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Archive for the ‘Curriculum’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We are preparing our students for life. I hear so many educators use this sentence when asked, what is the purpose of education? Many years ago I believed that to be true as well. Maybe many generations back it may have been true. In consideration of all that I observe, even with some great innovation,  and a whole bunch of technology integration that is taking place in so many schools across the country, I don’t believe “preparing our students for life” is the focus or goal of education today. The real irony is that school for kids is real life, a fact often overlooked by educators.

The most obvious reason this is not the case is that we don’t have a clue what the future holds for our children. We will have them in public schools for 13 years. Try to envision what it was like looking backwards to the world as we knew it then. 1999 was quite a different world. We had scarcely a clue of what to expect to find in 2012. The only way to prepare kids for life was to make adjustments every step of the way. The education system does not favor on-the-fly adjustments. The education system needs to weigh, deliberate and consider each and every change. It must all be research-based and research takes time. Education is not ahead of the curve in incorporating technology in learning, it continues to play catch up.  A technology-driven society does not allow the luxury of catching up. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

Content in past decades was slow to change. Even as advances were made in science, history, geography, and literature, the world itself moved at a slower pace, so time and change were less critical. We had a print media that was driven by time sensitive events, but the time was stretched out by print deadlines. Textbooks were relevant for longer periods of time. Today, whole countries that were in existence a short while back have changed names boundaries, populations, and cultures seemingly overnight. Our outdated textbooks that we continue to use cannot hope to keep up with the rapid change of the world today. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

We have research showing us different modalities of learning. We embrace differentiation in teaching. We strive for inclusion of all students to learn in a single teaching environment, while addressing individual strengths for learning. We talk about personalized learning for each student. We use individualized learning plans to maximize learning. We recognize that all kids are created differently. Even in consideration of all of that, we standardize their assessment. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

We hold up the innovators as models. Innovators are our 21st Century heroes. We encourage out-of-the-box thinking while restricting our teachers to in-the-box teaching and assessing it with in-the- box tests. We want our students to be innovative, but require them to be compliant with teaching methods of the past. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

Why do we continue to limit the learning time of our students in order to do test preparation?  How can we continue to insist that kids limit themselves with the cramming of content for a test instead of using their skills to get that content anywhere and at any time? How can we continue to prepare our students for a tech-driven culture demanding critical thinking skills and the ability to problem solve by assessing their content retention? We are not matching up the skills that our children will need in a future that we know little about to the education that we provide today?  Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

We cannot continue on the current path of education if we want to prepare our children for their future. Our children will not live in the world that we grew up in. We need to prepare them to be flexible, critical thinking, problem solvers. They need to be able to get beyond the limitations of their teachers and parents. Our kids are not empty vessels to be filled with content in order to pass a standardized test. Each day, as technology moves faster, that fact is driven home with more emphasis.  Will we ever be able to truly claim that we are effectively preparing kids for life?

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Twitter has been a topic for educational Bloggers for several years now. I believe that those educators using Twitter are drawn to those posts, while other educators, not using Twitter, are driven away. Maybe the problem is the emphasis, or focus of the blog posts. Maybe the focus should be on relevance and no mention of twitter. Are educators relevant in our technology-driven society?  The obvious answer is that some are, and some are not. A more important question is which of these two groups is growing?

I earned an advanced degree in Educational Technology over 30 years ago. From the day that I received that degree, things have evolved at an unbelievable pace, driven by technology. Not one piece of the hardware or software, that I used to earn that degree, existed five years later. How does any educator keep up with the changes not only in technology and methodology of the profession, but the content of subject matter itself, as well as worldwide change? The world today is not the same world of even five years ago. How do educators keep up with all these changes?  Relevance today is much more elusive to educators than when public education was conceived and introduced. We have gone from incremental changes over long periods of time to huge almost systemic changes, in some cases, in a matter of months.

In the distant past, teachers were able to maintain their relevance based on printed journals, newspapers, and magazines. Annual or semi-annual workshops often tied things together. Change was slow and it was simpler to keep up with things with these simple methods. As change began to speed up, the methods of maintaining relevance remained unchanged. The methods of information have now almost totally shifted from the print media to the digital media. Web sites and blog posts have replaced education journals. The print media, as an industry, has drastically shrunk in size, as digital the media has expanded. Educator relevance has fallen behind as a result of a fast-paced, ever- changing, technology-driven society, combined with an antiquated method of relevant professional development. The evolution of change is faster in the world than it is for the system of educators who teach about that world.

