COETAIL, Part Deux

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Now that I have successfully completed the COETAIL program, I feel compelled to blog!

I already find myself anticipating the next course…only there isn’t one.

Really? No full Master’s or PhD? Wouldn’t it be awesome to be “Dr. COETAIL”? Hey, one can dream, right?

The good news is that COETAIL, Part Deux does exist…as an independent study of sorts. The bad news challenge is that now I’m driving, planning, and organizing what it looks like. This is both exciting and intimidating. Through the COETAIL program, I have developed some real skills and habits that, at a minimum, need to be maintained. These include:

  • a regular blogging habit: weekly blogging reflections were definitely motivated by the requirements of each course. However, in the process, blogging has become a way to put myself, my thoughts, my ideas, and my actions “out there.” As a result, I gain feedback that challenges my thinking and connections with others who only make me better at what I do.
  • a solid, ever-expanding knowledge base: this began with building up a personal (now ill-fated) Google reader. I regularly use other aggregators and curation apps (like Zite, Flipboard, and Netvibes) that help me to mine the gems within a variety of my interest areas as an educator, a runner, a vegetarian, and a tech geek.
  • an amazing PLN: via Twitter, I have crazy access to people with all kinds of knowledge, talents and interests! I am often humbled by the projects that are proposed, acted on, and shared across the globe. Of course, this doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction (although some days it does the trick!), but let’s face it, most of us only come into contact with a very limited number of the same people on a daily basis. Regardless of how collaborative and creative these people might be, it’s a bubble that can be very limiting.
  • Presentation Zen: this has been a game-changer for me. I can no longer create, nor sit through, slides of text. Presentation Zen is a concept that should become part of every school’s taught curriculum! There is still far too much death by Powerpoint happening in today’s world.
  • Doing and Sharing: integrating technology to enhance student learning is definitely something that I am very passionate about. I think that I have typically been a very good sharer of ideas and resources. COETAIL has provided me with a new¬† perspective on what can be shared (images, ideas, opinions, presentations) and how to share (Twitter, blog posts, iMovie presentations, YouTube, blog comments, Google Hangouts).

So, the big question is: how will I go about maintaining these skills and taking them to new levels?

  • Blogging. Well, here I am blogging without the extrinsic motivation of a course grade. ūüôā I see myself continuing this habit, but I will admit that maintaining a regular schedule concerns me.
  • Learning. Reading and keeping up with professional, eduction-related blogs is something that I see as being very easy for me to maintain. This is a habit that has become something that I do every day at some very predictable times.
  • Networking. I was getting great ideas and recommendations from Twitter connections well before joining the COETAIL program. Now I have a deeper and wider PLN which includes COETAILers from all over the world, at various stages in the program, and at different levels of tech integration. Within my PLN I am not only a learner, but am also a teacher at times. The really fun part of having a PLN is establishing a virtual connection that becomes a real live connection at a NESA conference, IB training, or some other professional meet-up.
  • Presenting. This is a new level of challenge that I would like to explore. I think that my learnings , activities, connections, and reflections that resulted from the COETAIL program have been significant confidence builders. I have often thought about presenting at a conference, but a lack of confidence has been a significant obstacle for me. I think some of the behind-the-scenes activities like blogging and tweeting have been really helpful for me in taking some risks, sharing my ideas, and being met with positive feedback and encouragement. Presentation Zen has also been instrumental in helping me to develop concepts and ideas on deeper levels. The power of using visuals to communicate big ideas has had a great impact on me. The search for the “just right” image to convey meaning requires me to dig deep into an idea. An in-depth image search leads me to clarify what it is that I am presenting. The end result is that I feel more confident in the knowledge and ideas that I am using to engage an audience.
  • Doing and Sharing. My current position finds me interacting far more with teachers than with students. I will need to be creative in how I continue to integrate technology. Integrating technology has a slightly different context in the ways that I work with teachers in collaborative groups. However, these opportunities will provide me with occasions to model and encourage the use of technology. How I go about doing this will be worth sharing through blog posts and the occasional summary video presentation. I think the challenges here are remembering to share and taking the time to organize projects worth sharing into an engaging presentation format.

So, there’s my vision for my COETAIL, Part Deux.

What is your plan for Part Deux?

How will you maintain and build on your COETAIL learnings?


My Own Personal Web

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So, what is it that makes the web so powerful? I don’t think that it’s any one particular thing that makes the web so powerful. It’s a combination of characteristics that makes the web powerful in unique ways for every individual. So, I just typed those first two sentences of my introduction and BAM! it occurs to me that: Maybe that’s what makes the web so powerful…personalization!

I’ll never forget my introduction to the internet. Thanks to graduate student status, I was allowed access through a dial-up modem at home (remember that sound?). I had my own email address and everything! But no one else that I knew had an internet connection, let alone an email address. I remember a good friend of mine who lived far away saying something to me like,”If only we were rich and famous, we could get internet and use email to keep in touch.” That was circa 1995. I sheepishly admitted that I had internet and an email address. She was shocked, then very impressed.

From my very first interactions with the worldwide web, it has always allowed me to reinforce my personal interests and to  pursue new avenues of interest. My first discovery beyond email was the  listserv! Specifically the ST:TNG listserv. Nothing like a bunch of trekkies posting questions about scientific accuracy, discussing the prime directive, and buying and selling collectible cards for the Star Trek Customizable Card Game. After that I discovered the listserv of the AATF (American Association of Teachers of French) and another for sharing vegetarian recipes. Reading the black and white textual representation of the thoughts of people who shared my interests was so phenomenal! My initial steps into the World Wide Web provided me with access to niche groups who shared my very own personal interests.

As email became more prevalent, staying connected took on a new meaning. I could easily communicate with my mom on the other side of Lake Michigan on a daily basis. This was a far more cost-effective option than lost-distance calling! When my son was born in 1997, keeping her updated with the various developments in his life was so easy. I could send her a quick email detailing recent happenings and press send in the middle of the night. By the time my daughter joined the family in 2000, we owned a digital camera. This allowed us to share with the proud grand-parents a visual support to the words typed in the email. Now I was able to share my personal observations, thoughts, and challenges with people I trusted and who were directly involved in my life.

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When embarking on the world of international education in 2003, staying in touch with people from various walks of my life who were located in various corners of the world was simplified by email and online chat options. Because my mom and I are both fast typists, we could carry on a keyboarded conversation via Yahoo!Messenger at much the same rate as we could speaking on the phone or face-to-face. The connectivity afforded by the internet has become a life saver in the life of an international teacher/expat. So much of my personal life on two continents can easily be managed at one computer keyboard with an internet connection. I have access to teaching resources, professional development opportunities, shopping, bill payment, banking, picture sharing, travel planning, and the list goes on…Again, I am able to customize all of my web use to meet my personal needs.

Now, more than ever, the power of personalization that the web allows has far surpassed those from the earliest days of access. Personalization is a great paradox of the web in that it’s a great advantage while being a great disadvantage. The advantage lies in the ability to create my own personal bubble.¬† Facebook is my rolodex of former students, colleagues, friends from various chapters of my life, and varying degrees of family members. Twitter is my Professional Learning Network allowing me to pick and choose whose online voices I hear on a regular basis. Every time that I log onto Amazon, I am offered a variety of suggestions “inspired by [my] viewing history” (which is really the viewing history of everyone who lives in my home). I choose my path on the web every day and the path suits my personal passions, interests, inquiries, moods, and whims. The downside is that I can avoid opinions that are different than my own, blot out political posts that I find irritating, and ignore that there are other ways of thinking…if I so choose. Creating my own personal web allows me to be one-sided, as well as venturing into uncomfortable places that challenge my thinking, beliefs, and values.

The web offers me information NOW! The web allows me to learn independently. The web allows me to communicate with individuals and groups of my choosing. The web is mine!





Where’s the warning label?

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In the article School heads called parents in cyberbully case, Chris Kenrick reports on a situation of cyberbullying and its handling in the Gunn and Palo Alto high schools. Make no mistake that this is not a one-off¬† unique situation that has happened only in California’s Silicon Valley. This is a global phenomenon that continues to grow as access to technology continues to increase. The rules of acceptable use and acceptable enforcement of unacceptable use are currently being written (and rewritten) around the globe as I type this blog. A couple of key questions arise in the case of Facebook hate groups and negative posts and comments posted on social networking sites: Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online? Whose responsibility is it to handle unacceptable online behavior?

Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online?

Without a doubt, home is where all learning begins. However, let’s face it! All homes do not possess the time, awareness, knowledge, and expertise in the proper combinations to teach anything and everything. I, for one, am very thankful for those who impart their knowledge of numerous subjects to my children on a daily basis (Math is one that comes to mind) as my areas of expertise are limited. In our home, we all have a high level of comfort and ability when it comes to technology. Social networking, privacy settings, along with appropriate pictures and posts are frequent topics of conversation. Many parents, however, do not possess even a basic knowledge of these topics and often become very uncomfortable when confronted with a new piece of technology. So, at least for now, the responsibility frequently falls to the education profession to take on a significant role in guiding students through the 21st century and all of the amazing networking options it has to offer. In addition, I would strongly suggest that schools also have a leading role to play in the education of parents. By helping parents to develop their own understandings of social networking and online safety, we not only enter into a partnership, but we are able to shift more responsibility to parents as time goes on.

I am also of the mind that social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube share in the responsibility to teach children to be safe online. How difficult would it be for major websites frequented by minors to create online safety campaigns offering advice and guidelines to children and their parents? These websites certainly possess the medium and skilled employees to create instructional videos, infographics, billboards, and memes. O.K., so apparently there is a Family Safety Center on Facebook and Safety: Parent and Teen Tips on Twitter, but is this enough? My vision would include the use of media that parents are more likely to encounter in their daily lives including billboards on their commute to work, TV commercials during shows that parents watch (or on those annoying TVs at the grocery store cash registers), and ads on websites frequented by parents.

Cigarette companies are obliged to put a warning label on their product, perhaps Facebook needs to also consider something similar.

WARNING: You may encounter bullies.
WARNING: Your emotions may be deeply wounded.
WARNING: Facebook can harm your children.
WARNING: You may encounter mean people.


Whose responsibility is it to handle unacceptable online behavior?

One might argue who is responsible to hand unacceptable online behavior. Once again, one’s first instinct might be, “Well, the parents, of course!” However, I can tell you (as the wife of a Middle School Principal) that all too often the first instinct is, “How are you (the principal or the school) going to handle this?” This may very well be because, oftentimes (as is highlighted in the Palo Alto case), the offensive comment begins off campus on a social networking site, but then spills over into the corridors and classrooms during the next school day.

The responsibility to handle unacceptable online behavior becomes a team effort with the school administrator working with both the students and the parents. This intervention typically results in a learning experience for students and parents. Recently, my principal husband revealed to a group of students, whose problems were exacerbated by social networking, how he was able to read all of the their status updates and ensuing comments without even being their “friend.” The result was advice and a quick lesson on privacy settings. Another situation unexpectedly revealed to parents that their child actually had more than one profile on a social networking site and that each profile was being used for very different purposes.

When it comes to online safety and acceptable behavior, it is extremely important that everyone in the lives of children take on a role of responsibility. It is difficult to hold a teenager accountable for her negative rants about school officials if she sees her parents using Facebook to air their own annoyances with employers and family members. It is also difficult to hold teenagers accountable for the pictures they post when they can Google a teacher only to find compromising pictures posted on the teacher’s public MySpace page. It probably goes without saying, but in the realm of creating responsible digital citizens, it takes a global village.


