Medium – A Social Networking Experiment

On a phone call today, my boss mentioned Medium, a social writing platform by Twitter that I had never heard of. I checked it out and found it extremely user-friendly and I was intrigued to see how it functioned. Something my boss said resonated with me: people who use Medium have higher readership than those who publish their blog content to standalone sites.

I love my WordPress site, but let’s be honest – there isn’t a ton of readership.

wp_dashboard

So I wondered, what if I took my best post and added it to Medium as an experiment to see what reached the furthest? Would it have more action? Would there be people who commented on the post?

After investigating, my “best views ever” post on this blog was called “Digital Learning? That Might Be Scary…” In that blog, I reference a friend and former colleague, Geoff Krall, who has a massive social media following. This is probably why I had a whole 68 views courtesy of his networking capabilities. Still, as the school year heads back into session, it might not be a bad content to tweak (not being Digital Learning Day and all) and seeing what happens to both his numbers and mine.

Enter the experiment. About an hour ago, I published that same blog piece on Medium. After a conversation with my blogging buddies, I realized that I needed to clarify what exactly I was testing, which in turn, had me thinking about the goals of my writing in general. In the past, I was focused on writing to share my thoughts and opinions on the edu-space, particularly in the blended and digital learning realms. But that really isn’t the purpose of this experiment.

Here, I really want to see the effects of reach, connectivity, and readership.

Medium allows three tags to classify your writing. I chose “EdTech”, “Education” and “Blended Learning”. I can do more than that in WordPress, but I am not sure it gets me the reach I am hoping for. So for reach, how far does one post go based on a limited tagging structure? To determine that, in three weeks, I will check stats by views, reads, and recs. Remember, the goal is to get more than 68 views.

I can also see who has recommended my story and choose to follow them if I’d like. Again, similar to WordPress, but it feels more networky because Medium is letting me know what type of action (including highlights, comments, and shares) that person is doing. I am also curious about the impact that the Medium post has on other social channels – including my blog space, my Twitter account (which I have linked in Medium), my new Medium network, and potentially even the impact it has on Geoff’s blog. How does the same post from my blog where I have to generate the readership compare to the embedded networking capabilities of Medium?

Does Medium spread the message to a wider audience? If so, how far? Could we possibly see the increase for both me and Geoff? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Medium from a user standpoint as well as from a reader standpoint? Those are the sheer numbers questions I plan to look at as well. Depending on the results, I may be reevaluating where I share content in the future – just my blog, my blog and Medium, or ditch the blog altogether?

Do you use Medium? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts on the product.

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Working Toward a Purpose

The last week I have spent a fair amount of time lost in thought about what are the goals I am helping my company achieve in my current role. Six months into the job and I am finally starting to see a clear picture of what it could be. It’s a cool role…engagement coordinator. To me, it evokes thoughts of connection, elevating amazing teacher work and bringing together like-minded learners from across the country to share and grow from one another. It also sounds BIG. And a bit challenging. But I am always up for a challenge.

The thing that has me puzzled is about goals. I thought I understood our company and department goals until I was asked to sit down and organize the goals in terms of generating community through social media and determining the metrics involved with those goals. It was extremely challenging to a bit frustrating to realize that I really didn’t know our goals as well as I thought I did. Numerically I understood that I need to help grow community and even have a specific target in mind, but the more I tried to parse out what that meant, the more I realized that I was starting with the metrics, which is a big no-no.

I found this great article that helped me understand I needed to back it up quite a bit and focus on what our department goals actually looked like in practice. I’m not done with that process yet and am sure that it will be revised more times than I can count in the next few weeks before we land on something solid. And I am totally ok with that. It’s the collaborative process that counts in getting a really clear picture of what we are aiming to do.

So what does this have to do with education? It’s pretty simple actually. I think schools and districts are doing exactly what the strategy funnel suggests NOT to do. Instead of starting with the tactics and the metrics, go back to the goals.

social-media-strategy-funnel

You may be thinking, I know my goals. I need to have X% of kiddos pass my end-of-course test or we need to increase our literacy level by X points this year. But I think those are really metrics of a larger goal…and it’s the larger goal we should be pushing teachers to realize and supporting them to do so in the process.

