As I sit on the train riding home to Boston, my thoughts spiral as I consider how I landed in New York City this weekend and what my take away is from the experience. I decided to participate in EdCamp NYC because I was certain this free “unconference” being held at The School at Columbia, Columbia University, would draw some of the most interesting educators. As I sat one of theclassrooms of this elementary school in a building on West 110th Street, I couldn’t’ believe I was listening to Tom Whitby speak on such topics as developing a Professional Learning Network (PLN) using social networks and the relevance of technology in our classrooms. Tom is a prevalent leader in the PLN’s in which I participate. It was then that I began to really consider how being a part of the Twitter and Blogging generation of education has propelled my life forward and pushed me to see technology from a whole new view. Less than one year ago I would not have dreamed I would have attended an “unconference” at Columbia University, NYC. I would never have imagined that I would meet folks whose writings I had read by way of the social network of Twitter. I wouldn’t have known them at all but through their blogposts and tweets. And there I was, connecting with those whose Twitter names I recognized. There I was asking others for their Twitter names so I could “follow” them. If not for this PLN, I wouldn’t have been listening to a discussion with someone called the “nerdy teacher” a person I “follow”. I wouldn’t have participated in a Skype discussion with a group of educators simultaneously participating in Ed Camp Citrus Florida, a session led by Dan Callahan. I wouldn’t have conversed with the technology director from Connecticut who recommended several other conferences nor the “Technology Teacher of the Year” from Pennsylvania. These are but a few of my interesting experiences during my Saturday at EdCamp NYC.
How did this all happen? It all began with a conversation I had in the hallway last spring with Patrick Larkin, principal of Burlington High School. He had often spoken of his experiences using Twitter to develop a Professional Learning Network but I really hadn’t understood it. Once he explained that I did not have to receive tweets on my phone and that I didn’t have to send out tweets but that I could just read them on my computer, I became more interested. He encouraged me to sign- up and just try it. He also informed me about an“unconference” in Philadelphia called“Ed Camp Philly” that was being organized by Dan Callahan (now a technology specialist at Pine Glen Elementary School). The “unconference” concept was quite appealing, but I knew I could not attend the weekend it was scheduled for in May. However, the conversation about it remained with me as I was interested in attending one at some point. I went home that night, started a Twitter account, and that’s how this all began.
I want to make it clear, that is was not just Twitter that made the difference. It was Twitter PLUS the person to person contact that made the difference. Many people think that social networking is replacing human contact. I am finding that for many of us it is enhancing human contact and really making the world small… very small. I have the choice to connect with other educators around the world electronically AND connect with them in person just as I did at this “unconference”. I had the opportunity to actually go to a conference to meet every day educators who I had never met, but had read about their thoughts, opinions, and experiences long before this meeting. It felt a little like a reunion of sorts, and yet how could it be a reunion when we had never met? This is a world I absolutely could not have envisioned less than one year ago. Absolutely not! And yet, there I was, in NYC, on a Saturday in December, engrossed in thoughtful conversations about education with others who share my passion. This was powerful! This experience allowed me to see through a window into our students’ future.
That is why I fully understand the paramount importance it is for me as a principal to be vigilant in my efforts to learn about the world of technology. I need to stay current regarding how it is used in the world and how we can use it in the classrooms. I listened to the frustration of the technology directors and specialists as they asked how they could help their principals understand the importance of supporting advances in using technology in the schools. Technology is changing fast and principals have the ability to move the agenda forward by committing to technology as a priority and by supporting technology though every avenue that is within the realm of a building administrator. The question is not whether or not to allow certain components of technology in schools. The question is how are we going to teach our students to use this powerful tool to enhance their learning and their lives. Educators must be deeply involved in this conversation as it is propelling forward with or without us. Our students need it to be “with us”. They will need to understand how to use technology effectively and responsibly to survive in this world.That is why it is our responsibility to lead the way.
Throughtechnology we can design instruction that exemplifies all the “engaging qualities” that we strive to incorporate. There are tremendous opportunities to provide experiences that are authentic and allow for personal response. Students can learn with others; others not in their classroom, their school or their state. They can produce projects that require them to have a “sense of audience”. They will need to evaluate materials they read, view or listen to via the internet. They will also need to be equally critical of their own writing or whatever they create with technology so that it is of the highest quality. There are limitless ways for students to put their “own stamp on things”, “make it their own”, and essentially bring their learning to the highest levels of Blooms Taxonomy. Technology has the potential to enhance creativity. However, the students need us to provide the clear and modeled expectations so that this medium is used for the best learning outcomes.
As the train slows to a halt, I realize it is back to work tomorrow. I am returning with renewed energy and a revitalized commitment towards the work that lies ahead in bringing technology to the students of my school. There is much work to be done and it won’t happen overnight, but effectively using technology in our classrooms is an essential component of educating this 21st Century generation.