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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To bullet point the chat strategy:

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

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

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

All Chats

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If there is one thing I truly understand about educators it is that they are slow to change. It might be from decades of people jumping in with the “latest and greatest” answer to a better way to do things in education, or some legislative mandate to fix it all through legislation, only to find it to fizzle out and fall way short when actually implemented. If teachers learned one thing from these experiences it is that, if you wait and ride it out long enough, all of these initiatives will all go away. The problem however is that many educators want to apply this sit and wait posture to anything that requires them leaving their zones of comfort.

The mindset of a 20th Century educator is very comfortable for most educators since they were trained for the most part by 20th century educators. A majority of educators are very comfortable with the methodology and pedagogy of that time. Structure and student compliance matched to a focus on lecture and direct instruction are the common experiences of most educators.

The gap however, between 20th Century educators and 21st Century learners, is now beginning to widen at a much faster rate. Today’s learners have become more directed and into the ownership of their learning. The classroom is no longer the only location where learning takes place. If today’s learner has a need to learn something that has meaning to him/her, he/she can access information and tools to curate, communicate, collaborate and create without any help from someone standing at the head of the class.

If students need info, they can Google it. If they need a demonstration they go to You Tube. They can use any number of applications to create something from what they have learned and to make things better they can collaborate with anyone globally at anytime. The very best part is that after all is said and done they have the ability to publish their work at will.

Many students today learn for a reason, not because they are told to. They have found their voice. Many are finding themselves limited by what is being offered in classrooms. Many have inquisitive minds that do not want to wait to get to the next grade to learn what they want, or need to know now. Students want to learn in order to contribute and gain from meaningful, authentic learning and not because we tell them that, “someday you may need to know this”. Quite honestly the world is changing so rapidly, we do not know the “what” it is that they will need to know for their future. The best we can do to help them is to focus on the “how” to learn for the future, and they will determine the “what” based on their specific needs at that time.

The gap between teacher and student will continue to widen if the educators’ mindset for learning does not evolve. Educators, themselves, must be the Life Long Learners that they speak of in school mission statements and addresses at “parents nights”.

It is the growth mindset of educators that is the key to changing an antiquated system. We can have every educator in the country sign a future ready pledge, but if they have no understanding of what future ready means to them personally, it will be another wasted initiative. Committing to working technology into the infrastructure will have little effect if the educators are not willing to embrace the teaching and learning that must go along with that. We can’t cram 21st Century learning into a 20th Century model of teaching because it is more comfortable for our educators. There should be no comfort zone for an educator that is more important than a student’s relevant education. The students and their learning must be the focus. Educators can only be effective if they to are learners. Teaching is not a passive exercise; it requires work, study, and involvement in an ever-changing world. That is why everyone can’t be a teacher. It requires a growth mindset and a willingness to evolve as a learner for a lifetime and that is a necessary commitment that many are not willing to choose to make.

The idea of collaborative learning has always been with us in education, and in life in general. It is the social learning we talk about. The idea that we can now collaborate globally on a huge scale is something of a shift in thinking in education. It is only as a result of technology that this has become possible. It does afford educators an unlimited pool of collegial sources. Educators who can share ideas and help others avoid problems make up an individual educator’s Personalized Learning Network. This PLN is made up of people, who collectively are smarter than any one individual, and are willing to share. The ability to create and access these sources is all part of a growth mindset for learning in the 21st Century. It also requires an openness to learning about the tools to accomplish it all. This takes time and is not a product of a workshop, or a daylong PD event.

Without a mindset for continually learning, or a limited view on what one is willing to learn, it will be difficult to change the status quo in education. Connecting with others may be a great idea that we all agree will make a difference in education, but what good does that do us, if a majority of educators are only comfortable doing what it is they have always done. Of course, it should go without saying that if staying within those comfort zones worked, we would not be having a global discussion on needed reforms for education.

