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Archive for the ‘Edcamp’ Category

After a marathon attendance at a number of education conferences this year I have stored up many observations on the approach these conferences use to engage educators in their profession. Since I began attending them over 35 years ago I do have some historical perspective. More often than not my experience on the planning of the “Education Conference” is: So it is written, so it shall be done! Many reshuffle the deck and deal out the same old hands. If we always plan conferences on what worked last year, progress will never catch up to relevance.

In our technology-driven society we have come to recognize that our students are learning differently. I would suggest that our educators are learning differently as well. That difference needs to be addressed by the conferences that help educate our educators. The reasons we as educators are reflecting and changing our methods of education to meet the needs of our students are the very reasons education conferences need to change to meet the needs of our changing educators. Resistance that we too often provide does not prevent the fact that there comes a time when we just must reinvent the wheel.

If all educators need to do, in order to keep up with modern education, is to listen to lectures, they can do that cheaper and more conveniently with webinars and podcasts over the Internet. What do conferences provide beyond the lecture? If the answer is face to face networking, then provide the spaces and times to do that. Select venues with ample lounging spaces or build them into the venue. Sessions must be planned with time between sessions for educators to connect and network. Schedule, encourage, or incent presenters, and featured speakers to circulate in these spaces.

Reflection rooms might be a unique addition. Spaces where speakers, presenters, and attendees could gather for reflection and discussion. This would be the best place for educators to connect face to face as well as digitally through social media to continue discussions online, beyond the conference and through the year. Those creative juices that flow during the conference will continue throughout the year. Current models get people thinking during the conference and in many cases the juices will not flow again until the next conference.

Planning the sessions is key to success in any Edu conference. If, as educators, we know that lecture is not the best way to learn, why would we encourage it in sessions? Interactive sessions, as well as discussions, and even interactive panel sessions are the very things that excite, engage, and educate educators. These should be encouraged and highlighted. The method of delivery should always be a prime consideration in addition to being clearly stated on the session description.

The selection of speakers and sessions needs to be examined. Connected educators are often on the cutting edge discussing education topics as much as a year before it hits Faculty meeting and lounges. If the committees made up to judge and select RFP for sessions than those educators need to be relevant as well. Again, a topic that was popular last year may not be as relevant this year. What upset me was that some of this year’s presenters were filling out and submitting RFP’s for next year’s conference. Maybe we should have staggered RFP deadlines with a quota for each date. Planners could then observe trends and avoid replication over a period of time. It also offers the opportunity to analyze the needs and send out requests for specific RFP’s.

Of course the biggest change in PD for educators in years has been the EDCAMP model of conference. Sessions are planned on the fly based on interest and expertise with the assembled group. These sessions are dynamic discussions, which dive into the depths of the selected topic. Every conference should set aside time for the EDCAMP model. Four hours should do it. Planning it for the middle of the conference will enable educators to get a handle on the topics they would need to delve deeply into.

Today’s technology has enabled educators to connect and collaborate globally. Only a few conferences have understood how to harness the power of the tweet. In order to show a conference to the world, the attendees, when moved by engagement will tweet out all that is needed. This draws into the conferences many who are not physically in attendance.

Every conference should have a connected educator space. Many Bloggers have claimed the Blogger’s Lounge as their space and have continued with great connections with other bloggers. We need that for all educators. The connected educator space must be present at every conference.

My final concern is in the Registration fees. Conferences are expensive to run. There is no option on charging money for attendance. The structure however may be flexible with several options. Consideration should be given to discounting for teams of teachers coming from the same district. Maybe we should have a discount for first-time attendees.

I have traveled the world going to Education conferences. All have good points and bad points. All of these conferences have come from the sweat, tears and blood of many volunteers. They are all well-intentioned and I believe in their necessity in our system for Professional Development. The point I feel we must fight for however is the need for relevance in the world in which we teach. This is the same thing we should strive for in all of education. Many of the goals we strive for to support our students should also be the same goals to address our needs to educate our educators.

