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Thursday
Jan122006

Professional organizations and the NetGen

The Noah Principle: No more prizes for predicting rain. Prizes only for building arks. Louis Gerstner
bstounge.jpg
The new Blue Skunk image in this post and blog header pretty much summarizes this week of blogging for me. I stuck out my tongue and now it is firmly attached to the frozen steel post. (If you are from warmer climes and don’t get the image, watch either Dumb and Dumber or A Christmas Story for enactments.)

Sunday’s entry on professional organizations lobbying for the inclusion of information/tech literacy skills in NCLB was, ahem, controversial for a variety of reasons, but one interesting conversation happened in the comments section. For the assertions I made that professional organizations spend too much effort lobbying for money and that their legislative efforts may not be of interest to the NetGen professionals entering the field, quoting a blog expressing deep dissatisfaction with ALA, I was taken to task by some people  I deeply respect and admire.

Diane Chen (the chair of AASL's legislative committee) wrote:
I have to take issue with the area of ALA/AASL's Legislation Committee. As chair of AASL Legislation Committee right now, I am attempting to reach out to every state through partnerships with Affiliates in Affiliate Assembly, the ALA Legislation Committee, NEA, FLANN, state coordinators for National Library Legislative Day, advocacy groups and many other educational organizations.
The issues we face go far beyond crying for more money. Much of the legislative agenda revolves around educating legislators and those who make the decisions so they are better informed on the value of school libraries. Building consensus, gathering information from all members, and forging messages and action plans with the AASL organization is just one of many task.
And added:
I was very disappointed with the blog entry by a library grad student. This blogger was upset with a policy on reimbursement for speakers and made a personal statement refusing to participate in the largest organization representing libraries. I don't find that point worthy of glorification or indicative of all bloggers.
Sara Johns, AASL presidential candidate,  followed up:
When AASL's and ALA's legislative priorities are just about money and not about kids, I will also tell ALA to take a short walk. But they aren't--and it does take involvement, not retreat, to make change happen, legistlatively and organizationally.
And added
So, I agree with your statement, Doug, when you say that paying dues gives you  the right to complain, but it also gives you the chance to have your voice heard by legislators and government agencies and school boards--and that voice is not alone. It gets really tiring to do our jobs alone without the support of library associations for progress, through lobbying and professional development and all the invisible-to-me activities of ALA and AASL
Dorothea, the (mistakenly described) grad student who I quoted added some additional thoughts and Mark Linder added support to Dorothea’s position. PLEASE go back and read the complete postings. They are compelling.

Well, Ollie, this is another fine mess you’ve got us in!

Some reflections:
  1. I obviously did not give ALA/AASL enough credit for their efforts in non-monetary lobbying efforts. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. Thank you, Diane and Sara, for pointing this out. My bad.
  2. But my follow-up question might be: Do ALA/AASL and ISTE do enough to let their members know how they are working legislatively on their members' behalf? In this morning’s AASL Hotlinks newsletter in the  LEGISLATION AND POLICY section, the only entry was a link to: ”Education technology suffers cuts in new federal budget” – an article from eSchool News. I feel I keep fairly well informed about national organization issues, reading KQ, American Libraries, L&L, newsletters, etc. But I still feel that I am woefully ignorant of the work these groups do. Advocay and lobbying may be the most important thing our professional organizations can be doing in many members' minds.
  3. Like it or not, our national organizations have a relevance and/or an image problem to a perhaps small, but very vocal portion of the profession. One of the qualities of the NetGen is their reliance and faith in vox populi as formed and expressed in the blogosphere. Jenny the Shifted Librarian, Dorothea, and Mark  speak for a growing, not shrinking, percent of practitioners. And from my own experience, the more time even we oldsters spend in the social web, the more we develop NetGen sensibilities. Yes, there have always been young rabblerousers in the profession. I like to think I was once one myself as a young educator – back when God’s dog was still a puppy. But at that time, the organization held all the communication strings. Not so today. The discontent have means of voicing their thoughts and opinions to lots and lots of other people. Have ALA and ISTE figgered this out yet? How do established organizations let their members know they are listening – assuming, of course, the organizations are willing to do so - using the latest mediums of communication?
So, enough predicting rain. Let’s build an ark.
  1. Today, the ISTE and ALA/AASL legislative committees should being creating blogs related to their efforts on behalf of their members. Perhaps every committee should have one. Certainly, Gorman needs one to explain his views ;-)
  2. Committee members should be assigned at least a half dozen popular blogs written by young librarians to read, monitor and reply to.
  3. I will stand by my initial recommendation. Our advocacy and lobbying efforts need to focus on students and patrons.

