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Archive for the ‘Literacy’ Category

I was afforded a great opportunity yesterday. After a large local education conference, I attended a get together of a number of people who had gone through or are presently participating in the same masters program for educational technology that I had completed in 1991 from Long Island University. It was a social gathering but the topic of every conversation was of course education.

The group was made up of men and women all working as educators, but very knowledgeable of the effect of technology on student learning. They were all at least familiar with the latest technologies, if not proficient in their use. What seems to have been a thread throughout many of their discussions was the struggle or at the very least the frustration that they had with convincing colleagues of the value of tech in the process of learning. This was especially true of the decision makers in their buildings or districts.

I do not question any educator’s goal to offer the best opportunities for their students to learn. Where we differ is what those opportunities should look like. While some may be conservative in their methodology, I favor working with the tools students will be required to use in the world they will live in. I will not teach kids to be ready for the world I once lived in. It seems counter-productive.

Relevance is very important in this discussion. Change takes place so fast today that educators who are standing still with their learning about their own profession are actually falling behind, widening the gap with their more connected colleagues. Technology is continually evolving and we will never keep up with all of its changes, but we need to at the very least be aware of enough information to make considered decisions on the direction and use of technology in learning. Sometimes technology will not be the answer.

The goal should always be about the learning, but technology confuses the issue. Technology is costly, and it requires training both the teacher and the student. It also evolves, changes, or disappears altogether. Replacement or updating is never-ending. This is not a model that the education system was built on. Back in the day when one bought a textbook it remained unchanged for decades and everyone could read, so there was little training required. A percentage of wear and use took its toll, so there was some replacement needed. This is not true of tech with maybe the exception of the overhead projector. That is 80-year-old technology that has changed very little and requires little or no training as long as someone knows how to change the bulb.

Transparency in education has become both a blessing and a curse in education. Learning was once delivered in silos that were based on control and compliance of students and teachers alike. Technology again has dramatically changed that dynamic in education. Collaboration, both local and global, has torn down those silos for educators who have embraced it

There are still graduate and undergraduate teaching programs that are rolling out educators without even an adequate appreciation of technology in education let alone a mastery of it. School districts make major purchases of technology, but cut out the professional development needed to use that technology as a cost-saving initiative. All of this adds to the gap between educators who are successful in teaching with tech and those who hang on to methodologies and pedagogies of the past out of necessity, because it is all that they know. Administrators are not immune from this learning gap. Their deficiencies however have a more profound effect because of the education decisions affected by their lack of tech knowledge. Digital literacy is a necessary element of the teaching profession, but you don’t reach a point of being digitally literate and then stop. It requires continual learning because it is continually evolving. Of course placing decision-making power in the hands of those who are digitally literate may compensate for this. The question then becomes: ” Is their digital literacy relevant?” An educator who can do a PowerPoint presentation may be digitally literate in terms of PowerPoint, but what about iPad, chrome books, Google Docs, social media, and several other applications or technologies influencing learning today. Relevance counts!

If we are not going to adequately teach all educators what they should know of technology, then, as a fallback position, we should at least support and listen to those educators who do know of its benefits and drawbacks in making education decisions. Of course the best road to take is one that leads us to continual, authentic, relevant, and respectful professional development.

If we then evaluate the effect of technology on learning we might get a more accurate picture of successes and failures. The educators using it would be more informed and better prepared making educators more supportive of tech overall. Here is a similar post on this subject: Why Do We Separate the Teacher From the Tech? If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

 

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After being involved in social media for over a decade, I have made a few observations that might be helpful to folks who use social media, more specifically Twitter, to develop and maintain a Personal Learning Network. I started my Twitter account with a plan and focus to use it to develop collegial sources for my professional learning. That may be different from why most people sign up for Twitter, but that is an educator’s perspective that may not have been imagined by Twitter’s founders.

Using Twitter for professional learning requires a collaborative mindset. Being collaborative requires more than just consuming ideas from others. It requires sharing, commenting, reflecting and sharing again. This requires work. Twitter for professional learning is not a passive exercise. It does require time and effort. The rewards and benefits however, can more than outweigh the effort.

