Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dispelling 8 Common Myths for Educators Considering Launching a School Wiki

As the recipient of the National Silver Award for Best How-To Article for my article, 8 Ways To Use A School Wiki to Increase Communication, Collaboration, and Enrich Instruction, and as a wiki-aficionado who has helped countless educators set up their own wikis, I consider myself a Wiki Wizard. I was happy to learn recently that I was in good company as curriculum mapping guru Heidi Hayes Jacobs believes wikis are an essential educational tool of the 21st century. See her wiki here.

However, they still are a relatively new tool and the whole idea of collaborative writing, thinking, and learning is still new to a lot of educators uncertain about this brave new world of networked knowledge creation. When I suggest to schools that they can become more efficient, effective, and can grow their thinking by leaps and bounds, there’s sometimes doubt and trepidation about these uncharted waters. When I share they’ll never have to print another memo, school handbook, or lesson plan again and in general they’ll be able to save thousands by ditching the paper budget, I often have folks interested. When teachers learn that a wiki can eliminate the often intrusive morning and afternoon announcements that rob students of precious learning time, there’s also a lot of interest. When school leaders realize their staff will be able to engage in anytime/anywhere communication and collaboration, they know this is a good thing for their school and staff. When schools learn that they’ll save countless hours in collaborating on curriculum mapping and they’ll never lose (or have to carry a binder) again, well they’re usually sold. You can read how to do all those things in my article 8 Ways To Use A School Wiki to Increase Communication, Collaboration, and Enrich Instruction.

The benefits of using a wiki are endless and transformative. The downside is...well in my five years of using dozens if not hundreds of wikis, I have yet to see one, but, there are those who are fearful of the unknown. This post is written to help educators get past the fear and onto doing the work of meaningful collaboration that will ultimately benefit students, teachers, and leaders.

Dispelling the Myths of Wiki Dangers

Below is a variation on the sort of conversations I might have with a school who has concerns about launching a school wiki.

I followed your advice and created a free school wiki. I put up all our school manuals, set up a link for daily announcements, and created a page for every subject and every teacher. I was so looking forward to the creation of trusting and collaborative relationships between colleagues that do not normally have the opportunity to cross paths. A wiki would enable our staff to connect anytime/anywhere regardless of the constraints of schedules. I was so excited to ditch the paper and let the collaboration begin! No sooner did I get things started then my supervisor insist I shut it down because [insert concern below].

Here are ways to address those concerns.

Concern: Teachers could edit other teachers pages and we’re not comfortable with that.
Response: As with any traditional or new tool protocols and acceptable use should be put in place. If a teacher doesn’t want to collaborate or receive input from others s/he can indicate that in professional wording on the top of their page and set up a discussion tab for comments. If this were to happen however, a teacher could easily see who it was who did this. Address him/her directly about his/her preferences and revert to the previous version.

Concern: Everything could be accidentally or intentionally erased and gone forever.
Response: Nope. Not possible. You can always revert to an earlier version and you can see who made the unwanted changes and discuss the issue.

Concern: Everyone will know what everyone else is doing.
Response: Yep. They will. You want your wiki to be a place of sharing, collaboration, and celebration. All too often teachers close their doors and that’s it. Wikis provide an opportunity to take a virtual peak anytime, anywhere and learn from and discuss the nuggets you find behind those doors.

Concern: People could write things that are inappropriate.
Response: Yes they can and you’ll know who they are because the wiki lets you know in the page history. If you have a staff member inclined to engage in inappropriate behavior and they do so on the wiki, everyone will see that. Hopefully there can be a conversation so this is not an issue in the future. If this is a person truly intent no sabotaging the work of others, well 1) that’s a bigger issue, but 2) you can remove editing rights.

Concern: Resistant teachers who view technology as a burden will wish to continue excluding it from the curriculum.
Response: It’s important not to allow the luddites hold back the progress of those interested in enriching teaching and learning with modern tools. If there is a teacher or teachers who are not interested in sharing and collaborating, focus on those who are. If you work for an innovative leader like Jason Levy who uses wikis with his staff, there are expectations that the wiki is the place staff will go to gain and share information. All staff are responsible for the information.

Concern: A wiki can mirror inter-school politics if we let them.
Response: Just as in the physical school environment, it is important to set up protocols and respectable and acceptable use. Online interaction is an extension of what happens offline. Politics must be addressed in the same way whether virtual or physical.

