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Archive for the ‘conference’ Category

What is it about a mandated, contractually obligated, professional development conference that inspires some teachers and completely turns off many others? Why do some teachers glow with excitement at conferences and many others complain as they go through the motions? Is it the conference itself, or the attitude of the educators attending, or a combination of both?

When it comes to professional development for educators, conferences are believed to offer a great deal of choice with usually a seemingly wide array of sessions and workshops for educators to choose from to fill their blank schedules for a full day of learning. That is at least what is in the minds of the conference planners as they spend a huge amount of time planning these events. They seem to concentrate on the how and what of education, but fall short of the why.

The why refers to why we do things in the first place? Without at least discussions on that subject of why we should, or should not do certain things in order to examine their relevance, we might find we are doing things just because that’s the way they have always been done. To simplify an example: that is why we teach keyboarding and not typing. There are no longer any typewriters, but keyboards abound. Of course all of that goes out the window with mobile devices where thumbs and pointer fingers rule the keys. The point is that we examined why we were teaching typing, and found that we needed to teach something else to stay relevant, keyboarding.

We need more sessions in conferences that use panels to examine why we do the things that we do and engage educators in that discussion. We need more individuals leading discussions to explore and to challenge various things that we do in education. These panels and discussions should be sprinkled through conferences and repeated at least once, so that schedule conflicts will be less conflicted.

CHOICE in professional development is one of the biggest deterrents to learning. Yes, I said it. I know we are adults, and we are capable of making choices and we will all fight to the death to maintain that right of choice, but in most cases it doesn’t work. People do not know what they do not know; yet they will still make choices without sufficient information to do so. Why would an Administrator choose to attend a session on Blogging when he/she has no interest? That Admin might get a better understanding of why he/she should be blogging, as well as the need for their staff and students to blog, if they attended such a session. Again, this will be a selection that will probably not be made, because that admin did not have enough information to make an informed choice. The same applies to teachers choosing not to attend certain sessions based, not on their knowledge of a subject, but rather their lack of knowledge. I know we can’t know everything, but we need to recognize and admit to that. Maybe we are not capable of free choice 100% of the time in professional development.

Another question is how many people will choose to attend a session that takes them out of their comfort zone? Admittedly, some do make that hard choice, but the majority of folks in attendance will not make that uncomfortable choice unless they are attending the conference with a friend who drags them into such a session. These conferences need to find a way to allow for some choice while limiting it in other ways. Maybe a “Chinese menu style” conference with two choices from Column A and three from Column B for every attendee might be a solution. Column A would be pedagogy, methodology, and education philosophy sessions with panels and discussions, and Column B would be the how to sessions.

My final critique on these conferences is one I have made in the past. Most of the sessions in these conferences are conducted by teachers who are presenting to attendees on how they teach in class with specific tools. This is usually an explanation with a PowerPoint presentation. It is a reasonable assumption that they run these sessions based on their experience as a teacher teaching children. Their methodology becomes flawed because adults do not benefit from pedagogy. Adults learn differently. Andragogy is adult learning. Conversation and collaboration work best for adults, not sit and get while sitting in rows. This is why the sessions that usually get the highest ratings from participants are the sessions that addressed the participants as adults to meet their needs.

None of this is new. I have addressed these issues many times since I began as an education blogger. I think the term “yelling into the wind’ comes to mind whenever I cover this topic. If we prioritize professional development as a continuing need in education, eventually someone might listen to these suggestions. When that happens in whatever decade it does, please remember you heard it here first.

I must add to this that the people who plan these conferences are hard-working, dedicated individuals who do their best to provide the conferences with which they have been entrusted with the best presentations available. They do the best they can based on what they have experienced from other conferences.

Maybe we need apply that “why” question here. Why are we doing this conference? If it is to get educators to learn more about their profession and teach more efficiently and effectively with purpose and understanding, then maybe we need to change things up. Let’s teach teachers in ways that they learn best. If we are still teaching for the typewriter in this age of computers, we have it all wrong. We need to re-examine, re-evaluate, and re-vamp what we do with education conferences and professional development. To better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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Two of the most common excuses for not doing something new in education are time and money. They are probably the same excuses for not making change in any profession. People seem to understand and accept these excuses because they themselves use them whenever needed. These excuses are used so often for so many things, that they have come to mean, “I really don’t care to change the status quo, and it is too much trouble for me to do so”.

