Making the Most of Your Online Professional Learning in the Digital Age

“Most successful teachers learn from a combination of resources, including local communities, virtual communities, and research,” writes Kristen Swanson in her new book Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning. In other words, educators learn from the communities to which their are connected, and having the tools to make those connections are truly vital in the digital age. That’s where Swanson’s book comes in. Packed in only 109 pages, she gives readers the process and tools to become a connected educator in the 21st century, and engage in “user-generated learning.” Professional Learning in the Digital Age is a must read for educators who want to fine-tune the process of building and maintaining professional learning networks. And, for those have yet to venture out and begin the process of becoming a connected educator, this book gives them clear straightforward advice on how to do it, and a Tool Repository at the back of the book with which to get started.

Swanson begins by defining what is meant by “user-generated learning” which she defines as “learning acquired through active curation, reflection, and collaboration to a self-selected collaborative space.” In other words, user-generated learning is a very deliberate process of carrying out three specific actions that can transform an educator into a connected one, and by default transform his or her educational practice. These three actions that bring about the kinds of learning fostered through online connections include:
  • Curating: Process or action of carefully collecting relevant resources. In this case, these are resources entirely associated with our professional practice. There are online tools that aid in the process of curating the content and information on which learning is based.
  • Reflecting: Process or action of making sense of this newly curated information and determining what it all means for professional practice. Reflecting is vital to assimilating our new learning. Tools such as blogging assist educators in reflection.
  • Contributing: This is the final process of action of user-generated learning. It consists of giving back to the community of learners to which we are now connected. Contribution fosters connections.
In simple terms, engaging in these activities result in fostering and growing as a connected educator. Swanson gives readers a powerful formula for fostering “user-generated learning” through connectedness, capitalizing on one of the most powerful professional development tools educators have in the 21st century.
Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning, Eye on Education,  is powerful-succinct guide for all educators to learn 21st century style.

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6 Strategies to Make Your School of District’s Office Paperless