Educators need a better way to communicate about change in order to maintain their relevance. Collaboration may be the key to this problem. If we could connect those educators who have managed to maintain their relevance in this new reality to those educators who need to be brought up to speed, we will be well on the way to needed reform. Educators could connect, and discuss what works, and what doesn’t. If we only had a way to share the websites, or, better yet, free online webinars? If we only had a way to engage educators in real-time discussions on topics of education not going on in their school settings? If we only had a method to provide the latest methodology in things like blogging, BYOD, the flipped classroom, portfolio assessment and authentic learning? If we only had a way of doing all of this with little impact on precious time?

Too bad an application of Social Media like Twitter was developed for such a frivolous purpose. It was set up so that people could quickly send stupid, unimportant information to other people. It allows celebrities to conduct meaningless discussions with fans. It allows fans to keep up with up-to-the-minute facts about any celebrity they have an interest in. It enables an exchange of useless and silly websites, blog posts, videos, and live, celebrity interviews. It is really a waste of a good application.

If only an educator with the highest of degrees would invent such a collaborative tool for educators to do all of the same collaboration with real valuable education stuff? Maybe, until that time arrives, when a prestigious application designer develops a prestigious education tool for education collaboration that receives the approval of all educators for use in their noble endeavors, maybe, just maybe, we could consider using TWITTER. It might be the quickest and best method to acquire and maintain the relevance necessary to be an effective educator.

I must admit that this post comes from the frustration of listening to the many excuses from educators who choose not to use Twitter. Relevance is the prime consideration for using it. Twitter is used by many educators as the backbone to their Professional Learning Network. Why would any educator argue for his or her irrelevance? If Twitter is not for all educators, what applications or methods are they using to maintain relevance?

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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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One of the many things that I love about my job is my freedom to attend national education conferences for the purpose of meeting with educators and commenting on trends and changes in the education system many of which are introduced, and explored at these conferences. I wish I could say that I could objectively report on the influences these conferences have on education, but my personal bias as a long, long time public educator prevents that from happening. I will always view these through the eyes of a classroom, public school educator. If after that introduction, you are still with me, here is my reflection on iNACOL Virtual School Symposium. This conference is described as The Premiere K-12 Online and Blended Learning Conference.

I have always been a fan of distance learning, beginning back in the day when we had to hook up modems to the computers for connectivity. I also remember the resistance by administrators when teachers tried to get professional development credit for taking online courses. It was often viewed as an attempt to game the system. When Administrative degrees began popping up as a result of online colleges, they were at first met with great skepticism at hiring interviews. Of course with the development of the Internet, and the wide acceptance by institutions of higher learning for online courses, there is becoming more of an acceptance in our system of education for virtual delivery of education.

The iNACOL Virtual School Symposium attracted some of the best of the best in this area to share with colleagues the positive aspects of this method of teaching and learning. This was done with over 200 sessions in a four day period of time. It was well-planned, and seemingly well-attended. Of course, I was struck by the ironic fact that this tech-oriented conference could not register attendees for a lengthy period of time because of network problems. Many of the educators that I encountered seemed to be administrators, or charter school educators. Public school educators may have been avoiding me. It does stand to reason that charter schools are taking a larger step in the blended learning model than public schools, so it is reasonable that they would attend in larger numbers. The lack of public school acceptance seemed also to be a theme throughout many of the policy sessions that I was able to monitor.

My criticism of this conference is the same criticism that many educators have of most professional, education conferences. There were not enough real classroom educators doing the sessions. This conference was vendor-driven. It was also very policy-wonk heavy. Many of the publicized business people who have injected themselves, as education reformers, into the national conversation on education were in attendance. I actually attended one of those sessions with one of those reformers. This particular reformer posed a plan in his session for more acceptance of online learning in the overall education system. Both he and another reformer presented their multi-point plan asking for comments and reactions. I could not wait to get to that part of the discussion.

