A slow itch

11 days before I board a plane to my new home in Bangkok, Thailand and the itch of the network is slowly starting to return.

I’ve almost felt guilty these past couple of weeks coming up with reasons not to be connected. I check e-mail and either delete things or put them in the to-do list of things to complete later. But it’s summer and that’s what summer’s about. Taking time off, re-energizing, and getting ready for another run.

I was getting worried a couple weeks ago that the ‘itch’ wouldn’t return this year. That maybe I had burned myself out and that this would be the year I wasn’t looking forward to returning to education, to intentional teaching, and everything else that goes with this profession.

Then two weeks ago my mom, who teaches an Organizational Leadership class for would be Principals at Whitworth University, invited me to come talk to her class of six about technology. Of course I jumped at the chance to talk with pre-principals about how to support technology in their schools.

I opened up a lot of tabs in my browser and had two Power Points plus my presentation wiki standing by, not knowing what they knew or what they wanted to talk about.

It didn’t take long for the conversation to get rolling and right away I had some push back about a new literacy that is forming in our schools.

The conversation had two interesting points.

First we talked about Google and about verifying information on the Internet. I asked them how they verify the information they find on the Internet. Nobody answered and one even said he never trusts anything on the Internet. So I walked them through Google. We did a search for on of the guys in class and talked about how Google ranks returns. I could tell that I was losing them so I did a quick search for Martin Luther King Jr. and we walked through the links reading the little blurbs that came up for each site. Of course the fourth link down is the famous site that is ran by a white nationalist community.

I clicked on the link and we went to the site. As soon as the site finished loading I asked the group to give me a thumbs up or thumbs down on whether this site was reliable (Students decide within 7 seconds).

six thumbs ups.

We then talked about how students today trust the Internet and how teachers send students home to do homework on the Interent because sites at school are blocked.

I walked them through a validity process that took us to the white nationalist community website and use Whois.net to find out that they owned the site.

Six jaws drop to the floor.

And the next thing that is said

“I’m sure that’s blocked by our school filter.”

and right there…we’ve missed the point. The point is not whether or not this site is blocked by the school filter the point is are we teaching students today to verify information for themselves on the web?

After I got them past the shock of what they were looking at and tried to answer the question “but how does that happen?” the conversation continued.

I’m not sure how, but we ended up talking about Facebook. Of course I told them all they should be on Facebook or at least have knowledge of what’s there and went into my talk on taking control of your online profile. Which as soon-to-be Principals I thought was relevent.

Right away I again had some pushback.

Student: “I understand what you’re saying but there is no way that will happen in the States.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Student: “My school will fire you if they find out you have a page like that or what’s the other one? Myspace? Yeah, if you have a site there and the school finds out you’re fired.”

Now my jaw drops and all I can think is that schools can now tell you where you can and can’t have a presence on the web?

I did do a little research into the above statement by the student. I talked to other employees of that same school district who have Facebook pages and use Facebook regularly. They said “You just have to be careful and know that you are a teacher.” What bothers me is that there are some teachers out there that think they’ll get fired for exploring a social network. :(

The conversation continues and as I show them some of the ways International Schools (because that’s what I know) are using Facebook to engage students in these social places, and using them to empower and teach students the more they’re looking at me like I’m crazy.

Student: “There’s no way you’d get a school to do that here. A kid posts one bad thing and you’d be sued! You forget that our job is to not get sued!”

Right….I forget as apposed to teaching kids.

It was a interesting conversation and we all ended up agreeing that schools in my hometown have taking the approach to pretend that things don’t happen in Facebook that might cause the school harm. The take from the six students was to pretend it doesn’t exisit and that way they can’t sue the school for not knowing what’s there.

WOW…if this is the American approach to these new social tools, America is farther behind then what I thought!

But now the itch is slowly coming back with 11 days of vacation left. I believing even more that Internatioinal Schools are where we’re going to see large scale shifts happen.

8 Comments

  1. Oh Jeff. Didn’t you want to ask “what is your primary purpose as an educator?” and then watch them struggle to formulate an answer? The way this conversation went I can imagine the response devolving into “our primary job is to keep kids safe” which is of course ridiculous. Having gone from teaching to industry to a nonprofit and back to public schools these last five years I really think a lot of ‘educators’ are cut out for another sector. Why do so many incurious fearful people default into education careers?

    • Good question and I don’t know the answer.

      There were many things I wanted to say and even more I wanted to show them but that would have taken longer then the hour I had. Even now as I think about to the conversation is blows me at the “That’s what kids do” mentality that it seems schools are taking on.

      …..we got a ways to go.

