Supporting professional learning at a distance

Summer Series website screenshot

The past few months have been a blur for us all. In the world of professional learning, we’ve had to adjust our plans for in-person educator support and innovate as best we can. The Covid-19 forced school closures could not be a time for our team to sit idle and wonder “What in the world do we do now?” but rather provide teachers and admin continued opportunities to strengthen their understandings and given them hands-on opportunities for learning in a variety of content areas and topics that would help them best serve kids in distance learning environments.

The pushback against teachers and schools and how instruction was severely lacking in the spring is truly unwarranted. Are there teachers who likely mailed it in and just did the bare minimum to get through until the end of the school year? Sure. And for their students, I feel a great deal of sorrow. But those teachers existed pre-Covid and they’ll continue to exist in the future. However for the majority of teachers dedicated to their craft, they went into “learners first” mode and dedicated their time to design meaningful learning experiences for kids in virtual environments.

Our department decided to share as much as we could with our county educators during this time. Was our effort perfect? No. But tens of thousands of YouTube views later and countless thank yous and “this was invaluable” emails and feedback, we feel good about it. We all honed our own instructional delivery skills and learned more about facilitating quality professional learning in digital environments. Sometimes we really nailed it, and sometimes we fell flat. Our Core Connections to Virtual Learning website has over 100 on-demand learning opportunities that we originally shared in live events during the early weeks of school closures. We encouraged teachers from the county to share their own sessions with colleagues as well. Core Connections is the name of our teacher-led conference, typically held face-to-face in June, and we wanted to honor the spirit of that event with our offerings!

Core Connections website screenshot

Knowing that the wealth of on demand offerings might be intimidating to some looking for a more cohesive learning experience, we decided to design learning “series” that bundled together workshops, assessment connections, SEL explorations, and choice board project activities in our Summer Learning Series offerings. While we do still offer live events in July and August, we know these months are difficult to get live attendance from educators. The series have been embraced by hundreds of teachers in the county who have worked through series, obtained completion certificates, and put their learning in action by creating and submitting project work they can use in their classrooms this fall. Summer Series website screenshot

Next steps? The Core Connections videos and Summer Series videos will be available through Labor Day, at which point we’ll transition to more targeted professional development bundles for teams, schools, and districts who are hoping to support their teachers with whatever the fall holds. Right now some of our districts are beginning full virtual for the first marking period; others are using a blended approach where students report for 2-3 days of the week in person and still others are opening full time, face-to-face, for all students. Some schools have not yet decided what they’re doing.

One of our challenges as a county support team is being able to meet the needs of all of our schools. Every teachers’ needs vary so greatly. We hope we can continue to design personal learning experiences for our teachers and reach as many educators as possible. We’re here to support you! If you’re reading this and you’re an educator from Berks County, be sure to reach out to lynhil@berksiu.org if you have any requests for learning opportunities!

PS. For those of you interested in the tools we used to make this happen… some apps & services we couldn’t live without: Google Slides, Google Sites, Canva, Screencastify, iMovie, YouTube, and Zoom.

In the midst of it all

I’ve been meaning to come to this space for quite some time. I did, after all, commit to #20in20 – twenty posts to my blog this year. Well, we’re 106 days in. (Could be 107 by the time I click publish) and I’ve managed to post just once.

In the midst of it all, of starting a new job, acclimating to life working in an office and in schools during the week and juggling children’s schedules and trying to find me time (laugh-a-ble), I just didn’t find time to write.

I wanted to, though.

Things were going really well. Enjoying my new role immensely. My OPDC team at BCIU is amazing. I found myself involved in some truly meaningful projects, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to serve our county’s schools.

In the midst of enjoying this new adventure, the pandemic arrived.

And the last several weeks have been a blur. I’m not a classroom teacher, so I can’t begin to empathize. But I am spending most of my time each day building digital content and sharing live with teachers in our county because our job continues to be to provide professional development and support to the teachers in our county. I have comfort in this space, and for that I am grateful, while certainly other members of leadership teams and teachers do not.

In the midst of it all, when I stop to breathe and reflect, the guilt comes in. My kids are 4 and 7. They have online learning tasks of their own to complete, and I have very little time to sit with them and make sure it’s happening. We’re finding other opportunities to learn and play together. And the house is a mess and I don’t pay attention to the dogs and will I ever consistently exercise and get out of this desk chair and will the amount of time my kids spend on iPads make their brains implode? Probably not, but in the midst of it all, that’s what I worry about.

