Category Archives: 21st Century Skills

Why “Teach” Social Media

This post is in response to Maryam Kaymanesh in the VCU thoughtvectors MOOC who is thinking about why high school students should be taught how to use social media for a future job. I wouldn’t have seen the post but Tom Woodward tagged me in his reply to her and I got a ping to alert me to the reference. Why mention this? Because it gets at the heart of why we need to “teach” social media: it IS the way we communicate these days, and we have always taught students how to use contemporary media.

When I started teaching high school English in the late 1980s, my curriculum included formal letter writing and research skills using paper databases like the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. I think we understand better why we need to teach students the research skills, but it’s 21st century writing that we grapple with as teachers roll their eyes when kids use emoticons or Internet slang in their research papers. Case in point: check out the Wikipedia entry on LOL. The authors spend a lot of time quoting the critics of the use of these abbreviations as inappropriate in formal writing. But they certainly have a place in the fast-paced, shortened world of Twitter and texting. So, lesson one for all 21st century writers is how to distinguish between the wide variety of writing outlets and the kind of writing they demand.

The other challenge for contemporary media users is how to use social media to portray yourself publicly. The Washington Post article When Young Teachers Go Wild on the Web is one I still share with the adults I work with as it asks the hard questions about sharing on social media. In the six years since that article was published, stories continue to come out of grownups, including veteran teachers, doing dumb things in public using Twitter or Facebook. This incredibly kind interview demonstrates clearly that it isn’t just high school students who need a lesson or two:

But, despite the possible pitfalls, social media is also where we go to connect with others. Whatever your passion or area of study, social media can help you connect with others in the field. I require the students in my educational administration course to get involved in social media professionally by discovering the important voices and publications in education. Who are the bloggers and tweeters and googlers that you should be reading regularly? And, how can you become one of those voices? What can you contribute to the conversation?

There are also important questions for businesses to ask as they move into this hyper connected world. As someone who runs an organization that uses social media to both communicate and connect, I think about how to use it all the time. What do we want to do with it beyond just simple marketing? How can we become a portal to help curate the web for our followers? It is very much a similar kind of question to that for individuals: just how do we portray our company in social media? I can pretty much guarantee that unless your future job is hermit, you will, either as an employee or employer, ask these kinds of questions. 

And, while I can craft a persona for myself and my business, I can’t control the message completely since everyone has a voice. Reactions to a story are part of the story. The Today Show had a clip about getting good customer service and spent a good bit of time offering consumers tips for how to get noticed by a company by using Twitter or Facebook. Companies must be monitoring these outlets to be able to respond and react quickly before something goes viral. 

I’ll end with a recent example from my field of the complexities of being part of this new world. A brutally honest blog post about terrible experiences at a conference in 2013 appeared just as folks were gearing up for the 2014 version. The post, which has been removed by the author but is easy enough to find in an archive, was prompted by the #YesAllWomen campaign. It garnered a strong response from some in the field but others pushed back suggesting that this is a complex issue that requires more than a visceral, black and white response. Some spent time just trying to figure out who she was talking about. A second bog post tried to sort out the writer’s reactions to these different responses while the organization in question crafted its own response.

There are lots of lessons in this one event, not the least of which is that deleting stuff on the web doesn’t always mean it goes away. I’m not sure we can “teach” our students or ourselves exactly how to live in this social mediated world, but these kinds of case studies can help us grapple with the issues in powerful ways. If schools choose instead to ban and ignore, they miss the opportunity to truly prepare their students to live empowered lives in this world.


An Important Five Minutes

Let’s just start with the most interesting thing of all: Noam Chomsky has a Facebook page. And an active one at that with lots of  interesting and intellectually demanding content to explore.

Then, let’s move to this five-minute interview with Chomsky in which he speaks from an historical perspective when it comes to technology. Yes, we are experiencing amazing changes, he says, but they pale in the light of past changes. His first example is startling: the move from the sailing ship to the telegraph. Messages went from weeks and months to moments. A sharp intake of breath in the recognition that we may not be living in the most interesting of times.

His remarks on education make the all important point that it isn’t the technology and it isn’t even the scholarship that are important. The innovative thinkers are able to identify what is significant and use it as a frame for all the rest. Helping our students define a frame to use is an essential part of helping them access and learn from the Internet.

In poking around Chomsky’s FB page, I discovered that he has connections with Alice Walker, who writes about her image of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky playing tennis. It brings her hope for the world.

