Archive for the ‘Ning’ Category

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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It is my birthday today, so please forgive me for allowing my contemplation once again lead us down a well-travelled path. I have discussed this topic in posts before, but it is a subject that will not go away as long as we have younger people working next to older people. As one of those older folks, I might better state it as the “rookies” working beside the “seasoned veterans”. Of  course all of this is further confused by the introduction of the digital native theory. For these, and some other reasons, there seems to be a growing divide between those educators who embrace technology in education and those who shun it. Somehow, it has become perceived by many, as a generational gap. The younger teachers are seen as the tech ninjas, while educators over 30 are all viewed as Luddites.

I believe it was Sir Ken Robinson who talked about technology not being considered technology if you grew up with it and it always existed in your lifetime. If we grew up in the time of horse-drawn carriages, the introduction of the car would be technology. Today we don’t think of the car as technology. What they put in the car however, is another story. Not the radio of course, we don’t think of that as technology. The radio has been around longer than cars. Video displays of rear views, and traffic-monitoring Global Positioning Satellite displays, now that’s technology. So,since we have always had cars, we accept them and expect them. We are now only awed by what goes inside them.

Of course in the olden days as technology was introduced it was at first very expensive. Many people viewed the ownership of any new technology a privilege. I remember a time when my family TV was the first one on our block. I remember moving the TV outside the house in the summer so the kids could gather around it. Later more TV decisions as more technology emerged. Families came together to discuss whether or not it was time to get a color TV. Today, none of this is even remembered, unless you are contemplating your birthday. Today there are no black and white TV’s. Every house has more than one. Mobile devices access television for on-demand service. The big decision now is should we go 3D? The TV is now a right for every American to own if they want to. It is not technology anymore it’s a staple of American life. Many of the same experiences parallel the advancement of the telephone.

Now we come to what many of us think of as technology in the classroom. I was around when 4 function calculators were introduced. My first one was $99 from Sears. It made averaging at report card time a dream for an English teacher. I remember first introducing computers to the class. I remember the first computer lab. My friend had, what we called, a Car Phone. It was a huge mobile phone that came in its own carrying shoulder bag. To an old guy like me this was all technology.

What about the kids of today? Have they ever experienced a time without cellphones? Desktop computers are on the way out in their time. Laptops are being replaced by tablets and cellphones are now smartphones. Our children are growing up with these tools. They don’t see it as technology. It has always been there for them. They expect Wi-Fi. They demand the right to texting. They grew up with iTunes and have no concept of vinyl, 45’s, albums, reel to reel, 8 tracks, tape carts, and digital tape. Our technology has been relegated to being artifacts of another time. Technology is developing at a speed that will only be increased with the development of more technology.

Now we read articles that question whether or not technology is needed in schools. We have administrators banning access and limiting technology tools for learning. Educators who view tech as something we are privileged to have. It is to be controlled and doled out until the controllers have a better understanding of it. The problem is that the controllers have stopped their curiosity for learning. They are not challenged by the new. Relevance is a word and not a reality for many. At the pace that things develop today it takes work to keep up. Learning is not a passive endeavor. Too many educators teach that to kids, but fail to practice it themselves.

This is not a generational problem. It is a learning problem. I grew up in a time when much of today’s technology was not even a dream yet. (Of course flying cars still are the elusive technology.) I am an educator. I recognize that what was commonplace in my world has nothing to do with kids today. If I want to affect their lives in any way I need to do so on their terms with tools for learning that they accept and will use moving forward. I grew up with a slide rule, I don’t think they are even made any more. Why would I use it to teach a kid who has a mobile app that will take him much further than a slide rule ever could.

We need to be more visionary about how we teach. We need to blend the tried-and-true methods with what our kids will be working with in the future. Textbooks may have worked well for us, but a new wave of eBooks is coming. Encyclopedias are fine, but compared to proper use of the internet, the encyclopedia will soon be the black and white TV of research. We need educators to be able to guide kids in using these technology learning tools to continue to learn. In order to do this, those teachers need to learn as well. As Technology advances, so does everything else. We can’t have everything  moving forward and our educators standing still maintaining the status quo.

When schools ask the question; how do we get our students to be media literate and responsible digital citizens? The answer to that is obvious. Schools need to first get their teachers and administrators to be more media literate and good digital citizens. We need to model what we teach. To be better teachers we must be better learners. To be better leaders we need to be better learners. This is not generational. Old and young alike can give up on learning. We see that every day.

