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A Year In Review (Part 1): Webtools

Today marks a the beginning of a new year at my job. Its been a year since I’ve taken the position of Instructional Technology Specialist and it is a time to take a step back and reflect what has happened in a year. There are many things I have experienced over the past year so this is Part 1, of a series “A Year In Review.”A Year in Review: Webtools

Through the collaboration of my co-worker and friend Jacob Standish its been an encouraging year of some new webtools that have influenced our district protocol. Here are few a of the tools we have “pushed.”

Yammer – It may seem small but it isn’t. It is huge. I wrote earlier about it here. With this Social Media program an entire shift of thought has taken place with many of our teachers. No longer do they feel there is no one to talk to or connect with, Yammer makes our big district feel small.

CMSWiki – Although Wikispaces has been in our district for a few years it took a big leap in the past year. It went from a side project to a major one. Our district does not allow many outside websites, and we needed something to help our teachers have a web presence.

Moodle Online PD – Professional Development in a district as big as ours is “difficult”. Moodle gives us an opportunity to pull them all together. Professional Development has focused heavily on IWB’s in previous years, and we have tried to bring an excitement and energy to other 21st Century Skills and Tools. Not my favorite tool, but can be useful to help PD.

Twitter – Twitter has been around for a while and we are trying to help our teachers be a positive force in directing them how to use their Professional Twitter Life. We can either be agents for good change, or we can be negative. Our desire has been to use Social Media Tools for the betterment of our district and staff. We try to connect our teachers together on Twitter, and learn together.

Edmodo – This has been a great tool to for students and teachers to connect and learn in a fun and new way. It has been great to hear all the excitement around learning through such a tool as Edmodo.

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Yammer: Your In-House Professional Learning Community

In December of 2010 a co-worker (Jacob Standish) and I stumbled upon Yammer. Our minds immediately saw the potential of a great in-house Professional Learning Community (PLC). We work in a district that restricts access to many social networks because of the lack of productivity that can happen in places like Facebook and MySpace. Yammer though gave us a unique opportunity to cut the distractions out (what you are doing for lunch, who you are meeting, where you are, silly off topics jokes, non-professional non-educational content) of such social media and focus on what teachers do: Educate and Professional Development.The philosophy  that we introduced Yammer to our district was for TEACHERS by TEACHERS. The desire is a place for EDUCATORS (the true enterprise of our district) to share EDUCATION ideas and thoughts that will help TEACHERS to explore and learn together. Teachers are true professionals and Yammer gives them an opportunity to speak about their PROFESSION. Some teachers will never be able to get twitter (and that’s OK) but they can get Yammer because it is in Yammer where they will meet their fellow district teachers. Teaching the same Common Core on the same pacing guide.Yammer works best in groups. Since there is no “facilitator” on our Yammer network it is by the common good that teachers keep to the vision of the PLC. Anyone can create a group that is Educationally Focused. The power of our Yammer network has been in the Grass Roots efforts of teachers to be Professionals in our district.

We have been deliberate in our cause to keep Yammer a Professional Learning Community and not Facebook or a non-professional Twitter feed. We have been focused in Yammer to help teachers find people of like mind and explore educational content together in ways they have not been able to do in the past.

Jenny Grabiec, Jacob Standish and I have created Podcasts and Help Files for our district to guide the proper uses and nuances of Yammer.

The focus of our Yammer network is very direct. Part of that is because of the strict rules our district puts on “social networks” being a possible waste of time. Everyone who joins Yammer gets a notice posted to them to help guide the focus of their thoughts. The majority of teachers and educators have been great at keeping to that focus.

Yammer would be a great opportunity for your district teachers to build a safe PLC without feeling lost in such places as Twitter. It is a great way to bridge the gap between school collaboration (school building)  and global collaboration (Twitter). Helping teachers model 21st Century Skills of social networking as professionals.

If you are interested in more help in how our district uses Yammer feel free to contact me via Twitter or comment below.

Here is what all users get in our Yammer Network:

Here is why CMS Instructional Technology Conceived Yammer (and it is not to “update your status”). It’s about your PLN and your PLC these are STRONGLY EDUCATION IDEAS:We (Instructional Technology) are really excited that you have joined the Yammer community. There are some things we would like you to keep in mind as you use Yammer:
• Yammer is a positive force for collaboration
• Yammer is an opportunity to encourage each other and share ideas
• Yammer is CMS only, which leads to greater internal collaboration
• Yammer directly connects you to your PLC
• Yammer helps you build your PLN (Remember its YOUR PLN, build it how YOU want)Now let’s connect, collaborate, encourage, and share. I’m looking forward to learning with you all…

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Professional Development: What kind of person does it take?

Currently I’m involved in a project that includes building a team of people who will eventually be leaders in developing and implementing professional development across the district. As I personally and professionally begin to think about the teachers and district level people I work with and consider them for this opportunity the question came to mind: What kind of person does it take to make something this big (and this is big for my district, probably nationally) a success? Three essential elements came to mind:

The first aspect that needs to be realized that it takes more than “a” person. To do great professional development it takes a team of at least 2!  For me collaboration is an aspect that is key (I’ve written about that here). Great professional development takes a team effort of true collaboration.