This morning’s #satchat turned to a discussion about using technology to make the school administrator’s office paperless. I have actually always been “less paperful,” if I may coin a term, than other administrators because it is a by-product of relying heavily on technology, which I always have. I won’t go into the rationale for why one would want to have a paperless office because I think the reasons for doing so are rather obvious. Instead, let me just list some of my own practices that have facilitated being paperless as an administrator. I can’t hardly remember the last time I opened my file cabinet; maybe it was sometime in July. At any rate, my file cabinet lives a lonely and neglected life these days because its utility has been reduced to simply some place to put my printer. Still, I think these 6 simple strategies will go a long way in reducing the reliance on physical documents, hence paper.
  • Find some free/inexpensive Web 2.0 tools to streamline your practices. For example, I have a paid Evernote account and it is well-worth the subscription price. With this software, I take meeting notes, anecdotal notes, and  share articles/resources with staff. Evernote’s simple sharing feature means I can share the minutes from our last Professional Learning Community meeting with an email. Web 2.o tools like Diigo allow means I can share web resources I find with teachers, again, through email. My tablet’s Scanner app gives me a “scanner-on-the-go” and Dropbox gives me a virtual filling cabinet that follows me everywhere with access across devices. To go paperless requires finding Web 2.0 tools and apps that help you do many of those things you currently do on paper.
  • Invest in a copier that acts as a scanner and will send scanned documents to your email as PDF files. Or, you can get copiers that will scan documents and place them in specified folders on your network server. Our copier is capable of scanning any document, and with the press of button, you can send it to your email account. When I receive a document of importance in the mail, I scan and then file it electronically. To facilitate your paperless office, find the hardware that allows cut down on your need to store paper copies. A copier that scans and then sends the document to you will do just that.
  • Keep your computer file system simple; only use a handful of folders, the less the better. Many use conventional wisdom and start creating folder after folder on their desktop computers to file e-documents as they come in or are created. The problem with such file systems is two-fold. First, it takes time to ponder which folder in which you should place the created or received file. And then it takes time to remember which folder you put it when needed later. Instead multple folders, create one called “Working Docs” and another called “Docs Archive.” When working on that presentation next week, keep it in the “Working Docs” folder so you can access it quickly. If you are finished with a document or just are keeping an e-copy, dump it into your Docs Archive. One thing people seem to forget is that a computer is FULLY SEARCHABLE so finding a  file is a snap. Of course you have to put a little thought in what you name your files to begin with, but I bet you five dollars I could find my copy of last month’s principal’s meeting before you can!
  • When you receive a physical document in the mail that is important, always scan and then shred it. Walk in to any administrator’s office and I bet there’s a stack somewhere. In that stack are things received in the mail that are awaiting their fate, either filing in a folder or in the trashcan. I will confess that I have one of those stacks too, but I bet mine is smaller, and I use the “scan and shred” method for physical documents I receive to keep that pile in line. While sorting the mail, I immediately make a determination: doc-to-be-archived or junk. It is that simple. I handle mail only once. Docs-to-be-archived go into to pile which goes to my copier-scanner then the shredder. This keeps the paper pile at bay in my office, and immediately gets those documents into my Docs Archive, which I described in the above bullet.
  • Insist that others send you documents either as email attachments or share it with you as a Google Doc. I repeat constantly to everyone who will hear: “Just send it to me as an attachment.” Or I tell them, “Create your schedule on a Google Doc and just share it with me.” The rationale here is to get others to utilize the tools that will minimize the paper coming into my office. Most happily assist me. Those who don’t? I just keep encouraging them.
  • Create a simple email sorting system and avoid using multiple email folders. Keeping a simple sorting and filing system in email will also affect the paper load coming through the office too. I use a two-folder system in my email similar to that I use for my desktop. I create two email folders in my Gmail. One is called “Follow-Up” and the other is “Hold.” By using these folders and my email processing procedure, I always have an empty “Inbox” at the end of the day. I usually conduct two or three main email processing sessions a day. The first step in this processing is to read each email and immediately decide whether a) it requires action from me, b) it is information I will need in the next several days, c) it is informational, or d) it is spam or junk. If an email  requires action from me, I put it in the “Follow-Up” folder. If it is information needed in the short term, I put it in the “Hold” folder. If it is general information I  hit the “Archive” button, which automatically places it in my archive. If it is junk or spam, I hit delete. At the end of each session, my Inbox is empty. Later, I go back through the Follow Up folder and take care of each item there or add it to my “To-Do List.” Once an item in my Follow Up folder is done, I archive it. The goal is to only handle an email once or twice.
School leaders can set the example for everyone else in efforts to cut back on paper usage by employing the technological tools and the processes/procedures that help reduce both the need for paper documents and for  the file cabinets to store them.
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5 Strategies for Using Your Digital Footprint to Create a Strong, Professional Online Reputation

If you are using virtual spaces for professional learning, it only enhances your digital footprint,” writes Kristen Swanson in her new book Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning. Getting educators to think about their own digital footprint should be an important part of 21st century school leadership, and reflecting and managing our own is just as important. Examples abound in the media where educators post derogatory things about their students, or where teachers and administrators post improper photos of themselves through social media channels. Most lose their jobs as a result. My initial reaction as a practicing school administrators is, “Just what were they thinking?” and the conclusion I usually reach is, “They weren’t!”

The idea of deliberately shaping and molding your own digital footprint isn’t really a new idea. Experts write whole books advising businesses on how to shape their “online reputation” and their offline one as well. More and more businesses, though, are starting to take seriously this task of making their online presence positive. I personally see “digital footprint” and “online reputation” as strongly related but perhaps not entirely synonymous. One’s digital footprint is the collective substance of everything one has posted online. It is the physical substance of what you have posted. It includes blog posts, Tweets, comments on other blog posts, news stories, everything online connected to a single person. I personally consider the actual footprint neutral, but it is the digital footprint that foster’s one’s online reputation.Through all those blogposts, Tweets, Facebook posts, and all your other interactions online, people make a judgment about you, and that is your “online reputation.”

Which brings me to the whole point of this post: You shape and mold your online reputation through your digital footprint. In other words, you can use your digital footprint to shape and mold your online reputation, and in the world of the 21st century, it is imperative that educators take the time to make sure they are leaving exactly the kind of digital footprint they wish to leave: a strong, professional online reputation.