These gentlmen described the plan in detail. This was how they were going to gain universal acceptance of blended learning throughout the country. These guys mentioned policy, vendors, providers, legislators, learners, students, and infrastructure. All of this was accounted for in their detailed, bullet-pointed, power-point-presented plan. There was, in my admittedly biased view, only one thing missing from this comprehensive laundry list of recommendations. I was now Arnold Horshack rocking, and rolling in my seat awaiting my opportunity to add to the panel discussion. I knew that I had to give my considered opinion. I knew what was truly missing from the list. The reformer only came close to that missing element once as he made a somewhat snide remark about tenure. It was like a remark one would make out of the side of one’s mouth.

The missing element was EDUCATORS! We need to prioritize educating the educators about blended learning. Effective blended learning has not been around as long as most teachers have been around. It is reasonable to assume that being “bitten by the digital learning bug” will not be enough to transform a system. Teachers are taught to be classroom teachers. Online teaching uses much of the same pedagogy, but very different methodology. Paper worksheets are bad in a classroom, but digital worksheets are worse, thanks to cut and paste.

I never got to share that idea with the reformer. He opened the discussion to the audience, but he called out those who he wanted to answer by their first names. Neither the press pass on my badge, nor did my Arnold Horshack-like raising of my arm sway him from his mission. The commenters were all to be policy-makers, vendors, and business people who he chose. They would never have had that educator point of view that could have identified that educators were missing from the plan.  I had become, not unlike many students who are not recognized in the classroom by their teacher. I was dejected, and I shut down. I did not go up to him and offer my opinion. He did not receive the key to success for his plan. I did not receive the chachkas his assistants handed out to people who engaged him in conversation. I went to the next session with Hall Davidson and had a great time engaging with new WEB2.0 learning tools.

I hope to attend this iNACOL Virtual School Symposium again, but I would hope that it evolves over the year to address the needs of the education system that needs to change. Less emphasis should be given to Vendors, CEO’s and For-Profit charter schools. Yes, they are part of the education system today, but their interests cannot come at the expense of the greater good of Public education for a majority of our citizens. If iNACOL is serious about having a greater impact in getting blended learning throughout the system, it needs to provide continuing education, support, and guidance to educators. This organization has the great potential and ability to combine policy and practice to make a difference. Once the educators are educated, can the students be far behind? I fear my bias has once again clouded my objectivity. I promise to keep working on that.

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I was invited to attend the Annual Conference on Evidence-based Policy making and Innovation sponsored by the National Association of State Boards of Education. The conference was well planned with excellent leaders and speakers in each of the sessions. These were the very sessions the members of NASBE needed to consider the weighty decisions they need to make on policy required by their positions on their State Boards of Education. I was there as an observer and a blogger, and I was impressed by their genuine concern to do the right thing in education. It seemed that many members were at one time an educator.

A key session for me was the general session on the Common Core State Standards. The panel consisted of David Coleman, “The Architect of the Common Core,” along with Christopher Koch, Illinois superintendent of schools, and Jean-Claude Brizard, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Brizard was replaced the next day, having nothing to do with this session; I am sure.

Coleman was the driving force of the panel. He was passionate in his presentation of the Common Core State Standards. CCSS is his baby. I am not in agreement with all aspects of CCSS, but I do see a need to provide some statewide guidance to what expectations or goals we have for our learners and teachers. The sticking point will always be the assessment of these expectations and goals.

The point of this panel, beyond the explanation of the CCSS, was the fact that all of the states involved will need to be Common Core compliant by 2014. They stated emphatically that CCSS will affect all subjects and not just math and language arts. It became obvious to me that they were really driving home the who, what, where, when, and most definitely, the why of Common Core. What was searing my brain, as I squirmed in my seat, trying very hard not to jump up screaming 20 questions all at once, was the obvious missing plan of how this is to be done. It cannot be done without teachers fully in support. Where is the professional development piece to all of this? The Common Core is planned and structured and handed to the states with the full support of the U.S. Department of Education. Where is the implementation plan beyond the deadline for compliance? Where is the plan and support for professional development for this grand scheme that will change American education?

There are many teachers in our education system who recognize the need for change in other districts, but they remain satisfied in what they do as educators in their own district. Their students are coming to school, doing work and getting jobs or going to college. According to the media and the politicians, the system is crumbling with no hope for repair, but that is not what educators see in many of their own districts. Why change if we don’t have to? Every educator learns early on that whatever change is being implemented now, if you wait long enough, it will go away when another idea comes along. The other big misconception is that the Common Core right now is only for math and language arts. It is not going to affect any other areas.

