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Archive for the ‘Reform’ Category

Several decades ago I read an article that I believe was in Time Magazine on the most difficult jobs in America. The article defined a difficult job based on the number of impactful decisions a person had to make in a day. Listed, as one of the most difficult jobs, was that of an eighth grade English teacher. I was surprised to read that, but I was in full agreement, since I was at the time an eighth grade English teacher. A decision is made by considering the information available and making a choice, or taking a course of action. The best decisions can be made when the best and most complete information is available.

A glaring obstacle to change and hopefully improvement in our education system, which needs to be addressed, is that educators don’t always know what they don’t know, but make decisions with the information they have. Making decisions with limited information often limits the potential of progress.

If there is one fact that can be established as a result of the use of technology it is that technology promotes and accelerates innovation and change. The rate of change in our computer-driven society is happening at a pace never seen before in history. These changes affect almost every aspect of our lives. Keeping up with these changes has become a challenge for everyone. We can argue whether this change is good or bad, but the fact is that this change is real and ongoing, like it or not. Making decisions becomes more difficult because the information used to make the decision might be different within a year. This has been underscored time and time again when we consider industries like: typewriters, telephones, Kodachrome film, cassettes, record albums and the list goes on.

Teaching deals with information in all of its forms. Teaching kids how to curate, analyze, critically think, collaborate, communicate and ultimately create information is the goal of education. We are also trying to instill a love of learning and flexibility to change in order to promote life long learning in every student. In order to do that effectively and efficiently is difficult enough, but in today’s world we need to do that with as much relevance as possible. We need to be relevant today because our kids will be living in a world that will be more advanced than we are now as a result the effect of technological influences for change.

As a teacher of the 70’s I can say that it was certainly easier back then. Things were more rigid and more reliable. Change was slow. Teachers could teach the same curriculum year after year and be considered to be a dependable educator. This is not what we want for our kids today, but for the most part, this has changed, or at least we would like to think so.

If we want our educators to make the best decisions for our kids, we need to insist that they consider the best and most complete information available. We need to make decisions that are based on relevant information. Relevance has become a component of education in a system that is so affected by rapid change, a difficult task indeed.

Teachers may no longer earn a degree and expect that degree to carry them through a 30-40 year career without some additional form of training or education to retain their relevance. Does our present system promote or even allow for this? Do districts provide relevant professional development for their educators? Are the decision-makers, who are deciding on relevant PD, relevant themselves? If teachers are to make their own choices on PD, are they making the right choices? Do they select PD choices that are needed, but might be uncomfortable to do? Are they up to date on what areas in education are leading edge ideas? Are they aware of all of the choices available to them?

If we all agree that Professional Development should be prioritized, ongoing, and supported with time and money, than let us consider what PD we actually have. Relevance is a key factor in making PD decisions. A big problem with our current system may be that decision makers who need to make relevant decisions are themselves irrelevant. How can educators make decisions on the best PD to enrich them, when they are unaware of the PD strands that are current or even available?

It is a problem when we reach a point where educators don’t know what they don’t know.

Adult learning, collaboration, and social media should all be components of our Professional Development. Time for collaboration, common planning periods, and reflection time should be included in our Professional Development. Having staff members in some form supporting or coaching teachers developing and adopting new methodology should be included in our Professional Development. Moving from the 20th century teacher-centered methodology and mindset to a more student-centered 21st century approach should be included in our Professional Development. Supporting educators to believe they can expand and change with a supportive school culture should be included in our Professional Development. The idea that we are all life long learners becoming a belief and not just an alliterate phrase should be included in our Professional Development.

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

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I recently returned from my yearly trek to ISTE, one of the largest education technology conferences to be held annually. This year better than 22 thousand educators were in attendance in Chicago for three days. While there I spoke to many educators about their experiences and noted some common threads in their responses. Of course this was very unscientific, but for me some things were painfully obvious.