The key to having valuable and relevant information arriving on a Twitterstream is totally dependent on who is being followed. In order to get thoughtful and credible information tweeted to one’s timeline, thoughtful and credible educators need to be followed. Who one follows is the single most important factor in succeeding at professional learning when using Twitter. Maintaining and upgrading that follow list takes time and effort. Each of those follows is a person. People vary in their involvement in anything from time to time. They may lose interest, becoming inactive for a period of time, or maybe forever. One’s follow list needs to be constantly updated to accommodate those who drop off the stream.

Additionally, an educator’s interest may begin to branch out. In my time on social media the iPad, smartphones, 1:1 laptops, 1:1 chromebooks, Flipped classrooms, STEM, Rigor, and many other initiatives were introduced to education. With each of these introductions new educator experts emerged. All had to be added to my follow list if I was to maintain relevance. As initiatives develop in education new people most familiar with those initiatives need to be followed. Educators who are vocal and knowledgeable while involved in Twitter chats are another group from which I add follows. People who engage me in thoughtful education tweets are also most often followed. I usually look at a perspective follow’s profile to assure their educator credentials before I commit.

It is easy to get a follow list much larger than one can handily manage with all of these follow considerations. To simplify and organize tweets, chats, hashtags and groups of follows, I employ TweetDeck. Hootsuite is a similar tool. I am able to create dedicated columns that follow specific hashtags, groups, or individuals in addition to separating out my Twitterstream, Notifications and Direct Messages. Each of these designations gets an individual column.

Being a collaborative educator in the 21st Century requires that an educator be connected to other educators. With the tools of technology available today educators are only isolated by choice. Since most districts do not send a majority of educators to national, statewide, or even local education conferences, the virtual connection is the best alternative. Technology today enables that to happen. It is however incumbent on each educator to work to make those connections. It requires a collaborative mindset as well as a willingness to learn. It requires educators to be what they profess to their students, “You must be a Life Long Learner!”

The time investment to accomplish this can be as little as twenty minutes a day. The warning here however is that often times a learner may actually get caught up in the learning and spend more time than planned on a given topic. Social media opens educators to the pedagogy, and methodology of others. It offers transparency to policies. It questions the status Quo. It forces reflective thinking. It acts as a megaphone for new ideas. It gives educators a voice in the discussion of their own profession. None of this will happen however unless an educator comes to the table with a collaborative mindset and a willingness to spend time collaborating. Educators should never expect less from themselves than they expect of their students. A good teacher is also a good learner, and a good learner can always become a great teacher.

 

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When asked to define what Pornography in the public domain was, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that”.

The point was that the term was too subjective with too many variables to specifically define it, but its existence should be obvious to the average thinking person. Of course there will always be those whose views are more conservative or more liberal on any interpretation, but the general consensus usually prevails.

I have written as many authors and bloggers have about what is relevant in education, yet the term “relevance” is too subjective with too many variables to specifically define it, but its existence should be obvious to the average thinking person. Of course there will always be those whose views are more conservative or more liberal on any interpretation, but the general consensus usually prevails. I know it when I see it.

As things change the relevant person keeps up with that change as it affects the world in which we all live. At one time change was slow so relevance was easy. Slow change allowed slow acceptance. Change requires people to stop believing in what was a truth and accept something else in face of change. That is not easy, but given time, people eventually come around to accepting change and being relevant, at least until the next big change comes along. With each big change the process repeats. Relevance is not a passive exercise. It requires steps and commitments for it to happen.

The 19th Century in education was fairly consistent because change was slow in happening. Textbooks could be used for years with little change in content. Education controlled the information used to educate people, so everyone followed the system’s rules to gain access to an education. Relevance was not an issue since the system itself could determine what was relevant.

The 20th Century started the same way, but about halfway through it more advanced technologies began to affect the rate at which change happened. Relevance began to outpace the system. The space race blew up the pace of change. People needed to keep up with the changes in information and content in order to remain relevant. Education needed to make more and more adjustments to keep up with this rapid pace of change. Television, videotape, audio recording, offset printing all began to influence changes. Personal computers and the establishment of the Internet came in the latter half of the century spurring on faster-paced change that was to never slow down. The institutions of learning no longer controlled access to information, and that alone began to question the relevance of these institutions, as well as the teachers within the system.

After we survived Y2K information became more and more digital. Industries that could not maintain relevance disappeared. The world became digital with almost unlimited access to information and content. People no longer needed permission to publish content. Curation and creation of content is different from the 20th Century. Access to information, which is content, is the staple for learning and it can now be done without permission from learning institutions.

