Archive for the ‘Edcamp’ Category

Yesterday, I participated in a wonderful public discussion on Education. The best part about this discussion was that it was with predominantly real educators, people who actually teach, volunteering their time and expertise on the subject of education. They discussed real issues of education and the real impediments to reform from a real educator’s point of view. There were representatives of: teachers, administrators, IT people, school board members, and parents. Dell sponsored the event, so they had three members on the panel, but they were all personnel who worked with teachers in schools for technology solutions in education. Dell never once pitched their product. The only obvious missing representation was that of the student. This point was addressed late in the discussion. The entire five-hour discussion was Live Streamed in real-time and there was a constant flow of back channel tweets during the entire presentation. Back Channeling is a stream of comments on the discussion from observers. Twitter is most often the source of back channels. There was also a chat screen on the Live Stream site. This was a very transparent discussion, which was video-taped and posted online for all to see.

We should note that more and more companies are attempting to enter the social media arena with educators by providing content and promoting conferences, discussions, and webinars for both online and face to face presentation. The best support of course is when the companies provide content, or experts on a topic without pitching products. Some educators are turned off to this. Many view it as some sort of manipulation. Personally, I have found vendors to be a great source of Education information. They are experts on whatever their product was developed to address. More often than not, their representatives are well versed and highly educated. Many product people come from the ranks of educators. When it comes to teachers, many are trained, but few are chosen. Many choose to enter the world of Educational Technology.  On this subject I must admit a bias. My wife, a former teacher, has been in the Educational Technology business for 25+ years in both hardware and software. She is more aware of the educational needs of Special Needs students than many Special Ed teachers. It is her job to be knowledgeable, aware, and relevant in that area. This holds true for many industry professionals. They are a great source for educators.

Dell spearheaded this project. They contacted many outspoken educators from the social media ranks of education circles in the New York, and New Jersey area. They approached Scholastic for a location to hold and videotape the five-hour discussion and that is the lead up to yesterday’s event.

This discussion was not run and dominated by businessmen and politicians. It was not a discussion pandering to a group of tax-reduction fanatics. The topics were not the topics of labor reform for the purpose of lower costs and higher profits, or reducing taxes. The trumped-up and often hyped topic of merit-pay was never mentioned. I was ready to talk about the importance of tenure and seniority, but again, it never came up. This group of educators talked about LEARNING and the impediments to it in today’s system. Imagine that Education Nation, a discussion about education that focused on LEARNING. The learning that was discussed was not only the learning on the part of students, but also that of the teachers. To be better teachers, we need to be better learners.

I will not capsulate the discussion here. My intent is to get you to view it. You need to observe the passion of the participants to get the full effect of their struggles. You need to hear first-hand what educators view as the real impediments to learning. Like any discussion there are high points and low points, but in my view the low points are not that low and the high points clearly send an important message. This is the list of participants with their Twitter names, so you may follow them for your own Professional Learning Network.

Eric Sheninger, @NMHS_Principal (Moderator)
Tom Whitby, @tomwhitby (Online Correspondent)
Paul Allison, @paulallison
Adam Bellow, @adambellow
Dr. Brian Chinni, @drbpchinni
Erik Endreses, @erikendress
Karen Blumberg, @SpecialKRB
Renny Fong, @timeoutdad
Adam Garry, @agarry22
Michele Glaze, @PMicheleGlaze
Erica Hartman, @elh
Kathy Ishizuka, @kishizuka
Kevin Jarrett, @kjarrett
Michelle Lampinen, @MichLampinen
Susan McPherson, @susanmcp1
Lisa Nielsen, @InnovativeEdu
Mary Rice-Boothe, @Edu_Traveler
Ken Royal, @kenroyal
Sarah Thomas, @teach2connect
Snow White, @snowwhiteatdell

The video is still being processed, and hopefully it will be broken down by the four major topics which were discussed. I plan to place the video and subsequent interviews on The Educator’s PLN when they are ready. Until then, the entire discussion may be found here: http://livestre.am/15Mfm. I would urge you to view the discussion and share your thoughts with others. In the discussion of education and education reform, we have too many people without portfolio influencing the outcome. If anyone knows the shortcomings of education and the solutions to fix them, it should be the educators themselves. They are the experts. Let the politicians address politics and the businessmen address business. It should, by now, be evident to all that both of those areas need a great deal of fixing-up as well as reform. They should address getting their own houses in order.

If we, as educators, truly believe that changes need to be made in education, than we should be leading the way. We need a seat at the tables that other non-educators are discussing things that we do, and things that we know best. We can’t leave the fate of education and the future of learning for our students at the mercy of people, who know very little about what needs to be known most. We need a teacher’s voice to be heard!

