Who you gonna call?

The other night I was working on converting a video from flv to mov format but couldn’t remember the online site that did that. I went to the twitter page and asked if anyone knew of the name of the site. In less than 5 minutes I had 3 responses of sites I could use. Now I was trying to remember zamzar, which is a name one should not forget, but it took no time for someone to help me.

In educational technology circles, we’ve been discussing and talking about using new tools and leveraging these new tools for the benefit of students learning. At various times it has been lamented that teachers are basically unwilling to change how they do things despite the availability of different tools that might enhance the learning opportunities for their students.

Just recently, there has been a growing discussion about how important networks are becoming for individuals as they experience the power of being able to connect and share with other professionals. Educators are beginning to build a variety of networks, discussing the ways that these types of things might be used in education. One such discussion is actually an online debate, Oxford style, between Ewan McIntosh and Michael Bugeja. This is Ewan’s promo:

This week you can take part in the Economist.com debate I will start today with Michael Bugeja, Director of Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. We’re arguing our corners in an Oxford-style online debate, he against the motion that social networking will have a positive impact on education, and I’m arguing for the motion.

Now Ewan used the power of his network to put together his opening statement.

Incidentally, my first 1000 words were effectively co-written in a 25 minute Twitter conversation across the web and mobile phones. My thanks to Lucy, John, Nick, Lisa, Adam, Judy, Sue, David… and many more who jumped onto Twitter. Who can say social networking is not having a postive impact on the way teachers, at least, are learning?

This is a great demonstration of how a network can help individuals in their own learning and in problem solving.

Over at Change Agency, guest blogger Nick Pernisco is discussing this same theme in the context of news and keeping informed.

I have to relinquish some of my own thinking to a trusted third party… I simply can’t keep up myself, so someone else needs to. Instead of checking 100 sources of information per day, I’ll only check 10 that will hopefully contain the best of the 100 sources. That means I can shift my brain from seeking out 100 sources to critically analyzing the compiled information from the 10 sources. We do this everyday when we watch a newscast instead of going to each place there is news happening, or read a newspaper instead of calling local and national governments ourselves for the scoop.

His final thought, though, gets at the real core of the matter when dealing with education and teachers.

This is why media literacy is more important than ever in today’s information glut world.

Media literacy, and for teachers, technology literacy, is so important. People in education must be able to discern what will serve them the best in a given situation. This is where the discussion about technology becomes a bit difficult. Advocates of technology use in schools see the use of technology by teachers as a natural progression of teaching as the teachers learn new things and use them to help build student’s learning. However, we do have a bit of a problem. How do we get a bulk of the educators to begin using and adopting?

Pete Reilly at Ed Tech Journeys continues the discussion that started at Scott Macleod’s Dangerously Irrelevant about mandating teachers. His thoughts are, as usual, insightful and make one question the actual validity of something like that.

It’s a great question and it provoked some good discussion; however is mandating technology use enough? Will it create the pedagogical changes we want, if put in the hands of educators whose personalities are not conducive to the classroom transformation we’d like to see?

Read Pete’s post. It really does highlight the problem that mandating has in education. We can control the program or tool but not the people or how they will use the them. We’ve seen that in so many different programs that have come and gone through the schools. What compounds this problem is the fact that there are so many different tools that one can choose to use and there is no real agreement on what are basic tools that teachers should begin using. People like Vicki Davis and Jane Hart do a great job of giving their suggestions, as do others. The point here is that there are so many tools that are out there and it is hard to know where to start. And this could be the problem, with so much happening so quickly, there seems to be something new and improved coming out every week. It is a bit overwhelming at first look.

Perhaps the teachers who are not jumping on-board are not aware is available to them? I think the biggest problem is that perhaps there are too many possibilities for “jumping in”. This actually makes it scarier then it really is. Paul Williams

This is where many of us who are already working with many of these tools have an edge that other educator do not. Our networks. We have been working through problems, trying out software and sharing ideas as quickly as something comes out. How? Well someone on the network seems to have or use whatever comes out and shares it with the rest. These early adopters (where do they get the $ ) help to bring the rest along. But where does one start? There are literally hundreds of networks that educators can join.

I agree with the social networking comments. Two people on twitter took time and great care to introduce me to some twitter friends whom I could follow and whom they knew would follow me and allow valuable interaction. Otherwise I was following some, unable to interact, unable to learn much and about to nearly give up. murcha

For those who are trying to get going, it can be a very daunting thing. That’s when, sifting through my RSS feeds in Google Reader, I came across an post by mscofino in which she states:

I know it’s frustrating to see something so close yet so far, and I know it seems like if we could just get the technology authentically embedded (and we don’t need the teachers on board for that, do we?) into the curriculum in one fell swoop, we’d be done before we started. But teachers are special folk. If they don’t want to change, they won’t. We have to show them, we have to prove why they should. And there’s no better way to do that than with other classroom teachers sharing their success. And those successes aren’t going to happen with a technology facilitator forcing a teacher to change (as if they could, given that they’re never going to be a supervisor to other teachers). It’s going to happen when a teacher wants to change and asks for help.

It would be easier if we could just mandate things but that isn’t going to work. We now that social networks, whether technological or f2f, are very powerful and impact all of us. These networks, for the most part, have not been well used in education. Teachers, usually in isolation, have worked away at subject or grade levels, implementing curriculum with a PD day here and there. Every now and then, something new comes along, usually with a new administrator at some level, but it passes. Not this time. Technology isn’t just a fad that will pass with the next hiring. Why? Because it is becoming part of the culture.

