Archive for January, 2013

This weekend I was again very fortunate to attend what many consider the premiere education Conference held each year in Philadelphia, EDUCON. It is the sixth year of this conference and it seems to just keep getting better with each year. It is not at a huge venue. It has no Exhibitors, so there is no Exhibitor Hall. There are no massive dining rooms. There are no planned Gala events. There is no schedule of Keynote speakers. Participation is limited to about 500 people. Students, rather than adults are the support staff at the conference. Without all, or even any of the usual components of a national education conference, how is this a premiere Education Conference?

EDUCON takes place in Philadelphia each year on the weekend between the last weekend of the NFL playoff games and the weekend of the Superbowl.

The venue is a school, The Science Leadership Academy. Compared to many American high schools it is relatively small. For that reason participation numbers are comparatively small when considering other education conferences. The result is a dimension to this conference lacking in others.

The close proximity of participants in a small area with chairs and tables strategically placed in hallways all provide an intimacy not experienced elsewhere. This is important because the very people who are presenters at EDUCON are also participants at the presentations of others. They are also the very people one sits next to at lunch and in the hallways and at other sessions. Engagement is constant and meaningful with educators and thought leaders. It is also happening at all levels: student, teacher, administrator, parent, author, and consultant.

Here is the other difference; every presentation is not a presentation, but rather a conversation. A team of people moderates most of these conversations. Each conversation usually has a group participation component. Group work is very common at this conference. The follow-up discussions from the group work are the driving force to what many refer to as the deep thinking provided at this conference.

I think my greatest take away from this conference had nothing to do with the ideas of Entrepreneurship or innovation, which seemed to be a threaded theme of this conference. It was the focus of two panel discussions. I am having a difficult time defining those terms in the context of education. However since it is an up and coming and ongoing theme among some thought leaders, I am sure we will all spend more time determining these definitions as well as how they pertain to education.

What I came away with was to me a more relevant idea as an educator. I saw a focus on teaching learning as a skill and not a consequence of content delivery. The ideas of thoughtful, and deep questioning of a subject, before tackling it, as a problem to solve was a striking revelation. The idea of teaching the use of the process to acquire the content knowledge as opposed to just providing the content made so much more sense to me. All of this emphasized the “How” to learn as opposed to “What’ to learn. I saw this as a much more meaningful goal for educators. Teaching the skill of learning as the focus of the lessons is a shift from what many do. Learning too often is a consequence of content being poured into the heads of students. Some students get it some students don’t. Throw enough wet spaghetti at the wall and some will stick. That seems to be a hit or miss method for success. More often than not, there is less success.

Teaching Learning as a skill certainly increases the chance for successful learning. That is what I took away. Inquiry based learning, and problem based learning are much more in line with teaching learning as a skill than lectures. Lecture and direct instruction will always have a place in education but they should never be the focus for method of delivery. The question is what percentage of our educators continue to do so, often because that is the way it has always been?

EDUCON challenges the status quo of education. EDUCON promotes deeper thinking leading to more meaningful questioning. If we are ever to find the best answers to our difficult problems, we will need to be asking the right questions. EDUCON promotes that. I believe I am a better educator for attending this conference. The shift in education, that we all strive for, will begin with the type of thinking promoted at EDUCON.

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If there is one thing that Social Media in education has taught me it is: Never answer for someone else’s need to know! In a world of discussions using tweets and posts there is an audience for discussion on any level of experience on any given subject. The subjects that I deal with most often involve Education, Social Media, or Social Media in Education.

The Posts and Tweets I ponder the most are those that deal with the very basics of these subjects. I always worry if a basic explanation is just too basic for an audience of professionals. I too often make an assumption that what I am about to write in my post is too basic, and therefore no one will have any interest. To my surprise, almost every time, those are the posts that are more often, the most read on my Blog. Writing a blog is a subject that I have covered before, “What’s the big deal about Blogging?“
Doing that first post was the biggest hurdle for most bloggers. There are a number of ways to start that first post. I started by doing a guest post for Shelly Terrell Sanchez, @ShellTerrell. She encouraged me and took a chance that my post would not turn off those who followed her Blog. Step one then might be to find a Blogger and make a friend. There is another way to take a first step. Many Ning communities have a page for Blogpost contributions. Contributing a post to one such site enables one not only to see an idea published, but it may elicit responses from other community members as well.