Many educators through the centuries have observed and commented that the teaching profession is an isolated profession. Many educators, then and now, feel alone in their efforts to educate kids. They often reflect on their efforts, accomplishments, and failures, without the ability to share with a variety of others within their circles in order to improve. Educators were limited to their buildings for collaboration, which occasionally might widen out to include other educators in their district, but that was often less likely to occur. Of course collaboration on a greater scale would take both time and money, and that has rarely been a priority in most schools.

Collaborative learning has always been with us from the beginning of learning, however, it required that the learners occupied the same space at the same time. In a modern world, where people tend to spread out and separate, the boundaries of collaboration, time and space, began to impede professional collaborative learning for educators. It required effort, time and money to get people together for substantive collaboration. Professional organizations stepped up to fill the collaborative void with annual conferences, but these conferences cost money and took away precious time to attend. Budgets were created to support administrators’ attendance, but teachers were more problematic becoming less of a priority to attend. Conferences, dependent on vendor support, soon recognized the benefit of administrator attendance, since administrators were the movers and shakers of the purse strings of schools. The result of all this supported a proportionally greater number of administrators over teachers’ attendance at collaborative conferences. The collaboration among teachers was limited.

It has often been said that if you fill a room with very smart people, the smartest mind is the room itself. We all benefit through collaboration. We each help define, refine, challenge, and support ideas collectively until we settle on a final idea. We all contribute to that process to some degree.

Collaboration is also a preferred method of learning for adults. We are studying adult learning more and finding a difference between adult learning, Andragogy, and child learning, Pedagogy. Since educators are child experts, many wrongly assume that all individuals learn according to pedagogy. Adults however are motivated differently with different needs. Collaboration and problem solving suit adult learning best. This misconception forcing pedagogy on adult learning has had a profound effect on how we handle PD as discussed in a previous post, The Importance of Andragogy in Education. I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit. 

The real game-changer for collaborative learning is technology. With the introduction of social media applications, we have the ability to connect with anyone at anytime. The cost is minimal and the time is adjustable. Time and money excuses no longer serve the status quo when it comes to collaboration. What that means in terms of education is that educators are only isolated by choice. As I have said in the past, any educator has the right to choose to live in a cave, but they don’t have the right to drag students in there with them.

Connecting for collegial sourcing is becoming a standard for educators. Educators in greater numbers are connecting to build Personal Learning Networks through technology. What was once a method of the tech-savvy educators is now becoming a staple of the profession. Of course when the objections of resistance are answered, objectors will come up with new objections to stave off their involvement. Many teachers now say, I am doing well enough with my kids, I don’t need to make connections.” Those teachers will need to live with that decision, for they may never get beyond “well enough” with their students. Imagine telling parents that you will teach their kids well enough?

Of course we know the biggest obstacle to change is leaving that place we all love to reside in, the “comfort zone”. Educators do not have that as an option as professionals. As professionals, we deal in content and fact. Technology is changing both at a rate never before experienced. If we do not keep up with these changes we become irrelevant. What can an irrelevant educator accomplish? Most importantly, an educator’s comfort zone must never take precedence over a student’s education.

