Things I Know 356 of 365: The network worked as it’s supposed to

This was the status that caught my eye:
Screen Shot 2011-12-31 at 12.22.57 AM
An email showed up to tell me I’d been mentioned. (I want this service in real life.)

I in Central Illinois clicked through to see what Aaron in New Jersey said to start the conversation.

I jumped in to suggest some possible widgets or sidebar options for Aaron’s plan for 365 days of documented fitness training. He mentioned considering signing up for a marathon and triathalon to have specific goals and be able to compare results. Mary Beth in Philadelphia hopped back in to suggest we both try running a few miles and then heading to a yoga class. Aaron liked the idea, and then Heather from northwestern Illinois chimed in to second the running+yoga idea.

As all this was going on, Pete in New York tweeted some suggestions for embeddable apps for tracking training. I followed up with a suggestion for running the D.C. marathon in March and the Chicago marathon in October. We discussed it a bit more and I had to head out for lunch.

The whole conversation happened publically across 4 states and included hyperlinks for reference.

The cherry?

Hours later, when I opened Words with Friends on my phone, I had a chat message in one of my games. Michael in Colorado had seen the twitter conversation and said he was up for a shared workout plan.

Every once in a while, I’ll see a tweet or facebook update from someone asking for examples of social networking in the classroom. Those are fine. I’ve had many of them myself. What happened this morning, though, across the span of a few minutes, was an example of social networking in real life. In a conversation of 6 people, I’d met three of them face-to-face, but each had something positive to contribute to the conversation.

Things I Know 353 of 365: It isn’t all for everyone

A successful tool is one that was used to do something undreamt of by its author.

– Stephen C. Johnson

My stepdad was explaining at lunch today why Facebook just wasn’t how he connected to people. I understood.

“What about Twitter?” he asked. “I haven’t looked at that.”

Knowing him as I do, I told him to stay away. “It wouldn’t be useful to you.”

I get the feeling this is was unexpected piece of advice coming from me.

It took less than a semester for people at Harvard to come to expect my nerdiness.

Even at SLA, a school that breathes technology, I was one of the nerdiest.

Here’s the thing to remember, I like technology. I will totally geek out on the newest gizmo, gadget or app. Being a beta tester is a source of pride for me.

When thinking about systems and considering a task to be completed, however, one of the last things I’d advocate is technology for its own sake. Out of context or usefulness, there are few things I can think the use of which I’d advocate for their own sake.

This is because the misuse or thoughtless application of tools, structures, and systems can be an ugly, counter-productive thing.

I’ve seen it in the teacher with access to 1:1 laptops who makes the worksheet using Word and distributes it for her students to type in their answers and then print them out to be submitted.

I’ve heard it in the arguments of those who call for changes in schooling so that students can, as a result of those changes, do better at school.

While I think most every teacher could benefit from jacking in to the network of educators on Twitter, I don’t think every teacher should. Requiring every teacher in a school to sign up for this account or that account is a great way to insure you’ll never have 100% participation in that market.

The best way to make a tool useful is to wait for the use of that tool and build the capacity to recognize when it is called for.

Had I encouraged my stepdad to sign up for twitter, I would have been giving the world another person complaining about twitter’s uselessness.

That’s not my bag.

Things I Know 276 of 365: #ThingsThatNeedToEnd

I’ll get to things I’m thankful for tomorrow. Tonight, twitter’s trending with #ThingsThatNeedToEnd and a few popped into mind.

  • Talking and calling it conversation.
  • Not saying anything and calling it listening.
  • Walking by the person on the street asking for change because you’re sure they’ll just spend it on alcohol, but never donating a dime to your local homeless shelter or food kitchen.
  • Assuming.
  • Requiring people to take their shoes off at airport security.
  • The Bachelor.
  • Calling schools failing and then asking them to muster momentum to improve.
  • Illiteracy.
  • Abuse.
  • Fast food.
  • Pay inequity.
  • Anything that would lead a kid person to feel less than.
  • Talking about teachers as though they aren’t trying or don’t care.
  • Talking about students as though they’re incapable of learning and creating amazing things.
  • Admiring the problem.
  • Fracking.
  • Complaining that social networking is keeping people from truly connecting, while still remaining silent in every elevator.
  • Seeking the one silver-bullet answer.
  • Claiming you’ve got the one silver-bullet answer.
  • Taking ourselves so seriously.
  • Calling anything that highlights a difference we don’t understand or wish didn’t exist “the X gap.”
  • The McRib.
  • Teaching by telling instead of showing.
  • Feeding students anything other than the best possible food for lunch.
  • Marketing electric cars while completely ignoring the source of most of America’s electricity.
  • Leading with anything other than a question.
  • Asking, “How are you?” with anything other than the utmost sincerity.
  • Letting others do the heavy lifting.
  • Subscribing to a belief in the importance of caring for the least among us and then denying them access to health care.
  • Comparing anything that’s not actually Hitler to Hitler.
  • Treating the symptom while ignoring the problem.
  • Expecting more from people without giving them space and resources to grow.
  • Ignoring the value of personal experience.
  • Valuing personal experience as though it is representative of the group.
  • Daylight Saving Time.

