Archive for February, 2013

I love when they do on the street interviews on Jimmy Kimmel Live. They have a set of questions on a topic and they go outside the studio and ask people on the street a series of questions. One of my favorites was a survey they did on the improvements of the iPhone 5 over the iPhone 4. They handed an iPhone to each person surveyed and asked them how they liked the improvements of this iPhone 5 over the earlier model the iPhone 4. Each respondent went into great detail on the vast improvements of the phone that they held in their hand over the older iPhone 4. What the respondents failed to recognize was that they were actually holding an iPhone 4.

Another interview asked people’s reaction to the Grammy awards televised the night before. The questioner even asked about specific artists and incidents that occurred. Each respondent had something to say about each of the questions and some were passionate about their answers. Of course the joke was that the Grammy’s were scheduled to air the following week and had not yet happened. So much for passionate answers. Yes, I do know that many other interviews were probably edited out, but the point made here is that people will answer questions whether or not they have a real knowledge of the subject, or in some cases ANY knowledge of the subject.

Now, I go to consider what is often done in education, surveys. Let’s consider a tech survey. Do we qualify the people taking the survey or do we ask everything of everyone? Do we define terms? Technically, overhead projectors, email, and PowerPoint are all technologies. If a teacher uses all of these technologies, is he or she a technology-savvy educator? Is the use of a PowerPoint presentation the incorporation of technology into a lesson?

When we ask if a teacher is using technology in lessons, do we assume that technology is being used properly? Many, many schools have purchased IWB’s, Interactive White Boards. Not as many schools have purchased proper training for their teachers in the correct use of those whiteboards. Consequently, we have a great many Interactive Whiteboards being used as blackboards and video projectors. Any computer used as a hat rack is hardly an effective use of technology. How does that fit in our tech use survey? The same is true of the tablets and 1 to 1 use of laptops. Naming a program and providing tools does not insure proper use unless adequate training and support are included. Teachers having access to the tools and not the training are still part of these Tech surveys and their opinions might very well skew whatever results are obtained. In a world of data based decision-making how does faulty research affect important decisions? It brings to mind that old tech expression: Garbage in, Garbage out.

Let us consider what we do when someone throws out a survey on a school or district wide level. Let’s make sure we are asking the right questions of the right people, who have a full understanding of the questions. Getting even passionate answers from individuals who have no real knowledge of the topic can only lead to poorly made decisions. Of course the best solution to all of this is to make sure all teachers are trained well enough to be relevant and have a working knowledge of all that is needed to teach in a technology-driven society. We should do a survey on that!

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Every Friday on Twitter, Tweeters will make recommendations based on their personal experience of exceptional people to follow on Twitter. As an educator, if I follow those recommendations I will almost certainly improve the quality and quantity of tweets I get on education since educators are the people who I follow for my own Personal Learning Network. Each of these tweets of recommendation will be tagged with the telltale hashtag #FF. This identifies them as such a recommendation and allows the hashtagged tweets to be aggregated.

In the evolution of Twitter it has become possible for each tweeter to create lists of people being followed into categories. Lists could be created for math teachers, or Administrators, or organizations. This would allow a tweeter the ability to aggregate tweets from a specific list dealing with a specific area of concern. It is another method of organizing information. These lists may be found in the profile of the Tweeter. A unique spin-off of this is that anyone can access anyone else’s profile giving access to those lists, as well as the ability to follow those very same people. If I have a great person that I follow offering great information, I might access that person’s lists to follow the same people they do. Their specific lists will focus my efforts even more.

Today, ever-trying to share good stuff, I decided to link out what I call “My Stalwart List” on an #FF tweet. It is a list of those, less than 100 people, from my big list of 2,000+ that I follow, who offer me up my best sources of education information. This is my personal Crème de la crème Twitter List. I shared that Link with my 29,000 followers, nice guy that I am. It was that act of sharing that brought my list to the attention of one of my female tweeters, a fact that I never even considered. I must admit to oblivious ignorance on this observation she made. My list was predominantly, male oriented.

How could that be? Of the 83 educators on my Stalwart list, only 23 were women, 28%.  I asked, in a profession dominated by women, why do I have so few on my most influential list? I could understand it if I was dealing only with administrators because that is skewed in favor of men. The percentage of male administrators is not representative of the percentage of males in the education profession. It definitely exceeds it. Is it that Twitter itself appeals to males more than females? Could it be that women offer information more sparingly than men do? Could women be more passive when it comes to engagement in discussion on Twitter?

