Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Can digital tools address the social and human realm of our students’ lives?

I love technology. I am typing on a tablet in the quiet of my home before I read on my Kindle and drift off to sleep. I’m thinking about the many opportunities our students have to write these days. They write with their thumbs by texting. They tell the world where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with on Facebook. They communicate using 140 characters or less on Twitter. Some of them are even writing in full paragraphs on blogs.

In forward-thinking schools, we encourage them to collaborate on Google Docs and Skydrive. We ask them to do a Please Do Now by sharing their thinking about a topic in a discussion forum, an online form, or even by tweeting.

However, are they developing social skills? If so, are they the same skills that we grown ups learned? Or are they a different set of skills, necessary in today's culture? Not only do they need to be good citizens in their schools and communities, they need to be good digital citizens.

I recently read a story about a Mom's list of rules for her child's use of his new smart phone. When I shared it with a group of educators, I was surprised by the response. Instead of taking a look at the rules, they commented on the fact that it is news that a parent is setting. I gave that some thought.

Are we thinking that the rules should simply be a natural transference from one generation to the next? Look around you at the big people in the world --us. We are breaking most of this Mom’s rules on a regular basis. It’s all such new territory – in the scheme of things. Moms and Dads are some of the worst offenders, sort of like my parents were with TV. It was shiny and new, and it was on all the time. Now, we, the next generation, see the need to limit televison watching. Our kids will probably grow up seeing our sometimes obsessive use of the devices and will limit their kids’ use of them.

So, let's get back to the social aspect of technology.

One of this mom’s rules was to,  Have a conversation with someone you would text.”  It delights me to hear teenagers actually taking on the phone. Ah, the many hours I spent on the phone with friends -- talking about everything and nothing. Today, the idea of walking next door or down the street or to use the phone for a phonecall to ask a question is beyond kids. Why bother?

For the human contact.

Skype, Lync, and FaceTime do work very nicely to add the human component into the conversation. Adding a face to a conversation makes you think about what you are going to say and helps you to appreciate the other person's reactions. Knowing that you are being seen by the other person makes you think about your own body language and how you are dressed. However, it’s still not the same as being in person.

Another rule: “Do not do or say something you would not say in person.”  There are actually kids who break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend via text. The impact of the breakup is never felt the same way. In some cases, they were only boyfriend and girlfriend via text only anyway! Cyberbullying goes on by kids who would never do it in the case where they would see the other person's wounded expression.

I like this rule (but rarely follow it): “Feel safe and secure in the decision to leave it home.” Go out without my phone? Are you nuts? What would I do while standing in line, eating dinner with my family, or taking a walk with a friend? Talk. Think. Wonder. Admire your surroundings. Use eye contact. Show genuine interest. When is the last time you saw someone simply walking a dog, talking to a toddler in the grocery store about the colors and shapes of the produce, or enjoying the act of attending a concert?

Talk to a stranger. WHAT? Yes, the little old lady whose family never calls, the new family who just joined the congregation, the gentleman at the library, the musician at the restaurant. They all would appreciate a sincere "Hello, how are you today?"

Someone who told me that he has posted 400 messages on a musicians' discussion forum over a few years. Is this social? When that same had an emergency prior to a job, he was able to reach out to this musician community and get someone to fill in for him. When he wanted to hear the latest electronic piano,  he went out to dinner to watch one of the musicians perform on it. They met face-to-face. They chatted. He shared the experience on the forum.

I am currently glued to FaceBook as I watch the undiagnosed illness of a dear friend’s daughter unfold. The friend has reached out to her friends through Facebook and has built an interfaith prayer circle to support her through the long days. She doesn’t want to talk, but she does not feel alone as a result of her social network.

Can digital tools address the social and human realm of our students’ lives?

Friday, January 25, 2013

OneNote: The Ultimate Digital Notebook

If you'd like to know more about OneNote - what I consider the ultimate digital notebook, check out these videos I created. 

Do NOT wait for the training.

I was speaking with a colleague the other day, after she had finished facilitating some professional learning. She told me that the group she was working with had received their devices at different times throughout the year -- some in September, some in December, and others just in the past week. When she arrived at the session, she was amazed that some had never been turned on. Others had been turned on, but the devices had never been explored.

When we as educators are lucky enough to be handed a new tool – interactive white board, tablet, laptop, ChromeBook, iPad, or a piece of software – it is our responsibility to have some fun and play with it.  Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT wait for the training. If you wait for the training, then that is all it will be – training. It will not be a true professional learning experience.

Sit down with it and experiment. Try out everything that comes with it.

  • Is there software pre-installed? If you don’t think your students would use that software, think again. Get those creativity juices flowing.
  • What does it do? What doesn’t it do?
    • How could your students create with it?
    • What can they produce?
    • Is it best used as a tool for consuming information?
  • If your students have access to the tool, what are the classroom management issues?
    • How can you prepare for them and address them?
  • What makes it different than the old tools you already had (if you had them)?
    • Is it mobile? Is it tethered? 
    • Does it allow for touch?
    • Does it use a stylus/pen?
  • Is a camera built in? Take some pictures.
    • Once you’ve taken pictures, what can you do with them?
  • Explore the software. Explore the apps.
    • Do you see any similarities?
    • Are there certain buttons that appear on a regular basis? What are they? What do they do?
  • Which 21st century skills does the use of the new tool promote?
    • Can your students collaborate using the new tool?
    • Can they communicate using it?
    • Can they use the tool to construct their own knowledge?
    • How is the tool used in the real world?
    • Does it encourage problem solving?