My worries are nothing compared to the worries of families who don’t have incomes, or food to eat, or shelter, or access to health services. I get that. We’re designing learning opportunities for teachers knowing not all of their students have internet access, or devices, or time, or space, or support, or the safety, to learn from home.

We’re just continuing to do what we do because it’s what we need to do. And we’re doing our best, in the midst of it all.

I hope you’re well, too. And remember how much you mean to all the people around you, and that your best is always good enough.

 

PS. It’s now day 121. 15 days to finish and click publish. Sigh.

 

20 in 20.

This is me, blogging.

This is me, sharing one of my learning and leadership goals transparently, in a space I often think of fondly, yet rarely commit time to visit.

I’m going to post 20 blog entries in 2020.

Boom.

“We miss your voice,” a colleague told me earlier this year. Someone who has known me in this space – well, not this space – but something vaguely similar, from the earliest days of edublogging and Tweeting circa 2009.

So I’ve started a new position as a Program Administrator at Berks County Intermediate Unit. In Pennsylvania, schools and communities are supported by regional service agencies called IU, and I’ve now joined a committed team of educational leaders support school districts, teachers, and students in our county. I help facilitate learning around STEM, gifted education, and I spend time with the middle school principals’ network. And whatever else arises as a need!

I love it.

It’s a good fit for me. I love professional learning. I enjoy working with teachers.

I love learning. And I’m doing a lot of it, every day.

Currently we’re doing a bit of grant writing and supporting schools as they work to integrate STEM and CS into their students’ learning experiences.

What are you learning about STEM and CS that might interest me or my teachers? Be sure to say hi and share your thoughts in the comments below.

1/20

🙂

 

Learnings Lately.

“Busy is the new default status.”

Boo. 👻

Apologies to my loyal little blog, it’s been awhile, but you’re always here when I need you! #longlivetheblog

What have you been learning lately? Wanted to share a few tidbits from my consulting adventures and work with Modern Learners Community.

I had one of the most exciting leading and learning experiences in my career thus far when I spent a few days at the International Learning Event in Perugia, Italy. It was such a privilege to share about digital age leadership, personal learning networks, and documentation of learning with very passionate teachers! It was also a privilege to spend time at the ITIS Alessandro Volta school and witness so many innovations in learning, and of course at last meet face-to-face the gracious and talented Silvia Mazzoni.

In the land of Modern Learners, we recently ran a series of Crowdcast events introducing our latest Modern Learners Courses – from assessment to the principles of modern learning and inquiry leadership, check out our offerings and see if they’d be a good fit to support your learning. (They are perfect for teams, too!) And, don’t forget, Modern Learners Community is a FREE, dynamic online learning space where we engage in dialogue and share resources around teaching, learning, and leadership. Join us!

In Google for Education world, I’ve been learning more about CS First as well as the Applied Digital Skills curriculum. If you’re in need of support implementing the free Applied Digital Skills curriculum in your schools, check out this offering from Kiker Learning.

I’ve also enrolled in CMU’s free CS Academy and have a few gold stars under my belt. Check out this overview to learn more!

The Garden State Summit is being held on January 13, 2020 – Register today!

And, finally, iPDX is returning for its 20th year, and it remains one of my favoritest, most powerful learning gatherings of all time. 😉 You can submit your interest to attend here! 

What about you? What have you been learning? Sharing? Wondering?

Belonging in learning communities and beyond.

This post was originally written for the Modern Learners Shifting Conversations column on our blog! Thanks for reading! (And listening). 🔈


Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. -Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

What’s more obvious to you: Knowing you belong? Or the keen (often painful) awareness that you don’t?

I can clearly recall times in my life when “belonging” escaped me. When my family moved mid-4th-grade year and I sat in a new classroom, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. My hair had been recently cropped short. I wore glasses for the first time. No one talked to me. It seemed everyone was petrified of the new girl who cried every day. In middle school, I didn’t wear the trendiest clothing brands, had early 90s permed hair and still wore glasses, in the weirdest of colors and frame shapes. My sense was that I didn’t belong to the group of peers who seemed to hold the social power. At times I didn’t belong to my family when for much of my youth I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) embrace the farming/rural culture I was expected to live in and contribute to. Because I wasn’t born there. I resented the move to the country. That place made me feel angry and confused and alone.

