Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Can't We All Just Get Along...

So, I just realized this is my 400th post. Neat! Thanks for reading and all your support over the past 2 years!

This is a post that has been brewing for a while now....

But after a conversation I had this weekend I think it's time to get some of my thoughts out there for reflection. 

I totally get passion in education. And really can you be an educator and not have passion for education? Perhaps that is a post for another time. 

But the way I see it, many have moved passed passion and moved to anger. 

Again, I totally get that. I am upset with many things in our current system. Sure, if asked, I would give a lot of the "reformers" a piece of my mind. 


It seems like if  you disagree with one side or the other you are perceived as dumb, stupid, or much, much worse. 

My conversation started out with a Tweet that (to paraphrase) asked if a certain, central figure in the reform debate, that many admire and look up to actually had any ideas or if she just ran around the country telling us what is wrong without actually offering up any ideas. I follow this "reformer" on Twitter and her stream is filled with what comes across in 140 characters as anger. Again, I get that. (Remember, I am angry too.) But my point was that when you had the audience she did last week why not give them something tangible to take back to their districts to try or do? Seems reasonable, right?

Normally I don't tweet things like that. I don't. I like the discussion but there are people out there in ol' Twitter land that use the screen as one of anonymity and they believe because they are behind this screen they can say and do whatever they like. Don't get me wrong. Again, I love the conversations. I totally enjoy for my thinking to be pushed. However I have limits....

So after my tweet, which I figured would draw some comments I got plenty of, "I agrees," and a few people who disagreed, which was great. I had fun engaging and talking to them. Then there was one who, has passion, but that passion has grow to anger. And if you cross them, say anything negative about the reformer  whom I mentioned earlier, well, you might as well pack up and go home. 

This tweeter had solid arguments for certain types of reform and the direction we should be going, many I agreed with. However, it was the personal attacks and just general poor language that really made me loose respect for this tweeter. 

Disagreement is cool. Makes us think differently and see other sides, but to move from disagreement to creative hashtags, none appropriate to even write here, really just make your arguments look weak. 

This isn't the first time I have written about this or even encountered it. In a post from late last year I wrote about Education Nation project from NBC and how it was getting all sorts of negative attention from the Twittevers and blogsphere. Again, there I tried to say we needed to move from talk to action. 

In my most popular post ever on this blog I wrote about why we should all think before we Tweet. 

For me I keep coming back to this idea that I believe people who use social media or tools like it feel some level of anonymity and they can say, really what ever. What if we were having a face-to-face conversation? Would the person who I had my conversation with this past weekend behaved the same and said the same things? I am doubtful. 

I am not the only one to notice this trend. My friend Michelle, just wrote a post today about the exact same issue. In it she says; 

What do we tell kids about comments on blogs, online articles, Facebook status updates?
  2. If you disagree, you can do so without attacking another person’s character.
  3. If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t type it online.
  4. Remember, there are human beings on the other end.
  5. Remember, you are also a human being.
  6. Rule #1 is really all you need.
So why so much animosity amongst educators in online spaces lately? I would say that the current turmoil in which we find ourselves (perhaps related to education reform discussions) is part of it. But are we practicing what we preach? I don’t think so.
Couldn't agree more Michelle. And Seth Godin had a piece this weekend where this last line says simply, "Anger, on the other hand, makes us smaller." 
We are going to disagree. And you know, that makes us smarter, pushes our thinking and helps us see all sides. But is it possible to do it without anger? Passion, sure. But anger?
What do you think? Is this a problem today? Is it a result of the anonymity I say the screen provides or is it something else? Leave some comments below. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

#Edtech Over The Pond

On Friday, Ken Royal had me back on his BlogTalkRadio show, this time to talk to Joe Dale, an educational technology consultant, living on the south English coast. I was thrilled to be able to exchange ideas with Joe and the conversation did not disappoint. We talked about the importance of educators getting connected, how they can do that and even had a chance to do a mini smackdown where we shared some of our favorite tools.

I think for me the conversation affirmed that the same issues we face in the US are similar else where in the world. Joe and I both struggle with helping educators see the value of getting connected in these online spaces and getting them to understand how they can grow as an educator using something simple like Twitter.