When I made my list up, my only consideration was who provided the most and best information and sources to me on Twitter. I never considered male or female, only tweeter. Do differences in men and women display themselves in the way each approach Twitter (The Venus and Mars debate)?

Thanks to Jennifer Borgioli ‏ @DataDiva I will never look at these lists the same. My #FF recommendation would be to follow her. She does vigorously promote gender awareness. The next big thing should be Educators of color on Twitter. Are they truly represented in the numbers that offer an equal share in the Social Media discussion on Education? I think not!

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I read a post recently talking about education leaders coming from teachers. That, in my experience, is a very difficult transition for really dedicated classroom teachers to make. They are too often consumed with doing what is needed to be a great classroom teacher. Even when professional education organizations recruit leaders for their own organizations on the state, or national levels, teachers from their ranks often cannot get enough release time from their individual schools to serve in the high-time-demanding positions required to move up the ladder of leadership in those organizations. Often times, administrators, or education consultants move into these organizational leadership positions.

I am not saying that Administrators are poor leaders, or bad people. I am pointing out that they have a unique perspective and often one not close to that of a classroom teacher. YES, there are exceptions, and every administrator reading this post probably sees himself, or herself as such an exception. The point here however is that, in many instances, the further away from a classroom that an Education leader gets, the less the leadership becomes about education and the more it is affected by other influences.

It is understandable how this change in perspective happens. Moving from the decisions about learning to the decisions about building management, staff management, budget management, public relations, labor relations, teacher observations, schedule maintenance, community relations, Board meetings, and political considerations as a focus to lead a school or district is a shift from learning considerations being the focus. Such is the stuff of administration, and understandably there is little time left for much else. It is no wonder that the average career lifespan in a district of an administrator is less than three years. Of course administrators leaving buildings and districts after such short periods of time complicates things even more in a negative way for a variety of reasons, but that requires another post.

Next, we need to consider the influence of technology on our leaders. Data is King. Administrative decisions can now be more easily made and numbers can be tallied in the blink of an eye. We can call it researched-based decision-making, because we have the ability to easily quantify things. We have the all-powerful numbers. The question facing our leaders would be what things to quantify. Do we have the right numbers answering the right questions? What should we be assessing and how do we do it? Does assessment always require testing?

Who gets to make up the questions becomes key. Our politicians are concerned with elections and they will be driven by whatever the popular sentiment is, whether or not it is based in fact, or if it has an impact on learning. Our business leaders will be driven by whatever is profit bearing, whether or not has any bearing on learning. Then we have the media leaders who are driven by both the leaders of politics, as well as the leaders of business, and of course popular sentiment will drive the entire bus with all on board.

There are many things that are wrong with our education system, which cries out for leadership and change. Of course the greatest negative influences on education, which are often overlooked, come from the outside. Issues like poverty, security, safety, nutrition, health, and family support are some of these issues. That is all further complicated by political interference, as well as a mythology built around learning, motivation, and real assessment of learning. How are these measured? How will any core curriculum or standardization change these factors of influence? Non-educators claiming enough knowledge about education constantly legislate, and mandate many things that prove to educators to be counter productive to learning. Why is this met with such little resistance from educators? A better question might be why have educators been quiet about their objections?

Why were educators removed from the national discussion on education? How did education leaders allow this to happen? Who stood up for education?

Ask educators today where they stand on standardized testing and compare that answer to the national agenda. I believe they will be diametrically opposing positions. Who are the education leaders that allowed this to get so far from where we should be going? I wish I could point to the leaders standing up for education. I wish we could point to specific people directing the reform movement beyond just Diane Ravitch, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Michael Bloomberg. Those are the voices that have a platform, but how many have an education portfolio of experience?

I know the standout leaders of connected educators who speak out on many issues. I know Keynote speakers and education authors at National and statewide Education Conferences who regularly express many of the same the same concerns. They all seem to be cheerleaders for the cause of education, but have not found a way to lead educators. Is it the lack of leaders or the lack of access to a medium to get the message out?