Things I Know 141 of 365: The message about the medium matters

Whoever said that things have to be useful?

– Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder and CEO

NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller wasted space in his own paper last week.

In his column for the Times Magazine, Keller wrote a piece titled, “The Twitter Trap.”

I don’t take issue with Keller’s dislike of Twitter. My mom doesn’t like Twitter either, but she and I get along fine.

Keller wasted space in allotting column inches to an argument that’s been had since the service’s launch in March 2006.

Technology’s depleting our ability to remember, you say?

Social media is curtailing “real rapport and real conversation,” you contend?

Excellent, you’re ready for 2007.

I’ve seen several speakers recently bash twitter and then be rewarded with full applause.

“This guy’s onto something,” they cheer, “We’re all stupider because of Twitter!”

Then someone makes a joke wittily tying in the word twits.

It’s not that Twitter’s making us less thoughtful that’s worrisome to me, it’s that it’s allowing us to make the less thoughtful arguments.

Knocking Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook is easy.

Writing for the most important paper in the country should mean you don’t get to make the easy argument. It should mean you swing for the fences every time.

Keller’s argument would have been fine as his Facebook status or as a post on his blog.

From the column in the magazine, though, I was hoping for a meditation on the fact that many people learned of Osama bin Laden’s death via Twitter before the Times website could publish the story. Working through a reasoned argument why deep, long-form journalism remains relevant and important in an age when people like Andy Carvin are harnessing Twitter to cull immediate reports from the ground during the middle eastern revolutions would have engaged me as a reader.

To use his pulpit to make a case that’s nearly half a decade old, strikes me as easy. More troubling still, making the easy argument, Keller’s not trying to do anything with his writing. He should be.

Writing that attempts to inspire, change and challenge – now that’s fit to print.

Things I Know 95 of 365: Aaron has more followers than I do

Aaron has 2,489 followers on twitter.

When he started following me March 13, it felt a little strange. He was only following 65 people at the time. Now he’s up to 69.

Normally, I’d have a strange tinge of embellished pride if someone so discerning started following the brain lint I put out on twitter.

This was a different matter.

Aaron is one of my students. In the eleventh grade, he has over 1,000 more followers than I and has a little more than 1300 fewer tweets.

The whole thing made clear to me the fact that social structure and hierarchy are subjective in online environments.

Add to that the possible number of empty accounts I’m following or who are following me and then apply that same reasoning to Aaron’s account and the perceived prestige connected to higher or lower numbers in the physical world crumbles.

My human drive is to make meaning, but the schema I’m equipped with doesn’t apply.

All these tweets in and I’m still trying to decide what makes someone worthwhile on twitter. I’d like to think it’s more than virtual speed dating, but I’m not sure.

Beyond all of this, I was curious about Aaron’s relationship to twitter. Easily, I could have written him off as another teen statistic engrossed in his social media like all the kids these days. But I’ve sat through that argument and read that study.

Today, I sat down with Aaron to talk about twitter. Our conversation is posted below.
Aaron and Twitter by MrChase

If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to post them in the comments, and I’ll make sure Aaron sees them. Then again, you could just hit him up on twitter – like 2,500 other people.

Things I Know 52 of 365: My classroom should be as democratic as twitter

A great democracy must be progressive, or it will soon cease to be a great democracy.

– President Theodore Roosevelt

Teachers dig Facebook. They like ning and twitter and youtube and social networking. I mean, they really really like ’em.

A TON of teachers who like these online affordances also like to build the case for their inclusion in classrooms and education.

Of the Ton,I get the feeling many, if not most, of them work in schools or districts where those online affordances are blocked, banned, outlawed and censored.

I’m not sure many of those teachers really want the access or understand the shift in pedagogy that use would imply.

I’ve been reading Sam Chaltain’s American Schools: The art of creating a democratic learning community. You should too.

Chaltain holds that American schools should be places of democracy, but are not. No whiner, he then works to outline what he sees to be the keys of democratizing classrooms.

Before I picked up the text, I had been reflecting on the role democracy plays in my own teaching. While I’d wager it’s greater than many, I still struggle moving from compliance to choice.

Most recently, I’ve struggled with accepting the idea that saying, “Pick one of these three options,” isn’t the same thing as choice – not true choice.

Chaltain quotes Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick:

[I]f the world takes our ideas and changes them – or accepts some and discards others – all we need to decide is whether the mutated versions are still core. If they are, then we should humbly accept the audiences judgement.