Educators need to realize that these changes have taken place in many cases in spite of them and their efforts. There will be no slowing down for people to catch up. In a world that is so affected by technological change educators need to be digitally literate in order to maintain relevance in this world. Flexibility and adaptability become important skills for the modern teacher. This is the world that kids are growing up in. Change is inevitable and the teacher is no longer the sole keeper of information. Kids can access information at any time and anywhere. Permission to do so is a personal password away. As educators, what and how we learned may not be what and how we should teach.

In order to maintain relevance, one needs to be aware of what is going on in the world around him or her. Collaboration with other educators can be a key component to succeeding at maintaining relevance. Joining collaborative education communities can inform and support any educator willing to share openly with others. These connected colleagues can lead and participate in education discussions that will never take place in staff rooms, or department or faculty meetings.

Pedagogy and methodology to meet 21st Century needs are regularly discussed. Ideas are proposed, discussed, vetted, modified and improved through many of these connections. Blog posts have all but replaced the journals and newsletters of the 20th Century. Teachers may personally and directly discuss, and collaborate with the thought leaders, authors and policy-makers in education to affect change.

We have come a long way from the 1800’s and looking back we can see the flaws in the teaching methodology of that time. We can also agree on how that would not be relevant for today’s learner. We would also agree that the same would hold true for the first have of the 20th Century. Where people start getting off the train is when we hit the latter half of the 20th Century. We are all products of that latter 20th Century mindset. If we are not careful, our students and we will be victims of that mindset, because it is no longer relevant for our learners. We need to make those uncomfortable steps forward, so we will not be left behind. In this fast-paced-rate-of-change era in which we live, even those who are just standing still are ultimately falling behind. An irrelevant educator may not be obvious to everyone, but he or she only needs to be obvious to his or her students to be ineffective. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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Poster Fac Mtg

 
Over the many years that #Edchat has been engaging educators, one topic that always generates a huge amount of interest, based on comments, is the faculty meeting. Teachers are required to attend the faculty meetings that administrators are required to hold and very few are happy with the results. The only upside is that with each meeting a check may be placed in the box for attending.

Technology may be a way to update the tired model of the faculty meeting. Email for the faculty may be a great way to distribute the mundane stuff that takes up so much time at these meetings. Of course a really progressive administrator might have a weekly Blog that could address a great many topics that bog down the faculty meetings. Once the day-to-day school housekeeping topics are removed from the meeting there will be more time for more substantive topics that affect learning in education. Using a Google Document to circulate amongst the faculty for suggested topics of discussion for the upcoming meetings might be a great direction in order to address real faculty needs and concerns.

Once topics are decided upon a flipped meeting should serve the faculty well. Material like blog posts or videos could be assembled and distributed using tools for collaboration prior to the meeting. This will prepare the faculty for what will happen rather than dropping it on them in the meeting. Assessment tools could be used for formative assessment during the meeting to gauge understanding of the topic by the faculty. Any teams or committees formed from this meeting can be connected through collaborative tools and shared documents to create a professional Learning community. Administrators in those groups will immediately be aware of any problems that might arise as the groups strive to complete their goals. There will be no need to wait for another faculty meeting to get results

Technology offers many tools to change the face of the faculty meeting. It can make it a means of change for the school culture. It can permit and support teachers with bold and innovative ideas to lead their colleagues into change, or just expand and improve what change is already occurring.

Time in education is a precious commodity to teachers. To waste a monthly get-together of the entire staff is an outrage when there are so many real needs that should be addressed or things to learn. Just because we have always run faculty meetings a certain way, that is not a justification for continuing what is so obviously a bad, or at least an unproductive practice. Administrators need to stop observing and commenting on how technology is being used by others in their school and begin employing it themselves to improve their schools. In so doing they would be modeling for all the thoughtful, meaningful, and responsible way to use technology in education without fear.

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We are now better than fifteen years into the 21st Century and educators are still discussing what role technology plays in education. The fact of the matter is no matter what educators, who are mostly products of a 20th Century education, think, our students today will need to be digitally literate in their world in order to survive and thrive. Digital Literacy is a 21st Century skill, but therein lies the rub. Most of our educators have been educated with a twentieth Century mindset using 20th Century methodology and pedagogy at best. I dare say there might be some 19th Century holdovers as well.

