Category Archives: Educational Technology

Flipping Without Flopping

Without question, the most talked-about educational innovation to go mainstream recently has been the “flipped” classroom. For the uninitiated, this term broadly refers to the practice of delivering content to students electronically for independent consumption, while the classroom becomes a place for completing assignments and getting help. The surging popularity of the Khan Academy has been the most notable examples of this method.

The benefits are clear – students get more opportunities for guidance and help during the class periods, and the videos they watch are typically more engaging than a textbook. Yet, there have been some problems identified with the approach as well – especially when the application has varied from classroom to classroom. One major criticism of the flipped classroom (also known as reverse instruction) is that it highlights the digital divide. [I’ve mentioned this topic in a previous post.]  Students without independent access to the Internet from home could find themselves at a severe disadvantage when a classroom completely flips. Additionally, many see the method as a way for teachers to avoid having to actually teach the whole class. The pros and cons of flipped teaching (taken from the pro side) are summarized nicely here.

There are many valid points on both sides of this debate, although I tend to take the conversation at-large as being a good thing. When was the last time we had educators this passionate about methodology? Surely this is net positive!

I recently conducted my first major experiment in flipping my classroom, to see for myself whether or not this method was worth trying on a larger scale. I had my opportunity because the technology in my school had finally caught up to providing me the necessary tools, and a week-long professional opportunity out-of-town gave me the excuse to implement the plan. I conducted my flipped classroom roll-out in two phases:

Phase One: Introduction

I think a CMS (course-management system) is a good idea for a flipped classroom. Having a communication hub to center everything around becomes pretty essential. Prensky was right in his assessment of Digital Natives – yes, today’s students process their thinking about technology differently than those of us from the print age do. However, many of us overlearned the lessons of Prensky and assume too much out of students today. Just because they are more wired when they get to us doesn’t mean that they automatically know how to operate every web tool that we throw at them! They still need to get introduced to new tool and be given time to work with it a bit before deploying it fully. A CMS provides an easy “sandbox” for students to get acclimated to the tech before accountability kicks in.

I settled on Edmodo as a CMS due to its pricetag (free!) and its design, which is stylistically similar to Facebook and therefore appealing to most students. The seamless integration with Google Docs is another huge bonus! I took my classes in the computer lab for a day and rolled them through the sign-up process and a tutorial on how to use the various features. Fortunately, we have been using a lot of Web 2.0 tools in class all year so it was not too laborious getting the students all signed up. I also made it a point to contact parents and send home a form letter with the parent Edmodo code included. Once I was done, I had created an instructional space outside of my classroom where content could be shared.

Phase Two: Implementation

Developing the habits of mind when it comes to sharing took a few weeks! I slowly started rolling out links and Google Docs through Edmodo, and encouraging students to use the digital dropbox feature for turning in assignments. Once we got Edmodo down, I started to experiment with YouTube. Now I recognize many schools block YouTube, but there are many other sites out there for sharing video content, so don’t fret! The bottom line is that by sharing an RSS feed through your CMS, it’s a snap to start podcasting your direct instruction content to students! I started creating “learning modules” for student consumption at home and it was a great success! Edmodo provides easy sharing of attachments, and combining a reading, a video of yours truly, and a written assignment as a package was beyond simple. Check out this example on William Blake where I blended a documentary film, a VoiceThread, and a YouTube clip. The writing assignment extended into the next day where I was able to provide help in person.

The final test came when I was absent from class for a week while conducting an evaluation of another school. I flipped my sub plans for the week and let the proctor run the learning modules in the class. After years of trying, I finally learned how to bi-locate! Pre-recording my lessons and flipping the sub plans was probably the most ambitious tech move I’ve ever attempted. There were a lot of bugs in the system, but the overall benefits to my students, and the impact that it had on my professional development were more than worth the effort it took to orchestrate the whole plan. I have never had a better return rate on my assignments, and the scores on those assessments showed a significant bump! Take it from someone who has been a skeptic – flipping your classroom doesn’t have to be a total flop! Give it a try!

