Archive for the ‘Filtering’ Category

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.

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
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.

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
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.

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
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.

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.

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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Whenever I bring up the topic of Blogs within a gathering of educators, the comments in response usually include the teacher who lost her job because of blogging. If you are not familiar with the story, it is one of stupidity, disrespect and irresponsibility. It had little to do with blogging. A teacher decided to start a blog and trash her students, parents and her school. It was the content of her comments that was offensive and not the fact that she used a blog post to do it. If she wrote a newspaper article, did a radio, or television interview, or stood on a soapbox on a street corner of her local community, she would still be held accountable for the thoughtless, offensive, and irresponsible comments. It is the intent of the comments which should be condemned, not the media of choice. This incident has served to stall the talks about blogging in the class for the purpose of learning. It gives a great excuse to educators who are reluctant to change a means to delay the ability of students to write authentically in the classroom.

I attended a meeting not too long ago where Higher Ed English teachers were sharing with other staff members what they do to teach writing in their classes. They had the floor for about twenty minutes and reviewed much of what they did in the area of writing. The one point that smacked me in the head throughout the entire presentation was that the words “Post” or “Blog” were never ever mentioned. I decided that day to ask English teachers, whenever I met them, if they used blogs to address writing skills. My second question to the same teachers was “Do you Blog?” Many rattled off multiple reasons why blogging can be dangerous before actually admitting “no” to both questions. Many were clear to state that they felt their job would be in jeopardy if they personally blogged.

Blogging provides a real reason for kids to write. The realization that an audience of more than one would be reading their work is a real incentive. Comments on the student blogs offers the teacher an opportunity to teach critical thinking, as we as reflective thinking skills. With a global audience syntax and grammar have a purpose that is meaningful to the student. It enables students an appreciation for blogs of others giving insights into commenting on others’ blog posts.

There are applications that will allow this to take place in a closed setting for younger children. Class blogs are also a good way to introduce blogging to elementary students. No matter what method is used it is allows students to publish. Publishing on the part of students has long been a dream of many English teachers over the decades. The idea of dealing with publishers or literary agents had always stood in the way. Those obstacles have been removed in the 21st century. There are no longer the dreaded rejection letters of the 20th century. Any student at any age can publish content. How they research, create and communicate that content is the job of the teacher. That is one of the challenges of teaching today.

Every idiot has the ability to publish a blog and everyone does. It is today’s educator’s challenge to teach students the skills needed to publish intelligently and responsibly. This does not happen in a week of lessons or a video of a “Ted Talk”. It happens after it has been taught from elementary school, reinforced in Middle school, and set free to bloom in High School. It is a process not a Unit.

A key factor in teaching is having the teacher model the skills being taught. In that fact lies the rub. Getting teachers to put themselves out there and blog is the challenge. Too many of our educators believe in “Do as I say, not as I do” teaching philosophy. We need more transparency in education. We can make that happen with more thoughtful and responsible educators blogging to the world. We are in a profession in which everyone claims expertise. Everyone has a common experience of receiving some education so they feel that they have all the answers. I am thinking of Bill Gates and Mike Bloomberg.

Blogging by the real professionals can shine a light on our profession and involve teachers in the discussion for reform. I know that, if you want to know where I stand on education and teaching, you need only to read my blog. You will have no doubts. But then again, I believe in blogging as a tool for learning; my learning. Every blogger I come in contact with feels very much the same way. We need to engage more educators and students in this endeavor. Blogging promotes learning.

Blogging is another tool for learning. If we do not take the opportunity to teach kids how to publish responsibly with intelligence, we will have more people like that teacher who trashed her kids, parents and colleagues. But, then again, she was never taught about blogging thoughtfully, respectfully, intelligently. We should be encouraging teachers to blog and not threatening their jobs if they do.We should be supporting teachers to engage students in blogging. Your choice is To Blog or not to Blog? That is the question.

As always comments welcomed.

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This is a guest Post I did for Shelly Terrell’s Blog, TEACHER REBOOT CAMP, back on Friday, July 24th, 2009. It was one of my first toe-dipping experiences in the world of blogging. Shelly was very kind and encouraging. She also formatted this in a way that I would never have thought. I am grateful to her for starting me blogging.

I thought about this topic recently and considered doing a new post, but after revisiting my guest Post, I thought a resurrection might be as effective. I guess the problems are still here even after almost two years. Evidently,  few people read or implemented my suggestions.

Parents, Who Needs Them?

