Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Rules of Thumb" for Educational Innovation

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn."
--Alvin Toffler

In the fascinating book Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self by Alan Webber, there are 3 insightful "rules" that apply equally to schools undergoing innovative change as it does to business innovation.

Before I continue I need to explain that ALL schools need to change from the 20th century factory school model that supports standardization and conformity to a more flexible, student centered and technology infused model that supports 21st century skills.

Three of the 52 "Rules of Thumb" directly relate to what schools need to do to change from the comfortable, tradition filled schools that we all grew up in to schools that will better prepare students for life in a more mobile, global, and competitive world.


What is the business of Education? Preparing students for work, college, citizenship, lifelong learning??? Whatever the answer may be is actually dependent on the customer, which of course, are parents. The reality is there are more options for parents to educate their children in the way they wish than ever before. Is the American public school system of today the American automobile industry of yesterday? The American automobile industry was unwilling (not unable) to respond to events in the world and failed to see the need to reinvent itself to keep ahead of foreign competition. This is what I fear is happening too often in schools today. Too many schools block YouTube, Wikipedia, and Twitter because of the fear that students may see something inappropriate (not that they won't see it when they are not at school). So instead of opening up the world to students in a supervised, educational setting the traditional "block it so we don't get sued" mindset of many school leaders prevents students from accessing and contributing to the collective wisdom of learning networks where students interact with experts and other students from around the world. It's just safer to keep the students walled into their classroom with their teacher.

So, what business should schools be in? To reframe the picture schools should be like Southwest Airlines who, as Webber points out, is in the freedom business. "You are free to move around the country," is a Southwest Airlines slogan that reframes their company from being about transportation to a company about freedom due to their low prices. Schools need to be about freedom. Every student needs to be taught and allowed to practice the skills and habits of mind that are essential in a free society. For this to happen schools need to embrace and encourage every student's freedom to explore and experiment, and maybe even to fail. To structure a school around freedom would mean:
  • giving representative groups of students real say in various functions of the school
  • allowing students to have access to the learning tools that they will use in college and the workforce, and that they currently use when not in school
  • encouraging students to make contacts outside of the limiting world of the school (like they do when they play video games, socialize on Facebook, or text one another)
Educational Innovation Rule of Thumb #1--Education is about Freedom


Just ask anyone who still works for a newspaper if they feel their jobs are secure. The newspaper industry is trying to reinvent itself because the marginal cost of producing news online is zero. The old game of news agencies monopolizing news coverage and distribution is gone forever. We now live in a world where free information is expected. Wired magazine's editor Chris Anderson's soon to be published book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, details how new realities are demanding new categories for doing business online, like providing previously paid content for free.

So what are the new realities for education?

  • Globalization coupled with technological advances has created a world more connected than ever before. American students today will be competing for the first time in history with students in India, China, and Ireland for jobs that do not currently exist.
  • Choice in education is here to stay. Homeschools, cyber-schools, and various private schools are not going away.
  • There is greater access to information online than ever before and this access will continue to grow.
So what should be the new categories for education in light of these new realities?
  • Every student needs a Personal Learning Network(PLN) so they can take advantage of the social aspect of the new technology for learning and not just for play. Plus, communicating with and learning from other students and experts from around the world is the best way to prepare students to become global citizens.
  • Schools need to become more experimental to encourage finding better ways to train teachers, schedule students, and ultimately, to teach students, so that schools are relevent in the 21st century reality.
  • Reading, Writing, and Arithmatic are not the only literacies anymore. Digital and Civic literacies are more important than ever due to student's access to information. Students need to know how to appropriately and effectivley use and organize digital information and media since they are all part of a global online web.
Educational Innovation Rule of Thumb #2--Schools need to embrace the wider world


This rule is actually more personal than institutional. Basically, we all need to be open for new experiences and willing to say yes to proposals outside our comfort zone. However, the reason there is a need for this rule is that successful people rarely want to deviate from their normal routines because their routines are probably what got them success in the first place. Webber writes that, "Important, busy people live in bubbles. The more important and busy you are, the more time you spend in your own private world."

Recently, I was at a conference where Alan November provocatively asked if we were desperate. His point was that we are just too comfortable with our perceived successes and not willing to use technology as a disruptive tool, like many schools are doing outside the United States. School Change consultant Tony Wagner writes in his book The Global Achievement Gap, that even "successful" schools that offer a wide array of A.P. courses and send large percentages of students on to prestigious Universities fail to teach the skills wanted the most by employers. So what's up? Could it be that we are living in our own protective bubble of success?

We need to burst the bubble and be willing to say yes to educating students in the new reality of globalization, choice, and access to information. Instead of cosmetically changing to make it look good for press releases schools need to truly overhaul the system to ensure graduating students are prepared for a world more connected every passing day. Hopefully, we are willing to respond to the new reality of the world and change according to this new reality (unlike the automobile industry).

Educational Innovation Rule of Thumb #3--Schools need to change for their very survival

Next Post--Rules of Thumb for Civic Education in the Classroom

"Rules of Thumb" for Educators

I recently read Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self, by Alan Webber, the co-founder of Fast Company magazine. This book has received rave reviews from the likes of Daniel Pink, Chris Brogan, and Tom Peters, but more importantly for me, it is written with short chapters and in a jargon free way that made it an easy summer read (hey, I'm not a speed reader). Interestingly, while browsing through the 52 rules of thumb I found myself thinking how many of these rules apply to the world of education. As I thought about the rules I determined there were 3 categories that the rules fall into for educators. There were rules about Educational change and innovation, best practices for the classroom, and practical advice for students (and the rest of us).

So, instead of writing one long blog post I have decided to write 3 smaller posts focusing on how the rules relate to educational innovation, best practice, and advice for students.

"Rules of Thumb" for Educational Innovation
"Rules of Thumb" for Civic Education
"Rules of Thumb" for Student Success

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How I Built My Personal Learning Network

Two years ago my Personal Learning Network (PLN) was totally offline and practically nonexistent. Today I have a PLN that I am connected to through this blog, Twitter, and a few other social media sites. I have learned more about effective teaching practices, learning technologies, and the teaching profession in the past two years through my PLN than I learned in the previous 15 years of teacher inservices, graduate classes, and faculty meetings. The biggest problem now is managing the time to effectively maintain and contribute to my PLN. However, the benefits of my PLN far outweigh the problems. For example:
  • At any time of day I can learn about new strategies, tools, or ideas that could positively impact my classroom instruction.
  • If I have a question I can rely on my PLN for an answer within minutes (sometimes even seconds).
  • I have connections with teachers, administrators, professors, and educational and technology experts from around the world. In the past school year I have communicated with and learned from people in my PLN from not just the United States and Canada, but also New Zealand, Australia, England and Singapore.
Thinking back about how my PLN started I realized that this blog was its foundation. When I started American Cultures 2.0 in the fall of 2007 I really had little idea about how to blog, let alone how to develop a PLN. Reflecting on the last two years I realize that there were three stages I went through to get to the point where I am now.

1st Stage--Getting Organized & Gathering Information
2nd Stage--Joining, Reading, and Commenting
3rd Stage--Creating & Sharing

These stages did not occur disconnected from each other, or in a lockstep order, rather they overlapped each other. I began reading blog posts related to teaching by subscribing to rss feeds directed to my Google Reader at about the same time I began American Cultures 2.0. My method of trying new things is typically to just do it (thank you Nike!). I have certainly learned, and continue to learn, from my mistakes. What I refuse to do is to not try something because it might not work, or because nobody else is doing it, or because it is different. The three stages occurred pretty rapidly for me because I jumped into using technology. I decided that I wanted to teach using technology, so I figured I better learn how I could personally use technology to learn if I wanted to use it to teach students. Now that you know my motivation for developing my PLN, here are the tools in my PLN tool belt:

Getting Organized & Gathering Information
  • Delicious (atitzel)--My primary social bookmarking site currently has 634 bookmarked websites, blog posts, news articles and wikis that I find most interesting and relevant. Most are directly related to some aspect of teaching. My Delicious network is small, since I am only networked with 14 other people, however, I find that the quality of the people is more important than the quantity.
  • Diigo (atitzel)--Another social bookmarking site. I primarily lurk on Diigo. I know I should be contributing more, but you only have so many hours in a day. I have subscribed to 4 Groups on Diigo (Classroom 2.0, Educators, Social Studies, and NCSS History) that I get a weekly email with shared links. When I have the time to peruse the links I am guaranteed to find several gems.
  • Google Reader--My online personalized magazine of anything that I am interested in reading or seeing (I even subscribe to Flickr feeds). Any blog that I run across that seems interesting and relevant to teaching goes into my School folder. I also have a Technology folder, Delicious feed folder (you can subscribe to individual tags on Delicious!), wiki edits folder (yes, you can subscribe to edits on wikis), and a Hershey Blog folder (for teacher and student blogs at Hershey Middle School).
  • iGoogle--I really don't use my iGoogle start page that often, but I know a lot of people rely on iGoogle or Pageflakes to organize their blogs and other info (news, weather, quotes, etc...). It is nice to have everything you need on one page.
  • Google Wave--This much anticipated, game changing Google platform will be released later this year and could change the way we organize and communicate with our PLN. Here's a recent blog post about Google Wave.
Joining, Reading, and Commenting
  • Classroom 2.0--The mother of all teacher networking sites. This is the place to ask that question related to teaching, since there are thousands of educators of all stripes who call Classroom 2.0 home. This is another site where I need to become more involved. I have already posted a couple of questions and have been impressed with the response.
  • Diigo Groups--I discussed the value of Diigo Groups above. Diigo is another great place to get connected with other teachers.
  • LinkedIn--Although this is primarily a business networking site there are educators who are active on LinkedIn. I created a profile, which is like an online resume, and joined the Edublogger group. Although I am not very active it is one more site that I can immediately become active and learn from at any moment. Plus, you never know who will read your profile.
  • Alltop--Probably the best place to find quality blogs related to any number of topics. Alltop only select the most credible blogs to include on their site, so the edublogs included in Alltop are excellent blogs to start subscribing to in your Reader.
  • TED and FORA.tv--Two excellent websites that contain fascinating videos from fascinating people talking about fascinating topics (including education). One of my favorite bloggers, who is actually a friend and colleague of mine, cataloged dozens of TED Talks related to education on his blog post: TED Talks Demystified for Teachers.
Creating & Sharing
  • My Blogs (American Cultures 2.0 & Viva la Historia)--The two blogs that I write are a reflection of what I read. Each has a focus and a purpose. American Cultures 2.0 is my personal journal focused on what I have learned related to teaching with technology. Viva la Historia is my class blog intended primarily for my students, although I hope Viva is an effective communication tool with parents and is seen as an example of how one social studies teacher uses blogs with his students. It is my hope that each blog will evolve and continually get better since they are both my creations that reflect what I have learned from my PLN.
  • Twitter (titzel)--My primary way to communicate, share, and learn from my PLN. It took me a while to get Twitter, but I learned that the more quality people who you follow the better. I can go onto Twitter at any time and find something of value within seconds. Twitter has become one of the sites that I check out on a daily basis. Besides getting and sharing teaching tips and tools, I get breaking news headlines, current weather, and up to date traffic. Here are some excellent links about Twitter (How to find local tweets, 100 Excellent, Educational Twitter Feeds, 9 Great Reasons why Teachers Should Use Twitter, A Teacher's Guide to Twitter, and Twitter4Teachers).
Another great benefit I get from my online PLN is that it helps my offline PLN. The teachers I teach with were the original PLN and now the great tools, strategies and ideas are being shared and used in the classrooms at Hershey Middle School. As more teachers develop their own online PLN the benefits for everyone will multiply.

As I was pulling together my collected information on PLN's for this blog post I discovered David Warlick's CoLearner's wiki that has an excellent page entitled, The Art & Technique of Personal Learning Networks. The page is used as a resource at conferences where Warlick presents on PLN's. Enjoy it from the comfort of your home!

O.k., now I need to begin reading Why Don't Students Like School, by Daniel Willingham for the 2nd annual CASTLE book club. By the way, I learned about this opportunity to read and discuss this book about how students learn from a tweet by Dr. Scott McLeod, an Education Leadership Professor at Iowa State University and co-creator of the viral video Did You Know 2.0.

Now do you see how I have learned more from my PLN in 2 years than in all the inservices and classes combined over 15 years?

Image Source: Clix on Stock.xchng