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This week we had a much energized #Edchat. #Edchat is an online discussion involving over 1,000 educators on a specific topic each week. This week’s Topic dealt with Professional Development being relevant for educators. This seems to be one subject that rivals in popularity the opposition to standardized, high-stakes testing. It seems that most educators have an opinion on PD. There are so many aspects of this subject that one post will not cover it all. It may however, be able to at least frame a discussion.

The best first change for Professional Development would be to rename it. PD has become a hot button issue amongst many educators. Since each district develops its own policy, there are some districts that do a fine job. Based on comments by many educators on social media sites however, these districts seem to be few, and far between. In addition to district mandates, there are also different PD requirements enforced by individual states.  Before the movement to change the name takes hold, let’s talk about PD as we know it today.

The most recent statements supported by Secretary Duncan tell us that a teacher with Master’s degree has little effect on students’ learning. Following this line of reasoning through, it would seem that the government would want our teachers to begin and end with a bachelor’s degree. Of course that would be a less expensive way to go, but the burden on PD would be that much greater in the future.

Demanding that any labor force spend time beyond that which is established by the job description requires that the employer pay the employee additional compensation. Since PD requires a time commitment in addition to an educator’s work week, this is what is done in most districts. Of course, if the school district is paying for additional hours, it has a right to make requirements for what it expects. Those requirements often become a point of contention.  This seems to create an “Us vs. Them” dynamic and the beginning of the PD problems.

Regardless of how far any educator travels in his or her academic career, information does not stop flowing when the degree is conferred. Although teachers are expected to be content experts, the content itself continues to develop and evolve. Of course that may not be as true for Math as other subjects, but most content for most academic areas continues to accumulate and evolve. Experts cannot be experts if they do not keep up with the evolving content. A writing teacher who knows nothing of blogging is a questionable expert. A social studies teacher without an understanding of social media can hardly explain the revolution taking place in the Middle East.

Aside from the continuing development in content areas, the methods used to teach and learn also continue to evolve. Methods are also affected by the culture of our society and that continues to change. The Huck Finn controversy certainly underscores this. The culture of the community, or the school itself, has an incredible effect on the school’s approach to learning. Sharing and reflecting on the ways we teach is the best way to change and evolve. The introduction of Social Media to PD gives it a new dimension. Ning sites creating collaborative learning communities; Twitter and Facebook connecting educators locally and globally; YouTube enabling creation of content to be shared and commented upon, are all influences of social media that affect culture.

With the rapid advancement of technology, the tools for learning are changing continually. Whatever tools teachers used in their methods classes in years past, would be hard pressed to be found today. Of course, Overheads and PowerPoint are still around. The concepts of Social networks, mobile learning devices, web 2.0, webinars, podcasts, blended learning, and cloud computing are new to all. They will have a huge impact on learning, but unless educators are up to speed, they will not have an effect in education. That is when education becomes irrelevant because our educators are technology illiterate.

Approaching PD as an extra item in a labor contract may not be the best approach. PD is something that should be part of the work week. It needs to be there in order to maintain relevance for all educators. It cannot be a one size fits all approach. Different educators have different needs. We insist on this for our students, why not for our educators.

The best hope we have for real reform may lie in reforming PD first. IT directors are tech content experts, and may not know what educators need to know in order to teach their respective subjects. Educators are content experts in their respective areas, and technology is not necessarily their strength. Educators need to learn what to ask, and IT managers need to learn how to answer to meet the needs of the educators. IT people seem to view many problems as insurmountable obstacles and are quick to deliver edicts and bans to stop the problems from occurring, rather than trying to solve the problem. IT staff are educators of educators. The same approach of guidance and patience to analyze and problem-solve should be employed by IT people when working with educators.

Administrators have a big role in PD as well. Too often when it comes to PD, administrators use the “do as I say, not as I do” method. They need to be a part of the PD as well. They are the leaders in education, and that requires that they must be out front. Being out front requires some idea of what is going on. Too often, too many administrators have no clue. If PD can lead education to reform our leaders must be there as well. Sitting in an office having IT directors develop PowerPoint presentations for board meetings does not make for cutting edge educational leadership. I know not all Administrators fall in this category, but what is an acceptable percentage of those who do?

If we want reform in education, we better start paying attention to how educators learn and teach to enable that learning. They are not yet teachers when they leave their college classrooms with a degree. Great teachers come from what they learn in their own classrooms as a teacher. They need guidance and support to maintain relevance in the ever-changing world for which they are preparing kids. To be better teachers and better leaders, we need to first be better learners. Without a thoughtful system in place to enable that, the results will be limited at best.

Instead of forcing a merit pay model in education, which will not work, let’s consider using that money differently. Why not use it to compensate teachers who are being successful with their methods and are willing to share their methods with colleagues. Teacher to teacher sharing is a great way to professionally develop teachers. It also supports innovation and excellence in learning. When asked how to reform education, we should consider reforming how we educate our educators, and our educational leaders. We need to reform Professional Development in order to reform education.

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Lisa Nielsen and I co-wrote and cross posted this post.

When it comes to upgrading education to the 21st Century, those who are less supportive of change, often hide behind, or are frightened of acronyms like FERPA, CIPA, COPPA. This is sometimes done intentionally for convenience, or unwittingly out of ignorance. Of course in a litigious society such as ours has become, law suits are foremost in the minds of administrators. It is for that reason that a clear understanding is needed by all constituents. Our students need adults to stop being afraid, and stop hiding, so education can get out of the shadows and into the light of the world in which our children live.

These acts were created to protect children. They were not created to keep students stuck in the past, educated in a disconnected school environment that shares little resemblance to the real world for which we should be preparing our children.  These acts do not say we can’t publish online student’s names, videos, work, pictures, etc. They do not prevent us from using social media, YouTube, email, or any of those things that may be blocked in many school districts. An important goal of education is to strive for creation and publication of content by students. In today’s world technology and the Internet are an essential components of that process.

By blocking students from the digital world, the jobs of administrators and educators are made easier, but if people became teachers, education leaders or parents because it was easy, they’ve selected the wrong profession.While it is true that banning is an easy way out, doing so is short-sighted and not visionary. It does not approach the innovative status that we hear so much about.  If you’re wondering how to navigate these waters and what is really allowed, read on to find a simple policy that addresses the three main acts: FERPA, CIPA, and COPPA explaining:

  • a simple policy
  • how to do it
  • why to do it
  • safety
  • a link to each act
  • a brief overview of each act
  • what it means to educators
  • a real life example of each

World’s simplest online safety policy

Students can access websites that do not contain or that filter mature content. They can use their real names, pictures, and work (as long it doesn’t have a grade/score from a school) with the notification and/or permission of the student and their parent or guardian.

How
Notify parents/guardians that their child’s work, likeness, name will be shared across the year, and let them know the procedure for opting out.  Have the permission release provided and signed as part of the student registration packet that includes things like emergency notification contact.

As specific projects come up, notify parents/guardians in traditional ways i.e. a note home and/or using methods like a voice or texting notification system to parents, or an email.  You may also want to have updates on a parent page of your school website, or on a class website or class blog.

Why Not Ban?
Establishing a purposeful online identity of which one can be proud is an important skill to teach students. Equally important is conveying the idea that being safe and responsible online does not mean hiding your identity, but rather defining it and owning it.  After all, If your child is not developing his/her digital footprint, who is?  In elementary school students like Armond McFadden are publicly publishing work and engaging in real learning communities about his area of passion, both online and in life.  Anyone can begin making a difference and contributing real work at any age.

Never before in history have kids had the ability to create and publish so much content, so easily. Never ever  have people had the ability to access so much information without leaving a seat. These are awesome abilities that come with awesome responsibilities. These abilities and responsibilities require skills that are taught and not inherited. Educators need to have the authority to teach these skills. Educators need to be trusted to teach these skills. The world, in which our kids will live, will require their knowledge and skills in this area in order for them to be competitive and relevant.Banning Internet access for misguided reasoning will prevent educators from accomplishing this much-needed goal.

These articles provide additional insight and information for parents and educators interested in supporting their children in developing and managing a purposeful and powerful digital footprint.

What about Safety?
Shows like To Catch a Predator sensationalize and feed the fear of parents having their child exposed to a child predator. It is a real fear and certainly a serious consideration.The facts however support evidence that over 90% of child predators are family members, close family friends, or clergy. We do not ban family picnics, playgrounds, family reunions, or church functions. There are no laws addressing these issues.The best way to defend our children against these threats is to educate them. Warn or rather teach them of the dangers,make them aware of the possibilities.Or, we can lock them away, effectively banning them from the outside world in which they will eventually have to live, leaving them to use whatever they picked up on their own about responsible digital citizenship, a topic probably not stressed outside of education.

When it comes to sharing student information and student work, there is a lot of misinformation.  The reality is there is no evidence that doing so, responsibly and appropriately, compromises student safety.  Instead, representatives from the Crimes Against Children Research Center and the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee explain that what puts kids at risk are things like:

  • having a lot of conflict with your parents
  • being depressed and socially isolated
  • being hyper
  • communicating with a lot of people who you don’t know
  • being willing to talk about sex with people that you don’t know
  • having a pattern of multiple risky activities
  • going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there, and behaving like an Internet daredevil.

Sure banning is easy, but it is educational neglect to keep our heads in the sand or look the other way.  How better to support and empower kids in being safe and appropriate then to be their guides?  We certainly can’t help kids with proper and appropriate use, if the very tools they want to use are blocked.   The best way to ensure students are behaving safe online and in life is to be their partners, guiding and supporting them as necessary. We must also keep in mind that Being Safe Online Is Being Safe In Life. Rules for tools don’t make sense. Rules for behaviors do.

To follow are brief overviews of each of the acts that address online safety along with a link to the original act, what this means for educators and examples of each.

The Educator’s Guide to CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA

Children’s Internet Protection Act
Overview:
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. It applies only to minors in places that apply for erate funds.  The law requires an Internet safety policy that addresses:

  • blocking or filtering Internet access to pictures that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).
  • a method for monitoring (not tracking) activities.
  • access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; the safety and security of minors when communicating electronically, unauthorized access to hacking, unauthorized use of  personal information, restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them.

What educators should know:
First, you can and should request that the teacher computer is unfiltered.  There is nothing worse than frustration in not being able to do work because you get blocked at every turn.  I’ve been in teacher training centers where they’ve falsely claimed they could not unblock because of CIPA requirements. Not true.  Educators need to be empowered not only with access, but also with a way to preview sites to choose for use and have unblocked for students.

When working with students, we want to empower them to independently use online tools not only at school, but in life.  Ensure you have conversations with students about appropriate use and consequences. Additionally, when planning lessons and units, you should have the sites students will use vetted in advance with proper safety settings selected i.e. “safe search” in Google.  You should also consider creating a learning outline or guide for students with directions and direct links to sites.  This helps keep the lesson on track and the students focused.

There are services like Renzulli Learning that provide educators and students access to thousands of vetted sites that are aligned to students passions, talents, interests, abilities, and learning styles.  This might be a service to investigate.  When doing searches, there are safe search sites such as KidsClick which is great for elementary students and also sorts by reading level.  For secondary students Google is a terrific site where not only can you do a Safe Search, but you can also search by reading level, language, and you can choose to translate the results.

Example:
I served as a library media specialist in Central Harlem in a Pre-K to 8 school where I complied with CIPA rules by using myself as the method for monitoring and teaching students to use their brain as a powerful filtering tool. I empowered my students to be able to be safe and appropriate online not only in school, but in life.  Sure, there were times when a site was accidentally accessed.  The students knew to hit “ctrl w” to close the window and continue.  We also set “safe” settings on the sites we were using.  Perhaps most important, when working with students, I vetted our list of sites in advance, knowing exactly where students would be accessing information.  I, as their teacher, was their filter and monitor. I had an unfiltered environment at a tough school in Harlem.  Students appreciated the privilege to use the computers and the respect afforded to them.  They didn’t want to lose that opportunity, which they would, had they purposely abused their right to use them appropriately.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
Overview:
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) applies to the online collection of personal information by persons or entities under U.S. jurisdiction from children under 13 years of age. It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.

