Category Archives: Web2.0

The power of the network

The network

This article gives 10 good reasons to join a social network. For me, this power has been exemplified through the new blog Connected Principals started by George Couros a principal from Alberta. Now, the thing that really grabbed my attention was that this blog has just started and, through the power of the network, has grown and is getting a huge amount of publicity via twitter through retweeting, the use of hashtags and such things as blastfollow.

I’ve been following George for a short time and it has been interesting as he has used the network to build a PLN of administrators in a relatively short period of time through his connecting, following and writing. I juxtapose this with some of the other administrator‘s who I know who have been  writing and working via the web for the past few years and to my own attempts to build a network for administrators and to help administrators through various other online activities.

Building your network

With the use of hashtags and the use of twitter and other social networks, educators have the opportunity to connect and join together to share, discover and learn. There is no reason for any educator not to be using these tools to enhance their knowledge and grow their learning network.

Word of Caution

My one word of caution is that educators need to keep build balance into their lives and with all the opportunities that are available, it is easy to become overwhelmed by what is going on. I don’t know about others but I know that I’ve had whole days go by as I spent time online. It was great learning and wonderful but, being a father of 8 children, I have to remember that there needs to be time for all areas and, sometimes, the drive to “globally involved” needs to be tempered with a larger view of life. So, as much as I’d like to be doing, reading, participating, writing, publishing, making videos and coordinating all sorts of different learning opportunities for administrators, I also realise that I will not get these years back with my own children who deserve to have as much face time as I can give them.

Learning from my Past

As an educator, I realize that I have the opportunity to influence students in so many ways. So, as much as I spend time working online, I also realise that working with students directly is the most important thing. Once again, it is so very important to realize that, as educators, we need to spend the majority of our time with students, building relations and developing a rapport. It is the relationships with the students, parents and other people in the community that are the foundation for what will happen in the school. All of this takes time and educators, as social networking grows and becomes more important in their lives, must learn that there is no way to “do it all” and be selective on how they spend that precious time. As an administrator and someone who has been using technology for the past 15 years or so, the one thing I make sure is that teachers’ time is valued and guarded. As I introduce new strategies and work at building their familiarity with technology, I constantly check to ensure that what we are doing is, indeed, not wasting their time.

So as you build….

The network that is developing, especially for educational administrators, and the opportunities for sharing and connecting are seemingly exploding, it is so important to ensure balance. Now, for me, that balance means spending as much time with my own children as I can – someday I’ll write a post of what I’ve learned from having a large family – really 2 families and knowing that, although it is important to grow and learn and get better, it is also important to not let things get out of balance in that pursuit. The network is a very powerful thing – one that each educator needs to tap into but it can also become very time consuming which requires one to reflect on the importance of balance. A piece of wisdom that I reflect on more and more – “No one has ever looked back on their life and declared “I wish I had spent more time at work!” Be sure to identify what is important in life and allocate your time accordingly” Enjoy the power of the network – don’t be consumed by it.

Tag – You’re it!

Tag – you remember that game from youth? The one that had as many variations as the number of places it was played. Well, tagging, a way to identify different information online, is kind of the same. When I save something in my online bookmarks or I add information to my Evernote notes, I have started using tags to identify them and make it easier for me to find different pieces of information that I have. The tough part is using tags in such a way that it actually makes it easier to find the information!

The Eye of the Tagger

Since we each have our own unique way of looking at information, sometimes what I think makes perfect sense for a tag doesn’t for others. On information that is just for me, like my Evernote information, the tags just need to make sense to me since I’m the only one using it. However, on other sites, like when I bookmark, it gets a bit more tricky since the tags I give a link are then part of the global tags that people will use for finding information. So, for instance, if I tag a url with “classroom resource”, technology, web2.0, “teacher tech” and smartboard, people who type any of these into the search category will find that url. Now, many sites have “tag clouds” that give a list of words or phrases which have been used on the site as tags. The more they have been used, the more they stand out.

This is an image of the tags I use for one of my online bookmarking accounts. As you can see the bold words are the ones I use more often. Now, these are the recent tags that I have used. In total, I have a whopping 596 tags which means I really should go in and edit the tags to reduce it to a number that will make my searches much more refined.

Pick a Tag – Any Tag

Most sites now have the ability to offer tag suggestions for something that you are about to add. With my online bookmarking, these suggestions are useful as they give me an idea on how I might classify the information. I don’t always use them but it really does help with classifying the information. Also, if I have a number of tags for one url, then it will show up when these tags are searched. I don’t want to get crazy with the tags but having 5 to 8 is a good number and gives some options.