In order to create these much-needed Personalized Learning Networks educators will need to learn about social media and its culture. The ins and outs of Twitter would be the most efficient and effective way to share what is needed for educators. This however takes some time to learn, and it also takes a commitment of at least 20 minutes a day interacting with connected colleagues for anyone to benefit from this. The benefits far outweigh the time and work involved, but the fact of the matter is that not every educator has a growth mindset. Not every educator shows a willingness to leave those zones of comfort. For those reasons Twitter will never connect all educators. The shame of it is that Twitter is probably the best way to share and learn available to us now. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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This post is a direct result of a conference that I recently attended with some of the brightest minds in education. The attendees were education thought leaders all. I was humbled in their presence, which is not unusual for me. I was an education lightweight compared to many in attendance. What struck me about this group however was their lack of relevance in the world of EdTech education. They were not at all a part of the model we have all come to believe is now the EdTech-influenced model of education for the USA. I was asked by some what a Blog was. Others had never ever heard of a Professional Learning Network. Somehow the model of education portrayed by so many and being sold to America by the press through some vocal politicians and financial influencers, who probably don’t have a clue what goes on inside most classrooms today, does not exist for these folks. Like many educators today, PowerPoint is the extent of their technology integration into education.

I am so very fortunate and grateful to be able to travel and participate in Education Conferences worldwide. My interaction with educators is not limited to a building, district, county, state, or even a single country. I talk to many educators from many places both inside and outside the USA. One factor common to all these educators is that they are attending some form of education conference. This is not a common experience for many, if not most, educators. Few schools budget for teachers’ attendance at conferences and the view that a teacher’s place is in the classroom is one that is probably the most prevalent view among most keepers of the purse strings.

As a result of limited teacher participation at many of these conferences, only the best, or the most innovative, or the most influential of teachers get to attend. Of course the number of administrators, movers and shakers, the decision makers, or those who control the budgets and purse strings are most often represented in greater numbers and repeatedly attend year after year at these conferences. Of course they are also the people most sought after to attend such conferences since most of these get-togethers are sponsored and supported by companies trying to sell their products to that very target audience. This is not a bad thing, but an element in considering the big picture of education conferences, especially in the area of EdTech.

Now that we have an understanding of who attends these conferences, let us consider the “what and why” of the sessions presented at these conferences. Often, the very companies sponsoring the conference to display their Tech wares will do their own informative sessions within the program. They are probably the most knowledgeable of their product, so it is a great way to represent the best potential of that product. The employees who demonstrate these products are trained to do so, and, more often than not, they are trained extremely well. Certainly their training exceeds a typical teacher’s experience with a PD session in school. Additionally, these demonstrations show off the latest and greatest version of the products. Companies are not stuck with older product versions because of budget restrictions that schools often face.

This is my personal view of what a typical education conference looks like. It is a showcase for the best and brightest schools have to offer with the help of EdTech companies supporting and promoting the teachers and districts that are effectively using their products. Unfortunately, with all the hype, public relations, and a need to put education stories out to the press, this is often touted as the picture of education in the USA: Teachers using technology to teach our digital native children in preparation for their world. This might be the perfect time to mention those flying cars of the future that we have heard so much about over the years.

The point here is that it is not representative of what is going on in education in the USA. We are not as fully tech-oriented as the press and politicians would have us believe. Many schools lack the budget, or infrastructure to support it. Certainly the way PD is provided today, as it has been in centuries past, is hardly adequate to get educators up to speed. Trying to maintain a 20th Century model of education in the 21st Century is not moving us forward either, yet it seems to be a dominating education philosophy.

We need to somehow take the vision of what we see in education conferences and mix it with the reality of what is actually being done in education. If we want to focus on a better education for our kids, we need to focus first on a better education for their educators. If the promise of EdTech is ever to be realized than we need to clearly establish where we each are in that picture and make specific individualized plans to get us to where we each need to be. It will not happen organically. We will never have out-of-the-box, innovative learning until we promote and support out-of-the-box and innovative teaching. Technology in education should not be limited to PowerPoint presentations and word-processed book reports.