The ‘Wow factor” was common to many of their comments. I understand that the tech companies tend to highlight their latest bells and whistles for education conferences, but many of these educators were being impressed with the bells and whistles of years gone by. I understand that teacher attendance at conferences is usually not budgeted for in school budgets, so many educators do not usually, or should I say rarely attend National conferences, but there are other methods of maintaining relevance as a professional educator. Those educators who attended ISTE on their own dime should be commended. Of course this should not be the sole responsibility of each educator, but rather a shared responsibility with the school district. This unfortunately is not something that a great many districts even consider.

Of course there was another common comment that was all too often given up by educators: “ Oh, my district could never afford this technology stuff”, or other similar comments in regard to funding tech initiatives. How we fund our education is in large part the greatest factor to what each district has to offer. Obviously this is now a leading issue of many states being voiced and exposed by statewide, educator-supported demonstrations. Hopefully, some states will pay attention to the very people who should be making education decisions.

The third observation that I made was the idea that almost all education and tech conferences support the separation of tech and education. To me this is the greatest deterrent to changing how we view education. We no longer have a choice as educators to include technology in how we approach learning. Our students will be expected to utilize tech in almost every aspect of their professional careers and at almost every level, even for jobs we don’t know yet exist. The majority of their future positions may not even yet exist, but I am confident that technology will be a good part of those as well.

Of course a good teacher doesn’t need technology to teach. A good teacher can be effective with a stick used to scribble on a dirt floor. That however would only impart knowledge to their students. How those students would then curate, collaborate, and communicate that information to create, will require the use of technology provided by their computer-driven society in which they must live, survive and hopefully thrive. Of course some will go off to live in tech-free communes somewhere in the backwoods of America, but that will never be the majority.

Is our education system, as it stands today, meeting the needs of all of our kids? That is a question that has no clear answer. If you point to statistics using learning within schools providing access to tech, I would say the numbers are a little squishy. It will be pointed out that some school has x number of computers and it is only doing marginally better than another school with far less tech. My questions would be what is the teaching culture like? What is the teacher training like? What is the preparation and planning time like? What is the administrative support like?

There is a big difference in providing tech to a teacher who is prepared and enthusiastic for its use, then to a teacher who doesn’t like tech, is uncomfortable using it and is more comfortable with a 20th century approach to education. Just measuring the boxes put in the classroom is not an effective measurement of the impact of technology.

If we are ever to change the education system that we have in place now, we need to first change the culture of education. We need to educate educators regularly to maintain relevance. Technology and innovation both foster rapid change. If we are not educating educators accordingly, they will lose relevance. We need to promote the idea of life long learning, not just for our kids, but for out adults as well. That is the world that we now live in. Change and the ability to adjust to it is a key to learning and maintaining relevance.

Technology and education are no longer separate entities. They are intertwined because of where and how we live and will continue to live going forward. Education will use technology as a tool for curation, communication, collaboration, and what we always strive to accomplish, creation. The skills preparation in school will then reflect the needs of the community. In order for our students to understand this, we need to get our teachers and their administrators to get it first. That is the best way to prioritize and budget for effective and efficient ways to approach both content and skills development for our kids. All of this will require a change in the way we approach professional development. We need a nationwide, holistic approach, rather than the scattered patchwork approach, varying from district to district that we have supported for centuries and continue to support. If we are to better educate our kids, we first need to better educate their educators.

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It has been quite awhile since I have written a post. I think I might be in a state of depression as a result of my addiction to television News shows and the recent development of an affliction that I refer to as “screen screaming”. Getting beyond the political turn of events of recent history, I also find myself frustrated and depressed over the slow pace of change in education that we have witnessed since the turn of the century. Why is it that so much of what education thought-leaders have been advocating for, in order to dramatically change the education system for the better, has yet to take root in any significant way? Many of the practices that have been identified as stymieing the system are still common practice in too many school systems today.

The big question that educators often ponder seems to be: In this age of technology and innovation does technology improve student learning? Of course that is a big question with research supporting both sides of the argument. I think however that there are other questions, which must be answered in order to gauge the effects of technology our education system.

