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Ozpicture-640x400The worst advocates for educators using social media for do it yourself professional development are those educators who have been successful developing their own do it yourself professional development. This probably applies to other successful educator undertakings as well. Many of those educators who achieve success with innovative ideas tend to expound on the achievements and benefits of their strategy, method, or project, which tends to overwhelm those educators exposed to it for the first time. This alone, seems to scare off some educators to even being open to considering change.

I remember attending an education conference back in the early 90’s and seeing the most impressive presentation on education that I had ever seen before. It incorporated every bell and whistle that Apple hardware and presentation software had to offer. There was a standing ovation from the entire audience at the end. Of course during the question and answer period I had to ask: How long did this take to prepare this presentation? The answer made me feel stupid at my own lack of understanding for what I just witnessed. The answer was simple, 48 years. The presentation was based on this person’s life experience through the lens of an educator.

Too often we buy the sizzle, but miss the steak. We don’t pay enough attention to what it takes to get to that success that impresses us so much. A Personal Learning Network consisting of thousands of collegial sources did not develop in a few months. A successful project, using project based learning methodology, was not the result of mapping out a lesson plan the night before. A school does not go to 1:1 laptops by merely handing out the hardware on a special school tech day.

If any change is to successfully take place in any aspect of education, it will take an understanding of the foundation for that change. Preparing the educators who will implement and support that innovation is key in any plan for change. Providing collaborative time to support those educators is essential. Allowing time to deal with and correct failures in the development of that change cannot be overlooked.

Of course all of this is obvious and makes perfect sense as we read through this post, but I constantly meet with educators who have horror stories about the lack of support, training, collaboration, or even a basic understanding of the needs for educators in order to implement any innovation in their class, school, or district.

It is unrealistic to expect a wizard will come along and enable us to make all of the needed changes for education today and to be relevant, authentic, and meaningful to kids just by waving a wand and mumbling some cryptic words. We need to pull back that curtain behind the wizard and expose what hard work really needs to be done to achieve that needed change.

Educators are inclined to help and teach kids. Every educator must be more than a content expert. They need to be masters of pedagogy, methodology, and now technology as well. The ongoing problem is that all of these components of education are continually evolving as a result of a rapidly changing, technology-driven society. We need to keep our educators up to date with those changes taking place so rapidly. Change is never easy for anyone. Comfort zones are the biggest deterrents to change. The wave of a wand will always be preferred to the hard work required to change, but there are no magic wands. If we are to better educate our kids we need to first better educate their educators. Evolution in education does not only fall on teachers, it requires a large commitment from all constituents in an education community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Recently, I have read a number of posts and tweets about how people are unfollowing their accumulated “follows” on Twitter in large numbers. I guess at least some of this action was generated by a proclaimed “national unfollow day” that was made up and broadcast out by someone with a little media influence. Of course we should not tell folks how to use Twitter, since it is a matter of personal preference as to how each user uses it and what each gets from it, so the best we can do is model what we see as successes in our own personal use. It is also important to note that many educators use Twitter as part of their Personal Learning Network to personalize their learning. That should require an initial screening or vetting of those to be followed. An educator’s Twitter account is not typical of those who use Twitter for general social media interaction.

These unfollow posts had me look at my personal Twitter numbers. I have been on Twitter for many years and now follow 3,766 tweeters, mostly educators. No, I do not read each and every tweet streaming into my timeline. After seeing these postings, I wondered whether I should be unfollowing large numbers from my own account. Before I was to take any action however, I needed to figure out why I followed these folks in the first place. What was my personal follow policy?

Twitter is based on People being connected to other people. If one is connected to a specific group of people with a specific interest, the tweets will be mostly geared to that interest. If educators follow educators, the abundance of subject matter coming across through tweets will be education based. When I consider whether or not to follow someone, not being an educator or education affiliated is a major factor.

Another factor is that by following someone it encourages him or her to follow you back. Having more educators follow you back increases your reach and that increases your influence, as long as you are also thoughtful and rational in your ideas. All of this in turn develops and increases the number of followers that you acquire over time. Yes, it is a numbers thing. However, even considering the arguments for follows that I have put forward here, always remember the most important thing is whom you follow and not who follows you. Using Twitter professionally as part of a Personal Learning Network is most successful if it uses the right numbers, educator specific numbers. The greater number of great educators you follow will increase the odds for best results in gaining valuable education sources.

My follow numbers have been built up over the years with education bloggers and authors who clearly offer education ideas. I also add people who intelligently participate in education Twitter chats. I follow many educators that I meet and have contact with at local, state, national, and global education conferences.

Of course the primary method I use in gathering people I follow is by following those who engage me in conversation on Twitter. I consider it an acknowledgement of respect for another educator who has put him or herself out there to engage and hopefully collaborate on subjects dealing with education. That is how I have built up my Follow list. The method for reducing that list with “unfollows” is to unfollow negative influences. I unfollow those who are in my estimation mindless naysayers, disrespectful of others, or social media bullies. Hence, my Follow list has grown to an almost unmanageable number.

Manageable is very important when it comes to Twitter. The simplicity of Twitter when dealing with large numbers can be overwhelming complex. There are apps for that!

Out of necessity I use an application other than Twitter to organize and manage the Tweets that do stream to my account. I use a free application called TweetDeck to organize my account. Hootsuite is another app that does similar things. Both allow me to create specific lists of Tweeters and follow them in their own column. Even though I maintain my main timeline that streams all of the Tweets from those who I follow. I have other columns that I follow more closely. I follow a column just dedicated to the #Edchat Hashtag as one example. Additionally, I have a list of about 140 people who I have most closely associated with over my years on Twitter. I call this “My Twitter Stalwart List”. Accessing anyone’s Twitter profile gives access to his or her public lists. Anyone can follow the people on those lists with a simple click. Here is my list that you can follow: https://twitter.com/tomwhitby/lists/my-twitter-stalwarts/members

It is also important to note that in order to receive Direct Messages from people they must be following each other. The person needs to be following you, as you need to be following back in order for the DM to happen.

I know of several prominent education thought leaders who limit their follows to less than 100. I don’t get it because I use Twitter differently than they do. That is the point. People use Twitter in the ways they need to use it. However, the more people understand how Twitter works and what the possibilities are, the better choices they can make in personalizing their own learning.

If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

 

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I have been very fortunate to travel both nationally and internationally to attend education conferences. A primary benefit of this is having great conversations with various types of educators. With so many of these conversations taking place on a regular basis, I find myself often depending on an opening question that resides on a short list of questions in my head. I have teacher questions, principal questions, and superintendent questions. Most of these questions are geared to being connected. Unfortunately, too often I need to first define what being connected means.

Since I have become so immersed in the concept of connectedness through social media, I too often forget that not every educator gets it yet. It has only taken me a decade to understand that. I have trouble understanding why so many educators are still clueless about the need for collaboration and its link to social media and technology? Of course, as a former teacher, I, rightly or wrongly, hold administrators to a higher standard, believing leaders should lead. My need to hold admins more accountable led me to ask (out of ignorance) in a recent Edchat, ” Why are there no standards for administrators?” Someone immediately provided: Accomplished Principal Standards from the National Board Certification for Educational Leaders First Edition National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 1525 Wilson Boulevard l Arlington, VA 22209 USA www.nbpts.org. I finally had an official document to tell me what is truly expected of school principals in order to be considered “Accomplished”. Of course that is not to say that all principals are accomplished, but it is at the very least a goal.

As I perused the extensive document, I came to the section IX. Reflection and Growth. It was an affirmation of my doubts about principals who are not connected being, or at the very least becoming increasingly irrelevant in the 21st Century model of education. Extending this out in my own head, if it applied to principals, it surely applied to superintendents as well. Here is the passage that most caught my attention:

Accomplished principals use technology as a powerful learning tool. They may participate in digital networks for communication among professional colleagues, use social networking tools for informal learning, or take part with professional colleagues in online learning communities. These principals use such learning opportunities to consistently reflect on ways to improve their practice of leadership.

 

This now provided a much better and focused set of questions that I could expect administrators to have an understanding.

Here is my new list of admin questions:

 

1 Do you consider yourself an accomplished administrator?

2 What digital networks do you use for your communication with professional colleagues?

3 What social networking tools do you employ for your informal learning?

4 In what ways are you using these connected opportunities to reflect and improve your practice?

5 How has technology impacted your learning?

 

Of course I am a retired teacher, author, and Blogger, so I can ask these questions with impunity. I risk nothing posing these questions to administrators. Working educators do not have that luxury. There could be grave consequences if they posed these same questions to their administrators. How do we hold administrators responsible for meeting standards posed by their own professional organizations to maintain what should be expected of any 21st Century administrator? Are these standards only for good public relations, or are they really what should be expected or better yet demanded of every administrator?

