Saturday, December 20, 2014

I'm No Bo: On Striving, Humility, and Democracy

By now Bo Pelini and his rants are public knowledge. The thing that struck me the most about his complaints was the idea that he did not know the expectations every year. I just happen to work for the same institution. I get paid much less and interview a lot less. I am not sure how I would fair under public scrutiny but I do know something about being judged annually by "higher ups".

I often do not agree with my "higher ups" but I do know that we have a shared goal of improving the lives of Nebraskans starting with our students and expanding beyond it. So while we may not agree on the how we can agree on the what and judge our efforts based on outcomes. The bottom line is that every year I need to strive to be better. After reflecting on what I need to improve I make a plan to pay attention and improve a few aspects of my work, be it teaching, research, or service. I do not need someone to tell me that I am not perfect (though many are happy to point it out) I know what I do well and what I do not.

In the last three semesters I have worked hard on building a classroom community through integrating democratic practices. The idea was to present a learning environment that would model a possible educational model that is different from the one my pre-service teachers see enacted in schools. Every semester I have been just a bit better about building a classroom community allowing students to participate in decision making including classroom rules, grading and participation.

Am I there? NO. My students are still struggling to see how these practices can be translated into classroom practice BUT I can say without any doubt that I am a better teacher than I ever was. I can say that my students know more of what they need to teach reading and writing in the 21st century. The community we built in the classroom was built on shared goals, shared responsibility and an understanding that we are in this together. So if I had to have a goodbye speech to my students it would be about their potential to change the world not how the world is against them (or me).

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why my new Apple TV will not matter (much) for learning and Why it will!

I caved in and got an Apple TV. I spent a few minutes setting it up and enjoyed the way all my work looked on the large screen. And then I had to remind myself that while it is slick and easy to use it will not matter much for learning.

Where it doesn't matter- Learning happens with student devices handled individually or in small groups. It is the active interaction that really pushes students forward (and engages them). The question is: is it a teaching technology or a learning technology? Apple TV falls much more in the teaching than learning. Teaching is important you might say. True, but we've focused on teaching for a few thousand years, time to focus on learning.

Why it will matter- As a teaching device the Apple TV will allow me to share presentations, websites and media from anywhere in the room. This allows me the flexibility to move around, interact with students while giving all students access to what I am looking at. This improved mobility and ease of operation will make me a more effective teacher. One that has to spend less time on tech and more on students. The sharing extends to my students they can share their thinking with the rest of the class using their own devices- a way to teach and learn t the same time.

Don't get me wrong, I love my Apple TV and will use anytime I can BUT I will remind myself constantly that real change will come from individual learning devices not the fancy teaching ones.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Five ways that edchats are more than just coffee with Colleagues

A few weeks ago I shared my journey into educational research and technology with first year doctoral students. I was invited by Ali Moeller (or here) a great colleague and an even better friend to talk about researcher identity and I chose to tell my personal journey. Towards the end of my talk I mentioned #nebedchat and #edcamp as exciting examples of the way teachers are using social media to develop, support, and grow.

Ali asked one of those questions/comments that stimulate my thinking and push me to define what it is I am thinking. The comment was: "we used to go out for a coffee and talk about our work. How is this different?". The indication was that it is not very new- and not very special. The comment has pushed to try and explore why I find edchats so great despite my everyday conversations with teachers and colleagues. The need for such a connection is important for three groups: teachers who teach in remote rural schools, teachers who are the only ones at their school to teach that topic (business, German etc.), teachers in schools without a supportive climate.

1. Twitter chats have a moderator and a topic. Casual conversations are less professional and often less supportive. Twitter chats, especially well moderated ones, have a direction and a s result enrich our thinking faster.
2. Twitter chats help rural teachers connect with like minded educators. Small schools often have excellent personal relationships but it is less likely you will find others interested in what occupies your mind at the moment. Teachers have different professional trajectories and finding an affinity group can be affirming and sometimes life changing.
3. Teachers in some schools can feel very isolated. The daily pressures of assessments, (sometimes) toxic administration, and collaborative styles of peers can make some teachers feel very isolated. Reaching out on twitter can provide an outlet and a receptive group of colleagues. It may very well be that we will find that edchats can increase teacher retention.
4. New ideas. The wide  local, national and international reach of the different chats really enhances the strategies, apps, and instructional ideas that we have. It is the ultimate self guided professional development.
5. Respect and crowdsourcing. Twitter chats are affirming because they are democratic, anyone can participate, post, and discuss. The ideas that float to the top are ones other find useful or enlightening and are highlighted through retweets and likes.