Here’s what that might look like for an 9th grade ELA class:

 

See what I did there? One of my classroom metrics contains the “goal” that I had previously mentioned which is actually a measurement of what I am doing in my classroom. And while that isn’t the traditional way of looking at a course, if I get clear about my classroom practice goal, then my metrics can flow from that rather than the reverse. The metrics might be the same, but they feel totally different because I am focusing on what I want to accomplish with my students that year. I am giving myself permission to craft a larger purpose to work toward. Backwards mapping the process will help make it very clear how to set up what you do in the classroom so that everything is in service of the larger goal and the metric will be the evidence you have in the end to prove what you did worked without pressuring or over-stressing your learners about those test scores.

Road Warriors

I am sitting in a hotel room in Tulsa, Oklahoma tonight. The room is full of native American art and is a departure from the typical Hilton/Marriott/IHG hotel that I usually frequent. After two delayed flights, I made it at a reasonable hour but am still waiting for two colleagues to arrive – both of whom have delayed flights as well.

tulsa

This is a pretty typical story for the wonderful people I am and have worked with in the past. We are road warriors who have ‘travel’ as part of their job description to support thousands of teachers across the country. Even though most of our time is spent at home virtually working with people, there are always advantages to meeting face-to-face. A video conference just can’t compare to seeing and feeling the emotion in the room when teachers are learning something new or struggling with a problem or puzzle of practice.

Sometimes our partners, kids, and friends sound like broken records. “Are you really going to be gone again?” “Where are you going this time?” “Didn’t you just get home?” “I thought teachers had the summer off?” Little do they know that late Spring through the beginning of the school year is really the busiest time of year for those who support teachers and that teachers really spend most of their “time off” getting ready for the next year.

Despite all of the challenges that come with travelling for the job, we wouldn’t change it for the world. We are passionate about helping teachers get better at their craft in order to make classrooms better for kids. So this post is dedicated to all of my friends and co-workers who have spent countless nights away from home with many more to come – here’s to you as you are in the thick of travel. May your flights be on time, your coachees be full of excitement, and your hotel beds be cozy.

Get Your Networking On!

I never really understood the importance of all this until my former social media guru showed me how to build a network. Now, I find it a useful part of my education world, and also my blended one. For education, it really makes a difference in connecting to like minded people across the country. But it can also be really overwhelming to keep up with different accounts for personal and professional reasons. So the following tips are designed to help make it more manageable as well as more personalized. You get to be selective when using social media for professional reasons. Go ahead and jump in!

Here are a few pointers to get you started down your educational social media journey:

  • Pick one platform for work and keep the others separate. I like Twitter for work and I keep everything else separate for personal use. LinkedIn is a thing where I keep a resume, but I fully admit it isn’t one I use regularly, though that would technically be work related too. By selecting just one, you can feel like it is manageable and not consuming your life by being on too many sites.
  • Market yourself – especially if your company is a vendor. I have worked for two companies that are technically vendors. This is really challenging when you want to attend or present at a conference. Immediately they judge the RFP and assume that you will be selling something. So, sell yourself. Make yourself your brand and highlight your expertise. There needs to be a reason for conference committees to accept your ideas and knowledge; the more you can point to your public work – a blog, social media account, webinars hosted, etc.- the better your chances of getting to present.
  • Follow people who matter to you in the education world. They often can spark great discussions or give tips for your content areas. You don’t need to follow any and everyone…just those that matter to you. If you are a math teacher, Jo Boaler, Dan Meyer, and Geoff Krall are great places to start. If you are interested in the national conversation, try Ed Week, eSchoolNews, or Edutopia. Just start small and pick what matters to you. It’s not all or nothing. The great thing is that you can be picky.
  • Be bold. Reach out to people when you have a question. As part of a book club, I posted my results from an exercise found in Elena Aguilar’s The Art of Coaching. I mentioned her in the post and had a nice exchange as a result.

    You never know what response you are going to get. So throw it out there – ask and you shall receive from most people.

  • Know your communities. Sure I was pretty excited when for some unknown reason I received a notification that Taye Diggs was following me. Sweet! Still not sure why, but what’s better is when people who are part of my professional learning network (PLN) jump into my world. You just have to know where to look. Hashtags are amazing for educators! Instead of just getting sucked into a social media feed, be specific with your posts and search for what you need.

It’s always really fun to meet someone in person who you know from your social media channels. So, find great minds, be adventurous, and try to dabble a bit in an area of education where you’d like support. There are great people out there willing to help – you just need to network to find them. You might be surprised what you will find and what you can learn.

Share your tips for educational social media in the comments.

Teachers, Embrace the Madness!

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when everyone seems to be enthralled with college basketball – from the die hard fan who has followed their team all season to the bandwagon supporter hoping for a Cinderella story. Brackets are being frantically filled out and office pools are the topic of discussion for a few brief weeks. Can you feel it in the air?

Personally, I am not the biggest basketball fan, give me football any day. But even I get excited this time of year. And so did my students. Instead of fighting the sports talk and bracket madness, turn it into a teaching opportunity and if you are feeling inspired, try blending it. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Can you tell who my family is rooting for?
Can you tell who my family is rooting for?
  1. Brackets to frame discussion: In 2010, the New York Times published an article on how to use the bracket format to debate academic questions. What I love about this article is that it gives suggestions for debatable topics in multiple subjects which are great inspiration. There are endless possibilities for how to play this version of the madness.  Need a few suggestions? Check out Brian Sztabnik’s Edutopia post on how he uses brackets for AP Lit and scroll down for other content use cases. Blended Twist: try this with your online class! There are electronic versions of the bracket where you can share with all your learners and use synchronous class meetings for the debates or showdowns. Use the chat feature in your web conferencing tool or Today’s Meet for backchannel discussion to determine who is winning the debate live.
  2. The Math Behind the Madness: As an update to their 2010 article, the New York Times then chose to go math crazy in 2014. This is a great revamp of their original article that focuses on the mathematical probabilities related to the tournament and has a great thinking questions related to “the perfect bracket.” If you are interested in adding more statistical analysis or tweaking the lesson, check out some of the fantastic data sets and interactive content on Nate Silver’s website.  Blended Twist:  before launching this set of problems, consider a flipped instructional approach by using a review of exponents, like this Khan academy content, to help student grasp the basis of bracketology before the class meets.  You might also consider turning the reading comprehension questions into some work done outside of class so that your in class time can be spent looking at the math and discussing class opinions.
  3. Fantasy Fun: For those of you who like the ideas above but might prefer football (as I do), consider Fantasy Geopolitics. This is something you could do for a few weeks, a month, or even a whole school year. Check out the list of ways teachers are using this in their social studies classrooms. Blended Twist: Good news! This one is already a blended approach to instruction.  However, you can pair it with Newsela for struggling readers will allow them to compete in the game with access to more manageable texts without losing the content knowledge they would need to draft successfully.

Students love of sports can be distracting in the classroom, or it can be something that builds relationships. As teachers, our tendency is to try and minimize distractions in order to focus on content and as a result, we don’t go with the flow. Instead of fighting the madness, use it to your advantage. Turn learning content into a game and you might just be surprised with the results, especially if you blend it.

Give it a try and share your use cases! And “On Wisconsin!”

Change and Transition


CHānj/
verb: make or become different
noun: the act or instance of making or becoming different
tranˈziSH(ə)n,tranˈsiSH(ə)n/
nounthe process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another

My blog has been silent for awhile. Since my last post, there have been many changes and transitions in my life. We have moved once again for the Army, both started new jobs, and a few other developments that were consuming pretty much all of our time. Since so much has been in upheaval, my mind has been on that lately in all aspects of my life, including work.

Making a choice to change and do something different, possibly viewed as disruptive or even radical, in education is a bold step. Perhaps you are shifting to a new block schedule, introducing team teaching or blended learning, or switching to year round school. You’ll question whether you are doing what is best for you, your community, and most importantly, your kiddos. How will you know if the decision you made was right? Chances are that it will take time, which is a luxury schools and districts often don’t have to show the impact of the change. It takes courage, nerves of steel, and a lot of love to stand up for what you believe is needed in your school.

But choosing to take a less traveled path is just the beginning of the journey and arguably the easiest element. It is often said that change is fast but transition is slow. There is an uncomfortable gap between the decision being made and the action steps that come next where the grappling, questioning, and struggling takes place. Emotions enter the picture and transition sets in. It is at this time when it is important to take care of the people who are going on this adventure with you.

As a leader in this new environment, there are three necessary disciplines to help manage your transition time and support the new culture that you wish to develop.