That’s just adolescence, you may think. Everyone’s awkward. No one feels like they belong.

I guess therein lies the problem.

From the outside looking in, judgment passed on the value or impact of a person’s experience is wildly problematic. No single person or group of people can possibly define how, when, and why another belongs.

Belonging emerges from within.

Have I experienced true belonging in my life? Perhaps. On my collegiate field hockey team. In a classroom learning alongside my students. In an online message board sharing art and exchanging life stories with other paper crafters. In motherhood.

In a Twitter chat, circa 2009. In a social network where the sharing of ideas and a commitment to dialogue was paramount. That when you think about it, you’re moved to tears because that feeling of belonging was so great and it’s kind of disheartening knowing it’s gone:

But are these examples of true belonging? Of times when I was able to present my authentic, imperfect self to the world, my sense of belonging no greater than my level of self-acceptance? I’m really not sure.

So, what does belonging have to do with Modern Learners? Why are we sharing this in Shifting Conversations?

Because we have some difficult work to do, and we need your help. We want your help.

18 months ago, the Modern Learners team gifted me the opportunity to start building a learning community from the ground up. We’ve made a commitment to this space, through its ups and downs, its gradual growth in membership, conversations and celebrations, and its challenges.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: community is hard. For those of you dabbling in social spaces, connecting with educators in the Twitters and Facebook groups and the like – those networks can hold a lot of power. They can exert influence, for better or worse. But has true community emerged? And if so, how? Is there a sense of belonging among members? True belonging?

This is the work we aim to accomplish in the coming months in Modern Learners Community. Our April theme is Belonging. How do we develop belonging in our learning organizations? What does modern learning for all mean? How do we create conditions that result in a safe space where vulnerability in learning is encouraged and supported?

From day one, we had a vision for this space. We wrote community norms. We detailed expectations for interactions, posts, and member behavior. But we can go deeper.

This week I listened to Build a more human internet with Caterina Fake and Reid Hoffman on Masters of Scale. Some of my takeaways:

We are creating civilizations. We are the framer, the establishers of laws, and norms, and we have to set the culture from day one. What you tolerate is what you are. You want to be part of a community that shares your values. All platforms are value-laden. So how do you create a set of values that have shared objectivity?

Culture sticks.

Who do you want to be? Who do we want to be? These are some of the questions we’ll be asking this month and beyond. We’re going to collaborate on a community project where we construct a set of community values with input from all stakeholders. We’re going to dig deep into notable works about belonging and apply these ideas to the development of our value statements. We’re going to ask questions. A lot of questions. And all of this work can be applied to your own work with students in your classrooms and schools.

  • What does belonging look like in my classroom or school community?
  • How do we describe learner interactions (both verbal and non-verbal)? Who contributes? Who doesn’t? Why?
  • Who do your community members see? In their classrooms, on walls and in print, in positions of authority?
  • How is identity and diversity honored in your schools?
  • How are our systems, policies, or hierarchies dehumanizing learners, and how can we restore humanity for all?

 

We are proud of MLC as it exists today. And we know it can be even more powerful, more inclusive, more accepting. MLC is a place where everyone is valued. We “share similar emotional commitments,” as member Rich TenEyck has remarked.

I’m looking forward to this work, where we move from a network where learners can explore topics and content that matters to them and their schools to a community where true belonging can occur. This is going to involve breaking down barriers, challenging assumptions, and being brave:

The special courage it takes to experience true belonging is not just about braving the wilderness, it’s about becoming the wilderness. It’s about breaking down the walls, abandoning our ideological bunkers, and living from our wild heart rather than our weary hurt.

True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. -Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

Hey, here’s the thing.

Maybe, just maybe, you don’t fit the mold. You’re not what they expected. You think differently, you feel differently, and you are a teacher “doing remarkable things because your conscience says your practice should be aligned with your beliefs. Whatever the consequences.”

Maybe you lead with subversion. You have ideas to better serve all kids, particularly those who have been marginalized, dehumanized, and who are punished by the system.

Maybe you’re tired, on a number of levels. It’s unclear where, exactly, you’re going to end up, given your consistent commitment against the status quo. But you do know that remarks encouraging you to be some kind of educational hero or savior or reading post after post with eduplatitudes angers you more than inspires you. You feel alone in this work. You trust sparingly.