Anticipation Scaffolding

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In the article, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, George Siemens asserts that “as knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.” In other words, the knowledge that we are able to come by in a spontaneous manner is paramount to the knowledge that we own at any given moment. The ability to quickly glean useful, reliable information is a clear priority in the 21st century. The creation of a network is crucial in the set-up of being able to access knowledge tomorrow that one doesn’t even know is needed today. A robust network of numerous connections serves to strengthen the knowledge base at our fingertips.

In the 21st century the ways in which we are connected are ever-changing. These connections¬† take the notion of “six degrees of separation” to a new level. In fact, through various social networking models, we may actually be decreasing the number of steps (or clicks) between individuals.

According to a study of 5.2 billion such relationships by social media monitoring firm Sysomos, the average distance on Twitter is 4.67. On average, about 50% of people on Twitter are only four steps away from each other, while nearly everyone is five steps away.

In another work, researchers have shown that the average distance of 1,500 random users in Twitter is 3.435. They calculated the distance between each pair of users using all the active users in Twitter.

It is through these varying degrees of separation that we establish requisite connections to knowledge, knowledge that we don’t even know we will need. Therefore, when we are confronted with a situation that requires knowledge that we do not possess, we can activate our connections via Twitter and other social media sites. We drop our pebble in hopes that it will create a ripple in the sea of users. When the correct series of connections are made, the knowledge that we seek will eventually flow back to us to answer our questions and to increase our knowledge.

Awareness vs. Unawareness

As educators, we often anticipate the needs of students. In turn, educational leaders also anticipate the needs of teachers by anticipating what they will need to know in order to facilitate student learning. Student skills and teacher skills are greatly impacted by anticipating the knowledge necessary to learn or strengthen a new concept. Such a process is facilitated when supports are provided in order to scaffold the development of key learnings. This is of particular importance at the introductory stages of new concepts. As learners demonstrate increasing levels of  competence, the supports become fewer and less necessary.  Growing skills that build towards mastery can make scaffolding a clear cut activity.

Perhaps a key new skill is the ability to engage in, what I will call, “anticipation scaffolding.” Since, according to Siemens, “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today,” it may be advantageous to create a systematic series of steps to anticipate what we don’t know. As Siemens points out “when knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill.” So, it is through established social network connections that we can most easily practice anticipation scaffolding by accessing and growing a knowledge base before we even know that we will need it.

The initial stage of anticipation scaffolding is the ability to recognize what we need to know. In general, this is relatively easy. I know that I don’t need to know the particulars of string theory. The day-to-day flow of both my personal and professional lives will not be affected due to my ignorance of this topic. On the other hand, there are many things that I do need to know in order to be successful in the various facets of my professional life as a curriculum coordinator. The knowledge that I need shifts depending on the curriculum project that I am working on. Most recently I have needed to know and understand the steps of Backward Design planning, current standards in Physical Education, and how to establish student outcomes as they relate to Mathematics curriculum. All of this needed knowledge, once identified, was easy to find using various social network connections including Google, Twitter, and real world colleagues.

The next stage of anticipation scaffolding is the ability to recognize what we don’t know. But how can we recognize what we don’t know? Perhaps using diverse social networking connections can help us to recognize what we don’t know. Information aggregators¬† such as Google Reader and Netvibes allow the creation of a knowledge base of our choosing by subscribing to blogs. These blog collections are always available and regularly updated. Through reading blogs of our choosing, our knowledge base increases. In addition, personalized magazine applications like Zite and interest-based web surfing applications like StumbleUpon increase exposure to new and unfamiliar ideas. Each exposure to a new idea is a support in the scaffolding of the knowledge that we do not possess, of the many things that we do not know. One seemingly insignificant reference today could be the springboard that directs/supports what we need to know tomorrow. This exposure to knowledge becomes the anticipation scaffolding of tomorrow’s learning.

Once what we don’t know is recognized, then we can choose to act on and grow what we are learning. We may find that the “connections created with unusual nodes support and intensify existing large effort activities.” This idea underscores the importance of establishing diversity in our connections to increase exposure to knowledge that we are able to access during the process of anticipation scaffolding.