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.

Opening the door and building a network

My it’s been a busy week. We’ve had all kinds of things going on – a winter storm Friday made it a busy afternoon as our busses were canceled for after school. This meant we were phoning parents and arranging for students to go to their billets in town. For the most part, things went smoothly. Of course, there were some of our older students who just had to make life interesting and a few of the billets we had listed weren’t home or had moved so we needed to make other arrangements. However, despite these small bumps, the whole thing went smoothly and in a matter of about 45 minutes we were able to take care of things.

As I watched our staff work together to make phone calls, talk with students and take care of business, I realized how lucky I was to be the principal of such a great group of people. Everyone who was free pitched into making calls and talking to students. The secretary, the hub of our school, was answering phones, taking down notes and coordinating efforts of organization of students. Good principal that I am, I let people use their talents and do what they were best at while I made sure that parents who were arriving were assisted and students who left with their parents were noted.

A strong network

Our school is an example of a strong network. People work together, each person using their talents to help others, strengthening the whole. Now, we are working on our PLT’s and looking at how we can continue to improve the learning of the children in our building. The teachers continue to try new things, although not as open to technology as I had hoped, but still willing to try new ideas and ways of doing things. They share information they’re reading and new ideas about what they are doing. They look to go to conferences and bring back information that they share.

PLN’s

Personally, as an administrator, I don’t get to do as much sharing with staff as I did when I was a teacher. This is where my online PLN comes in. I first started blogging in January of 2007. Since that time, I have been able to meet a whole host of new people whom help me in my learning and professional development. Like many others, my introduction into this began with reading other blogs, commenting and looking for new ideas and ways of doing things. With the introduction of twitter, jaiku and pownce, I’ve expanded my network to include so many more people with a vast array of experiences and talents. This, however, has made me take a step back and look at my network and what exactly I want from it.

When I first began to blog, it was to get in touch with others in education and network and share with them. I enjoyed the sharing of information and the discussions that took place as I read through blog posts and commented on most of those in my RSS feeder. However, over time, I realized that most of the people with whom I had contact were discussing technology from the perspective of a tech coordinator, tech teacher or tech somethingorother position. There were few administrators with whom I could connect and few teachers who were not technology teachers of some sort. The discussions followed a pattern where an issue arose and then many of the blogs would comment on it in some way or another. This was the pattern that would be followed with a few people writing about personal events or how events with technology were panning out for them.

Those who are now joining into the different networks are bypassing, for some part, the blogging portion of networking to some degree. They are entering into the networking using twitter, pownce or jaiku, getting to know other people on the network and sharing with them. These relationships are usually rather loosely held together by subjects, interests, proximity or something else. This continues as different people interact, sharing and discussing on the network, adding new people to their friends as they see the names mentioned in discussions or from visiting other people’s friends. This is how my network grows. I continue to add people to my various friends lists, watching what they say, commenting to them when I have something to say or something to share. I haven’t developed, it seems, as close of a connection as others have but that’s to come. I also notice that anyone who has had a f2f connection has a different dimension to their relationships than those who haven’t. I also like to visit the blogs of those people in my friends list and add them to my RSS. That way, I can read their thoughts and ideas and continue conversations via the blogs. I try to comment and am working on making sure that I do this more regularly.

Different tools give you different networks

I use two main tools for my instant chatting with other educators. Twitter is much more active with many more users who are doing a vast array of things. When I first started, I was amazed at all that was going on, wondering how people were able to spend that much time online and still teach. Again, I came to find that many of them were in computer labs or dealing with computers all day and therefore were able to be online almost all day. This really made me wonder how I was going to keep up with all that was going on. Thankfully, summer came along and I realized that, despite what I had thought, I could live without being online all the time. In fact, I realized that being “connected” had its limitations. I needed to make sure that there was some balance to what I did.

This is what led me to look into a few other networks that I now use. The first is ning. I was introduced to Classroom20 through Leadertalk. This introduction has led to a great set of networking nings where I interact with other teachers and administrators, discussing using technology in classrooms, the implications and the frustrations. These networks are very different from the blog networks I first started using and the conversational networks that I had recently began to use. In fact, I even started one of my own with the focus being administrators as a place for those who are in that type of leadership role to gather, talk and share. I like the interaction on these networks. Some of the people are the same ones that I have on twitter but many are not. The conversations range from practical “how to” to more philosophical ones. One of my favourites is Fireside Learning started by Connie Weber. Many of the discussions are ones you would have beside a fireplace; very casual but very deep and I’d like to thank Connie for asking me to join. (I haven’t left town, I’m just really busy;)

My other major network is Pownce. Now Pownce is a chat-like network a bit like twitter. However, as twitter relies on short brief 140 character bursts of chatter, pownce doesn’t have those limits. The discussions range in length but there are longer, more developed discussions that take place. The main things I like about pownce conversations are that they can vary from private one-to-one, to all your friends to public. This can be very handy especially when you are looking for feedback about an issue. And because it’s not limited by 140 characters, the conversation is more relaxed. Personally, I find it to have fewer “Look what I found, did, shot, podcast, ustreamed, ….” and more about input and discussion. I find that each has a place but I’ve never had anyone on pownce say “I don’t want to be away because I think I’ll miss something.” That, I believe, is one of the biggest “problems” with some of the networks that are developing. Having been there myself, I can understand how that thinking develops but it sin’t necessarily a postive one.