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I was part of the professional development collaboration at New Milford High School in New Jersey yesterday. It was organized and run by my friend for many years now, Eric Sheninger. If you are active on Twitter, you know him as @nmhs_principal. As I attended this conference, I tried to figure out why this felt a little different from other conferences. It was not an Unconference, yet it was clearly not a typical organization-led, schedule-driven conference of the past. It seemed to be a blend or a hybrid of the best of both types. Where Unconferences are social media driven, this was premeditated and planned. The preparation of the workshops however, did not push topics of the tried and true, tired topics of tech in education like many of the organizational conferences. The topics were relevant, cutting edge, and somewhat social media driven. Most of the speakers were from the ranks of social media. I think every educator/speaker on schedule is in my Professional Learning Network. Many are stand-outs to me. They are people I go to with questions. They are bloggers who I follow. They are people I seek out for conversation.

I think it is important to note that the history of social media as we have come to know it, doesn’t go so far back in time. Yes there were list serves going years back, but they were generally populated by Tech-savvy individuals. FaceBook, Linkedin, and Twitter becoming integral parts of what we are calling Professional Learning Networks only started gaining traction three to four years ago. That is the time when many of the social Media stand outs began their collaborative trek.

The other speakers on the schedule were provided by Teq, a company that provides technology to education, as well as the training to maximize the use of that technology. Teq was the corporate sponsor of the event. Education should take note of how businesses are beginning to take positions in Social Media spaces. More and more companies are beginning to sponsor or provide Free Webinars, Podcasts, Discussion Groups, and Seminars online. They are developing and owning content on the web other than advertisements. Sponsoring a conference of Social Media-driven educators is another way in. Please don’t get me wrong, I see this as a good thing that should be encouraged. The more we educate educators, the more we can educate our children. It is all about continuous learning, and that needs to be promoted. It is that Life-long learning thing, that so many profess to kids, but fail to follow on their own.

Tapping into the collaboration for learning seems to be the key to success for many conferences today. Of course, the key to success can also be the Kiss of death for any conference, or workshop that is not relevant, or meeting the needs of those who attend. Social Media holds a mirror to the world in that respect. It reflects to other educators the good, the bad, and the ugly. As a presenter, I must say we all have our bad days, but we can only hope it will be a day with few Tweeters in the room.

The Edscape conference was very well received. Some blog posts began to spring up even before the event ended. This was one such enthusiastic post fromThe Lamp Light. One Ironic note to the program however, was that even with so many of the speakers being Twitter devotees, only one included his Twitter handle (hold over term from the CB days) and that was @teachpaperless. I know I will include @tomwhitby on my stuff for conferences moving forward.

It should be obvious that the name Edscape itself is a blending of words. Of course the challenge to me and the way I view things, is to figure out if it is a blend of Landscape and Education, or Escape and Education? I guess I am leaning to escaping education as we know it today. I would like to think that Social Media is allowing the collaboration and transparency to do so. I do have to keep reminding myself that there are 7.2 million teachers in America and only a tiny portion are trolling the waters of Social Media trying to net learning and collaboration.

I had a wonderful time at #Edscape. I would love to see more of these conferences spring up around the country. We are seeing more Edcamps and that is a good sign. We as teachers often do a good job with what we do. Where we fall short is in telling people about it. We need to be better marketers. We need to market what we do, and how we do it. We need to involve other educators as we do this. My surprise in attending these collaborative gatherings comes not from how good they are, but from the surprise in others who are experiencing this great collaboration for the first time. 7.2 Million is a big number when you have to win over one at a time.

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#Edchat, as well as about 50 other educational twitterchats, Digital Personal Learning Networks, Online Discussion Groups, Twitter, LinkedIn and a number of other Web 2.0 social media applications are often attributed by educators for offering professional development, or PD. Social Media is also credited with helping the emergence of Edcamps and Teachmeets, as well as online conferences like #140edu Conference and the Reform Symposium Conference. These are all considered by many to be PD.

I recently came across a very informative, somewhat scholarly post from Education Week which was first published in August 2004 and updated, June 29, 2011, Professional Development.  My take-away from the research referenced in the post was that it is difficult to connect the teacher’s professional development to an increase in their students’ success or at the very least improvement in student performance. Of course after teaching for many years, I ask myself, “Did the PD courses these teachers took have anything to do with what it was that they taught?

Many states require that teachers be provided or otherwise obtain PD. Often this comes in the form of workshops or even an expert or consultant coming into a school to work with staff in small groups. Other PD may be in the form of mini-classes offered by professional organizations or institutions of higher learning. Most schools have procedures to approve requests for PD since it is often a requirement for maintaining a license or obtaining a pay increase. Consequently, a wide array of subjects for educators may be deemed acceptable. Some schools even have committees to approve PD requests for credit.

