Archive for October, 2011

I read a blog post recently which talked about a gathering of technology product executives and politicians who came together to express their vision for learning using technology in education. The author seemed quite pleased with the ideas that were bandied about. I did not disagree that technology may play a big role in education, but I was struck by the fact that there were no classroom educators in the group. I am always offended when politicians step up to pose as education experts so I did leave a comment on that post and now I would like to expand my thoughts here.

There could have been five times that number of technology executives and politicians in that room discussing the changes in education which technology can make, and the end result will be little change. The missing element in that formula is the teacher element. If technology is to have a greater impact on learning, there better be teachers on that bandwagon. Technology by itself will sit and gather dust, unless teachers are shown how to use it to accomplish what they need to teach by using it. Forget about the paradigm shift in education for kids. We need a paradigm shift in education for educating educators.

The simple answer that most people throw out to address the problem of teachers needing to change, is to change the way we train teachers. Quite honestly, the training of new teachers is not where the problem lies. Young teachers are trained well in the philosophy and methods of teaching. The real learning however, what really makes a teacher, a teacher, takes place after a teacher gets a job teaching. It is the culture of the school and the district in which that teacher works that will have the greatest influence on that teacher. It the school’s culture that will allow that teacher to grow to his, or her greatest potential, or it will stifle that potential in the name of status quo. If the culture of the school does not support the use of technology tools for learning, chances are neither will the teacher. Of course there are exceptions, but most people go along, to get along when it comes to their job. It becomes a matter of the culture changing the new teacher rather than the new teachers having any effect on the culture.

The real answer for change is not just in changing the way we teach kids, but rather in the way we teach their teachers as well. The model for professional development used by most schools was developed for another time. If we are looking for a paradigm shift in education, we need to start with the educators. A great deal happens and moves forward in our world in a short period of time. Staying relevant today is not a passive exercise. It requires some amount of participation, involvement, or mental exercise. Technology offers the tools and opportunities to those educators willing to learn and use them. It is that will that must be worked on.

There seems to be little serious consideration for revamping professional development in anyone’s long-range plans. We espouse life-long learning, but we do not support it and few really practice it. It is a difficult task involving reworking contracts, and addressing long-standing procedures for professional development. It should be obvious that these methods are not meeting our needs so why not consider change? To make any effective change in education, as far as an impact of technology goes, concentrate on training teachers in technology. There might be 500,000 teachers actively collaborating and communicating using technology and Social Media for their personal professional development. That may sound impressive, if you fail to consider that there are 7.2 million teachers in the USA. Technology will have little effect on the children in our education system unless it has an effect on the system’s teachers first.

Give teachers the technology training that they need, and the support they need to use it. Don’t stress the bells and whistles of technology but specific ways it can be used for learning. Throwing technology at anyone without training and support is useless; worse than that, it is irresponsible, yet it is done every day in schools in this country. Educate the administrators in technology, so they can understand how outdated policies as well as policies based on knee-jerk reactions hinder technology in education. As long as we are instructing educators in Technology, it would be most helpful to instruct IT people in education. We need IT people and teachers blending their skills to make things possible, not telling each other how things won’t work.  Make meaningful professional development for teachers and administrators a priority and you may someday see a vision for kids’ learning enhanced by technology come true. The real paradigm shift in education must be in the education of the educators and the culture of schools.

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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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It is my birthday today, so please forgive me for allowing my contemplation once again lead us down a well-travelled path. I have discussed this topic in posts before, but it is a subject that will not go away as long as we have younger people working next to older people. As one of those older folks, I might better state it as the “rookies” working beside the “seasoned veterans”. Of  course all of this is further confused by the introduction of the digital native theory. For these, and some other reasons, there seems to be a growing divide between those educators who embrace technology in education and those who shun it. Somehow, it has become perceived by many, as a generational gap. The younger teachers are seen as the tech ninjas, while educators over 30 are all viewed as Luddites.

I believe it was Sir Ken Robinson who talked about technology not being considered technology if you grew up with it and it always existed in your lifetime. If we grew up in the time of horse-drawn carriages, the introduction of the car would be technology. Today we don’t think of the car as technology. What they put in the car however, is another story. Not the radio of course, we don’t think of that as technology. The radio has been around longer than cars. Video displays of rear views, and traffic-monitoring Global Positioning Satellite displays, now that’s technology. So,since we have always had cars, we accept them and expect them. We are now only awed by what goes inside them.

Of course in the olden days as technology was introduced it was at first very expensive. Many people viewed the ownership of any new technology a privilege. I remember a time when my family TV was the first one on our block. I remember moving the TV outside the house in the summer so the kids could gather around it. Later more TV decisions as more technology emerged. Families came together to discuss whether or not it was time to get a color TV. Today, none of this is even remembered, unless you are contemplating your birthday. Today there are no black and white TV’s. Every house has more than one. Mobile devices access television for on-demand service. The big decision now is should we go 3D? The TV is now a right for every American to own if they want to. It is not technology anymore it’s a staple of American life. Many of the same experiences parallel the advancement of the telephone.

