Archive for June, 2010

When Shelly Terrell and I first discussed the idea that spawned #Edchat neither of us had any idea what it would become. It started as a place to begin, conduct and record some thought-provoking discussions about topics in education that we had an interest to discuss. We created the hashtag, #Edchat, selected a time, contacted Steve Anderson for techy help, and we were off and running. We started with a few people who followed us and we discussed topics on the fly.

We began to involve more and more people, and soon needed more of a structure. Steve developed our #Edchat Poll and we began to publicize the established day and time of the chat. It truly was a case of “If you build it, they will come”. It was that simple. We were not building on other models. We were not pioneers, but more like novices on Twitter. We were in new territory, but we knew that we needed to develop strategies for success. We added moderators as we grew, and we needed to archive the sessions to accommodate those who were not able to attend live. Being educators we constantly assessed, reflected, and modified.

The hashtag, #Edchat, soon grew beyond a hashtag for a discussion. It was now a place for educators to shout out their ideas for education to an audience far beyond the limitations of their personal followers. Anyone following the #Edchat hashtag would receive those tweets. Additionally,we needed to create an afternoon #Edchat to involve the global Time zones. There are now requests for a third chat to involve more time zones. The chats grew from fifty participants to well over a thousand for every session. During an #Edchat tweets come in at a rate of about one tweet every second. We had a need to create a Facebook page to accommodate more people. We also created a Wiki Page to act as a depository for the #Edchat Archives. It has grown far beyond that which we originally discussed almost a year ago.

Considering the size of the chat, and the speed at which ideas fly in, participants need a strategy to get anything from #Edchat. The first consideration is to select a platform to maximize the flow of information. I use TweetDeck others use Tweetgrid. The last thing one wants to use is the Twitter platform itself. I need three screens. One screen follows #Edchat. That screen rolls by quickly with everyone’s #Edchat tweets. The second screen is for my Mentions. Anyone directing a tweet directly to me appears on this screen. The third screen is my DM or Direct Message screen. This is for any followers sending me personal messages during the #Edchat. Others have their own strategies, but this is what works for me.

There is no way for anyone to follow every #Edchat tweet as they roll in at a rate of over 3,000 in an hour. My strategy is to look at this as a very big party. I can’t talk to everyone, but I can pick and choose a few folks to converse with. I start by posting a few provocative educational questions pertaining to the topic. Usually, two or three responses will roll in and we are off and running. More and more people join in as we go. There are many discussions like this going on simultaneously in an #Edchat. The only way to see it all is to review the Archives which are posted shortly after the #Edchat conclusion. The official length of an #Edchat is one hour, but many people hang in longer to continue.

The Live engagement during an #Edchat creates a great deal of energy. Participants are usually enthusiastic and driven in their contributions and responses. The lasting effect of #Edchat, however, does not happen until after the chat is over. Almost immediately educators who participated begin posting to their blogs those ideas that were generated and expanded during the chat. Even more posts appear during the week that follows with more reflection and deeper thought on the topic discussed.

Beyond the great subjects explored during the #Edchat there are a few other elements that I appreciate about this weekly event. The ideas are the center of the discussion. Members of the #Edchat discussions are students, parents, teachers, administrators, professors, authors, and some people just interested in the discussion. These participants leave their credentials at the door and discuss the topic with their ideas and contributions evaluated with equal weight within the discussion. The ideas stand on their own to be reflected upon and evaluated based solely on their own merit without regard to who contributed the initial thought. Contributors do not seem to be limited or discouraged by the 140 character limitations.

I know this has all been said before and written about in a number of Educational Journals, as well as many Blogs, but there is always someone who is just joining us or creating a Professional Learning Network. We are even highlighting #Edchat to educators by conducting a large group participation #Edchat at the upcoming ISTE10 Conference. Anyone having questions may contact me on Twitter @tomwhitby.You may want to join us on The Educator’s PLN Ning at http://www.edupln.com. Visit the #Edchat Page on FaceBook at http://bit.ly/aN71KJ. Check out the #Edchat Archives of all the previous #Edchat discussions at http://bit.ly/c6yowP.