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I am very fortunate to have a position that gets me invited to education conferences around the country, and occasionally out of it as well. I have written a number of posts describing the benefits, and the blemishes, of many of them over the last year. I am writing this post, as I am en route to Austin, Texas to participate in one of the big ones, the SXSWEdu Conference. Last week however, I attended a gem of a conference conducted by the Illinois ISTE affiliate, The Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference, referred to as ICE13.

After attending so many conferences, it is easy to point out the flaws of any, or each. Most conferences require RFPs, the requests for proposals, to determine the sessions for the conference program far too many months in advance of the conference. The need for this is to have several, and in some cases, too many people, read over the proposals in order to determine which sessions to approve. Perhaps several staggered deadlines for RFPs might allow a more varied and relevant program. Another gateway to relevance could be a period of time within the conference to conduct an Edcamp format for a segment of the conference. I think all conferences could benefit by some innovative schedule planning.

ICE13 was a little different from many of the other statewide education conferences by virtue of its venue. Although I flew into Chicago, I had to drive what, according to my GPS, was a 45-minute trip outside of Chicago to St. Charles and a resort called Pheasant Run. This venue made a big difference in the tenor of this conference. The presentation rooms were spacious and well equipped as most conferences, but what made the difference was the sprawling hotel itself. There were two bars and several gathering areas with couches and comfy chairs throughout. It was hive of connectivity and networking based on discussions and discourse. It was a great place for presenters, keynotes and participants to meditate, mingle, and mashup ideas and concepts in education.

For me the highlight of the conference was what was called the PLN Plaza. It was used as an overflow area for the keynotes as those speeches were streamed in. The best part however was that the keynotes, as well as many presenters, were scheduled for drop-ins to conduct discussions on their topics with anyone who stopped by. It was up close and personal in the best way. This is an experience many bloggers benefit from at the Blogger’s Café at large national conferences. The PLN Plaza was the brainchild of a group of people including: Dan Rezac, Elizabeth Greene, and Amanda Pelsor, all of whom kept things moving along there for the entire conference. It was a comfortable gathering place where I engaged in many discussions, as well as networking, and connected throughout my entire stay.

There seemed to be more Twitter activity at this conference as well. Connected educators seemed to be a topic that was emphasized by many of the keynotes and several of the presenters. Camaraderie between the presenters because of their connectedness was very evident at ICE13. The conference also had more than one Wi-Fi network to connect to, which made many people very happy.

In addition I also enjoyed The UDL Playground. I first saw this at the NYSCATE Conference in New York. It is a place where a number of vendors can demonstrate tools as participants ask questions to learn about Universal Design for Learning. The activities there were interactive and very instructive. In full disclosure, my wife’s company, VIZZLE, was quite active in its participation at both conferences. It would be great if more vendors participated in activities like the UDL Playground to enable educators to engage authentically beyond a basic booth demonstration.

Education conferences are a needed component of professional development for teachers and administrators, but they are not going to maintain relevance without connecting their members in greater numbers during each conference. Unconnected educators are pumped up and energized with each annual conference. That occurs annually. They need to meet people and network with the new people who they meet at the conference. Connected educators are pumped up and energized year-round, and go into hyper-drive at conferences as they connect face-to-face with all of the educators they have been exchanging information and sources with during the year. We need to stop just talking about innovation as a goal and practice it as professionals. We need to innovate in every aspect of what we do, and we do it wherever and whenever we can. Connectedness has been digitally enhanced through technology, and it is an innovation we need to employ extensively.

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With as many education conferences that I have attended, and continue to attend, I am getting to be quite the expert at least in the ability to compare and contrast the various major education conferences. I hope I am not one of the five blind men describing an elephant, but I did seek out opinions from other experienced conference attendees and presenters finding them in agreement.

Unfortunately for educators, most of these conferences are the same old, same old with little focus for the future with the exception of vendor-driven bells and whistles presentations. These however are not the essential things that will transform, and move education forward.

In no way am I implying that Conference planners are not dedicated, hard-working, well-meaning individuals. Putting on an Education conference is hard work and all consuming for many. The result should not be having someone trash it on a blog post. As educators, however, we must recognize formative assessment in the form of feedback and adjust our lesson (conference) accordingly.

