Ready 4 what?

Ready 4 what?

As a teacher and parent, I’m constantly reminded that children learn at different rates. Sometimes, it’s an issue of what is developmentally appropriate and, other times, it’s about their readiness. For some kids, there are occasions when they simply are not ready to learn something new. It might be due to some current event in their lives or whether they had breakfast that morning… whatever the case, it’s my job to help them get to that stage of being ready to learn.

Repeat after me: I cannot force readiness.

[cc licensed photo by kevindooley]

Now I want to transfer this same concept to adult learning, and in this case, professional growth of educators, specifically in the areas of ed reform, social media, and other web tools.

There are many, and I would include myself, who are considered early adopters in the above areas. We clamor for change NOW and reform NOW. For years, we’ve been using certain tools that some people are only now discovering. For example, I started blogging over seven years ago. There are quite a few people who have been blogging for much longer than I have. When a new tool comes around, I’m usually hopping on that bandwagon to see what it’s about, does it provide value to me, and will I continue to use it. It’s in my nature to tinker around with something that interests me. Sometimes, I get impatient that change doesn’t happy quickly enough for my tastes.

Because I’m an early adopter in these areas, it might be easy for me to then complain about the “glacial pace” of other educators when it comes to learning about new ideas, new tools, and making real changes in education. Come on! I’ve been doing this for almost a decade… get a move on! Maybe I would express my frustration about the perceived banal chatter or echo chamber mentality regarding topics that I’ve already been discussing with my networks for years.

But that would be extremely hypocritical of me. If there are children who, for one reason or another, are not ready to learn a concept or skill, it’s my job to help them move along and get to that place where they are ready.

So… shouldn’t I also be accepting of other educators who have not quite reached that state of readiness? Shouldn’t I continue to offer my assistance, perhaps in the form of webinars or online opportunities, to help fellow educators learn about those things that are new to them, even if they’re not necessarily new to me? What about brand new educators? What if they were not exposed to any of these things in their teacher education? How will they find new ideas? Where will they receive options to extend their own professional growth?

The answer is the same as it was with the children: I cannot force readiness. I can only do what I can to help others move to that next step in their own growth. Peer coach. Offer suggestions. Offer assistance. Show real examples of how using these tools or participating in something like an Elluminate session on a Saturday helps me to learn more.

Being an educator and early adopter doesn’t mean I get to a point where I get to dictate where the rest of the world “should” be. Nor does it mean I should look down my nose at those who are still offering discussions and PD sessions about things I might already know.

When I teach other adults about web tools and networks, I constantly bring up the fact that you use those tools which offer value to YOU. If you’ve used a tool for a while, and it no longer has value for you… it’s okay to stop using that tool. Even if many other people are just discovering it, you don’t have to use that tool.

While you’re making those decisions about what holds value for you, please try to remember that others will have different needs and will value different things. They will be at different stages of readiness… and that’s okay. I’ve found that it’s easier to bring people along with you when you don’t treat them like n00bs.

Investing the Time

For the record, I’m a HUGE advocate of leveraging social media for professional development and making connections with other educators. The network that I’ve built over the last few years is so very important to me, both professionally and personally.

But the keyword in that last sentence is “BUILT.” I’ve spent time building a network of people who are of value to me. A lot of time, actually.

I was thinking about something my friend, Jennifer Wagner tweeted out yesterday. By the way, I have never met Jen face-to-face. We have Skyped- a few years ago, she was gracious enough to call into a session I was facilitating about web tools- and we have conversed through Twitter and blog posts, but we have yet to meet in person. (Hope to change that status some day soon!) The point is… I still consider her a friend. She is helpful, responsive, sharing, and caring. This will be an important fact later in this post.

Yesterday, Jen said this in response to someone’s statement about the value of online communities:

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… and I remembered then that the network/community that I so value now has taken me nearly 2.5 years to purposefully cultivate. When we share our enthusiasm with others, do we mention the time investment? How many people do you think would be willing to wait that long for the pay off?

Granted, there are some great ways to get started building a network- many have paved the way and want to help make it easier. Some examples:

I built my network through reading blogs, following blog writers on Twitter, finding who they follow, and then stalking lurking through Twitter for a while until I found the people who became of value to me. When I was a kid, there was a commercial about shampoo where one person told two friends, and they told two friends, and they told two friends… I use that same philosophy with blogs and Twitter. When I first started following others on blogs and Twitter, I looked to see who my friends were following, and I started following them, too.