After tweeting about schools needing to teach parents about educational technology, I was quite surprised to find out that the idea was widely tweeted all over the twitter-sphere. This is geek speak for a message being sent and resent around on Twitter. I imagine that even Ashton Kutcher read my thought. Since neither he, nor Demi, tweeted me back however, I have no way of knowing for sure, but I hold out hope.

Parents, A Problem for Teachers?!

I was a single and very arrogant high school teacher in the beginning of my career in the early ‘70’s. I made certain observations of parents in general.

  • When most parents came to our school building, they were not there to praise their child’s teacher. This was a problem for teachers.
  • Many parents caused administrators to react to requests, resulting in edicts and orders for teachers. This was a problem for teachers.
  • Parents attended Board of Education meetings demanding and getting changes resulting in administrators giving edicts and orders for teachers. This was a problem for teachers.
  • Parents’ Night required teachers to come back to school at night wearing jackets and ties for the men and dresses for the women. This was a problem for teachers.
  • As a result I concluded that parents were a problem for teachers. To further this “well-founded opinion,” I came to realize that students did their best to block parents from their world in school. They would always share the negatives with their parents but rarely the positives. Again, this was a problem for teachers.

Because everyone in the system reacts to parents, sometimes policies are formed around what administrators perceive as the least objectionable policy in order to make the parents happy. These are policies, which are not solely based on the advancement of learning. These were my observations and not necessarily facts.

Wearing the Parental Shoes

My life as well as my perceptions and observations all changed when I became a parent of two daughters, four years apart. Now, I observed that in elementary school children were enthusiastic about learning, and as a parent, I was with them every step of the way. I knew what they did, and how they did it. As they moved to the middle school, I was less and less involved. By the time they got to high school it was a dinner discussion.

My observation now has been that as parents become less involved with their child’s education, the children became less involved with learning. I know, “The chicken or the egg?” theory.

Technology is Changing our Schools

Now we reach the age of Technology. Classrooms begin to look different. Things can be done in schools that were not even conceived two years ago. All this is taking place while some parents are saying that they cannot even program the VCR. The kids have to do it. By the way, it is now a DVR. I can never understand why some adults pride themselves in being computer illiterate.

Practical Advice

It is now time to add up all of my observations and try to make something of this which will benefit everyone.

  • Parents who are involved with their child’s education will see a child who is involved in learning.
  • Some teachers, who may feel threatened by parents, must still attempt to involve them.
  • There may be some administrators making technology decisions based on what they think will please the parents. They need to know that parents have knowledge of what is needed to help their child learn. Parents, if made comfortable with the technology, can embrace the technology and understand its purpose in the curriculum not only to enhance learning, but to make their child competitive in a technology-rich, work environment.

Why Schools Need Edtech Parent Workshops

Schools should conduct parent workshops to explain and demonstrate technology in education.

  • Parents need to know how it is applied in school, as well as out of school, applications.
  • We need to teach them the do’s and don’ts of the internet if they are to prepare their child for the real world, unfiltered and competitive.
  • We need to have people make decisions based on learning and not lack of understanding or fear.
  • The more the parents know, the more they can be partners in their child’s education.

The answer should be obvious when asked, “Parents, who needs them?”

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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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Shelly Terrell and Ken Royal are two friends who encouraged me to blog. Both are bloggers and saw something in me and my ability to communicate that I didn’t recognize. Through their encouragement, coaxing and hand holding, I did guest blogs for each of them. I was the Reluctant Blogger. This was one of my early posts explaining how I became involved in Social Media and the idea of a Personal Learning Network.It seems to be a topic that needs to be continually explained because of the growing number of educators who continue to enter the world of social media for educators.

Part 1

One of today’s educational buzzwords, or fad terms is the PLN.  For my purposes it stands for Personal Learning Network. Others call it a Professional Learning Network or Community or even Environment. That would be PLN, PLN, PLC, or PLE. Many educators today are involved understanding and developing their own PLN’s. Everyone has one, and each is different and as unique as a fingerprint. Some employ technology, and others dwell in faculty rooms across the country and around the world.

The history of my PLN began back in the late 70’s. It was formed not through the technology of the computer, but rather about the technology of a 27 foot sailing vessel. It was merely a sailboat, but in my mind, being my first boat, it was truly a vessel.