This does leave open the possibility that a class approved for PD may not align with what a teacher teaches. A Phys Ed teacher may be getting his or her required PD in reading. That fulfills the requirement, but it may have little impact on their students since Physical Education requires little in the way of reading. An English teacher taking a cinematography or video course makes sense, unless the curriculum for what they teach does not allow the opportunity for cinematography or videography. There are many opportunities in the existing system for teachers to take approved PD courses that will not impact the performance of their students directly. It would seem even if the teacher takes a PD course directly related to what will be taught in his or her class, quantifying the results of the impact on learning would have its problems.

Now let us consider Social Media as a conduit for PD.I hear from educators almost daily how their Social Media involvement, Twitter/#Edchat is the best PD they have ever experienced. That is where I think I part ways. I do not see social media as the PD, but as a portal to the PD. It comes from educators engaging other educators in discussions and exchanging ideas that lead to the best sources in order to access the specific PD. It is this self-determined direction which is what involves learners in a deeper more meaningful understanding of a subject. This is regardless of extra pay or outside approval from the school district.

Now the question arises, is this PD resulting in an improvement in the students’ learning? I have often said, “To be better teachers, we must first be better learners”. It would seem to me educators who are seeking Professional Development to meet their specific needs as an educator, would certainly be a first step to better learning. The astonishment on the part of so many may not be in what they are learning, but rather how they are learning. They are being rejuvenated in many ways. This is having a very positive effect on individual educators. They are being energized by their learning. Many are being listened to by appreciative digital colleagues. It is bolstering many who have wavered under the constant attack on education and educators. Relevant discussions of content and pedagogy on an ongoing basis, 24/7, goes a long way in improving self-image, confidence, and understanding of one’s profession.

Social Media, in any of its many forms, enables educators to tap into a vast number of sources in the form of people and content. It enables educators to direct their learning to meet their needs. It enables educators to feel good about learning and continue down that path. Whenever a person can be picked up dusted off and respected for what they do, it must have a positive impact. If that happens to an educator, it must in some way impact their students in a positive way. I need not get caught up in the paralyzing analyzing, because I know it works that way for me. I can only hope it works that way for others.

An even more important point is that, if we view this as a positive form of learning for educators, why would it not apply to students as well? We are all learners. Social Media should be yet another tool in an arsenal of tools used by educators to enable kids to become better learners. They need to continue to learn long after their contact with teachers has ended. Most of my teachers are now gone, yet I continue learning. That is a lesson we all must keep in mind.

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With a premiere Technology-in-Education Conference, ISTE11, coming in a matter of days, I find myself comparing the Education conferences of old to the social media-influenced Education conferences of today. There is a world of differences, but, unfortunately, many of these differences have yet to be discovered by educators who have failed to recognize the juggernaut of social media. For many years I was a board member of NYSCATE, an educational technology group for New York educators. A primary purpose of this group is to conduct an annual conference that draws thousands of educators in order to discuss technology in education. In addition to my participation in this conference, I have over the years presented in many others, both large and small.

A huge difference about today’s conferences is the connectedness of the participants. Educators through social media have been able to connect with other educators without regard to geographical boundaries. Many productive online relationships have continued over a period of time without actual face to face meetings. These conferences are an opportunity for face to face connections. That translates to more time for socialization for the participants. Plans and discussions have taken place weeks before the conference about who to see and what to do. The conference provides a place for people, who have never met face to face, to meet as long-lost best friends would meet after a long separation. Places for social gatherings need to at least be considered, and at most be expanded. These personal connections of connected people may be misinterpreted as cliques, but this is often a perspective of educators not yet involved with social media. The unfortunate result may be a perception of a class distinction between the connected and the disconnected (or not yet connected).

Back Channeling is another big difference between old and new. This is when participants in a workshop or presentation tweet out on Twitter, or Facebook the points that the presenter is making in real-time. Not only are the facts of the presentation, but editorial comments as well tweeted out. This may have a great effect on presentations moving forward. I remember a recent conference having a keynote speaker using a data heavy PowerPoint presentation, and not being very aware of back channeling. After a few Tweets came out about the quality of the presentation, there was an avalanche of negatives flying out from that presentation. Needless to say these tweets were global messages going public to thousands of educators. On the other hand, a great presentation has the potential for going out beyond the limited audience in the presentation. Ustreaming is being done more and more as well. Presentations limited to small audiences are broadcast globally to any educator with a connection. Local conferences have the ability to gain global recognition.

The social media hierarchy is now replacing the superstars of higher education and industry at these conferences. Keynote speakers of the past were often professors from Higher Education or Captains of industry from the world of Technology in Education. Today, social media has chosen its own superstars, people who continue to contribute and influence education through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, online Webinars, Podcasts, and Blog Posts. Some of the best have feet in both worlds. The conference of today is an opportunity for participants to meet those whom they consider to be social media Gurus.