As an English teacher, I am quite aware that the order in which essays fall in a pile can affect the subjective assessments of a paper. If an exceptional piece is read first, followed by a mediocre essay, the second piece might appear even less acceptable than if it came after a paper that was poorly written, in which case it would appear of higher quality. I offer this analogy because I came to Florida Educational Technology Conference 2013 almost directly from EDUCON2.5. EDUCON: Shift Happens

It is in the spirit of constructive criticism that I now proceed, but this criticism is not FETC13 specific. FETC was the catalyst that generated this reflection. It applies to many if not too many of our national and statewide Education Conferences.

Conferences are expensive propositions. The venue and accommodations for the conferences require huge amounts of money. To offset the expense to schools and attendees most organizations recruit vendors to hawk their wares, charging great amounts of money for space and access. For this sum of money, business needs and requires some say in what goes on at the conference. They need their reps and executives to have a say in the content of the conference. They need to do presentations and they want their people doing keynotes. They need to push the bells and whistles of their products regardless of pedagogy or methodology. Most are well intentioned and certainly experts in the application of their product as they see its application in the classroom. These workshops make up a good number of presentations. These are needed presentations, but they should not be the Conference focus. Educators presenting to educators is always my preferred presentation.

The really hard questions are: How can any Education conference today expect to succeed on presentations of tools and technology without real conversations on the Why’s and wherefores? What should the ratio of iPad-driven presentations vs. the need for collaboration in education conversations. Where do we deal with the big ideas? Where was the workshop on how we deal with the Teaching learning in an environment of standardized testing? Why can’t I find substantive conversations directed by educators about the difference between Assessment and Testing?

The Connected Educator was a focus in the month of August by the Department of Education. There were few conversations about connectedness, although my friend Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach did do one presentation. Why was there no place to connect educators available throughout the conference? “How to connect and here is the place to do it” should have a place at every education conference.

Relevance is a topic I often write about. I have also stated that to be really relevant, educators need to be connected. I think I can now say that about Education Conferences. To be relevant conferences need to be connected. The folks at FETC were thrilled to be trending on Twitter. I was of the opinion that was something that needed to be explained to too many in attendance including the planners. It seemed that the Twitter trending was based on the retweeting of a few heavily connected tweeters in the conference. Original tweets generated from the conference were few. It is that very connectedness of educators, which makes them relevant, that causes that grating sound in my head with every presentation that is a year behind the conversations of connected educators.

If Education conferences are going to be relevant, planners need to plan for it. They need to be in on connected conversations if they want to direct relevant conversations at their conferences. They need to revamp, or abandon methods of assessing RFP’s to get better educator-directed, relevant presentations and workshops. They need to incorporate more conversations as in the Edcamp model of professional development. They need to focus the conversations on the big ideas of education with less focus on the tools and toys, as much fun as they can be.

Of course this piece is based solely on my opinion. I would love comments from others who are conference attendees. What are the things that you would have addressed?  How can education conferences maintain relevance? I hope to continue to be invited to these conferences, even after this post.

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Today I attended the 39th Annual Conference for the Association of Middle Level Education in Portland, Oregon. I actually presented for this group for a couple of times about 25 years ago when it was The National Middle Schools Association. That was back in the day when we had far fewer middle schools. The model most often employed back then was the Junior High School. Junior high schools were 7-9 mini high schools. Little kids, little problems (what were we thinking?).

The middle school movement changed that for many school districts. It supported a more collaborative model for educators with a team oriented approach to education. I was a high school teacher for Six years, a junior high school teacher for ten years and a middle school teacher for eighteen years. From that perspective I describe middle school educators as teachers of kids, and high school educators as teachers of courses. I also describe elementary teachers as saints. That is not meant to disparage high school educators. Their job is to prepare students for a college environment which will be, unfortunately, far less supportive or nurturing for students.

I did not participate in many sessions today, but I did study the extensive program, and I did stop in to a number of sessions to get a feel for the conference. My focus at education conferences is no longer as a classroom teacher, but as an educator supporting professional development as a path to education reform. Through that lens, I was amazed at how little the sessions of this conference had evolved in the many years since I presented.  Many, many of the sessions were hour-long, PowerPoint presentations with a period of time at the end for questions and answers. In one of the sessions that I monitored, the presenter would not take any questions until she finished her PowerPoint.

