I found the #edchat on Twitter tonight to be interesting from the standpoint that it presented (at least to me) an interesting dichotomy. On one side, using technology in the classroom and in our work, and on the other side simply staying abreast of the exponential growth in technology. I believe both of these are important and in fact I believe they are somewhat interdependent. Yet it seems to me that we are at times confusing the two.
One does not need to know every website, tool, or resource in existence in order to be an effective teacher. Whatever tools you use...use them well. There is no prize for the latest and greatest, particularly if learning is not measurably enhanced. At the same time we should not avoid tech altogether, with excuses such as "I don't have the time or support." To that I say "your students deserve better." All teachers are obligated to continually improve, and that includes pursuing new ideas, trends, and tools that will empower us to become more effective. That's the job you signed up for, whether you admit it or not. You know this deep down or you wouldn't be reading this right now. The problem is one of approach. I believe that many teachers are wasting enormous amounts of time in "techland" simply because they don't know how to go about it.
Navigating the exponential growth in tech is daunting. And this is why following the movement in an organized way is so essential. Set aside at least one hour per week for reading up on what is happening. You will be surprised at the patterns you begin to see emerging. You will start to get a feel for which tools will be around a year from now, and which ones will likely be cast aside. Your reading will inform your decisions about which tools to adopt in your workflow and your classroom. In fact blindly latching on to tools based on Googling or someone's random tweet is hopelessly inefficient because you have no context. You're just rolling the tech dice, so to speak. This leads to feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Take a step back and do what we tell students to do: Read up on the subject matter. Twitter is OK in some ways but it is insufficient for the type of well-rounded view I am talking about, and I think even the most ardent Twitter users would agree.
If you are new to the idea of following the tech trend, I would strongly suggest using Google Reader. Or, if you just want to dip a toe in the water, head over to www.regator.com and click on the Technology category. Yes, it is an investment of time, but I can promise you that in time your investment will pay dividends. You will make better tech decisions in the long run. Decisions that will save you time and improve your teaching.
(Incidentally, this poster and the blog post were all done using the iPad. The Pages app is very easy to learn)
Old School Conversation
I help moderate an investment forum. You know, a message board, like the ones you used to participate on over at yahoo, or on forum sites that used phpBB and such. They're a dying breed these days since developers have moved on to Web 2.0, and users have moved on to Twitter and Facebook. The problem is, people are posting links, photos, and statuses, but there's very little group conversation in this new paradigm. At best there is a limited one-to-one banter. How did this happen? When it comes to Social Networking, I think startups are focusing on the networking far more than the social. We're connecting, we're posting, but we're not really discussing anything in groups. We've largely altered our interaction to fit the tools we're being given. Don't get me wrong, the tools are very cool and we're able to meet lots of new people and get lots of information easily. But group conversation around specific areas of interest seems to be slipping away, or reserved for those with lots of "followers." I don't know about you but sometimes it feels like you are sitting alone at the lunch table while the cool kids are sitting elsewhere.
I use Facebook alot. It is great for staying in touch with family and friends. I've reconnected with people that I never would have caught up with otherwise. But Facebook is downright lousy for thought-provoking conversation. What is the first rule at your family holiday gatherings? Don't talk politics or religion, right? The fact is that people don't really want to get into deep discussions with family and friends, and particularly not in public! Not to mention that many things in which we are interested are not interesting to many of our "real life" friends. The quickest way for someone to invoke the "Hide" button on you is to continuously get into heavy conversations that show up in their Facebook newsfeed. Naturally we've all learned not to "go there" on Facebook.
Facebook has a group feature, but it has an incredibly archaic feature set. Most people sign up for a group just so the name of it can show up in the newsfeed (Brian just joined the group "I can't live without coffee") and then never visit the page. Facebook's metaphor is basically a balance sheet. It's a snapshot of your life. And I think it works great for that. You can see how I'm doing, I can see how you're doing. In depth group conversation? Not so much.
There's actually a lot of "conversation" that goes on via Twitter, inasmuch as 140 characters at a shot can get you. The problem is that it's mainly one-to-one and you really have to stick with it in near real time to keep track of it. Ever try to have an ongoing discussion amongst a group of people on Twitter? Want to come back to the topic a day or two later? Forget it. On Twitter it's "miss a little, miss alot." Sure, you can make lists and do some other organizational things to distill the tweets, but it's just not set up for group conversation. The "big guns" will disagree with me on that one, but the folks who have thousands of followers and spend their day shooting out "at" replies is really a sport unto itself. Twitter is just not set up for building interest communities and fostering group dialog.
I came across Friendfeed last summer and it is the closest thing I have found to providing Web 2.0 features and group interaction. You can easily create an interest group, and the posting and rss features are fantastic. You also don't need to "follow" or "friend" someone in order to be a part of the group conversations. But there are many standard forum features that are needed (particularly moderation tools) and of course since Facebook acquired them it seems highly unlikely that we'll see much more development there, if any. Many (many!) people aren't even "on" Friendfeed anymore, they simply push there info there from Twitter, Google Reader etc. Thanks Facebook.
I think there is still a need for people who don't necessarily "know" one another to converse about topics of common interest. I love Web 2.0 Social Networking and its "one stop shopping" model, but I think there should still be room within that model for a little less "me" and a lot more "we." Conversations need to easily threaded, searchable, and open to more than 140 characters. And it needs to be a technology that ties into Facebook and Twitter, because that is where people "are." No one wants even one more account to deal with. Put simply, I'd love to be able to express a concern such as this one somewhere other than a blog post in order to garner other people's thoughts on the matter, but where would that be? Anyone have a time machine?