I think an underestimated influence on conference participants is the effect of free online Professional Development. More and more free symposiums are being offered through social Media. Webinars and online interviews are becoming daily occurrences. The conference participants are becoming more aware of trends and issues prior to attending the conference. Presenters need to at least be where their audience is in their knowledge of the subject. Relevance means more to connected educators than it ever has before.

Another influence is the effect that the growing “Unconference” movement is having. Born from Social Media, “Teachmeets”, and “Unconferences” are changing what educators expect from a conference. These are self-directed-learning format conferences. They give most, if not all, of the control for learning to the learner. The learners direct the conference from the beginning until the end forcing the conference to be flexible and adaptive.

Blogging is another Social Media-influenced activity which has a lasting touch on conferencing. On the very first day of any conference, there will be at least one blogger who will publish a post on his or her experience. First impressions last a lifetime. Bloggers will continue to post their experiences and impressions throughout and beyond the time that the conference takes place. Once it took weeks for the word to get out about the success of a conference. On the spot blog posts have changed that dynamic. Micro blogs (Twitter) and Blog posts determine and create conference “BUZZ”. It may determine whether individuals with limited funds may or may not attend a specific conference in the future.

If Education Conferences are to benefit the educators that they hope to have participate, now and in the future, all of these new influences must be considered. Just like education as a system, conferences are dealing with participants who are becoming self- learning aware. The days of content being controlled by a few and the need to seek those few out to obtain it, are gone. Free access to almost endless information and the ability to select only information which is needed by the learner is changing the game.

If you are a person who questions the need for Mobile Learning Devices in education, look around you at your next conference. Take note of the Laptops, Smart Phones, iPads, and Tablets. Watch how long it takes people to scope out an electrical outlet to power up, or recharge. See what happens if people don’t have passwords to access WiFi.

What would happen if we forced those educators to leave their mobile learning devices at the door? What would happen if we singled out and punished individuals for texting during a presentation? What would happen after you informed educators that the filtering will limit their access? What would happen if we required participants to agree to an Acceptable Use Policy before they could connect? Participants at these conferences are learners. Let us keep that in mind when we return to the learners in our own schools.

All in all, this isn’t your father’s Education Conference!

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The term Life Long Learning has been bandied about by educators for years. It is a term that has worked its way into Mission Statements of schools across our nation. It is a term that teachers use with their students. It has become a goal that every teacher strives to put in place for students. It is also a goal that many (not all) teachers, for the most part, do not apply to themselves.

I sometimes think that our culture, demanding that teachers be content experts, is a hindrance to education reform. There is an implication that an expert is supposed to know it all. That position may limit a willingness to learn. How can a teacher be the expert, if he/she has more to learn? Even if one was an expert in some content area and at one point knew all that there was to know about a given subject, there is still always more information being developed. With the advancement of technology this is happening faster, and in more volume than ever before. Content experts remained experts longer in the 1800’s. It took years to question their expertise. Change was slow.

A teacher’s response to this might be one of disbelief. Teachers may not admit to this in public. However, if we consider teachers’ responses to suggestions of Professional Development, their actions belie their rhetoric. Many are resistant to Professional Development. In fairness, not all PD is worthy of consideration. It is not always well thought out or well presented. However that is not an excuse to resist all PD. The fact of the matter is that it is a big point of contention among many educators.

Colleges are being blamed for not producing enough great teachers. Not enough content experts. That is simply ridiculous. Colleges need to educate students in their content area as well as philosophy and methods in education. They are required to make students content experts in their content area and in education in four years. Teachers are born in the college classrooms, but they develop, mature and become great teachers in the schools in which they teach. This only occurs with support and leadership from their educational leaders. It requires continuous learning over the lifetime of a career. It requires teachers and their leaders to be Life Long Learners.

This all adds to a predicament in which teachers have placed themselves. Senior teachers are being vilified more than any other group of teachers being vilified by the critics of education. They are being portrayed as unwilling to learn or change. They are being pitted against the younger more energetic teachers who appear willing to learn and change. The senior teachers are victims of the culture of education. They are the experts as they were expected to be. They believe this themselves. They have attained their lifelong goal, therefore, they believe that there is no need to learn any more, or to change the “tried and true”. They have achieved expertise status as required by the system.