But know that you bring experiences, wisdom, and insight to modern learning that are uniquely yours. We couldn’t begin to imagine the worth you hold in this world. Maybe one day we’ll be privileged enough to learn about it.

As you reflect and move forward in leading this week, think about the words of Margaret Wheatley, and what this world needs. And tell us in the comments about the work you’re doing and resources you reference when you build learning communities where every person can belong.

 

What This World Needs

This world does not need more entrepreneurs.

This world does not need more technology breakthroughs.

This world needs leaders.

We need leaders who put service over self, who can be

steadfast through crises and failures, who want to stay

present and make a difference to the people, situations, and

causes they care about.

We need leaders who are committed to serving people, who

recognize what is being lost in the haste to dominate, ignore,

and abuse the human spirit.

We need leaders because leadership has been debased

as those who take things to scale or are first to market or

dominate the competition or develop killer apps. Or hold onto

power by constantly tightening their stranglehold of fear until

people are left lifeless and cowering.

We need leaders now because we have failed to implement

what was known to work, what would have prevented or

mitigated the rise of hatred, violence, poverty, and ecological

destruction. We have not failed from a lack of ideas and

technologies. We have failed from a lack of will. The solutions

we needed were already here.

Let us use whatever power and influence we have, working

with whatever resources are already available, mobilizing the

people who are with us to work for what they care about.

Who Do We Choose to Be? by Margaret Wheatley

Who do we choose to be?

That’s what we hope to define this month and beyond in Modern Learners Community. And we invite you to join us. We’re going to do this work, because we have to. We’re not going to wait until the conditions are perfect, or we have the most articulate plan. With or without you, the work will be done.

But we’d much prefer to do this work together.

After all, this just might be the place where you belong.

On books, devices, and habits.

When I was young I devoured books.

They took me places

Introduced me to faces

Helped me imagine worlds that weren’t my own.

Nothing to distract me, except siblings and toys

and being told to

go outside.

In the past few years it’s been hard

to read a book

from start to finish.

Grown up books are different.

Big words and ideas so difficult

they make my head

and heart

hurt.

Books are in competition now

with things that take

my attention.

Some rightfully so – kiddos, home, dogs, work.

But for pages

and stories

to compete

with a screen?

With notifications and channels and threads and

electronic mail?

No.

But wait!

You can read on a screen.

They make books that way.

I know.

I’ve tried.

I have never finished,

or read

in entirety,

not once,

a digital book.

Now to be fair

the device where I read

is a phone

or a laptop,

not a device

specifically made for books.

So I reflect, in what times

and spaces

and places

is it impossible for me

to put down a book?

When do books win?

And I think.

And I think some more.

The beach.

At the beach, I read.

YA. Fantasy. Suspense. Picture books.

(Fiction. Lots of fiction.)

Books with robots, dragons, housewives, utopias, and vampires.

Books with characters so flawed

and so brave

and so perfect.

That I paint pictures of them

in my mind

and I feel like I know them.

That I cry when they cry.

And laugh when they laugh.

They teach me things.

When I read at the beach

there are no distractions.

Because sand and devices

don’t mix.

Because wifi is spotty

at best.

So how can my every day

Be more like the beach?

It wasn’t easy, but

I made a choice.

Pings, dings, and social things.

Can wait.

Goodbye, device.

You’ve been replaced.

Morning coffee and a

book

or two.

This is my habit.

This is my morning.

This is me

devouring a book.

Taking me to places,

introducing me to faces.

Imagining worlds.

Again.

Why are difficult conversations so difficult?

This month in Modern Learners Community our theme is difficult conversations. I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys conflict. As a new principal, I fell into the “tries to avoid conflict at all costs” style of leadership, which frankly wasn’t helpful in most situations. I learned over time and with experience that conflict could be productive. That, through relationship building, a focus on listening, and acquired mediation and people skills, difficult conversations could, indeed, have positive outcomes. And, not only that, most of the time, those difficult conversations were necessary. 

Why are difficult conversations so difficult?

They evoke feeling.

They make us question things we believe.

They strain relationships.

What makes me most uncomfortable about these difficult conversations, particularly those around topics like racism and power inherent in school systems, is that I hadn’t really been asked to confront these ideas for at least my first 15 years of serving as an educator.  Not in undergrad. Not in grad school. Not as a classroom teacher. Began to scratch the surface as a principal, but my awareness of needing to evoke difficult conversations has come as the direct result from continued connections with other educators; by reading, reflecting, and listening to those whose life experiences and needs differ from my own.

