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« What's old to some is new to others: guest post by Vivian | Main | BFTP: The hard questions about technology »
Monday
Apr292013

What professional materials do you read - and why?

Today ... it's the difficult work that's worth doing. It's worth doing because difficult work allows you to stand out, create value and become the one worth choosing. Seth Godin

Spring - the season of discontent. At least is always has been for me. As the weather gets nicer and the bike trails clear, the lawn and flower beds peep out from under melting snow banks, and the end of the school year gallops toward us at a breakneck pace, I always question whether I belong in education at all. Wouldn't I have made a better forest ranger, electrician, pharmaceutical salesman, or long-haul truck driver? As I wrote in a column some years ago:

Spring has always been the time I seem least content with being in education. I am usually pretty fed up with the antics of students, teachers, administrators and a few parents. I am actively questioning whether I actually taught anybody anything during the year or any of my department’s initiatives did anything for kids. I am worried about the next round of budget cuts. 

This spring it seems that I am not the only one suffering from this malaise.  I received this question from a friend in Wisconsin last week:

I believe a great deal in professional organizations, as I'm a member of several, but I'm starting to get a little tired of ISTE's Leading & Learning. I just don't find it a compelling read for some time now ... do you feel the quality of L & L is slipping? Or am I getting to be an information snob?

Hmmm, I find myself skimming rather than actually reading most education journals, not just L&L. In fact, I am skimming a lot more professional reading period, whether is a book, a blog, or a whitepaper. But is the reason the content, the sheer glut of content gushing past, - or is it personal boredom?

In his little diatribe "Please stop spreading manure," Gary Stager writes:

Almost daily, a colleague I respect posts a link to some amazing tale of classroom innovation, stupendous new education product or article intended to improve teaching practice. Perhaps it is naive to assume that the content has been vetted. However, once I click on the Twitter or Facebook link, I am met by one of the following:

  1. A gee-whiz tale of a teacher doing something obvious once, accompanied by breathless commentary about their personal courage/discovery/innovation/genius and followed by a steam of comments applauding the teacher’s courage/discovery/innovation/genius. Even when the activity is fine, it is often the sort of thing taught to first-semester student teachers.
  2. An article discovering an idea that millions of educators have known for decades, but this time with diminished expectations.
  3. An ad for some test-prep snake oil or handful of magic beans.
  4. An “app” designed for kids to perform some trivial task, because “it’s so much fun, they won’t know they’re learning.” Thanks to sites like Kickstarter we can now invest in the development of bad software too!
  5. A terrible idea detrimental to teachers, students or public education.
  6. An attempt to redefine a sound progressive education idea in order to justify the status quo.

I don’t just click on a random link from a stranger, I follow the directions set by a trusted colleague – often a person in a position of authority. When I ask them, “Did you read that article you posted the link to?” the answer is often, “I just re-read it and you’re right. It’s not good.” Or “I’m not endorsing the content at the end of the link, “I’m just passing it along to my PLN.”

Despite the fact we disagree on many issues, Gary, I am right there with you on this one. I get the sense too many "experts" are more concerned about being the first to tweet or blogging the most links that any sense of vetting has gone by the wayside. Nothing should be "just passed along to my PLN" without some kind of personal commentary explaining why the piece is worth sharing. (I still think we'd have a better, more discriminating social network if we had to pay for each posting. See The Signs of Over Communication.)

And I have to say I was disappointed but not surprised by the non-reaction to last week's set of posts articulating a fairly comprehensive set of considerations that a district can use to evaluate the state of its technology use. These posts were long, not wildly inventive, or even fun to read. But for many people, I believe they would be useful. But they weren't controversial, a quick fix, or shiny. So I ask myself, would I have skimmed them had I not written them?

As readers and writers, are we doing "the difficult work that's worth doing?", as Godin asks?

 

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Reader Comments (12)

I think posting to twitter is some people's job, kind of. You have ten thousand followers, there is some responsibility to check the link.

I grew up in Newtown and I post plenty of Anti-gun articles and news. I know that lost me some followers. So be it.

Do you think the push to "get it right" turns off a lot of principals and other leaders from engaging in twitter?