Now we come to what many of us think of as technology in the classroom. I was around when 4 function calculators were introduced. My first one was $99 from Sears. It made averaging at report card time a dream for an English teacher. I remember first introducing computers to the class. I remember the first computer lab. My friend had, what we called, a Car Phone. It was a huge mobile phone that came in its own carrying shoulder bag. To an old guy like me this was all technology.

What about the kids of today? Have they ever experienced a time without cellphones? Desktop computers are on the way out in their time. Laptops are being replaced by tablets and cellphones are now smartphones. Our children are growing up with these tools. They don’t see it as technology. It has always been there for them. They expect Wi-Fi. They demand the right to texting. They grew up with iTunes and have no concept of vinyl, 45’s, albums, reel to reel, 8 tracks, tape carts, and digital tape. Our technology has been relegated to being artifacts of another time. Technology is developing at a speed that will only be increased with the development of more technology.

Now we read articles that question whether or not technology is needed in schools. We have administrators banning access and limiting technology tools for learning. Educators who view tech as something we are privileged to have. It is to be controlled and doled out until the controllers have a better understanding of it. The problem is that the controllers have stopped their curiosity for learning. They are not challenged by the new. Relevance is a word and not a reality for many. At the pace that things develop today it takes work to keep up. Learning is not a passive endeavor. Too many educators teach that to kids, but fail to practice it themselves.

This is not a generational problem. It is a learning problem. I grew up in a time when much of today’s technology was not even a dream yet. (Of course flying cars still are the elusive technology.) I am an educator. I recognize that what was commonplace in my world has nothing to do with kids today. If I want to affect their lives in any way I need to do so on their terms with tools for learning that they accept and will use moving forward. I grew up with a slide rule, I don’t think they are even made any more. Why would I use it to teach a kid who has a mobile app that will take him much further than a slide rule ever could.

We need to be more visionary about how we teach. We need to blend the tried-and-true methods with what our kids will be working with in the future. Textbooks may have worked well for us, but a new wave of eBooks is coming. Encyclopedias are fine, but compared to proper use of the internet, the encyclopedia will soon be the black and white TV of research. We need educators to be able to guide kids in using these technology learning tools to continue to learn. In order to do this, those teachers need to learn as well. As Technology advances, so does everything else. We can’t have everything  moving forward and our educators standing still maintaining the status quo.

When schools ask the question; how do we get our students to be media literate and responsible digital citizens? The answer to that is obvious. Schools need to first get their teachers and administrators to be more media literate and good digital citizens. We need to model what we teach. To be better teachers we must be better learners. To be better leaders we need to be better learners. This is not generational. Old and young alike can give up on learning. We see that every day.

As the owner of an education Ning site The Educator’s PLN I have observed a really neat thing about the membership. The site has over 10,000 educators from all over the world. Each member has to be approved by me in order to be in the community. The age of each member is popped up as part of the data. The observation I made that astounds me is that anywhere from 1/3 to almost half of the members of the site are 50 years old or older. These are technology active educators still continuing to engage in learning and collaborating.

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I was part of the professional development collaboration at New Milford High School in New Jersey yesterday. It was organized and run by my friend for many years now, Eric Sheninger. If you are active on Twitter, you know him as @nmhs_principal. As I attended this conference, I tried to figure out why this felt a little different from other conferences. It was not an Unconference, yet it was clearly not a typical organization-led, schedule-driven conference of the past. It seemed to be a blend or a hybrid of the best of both types. Where Unconferences are social media driven, this was premeditated and planned. The preparation of the workshops however, did not push topics of the tried and true, tired topics of tech in education like many of the organizational conferences. The topics were relevant, cutting edge, and somewhat social media driven. Most of the speakers were from the ranks of social media. I think every educator/speaker on schedule is in my Professional Learning Network. Many are stand-outs to me. They are people I go to with questions. They are bloggers who I follow. They are people I seek out for conversation.

I think it is important to note that the history of social media as we have come to know it, doesn’t go so far back in time. Yes there were list serves going years back, but they were generally populated by Tech-savvy individuals. FaceBook, Linkedin, and Twitter becoming integral parts of what we are calling Professional Learning Networks only started gaining traction three to four years ago. That is the time when many of the social Media stand outs began their collaborative trek.