  • Poor: Advocate for dollars, technology and libraries.
  • Better: Advocate for students and library users.
  • Best: Advocate for standards and skills that will be critical to future student success (best taught by schools with good libraries and good technology that need money to happen).
Will this win our NetGenners over? Not alone, but it wouldn’t hurt.

 

In a private e-mail, Sara Johns writes:

 I have found over the years that I personally needed professional organizations to affirm that I was doing the right thing with my students, to keep me on track with the latest library trends, to give me the professional development that I needed, to provide collegiality,  to stay connected with my profession. Some of that is available now through blogs--but not all. I defend the not-perfect ALA because my years in the profession have shown me that, when there are library issues that really matter, only ALA really supports libraries. I am in a school library and, if I have a book challenge, I want the Intellectual Freedom office and its lawyers behind me and they take dues money to support.  If I call or write a legislator,  I get more respect when I start with:  "As an ALA member (NYLA in New York State), I'm interested in this issue."  I don't speak alone, my voice is joined with all of the other members and more members mean a louder voice.

Seems a crying shame that a generation of new professionals might know or take advantage of the benefits Sara outlines.

Your thoughts? 

Tuesday
Jan102006

What gets tested, gets taught

More interesting responses to Sunday's - Lobbying post.

The first comes from Tim Stahmer's Assorted Stuff blog entry  First, Understand The Basic Concept in which he reacts to Tom Hoffman's reaction to my Sunday proposal that quotes ISTE CEO Don Knezek as working against technology integration. (How's that for a chain of events?) In it he concludes:

 But the most disappointing part of this story is the source of the proposal that set Tom off. It comes from the CEO of ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), the largest advocacy group for technology in education. If their leaders are really that clueless, the effort to help teachers truly integrate technology into their classrooms has a very long way to go.

Does looking at information/tech skills as a separate entity mean they can't be integrated into the curriculum as well? I've addressed this question before regarding information literacy skills in a column called Owning Our Curriculum. I'll try to make the same points about technology literacy here that I did about information literacy in the column. (I have a tough time separating info and tech literacy anymore anyway).

  1. Info/tech literacy is a basic skill every student should master. It should be treated with the same importance as the other recognized basic skills  of reading, writing and math.
  2. Teaching basic skills as a separate, non-integrated subject is viewed as good educational practice. We have reading, writing and math curricula, teaching materials, courses, teachers and tests.
  3. Basic skills should be "integrated" (or perhaps a better word is applied) across the curriculum. English teachers want social studies teachers to "teach" writing skills and practice writing, yes?
  4. Integrating skills does not eliminate the need for basic skills curricula, teaching materials, courses, teachers and tests.
  5. The public expects schools to be accountable for teaching basic skills. The current way of being accountable is through testing. (See more on this below in my response to David Warlick.)
  6. What gets tested, gets taught.

 I don't see that integration and viewing information/technology as a separate set of skills to be taught are exclusive. If such skills are only integrated, nobody has responsibility for student acquistion of such skills and everybody has the opportunity to pass the responsibility on to someone else.

In another post, David Walick defends the messiness of authentic assessment in More Loose Change on his 2 Cents Worth blog (and in a reply to the Blue Skunk post Loose Change - follow-up):

...although performance/production based assessment is messy, messy is what teachers do. Certainly multiple-choice/true-false assessments have always been a convenient crutch to many teachers. But project-based/product-based teaching, learning, and assessment were much easier to implement before high-stakes testing. The critical change is that communities have lost confidence in their teachers (for no good reason), and education has begun to lose confidence in itself. I think that we need to empower teachers and then turn education back over to them, the experts.

I don't disagree with David, but I would also say there is a place and need testing as well as assessment when it comes to I/T skills if they are to me taken seriously by educators. I am huge fan of Rick Stiggins and his  Assessment for Learning work. Hell, I offer workshops on authentic assessment of I/T skills myself. Good, messy assessments using well-designed tools are critical to the teaching and  learning process. They are good for kids, promoting growth, not simply categorization.

The problem is that we live in a society that believes in testing. And quite honestly, a degree of accountability shown through testing is not all bad. (See Exposing Shameful Little Secrets.) Our problem is that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of testing and the results are being used in the implementation of NCLB punatively. This is a problem with test expectations and result use, not testing in itself.  And hey, you want something taken seriously by teachers just put it on the next high-stakes test. That is the reality as much as we may not like it. Let's use the system we are working under while also trying to change it.