Once you’ve thought about this, you’ve kick-started your professional learning. Now, you're ready for that workshop.

Friday, January 18, 2013

There Is No Straight Line on the Road to Realizing the Promise of Technology

Change is not a straight line. It is incremental. I read this in a New York Times interview with Karen May, the Vice President for People Development at Google. Not a straight line – that’s for sure. When I started in this world of instructional technology, I figured that I’d just drop in to a school district, show them the power of the technology, and they’d know what to do with it. Wrong.

I started teaching teachers and administrative staff how to use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. I gave them step-by-step instructions and showed the plethora of tasks they could perform. Then I realized that, despite the fantastic reviews I received, some of my students would return for the same class several months later. The reason? They never had a chance to use what I taught them. Next, I started offering 2-hour laser-focused training with authentic projects for the work they did. That’s when it started to get practical but a bit too short.

When I entered the world of instructional technology coaching, I began to see the possibilities. It was no longer about training; it was about professional development (PD). Not only was I offering sessions on tools; I was asking big picture questions. My colleagues and I were Mentors. We formed long-lasting relationships with the Coaches we served. When we shared a cool tool, we also shared what we could do with it in a classroom. We mentored them to do the same. We built a network of individuals from around the state. They were required to come together from around the state face-to-face (F2F) once a year with opportunities for F2F PD, and they were given opportunities to come together throughout the year for statewide PD. Some of the best professional development these coaches received was in the hallway speaking with their colleagues. In between, we built a virtual network of a listserv and a Moodle with webinars offered regularly. We all felt as if we had a common vision, and we could reach out to each other for ongoing support to make that vision a reality.

Although that initiative has come to a close, the vision has not. The virtual network still exists, and it is still very active. In fact, our local ISTE affiliate asked me to continue in that virtual mentoring role, to help the fantastic educators of the state keep that vision intact.

The line veered when I began working with a group that realized it was time to give some thought to the role of instructional technology in their work as instructional coaches focusing on literacy. I began to have a series of reality checks. The bigger world, beyond the project that had just finished, was not nearly as keen on instructional technology as I had hoped. I had to start over and figure out where to begin. In many cases, I had to step on the breaks and decide what was reasonable to accomplish and how quickly I could accomplish it.

I also had a heart-wrenching realization. Not all of the coaches I had worked with in the past walked away from their professional development experiences with the same vision of their role. Some truly saw themselves as tech coaches. Although we had focused on instructional coaching, they had focused on technology. I could see that those who truly saw themselves as instructional coaches were the ones that were being kept in the position, despite the economic downturn. I believed that their participation in the project that I had joined was paramount to their success.

In the meantime, my reality check continued. In the real world, little glitches can hold someone back from embracing a wonderful tool. Push-back was more common than acceptance. Using a tool was much more effective than teaching it. Although I had been saying for years: It’s not about the technology; it’s what you do with it, reality stared me in the face and made me realize that decision-making about when to use it was hard.

Great strides have been made. The organization is all about ongoing professional learning that has layers of regional mentors, local mentors, and instructional coaches to support educators. An online course is in the works to make the connections between instructional coaching, literacy strategies, and digital learning. Not only am I modeling the use of digital tools, so are my colleagues. Using these tools is beginning to become commonplace.

The change I am convinced needs to happen in education has taken me on a wonderful journey – that continues to zig and zag. My involvement in regional, statewide, and national projects has opened up my eyes to the possibilities. The world of professional development is now turning into a world of professional learning – lifelong learning. My goal continues to be to help educators realize the promise of technology.




Thursday, January 3, 2013

Presenting Knowledge and Ideas With Digital Media

In grades 9-12 , the CCSS tell us that students should “make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and  interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings,  reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.”    

This is a component of visual literacy. What does that mean? We talk about literacy as the ability to read and write to learn. Our students have the tools that enable them to go beyond the written word to express themselves. In today’s world, they need to be able to use visuals that give meaning to their written or spoken word. They have to be able to “read” visuals, and they have to know how to use visuals and audio to communicate.

But, let’s stop a moment and think.  

This is not the 1970’s. We do not need to cut pictures out of National Geographic and paste them to a poster board to enhance understanding. Why are we encouraging our kids to use other people’s work, when it it is so simple for them to CREATE their own digital media and COMMUNICATE their own message?

  • Why not use Excel or Numbers to create a graph or chart that represents data?
  • Why not use Minecraft and a camera to create a video to explain your point?
  • Why not use Toondo or Bitstrips to build a character?
  • Why not use Zooburst to make a story come to life?
  • Express your thinking using a bubbl or cacoo.
  • Create a documentary with Movie Maker or iMovie.
  • Embed web widgets into online writing.
  • Collaborate using online whiteboards and insert the images into writing.
  • Ilustrate word frequency in articles and speeches using a word cloud such as tagxedo or wordle.

Enhance your reader’s understanding. Critically think about how you want to communicate. Then collaborate, create, and communicate.

If your students ARE using visuals created by others...

With easy access comes the need for understanding the appropriate use of the visuals that are so easily available to them. Digital citizenship is a skill/concept that needs to be taught. To help you out, check out these resources: