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Archive for the ‘conference’ Category

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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Anyone who has ever attended a national state or even local Education Conference can tell you that there are vast numbers of education products out there. How do educators know what works and what doesn’t? Is there a way educators can share their product experience with others? How can educators talk to the designers of education products? How can we collaboratively discuss education products so that educators may make a difference?

The answers to each of these questions would depend on each individual’s connection to the product, or the people who created it. Some of us have more contact than others. Some companies seek out teachers to solicit their opinions and perspectives. This however is not usually done on a large-scale.

Steven Anderson and I have been moderating #Edchat for more than five years now. We are often approached by education industry people asking to sponsor, or host an #Edchat session. #Edchat has always been independent and has not been affiliated with any company or product unless it was for the purpose of conducting the chat. Obviously we need Twitter, Facebook, our archiving app, and from time to time we have used Skype, and most recently REMIND. We have never taken money or have we endorsed any product as #Edchat.

Nevertheless, we have determined that there is a need for educators to interact with education industry people in some form on some venue. In that pursuit Steven and I have decided to start a product showcase chat for education products of all types. We will not be endorsing these products, but simply offering to educators a forum to chat with specific companies about their specific product in a twitter chat forum. The chats will be open to all educators on a weekly basis, and moderated by Steven and me. The companies will provide their own experts to answer questions and engage in discussion without a sales pitch. It will be an exploration of how the product may or may not be a fit for the specific needs of specific educators or educators in general.

Our #EdProdChat will take place each Thursday at 8 PM Eastern time. We will promote the chat through informative tweets during the week using @EdProdChat and the #EdProdChat hashtag. We have also created a REMIND account, so that educators can sign up for text reminders of the whom, and when of each weekly chat.

Our first Chat is scheduled for September 18th at 8 PM Eastern time. Please add that to your calendar. The product that we will be chatting about is a project based learning App called WeLearnedIt. Hosting that chat will be the company’s CEO, Adam Bellow. The continuing weekly #EdProdChat schedule will then begin on the first Thursday in October, 10/2/14. Please, in the meantime, sign up for the #EdProdChat REMIND account. (You can learn how by clicking here.) And don’t worry. We value your privacy. Your information will be protected and not shared with anyone. You will be welcomed in joining us on Thursdays for #EdProdChat.

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Being connected as an educator offers a unique perspective. It is almost as if there are two different world’s in education, and a connected educator must travel within both. Technology in our computer-driven society has enabled collaboration to occur at a level and pace never before available in the 19th and 20th century versions of education. For the modern educators who have embraced the idea of connectedness, the world of education looks very different from it has been in previous centuries.

Regardless of technology, many educators express a curiosity about what it would be like to talk to and engage people from history. How often have we heard the expression “ I wish I could pick his/her brain for ten minutes”? The whole idea would be to collaborate with individuals who in some way have made a mark on history or education. We could all benefit from discussing and reflecting on the successes and failures of valued individuals who have proven their worth in their profession. That is what is done everyday in the connected world of education. It does not involve picking the brains of historical people, but those of education practitioners.

It is social media in the 21st Century that has boosted collaboration to a scale never before experienced. It enables educators the ability to collaborate beyond their own borders and way beyond their local connections to a global reach. Such collaboration forces transparency. Pedagogy, methodology and policy are all topics of discussion amongst educators worldwide. Education is being analyzed and scrutinized under a huge magnifying glass with the results, blemishes and all, being shared globally.

The overall result is that educators are beginning to adopt that which shows promise in education and they are turning away from that which is not effective. The one sticking point however, to this entire picture of progressive education evolution, which I have just painted with words, is that not all educators are so connected.

I have had the good fortune to attend many education conferences worldwide. Some of the most sought-after speakers, keynoters, and authors at these conferences are connected educators. They are the thought leaders in education moving education from its past to its future.

The result of all of this is the separation of education into two different places, the world of connected educators, and the world of the disconnected. The best example of the difference would be in the group’s discussions. The discussions online with connected educators are very different in tone and content when compared to the discussions in most faculty rooms and department meetings. Ideas such as the flipped classroom or BYOD were discussions in the connected world long before the mainstream media began writing about them to alert the unconnected.