The latest and greatest excuse is that face-to-face connections are the best. Connecting down the hallway is better than connecting around the world. I do not entirely disagree with that. If the connection with a person down the hall works then use it. My question is why would anyone interested in learning limit his or her collaboration to only his or her own building? As good as any building’s staff may be, why would one not want to expand collaboration and share with the world. Remember that collaboration works two ways. It is not always what you can get. It is also about what you can give. I believe as educators we all have a moral imperative to share.
Technology provides the means to collaborate on a scale never before available. It requires some effort on the part of educators to happen. It requires a mindset that our 20th Century education has never prepared us for. Connectedness becomes a way of life for an educator, but this does not happen overnight. We need to take it one step at a time, as we need it. We can now take control of our own learning. None of this will happen however, unless that first step is taken. If you don’t know or can’t decide on a first step, talk it over with someone. It’s collaborative learning. By choosing not to engage in order to be connected, educators today make a conscious choice to be isolated. Yes, Isolation is a choice. It is not the choice of a Life Long Learner. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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If educators can count on one sure-fired outcome of the largest national education conference in America, it is the information feeding frenzy that accompanies it. Each year that ISTE holds its Annual Conference with 20+ thousand attendees social media lights up all over the world with exchanges of information between educators emanating from whatever city ISTE is in that year. This year it is Philadelphia. I think there might be more social media interaction with east coast events because of the time zones. The east coast is favored by a longer period of time to get to people while they are awake, active and reactive. The #ISTE15 hashtag will probably trend on Twitter several times during the ISTE conference.

There is a reason why Tweets on Twitter are dominated by education topics. It is not that a majority of Twitter users are educators, but rather those educators who are Twitter users are very collaborative and prolific in their use of Twitter. They use Twitter for exchanging and expanding ideas. They are very active in hundreds of education Twitter Chats. I am sure that Twitter’s founders did, not foresee the educators’ use of Twitter as a form of professional development.

The use of social media by educators underscores the glaring need for a better system of professional development for educators. While there are some districts that make PD part of their culture, most districts allow it to continue as it always has: haphazardly, at the whim of administrators, often ill-conceived and too often with minimal impact on student learning. Trends often dominate the choices. A demonstration of some newly acquired App may count for PD for the entire year.

The adoption of social media to deliver “Do It Yourself PD” is an indication for the need, as well as recognition that educators are hungry for direction.

Only a small percentage of educators will ever get to attend an education conference like ISTE. Districts do not budget for teachers to attend. Conferences are not cheap. Often Admins and Tech Directors will attend such events year after year. Those educators who do attend education conferences however use social media to share out what their experiences are like with those folks not able to attend.

Over the next few weeks the #ISTE15 hashtag will begin to appear more frequently building to a crescendo during the conference and continuing a short time after the conference concludes. These “sharings”, whether on Twitter or any other form of social media, are an effort on the part of educators to involve other educators in a collaboration of learning in their own profession. Educators more than anyone see the need for effective PD and are trying to provide what the system is failing to do. Even when the education system wanted to implement something as big as common core, all of its focus, support, and money went to everything but professional development for those who were to be key in its implementation. That was left to individual districts to do and most had no clue what that meant. As a result we have to ask if educators were properly prepared to implement the common core?

Educators as evidenced through their collaborative efforts recognize the need for PD. The evolving collaborative communities are filling the void left by the system to keep educators relevant in a rapidly changing, computer-driven society. The real key to better educating our kids is, and always has been, to better educate their educators. The #ISTE15 hashtag frenzy that we will experience in the next few weeks is a best-case scenario of dealing with a poorly supported system of professional development. It is yet another symptom of a system in need of change in order to be relevant.

If you attend ISTE15, send out those tweets. If you can’t attend ISTE15 read those tweets. Everyone should Retweet #ISTE15 tweets. Sharing is Caring!

 

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As educators one would expect that teachers and teacher/administrators should be experts on the best most effective and efficient methods of getting large groups of children to understand, learn, and use information responsibly to create more information. Theoretically, these educators have an understanding of pedagogy and methodology in order to accomplish these goals. I firmly believe most educators have these very skills to accomplish this with kids.

A question that haunts me however, at almost any education conference that I attend is: Why are so many (not all) of these educators, who are so skilled in a classroom of kids, so bad at teaching in a room full of adults for professional development?

The obvious answer may be that children have a motivation to learn that is different from adults. I have addressed this in a previous post, Pedagogy vs. Andragogy.

According to an article, “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit, Malcolm Knowles, an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.

Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

If we consider these adult motivations in terms of presenting for the purpose of professional development for educators, it is obvious that presentations should not be the conventional “sit and get” Power Point extravaganzas that we have come to recognize as commonplace at education conference sessions. It would also rule out those very inspirational TED Talks as real tools for adult learning.

An adult will get a great deal more if he/she is part of the presentation as a conversationalist. In that way they will be respected and able to not only impart their expertise, and experiences, but also address their specific needs on the topic. This makes the session personally relevant and more self-directed. Another important part of adult learning is to be able to learn something today that can be used tomorrow.

This is not a format unfamiliar to educators. It is probably the key to the success of the Edcamp movement. All of the Edcamp sessions are guided conversations. It is also a key factor in the Education Twitter chats that happen globally around the clock. Even panel discussions would benefit by limiting the panel discussion time in favor of more audience participation for interactive involvement. This would extend, or, in some cases, create a designated question and answer portion with every panel session.

Lecture has a place in any presentation, but how much time it is given even with a glitzy Power Point Presentation should be a major concern of any presenter. The goal in professional development should never be to show how much the speaker has learned, but how much we can get the participants to learn.

Maybe when local, state, and national conferences call for RFP’s for sessions in their conferences, they should have an audience participation requirement. That would not be for just responding to questions from the speaker, but rather participatory learning. That participation would require more than passive responses.

This is not easy to do, which makes it uncomfortable, so it will probably not receive a great deal of attention from those who run conferences. It may not receive much attention from those who do district-wide professional development. I do however hope someone pays attention. If in fact our existing professional development strategies were effectively working over the decades that we have been practicing them, we might not be having all of these discussions of education reform that dominate our profession. Our PD efforts are not currently meeting the needs of teachers or administrators. If we are to better educate our children, we must first better educate their educators.

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Over the years I have been an advocate for connected collaboration. I believe that collaboration using technology to connect people for the purpose of collaboration is different from connecting people in a room together for collaboration. I used the word “different”. I did not use the word “better”. For educators any form of collaboration with other educators is a good thing.

Historically and for centuries, collaboration had not changed the way people connected together in order to accomplish learning. If one wanted to connect with someone to collaborate it was a question of picking a time, a place, and showing up. Collaboration itself has remained the same no matter the time or place. People exchange, modify, reflect, improve, and create ideas collectively. This form of learning has proven invaluable in advancing education. It is the basis for education conferences. Learning and sharing is the backbone of education.

What has changed however is the way that people connect to collaborate. It is that element of connection that has been the game changer for many educators. Connecting for collaboration has now become a function of what technology can provide educators. Most often, social media applications provide the bulk of these collaborative connections, but other tools of technology cannot be discounted. This all requires educators to have at the very least a modicum of digital literacy. Unfortunately, this has proven to be a stumbling block for many.

The act of collaboration is the important element in this conversation. Collaborating with folks in your building, or district is wonderful, but if it is limited to just those people the potential of the collaboration itself may be limited. One advantage of collaboration through technology-connected collaboration is that there are few limits with whom or with how many people one may engage. The connections could be local or global. Access and contact with authors or education thought leaders are more possible through technological connections. The technological connections could easily include teachers, administrators, students, and parents separately or together for collaboration The overall effect of sharing has a greater reach in the world of technological connections. The limits of where or when are far less impeding with technological connections. Transparency is evident through social media collaboration. It is out there for all to see.

In the technological sense, a “connected educator” has a number of advantages in collaboration over an educator not technologically “connected”, an “unconnected educator”. This may cause a rift between the connected and the unconnected in education. Questions of who is better? This is an argument that education does not need. This opens educators to even more criticism from a beleaguered public, being manipulated about education by politicians and “Reformers”. Of course the obvious best way of all is for educators to balance out face-to-face and technological connections for collaboration. Ideally, both types of connectors can be brought together, which often happens at education conferences for the purpose of collaborating on collaboration itself.

I believe most educators are collaborative. I also believe that far fewer are connected collaborators. Technological connection comes with a great deal of baggage that prevents educators from embracing it. The use of technology itself is the biggest of these obstacles. The idea of it being a huge time consumer is another. There is also a stigma of using any social media as a tool for learning. The biggest deterrent of all however is the perception that one needs to learn a whole bunch of technological stuff in order to participate in this connected world. Of course the worst advocates for this technological connection are those who are connected. They proudly announce their many accomplishments and successes as technologically connected educators and scare off anyone even remotely interested in trying it. People unfamiliar are just blown away and overwhelmed by the exuberant chatter.