The culture cultivated this attitude, but now finds it unproductive and in need of change. It is the perfect excuse for educational leaders and politicians to use to eliminate what they see as an easy way to cut the budget. The most experienced teachers are the most expensive. Eliminating senior teachers is about money and budgets, and not better education. It requires eliminating fewer senior teachers to get the most Bang for the Buck. It doesn’t consider experience and stability of the school. It doesn’t consider loyalty and the very expertise it demanded. It’s all about the money

If we are to have better education system we need teachers to be better learners. For that to happen we need better leaders, who also need to be better learners. Life Long Learning is essential for all involved in education not just the kids. If we were serious about education reform we need to work on educating the educators in earnest. We can get very, very few great teachers from college classrooms. We can get teachers with great potential, but that potential must be nurtured and taught on an ongoing basis. It is the school’s leadership and culture that will enable a teacher to be great. It will be the commitment and support of the school leadership to professional development and Life Long Learning that will move us to where we need to be in education reform. That may only happen one school at a time. It might happen sooner if the idea of social learning ever takes hold in education. The Irony obvious to me is that Educators are for everyone being Life Long Learners as long as it doesn’t affect them. (No, that does not mean you, but many of the other educators.)


Comments welcomed!


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I attended two back to back educational conferences this week. One was a vendor supported conference for invited administrators held in NYC, and the other was a teacher sponsored Unconference at Rutgers University. Both conferences expected an attendance of about 300 participants and neither saw that happen. I came away from both conferences with useful information, but only one offered more inspiration.

For those of you who are unaware of what an Unconference is, you are not alone. I reinforced this lack of awareness with every conversation I had with any administrator I conversed with at this first get together.  Since I was headed to the second conference, or unconference at the conclusion of the first, it was a natural addition to any discussion I had. Most of the administrators were unaware as to what an unconference was, or that it even was a developing form of Professional Development. They had no idea that so many unconferences are cropping up all over the country.

At the Administrator conference I felt very disconnected. I knew some of the people from Long Island since I had spoken at some of their events. There were no other attendees that I had any connection with at all. The exceptions to that were Eric Sheninger and Pat Larkin, both of whom I am connected to in my PLN and both of whom were going to the same unconference that I was at the conclusion of the first. The last person that I was connected with on my PLN was the Keynote speaker Chris Lehman. The four of us found ourselves sitting together at lunch.

Chris was one of two Keynote speakers at the NYC conference. If you have never seen a Chris Lehmann speech, make it a point to do so. As a matter of fact here is a link that will get you to a video-taped speech to view after you have finished this post. Chris Lehmann Keynote NYSCATE 2009

There was a vendor floor where snacks were provided and people networked before the second Keynote. David Pogue, the NY Times Technology editor, was the second keynote. He did an entertaining speech about technology that had nothing to do with education. He was knowledgeable, affable and humorous, but his speech never made a connection with education.

I do not mean to be critical of either the NYC or NJ conference since I did come away with some food for thought from both, but I feel a need to record some observations and make some comparisons of both events. Now would be the time to interject the “apples and oranges” comparison. Yes, I understand that they were different types of educational events.

The administrator event started at 9:30 AM and ended with a box lunch at 12:30. I think the Box lunch at the end was intended to get everyone together to exchange ideas, but most were gone by the time that was to take place. I guess it was also an opportunity for administrators to get back to their districts to complete their work day.

An unconference is a direct result of Social Media. Educators who were connected virtually had a need to meet in a real world setting. The Unconference is set up by volunteers. It is usually free to attendees and it must be held on a weekend. The presenters could be any educator who has something to offer. No one is locked in to a workshop. People come and go during the course of a session. This particular unconference started at 7:30 AM and went to 5PM. This was my fifth unconference in the last year. One unique thing about these unconferences is the connection between the attendees. Many are virtually connected mainly through Twitter. Blog posts are another connection. Attendees know the views of other attendees through their Blogs. The whole unconference has a feeling of camaraderie experienced at no other type of educational conference. Those few attendees, who came unconnected, leave with an appreciation and need to virtually connect at the conclusion of the event. These unconferences are instilling, or in some cases re-igniting a love for learning. We are leading people down the path of lifelong learning again.

This is where my mind plays its little game. I had thoughts of those leaders in the Middle East who led their countries the same way for generations. They were, if not uncaring, at the very least unaware of the needs of the people. The ruling class failed to keep up with the influence of Social Media affecting change on the population. The ruling class continued in the same old way as their people changed predictable habits. The ruling class was unaware until the end. My concern is what will fill the void? Being as old as I am I can vividly recall the time we invoked some sayings of the 60’s. “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”. “If you can’t move forward, move out of the way”. No, I am not saying Administrators are Tyrannical leaders. I am saying that as leaders, if they are not relevant, they are not effective leaders. Additionally, this is not an age issue it’s a relevance issue.

As always comments are welcomed.

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Many folks are reflecting on their #EduCon experience of this past weekend. #EduCon is a unique education conference in that it has no vendor support or “How-To workshops”.  It consists of intellectual conversations dealing with ideas and concerns of that which we call education or learning. It is limited to 300 participants drawing from some of the leading Thought Leaders in education from across the country. The idea of Thought Leader is in fact the focus of this post.