My first question is: What has technology affected in the everyday lives of educators and support staff that improves their conditions? I tend to use my own experience and observations in addressing this since I began teaching in the early 70’s, before any real significant influence of technology on education, calculators not withstanding. Tech has certainly improved and simplified the ability to record data over the years, freeing up time for teachers. Of course that free time might be lost if teachers are loaded up with new additional stuff to record on students. Tech has given educators an ability to increase their connections with other educators through social media and collaborative applications to exchange ideas and share sources. Certainly this collaboration could be a positive influence and a great source of professional development if promoted and supported by an innovative and creative administration. It is impossible to get “out-of-the-box” teaching and learning when teachers are restrained by “in-the-box” management.

Technology has changed the dynamic of curating information for teachers and students. It gives access to information never before so readily available, or so easily curated. Technology also enables users the ability to publish acquired information in various formats for consumption by others. Additionally, it offers a means in many cases to analyze data in ways that could not be done so easily before technology had become so ubiquitous.

Communication has been upended by technology. There are many ways for people to communicate. We have gone way beyond the dial up telephone. Not only can we communicate with voice, but we can also transmit documents, files, videos, audio files, and live streaming. Gutenberg and Bell would most certainly be impressed.

Access to all of these wonders of technology requires a different mindset than that of the early 20th century. It requires the ability to be flexible and adapt to the constant changes that come with technology. It requires one to commit to being a lifelong learner. It also requires a strict adherence to critical thinking in order to recognize, that which offers value from that which is crap.

Now let us consider what teachers need to survive and thrive in their world today in order to be relevant to their students in what they must teach and the methods they use in the time that they have to deal with their students. Technology affords them time-saving methods to deal with the required bureaucratic minutia. It also offers the ability to maintain relevance in the tech-driven, fast-paced, changing environment of information exchange. Access to information at anytime is also a tech-added benefit for teachers. 24/7 communication access can also benefit educators accessing their administrators, collegial sources, students, or parents.

Now let us consider what students will need to know in order for them to survive and thrive in the technology-driven world that they will occupy, as opposed to the world that their educators grew up in. We want kids to be able to communicate, collaborate, curate, critically think, and most importantly create while using Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic.

All of this is now happening and will continue to happen in a world that is technology driven. We do not get any say in how much technology will continue to change and drive change. We can only prepare for the inevitable change by developing a generation of flexible life long learners who can assess and adapt to new information.

If my observations are even somewhat accurate, why is our education system so slow in developing methodologies that are supportive of teachers learning and using technology with their students? Why aren’t educators learning along with their students the very things they were not exposed to as they grew and learned? Why are we not concentrating more on student-centered learning, as opposed to Teacher-driven teaching? Why are we not focusing more on collaborative learning as opposed to lecture and direct instruction? Why aren’t districts more in tune with supporting collaborative learning for their teachers in obtaining relevant professional development to teach kids for their own future?

Well, now that I sat down to write something on education, I find myself again screen screaming, but this time it has nothing to do with partisan politics. I guess the idea of comfort zones, traditions, and closed mindedness are just as frustrating when we recognize where we should be going, but only a few are willing to take a chance on innovation. Maybe politics and education have more in common than I thought. Just because you have always done it one way doesn’t mean it must continue that way. When the world around you changes, pay attention. If we are going to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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I recently read yet another article that questioned the effect of using technology in education. I believe it stated that there are 3.6 million educators using edtech as the basis for the post. The post itself was well done, but throughout my reading I was troubled by what defined an edtech-using educator. How is it determined that an educator is truly an edtech user?

I have been in meetings where educators had to fill out questionnaires asking about their technology experience. They claimed to be technology-using educators based solely on their use of Power Point for lectures. Technically using Power Point for a lecture does require technology, but that is like claiming to be a social media guru after using Facebook to only follow some family members who post their family vacation pictures at every opportunity.