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrandt Schneider

How would your reading/blogging change if for a year you did another profession, like being a surgeon or an astronaut? Sometimes I think the boredom factor is huge.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrandt Schneider

I try my best to only tweet stuff that I think is really useful OR which I want to discuss because I disagree with it in some way. I remember the "tweet as much as I can" phase, which I do not do nearly as much as I used to. Gary's criticism is right on, except that I think he forgets that an importance facet of learning is remembering, and that we remember things better when we receive reminders of them.

We may have learned something in teacher education but that doesn't mean that we had sufficient examples of it to understand it, or opportunity to revisit the idea later.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Wees

I agree with you but want you to know that since I'm suffering the same malaise right now, I did bookmark that recent series of yours you mention to read over the summer or during back to school time. The new school I'm going to is trying to "earn their tech points" and assigned me McLeod & Lehmann's "What School Leaders Need to KNow About Digital Tech..." and I thought your series probably addresses some similar issues.

Thanks!
Jim

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

Dear Doug,

Maybe I'm naive but I find it hard to believe that educators are mindlessly tweeting things. We have better uses of our time. I wonder how much of the frustration that is being described is due to professional boredom. You're at the top of your game so obviously a lot of what you read turns out to be "...an article discovering an idea that millions of educators have known for decades, but this time with diminished expectations."

How much of the frustration is that you (not you, personally--but you meaning the frustrated ones) are just satiated beyond belief with too much content and over-eating is making you cranky.

I'm a newbie on Twitter (two months) and blogging (three months). I'm ecstatic about the learning I'm doing through Coetail. I bet a lot of my Tweets are "old news" to you die-hard seasoned veterans. Good thing I know that there are other Coetail newbies that are following me and they will find my tweets useful (even though they are old news to everybody else). If I didn't have my Coetail buddies who are also new to Twitter and learning about 1:1 integration, I would seriously be intimidated by these comments and be afraid to tweet anything again.

When you shared the link to that ranting blogpost, I tweeted back to you, "Didn't catch the Twittername to make sure that I never follow someone so wise that he's forgotten what it's like to be a newbie". I still stand by that comment.

The nature of Social Media is that there is A LOT content. Someone made the analogy to it being like a "firehose" of information. No one forces anyone to read anything on the internet. If you're fed up, you can just close your browser and get some fresh air! We all have our rants internally but we have to take care regarding our online rants. To the writer of the original ranting blogpost, I wonder if his Twitter stream has altered at all? Probably not. So, what's the point of having the rant because the only result is maybe that he's frightened off a lot of young twitterers.

He mentioned in his article that some seasoned colleagues are tweeting links to rubbish. If so, then have a quiet word with that certain individual. That would make a difference, I'm sure.

Finally, there's an assumption that he is the correct judge of what is rubbish or not and an assumption that he is the fount of accuracy and knowledge. Woah. That's dangerous territory to assume that your judgement is always accurate. I bet there's someone opening up a link to HIS writing and thinking, "What a load of rubbish!" and wishing someone had not tweeted him this link. Should he also write a blogpost rant about it?

Food for thought. Here is my perspective as a two month Twitterer that has learned so much through Twitter and probably re-Tweeted a lot of exciting stuff (to me) but maybe old hat to those that are supposed to be my leaders and mentors. Yes, someone of it was probably rubbish too, but I didn't know it was rubbish as I AM LEARNING.

You're all trying to encourage teachers to build a PLN and then you all write blogposts like this? I don't get it.

I return to my main point. What is the nature of Social Media and Tweeting? The nature of the medium is that there will be rubbish that we have to sift through. Don't like the nature of the media? Then try something else: Online Research Journals. Don't like what someone is tweeting, unfollow them.

Please don't let me be this jaded in a few years!

Thanks for listening!

Vivian

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVivian

Hi Brandt,

Get it right as poster or as a reader?

I think it is perfectly acceptable to post and tweet a POV or philosophy - educational or political. I think that's why we read the people we read.

Even if you have one follower, I think you should check the link.

And yes, bordom - or perhaps being a bit jaded. I worry about being too long in the field....

Doug

Hi David,

Yeah, I forget (and Vivian below smartly reminded me), that what is old hat to many of us, is brand-spanking new to many. And reminders for us old farts aren't always bad either.

Doug

Thanks, Ninja. I feel better now.

Oh, I read the Wool trilogy a while back. I found it compelling but very disturbing. I suppose that's what good sci-fi is all about.