Here are some strategies and thoughts that I myself use to both monitor my digital footprint and to try to shape and mold my online reputation.
  • Monitor what is being said about you by setting up a “Google Alert” for your name, your Twitter Username, and any other identifiers connected to you. It is key to keep an ear to the ground to measure reactions to your digital footprint, after all, your online reputation is based on these. Setting up a Google Alert is a free and easy way to perpetually listen to the conversation about you. There are other tools that will help you do this as well. Here’s an earlier post describing “3 Free Social Media Monitoring Tools for the 21st Century School Leader.”
  • It is occasionally OK to post things controversial, in fact, having a strong online reputation demands it. Remember, if you post controversial remarks, you are going to get reactions from others, but playing it entirely safe may not enhance your online reputation. To have a strong “online reputation” your digital footprint has to have personality. In a word, it helps if it really reflects who you are. Be entirely neutral, and you aren’t real person. You’re a computer. How boring!
  • Everyone, administrators, teachers, superintendents, students, etc. need to be actively engaged in molding and shaping their online reputation through their digital footprint. Honestly, you have an online reputation whether you have taken an active role in developing it or not. When a parent or student posts a comment on Facebook or in response to local news article  criticizing you or one of your actions, that affects your online reputation. It is much better to engage in the use of 21st century tools and contribute your say in that digital footprint than to simply let others do so for you.
  • Establishing a strong online reputation requires a digital footprint that includes both quality and quantity. It is vital that you include thoughtful, engaging interactions on the web, such as blog posts, Tweets, etc. The quality of what you post is important. If you are simply using Twitter to post out announcements or to post what you are having for lunch, those are not qualitative additions to your digital footprint, and are not likely to add to your online reputation. It takes using these tools to post lively, thoughtful interactions to foster the qualitative nature of your online reputation. In addition, it does require a quantitative approach as well. You don’t want just a few posts or online interactions to represent the entire substance of your online reputation. You need lots of content in your digital footprint to balance out what might be seen negatively or doesn't truly reflect who you are. That means interacting and posting online often is a must.
  • Most of all, in my opinion, you have to be authentic online just as you must in real life. There’s something fundamentally wrong with posturing and being fake, and most of us don’t like it. Your digital footprint should contain content that reflects who are. In other words, it must be authentic. No one likes a phony!
The bottom line, when it comes to using your digital footprint to foster an effective professional online reputation, is simple: you either take an active role in contributing to your digital footprint, or there are those who will do it for you. It’s your choice to engage or not, but don’t think by avoiding interactions on the web that you have no digital footprint, therefore, no online reputation. We all do.
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Study Suggests Using Nintendo DS Game Software Increases Engagement of ADHD Students

According to an article in the Winter edition of Journal of Research on Technology in Education, the results of a recent study by Stacy Wegrzyn, Doug Hearrington, Tim Martin, and Adriane B. Randolph had interesting results that may have an impact on how we help students with ADHD engage and focus in the classroom. According to their study, the “daily use of brain games can help strengthen focusing ability and executive functioning in adolescents with ADHD.”

In this study, students were asked to play “brain games” for a minimum of 20 minutes each morning before school for 5 weeks. Their level of engagement was then measured at three points during the day using electroencephalogram, parent and teacher reports, researcher observations, and participant self-reports.

The findings in this study suggest that we can use Nintendo’s DS software called Brain Age as a potential “nonpharmaceutical alternative to ADHD medication. It also suggests it might be a more affordable alternative than medications as well. The study cautions though, “Not every child will see an improvement through the use of brain games.”

The study suggests the following implications for 21st century educational practice:
  • Brain games, such as the Nintendo DS Brain Age software, as a form of treatment could be kept within the school or even within the classroom.
  • Teachers could allow struggling students to play the games each morning during homeroom, lunchtime, or recess.
  • Teachers could then evaluate the usefulness of the games in increasing each student’s ability to focus.
  • Unlike medication suggestions, teachers could try using the games without liability concerns, even if the games do not help increase the student’s engagement.
For more information on this study be sure to check out the current Winter edition of Journal of Research on Technology in Education. For information on Nintendo’s DS Brain Age game software, check out their web site here.

Ultimately, this is a perfect example of personalizing education for students. One can help but wonder whether these same kinds of tools can help all students focus and engage more in their learning.
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