Putting the tail on the Donkey

Tags are a something that make it easier to find information on a site and help me to sort the information that I am gathering. With a bit of thought, the tags you enter can make it much easier for you to find that information at a later date. However, if you just store things away, like I sometimes do in the closet, you forget where and what you’ve stored away. That’s why tagging the information, like putting things in boxes and sorting out the closet, makes it easier to find. Like the closet, I’ve sometimes been surprised by what I find there – “So this is where I put it!” By really being judicious with the tags you use and remembering that storing the information is easy – it’s finding it later than can be the real task!

Online Bookmarking – Not an Option

As educators who use technology know, there are too many sites out there to visit and go through by oneself. We don’t have the time to do that plus do all the other things that need to get done. That’s why using an online bookmarking tool has become a must for me.

Just Managing My Time

Time is very precious so any tool that allows me to manage my time in a better way is of great interest to me. When I first began using online bookmarking, it was to save my own bookmarks while at home so that I could access them online and use them. I then began to understand that, by tagging them with particular tags, I could then access them much easier and find the those I wanted to use in my classes with greater ease. I could incorporate and access the information without having to constantly search for them or go through a list of links on a Word page.

The first online sites I used were delicious and magnolia. I experimented with each to figure out how I might use them more effectively to improve my teaching.  Then, I tried out Furl, Mister Wong and Diigo. As an administrator, I began to use them to save information that I wanted to read or pass on to other administrators. Like all things, eventually you have to quit experimenting so I finally decided to stick with Diigo for a few different reasons.

1. Posts to my Delicious – I like that all my posts from Diigo also show up on my Delicious because it allows me to share with the people I  follow on Delicious. It is a great way to have both sites working for you!

2. Can create Groups – these groups can be either public or private and can be open to the public, invitation by members or invitation by the moderator. This is great if you are using it in a school setting. I have used the private setting for a class where I invite the class to join the group and then they can save bookmarks to that site for projects, essays and other such school-based projects. I’ve also set up a group for teachers at the school so they can share information and set up a group for our school division Learning Coaches.

3. More than just bookmarking – because the site allows you to ask questions of people whom you have in your network, you can get some great resources and insights into things you are doing from the network.

4. I can browse other groups to see if there is something of interest or something that may provide me with some new information. And remember, this isn’t just about school – there are all sorts of groups that share information – a great deal of information on a wide variety of interests is available – if you have a hobby, there is probably a group!

Like usual, I suggest you try out a number of different options to see which one is best for you. Many people I know started with Delicious and won’t move because they like the various options. For me, there options at Diigo just lend themselves to a school setting.

Whichever service you choose, the underlying idea is that all educators need to have an online bookmarking site. As I indicated in my post about Evernote, there is just too much information out there to try to limit your information storage. By finding a few online tools, you can really enhance your efficiency and effectiveness. The more you use the tools, the more you begin to think about how they fit into your teaching. Eventually, the online tools become similar to textbooks, pens, paper and other classic tools, something we use to enhance the learning of the students.

Evernote – a multi-use online/desktop tool

As an administrator there are so many things that come across my desk during the day that I often have had trouble remembering what I needed to do right now, what could be put on hold and what was something that, when I had more time, I could work on. I tried a number of different task and todo software but nothing seemed able to do all the things that I needed it to do in one place. Then I found Evernote!

The great thing about Evernote is that it does so much but is very simple to use. I like that it syncs with all my mobiles and it is easy to edit and upload information. Because it allows me to create different notebooks, clip from the web, add documents and use a variety of different formats, I am able to access most of what I need by using the site and, best of all, because it is online and syncs between multiple places, I can edit and add information at work, do more editing on my mobile and then have a synced copy on my home computer all with the same information. The itouch app works very well and is very easy to navigate. The other app for my blackberry isn’t quite as easy to navigate but it does have all the essentials for using it on the go.

I like the copy and paste function and the fact that I can save the url from where I have found the information right at the top of the note so that it is easy to reference later on. This is great when doing research or looking at anything online – paste the item into your Evernote notebook add the url and then, later when you want, you can revist the page if you are looking for more information or you need to reference it. I can use the online site or download a desktop version for my home or office computer.

Since I began using it, I’ve found a number of things for which it can be used that replace another app like my todos, my appointments, my “other” lists, webshots, urls and other online information, document storage and editing, plus my daily record of work. It really helps me to keep organized in one place.