The other speakers on the schedule were provided by Teq, a company that provides technology to education, as well as the training to maximize the use of that technology. Teq was the corporate sponsor of the event. Education should take note of how businesses are beginning to take positions in Social Media spaces. More and more companies are beginning to sponsor or provide Free Webinars, Podcasts, Discussion Groups, and Seminars online. They are developing and owning content on the web other than advertisements. Sponsoring a conference of Social Media-driven educators is another way in. Please don’t get me wrong, I see this as a good thing that should be encouraged. The more we educate educators, the more we can educate our children. It is all about continuous learning, and that needs to be promoted. It is that Life-long learning thing, that so many profess to kids, but fail to follow on their own.

Tapping into the collaboration for learning seems to be the key to success for many conferences today. Of course, the key to success can also be the Kiss of death for any conference, or workshop that is not relevant, or meeting the needs of those who attend. Social Media holds a mirror to the world in that respect. It reflects to other educators the good, the bad, and the ugly. As a presenter, I must say we all have our bad days, but we can only hope it will be a day with few Tweeters in the room.

The Edscape conference was very well received. Some blog posts began to spring up even before the event ended. This was one such enthusiastic post fromThe Lamp Light. One Ironic note to the program however, was that even with so many of the speakers being Twitter devotees, only one included his Twitter handle (hold over term from the CB days) and that was @teachpaperless. I know I will include @tomwhitby on my stuff for conferences moving forward.

It should be obvious that the name Edscape itself is a blending of words. Of course the challenge to me and the way I view things, is to figure out if it is a blend of Landscape and Education, or Escape and Education? I guess I am leaning to escaping education as we know it today. I would like to think that Social Media is allowing the collaboration and transparency to do so. I do have to keep reminding myself that there are 7.2 million teachers in America and only a tiny portion are trolling the waters of Social Media trying to net learning and collaboration.

I had a wonderful time at #Edscape. I would love to see more of these conferences spring up around the country. We are seeing more Edcamps and that is a good sign. We as teachers often do a good job with what we do. Where we fall short is in telling people about it. We need to be better marketers. We need to market what we do, and how we do it. We need to involve other educators as we do this. My surprise in attending these collaborative gatherings comes not from how good they are, but from the surprise in others who are experiencing this great collaboration for the first time. 7.2 Million is a big number when you have to win over one at a time.

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I recently posted another video of a Diane Ravitch interview with CNN. There are now several videotaped interviews of Diane Ravitch standing up for education reform on The Educator’s PLN. It was with this last post however, that I realized that aside from Diane Ravitch, I could think of few others who stand out on the National stage in support of Education reform beyond something more than supporting the status quo of additional standardized testing or increasing its influence in education.

It would seem that only leaders chosen by the national media or politicians are leading education reform. The “man on the street” interview also plays a huge roll in what is going in education today. The politicians who control the purse strings of education seem to depend on the businessmen who control the purse strings of politicians for advice on how to improve education. After ten years of increased dependence on standardized testing at a cost of billions of dollars with little improvement in the system, we must wonder why we continue down this path. The four companies benefiting most by these testing policies are: Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, Riverside Publishing (a Houghton Mifflin company), and NCS Pearson. Suspicious minds might wonder what lobbying efforts these companies have in place to secure testing in national education policies. More on that here: The Testing Industry’s Big Four

Where are the leaders passionate about education and learning? I can’t believe that they don’t exist. We have institutions of Higher Education teaching courses and programs on educational leadership: where are those graduates? Where are the panels of educators discussing not the failure of the system, but rather the failure of standardized testing to make positive changes? More testing does not equate to more learning. Why is this not being articulated with passion to the public?

Who will stand up passionately for a profession targeted as the reason standardized testing has failed for all these years? Who will stand up and say that it is the policy of testing that is the failure?

After ten years of policies that have not worked, I find it hard to believe that there are no education leaders that have not put together a better way to do things differently for a better outcome. Finland has been pointed out as a world leader in education. The question was then posed: How can we compete with Finland? Where are the leaders who should be screaming: What can we learn from Finland? Finland gives NO standardized tests. They do not spend months in test preparation. They teach and their students learn. Where are the American education leaders to lead us to the same policies and outcomes as Finland? We need leaders to learn from Finland and not attempt to beat them in some imaginary competition for world domination in education. Competition is the way of business and politics. Collaboration is the way of education. We need leaders to make that point clear, but few are coming forward.

Ask why standardized testing is not working and fingers are pointed to the teachers, unions, tenure, length of the year, homework, class size, professional development and even the length of the school day as problems preventing positive testing results. How many education leaders have pointed to the tests themselves as being flawed? Certainly many of these issues need to be improved, but even if all of those issues were changed, I would venture an admitted biased opinion that there would still be problems with the standardized tests. I cannot be the only one who thinks this. How do we convince leaders to stand up for educators and education? What do we do to show our support for these people? It seems to me that Diane Ravitch has many supporters, but why are no other education leaders coming forward in a national forum?  Where is the collective voice of educators? Of course there is always the possibility that I am the only one who sees it this way. Your comments on this are certainly welcomed.

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