In fact, I believe that our idea of what a network does and can do for us will continue to evolve and change. In my previous post, I stated that we needed to help those who were entering this edusphere become acquainted with what was going on. I believe that it is now more true than ever. With all the available tools, it becomes overwhelming knowing where to start. With that said, it might be easier to help someone get started since the different networks are so much easier to join. Now I don’t know where the blogging all fits as not all people who join these new networks blog. They’ve become quite the mixture of different personalities, sharing, growing and adding new tools and exchanging ideas all with the idea of wanting to help students.

As these networks grow and change and more educators begin to use the tools that are available, our networks will continue to grow and change. Some, like twitter, I believe will continue to be used for fast paced discussions and up-to-the-minute new tools and ideas. Others, like ning and pownce, will be less fast paced, more discussion oriented, as is their nature. All these will, of course, be affected by the introduction and use of video discussions and other tools that have yet to hit the streets or become mainstream. The main thing is that, while networking has always been a part of what teachers have done, the opportunity to do so has increased. In fact, some may say that not being involved in some sort of online network as an educator may be cause for some concern given the proliferation of these networks online. I’m not sure that it has reached that point, yet, but it may soon become an expectation that teachers be involved in online PD of some sort and definitely involved in district/division wide online groups. We’ve reached the point where distance is not a concern. What is the concern/stumbling block is the failure of many within education to use the tools that are available to do the work they were designed to do. As networks continue to shrink the distance between people, educators will need to open the door and begin building their own network outside of their schools and that’s where many of us who have been using the different networks can help them in choosing something that will fit with what they are wanting to do.

Stay tuned as I will once again be reintroducing the New Faces posts where I highlight a blog of someone that I’ve just discovered.

Is networking the answer?

How do you get other teachers started and dedicated building and participating in a network. How do we encourage teachers to be life long learners, to invest time in these technologies as they relate to the classroom. How do we show them what they are missing out on?

These were questions that Kyle left on my last post. Kyle is an intern and, I’m assuming, soon to be a teacher entering the profession with all the enthusiasm of someone new. Kyle’s full comment was very insightful as he wondered about the state of teaching and learning as it is buffeted by the changing winds of technology and 21st century learners.

As an administrator, these questions really made me sit back and ponder what it is that is needed to help teachers venture out and into some of the different networks that I and others are participating in regularly. So, like all good administrators, I asked a few teachers.

Their first response across the board was that the equipment had to work when they went to try it and there had to be someone close who could lend a hand it needed. Without this, they would get frustrated and stop. As one pointed out “I don’t have the time to wait for something that might or might not work. With all the demands I have, it is either working or I’m on to something else.” With all that is going on at the school things need to be working. As I stated earlier, some days teachers don’t have time to go to the washroom.

The other side of the coin is that there needs to be someone who can help them along WITHOUT making them feel like they’re unintelligent. In my younger years, my wife often accused me of this. Instead of patiently working through things with her, I’d get frustrated and finally just do it, usually right after a huge sigh. Not cool. Teachers often are made to feel inadequate because they don’t know how to do some of the simple things, like understand what URL stands for. As another reader commented

Increasingly, education has become more compartmentalized, the work load is more than ever before, and the support is not there.

Each area has its own set of acronyms for different things. It’s got to the point where, as an administrator, I’m not sure if my PGP needs an IEP or a PPP or if I should  just CRY because I forgotten where my CAR is parked today. Really. Some days, with the different meetings that take place, it’s a wonder that teachers don’t start an acronym wall in the staffroom so that they can learn the new vocabulary that is being tossed at them. Now, we toss in a bunch of other things like URL and IP address and UN and wonder why people are backing off going “NO WAY”. Especially when they hear me talk about the twits with whom I tweet to get insights and information. Now that sounds like a place to go for good information!

As for dedicated and participating in the networks I think that they need to be shown that it’s not an add on or something else to do besides what they are already doing. That it is an extension of their lives in a new context. I’ve introduced some teachers to some of the less intimidating networks but they still don’t see them as being really relevant to the day to day things that go on. So, I guess I’d have to say, to question 1, we have to make them less intimidating and more welcoming. Using Twitter might not be the best thing to start with because of the limiting 140 characters. That would be very hard for someone to handle right out of the gate. Something like Pownce, on the other hand, might just be the ticket. A slow introduction to a network where teachers can ease into discussions.

