Archive for the “Personal” Category

Keynotes are hard.

They’re not like any other type of conference presentation.  They’re not like spotlights and they’re certainly not like a breakout session, or a workshop.  For me, giving my first keynote (I’ve done 13, and thank you Judy, Gwen, Diana, and Joanne for that first opportunity) was a goal realized, and represented a pathway of hard work, success and failure.  Public speaking was something I avoided at all costs, and my inability to address this bothered me more than my fear of speaking, so I started presenting.  First, at local county institute days, and then at our state science conference.  I did my first national presentation in 1995 at the National Association of Biology Teachers Meeting in Phoenix on the “information superhighway.”  From there, I did my share of professional development workshops at middle schools in the middle of January after school on Wednesday.  I’ve done presentations in just about every venue I can think of, on just as many topics, and with as many different audiences as possible.  Since 2005, I’ve presented at over 80 conferences, most recently keynoting NYSCATE, and having the distinction of following Sir Ken Robinson.

Hall Davidson gave the best advice on keynotes, and that was that keynotes should frame the conference and provide context for all of the other presentations.  I’ve tried to do that in my keynotes, and I typically read all of the conference session descriptions while planning for a conference so that I can do that.  Keynotes should also incorporate the theme of the conference, something that is overlooked by many, including, in my experience, the other speakers at the conference.  Most importantly, you have to bring the big ideas, your big ideas, blend in the ideas of others, provide direction, and provide a measure of practicality.  If you want to see the expectations for a keynote, just see this.

It’s a pretty big thrill to hit a home run when giving a keynote.  On the other side of the coin, its personally and professionally disastrous not to. And when you consider the conditions: hot lights in your face so you can’t see the audience, typically a small stage with a podium, being videotaped, having awards and conference planners eat into your planned presentation time, dishes clanking at dinner keynotes, and the pressure of having the big picture in the program-well, giving a keynote can be very challenging, not that you would think otherwise.

But when you just hit it right…oh yeah…

So I’ve watched the keynote voting free-for-all on the ISTE site over the past few days with interest.  Congratulations to those in the “lead.”  I’ve actually been flattered by having 39 supporters cast 103 votes for me.  Thank you, it is appreciated.

There’s been a lot of gamesmanship for votes starting to emerge (see @garystager’s tweets), and as you might expect, multiple perspectives on the process that ISTE is using, and whether its appropriate and will ultimately be an effective process that will yield a set of engaging keynotes.

But my favorite comment so far was in this post by Scott McLeod, in a tweet from @juliafallon (sorry, her tweets are protected so I can’t take a screen shot-see Scott’s interesting post).  @juliafallon says: “This is ISTE’s worst idea ever.  We have a bunch of echo chamber nominees along with a few don’t insult me ones.  I want new blood.” To her credit, she goes on to write three more tweets, which are wonderfully done.

But I love the echo chamber.

Echo chamber for who exactly?  Those hyperconnected into Twitter?  Your typical classroom teacher?

If you take a typical ISTE audience of 14-15 thousand individuals, how many have heard Chris Lehmann speak?  Three to four hundred?  That’s not any fault of Chris’ or the audience, it just is.  And while Chris is a familiar voice to many of us in the “echo chamber,” he might not be known by a great majority of the audience.  You know, not everyone is on Twitter.  People should hear Chris Lehmann, that’s a pretty easy call.

And have you considered that individuals in the “echo chamber” might just be the people a larger audience needs to hear?  That they might be the leaders, might be the people with the next great idea or ideas, the next leader, the next person to light the way…

The process that ISTE has undertaken may not work.  Then again, it just might.

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When I taught ecology, my students studied the concept of “The Tragedy of the Commons,” which was popularized by an ecologist by the name of Garrett Hardin.