Your comments about this post or #Edchat are most welcomed here.

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This post needs a bit of a disclaimer in the beginning. For several years I was a member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education, NYSCATE an ISTE affiliate. Like many Educational Technology organizations its mission is to promote the use of technology in education. This organization is similar to many other State wide organizations of other states with the same basic purpose. The leaders of these organizations are volunteers, some paid, most unpaid. These are people who work hard for long hours in support of these organizations and the mission.

That being said, and this being my post, I am going to openly reflect on technology organization stuff. These are my reflections as an educator and a former director of an educational technology group. If it were a lesson, I would assess, reflect and then change things as needed to become more effective. Since I don’t lead any of these organizations, I guess I stop at reflection. I have no ability to change things.

Technology in Education has always been a sticky subject. It requires understanding, training, modeling and innovation in order to be successful in the system. Some districts have recognized this and have had great successes. It is still a lesson to be learned in many other places. The mission of the Educational Technology organizations however, goes beyond a few forward-thinking districts. That term “forward-thinking” itself implies that technology is the future in education and not the now. My question to start would be: If the purpose of Educational Technology Organizations is to achieve ubiquitous use of technology in education, how do we do a formative assessment of that mission? Technology is always evolving, but many of these organizations were formed in the 70’s and 80’s. After over 30 years of striving to promote Technology use in Education, how close are we to ubiquitous use. Yes, we are using more Tech than ever before, but many places are still debating its value in education. We may also be using more technology because there is so much more to use, which has little to do with the influence of these organizations.

“Top Down” and “Bottom up” are two of the ways Technology is adopted in schools. As a classroom teacher, I was always partial to bottom up stuff, because it came from other teachers who used it successfully with kids. Top down to me meant it was a product that an administrator was sold on, with limited knowledge of how it worked, or what was involved for the teacher to make it work. Mandates are rarely successful. My experience has taught me that people need to be lead and not directed. Leaders cannot demonstrate a product and overwhelm folks with bells and whistles and tell them that they will use it from now on. We lose the required understanding, training, modeling and innovation in order to be successful. If you doubt that, look at the Interactive Whiteboards placed in schools all over the country. What percentage of these expensive boards are being used as Video, or PowerPoint projectors.

Now we need to consider the leadership of these organizations, as well as, who participates in their conferences. Being a leader in any of these organizations requires a huge amount of time. Time to a teacher is not negotiable. The flexibility of time is more in the domain of the administrators. It stands to reason that it is easier to provide release time to an administrator than to a classroom teacher. Therefore, it stands to reason that more administrators than classroom teachers run these groups.

The perspective of the teachers in the organization is; “how do I get kids to use this technology to learn?” The Perspective of the Administrator is; “how do I get my teachers to use this Technology?” both of these perspectives must be considered, but it must be in balance. As Administrators monopolize the leadership, that balance seems to be lost. There is almost an elitist air about these organizations. Classroom teachers are the very people we need to attend these conferences. If you ask a classroom teacher if they would attend an ISTE Conference and you then explained what ISTE was, the response would be simple. “I don’t teach Technology, why would I attend that conference?” It is my observation that some of the leadership of these organizations shift focus. The focus shifts from the success of the mission to the success of running the group. To some that comes down to the success of the conference in attendance and buzz. Attendance is measurable, Buzz is not.

A goal should be to involve as many classroom teachers in the synergy that is evident at any of these conferences. It would be hoped that while they were pumped up with the conference high, they would advocate for tech with their fellow teachers. That would be “bottom up”. Who really attends these conferences anyway? I do not even know if that data is tracked. I do know from personal experience I saw a great many administrators repeatedly attending the conferences year after year. Not that anything is wrong with that, but if a majority of the attendees each year are the same administrators who deal with technology as part of their job, where does that leave the classroom teacher and the group’s mission? It should not be an elite club for technology administrators.

Before everyone starts to run to the comment box to blast me on the elite club comment consider this. If these organizations were not being perceived this way by a large group of educators, why are Tech camps springing up all over? Teachers have been filling the void. They are doing their own mini conferences. They are providing sessions on the Internet. They are involving educators in technology in greater and greater numbers. PLN’s for teachers are providing information and collaboration that these organizations have not provided to the classroom teacher.

Educators are striving everyday to be relevant. That is why Professional Learning Networks are expanding by the minute. When we talk about education Reform, relevance is a big part of it. We need relevant Educators. The same can be said of Educational Technology Organizations. They are needed and necessary. They need to focus on their mission and not their organization. If they put the mission first the organization will succeed. Again this is not an attack, but a reflection. If we cannot see where we are going wrong we cannot adjust to correct it.

Now you can run to the comment box and blast away!

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An assumption is a proposition that is taken for granted, as if it were true based upon presupposition without preponderance of the facts. There are many assumptions in education that are common in many schools from many districts. Some assumptions can be a hindrance to education reforms. Because these assumptions are believed by many educators to be true, they plan and make decisions based on these assumptions as if they were facts. Assumptions are not facts, but people continue to believe that they are. By the way I have no way of proving these statements that I am about to explore before you. I am making the assumption that my observations over the length of my career are proof enough for me to make generalizations.

First Assumption: Kids know more about technology than the teachers. We do not have to deal with technology since they know all about it.

Kids; are cell phone masters, can program DVR’s (VCR’s before that), text, use social media, download mp3 files, download videos, and use search engines. All of these abilities, however, are not a mastery of technology, although it might seem so to those who are even less technologically skilled.

Second Assumption: As an educator, if I can do PowerPoint presentations, I am effectively integrating technology into education.

With the introduction of a vast array of Web2.0 tools technology is cheap and abundant with applications to search, analyze, collaborate, create, communicate, and present. PowerPoint as good as it is, has become a digital Overhead projector. It is still useful, but limited compared to combinations of applications available.

Third Assumption: Colleges will turn out students to become teachers with a complete understanding of technology and education integration.

Many Colleges are using more and more Adjuncts. Many of these Adjuncts come from the ranks of secondary teachers, often older and many are retired. These are the very same educators who failed to integrate technology into education to begin with. They are believers of the first two assumptions.

Fourth Assumption: Senior teachers will never change; they are burnouts and will never take the time to learn new things.

As the founder of The Educator’s PLN Ning I accept members to that site every day. Many if not most of over 4,000 members are over 45 years of age. Veteran teachers are becoming targets and victims of assumptions. They are the highest salaried teachers, so the reason for targeting should be obvious. The fuel for this might be those senior teachers who do burn out, or refuse to professionally develop, but we are talking about a few and applying it to the whole.

Fifth Assumption:  Administrators do not need to go through Professional Development. It is geared to teachers and not Administrators.

Administrators are our educational leaders. They need to model that which they expect their teachers to do. It goes without saying that they need to understand pedagogy to assess teachers’ lessons. Why should we not expect them to have a working knowledge of the newest tools of education as well?

Sixth Assumption:  If we teach every bell and whistle in an application, teachers will see its worth and make it work in their class.

IT people need to understand that teachers need to fit the tool to the lesson not learn the application just to create a lesson. Professional development is very important for educators to stay relevant. I received a Masters degree in Educational Technology and none of the software or hardware that I learned on even exists today. Without Updating with PD I could not enable my students to effectively use the tools that they will need to be effective educators in our digital world.

I have offered a feast of assumptions which I have observed. I assume that you have your own favorites from you own experiences. The point of this post however, is not to swap war stories. We need to question and reflect on assumptions that are stalling change in our education system.

The biggest assumption: If I teach the way I learned, they will get it. We don’t need this technology stuff. If it was good enough for me it will be good enough for them.

I could continue the assumption list, but unless you have been living in a cave you should get the point and see some comparison of my examples to your own experiences. Feel free to comment here on assumptions that you are aware of and expose them. The sooner we dispel this stuff the sooner we can focus on what is real and get on with change. By the way I believe that my assumptions about these assumptions are factual.

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