The most important thing you can remember about building a network… be patient. And then:

  • Involve yourself.
  • Complete your bio on your own blog and/or Twitter (this is a must! Most people I know don’t follow people with empty bio’s. We want to know who are you and what you think!)
  • Jump into conversations on Twitter.
  • Read and comment on blogs.
  • Know that you’re probably not going to get immediate responses from around the world until you’ve invested some time. A lot of people get disappointed because they don’t receive a lot of comments on their blog posts or responses on Twitter after they first start using those tools. It really does take some time.

And that’s okay… because you WILL find value in that network or community you’ve helped to build. Soon, those people whose names cross your Twitter stream or whose blog posts you’ve been reading… they become valued friends who will be glad to share, listen, and learn with you.

Accentuate the Tech Positive

Techno-fear: a state where humans feel they are losing control due to advances in technology.*

Nearly every day, I’m bombarded by statements – in person or via some news outlet- expressing “techno-fear.” If a young person is in trouble due to something posted to a social network, there is a negative focus on the public nature of the social network. If an adult is fired due to inappropriate photos posted on the web, technology is to blame.

When I begin presentations on web 2.0, usually there is a least one person rolling his eyes or shaking her head when I start to talk about social networks and multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs). The audience assumes I’m going to talk about the dangers of these web environments.

Instead, the focus should be how these tools are used positively, how they can elevate thinking, and how they engage users. We can also discuss privacy and web permanence… but those don’t have to be scary topics.

How could we all approach these ideas positively with kids?

5 quick starts:

  1. Begin by exploring social networks and MUVEs for yourself. If you don’t understand these environments, you can’t speak the language… nor can you make any accurate judgments about their usefulness. (Darren Draper wrote a great blog post today about “immersion.”)
  2. Start genuinely talking to kids and asking them what they do online. Be open-minded and really LISTEN.
  3. Take note of all the good things that are happening online with kids; e.g., young people were more involved in the 2008 election than ever before, because of online political groups, forums, blogs, etc.
  4. Remember- technology is only a tool. We have to learn to use tools properly. When we don’t, we make mistakes. If students have no guidance about online activity, how will they know what it takes to be good digital citizens?
  5. Stay positive. Think about all the amazing things technology provides us today. Personally, I’m thankful that I don’t have to grind my own ink and write with a quill.


look again at my definition of ‘techno-fear’:

a state where humans feel they are losing control due to advances in technology

and remember “control” is an illusion.

*This is my own definition of ‘techno-fear.’ You can find Webster’s definition of technofear at

What Kids Learned from the 2008 US Election

I haven’t been able to get this out of my mind recently… even though I’ve tweeted about it several times, posted notes on my Facebook account, etc.

I have a genuine concern for what kids learned from the election process, and it definitely ties into 21st century skills, too.

Web 2.0 has changed politics forever. With 24/7 information, media saturation, billboards, text messages, blogs, groups on both MySpace and Facebook, young people in this country (and even those in other countries) have been inundated with political opinions. In fact,  you would have to live under a rock to have avoided hearing anything political in the US during the last year.

Sure, satire is one thing (SNL had some really funny skits!). But what messages did young people really receive from this information deluge? More importantly, beyond the messages from the media, what did our children learn from the adults around them?

In my opinion, they learned:

  • It’s acceptable to verbally bash the candidate(s) who are opposing your chosen candidate(s)- or translate that verbal bashing into blog posts or status updates.
  • Adults can join groups or add badges/bumper stickers to their social media that portray a political candidate in a derogatory manner.
  • Adults don’t have to “agree to disagree,”  even though that’s what they preach to kids.

Is that really what we want our kids to learn about democracy? Does the right of free speech negate our obligation to make responsible decisions about what we say and publish?

I listened to my own children, their friends (all teenagers), and younger children in our community… and I have to say that I’m very disappointed in what they’ve gleaned from this process. I’m also disappointed in my peers: for what I’ve read on Twitter, on their blogs, on their social sites. It was equal opportunity bashing… for every person badmouthing Democrats, there was someone badmouthing Republicans. Maybe I expected too much from people I respect; or that, because they are educated people, that they would make better choices in what they display in online forums.