I live on Long Island in New York. It is a place where boating thrives for about five to six months a year, beginning in June and ending in October. As I grew up, I always went on others’ boats, but never owned my own. Working in a school district of a community on the shore of an island, I found many of my faculty friends were avid boaters. More specifically they were sail boaters , or more accurately, sailors. It was at this time of my life that I made a big decision to become a boat owner. I purchased a brand new 27 foot O’Day sailboat. There was only one small drawback to this major purchase and commitment, I had no idea how to sail.

I took a Coast Guard Course and read a bunch of books. I ordered several catalogues and every sailing Magazine subscription I could get delivered. As my purchase was being readied for delivery, I determined that my preparation might be lacking. That is when I developed a plan out of desperation. This was to be my first organized development of a Personal Learning Network.

The plan was simple and bordered on genius. It was based on knowing that sailors are a breed of boaters who love to sail at every opportunity. I informed the Yacht dealer that I wanted to take delivery of my vessel in the water and ready to sail in April. This was unheard of, since boating season did not really get going until June. That, however, was the genius part. I had two months before all of the sailors that I knew would have their own boats in the water. I on the other hand had a spanking-new Sailing vessel at their “Beck and call”. They only needed to take the owner along for the sail. I had about ten experienced sailors teaching me all that they knew in my Personal Learning Network. I was golden.

I also recognized that I stumbled upon a real plan for personal learning. I did not want to make any other major purchases to test my assumptions, but I did pay close attention to what I had accomplished and how I did it. I took note of what I needed to know and how I gather those who knew it around me. With the advent of the Internet I have expanded my reach for those who know what I need to know. I have developed a PLN beyond the faculty room and to Educational experts literally around the world.

Part 2

My early entry into the digital Personal Learning Network world came through necessity and dumb luck. This may have started out as a whim, but now it takes up serious time during the day. It is a challenge. This is the history of the development for the first level of my PLN and it provides a depth in discussion and collaboration that is often needed to accomplish success.

I am a retired secondary English teacher. I started working as an Adjunct Education professor at St. Joseph’s College in New York. Going from secondary to higher education was a little intimidating and very different. After 34 years of teaching English, I thought I could walk on in and teach students everything they needed to be successful teachers. In fact I was the one who needed the education.

I have an MS in Educational Technology from 1991 and I did not know what I did not know. I was emailing and Googling and I had mastered PowerPoint. I was even able to get by in Blackboard, but beyond that, I had a million questions as to what to do and how to do it.

Faculty members are usually tech savvy, or tech shy. Since I was new to the staff, I was still learning names with little regard as to who knew what about technology. It was at that time that I was getting involved with Linkedin. Before I knew it, I had a number of Education Connections. Since these people were on a social network, they had at least a modicum of tech savvy, so I began asking questions of them. I had more questions than sources, so I determined that I needed more sources, but I had a limited network.

I thought that if I started a group of technology-using professors, I would have a virtual cornucopia of sources. Not only would I have my own posse, but, if I was selective, they would be really smart sources. My goal was to involve only Higher Ed professors at any level. After all, I was only a lowly adjunct and I did not want to create a group that would exclude me. I was only interested in the opinions of those who are really teaching people. Vendors and consultants serve a different audience, so I limited the membership to educators only. It was totally self-serving, my group, my rules.

The restrictions took up more time than I imagined. Profiles vary so much in job descriptions and institutions that it is sometimes hard to tell what someone does or for whom they work. Another consideration was that Email on Linkedin costs money, so I needed a cheaper way to contact people. Messages from member to member of groups are free. Learning that, I started joining groups. I recruited twenty-five members on my first sweep through the groups. At that time I only belonged to about five groups, so after soliciting membership from those groups twice, I needed to join more groups to hit other people. Any group where one could find professors was a group I targeted. It did not take long to belong to 30 groups.

As people joined I sent them a welcoming message. I had become a “group-joining expert” by this time and determined that most groups sent nothing. Others sent me a do’s and don’ts do list. I wanted to be more welcoming. After all, these people were to be my personal group of technology advisers, my Personal Learning Network. It was easy to develop personal relationships.

As a child, when I sent away for free stuff, I checked for the mailman every day until the stuff arrived. As an adult, I found myself checking my computer constantly for new arrivals to the group. The best part about my group was that the people involved are already intellectually curious and damned smart. Since they are educators, most have a sharing quality built into their personality It always helps to personally thank those members who continually add to thoughtful and provocative discussions.

Taking toll of my Linkedin connections or the Linkedin segment of my PLN I find that I have 230 direct connections. I founded seven groups and one subgroup. I have joined over 60 other groups and I have maintained membership in 46 of them. The Technology-Using Professors Group now numbers over 1,500 members. I have direct messaging capability to thousands of educators.

