Teaching teachers about technology

A note to the reader

The following post generalized a problem/solution that I see in my board. It’s not a problem everywhere. It is not universal, but it is common. I’m not pointing fingers; there is no subtext here. I don’t want anyone to be upset, so I’m just letting you know that I’m not talking about you specifically. If you feel like I am, then please consider what I’m saying carefully, because I’m hoping this is valuable reading for you.

New tech in our board

We’re rolling out Office 365 to all staff and students in September. I’m not part of the planning team, so I don’t know what that rollout will look like. I’m thinking back to past “initiatives” (I kind of hate that word), some of which I’ve bumbled up myself, and I feel we need several approaches to learning about this (and any!) new technology.

Learning culture

We’ve done it to ourselves. We’ve developed a culture among our teachers (and students, to a lesser degree) of expecting learning to be “delivered”. It’s happened over many, many years of generic, one-size-fits-all, drive-by-PD in all areas of our profession. We have been passive recipients of knowledge and skills, and there is an expectation that “learning” continues this way. After all, we’re adults, right? The presenter said stuff, and the participants now have the skills!

Except that it doesn’t work like that, and everyone knows it. Two problems here:

  1. Learners have dramatically different entry points; presentations don’t allow for that
  2. Learners need to do work to learn; presentations don’t encourage that

Okay, maybe your presentations deal with problems 1 and/or 2 above, and you’re doing something better than “delivering” to your participants. I’m not talking about your presentations specifically. No need to get huffy. :)

Technology learning culture

In learning about technology, most teachers I know expect “training” in how to use a device/app/web service. They want someone to show them how it works, what it can do. In my experience, that’s the easy part to show, and the least useful part to show. The developers probably included a document (help file or tutorial) that explains all of that. No one reads these things, of course, but they’re perfectly legitimate and often just as effective.

No, the hard part is learning how to use a technology well and for a purpose. Instead of expecting to be trained in the technical details of a tool, I want teachers to expect to learn to use that tool in the context of pedagogy. Better still, I want teachers to consider what their students need for learning, then work together to figure out how to use different tools to help meet those needs.

Learning approaches

Learners will need different levels and types of support depending on a variety of factors (preference, experience, available time, opportunities to implement on the job). Maybe someone will benefit from a tutorial to follow. Another person might appreciate some videos explaining procedures. Lots of people want (and expect) an expert at the elbow, but that’s really expensive and kind of impractical; it can only happen sometimes.

I’m a fan of learning through a project. For example, if I think it’ll be valuable to learn to use a blogging platform, maybe I should try a 7-day blogging challenge. Or perhaps I can learn to use my new tablet by deciding to record and edit video clips for my students. If I have a clear purpose, I’ve given myself a route to follow, and I’m likely to learn things I didn’t know in advance that I would learn.

One other helpful approach is developing or joining a support group. Find other people who are interested in learning the same things, and talk about it. Help each other. Invest in other peoples’ learning and they will reciprocate as well.

Valuing different approaches

There is still the issue of “accountability” and “qualification” and so on. How do we ensure that teachers are learning what they need to? How do we “know” that someone has developed skill with a technology?

We currently don’t value all of the approaches equally. In fact, many people won’t value or even recognize learning that isn’t a structured “course” or “workshop”. Who takes a course in learning to use YouTube? Isn’t it easier/faster/more efficient/more effective to just ask for help or try it out independently?

School boards usually don’t properly value learning that isn’t schooling, and they overvalue accountability. Both contribute to a lack of trust in teachers’ professionalism, which neither encourages nor empowers us. They poo-poo learner choice, favouring homogeneity of delivery over actual learning.

Freedom with support and expectation

I think it’s best to encourage learning (not training!), provide supports for those who want them, and the freedom to choose our own paths.

Take a step back and look objectively: tightly controlled “professional development” clearly hasn’t been working, and it’s been tried for decades. Time to try something else, and to give it a fair shake. It takes long-term commitment to change a culture, so we’d better get started.

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LaTeX in WordPress

I assumed I would have to pay fees, get a plugin, or use WordPress.org in order to have math rendered in my blog posts. Not so.