As the owner of an education Ning site The Educator’s PLN I have observed a really neat thing about the membership. The site has over 10,000 educators from all over the world. Each member has to be approved by me in order to be in the community. The age of each member is popped up as part of the data. The observation I made that astounds me is that anywhere from 1/3 to almost half of the members of the site are 50 years old or older. These are technology active educators still continuing to engage in learning and collaborating.

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#Edchat, as well as about 50 other educational twitterchats, Digital Personal Learning Networks, Online Discussion Groups, Twitter, LinkedIn and a number of other Web 2.0 social media applications are often attributed by educators for offering professional development, or PD. Social Media is also credited with helping the emergence of Edcamps and Teachmeets, as well as online conferences like #140edu Conference and the Reform Symposium Conference. These are all considered by many to be PD.

I recently came across a very informative, somewhat scholarly post from Education Week which was first published in August 2004 and updated, June 29, 2011, Professional Development.  My take-away from the research referenced in the post was that it is difficult to connect the teacher’s professional development to an increase in their students’ success or at the very least improvement in student performance. Of course after teaching for many years, I ask myself, “Did the PD courses these teachers took have anything to do with what it was that they taught?

Many states require that teachers be provided or otherwise obtain PD. Often this comes in the form of workshops or even an expert or consultant coming into a school to work with staff in small groups. Other PD may be in the form of mini-classes offered by professional organizations or institutions of higher learning. Most schools have procedures to approve requests for PD since it is often a requirement for maintaining a license or obtaining a pay increase. Consequently, a wide array of subjects for educators may be deemed acceptable. Some schools even have committees to approve PD requests for credit.

This does leave open the possibility that a class approved for PD may not align with what a teacher teaches. A Phys Ed teacher may be getting his or her required PD in reading. That fulfills the requirement, but it may have little impact on their students since Physical Education requires little in the way of reading. An English teacher taking a cinematography or video course makes sense, unless the curriculum for what they teach does not allow the opportunity for cinematography or videography. There are many opportunities in the existing system for teachers to take approved PD courses that will not impact the performance of their students directly. It would seem even if the teacher takes a PD course directly related to what will be taught in his or her class, quantifying the results of the impact on learning would have its problems.

Now let us consider Social Media as a conduit for PD.I hear from educators almost daily how their Social Media involvement, Twitter/#Edchat is the best PD they have ever experienced. That is where I think I part ways. I do not see social media as the PD, but as a portal to the PD. It comes from educators engaging other educators in discussions and exchanging ideas that lead to the best sources in order to access the specific PD. It is this self-determined direction which is what involves learners in a deeper more meaningful understanding of a subject. This is regardless of extra pay or outside approval from the school district.

Now the question arises, is this PD resulting in an improvement in the students’ learning? I have often said, “To be better teachers, we must first be better learners”. It would seem to me educators who are seeking Professional Development to meet their specific needs as an educator, would certainly be a first step to better learning. The astonishment on the part of so many may not be in what they are learning, but rather how they are learning. They are being rejuvenated in many ways. This is having a very positive effect on individual educators. They are being energized by their learning. Many are being listened to by appreciative digital colleagues. It is bolstering many who have wavered under the constant attack on education and educators. Relevant discussions of content and pedagogy on an ongoing basis, 24/7, goes a long way in improving self-image, confidence, and understanding of one’s profession.

Social Media, in any of its many forms, enables educators to tap into a vast number of sources in the form of people and content. It enables educators to direct their learning to meet their needs. It enables educators to feel good about learning and continue down that path. Whenever a person can be picked up dusted off and respected for what they do, it must have a positive impact. If that happens to an educator, it must in some way impact their students in a positive way. I need not get caught up in the paralyzing analyzing, because I know it works that way for me. I can only hope it works that way for others.

An even more important point is that, if we view this as a positive form of learning for educators, why would it not apply to students as well? We are all learners. Social Media should be yet another tool in an arsenal of tools used by educators to enable kids to become better learners. They need to continue to learn long after their contact with teachers has ended. Most of my teachers are now gone, yet I continue learning. That is a lesson we all must keep in mind.