Difficult conversations are necessary. And they arise when we’re placed in a space where learning needs to occur. Don’t shy away from the conflict. Don’t turn off the conversations. Learn.


How I’m Learning Lately

Reflecting on Educon contributions from Val BrownThankful for her willingness to share the resources from Teaching Tolerance that have been instrumental in guiding our work with educators inside MLC and beyond. My biggest takeaway from her sessions that weekend were that the same provocations and strategies we should use with students to confront issues of racism and power need to be addressed with every adult leading the way. We can’t do this work if we don’t first work to acknowledge our own biases and then take action to change.

Reading Digital Minimalism and joining in Doug Belshaw’s bookclub hosted via We are Open co-op’s Slack.

Listening to the Modern Learners podcast – now available on Spotify!

Watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Childhood memories. Tears upon tears. Feelings and truly honestly believing Fred Rogers gets me as a human being. To him, the world’s greatest evil is “people trying to make you feel less than you are.”

“Love is at the root at everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.”

Writing in Modern Learners Community. And writing some more.

Curating a list of must-reads for the community. What’s on your to-read list?

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A commitment: Write to learn.

Educon 2011

Last night in our regular Shifting Conversations, Live! event inside Modern Learners Community (we basically join up in Zoom and have the most thought-provoking and enjoyable conversations ever!), we discussed Bruce’s latest post: It’s Time for your Professional Learning Checkup.

We talked through many of the questions that Bruce shared in his post, and we admitted quite vulnerably how we described ourselves as learners. This caused us to think more about how our students see themselves as learners and what conditions we create in our classrooms that either make them feel comfort in the learning space or that cause them to feel anxious, or could block potential learning opportunities.

Many of the participants shared the power of writing for reflection, and how important writing was to their own learning process.

And it made me think of this blog, and how infrequently I post here. And it made me sad.

I spend a lot of time writing. Every day, every week, I write.

It’s just that the writing is going elsewhere – it’s being shared in our community or to contribute to other projects and it’s not making its way into this space. The one I crafted so long ago to serve as documentation of my learnings and wonderings.

So here we are.

The takeaways from last night’s talk align nicely with my To Do list for the next two days: Attend Educon.

This will be my fourth Educon, and the first where I’m not presenting.

This year, for me, it’s about listening and learning. Questioning and looking inward. Wondering and reflecting.

And I can’t wait.

In 2011, I had the chance to sit on a panel of speakers with Will Richardson, Pam Moran, Alec Couros, Karl Fisch, and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, all about Diversifying Your Rolodex: Discussing the lack of diversity in the ed tech space. It seems like decades ago. So much learning and life experiences since then. I was honestly petrified to sit among those esteemed leaders in the education space. (And now, I get to work alongside Will Richardson. Life is good.)

In 2012, I facilitated my first session for elementary-focused audiences and reflected about the session in this space, along with so many other questions that Educon 2.4 caused me to consider.

And in 2015, Andrew Marcinek and I thought we should dive into this whole idea of the “PLN” and what it means and why it matters. And how you can continue to grow and nurture that network to help you grow and learn in diverse ways.

So after each of those experiences, I reflected, I wrote, I learned, I revised, I wrote some more. And I have those takeaways with me for always.

Look for more posts from me in the coming days as I selfishly use my Educon time to learn from voices I have not previously learned from. To hear people speak that I’ve never before heard. To push myself outside of my typical learning spaces and to find educators who will open my eyes to new perspectives and ideas.

Happy Educoning, all!

Connect to learn. Seek to understand.

I’ve advocated for educators to use social to connect, for learning, for quite some time. I do this even when my pleas have fallen on less-than-enthused ears, or when someone can’t quite comprehend the scope of how being a “connected educator” has changed who I am as a teacher, and as a leader, a thinker, a creator.

I know for sure that it has fundamentally changed me as a learner.

I’m currently teaching a graduate-level technology & communications course for aspiring principals, and networks & communities & PLNs & all the rest are part of our course explorations. My students are really stepping it up in terms of their blogging game. Would love for you to take a look and comment if you have the opportunity!  We recently reflected on Dean Shareski’s ideas around sharing and our Moral Imperative to do so as educators. See blogs by

Taylor, Steven, Laurie, Bernadette, and Ralph

 

So, yes, I feel good sharing about sharing. About making sure the educators I work and learn with can connect with others to develop supportive circles of friends and resource knowledge bases and be in touch with the latest and greatest in the world of education and educational technology and leadership.