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Bloom, Revisited: Towards a Digital Taxonomy

Once you gain support in your school/district for the development and promotion of 21st Century skills in your curriculum, you begin the real work in training the staff.  When you direct the PD, don’t forget to highlight the fact that there exists a spectrum of skills.  Far too often in the rush to share the advantages of 21st Century skills in a student’s development, we leave out the fact that we have effectively carved out a new domain in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  And not all 21st Century skills are created equal!  This new domain for a new age of pedagogy emphasizes the hierarchy of skills needed to be successful in the information economy:

  • Curate – Students need to show facility in navigating a vast array of resources and discerning which are valuable and which are irrelevant to the needs of the moment.
  • Share – Students need to demonstrate judgment in calibrating how much is shared with an audience and by what method.
  • Collaborate – Students need to show they can engage with their peers in a collective effort, and act as both leader and follower as appropriate.
  • Cull – Students refine their thinking by gleaning the best of the collaborative process to produce informed decision-making.
  • Publish – Students express themselves confidently and creatively in a manner that shows full participation in the cycle of learning.
  • Reflect – Students can effectively and thoroughly consider the process of learning on a metacognitive level.
How will you best prepare your students for the world they will inherit?

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The Dickensian Element

The literary world celebrated the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens this week to much fanfare.  But what would Mr. Dickens think if he were still with us today?

My contention is that Dickens would be very active in the public sphere.  It was always a trademark of his during his lifetime.  Dickens was well-known for engagement with his readership, even going so far as to alter episodes of his serial manuscripts based on audience feedback.  He traveled to promote his work as well, and conducted dramatic readings of his work that paved the way for the literary book tour.  The field of literary scholarship would soon grow as well as public conversations about his works ensued.

For all of his contributions to the fields of literary business, literary scholarship, and the development of the novel itself as an art form, Dickens stands head and shoulders above other studied authors.  Yet these are not even among his most lasting accomplishments.  Charles Dickens changed the culture of Western society in unexpected ways.  His A Christmas Carol is credited with prompting the evolution of that holiday into the public consciousness.  Meanwhile, his countless works chronicling the poverty and social iniquity present in Victorian society helped to evolve the public conscience as well.

With his identity as an author so wrapped up in the age which he lived, can Dickens still be considered relevant today?  Of course, is the straightforward answer to an obviously leading question.  I would argue that a writer captivated by the social effects of the Industrial Revolution would be equally enamored of capturing the spirit of the Digital Age.  He would clearly relish new ways of interacting with his audience such as e-readers and iBooks.  The idea of putting more text in the hands of more readers would be viewed by Dickens as a tremendous positive for society.  I’m certain that Dickens would be on sites like Twitter and Facebook, and that he would use these social media platforms to garner feedback from his audiences.  I have no doubt that were Dickens alive today, he would quickly alert readers through Foursquare that he was at the local bookstore signing copies of the long-awaited conclusion to The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  [He might even confirm to anxious readers that, yes, it was Jasper all along!]

Yet I believe that the “Inimitable” Charles Dickens would have plenty of social criticism to dispense to that dynamic audience.  Dickens, who grew up in poverty, would have grave concerns about the Digital Divide present in today’s Western culture.  The idea that the ever-widening gap between rich and poor enables some schools to have 1:1 classrooms and others scrape by with chalk and outdated textbooks would be anathema to Dickens.

I can see in my mind’s eye a new 2012 novel from Mr. Dickens:  A young man grows up at the turn of the century (the 21st) and goes through his schooling at a poor urban school.  He and his street urchin friends would provide indirect commentary from the author on a society that has turned education into a test-score factory.  Perhaps this young man would have an unexpected turn of fortune that would land him in the midst of wealthy society.  Just as deftly, Dickens would then skewer the positions of those who argue that technology would be the salvation of these issues.  Reimagined characters like Superintendent M’Choakumchild and Associate Superintendent Thomas Gradgrind [they’ve been promoted since their appearances in Hard Times] would thrive in today’s NCLB environment!  Then Dickens would make his emotional appeal… Unless the stratification of society is made more flexible – and unless the disadvantaged from birth are provided more opportunities to become upwardly mobile – we remain a “tale of two classes.”