Digital Citizenship in Action

There is no place like Facebook to find lessons in how to navigate a world where “truthiness” abounds.  Tonight’s suspicious share revealed that it was the Syrian rebels, armed by Saudi Arabia, that were responsible for the gas attacks. The link went to the MintPress News website and two reporters were listed as the writers: Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh. The article starts with the caveat that Gavlak was not on the ground in Syria but worked with Ababneh who did the interviews. We further learn that Gavlak is a writer for Mint Press who has freelanced for the Associated Press.

From there, the story has been picked up by other “news” sites including,, and Voice of Russia. No mainstream news outlets have reported the story. By the time it has made the rounds, Dale Gavlak is identified as “associated press reporter” and the reader has to scroll way down to find out that Gavlak has done some consulting for the AP but was not writing this article for the AP. In another version of the story, MintPress is now part of the Associated Press:

Gavlak is a Middle Eastern journalist who filed the report about the rebels claiming responsibility on the Mint Press News website, which is affiliated with AP.

Truthiness continues when identifying other sources:

Doctors who treated the chemical weapons attack victims cautioned interviewers to be careful about asking questions regarding who, exactly, was responsible for the deadly assault.

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders added that health workers aiding 3,600 patients also reported experiencing similar symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision. The group has not been able to independently verify the information.

The implication is that Doctors Without Borders is making the caution. Thus, a link to a well respected organization. Here’s the press release with no mention of cautioning interviewers.

A Google search shows this article as part of the “news” section at the top of the page with a link to the MintPress News website. It is the only version of the story, which should be a heads up to readers. It might also be telling that the Daily Kos deleted the article.

There is, of course, the possibility that the story is true and the mainstream news is simply taking the time to vet it before reporting. However, knowing their propensity for beating others to the punch, I would imagine that at least one of them would have hinted at it by now.

With more and more people getting their news from outlets like Facebook, the possibility for spreading truthiness grows. As Julie Andrews comments on the Unofficial Facebook Blog:

People are getting more breaking news than ever, sometimes as it happens, thanks to rapid-fire social networks such as Facebook. Often, such reporting is produced (or, uh, posted) by unofficial news sources (the reality is that anyone can report a sighting, an event, a comment heard), as the distinction between what is, and what is not news, grays.

I disagree when she suggests that this isn’t a death knell for the news:

To be clear, it’s not the news that is dying here — it’s the method in which news is delivered and received. Knowledge is and will forever be power. We just may not need to tune in to have someone read it to us much longer, no matter how fabulous their voice and hair are.

Knowledge only comes to those who can apply critical thinking to the news that gets posted by friends and families. If all you do is read the headline posted by your favorite uncle and then click like or share, you are becoming part of that gray area. Somewhere, Walter Cronkite is weeping.

Using Evernote for Everything

I’ve been using Evernote more and more these days to organize the various projects I’m working on. The summer travel season is upon me, and I’ll be away more than I’m home for the next month carrying different devices on each trip. I’m scrambling to make sure I can get access to information no matter what digital device is sitting on my lap.

Evernote is rapidly becoming the answer. I’ve used it for my own writing and to do listing but in the past month, I’ve been doing more clipping, note taking at meetings, transferring hand written notes, etc. etc. And today I learned why it’s such a great tool for me…because, according to the CEO of Evernote, Phil Libin, I have a poor work-life balance.

At any given moment of the day, I may have tabs open related to “work” (articles or blog posts about education, technology and learning) or “life” (articles or blog posts about beekeeping, reading, farming, music and folk art). And increasingly I’m using Evernote to save or organize that information. I’ve gotten serious about creating folders and useful tags. I’m using the image feature to take pictures of slides during presentations. I’ve connected Evernote to my calendar so appointments and reminders get saved there. One stop for my life in all its aspects.

Getting Some Perspective

It seems we cannot blame social media for the shoddy performance of news outlets last week. They’ve always done a poor job with breakout news, at least according to Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. His description of the reporting of John F. Kennedy’s assassination includes lots of similarities to the Boston bombing from identifying innocent people as suspects to declaring arrests when none had occurred.

The difference, of course, is the ubiquitous nature of media in our lives. Sabato points out that most people were at work or school when the shooting occurred and wouldn’t have had access to the news. So, they missed the initial erroneous reports. I think, however, that Sabato misses the more crucial difference: the people who heard the erroneous reports could only spread them so far…perhaps over the back fence or by telephone to a friend. They couldn’t tweet and retweet and like and share, editing along the way to fit into 140 characters, or creating their own false reports that were then picked up by the media as truth.

I think Sabato offers sound advice:

Media gaffes and goofs should not be easily excused, since commendable restraint — occasionally, simple silence — is the obvious remedy. There should be a penalty for a big error, even if it is only severe criticism.