Digital literacy is recognized by the developers of common core to be important enough to be included as a component of the curriculum. This will however vary and be dependent on what each individual teacher knows, or does not know in regard to his or her own digital literacy. In other words teachers without digital literacy in a 21st Century education setting are illiterate educators for the purpose of this discussion. We can certainly wait for attrition to clean out the system, but that might take years at the expense of our kids. It also does not address a further infiltration of even more from entering the system.

These educators are not bad people. Many may be willing to change and learn to be digitally literate if it is prioritized and supported by administrators. The problem there is that digitally illiterate administrators fail to recognize the need, or understand how to support the new skills required using a new 21st Century mindset. That is not to say all administrators fall into this category, but certainly too many for any needed change to happen in a timely fashion do.

There certainly is enough blame to go around for what places the education system in this predicament and much of that lies in education programs from our institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately, too often student tech skills and digital literacy are assumed and not formally taught in schools of higher education. If students are getting by with email and desktop publishing it is assumed that they are “digital natives”, a term that has cut short education for digital skills in America.

The biggest problem we have with any digital education is the rapidity at which things change.This will only get worse as technology evolves. People learn something; they buy into it; they get comfortable with it; and then it evolves to something else. That comfort level is hard to shake, so change is slow, if it takes place at all. The system also generally fails to recognize the need to prioritize and support change in a way to keep all staff relevant. It is also failing to prioritize digital literacy for incoming teachers.

If we were to prioritize Digital Literacy as a job requirement it might speed up needed changes. Once colleges realized that placing their students in teaching positions required a knowledge of digital literacy they would need to revamp their curricula accordingly. An influx of digitally educated teachers would go a long way in changing the culture of elementary and secondary schools in regard to their acceptance and priorities concerning new tools for learning and the integration of technology and education.

We have always required new teachers to have specific skills in order to secure a job teaching. We also required that they demonstrate those skills before a job could be offered. I can’t think of one hiring committee, of the hundreds I participated in, that did not require a writing sample. How many teaching candidates are offered jobs without someone seeing them teach a class with a sample lesson? It would not be a stretch to require candidates to exhibit their technology skills for consideration.

Prioritizing digital skills will also signal a need for existing staff to get comfortable with change rather than retaining the status quo. It will shake up comfort zones to enable forward movement. It will also force administrators to get some game of their own. They will need digital awareness in order to objectively observe teachers using technology for learning.

Digitally illiterate educators will soon be irrelevant educators and that hurts all educators. As a community we need to support change and digital literacy or we may become as relevant as a typewriter, or film photography. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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Two of the most common excuses for not doing something new in education are time and money. They are probably the same excuses for not making change in any profession. People seem to understand and accept these excuses because they themselves use them whenever needed. These excuses are used so often for so many things, that they have come to mean, “I really don’t care to change the status quo, and it is too much trouble for me to do so”.

Many educators through the centuries have observed and commented that the teaching profession is an isolated profession. Many educators, then and now, feel alone in their efforts to educate kids. They often reflect on their efforts, accomplishments, and failures, without the ability to share with a variety of others within their circles in order to improve. Educators were limited to their buildings for collaboration, which occasionally might widen out to include other educators in their district, but that was often less likely to occur. Of course collaboration on a greater scale would take both time and money, and that has rarely been a priority in most schools.

Collaborative learning has always been with us from the beginning of learning, however, it required that the learners occupied the same space at the same time. In a modern world, where people tend to spread out and separate, the boundaries of collaboration, time and space, began to impede professional collaborative learning for educators. It required effort, time and money to get people together for substantive collaboration. Professional organizations stepped up to fill the collaborative void with annual conferences, but these conferences cost money and took away precious time to attend. Budgets were created to support administrators’ attendance, but teachers were more problematic becoming less of a priority to attend. Conferences, dependent on vendor support, soon recognized the benefit of administrator attendance, since administrators were the movers and shakers of the purse strings of schools. The result of all this supported a proportionally greater number of administrators over teachers’ attendance at collaborative conferences. The collaboration among teachers was limited.