There is one irony of all of this two-worlds discussion that upsets me most. When I talk to many of the thought leaders in the connected world of education, who are still practicing educators, I ask a simple question. Are you recognized in your school or district for the value you bring to the connected community of educators? Most, if not all, tell me that their district has little or no idea of who they are or what they bring to the world of education. How is it possible that the value of these educators, and their contribution to education, are not recognized within their own unconnected education world?

It is that lack of appreciation or even a failure to validate an educator’s success that is costing us the brightest and best in education. We have long been losing our newest teachers at a rate of 50% in the first five years of service. Obvious fixes would include more support with effective mentorship programs, as well as a salary more in line with the requirements and demands of the job.

Now, because of the growing world of connected education, we are seeing educators at the top end being lured into the business side of education because they are being recognized as valuable assets to education. That recognition however is coming from private industry and not their own education leaders. The private sector is luring away many of the education thought leaders by doing in the connected world what the unconnected world fails to do, recognize, validate, and reward leadership and innovation. Complacency is not considered an asset in this new connected world of education.

In a world that is being driven by technology at an ever-increasing rate that has never before been experienced, educators cannot be standing still. If educators do stand still, they will rapidly fall behind and become irrelevant. It is not a question of being a good or bad educator at that point. One can have great skills, but without being relevant to the students, how is that educator to be effective? Gone are the days when all learning took place in the rows of the classroom. Self-directed learning is now a way of the world. Educators will be needed more than ever, but the 19th and 20th Century models of educators are not relevant in our latest century. There is a pressing need to get more educators to be connected, self-directed, reflective, inspired, and relevant. We also need administrators to include themselves in this shift. Administrators need to maintain relevance as well. The longer it takes for our two worlds of educators to merge into one, the longer it will take us to reform our own culture and the education system overall.

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If there is one thing that could be said of what I do professionally it might be that I do get around to many education conferences. This past month I attended two International conferences ISTE14, BLC14 and one Indiana regional conference, the Greater Clark County Schools Conference in Indiana. All of these conferences were outstanding in their offerings to educators. I usually comment on the structure and quality of the conferences, but today I think I need to address the educators who attend these conferences based on some recent observations. What set me to thinking about this post were two separate comments from very different educators.

A short time after attending ISTE14, I flew to Boston for Alan Novmber’s BLC14 conference. It was there that I saw a keynote by Michael Fullan, a Canadian education researcher and former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. From that speech my main take-away was that in education today Pedagogy is the foundation and technology is the accelerator. For me that was a statement that was clear, concise, and right on the money.

After a one-day layover at my home, I was off to the GCCC14. It was the 2nd annual conference created and directed by Brett Clark of the Greater Clark County Schools. I landed in Louisville Kentucky, which is just over the river from my Indiana destination. A GCC educator, JT who was transporting me to my hotel, picked me up. I met JT when he performed the same task last year. He is quite an affable fellow and easy to talk with. On our ride we talked about this year’s conference compared to the last. JT shared a conversation he had with a colleague about the conference. His friend asked if JT was going to be at the “day-long computer training”. Obviously, some Indiana educators did not view the Michael Fullan keynote on livestream. Unfortunately, it is an attitude or a mindset that is shared by more educators than just those in Indiana. Many conferences are viewed as computer training and not education methodology or pedagogy.

It is the way of learning that should be the focus of education conferences and the goal for the attendees. The technology should always be secondary. We should first explore the place collaboration has in learning before we talk about the tools we need to collaborate. We should explore the need and benefits of communication and understand where and how it benefits students in their everyday lives before we explore the modern tools that enable and enhance communication. We need to understand the differences and the effects between lecture, direct instruction and authentic learning before commit to developing a year’s curriculum. Understanding the need for formative assessment is essential to determining what tools we will use to assess formatively, as well as what adjustments we need to make when we get that information. Let us get a full understanding of summative assessment to determine whether to use tools for testing, or tools for digital portfolio assessments.
Conferences should be more about the learning first and then balanced out with the tools to make it all happen efficiently and effectively. These conferences are not about computer training, but about learning and education.