Here is the 2010 Horizon Report from the New Media Consortium. This is a must read for all Educators and administrators.
"They're so savvy with computer technology, it doesn't take much to get going," said Principal Jeff Bertrang, as he watched a group of his students tap out a test drive on the new iPad.The iPad can access the Internet, hold the contents of books and provide a place for notes.The Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop School Board turned a new page on learning by approving $265,000 on this high-tech program. In addition to buying 230 iPads, it will upgrade all school buildings with Wi-Fi and provide technical training for everyone starting next year."The plan is that every student at GFW high school gets an iPad to use," said Bertrang. "Then we're going to have a team of teachers and students get together to figure out the how-to part."Gone are the days of old-fashioned notes and expensive, heavy textbooks."This probably weighs one to two pounds," said high school junior Spencer Kruggel, holding an iPad. "And this is 20 to 30 pounds," he said, as he lifted his backpack."I think this is more effective, and once we know how to use it, pretty easy," Kruggel said.Teacher Bill Armstrong wants to upgrade his classroom curriculum."I'll need to be trained in, but I'm pretty excited about it," Armstrong said.The education apps appear to be unlimited."It's a tool to use in the classroom for learning and the teachers are still going to be facilitators with outcomes and expectations," Beltrang said. "But the kids can teach us a lot about it and we're more than happy to learn from them as well." Apple Computer is providing the school with some extra assistance. If this works out, the school in Winthrop could become a model for the nation. Joan Gilbertson, Producer
(© MMX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
The iPad's essence is in media consumption...or so I thought after a week of using it. But after watching this video of the Sketchbook Pro app, it's clear that there are going to be some creation instances where this device is going to shine as well. To those who say the iPad is a "step backwards" I say stop trying to evaluate it in terms of what laptops do, and think about what a tablet can uniquely accomplish.
This afternoon I spent some time updating my feeds in Google Reader. If you haven't taken advantage of GR you really need to give it a try, in fact by not taking advantage of the tools out there for discovering and finding blogs I think we are contributing to their demise (more on that later).
A few weeks ago I put out a message on Twitter that I was looking for blogs by current public school music teachers. I was able to get a hold of about six. This afternoon I decided to go through the 2009 list assembled by Joe Pisano which at the time contained 100 active music education bloggers. I went through the list with two simple criteria: First, the blog must have a new post within the last two weeks, and two, the blog must be authored by a current public school music teacher. How many of the 100 fit the bill?
About ten. The others were either defunct or collecting dust. To be fair, there are some on that list that are active but did not meet my criteria of being authored by current public school music teachers. There are several by college profs, consultants, and studio teachers that are active. Even so, I think it's pretty clear that we have a blogging dearth in the public school profession, and this seemingly was not the case about a year ago.
Has Web 2.0 led to the demise of blogging? In a way, I believe it has. People are busy "connecting" but not spending as much time reading and writing. But at the same time Web 2.0 has provided us with the tools needed for a resurgence if we can manage to wrap our minds around a few simple thoughts.
1. Websites are becoming less relevant every day.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that people will visit your website on a daily basis looking for your latest posts. You need to bring your information to them. That is a fundamental shift in today's online world. Make sure your blog features an RSS feed (nearly all do these days) and the ability to offer subscriptions by email. This way your posts will be taken to people in whatever way is most convenient for them. It is completely possible that the majority of your readers will never visit your site. Who cares? All that matters is the content you are sharing. Bring it to their doorstep and they are more likely to read it. The site itself is inconsequential if your goal is o share your thinking with the profession.
2. Join Twitter
Twitter is quickly becoming the de facto method for distributing ideas, links, and building Professional Learning Networks. If you blog something that is worth reading, Twitter members will make sure people hear about it. My ID on Twitter is teaching_music. Start connecting with colleagues online. Having said that, please realize that Twiter is not the magic solution by itself. Twitter is very temporal, and is not (although I fear some people think it is) a replacement for blog posts.
3. Don't "try to blog" but rather share what you are doing and thinking about.
One of the biggest reasons that blogs die a quick death is because people "don't know what to write about." If teachers would focus more on sharing what they are thinking about, rather than trying to write the "perfect blog post" we would all be much better off. Don't try to change the profession in one post, just type some thoughts.
4. If you want readers, then be a good reader.
Many of us have put a blog post out there, then sat back and wondered if anyone had any thoughts about it. Leave a comment (or a tweet) the next time you read a good post. I know I myself have to get alot more proactive about this. And as I mentioned earlier, get an rss aggregator like Google Reader or Bloglines so you can manage and more easily keep up with all the posts out there. You can even just simply bookmark an rss right in your browser (called "live bookmarks" in Firefox, for example). There are also some great rss reader apps for the iPhone like NetNewsWire. Blogging in Music Education isn't about your ideas, it's about the exchange of ideas. The bottom line is that we all need to work together if we are going to revive this important aspect of the PLN. To that end, I have an RSS Feed containing some active public school music teachers, and you are welcome to subscribe to it: http://feeds.feedburner.com/MusicPlnBlogs. If I missed you and your blog fits the criteria, I would love to add you to the list. Drop me a line.