Thursday, April 24, 2014

Personalizing PD: It's About Empowerment; Not Tools

I’ve Got the Power by C.P.Storm, on Flickr

This was crossposted at Edsurge.

Personalized learning and professional development - these buzzwords are humming on everyone’s lips in education these days. Given the national realization that our students need new skills and competencies to be “college and career ready” after they leave our schools, substantial shifts are happening in the areas of teacher practice and educational standards. Personalization seems to be one of the best ways to meet the rising demands of the global economy.

And, while I firmly believe that personalized learning models have the ability to transform the educational experience for kids and adults alike, we’ve reached a critical moment in the conversation.

Right now, school leaders, policy makers, and companies are all jumping into the fray, investing their time and resources in tools such as software-based curricula to adaptive assessment tools. To ensure we invest wisely, we must revisit the core principles of personalized learning, its implications, and it’s intentions.

Recently, I’ve discovered many organizations who provide personalized professional development “solutions” by merely assessing educators and delivering targeted videos, articles, and content. But, if you’re defining personalized learning as targeted content delivery, you’re missing the mark.

According to Barbara Bray, one of the leading voices in the personalized learning movement, the process must “begin with the learner.” This means that the learner is integral to creating the goals, tasks, and methods by which learning actually happens.

The magic ingredient for personalized learning isn’t prescriptive content; it’s empowerment. When people decide what they want to learn, individualized ownership creates the magic. To cite the words of researcher and author Dan Pink, “While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it's a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”

Consider what’s happened with the Edcamp movement. In less than 4 years, hundreds of thousands of educators in dozens of countries have volunteered their Saturdays to explore topics they choose with passionate colleagues. The model isn’t fueled by grants or policies or mandates. Instead, it’s fueled by the excitement and passion that comes from collaborative, learner-selected, learner-driven conversations.

And, Edcamps aren’t the only personalized professional development experiences out there, either. Teachers have taken to Twitter and social media in droves to initiate educational chats during weekends and evenings. Topics such as #sbgchat (standards based grading chat) and #edchat (educational chat) attract hundreds of participants. Teachers are blogging (and reading blogs) more than ever before. Even ASCD, the premier curriculum and leadership organization in the country, titled their recent annual conference “@ Every Learner” to reflect the shift that’s underway.

If we equate these types of organic experiences with a long list of video clips based on a teacher’s profile, then we won’t ever realize the change we want to see in our classrooms. When a teacher passively sits back and watches prescribed content, they’re simply absorbing. When a teacher builds and synthesizes ideas via a personalized experience such as a Twitter chat or Edcamp, they’re actively engaging in the right mix of content sharing and socialization.

To simplify this distinction, consider the following chart:

Personalized PD does…
Generate motivation via empowerment
Encourage the learner to find their own content
Necessitate time
Require metacognition from the learner
Require descriptive feedback from lots of sources
Embrace low-stakes coaching and on-going development

Personalized PD does NOT…
Generate motivation via requirements or credit mandates
Prescribe specific, static readings or video clips
Increase efficiency
Have a clear end or finish
Emphasize “right and wrong” answers
Emphasize extrinsic rewards or singular evaluations

Personalized professional development is driven by teacher empowerment. Teachers choose the topics, the formats, and the outcomes. Learning isn’t metered out or required, it’s grown.

As we select the tools that will help us grow the capacity of educators, personalized learning should be considered. But rather than pick tools that prescribe the type of learning that should take place, perhaps we should use our resources to truly answer the following question for every teacher: What do you want to learn?

Photo credit:  by  C.P.Storm 
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Edcamp Organizer Hangout on Air Recording! #Edcamp

Last week, I had the enormous pleasure of connecting with Edcamp organizers across the nation to talk about What Makes Edcamp Special. It was an enormously rich conversation that included some great tips for both first-time and experienced organizers.

My favorite tip? Something decidedly low-tech.

One organizer shared that she sent a personal email with her rationale for attending to everyone in her district. What a powerful way to encourage those who are unconnected to attend!

If you'd like to watch the entire panel, check it out below. Happy Edcamping!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Upping My Game: New Resources That Nonverbal Cues in the Digital Space

This past Saturday, I spent the day at Edcamp Sonoma. While connecting with other educators in the heart of Northern California, I realized that it's been a while since I took stock of new apps that can help me with my instructional goals.

Right now, I'm kicking off an asynchronous M.Ed class with a dozen or so students to explore teaching and learning with technology. One of the needs that I have personally is to provide as much feedback to folks as possible. Personally, I've found that providing feedback in ways that accentuates nonverbal cues (Read: audio and video) is particularly effective. Sometimes, this can be time consuming -- so I'm always looking for innovative ways to provide audio and video content to students.

So... here are my top 3.....

1) Movenote - Movenote is a plug in for GMAIL where you can instantly upload images and video to your email message. The files are not attached to the message, so there's no barrier based on file sizes or

2) Kaizena - Kaizena is a tool that connects with Google Doc to allow verbal/audio feedback comments on writing. By using this, you can provide audio comments right within the doc!

3) Tellagami - Tellagami is an app that allows you to create an animated video that includes your own voice. It seems like a fun, engaging way to share ideas and stories.

I'll experiment with these and let you know how it goes! Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why Are There So Many Edcamp First Timers?

Alone by frielp, on Flickr

Last Saturday, I attended Edcamp Sonoma in Northern California. As always, the event was perfectly organized by the innovative team at the Sonoma County Office of Education. Matt, Mickey, and Dan are all rockstars, and they "set the table" for a great event.

And while Edcamps by definition are based on open space technology (the people who come are the right people), I was a bit surprised by the turnout.

Less than 20 people showed up.