But, you know, as much as social used to be a space where we went for inspiration, for support, and for meaningful conversations filled with constructive feedback, it’s kind of morphed into a space where I get a really icky feeling every time I’m there.

Last night I chatted with Jeff Bradbury and Sam Patterson on the Tech Educator podcast, and we talked about connected educators and learning with social and how the spaces have evolved so much since the beginning, both in good ways (many more educators participating, new tools to help us connect in different ways) and in bad ways (tendencies to stay in our bubbles, algorithms taking command of who we interact with and how, not amplifying marginalized voices, a constant stream of noise and promotion). The time spent recording our thoughts was not nearly enough to delve into all that is good and all that is broken in the world of social learning.

I don’t know if it’s the medium, or the message, or the heightened state of anxiety that exists among teachers and leaders and humans in general, but I may in fact start to steer teachers clear of open social spaces if they’re looking for genuine engagement and discourse.

I love a well-constructed, respectful conversation on Twitter. I enjoy people who post things that make me go, “Huh. I didn’t think about that perspective before.” Or, “Oh. That thing I just shared absolutely amplifies my privilege and maybe I need to think twice about what I say, how I say it, and whose voices I’m sharing.” In our quest to move Beyond the Buzzwords with our Modern Learners work, I do insert myself into chats such as #satchat pretty regularly and try to offer questions and comments that push the boundaries of what people are generally posting and thinking about some topics around “educational innovation.” But I always try to do that from a place of deep respect for the educators in this space and a genuine interest in moving the conversation forward.

There are people who enjoy sharing platitudes and pick-me-up statements via social, and I am not one of those people. There are people who love personally attacking other users, or amplifying their work just to smear it, and I hope I am not one of those people, either.

But I get why it happens.

They’ve had enough. They’ve seen enough. The levels of frustration they experience when they’re told what “good teachers” do or what “everyone” should try are beyond measure. They’re exhausted. They feel like they’re not being heard. They feel attacked.

And so what’s lacking in these spaces, and in leadership circles in general, is our inability or unwillingness to seek first to understand.

Seek to understand.

Before tweeting, before posting, before sharing…. read once. Read again. Do some background fact-checking and learn more about the person behind the account, or think about the message you wish to share and examine it from all possible angles. Where does the privilege lie? Where does the motivation come from? How might someone who isn’t in your position/race/class view this information? How can your subsequent interactions with users and content create a more robust learning space for people who are engaged? How can you amplify messages and voices that push us to be better? Better thinkers, better learners, better people?

There are alternatives to learning in open social, and more and more educators are gravitating to more clearly defined spaces that better support deep conversations around teaching and learning. They’re joining together as tribes of people who are committed to a movement. These types of communities are moderated, have clearly established norms, and they’re sometimes behind a paywall or require a subscription. But I think what people are beginning to realize is that there is incredible value in such a space, and the cost is minimal in the grand scheme of what is added to their learning, plus the fact that the platforms being used are algorithm and noise-pollution-free.

Our space is ChangeLeaders Community, and we’re growing, and it’s exciting. We need more voices, though –your voice. We need more diverse representations of leaders and learners and we hope you will consider joining us, for the betterment of the entire community.

I don’t tweet as often as I used to, and I certainly don’t blog with the regularity of my early blogging years, but these spaces are still such an important part of who I am as a learner and leader. Every day I find meaning in the interactions. I want us to commit to making these spaces the height of what we try to create

More to Explore/See/Do:

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Tools come and go. Learning should not. And what’s a “free” edtech tool, anyway?

This guy just found out Padlet is now a paid service and spent the day recreating his walls in an analog space.

I like free things. It’s neat when I can log into a service, do my thing, get the most bang for my buck – $0 – and then continue on my day.

But I’d like to think that educators, specifically those who use educational technologies, understand that nothing is truly free.

Not even free services, not by a long shot. More on that in a bit.

There was sadness across the interwebs when Google Reader went away. Simply designed, wildly impactful Google Reader. We’d been subscribing and bundling and organizing all the feeds that mattered to us and our learning and then, they took it away.

