Pedal to the metal, getting in gear

Something has stuck with me for the last few weeks and I feel the need to vent it out…maybe that’s what a blog is for!??!

A good friend of mine’s younger brother (who I will forever think of as a sixth grader-that’s how old he was when I met him) just graduated from a well regarded teacher training institution. He decided that he wanted to give the overseas teaching a go and attended the ISS fair in Philadelphia. He was hired (had many interviews actually) and will teach his first two years overseas.

Prior to the career fair, he sat down with me to ‘prepare’ for the interviews. I spent some time sharing with him my experiences overseas and what life has been like. I also shared with him what I felt would be priorities with the recruiters he would be interviewing with. Chief among these was the use of and comfort with technology. I explained that understanding things like blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc and how to integrate them into his classroom would be a huge boon for him in his interviews. After a few minutes of him listening to me, I realized that his face was slowly changing and showing the beginning signs of panic. I stopped and queried “You do know how to use these tools in your classroom, right?” Sheepishly he shared that while he knew what those tools were, and used many of them in his personal life, he had never actually been taught to use them in his education program. Now it was my turn to have the color drain from my face and the beginnings of panic to set in.

How in the world can we be turning out brand spanking new teachers that have never experimented with these tools in their training? How can any higher education program claim to be training 21st Century Teachers and yet still be graduating students with little to no exposure of current trends in technology? The university he graduated from has one of the best reputations for an education program in the entire state…how is this disconnect happening?

I used to think that we needed to dump all of our resources and energy into schools and professional development for current teachers. Now I’m afraid I was overlooking an incredible opportunity to fight the battle from the ‘ground up.’ What if all of the new graduates coming out of teacher training programs already had adopted this ‘paradigm shift’? What if they went into schools automatically teaching and collaborating in the ways of the 21st Century? Then they could share with the current teachers and influence students in this new landscape of learning.

This is not a new idea, I know (remember, most of what I could ever possibly say or think of is really old news-see my first blog post “Maybe Blogging Isn’t For Me…”). In searching to see what other people were and were not saying about education programs, I came across this article on the Milken Family Foundation website: Information Technology Underused in Teacher Education. In the article, there is a quote from Dr. David Moursund of the International Society for Technology in Education. He said:

“In the past few years, the preservice teacher education programs have made substantial progress in preparing future teachers in information technology, but they still have a long way to go”

The article goes on to share the results of a survey given to faculty members in teacher training programs. The survey asked the faculty about the extent to which future teachers are being exposed to technology. The survey results showed that:

“The majority of faculty-members revealed that they do not, in fact, practice or model effective technology use in their classrooms.”

The conclusion of the article is a direct quote from Cheryl Lemke, Executive Director of the Milken Exchange on Education Technology:

“The findings in this report should be a wake-up call for higher education institutions and policymakers across the country – today’s students live in a global, knowledge-based age, and they deserve teachers whose practice embraces the best that technology can bring to learning.”

Sadly, this article was published exactly 10 years ago…seems maybe not enough people read it, or believed it! I keep finding myself becoming discouraged and disheartened. When will education put its foot to the accelerator? What will it take to get future educators prepared and in the driver’s seat? How do we get this car in gear???

Our kids deserve no less

I am finding myself contemplating the future of education and wondering where it’s going. I know where I think it should be headed, where I’d like it to be going…yet, somehow I don’t know if it will get there.

Everything I’ve been reading for this class has emphasized how important it is to be moving forward, to be putting energy and effort into understanding this new digital age and supporting our students in it. Yet the same authors are reminding us that education is the slowest institution to change and educators are reluctant to take risks and try new, modern ideas. This is what worries me. We are no longer talking about education ‘integrating’ technology, we are talking about a complete and total paradigm shift. Can we do it? I hope so…I think we have to at least try.