So, if you are looking for an app that is multipurpose, easy to use and can handle a number of different functions, give Evernote a try.

Doing the google slide…..

These past few weeks have been very busy for me and I’ve been searching for different tools to help me get organized and keep organized. Now, I’ve been trying things like Rememberthemilk, EasyTask and Toodledo to help myself keep my todos and appointments kinda organized. The biggest problem that I have is that I run macs at home, use my ipod touch to organize myself and deal with Windows at school. What’s a guy to do? 

Rememberthemilk – is great for getting my todos down and keeping them organized but their ipod widget costs $. Yeah, it’s only 5.99 but still. I like the interface and the way it keeps things organized and the fact I can access it online and on my ipod. 

EasyTask – again, I like the interface and the way it works but the beta version of the Windows didn’t work well on my computer which kinda threw a wrench into the whole sync thing! I like to have my workday todo’s synced with my ipod and home so I can mix and match what I need to do at school versus what I need todo at home. The ical function, with the online me.com access allows me to see what is coming up but, as you ipod itouch/iphone users know, the todo’s don’t transfer! 

Toodledo – worked okay but, again, there is the cost factor and with the number of todo widgets available  for free, I don’t feel like shelling out $. 

Google Tasks – I think that I may have found something that will work for me despite the fact it doesn’t have a widget that syncs with my ipod touch yet. Instead, I’m going with a todo widget from the Apps store that allows me to organize things in the same manner I do with Tasks. iProcrastinate Mobile sets things up in much the same fashion as Tasks. It means I have to add details but at least I know that I can get all my tasks at home and at school and in the same fashion as the Tasks. 

This has me thinking that I really need to look into using Google Apps. It has all my things in one place and, wonder of wonders, syncs with both my ical and the wiki calendar we use at school as a staff to record meetings, events and other information. I already use many of the other features like the Reader and Docs. I mean, if it allows me to keep better organized then maybe I need to look into this a bit more. Now I know people use all sorts of different tools to keep themselves organized and together and I’m really like igoogle.com as my homepage too! I can access a number of different sites all in one place. Sure saves me opening 6 or 7 tabs. Now, I just open the igoogle page and there is twitter, plurk, gmail, gcalendar, tasks, reader, docs plus a few other widgets that I use. It’s all handy and accessible from either home or work. 

I wasn’t always a big user of google and I’ve tried Netvibes and Pageflakes as other homepages. My second choice would be Pageflakes but it still doesn’t allow me access to as many of the things I use each day. I must admit that I did use to look to stay away from google because, well, everyone uses it. But, given the many different things going on in my life, it really does help me to stay connected and together. It isn’t just the todo’s but all the rest of the options that I have available all in one place that is selling me on using google. Because much of my work  is online and need to be able to access it from multiple places, it is only reasonable that I look for the most efficient manner to do this. So far, Google is offering me that. With the additions of Tasks, I can now add them and be able to organize either at home or at work. I’d still like a ipod touch widget that synced with Google Tasks! 

Why is this at important?

As an administrator, I’m finding that I have greater demands on my time and there is no more time being added to the day. We’ve 24 hours and that’s all. So, if the demands are growing, I need to be better able to prioritize what I do, make decisions about what are essentials and then proceed to make the best use of my time. Now, sometimes the best use is doing nothing but that’s another blog entry. Most of the time, there are decisions to be made about how to use those 24 hours.

The older I get, the more I realize that I need to make sure that I don’t overlook such things as: a full night’s sleep; exercise; diet; time with family; realistic time for accomplishing work goals and time with myself. You’ll also notice that work is no longer at the top of my list. Instead, I’m seeing that there needs to be a focus on me being at my best so that I can do my best when I am involved in school. 

It also means that a person should be able to get things that work together without so much trouble. What’s the big deal? Besides I’m kinda cheap and don’t want to pay for applications for both my home and work computers. I know there are solutions out there that you can buy but it’s shouldn’t be that tough! 

Google it is!

So, instead of continuing the search for the all-in-one, I’m willing to go the almost-in-one and work with what I have right now. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, Apple will round out their apps for the ipod touch and put the todo widget out so that this will all have been a learning exercise.

Face of a Teacher

I listened to Lisa Parisi and Maria Knee and Matthew Tabor discussing the public/private life of educators on the EdTechTalk weekly show podcast #19. The discussion revolved around what is a reasonable expectation for teacher deportment when they are away from their jobs and, given the expansion of education online and just the nature of access to information, how the internet influence affects teachers and what things they might run into.

I really thought this was a great discussion and you can read what was said at thewebsite.One reason I think it is so good is because it really fits in well with one of the reasons that I am thinking about moving away from my educational blogs and moving my blogging to another location. Exposure on the web. It’s a fine line that many educators walk when they begin to discuss education in a blog or through various other social networking formats. For me, being an administrator, I’m struggling with the need for some separation from the area where I am as I write about education.  

Also, one of the things that I believe has become prominent in society is having people in promininent positions be publically exposed and watching those who are in prominent positions being caught doing something wrong and being exposed. There is a kind of thrill that seems to grab the public attention when someone who has a prominent position is caught doing something or when someone in a position of trust is caught breaking that trust. With teachers being in that category, there is more intrigue and more sensationalism when someone in that type of position is “taken down a peg or two.”  So educators, who do, I believe, want to been seen as professionals, face a more diffiucult situation as the idea of school becomes more ambiguous as the walls of school slowly fade and morph.

As people use the social networks and a person’s electronic footprint is developed, people need to remember that what goes online is permanent and can be found, somewhere. So as educators become involved in discussions, they need to be aware that what they say can be found and can be used against them in some way. From experience, if someone wants to create a problem for you, then they can do it.  

Does this mean that teachers should not be allowed to express their opinions or views? Not at all but, like it or not, there is a higher expectation of teachers and other people in similar positions. Pictures of drunken escapades on some FB will not go over well. That’s why teachers must be very aware of what they are doing even if they are not in school. Although they do have a life of their own, there is in most teacher’s contracts or acts somewhere a section that discusses the actions of teachers not detracting or putting in poor standing the profession or the employer. Teachers need to understand this reality and then make their decisions accordingly. I’m not sure what or how things will play out as the lives of people begin to be more and more exposed on the ever-growing internet. I’m sure many of the things that are now on the internet that people think are “funny” now will not be so in a few years, especially when they are looking for jobs or are parents themselves.

So, should a teacher be held a higher set of expectations than other people? That’s a tough question to answer. It’s even more difficult to find any type of answer that will please the different groups who are impacted by this. As much as a teacher may not want to think that what they do has an impact on the school or others, the reality is that an isolated incident may not but ….. As an administrator, I am even more keenly aware that what I do is being viewed by people around. So, as I make decisions and meet with people and learn different things, I’m even more keenly aware that whatever I do will be reviewed at some level by people in the community. Because there is nothing I can do about the situation and there is no way to change it, that is something I have come to accept. Being an educator in a small community, that’s how things work. I use to think that teachers in larger centers had it easier because they could leave the school and become anonymous in the mass of people. Unfortunately, the new medias have changed that, although not just for teachers but everyone. Teachers need to be much more technology aware and know what they are doing when they post and add things to their social networks. 

Maybe that is one reason that teachers are so hesitant of embracing new technologies. They hear of the stories of teachers being caught on line doing something wrong or being exposed online or they see what happens to other people who have incriminating things posted about them online and they really want to stay away. 

For me, it has made me realise that expressing my own opinion or expressing my own feelings comes at a cost and I need to weigh that cost against other things like local integrity and personal relationships. So I’m here, looking to again take up my blogging habits, wondering if this is the place to do it. I know it may affect my readership  but, hey, this is the vocation to which I’ve been called.

Where’s the fire?

This week has been busy and it’s only Tuesday. It is the annual music festival in our community and I have 5 children participating in several categories plus my wife is doing a duet with one of the girls. It is also drama festival week which means our highschool drama troupe is hard at work practicing for their upcoming performance at the regional drama festival. The dance group that shares our multi-purpose room is preparing for competitions this weekend, two girls going. Too add to this it’s tax time, staffing is in full swing, teachers are a bit stressed as report cards for our seniors go out next week and our computer system isn’t working correctly so mark transfers are not working.

However, none of the above has to do with what I want to write about except to say that thanks to an interview process that had me driving, I was able to listen to a great interview of Christian Long by Alex Ragone . What was great about the interview was how Christian kept returning to the whole idea that this schooling thing isn’t about the school design or the books or the technology. It’s about the human relationships.

As I go from one activity to another, I watch my own children interacting with all sorts of different people – the piano teacher just before they play, the others players, the adjudicator, their dance instructor or drama coach or ….. In each instance, I’m seeing youth interacting and doing things that many adults would be incapable of doing – connecting with an audience through a medium of choice. In fact, tonight as I watched my daughter play a character coming from a broken home where she was the caregiver to a small baby because her mother was incapable, I was moved. I was moved, not because it was my daughter but because of the connection she made. This happened with all the main characters – a play about girls – who performed. In each case, the vignettes brought the auditorium witnesses to point of magnificent silence; they made a connection. It was powerful in the way only drama done by young actors can be powerful.