A simple statement: “here is what we know for fact and here is what we’re still checking out” would help give viewers perspective as they navigate the chocking flow of information. It allows news outlets to have it both ways: report the hearsay but make sure everyone knows it for what it is.

Thinking About Media After the Marathon

I’ll start by thanking Chris and Melissa Bugaj for re-energizing my enthusiasm for podcasts. I used to listen to lots of podcasts but, for some unknown reason, stopped. Maybe it was just media overload, or switching to iOS from Android. After participating in the recent VSTE webinar (scroll down to find the archive) on integrating audio in the classroom, I installed the Podcasts app on my phone and iPad and added a few podcasts to my library.

On of my previous favorites had been On The Media, a program sponsored by WNYC. Brooke Gladstone takes an engaging, reflective approach to the workings of the media, often interviewing journalists involved in the week’s news about how and why they did the things they did. Not surprisingly, this week Brooke focused on the Boston Marathon bombings and the somewhat shoddy performance of the media in their seeming willingness to abandon long established principles such as confirming stories with multiple sources in order to beat others to the story. They reported erroneous information rather than wait to make sure it was correct because if they got it right, they would be heroes and if they got it wrong, they could just blame fluidity of the situation. That excuse ignores the important role of the formal media in our live: we rely on them to get the story right before they tell it.

But, there seems to be a very fuzzy line these days between journalists and bloggers and tweeters with journalists being lured away from their role as the nation’s fact checkers. Reporters are monitoring police dispatchers and, according to On The Media, those dispatchers were actually monitoring Twitter and reporting on things they heard. It became a closed loop where no one was doing any fact checking at all.

And, of course, there were the fake twitter accounts from the bombers that immediately got reported as real messages.

The program is worth a listen and, I hope, will prompt discussion about the role we all play in the exchange of information. Meanwhile, Slate offers some good advice about what to do the next time there is a breaking story. I’m planning to finally read Proust.

Advice to Newbies

I am in the midst of teaching an online course that focuses on educational technology for school administrators. While the focus of the course is educational technology, it is not a “tech” course. The participants do explore various technologies, but the main conversation is about how administrators can support the use of technology. The course is centered around the NETS-A and we move from visionary leadership to professional learning to systemic improvement in the course of the semester.

Many of the participants do not consider themselves technologically savvy and the course is their first online experience as well. I do a lot of hand holding at the beginning, and for some, throughout the semester, as they struggle both with the content that asks them to reconsider much of what they think about education and technology, and the technology itself. I do some scaffolding by way of screencasts of how to navigate our course in Google Sites, and I am always available to answer specific questions as I make it clear to them that they aren’t being graded on their ability to use technology.

Still, they feel overwhelmed. Their first assignment is to choose a technology and create a tutorial designed for school leaders. After reviewing her classmates’ work, one student commented on how much she loved Voice Thread and then wondered why she didn’t learn about it sooner. Another was determined to learn everything about all the new technologies that were introduced. Yet another despaired of every being more than an immigrant, unable to understand the new language and culture.

I give all of them the same piece of advice: there’s a lot of technology out there and more is being added every day. That’s the way it is going to be from now on. So, get used to always feeling behind. Give up trying to learn about all of it, but position yourself within a professional learning network that at least helps you build awareness of new trends and offer support for your learning efforts. Then, consider your needs as a teacher or administrator, and find one or two technologies that support those needs and learn all you can about them. Are you responsible for professional development? Then, maybe Google sites is a good tool for creating a shared space. Do you feel like you need to communicate better with all your stakeholders? Then, maybe you should explore how Facebook and Twitter could help with that outreach? Do you have lots of technology in your school but not much integration? Then, maybe it’s a model like TPACK that can help support your efforts.

And, when you discover a new-to-you technology like Voice Thread, don’t wonder why it took you so long. Instead, embrace it, learn about it, and be reassured that an “older” technology likely has more staying power so you won’t be facing its loss in a few weeks when the company goes under.

Finally, learning one technology in depth will support your adaptive learning as you will become more familiar with technology in general and the next time you’re facing a new program or tool, you’ll be better equipped to dive in.

What advice do you have for these newbies?

Learning to Love Learning?

From the science goddess, a protest against the notion of “everyone,” something I find frustrating as well. Each person must find her own path to learning and sharing. Maybe you tweet, maybe you blog, maybe you find a Google group, maybe you subscribe to a listserv. Or, and this may sound heretical, maybe you have a face to face group that meets your needs.

