I’ve been thinking a lot about this. It’s not about teaching the tools as much as it’s about teaching the ability to adapt to trying new tools and writing lessons that expand one’s thinking. I think about to the mid-2000s. Twitter was exploding with new technology tools. Every day I was flooded with an inbox or a twitter feed of new freemium tools to use — loved it! It was a great time to teach. That phase has long since passed, thankfully, and we’ve now entered a more pedagogical phase when our enthusiasm is governed with a grounded sense in whether or not a particular tool actually improves student learning. I like that. I get called-in to assist or train teachers in various educational technologies, and I always start out with this –> What do you want students to know and be able to do as a result of this lesson? Fifteen years ago, I’m not sure that ways always the first question we asked. Back then, it might have been, “How can I squeeze this sweet tech tool into class?” I’m glad those days are over.
This week I spoke to a group of students in business communication on the importance of focusing on social media communication. I relayed information on the various tools, why they’re important, and how a person could manage so many outposts. Really, it was multiple weeks of material condensed into an hour talk. Anyway, when I finished, a student stayed after to ask a GREAT question. To paraphrase, he asked me if I thought it was still important to maintain an in-person or more traditional relationship with customers. What a great question! Here’s my response:
Because this class turned out to be mostly Agribusiness students, my post is focused a bit more in that direction.
Authentic relationships and traditional communication still mater!
No doubt, I love talking about digital business communication, but there’s a HUGE slice of audience that doesn’t feel the same way I do. Many people still want to connect with an actual person, and they want to know something about that other person. Relationships still really do matter. If you’re going into Agribusiness, I think you have to pay careful attention to how you maintain relationships.
Take my in-laws for an example. They are fifth generation farmers still working the same ground their ancestors did over 140 years ago. Except for my husband, the boys all stayed in this area and know just about everyone in Southwest Wisconsin, it seems. After my husband and I moved back, I noticed something interesting. Every time (and I mean every time) I introduced myself to someone, they wanted to know how I was related to Brogleys they knew, and almost always they tried to go back as far as they could, often to my husband’s parents, and they always had to figure out where they lived. They never really asked where I lived, which I thought funny. After we settled that, the conversation could resume, but not until a connection had been defined. Have you ever had someone ask your last name, and they tried to piece it back to your grandparents? And where they farmed? I bet so. People still really do want to establish a connection with you and know how you fit in their world.
The other interesting observation I noted is that when people describe land, they often still refer to it as the home farm of the oldest owners they can remember, regardless of who has owned it since. My in-laws refer to a section of land as the “Huntington farm,” but I know the Huntington family hasn’t owned the land since the 1980s. Recently I opened up an old plat map from 1948. I promptly turned to familiar land to find the “Huntington farm” right where it’s been for decades. Sure, Google Maps can give interior walk throughs of swanky hotels, but can it reveal decades of landownership? Nope. Not yet. Lots of people in our area still care about how we are connected to land. Do you know anyone that calls a farm by the original owners? Ancestor and historical connection also matters.
Additionally, my father-in-law would say that my social media appreciation is for the birds. He doesn’t even have voice mail on his house phone. If you want to talk to him, head to the VFW or the farm. Recently, an appointment was cancelled on him without notice, and he was disappointed they didn’t send a letter. Now to me, I would think that’s a waste of paper. To him, formal communication matters.
My point — personal connections, history, and traditional communication matters too. Gadgets and social media matter too, but to a different slice. The challenging hurdle for you is that you have to attend to all groups. That means learning the traditional ways of writing and engaging with customers and keeping up with the digital methods. Thankfully, you’re in school to do just that!
A few weeks ago my students started the Blogging Challenge, a series of blog posts challenging their technology skills and understandings about education today. I realized the group this semester is particularly savvy with technology on the day we created our blogs. Within just a few minutes they had their blogs created and were off customizing them with eager speed.
Typically, at this point, I am flooded with questions, and this group asked questions too, but the level of questions was different. Just two years ago, when I first started this project, the questions were more procedural — how do I start a blog? How do I make a new page? What are categories? I still get those questions, and I don’t mind them one darn bit, but the questions this semester were mostly much more challenging. For example, students were trying to link their blog to their Google+ profile. In the past, students would just paste the link to their blogroll and be content with that.