We sure could use a little of that Dickensian element today… Happy birthday, Chuck.

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Cycle of Learning, Part IV: Groupthink? Guess Again!

As I write this, the biggest education event of the weekend – Philadelphia’s #Educon 2.4 – is concluding. The conversations that began this weekend were stimulating and provocative. Overall, I must say that it was an experience that left me hopeful for my profession and the field of education in general – a too-rare feeling these days! Now imagine how I would feel if I attended! You see, I only connected remotely from home through the Twitter feed that was running the whole weekend. I am already making plans to attend next year’s convention on January 25-27, 2013.

In my last post, I stressed the importance of collaboration in the Cycle of Learning. I am a strong advocate of 21st Century Skills and the need for them to have a prominent place in the classroom. Yet, I am also on record as favoring a balanced approach. The idea of throwing out everything good about the educational system and replacing it with “all-collaboration, all-the-time” just doesn’t strike me as a good notion.

Enter Susan Cain’s New York Times article on The Rise of the New Groupthink. It spread like wildfire through the convention this morning, which I was attending remotely from my laptop at home in Baltimore. It seemed almost perfectly timed to take the wind out of the sails for the #educon #edchat crowd and the article talks pretty tough about a few things:

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature. […]

Culturally, we’re often so dazzled by charisma that we overlook the quiet part of the creative process. Consider Apple. In the wake of Steve Jobs’s death, we’ve seen a profusion of myths about the company’s success. Most focus on Mr. Jobs’s supernatural magnetism and tend to ignore the other crucial figure in Apple’s creation: a kindly, introverted engineering wizard, Steve Wozniak, who toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer.

I am still wondering about the presuppositions present in Cain’s thinking. She seems to argue, at least in the first half of the article, that the advocates for 21st Century skills, like myself, are pushing for a revolution in education that replaces the tradition from Dewey to Danielson with a whole new way of thinking. Sure, there are some who would argue for that – I saw many tweets this weekend comparing the conference rooms of SLA to Independence Hall – but I don’t feel that it’s the majority. I believe that the blogs that arrived Saturday night into Sunday afternoon individually reflecting on the convention spoke to the power of collaboration as a crucible for shaping ideas. Revolution isn’t what we are after – rather, it’s evolution! The field of education needs to adapt, not get scrapped and reinvented.

Brainstorming via Twitter and “unconferences” doesn’t breed Groupthink, nor is it an echochamber as some would contend. At least, it won’t as long as we maintain the all-important fourth part of the Cycle of Learning in mind – Integration. Integration is the phase of learning where we use the 21st Century skill of reflection to refine the collaborative process into manageable pieces. As the #educon attendees have commented, getting a whole lot of quality PD in a very small amount of time can be an overwhelming experience. You leave with a headache, but the good kind that makes you think for a long time afterwards. It is during reflection that you come to the individual conclusions that stay with you beyond the learning. You also come to decide what you want to learn more about, which leads to new Discovery, and the Cycle of Learning starts anew.

I like to summarize the Cycle of Learning as a dialectic. Beginning with Discovery, the instructor facilitates the curating of new information to develop a THESIS. After using Expression to share that thesis, the learner engages an audience in the process. As a group focused on Collaboration, the learners practice culling by exposing the thesis to alternate views. These alternate views constitute an ANTITHESIS. Afterwards, the learner needs to find a way to promote Integration. By using the tool of reflection, the learner blends the best elements of the thesis and its antithesis into a SYNTHESIS. This fully vetted and thoroughly studied idea now becomes the basis for new knowledge and further Discovery. A dialectic built on the 21st Century skills of curating, sharing, culling, and reflection – this is the Cycle of Learning as I see it, and it is the post-collaborative reflection which separates this model from all others.

