Archive for the ‘Back channeling’ Category

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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During the weekend, I attended my fourth #EdcampNYC. I have attended or participated in about a dozen Edcamps nationwide. I think that puts me in a solid position to make a few considered observations on the subject. In the interest of full disclosure, SmartBrief and SmartBlog on Education have supported the Edcamp Foundation during the past year.

The Edcamp movement has been around for a few years. It is a widely known professional-development format that was spawned from social media educator connections. Most connected educators are familiar with it, but most educators are not connected — hence a need for explanation and definition. I know that the model is based on BarCamp in Philadelphia. I have no idea about BarCamp. I know the image I have in my head, but that has nothing to do with education.

I am familiar with the unconference aspect, which is the driving organizing premise of Edcamp. There is no set schedule of sessions provided to participants as they arrive at the venue. There is usually a breakfast spread and a huge amount of coffee in a gathering area to start the day. Participants see a blank schedule displayed for sessions. Session times and rooms are clearly seen, with no descriptions. Session descriptions are created right then, by participants. All sessions are discussion driven. Although some people come with prepared materials to share, those materials might or might not be the focus of a session. Blank cards are available to participants who have a specific topic they want addressed. Each person writes that topic on a card to establish it as a session. Usually, the person proposing the session heads up the discussion. It is amazing how the establishment of one topic spurs the establishment of a related topic, or something on the other side of the education spectrum. The establishment of topics gets people talking about and exploring subjects that they might not have heard of before Edcamp.

The selection of topics stimulates discussion and questioning amid participants to determine where they will go, what they will attend and what they should expect. There is another element to the Edcamp model that is often not seen in other PD formats. Participants are encouraged to quickly assess the relevance of a session. If they do not find personal value in a particular session, they are encouraged to move on to another. When selecting a session to attend, participants need to consider backup alternatives. That is called “The Rule of Two Feet.” My best description of this is that it is a face-to-face, real-time, social media discussion. It is the application of a digital culture in a real-world situation. All sessions are open discussions that are patient with, and respectful of, all participants.

Edcamps are free to participants, but it takes a Saturday commitment to participate. That means educators in attendance are there because they want to be there. We must ask: If this is so popular and inspiring, why aren’t all schools employing this PD model? To answer that, I have to go back to a session for administrators at the last annual ISTE conference. Some founders of Edcamp presented a great session to educate administrators who might not be connected educators. The intent was to explore the possibility of using Edcamp as a source for PD from within the system. Edcamp is almost solely organized by passionate educators working outside the system. There was one question coming from admins repeatedly: “How do we control it?” The answer was clear. You don’t control it! Edcamp’s success is based on trust and respect, as well as a personal drive for professional development. It is the educator’s personalization that some of these administrators did not seem to get. Their questions seemed to indicate that they did not trust the ability of educators to properly determine what they needed in PD.

The Edcamp movement continues to advance with the passionate support of connected individuals. Hopefully, we will begin to hear from progressive-thinking administrators more interested in real education reform than in controlling what and how teachers are developed. Administrators’ control should be second to educators’ development. Edcamp should not be the sole method of PD, but it should be considered a serious addition to tools that develop educators. In our fast-changing, technology-driven culture, we need educators to be continually learning so they provide a relevant education to students. To be better educators, we need to be better learners.

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This is a difficult subject to write about without being labeled smug, arrogant, conceited, or all three, but that is a risk I take. The Bammy Awards took place recently. If you never heard of The Bammy Awards for educators, there is good reason. They were invented this year. From the Bammy Awards site  we have this: “The Bammy Awards acknowledge that teachers can’t do it alone and don’t do it alone. The Awards aim to foster cross-discipline recognition of excellence in education, encourage collaboration and respect in and across the various domains, elevate education and education successes in the public eye, and raise the profile and voices of the many undervalued and unrecognized people who are making a difference in the field.” This was a first time event sponsored by BAM radio. “The Bammy Awards is organized by BAM Radio Network, which produces education programming for the nation’s leading education associations. BAM Radio is the largest education radio network in the world with 21 channels of education programming available on demand and hosted by the nation’s leading educators and advocates.”

I was doubly honored at the Awards in its first year. I was asked to present an award in the Most Outstanding Education Blogger category, and I was recognized along with 19 other Bloggers as Outstanding Education Bloggers to be recognized by the Bammy Awards. The stage was filled with educator bloggers who I read, respect, and from whom I try to recruit guest Blog posts for SmartBlog on a regular basis. A great number of those recognized are regular contributors to SmartBlog for Education.

