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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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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