O.K., so once again it's been a while since my last blog post. It's not that I haven't written any - it's just that I haven't felt what was written was worth the effort of clicking Publish. You see I've been going through some internal dialogue. Don't call the men in the white coats - it's not that serious. But, I have been asking a lot of questions about #edtech and the path that we are on. Some of those posts will never see the light of day because they were just rubbish - others may have started conversations which I was not really ready to have. So, for one reason or another, I've been silent. Those of you who know me may find that hard to believe.
But that all changed with EdCamp Milwaukee (#edcampmke) on May 12th, 2012. This open forum allows for such dialogue to take place. My first edcamp experience was last year's inaugural EdCamp Chicago. When I heard my friends Steve Dembo and Chad Lehman starting to plan the event, I completely over committed and volunteered my way to exhaustion. I probably didn't get as much out of the actual event as I could have as I was scrambling, trying to help where ever I could to help make the event run smoothly. This year would be different. Even though I had volunteered to assist it would be more difficult from across the "Cheddar Curtain". My plan was to sit back and take in as much information as I could. And as the post title states, I had my reasons. Namely because I am chairing the SET Connections Fall Un-Conference ( November 3rd 2012 - Save the Date)! In fact we are tentatively calling the event a SPUnconference. This event will be based Open-space model that #edcamps around the world have adopted.
After a brisk 6 am walk to meet my carpool early on May 12th and we were off. A special thanks to Charlene Chausis for volunteering to drive. Lori Abrahams and Helen Lazarro completed the quartet during the hour trek to Milwaukee. It's always nice to catch up and talk education and technology with these amazing ladies.
Upon arrival at South Milwaukee High School, we were greeted by a very well run group of volunteers who checked us in on IPads using the EventBright app. It was great to see Sue Gorman, who true to her charismatic fashion forward ways had once again matched her attire to her IPAD case! I also finally met Jessica Brogley face to face as well as a number of other members of my PLN too numerous to mention here. Please do not feel slighted if I neglect to do so. That is one fantastic thing about these events: reconnecting personally with people you have amazing virtual conversations with throughout the year.
There was a fantastic breakfast spread from Panera and more mingling time where I got to catch up with John Pederson and Jena "Don't call her Jen-a" Sherry as well as a cadre of Illinois educators and edtech specialists who had made the journey North. I could certainly continue to name drop here but that would just take forever - I would guess at least a quarter of those in attendance came from South of the border to partake in the days events that began with the opening ceremonies.
A major thanks to Tammy Lind and Chad Kafka for pulling in the founders of the #Edcamp movement via a Google hangout to help explain the process. Once the incidentals were out of the way it was time to schedule the sessions. That's one of the great things about an #edcamp - your never sure what amazing ideas will pop up as sessions and what breakouts will spin off of those. And with over 30 sessions to choose from it would certainly be an enlightening day. Below are the four I choose to attend and my impressions/interpretations and takeaways:
Session 1 - Creative PD:
My topic suggestion was creative PD. This past year with the support of the leaders of the special education satellite schools for which I work, we flipped the PBL model on the staff and had them create presentations based on topics that affected them as educators. You can find out more about the project at tinyurl.com/pbl4pd. With that in mind, I wanted to find out what others were doing to engage their staff in Professional Development and get some ideas for next year. As the facilitator for the session, I wanted to avoid turning it into a conversation about my project and I was thrilled (and perhaps a bit nervous about my ability to kick off the conversation) when I saw so many faces in the room whom I respect and admire in the field. I gave about a 30 second introduction to the topic, babbling something about the PBL4PD project which Scott Meech asked me to expound upon. I gave a bit more detail and then we really got into the heart of the matter talking about what makes PD work.
One interesting idea that arose was creating a Professional Development repository where people could upload and share presentations, trainings, worksheets, instructions, etc. Why re-invent the wheel? Someone asked what the best format for this repository would be? A ning, a wiki, a weebly a site? There would need to be familiarity or even training on how to access and utilize such a collection and it would need to be ubiquitous as not everyone has the same technology or skillset.
There was a brief discussion concerning PLNs. And while they are wonderful and I know I couldn't live without mine they need to be supplemented with some form of solidified "homebase." But educators will only utilize whatever we create "when they decide it's the right place to go and are truly ready to use what is available."
And this leads to another question that arose regarding how to create that elusive "buy-in" and I think this was the main takeaway for me. The information we are attempting to share must be relevant, purposeful and certifiable. One suggestion on how to accomplish this again came from Scott who introduced many of us to Ruben R Puentedura's SAMR Model:
Substitution - Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with no functional change
Augmentation - tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement
Modification - Tech allows for significant task redesign
Redefinition - Tech allows for creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable
By showing a technology tools value, it is possible to eventually integrate the technology in ways not previously considered. Instead of simply making a traditional task easier it is possible to develop entirely new and innovative approaches. But in order to get there we must start by framing the information in ways that don't focus on the tool but rather the process. As leaders in education and technology, we need to ask questions like: "What do you want to do better and how can I help you accomplish this?" And then incorporate the tools into that process.
