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Archive for the ‘Ning’ Category

The term “innovation” has been thrown around through the halls of education for several years. Its creation in our education system is a stated goal by our Department of Education. It is a reason, although some would call it a justification, for charter schools being formed. Charter schools were supposed to lead the way to innovation for public education. A problem with innovation however is that we often do not know it when we see it.

The whole idea of innovation is that it is something new. The other part of that, which is implied, is that it is also a successful improvement. That may be the piece that prevents recognizing innovation in education. Teachers, when it comes to education, are a conservative group. Change comes slowly, and there is a comfort in holding on to what has worked in the past. This has long been reinforced by the many trends and fads in education that have come and gone. Teachers have been programmed to believe that whatever the change being mandated by the powers that be, it will be gone with the next change of power. “If we wait a little while, this to will pass” becomes the educators’ mindset.

The newness of innovation is probably its greatest obstacle to acceptance. Teachers generally rely on the tried and true methods, proven to work over a long period of time. Innovation requires a leap of faith on the part of educators that the innovation will be a success. Unfortunately for innovation, the conservative nature of educators does not support taking risks. It may have something to do with self-perceptions of many teachers that as “content experts” they shouldn’t make public mistakes. Supporting innovation that fails would be a commitment to failure in the eyes of many educators. Obviously, this slows innovation acceptance.

This entire process has been further complicated by the rate of speed that technology moves and affects change. Committees, research and approval are very big parts of change in education. Today however, change comes faster and more significantly than in years past primarily because of the advancements in technology. These advancements continue to move forward regardless of anyone’s committee, research, or approval.

Collaboration has long been an element of learning. The term social learning is now creeping into discussions more and more giving collaboration a facelift. Face to face collaboration is the oldest and most easily recognized form. It is also a positive reason for department and faculty meetings. When learning individually we are good, but more often than not, learning collaboratively we are better. Technology tools for collaboration have moved collaboration to the forefront.

Now, let us combine collaboration with technology and see if it fits into our education system. Technology has most recently provided many tools, or applications for collaboration. Social Media is not one tool, but rather a network of many that overlap and intertwine. Educators can: join a Ning community,and meet a colleague from anywhere, converse on that site, connect and collaborate on Twitter, continue face to face collaboration on a Google Hangout, or Skype, collaboratively create and publish documents, presentations, Podcasts and videos. The potential ability for educators to harness this power and use it to model and guide learning for their students is mind-boggling to me, as a 40-year educator. It is only surpassed by the idea that the same potential ability in the hands of the students will take collaboration, creation, and learning even further.

We have labeled this innovation the Personal Learning Network. It is what we use to connect educators for collaboration beyond their buildings, districts, towns, and countries. It is technology-driven innovation that may profoundly affect education in regard to collaboration and professional development. It connects teachers with students, administrators, thought leaders, authors, and experts in all areas. It enables collaboration and creation on every level for educators to learn and teach. We become connected educators giving us insights and relevance that has been enabled by technology.

This innovation has been percolating for several years now, yet it has failed to be accepted as innovation. There is a growing gap between the adapters, or the connected educators, and the unconnected educators. The continuous discussions of the connected are directed and led by thought leaders and collaborative reflections, discussions, and content. The unconnected educators rely on the past and whatever direction is given by the powers that be in their districts.

If innovation is something new than the idea of technology-driven collaboration in the form of a PLN is old news and no longer innovation. Since it is no longer innovative, maybe educators will consider it, as a possible next step in education that will enable needed change. The idea that educators may be anti-innovative is my only explanation as to why the idea of a Personal Learning Network has not yet moved educators to accept it as a method to move educators, and education to a better place.

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If there is one thing that Social Media in education has taught me it is: Never answer for someone else’s need to know! In a world of discussions using tweets and posts there is an audience for discussion on any level of experience on any given subject. The subjects that I deal with most often involve Education, Social Media, or Social Media in Education.