It has often been said that if you fill a room with very smart people, the smartest mind is the room itself. We all benefit through collaboration. We each help define, refine, challenge, and support ideas collectively until we settle on a final idea. We all contribute to that process to some degree.

Collaboration is also a preferred method of learning for adults. We are studying adult learning more and finding a difference between adult learning, Andragogy, and child learning, Pedagogy. Since educators are child experts, many wrongly assume that all individuals learn according to pedagogy. Adults however are motivated differently with different needs. Collaboration and problem solving suit adult learning best. This misconception forcing pedagogy on adult learning has had a profound effect on how we handle PD as discussed in a previous post, The Importance of Andragogy in Education. I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit. 

The real game-changer for collaborative learning is technology. With the introduction of social media applications, we have the ability to connect with anyone at anytime. The cost is minimal and the time is adjustable. Time and money excuses no longer serve the status quo when it comes to collaboration. What that means in terms of education is that educators are only isolated by choice. As I have said in the past, any educator has the right to choose to live in a cave, but they don’t have the right to drag students in there with them.

Connecting for collegial sourcing is becoming a standard for educators. Educators in greater numbers are connecting to build Personal Learning Networks through technology. What was once a method of the tech-savvy educators is now becoming a staple of the profession. Of course when the objections of resistance are answered, objectors will come up with new objections to stave off their involvement. Many teachers now say, I am doing well enough with my kids, I don’t need to make connections.” Those teachers will need to live with that decision, for they may never get beyond “well enough” with their students. Imagine telling parents that you will teach their kids well enough?

Of course we know the biggest obstacle to change is leaving that place we all love to reside in, the “comfort zone”. Educators do not have that as an option as professionals. As professionals, we deal in content and fact. Technology is changing both at a rate never before experienced. If we do not keep up with these changes we become irrelevant. What can an irrelevant educator accomplish? Most importantly, an educator’s comfort zone must never take precedence over a student’s education.

The latest and greatest excuse is that face-to-face connections are the best. Connecting down the hallway is better than connecting around the world. I do not entirely disagree with that. If the connection with a person down the hall works then use it. My question is why would anyone interested in learning limit his or her collaboration to only his or her own building? As good as any building’s staff may be, why would one not want to expand collaboration and share with the world. Remember that collaboration works two ways. It is not always what you can get. It is also about what you can give. I believe as educators we all have a moral imperative to share.
Technology provides the means to collaborate on a scale never before available. It requires some effort on the part of educators to happen. It requires a mindset that our 20th Century education has never prepared us for. Connectedness becomes a way of life for an educator, but this does not happen overnight. We need to take it one step at a time, as we need it. We can now take control of our own learning. None of this will happen however, unless that first step is taken. If you don’t know or can’t decide on a first step, talk it over with someone. It’s collaborative learning. By choosing not to engage in order to be connected, educators today make a conscious choice to be isolated. Yes, Isolation is a choice. It is not the choice of a Life Long Learner. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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Over the years I have been an advocate for connected collaboration. I believe that collaboration using technology to connect people for the purpose of collaboration is different from connecting people in a room together for collaboration. I used the word “different”. I did not use the word “better”. For educators any form of collaboration with other educators is a good thing.

Historically and for centuries, collaboration had not changed the way people connected together in order to accomplish learning. If one wanted to connect with someone to collaborate it was a question of picking a time, a place, and showing up. Collaboration itself has remained the same no matter the time or place. People exchange, modify, reflect, improve, and create ideas collectively. This form of learning has proven invaluable in advancing education. It is the basis for education conferences. Learning and sharing is the backbone of education.

What has changed however is the way that people connect to collaborate. It is that element of connection that has been the game changer for many educators. Connecting for collaboration has now become a function of what technology can provide educators. Most often, social media applications provide the bulk of these collaborative connections, but other tools of technology cannot be discounted. This all requires educators to have at the very least a modicum of digital literacy. Unfortunately, this has proven to be a stumbling block for many.

The act of collaboration is the important element in this conversation. Collaborating with folks in your building, or district is wonderful, but if it is limited to just those people the potential of the collaboration itself may be limited. One advantage of collaboration through technology-connected collaboration is that there are few limits with whom or with how many people one may engage. The connections could be local or global. Access and contact with authors or education thought leaders are more possible through technological connections. The technological connections could easily include teachers, administrators, students, and parents separately or together for collaboration The overall effect of sharing has a greater reach in the world of technological connections. The limits of where or when are far less impeding with technological connections. Transparency is evident through social media collaboration. It is out there for all to see.

