Category Archives: 21st Century Skills

Getting Some Perspective

It seems we cannot blame social media for the shoddy performance of news outlets last week. They’ve always done a poor job with breakout news, at least according to Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. His description of the reporting of John F. Kennedy’s assassination includes lots of similarities to the Boston bombing from identifying innocent people as suspects to declaring arrests when none had occurred.

The difference, of course, is the ubiquitous nature of media in our lives. Sabato points out that most people were at work or school when the shooting occurred and wouldn’t have had access to the news. So, they missed the initial erroneous reports. I think, however, that Sabato misses the more crucial difference: the people who heard the erroneous reports could only spread them so far…perhaps over the back fence or by telephone to a friend. They couldn’t tweet and retweet and like and share, editing along the way to fit into 140 characters, or creating their own false reports that were then picked up by the media as truth.

I think Sabato offers sound advice:

Media gaffes and goofs should not be easily excused, since commendable restraint — occasionally, simple silence — is the obvious remedy. There should be a penalty for a big error, even if it is only severe criticism.

A simple statement: “here is what we know for fact and here is what we’re still checking out” would help give viewers perspective as they navigate the chocking flow of information. It allows news outlets to have it both ways: report the hearsay but make sure everyone knows it for what it is.

Thinking About Media After the Marathon

I’ll start by thanking Chris and Melissa Bugaj for re-energizing my enthusiasm for podcasts. I used to listen to lots of podcasts but, for some unknown reason, stopped. Maybe it was just media overload, or switching to iOS from Android. After participating in the recent VSTE webinar (scroll down to find the archive) on integrating audio in the classroom, I installed the Podcasts app on my phone and iPad and added a few podcasts to my library.

On of my previous favorites had been On The Media, a program sponsored by WNYC. Brooke Gladstone takes an engaging, reflective approach to the workings of the media, often interviewing journalists involved in the week’s news about how and why they did the things they did. Not surprisingly, this week Brooke focused on the Boston Marathon bombings and the somewhat shoddy performance of the media in their seeming willingness to abandon long established principles such as confirming stories with multiple sources in order to beat others to the story. They reported erroneous information rather than wait to make sure it was correct because if they got it right, they would be heroes and if they got it wrong, they could just blame fluidity of the situation. That excuse ignores the important role of the formal media in our live: we rely on them to get the story right before they tell it.

But, there seems to be a very fuzzy line these days between journalists and bloggers and tweeters with journalists being lured away from their role as the nation’s fact checkers. Reporters are monitoring police dispatchers and, according to On The Media, those dispatchers were actually monitoring Twitter and reporting on things they heard. It became a closed loop where no one was doing any fact checking at all.

And, of course, there were the fake twitter accounts from the bombers that immediately got reported as real messages.

The program is worth a listen and, I hope, will prompt discussion about the role we all play in the exchange of information. Meanwhile, Slate offers some good advice about what to do the next time there is a breaking story. I’m planning to finally read Proust.

Advice to Newbies

I am in the midst of teaching an online course that focuses on educational technology for school administrators. While the focus of the course is educational technology, it is not a “tech” course. The participants do explore various technologies, but the main conversation is about how administrators can support the use of technology. The course is centered around the NETS-A and we move from visionary leadership to professional learning to systemic improvement in the course of the semester.

Many of the participants do not consider themselves technologically savvy and the course is their first online experience as well. I do a lot of hand holding at the beginning, and for some, throughout the semester, as they struggle both with the content that asks them to reconsider much of what they think about education and technology, and the technology itself. I do some scaffolding by way of screencasts of how to navigate our course in Google Sites, and I am always available to answer specific questions as I make it clear to them that they aren’t being graded on their ability to use technology.

Still, they feel overwhelmed. Their first assignment is to choose a technology and create a tutorial designed for school leaders. After reviewing her classmates’ work, one student commented on how much she loved Voice Thread and then wondered why she didn’t learn about it sooner. Another was determined to learn everything about all the new technologies that were introduced. Yet another despaired of every being more than an immigrant, unable to understand the new language and culture.