The next question is something that those of us using the tools really have to watch because these teachers are lifelong learners. I watch them as they try new things, read books and articles, discuss new strategies with people in the building and seek out conferences and workshops. They are trying new things and extending themselves. They’re learning, just not like we are. I have teachers who subscribe to Educational Leadership and read the magazine and books when they get them. Others are presenters at conferences while others work within the division on different committees. The teachers with whom I work have been willing to be pilot teachers for a whole host of things, from math to ELA and have taken part in benchmarking and test creating.

So, How do we encourage teachers to be life long learners, to invest time in these technologies as they relate to the classroom? We validate what they are doing and then we take the time to show them how they might be able to replace one thing they are doing with something else. Instead of ordering a magazine, they can read online. It saves them money and they can search out articles they want. But to make this replace the other, we need to show them how to search for articles, bookmark online using delicious or Magnolia. We have to take the time to demonstrate that we think it’s important enough that we’ll give our time to help them and then check in on them. Suggest an article and then discuss it with them. Get them to show someone else a great article or website. But give them the time. Heck, show them a site that will make them flashcards so they don’t have to do it themselves.

How do we show them what they are missing out on? I don’t think we can. See, it’s like the poor man that was happy with his life because he had all he needed and was content with it. When asked by a rich neighbour why he didn’t work harder or do more to get more money, the poor man replied that he didn’t need anymore. The rich neighbour, wanting to show the man what he was missing, asked the poor man to come with him the next day to see what he was missing. The poor man agreed.

The next day, the poor man was picked up by a servant who drove him to the mansion. Another servant answered the door and showed him into a very luxurious drawing room where the man waited and listened as his neighbour conducted business with all different kinds of people, arguing about prices and costs, threatening people who owed him money and making deals for lending out more money. At noon, the two had a quick lunch together as the rich man had to rush off to another business meeting. He told his neighbour to make himself at home and enjoy the day. That afternoon, while the poor man walked around, he noted that there was a huge library with beautiful padded chairs and a fireplace but not a book was open. He walked out into a garden in which two servants worked and when he tried to help they would have nothing of it as they didn’t want him to make a mistake with what was being done. All day long he wandered about, seeing people working and hurrying off to tasks but no one smiled or stopped to talk. Of course, there was no family, the man didn’t have time for one. So when the owner arrived home, the poor neighbour thanked him for the day and started off toward home. The rich man was puzzled. Didn’t he want to stay longer? What had happened? The poor man answered that he had seen enough and was sure he liked his life just the way it was. He may not have had servants in his home but when guests came, they would always find a comfortable chair and great conversation. He might not have a beautiful garden but he was allowed to touch and work with his. He could plant and grow and bring forth life without worrying if he displeased someone. He might not have a great library but his one book, the Bible, was worn from being read each day. When people passed by, they would stop and talk, exchange news and gossip with him, not rushing away from him. And truly, he didn’t have the money but what he did have was earned without arguing and meetings and he enjoyed the few things it afforded him. No, he figured that he’d seen enough and was content with what he had. And with a smile, he turned and headed home.

Take a look at how people see you? What do they see? Is trading what they have for what you’re offering going to bring them what they want? Are we offering something that looks inviting? If not, what needs to happen to make it inviting? How can we entice people when we looked tired or stressed or …. ? We can be excited about what we are doing but if we don’t take them along and infect them with the excitement, what will they see?

Now, I just have to practice what I blog;)

Social Networks – why?

I had a busy morning at the school – there are many things to get done this last week before holidays. I know that I will not get them all done but I want to at least get them whittled down a bit. While doing various tasks I was able to keep up with what others are doing through Twitter and Pownce. Now, Pownce is a tool that allows you to share comments and thoughts with those people that you make friends, similar to what Twitter does. I am looking closely at this tool because I think it might have some use in the school setting so that teachers in the school could begin to use a social networking tool and become comfortable before venturing out on Twitter and other social networks. It might be a good way just to see how these networks work.

I also spent lunch doing some reading.  Dean Shareski has been having a conversation on his blog about the place of social networks and the use of tools for enhancing communication and connectedness. This all leads to what can and cannot be accessed in schools and what teachers will be expected to do, be able to use and be able to pass on to their students through the use of different tools. The two posts that Dean references demonstrate the frustration of people who are running into filters that block certain sites from being accessed. Now, I’ve run into this problem a few times with such things like Twitter and Blogger. I still cannot access my Blogger site from school. However, this is not the point of this post. My main purpose is to ask why we need to have these social networks available?