If we were to do a survey of ten educators who claim to be edtech-users and six of them base their claim on power point lectures alone, and two use tech to send digital worksheets to their students, and the final two educators have students using tech apps for collaboration, curation, communication and creation of content, we could confidently claim that Edtech is not having a great effect on learning. It would be effective for probably less than 20% of the students. The next obvious question would be, how much of an effect is tech having on learning in the classes of those final two educators alone? I imagine the resulting percentage would be a much more positive influence than the other classes, but we lump everyone together.

If we are to establish data on the effects of technology in education, we need to first establish a valid method of evaluating the information from a level playing field. We need to evaluate the experience of the educators claiming to use it. Teachers, who have been identified as users of tech to teach need to, at the very least, be digitally literate. Consequently, we first need to define what is meant by digitally literate. It should not require that a person needs expertise on every application available, but it does assume at the least a comfort with some tools for collaboration, curation, communication and creation of content, the very things we want our students to learn. How many schools can claim a majority of their teachers and administrators have such a comfort level with technology?

In order to determine the effect of technology on learning for students, we need to establish the effects of technology on teaching for teachers. Let us collect data from tech-savvy teachers who model tech use as much as they would hope for their students’ use to be. We need to clearly state what we expect a technology-literate educator to be. It is no longer acceptable to allow educators or administrators to determine what they are minimally going to commit to when it comes to learning tech for professional development. We have reached a point where what was minimally accepted even five years ago is not acceptable now. We must have higher standards for educators if we have certain expectations for students. The education system does not create what society demands for students to survive and thrive in this technology-driven world. It does however need prepare kids for that very life.

Of course this will never be a popular position to take with most educators. They have all attended school for years to prepare for their positions. Their preparation to become an educator was left in the hands of the colleges and universities under the scrutiny of accreditation organizations. The question is how do those institutions stay relevant in an ever-changing technology-driven world?

If the demands of the world that we live in keep evolving and changing at a pace never before experienced in history, we need to adjust what we are doing to meet those demands. We cannot count on 20th Century methodology to prepare our kids for 21st Century demands. Before we redefine what we expect from our students, we need to first redefine what we expect from their educators. If we need to determine if technology is having a positive effect on learning, we need to determine if it is being equally provided to students by educators who have a thorough understanding of technology and are flexible enough to meet the inevitable changes that technology fosters. As always, if we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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A lingering general question hanging over the heads of all has been what effect does social media have on our society? That answer has never been so evident as it has been today as social media tools have been placed directly in the hands of the President of the United States, as well as foreign operatives. Social media is a very powerful tool that can have a lasting effect on what people do, and how they do it. Placing those social media technology tools in the hands of some of the most educated members of our society who have the greatest effect on future generations has had somewhat mixed results.

Education as a profession needs to recognize and accept the fact that we live in the 21st century and social media enables change that can happen much faster, and affect greater groups of people than any technology of the 20th Century, including radio and television. Change has always come slowly over the centuries and that was what we expected, change happening slowly giving us more time to adjust and adapt. Technology has changed that paradigm. Change is coming more quickly than many can adapt to and creating an uncomfortable situation for any profession that has been slow to change.

Social media enables collaboration, which for adult learning is the key to success for most adults. The best form of collaboration comes through conversation, which is often enabled by various social media tools. The key to accepting social media as a tool for learning comes in the term “Social”. This requires involving other people in order to have a conversation. This requirement precludes the use of social media being a passive endeavor. It takes time to learn the tools, time to learn the culture, and time to learn the strategies to effectively learn through social media. All of this discourages people from even attempting to change what has made them comfortable in their profession. It requires effort, time, and work.

This lack of engagement may be harmful to the profession of Education for two reasons. First, without social media access to collaboration, educators would be limited to face-to-face collaboration, which is provided by the everyday interaction with colleagues within a local area. It may be effective, but it is very limited when compared to the global collaborative opportunities and varied perspectives provided through social media. It is also limiting in the amount of experts in various aspects of education compared to that which are available provided by social media. Educators can use social media to hand-pick educators with like interests, and goals. Social media enables educators the ability to develop personal learning networks with hundreds of collaborative collegial sources to educate, critique, react, and generally engage for the goal of learning and collaborating professionally.

