Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Getting Started.

The 2010 school year has begun for us here in central Maine and like most years I'm often asked, "There's so much new technology stuff out there and it changes so fast, where do I even start?" I thought about it, and decided to respond to the question this way, if I was going to offer this as a course for new educators about how they could get started, this would be the makings of a syllabus.

Mental shift #1

First and foremost we must accept that as soon as this post is published (August 2010) it is out of date. The world of technology in education is moving too fast. There is no simple way to keep up with the pace of change and the first lesson is to be ok with that. If we are truly in a continual state of learning, then this change is welcome. I don't believe that it's really anything new, what's different is the speed and how pervasive the changes technology offers are.

The goal then, is not to read this post and be done, but rather to use it to develop techniques to manage the incoming information streams, build a group of like minded people available to help you and know how to find the rest.

If you're looking for additional rationale one of the first books that encapsulated this change was The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. (Ok, break away here and go read the book or you can download the free audio book. It's 27 hours long, but if you're into Spark Notes watch his 6 minute synopsis here.) Another important realization is how pertinent this is for our students. They will never known a world without this kind of access or easy communication. If the education system is not addressing directly, then students are probably left to figure it out on their own.



Click here and you can see more closely see how quickly the numbers reflect what's happening in social media, just since you've started reading this post.

Also check out this presentation by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod. It's worth noting that this video was published in 2007 and the numbers are updated here (I just prefer this version) and it's also worth reading the story behind the creation here.



Mental Shift #2

Question from the back of the class: "Mr. Kelley, how is the technology integration different from all those other changes in education that happen every few years, good teaching is still good teaching, right?" Fair question and yes, nothing is so trendy as education. Every few years there is new vocabulary or a system in education that's going to change everything. Not sure what to call it? Go to the Educational Jargon Generator. The difference, I believe, is the state of the world and technology has become medium for better education. It has to be:



Ok, back to our checklist,

1) Manage streams of incoming information.
2) Find others to learn from.
3) Learn techniques to find the rest.

1) In discussing incoming information Clay Shirky says it best as, "It's not information overload, it's filter failure." (this from a 20min presentation explaining this statement.) The first tool I suggest teachers start with is a new Google Account. Basically because with one login, you can assess dozens of free services. Now, each of these has an equivalent if you already have accounts elsewhere or don't want to use Google. But, for a single login, Google's it. With this account you can start having different streams of information come to the same place so instead of five places to check, you have one or two. (I go into more detail about his here.)

Choose a login name carefully. As you build your online persona, you will become known as your account name, whether it's your real name or one you made up. You may want to use your real name as I did. Most accounts that I have online use kernkelley as my user name, if however you have a name commonly found or don't feel comfortable using your real name, make up something professional that you'll still like in the future.

Most of us are comfortable in email and have been using it for some time, so with your new Gmail (or Yahoo or Hotmail) it doesn't really matter the brand, the shift is that it's a web-based service, rather than locally on your machine. This means none of it lives on your own computer, and you can login to it from any computer or phone with Internet access.

Mental shift #3

Your digital 'stuff' is not on your computer anymore. This is a huge technological change that has occurred over the last few years. With more and more services being provided over the web it changes what we can do. Think of your bank account, most likely you have a way to access your bank account online. Even if you don't use this service, the account is still there. You can get to it from any computer that has internet access. Does this mean that all the programs on your computer are obsolete? Not yet, there are still some programs that don't work well online yet, (but they're always improving) and there's still the matter of access, but in my opinion both of these problems are being worked on, it's just a matter of time.


2) Who's out there. The good news is there are a lot of people looking for the same information you and and would love to connect and learn with you. Here is a webpage that pulls together about 10 different blogs of educational / technology thinkers. It's not 'the' list, it's just a place to start. Also, there's Lisa Thumann's list of 25 Ed Tech Leaders you may want to check out.
Finally join some of the existing online educational communities like www.classroom20.com, www.edutopia.org or www.learncentral.org These can be a little overwhelming at first because there are so many people and topics, but find something you are interested in and go for it. Once you start recognizing names and see who they recommend and you're ready to build your own list. Login to your Google Account and open Google Reader. Google reader is "a tool for gathering, reading, and sharing all the interesting blogs and websites you read on the web." For more help setting up your reader, watch this:



You can start with this list of 10 educational blogs I recommend or if you're looking for an educational blog about a specific subject or grade level, a another resource is: http://supportblogging.com/Links+to+School+Bloggers. So go ahead and start creating your own blogroll.

Another tool for a different kind of communication is Twitter. Sometime called 'microblogging' it's basically a site for very short messages that you can easily connect with educators from across the spectrum. Going through the process of knowing who to follow and receive their comments can be daunting as well, so a good place to start is an existing list, like this one by Lucy Gray which focuses on educators. As she puts it, "A list intended for people getting started with Twitter. A little bit of everything in this list!" You can check out the messages by those on the list to get an idea of what this community is about.

3) How do I find out the rest of what I'm missing? This is a tough one, because you don't know, what you don't know. The good news is now that you've built a structure for information to come to you and ways to engage with others who are interested in similar topics. The next step is to dive right in! Because technology is in a constant state of change, there's on perfect time to get started except right now. Maybe start with Daniel Pink's book A Whole New Mind (or the audio synopsis here) or subscribe to a few educational podcasts found at www.edtechtalk.com, check out the K12 Online Conference for ideas and help, or check out my recommendations for further reading.

See you online!