Tuesday, March 8, 2011

14 Ideas to Help Educators Update and Enhance Traditional Meetings

"If your target audience isn't listening to you, it's not their fault, it's yours" Seth Godin

More than a decade into the 21st century and it’s still business as usual for many educators.  Unfortunately those charged with bringing classrooms, schools, departments, and districts beyond the 20th century are often stuck doing things the same old ways.  At a recent meeting of innovative educational leaders, staff members were told they were not allowed to use Blackberries or cell phones.  Additionally, the use of laptops was frowned upon. Handouts and materials used were not shared digitally and notes were expected to be captured on paper.  The unstated messages conveyed is that given the freedom to use technology, participants were unlikely to focus on the work at hand. The meeting organizers felt they could not be trusted to make decisions about how to best participate and do their work.  The rest of the day, like the "naughty children," we force to power down, adults could be seen sneaking their phones under tables, in the bathroom, etc. to do real work, but not wanting to be reprimanded by meeting organizers. 

Several innovative employees were frustrated. Technology is a part of the way many do business. Among other things, technology is a tool used to help them focus, collect, connect, and communicate. For some, the mandate to power down and disconnect resulted in doing the same with their attention. They powered down, disconnected and felt their expertise, professionalism, and working style were devalued.

Educators are charged with preparing our children for the future, but many are still doing things the same ol’ way.  What’s worse, they’re mandating others to remain stuck in the past with them. There are several ways that educational leaders can stop banning and start embracing technology to update how they do business with more efficient and effective results.

Here are a ideas to update face-to-face meetings followed by a description of each.
  1. Wiffiti and Twitter Enable You to Connect with Participants
  2. Paper.li and Twitter Allow You to Put Together A Professional Meeting Daily
  3. Camera Phones and Flickr Allow You  to Efficiently Capture Notes and Ideas
  4. Google Spreadsheets Allows You to Stop Wasting Time and Paper
  5. Learning Networks Enable You to Efficiently Capture, Collect, Reflect, and Respond to Ideas
  6. Texting, BBM, Crunch, etc. Promote the Sharing and Processing of Ideas
  7. Back-Channeling for Instant Feedback and Meaning Making
  8. Twitter  Allows You to Connect Globally
  9. Google Docs  and Twitter Make for Powerful Global Collaboration
  10. uStream Brings Meetings to Those Who Can’t Attend Face-2-Face
  11. iPads and Dropbox Make for an Efficient and Paperless Environment
  12. Free Wikispaces or Google Sites Provide a Digital Platform for All Meeting Materials and Resources
  13. Use Facebook to Share Links to Articles, Information, and Ideas of Interest
  14. Taking a Minute to Honor Technology

Wiffiti and Twitter Enable You to Connect with Participants

Set a Twitter hashtag for your department and/or meeting where participants can share thoughts and ideas.  Have those projected onto a Wiffiti board that participants and meeting leaders can take a look at.  This gives a terrific pulse of the members with an insight into their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions.  Using Wiffiti with Twitter is a great option because even those without a Twitter account, can send their thoughts into Wiffiti using the designated code.  

Paper.li and Twitter Allow You to Put Together A Professional Meeting Daily

High school English teacher, Cathy Stutzman, uses Twitter during large committee meeting
s and professional development training to share links to additional resources using the school or topic hashtag.  Following the meeting, in an instant using Paper.li, she and her coworkers can examine the articles and materials to inform next steps and actions. It also becomes a great resource to share with participants unable to attend the meeting.  Paper.li will make a daily newspaper following the Tweets of those a Twitter user follows, a Twitter hash tag or a list. The newspaper is delivered in a very reader-friendly format using the Twitter updates and links to bring readers stories, tweets, videos, photos and more. It is simple to create and the end result appears in under a minute and is beautiful. Here is a thumbnail of mine. Click the paper to see the actual paper. 

Camera Phones and Flickr Allow You  to Efficiently Capture Notes and Ideas

Have you ever been to one of those meetings with papers taped all around the room.  Usually, the information is handed off to someone to try to record/type or it is lost.  Why not whip out your phone and capture the picture, then email it using Flickr to instantly capture and collect those images into a slideshow that can be archived and accessed on demand.  