The discussion within the groups started to be sprinkled with funny looking links which lead to additional sources. My curiosity got the best of me and I began inquiring as to what these were and where they were coming from. TWITTER was the answer. That led me to a digital journey which took me to the second tier of my Personal Learning Network and the subject of my next post.

Part 3

Like many people my entry into Twitter was at the invitation of a friend. Like many people I was connected to a few folks who were recommended upon my registration. Like many people I tweeted out nonsense, got no response, and left the application not to return for several weeks. Unlike many People I returned determined to figure out what Twitter was. I knew from my Linkedin connections that folks were getting funny looking abbreviated links to very helpful blogs, posts, wikis, Videos, audio files, PowerPoint presentations, and websites. Twitter by appearances held a virtual Treasure Trove of educational information and I needed the map to get to it.

I used my Linkedin connections to find out who was Twitter connected. I quickly followed those who I knew and trusted as serious educators. After that source was exhausted the process became simple. I looked at who each of those folks were following and I ripped them off. I followed everyone who even looked like an educator. However, the call of celebrity was a little too much, as I began to follow Regis Philbin. I was sorely disappointed in Regis’s tweets. They were non-existent.  Regis does not get computers. With this devastating discovery Regis taught me that someone who has nothing to offer in education was not part of the goal that I had in mind. I refocused on Educators. If there was nothing educational in someone’s Twitter bio I did not follow. Since I needed information provided to me I realized that, who I followed was more important than, who followed me. The people I followed were the information providers. It is not possible to even see what followers tweet. Thanks Reg.

With my focus clear following became second nature. Now I moved on to the next thing. What do I tweet? I learned very quickly that RT meant Retweet. This was a key discovery. All I needed to do was recognize a tweet with value to an educator and I could pass it along to others. This is the neat part. Not only does the original Tweeter get credit, but so did I. I couldn’t believe it. Other very smart people could make me look smart on twitter and I did not have to go back to school to accomplish this. I could be an expert on the backs of others. It was imperative to RT the right stuff if I was to pull this off. I started looking at every tweet with promise before I RTed it (that is Twitter talk). I built a whole reputation as a great educational tweeter based on other’s tweets. This was my kinda media.

Now came the challenge, what do I do if someone asks a question? This is considered an original tweet. As I looked at my followers list I discover that I had over 500 followers. I could not believe it. I put a few thoughts together and carefully worded them heeding the 140 character limit. It is very much like writing fortunes for cookies or facts for Snapple caps.

I sent out a few things about technology in education and much to my surprise, I received many tweets of agreement with my opinions. My educational philosophy was being taken seriously by other educators. After 34 years of teaching and saying this stuff, I now find people who agree. This was fun. What I came to realize over time was that I developed this PLN and many of its members are forward thinking educators who are all seeking the same sources that I am seeking. That fact makes them different from many educators in the system today. It is like preaching to the choir. That doesn’t mean that what I had to say was not accurate and noteworthy, but it is important to keep a perspective. The same arguments would be lost on educators who do not even understand the discussion.

Now I have all of this information flowing. I have educators listening to me and even hanging on my words. Questions are coming over the Twitter Timeline for me to answer every day. I have 1,500 followers. In addition I have my Linkedin connections discussing and collaborating. It is time to develop a plan to use and coordinate all that is the digital social network for my Personal Learning Network. The plan begins its formation in PLN Blueprint PT 3.

Part 4

One thing that I never considered in all of this was the personal relationships that are developed along the way. One very cool thing occurred as I attended an Educational Technology Conference, something I had done for so many years previous. This time, however, it was different. I was different.  At the conclusion of a panel discussion containing some educational luminaries, I approached the stage and, as I mentioned my name to one member, my name and I were instantly recognized by other panel members. I was talking and joking with the President ofISTE on a first name basis. I felt great and, much to my surprise; the panelists felt great for meeting me. After being together virtually on the PLN, we were now all connected in the real world. One needs to experience this to understand it.

The personal connections come from all directions and take many forms: questions, answers, requests for advice, or requests for help. Collaboration starts with inquiries and progresses to full discussions using LinkedinSkype, or a dozen other methods of connection. With each connection there is a new lesson learned. It is the need to collaborate and communicate that prompts the learning.  I had no idea what most of this stuff was when I started out on this journey.

