaborators and thought leaders seem to have a thorough understanding of both.

Although sharing is the key element to collaboration there is more to it than just that. Feedback is important for additions and subtractions for improving ideas. If one is to be a successful collaborator then responding in some way to other educators becomes essential. Without responding, there is no collaboration.

Discussion of ideas is made possible on several applications; the most used source for professional exchanges is probably Twitter, followed by Facebook, LinkedIn, and then any number of Ning Communities for educators with their Blog and Discussion Pages. Commenting on Education Blogs is also another way to extend the collaboration, often in much more detail. Engaging in these practices will broaden the discussion of education among those who need the answers the most, the educators. Many education thought leaders are passionate about education and that passion is both needed and infectious. If educators just shared those passionate ideas with the people that they were connected with, we could have a movement. Never answer for the knowledge of another. You have no idea who knows what. Never assume everyone has heard about one subject, or another, or that they understand it in detail. Just pass along the information for them to decide.

What information is important? Certainly any specific information pertaining to your field of endeavor would be important especially to those who follow you from the same field. Additionally, you should share general information pertaining to Education, methodology, pedagogy, the brain, research and any innovative education ideas. These would come in the form of links to websites, articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts, graphs, and also any other tweets educators may be sharing. A most important contribution is the sharing of successes in the classroom. Your successes may spark enlightenment in a number of other educators. Your successful everyday practices may be innovative to others.

If we as educators made collaboration a common practice among all educators there might not be a need for a common core. Collectively we are all smarter than we are individually. Our common core would be developed by the connection and collaboration of educators. Educators could address their own concerns and professional development without interference by politicians and profiteers. It does require that we become involved in connecting with other educators in a supportive, respectful, collaborative way. Better education for students will be the direct result of better education for our educators.

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The term “innovation” has been thrown around through the halls of education for several years. Its creation in our education system is a stated goal by our Department of Education. It is a reason, although some would call it a justification, for charter schools being formed. Charter schools were supposed to lead the way to innovation for public education. A problem with innovation however is that we often do not know it when we see it.

The whole idea of innovation is that it is something new. The other part of that, which is implied, is that it is also a successful improvement. That may be the piece that prevents recognizing innovation in education. Teachers, when it comes to education, are a conservative group. Change comes slowly, and there is a comfort in holding on to what has worked in the past. This has long been reinforced by the many trends and fads in education that have come and gone. Teachers have been programmed to believe that whatever the change being mandated by the powers that be, it will be gone with the next change of power. “If we wait a little while, this to will pass” becomes the educators’ mindset.

The newness of innovation is probably its greatest obstacle to acceptance. Teachers generally rely on the tried and true methods, proven to work over a long period of time. Innovation requires a leap of faith on the part of educators that the innovation will be a success. Unfortunately for innovation, the conservative nature of educators does not support taking risks. It may have something to do with self-perceptions of many teachers that as “content experts” they shouldn’t make public mistakes. Supporting innovation that fails would be a commitment to failure in the eyes of many educators. Obviously, this slows innovation acceptance.

This entire process has been further complicated by the rate of speed that technology moves and affects change. Committees, research and approval are very big parts of change in education. Today however, change comes faster and more significantly than in years past primarily because of the advancements in technology. These advancements continue to move forward regardless of anyone’s committee, research, or approval.

Collaboration has long been an element of learning. The term social learning is now creeping into discussions more and more giving collaboration a facelift. Face to face collaboration is the oldest and most easily recognized form. It is also a positive reason for department and faculty meetings. When learning individually we are good, but more often than not, learning collaboratively we are better. Technology tools for collaboration have moved collaboration to the forefront.

Now, let us combine collaboration with technology and see if it fits into our education system. Technology has most recently provided many tools, or applications for collaboration. Social Media is not one tool, but rather a network of many that overlap and intertwine. Educators can: join a Ning community,and meet a colleague from anywhere, converse on that site, connect and collaborate on Twitter, continue face to face collaboration on a Google Hangout, or Skype, collaboratively create and publish documents, presentations, Podcasts and videos. The potential ability for educators to harness this power and use it to model and guide learning for their students is mind-boggling to me, as a 40-year educator. It is only surpassed by the idea that the same potential ability in the hands of the students will take collaboration, creation, and learning even further.

We have labeled this innovation the Personal Learning Network. It is what we use to connect educators for collaboration beyond their buildings, districts, towns, and countries. It is technology-driven innovation that may profoundly affect education in regard to collaboration and professional development. It connects teachers with students, administrators, thought leaders, authors, and experts in all areas. It enables collaboration and creation on every level for educators to learn and teach. We become connected educators giving us insights and relevance that has been enabled by technology.

This innovation has been percolating for several years now, yet it has failed to be accepted as innovation. There is a growing gap between the adapters, or the connected educators, and the unconnected educators. The continuous discussions of the connected are directed and led by thought leaders and collaborative reflections, discussions, and content. The unconnected educators rely on the past and whatever direction is given by the powers that be in their districts.

If innovation is something new than the idea of technology-driven collaboration in the form of a PLN is old news and no longer innovation. Since it is no longer innovative, maybe educators will consider it, as a possible next step in education that will enable needed change. The idea that educators may be anti-innovative is my only explanation as to why the idea of a Personal Learning Network has not yet moved educators to accept it as a method to move educators, and education to a better place.

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For those who do not know, here are two basic Twitter principles: 1. If you only follow 10 people you will only see the general tweets of those 10 people. 2. If only 10 people follow you, only those 10 people will see your general tweets. Although some might argue that the right ten people might be enough, I would argue that ten educators is a very limited Professional Learning Network. The never-ending task of building a PLN is to continually follow really good educators to get the information they put out.

I often say that the worst advocates for using Twitter as a PLN are power users. They come up with numbers, time on task, and strategies that overwhelm and blow away the average Twitter users, not to even mention how they scare off any novice. The accomplishments and numbers of power users tend to intimidate those who would consider using Twitter but see these numbers as unattainable and huge obstacles to success.

Building a professional Learning Network consisting of quality educators, who responsibly share quality information and sources, takes time and requires a plan. It is my belief that the people you follow are far more important than those who follow you. That doesn’t mean your followers are bad or have no value, but quite selfishly, they do not fit into the focus of what a PLN is designed to do. It is created and maintained to provide you sources and that only comes from those who you follow. Of course you should share those sources with those who follow you, but that is another Post.

How do you find those quality educators to follow in order to add value to your PLN? It is much easier to do today then it was when Twitter first started. A rule you should always follow is to check a person’s profile before you follow. You can view their profile, making sure they are a professional educator, and see a sample of their tweets before committing to them. An easy way to follow people is to take note of who is most often being retweeted and follow him, or her directly. Another good tip is to follow your favorite Education Bloggers. Most are on Twitter and many have “Follow Me on Twitter” icons on their sites.

The very best sources for good people to follow on Twitter are the best people you already follow. If you select your best follow and go to their profile, you can view the people that he or she follows. A simple click enables you to follow those people as well.

Additionally, many Tweeters have lists of people culled from all of their follows for the purpose of grouping. I have a list of what I call my “Stalwart List”. It is made up of all of the people I most frequently get information from. Another list I maintain is that of education organizations and publications. You can subscribe to anyone’s lists. As they are updated so are you.

Hashtags add range to Tweets. If you send out a general tweet only your followers will see it. If you add a hashtag to that tweet, then anyone following that hashtag gets it. In the case of #Edchat, that could be thousands. Following hashtags will often lead you to people who share your interests. If there is a specific hashtag that you follow, #Edchat, #Edtech, #SSchat, #CPchat ,etc… you may find tweeters frequenting those tweets. Shared interests may yield great sources as well as new good people to follow.

By constantly working and updating your PLN, you will continue to have relevant and beneficial sources flowing through your PLN. The one thing to remember is that you can unfollow people much more easily than it was to follow them. They are not notified of an unfollow. Having and working a plan, or strategy to follow people for your PLN development is essential to grow it and increase its value.

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared August Connected Educator Month. To the delight of many connected educators, this was a validation for much of their time spent and their many accomplishments achieved through the use of technology in general, and using the Internet specifically. Many connected educators have gathered virtually to assemble panels, webinars, podcasts and blog posts about all of the advantages of being a “connected educator” and its possibility of transforming education as we know it. You might see where I am taking this conundrum thing.

The problem with this is that the vast majority of educators who are most on board with Connected Educator Month are connected educators. Hundreds of connected-educator communities and organizations have signed on to the program and have offered online promotions for the month. This is a wonderful thing for all of the connected educators who belong to those communities. But, the obvious question: Are nonconnected educators involved or even aware?

Of course, avenues to reach nonconnected educators would be print media, television and radio, and articles in journals, newspapers and magazines. We can only hope teachers have time to keep up with such media. Much of this media requires subscription. There might even be buzz at schools that start the school year before September. Of course, the beginning of the year is the busiest and most hectic time at school. That does not allow for a huge amount of buzz.

This is the time that someone trying to sound cool using connected terms will say something to the effect of, “It is only another example of speaking into the echo chamber.” I never understood how that was supposed to lessen the impact of a good idea. If an idea is put forth to a large group of people who share skills, interests and motivations, how is that idea of lesser value? It is still analyzed, questioned and challenged by a group who theoretically knows the subject best. Participants’ agreement on an idea’s value might come from their experience and not because they share a space with other educators. Ideas are challenged all of the time among connected educators. It is the sharing and collaboration of those ideas that give power to connectedness.

No, to be a good teacher, one does not need to be connected. However, the question is if you are a good teacher and unconnected, could you be a better teacher if you were connected? Shouldn’t we strive to be the best that we can be? It’s not only an Army thing. Being connected offers not only exposure to content and ideas but also the ability to create and collaborate on ideas. Being connected fosters transparency and debunks myths of education that have been harbored in the previous isolation of the education profession. This is the stuff of a true learner’s dreams, and, as educators, are we not all learners?