Of course the obvious alternative to all of this is to have more collaboration between those educators who are not technologically connected and those who are. In the end whatever works best for an individual educator is what is best for them. Some believe the best collaboration is just down the hall. Others live on social media. My preference is to use whichever I need in order to accomplish that which I hope to accomplish. Sometimes I know where I am going and sometimes I need a direction from my trusted collaborators. The focus must be the collaboration. My bias is that for me, I need to be a technologically connected educator in order for me to remain relevant. That works best for me. Others need to make their own determinations. I am willing to collaborate with them to present what I know and believe.

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This post is a direct result of a conference that I recently attended with some of the brightest minds in education. The attendees were education thought leaders all. I was humbled in their presence, which is not unusual for me. I was an education lightweight compared to many in attendance. What struck me about this group however was their lack of relevance in the world of EdTech education. They were not at all a part of the model we have all come to believe is now the EdTech-influenced model of education for the USA. I was asked by some what a Blog was. Others had never ever heard of a Professional Learning Network. Somehow the model of education portrayed by so many and being sold to America by the press through some vocal politicians and financial influencers, who probably don’t have a clue what goes on inside most classrooms today, does not exist for these folks. Like many educators today, PowerPoint is the extent of their technology integration into education.

I am so very fortunate and grateful to be able to travel and participate in Education Conferences worldwide. My interaction with educators is not limited to a building, district, county, state, or even a single country. I talk to many educators from many places both inside and outside the USA. One factor common to all these educators is that they are attending some form of education conference. This is not a common experience for many, if not most, educators. Few schools budget for teachers’ attendance at conferences and the view that a teacher’s place is in the classroom is one that is probably the most prevalent view among most keepers of the purse strings.

As a result of limited teacher participation at many of these conferences, only the best, or the most innovative, or the most influential of teachers get to attend. Of course the number of administrators, movers and shakers, the decision makers, or those who control the budgets and purse strings are most often represented in greater numbers and repeatedly attend year after year at these conferences. Of course they are also the people most sought after to attend such conferences since most of these get-togethers are sponsored and supported by companies trying to sell their products to that very target audience. This is not a bad thing, but an element in considering the big picture of education conferences, especially in the area of EdTech.

Now that we have an understanding of who attends these conferences, let us consider the “what and why” of the sessions presented at these conferences. Often, the very companies sponsoring the conference to display their Tech wares will do their own informative sessions within the program. They are probably the most knowledgeable of their product, so it is a great way to represent the best potential of that product. The employees who demonstrate these products are trained to do so, and, more often than not, they are trained extremely well. Certainly their training exceeds a typical teacher’s experience with a PD session in school. Additionally, these demonstrations show off the latest and greatest version of the products. Companies are not stuck with older product versions because of budget restrictions that schools often face.

This is my personal view of what a typical education conference looks like. It is a showcase for the best and brightest schools have to offer with the help of EdTech companies supporting and promoting the teachers and districts that are effectively using their products. Unfortunately, with all the hype, public relations, and a need to put education stories out to the press, this is often touted as the picture of education in the USA: Teachers using technology to teach our digital native children in preparation for their world. This might be the perfect time to mention those flying cars of the future that we have heard so much about over the years.

The point here is that it is not representative of what is going on in education in the USA. We are not as fully tech-oriented as the press and politicians would have us believe. Many schools lack the budget, or infrastructure to support it. Certainly the way PD is provided today, as it has been in centuries past, is hardly adequate to get educators up to speed. Trying to maintain a 20th Century model of education in the 21st Century is not moving us forward either, yet it seems to be a dominating education philosophy.

We need to somehow take the vision of what we see in education conferences and mix it with the reality of what is actually being done in education. If we want to focus on a better education for our kids, we need to focus first on a better education for their educators. If the promise of EdTech is ever to be realized than we need to clearly establish where we each are in that picture and make specific individualized plans to get us to where we each need to be. It will not happen organically. We will never have out-of-the-box, innovative learning until we promote and support out-of-the-box and innovative teaching. Technology in education should not be limited to PowerPoint presentations and word-processed book reports.