I am an educator and definitely not a Techie. My guiding question was where does this fit in the classroom? My dilemma was that I could no longer live with my definition of classroom. Most of my learning through this entire process was done when my school was on summer break. My classroom was the couch in the den. It was just me, my laptop, and my dog, who always wanted to play. He is not a techie either. If an old guy like me can get as much as I have gotten on my own, what could brighter, younger students with proper guidance accomplish?

The constraints of time and space that once defined our process were no longer relevant. In an ideal world, a classroom might one day become a place for guidance, reflection, and redirection from the teacher. Learning could be going on elsewhere at a more individualized rate and time-shifted for convenience. That is Flash Gordon stuff for some, Star Trek stuff for others, a real stretch of reality. It is technologically possible but the mindset for support is far from even being close. Many need to hold on to that sense of history for comfort.  I digress and must refocus.

The Power of what I had created in my Personal Learning Network came upon me in the form of a tweet that I sent out. There had been a buzz on the timeline (twitter talk). Many people tweeting about the lack of educational technology support from administrators. Much of this was prompted and spurred on from discussions that I started. Feeling a responsibility for starting this little brush fire, I proposed a simple solution, a gift idea.

I knew how long it took to develop a working PLN. I also knew its value and its ability to support advancement of technology in education. I also have a firsthand knowledge of how many education administrators are so time-pressed with administrative duties that they could not have time to develop a proper PLN. My tweet was a gift idea for Administrators. Give an administrator a twitter account with an established PLN on it and show them how to use it. The value would be soon recognized by forward-thinking administrators.

The next day the internet was atwitter with RT’s and reactions. Everyone had something to say. It was mentioned in a dozen educational blogs. I was interviewed by a national magazine. I wrote guest Blogs. I arrived as a member of the group that is looked up to for educational reform. I was a player. I was silently laughing to myself as my family looked on and questioned why anyone would listen to me. I had the same concerns as my family. A retired teacher who is now an adjunct professor of Education being listened to by thousands of educators. How do I keep my feet on the ground with my head in the clouds? It was at this point that I was reminded of a cartoon of two dogs at a computer. The one dog at the keyboard turned to the other dog and said, “They don’t know you are a dog on the internet”.

This called for serious reflection. What the heck could I be saying that all these people find of value. I began to go over much of what I had tweeted. I looked over the blogs. I gathered as much of what I had put out as possible. I examined my digital footprint. I realized that my thoughts did have value. They did not come from any one thing that I had read. Much of what I talk about is using technology for learning. I also talk about sharing and collaboration in the form of a Personal Learning Network. On those topics I am an authority of sorts. I have been pitching the same arguments for Technology in education and also collegial collaboration since 1971. It is funny how the same discussions continue today. Reform is not that new a concept in the world of education.

With the advent of the internet and the melding with social media the PLN is powerful. People will connect and ideas will be exchanged. Learning will go beyond the limitations of a single teacher. Learning will be an ongoing collaboration. My thoughts on how to organize all of this in the next Part.

Part 5

My final reflection for the purpose of this series takes stock in what I have learned from the Personal Learning Network and what should I do with it as an educator. Through the use of social media and several internet tools, I was transformed from an educational technology advocate, to an educational technology power user. Educators who use their age as an excuse not to use technology should take note that my involvement at this level came four years after my retirement from a 34-year career. I am an old dog learning new tricks. That would be a very old dog and very new tricks.

I am not holding myself up as the model educator by which all should rule and guide their lives. Most of my former colleagues would have a great laugh if that were the case. I am, however an educator who sees the value of technology and has a vision for its use as an educational tool. This belief or a similar one should be something that all educators have.

The relevancy of all education lies in the education system’s ability to stay relevant. To exclude access to information in an educational environment goes a long way in insuring irrelevancy. Our efforts should be focusing on the proper way to access real information and passing it on to other learners. We need not fan the fires of fear with phrases like “safety from the internet” as an excuse for banning and filtering not only student learners, but also their adult educators. This is a practice that occurs in too many districts around the country. We cannot expect innovation to help our society dig its way out of economic disaster if we block our best hope for that innovation from that which has already been innovated. We cannot expect learning to grow with our youth if we practice blocking and filtering the best tool to promote that learning.

The power of the PLN needs to be supported by educators. If students were encouraged by educators to develop their own PLN’s many educators would have to do the same to keep up with the learning. This is a double-edged sword. It is a challenge to some and a threat to others. Those who would be threatened need to be gently brought into the fold. Students should not be bound by their teachers’ limitations.