Many schools have bought into Common Core and are preparing their teachers for it. Some are doing a better job than others. There are other schools however, that may not be sharing the enthusiasm to be compliant by 2014. The failure or success of Common Core rests with the educators. It might have behooved the policy makers to have first considered an educator’s Common Core for professional development and support so that the very people who are most needed to support, enforce and teach under CCSS will be properly prepared. When it comes to professional development in education, there is little positive commonality. To be better educators, we need to be better learners.

A possible outcome is that if Common Core State Standards fails, it would not be assessed as a failure because it wasn’t a great idea. It will be judged a failure because American teachers never embraced it or supported it. If it doesn’t work, it’s the fault of the bad teachers. No one will look back at the implementation and ask, “How did we prepare our educators to implement this bold idea?” or “Where were educators ranked in the priority of the plan?”

Much of this came in great clarity and focus to me on the plane after I left the conference. The flight attendant was doing the in-flight instruction and got to the part where the oxygen masks come down. She said: If you are an adult with children, place the mask over your face first, and then you will be able to place the mask over the face of the child. If Common Core fails, what then?

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For educators who have been connected since the early days of social media, it is difficult to understand the reason people would ask, “What is #Edchat?” We must remember that many educators using social media for professional reasons have joined only recently. The idea of using social media for professional reasons is a relatively new concept. One would hope that it is having a positive effect because the Department of Education declared August Connected Educators Month. In our technology-driven culture, sometimes we need to stop where we are and take time to consider how we got here.

#Edchat began on Twitter three years ago. Like dog years, three years in social media time is much longer. Back then, there were far fewer educators exchanging ideas on Twitter. Twitter was only beginning to emerge as a serious method of collaboration for educators. Celebrities dominated the network and got great media coverage about their tweets. Serious use of Twitter by educators for collaboration was never covered by the media. It was not media worthy.

The popularity of Twitter for many is a result of its simplicity: Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so the writer isn’t required to say much. Of course, this was not an attraction for educators, who found the limit constricting and not welcoming for people who often have much to say. The secret that had not yet been exploited was that many tweets strung together focusing on a single topic create a discussion. In Twitter terms, this is a “chat.”

Shelly Terrell (@ShellTerrell), Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and I (@tomwhitby) created such a chat to focus on topics for educators. We used the hashtag #Edchat to aggregate all of the tweets in one place so people could follow #Edchat-specific tweets and focus on the chat in real-time. By isolating all #Edchat tweets in a separate column on TweetDeck, we were also able to follow and archive the entire discussion. #Edchat certainly was not the first “chat,” but its quick acceptance and growth among thousands of educators within weeks ensured its place in Twitter history. We held the original #Edchat at 7 p.m. Eastern on Tuesdays. Tuesdays became known as “Teacher Tuesday,” a day that teachers recommended other teachers to follow on Twitter. Participants used the hashtag #TeacherTuesday or #TT. We quickly learned Twitter’s global reach as European educators requested an earlier #Edchat to accommodate their time zones. We added a noon Eastern #Edchat in response.

The power of the hashtag was still developing in those days. #Edchat, however, began to appear on any tweet that had to do with education. The idea is that if a person on Twitter is connected to 10 educators, every one of his tweets goes to and ends with those 10 followers. This is the basic premise of Twitter. There were many educators who recognized and began to follow the #Edchat hashtag. By tacking #Edchat onto a tweet, the person can extend the range of his tweet beyond his 10 followers to the thousands who follow the hashtag. This potentially increases followers and expands his professional learning network.

There are about 70 education chats working for specific focuses. There are several hundred hashtags used to identify education-specific tweets. #Edchat continues at noon and 7 p.m. Eastern each Tuesday with different topics. The topics are determined by a poll including five topics that is posted each Sunday and remains open until Tuesday. The No. 1 choice becomes the 7 p.m. topic, and the noon #Edchat covers the second-place topic. A team moderates each #Edchat to keep things moving and focused. In addition to those already mentioned, the team consists of Kyle Pace (@kylepace), Mary Beth Hertz (@MBteach), Bernie Wall (@rliberni) and Nancy Blair (@blairteach). You can access the poll. There are hundreds of educators participating globally each week. Jerry Sweater (@jswiatek) maintains the chats, which are all archived.

Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) maintains other education chats. He also offers a solid list of education hashtags.

These are methods that educators have developed using social media in general, and Twitter specifically, to connect for the purpose of personal and professional development and advancement of the education system. The effect of many #Edchat discussions can be seen in blog-post reflections in the weeks after the original #Edchat discussion. Topics tend to reflect education concerns that have most recently been tweeted or blogged about to maintain relevance. That should be all anyone needs to become part of the #Edchat experience.

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A short time ago I attended a meeting where members of a college English department were doing a presentation to the faculty about their writing program. As I listened to about a 30-minute presentation of the types of writing required by this program, it became obvious to me that two words in this presentation of a college writing program were never uttered. They were two words that as an educator I come in contact with almost every day. Two words that have changed the way information is exchanged. The two words, never mentioned, have transformed the publishing industry. The two words have revolutionized journalism. These two words have moved authentic learning to the fore in writing classes across the country, or rather the world. These professors of writing had developed a program which by all accounts was very effective, but overlooked and did not even mention either of the two words that had changed forever how society views and consumes and disseminates the written word in the 21st Century. Obviously, someone did not do their homework, or maybe they were just not connected. If it is not yet apparent, the two words are “Blog” and “Post”. Sometimes they appear as one, “Blogpost”.

I was a reluctant blogger. I needed to be pushed into doing it. I saw no need to put myself at the mercy of the public scrutinizing: my every idea, my every word, my every mistake. I also did not believe that, even if I managed to start a Blog, I could sustain it with any substantial ideas over a period of time. That was 136 blog posts and two years ago. That number does not include guest posts done for other Blogs. What I learned and appreciate more than any other thing that I get from blogging is that I write for me. It is a reflective, personal endeavor. I made the choice to open my blog to public scrutiny. I encourage comments to my ideas, to affirm, or further reflect on those ideas based on the reader comments. Testing my ideas in public is testing I can believe in. Of course I can take that position because pretty much most of what I have written has been fairly well received in over 2,000 comments.

As an educator I believe kids should be introduced to blogging early.  A writer’s work will quickly improve with a real audience. Writing for an audience of only one is a tedious process. This is the preferred method in education. The writer needs to wait for the composition to be graded. Of course the student writer can always shake off the teacher’s criticism; because the writer is convinced the teacher hates him anyway. With comments from a real audience providing proper feedback, the writer gets a better sense of impact on the audience as well as recognition for accuracy and focus. Of course it is also on the teacher to teach kids how to responsibly comment and respond on other’s posts. We can’t hold students responsible for things that we don’t teach them.

As an educator I believe educators should be blogging. We need to model that, which we are demanding of our students. It also opens the teacher to the effects of transparency. It goes without saying that teachers must be thoughtful and responsible in what they post. We have to remember that any idiot can write a blog and most do. This is why we need more educators modeling and contributing to the pool of responsible blogs. Teachers who abuse their responsibility by irresponsible posts are for the most part just irresponsible adults who were never taught about the responsibilities or the impact of the blogging.

As an educator I believe that administrators should be blogging. Administrators in theory are our education leaders. They have an obligation to tell us where we are going and why we should go there. Education can no longer be an isolated profession. There is too much at stake. I continually try to convince administrators to blog. Many have the same trepidations that I had at first. Most, after taking the plunge, become blogging advocates. Check out the Connected Principal’s Blog. This is a collaborative blogging site for principals, most of whom are recent bloggers.

The whole idea of Connected Educators is to break down the barriers that have prevented us from exchanging ideas in a big way. Technology has provided us the tools to share and collaborate in astounding ways. We do that on a daily basis with existing content. Blog Posts provide us with: original thought, new ideas, questions, reflections, and much, much more.

This is not just a job for writing teachers. The computer is the today’s publisher. Computers do not send out rejection letters. If we as educators recognize the position blogging now has and will continue to have in our society, we need to take responsibility for teaching proper use in whatever our academic field of choice. We need to model for the next generations. We need to use the Blog as a tool to connect and communicate. We need to blog in order to openly reflect and challenge. We need to blog for ourselves while opening our ideas to others. For many this is a scary thought, but for many others it is a challenge.