Connected educators from around the world would recognize the twitter names of those honored. These are their real world names: Adam Bellow, Angela Maiers, Chris Lehmann, Deven Black, Erin Klein, George Couros, Joyce Valenza, Kelly Tenkley, Joan Young, Kyle Pace, Lisa Nielsen, Mary Beth Hertz, Nicholas Provenzano, Patrick Larkin, Shannon Miller, Shelly Blake-Plock, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Shelly Terrell, Steven Anderson, Eric Sheninger, Joe Mazza, and Tom Whitby. I know and respect each of these people as individual educators. They each continually contribute and share ideas to move education forward.

And now to the point, I asked most of them a single question that has always plagued me ever since I became connected. Do the people in your own district know who you are in the connected world? With few exceptions the answer is “No, they have no idea”. The very people, who connected educators look to as the contributors of ideas to the global discussion on education, are not recognized by their own peers. They have to fight in their own districts for the same things we all fight for. Their notoriety and celebrity in the connected world carries no weight whatsoever in the unconnected. They struggle to get permission to attend the very education conferences that they power with their presentations. They are looked up to by connected superintendents, yet may go unrecognized and undervalued by their own principals. How did we get here? What is it about being an unconnected educator that sets out a different set of values than those for connected educators? What makes a person valued in one education setting and unrecognized in another? What makes the connected world of educators so different from the unconnected?
I also recognize that the conversations are different between connected and unconnected individuals. Often, the unconnected need to be brought up to date on many things, which usually cannot be accomplished in one conversation. I was stunned that at a recent faculty meeting where people (unconnected) were intrigued by this new idea of a flipped classroom. “What’s that?”

It is upsetting to me that there are two conversations going on in education. There are two sets of values now in education. Of course, I am counting on the readers of this post to be connected and understanding and appreciating all that I have said. The sad truth is that a majority of our colleagues don’t get it and never will until they become connected. Being connected is an opportunity for educators to learn and maintain relevance. It is not arrogance or conceit to think this way, but rather the result of a technology-driven world where collaboration through social media can be a tool for the common good. We need to work harder at getting people to connect, if we want to move forward at a faster pace to reform. I also like the celebrity sometimes.

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Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real-time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.

Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.

What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.

Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.

Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.

Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.

Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.

If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?

And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.

My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is, and from now on will always be a moving target.

As always this is just my humble opinion.

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This was originally posted in SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Education http://smartblogs.com/education

I was lucky to have scored an invitation to the ASCD Leader to Leader ConferenceASCD is a premier education organization that engages a membership of about 150,000 educators internationally. This particular conference concentrates on the leadership of ASCD. It is a great effort by this organization to bring together its leadership as well as invite, introduce, promote and revere new leadership along with tried-and-true leaders. This is a great way for any organization to transfer power from the old guard to the new.

My invitation was somewhat of a mystery to me. I am not a leader within the organization or interested in becoming one. It is not that it is a position that I would not be honored to hold, but my career has taken me down another path. I am a blogger, and one of my platforms is ASCD EDge, one of several websites that ASCD uses to expose members to blog posts, discussions, media and events of education. My assumption is that my invitation was linked to my blogging, which is a gutsy thing for any organization to do. It opens the inner workings of the organization to the scrutiny of someone who can expose its blemishes to the world. It is a true acceptance of transparency.

In my role at this conference, I found myself at times an observer and other times a participant. What was obvious to me as an observer is that many tools of technology have changed the definitions by which the organization tries to govern itself — a dilemma not foreign to the system of education. The most obvious of these definitions is that of “connectedness.” In terms that leaders of this group understand, they are connected by e-mail, websites, cellphones and state-of-the-art conferences. Compared with 20th-century methods of connectedness, these newer methods should be taking the leaders to a higher level — and they do, but they don’t meet the expected goal.

What was obvious to me in all of the leadership discussions is that the leaders were viewing connectedness as a static position that they had reached. They expected that after they created websites and organized conferences, they could get the message out to more members than ever before. All of that is probably true, but the real question is whether they are reaching everyone possible and necessary to be relevant. We can’t use standards of the 20th century to determine success in the 21st. Developing technology will continually move the mark forward. Our definitions will continue to evolve as technology changes the methods and intensity of things we do. Our goals become moving targets, and if we don’t adjust our sights, we can never hit those goals.

My view of the missing piece to the puzzle for this group and many others is the integration of social media and the ability to strategize their use to maximize communication, involvement and creation by members to advance goals of the group. This can also apply to education. Educators can use social media to connect, communicate and create with other educators to advance their goals.