Concern: There are people who shouldn’t see what we are publishing. Unintended viewers could be problematic.
Response: Wikis should have intended audiences. I recommend that schools set up an internal wiki that is private to educators and another public wiki that can be shared with students and parents.

To really learn how to use wikis best, you’ll need to jump in and start collaborating. Once you do, or if you have, please share any other concerns you or your colleagues may have about using this powerful collaboration tool. If there are, please share in the comments and I’ll do my best to address them. Until then remember to Wiki while you work and the rewards will come.

Mayor Bloomberg Announces to Millions that Innovation in Education is One of His Key Initiatives

Despite some of the disappointment in the agenda at the Education Nation Summit, there was a ray of light that I’m optimistic about. At the Summit Mayor Bloomberg announced the launch of a project I’m thrilled to have been involved in since last year called the iZone. The fact that real innovation is on the forefront of the mind of the mayor of the biggest city in the U.S. is promising. What is more promising is that he doesn’t see innovation as simply data driven assessment, but as actually incorporating true innovative ideas into New York City schools.

His announcement follows the official kickoff of the iZone which I had the privilege of attending in person where Chancellor Joel Klein addressed over 100 iZone partners, including principals and teachers from the 80+ participating schools, to mark the beginning of this transformative initiative.

One area I’m excited about is the move toward online learning and virtual schooling. Another is the move away from traditional seat time requirements and toward mastery demonstration that allows students to move through courses at their speed and in different ways. I was also thrilled to learn that Bloomberg is pushing for the abolishment of an old State law that requires schools to buy printed textbooks rather than the digital content. He notes that may be good business for the textbook industry, but it really is a bad deal for our students in this day and age. I’ve been talking about the long over-due demise of the textbook for years. It’s exciting to see the Mayor is behind moving into the digital age providing for more meaningful and engaging content for our students.

The iZone was developed to ensure students are better prepared for college and careers by challenging longstanding assumptions around “business as usual” in K-12 education. The Mayor highlighted the iZone as one of his key priorities for the next three years. You can watch the video here.

You can get involved by visiting the iZone site and clicking here where you can enter your email to receive tailored updates and notifications around new activity within the iZone.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five Ways to Help You Get Going With Google Apps at Your School

Editor's note: This was originally posted in April but as the school year starts, several educators have shared a desire to get going with Google this year. Here are ways you can go ahead and do that.

Here are five ideas for innovative educators who want to get going with Google Apps in Education.

  1. First you'll want to read this article about how to, "Get Going with Google Apps in Your School."
  2. Once you're ready to get started you'll need to create a new domain. To learn how read, "Get Started with Google Apps for Education with a New Domain."
  3. Find dozens of other educators using Google Apps in Education who would be happy to help you get started at this link.
  4. Connect with others using Google by joining the group for Google for educators.
  5. If you have money in your budget to hire someone to support this work, you may want to hire a company like Teaching Matters. They have a program in place that helps schools set up their account and then supports them on site to help teachers begin using the program.

For more information around why Google Apps in Education, watch this video:

Can the National Council of Teachers of English Keep Up with A Changing World for Literacy Teachers? Not Really.

I just came across the National Council of Teachers of English Policy Research Brief on 21st Century Literacies on my Twitterfeed, and though they take literacy past what it looked like in the 20th Century, it still seems quite rather distant from my vision of What a 21st Century Literacy Class Might Look Like Today.

Along with the Council’s outdated name (there’s so much more to it than teaching “English” in our globally connected world), their report, published in The Council Chronicle in 2009, gives little attention to what makes literacy in the 21st century so powerful, authentic publishing, Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), connecting via social media, establishing a professional digital footprint. There’s mention of MySpace (that’s like so five years ago), and social media software (uh, it’s not technically software), but nothing about the biggies like Facebook, Twitter, Ning. And, nothing about ditching the paper and hopping on the eReading and writing bandwagon.

The report suggests that global economies, new technologies, and exponential growth in information are transforming our society. Today’s employees engage with a technology-driven, diverse, and quickly changing “flat world.” English/language arts teachers need to prepare students for this world with problem solving, collaboration, and analysis—as well as skills with word processing, hypertext, LCDs, Web cams, digital streaming podcasts, smartboards, and social networking software—central to individual and community success.

Ugh. the report clearly was not written by those involved in the world of 21st century literacies. The language is outdated, key pieces are missing, and my personal bias, and teachers don’t need to use smartboards. The myth that they’re used as anything more than a projection tool in the real world of business is one the IWB companies are thrilled educators have bought into.

