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Google+ The Next Education Meeting Place

I’ve been trying to figure out where the next collaboration and meeting place would be for educators. Google_plusLike the Old West, I’ve been feeling a bit advertising pushed on Twitter and as for FaceBook the Yogi line about it’s too crowded—no one goes there anymore is starting to fit. For a guy who began with AOL chat in it’s earliest stages, it seems the options for actual teacher collaboration are pretty much the same—just more people doing it outside the four walls. So, I was a bit leery of Google+, even though I’d been a Google user for a very long time. I had so much else going on, so it seemed to me Google+ would be just another thing to juggle, and heck, was there anything there for me beyond sharing thoughts about music, or video, or the latest TV program?

A few days ago, a friend, Peter Vogel (see Editor's Notes) gave me a small push by way of Twitter. Peter KenR2 Pvasked, “Are you using Google+?” And I pretty much said that I was studying the idea, but didn’t think there’d be anything for me there. I pretty much asked, “Why would I want to be there?”

What follows is our Twitter conversation, so if you haven’t tried Google+ you’ll see that it’s pretty easy to do. If you have a Google login, you’re all set, and if you don’t, create one. You’ll find it here: https://plus.google.com/. And if you know Google, things don’t remain constant for long, so something new from them is probably going to happen… soon. Jump in, create some education and education tech circles. Maybe it’s the next place  for us to gather and share—outside the faculty room, or passing in the hall.

KR: Peter, any problems with Google+ and why would I go there?

PV: No, no problems with G+ whatsoever. The environment is terrific. I suggest it is perfect for someone like you with lots to share.

PV: You are a blogger.  G+ is a natural fit for you. I enjoy writing, but somewhere between a tweet and full-on blogging.

PV: Grab an "instant circle" of several hundred educators and you'll find the stream is instantly alive. The threading is superb.

PV: Have you filled out profile and added a photo/avatar?

PV: Have you added that circle? Keep it as a separate circle so you can edit it later. Don't make it "general". These should all be pretty good.

KR: Actually created an Education circle after sticking everyone into a friends one. Dragged 8 there to start. Still figuring this out.

KR: Which is another way of saying that I haven't a clue yet. ;>)

PV: That's OK. Just add my circle. You should see the message from me. Then add that circle. You've already added me so you seeing my traffic.

PV: Make a posting Ken. Anything. About a camera etc. Include a link to see how G+ handles them. Make posting "public."

KR: Cool. Thanks Teach!

KR: Peter. I've posted a comment. You have at least one person in your circle I'd rather not add. What's the work around there?

PV: Right, you just drop them from the circle once you've added it and they are gone.

PV: The list is reasonably well but not perfectly vetted.

PV: Good, you've added the circle. Now for the profile statements and you are good to go.

KR: You're right, this is quite cool, and may be something for sure. Read some feeds.

Editor’s Notes:

My Google+ Mentor and Friend:

Peter Vogel, Vancouver BC, Canada

Vogel is an ICT/Physics teacher, lifelong learner, Internet/tech newspaper columnist, Network admin, PM & Premier's SciTech, CAP 2011 winner. CERN HST 2011. G+ user

Peter’s works primarily in the area of Information Technology (ICT) with a focus on classroom applications, and in physics. Following a one month stay at CERN and the Large Hadron Collider , he developed an interest in particle physics. Peter is very active on Twitter (http://twitter.com/petervogel) and maintains various web sites and other online publications. Here’s an example, check it out if you enjoy student balsa wood constructions:  http://www.balsabridge.com/

AppHazard: Involve Educators

Grade 5 Tech How can educators know about Apps, and determine whether they are space junk or teaching appropriate, and how will educators really influence tech people who build them, as well as companies that provide them?

When the Internet first became a possibility for educators and classrooms, I jumped in. There were very few of us at that time, which made connecting and collaborating between continents a necessity. A research and development guy at IBM taught me some HTML and how to created a Web page using notepad. I’m not sure the phone line modem was 14.4 at the time. Most of us named those initial sites after our classroom, and what we were teaching. Mine was Mr. Royal’s Science Site. It sounded good then, and the 10 or so others around the world, doing it with me, had similar titles. It worked then.

When AOL for e-mail and chat, and Netscape for WYSIWYG Website building came along things really exploded online. You didn’t have to build it all yourself, and you could find more work and lessons done by educators in at all levels and subjects and grades. Best of all, teachers shared. Things got so good that those sites that were not educationally appropriate joined the number of sites that were educationally appropriate. I remember suggesting to an editor at Well Connected Educator, which later became TechLearning, that I’d put together something call Site of the Day, which would suggest the best Websites for educators. I convinced her that it would be equivalent to sharing sites in the faculty room or in the school hallway. Anyway, Site of the Day is still at TechLearning today.