I always wonder why experienced educators with a firm grasp on learning and methods of teaching would subject their audience of adults to presentations that they know would never work with their students. For some reason, many teachers abandon what they know, to become what has been modeled to them as the method of how an educator should present to colleagues, rather than employ proven methods of teaching. How many people can retain information delivered in Text-laden slides spanning over an hour of presentation and only 15 minutes if interaction? Let me be clear. This was not done in every session, and sometimes it may be the only way. The trend however should be taking presenters to more effective methods of presentation. Presentation is teaching, and that is the subject we as educators are experts in.

The other big thing that stood out to me was the subjects of sessions that were provided. The topics covered many of the important issues of middle level education. There was however, much duplication. This could be good for the purpose of planning on the part of the attendees. It enables them more flexibility in scheduling their personal slate of sessions. It also offers different views of the same subject. The downside is that redundant subject sessions limit the total of topics to be presented.

Of course my most critical comment would be the lack of technology not in the delivery of the sessions, but within the subjects of the sessions. Yes, it is not an ISTE conference, but education is now employing a great amount of technology with in many cases limited professional development for educator’s specific needs in their specific subject areas. More sessions in any conference need to be tech-oriented supporting Technology Literacy in education for educators, as well as students.

With that thought in mind I began observing how many of the participants were connected educators. I did hear the Marzano name mentioned in a few sessions, so I believe there is some connecting going on, but is it enough? I could only identify about a dozen tweeters at the conference who back channeled sessions. I do not believe any of the sessions were being live streamed to the internet. I was impressed with the mobile app supplied for the program. That might have been why so many participants were looking at their phones. Middle School educators are the most team-oriented, collaborative educators in our education system. I could not understand why the tweets were not flying fast and furiously.

It was then that I began to consider my own Twitter Stream, my Personal Learning Network. At a glance, I realized that much of my network, although global, is weighted on the east coast. Whether I was personally connected to these folks or not, the #AMLE2012 hashtag still should have approached trending. That never came close.

The idea of connected educators should be a focus of all education conferences. Criticisms aside, this was a wonderful conference that offered educators a shot in the arm to get those creative juices flowing. People come off of a conference like this ready to move up. The problem settles in as time passes. The idea of being connected enables those educators to keep those juices flowing. The great boost that educators get at the conference is enabled to continue beyond the conference. Although many education conferences meet some needs of educators, often times there are simultaneously missed opportunities. Things are moving too fast for missed opportunities.

This, as I explained, is my view through the lens of an educator interested in Professional Development leading the way to education reform. We cannot have professional conferences that focus on supporting the status quo. We do need to effectively share what is happening in classrooms today. The greater need however, is what should be happening in whatever we decide will be the classrooms of tomorrow. This is my lens, my observations, and my opinion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When it comes to education reform, there are in general two major camps, but there are also several variations of each. The first camp would like to blow up the system and start all over. The other camp wants to continue the status quo while working to change it in directions governed by whatever dominant force of change has the ear of the public at the time. I find my own inclinations falling somewhere between the two camps. I want to blow some stuff up while improving upon some existing stuff. Like most educators, or any people with a basic understanding of authentic assessment, I do want to blow up any notion or hint of compliance with high stakes, standardized testing. The area of improvement that I think will get us the biggest bang for the all-important, tax buck is professional development.

It has long been my position that to be better educators, we need to be better learners. Since I have worked in higher education now for a while, many teachers have said to me how they love having student teachers in their building, because they can learn so much from the “young people” about all the new stuff in education. Some variation of that phrase has been repeated by more than one educator every year since I have been working with student teachers. To me that is a big RED FLAG. It causes me to ask, “Why does a veteran teacher need to have a student bring them up to date on the latest methodology, pedagogy and technology in the field of education?” If our students are to get a relevant education, should we not have relevant educators? Why on earth would experienced educators need students to provide that which every school district in the country should be striving to provide teachers within their system?