  • Create a sense of ownership. The culture you create from the beginning of the transition will be the foundation for all of your work moving forward. Spend time encouraging your stakeholders to express their feelings, contribute their ideas to the conversation, and cultivate a sense of buy-in to the change that has been made. The sooner you can get people on board and working toward a positive staff culture, the more quickly you can help them move through the transition. Getting to the pedagogical change is important, but it will not be as successful an implementation if your foundation is shaky.
  • Pay attention and listen. What is being said out loud is important but likely not as significant as what is being omitted. What are people feeling a sense of loss about in the transition time? What are they excited about? Is there backchannel conversation happening that could rattle that positive culture you are working so hard to establish? When people’s emotions and beliefs are challenged there is a greater chance for negative energy to enter into the conversation. Honor their opinions but become a master of positivity because people will follow your lead when they are lost or uncertain about the future.
  • Stay focused on your why. There was a reason you decide to make a change. Is it clear to all of your stakeholders not just what the change will be, but also why it was made? It might be that you wanted to ensure that your learners were prepared for college and career readiness. Maybe is it to introduce PBL to a community that is struggling to reach its learners. Perhaps it is to create a sense of equity in your district. Whatever the reason, be clear and transparent to all involved in the change decision and transition process. Muddying the waters by subsequently introducing an evaluation process that doesn’t align to your shift or holding professional development sessions that are unrelated will only lead to confusion, which can damage your culture. Staying focused will give people the north star they are looking for when times get tough or seem to difficult to manage.

No one said that being an innovator would be easy. Be ready. be prepared. And stay focused on your goals. Your staff and your learners are ready for the change. It’s up to you to help them manage the transition.

Blended Focus at #ACTFL14

Tomorrow I will be attending the ACTFL Annual Convention and World Language Expo in San Antonio, Texas. While I am very excited about attending a conference as a participant and not a facilitator, I am torn about how to best spend my time during the regular conference. This is because I wear many hats in my current role.  I originally registered to learn more about how others in education are defining and implementing performance assessments through the pre-conference sessions because of my role on our Assessment Team. Is the way we having been coaching our world language teachers in the New Tech Network to use PBL as a vessel for performance assessments consistent with the national conversation?

However, I could spend my time focusing on the curriculum component of the conference since I have been responsible for the World Language New Teacher Track for the past two years.  Are we building projects using the best strategies and techniques for face to face instruction? How are the new World-Readiness Standards going to impact curriculum design? How are others implementing the Can-Do Statements?

But I am also a digital learning designer, and I was (pleasantly) surprised at the emphasis of online, blended, and the sheer number of instructional technologies that are present for language learners. The pull is so strong to spend time in that world to see how others are blended language instruction and what technologies are really supporting personalized learning.

I am excitedly torn. I plan on mixing it up and attempting to see as many types of sessions as possible. With so many lenses, I am hoping that my learning makes my head hurt so good.  Stay tuned…

Reality Check

I recently started a new project that will be using Teaching Channel’s Teams platform. I am really excited about it and am almost done figuring out how to train people on the platform. I modeled the training after an in-person experience a group of colleagues and myself had last month in Oakland with the Teaching Channel staff. I enjoyed learning with the people at Teaching Channel immensely and figured I could replicate something similar for others fairly easily. The two big challenges were that my audience was long distance meaning I would need a virtual training and that we might not be able to do any face to face work meaning I needed to make it asynchronous. Luckily using the tool itself solves these challenges. Now all I needed was the content.

Most of that was easy. Teaching Channel has amazing resources to use and all I really had to do was pick something for participants to video themselves doing. The parameters were that it needed to be something everyone might not already know how to do, require little to no supplies, and not be too complicated. I also needed to make a rubric about the topic. Somehow, I landed on how to do a proper cartwheel. Why, oh why, didn’t someone talk me out of this?

Here’s the thing. It sounds easy. Videotape yourself doing a cartwheel. Upload it. Look at a rubric about how to improve cartwheels. Help others improve by giving them feedback on their cartwheel. Great. No problem. Sounds fun. I got this!

Except, have you ever looked at video of yourself doing a cartwheel?!?!

In my case, watching that 30 second video brought up a slew of emotions and my first thought was something along the lines of, “Oh boy. Delete, delete, delete. Edit? Am I really going to edit a cartwheel video?” Quickly followed by, “well, maybe someone else will post a video to comment on instead of having a model in there for others first”. 

And that’s where my ah-ha moment happened. If I am not willing to put out a less than perfect video of myself doing something where I clearly need some improvement, then how can I expect others to? That is, after all, one of the goals with using the tool. If I am truly practicing what I preach, then I need to vulnerable as an example for others by leading the way. So after wrestling with some negative self talk demons, I decided to upload the cartwheel to the platform. As is. In fact, here it is for you all to see too:

My reality check? With a simple task of cartwheeling and getting only a tiny bit of footage, I was terrified of putting it out there for people to see. Let alone have people coach me on how to do it better. If I feel that way about a cartwheel, how would I feel about filming myself doing my chosen profession? Something I consider myself good at and then inviting others to critique? That is the ask with people who are courageous enough to choose to use this platform. And it is also powerful.