“Why is this post filled with so many unanswered questions?” is a question that a leader should answer. Who steps up for education? Where are our leaders? What medium do we use for the educator’s voice? Politicians, business people and media people always have access to media and the public audience. Educators after being demoralized in too many cases are limited and seem to be far less inclined to speak out about needed reforms in education.  But then again, even if politicians, business people and media folks were to manage their own industries and get out of education, who will step up to fill the void? Who are the real educators who will lead the real reform for education?

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I recently got into a discussion with my friend Errol St. Clair Smith, Executive Producer at BAM Radio Network on the effect that technology has had on the news media. Many of the old tried and true guidelines of journalism have been forever changed with the 24-hour news cycle, as well as, news on demand. There is also the ability of anyone to publish at anytime and have the capacity of communicating tolarge masses with the click of a enter button (return button for Apple Folks). This has had a vast and yet-to-be-determined effect on not just the media, but our entire culture as well. The computer is now the Publisher. The smartphone is the video cameraman. Woe has been the newspapers and magazines that had failed to heed the call.

As educators we tend to only consider the effects of technology in Education. Technology has always moved us forward with many industries and professions falling by the wayside. Where have the blacksmiths gone? How many shopping center parking lots have one-hour photo processing booths? When was the last time a college student walked the halls of the dorm trying to borrow a portable typewriter to finish a paper? How many surgeons can operate today based on scalpel skills alone? How many factory workers have been replaced by mechanical Robots? This list could go on for several pages of text, but I will end it here, hoping the point has been made.

Almost all industries and professions have been at the very least affected by tech, and at most, some industries have been eliminated as a result of it. Where does that leave education and educators? I have often said that the biggest myth in education is that computers will someday replace teachers. Now in some respects, I am not so sure it is still a myth. There is the often-quoted expression any educator who can be replaced by a computer should be. I am not sure that the best of teaching may survive at the hands of ill-informed legislators. I am definitely not a conspiracy theorist. There are however, a number of efforts taking place in legislatures around this country that may have a profound effect on the way we deliver education.

There are any number of initiatives going on that, taken as single events, may be non-threatening, or even having a positive effect on education. The combination of these initiatives however, may have a profound effect on the way we deliver education.

Some states have now passed legislation requiring a percentage of education be delivered in a blended form. Blended learning is a combination of delivery of instruction using the classroom and the computer. There is legislation allowing Charter schools to circumvent many of the restrictions of public education. There is the movement to increase class size in every state. Even more troubling, most recently one state is considering legislation to remove certification requirements of teachers.

Looking at all of those pieces as a whole, there seems to be emerging a possible threat to end Public Education, as we know it. States can create an atmosphere where kids can be placed in charter schools with few restrictions using computer-driven education, directed by non-certified technicians, delivering education to hundreds of kids, maybe in a single class, who do not even need to be physically present in a school. All of which was made possible through state legislation. It is cost cutting and might address the tax concerns of many.

We do not want to start a movement for educators calling for a Rebirth of the LUDDITES. We do however need to have educators be educated on the need to understand and use technology as a tool for learning in an environment that supports it. Professional Development must be continual and supported by districts. Educators are the professionals of Education and representative of some of the very smartest people in our country. They should not need to look to politicians and business people to determine how best to educate our children. However, if educators relinquish their relevance, they may be eliminating their profession. Educators need to be in the discussion of education as relevant, educated, informed advocates. I believe this can best be accomplished by being connected and collaborative through technology. We can make it work for us, or surely it will be turned against us.

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I have read what seems like several, but in reality is probably a few blog posts recently that have claimed to have examined technology in schools and found that it has made little difference in learning. Of course many of these speak in generalities lacking specifics other than there is technology and there is a classroom and they observed stuff. When it comes to technology too many believe that by dropping it into a classroom magic happens. Even the most ardent supporter of tech will tell you that does not, and never will happen.

I recently talked to an educator in higher education who told me that they had just put a pilot plan in place to explore the use of a tablet in the classroom. On the surface this sounds great. The possibility of a class full of tablets and students exploring, collaborating, creating, and publishing through a relatively intuitive and somewhat inexpensive means of technology was inspiring. I asked exactly how the “Pilot Project” was structured. (Here it comes, be prepared.) Two teachers were given tablets, one an iPad and the other another type. They were secured by some grant. The professors were told to explore the possibilities. That was the pilot. It began and ended with the purchase of the hardware.