This reflection is important for all learners, whether it is a teacher or administrator seeking PD, or a student processing new material after a inquiry-based group project. As an instructor or supervisor, our job is to direct that reflection – to facilitate and guide it to a place where it will do the most good. This is the proper role of a critical friend. The post-#educon blogs prove to me that we are not in danger of Groupthink. It’s collaboration writ large that demonstrates a truly organic moment in the evolution of our educational system. Now is the moment to capitalize on our learning and engage our collective will into making action plans for the future. The critics are waiting for us to prove them wrong, and the students can’t wait any longer for the important work of proving ourselves right.

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Cycle of Learning, Part III: Beyond Thunderdome

The Marketplace of Ideas

All schools, in the final analysis, are a Thunderdome.  Of course, I mean that metaphorically, although on some of the worst days marauding bands of children and Tina Turner ruthlessly arranging death matches may sound accurate.  No, my view is rather one that makes the classroom a marketplace of ideas, where concepts compete for student attention. To discern between competing ideas is the skill of culling, yet another essential 21st Century skill.  “Two ideas enter – one idea leaves.”

Culling is where a student learns the ability to refine the ideas that have been curated from the learning process.  Collaboration is the arena in which this culling of ideas occurs; where both teachers and students can challenge ideas and be challenged in turn.  Fundamentally, collaboration of this nature is a Darwinian process. Students engaged in group work and inquiry-based project learning share all ideas, and through the facilitation of the instructor, the best adapt and grow stronger.  Weak ideas appropriately die. Strong ideas get tougher.

While this “only the strong survive,” “wheat from chaff,” “men from boys” talk might sound rough, remember that we are talking about the mental concepts and skills that are competing for our students’ attention here.  There is already a lot of competition for that narrow bandwidth of attention as it is – if teachers aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and throw a couple of elbows to engage the students in the learning process, then we’ve already lost the fight before we begin.  We must be willing to compete for our students’ attention!

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

If we truly want to move beyond the Thunderdome to a place where our students are fully engaged of their own volition, then we need to fully appreciate Marshall McLuhan’s predictions once again.  The man was born 100 years ago yet predicted the Internet long before it happened – so with its rise as the dominant medium of the age, his works bear serious reexamination.

McLuhan’s vision was of a “global village” – that the advent of new technology will serve as prelude to a return of the collaborative society that used to found in tribal communities.  He predicted a social order where communication is both universal and instantaneous.  With the evolution of the internet into not only Web 2.0 sharing but Web 3.0 collaboration, we have finally seen the fulfillment of McLuhan’s vision.

Yet, for all the talk of Prensky’s “digital natives” that has finally gotten some traction and been applied to the Millennial Generation, we seem to have completely overlooked the rise of the post-Millennial generation right behind them.  They’re like Millennials, only more so.  The independence of Millennials has yielded to the groupthink of the new generation, born between 9/11/01 and today.  Much in the way the “Silent Generation” lived in the shadow of the “Greatest Generation” of WWII, this iGeneration (iGens) very often demonstrate a hive mind.  Some of the common social patterns involve VOIP to chat and group gaming via Xbox.  Many iGens read Reddit obsessively, and they gravitate in hordes to Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr-type social media… collaboration of this sort is purely intuitive for them.

As an English teacher I’ve seen it in iGen writing as well.  Their inability to divorce argumentation from mere opinion is reflective of the collaborative aspect of their socialization.  The iGens have been trained very well to accept everyone’s opinion is valid, and so that creeps into their self-expression.  They already know very well how to collaborate – what the role of the educator needs to be in this new landscape is to help train the iGens how to harness the raw power of their collaborative skills to refine their learning and make their ideas even stronger.  Using technology to engage students on their terms is the way to help the iGeneration reach its fullest potential.