What educators should know:
This law makes the job of today’s educators easier putting responsibility on website providers to keep children under 13 years of age safe.  While children under 13 can legally give out personal information with their parents’ permission, many websites disallow underage children from using their services because they don’t want to bother setting up such accommodations.  If there is a site which you are interested in using for learning purposes that restricts use of those under 13, consider contacting the site to see if they would be interested in supporting you in using the site with children under the supervision of a teacher, parent or guardian with proper consent.  Many organizations (Google, Wikispaces, Voki, Voicethread, Facebook) are interested in supporting learning and appreciate having educators and parents as partners.

Example:
First grade teacher Erin Schoening knew Facebook would be a great tool to build 21st century literacy with her students and strengthen the home-school connection. She uses Facebook with her First grade students and their parents with the permission of parents, updated appropriate use policies in place with her district and blessing of Facebook in Education Division.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
Overview:
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. It applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. Most of the act addresses children’s education records providing parents and students the right to inspect, review, question, and have updated incorrect records.  It also states that schools must receive permission from a parent or guardian to release information from a student’s education record. There are exceptions to needing consents such as the case of audits, evaluation, financial aid, judicial orders, etc.

Schools may disclose, without consent, information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students and allow parents and students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose information about them.

What educators should know:
FERPA does not prevent many of the things you hear people saying it does. As long as parents/guardians are informed, schools may disclose, or allow students to disclose, information about themselves as long as it is not a grade or score. Notice permission is not necessary under FERPA.  They only need to inform parents/guardians this is taking place. Parents can ask their child not be included and schools must comply, but schools can still engage in planned activities. Remember though when it comes to websites, under COPPA you must obtain parental permission for students under 13 to share information or work online.

Example:
Students and teachers are sharing successes through videos and pictures at http://innovatemyclass.org.  There you will find examples of real projects students and their teachers are doing with technology.  Schools have consent forms from parents/guardians and a link to the page featuring their child is sent to parents so they can get an insight into and share the success of their children with others.

These laws were passed to keep children safe, not keep children out of the 21st century.  With a little common sense we can ensure schools are not committing educational neglect by keeping students stuck in the past.


Contributors:
Lisa Nielsen, Creator of The Innovative Educator blog, Twitter: @InnovativeEdu

Tom Whitby St. Joseph’s College, New York.Twitter: @tomwhitby
My Blog: My Island View

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There seems to be a thirst on the part of some educators for Twitter tactics and strategies. It seems that the more I write about this subject, the more I get requests for additional posts. I take this as a good sign and an indication that Social Media may be gaining traction with educators. I see Twitter as an excellent source for gaining an understanding of what one needs to know. I feel that when we talk about Twitter as a great source for Professional Development, that is somewhat misleading. Twitter does not provide the development, but it does offer a direction to sources for that development. It provides educators with the knowledge to ask the right questions. It steers people to the best sources to learn the answers to their questions. More basically it enlightens educators as to what they should be asking. Twitter enables those who don’t know what they don’t know, to have a direction for seeking enlightenment.

One of the benefits of this type of learning is that it can be quite specific. In the past many PD workshops addressed the bells and whistles of software applications and the general use of an application. It often failed to address the specific needs of teachers in specific subject areas. IT folks know computers and applications. Teachers know learning needs. Through the use of Twitter, a Social Studies teacher can ask other SS teachers from around the world, what timeline applications were found to be the most successful. They can even ask how it was used and get specific real classroom examples and plans from those who achieved success. Before Twitter teachers were limited to interacting with teachers they knew in their building or district. Now, they are limited to whatever range they have with Twitter. With the proper strategies, that can create a huge jump in numbers of opinions and a bigger step toward relevance for the teacher. That is the “Why” of Twitter, and now for the “How”.

Once you have put the process for “following” educators on Twitter in place, you need to begin Tweeting. The process, for most, as beginning users, is similar. At first people will lurk. That means  they will watch and try to figure out what is going on. Lurking and learning is a standard way of learning through Social Media. As a passive observer much can be learned. There does come a time for everyone however  that they need to engage for a clarification. There might be a time when, as educators often do, a stand on some issue must be taken. Whatever the initial reason for interaction, the learning process will increase significantly as the educator engages other educators.

The obvious beginning here is to state that a tweet is a thought or piece of information that a person (Tweeter) sends out to followers. It often contains a link to a greater-sized piece of information or video. If there are only five people following, that is not much of an audience. If a tweet with information is of  interest, or found to be of importance by one of the five followers, that follower may Re-tweet it. That would be sending that same tweet to his or her followers. This is an RT. That will tell a person’s followers that she, or he, tweeted out this specific information from another source. The original tweeter gets credit for that information and the re-tweeter gets credit for finding and sharing the tweet. Everyone is a hero. If the re-tweeter also has a following of five people you are not much of a hero. If however, that person has 10,000 followers, you become an educator Rock Star. As those 10,000 see your re-tweet, many will choose to follow you directly. That makes the idea of following people with large followings a great idea. It brings to mind an old TV shampoo commercial that said, “If you tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and they tell two friends… “.You get the picture!

The other strategy with Re-tweets is for you to selectively RT others. If you spot a tweet that offers value to your followers, RT it. People will then look to you as a source to information that they may not be seeing. As they RT your RT, your name is attached and more followers will come to you. RT-ing smart tweets, always makes you look smart. For that reason, check out the tweet before you RT it. A bad Tweet, RT-ed by you, makes you look bad. There is no Educator Rock star status for bad tweets. Never hesitate to RT anyone’s good information. Never assume your followers have seen it. People come on the twitter stream at different times, or are otherwise distracted and often miss things. Your RT may come at a time that they are better able to absorb the information

It is important to note that you should not change, add or otherwise edit someone’s Tweet. You may comment on it, but DO NOT put your own personal spin on someone else’s Tweet. You can add comments before the RT appears. (@tomwhitby  I Love this comment.>> RT @twittername Fridays are known for #FF, pizza, and Wine  #Edchat)  Keep in mind that RT’s are still limited to 140 characters. When an RT is created it includes the original Tweeter’s name as part of the 140 characters. This is important for two reasons. If you have a tweet that you want to be intentionally Re-tweeted keep it under 120 characters. This allows for the Re-Tweeters header. If you are Rt-ing a tweet, you may need to edit it down. The first thing to do is eliminate the hashtags. The original tweet already covered them. If you need more try abbreviating words. Keep the intent of the tweet intact. If all else fails and you cannot reduce it enough, go to the link and make an original Tweet based on your opinion.

Another important Re-Tweet personal policy is to RT a fellow educator’s appeal for help. If an educator is making a request and only has a few followers, that call may go unanswered. If we all RT that call, we increase the range of that tweet, so the tweeter should get substantial results from the request. Before I RT those types of tweets, I always preface it with “REPLY TO>>”. (REPLY TO>>@twittername Does anyone have data on learning w/mobile devices?)This in theory gets the response to the original tweeter and not me. This is a great theory that occasionally works. Unfortunately, I am often included in the replies. I guess I am the only one familiar with my theory.

Re-Tweeting is an important part of Twitter. It can be used in your favor to increase your following. It is also part of the learning process on Twitter. It should never be a stopping point in the Twitter experience as a tool for professional development. The best learning in social media involves engagement with others. That is what makes it social media. Your learning will increase with your further direct engagements. Another Post I did on the dark side of Re-Tweets is Twitter’s Achilles Heel. This can be a confusing topic to explain which is why there is such a need. Please feel free to comment. You may also join the Educator’s PLN for Twitter tutorials and twitter lists.

 

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Today, I read yet another in a growing list of articles involving a teacher who wrote a Blog Post with totally inappropriate comments about her job, students, parents and administrators. In the past month or so, I have read several articles about teachers using social media for contacting students in an inappropriate way. More and more teachers are coming under attack and when the opportunity arises technology, as well as Social Media are being piled on as the reason for the ills of society and the deterioration of our education system, if not actually being the root of all evil.

The unfortunate consequence of these mindless acts of stupidity in the actions of a few is a knee jerk reaction on the part of some administrators, and politicians, who pander to the fears of a public, that is sorely in need of an education and understanding of Social Media (including:Facebook,Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogs, et al). These solutions sometimes result in the banning of the internet in school districts, or attempting to alter labor contracts restricting the use of the internet by teachers even in their private lives.

When we examine the offenses of these individuals however, it is not the social media that is the offense; it is the inappropriate behavior of a few individuals. It should be that behavior that is banned. It is that behavior for which we should hold individuals accountable. It is that behavior that is the punishable offense. It is not the Technology or the Social Media. The vast majority of educators use it responsibly, yet they and their students will suffer by being disconnected from the free-flowing content and collaboration of the learning-rich environment of the Internet.

Please do not comment to me about the dangers of the Internet. I am the first to insist that we educate our society about internet safety, as well as, what it means to be a responsible digital citizen. It is obvious to me that our entire society is in need of such lessons, because the internet and social media is new to a vast majority of our citizenry. It hasn’t existed for all that long and it needs to be taught and learned. It is not a fad that will pass in time. It will grow and move forward. We need to deal with it rationally. It needs to be introduced and taught early to kids as a tool for learning with more access and freedoms as they mature. Yes, there are predators that will use the internet to get to kids. This is why we must teach our children about this as early as we teach them not to go with strangers in a playground or amusement park, or shopping mall.

The prevailing myth governing some parents’ views of the Internet however is skewed by the repeated battering as a topic by shows like To Catch a Predator. The show with the hard-nosed investigative reporter luring predators to the homes of, theoretically, internet-duped adolescents, expecting something more than the awaiting cops hiding behind the bushes on the driveway. These are real incidents; it is undeniable, and sickening. However the dangers of  predators on the internet is a fact that is sensationalized and dramatized and repeated over and over on TV and Radio distorting the frequency of occurrences.  The real fact of the matter is that over 90% of the victims of child molestation are molested by family members, or close family friends (including some clergy). This is rarely captured by the cameras. Yet, do we ban family picnics, block parties, or church functions as a defense? No child should be molested as a result of the internet use, or face to face contact. Our best defense for our children is education, and, not banning. We should not ban picnics, block parties, church functions, or the Internet from our children.

One post that offered some great quotes was BLOG PUTS TEACHER IN HOT WATER by: Christina Kristofic from The Intelligencer. Beyond every educator, all adults should heed this advice. these ideas should also be taught to students from an early age.

“Each time you post a photograph or information on the web, make sure you would gladly show it to the following people: Your mother. Your students. Your superintendent. The editor of The New York Times,” The Pennsylvania State Education Association tells teachers on its website. “Even though the First Amendment protects your speech as a private citizen on matters of public concern, that speech may fall outside of First Amendment protection if it ‘impedes your employer’s effectiveness or efficiency, or otherwise disrupts the workplace.’ Avoid posting anything on your profile page about your colleagues, administrators, or students, as well as using inappropriate or profane messages or graphics, or anything that would reflect negatively on your workplace.”

I never liked the argument used against gun legislation, “Guns don’t kill people; People kill people!” It was a statement however, that could not be disputed. It actually is an effective defense to banning guns. The right to bear arms is guaranteed under the constitution. Responsible gun owners educate themselves and their families in the proper safety and maintenance of weapons. There is a good reason for this. Without understanding and respect, a gun in the wrong hands can be a tragedy. There are many parallels that may be drawn with the internet and Social Media. Our society has no choice. All of these are part of our culture and we must be smart and deal with them responsibly, or live with the consequences of not dealing with them at all. I would hope that commentary to this post is limited to technology and the internet in education, and not Gun Control.