The picture of what American education is has been blurred by politicians, well-intentioned business people, profiteers, and to a great extent educators themselves. I don’t know if we can describe a picture of a 21st Century classroom that holds true for all classrooms. I imagine that the most typical class in America still resembles a 20th Century class which is not far different from a 19th Century class: Rows, a board, and a teacher standing in front of the room. The frustration I have always had as an educator is that the vision for education is far better than the reality.

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I have always been a big picture kind of learner. If I had a picture of where I was supposed to go, I had a reason to learn the various parts I needed to know in order to get there. Once I got there, I would try to figure out if that was the place I wanted to be, or if I could make it a better place. Once I understood what I needed to do as an educator, I worked to put all of the components in place. When I finally got there, it was not all I believed that I was promised, so I worked to make it better.

My education career started in the early 70”s, so the sources I had to work with back then were limited. My collegial support group was about eleven other English teachers. Stretching my teaching experience was limited to what I was allowed to do within the building, in which I taught. I later found that those limitations varied from building to building depending on the leadership and culture of each school. My development as a teacher was limited to the small amount of professional development offered by the district, and whatever courses I could afford to pay for on my own. I discovered, totally by chance, the power of education conferences. My department was told to send one teacher to a statewide reading conference. No one wanted to go and I was the most junior teacher in the department. The choice was simple.

The conference was not unlike conferences today, minus the tech stuff. The overhead projector was the primary presentation tool. What grabbed me the most was the exchange of ideas among the participants, as the presenters led them through sessions. It was mostly “sit and get”, but there were spontaneous gatherings in hallways and dining tables. I was being exposed to ideas not discussed in our department meetings, because our department’s isolation from these ideas prevented us from their consideration. Of course the intent in sending me to the conference was to use me as an emissary to connect my colleagues to the ideas presented at the conference. Of course I was quite able to convey the words, but not the experience.

A key factor in changing what we do is the ability to reflect on what it is that we are doing. To improve that reflection, it is most helpful to know about alternate considerations. What are some choices? What perspective do others have on the same subject? What has worked and what has failed? Are there totally new ideas or methodologies that are being used in education that can replace the old ones? All of these questions come to mind if one has a mindset for continuously learning and improving within the profession. The 70’s were not kind to people of that mindset because the answers to too many of these questions were too hard to find. Collaboration was limited, difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

Forty plus years later the world looks very different. Technology, which has always been a driving force in America, has advanced to a point where collaboration is easy, affordable, global, and almost ubiquitous in our culture. The very things that slowed change in the 70’s have been eliminated. Collaboration, always a great source of learning has moved up the ladder of learning to get beyond the limitations of just face-to-face experience.

In a recent Twitter exchange with two educators I greatly respect, Dean Shareski, @Shareski, and Bud Hunt, @Budtheteacher they expressed a concern that it would be better to teach students reflection than it would be to promote connectedness. I think when it comes to students I would agree. When it comes to adult learners however, I think that exposure to other ideas through collaboration stimulates reflection. I consider that a key element to this whole connected educator mindset we talk so much about.

After my own reflection on the subject, I see connectedness for educators as an accelerant for reflection. It promotes self-reflection, as well as reflection on education as a system for learning. It also stimulates reflection on the pedagogy and methodology within that education system. The whole idea of connectedness relies on the hope that educators are reflective. If they are not reflective, or lack the vision of the big picture of being connected, then we could have Connected Educator Month, every month for the next twenty years and never affect any change in the system.

Reflection is key to a collaborative mindset. The more we discuss this with our unconnected colleagues the faster we can connect more educators. If we reflected on our need for change and felt that change was not needed in what we do as educators, there would be no need to collaborate and we would continue with the status quo. Although there might be a few educators thinking along those lines, I believe most see a need for, at the very least, some change in what we do and how we do it. The more reflective we are about this, the more we will seek to expand that reflection with guidance, experience, support, validation, sources, and colleagues through the collaboration provided by our connectedness. I see them as separate entities that support each other. The more we collaborate, the more we reflect. The more we reflect, the more we need to collaborate. Being connected, for me, has expanded both my collaboration and my reflection. My goal is to get others to do that as well. Using technology to connect more educators with a reflective and collaborative mindset is the best hope for an education system in need of change.