It’s not that educators couldn’t figure this all out; it’s just that it made it easier to find good sites, and the simple descriptions and how to helped them know whether it was appropriate. We are  at a similar place now with education Apps. There aren’t that many, yet, but the wave is building for a tsunami of iPad and Androids apps that will much more quickly build.

I think there are a few things that need to happen, and I’m sure you can think of more. Here’s my short list:

1. Educators, in districts, who know how to build apps, need to work with those who do not, to create real teaching applications that are appropriate. Teachers know how to teach and won’t settle for fluff that’s just pretty. Educationally sound apps is what we want.

2. Companies creating, or providing Apps, need to involve real, in-the-trenches educators in the creation, as well as in the evaluation. My fear is that the apps that make it to teachers, without the involvement of  “real” teachers will have use wandering off in ways that aren’t educationally sound.

3. Districts need to create App Committees to vet appropriate Apps—just as Websites are evaluated. Making that part of an AUP, and part of a school or district tech committees duties is completely appropriate. This is not meant to stifle teaching creatively with technology, but rather to keep an organized app education plan in tact. Mapping course goals should include the apps that are appropriate, too. There is nothing wrong with saying that to cover a particular topic, teachers should use a particular tool, and apps should be included.

4. Education magazines and journals need to help cover educationally sound apps as well.  Maybe having educators providing an App of the Day, with how to and a bit of description needs to be done. Most educators still share locally, even though so many more have international access. Education publishers with national and international clout could help by sharing more educators doing things beyond clay, glue, and glitter. Those administrators and teachers are out there it's just a matter of asking them to share.

Finally, don’t get me wrong; one thing I do know is that if all the wires were unplugged, teachers could still teach. But it’s a different time, and the tools to engage are here, and more arriving daily. Making sure those tools and lessons are educationally appropriate should be the responsibility of educators, and be directly influenced by educators. That was true when I only had a blackboard and a few pieces of chalk—then when I had a class Website—and it is true, today, with my digital tablet.

Future Shaping: Anthony Salcito MSFT

Anthony Salcito at Lenovo ThinkTank 2011 Anyone who cares about student learning in this wireless and digital age will find a kindred spirit in Anthony Salcito. He’s the Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector Education for Microsoft, and one of my favorite people in the ed tech world. When he talks, he says things that I’ve been thinking for years, only when he says them, the ideas sound better. If you’ve ever fought for student learning, or technology for kids and schools, you’d be comfortable in a conversation with Anthony. Furthermore, his Shape the Future initiative is helping to make access to technology a right and not a privilege for every student everywhere.  Please check out Anthony’s post Making Access to Technology a Reality via Shape the Future at his Education Insights blog for more.

Recently, at Lenovo’s (Intel) ThinkTank 2011 event in Washington, DC, Anthony shared that “Along with passionate heroes for classroom change, there is also a great need for scalability for successful change—and that may be the greatest obstacle for transforming education." Salcito hopes to play a role in that scalability for change, as well as in empowering the children of the world. Microsoft supports ATC21S, Assessment of Teaching for 21st-Century Skills, and Shape the Future, so there’s a pretty good team backing him, and you couldn’t have a better person leading the charge.

Cyber Citizens: More Than Teachable Moments

Internetsafety While kids still know the bullies sitting in back of them, yanking at their hair, today’s cyber thugs can remain completely hidden, which makes the terror worse. Turning everything off and pulling the plugs isn’t the answer, but simply teaching students to be cyber citizens can. These lessons need to be as planned as any lessons taught today, and structured in such away as to be part of every lesson taught with digital devices. No excuses here, this is a job educators can do, and it is beyond just a random teachable moment.

Use student mission statements and reminders often.

How and where to teach cyber citizenship is just a modern extension of the old-fashioned citizenship once taught. Having students write mission statements is a good start. Students who write what they stand for, what makes them the person they are, what they expect from others as well as themselves, and how they’d like others to see them and treat them is one of the most useful parts of being a good citizen. That written statement can be revisited and modified often. It is a reminder. Anyone who has taught students knows that reminders need to happen often. Assuming that something is covered, just because you’ve spent a few days, or an earlier semester covering it, doesn’t work with kids. Students need constant reminders, and cyber citizen reminders are no different than walking in the hall reminders, or how to behave at lunch reminders. I’m certain the latter are repeated daily.

Most educators will need help with this.

It shouldn’t be the domain of the health teacher, or guidance person. It may be in the realm of the instructional technology educator. That person often teaches student and teachers, as well as parents how to and about technology. That said, a multi-staffed approach would be ideal, too, similar to the teaming for humanities classes or multi-departmental lesson collaboration. Teaching cyber citizenship is the responsibility of everyone—all staff—and parents need to be in on it, too.

Change course if instructional technology educators are using student computer time for keyboarding.