I have always said that to better educate our kids we need to first better educate their educators. I think I should also now say that, if we are to hold our teachers to higher standards as 21st Century educators, we need to first align their leaders to those same standards. Feel free to print this out and place it in an administrator’s mailbox if they are not an administrator who would view this online as “Accomplished Principals Standards” suggest.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The title of this post immediately kills any chance of a large-numbered readership when it posts on ASCDEdge. For some reason any post with Twitter in the title does not do well with a general population of educators. Social media as a source of professional development has yet to catch on in large numbers among educators. There is however a growing number of educators using Twitter who look for strategies to better serve them in social media for collaborative learning. Whom should I follow on Twitter and how do I find them are key questions that need to be addressed.

First, we must understand that the worst advocates for collaborating with Twitter are more often educators who are collaborating through Twitter. They tend to overwhelm the non-users or new users with elaborate stories of the astonishing wonders of Twitter, as well as all of their astounding Twitter connections. They create an image in a newcomer’s mind that intimidates and scares them from engaging. Additionally, advocates often use jargon and acronyms of experienced Twitter users that do not communicate well with the novice while further mystifying the process. I will attempt to keep it simple.

The Follow Concept

To understand how Twitter works one needs to understand that the only information one gets is from the people who one follows. That is why when we first signed up on Twitter, there were no tweets in our timeline. We were not yet following anyone. The first reaction of an educator is to ask where are all these sources people are talking about?

Of course the first thing a newbie starts to do is follow the famous people, mostly entertainers and athletes. The timeline then begins to show their Tweets, mostly Public Relations, or fan related tweets. But where are the education Tweets that will get me collaborating, you might now ask. They don’t exist if you are not following educators, even more precisely, if you are not following the right educators. Following ten actors, ten singers, two politicians, and the art teacher down the hall will not generate many education sources, unless the Art teacher down the hall is also an adjunct education professor.

The Timeline

The key to getting many helpful education tweets containing sources that a teacher may use in the classroom is to follow many, many classroom teachers. Of course to pinpoint your specific education interests you will need to pinpoint those whom you follow as well. A third grade teacher may want to follow many other third grade teachers. A math teacher would concentrate on following other math teachers. As you build your Personal Learning Network (PLN) of collegial sources, you will find people outside your specific realm of interest that will also add value to your learning. As all of these “follows” Tweet their information out, your timeline begins to be populated with tweets giving education information and sources. Of course if you are also following your fantasy football team, you will have a great many football tweets as well. You may want to consider creating a separate account for your athletic gaming interests.

The Profile

All Twitter accounts have profiles. You should fill yours out so that people know you are an educator, as well as specifics that are unique to you in education. This is how many people judge whether or not to follow you, basing that decision on your profile. You may do the same thing. Go to a person’s profile to make sure they are an educator that would add value to your PLN. Of course you may unfollow anyone at anytime if they do not prove to be of value to you personally. They are not notified that you unfollowed them.

I often follow educators who engage me on Twitter but that is not a rule; it’s a personal choice. There are well-known Tweeting educators who follow less than 20 people. I follow over 3,000. NO, I do not read every tweet. It is a personal choice for my Personal Learning Network. You decide what you need.

Chats

There are hundreds of education chats taking place every day on Twitter. It is very easy to access and participate in these chats. It is a great place to identify educators that will enhance you PLN. Educators involved in these chats engage in education discussions that often expose their individual education philosophy and education experience. Follow those people from the chat that you believe may offer you value to your network.

Blogs

Blogs are a great place to find people to follow. The blogger lays it all out for everyone to see. You can quickly identify where any blogger stands on education. Most bloggers make it easy for you to follow on their site. Look for a “Follow Me” icon and click on it. Many bloggers are authors as well and they often attract other authors who guest post. Authors post their Twitter handle in their bios for people to follow.

Follow Lists

If you access a person’s profile, you can go down a little further and access their ‘Lists”. Many Tweeters create lists that they develop for groups of educators. They will use these lists to follow group members on a separate column on TweetDeck or Hootsuite. You may follow these educators as well by clicking the follow button next to each person on that list. It is not stealing. Additionally, you can follow anyone that person is following as well just by accessing his or her follow list.

A great way I have found is to start a newcomer out with a list of over a hundred educators to follow. These are people who I have followed for years. The timeline of that newcomer now immediately fills up with information and education sources. The entire collaborative element rapidly becomes crystal clear. This is my list: https://twitter.com/tomwhitby/lists/my-twitter-stalwarts/members

#Follow Friday or #FF

Friday for educators is known as Follow Friday. If no one explains what it is to you, you may go months seeing the #FF hashtag and never understanding what it represents. I didn’t get it for months. Friday is the day that Tweeters make recommendations of great people to follow. A tweet will go out with a twitter handle and why you should follow this person and then at the end the #FF hashtag. A shortcut method, less personal or informative would be to list a number of Twitter handles and the #FF hashtag. I personally like to give reasons to follow folks.

Conclusion

There it is, a strategy for following all laid out in simple terms. A big problem with collaborative learning through social media however is that it is not a passive activity. There is no way of getting around the work one needs to do in order to get positive results. Having a plan or a strategy does make things easier. Focusing on following educators, who themselves are focused, makes for best results. Don’t just follow those whom you agree with, but follow those who challenge you as well. The most important thing to remember in Twitter: Big numbers of followers may impress some people, but whom you follow is far more important than who follows you.

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One Education Twitter chat that precedes all others is #Edchat. It was founded July 30, 2009 and has run continuously ever since. For those who are not Twitter chat savvy, a Twitter chat originally was a discussion that uses a specific hashtag to conduct a real-time chat on a specific subject. Of course education chats are education-specific. Typically, they run about an hour in length and are running on set periodic schedules.

Here is a site that updates chat schedules:

https://sites.google.com/site/twittereducationchats/education-chat-calendar

My original intent in creating #Edchat was to involve people in an in-depth, organic conversation on a single given topic. It was not easy to run and it might have been even more difficult to participate. We had never done a chat before. It is my opinion that participation requires involvement and not just observation. Those involved in the chat are creators, while those just lurking and observing are merely consumers.

Participation in a chat is not always easy. It requires an understanding of the chat in order to affect a working strategy to participate. It is fairly impossible to follow and interact with every participant. My strategy is to engage a small group of participants by tweeting my own opinions and questions on the prevailing topic. People who respond are drawn into my circle of influence. On other occasions I work off of questions and opinions of others to invite myself into their circles.

I have been asked on several occasions to guest host a chat. I am usually invited to chat about collaborative learning, or connected PD. On more than one occasion the owners of the chats presented me with a number of questions they wanted to post over the course of the chat. They wanted them numbered: Q-1, Q-2, and Q-3 etc.… They wanted the participants to answer the numbered questions with numbered answers: A-1, A-2, A-3 etc.… I would not participate in those chats. I understand that it made things easier for some but that was painting by the numbers as far as I was concerned. What was the participants’ investment in that type of chat? They needed only to follow the numbered Q’s and answer with numbered A’s. Where was the thought? Where was the pushback? Where was the following of a progression of thought? Most importantly where was the learning? These chats had evolved into following a recipe. Q-1, A-1 move on to Q-2 and repeat.

Chats are difficult for a reason. People do not know what they will face as they enter the chat beyond the Topic. The discussion is determined by the participants. Where the chat goes should be totally directed by where the participants want to take it. Moderators are there to help and participate, but they should be taking their direction from the chat, not trying to direct it with pre-determined questions. This makes it more difficult to run, but it emphasizes a trust in the audience/participants to come through with concerns, solutions, or other more in-depth questions. We are adults and deserve the respect from chat owners to conduct ourselves as learners eager to find answers to questions within specified topics that we need to know. We need organic discussions and not scripted ones.

I understand why some chats have gone to the multiple question format, answering up to 10 questions during a 1-hour chat, but we have to ask what is being sacrificed in the name of simplicity? We have educators supporting rigor in education while they are trying to simplify their own learning. Although my personal preference is for the unscripted chat, there is no right way or wrong way of doing this. For some the only way they might be involved in any chat might be through the scripted chat. For many others the organic conversation that springs from the unscripted chat is the way they learn best. We are fortunate that any chats are now available to us as connected educators using social media for continuing professional development. Chats give transparency to education. We talk about our individual experiences on topics common to all. Chats are also a sounding board. Even more, they are a treasure trove for collegial sources, people who can help each other professionally. Participate in chats for all these reasons and to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing world.

#Edchat takes place every Tuesday at Noon and 7 PM Eastern Time zone. There are different Topics for each chat. Archives are found at http://edchat.pbworks.com/w/page/219908/FrontPage.

#Edchat Radio Show on The BAM Radio Network is a weekly analysis of the week’s chat with myself and Nancy Blair hosting with a different guest each week http://www.bamradionetwork.com/edchat-radio/.

#Edchat Moderators include: @tomwhitby, @blairteach, @ShiftParadigm, @wmchamberlain, @lookforsun, @web20classroom and archivist, @jswiatek

If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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I posed an #Edchat Topic recently based on a number of studies I have been reading about that are claiming millions of dollars are being spent, or wasted, on professional development, while very few teachers are benefitting from it. Again the age-old story of doing things the same old way but expecting different results defeats us as a profession. The method of doing professional development for educators has largely not changed over the decades. It may be time to re-examine a few things.

 

Pedagogy vs. Andragogy

I have addressed this in several earlier posts, but it needs to be re-stated until people finally begin to understand that there are differences in how adults effectively learn, andragogy, compared to the motivations in learning by children, which is pedagogy. Pedagogy is what most educators are familiar with because it was taught to them to enable them to teach kids. It is how kids learn best. The natural thing for an educator to do when he or she is teaching a professional development course however is to go with what he or she knows. The result is that professional development is taught to adults as if they were children learners. How effective is that result going to be?

 

Collaboration vs. Lecture

Key factors in adult learning, or the intrinsic motivations for adults to learn are ownership of the learning to meet personal needs and being able to use tomorrow what’s learned today. As a whole adults are better with collaborative learning since it gives them control to direct the learning to what they need to know. It also exposes them to things they may not be aware of through the experiences of others. Conversation is often the best way for them to learn. As an adult, think about your own experiences with how you have most recently learned things successfully. Do not use your childhood experiences of learning.

 

Conferences vs. Unconferences

Most professional development today is often based on Power Point Presentations. These are nothing more than elaborate lectures. It is a lecture enhanced with visual aids, bells and whistles. If done properly, and not a victim of a death by power point delivery (having every word on every slide read to the audience by the presenter) these presentations are sometimes interesting. The question is, how much was retained by the audience? How many will take action on that lecture the next day in class with their students?

These presentation sessions are the mainstay of most education conferences that are counted on for professional development in the United States. All of these sessions are scheduled in elaborate form so that this menu of sessions can be presented to the attendees in a printed form. The only choice for events are those on the menu which for the most part were arranged through RFP’s almost a year prior to the conference. This holds true in local, state, regional and national conferences of most education organizations.

The Unconference or the Edcamp Model is completely different. It does not rely on Power Point Presentation sessions. It relies on conversational, collaborative sessions led by those who are either familiar with a topic, or by those who are interested in learning about the topic. The attendees decide upon the entire Edcamp schedule of sessions on the morning of the conference. It is designed to meet the needs of their interests. They have control of their own learning, which is a key factor of andragogy.

 

One way for everyone vs. Individualized instruction

 Gathering up all of the staff and forcing them all into sessions in order to check off a box stating that PD was delivered is no way to professionally develop a staff with knowledge, tools, or a mindset that is relevant to their needs. We need to take some time to determine a few things. What it is that the school must provide to reach its goal? What it is that the teachers and administrators have that will help get to that goal? What is the gap that each teacher or administrator must fill between what they know and practice and what they need to achieve the school’s goals? It will obviously be a range of things that will need to be individualized. There may be some common threads that may be presented to groups with similar needs, but a baseline for every individual needs to be established. Technology is often the area of most needed concern. It is the area that continually evolves and requires frequent visitations in order for users in this case teachers to maintain their relevance. Assessments are not done once and finished. They need to be done periodically to accommodate the changes that occur.

Here is a needs assessment form that was used in some North Carolina schools as an example:

School Technology Needs Assessment

Conclusion

 Professional Development over the last decades has not worked in education. If it were working we would not be spending all of the time and money on trying to reform the system. As a profession we deal in information and content. We are both consumers and creators. We also impart those methods of consuming and creating to kids. Everything that we rely on to consume and create however is changing at a rate never before experienced. This is all a result of living in a technology-driven society.Technology will continue to evolve and change and this will be a constant. Educators will need to be, to use a tech term, upgraded from time to time. Our problem right now is that we have not yet done it properly, so teachers and administrators are all over the map with experience. We need to account for where each is and get each to where they should be and update accordingly from there.

It is a waste and morally irresponsible to throw money at professional development without considering how it should be done. If it is not working and we know that from our assessment, then we need to change what we are doing. We are educators and we should know how to do this. One poor teacher makes all teachers look bad. Many poor teachers make things far worse. Perhaps the reality is that we have fewer poor teachers, but a number who simply need upgrading. To better educate our kids, we first need to better educate their educators.

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What is it about a mandated, contractually obligated, professional development conference that inspires some teachers and completely turns off many others? Why do some teachers glow with excitement at conferences and many others complain as they go through the motions? Is it the conference itself, or the attitude of the educators attending, or a combination of both?

When it comes to professional development for educators, conferences are believed to offer a great deal of choice with usually a seemingly wide array of sessions and workshops for educators to choose from to fill their blank schedules for a full day of learning. That is at least what is in the minds of the conference planners as they spend a huge amount of time planning these events. They seem to concentrate on the how and what of education, but fall short of the why.

The why refers to why we do things in the first place? Without at least discussions on that subject of why we should, or should not do certain things in order to examine their relevance, we might find we are doing things just because that’s the way they have always been done. To simplify an example: that is why we teach keyboarding and not typing. There are no longer any typewriters, but keyboards abound. Of course all of that goes out the window with mobile devices where thumbs and pointer fingers rule the keys. The point is that we examined why we were teaching typing, and found that we needed to teach something else to stay relevant, keyboarding.

We need more sessions in conferences that use panels to examine why we do the things that we do and engage educators in that discussion. We need more individuals leading discussions to explore and to challenge various things that we do in education. These panels and discussions should be sprinkled through conferences and repeated at least once, so that schedule conflicts will be less conflicted.

CHOICE in professional development is one of the biggest deterrents to learning. Yes, I said it. I know we are adults, and we are capable of making choices and we will all fight to the death to maintain that right of choice, but in most cases it doesn’t work. People do not know what they do not know; yet they will still make choices without sufficient information to do so. Why would an Administrator choose to attend a session on Blogging when he/she has no interest? That Admin might get a better understanding of why he/she should be blogging, as well as the need for their staff and students to blog, if they attended such a session. Again, this will be a selection that will probably not be made, because that admin did not have enough information to make an informed choice. The same applies to teachers choosing not to attend certain sessions based, not on their knowledge of a subject, but rather their lack of knowledge. I know we can’t know everything, but we need to recognize and admit to that. Maybe we are not capable of free choice 100% of the time in professional development.

Another question is how many people will choose to attend a session that takes them out of their comfort zone? Admittedly, some do make that hard choice, but the majority of folks in attendance will not make that uncomfortable choice unless they are attending the conference with a friend who drags them into such a session. These conferences need to find a way to allow for some choice while limiting it in other ways. Maybe a “Chinese menu style” conference with two choices from Column A and three from Column B for every attendee might be a solution. Column A would be pedagogy, methodology, and education philosophy sessions with panels and discussions, and Column B would be the how to sessions.

My final critique on these conferences is one I have made in the past. Most of the sessions in these conferences are conducted by teachers who are presenting to attendees on how they teach in class with specific tools. This is usually an explanation with a PowerPoint presentation. It is a reasonable assumption that they run these sessions based on their experience as a teacher teaching children. Their methodology becomes flawed because adults do not benefit from pedagogy. Adults learn differently. Andragogy is adult learning. Conversation and collaboration work best for adults, not sit and get while sitting in rows. This is why the sessions that usually get the highest ratings from participants are the sessions that addressed the participants as adults to meet their needs.

None of this is new. I have addressed these issues many times since I began as an education blogger. I think the term “yelling into the wind’ comes to mind whenever I cover this topic. If we prioritize professional development as a continuing need in education, eventually someone might listen to these suggestions. When that happens in whatever decade it does, please remember you heard it here first.

I must add to this that the people who plan these conferences are hard-working, dedicated individuals who do their best to provide the conferences with which they have been entrusted with the best presentations available. They do the best they can based on what they have experienced from other conferences.

Maybe we need apply that “why” question here. Why are we doing this conference? If it is to get educators to learn more about their profession and teach more efficiently and effectively with purpose and understanding, then maybe we need to change things up. Let’s teach teachers in ways that they learn best. If we are still teaching for the typewriter in this age of computers, we have it all wrong. We need to re-examine, re-evaluate, and re-vamp what we do with education conferences and professional development. To better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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