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Cycle of Learning, Part II: Servants of Two Masters

One of the great works in the dramatic tradition of Commedia Dell’Arte is Servant of Two Masters (1743) by Carlo Goldoni.  Its comedic zenith occurs when the clever servant, Truffaldino, races around Venice attempting to tend to the needs of both his employers while convincing them he is loyal to each exclusively.  Truffaldino started looking quite foolish – thinking himself twice as clever as he actually was, and contorting himself into all kinds of uncomfortable scenarios all the while trying to satisfy a hungry stomach.

Students in the 21st Century are not too far removed from the slapstick of Truffaldino when you discuss social media with them.  Desiring both the attention of the world and privacy from the same, they desperately try to have it both ways.  I hear innumerable tales of postings online that went awry because the intended audience was not the only recipient of the message.  Too many students have yet to learn proper Expression, the second phase of the Cycle of Learning.

20120116-114254.jpgIn my last post, I identified the need for promoting curating as a 21st Century skill.  After students have developed an understanding of content, then they need to harness the proper means of sharing their understanding.  The Internet is an ideal vehicle for sharing content, yet the pitfalls are numerous, and it is incumbent upon today’s educators to guide students in the maturation of their voice in what is a very public arena.  The major difficulty for honing 21st Century communication skills involves recognizing Web 2.0 as a megaphone, not a confessional.

While there is certainly a place for weaving 20120116-115118.jpga personal narrative into the fabric of cyberspace, far too many students fail to realize that the narrative you weave may live beyond your initial motivation.  Commentary that you believe to the private whisperings of two is actually a drama witnessed vicariously by many.  There is no such thing as volume control in social media sharing, and this is the element that needs to become part of our educational practice.  Tone and audience are both nuanced concepts that need rigorous practice, and if our students are going to be successful participants in the new information economy, then they need training in how to calibrate their narrative voice.

Just like Truffaldino, our students are often hungry – they want respect, attention, and positive reinforcement.  Instead of bemoaning the state of affairs in social media today, let’s create a new pedagogy that harnesses these powerful tools in a way that leaves all of the players onstage smiling at the end!

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Cycle of Learning, Part I: The Age of Discovery

One of my most prized possessions is a compass that my father gave me for my 18th birthday. It was his compass from his time in the Scouts as a young boy and he wanted me to have it as I became an adult so that I would never get “lost.” It was a touching father-son moment and I’ve never forgotten it.

Great educators are a compass for their students, helping to direct them through their “Age of Discovery,” and hopefully to avoid getting lost. For many students today, however, finding their way through a dense sea of information is a challenging prospect. This is why I propose that the Cycle of Learning begins with Discovery and the 21st Century skill of curating. Navigating the oceans of adolescence can be difficult enough without complicating matters from the rising tide of media overload. It never ceases to amaze me how comfortable students seem midst the chaos.

Our students are flooded with information on a daily basis – how will they determine what merits attention and what can be dismissed? The ability to discern valuable from invaluable content is a critical one for the 21st Century. This responsible content consumption is the essence of curating, and it is a fundamental tool needed in the new information economy. Is it the only tool? Of course not! There will always be a place for more traditional practices for the development of content knowledge. Yet a place for this type of learning needs to be found in the classroom, and our pedagogy needs to evolve to match the epistemology of a new Age of Discovery.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Internet

The year 2011 was perhaps one of the most humbling years of my life, professionally speaking. I began the year believing that I was quite in command of my office, my classroom practice, and that I was ready for the next step administratively. Then something funny happened. I didn’t get the job I wanted. At the time I was devastated, but in the end it might have been the best thing that ever happened to my career. The rejection forced me to go back to my roots and reinvent my approach to professional development. How can I grow to become an instructional leader that will be effective? That became my mantra. It led me back to the classroom, as I redoubled my efforts to complete a second Master’s Degree, but it also led me to the Internet once again. This was where the humility truly began.

I was so confident in my knowledge and use of educational technology that I thought I had nothing to learn. Unfortunately I had fallen into the complacency trap, and my rude awakening came fast. Something has happened to the web over the last five years. I was a participant in social media networks and was well-aware of what had commonly been labeled “web 2.0,” but I had yet to realize the radical shift that had taken place through blogs and sites like Twitter.