Details are at http://en.support.wordpress.com/latex/, but here’s a sample:

f\left(x\right)=\frac{5}{2}cos(x-\pi)+\frac{1}{2}

Nice, eh? It renders an image and puts the \LaTeX in the ALT tag. I love it.

Computer Lab Design

I was in a high school this morning to work with two Career Studies classes. It was an introduction to Blended Learning using the virtual Learning Environment (Desire2Learn), and we were scheduled into a computer lab. This is what it looks like:

A picture of a computer lab

I couldn’t fit it all into the frame, but there are 30 computers (there are a few along the windows to the right of the image) and there is a projection screen on the wall behind me to my left. The classroom is enormous; I’d estimate it’s 30 feet (across in the photo) by 60 feet.

As I worked with the students I found the setup of the room to be really frustrating. Most students were too far from the projection screen, so that made it hard for me to demonstrate stuff whole-class. Also, if someone needed elbow support, I was 40 feet away from my computer. In the end I decided to mostly provide verbal instructions and coach people that needed help. The screens face every which way, so I couldn’t even see half of them from any one location in the room.

The classroom definitely needs a redesign. Some points I would consider:

  • arrange desks to make it easier for the teacher to circulate and guide the learning
  • keep the instructional laptop close to the learning area
  • put students closer together so they can help each other
  • keep the projection screen close to the student computers

It’s not a highly mobile classroom; you can’t move stuff frequently. These are desktop computers which use power supplied by posts coming out of the floor. But up to the limitations of the hardware, I think we could do better.

Response to @dougpete and using Social Media with students

Once in a while I like to go back an arbitrarily-round-number time in my posts to see what I said. Today I returned to about a year ago and saw a post called tMI – Students’ Personal Lives and Twitter in the Classroom in which I shared some concerns that a teacher brought up during a professional learning session. I quickly read it over, and then tweeted it out again:

Then Doug Peterson (@dougpete) commented on the post, which got me thinking some more. We had a brief Twitter exchange, prompting more firing of neurons. I started to reply with a comment, but I’ve changed my mind. I think I’m ready to paste my new-and-improved-but-still-not-final thoughts in this new post. First, here’s…

Doug’s comment

Interesting post, Brandon. I think you’ve both asked and answered some questions in the post. In light of the fact that the Ontario Curriculum has yet to prescribe the use of social media, it is currently just another tool that a teacher may elect to bring into her or his classroom. I think that there is a good argument for it once a teacher gets his / her head around it. As I would imagine that you’re summizing, I’m in favour of its use, where appropriate. Schools didn’t have internet access when I started teaching but many of my students were connected and connected to me – I ran my own Bulletin Board Service and students were able to dial in and talk on chat boards, ask for homework help, and even upload programs for solution.

To this end, I’m a real fan of a student-created Acceptable Use Policy rather than the legal ones that are so often used. Of course, the teacher drives the policy!

You used the term “wild west” in your post so I’ll throw back another popular analogy that we don’t ask students to drive without teaching them first. What better way to teach the effective and, yes, appropriate use than in the classroom of a professional educator that knows the tool and what it’s capable of.

There are so many “social networks” that are available including the Ministry’s LMS that a mere mortal teacher wouldn’t be able to monitor them all. But, we’ve all been in situations where we see things and we do need to act on them. I can remember, as a football coach, going into the stands to break up an altercation or, as a hockey fan getting involved for no other reason that it’s the right thing to do and one of the participants was wearing a school jacket. I would hope that anyone would do the right thing whether or not they were on the clock.

I think that it’s a good conversation to have and that people aren’t running and hiding. You know that, with the proliferation of services, that it’s going to happen. We’ll look back on these conversations with a smile wondering why we spent the time to comment.

We just need to come to the understanding that we are who we are. Heck, even your blog is letting me know “dougpete: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account.”

And My Reply

Thanks for commenting, Doug. I keep returning to the idea that teachers need to develop some comfort with some platforms so that they can engage with students meaningfully. Part of that is for the learning at hand (the science or philosophy or whatever), but another significant part is for students to learn how to interact appropriately (learning to drive, as you say). I don’t think any more that we should ignore the activities of our youth online just because their virtual personas may be “unreliable”; instead we need to be careful in how we interpret their interactions. The teacher I spoke with wasn’t concerned about whether they were on the clock (teachers are always on the clock), but rather whether they would know what was serious or truthful and what was joking or dishonest.