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Anyone who has ever attended a national state or even local Education Conference can tell you that there are vast numbers of education products out there. How do educators know what works and what doesn’t? Is there a way educators can share their product experience with others? How can educators talk to the designers of education products? How can we collaboratively discuss education products so that educators may make a difference?

The answers to each of these questions would depend on each individual’s connection to the product, or the people who created it. Some of us have more contact than others. Some companies seek out teachers to solicit their opinions and perspectives. This however is not usually done on a large-scale.

Steven Anderson and I have been moderating #Edchat for more than five years now. We are often approached by education industry people asking to sponsor, or host an #Edchat session. #Edchat has always been independent and has not been affiliated with any company or product unless it was for the purpose of conducting the chat. Obviously we need Twitter, Facebook, our archiving app, and from time to time we have used Skype, and most recently REMIND. We have never taken money or have we endorsed any product as #Edchat.

Nevertheless, we have determined that there is a need for educators to interact with education industry people in some form on some venue. In that pursuit Steven and I have decided to start a product showcase chat for education products of all types. We will not be endorsing these products, but simply offering to educators a forum to chat with specific companies about their specific product in a twitter chat forum. The chats will be open to all educators on a weekly basis, and moderated by Steven and me. The companies will provide their own experts to answer questions and engage in discussion without a sales pitch. It will be an exploration of how the product may or may not be a fit for the specific needs of specific educators or educators in general.

Our #EdProdChat will take place each Thursday at 8 PM Eastern time. We will promote the chat through informative tweets during the week using @EdProdChat and the #EdProdChat hashtag. We have also created a REMIND account, so that educators can sign up for text reminders of the whom, and when of each weekly chat.

Our first Chat is scheduled for September 18th at 8 PM Eastern time. Please add that to your calendar. The product that we will be chatting about is a project based learning App called WeLearnedIt. Hosting that chat will be the company’s CEO, Adam Bellow. The continuing weekly #EdProdChat schedule will then begin on the first Thursday in October, 10/2/14. Please, in the meantime, sign up for the #EdProdChat REMIND account. (You can learn how by clicking here.) And don’t worry. We value your privacy. Your information will be protected and not shared with anyone. You will be welcomed in joining us on Thursdays for #EdProdChat.

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Reposted from the Blog of Mark Barnes, Brilliant or Insane: Education and other intriguing topics.

8 EDUCATION BOOKS FOR THE DIGITAL AGE:

CONNECTED EDUCATORS SERIES

via: Corwin.com/connectededucatorsAsk any of the thousands of teachers who regularly use Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook about connected education, and you may get an earful about using digital tools as a means to connect with educators and students worldwide.

But if you ask teachers who have never used a social network, blog, or mobile device for learning in their classrooms to discuss connected education, you are likely to be met with blank stares, furrowed eyebrows and shrugged shoulders.

Enter Corwin Press and the Connected Educators Series.

In an effort to connect all teachers, EdWeek author and Corwin editor Peter DeWitt enlisted the help of his professional learning network (PLN) in order to launch a series of books on digital learning, digital leadership, mobile learning, digital citizenship, and everything else that is connected education.

“It is our hope and intent to meet you where you are in your digital journey, and elevate you as educators to the next level.” Peter DeWitt, Connected Educators Series Editor

Corwin’s Connected Educators Series features short books, about 70 pages, in both paperback and electronic formats, aimed at helping educators improve classroom practice and educational leadership in the digital world, something that has been sorely missing in the education book world.

The first books in the series will be published in August and September.

Corwin Connected Educators Series

The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning, by Tom Whitby and Steven Anderson: Two of the profession’s most connected educators explain how to effectively use social media to build a professional learning network.