This semester, I noticed a few students wanting to know how to create a widget with a clickable link to their Google+ profile. I was really caught off guard as I haven’t had to teach that before. I do it for my own sites frequently, but I’ve never thought about teaching it as I’ve always felt it was over my students’ heads. Megan was intent on getting it, and I stumbled, but a neighboring student, Wesley, came to her rescue before I said anything. He coached her on how to write code for a clickable link, and she seemed to have plenty of experience as within a few minutes, she created exactly what she wanted.
I asked Wesley how he knew what to do, and he said that he took a class on HTML and Java during his Sophomore year. Although he might not remember much, I still think it’s really interesting how some of those skills wedge into our longterm memory and become useful in other ways. Yet another reason to take a coding class in high school. I’m guessing Wesley had no idea that a coding class four years ago would prove useful, but it was certainly a good idea.
Our students really are coming to us with a different set of skills than students even just five years ago. The majority of our students are able to navigate and manipulate technology to produce something personal. I’m not saying that we should expect those skills, but we should be ready to support them accordingly.
After reflecting upon my shortcomings, I created a Youtube video explaining how to create a clickable text widget. Sure, it doesn’t help Megan, but I’m ready for the next student, for now…until they ask me a harder question.
This semester my students had to record, edit, and publish a video promoting positive choices for our local middle school. That assignment was complicated as student had to record in teams, but edit and publish individually. The team could use any recording device they wanted, but they had to figure out how to export the video off the chosen machine. From there one student from each group uploaded the group’s video to Google Drive. Next, each student had to download his or her own copy to edit. Upon completion, students needed to publish two versions in two different places, an HD version in Google Drive for the school district, and a smaller file for Taskstream, our portfolio collection tool. Sounds complicated, right? And that’s not even the editing process!
Those Smartphones are REALLY Powerful!
Most of my students were forced to use Windows Movie Maker because we don’t have any Macs in the lab. A few students students chose to bring in their own Macs so they could use iMovie. One or two used iMovie on one of our iPads. Basically, I will coach them through the process with whatever tool they select. One student, Zach, chose to download his group’s raw footage on his iPhone. He approached me to ask if that was okay with me. I asked if he had iMovie. He said he’d download it. I replied something like, “Heck yah, it’s okay!!” His final project can be seen here.
So off he went. He downloaded the movie onto his phone, imported it into an iMovie trailer, and began plugging in the details of his trailer. You know what’s comical? The software on his phone was by far more powerful than Movie Maker. Yeah, that’s right. His cellphone was a better option than our desktops.
I know having those devices in class drives some instructors crazy, but rather than ban or collect them, why not see if they’re useful? Smartphone technology provides you with a mini-lab right in your classroom, if you buy into an inquiry-based type of classroom. Your students can conduct research or demonstrate learned material on the spot. For example, during class discussions, if there’s a question I can’t answer, a student will quickly look it up online.
Immerse Yourself in Smartphone Technology
With that being said, instructors really do need to be well-versed on what apps might be useful in the classroom. While students are good at using their phones for texting, social media, and selfies, they aren’t well-versed in using their phones for academic gain. Even at that post-secondary level I see students with Smartphones that aren’t sure how to connect their school email, use “Okay Google,” or download any apps for productivity. Although most of my students had a Google account, almost none of them had Google Drive installed. Students themselves don’t necessarily see Smartphones as an educational tool yet. You’ll have to support them through those decision, but I promise, it’ll be a fruitful investment. There are probably a nice handful of applications that will enhance or support the course. Here’s a quick list of Android applications that I’ve used in the classroom:
- Google Drive: This app allows mobile users to access Google Drive contents on their devices. It does take some practice to be acclimated, but students can be fairly fluid using Drive on a smartphone.
- Google Earth: This app is great when looking at world locations. Most locations come with at least a few photos. Bigger cities will include multiple photos, street views, interior views, and links!
- Google Maps: This app provides your students with a multitude of information when learning geography or culture, for example. Take a tour, calculate distance, or plan a trip!
- Aurasma: This app is great for augmented reality. With just a few minutes of work, you can create virtual tours, scavenger hunts, and showcases.
- Explain Everything: This app is great when students need to explain a concept. Sure, you can use it to make screencasts for your students, but what about asking students to create the screencasts?! Have them explain a concept, connect that concept, or present an argument.
- Geocaching: This app allows your students the ability to find geocaches at interesting places right in your community. Geocaching provides opportunity for some great interdisciplinary lessons.
- Socrative: This app is a handy formative assessment tool. Before your students head out of the classroom, create a quick “quiz” assessing what they learned that day. This information will guide you in your decisions for tomorrow’s class.