I’m planning to engage with students online next year, and I’m trying to decide where the boundaries should be. I won’t be using Facebook with students (family and friends only, thank you), but Twitter seems very useful as a learning tool. I’ll be teaching high school students as well, which might make a difference; I just don’t know what kind of difference. I see examples of teachers (like Danika Barker, @danikabarker) using Twitter to engage and interact with learners, and I see a place for that in my own teaching. I’m also a relatively experienced Twitter user, so my comfort with the platform takes away some barriers that another teacher might still need to overcome. As I mentioned in the original post, I believe hashtags are a good way to interact without interfering too much in students’ lives.

So I don’t think we need to protect our teens from social media as though the platforms themselves are evil. Instead we should be working with our youth to understand the place of social media in their (our) lives with a mind to positive, thoughtful interactions and the legacies we leave. We don’t want a young child to be on Twitter, but I think we need our teens to be on Twitter or something like it. How else will they develop the skills and the resiliency they’ll need in other parts of life?

I’m thinking that the “right” approach is to treat online communication much like offline communication. The main differences are that it’s more transparent, more public, and definitely more permanent. Those differences are mostly strengths, but they should inform and temper our uses. The challenge is to be wise in applying these technologies to our communication without introducing a chilling effect. And I think teachers will best be able to meet that challenge if they’ve taken some time to learn a platform well.

Figuring out how to make that happen isn’t easy, of course. I’ve given workshop sessions and written blog posts galore on how a teacher might use Twitter for professional development (this is both to improve their PD and also to help them consider other uses for Twitter). I’ve encouraged my local colleagues to use social media for their learning. I’ve commented on blog posts, invited people to EdCampSault, and offered one-on-one time to learn tools. But teacher need will win out over everything else in its own time: the need to connect with colleagues or the need to improve student learning. When a teacher becomes aware of the power of social media for learning, they’ll see the importance of figuring it out. So I try to be an awareness builder, because these tools are a major part of our lives.

Doug, I really like your last paragraph: ‘We just need to come to the understanding that we are who we are. Heck, even your blog is letting me know “dougpete: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account.”‘

We are developing online presence all the time, and remembering that online presence is a real-life presence should go a long way towards ensuring we make good choices in our interactions with students.

Thanks again for commenting!

How I Use Twitter Professionally – Updated Again!

About a year ago I wrote a blog post called “How I Use Twitter Professionally – Updated!“. Since then I’ve refined or changed my use a bit more, so I thought it was worth refreshing the post again. So, the content below is the same as before, but with current stuff.

My tweets are public.

I’m trying to encourage conversation and collaboration, so my tweets are globally accessible. This also means I don’t make statements I wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone reading – my family, my students, my employer….

I don’t follow a lot of people.

I currently follow 292 people (that’s a big increase in the last year; about doubled), of whom about 200 are actively tweeting (let’s say at least weekly). Some of these aren’t related to education; for example, I follow The LEGO Group (@LEGO_Group).

I can’t read all of the stuff they tweet. I’m relying on my tweeps to retweet the really good stuff so I have a better chance of seeing it, or to mention me if it’s something they think I ought to notice.

I accept anyone as a follower, pretty much.

Except for a few obvious accounts, I let anyone follow me. Since my tweets are public, anyone can read them (even without a Twitter account), so letting people follow me doesn’t reveal anything extra. Plus, it’s easier when you don’t have to approve people.

I don’t follow back as a courtesy.

Before I decide to follow someone, I take a look at their tweet history. Is their stream of tweets going to enhance my experience? Will I learn from them? Or will I only learn what they had for breakfast?

I’m a fan of some personal stuff on Twitter, but if you post 300 times a day just to talk without conversing, I don’t need to see it. It’s not about you, it’s just that your use of Twitter doesn’t fit with mine.

Today I noticed that I have 3 fewer followers than I did a few days ago. Since there were a few new followers recently that means that more than 3 cut me off their list. That’s totally expected, and is actually pretty great. I think your lifestyle on Twitter should be like the Law of Two Feet: if it’s not working for you, move on.

I don’t accept Direct Messages (DMs) from people I don’t follow.