  2. Great post! I was able to do something similar last spring with a class of pre-Admin at a local university. There was a mix of reactions in that particular class, but there were definitely some in the room who reacted exactly how you described here. That prompted me to target some professional development in our district (starting this fall) with ALL administrators. I’m not sure how it will be received, but I know I can’t make any headway with teachers if I don’t get the administrators on board.

    I wonder how many colleges and universities need to re-vamp their teacher and administrator education courses to include discussions exactly like this? Kudos to your mom for asking you to meet with them.

  3. Jeff,
    Glad you still have the “itch.” As soon as I lose that feeling I will get out of education. I have only taught for four years so I hope I have at least another 20 in me!

    I left NECC so full of excitement, passion, and energy. I thought that just being in my presence would be enough to spark my coworkers interest in technology. After all, we are ONLINE educators! Aren’t all online teachers supposed to be edtech enthusiasts???? This is the first year that the four of us (yes four—we are a very small school) will teach together. It is also the first year for us to teach online. We have a lot to learn and it would be much easier if everyone was onboard with learning how to teach online. Virtual teachers have to know how to seamlessly integrate technology into their courses. It is just what we do. It frustrates me to no end when I hear my coworkers tell me they don’t have time! My service unit is the first in western Nebraska to offer online classes. We are supposed to be the leaders. How can we lead when we refuse to learn? I don’t know if it is sad or scary that we are the “leaders” in our area. The average teacher in my area has rejected technology completely. They don’t use wikis (WetPaint rocks!!!). They have never blogged and don’t plan on starting. And podcasting……yeah right! The average teacher still freaks out when they come across a student with a cell phone. They have never thought about harnessing the power of cell phones in the classroom. That would take work. And like you said…it is summer. It is not in our “job description” to work during the summer! (I hope the sarcasm in that remark came across!)

    I can relate to the part of your post about teachers just ignoring what is going on in education. So many teachers and administrators are so caught up in the fear that they might get sued. But what they don’t realize (or pretend to not know) is that their fears are unfounded. The few stories that circulate each year tarnish the reputation of social networks. I am proud to say that my forward-thinking administrator approved my request to set up a Ning for my students this year. However, the a handful of the people who outrank me are still feel that it ous our job to protect the students. I think we are missing a great teaching opportunity by not removing most of the filters (some are required by the state) and teaching them how to conduct themselves online. We also have to teach them how to evaluate the information they find. It is amazing how students are so quick to believe everything the read on the Internet!

  4. Jeff – In agreement that it is in international schools (or independent schools) where we will see shift happen. I had more than one conversation at NECC with someone like the principals you are describing or someone that was dealing with someone like them. Partly, I think, its the downside of administration – there are just so many things that can go wrong so you try to minimize risk. Which is a shame.

    One point I’d make is that admin and teachers should be on sites like Facebook not so they can use them in class but so they can better understand the students world (and perhaps also enjoy themselves). Also so they can understand how this kind of communication can be used in a positive way within organizations to facilitate communication & collaboration and provide for a platform for networking on which learning can happen (both student and teacher). If those that are fearful have a fear of “social networking in education” as being the same as “facebook and myspace in education” they are missing the point.

  5. Jeff:

    Spot on… I have been doing this same thing with teachers and administrators for a few years now and typically get the same results from the group. I felt so strongly about it, that I am now an administrator, specifically to move the educational community forward!

    The lack of ‘tech-savviness’ by teachers and even less by administrators is something that needs to be corrected. I have my own wiki page “Guerrilla Learning” and my own presentation on Information Literacy, but there just needs to be more than the few screaming to the masses who either don’t care to listen or don’t think they have to!

    Part of the issue is that teachers will do what they are evaluated on, therefore part of the solution is that we need to work with administrators so they can identify the skills necessary to be a good teacher in the 21st Century.

  6. @Jeff: Welcome to the world of school leadership! Isn’t it fun? Now you know what I get to deal with on a daily basis… =) There’s lots of important work to be done with this group. You get points for trying!

    FYI, my recent post on ‘No Facebook for you!’ may be of interest here:

    link to snipurl.com

    Administrators are notably risk- and controversy-averse. That makes it tough to make change (which, of course, involves risk and controversy!).

    @Michelle: In the U.S., nearly all of the university administrator preparation programs have NOTHING in their programs regarding digital technologies, 21st century teaching and learning, etc. I’d say less than 10 programs (out of 500) nationwide are even trying hard to do any of this. Get in touch if you’d like to know more. See also:

    link to snipurl.com

    [Sorry. Not trying to drive traffic to my blog. Just had a couple of posts that seemed relevant…]

  7. Hi Jeff, I was interested in the validity process you walked these teachers through as I’m currently writing something for students on the same topic.

    Someone must have done something like this before on the web, but I’m not turning up much…any ideas?

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