We need to examine the way we approach professional development in education. Too often it is left up to the educators to seek out their own PD. That is good for some, but not all educators have an understanding of what they do not know. If you don’t know about something, how would you know to seek PD in that area? This is especially true of learning with technology. I have a master’s degree in educational technology. The fact is that not any of the applications or computers that I learned on, as well as the methodology in the use of those components, exists today. Very little of that degree would be relevant, if I did not continue to learn, adapt and progress with what I know. The same holds true with any degree in any profession. From the day one gets a degree, things in that area of expertise begin to change. With the influence of a technology-driven culture, things move at a much faster pace than years past causing a more rapid rate of change. Therefore, the pace at which things change has increased exponentially, while the way we provide PD to deal with these changes is relatively unchanged from years past in many, if not most schools.

PD is offered by many schools in an annual or semiannual teacher workshop day. The other method is to allow teachers to seek out their own PD on their own time, often at their own expense. Technology training for teachers is often addressed in schools. The method of choice, however, by many schools is what my friend Brian Wasson, an IT guy, refers to as the “Home Depot Method.” The district goes out and buys all the cool tools from the vendors and then tries to teach, or force feed them to the teachers. That is a sure formula for failure.

We need to change PD. It must be part of an educator’s work week, and that includes administrators. We need educators to connect with other educators to collaborate and maintain relevance. Educators need to explore their needs and address them with solutions of their choosing after exploring the options. Faculty meetings can address procedures in shared documents with educators, while using the time in meetings to discuss pedagogy, methodology, best practices and new ideas. Educators need to be supported in trying new endeavors. When we address PD as evolving and continuous, and not as a teacher workshop day, we will begin to bring relevance back to education. Schools that do this now will be the first to tell us this. Of course, we need to connect with them for that to happen. Connecting educators is a first step.

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SKYPE is an application that allows your image to be broadcast to another computer anywhere in the world. It is great for Skyping authors, experts, or even NASA scientists into a classroom. An entire class can “Skype” with another class anywhere a computer has a feed. The potential for lecture, collaboration and learning is unlimited. I thought it might be interesting to share the Skype experience from the point of view of the presenter.

I was fortunate and honored to be asked by the organizers of Edcamp Atlanta to Skype into their Edcamp for a Q & A session. I know many people have been in a room when someone Skypes in, but I thought I could share the experience from the other side of the camera. Skyping in as a speaker is not the same experience as a Skype call with a friend.

The first consideration on the call is the Time Zone. Proximity plays a big part in the need to Skype in the first place. Obviously, if you could be in a place in person, there would be no need to Skype. Time differences can be a big part of the planning for the call. I prefer Skyping west as opposed to Skyping east. California calls are always easier than those early hour Skypes to England.

The next consideration is what to wear. A big plus with Skype is that the only concern needed is for what shirt to wear. Theoretically, a Skype call could be done trouserless, because the camera only gets the upper part of your body. That narrows the decision to shirt and hair. The shirt decision is easy, but to wear a tie or not to wear a tie is always a question. My answer is consistently to not wear a tie. Hair is another story altogether. You don’t want to resemble Clint Eastwood as he addressed an empty chair in his now infamous YouTube video from the RNC. Come to think of it, he might have been better off Skyping that presentation.

Once you are settled with the final decisions, it is time to place your fate in the hands of others. They will make the call to connect, and then the fun begins. If you are Skyping to a room of people, the sound and picture coming from the simple computer alone will not be enough for them to see and hear. A large screen and a sound amplifying system will need to be brought in. Along with that comes the IT guy who must hook it all up. Of course you need to be connected for all of this to happen, so the setup is taking place on the screen before your eyes as well as the audience. Sound Check! Sound Check! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5……

Once the picture and sound are up and running and the audience has a perfect view of you the IT guy goes back to his office. What IT guys usually fail to do however is position the computer that you are feeding into, so that you can see the audience that you are addressing. With luck you might have a partial view of the group, but invariably it is always askew. If you are really not lucky, it may be facing the wrong direction altogether.