I also strongly feel that there needs to be some knowledge about the topic, subject, or thing that is being presented on. I think trainers can learn about things, but having some background knowledge seems necessary. If the trainers have no knowledge of what is going to be presented it is a sure beginning of failure. If the trainers haven’t gathered any of their own knowledge on their own then I question their commitment to the professional development. This leads into my next thought on what kind of person does it take to professional development: Passion.

I could write a lot about passion and how it plays into professional development. I would say that there needs to be a passion for the subject mater (whatever it is). I believe it is that passion that drives you to want to know about the subject, and there in have the knowledge to help guide people in their learning. It is in the passion that you will take the time to learn all about the subject so you are able to ‘break it down’ and help someone else get it. Passion is not an assignment given to you by your boss. It is the passion that gets under your skin, in your mind, and invades your day. When you are passionate about something you want to SHARE it and help others GET IT. I believe this is NECESSARY (yes I said necessary) for professional development to be GREAT, and successful. I believe passion is the lynch-pin to a successful great professional development.

Finally, notice that I did not say any one type of personality was “it”. There isn’t one type of person; extrovert, or introvert, or whatever that makes a professional development great. It does take presentation skills, and the more masterful the better, but it is not one “type” of person. I fully believe that for a professional development to be great it takes a team effort that has knowledge of the subject, and a lot of passion.

It is on the passion that hangs how great and successful the professional development will be.

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Ideas, Perseverance, And Vision

I have a passion (like many Apple folk) for the words and life of Steve Jobs, I’ve written about it here how Steve Jobs’ vision helped me succeed. Recently @scottbelsky wrote an article about “Vision Without Obstruction: What We Learn From Steve Jobs”. This blog post is an outflow from that article.

Ideas, Perseverance, and Vision
After reading the article I have become even more enthralled with the attributes that Steve Jobs exhibits that I wish to incorporate into my life as an Instructional Technology leader. Ideas, perseverance, and vision are central to who Steve Jobs is. I find myself drawn to people who exhibit these attributes in their life, because I want to exhibit them. I believe education needs people who are developing new ideas, and pushing them through to the point of their conception and completion, and education badly needs vision!

What Status Quo?
Steve Jobs choosing not to do things the way others have wasn’t to just be different, but it was to stay true to his ideas, perseverance, and vision. I feel that when we go against the status quo it is because we have a strong backing and understanding of our idea and vision. This is something we need desperately in education. Such a strong understanding of the vision for education and technology that when the status quo is threatened its because the vision clearly states the course of action needs to be unique to educate our students.

Often times we are missing this aspect of Perseverance the most in the area of education and instructional technology. Instructional Technology is rapidly changing because information is vast and fast via the web. The challenge in today’s educational technology landscape is to persevere over the obstacles that are coming down the road of success. Many of these obstacles are people saying “give it up” to the ideas you know are going to challenge the status quo. But you know those ideas are the most powerful. Steve Jobs didn’t allow these people to derail him from the visions he knew would radically change the way we live our lives, and we shouldn’t allow people to stop us from bringing our radical instructional ideas to the classroom.

We all have our demons that we fight against: doubt, failure, impulse, expectations. They are no different for Steve Jobs and no different for anyone willing to take a risk and enter the world of Instructional Technology. The statement stated in this article that sticks out the most to me, and worth remembering when those demons enter our head, heart, and dreams:

“Nothing To Lose In Staying True To What You Envision”

In a time when we need more creative educators get your visions, create the ideas, and persevere.

Note: This post was part of an exercise to read an article and respond to it with a co-worker. I have not read his response yet, but his is here: A Call For Clarity by @edtechstandish.

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There Is No Consume in 21s Century Skills

I’ve done a lot of research on 21st Century skills across the globe

They all have the same aspects of 21st Century Skills highlighted (I guess that’s a good thing):

  • Global
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • ICT Literacy
  • Life Long Learning

This is a short list of the major concepts that are quite weighty and in-depth centered around what 21st Century Skills are. Interesting? Take a look at the list (short list) and you notice a major “C” in our society is missing (and that is a good thing)…

There is No CONSUME in 21st Century Skills
What is consume? It is to take in, buy, absorb, and to use. At the core of who we all are, we “get” consume. We have been raised as consumers. The goal of every company is to get the mass public to consume their products. The thing is companies aren’t hiring consumers, they are hiring the people who have the attributes of 21st Century Skills.

Education and Consumption
The problem I see in the education system is much the same. Educators are looking for a product that they can give to their students, so their students can consume it and say they’ve been taught. We should not be raising students up to be consumers, but creators, innovators, leaders, able to learn, and make choices about their learning. This means our teachers need to be all these too! This is not easy, there is a reason why these attributes are the top of Revised Blooms. But if our students are going to be productive in the 21st Century (which we are already 10% into) they will have to move from consumers in the classroom to creators, innovators, collaborators, organizers, and leaders.