Google Spreadsheets Allows You to Stop Wasting Time and Paper

Another way to update the old fashioned way of doing things with flip charts is using Google docs. This is an efficient alternative  that enables all ideas to be captured and shared with one step.  Simply set up a spreadsheet.  In the left column place the questions/ideas the group is tackling.  In the top row indicate group names.  Rather than on chart paper, each group records feedback on the Google doc.  If all participants in each group have laptops, more than one can capture the input. If only one person has a laptop, that one device can be used for capture and input.  

During the share out, rather than trying to capture what is being said, simply project it.  There is no copying to do after the meeting, no compiling, no sharing.  All the ideas and information are captured and compiled right on the document.  

Learning Networks Enable You to Efficiently Capture, Collect, Reflect, and Respond to Ideas

While many schools or departments have put learning networks into place using tools like Ning, Wordpress, Group.ly or Facebook, today’s digital immigrants, might not actively participate in such environments.   Meetings are not only a great place to get the ball rolling, using learning networks also allows you to do so more efficiently while collecting the voice, inputs and thoughts of more participants.  

In advance of the meeting post some topics that you plan to have participants discuss.  While they are working in groups, have the group leader and/or group members capture thoughts and ideas in that discussion area.  Inform the group the time at which you’d like their feedback posted and then give them a chance to review the ideas from other groups.  Ask them to find at least one piece of feedback that resonated with them.  

When the team comes back together, all information is captured and participants can get to the thinking faster.  Everyone has read the ideas of all the others.  The discussion moves to making meaning of what they read and sharing the particular ideas that stood out for them.  

Texting, BBM, Crunch, etc. Promote the Sharing and Processing of Ideas

Have you ever been in a meeting when someone said something that needed clarification, you didn’t agree with, you didn’t understand, or just wanted to see how a colleague felt about this idea?  While passing notes or whispering is often considered distracting for the presenter or other participants, audience members can in essence read one-another’s minds with the use of Texting with SMS,  BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), Crunch or any such tool. Such tools allow participants to converse about topics and subtopics without interrupting the flow of the meeting.  

It also makes a meeting much more interactive.  Rather than traditional meetings where there is a sage on the stage, enabling participants to text and make meaning, gives some of the power to those in the rest of the room where they can deepen ideas and understanding.  

Back-Channeling for Instant Feedback and Meaning Making

Staff at Sidwell Friends Middle School often find it useful to engage in a backchannel conversation about the topic of the meeting using tools like Todaysmeet.com, Typewith.me, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, and Tinychat. 6th grade teacher Kimberly Clarkson explains that while some might find this distracting, others find it to be a perfect tool for keeping them engaged and focused.  Clarkson shares that different modes of processing information do not magically evaporate as one becomes an adult.  Allowing and encouraging the practice of relevant behind the scenes conversations during meetings can increase the engagement and productivity of meeting participants.

Twitter  Allows You to Connect Globally

Connect not only with the folks in the room, but with the world, during meetings with Twitter.  Have a thought, question,  idea, or simply involved in a brainstorming session and wondering what others might think?  Tweet it out.  Think of it sort of like a radio call in show where others with like interests can join in the collective intelligence.  

I’ve used this often in my work.  In fact, it is how we came up for one of the names of a citywide project my office is implementing.  Maybe an idea just doesn’t sound right, but you want to get the take of others.  Tweet out the idea followed by, “thoughts?” This quickly gives you a sense what those outside the room might be thinking.  Perhaps your discussing a topic that others are interested such as students with special needs (#spedchat), gifted and talented (#gtchat), or innovation (#innochat).  Simply use the proper twitter hashtag and see what others interested in that topic think.  While you’re there, perhaps you notice some names of leaders in the field.  Send them a direct message to inform your meeting with expert advice...FOR FREE!

Google Docs  and Twitter Make for Powerful Global Collaboration

Marry Twitter with Google docs and you have a tremendous way to not only connect and share ideas with a global audience, but you can also collaborate and create products that are beneficial to all.  This can be accomplished in a number of ways.  One way is if you’re trying to collect ideas about a particular topic you can create a Google form that feeds into a spreadsheet.  Just Tweet out the topic an url of the form and instantly your spreadsheet begins getting filled with input from a wide audience.  Perhaps you are collecting ideas for a project.  Create a G-doc with the project description and directions to contributors.  Let the collective wisdom of those inside and outside the room inform, influence, and impact your work.  

Gregory Richardson, a science teacher in New York, was thrilled when he did this.  He was working on creating a curriculum map.  He uploaded it as a Google Spreadsheet.  Next he Tweeted out the spreadsheet link with a request for help and ideas, and within seconds there was global collaboration and chat about his work.  Tweeps (Twitter people) from around the world shared ideas on his map and chatted with him.  

uStream Brings Meetings to Those Who Can’t Attend Face-2-Face

uStream is a free and easy tool that can be used to capture meetings with only a webcam, laptop, and internet.  Meeting presenters simply select “Live Broadcast” from uStream and those who can not attend face-to-face can see and hear the meeting.  They can also provide input and feedback using the chat function.  These meetings can also be recorded as a way to archive meetings or for viewing by those who need to watch what occured at a later time.  

iPads and Dropbox Make for an Efficient and Paperless Environment

At New York City Technology Coordinator Chris Casal’s school, teachers, coaches, Inquiry Team members, school leaders and others, have iPads. While they use the devices for conferring with students, grade books, etc. they also have found them to be  extremely valuable for meetings, team collaboration and “going paperless.”

iPad owners at the school use DropBox to store all folders and files that will be accessed during meetings.  For example, the school is involved in the Peer Review process which requires them to work with another school on school-wide evaluations. The process involves a number of documents. They have a  “Peer Review” DropBox folder which is shared with all the members of the Peer Review panel. Instead of printing out and sharing necessary documents, folders are set up before meetings and participants can instantly access folders and documents that have been set up for the, now paperless, meetings. The same has worked for their Inquiry Team. Among other duties, the team looks at our schools Acuity Predictive Assessments. Once the results are available the data is downloaded to a shared DropBox folder and instantly accessible to all team members at the meeting, or anytime/anywhere they need them.  

Wikispaces or Google Sites Provide a Digital Platform for Meeting Materials and Resources

We've all been at meetings where a PowerPoint and perhaps other material is shown and the presenter says something like, I'll email this out to everyone, or if you want a copy email me at...  More often than not the materials never reach the participants hands.  More importantly, having that information at the time of the meeting would enable participants to make meaning of what the presenter is saying, rather than copying it down.  At the Manhattan Office of Educational Technology, materials for all meetings and professional development are shared on the agenda via a wiki.  Taking notes are a thing of the past.  In the 21st  century we skip outdated note-taking and move right to meaning making.  Additionally, participant feedback is instantly captured and recorded.  You can see an example of what this looks like at these agendas: Innovate My class using Flip Videos and Digital Cameras or Innovate My Class with Pencasting and Screencasting.

Use Facebook to Share Links, Ideas, and Articles of Interest. 

Facebook serves as a great tool to share ideas, links, and articles that might be of interest to colleagues.  Simply take the link.  Share it on Facebook and tag both colleagues in the room as well as others who may be interested in the topic.  Rather than the outdated method of passing an article or book around the room, the link appears and everyone's wall and the result can be reach conversations and connections with those tagged as well as others interested in the topic.  

Taking a Minute to Honor Technology

At meetings at the Sidwell Friends Middle School, 6th grade teacher Kimberly Clarkson enjoys the “Tech Minute” that begins all meetings.  During “Tech Minute” time is taken to share technology tools that others can use to do their job more effectively.  These can be shared in a Google presentation like the one below,  posted separately in an appropriate discussion topic, or shared using a collaborative space like Dropbox.  

Like teachers, with their students,  it’s not enough for educational leaders to tell others to do as they say, not as they do.  Modeling and leading is the key to bringing about change for one's self, one's staff, and those with whom they work.  With all these ways technology can be used to enrich meetings today, it’s easy to see why we should stop banning and start embracing the use of technology to empower and engage learners and staff of all ages.  