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Each week I have an opportunity to participate in an #Edchat discussion twice each Tuesday.  #Edchat, for those who may be unaware, is an organized discussion held twice each Tuesday on Twitter. Twitter is a Social Media application connecting people locally and globally for the purpose of exchanging information, links, videos, and almost anything that can be digitally transmitted. The attendance in the #Edchat discussions varies from several hundred to about a thousand educators each week. The #Edchat topics are always educational in nature. A detailed explanation can be found at #Edchat Revisited.

This week’s topics were somewhat related. The first dealt with school culture, and latter #Edchat was about how schools can more positively involve parents in the education of their children. These discussions went very quickly as the ideas and suggestions from all those involved flew by. Hundreds of observations, and suggestions, followed by reflections, corrections, and additions for those ideas were exchanged. Both sessions were very high-energy sessions, an evident influence of the passion on the part of educators involved for these topics.

If you are not an educator, school culture might need some explanation. It is not something studied by student teachers in their college classes. It can be defined, but it looks different in every school. It may be influenced by a District administrator, but it is different in each of the districts buildings. It is a collective attitude of the specific educational community, or school. It either welcomes, or discourages innovation. It sets the tone for bullying in that community. It determines the openness of educators to change. It determines how welcoming and mentoring the faculty is to new teachers. It sets the tone for openness to various methods of teaching. It influences the respect for and between students, teachers, and administrators in a building.

In the district that I spent most of my career the cultures of the High School and the Middle School were completely different. I always felt that The Middle School taught the kids, and the High School taught courses. Middle Schools are often team oriented and that goes a long way in affecting the culture of each school. Decisions were made with this in mind. Schedules were formed with this in mind. Assignments of teachers were made with this in mind. All of this supports the culture of a school, making it slow to change.

School culture tends to change very slowly unless influenced by something coming from outside the existing culture. If a new administrator comes to a school with any leadership skills and a willingness to change things, the culture may change. A problem with this is the turnover rate of administrators. Often the changes to a school last as long as the administrator does. The vision often travels with the visionary. The other way that the school culture changes, is from the bottom up. It comes with a teacher’s vision that influences others. A single teacher can influence others with a vision and a passion for that vision. In order for that to occur however, the teacher needs to have an exposure to ideas and influences other than those from the school’s culture.

Enter Social Media. Educators are involving themselves more and more with social media applications. Like me, many have developed Personal Learning Networks to help provide sources for teaching and learning. Educators exchange links for information and collaboration in order to improve their teaching. The exchange of ideas however, often goes beyond a simple exchange of information. The cultures of schools are being discussed, dissected, analyzed, and evaluated. The best parts of cultures from many schools are now being introduced to other school cultures. The vision of some is becoming a vision of many. Social Media for educators opens up a world of exposure and transparency to cultures of other schools. A first step to change, dare I say Reform.

Educators are beginning to change the way faculty meetings are conducted. The very topics opened up through Social Media are topics that educators are discussing with more awareness of what other schools do more successfully. Cultures are being reshaped by expanding the pool of experiences through Social Media. Twitter and Facebook are connecting educators and ideas. Blogs are expanding ideas and being referenced for change. Social Bookmarking is cataloging a huge quantity of quality sources that are now literally at the fingertips of educators. Educator Ning sites are growing and thriving with educational groups, Webinars and free Professional Development.

Social Media is having a positive effect on changing a system that has been slow to change. Educators need not look to justify their use of Social Media. Educators may need to justify why they are not employing Social Media. We cannot expect change, or reform, to come to education without enabling or arming educators with the proper tools to affect that change.

Your comments are welcomed!

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This week we had a much energized #Edchat. #Edchat is an online discussion involving over 1,000 educators on a specific topic each week. This week’s Topic dealt with Professional Development being relevant for educators. This seems to be one subject that rivals in popularity the opposition to standardized, high-stakes testing. It seems that most educators have an opinion on PD. There are so many aspects of this subject that one post will not cover it all. It may however, be able to at least frame a discussion.

The best first change for Professional Development would be to rename it. PD has become a hot button issue amongst many educators. Since each district develops its own policy, there are some districts that do a fine job. Based on comments by many educators on social media sites however, these districts seem to be few, and far between. In addition to district mandates, there are also different PD requirements enforced by individual states.  Before the movement to change the name takes hold, let’s talk about PD as we know it today.