First Steps away from Consumption via Technology
The rest of our teaching collective conscience could be spent on the how to do this, but I would like to mention a first step to be taken in Instructional Technology. Take every opportunity for any webtool or venture to be a creative one for THE STUDENT. Looking at every aspect for the student to apply the higher blooms taxonomy. I truly believe if we (the teacher) put some creative thought into the tools we use, students will be creative. The first step, is to realize the potential for an online tool to be used in some creative fashion.

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What’s the big deal with Flash (still)? (You don’t need a Flash app for your iOS device.)

iOS Flash PadI find myself asking this question a lot: Why are people so interested in getting Flash (Adobe Flash) on your iOS Device (iPad, iPodTouch, iPhone)? The reason I am asking myself because I see a new tweet about it daily. “I found the perfect Flash app. YAY!” or “Oh, it is great to have Flash on my iPad!” or “Another Flash app! Awesome” and the statements goes on. I look quizzically at these posts, as I do many posts, because nobody ever says what they are DOING with their Flash app. They all just seem to think they NEED one! I’m just going to come out and say it: You don’t need a Flash app on your iOS Device.

The Apple Way and Flash
Steve Jobs (Apple Inc.) has never shied away from the fact that his mobile devices do NOT run Flash, and he doesn’t have any plans to make them do so. I’m not sure if many people have actually read Steve Jobs “Thoughts on Flash” but they should. At first it may seem like a proprietary thing, meaning people think just because Apple didn’t create it, they don’t want it. This isn’t true. If you spend any time at all understanding the “Apple Way” you will begin to see there is a strive for excellence. Apple has lost their way a few times (failed) and has learned from the experience, and basically is saying, we don’t want to give you a device that fails. That being said, for a Mobile Device to work in the future, and now, there is going to have to be a better way than Flash. For me there are two Instructional (educational) issues I’m going to deal with.

Issue 1 (of 2): Out Dated Technologies
The first (which I will not deal with in-depth) is the aspect of better technologies now exist. Did you know that the beginnings of Flash are 1993 (yes, almost 20 years)? And the current usage of Flash dates back to 2005 (when YouTube was just getting started). []There is a much better, and more modern and efficient way for video to be delivered. With your Flash App you will NOT be getting your ten hours of use on an iPad. Also Flash video quality is less than the current standards of an iOS device. These are not qualities I want in an app that really isn’t necessary as the rest of the tech world continues to catch up to Apple. The rest of the world has always eventually gone the way of Apple (apple was the first say no disk drives, apple was the first to say mouse, apple was the first to USB, ect.). Flash will have to reinvent itself if it wants to be relevant, not just keep adding plugins and updates. Flash is not needed on an iOS Device there are plenty more places to get my video content.

Issue 2 (of 2): Touch and Flash don’t mix
Second, touch and Flash. Oh, I could spend hours here. My iOS devices are touch devices. They work with my fingers not a mouse. I was given a copy of a Flash App three months ago. I am skeptical of any app, websites, or product and must live with it before I say anything about it. Eventually the apps I “suggest” will make it into the hands of some 130,000+ students I work with. When I look at an app it is from the eyes of a Teacher who will be teaching students. From a Teacher who has 20 or more students trying to complete and create assignments and there can not be room for any unforeseen difficulties. So I patiently try to go through every aspect of any website or program before I can suggest it. A touch screen and Flash is the worst combination I have ever experienced. Oh, and not just me, but the 2nd grader, 4th grader, and 6th grader I get the joy of living with. I was constantly ask from the day they got their iPad’s, “Dad, can we play Club Penguin on the iPad? Dad, can we play Pop-Tropica?” Well, they were thrilled when I loaded the Flash App on the iPad. And they sat down with dad and we had a great 3 minutes. 3 minutes of awesome, and wow, and cool FLASH is on the iPad! That was enough. As soon as they tried to move or work or create or type or touch or DO anything the fun, joy, excitement, wonder, and magic of the iPad dissipated into using something like a PC (non Apple device). In short, touching with a Flash App on an iOS does not work. Then I have to think about the 130,000+ students that would feel the same way. I think about the teacher who is going to try to use this app and then have to talk about all the “issues” with the app. We don’t have time for that in the midst off the information and learning age. I’m sorry I’m not going to do that to them teachers and students both. Flash is not needed to further frustrate the learning capabilities with a device that comes with a wealth of free options. Flash is not necessary for an iOS device.

Any Flash App is an UNNECESSARY app for the educational purpose listed above. I know there will be MANY who disagree by saying they MUST have their MOVIES and VIDEOS that show on the iPad (and please indicate your discord in the comments bellow). I don’t think it is worth the frustration, time, or money to purchase an app to try to make Flash work on an iOS device. In the end I believe Flash is not needed on an iOS Device. Now skip the Flash and get to learning!

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