The second and maybe more important harm comes from the educator not modeling for students the need and the tools for collaboration as we move further into their future. The world in which our students will need to live and thrive will change even more rapidly than their educator’s world is experiencing today. Educators need to prepare their students with the skills and abilities to collaborate and learn long after the students leave today’s halls of academia. These skills and abilities will require digital literacy, for that will be required to use tools for communication, collaboration, consumption, curation, and creation.

There is no longer a debate as to whether or not social media is here to stay. There is no debate that collaboration is a leading method of learning. There has never been a debate over the need for professional development for educators to maintain relevance in their profession. Considering the seeming acceptance of all of this I question why there is still such hesitance on the part of so many educators to engage more in collaboration through social media? Limiting educators to the 20th century methodology of face-to-face collaboration is far too limiting in light of the potential of the collaboration possible using tools from social media.

School administrators need to re-evaluate policies dealing with social media in education. Educators need to become more digitally literate in regard to their own personal and professional learning. Providers of professional development need to promote more digital connections among educators to develop and maintain collegial sources for professional learning. Educators need to be more open to students’ use of technology for collaboration.

Failing to recognize the changes in the world and the effect of those changes on education and learning is a mistake that we can ill afford. Accepting the changes requires work on the part of every educator to learn, adapt and use tools that they may not yet be familiar with or may change along the way. This is hard and a true deterrent to real change. Our administrators and leaders need to take steps to support educators in making these changes. They may need to open some minds to incorporate that innovation that so many of our leaders say they want in education.

To better educate ours kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

 

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Couple assembles ikea furniture - which gender does it better

During a recent snowstorm I found myself perusing a list of recorded television shows on the DVR. While watching an episode of Bull, a show about scientific jury selection, or possibly jury manipulation, there was a term used by Dr. Bull that I had not heard before, “The IKEA Effect”. It was explained by the main character that it was a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they created. Of course this was a fictional TV show, so I had my doubts. I looked it up to confirm if it existed and sure enough, I found it to be a real thing.

On a personal level I found myself in agreement through my own experience with furniture that I had put together in the past, whether bought through IKEA or anywhere else it might have been purchased. Of course my personal reflection on this was not limited to furniture assembly. I also began to think about lessons, courses, and curriculum that I had developed or helped develop over my career.

As an educator I found that the things that I personally developed meant more to me and seemed more effective than things developed and contributed by others. This was probably because I had a clear understanding of the focus and intent of my own ideas. I was also clear about the whys and wherefores of changes that I may have made through reflection and results of formative assessments. I was also aware of the blemishes I would hope no one else would see. Although I have no personal experience with it, I imagine many educators may not feel the same types of connections with boxed curricula now being adopted by some schools.

The question I now have is, does this hold true for students as well as adults? I know that when my students were involved with the development of their own projects, as well as the rubrics that would be used for their assessment, they felt empowered in their own learning. They were very involved with the development of writing portfolios and often expressed a feeling of ownership for their own learning. These were feelings that kids do not get from lectures.

With all of this being considered, I wonder why there is still such resistance to teachers having a greater voice in what and how they teach. Additionally, why are so many teachers resistant to giving students greater voice in their own learning. As individuals I believe the more we have a say in what we do and how we do it, the more we take ownership of what we do. If teachers own their own teaching, would they not have a greater interest in its outcome? If students had a greater voice and choice in their learning, would their ownership of that learning not serve as a motivation to further expand their learning?

Our purpose in education should focus on enabling teachers to teach and teaching students how to learn. This should rely heavily on self-motivation, so that teachers own their teaching and students own their learning. Forcing tasks, information, lessons and curriculum that have little relevance to teachers or students impedes their ownership and only confuses or stifles teaching and education. Enabling more voice for teachers and students should be a key for 21st Century education.