What struck me about the twitter post was the notion that we had to learn to love learning. Is that a skill that we have to learn? It seems to me that kids, especially, are learning all the time without thinking about it as something they love or hate. It’s natural. Is it only when we send them to school where the practice of learning becomes something unnatural that we learn to hate learning. So, perhaps we do have to (re)learn how to love learning once we are freed from the bonds of the classroom and formal education.  Dale Stephens, author of Hacking Your Education, makes this point in his guest post for The Innovative Educator blog. Note that the title of his book is Hacking YOUR Education, with the focus on the personal aspect of education.

College Readiness = Adaptive Capacity

Tim Stahmer’s post about schools’ dependence on the Office software package hit a nerve with me. In the past month, I’ve heard at least a few educators refer to being able to use Office as a “college readiness” issue. As a college professor, I found that perspective very surprising. There are lots of ways that kids are not ready for college, but using Word and PowerPoint were certainly not on my list, especially when they mean diverting scarce funds for expensive licenses.

For me, college readiness means being able to pick the right tool for the job. Do you have to do a presentation? You have a range of choices: certainly Powerpoint, but what about Google Presentation, Prezi or Keynote or Animoto? My preference is always towards tools that make it easy to publish and share on the web. Do you have to write a paper? Unless it’s your dissertation with all that special formatting, I would be happy if you just did it in Google and shared it with me so I can access it from anywhere and any device. That way, when I find myself with free time before a meeting or riding the ferry, I can read your work.  I would probably be even happier if you told me you had a blog and wanted to publish it there so you can share your writing with more than just me.

But, I hear the educators asking, how can we teach our students how to use all those tools? To that, I say, don’t teach them specific programs: instead, teach them how to learn. Most people can pick up Prezi in a few minutes using the video tutorials. Google Apps provides extensive help and a quick search yields videos and written tutorials on every possible aspect of these tools.

What should we be teaching our students when it comes to digital tools and technology use? If there is one thing we do know about the future, it will be more of the same: change, change, change. New tools and new devices. The best way to prepare our kids for college and for life is to provide them with lots of opportunities to be self-directed learners. Help them develop their adaptive capacity, the ability to change and learn throughout their lives.

Adaptive capacity is a key leadership trait, according to Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas. I’ve put their book on my reading list but this article will get you started.


The Learning Isn’t Over Until…

I have been learning non-stop for the past two weeks. First Educon 2.5 and then VirtualVA2013. Lots of conversations, glimpses into innovative classrooms, and connections with other thoughtful educators. I’ve been reflecting on the experiences but haven’t had time to put fingers to keyboard. Here are the big themes that have stood out in my personal reflections…I’ll expand on them in future posts but for now, I’ll start with the bulleted list:

  • Schooling vs Learning…but also Jobs vs Work: This distinction rose out of a conversation about how happy kids and teachers were on snow days. I pointed out that lots of grown ups were also excited to miss a day of work.  There seems to be some parallel between the two worlds: schooling and jobs both imply structure while learning and work seem to imply objectives and goals. The consensus seems to be that we have put too much emphasis on developing structures that are keeping people from enjoying learning or work and really accomplishing worthwhile goals. But can we ditch the structure completely? I was particularly intrigued with an idea I’ve encountered before: that we need to talk about the whole system including the physical spaces where we learn and work. Hacking education goes way beyond a new curriculum or even a new pedagogy.
  • Doing More Than Just Showing Up: In the midst of all this learning, I’ve been reading Seth Godin and he has had a couple blog posts that add meaning experiences I’ve had, especially at Educon. Beyond Showing Up and Watching Is Not Doing address the idea of being more involved in our lives and our learning. Educon is the perfect example: you get out of Educon what you put in. There are conversation leaders who help provide some structure but you are expected to participate by offering your ideas, sharing your resources and tweeting your heart out. We had an “open mic” session during VirtualVA2013 that mimicked a bit of Educon and gave us a chance to talk about some of the big themes that had come out of the week’s sessions. Our opening and closing sessions were more about conversation than slides and the presenters willingly engaged with the attendees.
  • Entrepreneurs vs. Entrepreneurial Spirit: The panels at Educon talked a lot about how we can help kids become entrepreneurs. I just finished reading Yong Zhao’s book World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students as part of an ISTE SIGAdmin book group so I was particularly interested in the intersection of the book with the conversations. Someone made the distinction between the people (entrepreneurs) and their dispositions (entrepreneurial spirit) that made a lot of sense to me. And there’s a lot more here to explore…why entrepreneurs and schooling don’t seem to mix and if schools can produce entrepreneurs at all.

I am also aware that there is a lot of overlap between these three themes…it’s part of the problem I’ve had this week trying to sort out the various strands of conversations. I think it can be simplified a bit: the ultimate goal is to provide learning experiences (spaces?) for our students that challenge and engage them in meaningful ways and help them develop into thoughtful, active citizens.