Because… aren’t we all advocating that students be taught about responsible, digital citizenship? Don’t we tell kids to think carefully and thoughtfully about the comments they make online– constructive critique is always better than flaming or insulting comments? What do we tell kids about publishing disparaging remarks about someone else?

Are we modeling what we expect from digital kids?

A Call To Act Now

I’m in a very frustrated state lately… mostly due to my impatience with the direction I feel education should be going vs. where it actually is. I usually feel this way after I attend summer conferences… it’s a natural after-effect of the energizing discussions that take place at those conferences. But I’m even more unsettled right now than I usually am.

In my opinion, if we are supposed to be educating our youth and preparing them for success in life, we have to step it up right now. Not after we get all our teachers and administrators caught up on the latest technologies… not even after we get 10% of them caught up. Not after we have enough money in the budgets to implement a 1:1 laptop initiative. Not after we convince all the parents that their kids are better off knowing how to be responsible digital citizens. NOW. It’s time to pull our heads out of the sand and challenge ourselves to do and be better. [Image from Adam Roberts1]

Is it fair to the students who are in our schools now that there’s such a disconnect between what they learn in the classroom and what they will need to know to be able to enter the job force? Absolutely not.

Jeff Utecht’s latest blog post asks us: Do we need another Sputnik to push us into moving along? I hope not, but it’s a great point. Should it take what many consider a national (international?) crisis to force us to make the necessary changes? Or maybe a better question is… are we already there?

We often hear the term “educational malpractice” applied during discussions pertaining to problematic issues of grades, promotion, and graduation. I’m posing these questions to YOU– is it educational malpractice to exclude digital literacy as part of the curriculum? Is blocking Web 2.0 tools from kids during the school day a necessary measure to protect them? or is it actually educational malpractice? Is ignoring the wealth of information and knowledge available on the web justified because of all the garbage on the web? Or is it educational malpractice?

As I meet with educators in my own district this upcoming school year.. as well as those educators who have invited me to their districts and institutions to present… this is something I plan to discuss at length. I would very much appreciate your comments/discussion here so that I have something with which to open the face-to-face discussions.

So the flood gates are opened… let us hear what you have to say.

1 Roberts, Adam.”Ostrich.” Spartacus007’s Photostream. 5 Jul 2005. 17 July 2008. <>

Digital Natives and their Digital Immigrant Parents

As we continue our attempts in helping adults understand how children are learning– and how they need to learn in school– we tend to forget about one very important group of adults: PARENTS.

At one point, I assumed parents would advocate for finding new ways to engage students in their own learning. Who wouldn’t want their own children to have the best possible learning environment? What I’m finding, at least in our area, is that parents sometimes are the ones more concerned with standardized test scores, with how their child is competing with the next… and the Web is simply something that kids do on their own time.

eSchoolNews posted this yesterday:

“American parents agreed by a wide margin that digital media skills are important to kids’ success in the 21st century, but they also expressed skepticism about whether digital media could contribute to the development of skills such as communicating, working with others, and establishing civic responsibility…

• 67 percent of parents said they did not think the web helped teach their kids how to communicate.
• 87 percent of parents said they did not believe the web helped their kids learn how to work with others.
• Three out of four parents did not believe the web can teach kids to be responsible in their communities.”

Maybe they haven’t heard about students at Wells Elementary School in Wells, Maine who use blogs and podcasts to learn collaboratively. In this Apple Education featured profile, teacher Bob Sprankle is quoted,

“Instead of me teaching the kids discrete skills in isolation… in the process of making podcasts they’ve started teaching each other these skills… Creating the podcasts has completely changed their writing and language skills.”

And maybe parents haven’t noticed that young people are creating groups daily in Facebook, such as  “Helping Orphans in Myanmar” or “Relay4Life”  where important information, dates, donation websites, and other calls for action may be shared with anyone who joins the group and wants to help. These groups don’t always make the traditional news media… and a lot of parents don’t have a clue what their kids are doing on Facebook. It’s not just about stocking up on friends anymore.

My kids are so much more globally aware than I was at their ages. They have genuine concern for what’s going on in their world, and they want to do something about it. When they can’t find an avenue to help, they blog about how they feel and ask if anyone else feels the same way.