However one gets there, the ultimate final step is to create a personal Blog. There are a number of Apps one can use to house the Blog. I use WordPress. Many friends use EduBlogger. Google now offers free Blogging space. All of these Apps walk a novice through the setup with easy to follow instructions, and prompts. It is far less complicated than creating a website.

Creating the Blog is the most work one will need to do. After that it is all Reflecting, Writing, Promoting, Rinsing and Repeating. It is amazing how with a little time the subjects keep popping into one’s head. I did not put myself on a schedule, but I attempted to think of something to write each week, sometimes two weeks.

Reflecting and writing should be reward enough, but any idea not shared is just a passing thought. The whole idea of the Blog is to publish one’s ideas for the purpose of sharing. With that in mind, promotion of one’s site becomes a part of the experience. Twitter for me is the tool that I use to drive people to my site. A quick description, title, link, and the range-expanding hashtag #Edchat combined go a long way in attracting readers.

Once I publish a post on my blog, I also return to those Ning communities of educators. I place my post on The Educator’s PLN, ASCDEdge, and School Leadership 2.0. at the very least. I sometimes go to other sites as well. There is no single path to the success of a Blogpost. I have offered the strategies that have worked for me. However one gets there, there will be benefits of learning along the way. Once the Blog is established however that is when a learning transformation can take place. The computer is the 21st Century publisher. Blogging has now become a large part of our culture as educators and citizens. Those who participate in the writing posts, benefit much more than those who only read posts.

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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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Confidence, as an educator, is something that is not a skill to be taught. It is not a method to be memorized. It is an attitude. It is a state of mind. It is also elusive to many educators. How do we foster confidence? How do we enable educators to be confident in their profession?

To answer the question of confidence, I rely on my understanding of what I know of my own struggles with confidence. I am only confident in areas that I have a proven knowledge of the subject. I think most people are like that. If one has an understanding of any given subject, then it is easy to speak out on it. Teachers are confident in their subject areas because they have been well versed in the specifics of their subject.

Of course there are exceptions. I find many English teachers are lacking confidence in the area of grammar for instance. Since they lack confidence, they are less likely to emphasize grammar in their teaching, causing their students to be less than confident in grammar as well. And so, the cycle begins. Consequently, we have great number of people hesitant about putting their thoughts in print, fearful of ridicule for grammatical errors. Spelling is another area where many lack confidence. Thank God for spellcheck, but that is not grammatical, and a whole other story.

I imagine that every subject area has some aspects that teachers lack the confidence to teach well. This lack the confidence may prevent them from delving deeply into it with their students.

I think the same principles may apply to education as a subject as well. Some teachers may lack confidence as educators to delve deeply into their own profession. That not only has a negative effect on what they need to be doing for success in the classroom of today, but it retards the possibility of innovation in education all together. Educators lacking confidence in what they are doing will never venture beyond that which they know. Well, that doesn’t bode well for the paradigm shift for which we have all been waiting.

Knowledge is the key to confidence for me. I would like to think that is universal. It would then stand to reason that with knowledge comes confidence. As educators we come equipped with knowledge of our profession from our teacher preparation courses. We are equipped with knowledge about our subject areas from our academic courses. As we began our careers we were confident in our knowledge but we lacked confidence in our experience. Time enabled that experience confidence to secure itself.

As time goes on change begins to become more and more evident. The very things that we were confident about before may be different today. The knowledge that we had may no longer be applicable for today. Methods that we confidently depended on may no longer apply to a culture that has changed by time. While time is an ally of experience, it is the enemy of relevance.

Technology may provide a fix for educators if they are willing to invest some time and effort for the sake of their profession. Some schools have a supportive culture with supportive staff and supportive administrators and progressive, ongoing professional development, and unlimited funding for the latest advances in technological tools for learning. If you are not in one of those schools however, you need to connect with people who can offer some element of that support. With that connection, you will be exposed to the knowledge in any area needed that will provide the confidence to move forward. The number of connected educators available today offers a virtual cornucopia of knowledge in almost any subject imaginable to those who are connected. The number of connected educators far outnumbers the educators in your building, district, state, or region of the country. Connected educators are a global connection. Connected educators without the impediments of time or space may access boundless sources.

Now here is the Rub. Too many educators lack the confidence to try getting connected because they lack the knowledge about how to do it. Some will need to be led by those with confidence to take them there. This requires leaders to be confident. How many school districts have administrators, who are the leaders, confident and knowledgeable to lead their schools to connectedness? Maybe teachers need to take the lead here. The Internet does not recognize titles. As we must do with English teachers and grammar, we need to break this cycle. Leaders need to overcome their lack of confidence in the area of technology to lead educators to connect. Teachers may need to step up to lead administrators to connectedness.