The Posts and Tweets I ponder the most are those that deal with the very basics of these subjects. I always worry if a basic explanation is just too basic for an audience of professionals. I too often make an assumption that what I am about to write in my post is too basic, and therefore no one will have any interest. To my surprise, almost every time, those are the posts that are more often, the most read on my Blog. Writing a blog is a subject that I have covered before, “What’s the big deal about Blogging?“
Doing that first post was the biggest hurdle for most bloggers. There are a number of ways to start that first post. I started by doing a guest post for Shelly Terrell Sanchez, @ShellTerrell. She encouraged me and took a chance that my post would not turn off those who followed her Blog. Step one then might be to find a Blogger and make a friend. There is another way to take a first step. Many Ning communities have a page for Blogpost contributions. Contributing a post to one such site enables one not only to see an idea published, but it may elicit responses from other community members as well.

However one gets there, the ultimate final step is to create a personal Blog. There are a number of Apps one can use to house the Blog. I use WordPress. Many friends use EduBlogger. Google now offers free Blogging space. All of these Apps walk a novice through the setup with easy to follow instructions, and prompts. It is far less complicated than creating a website.

Creating the Blog is the most work one will need to do. After that it is all Reflecting, Writing, Promoting, Rinsing and Repeating. It is amazing how with a little time the subjects keep popping into one’s head. I did not put myself on a schedule, but I attempted to think of something to write each week, sometimes two weeks.

Reflecting and writing should be reward enough, but any idea not shared is just a passing thought. The whole idea of the Blog is to publish one’s ideas for the purpose of sharing. With that in mind, promotion of one’s site becomes a part of the experience. Twitter for me is the tool that I use to drive people to my site. A quick description, title, link, and the range-expanding hashtag #Edchat combined go a long way in attracting readers.

Once I publish a post on my blog, I also return to those Ning communities of educators. I place my post on The Educator’s PLN, ASCDEdge, and School Leadership 2.0. at the very least. I sometimes go to other sites as well. There is no single path to the success of a Blogpost. I have offered the strategies that have worked for me. However one gets there, there will be benefits of learning along the way. Once the Blog is established however that is when a learning transformation can take place. The computer is the 21st Century publisher. Blogging has now become a large part of our culture as educators and citizens. Those who participate in the writing posts, benefit much more than those who only read posts.

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared August Connected Educator Month. To the delight of many connected educators, this was a validation for much of their time spent and their many accomplishments achieved through the use of technology in general, and using the Internet specifically. Many connected educators have gathered virtually to assemble panels, webinars, podcasts and blog posts about all of the advantages of being a “connected educator” and its possibility of transforming education as we know it. You might see where I am taking this conundrum thing.

The problem with this is that the vast majority of educators who are most on board with Connected Educator Month are connected educators. Hundreds of connected-educator communities and organizations have signed on to the program and have offered online promotions for the month. This is a wonderful thing for all of the connected educators who belong to those communities. But, the obvious question: Are nonconnected educators involved or even aware?

Of course, avenues to reach nonconnected educators would be print media, television and radio, and articles in journals, newspapers and magazines. We can only hope teachers have time to keep up with such media. Much of this media requires subscription. There might even be buzz at schools that start the school year before September. Of course, the beginning of the year is the busiest and most hectic time at school. That does not allow for a huge amount of buzz.

This is the time that someone trying to sound cool using connected terms will say something to the effect of, “It is only another example of speaking into the echo chamber.” I never understood how that was supposed to lessen the impact of a good idea. If an idea is put forth to a large group of people who share skills, interests and motivations, how is that idea of lesser value? It is still analyzed, questioned and challenged by a group who theoretically knows the subject best. Participants’ agreement on an idea’s value might come from their experience and not because they share a space with other educators. Ideas are challenged all of the time among connected educators. It is the sharing and collaboration of those ideas that give power to connectedness.

No, to be a good teacher, one does not need to be connected. However, the question is if you are a good teacher and unconnected, could you be a better teacher if you were connected? Shouldn’t we strive to be the best that we can be? It’s not only an Army thing. Being connected offers not only exposure to content and ideas but also the ability to create and collaborate on ideas. Being connected fosters transparency and debunks myths of education that have been harbored in the previous isolation of the education profession. This is the stuff of a true learner’s dreams, and, as educators, are we not all learners?