Session 2 - Students as Content Curators:
I was really excited to attend this session. I think it's fantastic that we have more and more content being developed by students. But I find it equally disheartening that once it is created, a great deal of it disappears do to improper curation. And that's what I was hoping the focus of this session would be. Instead it took a bit of a turn towards the ability of students to gather and process information. Also an important skillset to be sure in today's world of Google and Wikipedia where information is everywhere.
Jeff See led our discussion on this topic and I'm relying a bit on Shawn McCusker's notes to recap. There was some discussion of networking and the use of Twitter to gather information from first hand sources by following authors, museums and institutions of the federal government. Additionally, there was suggestion to build two separate networks. One should be purely for "professional" or "research" purposes. The other should be reserved for personal use. Something I have been touting for years, so that you can note the difference in information acquired. You also start to extend your educational network if you start to connect with second and third level connections. Teachers should also explain hashtags and other ways of "weeding" through to collect good information. Proper "tagging" was also addressed. Making sure descriptive tags are used is the best way to ensure curated content makes sense later. This is true whether you are publishing or archiving. When was the last time you did a Flickr search and came up with 100 pictures of different bands before you got the content you wanted. We need to do a better job of tagging and Web 2.0 tools need to develop smarter algorithms that make search more efficient.
Search engines were also briefly discussed in that we need to show students Google is not the only search engine out there. But since it is likely the tool used most frequently, it is important to model appropriate use. Some discussion of Scott Carr's “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” also took place at this juncture.
The definite takeaway here was that the essential skill that must be taught is to make the learning meaningful it must be personal. Everyone will have their own way of keeping their data curated - but it will only be effective if it has meaning.
A few tools were also mentioned including Diigo, Pearltrees, mentormob, and edmodo all of which I encourage you to explore on your own.
Lunch and prizes followed the second session. A major thank you to Topper's for the great pizza! It was a nice chance again to catch up and Network with people I don't get to see everyday while getting the batteries recharged for session 3.
Session 3 - Giving Up Control of Ed Tech.
*Disclaimer - I did not take notes during this session and am going mostly on memory
James O'Hagan led this session and since I had missed it at ICE and saw all the amazing tweets coming from it - I'm glad he opened the floor for further discussion on a topic that needs desperately to be tackled. The concern for me has always been how do we mitigate creating a safe learning environment while allowing students to expand their horizons.
Unfortunately, what often happens in these circumstances is a great deal of CYA and political wrangling. Meanwhile, what should be happening is the education of responsible digital citizens.
As is always the case in these discussions, the topic of filtered content arose. What are we currently blocking and why?
But perhaps the largest takeaway for me was that "giving up control" may only be possible when you have complete control. James is fortunate enough to have entered into a district that does not fear change and in fact embraces it. While, I have yet to visit his district, it is obvious from the posts he makes on various forums and his work with EdReach, that he has the support of his administration and community to get things done. That's something we could all learn from. Be it as a parent, a teacher, a technology specialist or an administrator. If we all are willing to listen to each other and put politics and ego aside we may just be able to develop 21st century curriculum that suits the needs of today's students. And isn't that the ultimate goal?
Session 4: How to Run an EdCamp
As I mentioned at the outset, this was my ulterior motive for attending in the first place since SET will be hosting a SPunconference in a few months time based on the Edcamp model. It was nice to have Chad and Tammy give us a breakdown of what they did to plan for the event. They pointed out the edcamp wiki
which has a lot of great resources. Talked about the importance of assigning tasks to volunteers with specific skillsets (e.g., it's helpful to know a graphic designer to help create an eye catching logo.) It's also helpful to start organizing early. They spoke about not being fearful to contact sponsors. Because so many of these events have now happened world wide vendors are expecting such calls requesting sponsorship and or door prizes. Volunteers are also vital to the process and based on the number of "red shirts" in attendance #edcampmke had plenty of those! The shirts while not mandatory for an edcamp were a value add to thank the volunteers. It sounded like they really started to the bulk of the work involved happened over the last 5 months leading to the event. Fortunately, we have just about that much time before the SET SPunconference. One thing I neglected to find out about was whether continuing credit was offered to attendees.
And that was it for the sessions - I caught the tail end of an impromptu App Smackdown just before the closing ceremonies that included more prizes. Thanks again to the sponsors! I won a windbreaker that has already come in handy. Then it was back across the border - recharged (albeit a little saddened that we had to leave our Wisconsin colleagues behind) and ready to charge into the summer full of new ideas, thoughts and energy.
I hope this little review of my day at edcamp encourages you to attend one yourself and hopefully we will see you at the November 3rd, 2012 SET Connections SPunconference! Keep an eye on the website for more details.