I never knew of the term Thought Leader as it applied to educators. I never heard it over a 34 year career as a secondary English teacher. I did not hear of it when I first entered the Higher Ed arena. I did hear of it as I entered the world of Social Media. I have come to believe that a Thought Leader is one who encourages, promotes, stimulates, or fosters thought in the area of Education. Other areas and industries have their own Thought Leaders.

What set me off on this reflection was a tweet by Ira Socol about EduCon having a hierarchy of attendees, an “A-List” as it were.  I took that to mean a group of people who were above the average attendees, the Educator Elite who others look up to for direction. They would be the recognized Thought Leaders. In fact there was a number of attendees who travel the education circuit as Keynote Speakers and paid consultants. That however, does not diminish their expertise in the area of education. In fact they were not at EduCon as paid Keynotes or paid consultants. They were there as educators and education experts exchanging ideas with other educators. Since many of them have been on the education circuit for quite a while, they are familiar with each other and naturally gravitate together. What separates them from the label of elite is their approachability and openness to sharing. They are there as sources. I will not list names, because I know, I will undoubtedly, leave someone out, and feelings will be hurt. Let us acknowledge that these Thought Leaders were at EduCon to share and offer their expertise as much as any other attendee there. They paid the same fee we all did.

There is also a secondary level of this Hierarchy. These individuals might be thought of as the Nouveau riche amongst educators. They acquired their gravitas through social media. With a combination of education, learning, and experience, they have assembled a number of opinions on various subjects within education and have tweeted them out or blogged to a following. Their opinions have been weighed and measured and by all accounts they are recognized as sound. Others have Re-Tweeted their tweets or recommended their blogs to such an extent that global recognition has been acquired. These are the individuals who made up a bulk of the conversation moderators at EduCon. Again, they were very approachable with sharing and exchanging ideas the focus of their attendance at the conference.They are giving as much as they are taking. That is the theory of sharing.

Now to the point of this post, anyone has the ability to be a Thought Leader. I was taken aback at a comment by one of the attendees at EduCon who said that she would never tweet out a promotion of her Blog post. I immediately pictured an elementary student after being nominated for class president being told that she/he cannot vote for her/himself. If you do not believe you are the best person for the job, why run? If you do not believe your post has value and should be shared for comment and reflection, why write it? How can you test the value of your beliefs? The purpose of your post should be your belief in the value of your opinion. Comments will direct your reflection and possible change in thought. We are not politicians. Educators are expected to be flexible and change when needed.

With the help of Social Media I have been referred to as a Thought Leader. It is not a title I claimed, or gave to myself. It is a title that others have given me and it comes with responsibility. People begin to look to me for thought or even some leadership in thought. It is a title that can be claimed by anyone who comes to the social media table with knowledge, experience, flexibility and small amount of social media savvy along with a few contributions to add to the educational slow pot cooker.

To become a Do It Yourself Thought Leader:

  1. Select your area of expertise.
  2. Use twitter to Micro blog your ideas.
  3. Respond to others on your topic.
  4. Engage educators in discussions of your topic.
  5. Write a blog on your Topic
  6. Promote your posts on Twitter to drive traffic to your Blog
  7. Submit proposals for presentations at Education conferences.

Social Media has offered educators another avenue to become a Thought Leader. It is not an easy road, but it is possible to step up and move forward. It is also a role that needs to be filled in a climate of change and reform. We need more educators to step up and offer guidance through the obstacles to change.

Please, help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!


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It has been a long day with traveling in the snow and trying to pay attention to my GPS’s voice. I can’t help thinking of HAL the computer from 2001 A Space Odyssey. I wondered if at any time the voice would send me crashing over an embankment at the end of a dead-end road in New Jersey. That sends chills even as I write the words. I must say that the trip was definitely worth the chance I took with the GPS voice and the treacherous weather burdened roads. After four hours of driving, I arrived in Philadelphia for the #EduCon Conference.

For those of you not familiar with this three-year-old conference, here is the description from the official website:

And it is not a technology conference. It is an education conference. It is, hopefully, an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams.

From the organizers’ description it should be obvious that this isn’t your father’s education conference. It is different for another big reason and that would be Social Media, specifically Twitter.

We have all heard the opinion that Social Media is causing people to be disconnected. It does not allow the same deep relationships as experienced in face to face connections. This conference totally debunks that myth. #EduCon is different in its mission, organization and focus compared to other educational conferences. More than that, many, if not most, of its organizers, presenters, and attendees are connected by Twitter.