Dean points out;

Because most teachers do not practice or engage in the same kinds of online activities which for the most part is social networking, it’s going to be difficult for them to model. In addition, they likely don’t consider it a relevant topic of discussion amidst the daily work load they already face.

So, is it relevant to the daily work they face? With the number of initiatives that teachers face, do they have time? Some would say that time isn’t the question anymore. Instead, it is the reality that these are the tools of the youth which need to become part of the fabric of schools. Others would point to particular examples of teachers who are using these tools with incredible success.  One cannot argue with their successes and the incredible things that they are doing. However, it must also be noted that for teachers who are placed in the position of being required to prepare students for passing particular types of exams, there needs to be more than just the push to “get with the times.

Teachers need to see that their time will be better used by using the tools. If you were in my school, you would not be convinced of this because of the difficulties that we have been having with our technology. We know that the IT department is working as quickly as they can but we are still lagging in computer availability. We’ve had some network issues which have frustrated teachers and students. Myself, I’ve found it difficult to use some of the tools I want just because of some of these issues. This has meant I have had to replan my unit a few times to accommodate these situations.

As someone who uses technology fairly fluently, I see that we need to teach students about the social aspects of these tools and the various morals and values that go along with them. We need to discuss bullying of any kind, we need to work through the appropriate use of tools like cellphones and chat while in a learning setting.  We should be able to discuss how people interact with others but I’m not sure that teachers need to use all these things themselves in order to discuss what is an appropriate way to interact with another person or appropriate behaviour in social settings.

Now, Dean refers to the following quote by Regina Lynne:

All adults who work with youth should be aware of how young people communicate, fall in love and stay connected; I encourage teachers to try social networking services, to have a blog, to text message with their own families and friends. Experienced teachers will not only gain a better sense of the world their students live in — indeed, a world their students are creating — they will have a greater understanding of the young teachers entering the profession.

And I agree, mostly. They need to be aware. They need to have an understanding but, I’m not sure they need to do all those things themselves. As a professional, they have so many different obligations besides just teaching. Maybe, if the social pressures that are placed on schools were to be redistributed to different organizations or people, then the teachers might be able to find time to do these things. However, as I watch this last week of school begin, I know that many of them are looking forward to the break so they can relax and take a break from the various pressures that they encounter each day. Some of them will take time to work online but many of them will use the time to re-energize themselves. They will spend time with family and friends, people they haven’t had enough time for because of the time they dedicate to school. They will reconnect with their personal networks which might include some online interactions.

Yes, teachers might find networking with other teachers to be great. They might find it useful, much like their students find it useful to text each other during class when they don’t feel motivated or surf the web or check email when their professors are not connecting with them. However, in my many discussions with teachers, they are so busy that they rarely have time during the day to go to the bathroom never mind check their email or check their network.  They work with different students, differentiating curriculum, helping their students to acquire the information that the curriculum has prescribed for them to teach. Because they are professionals, they are very aware of what their responsibilities are to their students and not just the academic responsibilities. They are making human connections that many of the students do not have and seeking to guide them through this time of school so that when they leave they can make good decisions. I think they are preparing them for the world after school because so much of that world will deal with interactions and making personal decisions.

As for networking, the I work with  uses various technologies to communicate. The tools work to keep all of us informed and help us to share ideas with one another. We discuss  concerns we have with students in our school, the problems that some of our students are facing and the different alternatives we might seek. We share links and other such information. We use tools that help us to be more productive and help us to stay in tune with the others in the building. For most of the teachers in this school, this is enough networking for them. As we struggle to work with students about bullying, peer relations, drugs, sex, dating, relationships with parents and the myriad of other non-educational concerns that come our way each day, time spent on developing other networks isn’t a priority.

Finally, as for the young teachers entering the profession, I’m not sure about this one. In fact, from what I’ve seen, these teachers are striving to come to terms with a whole host of things that are beyond networking. Most veteran teachers, where I work, are more than willing to lend a hand and assist any young teacher. I’m not sure how understanding texting and social networks fits in with that unless it’s networking with other younger teachers who are overworked and tired. In fact, it’s usually the young teachers who are having a difficult time with the many educational requirements like differentiation, class expectations, marking, parent interactions and covering the curricula that they get and who seek out the veteran teachers. As for using other online tools, I don’t see a whole lot of increase even when the tools are available.

I guess, as someone who has been developing a network for about a year, I do see the positives. However, I’m not all that convinced that it is what every teacher needs to have. There are times when, having thrown out a question or concern on one of the social networks to which I belong, I get no response. Yeah, I learn alot from some of the people but, and I again put this forward not as a complaint but as an observation, unless you are “in the group”, you might not get the networking you believed you would get.  I know that is how it sometimes seems to me whether it is here or twitter or other social networks. To be really connected, you have to spend time developing the relationships and, as an administrator, time with the students is more important than time online trying to make friends who will answer your questions when you ask.