As Chris Lehmann said at the GCCC14 conference, we don’t teach math, English, or social studies, we teach kids. Conferences should not be viewed as computer training, but rather teacher training. They teach teachers the ways of education and all of the necessary, modern tools to enhance authentic learning to attain the teachers’ intended goals. Connecting with the educators from each conference is an additional way of continuing the education discussion beyond the conference. It helps create collegial sources to be called upon at anytime for clarification, validation, new ideas, sources, or just to say hello. It makes no sense whatsoever to meet great people with great ideas at a conference and never to connect with them again.

Educators should come to conferences eager to learn about their evolving profession. It is not a stagnant profession. There are constant changes and developments that happen at a pace never before experienced in education. We need these conferences to offer a balance of pedagogy, methodology and tools for educators to learn, understand, develop, and evolve. We also need educators to connect in order to live the change and not just experience it at an annual conference. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.

Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.

I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.

I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.

I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.

The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.

One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.

As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.

It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their name tags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.

For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?

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A few years back I spoke at a conference and experienced first hand what a backchannel was. Twitter is probably the best tool to do it. I did write a post on that experience back in November of 2009 and later reposted on my blog, Twitter’s Effect on Presentations and Presenters.

Backchanneling happens when someone on Twitter uses a hashtag to tweet out to followers what is happening at a conference, or more importantly, what is being said by a speaker at a conference session. THE BACKCHANNEL by Cliff Atkinson is a great book source for understanding the process.

ISTE 2014 will take place at the end of this week. The numbers of attendees will probably approach 20,000. Although that sounds like a huge number of people, it only represents a very tiny number of educators nationwide who get to attend such national education conferences. The attendance of connected educators however, has had a great effect on the transparency and sharing of these gigantic education events through social media, specifically, Twitter.

The Twitter Hashtag has played a huge role in sharing out the conference experience. Since most educators will not be attending the ISTE 2014 conference, many who are connected will rely on their connected colleagues, who will attend, to tweet out the happenings of the event. Those tweets will go from the broad events to individual sessions as well. Although ISTE 2014 is one of the most connected of education conferences, backchanneling is becoming evident at even the smaller local education gatherings. It is a key in sharing at local Edcamps

Conferences have taken notice of this new layer of experience and assign hashtags for the conference, as well as some specific sessions. Experienced connected educators in sessions will make up and share a hashtag on the spot at the beginning of the session. To broadly follow the ISTE conference this year, you need only to create a Twitter column on Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to follow the #ISTE2014 hashtag. There will be several thousand tweets coming out with that hashtag to keep you informed of: personal encounters, celebrity sightings, quotes, new ideas, new products, and even social events taking place. There will be pictures, videos, podcasts, diagrams and graphs. All will be tweeted out with the Hashtag #ISTE2014.

Probably the most sought-after tweets will be those coming directly from sessions. Thought leaders in education presenting their ideas and having people right in the room tweet out what is being said, as it is being said. This is sharing at its best. If the vast majority of educators cannot experience an education conference first hand this is not a bad second best.

As a community of connected educators we need to think of our Personal Learning Network members as connected colleagues. Those educators fortunate enough to have any experiences that cannot be afforded to all, and are willing to take the time to share, are truly collaborative colleagues. These hashtagged tweets have a range in the millions. That is a Public Relations Gold for any organization with a success.

Of course there is a downside. If something does not go well, that is tweeted out as well. It could also be a professional setback for an unprepared presenter. The Twitter Backchannel Buzz could affect the subsequent enthusiasm for any future conference by a particular group. It also underscores those conferences that are attended by the connected community of educators.