I recognize a trait in my personality that forces me to immerse myself in projects that I am drawn to. I realize that everyone is not like this and that I cannot expect everyone to jump onboard my train. I do however have a belief that when people are presented with a strategy that will improve their ability to accomplish their goals, they will support it. Of course I also recognize that educators being who they are will find a need to pick apart and analyze every aspect of this simple proposal before anyone but me will support it. Is the Personal Learning Network using social media and other internet tools a worthwhile endeavor for educators.  This is a discussion that educators need to have. Let the debate begin.

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Personal Learning Networks have taken up a great deal of my time of late, about the last two years. I have always had a PLN although it was never called that. The digital slant, of what before this, might have been called a group of study buddies, has caused a re-examination by educators on a global scale. Instead of being limited to a small group of educators comparing notes or lessons in a building, a PLN can now draw upon literally thousands of educators, worldwide, at any given time. Study buddies without the boundaries of time or space, very Star-Trekkie. Educators can even Skype anywhere in the world for the ultimate video connection. It is no flying car, but the video phone was predicted at the ’64 World’s Fair. I remember.  I was there. Belgian Waffles were great.

The key to developing my Personal Learning Network had nothing to do with me being a digital Native, because I am not. My motivation to learn comes from somewhere within. I enjoy taking my own route to get to a goal that I set for myself. I think the term Lifelong Learner applies to me. The thing that makes the learning fun and easy for me is the technology. I am not always comfortable with it, but I do not fear it. I only say that because the reasons I am most often given by others for educators not embracing technology is that educators are fearful of it, or they are not comfortable with it.

Learning is not a passive activity. One cannot place a tape recorder (old tech term) under a pillow at night and wake up with the knowledge in the morning. I have personally researched this. Additionally, one can’t join a Personal Learning Network. If it is to be of value, it needs to be built by the individual who owns it. This requires a commitment of time, but not so much energy, except for the exercising of the mind. When one engages a Digital PLN, it will involve receiving a great deal of information in the form of links. Each link is a hot button. It is a click to: a website, a blog post, a video, an article, a webcast, a podcast, or a picture. I imagine without the technology, one would read books, Journals, articles, videotapes, DVR’s and talk to people face to face. That would be a very early 20th century PLN, but still doable today for a while longer anyway.

It takes a lifelong learner’s commitment to a PLN to reap the benefits and apply it to teaching. This should be no problem for educators because they all teach kids to be Lifelong Learners. If you don’t believe me ask a teacher. Better yet, look at the school’s Mission Statement; it probably addresses the school’s dedication to lifelong learning. The problem is that too often that only applies to the kids and not the staff. Lifelong learning is too much a case of do as I say, and not as I do. Too many educators subscribe to the theory that once the degree is secured, and the teaching license in hand, the goal is reached, and now the coasting begins. Maybe some courses to meet requirements will be taken. Certainly, courses for pay raises would be needed, but those are but small bumps in the road. I know, not everyone is like this. However, we are in a profession that is in a fishbowl and under attack. We cannot afford to have any individuals representing us with this mindset. These folks are not the majority but this minority has an ability to influence others to the dark side. We cannot have this jeopardizing our profession.

Most educators are collaborative and nurturing individuals. That is their strength. We use those qualities with our students. We need to apply them to our colleagues. All information does not stop evolving once we get our teaching job. We need to stay relevant. In a world with a technology rich environment it is fool hearty for educators to think they still have a choice about using technology as a tool in education. We are teaching kids who will be affected by more technology than we have today. They will have jobs that are not yet in existence. Their skills will require the use of technology.

Educators teach skills and encourage children to learn. A good teacher can do that without technology, but why? Technology is but a tool for educators and students to use. The skills remain the same no matter what the tool. Teachers do not need to be technology experts to allow students to use it to retrieve information, collaborate, create, and communicate. That is what will be required of them in their world. While educators debate and control technology as a tool, business and industry are embracing it. Technology continues to advance and many educators are not even familiar with what possibilities are available. If technology requires a new form of literacy, many of our educators are illiterate.

A PLN allows people to explore and collaborate on whatever it is they determine as a need to know. A PLN is not exclusive to educators. They can have: Boat builders connected to boat builders, doctors connected to doctors, educators connected to educators, learners connected to learners. People can choose their direction and go down that road as far as they need to go. A PLN enables a person to control her or his learning. A PLN is a digital tool for learning. We can use it to model the very thing that we strive to teach our students. A PLN is not learned, as much as experienced. A PLN enables us to continue our path to Lifelong Learning.

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