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Archive for November, 2012

Twitter has been a topic for educational Bloggers for several years now. I believe that those educators using Twitter are drawn to those posts, while other educators, not using Twitter, are driven away. Maybe the problem is the emphasis, or focus of the blog posts. Maybe the focus should be on relevance and no mention of twitter. Are educators relevant in our technology-driven society?  The obvious answer is that some are, and some are not. A more important question is which of these two groups is growing?

I earned an advanced degree in Educational Technology over 30 years ago. From the day that I received that degree, things have evolved at an unbelievable pace, driven by technology. Not one piece of the hardware or software, that I used to earn that degree, existed five years later. How does any educator keep up with the changes not only in technology and methodology of the profession, but the content of subject matter itself, as well as worldwide change? The world today is not the same world of even five years ago. How do educators keep up with all these changes?  Relevance today is much more elusive to educators than when public education was conceived and introduced. We have gone from incremental changes over long periods of time to huge almost systemic changes, in some cases, in a matter of months.

In the distant past, teachers were able to maintain their relevance based on printed journals, newspapers, and magazines. Annual or semi-annual workshops often tied things together. Change was slow and it was simpler to keep up with things with these simple methods. As change began to speed up, the methods of maintaining relevance remained unchanged. The methods of information have now almost totally shifted from the print media to the digital media. Web sites and blog posts have replaced education journals. The print media, as an industry, has drastically shrunk in size, as digital the media has expanded. Educator relevance has fallen behind as a result of a fast-paced, ever- changing, technology-driven society, combined with an antiquated method of relevant professional development. The evolution of change is faster in the world than it is for the system of educators who teach about that world.

Educators need a better way to communicate about change in order to maintain their relevance. Collaboration may be the key to this problem. If we could connect those educators who have managed to maintain their relevance in this new reality to those educators who need to be brought up to speed, we will be well on the way to needed reform. Educators could connect, and discuss what works, and what doesn’t. If we only had a way to share the websites, or, better yet, free online webinars? If we only had a way to engage educators in real-time discussions on topics of education not going on in their school settings? If we only had a method to provide the latest methodology in things like blogging, BYOD, the flipped classroom, portfolio assessment and authentic learning? If we only had a way of doing all of this with little impact on precious time?

Too bad an application of Social Media like Twitter was developed for such a frivolous purpose. It was set up so that people could quickly send stupid, unimportant information to other people. It allows celebrities to conduct meaningless discussions with fans. It allows fans to keep up with up-to-the-minute facts about any celebrity they have an interest in. It enables an exchange of useless and silly websites, blog posts, videos, and live, celebrity interviews. It is really a waste of a good application.

If only an educator with the highest of degrees would invent such a collaborative tool for educators to do all of the same collaboration with real valuable education stuff? Maybe, until that time arrives, when a prestigious application designer develops a prestigious education tool for education collaboration that receives the approval of all educators for use in their noble endeavors, maybe, just maybe, we could consider using TWITTER. It might be the quickest and best method to acquire and maintain the relevance necessary to be an effective educator.

I must admit that this post comes from the frustration of listening to the many excuses from educators who choose not to use Twitter. Relevance is the prime consideration for using it. Twitter is used by many educators as the backbone to their Professional Learning Network. Why would any educator argue for his or her irrelevance? If Twitter is not for all educators, what applications or methods are they using to maintain relevance?

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When I accepted an invitation to attend the World Innovation Summit on Education, WISE2012, in Doha, Qatar, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. In my own arrogance I thought I was a seasoned education conference attendee. I have been to maybe a hundred education conferences both good and bad. I planned or helped plan at least a dozen local or statewide conferences. I even considered myself an experienced critic having done several well-received posts on various professional education conferences. There was very little in all of that which prepared me for what I was to experience in Doha.
The idea that I had about an international conference relied heavily on my ISTE experience. After all, The “I” in ISTE stands for international. It never occurred to me that I would need an electronic translator to understand what was being presented or being asked about by presenters and audience members. Translators were given out to everyone before every session. I was not prepared for the number of security checks. I never realized how people needed to adhere to cultural protocols. After all was said and done, I realized that the life, of an American educator, is in worldly terms, a sheltered life indeed.

The more I attended sessions at WISE2012, the more I realized that this was not an Education conference that focused on the needs of educators, but rather it focused on the needs of education. Those are needs, not of the educators, but of the learners. Those are needs not of school districts, but of countries. This was truly the needs of education on a global scale. Many of the educators at this conference were not academic teachers, but administrators of NGO,s, Non Government Organizations established for the purpose of providing education.

Education of girls came up time and time again as clarion call of this conference. I could easily understand that call with my American perspective. I clearly understand that there are cultures in the world that do not consider women equal to men, and therefore, they believe women are not entitled to an education. As true as that is of some countries, that is not the reasoning behind that clarion call. The reason obvious to many at this conference, other than me,was that, if we educate a woman, we educate a family. It is a simple explanation to address a complicated problem. Many countries depend on women to be the teachers. These countries do not always have the luxury of selecting college graduates. They often rely on women with an education that culminated somewhere on the secondary level. The fallback position for educated women would be that at the very least, they could educate their own families.

Another area hampering education throughout the world is the lack of infrastructure, as well as barriers of country and climate. The Qatar Foundation through WISE provided funding for the development of floating classrooms. In an area of the world where seasonal flooding dictates the progress of the country, students, who are cut off from roads to their schools for extended periods of time, can now be safely served by these solar-powered, floating bastions of education. This innovation sponsored and funded by WISE will be supported and duplicated in areas that require such solutions to advance education.

My final eye-opening issue is the problem of educating students in areas of conflict and war. Americans are fortunate that we are not a nation involved in armed conflict on our own soil. Our children, with few exceptions, do not come under fire on the way to school. Their lives are not threatened as a direct result of getting an education. These are not factors that hold true for all countries. Conflict at best constricts education, and at worst destroys it. This is an issue that faces many countries, but it is not complicating the lives, or is it even on the minds of many Americans. It is an issue that must be addressed.

These are only some of the issues discussed at the WISE 2012 conference. This conference does not lessen the problems discussed at American education conferences, but it does give them a different perspective. I was profoundly affected by many of the issues at this conference. It was attended by not many classroom teachers, but by a great many educators. There was far less discussion about methodology and more about the survival strategies of education. This was a necessary and powerful meeting of policy makers and organizations that deserve support and recognition for what they try to do every day for our world. An educated populace is the key to making our world a better and safer place. Collaboration of concerned world citizens is the only path to that goal. This was the WISE Education Conference.

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A few weeks ago I received an email invitation to attend an education conference with all expenses paid. This is done to get the conferences noticed in the education community. It is an expense and a necessary element of Public relations. Depending on the quality of the conference, sometimes it pays off, but sometimes it exposes flaws of a conference to the world of connected educators. This is not an uncommon practice, and as a connected educator, I look upon it as an opportunity with each occurrence. I have been afforded a number of such opportunities since becoming an education Blogger.

What really struck me about this invitation however is that it came from an organization called WISE and it took place in the organization’s home city of Doha, Qatar. I consider myself an educated person, but like many Americans, I am only familiar with maps of vacation destinations, and war locations. With the advent, and exception of the GPS those are the only real maps I ever look at. Sad commentary, I know. My ignorance of the geography of Qatar was complicated further by personal prejudices stemming from it being, in my mind, a country of the Middle East. I am not consciously prejudiced against, or do I hold responsible, the Muslim religion for the events of 911. I am however, a New York educator who was personally and profoundly affected by the events of 911. I did have to overcome some personal hesitation, as well as family concerns in order to accept the invitation. The world is a much more dangerous place. All of that being said, I am very glad that I accepted the invitation, and flew to Qatar for the International Conference of the World Innovation Summit for Education, WISE 2012.

Of course the icing on the cake was that my close personal friend, connected educator, and fellow education Blogger, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, was also invited, and accepted the invitation. I did need to prompt him a little, but I did not need a cattle prod to do it. I am sure that Steve had many of the same reservations, so travelling together helped ease those trepidations for both of us. We were even able to schedule our 13 hour flight with adjoining seats. Life is good.

Qatar Airlines was very impressive, but it was the organization of the logistics team of Wise that was really impressive. Our sole contact was a young woman named Nandita, who was a delight. Her team was able to invite and move and collect educators from all over the world, while jumping through every international hoop placed before them to complete their task. They were also able to accommodate the individual needs and desires of the educators as well. It was a daunting task, well accomplished.

My next question was how does a plane with over 400 passengers get off the ground? My second question was how does it stay in the air for 13 hours? Answers to both questions were stated to my satisfaction through the accomplishment of both. The Airline was incredible, and the meals, snacks and beverages were all included and expertly delivered on the flight. The crew of over 20 people was wonderful. The passengers were a truly international representation with Americans in the minority. Since the flight left at 9:30 PM New York time, most of the 13 hours involved us trying to sleep. That was not an easy assignment.

At one point I managed to get about an hour into a really great snooze when I was half awakened by a beep. This was followed by a male flight attendant tapping me on the shoulder saying, “ Sit Lower”! Of course even in my twilight sleep, I wanted to immediately comply with each command, so as not to appear to be The Ugly American, so I attempted to sit lower. I had no idea what that meant. My seat was all the way back, and I was as scrunched down as low as I could get, but I tried to scrunch down further. I only hoped my attendant would be pleased with my best attempt to comply with his command to “sit lower”. As he came back down the aisle I could not contain myself any longer. “What did you mean by “Sit Lower?” I asked.

He answered, “I am sorry sir, I said, ‘Seat Belts On’, as the seatbelt light went on.” I was very grateful the lights were out and most everyone continued sleeping, including Steve seated next to me. I really felt dumb at that point and not at all like an international education blogger.

Upon arrival we were herded to school buses which would rival most upscale buses in America. They were air-conditioned with comfortable seats, seatbelts and an information display at the front of the bus. The bus ride took us through a city that was lit up to show some of the most interesting architecture I have ever seen. Although we had just eaten breakfast on the plane three hours earlier, it was now 8:30 PM and we were at an alcohol-free cocktail party with incredibly delicious finger foods. That would be the eating with fingers, as opposed to the eating of fingers.

At this mingling event we got to talk to educators from around the world. They were interested in what Steve and I had to say about what we did as connected educators who Tweet and Blog and present at education conferences. We were interested in how WISE provides money for innovative education programs and recognizes educators. This WISE 2012 conference will hopefully prove to be a most productive event. It again underscores the fact that in today’s world everything global is local and everything local is global. I look forward to Tweeting and Blogging more on this as the week progresses. Watch for the Hashtag #WISE2012!

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Today I attended the 39th Annual Conference for the Association of Middle Level Education in Portland, Oregon. I actually presented for this group for a couple of times about 25 years ago when it was The National Middle Schools Association. That was back in the day when we had far fewer middle schools. The model most often employed back then was the Junior High School. Junior high schools were 7-9 mini high schools. Little kids, little problems (what were we thinking?).

The middle school movement changed that for many school districts. It supported a more collaborative model for educators with a team oriented approach to education. I was a high school teacher for Six years, a junior high school teacher for ten years and a middle school teacher for eighteen years. From that perspective I describe middle school educators as teachers of kids, and high school educators as teachers of courses. I also describe elementary teachers as saints. That is not meant to disparage high school educators. Their job is to prepare students for a college environment which will be, unfortunately, far less supportive or nurturing for students.

I did not participate in many sessions today, but I did study the extensive program, and I did stop in to a number of sessions to get a feel for the conference. My focus at education conferences is no longer as a classroom teacher, but as an educator supporting professional development as a path to education reform. Through that lens, I was amazed at how little the sessions of this conference had evolved in the many years since I presented.  Many, many of the sessions were hour-long, PowerPoint presentations with a period of time at the end for questions and answers. In one of the sessions that I monitored, the presenter would not take any questions until she finished her PowerPoint.

I always wonder why experienced educators with a firm grasp on learning and methods of teaching would subject their audience of adults to presentations that they know would never work with their students. For some reason, many teachers abandon what they know, to become what has been modeled to them as the method of how an educator should present to colleagues, rather than employ proven methods of teaching. How many people can retain information delivered in Text-laden slides spanning over an hour of presentation and only 15 minutes if interaction? Let me be clear. This was not done in every session, and sometimes it may be the only way. The trend however should be taking presenters to more effective methods of presentation. Presentation is teaching, and that is the subject we as educators are experts in.

The other big thing that stood out to me was the subjects of sessions that were provided. The topics covered many of the important issues of middle level education. There was however, much duplication. This could be good for the purpose of planning on the part of the attendees. It enables them more flexibility in scheduling their personal slate of sessions. It also offers different views of the same subject. The downside is that redundant subject sessions limit the total of topics to be presented.

Of course my most critical comment would be the lack of technology not in the delivery of the sessions, but within the subjects of the sessions. Yes, it is not an ISTE conference, but education is now employing a great amount of technology with in many cases limited professional development for educator’s specific needs in their specific subject areas. More sessions in any conference need to be tech-oriented supporting Technology Literacy in education for educators, as well as students.

With that thought in mind I began observing how many of the participants were connected educators. I did hear the Marzano name mentioned in a few sessions, so I believe there is some connecting going on, but is it enough? I could only identify about a dozen tweeters at the conference who back channeled sessions. I do not believe any of the sessions were being live streamed to the internet. I was impressed with the mobile app supplied for the program. That might have been why so many participants were looking at their phones. Middle School educators are the most team-oriented, collaborative educators in our education system. I could not understand why the tweets were not flying fast and furiously.

It was then that I began to consider my own Twitter Stream, my Personal Learning Network. At a glance, I realized that much of my network, although global, is weighted on the east coast. Whether I was personally connected to these folks or not, the #AMLE2012 hashtag still should have approached trending. That never came close.

The idea of connected educators should be a focus of all education conferences. Criticisms aside, this was a wonderful conference that offered educators a shot in the arm to get those creative juices flowing. People come off of a conference like this ready to move up. The problem settles in as time passes. The idea of being connected enables those educators to keep those juices flowing. The great boost that educators get at the conference is enabled to continue beyond the conference. Although many education conferences meet some needs of educators, often times there are simultaneously missed opportunities. Things are moving too fast for missed opportunities.

This, as I explained, is my view through the lens of an educator interested in Professional Development leading the way to education reform. We cannot have professional conferences that focus on supporting the status quo. We do need to effectively share what is happening in classrooms today. The greater need however, is what should be happening in whatever we decide will be the classrooms of tomorrow. This is my lens, my observations, and my opinion.

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