Hanging out with UC President Janet Napolitano–and a Super Smart Group of UC Students

My UCOP colleague Jess sits in for President Napolitano as we prep for the hangout.

Yesterday, I had the honor of moderating the first-ever Google Hangout with UC President Janet Napolitano and UC students. The hangout was recorded, so if you know people in the UC community who missed it, they can still watch. The students were incredibly articulate and well-spoken, and they shared important insights on issues ranging from the experiences and needs of veterans on campus to struggles faced by undocumented students. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from them, and I think college administrators everywhere could glean valuable perspective from what these students had to say.

A quick note on hangout context and logistics: The Google Hangout came out of responses to Napolitano’s tour of the UC campuses shortly after she took office. Students were asking for a way to have a more direct line of communication with her. The Communications department within the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) decided a Google Hangout could be one of the ways to foster such an ongoing dialogue. I work in Student Affairs at UCOP, not Communications, but my participation in a Social Media Workgroup at UCOP led colleagues of mine to approach me about moderating this first attempt, and I was excited to accept their offer. It was an interesting challenge, in that my role involved working to ensure that the on-screen hangout participants had an open, respectful and inclusive dialogue with one another, while I also incorporated comments and questions that were coming in via Google Hangout’s “Q & A” feature. As you might imagine, it was a tricky balance when it came to incorporating the web comments into the conversation while also trying to give the student panelists a chance to contribute equally to the discussion. I felt that many of the concerns being raised by the general online audience were ones the student panelists were also bringing up, so that made things a bit easier.

President Napolitano said in closing that she would like to engage in more of these types of online conversations, not just with students, but also with faculty and staff. As someone who has been both a faculty member and a staff member at a large public university, I’d be very interested in those conversations as well.

Posted in Getting Schooled | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

My Takeaways from the 2012 Digital Learning and Media Conference

On March 2 and 3, I attended the third annual Digital Media and Learning Conference in my home city of San Francisco. Though I missed the first day of the conference, I got so much out of days two and three, connecting with educators and thinkers and other folks who are passionate about how we can use technology in smart ways to improve education and expand learning beyond the classroom.

I won’t summarize all the panels I went to and the conversations I had, but instead will talk about two panels in particular that I found especially inspiring and that highlighted a concept frequently at play throughout the conference: Learning partnerships do not have to begin in the classroom to affect what happens there, and learning partnerships will be integral to the future of education. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

My Top-Picks for the Digital Media and Learning Conference

This year’s Digital Media and Learning Conference is just over a month away, and I am really getting excited about it! There are so many great presentations and panels lined up so far: everything from digital tools for “civic learning” to creating learning activities with games like Minecraft (and that’s not all; browse all of the offerings here). In short, the conference promises to provide an amazing weekend of learning, sharing and connecting with others who work at the intersection of civic engagement, education and technology. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memo to Idaho: Don’t expect teachers to embrace technology if you haven’t helped them learn to use it well.

Let’s talk about an article in yesterday’s New York Times: Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools. In the article, we learn that last year, Idaho’s state legislature “overwhelmingly passed a law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets,” all in an effort “to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard.”

The story has everything I’ve come to expect in articles about education reform efforts: quotes from teachers who hate the idea, quotes from teachers who love it, and plenty of tired cliches that speak to a general misunderstanding about the current state of life in the classroom.

Among those cliches is the oft-repeated idea that teachers see technology as a threat to the authority they have in the classroom. Such phrasing irritates me to no end, first because it primarily serves to depict teachers as people whose chief concern is ensuring that they are the center of attention at all times, rather than as people whose primary goal always is to educate their students in the most effective ways. Second, this classification also reveals a general lack of understanding about how teaching and learning occurs in the classroom of today. Take this bit, for example, from the article:

And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.

*Big sigh*. Alright … first, most modern educators are being trained–and have been trained for at least the last fifteen years–to be facilitators of learning, rather than authorities who talk at students instead of engaging them in the work of discovery. And guess what? We’ve known about this theory of education for a long time. Check out the work of Lev Vygotsky, who died in 1934, but whose ideas about collaborative learning still guide teacher training programs today. Computers are not a threat to a teacher’s “place of authority” in part because a good number of teachers already adopt a style of learning coach rather than professor in the literal sense of that word. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is “everything we know about education” actually “wrong”?

Today, The Atlantic ran a blog post proclaiming, “Everything You Know About Education Is Wrong.” It’s such a sexy title–I’m wrong about everything I thought I knew about education? Oh, do tell! Perhaps teachers do not matter? Or maybe we should  have shorter class periods rather than longer ones? Perhaps schools should make the football team, and not academics, their primary focus after all??? Let’s find out!

“Think of the ingredients that make for a good school,” Jordan Weissmann, the post’s author, begins. Are you thinking of them, readers? OK. Well, hopefully “Small classes. Well-educated teachers. [And] plenty of funding,” weren’t  ingredients on that mental list you just made, because if they were, according to Weissmann, “your recipe would be horribly wrong.” Ruh-roh!