Basically, it’s about the exploitation of a commonly shared resource. When all who share the resource play by the rules and share equally all benefit, while the resource generally remains intact and capable of sustaining future use. However, given human nature, a single member (or more) may eventually consume more of his/her share of the resource, prompting all to be more aggressive and utilize more, in an escalating pattern of consumption. Gradually, through this process the resource, or “The Commons,” is destroyed.

So, I’ve been struggling with this for awhile, but I can see parallels between this concept and what I believe is an exploitation of the new digital commons-I’m talking Twitter here.

At its best, Twitter is a place to share a resource, a link to a new blog post, or an insight, and even a place to have a little fun. It’s a place that could be about learning. At its very worst, Twitter is a self-indulgent exercise in self-promotion and pettiness.

Right now, I think we are watching Twitter change right before our digital eyes. Be the first with the tool (Diigo, for example), be the first with a post, be the first with the wiki, be the first to uStream, stake your claim in a never-ending game of name building and recognition. Take advantage of the commons, go ahead. But where will that eventually lead to?

In my opinion, Twitter really has also changed how some people interact, and not in a positive way. When did the defacto standard greeting at a conference become “Hi, I follow you on Twitter.” How about “Good Morning?” Then, “But you don’t follow me.” Gee, sorry, not my responsibility…


When did getting called out for not following someone become something you did? When did sending an email to someone who doesn’t follow you, and you want to know why, become something you did? How absolutely ridiculous! Get over it. Do you want it that bad-is it really that important? Seriously!

What about connecting to share ideas in the service of learning?

When did it become about becoming noticed, when did it become about taking your rightful place in the line of technology “experts.” When did it become about “cocktail parties” and “inner circles?” And since I’m thinking about it, I’m wondering if the people promoting the idea of ridiculous idea of a cocktail party or inner circle would be the first wanting to join if such a thing actually existed?


What happened?

Take Educon 2.0. It’s Friday and if you were there, you had the opportunity to visit the kids and teachers of the Science Leadership Academy. However, most stayed in the library bantering about Twitter and finally meeting those people in real life that had become some important in their digital one. What a missed opportunity to observe a truly unique school.

So here comes NECC, with the Blogger Café and EdubloggerCon. I can only imagine what a scrum for attention those could potentially turn into. But EdubloggerCon provides the opportunity for those who have blogged and twittered for a year to step up-let’s hear what you have to say face to face. Are you ready for that? Are you ready to earn it-really earn it?

The more I think about all this Twitter nonsense, the more I think about fundamentals. Writing. Commenting. Reading in your aggregator. Putting links into and supporting that network. Reading research. Reading outside of the ecochamber. Reflecting, questioning, getting uncomfortable—and then perhaps challenging the assumptions of your foundation. Personal growth. How can I grow and change as an educator? What can I do better to help kids learn?

And then put it into practice. What worked, what didn’t.

Put that into Twitter.

Twitter has diverted many from what is important, what should be the true goal. And that’s the real tragedy…

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I am fortunate to serve as Instructional Technology Coordinator for my school district. Not many school districts have a position like mine, which is solely focused on improving teaching and learning with the tools of technology. No boxes. No wires. Just 24/7/186 Instructional Technology. Then the summer to get ready to do it all over again…time to retool, rethink, clarify, redirect, build and create…and get better at what I do, and help my school district to become better at what we do together.

But what does the job really look like, and what is required of a person in this position?

My week really never has a beginning or end, but if I could identify a single starting point, it’s probably Sunday afternoon, right after the Bears game, because the phone calls from teachers start. How do I do this? How should I proceed? Can I reserve one of the mobile labs for tomorrow? And of course…my favorite… I lost my password…here you go.

To stay current, I process 186 RSS feeds. Much of that information, resources, and creative thought go into my account, where 233 other users tap into what I do. Some of those ideas get repurposed into my blog posts here or at The Strength of Weak Ties. Much of that becomes internalized in how I do my job, and that translates directly in my ability to support classroom teachers with ideas on how to make learning come alive. Some of it also finds its way to other administrators, so that I can be a resource for helping them make proper decisions regarding a wide-variety of topics, ranging from professional development to school reform. It’s about developing the deep and wide reservoir of experience and understanding that is required to lead a large school district with something as important as technology.