I have always believed that we as educators have a professional and moral obligation to share. In so doing, we can build a stronger and better profession of educators. If you have never done it, try following the backchannel for this year’s ISTE Conference by following the #ISTE2014 hashtag. If you attend the ISTE Conference, tweet out as much important stuff as you encounter using the #ISTE2014 hashtag. We can engage fellow educators in the conferences, which they have been blocked from because of location, money, or even an unawareness of what these conferences have to offer. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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On June 6, 2014, almost 100 educators from all over the U.S. arrived at the United States Department of Education to participate in the first-ever Edcamp to be held there. Most of these educators paid their own way to attend incurring a personal expense of time and money, two days and $500 to $900, depending on where they came from.

The question comes to mind, why would any educator give up personal time and money to attend an event at the U.S. Department of Education? Actually, the organizers were limited in the number of educators that could be accommodated, because of space and security issues. There were over 1,000 requests to participate the day after the EdcampUSA was announced. This was a huge number when we consider that many educators are in the closing weeks of their schools and could not apply.

Most of the participants had attended previous Edcamps, and many had organized their own local Edcamps. There have been well over 500 of these conducted in the US and some in other nations. Edcamp is being recognized as a grassroots professional development movement for educators. This was suggested to the US DOE in order to involve them in some way in the movement. The whole idea of doing an Edcamp at the DOE was probably an effort not only to inform the DOE, but also to seek some form of validation for trying to fill a professional development need that is felt by so many educators today. It was also a statement that educators are very interested and invested in improving their profession by taking up that cause without any help from the very system for which they work.

My hope was for the DOE to become more than aware. I hoped for the participation of top policy makers in the sessions to observe first hand the discussions of educators and their efforts, needs, and desires for real education reform. Edcamps are known for their frank and experienced views on the problems in education. These are views that take place through a lens of experience and not theory.

My view however was not to be realized. The DOE did assign a few people to attend the sessions. Some rotated in and out during the course of the day. The policy makers however did not participate in any numbers. There were a very few at the beginning of the day, but after just two sessions they went on to other obligations in their day.

The chief liaison person, Emily Davis, who headed up the Edcamp on behalf of the DOE, was an educator working as the Secretary’s direct assistant in such matters. She was a great contributor, and participant. It was her first Edcamp and she participated with excitement and enthusiasm, as well as awe, throughout the entire day. I know that she will enthusiastically report the success of the Edcamp at the DOE, but I admittedly wanted more. I wanted the Secretary and other policy makers to experience an Edcamp as opposed to receiving a feedback report. That desired involvement however, was not to be. We were granted a very quick visit and a limited photo-op with Secretary Duncan before the opening session.

I know we often refer to Edcamps as a place for professional development to take place, but it is not PD in the conventional sense of the term. It is more of self-examination of what we do to bring learning to students. Some of it is steeped in tradition, education as it was in the 19th & 20th Centuries. Some of it is very progressive, involving the latest technological tools for learning. It is also an examination of pedagogy. It is an open reflection of the educator’s role in education today. It is an experience that gives direction to educators as to how to direct their professional development to achieve the outcomes discussed in these sessions. It is an eye-opener for many, and an expansion of progressive ideas for others. All of it is based on education experience and pedagogy of educators. These are not opinions of politicians, business people, or for-profit reformers.

The Edcamp itself was very exhilarating. It is always great to respectfully test someone’s ideas on education, as well as having your own ideas tested. It was that open transparency in examining the problems and possible solutions that I wished could have been experienced by some of the people who are in a position to make education policy.

I always come away from these experiences wondering after all this is said and done, what is the next action to be taken by all who attended. I think the educators there came away with a number of ideas to implement. I am not sure what the next steps from the DOE will be. That, after all, was the reason for locating this Edcamp at the DOE in the first place.

The DOE’s awareness of Edcamps is a big step. The positive force of social media that was evident at the event was another lesson for the DOE. I would also hope that the dedication of educators to unselfishly sacrifice for their profession was another lesson learned. I know that the members of the DOE are often targets for the wrath of frustrated educators, but that is not part of Edcamp. Hopefully, that was learned as well, so that, if this ever happens again, policy makers will engage rather than just do a quick walk through and photo op.

BTW: If you get an opportunity to attend an Edcamp, jump on it!

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