Wanting to give the NCTE the benefit of the doubt, I thought perhaps their 2009 policy brief Writing Outside of School may have touched on some of this. Nope. Okay, there’s some dabbling in the authentic use of online tools but the digital immigrant accent shines through loud and clear with examples that don’t make a lot of sense for instance: Two middle schoolers keep and share online journals in which they write reviews of music and films. Really? They keep online journals to write reviews of music and film. This is not how middle schoolers review music and film, and for the record, they don’t say “film.” Just not seeing that as the medium for this activity. Post comments and rate music and videos on YouTube is more in alignment with what students are doing. Another suggests: A teenager joins a group of his peers at 826 Valencia and reads his poem aloud. How about he posts his poem online to an authentic audience who rates, comments, and provides feedback becoming part of the student’s personal learning network where he connects with others with similar passions.

Looking at what I consider the big five, PLNs, social media, authentic publishing, eReading, and establishing a digital footprint, the NCTE gives little focus or attention to what is arguably some of the most important types of communicating our students need to learn to do. Here’s my suggested reading for the NCTE.

Crucial reading to develop the big five of 21st century literacy
PLNs, social media, authentic publishing, eReading, digital footprint development.

To help educators support students in authentic publishing read:To help the paper-trained become digital readers read: To help educators harness the power of social media read:To help educators learn to harness the power of a personal learning network read: To help educators support students in developing their digital footprint and 21st century voice read:So what’s this mean for innovative educators? It means look at your council. Do they look like your students? Are they interacting in their worlds? Are they bringing students into the conversation? Do they exist in online worlds? If the answer is no, they probably aren’t preparing you or your students for the world outside the classroom. But don’t worry, if you want it, you and your students can develop a PLN that will be there for you.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Innovation is Finally in the NYC Education Conversation

I’ve been working in education more than a decade having to work on the DL to sneak innovation into the classrooms and schools in the name of taking the risks that our students need for success. In a system of banning, filtering and outdated mandates, I’ve been morally compelled to sneak in, break in, and secretly help teachers and myself prepare students for real-world success. Unfortunately, for much of my career, my idea of innovation and preparation did not match with the powers that be who saw success couched in standardized tests that make testing companies richer and can affect the success of a politician, but do a horrible job of actually doing what they are touted to do. Assess student and school success.

It seems, New York City is now moving in the right direction. Mayor Bloomberg addressed NBC's Education Nation Summit outlining his education priorities for the next few years. I’m finally psyched to be a part of the educational vision and priorities of my district. Bloomberg outlined a four step plan which you can read in full here.

What I’m most excited about is the city’s strategy for supporting kids for career and college readiness. This involves fundamentally redesigning classroom learning. Bloomberg describes this as follows. “By empowering teachers to use cutting edge technology, we’ll help them tailor lesson plans around the individual learning needs of students – and give every student more personal attention.”

He adds, “Our work to connect students to college and careers, is nothing short of revolutionary. Imagine, for a minute, looking into a classroom, and instead of seeing some kids raising their hands to every question, and others just daydreaming, you see a small group working with a teacher in one corner, other kids working individually on their portable computers, and other kids working together on the same project, online.”
  • I’d like to add to this and take the learning out of just school walls and inside traditional building hours, but it’s definitely progress.
He also shares that “Everywhere you go in this school, rather than lecturing at students as a class, teachers will be working with students as individuals or small teams on projects and lessons specifically tailored to their own learning styles and needs.”
  • To this I’d like to add that as scary as it is for some to let go of tradition, I hope we learn to dispel the myth of the traditional teacher owning this role. Bringing teachers who are experts into the learning from the community and across the globe via the internet is impactful and oft times these experts may themselves be students. This also means, at time that time or place are unnecessary constraints when speaking of global connections and that students escape the walls of school to tap into community resources for local connections.
Bloomberg explains that “those scenes are playing out more and more every single school day here in New York City I’m happy to say. We’ve created 80 Innovation Schools that have started down the ground-breaking path of using technology to design individual learning plans for each child. In an iPad world, our students shouldn’t be stuck looking at overhead projectors. With funding help from our State, we can make every single school in New York City ready for this high-tech program, and we can work with teachers to transform 400 of our schools into Innovation Schools over the next three years. But to make them fully functional, we’ll also need the State to take two other steps.
  • These next two steps are exciting news and something myself and colleagues have been pushing for passionately for years including last week in Albany. How exciting to hear this come from the mayor:
“First, an old State law requires schools to buy printed textbooks rather than the digital content. That may be good business for the textbook industry, but it really is a bad deal for our students in this day and age. Second, we’ll work with the State to end what is called ‘seat time,’ which requires that all students spend a certain number of hours in their seats on every subject – even if they’ve already learned what’s expected of them.”
  • All I can say is, “Hear! Hear!!!!”
Bloomberg asked, “What if Maria has mastered 10th grade biology by April, instead of June? Why not let her jump-start on chemistry? Technology can empower our teachers and students – and we must take advantage of it.”
  • Agree! Grouping students by what Sir Ken Robinson has dubbed as “date of manufacture” really makes no sense at all. Let’s group students by talents, passions, interests, and abilities. Students are age grouped in life? Squashing this artificial construct is long overdue!
“The 400 Innovation schools we are planning reflect our determination to give parents more top-quality school choices – and that’s our fourth and final strategy for connecting students to college and careers.”