When the Ton trumpet the use of the aforementioned online affordances in learning, they invariably speak of students’ abilities to choose, create, re-arrange, remix and “like” in the spaces they can inhabit online. In essence, they like that those online spaces would give their students the chance to do what the Heaths say sticky ideas do.

This leads me to question what’s been limiting those options in the physical spaces of their classrooms in the first place.

I know what’s been holding it back in my classroom – me.

No pedagogical prude, I attempt to take learning styles, intelligences and modalities into account as often as possible. I differentiate and modify and accommodate. In the end, I’m realizing much of the work in my classroom is still closer to conformity than I’d like. And perhaps, that’s limiting the contribution of those voices from whom I’m most waiting to hear.

“We should evoke contribution through freedom, not conformity,” Chaltain writes.

I agree.

To the extent that I work within a system that expects certain outcomes from my students, I agree. To the extent that I have a picture in my head of what my students can do once they leave my classroom, I agree.

It might be fear that leads me to the caveats above, but I don’t think it is.

There are pieces of being able to read and write that I know will prove detrimental if they are not within my students’ abilities when they leave my care. The democratic classroom I envision isn’t one without goals. It’s chock full o’ goals. Those goals are also balanced with choice.

When I write about improving choice in my classroom, I do not mean to imply the abdication of structure or goals. I mean to say I need to give greater and truer choices to my students in how they journey to those goals.

And to the Ton, I want to reference something Jerrid Kruse brought up tonight on twitter. He referenced his frustration with online ed discussions veering toward the tech and not the teaching. I don’t yet know if I agree with his claim that this happens in the majority of online conversations. I do know that it’s complicated my thinking.

If you’re clamoring for these online affordances backed by the argument of the democracy they bring to learning, have you done the hard, uncomfortable work of making your classrooms democratic so your students are better citizens when the tools show up (or don’t)?

Things I Know 13 of 365: You get what you pay for

I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today.

– J. Wellington Wimpy

Ordering pizza a few nights ago, I sound like a non-hilarious version of “Who’s on first?”

“Can you repeat the last four number?” says the lady taking my credit card number.

I say the previous four and start to say the next four when she begins to repeat the orignal four back to me and as we’re talking at the same time, no one hears the other.

“I’m sorry,” says she, “Can you call back? This is a horrible connection.”

I hang up and hit redial.

As it’s ringing through again, I want to get frustrated with the connection.

It’s not the first time I’ve had trouble being understood when calling out.

Then, again, I have no room to complain.

I’m using Google Voice through my Gmail account – two services for which I’ve not paid, but use on a regular basis. Were this the halcyon days of wireless communication, after my pizza was ordered, I could have called customer service to report my dissatisfaction with my calls. I would have spent upward of 45 minutes on hold and been awarded the golden fleece of customer service, an account credit.

And, yes, I realize, I could report these inconveniences to Google, but I’d feel silly.

I felt silly yesterday when I tweeted out dissatisfaction with my inability to track changes in Google Docs. The student whose paper I was grading was a comma splice junky, and inserting a comment to denote where each comma should have been was proving an onerous task.  Fed, up, I released the tweet to the world – another service for which I do not pay.

Others with similar frustrations replied with affirmations of their likemindedness. Someone even suggested I check the “revision history.” This was something I’d considered, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.

“I want track changes,” I wanted to explain, “Just like they have in Microsoft Office.” (I know, bite my tongue.)

Still, though, there was something nice about the days when we bought big, beautiful, bug-ridden software packages. They were brimming with new features we’d uncover by mistake and then spend hours trying to disable.

Then, when that one thing we wanted to do wouldn’t work, we could complain in beautiful, consternated poetry and be justified because we had paid.

I get the argument that we’ve paid for Google. Today, when I logged in and saw someone on Facebook had liked my request for revision history on Google Docs because that tweet was sent by Interwebs magic to my status updates, I was reminded what I’ve paid. What were once the asides that filled my days like mental belly button lint are now pieces of data to fuel the machine and generate pageviews.

Yes, we can have the existential debate of what it means to give over our thoughts to corporations so that they can make money, but that’s not the conversation we’re having now.

I’m talking money. I haven’t spent any of it on Google.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with our agreement. My life is easier because of the free.

So, I’ll continue to keep mum about my frustration with the passing of Delicious which has been an invaluable volunteer link-sitter for the past few years. I’ll ignore the next commercial on Pandora that interrupts the songs piping through the station I’ve been doggedly curating for months now. And, when Hulu asks me which lady I’m most interested in watching test drive a new car while I’m catching up on episodes of Stargate: Universe, I’ll click without protest.

Free, has a costs.

I don’t teach in the 17th century

I don’t teach in the 17th century.