Any good educational conference electrifies the participants with a vibrant energy and a need to share what they experienced at the conference with their colleagues. With Twitter the #EduCon electricity and sharing began before the conference even opened. People from all over the country, as well as other countries, have been tweeting the praise of this conference for a year now, since the last #EduCon ended. The twitter community of educators has been buzzing about their plans to attend for months. Excitement started building not just for the content in the conference, but the excitement about meeting Twitter colleagues and sharing ideas in person.

People who have never met in person greet each other with hugs and kisses. I am not the most emotionally outgoing person, so I am not really comfortable with the hugs and kisses, but in meeting many of my Twitter colleagues, even I was engaging in these gregarious greetings. Sharing is the key to this conference and it started before, continues during and will undoubtedly continue after the last session on the last day.

Twitter injects an element of sharing far more than that which has ever been capable before. People shared as they traveled to #EduCon. They used Twitter to meet up with those they knew and those they were about to see for the first time. They will be sharing with thousands as they tweet out ideas from each of the sessions they attend. Take note of all of the tweets with the #EduCon hashtags. They will use Twitter to stay connected and exchange ideas with the #EduCon participants long after the conference ends. This conference is unique in the fact that Twitter enables it to be more akin to a family gathering than an education conference of disconnected strangers. I am having a great time-sharing with all those who I have been connected to for so long. Even as we meet in person for the first time, we experience a sense of deep connection. There is also a connection to #EduCon which seems to bring out the best in educators.

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Once again, I am finding it to my advantage to share my learning experiences on my Blog. I find this helpful because it can be interesting to the reader, but more importantly, it gives me something to write about. This is most helpful when one has a blog that requires occasional posts to keep the site running.

My wife met Larry Jacobs recently at an Education conference and introduced him to me in the belief that we each had something of value to offer the other. Larry is a Talk Radio Education Blogger, which seems to be a growing area in social media. Larry’s “thing” is doing educational interviews. What I like about Larry’s approach to this, is that he has figured out how to make some money at doing it. Doing what you love and getting paid for it is always the ultimate goal. I love what I do, but I depend on my pension to survive.  But alas, if only I could charge for tweets?  I guess however, charging for tweets would greatly reduce the number of people who now at least read what I put out.

Larry and I spoke a few times, and I was able to get him to revisit Twitter after his first foray and eventually dropping off this social media staple. This is a place that many Twitterers have visited in their Personal Learning Network development. After a little guidance and a few introduction tweets, Larry was able to go from 14 to 140 followers in a day. His site began getting more hits, and he began to see the benefits of Twitter and the advantages of a Personal Learning Network. He was then interested in talking about what it was that I did with Social Media in education and wanted to put it on the air.

I visited his site to listen to a number of his interviews. What I found helpful in deciding whether or not to do it was the ease in which Larry made his guests comfortable. He seemed at ease with the subject matter of each of his guests and kept the pace of the discussion flowing. This was done in great part because he actually listened to his guests’ answers. This is a skill not mastered by all interviewers. After I accepted Larry’s invitation, he forwarded a list of Tips to follow as well as a request for six questions to carry us on our journey through the interview.

I was quite calm as I awaited the day and the hour of the air time. About two hours before I was to go on however, I realized that I was on my own with this. In all of the interviews I have done in the past, I had Shelly Terrell, Steve Anderson, or Eric Sheninger at my side to step in to fill the gaps. The worst part is that my wife was away on a business trip leaving only my faithful King Charles spaniel, Louie to guide me through any technical glitches that I might encounter. He has always endured my screen-screaming bouts with my computer in the past. He offers more of a comforting twist of his head as opposed to great technical advice. Nevertheless, he was all I had.

I decided on a Hashtag, #twetr, as if I was going to be able to multi-task and follow a back channel stream of questions. For those who do not know, back channeling allows people on Twitter to comment and question during a presentation. It is actually affecting, in many ways, the way Educational Presentations are being delivered. Who was I kidding?  I could talk the talk, but if I tried the walk, it would somewhat resemble Jackie Gleeson on roller skates during an episode of the Honeymooners, but much less graceful.

I had my laptop, my IPad, and two handsets for my phone, just in case the battery ran out on one. I was set to go with a page of notes and the set of questions that I forwarded Larry. I practiced the phone call at 9 AM to make sure all was good with a sound check. All that was left was to tweet out the time and place of the interview on Twitter. I did that several times to make sure someone would be in the audience. I had everything covered. I then made the final call, and I was connected to Larry live. I was in the Queue, and I coughed. That was my introduction.