Let me get to the conundrum. How do we connect nonconnected educators if the only people participating in large part in Connected Educator Month are connected educators? Most Americans have a Facebook or Twitter account. There are millions of people who maintain AOL accounts. In the strict sense of the term, these people are connected. However the term “connected educator” requires a focus for connectedness. It requires the educator to be connected to places and people advancing and enlightening the person personally as well as the profession — education. Of the 7.2 million teachers in America, most are probably connected to something on the Internet. We need to get them connected to one another. If we consider all of the education websites for professional development in education and all of the professional connections on Twitter in terms of a professional learning network, it would probably account for far less than a million educators.

We are not a profession of connected educators. We are content experts with access to content that we are not accessing. We are advocates of ideas with the ability to share ideas that we are not sharing. We are creators without using the ability we have to create for an authentic audience of millions who could benefit by our creations. We fight for the status quo of comfort and compliance. This doesn’t make sense to many of you — those of us who are connected.

If the only people benefiting from Connected Educator Month are connected educators, how do we involve the millions of others? I understand that a certain percentage will never be connected, but those who could be, would be, should be and can be are out there. How do we best connect the unconnected educator in a face-to-face method?

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The idea of being connected in the Twentieth Century had a very different meaning than it does today. Back then being connected conjured up visions of pinstriped suits and shoulder holsters. Today, being connected brings up visions of computers, Smartphones, and tablets. A general misconception is that to be a connected educator, one needs to be a computer geek, with a vast knowledge of all things having to do with social media. Of course this is a vision that could be overwhelming to anyone who is only familiar with email, word processing and the ability to put a PowerPoint presentation together. Of course educators many have ventured onto Facebook to connect with relatives and old high school friends, so the connected thing is not a totally foreign concept. Connecting is a process that we take one step at a time. The key however is to continue to take those steps to build and improve a connected network.

Back in the day, for teachers to keep up with what was going on in education, they needed to read journals, attend conferences, and hope that their principal would pass along information to the staff. Often times the latest topics in education were brought to the faculty by way of a keynote speaker on a conference day. Administrators looked to bring experts in for these days of professional development. Principals found speakers through conferences that they attended, as well as recommendations from other administrators. The best informed principals often had the best informed staffs.

The internet and the advancement of social media have changed the way things are done in general. Those changes are not limited to education.  As educators we are no longer limited to information provided by principals and journals. We can reach out and connect with our own sources that we develop on our own. As educators we are no longer forced to limit our students to what they can learn from textbooks. We can guide them beyond what those books are limited to through connections.

When I first started incorporating internet sources in my teaching there was resistance from my colleagues. They were satisfied with the text that we were using for our methods classes for teaching English. I began to bring in other sources from websites and blogs. My colleagues asked why I needed to do that.  They felt that they had a great textbook that was written by a great author for English Methods class, James Burke and that was enough. I agreed with them in that Jim Burke wrote a great Text for English Methods for teachers, but I did not think it was enough. What I had, that my colleagues did not have, was Jim Burke himself. That is what I provided to my students. Jim has an outstanding Ning site for English teachers, The English Companion. I connected my students to the site of 25,000 collaborative educators and some with Jim Burke himself. This connection brought my students beyond the limitations of the text and their teacher.

The very concept of connecting with others in order to takes one’s self further, is the driving force of connectedness. For us to be involved in the discussion of our profession, we need to be up to date on what topics are driving the discussion. Educators can wait for someone to pass along information to be presented as a workshop topic, or they can be involved with topic as it develops. Connections can be made with the very people who are driving the bus for change. Free discussions, panels, and webinars are offered every day for connected educators to participate in.

Too many educators are overwhelmed by the process. To some, there seems to be too much to learn. To some, there seems to be too much to know about who to connect with and how to do it. To some, there seems to be a negative effect from the bad public perception of Social Media and educators specifically. To others, connections have become an essential part of their profession. To others, spending time connecting with educators and educational sources are changing the way they teach. To others, connectedness has had a profound effect on their profession.

I am a connected educator. It has had a profound effect on what I do, and how I do it. It has taken me to places that I could not get to without being connected. It has taken me to discussions with the leading authors and educators of today. My connectedness has made me a better educator. I am also not the best ambassador for connectedness for educators. I am much too passionate about it. I tend to blurt out all of the great things about it and that in itself intimidates people. When I see the great value in something I become a passionate advocate and that also causes skepticism in some people.

Being connected as an educator is becoming part of the profession of education. Connectedness leads to communication, collaboration, and creation. All of this enables, if not enhances, learning. Learning is what our profession is about. Educators must get over all of the obstacles they are putting up about connectedness. It can be done slowly, one step at a time, but it must be done. We need educators to be connected.  I was always intrigued with the other “connected” with the pinstriped suits with bulges under the arms.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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