Let me get to the conundrum. How do we connect nonconnected educators if the only people participating in large part in Connected Educator Month are connected educators? Most Americans have a Facebook or Twitter account. There are millions of people who maintain AOL accounts. In the strict sense of the term, these people are connected. However the term “connected educator” requires a focus for connectedness. It requires the educator to be connected to places and people advancing and enlightening the person personally as well as the profession — education. Of the 7.2 million teachers in America, most are probably connected to something on the Internet. We need to get them connected to one another. If we consider all of the education websites for professional development in education and all of the professional connections on Twitter in terms of a professional learning network, it would probably account for far less than a million educators.

We are not a profession of connected educators. We are content experts with access to content that we are not accessing. We are advocates of ideas with the ability to share ideas that we are not sharing. We are creators without using the ability we have to create for an authentic audience of millions who could benefit by our creations. We fight for the status quo of comfort and compliance. This doesn’t make sense to many of you — those of us who are connected.

If the only people benefiting from Connected Educator Month are connected educators, how do we involve the millions of others? I understand that a certain percentage will never be connected, but those who could be, would be, should be and can be are out there. How do we best connect the unconnected educator in a face-to-face method?

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I recently attended a complete immersion of education philosophy, education methods and pedagogy, technology tools for learning and connectedness with education thought leaders from around the world. All of this took place at one of our premier annual education conferences, ISTE 2012 in San Diego. Educators attend these conferences with their own focuses. They select the sessions they need from a smorgasbord of high-quality presentations on education topics given by practitioners and authors, all vetted by a screening committee of educators.

A majority of the comments that I heard from attendees were positive, with one exception. There were some presenters who adopted a stand-and-deliver lecture style — the death-by-PowerPoint presentation. Many educators simply hated this type of presentation and were fairly vocal about it. Of course, I am but one person talking to a small sample of people, so there might be less to this than I was led to believe.

Of course, individual presentation styles cannot be controlled by screening committees. It will only be through feedback that these methods will dwindle and die. We will always have a lecture form of method for teaching, but we can hope for it not to be a focus for all lessons. The more engaging give-and-take, discussion-oriented presentations seemed to have been more popular with the folks with whom I spoke. This should be a lesson to all educators to take back to their classroom practice.

My personal focus for this conference was to make connections. Connectedness among educators is something you will be hearing quite a bit about in the upcoming month. It has been so declared as a national month of observance. Of course, the irony is that many of the national organizers have not been connected educators. Educators who have been connected and working those connections were contacted late in the process. That is another post for later.

ISTE 2012 is one of the best sources for connecting with education experts and education thought leaders. My goal was to touch base, connect or reconnect with as many of these folks as possible. Fortunately, each time I connected, a valuable conversation resulted.

Many educators use various methods to connect with other educators for the purpose of professional exchanges. These exchanges include ideas, information, websites, webinars, videos, advice, connections to other educators and personal relationships. Connected educators use conferences such as ISTE 2012 for face-to-face meetings with those digital connections.

All of this is valuable to a profession that before digital connections was somewhat isolated. Digital connections can provide a bridge to cross that void of professional and personal relationships. The connectedness of ISTE attendees is most prevalent, and there appeared to be a high percentage of connected educators in attendance. This, of course, is my opinion, but with all of the social media tools at my disposal, I am probably directly or indirectly connected to 40,000 to 50,000 educators.

Who should I connect with?

That’s the question that I always get from people new to digitally connecting with other educators. I went to ISTE to seek out and connect with education thought leaders I hold in high regard. My standard was to connect with those who not only have great ideas in education but also are willing to share those ideas. An idea not shared is only a passing thought that will never become an idea. The best part of ISTE 2012 for me is that no one was unapproachable. As in social media, ideas at ISTE 2012 were the focus, and a person’s position and title took a back seat. My interest was to interact with many of the folks who are public supporters of those ideas. These are the people I follow and interact with daily.

I always hate putting out lists because there are too many people who might belong on that list but are left off. I will say that this is a partial list of those with whom I connected at ISTE 2012. Most were presenters and keynoters. Feel free to use this as a starting point or an additional resource for educators to follow on Twitter.

@dwarlick, @shareski, @teach42, @djakes, @adambellow, @dlaufenberg, @joycevalenza, @mluhtala, @willrich45, @mbteach, @web20classroom, @cybraryman1, @kylepace, @thenerdyteacher, @coolcatteacher, @shannonmmiller, @stumpteacher, @BethStill, @chrislehmann, @kenroyal, @SirKenRobinson, @smartinez, @garystager, @stevehargadon, @ewanmcintosh, @InnovativeEdu, @amandacdykes, @2footgiraffe

My apologies go to the many whom my faulted memory has omitted. I am sure they will be included on some follow-up lists.

ISTE 2012 provided many things to many educators. My best take-away is the great face-to-face connections with people with whom I have been digitally connected, as well as with those with whom I want to be connected. In a profession that relies on teaching relevant information to ready students for the world that they live in, we must maintain our own relevance as educators and citizens. Being a connected educator is the best way we can maintain that relevance. ISTE 2012 reinforced that position for me, and my personal goal is to connect the dots and help all educators to be connected.

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I recently had a lengthy discussion, ironically on Twitter, with a very tech-savvy educator friend about his concerns that big ideas in education might be getting drowned out as a result of the continuing discussions about Social Media and connectedness for educators.  I hope I am categorizing that correctly. My friend felt that Social Media is a powerful medium that can be used to learn, but too much attention is given to it at the expense of other powerful ideas. According to him,” it’s still all pretty much primordial soup”.

Of course, being a social media advocate, his comments have been tumbling in my head since we had our conversation. Did others believe this?  Is Social Media being discussed and addressed as a more important idea than education reform or, pedagogy, or methodology in education? Is it a distraction rather than a means for transformation? Are the big ideas being missed?

We all learn from other people. We created places where we could come in contact with people who could share their ideas with us, so we that we could learn. Those face to face connections have never been completely replaced, but rather enhanced, by technology. Of course when we first developed our social learning, we were limited as to how we made those connections, because of limited technology. In ancient times with little or no tech learning was always face-to-face learning. Eventually, technology involving ink and paper opened the limited circles of learning. The printing press really got things moving in order to share ideas, and learning. Electricity enabled even more tech stuff to connect people with ideas without having to be in the same place, or space. Technology historically allowed learning to expand from face to face contact to distances beyond the limits of both time and space, and the Internet has moved that to a whole new level.

Now that we are in the second decade of the 21st Century, we are no longer preparing people for that Century, but rather how to use its tools of technology for learning in order to efficiently, and lastingly learn. Of course this doesn’t have to be a replacement of the tried-and-true learning of face to face encounters, but rather an expansion of that experience. We can now connect with almost anyone at anytime, anywhere in the world. The circles of learning probably can’t get any bigger unless time-travel technology is ever discovered.

The idea of PLN’s or Professional Learning Networks is still a great strategy for learning as an educator. The idea of connectedness goes beyond the limitations of a PLN. Understanding the use of Social Media enables educators to reside on the internet using links provided by their PLN to expand their learning on any subject. The connectedness that we talk about is only a vehicle travelling to content or sources in order to address the important questions of education.

Teaching has always been an isolated profession. Teachers were limited to sharing the experiences of their colleagues in their building or district. If they were in the group of a fortunate few, they might have gotten to experience a professional conference. Of course another shared experience of many educators was the required graduate courses taken by many for professional development. Some districts provided an occasional workshop during the course of the year. These experiences, if shared, would be shared with only a limited number of educators within the school or district.

Social Media has the potential for expanding that circle of learners. I say potential, because a majority of educators are not yet involved with Social Media as a tool for professional development. With all of the Social Media outlets that I have at my disposal, I may be personally connected to 50,000 educators. Looking at the memberships of all of the education Ning sites, education websites, and the greatest followings of the most popular education tweeters, we may have as many as 500,000 connected educators, globally using social Media for professional learning. Although that is a large number on its own, it is small considering the 7.2 million educators in the United States alone. To use the idea of connectedness for educators for the purpose of affecting a transformation of education, a primary imperative must be to get most educators connected. Although the continuing use of Social Media should be to share ideas on content, pedagogy, methodology and sources, as well as the big ideas, some time must be spent on involving, and explaining the use of SM to all educators. I would hope that we would strive for a balance, but the more educators that we connect; the faster a transformation in education can take place. A majority of educators are not yet involved with the connectedness of Social Media and need to be educated. If we transform the way we educate educators, can transforming our students be far behind?

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Most professions have professional journals. Professional journals have long been the method by which innovations to professions have been introduced. Lengthy articles explaining the: who, what, where, when, why and how of an innovation in the profession was spelled out for all to read. Follow-up journal articles weighed the pros and cons. Journals historically have been a form of print media, but with the advent of the internet many are transitioning to a digital form in addition to the printed version.

The process for innovators to get things published in these professional journals can be long and arduous, but the pay-off is usually worth the wait. These journals have readerships of great numbers of people in the very profession that specific innovators want to reach. There are: journals for Medicine, journals for Law, and journals for Education just to name a few.

At one time, to keep up with the journals was to keep up with the profession. That was true when change came slowly and people were able to adjust to change over longer periods of time. With the advance of technology, things began to happen more quickly. Innovation began to explode. The process and the trappings of the print media began to fall behind. More and more innovators took to the digital alternative of websites and blogs for their; who, what, where, when, why and how of an innovation in the profession. The professional journals began playing catch up. Innovation exploded in every profession and the print media has proved to have many more limitations than digital publishing. Why struggle with the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature when Google is at hand?

Now, let us go onto education and its professional journals and their impact on teachers. Contrary to what is often said about education, currently, there are many innovations affecting the education profession. Technology is the driving force behind most of the education innovation. It is impacting not only what we can do as educators, but it is also changing how we approach learning. These innovations may have not all reached the education journals yet, but they have been presented and are being discussed digitally and at great length in social media.

A few of the recent topics include: the Flipped Class, eTextbooks, PBL approaches to learning, blended classes, Edcamps for PD, BYOD, Digital classrooms, Tablets, 1:1 laptops, digital collaboration, Social Media, Mobile Learning Devices, Blogging. Some of these topics have made it to the print media, but all are being delved into at length through social media. It is a disadvantage to be a print-media educator in a digital-media world. I can understand how a majority of educators whose very education was steeped in print media is more comfortable with that medium. The technology however, is not holding still to allow educators to dwell in a comfort zone. Just as the technology of the printing press got us beyond the technology of the scrolls (Parchment & Quill), Technology is now taking us beyond print media to digital publications and boundless collaboration.

In order to take a full measure of the advances of technology, there are certain adjustments to be made and skills to be obtained or reanimated. This requires a change in behavior, attitude, and most importantly, culture. Information from technology may be easily accessed, but it is not yet a passive exercise. It requires effort and an ability to learn and adapt. These are skills that all educators have, but many may not always be willing to use. The status quo has not required educators to use these skills in a long time. Using these skills requires effort and leaving a long-standing zone of comfort in order to learn and use new methods of information retrieval. Waiting for the Journal is no longer a relevant option. Educators are driving the changes, but technology is driving the change. The need for reform may very well come from the need for the changes in education to keep up with the rate of change.

Professional Development is the key to getting educators to access dormant skills. They need to be the life-long learners that they want their students to be. It is the practice of life-long learning that separates the good teacher from the great teacher. They need to be led and supported in this effort. They need to be coaxed from those damned comfort zones which are the biggest obstacles to real reform. This must apply to ALL educators regardless of title. If administrators are to be our education leaders then they should be leading the way for the teachers. Professional Development is not a teachers-only need.

In order for teachers to better guide themselves in their learning, they need to know what it is that they need to know. They need relevant questions about relevant changes. Being connected to other educators, who are practicing these changes already, is a great first step. Using technology to do that is the best way to develop these Professional Learning Networks. Connected educators are relevant educators. That is how we can begin to change the culture and move forward to real education reform.

Connecting with other educators is easy through Social Media. Twitter is a mainstay of information for thousands of educators. Ning sites provide great collaborative communities for educators to join groups and share sources. Blogs provide the most up-to-date information on innovations and current practices. RSS feeds and iPad applications like Zite, and Flipboard carry blogs directly to you to read and share. I could add many more things to this list, but the sheer amount of things technology offers educators is in itself a deterrent to those who are overwhelmed with how much they think they need to learn. Educators need not know all of this, but by focusing on one, the others will begin to come into view, and the need to learn as a life-long learner will take control.