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I was fortunate and honored to be asked to speak at a recent conference for The Software Information Industry Association (SIIA). They are all wonderful people in a group that represents a major portion of education software developers and manufacturers. I had some great discussions with some very smart and driven education-minded, business people. As I stated in my last post, many of these people have come from the ranks of educators. My big take away from this conference however, was not about all of the great new products coming from the companies that these folks represented. What was most evident to me was the driving force behind all of the great stuff being developed: DATA. In this world of monetizing education data is King. It is what business understands.

Knowing that makes it easy to understand the point of view of many of our industrial, or business-background, educational leaders, who are leading the way in education today. They are data-driven leaders. They believe that we need Data to analyze, and adjust, so that we may move forward. Of course, if we analyze, adjust and move forward according to the Data, and change doesn’t happen, there must be a reason that requires us to think through that reason in order to adjust. If there is no improvement, someone must be held accountable, because the data is always reliable. All things considered the fingers of the data-readers begin to point to the variable in the equation; the teacher. Of course Business oriented leaders will additionally include the Bane of any business leader’s existence; the unions.

Now before everyone gets their backs up, let us consider another possibility. Let us consider that maybe the merging of the mantras of education and business are not working out together. Maybe “Content is King” merged with “Data is King” does not add up to a learned individual. Maybe the focus on content, so that education can be easily assessed by Data is really the wrong thing that we should be analyzing. Maybe, how we teach, is a much more important element in learning than what we teach. Maybe the data is totally correct about what it is assessing, but what it is assessing is not what we should be looking at.

I always go back to the way technology is assessed by some schools. They test kids out, interject some tech stuff, test the kids again, and check the results. If the results are poor, or if there is no difference, then it is deduced that the tech has failed to make a difference. Hence, Tech does not work.  The questions not asked are important. Was the teacher properly prepared to use the tech? How were the students trained to use the tech? Was the culture of the class supportive of the tech? Was the tech that was selected the best tech to achieve the teachers goals? Was the teacher involved with creating the lessons using the tech, or was it packaged lessons? How much support did the teacher receive during the project? Of course we could go on with even more questions. The point is that the right questions and conclusions need to be applied to the data.

I met many, very smart, and successful people at that conference. I did not ask one of them what the data said about their personal competence as a learned individual. I judged that for myself by their accomplishments, communication skills, social skills, and even appearance. Not one person had a name tag with their test scores evident as a means of introduction. I only hope they were equally impressed with the opinions I expressed as an educator who is more than somewhat opinionated. I am sure my Hawaiian shirts gave them some mixed ideas.

As teachers, we all have our specific content to teach. That has been our goal since public education was introduced. It is what we do with that content that makes the difference. We can put it out there and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in video form and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in a PDF form and have kids commit it to memory. That would all make it easy to do a data analysis. We could probably require specific things be covered by all teachers, so our kids would all get equal educations in every state in the country. We could even develop a single test everyone could take at the same time. That would help standardize education. Then we could compare apples to apples as well as oranges to oranges around the country.

Another way to look at it would be to use that content to teach skills of collaboration, communication, and the ultimate “ation” of all; creation. Memorization of content (although difficult for many) is the thinking skill requiring the least amount of thinking. As a skill it is needed, but not coveted. Having the facts is helpful, knowing what to do with them, and adapting them to any situation is priceless. If teachers focused on teaching learning instead of the more easily assessed content memorization, we would have a population of critical thinking, creative, innovators who continuously learn even after leaving school.

At the final presentation that I attended at this wonderful conference, I gained a little more insight into the direction of Tech in education today. This was a panel of some very impressive, forward thinking presidents of tech in education companies. My first insight was that there are a great many companies developing gaming for education. My second insight into the Edtech direction was not as hopeful, at least to me. The two phrases that really caught my attention  were “classroom instruction” and “BYOD (bring your own device)”. Both of these told me that the tech companies, like many people in general, believe that kids need to go to a specific place to learn, the classroom. If we are to be successful as educators, than how we teach kids better involve a way for them to learn outside the classroom. No student should be limited by the content knowledge of their teacher. If I taught all my students everything I know, it wouldn’t be enough for them to live in their world. What we are teaching will be irrelevant. How we teach kids to learn will serve them for a lifetime.

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