There are about 100 other apps to consider, but this list is a great start. If you don’t have a smartphone, borrow a tablet from your school (Nexus or iPad, for example), and start using them for fun. Just play!
Analyze First, Then Proceed
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s great, but what do you do when students are on them in class when they’re not supposed to be?” Well, several things run through my mind.
- Maybe my lesson is boring or beneath their understanding.
- Maybe my lesson isn’t boring, but I need to provide a brain break.
- Maybe the distraction has little to do with my lesson, and the student is under personal stress.
- Maybe the student isn’t passionate about becoming a teacher and feels disconnected as a result.
At the start of the year I talk to my students about cell phone use expectations, and I include verbiage in my syllabus. I am very clear, and yes, after careful consideration, I do address students in question. I handle these conversations in a variety of ways, but never ever with anger or accusation. I’ve always been an empathic listener, but a few years ago I decided to obtain training in “non-esclatory, tactical communication” from the Vistelar group. In other words, I learned how to keep my cool and support others through verbal crisis. This type of training has helped me support students through better decisions rather than be frustrated and just flat-out ban them. Assuming my lesson isn’t boring or off target and the student isn’t under personal stress or professionally detached from his or her career choice, I have done the following:
- I’ve quietly asked the student, “Are you okay today? You seem a lot more distracted than usual.” Rather than verbally thrash the student, I’ve shown sincere concern. Open-ended questions provide a chance to survey the situation before I make decisions. In this example, I included a quick head nod to the device just so the student knows I have noticed. In most cases, the student understands my message and refocuses. Once in awhile, the student will return a furrowed brow and unload what’s bothering him or her. Very rarely does it have anything to do with class. As any decent person should, I listen with empathy and provide support.
- I’ve addressed the issue with a joke. While I was talking, a fantastic student was watching funny Youtube videos in class. He was a go-getter in class that grasps content easily. The student behind him way quaking with giggles. I paused and said with a giant smile, “If you’re going to be on Youtube, at least tweet me the link!” Everyone chuckled. Billy said he was sorry, jumped off Youtube, and refocused. Within the hour Billy tweeted me the link and followed up with a sincere, written apology. The video was funny, by the way.
Hang Your Hat on the Five Communication Maxims
I’ve only had one instance where a student refused to make better choices with a Smartphone. The safety of others was in question, so I documented every offense and requested dismissal. Given the nature of the situation, there was little to discuss. No matter the situation, I still keep a cool head and know that part of my job is to guide them through these decisions.
As I handle sticky situations like this, I keep in mind the five maxims of human communication. They are the following:
- Show dignity and respect — ALWAYS.
- Ask, don’t tell.
- Explain why I’m asking.
- Provide options.
- Offer second chances.
Of all my years, I can only think of one time where I could not redirect a student’s bad behavior his cell phone. I followed the five maxims to the letter, but we were in a loop that wasn’t going to end. Out of the hundreds of students I’ve guided, that’s the only one that I felt I couldn’t redirect. Follow the above principles sincerely, and you’ll rarely have conflicts turn ugly.
So, know this — It’s okay. Let students bring their Smartphones, but integrate them into class in a meaningful way. Also, prepare to analyze the situation by listening, and have a pre-planned, practiced response in mind for when students fall off course. It’s going to happen. It’s no big deal.
Connected educators are comfortable collaborating in person in team or subject groups; they are equally as good at connecting online. Whether it be Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, or Facebook, teachers are connecting via social media every day. Reaching out to fellow educators is just part of normal professional development and classroom connections.
It’s time to join this band of educators.
Today you’ll write your first post or send your first tweet. Today you’ll network with someone from another region, even if you don’t chat. Today you’ll realize that your professional connections just went global. Today marks the day when you jump into being a connected educator.
Suggestions for your first couple of posts:
- Pull quotes from a book you’re reading. Include the page number and explain why the quote impacted you.
- Share content from other people. In Twitter, that means you “retweet”, and in Google+, that means you reshare the content. Surely you either follow a person or hashtag that is interesting, or perhaps you’ve joined a Google Community that has valuable content. Share good finds!
- Share video content. After the link, be sure to explain the significance of the video from your perspective. Perhaps you’ll find a youtube or tedtalk video.
- Ask questions. You don’t have to provide all of the answers! Lots of teachers turn to social media to gain insight. No question is too simple. Ask away!
These suggestions will help you progress. Don’t be surprised if you aren’t thrilled at first. It takes time to develop your PLN. Typically, teachers either don’t see the point or they’re over-stimulated. Both are understandable. I compare this experience to eating veggies from the garden. Yeah, they’re good for me, and if I snack too much, I end up with a belly ache. Everything, including social media, in moderation.
Enjoy this journey. Trust me. This is one you’ll remember.
After you read the first half of Sheninger’s book, no doubt you’ll realize that being connected is essential for educators today. Part of your growth as an educator will require that you set aside time to develop your PLN; Lucky for you, there are multiple options available. Some of my best ideas and connections came from people on Twitter or Google+. Even today I stopped by Google+ and found a great resource for class.
At first when you get started with social media, don’t be surprised if you aren’t impressed. That’s common. When I first signed up for Twitter my first reaction was, “This is stupid,” and I let it go for six months. I returned to Twitter because I was at a huge conference where people kept referring to this hashtag nonsense. Upon further study, I realized that I was wrong. Twitter wasn’t stupid at all. It just takes time to develop a network and a habit of integrating social media into professional development.
I will focus on two options for professional connections.
- Google+: Although it isn’t as popular as Twitter, many educators prefer Google+ because users aren’t limited to 140 characters. Plus, you can build communities within Google+ that function more like groups. Lots of people really like that feature.
- Twitter: No doubt Twitter is the most popular social media tool for PLN development. Thousands of teachers every day turn to twitter to connect and learn. There are also scheduled twitter chats where you can interact about very specific topics. It’s a great way to connect with like-minded professionals.
These are the two options you can consider for this class. If you already have accounts, but you’ve been using them for less than professional discussions, consider making a new account. If you’re new to all of this and have apprehensions about putting yourself out there, I understand. You have options there too.
- Lock your account down. In both applications you can decide who can see your posts or tweets.
- Use a pen name. For example, I follow “Teachthought” on Twitter. I have no idea who this is, but I like the posts!
The other option, the one I employ, is to not lock anything down on my professional accounts and keep it professional. I enjoy using that to my advantage. I want potential employers to Google me. I want other teachers to know who I am. Because of that, I understand that I can not post any major gripes.
Despite this word of caution, I still see students posting to their twitter account about conflicts with alcohol, love, word choice, and people. That stuff is all easily Googled, and it won’t go away, so keep it clean (or lock it down!). Social media is no place to deal with those issues anyway. I can think of a few past students that if their twitter streams are discovered by a potential employer, they will not even get an interview.
To end on a more positive note, I see hundreds of educators take advantage of these two tools and reap immeasurable gains. Just last week I connected with a teacher from Laos to create a pen pal/blogging project. I couldn’t have made that happen without Google+. Last semester I chatted with Rick Wormeli, a well-known author and speaker, about Standards Based Grading. Thank you Twitter! These two tools can be your lifeline if you take some time to build your PLN.
As much as I love seeing students connect with other teachers via social media, I’m always a little hesitant because I know I’m going to see questionable use. It’s tough. I’d like to believe that teachers get a life outside of school, but our profession is held to a different standard. That life outside of school is under a microscope to some degree. Lots of professions are like that, really.
At this stage in your career, you’re toggling between two different worlds — the life of a college student and the life of a professional educator.
Here’s the problem: The decisions you make online now as a college student will impact people’s perception of you as a professional educator, even if you aren’t one yet. Yeah, I know. It doesn’t seem fair. It’s the truth though.
My methods class was in an elementary building meeting a principal for the first time. As he was explaining his expectations, he said something I thought was very true. He said that every time you enter a school, meet faculty, interact with students, et cetera, you are on a job interview — every single time. Many jobs are obtained by who you know, so those impressions, however small, do leave lasting impacts.
I bring this up because occasionally I see students dropping an F bomb, talking about getting trashed, or some other upsetting life event that may or may not be social media worthy. When those events appear digitally, not only are they saved, those messages impact how others view you as a potential teacher. Granted, the volume of amazing tweets or posts looks great, but it only takes one post, one tweet to change all the professional networking you’ve been doing. Honestly, your posts are fabulous. Despite that, any negative tweets stick out like a sore thumb.
To combat this, you, well, might want to consider making two accounts and attempting to bury your private tweets and posts. Honestly though, with a click of a button, a snap of a photo, or a grab of a screen capture, what you thought was private is now public. Please consider reading “Social Networking Nightmares” from NEA.
I’d hate to see you denied anything because of your decision to tweet about questionable choices. Understand, I bring this up for your future — I don’t want anyone seeing you as anyone other than an amazing pre-service teacher!