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Last night was the Edublog Awards Presentation, also known as the “Eddie” Awards. This event happens once a year at this time honoring those who excel in the area of Educational Social Media. Categories include educators, students, groups, and vendors. It originally started out recognizing Blogs and Bloggers, but has now expanded to all forms of Social Media as Social Media itself has expanded. This is an example that schools should emulate; the ability to be flexible and change to meet the needs of an ever-changing and developing culture.

The Edublog process is simple. Categories are established with little description other than the title of the category, and people in Social Media nominate people in Social Media. They could nominate others or themselves. This year there were nineteen categories and thousands of nominations.  After the nominations are posted, the voting begins, and continues, so that everyone has an opportunity to vote. Yes, that opportunity includes the ability to vote once a day for everyone as the voting continues. There are no judges; just nominators and voters. This is the element that has brought out the voices of discontent each and every year since 2004. Of course when this started it was a smaller community. With the advent of Twitter and Facebook, the Education Social Media community has grown to huge proportions, and, hopefully, will continue to do so.

The Presentation of the Edublog Awards is a virtual gala event. It takes place in a virtual room and all are invited to attend. It usually draws between 100-200 people. There is a dialog box where participants exchange pleasantries and jabs, as a fun time is had by all. Some of us jab and joke more than others. The event is hosted by Steve Hargadon, Sue Waters and this year Ron Burt. These people are also great contributors to the connected community of educators in their own right, beyond their Edublog contribution.

The best part of the presentation is when the winners take the mic for a very few short words. This is nothing like the Oscar speeches. Student winners always bring on the most Ooohs and Ahhhs from the audience as evidenced in the chat box. Last night one young, very young, winner took the mic to thank the group for his award. His name was Royce and obviously, Royce failed to tell his Mom about the award ceremony being held virtually. As Royce quietly thanked the group from what was evidently a computer in his room, his mother was heard yelling to him from another room “Royce it’s getting late turn that computer off”.

Now here is the not so funny part of this piece. The process, the awards, and even the nominees are often targeted by some disgruntled (for whatever reason) educators. These individuals find fault with and gripe about the process. They try to trivialize the award itself. They comment to the nominees that they shouldn’t use social media to tell anyone about their nomination. They sometimes even call for standardization of the awards with judges and criteria for assessment of sites. This has gone on every year that I have been involved in Social Media. Whatever happened to “A rising tide lifts all boats”?

I LOVE what the Edublog Awards represent. They recognize the hard work that individuals so unselfishly offer to a community. They recognize and publicize many education social media sites that might otherwise go unrecognized and unseen by those educators who need to see them most. They put a face to the text voices that we all see and hear every day. They enable connected educators to be further connected. Why would anyone object to any of this? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that such people are in the very circles that I travel.

I was nominated in five categories and I did not win one award. I was so impressed by the people I was nominated with, that winning really did not matter. The idea that people actually saw me in the same light as the individuals that I shared the nominations with just blew me away. Of course, I would have loved to have won in every category and create an Edublog record that would last for years, but that did not happen. I was still proud to be involved. Everyone who won deserved all the accolades this award brings. These are people who have a vision and act on it. It is hard work, albeit a labor of love, to consistently put out a product for Social Media that remains meaningful to others. The best incentive to continue happens when public recognition in any form comes your way. The true reward however, is never in the Edublog Award itself. It is in the connections you make with others. Affirmation of those efforts by connected educators is always a shot in the arm.

Next year, if I am nominated again, I will tell all my friends and neighbors that I am an Edublog Nominee. After all this is social media and the social thing to do is share news with others. We do it every day. I will nominate people who are adding meaningful content to our community of connected educators. I will participate in the presentation ceremony to honor those who so deservedly receive their Eddie awards. This is truly a supportive effort to those who support us with ideas, links, and sources all year-long. I will also speak out publicly to those who find fault in these awards or the process. I will also publicly thank Steve Hargadon, Sue Waters, and Ron Burt for yearly designing, accumulating, tallying, and presenting all that they do to make the Edublog Awards happen. Now as Royce’s Mom’s voice still rings in my ears. It’s late, so I better turn off the computer. Congratulations to all of the Nominees and the winners of the 2011 Edublog Awards.

Here is the link to the Top Edublog Nominees and the winners, as well as the addresses to their sites: http://edublogawards.com/

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