Weissmann draws this conclusion from the newly-published results of a study by economist (and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient) Roland Fryer, and his colleague Will Dobbie, whose determination after studying data from 35 charter schools in New York City is that far more important than money to a school is its culture–primarily one that supports teachers, allows for maximum instruction time and maintains “a relentless focus on academic goals.”

Does this information really turn “everything we know about education” on its head? I certainly don’t think so. A large part of the problem surrounding our nation’s conversation about education is how much it leaves out the voices of the people who know the most: the teachers who do the work of educating our youth, and the youth themselves, who know a decent school culture when they experience it. After ten years of teaching, I’ve come to know quite a few teachers, and none of them would find the conclusions of this study surprising. None would say that teachers would not benefit from more support and mentoring; in fact, nearly all of the teachers I know and have talked to have said that one of the great needs in education as a field is for newer teachers to have access to and continued interaction with more experienced educators over a longer period of time than is allotted during one’s student teaching days. Schools that do facilitate this kind of mentoring have vibrant departments in which all staff can learn from one another, making for a more cohesive department and a better-scaffolded learning experience for all students throughout their time at the school. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

YouTube for Teachers

If you’ve wanted to integrate YouTube into your classes but have been thwarted by Department of Education Internet restrictions, rejoice! Now there’s YouTubeTEACHERS, a place to find, create, share and discuss videos that enhance the educational experience. Check ‘em out. And if you’ve used the site, let me know in the comments.

Thanks to this post from Mind/Shift KQED for the tip.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

If we want teachers to be using technology, we need to make working tools readily available.

I think schools are probably three to four years behind the rest of the world in how we’re communicating.

Those are the words of Richard O’Malley, Superintendent for Edison Schools in New Jersey, as quoted in the article, Social media go from school ban to teacher’s tool. I can relate to this statement—the California schools I’ve worked in have often been at least “three to four years behind” in terms of the technology they use to communicate within the school and beyond. And this is not an issue that confines itself to how we communicate within our schools. That schools “are three to four years behind the rest of the world in how we’re communicating” is a symptom of a larger problem–a lack of available, up-to-date, working technology in schools. When I taught a group of New York City high school teachers this past summer, their concerns were the same. Their reasons for not making use of technology in their classrooms included that the technology available to them was either outdated or frequently broken. Or, in the cases in which they did have access to working technology, the resources were limited, making it difficult to share the few available computers amongst an entire department full of teachers and students.

Common frustrations that transcend departments and districts… How can we as teachers and administrators work to ensure that we don’t fall further behind as technology continues to advance?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Six Reasons Why Kids Should Know How to Blog

Link: Six Reasons Why Kids Should Know How to Blog

Kids need to start establishing a positive digital impression of themselves. Without question, it will be the norm for these students to be Googled when they begin to look for jobs — even if it’s part time.

Yes!! Yes. Do read this post, via @MindShiftKQED.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Teaching and Learning with Social Networks: Barriers to Adoption

Link: Teaching and Learning with Social Networks: Barriers to Adoption

This piece, by José Picardo, explores some barriers—both on the teacher side and the student side of the equation—to using social networks in the classroom. As Picardo points out: 

Loss of control is also an important factor for many teachers who might see the adoption of social media, not only as extremely disruptive, but also as a further erosion of academic rigour and, ultimately, of their traditional role and relevance. This may be because the tools that are familiar to our students are not so to teachers who might therefore feel unable to control their students online.

I definitely think one barrier to the adoption of various forms of technology is this lack of familiarity with the tools and platforms involved. The key to removing this barrier, from my perspective, is to help train teachers in a way that makes them feel empowered by and excited about the possibilities afforded by these various technologies. (Shameless plug: Read about my experience teaching New York City educators involved in school change to use social media and blogging platforms to aid their research and reform efforts.)

Picardo also notes that students may not be interested in using social networks in their classes. 

Anecdotal observations have led me to believe that secondary students see the internet as their territory and that they feel uncomfortable when this territory is encroached upon by their teachers. In my experience, teacher attempts to engage students using social networks can be seen by some students as initially intriguing but ultimately futile and, above all, uncool.

I have also experienced this pushback firsthand with my students, but have found that they can get past those issues if you integrate social media in a way that really has a purpose in your classroom.

Picardo’s piece is definitely worth a read, particularly if you are working to convince teachers in your school to begin incorporating new media into their classes. Those of you who have begun using social media in the classroom: What roadblocks have you encountered? How have you surmounted these obstacles?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cultivating a Tech Integration Plan: 5 Simple Steps

Link: Cultivating a Tech Integration Plan: 5 Simple Steps

Great tips for strategically developing a technology integration plan for your school or district.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment