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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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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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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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My post today is on a topic which I have discussed before and probably will discuss more in the future. As much as we talk about reform in education, the system is very slow to change. Many of the people shouting the loudest for a need for sweeping improvements are some of the same people who are ardent supporters of the status quo. For whatever reasons they may publicly state, their preference is to keep things the way that they have been. Whether it is comfort or ease, things in a system, as large as education, are very slow to change. Even though we are educated adults, with adult experience, more often than not we hear the term “baby steps” used in conversations of education reform.

My school district for many years spent what may have been thousands of dollars each year on the first day back to school in order to provide an inspirational keynote speaker for the entire district faculty meeting to kick off the new year. It was an expense, and a practice which I always found to be a waste of time and money. There is however, one memory of one such speaker sharing an experience, which I remember lo these many years.

According to this speaker, each Christmas her family had a traditional family dinner featuring a ham for the main course. Through the decades the ham was always prepared the same way. In its preparation each end of the ham had a portion of the meat sliced away, literally inches of meat removed prior to cooking. One day, the speaker asked her mother why the removal of the ends of the ham. Her mother replied that it was always done that way, and so, it was how she learned to cook it from her mother. Since the Grandmother was still alive, although not in attendance at the dinner, a phone call was placed to inquire about the method requiring the cutting of the ham. When the question was posed, “Why do we cut the ends of the ham before we cook it?” the answer came as a shock. The grandmother explained that when they started the family dinner, decades back, they only had a small roasting pan and needed to cut the ham to fit it into the pan. Hence, the cutting of the ham continued for years without regard to origin or reason. They just did it and continued to do it, because that is how it was done.

With that as my backdrop, it is now time to get to the meat of this matter. With the beginning of the internet (sometimes attributed to Al Gore) and its incursion into education, many educators and parents were unaware and fearful of the unknown. That very fear drove the development of policies that were adopted to protect kids from the evil that was the internet. The very fears that are used as hot buttons by the media to drum up huge audiences for shows like “To Catch a Predator”. The very fears that are used as hot buttons to sell filtering software to schools to block out any site mentioning sex, drugs, or rock and roll, not to mention Facebook, and Twitter. These very same fears fostered ideas like Acceptable Use Policies limiting personal rights and academic freedom.

It would be irresponsible, as well as idiotic to say that the internet is free from any of the same dangers we encounter anywhere in the world digital or not. How we deal with these dangers is what we must consider. The subject of child predators has changed. TV and Movies would have you believe a majority of kids as victims are molested by strangers. For years we pounded into kids heads beware of strangers. We now have evidence that there is better than a 90% chance that the predator is a family member, close family friend, or even a clergyman. We have had to change or at least adjust the focus on strangers in our lecture about “don’t let ANYBODY touch you in an inappropriate way”.

It is time that we make adjustments to our internet policies in our schools as well. We need to be educated about the internet not fearful. We need to control our use of it, and not allow it to control us. We don’t need to refuse access to it, but rather educate kids how to responsibly access it in order to be responsible digital citizens. There is a big difference between signing an Acceptable Use Policy and teaching, learning and modeling an Acceptable Use Policy. Abuse of the internet is a discipline infraction and should be dealt with as such. A comprehensive code of conduct for any school must include technology abuses.

Access to, and understanding of the internet is becoming a needed skill if one is to compete in a technologically competitive society.  The sooner we educate our children to be responsible digital citizens, the sooner we can hold them responsible for their actions. Internet awareness must begin on the elementary level. We cannot hold children responsible for that which we have not taught them. Education is the key to safety. Filtering eliminates the ability to teach children to be responsible. It may allay the flamed fears of parents which are fanned by software companies and TV producers, but it does nothing for preparing kids for the technologically competitive world in which they must live, compete, survive, and thrive. The educator’s job is to prepare kids for the world in which the students will live. It is not the world in which the educators lived. It is not the world in which the kids’ parents lived. It is the world yet to come. There are many pitfalls and safety precautions kids must be aware of, and that cannot be denied. Teaching rather than blocking is a better strategy to defend against these pitfalls. Fear-mongering to parents may sell software to schools, and build big TV ratings, but in the long run it does not address the issue. We cannot educate kids about content that is filtered and blocked. Subjects like Breast Cancer or sexually transmitted diseases are often blocked to those students who need the information for school reports or personal inquiry. Teachers, who are also adults, are blocked access as well. This blocks needed relevant sources that would help lessons to teach. Is this what we need for our schools? Is this what we want for our kids? I do not want it for my Kids. I would hope most parents would opt for education as opposed to the void of banning.