Doug

OK, Vivian. You have to cut this out! You've made me re-think my entire view on this topic. This is so thoughtful, I'd like to use it as a guest blog post, along with my response which will mostly be an apology. Let me know. Thanks,

Doug

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I very rarely Tweet or post a link in Facebook -- I find that by the time I get around to reading these things that it has already been posted 43 times - so I don't feel like I'm on the front line of spreading the news.

Reading the stuff is different -- I've never felt like I've learned so much on a daily basis as I have through the blogs I subscribe to. I am constantly amazed at the inventiveness of librarians and am continually reproaching myself for not having tried this or that when I was in the library. How could I not have thought of that?

Thanks for your help in keeping me thinking about a new way of looking at things -- every day!

April 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Pentlin

Now, Doug--I have to say that I enjoy reading your T-Shirt tweets. They bring a smile to me and that's worth more than gold, most days! I feel I should apologize because I was a bit frank. :) Since we've "conversed" before, I felt like I had some leeway to say what I did. Please know that I'm just trying to give a point of view that might be missed by people seasoned in the field.

I'm not young. I'm not young at technology. BUT, I'm young at technology integration into education. I learned about Bloom's Taxonomy 20+ years ago. I only heard three months ago when I started Coetail (yeah Coetail!), that Bloom's Taxonomy is on its head. Everything is new and exciting to me.

Two weeks into Coetail, I wrote a blogpost about this crazy new world that my eyes were opened up to:
http://www.coetail.com/chezvivian/2013/02/17/gulp-you-mean-i-signed-up-for-a-revolution/

If we're trying to get teachers to build a PLN, we have to realize that for the newcomers, ALL of this is new. It's exciting so we want to Tweet about it.

My last point is that unless a Tweet is "direct messaged" to you, there is going to be SOMEBODY that will find the information new to them. If that's not you, why be annoyed? The "firehose" is spraying all over the place. There are some newbies dancing in the shower. We admire and respect all of you "celebrity" educators but if you've been standing in the range of the firehose too long and you're grumpy like a cat in a bathtub.... don't rain on our parade.

Please don't apologize as that would make me feel bad. I'm just glad that I could give another point of view and that it's making an impression. :)

hugs

Vivian

April 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVivian

For the record, I very much enjoyed your posts from last week! I'm excited to use and share them as we go forward with technology in our school!

May 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLissa

Hi Floyd,

On any given day I think I've never found more gold or found more pure crap. This leads me to believe it may be more my mood than the content I find. I admire your outlook!

Doug

Hey, Vivian.

I hope you pick up some followers on your blog. Tell Utecht he needs to open it up for public comment (or you could start your own).

Your buddy,

Doug

Thanks, Lissa. It's encouraging to know this.

Doug

May 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Doug, I enjoy reading your blogs and I'm learning so much through your discussions regarding copyright.

I know it's frustrating for people outside of Coetail when they can't respond to our blogs but I think (I could be wrong) that Jeff @jutecht has made it this way to make sure we "new bloggers" feel safe. We are posting our Coetail assignments. It's scary to make our thoughts so open to the public but as each day passes and we get positive feedback, our confidence and resilience grows.

If our blogs were open to outside commenting, it might be too frightening for new bloggers. (It would be for me. I might not be so bold about what I say.)


When we leave Coetail, we can take our blog with us and make it as we want. After a year in Coetail, I think I will have shared all I can and I hope to change it into more of a "class blog". I'll never be in those upper echelons to teach about ICT. Like I said, there's so much content out there. If I had something really unique to share or teach, I would enjoy doing it. Until then, I will stick to classroom blogging.

My Coetail blog has given me my "15 minutes" of fame (spread over a year lol). I have anxiety attacks about it every once in awhile, still. I am not comfortable being so visible. I think I am more of a "grassroots" kind of gal

Thanks so much for your encouragement and professional comraderie.

Vivian

May 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVivian

Hi Vivian,

I would not try to second guess Mr. Utecht's choice of limiting comments for newbie bloggers. Not everyone is as comfortable "thinking in public" as I am.

Everyone has something unique to share - a perspective and experiences. My blog is as much an extension of the paper personal journal I once kept as it is public communications. It's how I will remember my professional life (and some of my personal life as well) in my dotage.

Keep blogging!

Doug

May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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