The teachers were not trained in the use of the tablets. The teachers were not trained in the applications that could be applicable to their course. The class was not supplied tablets to use in the class. The teachers were not given any direction other than “try this out”. This was a pilot for frustration and failure. Of course the outcome is going to be that Tablets Do Not Work as effectively as the tried and true methods of Lecture and Direct Instruction.

I have read other posts that talk about textbooks being placed on iPads having the same effect as textbooks in paper form with the exception of being cheaper. Why would anyone expect digital text to be different from printed text? The idea of technology melding with textbooks is to change the dynamic of the textbook altogether. Create a medium where text can be retrieved, read, manipulated, and used for creation collaboration and publication of new ideas. Enable that created project to be archived for future reference or portfolio assessment. That is the potential of a digital textbook.

Analyzing the effect of technology in the classroom cannot be effective or dependable unless we examine the training, and understanding, of the teacher, as well as the creative and consistent application of that technology for learning in the class. Does the technology address the needs of lesson?

I also want to be very clear on this next statement. Technology may not work for every lesson in learning. There are times when it works well; enabling things to be done that would be less effective without it. There are also times where it may not fit. If the technology is being forced where it doesn’t belong, the result will not bode well for technology in the classroom. This must be a consideration. We can’t use technology for the sake of using technology. I must add that with the pace at which technology is evolving, there are fewer instances where tech does not offer better alternatives.

Of course the call from many, including educators, asks for limiting technology access. Often the argument is for more face-to-face interaction being needed by the youth of today. More and more in their world, our students are texting and using social media for their interaction. That is not something that adults can control.  What is foreign to adults in regard to technology is just another aspect of their life for our students. The control of technology is no longer in the hands of educators. We cannot decide technology use for our students. If our culture slows down or decides to NOT use technology than we can stop teaching with it. Realistically however, technology will continue to evolve and that is the world in which our students will live.

Learning about technology and its application may be uncomfortable for some educators, but it is a necessity for all students. Understanding what we need to know and do in order to implement these tools for learning is a big step that many educators, have yet to take. A technology-driven culture moves at a rapid pace as the technology continues to evolve at an even faster pace. We need educators to understand that technology is not changing what we teach as much as it is changing how we teach. With continual change, we will need continual professional development. This cannot be done effectively if we base decisions on flawed observations and misconceptions about technology’s place in education. A worksheet is still a worksheet whether the text is printed or digital.

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With as many education conferences that I have attended, and continue to attend, I am getting to be quite the expert at least in the ability to compare and contrast the various major education conferences. I hope I am not one of the five blind men describing an elephant, but I did seek out opinions from other experienced conference attendees and presenters finding them in agreement.

Unfortunately for educators, most of these conferences are the same old, same old with little focus for the future with the exception of vendor-driven bells and whistles presentations. These however are not the essential things that will transform, and move education forward.

In no way am I implying that Conference planners are not dedicated, hard-working, well-meaning individuals. Putting on an Education conference is hard work and all consuming for many. The result should not be having someone trash it on a blog post. As educators, however, we must recognize formative assessment in the form of feedback and adjust our lesson (conference) accordingly.

As an English teacher, I am quite aware that the order in which essays fall in a pile can affect the subjective assessments of a paper. If an exceptional piece is read first, followed by a mediocre essay, the second piece might appear even less acceptable than if it came after a paper that was poorly written, in which case it would appear of higher quality. I offer this analogy because I came to Florida Educational Technology Conference 2013 almost directly from EDUCON2.5. EDUCON: Shift Happens

It is in the spirit of constructive criticism that I now proceed, but this criticism is not FETC13 specific. FETC was the catalyst that generated this reflection. It applies to many if not too many of our national and statewide Education Conferences.

Conferences are expensive propositions. The venue and accommodations for the conferences require huge amounts of money. To offset the expense to schools and attendees most organizations recruit vendors to hawk their wares, charging great amounts of money for space and access. For this sum of money, business needs and requires some say in what goes on at the conference. They need their reps and executives to have a say in the content of the conference. They need to do presentations and they want their people doing keynotes. They need to push the bells and whistles of their products regardless of pedagogy or methodology. Most are well intentioned and certainly experts in the application of their product as they see its application in the classroom. These workshops make up a good number of presentations. These are needed presentations, but they should not be the Conference focus. Educators presenting to educators is always my preferred presentation.