Was the day a waste? Far from it. We ended up with a full schedule board, and I walked out with stronger relationships than at a typical Edcamp event. Further, I got some personalized tutoring on all the new apps that promote asynchronous, nonverbal cues.

But, really, the day got me thinking. In spite of the insane, growing momentum we see worldwide (almost 500 events!), we also notice that many of our events (even repeat events) are attended by first timers.

So why aren't all of our Edcampers coming back year after year? **I would be remiss if I did not note the die hard Edcampers who go to annual events, travel far to attend events, and really push the movement forward.** However, it's clear that everyone who attends an Edcamp isn't coming back.


Based on some research and anecdotal evidence, I think there are three primary reasons we see Edcamp churn:

1) Educators are busy.
Let's face it-- we're busy. It's hard to make time on a Saturday for professional learning, and sometimes life just gets in the way. I get that.

2) Sometimes educators think that attending one Edcamp is "enough."
Sure, if you've attended one Edcamp you can certainly "check the box." However, I caution you to think that way. My best conversations have happened after I really understood the model and could leverage all of the learning that happens. For me, it took 3 events to get to that point.

3) We are getting complacent.
Maybe you learned a few new tools at your first Edcamp. Maybe you even got on Twitter and discussed innovative learning strategies. However, there is always more to learn. I think that sometimes we get complacent in our learning as educators. I myself have gone through these periods. It's important to recognize that the shifts needed for our students haven't even hit full stride yet on our classrooms.

As a member of the Edcamp Foundation and one of the movement's biggest cheerleaders, it is my job to help Edcamp organizers and Edcampers all over the world do better and be better. Maybe this means that we need to experiment with new ideas, options, and models. Maybe this means we need to bring together our organizers to brainstorm. Maybe this means we need to educate Edcampers about the true benefits of peer learning over time.

And while I don't have all the answers, I do own the problem. Anyone want to help me solve it?

Photo Credit:
  by  frielp 
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Elixir of Empowerment: A Top 3

sobe, mmmm! by Joshua Daniel O., on Flickr

To me, there is nothing more magical than learner empowerment. (You can read some of my previous musings on empowerment here.)

When learners (kids or adults) feel that they can accomplish something worthwhile through their actions, then the desire to learn becomes almost insatiable. Armed with the belief that the work matters to others, kids and adults alike will often overcome tremendous obstacles to build their dreams.

Some examples of learner empowerment on the interwebs include:

In many ways, empowerment is a superpower that drives learning. When people feel that their work makes a difference, they'll persist through challenges and road blocks. That's not to say that all empowered work is easy or fun. In fact, it's sometimes very difficult.

Here are the top three ways to cultivate empowerment in your learning environment:

1. Stop trying to be in charge all the time. - Does your learning environment allow many different people to be in leadership roles? If so, then empowerment is much more likely to occur. Think about ways to explicitly give control to others.

2. Stop seeing learning outcomes as singular. If you believe that learning is always represented by a specific product or outcome, you'll likely fear empowerment or think it 'doesn't work.' This is because empowered learners often create work products that differ from expected outcomes. While a high level of rigor needs to be maintained, solving real problems often doesn't result in cookie-cutter solutions.

3. See learning goals as shared. While typical curricular design indicates that learning goals must be decided solely by the teacher, experiment with putting learners in charge. Allow students to create or have input into the learning goals for a course. If you truly view your students as collaborators in the experience, they'll likely arrive at similar goals to your own. It's a win-win!

How do you generate empowerment?
Photo credit:
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Questions... Not Answers

question mark by BAMCorp, on Flickr

If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I love big questions. And, to be honest, I haven't been asking enough questions lately.

Sometimes, when you're moving really fast, it's hard to stop and reflect. So, I decided to take a bit of time to consider the five biggest questions permeating every aspect of my work.

Here goes....

1) Why are we so afraid to change the ways our schools schedule time? 

It's an enormous barrier to 21st Century Learning and it's often a change that can be implemented with little to no cost.

2) How might we rethink the ways that teachers are recognized for their work?

When our system reward risk-taking, change happens more quickly.

3) How constricting are the mandates, really? 

Sometimes I think we perceive that rules exist where there are actually none.

4) Can explicitly teaching kids to network with experts actually close the achievement gap?

I think our neediest learners need networking more than anyone!

5) How can educational transfer be measured with games? 

This is sort of a random one, but one I've been pondering since an awesome meeting with Tamas Makany.

Photo Credit:
  by  BAMCorp 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Social Media Gives Professional Development a Long Tail

Choose Your Own Adventure!

This blog is crossposted at Smartblog on Education.

In many schools and learning organizations, professional development is still an “event.” It’s something that happens a few times a year, imparting isolated chunks of information and strategy to educators. This type of learning is often not pervasive enough to inform everyday practice.

Social media has the ability to change that. And teachers are starting to take this to heart.

Social media allows educators to have continuous conversations about what they’re learning and trying in their classrooms. This integrated approach to growth and development is found to be incredibly effective by educators.

That’s because social media connects educators to two fundamental things at all times:
1) Content
2) Each other

Facebook groups and Twitter chats have sprung up like wildfire among educators in the last few years. Educators are using these spaces to build off of more traditional face-to-face professional development events. Just search #edchat on Twitter to see the innumerable discussion, debates, and shares from educators all over the world.

The growth of anytime, anywhere learning for educators has the ability to transform the profession. The low barrier to entry and tremendous potential for collaboration via social media is going to change the ways that teachers learn and improve their practice.

For me, using social media has connected me to countless ideas, perspectives, and resources. It’s a conversation that I can join whenever the need or desire arises. This ongoing exchange has changed the way I design learning for both children and adults. For me, learning happens all the time -- and the “events” of traditional professional development are a distant memory.


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