To stay current, I also read. Books. Magazines, Journal Articles. I even have all of this stuff in my car. Just ask my fellow administrators. I’ve even got a toaster. Just. In. Case.

To stay current, as well as contribute to my profession, I present at conferences. I’ve been presenting nationally since 1995 and have done numerous spotlights and am finally getting keynote opportunities. Why is this important? Presenting at conferences is about sharing, and my perspective on presenting is to specifically represent to a larger audience what we do, and do well. Here it is, here is how it works, here is why it is valuable, and here is how you can do it too. Think that’s easy? Go stand in front of 500 critics and put yourself, and your school district, out there-you better be ready, you’d better have good stuff, you better be prepared, and you better be able to contribute. Because that’s why those people are there. But more importantly, the presentation simply honors what we do-everything that goes into that presentation represents a great deal of hard work by a large number of people, teachers, students, and administrators. And guess what-we’re proud of it, and we’re going to tell people. Here we are and here is what we can do! Take advantage of our experiences and expertise….we want to be a leader in this.

There is also a great deal of power in the preparation for that presentation…the prep is reflective, and gives me time to think about the evaluation of the experience against learning goals. As a profession, we need to begin to think about the value the technology has in the learning experience. We evaluate the learning, but do we evaluate the role of the technology in that learning? To be the best, you have to. That’s just non-negotiable.

A great deal of my time is spent managing our Blackboard presence, which contains a suite of tools that give our teachers access to a number of tools that can drive learning. And before you go there, it works for us, because being an Instructional Technology Coordinator means you understand what your climate and culture is, and what you realistically can and can’t use, despite the fact that you might like to use other tools. It’s about the organization and not you. And so you use it to the best of your ability, and build capability, expertise, and learning opportunities with it. You outfit it with blogs and wikis, with, with WebAssign. You support it passionately and relentlessly, and you provide professional development opportunities that have entry points for a variety of users, and that move them down a continuum towards more effective use. And you also do those professional development experiences with the very teachers that have the expertise, because there is nothing like building capacity, nothing like building community, nothing like building a common shared direction.

I’m very proud of our Blackboard use but I’m especially proud of our digital storytelling program, which has been in our schools for over four years. How many kids have created digital stories? Literally thousands have. And in a world where video is exploding, where there is YouTube, TeacherTube, SchoolTube, DNATube, and undoubtably other “tubes” on the way, the ability to create content, distribute content, and create a competitive voice that can be heard is an essential 21st Century literacy that needs to be developed in students. And we’re doing that.

But it’s not all easy. Sometimes you have to say no, we can’t do that. I had to learn that. As a classroom teacher, I could shut my door and deal with my kids. As an administrator, I have to have a much more global picture. I have to think deeply about my decisions and I have to evaluate their impact on many levels. I have to be adept at politically negotiating the two different climates at North and South, because the schools, even though they are about seven miles apart, are very different. One’s bigger than the other, one has been around 75 years, the other 44 years. The departments are different, the two libraries are different. That’s not a bad thing, it just is, and you have to be aware of how those differences impact what you do, what you can accomplish, what you need to accomplish, and how fast you can do it. Successful technology coordinators are leaders, and leaders understand that leadership is about relationships. Having relationships with people that understand you, and support you, are required to be truly successful, but this only comes with honoring and understanding them first.

The bottom line? I’m pretty fortunate. I have the opportunity on a daily basis to experience the entire range of responsibilities that an educator can have, from meeting with a school’s administrative cabinet, to discussing a technology tool with a department chair, to writing our Illinois state technology plan, and then finally working 6th hour today with a group of Seniors at our North campus on how to dramatically improve their presentations with the inclusion of visuals from Flickr.

And that’s what I do.

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