We had to find other solutions, and frankly, nothing really came close to replicating the experience we had with Reader. At least in my experience.

But we couldn’t stop reading, subscribing, learning, and sharing, in the absence of that tool. We had to find alternatives, we had to consider: What purpose did the tool serve? How can I replicate that with another service or via other means? And why should I bother? Is it essential to my learning to have a tool like this at my disposal? Or was it an extra? Something unnecessary? Something frivolous?

People are voicing loudly their criticisms of Padlet’s decision to move to a paid service. You get to keep your current Padlets, they’re not going away, +3 on your freebie plan. Additional walls and features are something like $99/year. Steep, for sure. More info on that here.

I’ve used Padlet since it was Wallwisher. I have 30+ walls saved. I used it as recently as last month with my grad students as a break from the drudgery of Blackboard interface. I demo it at workshops. I use it to get participant feedback during conference sessions.

Sure, it sucks that I will have to explore other alternatives, but I don’t need Padlet. You might not need it either. Your students probably don’t need Padlet. 

And yet, maybe they do. Maybe you do. That’s a decision you have to make as a leader of learning, with the people in your school that support technology integration and instructional design and who write the checks. Maybe ask your students, too. What do they get out of using this tool?

We love to shout “pedagogy first, tech second” and “don’t teach your kids tools, teach them skills” and yet when an announcement like this is made, we respond with rage and, heaven forbid, a closed mindset about what this really means in the grand scheme of the most important thing that should be happening in our classrooms: Learning.

If your students can no longer learn because Padlet (or insert any formerly-free-now-paid-tool) is now inaccessible to them, then I think it would be wise to come together as instructional teams and determine what it is that they were doing with Padlet in the first place, and how that experience can be replicated in a different way, if it is something that truly helped them learn.

It’s annoying, for sure. It’s unfair to continue to ask more from teachers, specifically money, when they’re already wildly underpaid and spend hundreds of dollars on classroom essentials and building classroom libraries, but ed tech tools moving from free to paid versions isn’t the most impossible obstacle we have to overcome. We deal with far more alarming problems in our children’s lives: poverty, hunger, racism, inequitable funding for schools, lack of leadership, placing value on the wrong things (standardized tests and assessment measures), failure to have the means to support communities.

Now, back to the “free” services discussion.

When you create an account with a free service, when you offer your name, email address, demographic information, school’s name, and you do the same for your students, you’re relinquishing your – and their- privacy and personal information on a number of levels. Certainly there are privacy policies and terms of use in place for these services that you should absolutely be reading, reviewing, and deciding as a school whether or not the costs of doing business with the service are worth your exchange of information. By the way, you should be communicating all of this to parents, too, and allowing them to decide whether or not they want their children’s information submitted to each service. More on that here.

Those are the costs, for freebie services. The companies may be using your personal information elsewhere. They may be tracking your activity, logging your data, and selling it to other companies. These things happen behind the scenes, aren’t always obvious to the user, and smart people like Bill Fitzgerald and Audrey Watters and other leaders in this space are trying to keep educators more informed about this. Companies love giving free perks to teachers with the expectation that teachers will share their use of the tools with colleagues and in social spaces to help build the brand. Some consider that exploitation, other teachers are happy to do it. When it’s done with classrooms of students who don’t have say in the choice and use of tools, that might be viewed as a questionable practice. And, let us not forget the many giant companies and corporations who are funding many of these ventures, and the motivation behind these “generous” fundings. What’s in it for them?

So what should your next steps be? And prior to bringing new technologies into your schools, what should you be thinking about?

  1. Do I need this tool? Why? How does it really support learning?
  2. What are the costs, both monetary and otherwise, of using this service? Do the rewards of use outweigh the risks?
  3. Is there a paid service I could explore that will meet my needs and better protect the privacy of my information and my students’ information?
  4. How can I inform parents/community members about our use of this tool and what mechanisms are in place for parents to opt their children out of using it?
  5. When this tool and/or its plan changes, how will we adjust? What will our plans be to make seamless transitions to other tools or strategies when the inevitable happens?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this issue in the comments here!


More to Read:

Edmodo’s Tracking of Students and Teachers Revives Skepticism Surrounding ‘Free’ Edtech Tools

Education Technology and the Power of Platforms

Education Technology and the Promise of Open and Free

The ‘Price’ of Free and Freemium Edtech Products