I love seeing advertisement like this. Awesome stuff, right? Times have changed just a wee bit. This commercial came out in 1991. I promise you the internet I met in 1995 was much slower than Prodigy demonstrated!
I really haven’t been teaching THAT long, but I do remember teaching without constant contact with the internet. When I was student teaching, I had a website that I made from scratch with a product called Claris Homepage. Despite being in an affluent district, I don’t recall any computer labs. I’m sure we had them, but we rarely used them. During my first teaching job, I taught myself Microsoft Frontpage and then a few years later I learned Macromedia Dreamweaver. I thought I was pretty tough at that point. All my students made “webfolios” using Dreamweaver, thanks to the guidance of Ted Nellen. At that point, no one was teaching web design in an English classroom. The idea of writing a hypertext document was, well, revolutionary. I think it was around 2006 that blogging platforms and wikis became a possibility in schools. Ah, the web 2.0 era!
The web 2.0 era changed the way most teachers envisioned technology. It seemed like Twitter was exploding with hundreds of tool shares every day. I couldn’t keep up. At that time, I probably focused more on the new tool and then thought about how it would impact the classroom. It was around 2009 that I started to ask myself, “Why are these tools important? What is it about our society makes these experiences worthwhile.” Some time around then, I saw the infamous “Did you Know 4.0” (see below). [youtube]http://youtu.be/6ILQrUrEWe8[/youtube]
Lots of jaws hit the floor when this video came out because, well, most classrooms that I saw weren’t reflecting the digital environment students were entering. Heck, some schools were just getting started on their acceptable use policies. Thankfully, the flood died and reality hit. I asked myself, “So, what? How do these tools change what I do?”
This is where SAMR and TPACK can be helpful. When exploring web 2.0 tools, it’s important to analyze the impact the tool might have and how my understanding of pedagogy and content might sync to create an effective experience. Here’s a good example of how one teacher designed her lesson with TPACK in mind.
You’ll go through this same thought process.
As you explore web 2.0 tools, think about which might assist you in creating transformative experiences. No tool is a good choice just because it’s cute. Think bigger than that.
The biggest repository of web 2.0 tools can be found at Cool Tools for Schools Wiki. Frankly, you could also Google something like “Teachers’ favorite web 2.0 tools.” See what you find.
In our class, we’ll be creating group presentations and then sharing those discoveries to our class and the world. As you hunt for a tool you’re curious about, consider it’s value and cost as you consider how it can transform classrooms.
Once you get into social bookmarking, you’ll see that it’s easy enough to find stuff to catch. Just to get you started, here’s a few random things:
Books on Your “Must Read” List
Eric Sheninger’s “Digital Leadership”
Jukes’ “Understanding the Digital Generation”
Dweck “Growth Mindset”
Learning Theory Resources
Excerpt from “The Case for the Constructivist Classroom”
There, now you’ve got the hang of bookmarking, right? Go get your own bookmarks! Connect with others.
If you’re a SMARTphone user, install the respective app on your phone so you can bookmark from your mobile device.
This week I took my children on their usual trip to the library. The kids enjoy walking up and down the isles like most children do. Jenna stopped abruptly and asked, “Mom, what are these?!” I turned my head to find a small series of World Book Encyclopedias.
The look on her face was priceless when I explained that when I was a kid, if we wanted to learn about something, we had to look the word up in these books, and in some cases, that’s all we could use. I opened a sample and showed her that the texts are comprised mostly of just words. Her jaw dropped. This is my generation’s version of “When I was your age I walked to school in a snow storm up hill both ways!”
I got to thinking about how I learned to acquire information when I was her age. I remember having a set of Funk and Wagnalls on the shelf; I would comb through that set looking up all sorts of facts. My brother wanted to play football, so I researched the sport. 7th grade brought a cultural assignment on Nicaragua, and I’m pretty sure a few reports were created compliments of those texts.
Just think of what information acquisition is like now. My daughter can search for anything her mind questions by simply grabbing my phone, an iPad, or jumping on a computer and calling up thousands of resources. Lucky for her she can also consult her local library where she can tap into all of Southwest Wisconsin since the libraries are digitally linked. Information at her age is infinite.
What a limitless time to grow up, right? Here’s the deal though — she’ll need lots of instruction in how to sift through all of the junk of the web. Any guess how much of the content on the web is junk? So, she’s going to need critical thinking skills to sort through that mess.
Ask your teacher how he or she handles that. Yes, as a parent, it’s your job to assist with those questions, but there’s nothing wrong with checking in with the teacher.
Do you remember your first set of encyclopedias?!