One last thoughtful response comes from Wesley Fryer on his Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog posting Standards and accountability are not the answer. Again, I empathize and agree with much of what Wes says, but he doesn't give me a plan for making the kinds of changes he wants to see. Give me something actionable!

One last lengthy comment came from librarian Diane Chen regarding professional organizations and lobbying which I need to reflect on a little since it challenges my original post for quite another set of reasons.

I hope the conversation continues. 

Monday
Jan092006

Loose change or real change - follow-up

Good to see a little reaction to yesterday's posting that suggested our professional organizations lobby for required information/tech skills at the national level - possibly as a part of a revised, renewed NCLB.

John Pederson at pedersondesigns asked:

... Here’s my concern though. Let’s assume that things are covered competently at Doug’s super macro level…these organizations magically become hugely successful at lobbying for the “4th R”. For the sake of argument, lets say that the feds step in and rewrite NCLB to mandate the perfect “4th R”. Now it’s time to retool our teachers with these skills.

Retooling ISTE’s lobbying agenda = X number of years.
Retooling NCLB = Y number of years.
Retooling teachers = Z number of years.

X+Y+Z = ? Ok, some of this will overlap…let’s just call this number N.
This “new information environment” is about 15 years old. Is N <, =, or > the time it took for things to develop? How many more shifts will occur over the next 5-10 years? Do we have the attention, organization, and sense of urgency at this time to figure all of this out? If “we” (those reading this) answer yes, how about the 99% of others involved in education?

Chris Harris of Infomancy fame, left a good comment on the Blue Skunk yesterday as well as writing on John's blog:

David Warlick and I had a conversation about this when he was up in my region doing a workshop last June. His question was how can we get the ball rolling?

The problem is it turns into a chicken and egg thing. The administrators won't look at it until the state tells them to. The state won't address it until congress tells them to. Congress doesn't move without lobbyists pushing an issue. Educational lobbyists won't push an issue that isn't being called for by the teacher unions. Teacher unions aren't looking at anything but testing. There is no technology test in NCLB. Nothing but NCLB tested subjects is being taught. Teacher prep schools only cover what is being taught. ARGH!!!

I hate to be negative, but it looks like we stick in the viscious circle until something REVOLUTIONARY breaks us out of it. Probably it will be the students leaving the schools and pursuing other educational opportunities a'la Cluetrain.

Doug quoted Dorothea of Caveat Lector as she ranted about the ALA's lack of responsiveness to modern issues. These large organizations are, by their nature, typically rather conservative and slow-moving beasts. CAN these organizations lobby for what we need and in the way we need?

And Tom Hoffman over at Ed-Tech Insider writes:

I hate this idea so much I don't know where to start.

and

I will fight this idea until my dying breath. 

Damn,  I had no idea making Tom mad could be so much fun! Deep breaths, Tom, deep breaths...

I'll admit, the plan is not perfect. I am no fan on NCLB or standardized tests. Yes, I wish we could wave a magic wand and tomorrow change the face of education.

But I still believe:

  1. Information and technology skills will not be taught (even at a rudimentary level) by all teachers to all kids until they are mandated, by either the state or feds.
  2. Standardized testing is the accountability measure du jour. I would prefer performance based assessments, but they are messy. I was very encouraged by the work done by ETS on its online ICT Literacy Assessments.  Perfect -no. Better than what most of us are doing now (which is nothing in terms of assessing student mastery of ICT skills) - yes.
  3. Change can happen quickly. Bush just did a ceremony marking the fourth year anniverary of NCLB TODAY. Where might we be four short years from now with some dedicated political action? Where will we be without getting political? Waiting until the system is so broken that "revolutionary" change occurs? What happens to all those kids in the system who need these skills.
  4. As imperfect as they may be, professional organizations are still our best means of influencing state and national educational policy (short of bribery, of course). If every professional joined, they'd have a lot more $$ to spend on lobbying efforts, as well as good minds working on strategy.
  5. I have yet to read a better idea of how to jump start the effort that all students have 21st Century Learning Skills than mine. Nanny, nanny, boo, boo.

One of my favorite quotes is from a little book called Never Confuse a Memo with Reality by Richard Moran. He writes, “Never take a problem to your boss without some solutions. You are getting paid to think, not to whine.” If I have one grump about the blogosphere it's that we have plenty of people pointing out problems, but I don't hear many solutions being advanced. Even imperfect ones.

I'm delighted to consider any disagreements with a solution to a problem I suggest. It would just be refreshing to have a better solution accompany those sentiments. We have a hell of a lot better minds than mine working here. How do we make sure all kids have 21st century skills?