Below is the player with the interview. Take some time and listen, not to me but the exchange of ideas. And listen some of the other great interviews Ken has done with some of the great thinkers in the edtech world.

Listen to internet radio with royaltreatment on Blog Talk Radio

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When We Will Start Our Egyptian Revolution In The Classroom?

It has been an interesting past few weeks around the world. First the govenerment in Tunisia was brought down. Then a similar situation in Egypt. And now people are taking to the streets in Bahrain, Iran and other places. For whatever the reason the people in these countries were upset with their government and protest to the point where they brought down governments, some that had been in place for 30+ years.

Now, I am not a political expert. I don't know each situation and why the people where unhappy. I have some knowledge but I don't want to speculate. But I do know that there is one common thread in each of these situations that is worth taking a look at.

Social Media

On Sunday 60 Minutes profiled the man credited with starting the revolution in Egypt. Wael Ghorim works for Google and started a Facebook page for Egyptians to post their experiences with police. And it is from that Facebook page and from Twitter posts organize protests that topiled a government. It was a great interview and you can watch it below.

The events in Tunisia, Iran, Bahrain, and other places and trace their beginnings to the use of social media by the residents in those countries. Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites allowed residents to organize in non-traditional ways to get their message out. Many of the governments don't know how to handle these new voices, so they knee-jerk react, send out the military to quiet the crowds. But they just get louder and louder and larger and larger. And in the case of Egypt and Iran, they attempted to keep control by shutting down Internet traffic for several days.

Any of this sound familiar?

Leadership is afraid of a new medium and how powerful it is. So they put up blocks, downplay it's effectiveness, and bury their heads in the proverbial sand.

When is our revolution in education when it comes to Social Media and the use of these tools in the classroom? Think about how powerful it could be if students in a high school social studies class in Nebraska could look at the Facebook page started by Wael. But, they can't because the district feels Facebook is a time suck, provides no educational value and they block it.

Or what about being able to look at the Tweets organizing the protests and have a discussion about why the people in these places feel the way they do and how their situations compare to those locally and nationally.

Those of us who know the power of Social Media and the value it can provide to learning are, sometimes, seen in the same way as many of the organizers of these revolutions. We are disruptive. We want to destroy the current system. Really? We just want change. We understand how these tools can be used to enhance, change and ultimately make learning better for students.

Maybe it is wrong of me to compare these events in these countries where many of the citizens have been mistreated for many, many years. But again, isn't the same true for our kids? Sitting in rows, drill and kill, teaching in isolation. Maybe that is mistreatment....

What do you think? When is our education revolution? Are their parallels? Or are the situations different? Leave some comments below.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Get Your Search On!

Over the weekend my good friend Gwyneth Jones tweeted about an interesting search engine called Heapr. I am all about search engines so of course I had give it a go.

Basically Heapr is a quad search engine. With one search you get results for 4 different searches all on one screen. While built using Google search you also get returned results from Wikipeda related searches, WolframAlpha search and Twitter instant results.

So I just did a basic search for "Super Bowl" since it was the most watched program in the history of television over the weekend.

On the left you get the Google results. Instant search is automatically turned on so as soon as you start typing the results pour in. On the left you have the live results from Twitter search, that as you watch, update automatically. So during a live or breaking news event, this stream would be constantly moving.

Here is the result from WolframAlpha

And the Wikipedia Results

Of course, if you look hard at all the results, there is some good and there is some not so good. But isn't that the case with all search results, no matter the engine. What I think is the benefit is having all four different types of results on one page, especially the live search results from Twitter, the data results from WolframAlpha and the related results from Wikipedia. I really do think this allows for more deeper information that students can use for researching topics.

But the basic search engine is not all that Heapr has to offer. Looking for images? Heapr Images will return Google Image and Flickr results side by side. (For me the only downside is not being able to sort by license.)

Looking for video? Head over to the Heapr Video page and and you can do simultaneous searches on Youtube, Vimeo and Hulu.