Keep the Education Conversation Going on Twitter with #EdChat Even After the Hype

Education Nation, Waiting for Superman, Mark Zuckerberg Announces on Oprah He’ll Donate $100 Million to Newark Public Schools...

It seems like suddenly everyone’s talking about education and that’s great, but once hoopla dies down, how do we keep the conversation going? Answer: Twitter provides an excellent platform. When I speak to educators about why it’s important for educators to use Twitter, I start by explaining it’s really all about the conversation and connections. In fact, I had this conversation today with some high profile educators who I was trying to convince to get more involved in social media. They share the sentiment that, “If I want to converse, I’ll talk to my colleagues.” The problem with this is that 1) They may not be interested in or feel like talking about the same thing you do, when you do and 2) A conversation with the same few people might not provide the richest experience.

Twitter solves the issue by providing global connections with those passionate about the same topics you are and if education is your passion, then #edchat is a conversation you should join. “Ed Chat,” or as we call it in the Twitosphere, #edchat is a terrific way for educators to join the education conversation on an ongoing basis. It enables educators all over the world to participate in online discussions that take the form of a fast-paced chat room on Twitter about important educational topics such as, “How can we teach our students about their digital footprint and maintain a positive one ourselves?” The discussion centers around the selected topic, with people posing questions, responding to each other and retweeting statements, questions or ideas that they like. Participants tag their tweets with #edchat so that anyone can follow the conversation. (Thanks to @MBTeach for this description on her blog.)

The #edchat wiki describes it this way.

Open, collaborative, focused discussion can open and expand minds. But let's not stop there- let's harness this wisdom of the many to crowdsource possible solutions to some of the major issues that are uncovered...

Here is a video overview of #Edchat

Here is how you can participate.
  • When does #edchat take place? There are two edchat discussions which take place at 12pm and 7pm NYT (EST).
  • How are Topics Chosen? Every Monday, Tom Whitby, Steven Anderson, and ShellTerrell create a twtpoll of 5 topics to choose from for Tuesday’s discussion. You can vote in the poll by visiting and searching #edchat. You may also propose topics by sending us a Tweet or DM to Tom, Steve, or Shelly!
  • What is a hashtag? Check out this video to discover what a hashtag is and how to use a hashtag. Every Tuesday, at the designated time, you only need to add “#edchat” to the end of your tweet to participate in the discussion.
So what is so special about #edchat?
Participant & moderator Mary Beth Hertz provides this insightful overview explaining why educators find #edchat so useful sharing this.

I find the fast pace discussion exciting. The varied opinions and points of view are enlightening, and the discussion is always deep and meaningful. Some might think of it as organized chaos, but it is just like sitting in a room of brilliant educators and never having to move around the room to hear everyone's conversations. What's even better, you can jump in at any time when you see a topic, statement or idea that grabs you or that you feel strongly about without feeling like you're interrupting a conversation.

The #edchat discussions are also a great place to find like-minded educators to add to your PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network). Often, after a session, you will find your email inbox full of people from the chat who found you on Twitter, and you can search them out as well to follow.

Get Going with #EdChat today
You can get started today, or any Tuesday by logging onto Twitter at noon or 7 p.m. EST and using your preferred tool like Twitter Search, Twitterfall, TweetDeck or HootSuite, Twhirl or TweetGrid to follow and engage in the conversation and visit Twtpoll to check out the conversation topic.

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