I like the idea of “Change One Thing”, and relate it to technology. Make one technological change, whether its a Google Reader account or a Wiki, the important thing is to change something. Paul Williams

This is where, I believe, we need to begin. We need to work with teachers and use one tool. Show them how to use it and manage it while at the same time introducing them to a network where they can lurk for awhile, seeing what others are doing and understanding that frustration and problems are part of the whole learning equation. In fact, today I made my first inroad with one of my other administrators who is taking an online class. She has asked me to help her with setting up some things and working with some of the tools. She wanted to know if I had the time? Of course I do. I know that if I can get her started and then encourage her, she will grow and some of these tools will be adopted. As she told me “I know I have to do this but I just haven’t had the right push to do them. Well, now I do.” She’s worried she’ll do something wrong or things will be too complicated. For those of us using the tools we need to let other teachers know that no one has all the answers and we’re all on a learning continuum. It’s the sharing that helps us grow in ways we never could have dreamed of.

To my network out there, thanks for your input!

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9 responses

  1. […] Right-Thinking from the Left Coast wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt […]

  2. Your post is highlighting the crux of present situation. Teachers do need support and guidance to work on a tool .Actually, in the present situation not all teachers are tech savvy or innovative on using tools. Also, they never studied in these e environments. Yes, I believe that social networking of teachers/educators would help in bringing up a desired change in education. People like you are a guiding inspiration.
    Thanks for all knowledge and support

  3. Thanks for covering this debate. It opened Jan. 15, and I kept noticing comments about my writing rather than my thesis, which intrigued me, because I’m a National Endowment for the Arts fellow. I opened up my opening argument, and to my dismay, 2/3s of it was cut by a technical glitch, which proves the point I was trying to make about technology radically altering any system to conform to its interface or application, in this case Oxford Union debate rules established in 1823.

    Today our student newspaper ran a small bright about it, and I thought your readers would have interest in it:

    http://media.www.iowastatedaily.com/media/storage/paper818/news/2008/01/16/News/Glitch.Highlights.Directors.Point-3153496.shtml

  4. Your recommendation to start with one thing is excellent. It’s easy to get so enthused about all the tools, and share them willy nilly, but that is overwhelming to many teachers who are venturing out there.

    We need to take time to work with that teacher both initially and a little ways down the road as well.

    One of the things I’ve found most successful though it happens on a limited basis, is embedding something new into existing research projects as the teachers meet with me about the assignment. I’ll see how some web 2.0 tool can enhance the assignment so well, and suggest that we try it.
    Those partnerships have been where the most successful uses of new tools have happened.

    Unfortunately that sort of collaboration doesn’t happen across the board, and so we have to try outreach in many different forms.

    But you are so right that this can’t be mandated. I think just as much as teaching the web 2.0 tools, we need to find ways to have the philosophical discussions with our faculty, or invite our students in.

    A committee on my campus decided to invite a student panel to a workshop we were planning. I think hearing the students talk influenced teacher’s practices more than other workshops could have done.

    By the way, Scott Schwister is writing about this on Higher Edison as well….you might be interested in checking that out!

  5. We certainly need to know that every person is at a different place in their learning curve. As a beginner one should start simple, with that one thing that FITS curricular purposes… it is not about finding and using technology for its own sake, but rather to enhance and improve learning.

    This is a great blog post!

  6. Kelly, great job touching upon the many issues that many of us face in connecting the connected to the unconnected teachers around us. I find that it is the proving of the value of these tools that I have the most difficulty. It is a catch-22 in which the teachers around me that have amazing lesson planning skills are the ones that need to help me prove to themselves that with modifications they could be doing activities much richer and meaningful with what I am capable. I’m so dependent on the tools that have changed my outlook and yet how to instill my enthusiasm without overwhelming and making a new tool such as VoiceThread appear to be more than just a trend, but a permanent direction in learning.

  7. Rash – thank you.

    Michael – I will be following this with interest. I’m tending to lean more with Ewan but nothing is a for sure anymore.

    Carolyn, Vickie, Derrall – thanks. It is so critical that we begin to do something with teachers instead of just talking about it. Small things that will get them to look at new ways of doing things. Tools that will help them with what they are doing. With so many tools that are available we should be able to find a few that really catch people.

  8. Kelly, thanks for such a thoughtful post. So many people are tangling with this right now: the frustration of having such powerful potential for professional learning at our fingertips, and so few recognizing it. It’s telling, isn’t it, how many edublog posts lately sign off with a thanks to the author’s network (like yours above), either for direct help with an immediate Zamzar-type problem, or simply for challenging and extending an idea? The help we give each other—and the results and change and learning and everything else—is becoming so much more explicit and direct. It feels like a sea-change one that’s marked by these recurring wave-crests of thanks and acknowledgment.

    Anyway. The whole “right of refusal” question nags at me. I agree with you and Carolyn that networking can’t be mandated—it has to be invitational and intrinsically motivated. Carolyn has talked about it being a grassroots movement. Your administrator perspective has given me a lot to think about. It can’t be mandated, but, along with the supportive nudge, can it be *incentivized*? How can teachers be credited for developing their own PLNs? Would it help to have a graduate credit option?

    And thanks for being part of my network.

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