And maybe these same parents haven’t heard about The Pitot House entry on Wikipedia. Will Richardson talked about this particular Wikipedia entry at a conference I attended recently. This entry in Wikipedia was first added by an elementary teacher and her 3rd grade students, not by any historians or community experts in New Orleans. Here’s a real-life experience for these kids… they had to research the landmark and then decide what to tell the world about it. This wasn’t a report that only the teacher would read.

To be certain, there are some concerns about the chaotic nature of the Web. As a parent, I can understand the hesitancy. But as we continue to press educators to open their minds to the educational possibilities of the Web, it becomes more and more obvious that we need to invite all the stakeholders into our discussions… and parents most definitely need to be involved.

Welcome, NETA Participants!

If you attended my “Social Networking for the Blissfully Unaware” presentation at NETA April 24, 2008… you are in the right place! Just check out the PAGES section for the “Blissfully Unaware” links and resources.

Also, I’ll be adding the “Tips for Parents” page soon! Come back and visit me again… leave a comment if you wish! I’d love to hear from you.

Do You Know Your Nightclubs Social Networks??

A not so recent, yet interesting article about social networks– if you’re not sure which one is for you, you might read Jim Louderback’s impressions of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.:

“…In fact, social networks are just like posh nightclubs, swanky lounges, and dive bars. But how can you tell what’s real? Here’s my guide to the best—and worst—of today’s social networks…”,1759,2190714,00.asp

Web 2.0 as Teacher-to-Home Communication

A question was posted regarding how the home-to-school connection (I also like calling this “teacher-to-home communication”) is coming along with new technologies and schools. Talk about a “rock and a hard place.”

I think there are a few factors that make the seemingly simple act of communicating through Web 2.0 more difficult than we would like to think.

1) TIME- yes, teachers in a lot of school systems have access to their own teacher web pages (or at least a building web page). However, how much time and money has been allotted to teaching the teachers how to use those pages? For some, this won’t be that big of an issue. For others, this is a very, very steep learning curve.

Also, it takes time to populate that web page, even when it’s a template-based system. If I want to make sure students can see a copy of the assignments we did in class, whether the student was absent or just misplaced the assignment, that will take time for me to add to the web page. Teachers already have minimal planning time for instruction. When do they find the time to add to their web pages? And what about Wikis? Blogs? Photo-sharing sites? TeacherTube?

2) INTERNET SAFETY- like it or not, it’s a federal requirement that schools keep kids safe . In some districts, that means blocking most of what we consider Web 2.0 tools. Our district blocks a lot of blogs, wikis, and photo-sharing sites because they aren’t regulated or moderated. My personal opinion, which I’ve posted many times, is that we can’t teach kids to use the internet safely when we block everything, but federal funding speaks louder than those of us “trying to make a point.” Regardless of my opinion, the situation is some Web 2.0 tools simply aren’t available in public schools.

3) USE by Parents & Students- if a teacher communicates through Web 2.0 tools ( for this example, let’s assume the teacher uses a wiki published on the web), will the students use it? Will the parents use it? Maybe a better question is: will the parents and/or students who need this communication MOST actually use it? There are so many factors here, it’s nearly impossible to know. Important questions to consider: do the families have internet access? if they do have access, will they check the wiki page every day? If they don’t have internet access, then what?

On top of all those issues, there is a HUGE divide between what some parents know and are able to do with Web 2.0… compared to what their kids know and are able to do. Web 2.0 education for the families is another need. Do parents and kids know they can add to a wiki? Or leave a comment on a blog post? Or comment on an instructional video on TeacherTube? Again, this is another learning curve that requires attention.

I don’t have any magic answers or solutions, but I do see some issues that we could begin to tackle. Dialogues need to occur amongst learning communities about how we should/could be communicating with Web 2.0.

Short side note: As a parent, I appreciate Web 2.0 as communication… and I use it. But a) I understand how to use it, b) I’m not blocked from using it, and c) I have access at home to it. How many of your students’ parents are like me?

Defining Web 2.0

When attempting to define “Web 2.0” for educators and administrators, I sometimes find myself coming up short. How does one define something so abstract? So huge? Is it important to define? YES. We can’t understand its importance to our students if we don’t know what it is.

Sharon Peters has a great definition: “How to describe Web 2.0 to Administrators“– it’s well worth reading!