Flipped Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel, by Peter DeWitt: If we can flip the classroom, why can’t we flip faculty meetings and other kinds of communication with parents and teachers? According to DeWitt, we can.

Connected Educator Series

The Edcamp Model: Powering Up Professional Learning, by The Edcamp Foundation: Professional development has never been so simple than when teachers create it. The Edcamp model connects educators to PD like never before.

Teaching the iStudent: A Quick Guide to Using Mobile Devices and Social Media in the K-12 Classroom, by Mark Barnes: Knowledge is in the palm of learners’ hands, making them iStudents. This book helps teachers understand how to maximize this incredible power.

The Corwin Connected Educators series is your key to unlocking the greatest resource available to all educators: other educators.

Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click Away, by Spike Cook: In the 21st-century, it’s critical that principals create a transparent school for all stakeholders. Principal Cook shows school leaders how to author blogs, PLNs and more, in order to open up a digital window to your school for parents and community.

All Hands on Deck: Tools for Connecting Educators, Parents, and Communities, by Brad Currie: The connected educator doesn’t just connect with students and colleagues. He connects with parents and community, using 21st-century tools. Currie shows readers how this is done.

Empowered Schools, Empowered Students: Creating Connected and Invested Learners, by Pernille Ripp: Connecting also means empowering. Ripp shares a variety of methods for teachers and school leaders to empower colleagues and students to help each other build a strong learning community.

The Power of Branding: Telling Your School’s Story, by Tony Sinanis and Joseph Sanfelippo: Connected educators must teach students about digital citizenship, and what better way to teach this lesson, according to administrators Sinanis and Sanfelippo, than by showing students how to brand their own schools?

These eight books are the first in Corwin’s ongoing Connected Educators Series. Several more are currently in production and scheduled for publication in early 2015.

For updates, author biographies and other valuable information, visit the Corwin Connected Educators Series website here.

You can order Any books in the Connected Educators Series here. Let us know what you think and what you’d like to see next.

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Being connected as an educator offers a unique perspective. It is almost as if there are two different world’s in education, and a connected educator must travel within both. Technology in our computer-driven society has enabled collaboration to occur at a level and pace never before available in the 19th and 20th century versions of education. For the modern educators who have embraced the idea of connectedness, the world of education looks very different from it has been in previous centuries.

Regardless of technology, many educators express a curiosity about what it would be like to talk to and engage people from history. How often have we heard the expression “ I wish I could pick his/her brain for ten minutes”? The whole idea would be to collaborate with individuals who in some way have made a mark on history or education. We could all benefit from discussing and reflecting on the successes and failures of valued individuals who have proven their worth in their profession. That is what is done everyday in the connected world of education. It does not involve picking the brains of historical people, but those of education practitioners.

It is social media in the 21st Century that has boosted collaboration to a scale never before experienced. It enables educators the ability to collaborate beyond their own borders and way beyond their local connections to a global reach. Such collaboration forces transparency. Pedagogy, methodology and policy are all topics of discussion amongst educators worldwide. Education is being analyzed and scrutinized under a huge magnifying glass with the results, blemishes and all, being shared globally.

The overall result is that educators are beginning to adopt that which shows promise in education and they are turning away from that which is not effective. The one sticking point however, to this entire picture of progressive education evolution, which I have just painted with words, is that not all educators are so connected.

I have had the good fortune to attend many education conferences worldwide. Some of the most sought-after speakers, keynoters, and authors at these conferences are connected educators. They are the thought leaders in education moving education from its past to its future.

The result of all of this is the separation of education into two different places, the world of connected educators, and the world of the disconnected. The best example of the difference would be in the group’s discussions. The discussions online with connected educators are very different in tone and content when compared to the discussions in most faculty rooms and department meetings. Ideas such as the flipped classroom or BYOD were discussions in the connected world long before the mainstream media began writing about them to alert the unconnected.