The Internet was being used in a new way. Rather than simple posting of content, the storage space had evolved into a conversation, and the conversation was being conducted in a collaborative fashion. While I slept, the Internet had completely changed! I immediately realized that my arrogance in thinking I knew it all about educational technology was so far off that it was comical. My proficiency in technology skills meant nothing because I lost sight of what was a moving target.

Technology didn’t stop developing in 2005, and neither did the innovation in its applications. In 1992, Francis Fukuyama famously posited that we had reached “the end of history.” Yet I have spent the last five months feeling more in tune with Vaclav Havel’s declaration that “history has accelerated.”

Catching up with the furious growth of concepts that have dominated the blogosphere and Twitterverse has been a maddening and thoroughly humbling experience for me professionally. Most of all, however, it has been an enriching one. I have found the voices of fellow educators to aid and guide me – which was something that I had never experienced before! The old Internet was a very cold, solitary experience – this new Internet is dynamic and very engaging. Ideas get exchanged in an open forum, and I have yet to come away from an #edchat experience where I wasn’t blown away by the great ideas of someone else.

Perhaps the lesson is that complacency is the enemy of progress. To be a quality educator means not resting on one’s laurels. We have to continue to pursue new ideas and new ways of thinking.  This happens best for all of us when we develop a PLN.  This will be an ongoing process for me in 2012, and I’m excited to be back where I belong!

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Tradition vs. Innovation: New Year’s [Conflict] Resolution

20111225-204309.jpgHappy New Year! Having just finished with the holidays, tradition has been in the air, and nothing is more traditional in education than the time-honored three R’s – Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic.

But the old idea of the three R’s certainly has taken a beating these days, hasn’t it?

Mary Bart, writing for Faculty Focus, identified what is quickly becoming accepted as “best practice” for a new generation of learners:

Christy Price, EdD, a psychology professor at Dalton State College, became interested in Millennial learners when she noticed a gap between students’ expectation for success and the effort they put forth in the classroom (Price, 2009). Price then conducted a qualitative analysis of narratives provided by more than a hundred Millennial learners to get a more accurate picture of what makes them tick.

In the recent online seminar Five Strategies to Engage Today’s Students, Price shared some of what she’s learned regarding the characteristics of Millennials’ ideal learning environments, their preferences regarding assignments and assessment, and the characteristics of their ideal professor. She then outlined the instructional implications of her findings with these five R’s for engaging Millennial students:

  1. Research-based methods: Research suggests Millennials prefer a variety of active learning methods. When they are not interested in something, their attention quickly shifts elsewhere. Interestingly, many of the components of their ideal learning environment — less lecture, use of multimedia, collaborating with peers — are some of the same techniques research has shown to be effective, Price said.
  2. Relevance: Millennials have grown up being able to Google anything they want to know, therefore they do not typically value information for information’s sake. As a result, the professor’s role is shifting from disseminating information to helping students apply the information. One of the greatest challenges for teachers is to connect course content to the current culture and make learning outcomes and activities relevant, Price said.
  3. Rationale: Unlike Boomers who were raised in a more authoritarian manner in which they more readily accept the chain of command, Millennials were raised in a non-authoritarian manner and are more likely to comply with course policies when teachers provide them with a rationale for specific policies and assignments.
  4. Relaxed: Millennials prefer a less formal learning environment in which they can informally interact with the professor and one another. In interviews with students, the term “laid back” was used repeatedly.
  5. Rapport: Millennials are extremely relational. They are more central to their parents’ lives than previous generations and are used to having the adults in their lives show great interest in them. They appreciate it when professors show that same interest, and they seem to be more willing to pursue learning outcomes when instructors connect with them on a personal level.