Now it is time to address the audience. Again with luck on your side, there might be a few people visible, but they are at a distance. Many of the cues that you would get from an in-person presentation are not visible on a Skype call. The worst part however is the Question and Answer portion. People do not interact with the TV version of a presenter as they do with a live presenter. Again, the cues from a live back-and-forth interaction are just not there. The sound system can also be a killer. If the moderator is using a microphone that echoes in the venue, then you have less of a chance of clearly hearing the questions being posed. There is a great possibility that you are answering a question that was never asked.

The very worst thing though is when you use a line in your Skype presentation that always elicits a certain response in a live presentation, but here, in the world of Skype, nothing happens. Of course it can’t be the fault of the line that you used, because it always worked live, so the only answer is that the audience can’t hear you.

The question: Can you hear me?

The answer: Yeah, we can hear you just fine!

So much for my career in standup comedy.

I am most thankful however that in my Skype presentation to the Atlanta Edcamp, as I sat in my neatly ironed Hawaiian shirt and pajama pants, shoeless, and sockless, none of these things happened. It was a flawless presentation on connectedness for educators followed by an active exchange of questions and answers.

I am most grateful and honored to have been asked by the good folks of Atlanta Edcamp to participate with them in this wonderful professional development endeavor. I truly hope I didn’t disappoint.

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There are only a few explanations that many educators offer up as reasons not to learn and use any technology as tools for learning. One of the most popular excuses, frequently cited by educators, is that there is not enough time to learn all of the stuff that is out there. It certainly is true that there are a huge number of things to learn out there that are linked to technology. When thought about as a complete package, it most definitely can be overwhelming, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. Where I disagree however, is in thinking about all of this technology stuff as a complete unit that must be learned all at once. There are logical and necessary ways to break things down to learn smaller snippets of things on a need-to-know basis in order to build into a larger framework of information.

In sales people are taught that if you can answer a customer’s objection to a product, you are more likely to make the sale. The problem is that the customer more often than not cannot articulate what the real objection is. They will say that they object to one thing, while the real reason is that they can’t afford it. If money is not the problem, they might choose color, or, size, or, complexity, or simplicity as an excuse not to buy something, when all along the reason for the objection is that they don’t understand how to use the product. The product is too complicated and they fear that they will fail at learning how to use it effectively, as well as looking foolish for all to see. That is not an objection that the customer will publicly admit to, or even privately to himself.  Of course a good salesperson will discover the objection allay the fears and make the sale. The customer, after making the purchase, will then take home the product, place it in a closet, and never visit it again until the eventual possibility of its placement in some future yard sale becomes a reality.

As educators, we deal with information, and once that was a limited commodity. Theoretically, at one time all of the available information in the world could have been contained within a very large publication. With each passing day however, the amount of information available to us grew in drips and drabs. It really began to increase exponentially with the advent of technology from pens, to printing press, to computer, to the internet. No publication could house all of the information available in the world today. I have been a classroom teacher for 40 years. There is way more stuff to teach today compared to when I started out.

As educators, do we throw up our hands and say that this is all too much, and there is not enough time for our students to learn all of the stuff that is out there? I think not! We actually break things down for our learners into teachable bites of information to be assembled and digested as ideas and concepts as our learners are able to take these things in. As educators the volume of information of what we teach will continually increase. That should never be a deterrent to educators preventing teachers from teaching, or learners from learning. We also now teach the skills for learners to critically analyze information so that they continue learning on their own beyond the limitations of their teachers. There is however one exception to this picture that I have just drawn out. The idea that educators are prevented from learning about technology tools for learning because there is just too much information.

Why don’t educators learn from their own teaching? Break things down into small bites of information. Learn what needs to be learned first, rather than all that can be learned, which is an unattainable goal that will overwhelm. Do not be daunted by the amount of information available, but inspired by that which is attainable. As a teacher’s knowledge of technology increases, so do the skills of learning more, as well as the ability to teach more. Technology doesn’t make a bad teacher good, but it can make a good teacher great. Educators should not be defined by their limitations, but rather by their ability to learn as well as teach. To be better educators, we must first be better learners.

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Every educator knows what their school is like, but few really understand what Twitter is like. The Twitter experience, like school, is different for everyone. One’s contribution to the effort in either of these endeavors has a great deal to do with producing the outcomes. Simply put, the more you put in, the more you get out. That at least is the theory.