Pretty basic in terms of search. But pretty neat in terms of results. And the ability to search multiple sites in one click is a big time saver for me. So head over to Heapr and get your search on!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What Is It About #Educon? My Reflections...

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Educon 2.3 in Philadelphia. For those who don't know, Educon is an educational conference that us put on by the students and staff of the Science Leadership Academy, lead by Chris Lehmann. Really, it is more the students who do everything. From running the live streaming to the EduConcierge who would tell you the best place to eat and print your boarding passes for you, kids were everywhere doing any number of jobs. Instead of sessions there are Conversations which are supposed to be more interactive for the participants and the Conversation Leaders.

It is a different kind of conference. It has taken me the better part of 3 days to reflect on everything and to try to determine where I go from here.

Here are a few of my thoughts after attending for the first time...

SLA is a great place, with great people and great kids. But. Is it any different than many schools? They have lots of opportunities because their school is tied to the Franklin Institute and they have an amazing leadership team. But don't all schools have the same opportunity to do the great things that go on at SLA everyday? They are still a public school so they have standards and testing and all that stuff but people still hold them in high regard as a model school or the school we all would like to teach in. Can't we take the same values away from SLA and make them happen in our own schools? I like the beginning of their mission statement. It starts with 3 questions:

1) How Do We Learn?
2) What Can We Create?
3) What Does It Mean To Lead?

Inquiry-based learning is a cornerstone of their approach. Collaboration and reflection are a big part too. It all just makes sense. So, why not take those same values and mission to our own corners of the earth and institute them?

One of the questions I kept asking myself was what makes everyone say Educon is the conference to go to? Not that I disagree of course, but why this one in particular? I think it comes down to the people. Moreover, I think it is the opportunity to engage with and learn with many that we do virtually each day. Which drives home the point that while my virtual learning is such an important part of who I am and what I do, I still crave these opportunities to meet people face to face and sit and have a conversation. I truly enjoy meeting people I talk to online. We are human after all and we need those social interactions. Educon is just a venue and a platform for that to take place on a large scale.

Many times I saw people gathered around in small groups talking about whatever they really wanted. I think the best conversations happened outside of the scheduled Conversations. The same thing can happen locally Schedule a monthly tweetup or get-together. Edcamps and TeachMeets are another example of how this can happen. While our virtual networks are great, the face-to-face ones can be equally as great.

I kept hearing and asking myself why can't this style of presentation (The Conversation) be replicated at things like ISTE or other major conferences or even at the local level? Then I caught myself saying, sure they can. We just have to change the way we present. My favorite session was one lead by Joyce Valenza, Shannon Miller, and Gwyneth A. Jones on student inquiry and research. Not only is a topic that I really enjoy but the opportunity to learn from these 3 ladies was a chance I could not pass up. But was it the topic that made it my favorite? Sure there was great information shared by them but it was highly engaging and interactive. There was back and forth between us and them. We all became apart of the conversation when we did Rocks, Sucks, Not Sure with various topics in student research like Term Papers or Online Citation Makers or the use of Wikipedia in the classroom. We had to get up and move around the room and defend our position. So not only were we learning from Joyce and Shannon and Gwyneth but we were all learning from each other. Lots of sessions were like this. There was group sharing, group projects, talking one-on-one, problem solving, and more. It was like a class you never wanted to leave and you hated when the time was up.

As a presenter I am in control of the same thing. Sure, I could stand in front of an audience and lecture for 60 minutes, taking questions every now and then. Or I could make my participants actually participate. Get up, move around, work in groups, have everyone collaborate in Edmodo or on a Google Doc. The whole point is that this how learning should be, especially in our schools and classrooms. We all have something to add to the conversation. The presenter is not the only expert in the room and that is evident in the Educon Conversations. We all did a little (in my case a lot) of learning together. And that is just really cool.

Would I go again? Heck yeah! Am I different for attending? I don't think so. I have different work to do, yes. But I am not that much different than when I left. I know that I still need time to process and reflect on the 5 conversations I was able to attend and I know I want to hit up the archives to see the tons of conversations I couldn't. And that reflection is important. If we are not reflecting and growing as a part of our learning, what is the point?

See you at Educon 2.4?