Until we re-examine our policies to match them to the world in which we now live, as well as the world our kids will live in, I imagine I will write similar posts in the future. Technology isn’t going away. It will continue to flow no matter how many dams we build. It’s time to ask real questions, in order to understand what we really need, and how do we get there. A small roasting pan from days gone by should not determine the education that our kids need for the future.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

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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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I am very frustrated after attending a huge professional development conference for educators this past weekend in New York City. The conference was sponsored by WNET and The National Education Association among others. It was called the Celebration of Teaching and Learning. The event was held at the New York Hilton Hotel, and was a sprawling extravaganza of technological sights and sounds covering three floors. There were signs, banners, booths, and even a live alligator amongst the beeps, blips and colors of computer driven screens everywhere.

There were Vendors galore on the exhibitors’ floors. The booths numbered over a thousand and represented most of the players in the field of Educational Technology. In full disclosure, I was a guest of my wife’s company Vizzle, a visual learning and networking application for teachers of children with Autism. There were thousands of attendees walking through the exhibitor’s halls, as well as attending the many workshops being offered throughout the day. I have been involved with planning educational conferences for years. I know what it takes to plan a successful conference. This was a well planned and wonderful conference.

Yes, there is a big “BUT” coming up, but not yet. I am quite involved with educators through Social Media on a daily basis. I own or participate in many educational groups online. I manage #Edchat and The Educator’s PLN. I have been a teacher from the elementary level to Higher Ed since 1971.I was also an active participant and leader in a teacher’s union for over 30 years. All of this gives me a somewhat unique perspective when I attend educational conferences.

In today’s climate teachers, and what they do, are under attack from many fronts. Many educators I come in contact with are reflecting on what they do. The reform movement which is paid lip service by most is being taken seriously by many educators. They are reflecting on what they do and how they do it in order to make it better. Educators are struggling, as are many others, to understand what is important in education. The only thing we can all agree on is that Education, as it is today, is not meeting the needs of the people paying for it. Since everybody pays for it, everyone wants a say in how to fix it. With all that is involved, it seems the people with the most power (money) have the biggest say. That limits the ability of educators to affect a change in the area in which they have the most expertise. They certainly have more expertise than those who are now the loudest voices for change.

Now, back to the Conference! I did not attend the workshops, but I have no doubt about the superior quality of the content or the presenters.  I do have a problem with the lack of topics dealing with issues educators talk about through Social Media. I looked for Social Media specific presentations, banning, filtering, blogging, Social networking, or PLNs. I was more than disappointed. There were many teacher union topics which addressed the effects of reform from a labor point of view. These were much needed. Teachers need more preparation on how to stand up and protect themselves against attacks without merit.

As an aside, I saw very little, if any, Back Channeling from the workshops or keynote speeches. The attendees at this conference were not social media savvy. There was very little tweeting for a conference of this size. Most of the tweets coming from the conference were from Vendors. They get it!

My one big objection was the majority of Keynote Speakers. I know that WNET was a sponsor of the conference, and it is understandable that they would want media personalities on the program. However, they had to have been chosen for glitz and glamour or popularity, but certainly not for educational expertise. My problem is that the media is greatly responsible for the myths and misconceptions that are sidetracking a needed education reform movement. Media personalities are not educators. I don’t understand why their opinions would be given more weight than the voices of educators. Why do we, as educators, give the power for education reform to so many non educators?  Where are the educators, who will stand up and address what should be focused on for meaningful Education Reform? Congressmen are the only people allowed to reform Congress. Senators can only reform the Senate.  Any changes to the medical profession would not come from anyone without an MD in their title. Even the restrictions placed on wall Street come from Wall-Streeters. Of course Lawyers need no reform, but if they did…

Diane Ravitch was also a speaker at this conference. The planners failed to recognize how important her voice is to educators. The room she spoke in was too small for the audience. There were not enough chairs to sit in or space to stand on. Dr. Ravitch spoke for about an hour addressing many of the myths about education that are side tracking real Education Reform. The audience affirmed her speech with applause and cheers. I supported her by standing for the full hour in the back of the room (poor me). The planners videotaped the speech, but never streamed it over the internet, or even said if it would be available in some archive. That says a great deal about their commitment to “Celebrating Technology in Education”.

I sometimes think that educators are their own worst enemy. Many educators are doubting themselves and their worth because of the throngs of detractors. Teachers turning on teachers is a strategy to reform labor not education. Playing fast and loose with numbers of charter school results is a strategy to promote privatization. Many want to push public education to the private sector for reasons of profit and not learning. Bill Gate is entitled to his beliefs, but his misguided beliefs are being sold to the public and educators by using huge amounts of money. Influence is being bought. We need not help him in those efforts. We need real educators to step up and stop giving away our power to lead for education reform, a reform for learning and not labor.

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