As a community of educators, imagine just how quickly we could learn from one another through these videos? How many great ideas could be shared? How many potential challenges could be addressed?How many adjustments to our practice or refinements could we make to reach all kids? So, yes, it might be scary. But it also might make you a better teacher for your students. And in the end, isn’t that what we aspire to?

So the moral of my story: Be brave. Be courageous. Be vulnerable. And know that everyone else is in the same boat with you helping you row.

Blended Confusion: Personalized vs. Differentiated

The end of the school year has flooded my inbox and social media with inspiring stories, exciting graduation updates, and plenty of education related readings. While I love those stories, I am becoming increasingly more frustrated with the educational resources coming my way. More and more I am noticing that the stories in those readings – ASCD SmartBrief, Education Week, EdSurge, etc. – are mentioning blended learning, which is good, but their misuse of terminology is making an already blurry concept blurrier.

Titles like these are popping up everywhere
Titles like these are popping up everywhere

I am glad to see more and more districts rethinking how to integrate technology into their classrooms and curriculum. However, the rise of another buzz word as a method of blended learning – in this case ‘personalization’ – has me a bit befuddled.  Here is the confusion: why are educational resources misusing personalized learning as a substitute for differentiated? How is this helping the blended community clarify their message and methods? How is the public understanding these differences and making informed decisions about what they would like for their students?

To me, the confusion just increases without the educational community being more intentional about their word choice and the programs they are referring to. So what is the difference? When determining what type of blended program to use or describing the program already in place, what is the correct terminology?

I LOVE this resource by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey as a way to help understand blending learning programs.

What is the difference between personalized, differentiated, and individualized learning?
Click on the image to view in browser

Think about what you need from a blended program. What are your goals? What will accommodate your master schedule? Do you want to be more mastery based or do you need more summative data? What role will the teacher play? What role will the technology play? How will students demonstrating their learning? I think this chart does a great job of showing just how many differences there are between these three terms and can help you select the appropriate type of program for your blended learning needs and then communicate effectively about your program to your stakeholders.

After all, if we are going to help our stakeholders understand what we are offering and how it is different from current educational environments, then we need to be clear on what we, as the blended educational community mean.

Go Ahead, Add It On!

Have you checked out Google Apps Add-ons lately? My-oh-my are there some great things happening in that world that would be fantastic for any blended course. Let’s look at three of them that I am excited about for online or blended courses.

1. Highlighters Tool by Texthelp. Google Docs are fantastic for collaboration and with this add on, you now have more options of how to highlight in a collaborative space. Think about how you could have students peer edit each other’s papers by following a highlighter protocol. Green for the main idea, yellow for opinions, blue for facts….or use the same technique for reading a scholarly article. The best part? This tool has a button for collecting the lines that you highlighted. That could be very powerful when trying to write a research paper and being able to organize important ideas. I see lots of possibilities with this one.

highlights

 

2. OpenClipArt. I struggle with finding images that are free and open. Yes, there are great sites out there. But sometimes, I just want to find an easy, no fuss, no worries piece of clip art. Enter this add-on. I can see this being tremendously helpful to those in the lower grades who may not have taught or scaffolded image copyright or creative commons use. If you haven’t taught those skills, guide kiddos to this app and you can have peace of mind that they are using appropriate images.

openclipart

 

3. Kaizena. So often teachers want to be able to give verbal feedback on written assignments, particularly in blended or online courses. I have posted about this before, but I did not know there was a Google Add-on for this. How fantastic is that? It is a relatively new so I am anticipating some glitches, but it allows you to highlight particular sections of a Google Doc and leave audio feedback. This one really excites me!

kaizena

 

I know I said three tools for online and blended learning, but here is a special bonus add simply because I like its functionality. Yes, I taught English, but I was never one who really needed students to learn how to format sources for a bibliography. In fact, I could have cared less if the periods were in the right spot and the italics and dates were correct. Those things just weren’t important to me. So when I found EasyBib online, I used it for every paper until I completed my graduate degree. It’s not perfect, but it did a better job than I did with sources trying to copy the format correctly from my bibliography guides. Now there is an add-on that will do the same thing! You put in the source, choose the type of citation and add the bibliography right to the Google Doc. Woot!

easybib

 

There are so many more add-ons that look like fun to play with. What are you finding the most useful these days?