This cuts down on the spam. Now it’s just mentions, and there aren’t too many of those. This is a good idea for anyone, so I thought I’d list it here.

I follow hashtags for a while.

Recently I followed #OTRK12 (our annual conference in Mississauga) and #GAFEsummit. I don’t follow the very busy tags, although I sometimes apply them to my posts (#D2L, #onted, #blendedlearning, #edtech).

I try to follow the people in Northern Ontario. We face many of the same issues, and perhaps we have solutions to help each other. I like that idea.

I don’t cross post to Facebook anymore.

I tweet too much. No one on Facebook wants to read all of that stuff. The handful of FB friends who do are also Twitter users and teachers, so they just go to Twitter to find me. When I write blog posts WordPress will publicize them on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, and I’m certain that’s plenty for the FB crowd.

I use Tweetdeck; it rocks.

Chrome has TweetDeck as an app; I like that I can have columns for a variety of things I want to look at. Currently I have my Twitter timeline, my Twitter Interactions, my Twitter Messages (DMs), columns for #edCampSault, #OTRK12, #OSSEMOOC, @timrobinsonj’s eLC list, @MeglioMedia’s Tech Enabled Learning list, @ColleenKR’s SGDSB list, and #niprockart. It’s great.

I say things for myself, and I say things for others.

I tweet things that I want to remember or revisit (great for “note-taking” at a session/workshop/conference). I also tweet things to inform others or start conversations. My tweets (of links and such) aren’t endorsements, but since people sometimes view them that way I try not to share stuff that I’m not at least familiar with.

I talk a lot, but not too much

I try to ask questions and help out when others ask questions. I’m proud to say I am included as an honourary member of the SGDSB educators list because I help out the teachers up there, so I think my contributions are valued.

More importantly, I’m developing relationships with these distant folks, and the growth of my PLN has helped me out in my work as well. It was very exciting recently at OTRK12 to meet people whom I knew only through Twitter, and it was surprising how natural the face-to-face interactions felt. We were already friends. So thanks, tweeps.

If you want to follow me…

I’m @bgrasley. No pressure, of course. Use Twitter however it works best for you!

“Being an independent practitioner is inconsistent with professional practice.”

wall.jpg by frenchbyte on MorgueFile

Don’t go it alone. Image from frenchbyte via MorgueFile

The title quote is from Catherine Montreuil, Director of Education for Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board. She said this during her keynote presentation at On The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning on April 2, 2014.

This has really stayed with me. I’ve thought before about the moral imperative I believe teachers have to use technology in their teaching, and to be a reflective practitioner. I’ve always thought it a basic requirement to keep up-to-date with our best thinking around instructional strategies and assessment approaches.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about it quite they way she put it: that it’s actually unprofessional to be disconnected.

I believe you can connect in any way you like. Connecting with others in your school is a good first step, but the insular nature of schools can prevent you from seeing the possibilities for learning. Technology has made it tremendously easy to connect, build relationships, and learn from others who think a little differently because they don’t have the challenges/restrictions/history/blindspots that any group has. My preferred platforms are Twitter and WordPress, but there are many ways to share and to question. Create your Professional Learning Network (PLN).

The opportunity is there for all of us. You can choose how deep you want to go, but I don’t think you can in good conscience choose to ignore it completely. Learn from and with others, because no one has all the answers.

A collection of Storify stories from #OTRK12

@tommy2toneman: Hanging with the registration gang. #OTRK12  #OTRK12Selfie

@tommy2toneman: Hanging with the registration gang. #OTRK12 #OTRK12Selfie

Jaclyn Calder (@jaccalder) published the first one I saw, and I thought I might build a collection here. If you created or found a Storify story from On The Rise K-12 2014, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

@jaccalder: Competencies Session at OTRK12

@jaccalder: Collection of Notes and Reflections on #OSSEMOOC

@bgrasley: @Stephen_Hurley’s keynote at #OTRK12

@bgrasley@cathymontreuil’s keynote at #OTRK12

@bgrasley: #OTRK12Selfie – A Story of Relationships

@YKrawiecki: On The Rise K-12 2014 Conference

@MeglioMedia: OTRK12 2014

@lynekohutOn The Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning

@htheijsmeijerOTRK12CHOIR