If we can get our educators communicating, collaborating, and creating collectively, we will increase our knowledge about our profession. We will become more relevant in a technology-driven culture. We will be more confident in the face of mounting opposition driven by business and politics. All of this is possible as we individualize or personalize our learning with Professional Learning Networks. How do we enable educators to be confident in their profession? It all begins with a tweet.

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It has come to that time of year that we all sit back and reflect on what went on in our lives over the last 365 days. For some of us older folk this yearly indulgence has become more of a legacy measurement than just a checklist of what was done last year.  At this stage of my life I find myself in a unique position to help connect and engage educators in huge numbers and using methods that were not imagined a few years ago. I might say that this is an assessment of my digital footprint. I guess that this post is more for me than it is for others, unless some people view it as a possible model of accomplishment in a second career after education. The open secret to all who know me is that I am not a Tech wizard, and it is only through the use of Social Media and technology that any of these accomplishments could have been created having the effect that they have had.

SmartBlog on Education
One of my proudest accomplishments this year has come from my affiliation with SmartBrief. SmartBrief launched a new Blog for educators this past August. I was given the task of recruiting the best education bloggers available to contribute to the Blog. I viewed it as an opportunity to engage educators back into the national discussion on education that in my opinion had been hijacked by politicians and business people. The blog has been very well received getting 25,000 hits daily. Contributions from many of our best educator bloggers provide one or two posts daily.


Educator’s PLN

The Educator’s PLN continues to grow. It was conceived and constructed to offer sources and connections to educators so that each educator has a source to develop a Professional Learning Network. The Ning site is fully funded by a not for profit philanthropic organization. The membership now exceeds 14,000 members. We have added a number of additional Pages this year to meet the need for additional sources for the members.


My Island View

I am still astounded at the way this Blog has been received by educators. It is a project that was originally for my own reflections. I was micro-blogging on Twitter and I needed a larger platform to expand ideas and vent frustrations. This was an experiment. I never expected anyone else to take an interest in what I had to say. (So much for my insight)



Edchat has been a great force in education through Social Media for over three years now. Thousands of educators recognize Tuesdays as Edchat Day. Over the last three years educators each week have been able to discuss the issues in education that were close to them. The discussions often started in the Edchat discussions seem to spill over to education blogs in days and weeks later. Five Topics are presented each Sunday with the top two selected topics being presented for the two Tuesday Chats.

#Edchat on Twitter Tuesdays Noon & 7 PM EST

#Edchat Radio

My latest endeavor is in the area of Internet Radio. The folks at the BAM Radio Network approached the Edchat team about creating a show for Edchat. Our idea was to analyze and comment on the Edchat discussions taking place each week. We are also going to invite participants from each Edchat to participate on the shows. Each of the Edchat team members will be featured on the shows. Steven Anderson @Web20classroom, Shelly Terrell Sanchez @ShellTerrell, Nancy Blair @Blairteach, Kyle Pace @Kylepace, Jerry Swiatek @jswiatek, Jerry Blumengarten @Cybraryman1, Berni Wall @rliberni, and Mary Beth Hertz @MBteach.



Wise Summit

I was both fortunate and honored to be invited by the Qatar Foundation to attend the WISE Summit, The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). I attended this international summit in the company of fellow blogger, and friend Steven Anderson. This was an eye-opening experience for us to begin to understand the needs of education on an international basis. The worldwide need for education to reach all children in consideration of all of the hindrances and obstacles can be an overwhelming task. Through the efforts of many of the dedicated people at this summit there are inroads being made. I was humbled and proud to be part of this endeavor.




LINKEDIN: The Technology-Using Professors Group

I started my Social Media adventures as a user of LinkedIN. www.linkedin.com/in/thomaswhitby/

Today I have almost 1,000 connections, mostly educators. This has become my professional Rolodex. I started my first education groups on LinkedIn and they are all still up and running. The first Group I ever started was The Technology-Using Professors Group. It has always been an active group for higher Education educators. Today its membership numbers at about 7,000 professors.




The one thing that has enabled me to accomplish any of what I have done is TWITTER. It is the backbone of my Professional Learning Network. I have tweeted 44,475 tweets. I am following 1,983 educators. I am listed on 2,111 lists of Tweeters. I have 26,964 followers. I view this all as a big responsibility to all to whom I am connected.

Thank you all and Happy New Year!


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