There is one irony of all of this two-worlds discussion that upsets me most. When I talk to many of the thought leaders in the connected world of education, who are still practicing educators, I ask a simple question. Are you recognized in your school or district for the value you bring to the connected community of educators? Most, if not all, tell me that their district has little or no idea of who they are or what they bring to the world of education. How is it possible that the value of these educators, and their contribution to education, are not recognized within their own unconnected education world?

It is that lack of appreciation or even a failure to validate an educator’s success that is costing us the brightest and best in education. We have long been losing our newest teachers at a rate of 50% in the first five years of service. Obvious fixes would include more support with effective mentorship programs, as well as a salary more in line with the requirements and demands of the job.

Now, because of the growing world of connected education, we are seeing educators at the top end being lured into the business side of education because they are being recognized as valuable assets to education. That recognition however is coming from private industry and not their own education leaders. The private sector is luring away many of the education thought leaders by doing in the connected world what the unconnected world fails to do, recognize, validate, and reward leadership and innovation. Complacency is not considered an asset in this new connected world of education.

In a world that is being driven by technology at an ever-increasing rate that has never before been experienced, educators cannot be standing still. If educators do stand still, they will rapidly fall behind and become irrelevant. It is not a question of being a good or bad educator at that point. One can have great skills, but without being relevant to the students, how is that educator to be effective? Gone are the days when all learning took place in the rows of the classroom. Self-directed learning is now a way of the world. Educators will be needed more than ever, but the 19th and 20th Century models of educators are not relevant in our latest century. There is a pressing need to get more educators to be connected, self-directed, reflective, inspired, and relevant. We also need administrators to include themselves in this shift. Administrators need to maintain relevance as well. The longer it takes for our two worlds of educators to merge into one, the longer it will take us to reform our own culture and the education system overall.

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If there is one thing that could be said of what I do professionally it might be that I do get around to many education conferences. This past month I attended two International conferences ISTE14, BLC14 and one Indiana regional conference, the Greater Clark County Schools Conference in Indiana. All of these conferences were outstanding in their offerings to educators. I usually comment on the structure and quality of the conferences, but today I think I need to address the educators who attend these conferences based on some recent observations. What set me to thinking about this post were two separate comments from very different educators.

A short time after attending ISTE14, I flew to Boston for Alan Novmber’s BLC14 conference. It was there that I saw a keynote by Michael Fullan, a Canadian education researcher and former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. From that speech my main take-away was that in education today Pedagogy is the foundation and technology is the accelerator. For me that was a statement that was clear, concise, and right on the money.

After a one-day layover at my home, I was off to the GCCC14. It was the 2nd annual conference created and directed by Brett Clark of the Greater Clark County Schools. I landed in Louisville Kentucky, which is just over the river from my Indiana destination. A GCC educator, JT who was transporting me to my hotel, picked me up. I met JT when he performed the same task last year. He is quite an affable fellow and easy to talk with. On our ride we talked about this year’s conference compared to the last. JT shared a conversation he had with a colleague about the conference. His friend asked if JT was going to be at the “day-long computer training”. Obviously, some Indiana educators did not view the Michael Fullan keynote on livestream. Unfortunately, it is an attitude or a mindset that is shared by more educators than just those in Indiana. Many conferences are viewed as computer training and not education methodology or pedagogy.

It is the way of learning that should be the focus of education conferences and the goal for the attendees. The technology should always be secondary. We should first explore the place collaboration has in learning before we talk about the tools we need to collaborate. We should explore the need and benefits of communication and understand where and how it benefits students in their everyday lives before we explore the modern tools that enable and enhance communication. We need to understand the differences and the effects between lecture, direct instruction and authentic learning before commit to developing a year’s curriculum. Understanding the need for formative assessment is essential to determining what tools we will use to assess formatively, as well as what adjustments we need to make when we get that information. Let us get a full understanding of summative assessment to determine whether to use tools for testing, or tools for digital portfolio assessments.
Conferences should be more about the learning first and then balanced out with the tools to make it all happen efficiently and effectively. These conferences are not about computer training, but about learning and education.

