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EdTech Update





PLN Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

"The makers of the Constitution conferred the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by all civilized men—the right to be let alone." - JUSTICE LOUIS D. BRANDEIS

This week seems to have been the perfect storm of work. Hence the blog neglect. In fact neglect of my "Personal Learning Network" has been pretty much complete. Between meetings and budgets at work, conference travel/presentations and article deadlines, I've been swamped.

I sense that others may be feeling overwhelmed as well. Joyce Valenza worries about not keeping up despite being "hyper-connected." Darren Draper in a column on Twitter says:

I guess my biggest complaint/worry about Twi---r (and every other piece of abused technology out there) is that in our modern and extremely complex world, it’s become far too easy to lose sight of what’s really important in life.


In fact, what I *am* saying is that ALL of these social media tools can be an incredible time suck, and if we don't keep them in check, there's a good chance we'll miss out on many things in life that are simply better than whatever we might get from Twitter (and Facebook, and even bacon).

I guess it is cold comfort to know I am not alone in feeling that one's PLN can feel like a burden as much as a booster at times. I've always appreciated Jeff Utecht's Stages of PLN Adoption. But I wonder how well we "do" Stage 4: Perspective that leads to:

Stage 5 Balance: Try and find that balance between learning and living. Understanding that you can not know it all, and begin to understand that you can rely on your network to learn and store knowledge for you. A sense of calm begins as you understand that you can learn when you need to learn and you do not need to know it all right now.

Are we in need of a Bill of Rights for PLN participants to help relieve some guilt and stress for the occasional need for a break or severe deceleration? Flesh out Jeff's Stage 5 a little. Here's a first stab at it...

Personal Network Member Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

  1. I have the right not to be social 24/7 - either online or in person.
  2. I have the right to time for reflection and responsibility for doing so.
  3. I have the right to use only the tools that suit my learning style.
  4. I have the right to stop using a tool when it is no longer useful.
  5. I have the right to not be on the cutting edge all the time or feel I need to always know all there is to know.
  6. I have the right to choose those with whom I learn in my personal learning network and responsibility to learn from those with whom I don't always agree.
  7. I have the right and responsibility to disagree and the responsibility to do it professionally.
  8. I have the responsibility to become familiar with a tool before sharing it with others.
  9. I have the responsibility to share my knowledge with others in my network.
  10. I have the right and responsibility to not let online activities keep me from my friends, my family, my workplace, or my community.

That's it. No more beating myself up for punching that "Mark All as Read" button!

Add your rights and responsibilities of PLN members...


Columbine and Community

As I am sure most readers are painfully aware, today is the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. An extension of sympathy to all those who were impacted by that horrendous event should be given.

But we should also pause and reflect on what our individual roles are in keeping such tragedies from occurring again. Vainly hoping that that school violence when it happens, happens somewhere my children and I are not is not an appropriate response.

Minnesota had its own version of Columbine in the Red Lake School district just over four years ago. A sad, loner student killed in his school as well, seemingly encouraged by a violent connections he had formed on the Internet. In a column I wrote at the time "The Need for Community," I suggested:

Most kids look for and find “communities” with values that are life affirming and socially responsible. Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, church groups, and both formal and informal groups revolving around special interests such as bicycling, hunting, literature, or sports play a big role in most young people’s lives as they grow up. Schools provide opportunities for socialization through athletics, music, drama, newspapers, business or art clubs. In these groups, young people learn not just about personal interests, but also about one’s fellow students and mentors and why they are worth caring about. And they are where kids often find that others care about them as well.

In our efforts to improve our schools and reduce school expenditures, the “extra-curricular” activities are often first on the chopping block. Politicians and taxpayers see music, arts and athletics as superfluous. The “basics” are reading, writing, math and other purely classroom pursuits. Guidance counselors, teacher-librarians, coaches and club sponsors are nice extras only tangentially related to the real purpose of school. Sigh…

How many of us as teacher-librarians or technology coordinators make a conscious effort to create “communities” for our own students, especially for those kids who do not seem to have much success with the traditional organizations? Do you have a “geek squad” in which members gain self-esteem by helping students and staff with technology problems? Do you have library volunteers who watch the circulation desk, help re-shelve materials and created displays? As a former member of the “projector sector” – students who assisted technology-challenged teachers set-up 16mm projectors in my high school, I personally recognize how important such a seemingly small thing helped me establish a sense of belonging and camaraderie in school. And it’s why I, as an educator, encourage all of us to enlist the aid of kids for whom football or band are not exactly their thing.

"Extra" - curricular activities have taken a hit on our budget cuts this year in our district, as I am sure they being cut throughout the country. Communites don't often form in classrooms and committment to others can't be evaluated on a multiple choice test.

Will the money we save in coach and sponsor stipends simply go to metal detectors and security cameras and lawsuits down the road?



Ban the lectern

Bore: one who has the power of speech but not the capacity for conversation. Benjamin Disraeli

Computerized slideshows have been much maligned of late. No more bullet points. Death by PowerPoint. PowerPointlessness. You've heard them all. And probably seen more than a few examples of poor slide show use.

But let me tell you, the only thing worse than a bad speech with PowerPoint is a bad speech without it. Not long ago I listened to a very smart man with very good ideas give a very poor keynote. He started off by bragging of his "lack of slides," but then went on to read (yes, read) his talk directly from the text he assured us would be online verbatim in a few days. Uniformly formal, ceaselessly forceful, and demeaningly parental, this audience member left feeling unconnected, unmoved, and feeling like a kid who was read the riot act by the principal for about an hour. When the speaker later asked me what I thought of his talk, I tactfully replied, "It was challenging." I didn't elaborate that the challenging part was staying for all of it.

I wonder if the speaker might have been more natural and made a better connection had he not been provided a lectern on which to prop his notes. Just might a major cause of bad "speeches" be the lectern itself - that large slab of wood originally designed to protect speakers' vital organs from sharp objects thrown by displeased listeners? (I just made that up.)

While I always request a wireless lapel microphone so I can wander a bit when speech - ifying, there are time when the only voice amplification is hardwired right to the lecture and one is pretty much forced to stay behind it in one place. And as much as I try to overcome it, this restraint changes my message:

  • I am more formal.
  • I am more likely to "read" the slides on my laptop sitting right in front of me.
  • There is less give and take between the audience and me.
  • There is a physical barrier creating a "me, the expert" and "you, the receiver" rather than an open space that says "let's form a partnership though which we can solve some mutual problems."

OK, it is somewhat comforting to know that when using a lectern the second "Is my fly zipped?" check is not necessary and that most lecterns are slimming. But let's expand our suggestions for the improvement of public speaking beyond "ban the bullet points." Whether the message is read from paper on a lectern or digits in a PowerPoint screen, it's all poor communication.