Friday, June 28, 2013

Tweeting In a Glass House

Even Flow
flickr photo shared by Vicki C

Digital citizenship- I think we can all agree it is pretty important.  We want to teach our kids to navigate the internet safely and respect their digital footprint. I heard (though I cannot remember where) that, for our students, their digital footprint will be more important than a resume when they are seeking employment.

Almost every session I sat in this week at ISTE mentioned something about teaching our students to be good citizens online.  I have been taking a deeper look at this myself while I engage in the curriculum rewriting process for my school and expand our technology integration initiatives.

So, I was browsing Twitter while I was on the plane ride home from San Antonio and I was pretty disheartened by what I was reading.  Teachers, like, a lot of them, tweeting about their travels home.  Tweeting, more specifically, about strangers around them.  What they are wearing, eating, smell like, the stories they told.  These posts were not nice and some of the statements were incredibly mean. These unsuspecting people are traveling just like anyone else and they are being made fun of on public forums.

In school, we call this cyber bullying.

I make this point because I was watching comments made by adults traveling back from an educational technology conference; some were bloggers that I believe take digital citizenship seriously.  They were making comments almost exactly like the comments I have seen make middle school girls cry.

I am glad I saw this because it forced me to reflect upon what I was posting.  It caused me to think twice before sending something out into the universe that could be hurtful. Even if the subject never reads the comment doesn't make it acceptable for me.  It allowed me to ask myself, "If one of my students wrote this comment about a peer, would it be hurtful?" That makes it pretty easy for me to decide whether or not to post.

I understand the temptation, and I have been guilty of it myself, but we need to be better than that.  Especially if we want any hope of transferring digital citizenship to our students.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Minding Our Business

Expo forklift
flickr photo shared by Scott McLeod

Who here likes unsolicited advertising?  Pushy sales people intercepting your natural flow to tell you about a product that will make your life amazing?  Flyers thrown at you while you are just making your way to your next destination?  Oh, you kind of hate that? Yeah, me too.

Education is a business.  A huge business, in fact.  Whether it is a new tech toy, an advanced degree, or just regular school supplies and text books, these companies are serious about the business of education.  At ISTE, this is always on full display in the Expo area.  Companies gathered to sell their products.  The Expo can be an amusing experience, traveling from booth to booth, getting hand-outs and trying new products.  Ok, I am fine with that.

But what happens when that moves outside that enclosed area and begins to intrude on the more intimate interactions taking place? This year, I had two experiences that really turned me off to the corporate companies at ISTE.  Both took place in the Blogger's Cafe, which is a space for conference attendees to meet-up, charge-up, and hang out.  It can be a relaxing space and a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the conference day.

As I sat on the floor with another teacher from Baltimore (this was our first in-person meeting after communicating throughout the year), we were engaged in a rich conversation of changing the geography of the classroom.  His school is getting rid of desks and replacing them with rolling, foldable tables.  He made a quick comment about Promethium boards not being as useful in that space any more, considering the learning did not take place at the front of the room, but instead, well, anywhere they wanted.

Like a vulture, a gentleman in a stiff suit swooped in, business card in hand.  Yup, you guess it.  He worked for Promethium.  He couldn't help but overhear our conversation and wanted to talk to us about some other tools the company had developed.  Seriously?  Yes.

The second instance was much less obtrusive but almost more insulting.  I was sitting with Chris Lehmann making plans to visit his school and a gentleman walks between us, drops some promotional flyers on the table, and walks away.  This within itself is not a huge intrusion, but the table had probably five or seven different product flyers scattered around, so I am assuming a number of conversations were disrupted this way.  Additionally, he couldn't even be bothered to know if this product was at all useful to us, as he clearly had no intention of actually engaging in a conversation.

Juxtaposed to the advertising and "big business" presence at ISTE are the start-up companies.  Many of these companies are comprised of young professionals that moved from the classroom into building a business with the purpose of improving the lives of teachers and students.  Most did not have booths in the Expo and they were not hulking people in the Blogger's Cafe.  They reached out on social media and met up with people voluntarily, they threw a couple parties, and most importantly, they had some very meaningful conversations with me and others.  I understand they have a product to sell too, but there was a human element involved, a more substantial connection.  They wanted to know me, what I did, and how I felt.  They take my feedback and they listen to my opinions.  In fact, a lot of their products are free (a four letter F word in the business world).