The time arrived and the first question was asked. All I could think of was,” what makes up my Personal Learning Network?”  Through my head ran Linkedin, Twitter, Ning, FaceBook, Skype, Blogs, RSS Reader, Tweet Deck, Flashboard, #EDCHAT, edcamps, and Teachmeets. It was all too much for a 43 minute Radio Interview. I had no back up and I could not in good conscience HANG UP, although the thought did cross my mind. Through his vast interviewing experience, Larry Jacobs guided me through. After all was said and done, it was a lightning fast 43 minutes. Larry and I left the audience wanting more and he asked me to come back. The next session however, will be more limited in scope to put a laser focus on the subject. One of the benefits of Radio Blogs is that they are archived. Now you can judge for yourself and consider all that preceded the interview. Here it is: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edutalk/2011/01/18/educators-as-social-networkers

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As a blogger for only a year now, I have tried not to revisit topics and be repetitive. There are some things however, that need to be revisited at certain times of the year. Just as: Thanksgiving brings on articles of thankfulness, Christmas brings on articles of Peace and Love, and New Years brings on articles of recent loss and future resolutions, this time of year brings on articles about Education Conferences. I guess that is because plans are being made to attend the largest conferences of the year. There does seem to be a change in the approach to connections, as well as anticipation and expectations of these conferences much of which may be attributed to Social Media.

As a classroom teacher I was very fortunate to serve for many years on the Board of Directors of NYSCATE, the Educational Technology group for New York educators. For the most part many Professional Education Organizations are run by administrators. I find nothing wrong with that, because running these organizations requires a certain skill set, as well as time commitment that fits the abilities of administrators better than those of classroom teachers. I understand that. I also understand that as much as any of these groups will deny it, there is a perspective or a focus of these conferences that leans more toward administrators than classroom teachers. That is fitting, since a majority of the attendees are administrators. With budgets as they are, it is reasonable that district should get more bang for their buck by sending their technology leaders as opposed to the technology users. This all makes sense in a world of top down management in education.

Of course these organizations will point out that a many of the workshops are done by classroom teachers, and that is true. The workshops and the Keynotes are all selected and approved by the organization leadership. This is not an attack on any organization. This seems to be how it has been done for years and that is the way it worked best. The need for me to explain all of this will enable me to point out the difference that Social Media is making in the process.

The development and broadening effects of Personal Learning Networks are giving educators facts and insights in education that were never before so readily available to them. Twitter, Twitter Chats, Nings, and Blogs are providing teachers with information in greater quantities and personally delivered to them. The direct contact and connections between educators is promoting more awareness, collaboration, and reflection on topics that concern them and their students directly. All of this prepares educators for dealing with conferences as they have not been able to do before.

Ironically, the social aspects of Social Media, in regard to teachers, are often overlooked. I know from experience that I have personal connections with many educators from around the world. When I think of what is meant by “colleagues”, I am no longer limited to the people I work with in a building. These global connections are real and in many instances, very strong connections. If I was traveling, I know I could call upon many of my PLN members for a place to stay if needed. I can’t say that about most people with whom I work.

If I attend a conference, I may very well have had personal contact with many of the attendees, as well as possibly the Keynote Speaker. This is an experience I have had on several occasions at conferences over the past year. At a recent conference, I entered an auditorium to listen to a Keynote speech a few minutes after it began. I entered the auditorium at the back and the seats were all filled to see a great presentation on Blogging as Educators. It was standing room only, and that is what I did at the back of the big room. It was after a minute or so, that the speaker saw me at the back, stopped the speech, and said hello to me. Lisa Nielsen, a great blogger, speaker and wonderful person has been connected with me for quite a while through our PLN’s. Her Blog is The Innovative Educator, http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/ . This never would have happened without the Social Media connection. This is an experience that, to some degree, is common to many Twitter-Using Educators as they attend conferences. This more solid the connection with educators, whose ideas we are familiar with, and whose lives have in some part been shared, make for a more meaningful conference experience.

A greater effect that Social Media is having on Professional Organization Conferences is the whole Edcamp movement. More and more Edcamps, or Teachmeets are cropping up all over the country, or more accurately the world. These conferences are free to participants. Teachers step up and volunteer to present a workshop or a discussion in a certain time slot. Any educator interested in attending all or any part of that workshop may do so. These are organized and publicized using Social Media. I call it a movement because of the number and frequency that I am observing as these pop up around the world. In addition, to Edcamps, we are seeing more and more Free Webinars for teachers being presented through Ning and Wiki sites.

All of this exchange of ideas and collaboration prepares educators to know what they need as individuals from these conferences. It also enables them to knowledgeably tweet out comments from workshops and Keynotes to the twitter stream engaging educators who are unable to personally attend. This ”Backchanneling” holds presenters accountable to be prepared and relevant. All of these factors are enabling Social Media to give a face lift to Professional Organization Conferences.

Finally, I love meeting my PLN members at conferences. I have a problem recognizing them in person and I realize that we all have that problem. I have created my Twitter name tag to address this issue. I used my Twitter Profile Pic, and @tomwhitby on a second name tag that I wear to all conferences. The Hawaiian Shirt may also help identify me.



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