The picture of what American education is has been blurred by politicians, well-intentioned business people, profiteers, and to a great extent educators themselves. I don’t know if we can describe a picture of a 21st Century classroom that holds true for all classrooms. I imagine that the most typical class in America still resembles a 20th Century class which is not far different from a 19th Century class: Rows, a board, and a teacher standing in front of the room. The frustration I have always had as an educator is that the vision for education is far better than the reality.

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Anyone who is familiar with what I write about should recognize that I stress the importance of relevance as educators in order to teach in an ever-changing, rapidly paced, computer-driven society. That message goes across well with most connected educators for they seem to be the educators who are more comfortable with the tools to make all that happen. They are the educators who view tools of technology as the very tools that generations will be using for collaboration, curation, communication and creation. However they are not the educators that I need to reach with my message. The folks I want to get to with my ideas are the unconnected, those who do not maintain a presence in the connected world of educators. These are folks who would not have access to my blog let alone care to even read it.

To have my message at least viewed by as many different educators as possible, I tend to do guest posts for many education organizations. Edutopia is a great organization that I have been associated with for about a year now and I am proud and honored to have my ideas expressed on that platform. One thing that many organizations do to guest posts is to re-title them to fit that organization’s style. They have every right to do so, and I do not object to that. This sometimes works well and other times not so much. A lesson I learned early on in blogging was that if you want to make a point about Education Technology, never put it in the title of the post. The term “EdTech” is a red light for many educators. It is better to have a non-threatening title and mention it after the first paragraph or two has already sucked them in. NEVER tell them that you are going to talk about EdTech. Somehow that has become a threatening term to many educators.

The construction industry seems to have learned this lesson years ago. They stayed away from Techy titles for the development of their tools. They had: The electric saw, the Power drill, the hydraulic hammer, and the automatic screwdriver. There seems to have been less intimidation in those names. It was a simple adjective in front of a familiar noun. Their labor force saw the benefits of the advanced tools for construction and embraced them. They became more efficient and effective in their jobs.

If the goal of education is to teach kids skills to effectively and efficiently collaborate, curate, communicate, and create with the tools that they will be required to use in their time, then educators will need to, if not embrace, at least accept the need to understand and use these tools of technology today. If the term EdTech gets in the way, let’s eliminate it. We have educators who hear about EdTech conferences and they refuse to consider attending them. Their impression is that EdTech conferences are for Computer teachers.

Education is about using skills and information to create knowledge. The tools required to do that are not stagnant. They are continuously evolving and they are the very tools that teachers need to use to provide a relevant education to their students. It is about education, that is the big picture. Technology is only a component, but it is necessary to maintain relevance in a computer-driven society.

I remember a keynote speech from an upstate New York Superintendent. He explained that a local manufacturer visited him one day to talk about why he could not hire local graduates in his factory. The manufacturer explained to this Superintendent that he could not even hire lathe operators from the graduating class because they were not prepared. He invited the Superintendent to visit his factory to see things for himself. In preparation for his visit the superintendent stopped into the “Shop classes” to make sure that his students were indeed being prepared to use lathes. The teacher took him to the lathe area and had students demonstrate their skills as they stood next to and operated the lathe. Satisfied with what he saw and armed with this information the superintendent headed off for his visit to the factory. Upon his arrival he informed the manufacturer that his students were being well versed in the use of the lathe.

It was then that the manufacturer took the superintendent to the lathe area in the factory. It was a control room with dials lights and gauges. Within that sealed room was a young girl in a white lab coat; she was the lathe operator. Both the Superintendent and the teacher had lost their view of what was relevant for a lathe operator.

We need our educators to be better prepared for what the needs of students will be. If we need to drop off the term EdTech for this to happen than so be it. Terms should not get in the way, but they do. We need to be better communicators if we are to maintain any relevance in a profession that demands it to prepare kids for what they will need.

Here is my reminiscence of education originally titled: A Baby Boomer’s View of Education. The re-title is The Longer View: Edtech and 21st-Century Education. Which of the two titles would be more inviting to an unconnected educator?

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