Another take on reforming the three R’s can be found here by edublogger Mark Brumley:

Creating is not only at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy, it is a critical skill needed for the advancement of our society. The “Creative Class”, a term used by author Richard Florida in his book The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, is growing and manufacturing jobs are dwindling. We must teach students skills to engage in non-routine cognitive work.

Curating is a skill needed to sift through the mountains of new content created every day. Students need to know how to discover and discern what is truly meaningful and relevant and discard the rest. This includes “crap detection” (Howard Rheingold) but also “gem detection” to determine the truly remarkable content.

A key component of creative class jobs is collaboration. In almost all cases, these types of professions involve working with others and creating and curating within the groups. Of course this means not only collaborating with the people next to you but globally and even virtually.

So the Industrial Revolution gave us the 3 R’s and now the Digital Revolution has given us the 3 C’s. In my next series of posts, I plan to outline the relationship between the traditional methods of pedagogy and the rise of a new model appropriate for the 21st Century.

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Rogues’ Gallery, Part III: The Wrath of The Jargonator!

The next person who tells me to “think outside the box” is going to get hurt. Don’t tell me that you haven’t thought that at least once in your career! We often make a game of this to pass the time during mandatory professional development sessions (#donttellmyprincipal) – How many buzzwords and jargon phrases will get thrown out at us this time? At a recent staff meeting, I gave up somewhere north of 20… I zoned out halfway between the third time I heard “benchmarks for growth” and the eighth time someone referred to an educational concept as a “piece.”

We all know this guy (or gal) on our staff – I call him The Jargonator! His superpower is to take a buzzword and repeat it ad nauseam until it no longer has any meaning! Then he can cloak himself in an impenetrable fog of meaningless vocabulary and mask his incompetence. The real problem of course is that this linguistic jujitsu hurts the students. Important reforms can be waylaid while The Jargonator flexes his grad class dictionary muscles. No one wins in this scenario.

One of my favorite online writers, Peter DeWitt, tackles this issue in a recent entry for Education Week. He examines the latest victim of The Jargonator – the term “Twenty-First Century Skills”…

Using Social Networking to Build 21st Century Skills

In education we have a habit of using terms so often that we push staff to a place where they do not want to use them anymore, which means they are in jeopardy of not being engaged in the process. We have seen it with terms such as “differentiated instruction” and “hands-on learning.” If we’re not careful it will happen with a very important term which is “21st century skills.” […]

The race to nowhere is paved in countless mandates and new ideas. We can become overwhelmed with the amount of educational information that we see in journals and cyberspace. New ideas are being proposed all around us. Some of which are just creative advertising on the part of textbook publishers, while others are creative ideas that will help us keep up with our younger generation.

However, are they really new ideas? 21st century skills are critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. For those of us who have been educators for a long time we have always taught our students how to think critically, communicate with others, collaborate on projects and be creative. Long before the 21st century, that was the basis for education for many years.

In addition, one of the best 21st century skills that we can teach students is the art of reflection. Through reflection students can assess their critical thinking skills and creativity. They can also work in collaboration with other students to reflect on the work that they completed. Reflection is an additional 21st century skill that would be beneficial for all students, staff and administrators.

DeWitt goes on to describe how he came to discover Twitter (@PeterMDeWitt) and other social media services as the perfect modern vehicles for just that type of professional reflection. He encourages educators to join Twitter and to use it to network with peers in the field. I recently took his advice (@John_DAdamo) and have quickly found new ways of tackling old problems. The regular sessions followed by the #edchat hashtag have provided a real treasure trove of ideas for me this semester. Not to mention they come jargon-free!

Certainly our students can benefit from this type of reflection! The Cycle of Learning model extends “traditional” education beyond the Discovery (content knowledge) and Expression (assessment) phases into the areas where Collaboration (dynamic cooperation) and Integration (reflection via technology) are mastered as well. Our students live in an age where they are bombarded with a constant stream of information – it is on us as educators to teach them how to filter through it for what is instructionally valuable for their achievement, success, and ultimate growth as a human being.

Don’t let The Jargonator win!

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