Why do tech savvy teachers fear social networking, and tech-timid teachers embrace it?

April 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

Lately, I have been teaching a lot of teachers how to use Twitter, blogging, and social networking to create a self-guided, self-paced system for professional development.

I’ve been surprised by something:

Often, the teachers I think of as tech savvy are very apprehensive (fearful?) of learning about how to use social media productively.

On the other hand, the teachers I think of as tech timid are often excited to embrace these new tools. Not reckless, mind you. But open… and motivated to learn. One teacher in particular had a very clear idea of how she wanted to begin building her online persona/profile, and while she was fearful of what personal details she might share online, it was a healthy fear.

As it turns out, I am one of the former: I am an academic technologist. I work with new technologies in education for a living. But like the other tech savvy teachers with whom I have been working, I too was hesitant to embrace these tools.

I have kept myself intentionally off the online radar. Googling for “Jeremy Angoff” would yield practically nothing. Now, however, I am learning to control (to the best of my ability) what you see when you Google for me. My goal is to create an online persona that accurately presents my professional life, and so far I’m happy with how it is coming together.

Just as I limited my online presence for the past few years, I am now nurturing an appropriate online presence now. As I learn how to nurture my own online presence, I can also teach other how to do the same.

But why did it take me so long to warm up to social media? And why are other tech savvy folks like me still avoiding this medium?

Perhaps this is the case: We who are tech savvy considered adopting social tools like Twitter several years ago when they were primarily being used to post information of limited value like what we had for breakfast. We were turned off of it early, and therefore turned it off. We closed our eyes back then to the way social media is being used now.

Those who feared it at first – the tech timid – are just now seeing the huge impact Twitter and other new media are having across the word: political movements, natural disasters, fund raising… and perhaps the potential for professional development.

Could that be it? I’m sure I don’t know, but if you have any thoughts on this please write a comment or contact me on Twitter @mytakeonit. Maybe my selection size is too small.

That’s just my take on it. The facts presented in my blog are correct to the best of my knowledge, and the opinions belong to those who state them. Don’t believe something I say? Look it up. Don’t like something I say? Let’s talk about it. Leave me a comment.


School vision for technology

April 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

I had an interesting conversation with an educator the other day. We were discussing how I work with schools to create a vision for technology in the classroom and curriculum. I was asked something to the effect of:

“What technology and devices do you see in future classrooms, in the hands of our teachers, and in the hands of our students a year or two from now? When prospective families visit with the intent of enrolling, and alumni and donors walk through with the intent of giving money, what will inspire them to enroll or donate?”

I don’t quite recall if my reaction was immediate, or if I pondered the question before responding, but this was my response:

“The technology and tools change every couple of years. I can’t tell you definitively what will be visible in the classrooms, but I’m pretty sure the technology tools themselves will become less and less visible. In any case, it’s not about the interactive white boards on the walls, and it’s not about the iPads in the hands of students; it’s about what those tools help the students learn and produce. Wouldn’t it be so much better to have the prospective families and donors see the products of student learning? They would see the contributions and creations of the students online and on their iPads – in the form of websites, apps, and art. These are the creations without which the tools would have no value. It’s not sufficient to see the tools alone.”

If asked again, I would respond the same.

Incidentally, my company, OunceIT, specializes in Technology for Academia, and I am asked questions like this quite often.

But that’s just my take on it. The facts presented in my blog are correct to the best of my knowledge, and the opinions belong to those who state them. Don’t believe something I say? Look it up. Don’t like something I say? Let’s talk about it. Leave me a comment.

My personal learning network (PLN) and how to build your own

April 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ok, I admit it: I’m addicted. My PLN is driving my recent self-guided professional development. It’s not just that, though. I’m evangelizing! I’m spreading the Word and the Word is… Well… Many. Many, many words. Read on if you’re interested.

What’s a PLN (Personal Learning Network, aka Online Learning Network)?

It’s a self-created, online, self-directed system for professional development and professional networking. (Or at least thats how I’m using my PLN. For now. It doesn’t have to be professional).

You already know how to answer a simple question using the Tubes, right? Have a question: Google for the answer.

But what if you don’t have a simple question but a line of inquiry? What if the answer isn’t straight forward? Instead of asking a question and searching for the answer, you can have the information from any topic come to you, and you can read that info any time, any where.

Take for example professional development (that’s the goal of my PLN). I am endlessly interested in Academic Technology and Educational Reform. I can’t type that into Google and expect to get back a step-by-step plan for changing the world of education.

Traditionally I would go to grad school (and probably still will) and spend a few years and a few thousand dollars on my education (see this post on “Higher Education, is it Worth it?”). Or on a smaller scale I might attend a conference in my field (will definitely still do that!). But how do I decide exactly what to study? What do I do between conferences to keep myself up on these ever-changing fields of Academic Technology and Educational Reform?

Like I said, I can start with nothing. Or rather, one thing: a single person whose ideas interest me, whose thoughts provoke me, and whose opinions I value. Maybe a speaker I heard at a conference or a visionary from my field. The best place to start is on Twitter (you don’t even need an account). Find that person on Twitter, and pay attention to what they are tweeting about.

Simple enough, right? Well that’s a good start, anyway. But here’s where it begins to get interesting: With Twitter, you can see who your person is interested in by seeing who they are “following” on Twitter. If someone they are following is interesting to you, follow that person too. And then see who they are following, and so on. Follow enough people that your Twitter timeline (Twitter’s inbox) is filling up but not filling too quickly.

But that’s just a start. Inevitably, people will start tweeting interesting blog entries. Find a blog that’s interesting, add it to your “blogroll” (list of blogs that you follow or read on a regular basis). You now have plenty of reading material to get you started, but here’s where you can go from passive learning (reading) to active learning: start contributing.

Start posting your own thoughts on Twitter, or tweeting about blog entries that speak to you. Share your experience with others. Post comments on blogs, and even start keeping a blog yourself. It doesn’t have to be formal – this is for you – but commit to it.

Sure, there’s a lot of noise on twitter, but you need to ignore what you can, and eat up the stuff you like. Before long you’ll get the hang of it and have the start of your very own Personal Learning Network! Once you do, it’s like attending a tiny little conference every day, tailored to whatever topic you choose.

For specific instructions on how to use Twitter, start your own blog, or other topics I mentioned in this blog entry, Google for it, comment on my blog, or send me a message in twitter @mytakeonit and I’ll write a follow-up.

Also check out this blog post from FreeTech4Teachers.com.

But that’s just my take on it. The facts presented in my blog may not be accurate, and the opinions belong to those who state them. Don’t believe something I say? Look it up. Don’t like something I say, let’s talk about it. Leave me a comment.

Technology Tools I don’t use: Anki Flash Cards

April 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

If you haven’t already noticed a trend, the posts I have written about “Technology Tools I Don’t Use” are a little misleading: So far the tools I have listed are excellent tools – it’s not that I don’t use them because I don’t like them. Furthermore, I am now making a commitment to using these aforementioned tools.

Anki is different. Sure, it’s an excellent tool! But it’s not something I am using right now, and while I look forward to using it in the future, I don’t have an immediate need. But I bet you do.

I find it best to describe Anki as flashcards with smarts. Rather than simply describing Anki, watch this YouTube video:


From the web site: ( http://ankisrs.net/ )

“Anki is a program which makes remembering things easy. Because it is a lot more efficient than traditional study methods, you can either greatly decrease your time spent studying, or greatly increase the amount you learn.
Anyone who needs to remember things in their daily life can benefit from Anki. Since it is content-agnostic and supports images, audio, videos and scientific markup (via LaTeX), the possibilities are endless.”

Here’s how it works. You flip through the computerized flash cards (you make your own cards or you can find pre-made decks of cards online) just like you would regular flash cards. Cards can contain text, pictures, and audio (no video yet).

Let’s say you are learning a language:

You see/hear the word “parler” and you remember very quickly that it means “to talk.” You click “show answer” and it shows you the other “side” of the card with the answer. Sure enough, you were right, so you click a button rate how long it took you to come up with the right answer. Because you were able to recall the answer so easily, Anki won’t show you this card again for a while because you clearly already know it.

Let’s say the next word is “maintenant” and you have a little trouble remembering the definition is “now.” Because you struggled, or maybe you didn’t remember the definition, you click the appropriate button to inform Anki of your hesitation with the word. Anki will show this word to you sooner to help reinforce the definition.

The strategy employed by Anki is backed up by studies on how we learn. It’s pretty remarkable how much faster you can learn facts using Anki over traditional flash cards.

For a variation within the classroom, have one student stand up in front of the projector and project your facts up on the wall. Let the student try to recall the facts, and have the rest of the class rate how quickly he/she was able to recall the facts.

The web site and app for Mac/Windows/Linux are free, but you might experience sticker shock when you see the cost of the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch app. It’s a worthwile cause, though, so you may consider donating on the Anki web site: http://ankisrs.net/

Learn or contribute more on the entry for Anki on Wikipedia.

Oh, one more thing: The facts presented in my blog may not be accurate, and the opinions belong to those who state them. Don’t believe something I say? Look it up. Don’t like something I say, let’s talk about it. Leave me a comment.

Technology I Don’t Use: Twitter and Facebook

April 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

A good friend of mine, Steve Laniel ( SteveReads.com ), wrote an OP-ED for the Boston Globe last year entitled Information Age? No, it’s the Chatter Age. The idea is that the chatter from Facebook, Twitter, traditional media, and other sources combined with a trend toward short, frequent updates of info to our always-in-hand, Internet-connected devices, creates enough noise that the distraction greatly outweighs the tidbits of value.

It’s hard to argue his point: Facebook is certainly a distraction. Short, frequent, and obsessive news updates that don’t provide new details about a story have no value other than to contribute to an addiction – a pleasure gimmick. There’s no deep or active learning going on here. It’s just noise.

This week, I attended the Blue Ribbon Schools Blueprint for Excellence Institute. David Warlick, the Keynote speaker on Friday, used KnitterChat for backchannel conversation during his keynote. The reaction of many first-time backchatterers was mixed:

Several people began with a gratuitous “hello.” Then there were the off-topic, “I ate a bagel this morning” and “what’s for lunch” comments.

Next, people started contributing the presentation and voicing their concerns about the distractions of a backchannel. The chatter on the backchannel moved to a discussion of the potential distractions and benefits of the backchannel itself.

A chainsaw is an incredible tool. With it and a little fuel, you can cut down a tree in seconds. You can use that tree for firewood to stay warm for days or months. You can also cut off your hand, arm, or leg. It’s not the tool but how you use it.

So it is with these social media tools. Rather than picking up a chainsaw and slashing indiscriminately at a forest of information, we can use these tools intentionally and appropriately.

Some people will still use these social media tools to fuel their addictions – they are addicted to distractions. I chose to use these tools to fuel my own active learning, and also share the tools and strategies with classroom teachers to help them teach a new generation in a modern learning environment.

Until this week, though I embrace many technology tools, I had been avoiding tools like Twitter and Facebook because of the potential for distraction they might pose.

I am now forming a strategy for how to use these tools to my benefit. My goal: I want to become a more active learner – not just part-time, but full-time. As I learn, I want to contribute. I want to share new teaching strategies with other teachers, and coach them; facilitate the use of these strategies and tools.

This blog is a step in that direction. I have also started culling a list of blogs for Educational Technology which I am committing to reading daily in lieu of some of the more senseless blogs I already read (and also in lieu of TV!). I will begin actively commenting on those blog entries, and blogging my own responses, thus replacing my former passive approach to Internet reading.