What does this mean for the future of education?  What could happen if these companies were successful enough to sustain themselves over time?  How does this change the educational landscape? Could we replace the business of education with companies that love learning rather than money?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Springboard for Change

flickr photo shared by Jeff Howard

As ISTE wraps up I am starting to sort through the wide variety of experiences I have had this week. I have sat through sessions on apps for the classroom and tools for students. There were also sessions that discussed the future of innovative teaching and pedagogy.  Most of these sessions have been extremely informative and some even enlightening.  But what is my take away?  What changes?

I was lucky enough to have a conversation with George Couros after the conference keynote, Jane McGonigal, spoke on Sunday night.  He asked me what I would change after listening to the speaker, suggesting a speaker is truly effective if they create a springboard for change. That conversation encouraged me view the sessions I attended through a different lens.  I stopped analyzing what I could get out of the session and started asking how will this ultimately transform my teaching?

This idea of transformation has been on my mind all week.  Baltimore City Public Schools is a district that has been transforming for last decade.  A current example is a ten-year initiative to transform our existing schools into 21st Century buildings. The possibilities with a plan like this are astounding; just imagine what could be available for our kids.  One the other hand, what happens if we don't also transform our teachings within those buildings?  Additionally, when do we question how important the buildings and spaces actually are in relationship to what we actually need to help our students gain these 21st century skills. 

I have connected with some incredible people this week and it had nothing to do with the device I was using or the apps I used within that device.  The space did not really influence what we discussed or what we learned.  The connections revolve within intimacy of conversations and common bonds.  The teachers at this conference are doing amazing things and talking with them was far more powerful and transformative that anything tangible around us or in that space.  I have sat through some poor sessions but I have yet to have a meaningless conversation.

So what do I change about my teaching?  What does transformation look like in my classroom and in our district?  How do I take the ideas of the speakers and the information about technology and make it meaningful?  

I think it starts with connections.  Connecting with my colleagues and students and helping to create a tangled web of connections that spans all reaches of our globe.  Then, we make meaningful changes and we transform.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Journey...One Year Later

A lot of educators are really good at blogging, and for this I am eternally grateful.  They share ideas, projects, materials, and innovation.  They are the leaders and rockstars in our field.

I am not good at blogging. I have not blogged since ISTE 2012.  That is about to change.

As I sit in the bloggers cafe at ISTE 2013 this year, I cannot help but feel like I am on the brink of New (school) Year's Eve.  I am reflecting, setting goals, and getting ready to make some changes.  It is scary,  exciting, and refreshing all at once.

This time last year I was traveling to ISTE with nine other Baltimore teachers, all fellows with Digital Harbor Foundation.  We attended ISTE and it changed our lives.  Together we navigated the sessions, met amazing educators, and began to realize what we could do in our class and the power technology gave us and our students.  It was the beginning of a new chapter in our teaching.  We were changed by this experience.

This year, I cannot help but feel that in just twelve months my whole (educational) life has come a full 120 degrees.  I am no longer a EdTech fellow. Though I have great respect for DHF and their vision, I will not associated with the non-profit during this convention.  I traveled to San Antonio this year with three incredible colleagues from my school and I get to help them experience ISTE for the first time, which seems fitting considering the turns I have taken this year.

In all, I have been able to start emerging as an EdTech leader for my colleagues and within my school.  I secured a 1:1 classroom this year, which was my ultimate goal ending ISTE last year.  I have been able to share new technology and pedagogy with my staff and students with great results and thus gained their trust and respect in areas in which they were skeptical.  This initiative has now grown to encompass all our middle schoolers using Chromebooks and professional development for teachers to make this process smooth and effective.

So what are my goals and hopes for ISTE this year?  Expand my thinking, gain knowledge, explore ideas, meet new people, and get excited about the opportunities I have to transfer all these aspects of this conference to my students and staff in the Fall.  Wish me luck!