Of course, the obvious stumbling blocks are large and multiple. First, we need to convince people that social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn are serious and effective for professional connections, as well as learning. Second, we need to teach the basics of these tools so people can use them. Third, we need to apply strategies to use these tools effectively to maximize their potential for ongoing, continuous connectedness. Again, all of these obstacles are not limited to organizations such as ASCD and its members; they also apply to educators and education.

We cannot continue to act using definitions from the past to address today’s goals. Technology is rapidly and continuously changing what we do and how we do it. Being truly connected is the only way we can maintain relevance. Education has traditionally been a conservative institution, with change coming slowly. That is no longer an option for educators. Technology is the game changer. If we are not moving forward, we are falling behind. If our leaders and professional organizations are not staying relevant, the revolution many of us are hoping for in education might arrive too late to help.

This is what I had to offer ASCD as a result of my participation in its forward-thinking conference for leadership. Additionally, I hope we can apply some of these lessons to an education system that needs leadership to define itself in relevant terms to effect change. I am tired of having educators and education being defined by businesspeople, politicians and tax reformers. We are the education experts, and we can define ourselves in relevant terms.

Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He came to that position after 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.

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Putting together an education conference is a huge undertaking that is often overlooked, or at least not fully appreciated  by the attendees. It is not that people are intentionally unappreciative, but they may not realize all that goes into the planning, and execution of such a multi-faceted endeavor. This conference requires a huge effort to solicit, register, organize, accommodate, and deliver over 400 sessions to over 8,000 attendees, and over 200 vendors throughout a four-day event. That is a huge undertaking that can only successfully happen with leadership and a team effort on the part of the planning organization. I am sure that as this conference comes to an end, planning for next year’s event will begin immediately.

After attending many conferences over the years, I have made some observations as to the specific traits of conferences. Some conferences for example are very tech-oriented. Some conferences have the same people returning year after year. Some conferences attract a large number of vendors, while others attract a large number of classroom teachers. Of course since ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is populated by people who supervise and develop curriculum and that usually would involve the hierarchy of the education system. I guess they could be categorized as the movers and shakers of education.

If my observations are to be believed, this conference, compared to some others, has far fewer tech-using attendees. The cacophony of clicking keys of laptops is not heard in every session, although there are laptops and tablets. Smartphones are not glued to hands of the conference members, although there are many visible. Of course the tell of tells as to the tech use in this conference is the fact that people are not hovering and jockeying for position around limited electrical outlets for constant charging. All that considered, this is not a tech infused conference.

With the advent of social media a mark of a really impactful conference may be measured in the buzz created by the sharing of the conference through the venues of social media. If the Tweets and the Blogs abound with the sharing of events, ideas, and conversations generated by the conference it may be considered a success. If the attendees are not inclined to use the skills required to utilize 21st century technology in sufficient numbers then there is no buzz. The conference remains local and never goes global.

Having some foresight on this issue, the leadership of ASCD took this into account in the planning of the conference. Some of the leading educators on Twitter who also have great blog followings were invited to attend the conference. They were afforded complete access to the entire conference with but one instruction; attend the conference and just do what it is that you do. Ten to fifteen of these educators made up the social media press corps for ASCD. They attended sessions, reflected upon what they learned, and shared their experiences of each of the sessions. Their followers spread the word further by re-tweeting tweets and commenting on posts. This cadre of connected educators created the buzz. This model is making the best of social media in order to take what has been a national conference to a larger audience than just the attendees. Educators, who could not be present at the conference, benefitted by the offerings of those who were in attendance. Through social media everything local is now global, and everything global is now local. I would thank the leaders of ASCD for giving us the opportunity to share their conference.

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Over the next few days my blog will be a snapshot album of words describing what it is like to attend a premiere education conference, ASCD12. This is an experience that most educators rarely experience over the course of their careers. It is not an inexpensive proposition to send educators to national conferences. For some reason many districts use that as a reason to send the same administrators year after year to these conferences. I think administrators have the idea that their district leaders are best positioned to share all that is gleaned from the conference with the staff. Of course this is a generality and not every district does this. You may want to ask who from your district attends these conferences and how many have they been to over the years.