In the technological sense, a “connected educator” has a number of advantages in collaboration over an educator not technologically “connected”, an “unconnected educator”. This may cause a rift between the connected and the unconnected in education. Questions of who is better? This is an argument that education does not need. This opens educators to even more criticism from a beleaguered public, being manipulated about education by politicians and “Reformers”. Of course the obvious best way of all is for educators to balance out face-to-face and technological connections for collaboration. Ideally, both types of connectors can be brought together, which often happens at education conferences for the purpose of collaborating on collaboration itself.

I believe most educators are collaborative. I also believe that far fewer are connected collaborators. Technological connection comes with a great deal of baggage that prevents educators from embracing it. The use of technology itself is the biggest of these obstacles. The idea of it being a huge time consumer is another. There is also a stigma of using any social media as a tool for learning. The biggest deterrent of all however is the perception that one needs to learn a whole bunch of technological stuff in order to participate in this connected world. Of course the worst advocates for this technological connection are those who are connected. They proudly announce their many accomplishments and successes as technologically connected educators and scare off anyone even remotely interested in trying it. People unfamiliar are just blown away and overwhelmed by the exuberant chatter.

Of course the obvious alternative to all of this is to have more collaboration between those educators who are not technologically connected and those who are. In the end whatever works best for an individual educator is what is best for them. Some believe the best collaboration is just down the hall. Others live on social media. My preference is to use whichever I need in order to accomplish that which I hope to accomplish. Sometimes I know where I am going and sometimes I need a direction from my trusted collaborators. The focus must be the collaboration. My bias is that for me, I need to be a technologically connected educator in order for me to remain relevant. That works best for me. Others need to make their own determinations. I am willing to collaborate with them to present what I know and believe.

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There are now hundreds of Education Twitter chats taking place around the world at almost any time of day or night. To follow any chat in real-time all one needs is the hashtag (#). The hashtag is the key to the chat. Using TweetDeck, Hootsuite, or some other third-party application it is easy to create a column that will follow only the hash tagged tweets of the chat. That will focus on and deliver each of the tweets in the chat in the order that they are posted.

Of course in a chat that may have fifty to a hundred participants it is impossible to follow every tweeter’s tweets. Very much like any face-to-face social gathering of such numbers of people, one would only engage with a few chatters at a time and focus on the topic of discussion within that group. I enter chats with the intent of engaging a few people with my point of view on the topic to challenge and test my own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. Many chats archive the entire chat so people can go back to see whatever it was they thought they might have missed from others.

My personal preference is to participate in chats with one topic to be explored in-depth as opposed to chats, which program 5 or 6 questions in a one-hour slot. My feeling is that the chat never develops naturally with predetermined questions. The participants may just be getting started when time demands a change to the next question. Maybe it is a control thing on the part of the moderators of those chats. It does keep things moving in the chat, but it seems more forced and less organic. There are many however who thrive in that format. As long as topics are being explored the format of the chat is less important. We can never answer for how other people learn and participate.

In a single question chat the participants are more reliant on moderators to feed off of and restate questions and ideas. It is more of a practice in the art of discussion and less formula.

The purpose of any chat is to get a more in-depth discussion and reflection on a given topic. Hopefully, the most successful chats will generate Blog Posts with further reflection and clarity. The people attending these chats often have a specific interest in the topic. The use of Twitter as the platform for education chats enables not only anyone interested in the topic, but also people whose area of expertise might be that specific topic. Keep in mind that twitter has a global reach, so the only possible barriers to anyone’s participation might just be time zones. Many authors, speakers, bloggers, and thought leaders will often participate in chats.

Regardless of titles there are many chatters who offer great ideas, or challenges during chats. It is great to assemble educators who have a common interest to express their ideas on that interest. They are the very people who one needs in a Personal Learning Network to continue following and interacting within meaningful ways. Every chat should offer up some new people to follow on Twitter, or to engage further in Google Hangouts or Skype calls.