I’m going to pick up Twitter (follow me @mytakeonit ) and see if I can use it to connect with other like-minded educators around the world. I am going to use these tools to develop a curriculum for my own continued education.

I am going to learn, improve, reflect, and the challenge myself again.

Please join me.

P.s. I’m still not so hot on Facebook.

Oh, one more thing: The facts presented in my blog may not be accurate, and the opinions belong to those who state them. Don’t believe something I say? Look it up. Don’t like something I say, let’s talk about it. Leave me a comment.

Technology I Don’t Use: Blogging

April 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

This week I attended the Blue Ribbon Schools Blueprint for Excellence Institute – an annual conference that, this year, had a heavy focus on technology for academia. I almost didn’t go, but I am glad my wife convinced me to join her; I took a lot away from this conference. As I often do, I found myself inspired to make sweeping changes in education. As they say, “be the change you want to see,” so this blog is my next step.

There are many great tools available to enhance learning, and frequently I encourage educators to take advantage of the many technology tools that should now be in every educator’s tool belt. Unfortunately, I often don’t follow my own advice! Therefore, my first few blog posts are going to focus on creating a list of technology tools I DON’T take advantage of, why I don’t (despite the fact that I often recommend that other educators do!), and why I should. I am hoping this will be a prescription to myself and other educators on how to take a small step out of the traditional classroom into the modern learning environment.

I am beginning here, on MyTakeOnIt, so I may as well begin here, with blogging.

I don’t blog. Or, rather, I don’t write a blog, and I read only a handful of other people’s blogs. I’ve always wanted to keep a blog; anyone who knows me knows how much I have to say.

Why don’t I blog?
Time. And fear.

My excuse is that I don’t have enough time to write a blog. In fact, that is the number one response (in my experience) teachers have to my suggestion that they adopt any new technology tool: “I don’t have time.”

The other reason is fear. Of course there is that general, undefined fear of the unknown; of trying something new. But there is also that more specific fear of putting your life on the Internet. Internet safety: The threat that I may give up some personal information online that could be used, one way or another, against me.

Why SHOULD I blog?
David Warlick, the keynote speaker at Blue Ribbon Schools conference this week, said in a workshop, (I’m paraphrasing):

“Blogging is a conversation. It’s not about an expert voicing his view but commenting on one-another’s blogs. Keep it short.”

Ok, so my maiden blog post may not be short, but that’s something I can work toward. There are a lot of conversations rattling around in my head, and I have so few chances to have these conversations with people in person. I can begin these conversations in my own blog, and contribute to other conversations on other blogs (something I already do, but not as much as I would like).

Blogging is active learning. I say something or read something, and that “something” is followed-up with a comment. Someone else pipes in, and I am hooked. It doesn’t take long before a full blown conversation erupts, the opinions of many are spoken, minds are broadened, and we learn. Why should a conversation between a limited number of people begin and/or end in a room (be it a classroom, a workshop, the faculty room, etc…) when billions of people around the world can have an equally rich conversations online?

As for my concern for safety… How can I take myself seriously if I’m willing to jump out of a plane but not write a few sentences on a page? I can’t. I take many risks: skydiving, cliff jumping, owning my own business. In fact, it is one of my core beliefs that taking risks and pushing myself out of my comfort zone will make me a better person. Taking risks enhances learning.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’ve already started this blog. In fact, I’ve owned the domain name MyTakeOnIt.com for YEARS with the intention of beginning a blog! Next, the scary part: I am going to tell every one I know that I have started a blog.

Finally, the fun part: I will commit to spending time writing my blog entries, reading other blogs, commenting on those blogs, and following up with comments on my own blog. I am going to stop watching TV and instead participate in an online conversation.

Please join me in this conversation.

Oh, one more thing: The facts presented in my blog may not be accurate, and the opinions belong to those who state them. Don’t believe something I say? Look it up. Don’t like something I say, let’s talk about it. Leave me a comment.

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