Archive for the ‘EduCon’ Category

I have long been a David Letterman fan on any of the shows he has hosted. Over the years one of my favorite Letterman bits has been when he and Paul Shaffer would discuss the possible ability of a specific item to float in water. After their predictions the item would be tossed into a giant, transparent vat of water to determine who was correct. The results were apparent and immediate.

Professional Development has long been an element in American education. At one time things changed slowly so that the need for development seemed less a concern. The country’s shift to being a technology-driven society has increased the rate of change, forcing a need for a more rapid rate of absorption of developments for people in all jobs and professions, but especially education.

The difficulty in education is its goal; it is not just to educate kids about their past and how it relates to the present, but also what to expect in the future. Of course we have no idea what the future holds, because the present is moving so quickly. Consider for a moment the effect of Smartphones and iPads on our culture. iPad technology is but three years old and has had a profound effect on those places that have embraced it. Smartphones have been around a little longer and have taken longer to be accepted by educators, but they are creeping successfully into the system after changing forever how the country communicates and accesses information. All of the technology and its effects have had a great influence on how kids learn and are motivated to learn, as well as what it is they are learning for. In many cases teachers have no idea what they are preparing their students for because their students’ future will be different from our present, and light years from our past. These are all reasons for educators to be relevant in terms of what is needed to teach as well as how to teach today.

The question is: does the system address the need for relevance in education? Many systems require teachers to acquire a specific number of PD hours over a period of time by selecting and taking courses or workshops on topics pertaining to education. These choices are left to the individual teacher to select and obtain. Of course some obvious questions pop up here. If the teacher is not comfortable with technology will technology be part of that teacher’s training. If a teacher has not kept up with current trends and research in education, how will he/she make choices that will best benefit his/her students? Is the teacher versed well enough in technology to relate to the technological changes that effect our population? It always comes down to relevance. Is the teacher able to make relevant decisions based on experience in a technologically driven culture?

Rather than try to hold millions of teachers accountable for these questions, a better method might be to look to the districts and the education leaders. Are they maintaining relevance? Are they providing professional development to their staffs to maintain relevance?  Are they supporting teachers with time to collaborate in order to incorporate what they should be doing. Have they gotten beyond the keynote lecture and hourly workshops once, or twice a year as their total commitment to teacher training?

Most educators consider Professional Development a key component to what they need to be an effective teacher. Most Administrators point to Professional Development as a key component to what their teachers need to be effective teachers. Most districts point to Professional Development as the key component to what their district needs to be an effective district. Yet after all of this, TEST Preparation and not Teacher Preparation is still the priority in American education.

Professional Development must be part of a teacher’s workweek. It must be prioritized, paid for, and most importantly PROVIDED. We should not expect anyone to take an uncomfortable path down into unfamiliar territory without some sort of guidance or leadership. It cannot be left up to people who may not know what it is that they do not know to decide on what they need to be effective.

A lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client, and physician heal thy self are commonly understood. Maybe we need a phrase for educators trying to educate themselves? The system of PD in most American schools has become another victim of a fast paced technology driven culture. It no longer works as it did. If we do not change and adapt to meet the changes in our culture, we will surely be irrelevant as an institution. Now here is my question: PD in its present form; Will it Float?

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As I have traveled around this country participating in education conferences I have made several observations in regard to the effects of the Internet and social media on various levels of education as a profession, as an industry, and as an institution. These are often the topics of sessions at education conferences that draw thousands of educators in to look at, examine, talk over, consider, and move on. This all takes time and has been going on since tech was first introduced to education in various forms as tools for learning. It may be time to step back and look at the bigger picture.

As technology advances there are consequences for many industries that either fail to adapt, or whose product is replaced by what technology offers. Horse drawn carriages were replaced by horseless carriages. Typewriters were replaced by word processors. Instamatic cameras were replaced by digital cameras, which are now being replaced by cell phones. Photographic film is not found in any of the millions of stores from which it was previously sold in mass quantities. The news cycle no longer faces deadlines because of 24-hour news cycles. Newspaper and magazine stands have only a fraction of the offerings they had even five years ago. There is no longer a Kodak, Polaroid, Underwood Typewriter, or Newsweek magazine. They were all giants taken out by technology.