  1. Love this post! Would also add..
    Ever go to PD/ meeting where each group has to share an idea/ concept on a piece of chart paper and share? Set up a Google presentation and have each group put their ideas on 1 slide.
    Also, Poll Anywhere is a great way to quickly survey the group with phones.
    And, in addition to the camera on your cell (which I use to capture charts regularly) most now have a video camera as well. I have started recording short clips on my phone (with speaker permission, of course), uploading to the dropbox app on my phone and sharing.
    Oh, and I must add, good old fashion email is absolutely the best way for me to create a "to do" list that I get done. I constantly email myself important follow-up tasks during meetings.

  2. Lisa, at Educon, Eric Sheninger said that educators will never learn to teach, or support the teaching of, relevant technologies and skills if they don't use these themselves. The meeting you attended proves the point. I attended a critical business meeting today; I thought for awhile about buying a pen and pad so I looked "prepared" in the old-fashioned sense; but the reality is that I can find everything on my laptop, and nothing that I've written down. I got to the meeting, pulled out my laptop, and took copious notes that I've spent tonight reviewing, revising, and turning into a report and thank you. The note pad would still be in the bottom of my bag. This is how everyone I know operates in the business world today; it's sad that your colleagues don't know it.

  3. This sentence "The meeting organizers felt they could not be trusted to make decisions about how to best participate and do their work" illustrate:
    1. Scientific Management (1911) that presumed that workers were lazy and stupid and someone had to break down their work to the smallest components and closely supervise the work.
    2. Theory X (1960) "which has been proven counter-effective in most modern practice" that advocates that all people dislike work and are generally unmotivated unless paid or forced to work.
    In year 2011 those two outdated approaches are still alive and well in our schools and that is why our problems, especially in the area of innovation, persist.

  4. @shana, thank you for the addition of some great ideas.

    @Mark, in graduate school I was surprised to find no one else had laptops. So as not to stand out or offend, I left my laptop in my bag and used paper. When pursuing my license in ed leadership I decided I was going to work the way I work best using tech.For my final project I handed in a url with a link to my work. Students thought I was daring. In class I used my laptop. As others copied down theories that teachers explained, I downloaded them from the internet and rather than transcribing, I got to the making of meaning and doing my work. My peers complained saying this wasn't fair. I challenged them. Why not? I had the theories written down. Now I wanted to get to work. A few days later more students brought laptops.

    This is not the first time I've faced adversity when trying to use tech in my work. Paper-trained peers are often uncomfortable with others doing things in new ways that they don't understand. However, I have evolved and I am tired of being held back doing things the same old way.

    @Anonymous, great examples and you are right! This way of thinking about adults is also the pervasive mindset in schools that often holds students back and keeps them from connecting with their talents, passions, and interests.

  5. Perhaps the adults not developing their 21st century skills is the main reason why our students' 21 century skills are not where we would expect them to be?


  6. Thanks! The links are helpful tools. I am so excited about this but when I am inside the classroom I feel the disconnect between what I am learning from your blog to the realities in my country. My task is close in the gap or at least make it less.

    I particularly liked about using the celphone as an education tool and I would like to read more on this, especially related literature and studies. I was close to banning cell phones in my class, when I realized that I, myself, am not very much like that because I let my students use their phones to capture notes or record interviews then let them send it to me via bluetooth.

    This affirms my stance on cellular phones as an effective tool in education. Besides, it is wise to educate them "how" to use these tools effectively, and not just rely on the manual.

  7. I enjoyed the portion listed about a paperless school environment. Over the past few school years I have tried to go as paperless as possible by not printing out student assignments, but rather post them on a shared drive on our school network that the students have access too. I also use this as an opportunity for the students to turn in all of their completed work to my network inbox.
    Our school system has also begun implementing our new e-class school system where we will utilize all digital content and we will no longer be utilizing paper textbooks.

    It will be interesting to see how well this transition goes witin our district over the next few school years.