 

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It has been almost a week since I went to EduCon 2.3 in Philadelphia, and I am still going over many things in my head that I discussed, or experienced in that atmosphere of educational collaboration. “What is EduCon?” you may ask.  It is, hopefully, an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools.” The “in person” attendance was limited to 300 educators who came from all over the country. Many of the attendees were educators who were connected to each other through Social Media. Many, although maybe meeting face to face for the first time, were very familiar with the beliefs and attributes of their fellow attendees long before this conference.

Social Media is the new factor in educational conferences that is changing the way many educators interact. Its effect is not only taking hold on educators at conferences, but on the population of countries as well. Social Media is having a profound effect on the revolution going on in the Middle East. The first reaction of repressive governments used to be to control the TV and Radio stations. Today, their first reaction to revolt is to block the internet, specifically Twitter and Facebook.  This control of social Media has become a prime directive in China. The idea of keeping entire populations without access to technology of any kind, with the possible exception of weapons, may be a goal of many Middle Eastern countries

I have said enough about international conflict, so back to Philly and EduCon 2.3. I really enjoyed going out with so many people after a day of conferring on Education. At my hotel we gathered a group of about 30 people for dinner. It was great meeting in the hotel lobby. The energy level was high with everyone recapping the events of the day. We were expanding and exploring much of day’s topics, while interspersing jokes and personal anecdotes. After traveling to two restaurants and realizing that no one was going to host a group of 30 people we broke down into two groups. My group of about a dozen people went to a really nice pub that took us in and seated us in an isolated alcove at the back of the pub.

As we were seated, we resembled any group of close friends out for a night of celebration and frivolity. That appearance belied the fact that many of us, although familiar with each other through social media, were together face to face for the first time. It mattered not because of our strong connections developed virtually through social media over the past year. We had a great time talking about the day, the people we met and the things we had learned.

The Waiter brought the menus and we all perused the fare to decide on our meals. After the orders were given and the waiter went off with his order pad and something happened. Everyone at the table, I think it was twelve total, pulled out their mobile learning devices to check-in, tweet out or catch-up. Some even texted the other half of the original group from our hotel. My immediate reaction was to ask the group, would you do this at a restaurant with your families? Of course the response was a resounding NO. “They do not understand” was in the majority of responses. The smart phones, or mobile learning devices, were then used to share with each of the dinners family photos, links to educational sites, blogs, and sites stored from the day’s encounters. It was a collaboration fest. The sight that grabbed me was that a dozen people, all seated at a long combination of tables, were all looking at their individual mobile learning devices all at the same time. It took about ten minutes until the first round of drinks arrived and the devices disappeared and the face to face socializing began.

The encounter stuck with me through the next day. The idea of how mobile learning devices have crept into our interaction and collaboration began to implant itself in my head. I knew how it affected me, but now I observed its effect on many educator/learners who I have come to know and respect. The next day at the conference I continued my observation of mobile learning devices. In every session I attended, I observed a great majority of the attendees using Laptops, I Pads, or Smart Phones during each of the sessions. These learner educators were recording and back channeling information from each of the sessions. (Back Channeling is sending out comments, quotes, or reactions to a session or a speaker through social media.) These people represented some of the best informed educator learners in education today all using mobile technology to learn and collaborate.

Now for my reflection: It was obvious to me that some of the most avid learners that I have ever known have embraced mobile devices in their learning. They use it in their formal learning environments as well as personal lives. For these learners, learning technology is ubiquitous. (ubiquitous existing or being everywhere, especially at the same time; omnipresent.) Laptops, I Pads, and mobile phones were everywhere in this conference of über learners.

Now, I need to present my long-awaited reflection. I wonder, given the two examples offered, where should American education fall with a policy on Mobile Learning Devices. Should it follow the model of outstanding educators who are proven learners? That would involve the ubiquitous use of learning technologies. The other option: Should it follow the model of Middle Eastern countries attempting to keep their populations in the centuries of the past? Blocking the internet and controlling the use of Mobile Learning Devices. Should American Educators resist the advent of learning technologies, or should they embrace it. Embracing it will require Professional Development. Rejecting it requires absolutely nothing.

 

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