The cost of these conferences is steep. The organizations running them have to pay a big price for the venues required to accommodate the tens of thousands of educators and vendors who will walk through the doors. In addition to the cost of the conference, districts have to add transportation, lodging, and food for each individual. In the economic atmosphere of today, many districts may have trouble justifying the expense to those who have no understanding of the value of these conferences. Once again much-needed professional development is relegated to the bottom of the ever-changing priority list

A recurring theme of many of my posts has been how isolated the profession of education can be. Teachers always have the ability to share ideas on lessons, methods and pedagogy within their own building, but only if that building sports an open and collaborative culture. This collaboration enables change.  If the building has a closed culture of people who do not collaborate and continue to support the status quo by hunkering down in the bunkers of their comfort zones, then little change will occur. Professional conferences have always opened up educators to change. Educators’ sharing of the latest in lessons and tools has always been the backbone of the conference. The collaboration and excitement pump up the lifeblood of the conference. The camaraderie of the participants as they grow closer through their interests over a few short days is the soul of the conference. Educators come away from conferences with creative juices flowing, collaborative spirit soaring, and their self-esteem rising. They then return to their schools to share, and, try as they might, they can’t duplicate the same feelings for their colleagues. That feeling, short-lived as it is however, cannot be denied.

Of course my position is always that the conferences are greatly enhanced by Social Media. This is a natural occurrence at some conferences. For some reason attendees at some national conferences use more SM than users at other conferences. Tweeting goes on at every session and every hallway. Back channeling presenters is commonplace. Blogs are pumped out during the conference. People who are virtually connected year round, come together face-to-face and are like long-lost friends uniting after years of being apart.  Much of which I have described here is best appreciated by those who have actually experienced it at a conference, but as I have pointed out, it is an experience that most educators will never have.

Tonight as I attended the opening reception at ASCD12, I met a very special educator. We were connected through Twitter but had never met. Julie Ramsay, or @juliedramsay as I know her is one such educator whom has attended more than one conference. She and her husband spent their own money and time to attend the ASCD12 Conference. Julie also attended, again at her own expense, last year’s  ISTE conference  in order to enable her students to present there. They too paid their own way. That is a dedicated educator with a supportive family.

I was in a huge room with about 500 educators noshing on hors’d’oeuvres. I was sitting alone at a table tweeting out to see if anyone in the room was monitoring the Twitter stream. After a half hour, I deduced that this may not be the most Social-Media-savvy group. It was at that point that Julie and her husband found me through my tweets, and we met and shared. Twitter, the very thing that so many condemn as anti-social brought some of us together for face-to-face social interaction. I immediately wondered how to get the 500 other educators to get it. Several other social media users will be Tweeting and Blogging out moments from the ASCD12 Conference starting tomorrow. By modeling for other educators what it is that we all need to do in order to be connected educators, maybe we can connect more of us. This will increase collaboration and hopefully support change in a culture and system sorely in need of it. Follow the #ASCD12 hashtag through Monday

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There are certain education conferences that people look forward to attending each and every year. Certainly the big national conferences with thousands of attendees and hundreds of vendors are the conferences most familiar to educators. The state organizations usually draw big crowds of educators as well. At one time this is how educators networked and saw the newest of the new, and the best of the best. All of that is represented at big education conferences.

With the introduction of the internet, conferencing as an activity has changed. There is a transparency to conferences that was not possible before. Social Media has armed educators with the power to report out exactly what is happening at any conference. Not only are there tweeted comments about the conference, people often comment on specific sessions for all the world to see, blemishes and all. For those who closely follow conference tweets through the use of hashtags, there are many horror stories of presenters who crashed and burned, having each and every flame described to the world in tweets from the audience.

A specific hashtag is created for each conference, so that it can be discussed on Twitter. The symbol, # starts the tag with a few identifying letters to follow. For example: the hashtag for the upcoming ASCD Conference will be #ASCD12. Anyone tweeting from, or about that conference will tag their tweets with that hashtag. Anyone wanting to follow what’s going on at that conference, need only create a follow column for #ASCD12, and each and every tweet about the conference will flow through that column. I have found TweetDeck and Hootesuite to be the best Apps to use for this purpose. Social Media people are beginning to gauge a conference’s success by the positive buzz generated by tweeters. Social Media savvy organizations are beginning to understand this and are developing Social media strategies.

Of all of the conferences dealing with education, there is one very small one (I think between 3-400 attendees) that creates the greatest Buzz with the Social Media connected educators. The audience of attendees is made larger by the Livestreaming of sessions over the internet to those who couldn’t attend in person.  For the last four years EduCon has taken place in Philadelphia sponsored by  The Science Leadership Academy, which is headed up by Chris Lehman, an outstanding educator, leader, and speaker. This conference differs from most others centering about education. There are very few vendors. There are very few formal presentations. EduCon is based on discussions lead by discussion leaders. The leaders present the topic which they have some stake in or knowledge of, and direct the discussion from there. It is a simple formula with no bells or whistles.