When I was reading Marc Prensky’sAdapt and Adopt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom,” I was struck by his call to include the students. It is something that I believe is necessary for education to move forward. But this is the paradigm shift. As educators we are no longer the ones with all the answers, we must look to our students to be teachers too. This is a scary thought for many! Marc puts it this way:

“First, consult the students. They are far ahead of their educators in terms of taking advantage of digital technology and using it to their advantage. We cannot, no matter how hard we try or how smart we are (or think we are), invent the future education of our children for them. The only way to move forward effectively is to combine what they know about technology with what we know and require about education. Sadly, in most cases, no one asks for their opinion. I go to conference after conference on school technology, and nary a student is in sight.”

This was something I encountered at the Learning 2.0 Conference in Shanghai last September. I participated in an ‘unconference’ session with some high school students. These were students who were brought in to support the conference participants tech wise. On the spur of the moment (which is the whole idea of ‘unconference’ sessions), some of the students were asked to participate in a round table discussion about their thoughts on technology and learning. It was by far one of the most interesting sessions I attended. The kids were incredibly uncomfortable at the outset (we sat in a circle with about 20 or so educators looking at the students). Many people kept asking the kids questions like “what do you want your learning to look like?” and “how would you like to see technology used in your education?” These poor kids looked like deer caught in the headlights! Of course they struggled with answering the questions like those (who wouldn’t really?). However, when asked how they would like to complete assignments, they did have answers. They continually went back to the idea of having options and choices about their assignments. It showed that they preferred to have some level of control or investment in how they presented their work. They also wanted to learn about ‘interesting things’ and not something that even they could tell the teacher was just lecturing on because she/he had to. My favorite part of the entire discussion was when one teacher in the group asked the student to give some examples of how they’d like to be assessed on content they had been learning. The student replied “Well, I’d like to sometimes just have a chat with the teacher about what I’ve learned.” The teacher who posed the question responded with “Oh, like on MSN or something?” To which the student looked confused for a moment, then his face cleared and he smiled and said “Oh, no, I mean like a chat…you know, sitting down and talking to each other?!” It was a perfect example of how sometimes we over think things!

The bottom line is that we have to adapt and adopt. There is no way we can provide our students with what they need unless we do. Marc Prensky put it perfectly:

“A big effort? Absolutely. But our kids deserve no less.”

Adapting and adopting…it’s getting easier!

It’s interesting to read first hand things I’ve been hearing about for years. I’ve heard Marc Prensky’s name frequently mentioned around my house, but this is the first time I’ve actually read him directly. Much of what he wrote in Adopt and Adapt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom, I am familiar with through reading The Thinking Stick blog.

Some of what Marc said though, jumped out at me and struck a chord. He writes at one point:

“But resisting today’s digital technology will be truly lethal to our children’s education.”

I think he is making a strong statement here, but one that I don’t think I can disagree with. I often find myself ‘resisting’ the digital technology and can frequently find the information (and rate of change) entirely overwhelming. When I read this statement that Marc made, I knew I was in trouble:

“Having learned about digital technology later in life, digital immigrants retain their predigital “accents” — such as, thinking that virtual relationships (those that exist only online) are somehow less real or important than face-to-face ones.”

As Clarence Fisher can attest to, when he and Jeff met the first time face to face, I declared him a real friend. It’s since become a joke around our house, but I realize that for me, there is some modicum of truth to the statement. Maybe it’s because I’m a counselor, maybe it’s just who I am, but I value that face to face contact and for me, it’s what I want. I still tease Jeff when he takes his laptop out to the local pub for happy hour and I go out with my friends. But as he has continually explained to me, his friends are with him this way. What I have come to terms with is that though I may not prefer virtual relationships, I recognize that they are something my students value. I don’t have to feel the same way they do to understand and support them in their world.

The Digital Youth Project also emphasized the importance of online relationships in the conclusions and findings of the project. The findings stipulate that just accessing information online won’t quite cut it. One must be a participant in the online world:

“Participation in the digital age means more than being able to access “serious” online information and culture; it also means the ability to participate in social and recreational activities online.”

I guess this could be one of the reasons we’re taking this class and being ‘forced’ to participate online. This is our introduction to the world that our students are engaging in every day. Slowly, but surely, I am adapting and adopting…and truth be known, it is getting easier!