As I listened to Christian this afternoon, he reminded me that it’s the connection – the human relationships that exist – which are the most important connections in school. This was reinforced in Stewart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe episode entitled Wally (you’ll have to download via itunes to listen) – which describes the events that take place when a beloved school janitor is made redundant. It’s worth the listen if for nothing else than the message of the banana muffin. It’s all about the relationships. I know teachers who will never do what that janitor was able to do.

Relationships

Whether it’s our best friend from school or someone that we have met along the way and to whom we have developed a bond, deep human relationships are very important to us. We may continue to develop these relationships through various means but it is our f2f interactions that really cement and make them. For youth, this is also true. I’ve watched as my own children have continued friendships long after moving. They may keep in touch over the net or whatever but it is the f2f ones that really impact them, cementing the relationship that was started many years ago.

As I listened to Christian describe what he learned going back to the classroom, I was reminded that we are not so much in a business of giving information, that’s Google’s job now. We, as teachers, are once again being asked to delve beyond the layers of information and make connections, relationships, with students that will push them to explore new ideas, challenge their own thoughts and understanding of the information and encourage them to develop a voice for themselves so that, when it is time, they can reach out to that audience and touch them.

Why the rush to Informationalize?

In our content saturated world, there seems to be a discongruency between the demand that students “know” something in order to move through the data demanding systems which have developed, or are developing, and, then upon leaving, their need to use a different set of skills that they have not been asked to seriously develop in schools; presentation to an audience and use of information to deliver a message – original in nature. There is this preoccupation to pump information at students, asking them to demonstrate they know the information but not asking them to use it for any purpose, other than testing, or to express it in any various ways, except on a test or assignment. They aren’t asked to convince anyone or deliver a pitch very often. They are often asked to defend their ideas – 5 paragraph essay format. Oral presentations are not really valued or taught yet many of these students will be required to work and thrive in fields that require extensive use of language and oral presentation skills. Just think of Miss Whatever State – she could have had some more help with that.

Where, exactly, is the fire?

We are aware of many different reports that demonstrate that to achieve all the goals and outcomes that are currently in the various curricula in any given place, educators would need much more time and, therefore, they end up choosing what they deem as important or what the textbooks deem important. We rush and push students, some whom are not ready for what we are asking them to do, to “learn” information that, at this point in time, is accessible to almost everyone in order to pass a test. Then, when they are done “at school” they leave and begin to relearn how to learn through experimentation, trial and error, modeling, mentorship and a host of other methods, the skills and tools that will be necessary for what they are doing. Yet, we spend little time on presentation of ideas and creating new from the information that we have.

How am I going to stem the fire?

In some cases, I don’t know if I can. However, we do have the opportunity to build in these skills through the methods we choose to have students gather information and present what they have understood and how that understanding has changed, or reinforced, their thinking.

Currently I am in the process of examining the manner in which we deliver electives to our students. One of the first things I am suggesting is that we meet with our future grade 10, 11 & 12’s to discuss what they would like to see. I know that larger schools may not have this option but it is one thing we can do and should do. We can then have very direct and open dialogue with parents and students about what they might want to see for options. A second idea is to allow students the option of having a project based class where some of the presentation skills and information gathering skills will be taught and used, not through a formal class setting but through project advisors who will work with students. This would also include having parents involved in some manner in a support role for the student, aware of the progress that students are, or are not, making. We are also discussing the way we offer classes – maybe moving to longer class periods and the option to have some blocked time for students in electives.

All of these and others are just ways for us to build the relationships in our school which, I believe, will enhance the overall learning that takes place. Good teachers can use whatever tools fits the moment because they have a connection with students. These are the teachers that we all remember from when we were in school. It wasn’t really their content mastery or the tools they used – it was how they touched us and the relationship we developed. It was the delivery of the content, their passion, the way they pushed us or a million other things. It was “a” connection.

I still believe learning how to use Web2.0 tools is essential for teachers and doesn’t let them off the hook for knowing how to use these tools and incorporate them. What it does mean is that this is all about human relationships and knowing when and how to leverage those relationships with various tools only enhances and builds the relationships. We teach people. Younger, sometimes smaller but none-the-less people. Each of them deserves a positive relationship with an adult – a banana muffin toting janitor. Doesn’t matter the tool, it matters how we use them to enhance the relationships.