Archive for October, 2014

In the 21st Century our approach to education can and should be very different from previous centuries. The basic skills we teach are pretty much the same, but the tools we have to use require a different approach, as well as additional and very different literacies from centuries past. Information once difficult to find, maintain, and disseminate is now found by a voice command to a mobile device. The model of the teacher as the content expert standing in the front of the room, lecturing to rows of students taking handwritten notes to memorize and regurgitate on exams delivered after every unit of learning, seem now to be a dated model, at least in some classes around the country.

With access to more free-flowing information than has ever been available to mankind in any centuries past, our approach to accessing, curating, collaborating and creating with that information must change as well. There came a time when monks were no longer needed to transcribe books because of the printing press. There came a time when the Gutenberg press was replaced by a mechanized letterpress and that was later replaced by high-speed offset presses. Today, the idea of the printed word is being replaced by the digital word. With each step forward there are those who are more comfortable with what was, compared to what is. That is to always be expected. Eventually however, we all move forward.

The model of education that most of us are products of was designed for a different time and for a different purpose. The system was created to benefit industry as much, if not more so, than it was to create a freethinking society.

Technology, contrary to science fiction writers’ predictions, will not replace teachers. It will however change the model of how we teach from the 19th and 20th centuries, which was teacher-controlled and teacher-directed learning to a 21st century model of learner-directed learning. The teacher becomes more of a mentor and co learner with students. When it comes to teaching students in the 21st century I have come to believe that it is more important to teach kids how to learn than it is to teach them what to learn.

A very great disconnect in all of this occurs when we try to use the 21st century technology tools for learning and fit them into the 19th & 20th century model of teaching. I have witnessed English teachers having students do a composition assignment. They had students do a handwritten rough draft, revise it, do a final handwritten copy, and then put it on a word processor without accessing a spell check or grammar check. Those teachers learned that way, and taught that way, and added the technology to their 20th century model of teaching. The tech tool was not used for learning. In their future lives those students will certainly use word processors for any writing that they do. Is it not incumbent on their teachers to teach students how to do it correctly? (Yes, as an adult I effectively use a grammar check and a spell check on everything I write. Most people do, even the really smart ones.)

Another example is the Interactive White Board, IWB. It can be a great tool for interactive lessons in a 21st century class, but in the 20th century it becomes a great way to show kids videos as they sit in rows.

Being an educator in the 21st century will require a change in mindset. We are mostly all products of a 20th century upbringing. That is where we are grounded. We have been programmed to it in every way. As technology begins to change things, we naturally want to fit it into what we know and do. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where that no longer works. We need to revisit how we do things in education. If the 20th century methods were working, we would not be having all of these discussions about education.

We need to understand that teaching students how to learn will serve them much better than teaching them what to learn. As educators we need to keep in mind we are teaching our students for their future and not our past. Technology will continue to evolve. That is the nature of what it does. If we adapt and stay relevant, we survive. If we stand still, we will fall behind and we will no longer be relevant.

Placing 21st century technology tools for learning in a 20th century environment for learning is a losing strategy. We need to update our approach as we introduce new tools designed for learning. The pedagogy is still key, but the technology is an accelerant. This is not intuitive. It must be taught. We need to better prepare educators, as well as change the culture.

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I have always been a big picture kind of learner. If I had a picture of where I was supposed to go, I had a reason to learn the various parts I needed to know in order to get there. Once I got there, I would try to figure out if that was the place I wanted to be, or if I could make it a better place. Once I understood what I needed to do as an educator, I worked to put all of the components in place. When I finally got there, it was not all I believed that I was promised, so I worked to make it better.

My education career started in the early 70”s, so the sources I had to work with back then were limited. My collegial support group was about eleven other English teachers. Stretching my teaching experience was limited to what I was allowed to do within the building, in which I taught. I later found that those limitations varied from building to building depending on the leadership and culture of each school. My development as a teacher was limited to the small amount of professional development offered by the district, and whatever courses I could afford to pay for on my own. I discovered, totally by chance, the power of education conferences. My department was told to send one teacher to a statewide reading conference. No one wanted to go and I was the most junior teacher in the department. The choice was simple.

The conference was not unlike conferences today, minus the tech stuff. The overhead projector was the primary presentation tool. What grabbed me the most was the exchange of ideas among the participants, as the presenters led them through sessions. It was mostly “sit and get”, but there were spontaneous gatherings in hallways and dining tables. I was being exposed to ideas not discussed in our department meetings, because our department’s isolation from these ideas prevented us from their consideration. Of course the intent in sending me to the conference was to use me as an emissary to connect my colleagues to the ideas presented at the conference. Of course I was quite able to convey the words, but not the experience.

A key factor in changing what we do is the ability to reflect on what it is that we are doing. To improve that reflection, it is most helpful to know about alternate considerations. What are some choices? What perspective do others have on the same subject? What has worked and what has failed? Are there totally new ideas or methodologies that are being used in education that can replace the old ones? All of these questions come to mind if one has a mindset for continuously learning and improving within the profession. The 70’s were not kind to people of that mindset because the answers to too many of these questions were too hard to find. Collaboration was limited, difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

Forty plus years later the world looks very different. Technology, which has always been a driving force in America, has advanced to a point where collaboration is easy, affordable, global, and almost ubiquitous in our culture. The very things that slowed change in the 70’s have been eliminated. Collaboration, always a great source of learning has moved up the ladder of learning to get beyond the limitations of just face-to-face experience.