With all that, we as educators should have learned from all the examples of those industries that preceded us as victims in the advancement of technology. Why is education so slow in making decisions that would employ tech rather than resist it. Kodak was huge. It was in the “too big to fail” category. Its products included cameras, but its main product was film. Once digital photography moved into the industry it was a very short run to ruin.

The product of education is content. My path of reasoning must be getting clear about now. The key to content was always held by the academics to be shared by those who attended and prevailed in the education system. Teachers were the content experts. The Internet has now strained the value of content experts. Few content experts will ever be able to retain and command the content held by the power of the Internet. The shift that should take place in education is to teach students the skills to responsibly and critically access that content in order to create additional content.

We shouldn’t be guided by the demands of industry to teach skills that may not be in existence over the course of a student’s academic career. The idea that business can best direct the needs of learners is surpassed by the fact that business will only direct education to meet the present needs of business.

If education is to direct its own path and avoid becoming as irrelevant as a film company in a digital world, as educators we need to change. We can’t continue contemplating the use of technology for the sake of protecting our comfort zones. We need to update and restructure the way we administer Professional Development. We need to employ strategies to incorporate social media for collaboration. We need to better understand how to use technology to help us do what we do best even better. Our professional organizations need to move from the models of the past and lead teachers through professional development, discussion, and collaboration to a deeper understanding of their profession in a modern world. We are not a profession of the 1800’s, yet in many ways we carry ourselves and approach it that way. This to must change.

Professional development is a necessary component of the teaching profession. It must be part of every teacher’s workweek. It needs to be prioritized, funded and supported with time. Too many educators have no idea how much they do not know about their own profession. This will require a good amount of directed professional development, which is never popular with educators. Technology has changed things and continues to do so at an incredible rate of speed. If educators are to be effective they must be relevant. If harnessed, technology can be used to our advantage with proper training. If ignored, or not taken seriously by the entire profession, it could very well make educators irrelevant. Our education system is not too big to fail.

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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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This weekend I was again very fortunate to attend what many consider the premiere education Conference held each year in Philadelphia, EDUCON. It is the sixth year of this conference and it seems to just keep getting better with each year. It is not at a huge venue. It has no Exhibitors, so there is no Exhibitor Hall. There are no massive dining rooms. There are no planned Gala events. There is no schedule of Keynote speakers. Participation is limited to about 500 people. Students, rather than adults are the support staff at the conference. Without all, or even any of the usual components of a national education conference, how is this a premiere Education Conference?

EDUCON takes place in Philadelphia each year on the weekend between the last weekend of the NFL playoff games and the weekend of the Superbowl.

The venue is a school, The Science Leadership Academy. Compared to many American high schools it is relatively small. For that reason participation numbers are comparatively small when considering other education conferences. The result is a dimension to this conference lacking in others.

The close proximity of participants in a small area with chairs and tables strategically placed in hallways all provide an intimacy not experienced elsewhere. This is important because the very people who are presenters at EDUCON are also participants at the presentations of others. They are also the very people one sits next to at lunch and in the hallways and at other sessions. Engagement is constant and meaningful with educators and thought leaders. It is also happening at all levels: student, teacher, administrator, parent, author, and consultant.

Here is the other difference; every presentation is not a presentation, but rather a conversation. A team of people moderates most of these conversations. Each conversation usually has a group participation component. Group work is very common at this conference. The follow-up discussions from the group work are the driving force to what many refer to as the deep thinking provided at this conference.

I think my greatest take away from this conference had nothing to do with the ideas of Entrepreneurship or innovation, which seemed to be a threaded theme of this conference. It was the focus of two panel discussions. I am having a difficult time defining those terms in the context of education. However since it is an up and coming and ongoing theme among some thought leaders, I am sure we will all spend more time determining these definitions as well as how they pertain to education.

What I came away with was to me a more relevant idea as an educator. I saw a focus on teaching learning as a skill and not a consequence of content delivery. The ideas of thoughtful, and deep questioning of a subject, before tackling it, as a problem to solve was a striking revelation. The idea of teaching the use of the process to acquire the content knowledge as opposed to just providing the content made so much more sense to me. All of this emphasized the “How” to learn as opposed to “What’ to learn. I saw this as a much more meaningful goal for educators. Teaching the skill of learning as the focus of the lessons is a shift from what many do. Learning too often is a consequence of content being poured into the heads of students. Some students get it some students don’t. Throw enough wet spaghetti at the wall and some will stick. That seems to be a hit or miss method for success. More often than not, there is less success.

Teaching Learning as a skill certainly increases the chance for successful learning. That is what I took away. Inquiry based learning, and problem based learning are much more in line with teaching learning as a skill than lectures. Lecture and direct instruction will always have a place in education but they should never be the focus for method of delivery. The question is what percentage of our educators continue to do so, often because that is the way it has always been?

EDUCON challenges the status quo of education. EDUCON promotes deeper thinking leading to more meaningful questioning. If we are ever to find the best answers to our difficult problems, we will need to be asking the right questions. EDUCON promotes that. I believe I am a better educator for attending this conference. The shift in education, that we all strive for, will begin with the type of thinking promoted at EDUCON.

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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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There are certain education conferences that people look forward to attending each and every year. Certainly the big national conferences with thousands of attendees and hundreds of vendors are the conferences most familiar to educators. The state organizations usually draw big crowds of educators as well. At one time this is how educators networked and saw the newest of the new, and the best of the best. All of that is represented at big education conferences.

With the introduction of the internet, conferencing as an activity has changed. There is a transparency to conferences that was not possible before. Social Media has armed educators with the power to report out exactly what is happening at any conference. Not only are there tweeted comments about the conference, people often comment on specific sessions for all the world to see, blemishes and all. For those who closely follow conference tweets through the use of hashtags, there are many horror stories of presenters who crashed and burned, having each and every flame described to the world in tweets from the audience.

A specific hashtag is created for each conference, so that it can be discussed on Twitter. The symbol, # starts the tag with a few identifying letters to follow. For example: the hashtag for the upcoming ASCD Conference will be #ASCD12. Anyone tweeting from, or about that conference will tag their tweets with that hashtag. Anyone wanting to follow what’s going on at that conference, need only create a follow column for #ASCD12, and each and every tweet about the conference will flow through that column. I have found TweetDeck and Hootesuite to be the best Apps to use for this purpose. Social Media people are beginning to gauge a conference’s success by the positive buzz generated by tweeters. Social Media savvy organizations are beginning to understand this and are developing Social media strategies.

Of all of the conferences dealing with education, there is one very small one (I think between 3-400 attendees) that creates the greatest Buzz with the Social Media connected educators. The audience of attendees is made larger by the Livestreaming of sessions over the internet to those who couldn’t attend in person.  For the last four years EduCon has taken place in Philadelphia sponsored by  The Science Leadership Academy, which is headed up by Chris Lehman, an outstanding educator, leader, and speaker. This conference differs from most others centering about education. There are very few vendors. There are very few formal presentations. EduCon is based on discussions lead by discussion leaders. The leaders present the topic which they have some stake in or knowledge of, and direct the discussion from there. It is a simple formula with no bells or whistles.

There is another thing that makes this conference different from the rest of the education conferences. Most of those big one’s have been around for years, and are learning how to adapt to social media. #Educon in many respects was born through social media. Most of the educators in attendance are connected educators. It is almost a requirement for connected educators to tweet their impressions out about #Educon at every session they attend. When you look at a twitterstream for the #Educon hashtag it is not a trickling brook, but a white-water rapids of a river racing with tweets of opinion, reflection, information, and occasionally adoration. If all conferences were only judged by the buzz they created, the EduCon would rival or surpass all the top contenders. I am sorry I missed actually attending EduCon this year, but I am keeping up with the tweets. I look forward to next year.


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I have spent the last two days with some really wonderful educators exchanging ideas and in many cases changing ideas. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored a three-day conference highlighting 99 of their education authors in presentations, panels, and intimate, informal gatherings with attendees. Solution Tree had the foresight to invite a number of Social-Media-using educators to attend the conference, all expenses paid with no instructions, or restrictions other than to attend the conference, tweet and blog. It was a great opportunity for us, but it was a big chance taken by Solution Tree. They were asking us to control our own learning and create content as we do it.  That certainly is a unique thought among some educators.

The educators selected to represent the social media community of educators were all bloggers who are also very involved with Twitter. In addition to me, the others were: Steve Anderson, @web20classroom; Kyle Pace, @kylepace; Nick Provenzano, @thenerdyteacher; and Angela Maiers, @angelamaiers. We were all familiar with each other after being connected through social media and many face to face meetings at conferences over the last few years. For all five of us this was a dream assignment. We got to do what we love to do, and we did not have to pay to do it as is usually required.

I made a major assumption about the conference entering into this assignment. Not having access to the registration data, I assumed that most, if not all the participants, would be administrators. Since there were no vendors other than Solution Tree, the ticket price was a bit steep. The return on investment however, was very high. Instead of going to a conference where speakers would do presentations quoting and espousing ideas from the most recent books on topics of education, this conference provided the actual sources, the authors of those works. This was a premiere conference that was being done for the first time. My assumption was that with today’s economically strapped school budgets, most districts would send a limited number of their lead administrators. In two of the sessions that I attended however, a poll was taken, and it was apparent, that in those presentations, at least a quarter of the audience was made up of classroom teachers. There were 1,500 educators in attendance.

The conference was kicked off with a keynote by Daniel Pink on motivation. I was familiar with much of what Pink had to say after reading Drive and viewing several of his videos. Two parts of his speech really reached me. The first was a big negative. Pink used the targeting term of “Bad Teachers” needing to be fired. This is a hot button to many creating an atmosphere that scapegoats teachers as a group to be removed in part, in order to reform education. That is the part I did not like. What I loved was the fact that Pink highlighted the accomplishments of Josh Stumpenhorst, an educator named teacher of the year, and a social media user who connected with Pink through Social Media. I felt pride in the recognition of one of our own as well as a guy I am connected to. A great part of this conference involved the authors taking part as participants, as well as presenters. After the keynote, it was off to the sessions.

We began tweeting out reactions from the very start of the keynote, and we will still be tweeting about things after it ends tomorrow. The idea that we were providing a view of many of the sessions to educators who were not in attendance, was new to many, who knew little of the application of social media to education. Many audience members took notice as the Authors presenting recognized the tweeters in their presentations. Most authors are aware of the impact that social media is having. It was the participants at the conference who were beginning to recognize its effect; many for the first time. Each of our group members experienced people discovering or at least taking Twitter serious, or discovering it for the first time. It was then that it became apparent that a room for people to go to during any conference was a necessity. It could be a place for novices to learn how to travel the conference with Twitter. Twitter back channeling could add a whole new level to presenting. Those of us, who have experienced this, understand it. A backchannel screen for a number of sessions would soon make this apparent to many more educators. The Twitter tutorial room could support that to make it happen more successfully.

The response from many educators, who did not attend in person, to our tweets was overwhelming. The numbers came back indicating millions of tweets and retweets on #authorspeak went out each day. Tannis Emann was able to do a Blog Post on the conference based on the tweets sent by us since he was not physically in attendance. Wes Freyer, @wfryer is credited for the photo,#authorspeak. It was an impressive showing of the effect social media can have on a conference. It extended the reach of ideas to those who could not attend. This was accomplished with a focus on only five “Teachers a Tweet’n”. Imagine the possibilities of communication, collaboration, and creation once we get all 7.2 million educators “a Tweet’n”? Professional Development may become more relevant and focused to move education reform forward in a positive way. I am looking forward to what next year’s #authorspeak has to offer whether I attend in person or virtually through Twitter.