As Chris Lehmann said at the GCCC14 conference, we don’t teach math, English, or social studies, we teach kids. Conferences should not be viewed as computer training, but rather teacher training. They teach teachers the ways of education and all of the necessary, modern tools to enhance authentic learning to attain the teachers’ intended goals. Connecting with the educators from each conference is an additional way of continuing the education discussion beyond the conference. It helps create collegial sources to be called upon at anytime for clarification, validation, new ideas, sources, or just to say hello. It makes no sense whatsoever to meet great people with great ideas at a conference and never to connect with them again.

Educators should come to conferences eager to learn about their evolving profession. It is not a stagnant profession. There are constant changes and developments that happen at a pace never before experienced in education. We need these conferences to offer a balance of pedagogy, methodology and tools for educators to learn, understand, develop, and evolve. We also need educators to connect in order to live the change and not just experience it at an annual conference. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.

Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.

I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.

I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.

I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.

The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.

One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.

As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.

It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their name tags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.

For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?

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A few years back I spoke at a conference and experienced first hand what a backchannel was. Twitter is probably the best tool to do it. I did write a post on that experience back in November of 2009 and later reposted on my blog, Twitter’s Effect on Presentations and Presenters.

Backchanneling happens when someone on Twitter uses a hashtag to tweet out to followers what is happening at a conference, or more importantly, what is being said by a speaker at a conference session. THE BACKCHANNEL by Cliff Atkinson is a great book source for understanding the process.

ISTE 2014 will take place at the end of this week. The numbers of attendees will probably approach 20,000. Although that sounds like a huge number of people, it only represents a very tiny number of educators nationwide who get to attend such national education conferences. The attendance of connected educators however, has had a great effect on the transparency and sharing of these gigantic education events through social media, specifically, Twitter.

The Twitter Hashtag has played a huge role in sharing out the conference experience. Since most educators will not be attending the ISTE 2014 conference, many who are connected will rely on their connected colleagues, who will attend, to tweet out the happenings of the event. Those tweets will go from the broad events to individual sessions as well. Although ISTE 2014 is one of the most connected of education conferences, backchanneling is becoming evident at even the smaller local education gatherings. It is a key in sharing at local Edcamps

Conferences have taken notice of this new layer of experience and assign hashtags for the conference, as well as some specific sessions. Experienced connected educators in sessions will make up and share a hashtag on the spot at the beginning of the session. To broadly follow the ISTE conference this year, you need only to create a Twitter column on Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to follow the #ISTE2014 hashtag. There will be several thousand tweets coming out with that hashtag to keep you informed of: personal encounters, celebrity sightings, quotes, new ideas, new products, and even social events taking place. There will be pictures, videos, podcasts, diagrams and graphs. All will be tweeted out with the Hashtag #ISTE2014.

Probably the most sought-after tweets will be those coming directly from sessions. Thought leaders in education presenting their ideas and having people right in the room tweet out what is being said, as it is being said. This is sharing at its best. If the vast majority of educators cannot experience an education conference first hand this is not a bad second best.

As a community of connected educators we need to think of our Personal Learning Network members as connected colleagues. Those educators fortunate enough to have any experiences that cannot be afforded to all, and are willing to take the time to share, are truly collaborative colleagues. These hashtagged tweets have a range in the millions. That is a Public Relations Gold for any organization with a success.

Of course there is a downside. If something does not go well, that is tweeted out as well. It could also be a professional setback for an unprepared presenter. The Twitter Backchannel Buzz could affect the subsequent enthusiasm for any future conference by a particular group. It also underscores those conferences that are attended by the connected community of educators.

I have always believed that we as educators have a professional and moral obligation to share. In so doing, we can build a stronger and better profession of educators. If you have never done it, try following the backchannel for this year’s ISTE Conference by following the #ISTE2014 hashtag. If you attend the ISTE Conference, tweet out as much important stuff as you encounter using the #ISTE2014 hashtag. We can engage fellow educators in the conferences, which they have been blocked from because of location, money, or even an unawareness of what these conferences have to offer. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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