In a recent Twitter exchange with two educators I greatly respect, Dean Shareski, @Shareski, and Bud Hunt, @Budtheteacher they expressed a concern that it would be better to teach students reflection than it would be to promote connectedness. I think when it comes to students I would agree. When it comes to adult learners however, I think that exposure to other ideas through collaboration stimulates reflection. I consider that a key element to this whole connected educator mindset we talk so much about.

After my own reflection on the subject, I see connectedness for educators as an accelerant for reflection. It promotes self-reflection, as well as reflection on education as a system for learning. It also stimulates reflection on the pedagogy and methodology within that education system. The whole idea of connectedness relies on the hope that educators are reflective. If they are not reflective, or lack the vision of the big picture of being connected, then we could have Connected Educator Month, every month for the next twenty years and never affect any change in the system.

Reflection is key to a collaborative mindset. The more we discuss this with our unconnected colleagues the faster we can connect more educators. If we reflected on our need for change and felt that change was not needed in what we do as educators, there would be no need to collaborate and we would continue with the status quo. Although there might be a few educators thinking along those lines, I believe most see a need for, at the very least, some change in what we do and how we do it. The more reflective we are about this, the more we will seek to expand that reflection with guidance, experience, support, validation, sources, and colleagues through the collaboration provided by our connectedness. I see them as separate entities that support each other. The more we collaborate, the more we reflect. The more we reflect, the more we need to collaborate. Being connected, for me, has expanded both my collaboration and my reflection. My goal is to get others to do that as well. Using technology to connect more educators with a reflective and collaborative mindset is the best hope for an education system in need of change.

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Being connected is not just limited to educators as a method of directing an educator’s professional development, but rather it is a shift in culture in the way all people may collaborate and learn. Educators have seized the initiative claiming it to provide collegial collaboration, transparency in schools, as well as its ability to personalize a path to professional development. However, it is a shift that is taking place globally, and the educators’ use is the tip of the iceberg. That is the glaring fact that underscores the need for all educators to be connected and digitally literate. It is not to keep up with colleagues, or achieve social media notoriety, but rather to keep up with the shift in the way all people will approach learning as the digital divide begins to close at an ever-increasing rate.

The only thing that surpasses technology’s ability to simplify our lives is technology’s ability to complicate our lives even more. If change in our world occurred as slowly as it did in previous centuries, it would take far less work to stay relevant. Our culture however has become technology-driven, which promotes change at a pace never before experienced in history. This is not a condition that will slow down. If anything, the evolution of technology will produce much more stuff at even faster rates of speed. That is the world that we are all moving to. That is the world that we are preparing our students to hopefully strive and thrive. As much as the use of technology for learning in a classroom is far less a choice for educators, a connected mindset for an educator or learner is even less a choice.

When it comes to education, the ways of past centuries in terms of methodology and pedagogy no longer serve our needs. We can all be nostalgic about the “good ole days” when content was king and the teacher was the unquestioned expert of all things. That may be a place that existed in the past, but it has no place in education today. The Internet contains more information than any educator could possibly know. With the rapid changes taking place everywhere in our society, we can no longer predict the specific needs for students to live in the world in which they will live. Many jobs today were not in existence when the people now doing them were in school. All of this leads us to realize that teaching kids what to learn is not as important as teaching kids how to learn and how to continue to do so. Life long learning is no longer a lofty sentiment, but a cultural necessity for surviving in an ever-changing world.

This connected mindset comes at a price for educators. It requires more time to collaborate with others. It requires a practice of reflection, which is often talked about, but less often practiced. It requires at a minimum a digital literacy to competently use technology where appropriate for teaching. It requires a change in the concept of a teacher from that of a content expert to that of a lead learner and mentor. Change is never easy or comfortable. It requires learning ways to do things differently. People do not usually volunteer to give up what they are comfortably doing in order to do something that requires more work, time, and other inconveniences. It is that fact that leads me to question how long this connected-community-of-educators idea will take to catch on. More importantly, when can we expect connectedness to be ubiquitous as a mindset for all educators, for that is where we truly must be?

This shift in education will take place. It is a question of how long will it take us to get there? As a conservative institution, education has often been behind the curve when it comes to change. That is one of the reasons a call for innovation has come so loudly from so many voices. We have a rare opportunity to get ahead of the curve, if we recognize collaboration and connectedness through technology not only as the needed change for educators, but an accepted form for learning for everyone. Digital literacy will become as important in this century as reading or writing were in the earlier centuries.

I am growing weary with the rate of time it is taking for this change to take place. I believe that we must be the patient in getting all educators on board, but we must keep moving toward that goal. Patience for the Unconnected was a post I wrote for last year’s Connected Educators Month. My position on connected education was much more tolerant in the first year of Connected Educator Month when I posted: The Connected Conundrum for Education.

What prompted me to revisit this again with a stronger belief for this needed change came from three connected colleagues. People whose opinions I hold in high esteem. Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp who wrote about the drawbacks to being connected in this post: The Downside to Being a Connected Educator. George Couros’s @gcouros comment in my last post also caused me to rethink a little: Whom do we need to educate? The post that had the greatest effect on me was from a prolific blogger and friend Mike Fisher @fisher1000 Connected Professional Development Is Now An Imperative 

If there is a better way to learn and teach than we are now employing than we need to support it. If the ways of the last two centuries were working well, we would not be having so many discussions of reform in education. The technology is not going away, so why shouldn’t we use it to our advantage? We need to hasten the change to better meet the needs of our kids, not just for their needs today, but what they will need in their future. To better educate or kids we must first better educate their educators. We can’t have the same conversations on connectedness every October without some expectation for change.

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