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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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As I attend more and more conferences explaining the effect Social Media is having on education, the subject of Back Channeling often comes up. Educators at conferences are beginning to accept the fact that it is okay for audience members to twitter out to their followers the statements of the presenter as well as their own impressions of the speaker and topic. As I explained this to a number of people at a conference this week, I remembered the first post I did on this very subject way back on November 25, 2009. This is the guest Blog post I did on my good friend Shelly Terrell’s Blog. (BTW, I no longer have a blackberry.)

I am on a flight returning home after a successful Presentation at the New York State Association of Computers and Technologies in Education Annual Conference, NYSCATE. I was pleased with the outcome, but I did make a few observations about how presenting at these conferences is beginning to change and may never be the same.

Presentations for any educational conference are the backbone of the conference. They are usually the main reason why educators attend conferences, wild parties notwithstanding. It is a great accomplishment for an educator to have a proposal for a conference presentation accepted and placed on the Program. Being judged and accepted by one’s colleagues is both an accomplishment and a thrill and for some, the process could also be terrifying. Presenting is considered by many to be one of those thresholds in an educator’s career. I have done several presentations at various conferences over the years and I have been moved by the positive experience with each event. Because it requires putting one’s self out there for all to see, most presenters do a great job of preparing and presenting to the best of their ability.

There has recently come a change for presenters that I just became aware of with my recent experience. I was at a keynote speech by David Jakes. He made a huge impression with his introduction to Augmented Reality. It was very cool. Jakes was engaging and informative, everything we have come to expect from a keynote speaker. He could have smiled more, but otherwise he was great. During his speech my Blackberry gonged. This was not a notification that an angel got her wings, but an alert that a message arrived. As I took out the Blackberry to turn off the sound, I thought I would sneak a peek at Ubertwitter.  Twitterers understand the call of the stream.

I was amazed to find ten tweets about the very keynote speech I was watching. I could not believe how rude these audience members could be tweeting during a speech. I immediately tweeted out to these people. If they could be rude, I should be allowed to be rude too. I sent out about five tweets. Jakes received rave reviews from all the tweeters present. He deserved it, because he was excellent. I came away inspired by Jakes and terrified by Twitter.

The terror came in the fact that the next day I had to present my PLN Presentation and I knew many of those same tweeters would be in my room. I attended a panel discussion the next morning and there were over a hundred people in attendance. The Panel was again excellent and again several tweets went out saying so. In addition Tweeters were quoting the pearls of wisdom from the panelists, word for word. I had two hours to go and no pearls of wisdom from me were even on the horizon.

The idea of a Twitter test entered my mind and now I had another standard to meet. Not only did the presentation have to be accepted by educators in general, but it needed to be accepted by Tweeters specifically. In my mind’s eye I envisioned my three thousand followers opening their Twitterstream and seeing a tweet “Whitby sucks in Real time” or worse “RT: Whitby sucks in Real time” GLOBAL sounded in my brain. Even Europe, Asia, and Australia will know I suck in real-time.

I showed up in my room early and of course, the technology that we tweet about all the time, let me down. The computer screen appeared sideways and it was the same on the projection screen as well. A frantic call to the tech folks scrambled three techs to the room. Any more than one is a problem, since there is not one opinion but three to resolve the problem of the sideways screen. I am a dead man in the eyes of the world. It was time to start, and I could not wait for the fix, so I began the presentation. Shortly after my introduction, the techies came through and the projector and computer were up and running with a picture in the correct orientation.

Somehow I managed to conceal my fears until this public outing in this Blog. The point that I think needs to be made, however, is that twitter, or whatever app is to follow, will forever change the way we receive Presentations. Hopefully, Twitter will force us all to do better or be exposed globally. A real concern is what about those twitterers who don’t get it and tweet out bad stuff about the speaker with little regard for reason or feelings. Twitter will have a significant effect on presenters and presentations. Maybe we should ban it?

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For the last four days I have been experiencing a great learning conference for educators. The International Society for Technology in Education Conference, ISTE, is held once a year. This year some 22,000 educators and 5,000 exhibitors came together in Philadelphia at The Pennsylvania Convention Center. I experienced this conference as a social media educator. This does not make me a better educator, but it does give me a unique perspective amongst educators. Social media has added a new dimension to educational conferences and the entire education system as well.

The idea of social media for educators is simple, it connects educators. What each educator does with that connection is a personal choice. Most use it to share, and collaborate on educational information, as well as social interaction with other educators. Theoretically, this keeps the participants relevant in sharing the latest and greatest in the field of education.  A Social Media educator is not better than a non-social media educator, but maybe a tad more relevant. Of course that would not be true if the non-social media educator kept up with educational journals, educational news, and educational trends as they came out in print. However, the expense of the printed journals and printed news sources needed to keep up, might prove cost prohibitive and too time-consuming for most educators.

Beyond relevance, social media offers an incredible amount of connectivity to educators on a global scale. The big three, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have connected tens of thousands of teachers worldwide. There are ongoing discussions and collaboration of educational topics taking place on these platforms worldwide, 24 hours a day, transcending boundaries of time and space. The biggest obstacle for me is the acceptance and understanding of time zones since this is a global endeavour.

Beyond the relevance, educators come to conferences prepared to network. Throughout the year they are connected to many of the very same educators who attend these conferences. These connections add a whole new dimension to an Education Conference. Like old friends meeting after a long absence, people pick up or begin discussions already begun online. Face-to-face meetings answer curiosities of longstanding online connections. People put the .5” x .5” Twitter Profile Pic to a real face. It is an experience that a non-connected educator might only get upon bumping into a noted keynote speaker. For connected educators at a conference as large as ISTE11, we may bump into our own personal keynote speakers 50 times in one day and be thrilled each and every time.

In addition to the recognition and connection factors, Social Media educators have the advantage of communicating with large numbers of people at any time to give out or request information: Who is where? What is good? Where should we eat?, Where should I go?, and my favorite, Come find me Steve Anderson, I am lost again. These were typical messages sent during the course of the four-day event. The other type of communications, going out consistently, was updating on valuable messages by presenters from their sessions. SM educators were connected in some ways to workshops and presentations even when not in attendance.

Back Channeling is having a big effect on conference presentations. SM educators are in direct control over messaging the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of each and every presentation at a conference. Tweets of praise or tweets of criticism fly from the workshops. Ideas of worth and value of presentations and presenters are not withheld. We can only hope that it is responsible, thought-out criticism, but that might not always be the case. This is the ugly side of social media that we must be aware of. I have seen great presenters labeled by some short-sighted and mean-spirited SM educators as stupid because of a simple spelling error. In the past the term “racist” was bandied about by some SM educators in regard to some #Edchat Topics. The power of social media also comes with great responsibilities. We all need to think before we speak even in digital terms. As a matter of fact, it may be even more so for digitally speaking. The spoken word will reach a determined number in the audience, while the digital word can go on forever to undetermined numbers of listeners.

As I described in my previous post, this is not your Father’s EDU Conference! Social Media has provided a new level to conferencing that may have profound implications in future conferencing. It certainly has changed conferences for me and other SM educators. There will be some who will play down its effect, but there were some who played down the effect of “Talkies” in the movie industry, the effect of the steam engine in the Shipping Industry, the effect of Magnetic recording tape in the entertainment industry, and, let us not forget, the doubters of technology in the Education Industry.

I had a great time at ISTE11 and I look forward to the next one. I believe my connections made me more aware, and made the conference, for me, more meaningful. I am also much more aware of my responsibility to think before I post. I believe that social media is making a difference in learning. If we make a difference in learning, we must consider making a difference in teaching. If learning is enhanced by technology, than it must be a consideration in teaching. I guess that is also the reason for a multi-million dollar International Technology in Education Conference. Technology is not the silver bullet for education, but it is also not a “should we use it, or should we leave it” decision.

If social Media is working for educators as a tool for learning, why not consider it as a tool for learning for students. Why not have students build their Personal Learning Networks to connect them through their education careers. Why not enable them access to content beyond what their teachers may be able to provide. The idea of learners connecting responsibly with other learners for the purpose of sharing and collaborating may move us from where education is, to where ever it is we should be. Social Media may be a tech tool that will move that idea forward. Again, if it works for educators, why shouldn’t it work for students. We are all Learners!

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