The one long-standing criticism of Chats is that they have a tendency to become echo chambers of like-minded people. I would agree that educators do have a common interest, but it has been my experience that they rarely agree 100% on anything. Everyone has his/her own slant on any given topic. Some even abandon their personal beliefs to stir the pot with opposing views. This is where experienced moderators prove their worth in chats. I do not prescribe to the echo chamber argument.

New chatters are usually hesitant to get involved at first. They sort of lurk and learn the culture of the chat. They try to figure out the leaders and just try not to get overwhelmed because of the rate that most of the tweets fly by. It can be quite intimidating. Most chats start off slowly as people begin to gather. It usually takes 5 to 10 minutes to get going. Some chats have people introduce themselves others just dive right in. There is one distraction newcomers should be aware of. Hashtags for chats are used for any tweet that may be related to that general hashtag. For instance a hashtag widely used for any Tweet dealing with education is #Edchat. People use this 24/7. That means that during the #Edchat Chats tweets my come in that have nothing to do with the topic being discussed. Knowing this before the chat helps filter through the noise.

To bullet point the chat strategy:

  • Set up a column to follow the Chat
  • Enter the chat to engage a small number of people and not the auditorium.
  • Identify the moderators for guidance
  • Follow on Twitter the most interesting participants to add value to your own PLN
  • Do not get distracted by off-topic tweets
  • Engage clearly and succinctly
  • Reflect on your experience

Now all you need is find a chat to engage in. There are chats for educators in various States within the US as well as many other countries. There are chats for specific grades, subjects, courses, and interests. Of course the Granddaddy of chats is #Edchat which takes place twice each Tuesday. The first #Edchat is at noon eastern time and the second #Edchat is at 7 PM Eastern time with a different Topic. The #Edchat Topics are decided by a Poll each week. Please Join Us!

Here is a list of all of the Education chats taking place globally on Twitter.

All Chats

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Anyone who is familiar with what I write about should recognize that I stress the importance of relevance as educators in order to teach in an ever-changing, rapidly paced, computer-driven society. That message goes across well with most connected educators for they seem to be the educators who are more comfortable with the tools to make all that happen. They are the educators who view tools of technology as the very tools that generations will be using for collaboration, curation, communication and creation. However they are not the educators that I need to reach with my message. The folks I want to get to with my ideas are the unconnected, those who do not maintain a presence in the connected world of educators. These are folks who would not have access to my blog let alone care to even read it.

To have my message at least viewed by as many different educators as possible, I tend to do guest posts for many education organizations. Edutopia is a great organization that I have been associated with for about a year now and I am proud and honored to have my ideas expressed on that platform. One thing that many organizations do to guest posts is to re-title them to fit that organization’s style. They have every right to do so, and I do not object to that. This sometimes works well and other times not so much. A lesson I learned early on in blogging was that if you want to make a point about Education Technology, never put it in the title of the post. The term “EdTech” is a red light for many educators. It is better to have a non-threatening title and mention it after the first paragraph or two has already sucked them in. NEVER tell them that you are going to talk about EdTech. Somehow that has become a threatening term to many educators.

The construction industry seems to have learned this lesson years ago. They stayed away from Techy titles for the development of their tools. They had: The electric saw, the Power drill, the hydraulic hammer, and the automatic screwdriver. There seems to have been less intimidation in those names. It was a simple adjective in front of a familiar noun. Their labor force saw the benefits of the advanced tools for construction and embraced them. They became more efficient and effective in their jobs.

If the goal of education is to teach kids skills to effectively and efficiently collaborate, curate, communicate, and create with the tools that they will be required to use in their time, then educators will need to, if not embrace, at least accept the need to understand and use these tools of technology today. If the term EdTech gets in the way, let’s eliminate it. We have educators who hear about EdTech conferences and they refuse to consider attending them. Their impression is that EdTech conferences are for Computer teachers.

Education is about using skills and information to create knowledge. The tools required to do that are not stagnant. They are continuously evolving and they are the very tools that teachers need to use to provide a relevant education to their students. It is about education, that is the big picture. Technology is only a component, but it is necessary to maintain relevance in a computer-driven society.

I remember a keynote speech from an upstate New York Superintendent. He explained that a local manufacturer visited him one day to talk about why he could not hire local graduates in his factory. The manufacturer explained to this Superintendent that he could not even hire lathe operators from the graduating class because they were not prepared. He invited the Superintendent to visit his factory to see things for himself. In preparation for his visit the superintendent stopped into the “Shop classes” to make sure that his students were indeed being prepared to use lathes. The teacher took him to the lathe area and had students demonstrate their skills as they stood next to and operated the lathe. Satisfied with what he saw and armed with this information the superintendent headed off for his visit to the factory. Upon his arrival he informed the manufacturer that his students were being well versed in the use of the lathe.

It was then that the manufacturer took the superintendent to the lathe area in the factory. It was a control room with dials lights and gauges. Within that sealed room was a young girl in a white lab coat; she was the lathe operator. Both the Superintendent and the teacher had lost their view of what was relevant for a lathe operator.

We need our educators to be better prepared for what the needs of students will be. If we need to drop off the term EdTech for this to happen than so be it. Terms should not get in the way, but they do. We need to be better communicators if we are to maintain any relevance in a profession that demands it to prepare kids for what they will need.

Here is my reminiscence of education originally titled: A Baby Boomer’s View of Education. The re-title is The Longer View: Edtech and 21st-Century Education. Which of the two titles would be more inviting to an unconnected educator?

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In the 21st Century our approach to education can and should be very different from previous centuries. The basic skills we teach are pretty much the same, but the tools we have to use require a different approach, as well as additional and very different literacies from centuries past. Information once difficult to find, maintain, and disseminate is now found by a voice command to a mobile device. The model of the teacher as the content expert standing in the front of the room, lecturing to rows of students taking handwritten notes to memorize and regurgitate on exams delivered after every unit of learning, seem now to be a dated model, at least in some classes around the country.

With access to more free-flowing information than has ever been available to mankind in any centuries past, our approach to accessing, curating, collaborating and creating with that information must change as well. There came a time when monks were no longer needed to transcribe books because of the printing press. There came a time when the Gutenberg press was replaced by a mechanized letterpress and that was later replaced by high-speed offset presses. Today, the idea of the printed word is being replaced by the digital word. With each step forward there are those who are more comfortable with what was, compared to what is. That is to always be expected. Eventually however, we all move forward.

The model of education that most of us are products of was designed for a different time and for a different purpose. The system was created to benefit industry as much, if not more so, than it was to create a freethinking society.

Technology, contrary to science fiction writers’ predictions, will not replace teachers. It will however change the model of how we teach from the 19th and 20th centuries, which was teacher-controlled and teacher-directed learning to a 21st century model of learner-directed learning. The teacher becomes more of a mentor and co learner with students. When it comes to teaching students in the 21st century I have come to believe that it is more important to teach kids how to learn than it is to teach them what to learn.

A very great disconnect in all of this occurs when we try to use the 21st century technology tools for learning and fit them into the 19th & 20th century model of teaching. I have witnessed English teachers having students do a composition assignment. They had students do a handwritten rough draft, revise it, do a final handwritten copy, and then put it on a word processor without accessing a spell check or grammar check. Those teachers learned that way, and taught that way, and added the technology to their 20th century model of teaching. The tech tool was not used for learning. In their future lives those students will certainly use word processors for any writing that they do. Is it not incumbent on their teachers to teach students how to do it correctly? (Yes, as an adult I effectively use a grammar check and a spell check on everything I write. Most people do, even the really smart ones.)

Another example is the Interactive White Board, IWB. It can be a great tool for interactive lessons in a 21st century class, but in the 20th century it becomes a great way to show kids videos as they sit in rows.

Being an educator in the 21st century will require a change in mindset. We are mostly all products of a 20th century upbringing. That is where we are grounded. We have been programmed to it in every way. As technology begins to change things, we naturally want to fit it into what we know and do. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where that no longer works. We need to revisit how we do things in education. If the 20th century methods were working, we would not be having all of these discussions about education.

We need to understand that teaching students how to learn will serve them much better than teaching them what to learn. As educators we need to keep in mind we are teaching our students for their future and not our past. Technology will continue to evolve. That is the nature of what it does. If we adapt and stay relevant, we survive. If we stand still, we will fall behind and we will no longer be relevant.

Placing 21st century technology tools for learning in a 20th century environment for learning is a losing strategy. We need to update our approach as we introduce new tools designed for learning. The pedagogy is still key, but the technology is an accelerant. This is not intuitive. It must be taught. We need to better prepare educators, as well as change the culture.

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