I give all of them the same piece of advice: there’s a lot of technology out there and more is being added every day. That’s the way it is going to be from now on. So, get used to always feeling behind. Give up trying to learn about all of it, but position yourself within a professional learning network that at least helps you build awareness of new trends and offer support for your learning efforts. Then, consider your needs as a teacher or administrator, and find one or two technologies that support those needs and learn all you can about them. Are you responsible for professional development? Then, maybe Google sites is a good tool for creating a shared space. Do you feel like you need to communicate better with all your stakeholders? Then, maybe you should explore how Facebook and Twitter could help with that outreach? Do you have lots of technology in your school but not much integration? Then, maybe it’s a model like TPACK that can help support your efforts.

And, when you discover a new-to-you technology like Voice Thread, don’t wonder why it took you so long. Instead, embrace it, learn about it, and be reassured that an “older” technology likely has more staying power so you won’t be facing its loss in a few weeks when the company goes under.

Finally, learning one technology in depth will support your adaptive learning as you will become more familiar with technology in general and the next time you’re facing a new program or tool, you’ll be better equipped to dive in.

What advice do you have for these newbies?

Learning to Love Learning?

From the science goddess, a protest against the notion of “everyone,” something I find frustrating as well. Each person must find her own path to learning and sharing. Maybe you tweet, maybe you blog, maybe you find a Google group, maybe you subscribe to a listserv. Or, and this may sound heretical, maybe you have a face to face group that meets your needs.

What struck me about the twitter post was the notion that we had to learn to love learning. Is that a skill that we have to learn? It seems to me that kids, especially, are learning all the time without thinking about it as something they love or hate. It’s natural. Is it only when we send them to school where the practice of learning becomes something unnatural that we learn to hate learning. So, perhaps we do have to (re)learn how to love learning once we are freed from the bonds of the classroom and formal education.  Dale Stephens, author of Hacking Your Education, makes this point in his guest post for The Innovative Educator blog. Note that the title of his book is Hacking YOUR Education, with the focus on the personal aspect of education.

College Readiness = Adaptive Capacity

Tim Stahmer’s post about schools’ dependence on the Office software package hit a nerve with me. In the past month, I’ve heard at least a few educators refer to being able to use Office as a “college readiness” issue. As a college professor, I found that perspective very surprising. There are lots of ways that kids are not ready for college, but using Word and PowerPoint were certainly not on my list, especially when they mean diverting scarce funds for expensive licenses.

For me, college readiness means being able to pick the right tool for the job. Do you have to do a presentation? You have a range of choices: certainly Powerpoint, but what about Google Presentation, Prezi or Keynote or Animoto? My preference is always towards tools that make it easy to publish and share on the web. Do you have to write a paper? Unless it’s your dissertation with all that special formatting, I would be happy if you just did it in Google and shared it with me so I can access it from anywhere and any device. That way, when I find myself with free time before a meeting or riding the ferry, I can read your work.  I would probably be even happier if you told me you had a blog and wanted to publish it there so you can share your writing with more than just me.

But, I hear the educators asking, how can we teach our students how to use all those tools? To that, I say, don’t teach them specific programs: instead, teach them how to learn. Most people can pick up Prezi in a few minutes using the video tutorials. Google Apps provides extensive help and a quick search yields videos and written tutorials on every possible aspect of these tools.

What should we be teaching our students when it comes to digital tools and technology use? If there is one thing we do know about the future, it will be more of the same: change, change, change. New tools and new devices. The best way to prepare our kids for college and for life is to provide them with lots of opportunities to be self-directed learners. Help them develop their adaptive capacity, the ability to change and learn throughout their lives.

Adaptive capacity is a key leadership trait, according to Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas. I’ve put their book on my reading list but this article will get you started.