I am fortunate to have a very large base of educators that I follow on Twitter and an even larger number of educators follow me. This affords me an ability to see a great deal of activity on Twitter in regard to how educators use it on a daily basis. I wish all educators had Professional Learning Networks like mine, but it is not a style of learning suited for everyone.  Nevertheless, I began wondering what it would be like if the types of sharing, collaboration, reflection and discussion that are continuing activities on Twitter could at least be attempted in the school building environment.

A bulk of the information exchange available on Twitter for instance comes in the form of links, or URL’s, which are internet addresses to pages of information. They could be announcements, articles, posts, videos, podcasts, webcasts, personal opinions, or books. I guess in a school setting each teacher could take articles, videos and books to exchange and discuss with other faculty members. Admins could find education links run them off on paper, and insert them in teachers’ mailboxes daily. Of course personal opinions are the mainstay for faculty rooms.

Another thing that Twitter offers us is the ability to respond to ideas and have a general discussion about those responses. Often times the authors of the ideas participate in those discussions. In a school setting, I imagine that the administrator could offer ideas for discussion, or bring in speakers and lecturers for the faculty. This is usually done at the beginning of the year to get everyone pumped up for the New Year. It would need to be done more frequently however in order to emulate the Twitter experience.

Reflection is very big on Twitter. Many tweets cause people to discuss and reflect. After a short period of time some educators address those same issues on blog posts. That of course is shared, commented on, reflected upon, and the process repeats itself. I guess in the school setting the Admin could propose a topic for discussion and afterward people could respond and reflect and if they chose to do so, come back with articles they had written on the subject to present to the faculty or place a copy in everyone’s mailbox.

Twitter offers a great deal of variety in opinion. An obviously unique element to this is the fact that Twitter is a global effort. Educators from around the world offer their opinions on some of the many subjects that educators have in common around the world. As an example, I am amazed at how universally standardized tests are recognized by educators to be counterproductive in educating kids. In the school setting it would be difficult to get a global perspective on issues unless the guest speakers were flown in from other countries. Skyping might be a great alternative.

A big, big Twitter plus is the access educators have to education experts. Conversations are had between regular teachers and education luminaries on a daily basis. Many of education’s leaders actively participate on Twitter in order to stay on the pulse of education, as well as education reform. Many of the people forming the national and international education discussions are gathering and sharing information over the internet using Twitter. In a school setting Admins could probably make calls to these same education leaders and set up at the very least Skype calls. The faculty could be assembled in the auditorium for the Skype call. The discussion after would be great.

Twitter is a gateway to many free online webinars and online conferences. It also keeps educators posted on local and regional Edcamps and conferences. Edcamps are a product of social media and a great form of Professional Development for educators. In a school setting the Admin could post a daily, weekly, or monthly calendar of events for professional development. The mailboxes again would be a wonderful method of delivery for this.

On Twitter there are constant discussions and references to pedagogy and methodology in education. As one example Twitter has been discussing the Flipped Classroom for almost two years at this point. I imagine that admins should be the education leaders of their schools and be up to date on all things education. Once they get any new trends they could present the idea at a faculty meeting. Hopefully, the discussions of pedagogy and methodology will spill over into department meetings and faculty room gatherings.

I know that schools are doing the best that they can, given the restraints of time and money, to involve their teachers with as much as they can, but it is not enough in a world where new information is formed by the ton in a matter of minutes. The idea of using technology as a tool for professional development has not caught on. The idea of being a “Connected Educator” is too foreign to too many educators. If this post is to be effective it will have to be printed out, reproduced, and circulated in teachers’ mailboxes in order to reach them. In this age of technology, that should be an embarrassment to the most educated people this country or any country has to offer.

Twitter is only one source for teachers to connect. It is the easiest to use, and the hardest to understand. Teachers need to get started connecting to other teachers. If Twitter is too difficult, try Google +, or LinkedIn, or start a blog that accepts comments. If what we are now doing as teachers was keeping us relevant and effective as educators , the words “Education” and “Reform” would not be linked together so often in so much written about education today. We have a need to connect with other educators. It must be an imperative! In the words of Ben Franklin, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”


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

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

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

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

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

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