There is another thing that makes this conference different from the rest of the education conferences. Most of those big one’s have been around for years, and are learning how to adapt to social media. #Educon in many respects was born through social media. Most of the educators in attendance are connected educators. It is almost a requirement for connected educators to tweet their impressions out about #Educon at every session they attend. When you look at a twitterstream for the #Educon hashtag it is not a trickling brook, but a white-water rapids of a river racing with tweets of opinion, reflection, information, and occasionally adoration. If all conferences were only judged by the buzz they created, the EduCon would rival or surpass all the top contenders. I am sorry I missed actually attending EduCon this year, but I am keeping up with the tweets. I look forward to next year.


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I have spent the last two days with some really wonderful educators exchanging ideas and in many cases changing ideas. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored a three-day conference highlighting 99 of their education authors in presentations, panels, and intimate, informal gatherings with attendees. Solution Tree had the foresight to invite a number of Social-Media-using educators to attend the conference, all expenses paid with no instructions, or restrictions other than to attend the conference, tweet and blog. It was a great opportunity for us, but it was a big chance taken by Solution Tree. They were asking us to control our own learning and create content as we do it.  That certainly is a unique thought among some educators.

The educators selected to represent the social media community of educators were all bloggers who are also very involved with Twitter. In addition to me, the others were: Steve Anderson, @web20classroom; Kyle Pace, @kylepace; Nick Provenzano, @thenerdyteacher; and Angela Maiers, @angelamaiers. We were all familiar with each other after being connected through social media and many face to face meetings at conferences over the last few years. For all five of us this was a dream assignment. We got to do what we love to do, and we did not have to pay to do it as is usually required.

I made a major assumption about the conference entering into this assignment. Not having access to the registration data, I assumed that most, if not all the participants, would be administrators. Since there were no vendors other than Solution Tree, the ticket price was a bit steep. The return on investment however, was very high. Instead of going to a conference where speakers would do presentations quoting and espousing ideas from the most recent books on topics of education, this conference provided the actual sources, the authors of those works. This was a premiere conference that was being done for the first time. My assumption was that with today’s economically strapped school budgets, most districts would send a limited number of their lead administrators. In two of the sessions that I attended however, a poll was taken, and it was apparent, that in those presentations, at least a quarter of the audience was made up of classroom teachers. There were 1,500 educators in attendance.

The conference was kicked off with a keynote by Daniel Pink on motivation. I was familiar with much of what Pink had to say after reading Drive and viewing several of his videos. Two parts of his speech really reached me. The first was a big negative. Pink used the targeting term of “Bad Teachers” needing to be fired. This is a hot button to many creating an atmosphere that scapegoats teachers as a group to be removed in part, in order to reform education. That is the part I did not like. What I loved was the fact that Pink highlighted the accomplishments of Josh Stumpenhorst, an educator named teacher of the year, and a social media user who connected with Pink through Social Media. I felt pride in the recognition of one of our own as well as a guy I am connected to. A great part of this conference involved the authors taking part as participants, as well as presenters. After the keynote, it was off to the sessions.

We began tweeting out reactions from the very start of the keynote, and we will still be tweeting about things after it ends tomorrow. The idea that we were providing a view of many of the sessions to educators who were not in attendance, was new to many, who knew little of the application of social media to education. Many audience members took notice as the Authors presenting recognized the tweeters in their presentations. Most authors are aware of the impact that social media is having. It was the participants at the conference who were beginning to recognize its effect; many for the first time. Each of our group members experienced people discovering or at least taking Twitter serious, or discovering it for the first time. It was then that it became apparent that a room for people to go to during any conference was a necessity. It could be a place for novices to learn how to travel the conference with Twitter. Twitter back channeling could add a whole new level to presenting. Those of us, who have experienced this, understand it. A backchannel screen for a number of sessions would soon make this apparent to many more educators. The Twitter tutorial room could support that to make it happen more successfully.

The response from many educators, who did not attend in person, to our tweets was overwhelming. The numbers came back indicating millions of tweets and retweets on #authorspeak went out each day. Tannis Emann was able to do a Blog Post on the conference based on the tweets sent by us since he was not physically in attendance. Wes Freyer, @wfryer is credited for the photo,#authorspeak. It was an impressive showing of the effect social media can have on a conference. It extended the reach of ideas to those who could not attend. This was accomplished with a focus on only five “Teachers a Tweet’n”. Imagine the possibilities of communication, collaboration, and creation once we get all 7.2 million educators “a Tweet’n”? Professional Development may become more relevant and focused to move education reform forward in a positive way. I am looking forward to what next year’s #authorspeak has to offer whether I attend in person or virtually through Twitter.

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