More pointedly, I don’t teach in a 17th century school. I never have.

About a week ago, this quotation from Don Tapscott got tweeted out from a webinar he was doing with Discovery Education Network:

We have the very best schools that 17th century tech can deliver.

Granted, I’m not aware of the context of the quotation.

But, that’s twitter – providing context-free snippets since 2007.

I’d really appreciate it if Tapscott would not say things like this. If he said more, I’d really appreciate it if other people didn’t push out pieces of thoughts.

It’s not that I don’t see the value in making generalizations about all members of a group. When has that ever gone wrong?

Science Leadership Academy is well beyond 17th-century tech.

Phoenix Academy, my previous school, was well beyond 17th-century tech.

Sarasota Middle School, my very first school, was well beyond 17th-century tech.

The counterargument is simple:

These three schools do not represent the norm.

I can’t agree with that. I’ve seen many schools across the country creating amazing content owned by learners.

Look at the work Karl is doing at Arapahoe High School is doing.

Look at the thinking Bud is doing at St. Vrain Valley School District is doing.

Look at the creating Ben is doing.

Look at the connecting Monika is doing.

Look at the pushing Dan is doing.

Look at the teaching Diana is doing.

So long as we continue to say our schools are failing, we’ll never notice success. The statement of failure is generally wrapped around the metric of standardized test scores. While they provide a snapshot of ability, I think we’re all on board the train of thought that recognizes they don’t provide a complete understanding of learners’ understandings and abilities.

Stop asking what’s wrong. Start asking what’s right.

My follow-up question is this. How much tech does it take to push a school into the post-modern age?

Don’t worry about answering, I’ve done some figuring. The official answer:

Three netbooks, one digital projector and a class set of T1-83s.

Aside from avoiding generalizations, we should, perhaps, start to move our thinking to the globalized approach folks have been hoping their kids would adopt.

It might give some perspective.

Schools without electricity in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa are operating without any tech to speak of because the ups and downs of a generator would likely damage any equipment in which they invested.

Schools on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya have graveyards of second-hand monitors donated by well-meaning businesses. The monitors don’t work, and the schools can’t afford to have them properly disposed of.

When Tapscott makes this assertion, and again, I don’t have context, and others re-tweet, perhaps a little humility and perspective are in order.

We’re on the way to building amazing temples of ideas across the world. The teachers mentioned above and countless others I’ve met are working to make learning what it can be. More to the point, they’re meeting with tremendous success.

They’re doing it without racing anywhere.

Those schools without electricity in South Africa, they’re about to harness the power of mobile technologies.

Those schools with the monitor graveyard in Kenya, turns out you only need a handful of working computers to connect to the world.

I’m not certain I’m teaching to the full extent of what 21st-century tech can deliver – 2099 is a fair piece away – but I’m doing alright. So are a lot of others – today.

We might not be friends

The Gist:

  • 1,867 people accounts are connected to me through Buzz, ‘Book, chat and Twitter.
  • I don’t know 1,867 people.
  • Even accounting for 40 percent overlap, I don’t know 1,120.2 people.
  • We might not be friends.

The Whole Story:

Between the killing of time at the Denver International Airport and turning on my phone upon landing safely in Philadelphia last night, I inadvertently direct messaged a few hundred people the promise I could help them “get bigger and have sex longer.”

In the three hours I was in the air, 4 people direct messaged and 15 people replied to me on twitter to alert me to the promises I’d made and suggested perhaps I’d been hacked.

I changed my password and tweeted out a clarification.

Then, I went to my sent direct messages to see who I’d accidentally spammed. After 7 pages, I stopped deleting the messages.
That little episode and a conversation I had with Ben got me thinking.

I did the math. All told, I’m connected to 1,867 accounts through buzz, twitter, Facebook, twitter and chat. Allowing for 40 percent overlap, I’m still connected to 1,120.2 people. I don’t know that many people.

I don’t think I would want to know that many people.

The popularity contest of it all is a little ridiculous as well. What do I think is going to happen if I hit 1,000 followers on twitter? I’m not completely certain, but I know it’ll mean I no longer will be shackled by mortal foibles.

I could be wrong.

Chris has 3,970 followers. I mean, he’s a happy guy, but I don’t think he’s reached Nirvana. The White House is followed by 1,709,139 and that job’s not exactly looking like a walk in the park.

The thing is, I talk on a regular basis with 2 people with whom I attended high school and 3 people with whom I attended college. Maybe 20 people make up the cadre to which I turn for professional and personal support. Throw in the accounts of about 5 neophyte family members. That leads me to 30 accounts. Who are the other 1,827 people accounts?

More to the point, am I a better person / teacher for being connected to them?

As reciprocity’s been big in my mind as of late, are they better for being connected to me?

Or, are we just connected because it’s easy?