The most recent statements supported by Secretary Duncan tell us that a teacher with Master’s degree has little effect on students’ learning. Following this line of reasoning through, it would seem that the government would want our teachers to begin and end with a bachelor’s degree. Of course that would be a less expensive way to go, but the burden on PD would be that much greater in the future.

Demanding that any labor force spend time beyond that which is established by the job description requires that the employer pay the employee additional compensation. Since PD requires a time commitment in addition to an educator’s work week, this is what is done in most districts. Of course, if the school district is paying for additional hours, it has a right to make requirements for what it expects. Those requirements often become a point of contention.  This seems to create an “Us vs. Them” dynamic and the beginning of the PD problems.

Regardless of how far any educator travels in his or her academic career, information does not stop flowing when the degree is conferred. Although teachers are expected to be content experts, the content itself continues to develop and evolve. Of course that may not be as true for Math as other subjects, but most content for most academic areas continues to accumulate and evolve. Experts cannot be experts if they do not keep up with the evolving content. A writing teacher who knows nothing of blogging is a questionable expert. A social studies teacher without an understanding of social media can hardly explain the revolution taking place in the Middle East.

Aside from the continuing development in content areas, the methods used to teach and learn also continue to evolve. Methods are also affected by the culture of our society and that continues to change. The Huck Finn controversy certainly underscores this. The culture of the community, or the school itself, has an incredible effect on the school’s approach to learning. Sharing and reflecting on the ways we teach is the best way to change and evolve. The introduction of Social Media to PD gives it a new dimension. Ning sites creating collaborative learning communities; Twitter and Facebook connecting educators locally and globally; YouTube enabling creation of content to be shared and commented upon, are all influences of social media that affect culture.

With the rapid advancement of technology, the tools for learning are changing continually. Whatever tools teachers used in their methods classes in years past, would be hard pressed to be found today. Of course, Overheads and PowerPoint are still around. The concepts of Social networks, mobile learning devices, web 2.0, webinars, podcasts, blended learning, and cloud computing are new to all. They will have a huge impact on learning, but unless educators are up to speed, they will not have an effect in education. That is when education becomes irrelevant because our educators are technology illiterate.

Approaching PD as an extra item in a labor contract may not be the best approach. PD is something that should be part of the work week. It needs to be there in order to maintain relevance for all educators. It cannot be a one size fits all approach. Different educators have different needs. We insist on this for our students, why not for our educators.

The best hope we have for real reform may lie in reforming PD first. IT directors are tech content experts, and may not know what educators need to know in order to teach their respective subjects. Educators are content experts in their respective areas, and technology is not necessarily their strength. Educators need to learn what to ask, and IT managers need to learn how to answer to meet the needs of the educators. IT people seem to view many problems as insurmountable obstacles and are quick to deliver edicts and bans to stop the problems from occurring, rather than trying to solve the problem. IT staff are educators of educators. The same approach of guidance and patience to analyze and problem-solve should be employed by IT people when working with educators.

Administrators have a big role in PD as well. Too often when it comes to PD, administrators use the “do as I say, not as I do” method. They need to be a part of the PD as well. They are the leaders in education, and that requires that they must be out front. Being out front requires some idea of what is going on. Too often, too many administrators have no clue. If PD can lead education to reform our leaders must be there as well. Sitting in an office having IT directors develop PowerPoint presentations for board meetings does not make for cutting edge educational leadership. I know not all Administrators fall in this category, but what is an acceptable percentage of those who do?

If we want reform in education, we better start paying attention to how educators learn and teach to enable that learning. They are not yet teachers when they leave their college classrooms with a degree. Great teachers come from what they learn in their own classrooms as a teacher. They need guidance and support to maintain relevance in the ever-changing world for which they are preparing kids. To be better teachers and better leaders, we need to first be better learners. Without a thoughtful system in place to enable that, the results will be limited at best.

Instead of forcing a merit pay model in education, which will not work, let’s consider using that money differently. Why not use it to compensate teachers who are being successful with their methods and are willing to share their methods with colleagues. Teacher to teacher sharing is a great way to professionally develop teachers. It also supports innovation and excellence in learning. When asked how to reform education, we should consider reforming how we educate our educators, and our educational leaders. We need to reform Professional Development in order to reform education.

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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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