Keyboarding is something that requires individual practice, and not group instruction. Instructional technology educators would be better utilized if they shared and modeled different digital tools and technologies, and with each lesson, taught the responsibilities of using those tools and technologies. Those technology lessons and good cyber citizen values should then be amplified in regular classrooms. Forgetting them until the next computer lab, or for a week, is like returning an unread book from a locker to the library. Good intensions, but missed value and impact. Cyber citizenship and citizenship in general needs to be continuous priority schoolwide.

Administrators are a powerful resource for change here.

Simply a comment in the morning announcements or end of day makes a difference. Something like, “We’d like you to have a wonderful day today. Remember to be kind and courteous to everyone you know, and those you meet in person or in a cyber way today. Live your mission statements.” And sharing a line from one of those mission statements can’t hurt either. These shouldn’t be private. Maybe the administrator shares one, but possibly before the start of a class the teacher shares one. It doesn’t take long, and it can be done throughout the day. Students model missions for each other. Make sure that revisiting mission statements is in the plans as well. They should be as under construction as students’ knowledge and growth throughout the year, and throughout the grades. Furthermore, the lessons learned can continue for life.

Unified and continuous campaign

There are companies with product solutions that can be looked at for helping students understand cyberbullying, but making it a continuous schoolwide citizenship campaign is a must. Looking at it simply, if an lone teacher campaigns against students running in the halls—students will slow down near that teacher and run everywhere else. Schools and districts must be cyber citizen unified. Citizenship and now cyber citizenship needs to be woven into every class and every lesson, and extended to the home as well.

Make a dent in a positive way

I’m not sure whether there is anything that will work 100% against bullies of any kind, but lessons in citizenship and proper behavior for using digital tools by educators and parents can make a dent. It is not done in a day, a week or semester, and it is much more than a teaching moment.

Get There From Here!

I unfortunately enjoy TV board of education meetings. Fortunately, my cable provider Krhas me in the middle of three different districts, making it popcorn time a lot. This time of year is all about budgets. The board of education floats a dollar number, the finance board usually tosses it back, and this happens over and over again until hopefully an agreement is reached.

Now why would a product polisher like me be interested in this stuff? Well, for 34 years, I watched staff, curriculum, programs, and teaching supplies get caught in the budget net. And in my final years as instructional technology specialist, saw technology dreams flutter in the breeze, and get caught and tangled in the finance trees. I can still remember the “use it or lose it” line, and then the “remember that money you were promised for that new program…we need it back.” That was always followed by, “It will be easier next time, because you already requested it once.” If I complained about the loss, I was usually told that it would look bad to the community if teachers grumped about losing. I never bought that pitch then, and don’t really now, but this awful economic climate has the re-adjusting grace of a sledgehammer.

The topics on my board of education shows have switched from smaller classes in a good way, new technology leases and purchases, filling a teaching vacancy here or there, and improving learning to new themes such as letting teachers go, increasing class sizes because of it, foregoing new programs and projects, figuring out transportation and services for special needs, how to fund district lawsuits, and postponing technology and necessary software upgrades.

It’s necessary to know the reality, while spouting the possibilities. So, when I talk about a new gadget or gizmo, I understand that for many, those things may seem more impossible today than ever. When teachers attend tech ed conferences, many are seeing whatever the technology is for the first time, and when asked, believe they will never see it again. It forces administrators and educators who see moving forward as the only option, to continue to seek out ways to do new things for less—or nothing. Skype, Google Docs, Moodle, free animation, video, and portal choices find their way into classes and schools operating on shoestring budgets. More districts considering safe, free applications and open source solutions is an upside.

I know that sometimes you can’t tell the news from a rerun of the Waltons these days, but becoming a technology isolationist can’t happen. Figure out grants, funding, and even contact companies whose products you admire and see as a perfect fit for your classroom or school. Standing still with software, gadgets and gizmos isn’t the answer. Gather some creative in-district education entrepreneurs and think-tank over coffee. Times will get better, and when they do for you, be in a position to have some new ideas in place—if only as pilots. Education technology companies can be very receptive to educator requests, and most understand that bottom up acceptance model. Don't make it impossible to work together if better teaching and student learning—in the best ways—is the outcome.

That said, there is no way any teacher should be a trade-off for any gizmo or gadget, or software. One good teacher can move more than 30 worlds each day—and do it without wires. An education gadget is just a gadget without a good, resourceful, and passionate teacher.

It is sad to see so many educators losing classrooms—and their jobs. In the early 70s jobs were scarce, but nothing like today. I don’t have an immediate answer—that's well above my rank. I learned as a kid that time waits for no one, but it seems we're always waiting for time. It's a muddy puddle waiting to clear. The best I can do is say stay positive—and that we need to get there from here—and we will.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in The Royal Treatment are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.