The really hard questions are: How can any Education conference today expect to succeed on presentations of tools and technology without real conversations on the Why’s and wherefores? What should the ratio of iPad-driven presentations vs. the need for collaboration in education conversations. Where do we deal with the big ideas? Where was the workshop on how we deal with the Teaching learning in an environment of standardized testing? Why can’t I find substantive conversations directed by educators about the difference between Assessment and Testing?

The Connected Educator was a focus in the month of August by the Department of Education. There were few conversations about connectedness, although my friend Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach did do one presentation. Why was there no place to connect educators available throughout the conference? “How to connect and here is the place to do it” should have a place at every education conference.

Relevance is a topic I often write about. I have also stated that to be really relevant, educators need to be connected. I think I can now say that about Education Conferences. To be relevant conferences need to be connected. The folks at FETC were thrilled to be trending on Twitter. I was of the opinion that was something that needed to be explained to too many in attendance including the planners. It seemed that the Twitter trending was based on the retweeting of a few heavily connected tweeters in the conference. Original tweets generated from the conference were few. It is that very connectedness of educators, which makes them relevant, that causes that grating sound in my head with every presentation that is a year behind the conversations of connected educators.

If Education conferences are going to be relevant, planners need to plan for it. They need to be in on connected conversations if they want to direct relevant conversations at their conferences. They need to revamp, or abandon methods of assessing RFP’s to get better educator-directed, relevant presentations and workshops. They need to incorporate more conversations as in the Edcamp model of professional development. They need to focus the conversations on the big ideas of education with less focus on the tools and toys, as much fun as they can be.

Of course this piece is based solely on my opinion. I would love comments from others who are conference attendees. What are the things that you would have addressed?  How can education conferences maintain relevance? I hope to continue to be invited to these conferences, even after this post.

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I just read a post by John Spencer, “Why Aren’t Teachers More Innovative?“ I was struck by a comment from a reader. The comment was a question; “What box? That prompted me to think about what “the box” was that so many educators refer to. My personal conclusion is that the box we generally refer to has different dimensions for each and every individual educator.

My understanding of the box, as it is referred to, is a set of limits. Why it has been assigned a square shape as opposed to round I don’t know. Maybe people find the angles of a square more restrictive and egregious than the supple curves of a circle. At any rate, and again this is my understanding, this box has specific boundaries outside which, people with innovative tendencies will strive to break “out of” in order to think.

I guess the first question is what is the box, and then where does it come from? Who created and placed this box out, in which educators must remain? The perimeter of the original box for educators begins with the model of education in which they teach from the early days of industrialization. The tried and true model of American Education that has been unquestionably supported lo these many decades. Of course the Federal, and State Governments have had a hand in establishing the perimeter and adding to the dimensions. The local district probably affects the size of the box most by either expanding, or more often the case, reducing the size of the box. That establishes the initial size of the box educators will be confined to work within.

Weather or not an educator gets outside that box, which is alleged to be a goal, will be determined by how that educator views the box. Although the goal is to get people outside the box, all of the methods of control within the system are designed to keep educators within the box or compliant. This of course is passed along as many educators place controls on students to keep them in their boxes as well. Control and compliance are key methods in our industrial model for education. Industries are based on that. Desks, textbooks, standardized tests, and even Higher Ed in many respects are multi-million dollar industries dependent on compliance of education and everyone remaining in the box.

The real keeper of the box however is the individual educator. The box is usually defined for people by other people. Acceptance of the box however is not always a given. Individuals may expand their box through the experience of others. Through collaboration, educators can experience how others have grown the box and in some cases broken free of the box. Sharing these experiences becomes an essential part of the profession to advance all. If we are to educate students we need to continually educate the educators. Many have jumped the box and that and that needs to be shared. Connected educators continually share these experiences. A key to outside the box is connecting with other educators. Of course this is an idea that will have to be taken to unconnected educators. This may require pen and paper, but it must be delivered to where these educators live. This is a similar method that we apply in the use technology to get to where our students live.

As educators we should NEVER argue for our limitations. In knowing that there is a better way to teach the skill of learning, if we do not pursue that as a goal, are we still the best educators. If we do not strive for relevance in education that is mired in the past because it is steeped in a nineteenth century model, will we harm our students? Teachers can see ’The Box” as an obstacle or a challenge, but “The Box” does exist and it must be recognized. The individual teacher determines the ultimate dimension of the box and whether or not to break out. In order for our students to employ out of the box thinking, we must employ out of the box teaching.

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