Suspicious Swimmers

Part of our blog assignments allows us to choose some posts of ‘our choice.’ Since I am trying out this whole blogging thing, and not sure if it’s something I want to do…I thought I might as well throw some more personal stuff into the mix.

Recently, I have been reading the headline news online (abc, bbc, bangkok post, etc) and sharing the most hilarious and/or fascinating stories I encounter with anyone who seems interested. These last few weeks, however, I have been traveling and my Internet connectivity was severely limited (sad how this impacts us and we feel ‘cut off’ from the world when we can’t be connected). So I had to resort to the good old fashioned perusal of a real live hard copy newspaper.

My mother and I are sitting on the Seattle Ferry, sipping a latte and passing the paper back and forth, sharing little tid bits here and there. We happened to have grabbed a copy of the Kitsap Sun as my mother lives in Poulsbo, WA. As we’re leisurely enjoying our cup of joe, my mother suddenly begins to giggle quietly. Pretty soon she’s erupted into convulsive laughter that she’s trying to stifle, which is just resulting in an even more fantastic display of her choking on her fits of giggles. As I watch her body spasm with the force of her mirth, I begin to wonder if she is in need of medical attention. Finally she manages to choke out past the tears streaming down her cheeks “dolphins…gasp…handcuffs….gasp…intruders!” And then I lose her again for another fit of convulsions.

Eventually I managed to wrest the newspaper from her grip and determine the cause of her mirth. I find the article titled “Dolphin Patrols Pick Up Support” and quickly scan the print. I’m going to share with you some direct quotes from the article (I promise they are DIRECTLY quoted, I am not making this up…I’m not that clever really!):

“…opponents knitted sweaters, hats and mittens for the dolphins. They did so because they believed the warm-water mammals would get chilly swimming in Hood Canal.”

The article goes on the talk about the program that has been developed at the Bangor Naval Base and it’s use of marine life:

“The dolphins, accompanied by a handler in small power boats, work at night. If they find an intruder, they swim back to the boat and alert the handler, who places a strobe light on their nose. The dolphin races back and bumps the intruder’s back, knocking the light off. The light floats to the surface, marking the spot.”

Can you imagine? Out for a nice swim and suddenly a dolphin is whacking you on the back with a strobe light? Don’t worry, the program does not exclusively use dolphins. It has also recruited sea lions to assist in the protection against terrorism:

Suspicious Swimmer?
Suspicious Swimmer?

“Sea lions can carry in their mouths special cuffs attached to long ropes. If they find a suspicious swimmer, they clamp the cuff around the person’s leg. The intruder can then be reeled in for questioning.”

I’ve got to read the hard copy newspaper more often…this takes the cake! Just remember, if you do plan to swim in the Hood Canal, look as ‘un-suspicious’ as possible or you could find yourself wrangled by a sea lion. One has to wonder, what does a suspicious swimmer look like to a sea lion??

Are you truly a lifelong learner?

Having been exposed over the years (often against my will) to anything tech related, like Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and George Siemens’ theory of Connectivism, I don’t know if I would say my thinking is necessarily changing…but maybe my understanding is reaching a deeper level. Often when I’m introduced to these ideas, it’s through Jeff (he likes to talk, I’m a counselor so I’m compelled to listen). This then naturally lends itself to me seeing things from his perspective, or a teacher’s perspective. It has been interesting for me to read some of the information that I’ve known about, but looking at it more from the counseling perspective.

When Siemens wrote:

”Learners as little as forty years ago would complete the required schooling and enter a career that would often last a lifetime”

I found myself reflecting on the traditional role of School Counselors. Our role has historically been one of career development, exploration, and college preparation. This is evidenced in the “Career Development” domain of the standards and benchmarks created by the American School Counselor Association. Siemens goes on to discuss how this ‘one lifetime career’ idea no longer holds true. He shares his thoughts on the half-life of knowledge and how the current rate of growth for knowledge is exponential. He concludes with the idea that

“Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.”