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think-blogThis year I made a few changes to my WordPress Blog site. I removed all of the ads that WordPress placed on it and I now use my name as the domain name to more easily traffic readers to the site. As I did these things at a minimal cost, I questioned whether or not it was worth the effort. I questioned if any of the time, effort or money that I have committed, and continue to put in to all of this, is really worth it. Does the average person even know or understand what a blog is? Do professionals understand how blogs influence their profession? Are teachers using blogs as both relevant reading and writing tools? Are students using blogs to create their voice? Do people in general see any importance in blogging to reflect, question, criticize, or improve the world in which we live? Do blogs have a value in our world today that is at least understood, if not appreciated, by those who should? Does the access to blogs require too much tech savvy, critical thinking, and a mindset different from the 20th Century to prevent the acceptance of blogs as a change force in our 21st Century world? Will a large enough group of people even read this post to make a difference or will people need to print it out to share copies with others?

As a professional:

Since Blog posts require a little bit of “tech savvy”, I think many of today’s educators who blog are members of the larger connected community of educators. That community is collaborative through social media, and often those digital connections carry over to more face-to-face collaborations at education conferences and meet-ups. These connected communities represent many of the education thought leaders and authors guiding the direction of education today. Bloggers interact with educators digitally as well as their real world colleagues daily. Their reflections often mirror these interactions in their blog posts. The musings and conversations of the connected community often precede the faculty room and faculty meeting conversations taking place in schools by months. Of course the mainstream media often picks things up after they have been implemented. All of this gives Blog posts a relevance that is not seen in print media.

Blogs are interactive and relevant. Teachers have an opportunity to comment and interact with the authors and thought leaders giving them voice in the direction that education will take. In the past that educator’s voice has been too often absent over the shouts of politicians and business people

As a teacher:

Blogging is a great tool for teaching writing, reading, critical thinking, reflective thinking, respect for opinions, respectful argumentation, and relevance. As our society becomes more and more connected and collaboration is recognized, as a needed skill teachers will need to address these skills to prepare their students for a world where blogs are more commonplace than they are right now. More and more of our youth get their news from the Internet, yet we have failed to teacher them how to discern truth and fact from fabrications.

Students given an opportunity to establish a blog will tend to learn the skill of writing more willingly and quickly because they are writing for an audience of more than just the teacher. They have an authentic reason to learn and write. They establish a voice and look to use it as often as possible. None of this however is intuitive for most kids. The motivation for blogging can be strong, but the skills need to be taught by relevant educators who understand the power of authentic learning and the pressing need for 21st Century skills the tech-driven society in which our students will be forced to live, learn, compete and thrive.

As a student:

Blogging can open up the world for kids. It has the potential to give them voice in pursuit of their passions that are all too often suppressed by the system in which we educate them. Blogging can connect them with others who have similar interests. It enables students to direct their own learning by interacting and collaborating with others. Students can take ownership of their learning through blogging, a dynamic not available until the 21st Century.

As a member of society:

Of the many lessons we might have learned from the Presidential election of 2016, my main takeaway is that people will never ever gather and sift through information as they did up until and including the 20th Century. The 21st Century has provided a new way to get relevant information on a minute-to-minute basis. Blogs are a great part of that information gathering. Are we prepared as a society to face this new dynamic with the skills to navigate it effectively? Are we digitally literate and skilled enough to sift through the crap to determine the facts? Are we preparing our kids to do the same? If we are to better understand blogs and blogging and all it offers both good and bad, we need to teach about blogs and with blogs. We cannot expect our country to make its decisions based on sound bytes and tweets. If blogs are the way our society will be getting our information, then we better know how to best master that medium. We have too much at stake as a culture to have our citizenry manipulated because we never taught our children the skills needed to cope with information distribution.

There are many new things that are evolving in our world. We must keep up with the change in order to stay relevant. The best way may be to subscribe to blogs within the areas of our concerns. We can involve ourselves in the conversation by commenting respectfully on blogs for pros or cons. The ultimate mastery is to write a blog to share personal ideas and points of view to gauge how they stand to scrutiny. We can take critical analysis and adjust. We can only do all of this however if we first recognize the role of the blog and teach about it to our kids. Yes, we need the classics, but we also need relevant and real information, as well as the ability to discern it, if we are to survive and thrive.

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