How does this impact our job as counselors? Our role is to assist in preparing students with the skills and attitudes to be successful in life. How do we help students to develop the necessary skills when things are changing so quickly we can’t possibly know what the world will be like? It’s a daunting thought for sure.

I felt the glimmer of some answers when reading the Digital Media Youth Project and this paragraph about a ‘new role for education’ caught my eye:

“What would it mean to really exploit the potential of the learning opportunities available through online resources and networks? Rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of it as a process guiding youths’ participation in public life more generally? Finally, what would it mean to enlist help in this endeavor from engaged and diverse publics that are broader than what we traditionally think of as educational and civic institutions?”

I do believe that this is where we need to be headed…this is definitely a time for education to take on a new role in our society. We as educators and counselors must be looking at our ‘new roles’ and how we can best support our students in this digital world. Whether we like it or not (and there are certainly times when we don’t!) this is where our kids are- it’s their world, it is how they think, how they interact…how they exist. The question we need to be asking ourselves isn’t whether or not we’re equipped to help our kids navigate this world, but whether or not we’re willing to learn to navigate this digital world with them.

Finding passion and forming truths

Truth and bias are things we have always struggled with addressing in a classroom, aren’t they? They really are not new concepts that we now have to figure out.

Prior to the advent of a Web 2.0 classroom, the truth and biases we faced were the ones of the teachers, text book publishers and students. Now we address these ideas on a more global scale. Maybe one could even argue that this then actually reduces bias in a classroom. With the click of a few buttons, we have a global perspective…

writes about an example of how he helped his students to reach a deeper understanding of truth and bias. They reviewed multiple reports from around the world about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts that are happening in Gaza. They were exposed to many truths and biases. His kids are leaving his class with a better grasp of what truth and bias really are. For me to achieve a similar understanding, I had to grow up, get a Master’s degree, and move to Saudi Arabia for a few years!

I am not saying that we shouldn’t help kids (and ourselves) to understand how to filter information, how to verify facts, and how to analyze whether what we’re reading is reliable or not. Chris Betcher did an excellent job of sharing loads of tips and techniques for navigating the Web with students. However, I found myself focusing not on the idea that ‘finally we can safely navigate the web’ but instead ‘finally we can be exposed to a lot of truths and then use those to form our own truths.’

I felt a strong kinship with Barbara’s post where she examines how our passions guide us down the path towards discovering truth. Yet she stops to wonder:

“Does this passion result in a greater effort to find the truth or an inherent bias?”

She continues with the idea of encouraging ‘investigators’ or students to find the alternative view points to their truths, challenge themselves to admit their bias and be open to the idea that ‘compelling arguments may win the day.’ What if this was the way we approached information online? What if instead of being afraid of this barrage of information, we embraced it and all of its imperfections? What if we found our passions and formed our truths…

Testing the water temperature

And rapidly on the heels of post number one comes my second valiant effort at being profound…or at least something slightly less than dull!

My hope that post number two would come with somewhat more ease than the first one was quickly dashed away. I sat in the F2F meeting and watched everyone copy and paste one another’s blog into our mandatory RSS readings. So much for the hope of remaining ‘under the radar’ when it came to an audience; we’re now all following each other.

In contemplating the idea of online Personal Learning Networks, I am realizing that part of our class is to force us to create these networks for ourselves. Using one another (Andy, Vu, and Nancy for example) and a few other recommended sources (Langwitches and Practical Theory are some), we are mandated to explore this world of connected and online learning.

How authentic will these be, though? I am already finding myself gravitating towards the blogs of the people I know, I mean really know, in person (what I call “real friends” right Clarence?). So, is this what will then start us on our path towards building a PLN online? Is it kind of like dipping our baby toes in the water to test it out?

Maybe some of us will decide the water is the perfect temperature and take the leap. Others of us may slowly ease our whole foot in, then the other, and so on until we’ve comfortably acclimated to the water temperature. And maybe some of us may decide that the water is still a bit too cool, not quite right for a swim just yet. Guess we will see…