“I Couldn’t Agree More” is Meh.

First off, if you rarely read the comments in a blog, you ignore the fact that some of the best learning comes from those who respond and contribute additional ideas, perspectives and insights. Grant it, many spaces, like news sites and youtube are often places where civil discourse is difficult to find. But many blogs, particularly educational blogs offer some of the best places for conversation. Blogs are by nature conversational. Posts are meant to be reviewed, discusses and challenged in the same spaces.


Yet, perhaps it’s the overly kind nature of many educators or a fear to engage in meaningful debate, it’s amazing how often I read a blog with some interesting ideas and the comments are filled with replies beginning with “I couldn’t agree more.” Now certainly there are many times when that’s exactly how you feel and so you post with enthusiasm the joy of finding a kindred spirit, I’m not here to criticize you if you’ve ever began a comment like that. Well, maybe a little criticism. 😉

I’m here to suggest that if you only leave those kind of comments then maybe you aren’t putting yourself in a position to think critically or maybe you only read people that you “couldn’t agree more” with. If you own a blog where everyone tells you how awesome your ideas are, maybe you continue to share ideas that you know will get people telling you how awesome you are, I don’t know.

I should really change my blog title to include the phrase, “half-baked ideas and thoughts” since that’s essentially what I enjoy most. Even as I write this, I wonder how it will be taken. Case in point, my previous post on the Digital Divide create some nice discussion. I did feel like I had a point, I still do, but thanks to people like Darren Draper and Andrew Campbell, suggested I might not be thinking it through completely. Darren even wrote his own post pointing out a similar idea about half baked ideas. Sure, it was nice to have people agree with me but I learned more from those who suggest I may not have it entirely correct.

While this is certainly about trust and having known both Darren and Andrew for a few years and have met them both a few times, that helps. But even having strangers challenge my work is great. Recently a dude ironically named Dean found my blog and put me to task on one of my favorite pet peeves, “rigor”. He respectfully argues and makes a great point forcing me to clarify my own thinking.

Now to try and make a point. If you comment and only tell people how wonderful they are, challenge yourself and try to find people and ideas you don’t completely agree with. Not to be antagonistic but to practice and engage in meaningful discourse where ideas and perspectives can be fine tuned. Be kind but be candid. It’s not easy but it’s worthwhile. See Bud Hunt for more. If you write things and people can’t agree more, try writing things where they agree less. I think it will make you wiser in the long run. Thanks to all the people who agree and disagree with this post. Stay kind.

We’re all in Grade 4

Ever since I saw John say this I've been using it in pretty much ever talk I've given since then:


There's a humility in this statement that resonates me. It often seems like folks are looking for answers or solutions in this messiness we're currently in. I'd suggest we've always lived in messiness but it's simply more exposed. To that end we're seeing all kinds of experimentation and exploration to find some semblance of peace and stability in a world seemily void of that. And while some thrive in the messiness and uncertainity, others push back looking for a simpler, more satisfying existence. I watch with fascination sometimes at both of these approaches. 

The New York Times published an article recently about a school in Vermont cutting themselves off from technology. People often assume that I would reject an idea like this and that you have to choose sides in this debat.e. I think that's a false dichotomy. In fact, this article offers a couple of ideas that really stand out. 

True to its mission of encouraging “collaborative learning and shared work,” the school asked its students and alumni to develop a technology policy that will determine whether to ban phones, allow them in a limited way or leave the decision whether to disconnect to students. …But the school has always held that its students can be trusted to make good choices, he said. “We have to figure out the balance between how to preserve the values we have,” Mr. Smith said. “But I tend to think that adolescents, particularly the ones we get here, when mentored, will rise to the occasion when trusted with real responsibility.”

Inviting students in on this conversation from the onset is brilliant. Part of what I've learned from my time online is the need for community and trust when developing a healthy, thriving culture of learning. Trying to figure things out together in an ongoing, open dialog is much messier than a mandated policy but  much more satisfying.

Finally their goal is beautiful.

“The idea is not to be going back to a time where things were better,” Mr. Smith said, “but where the richness of each day is defined by the food you eat, the company you keep, the work you do.”

That could be the start of a powerful mission statement for any organization or school.

People want to summarize all of this to say, "it's about balance." I suppose, but to me this is about exploring the edges, tasting some extremes and ultimately being reflective and public about those experiences. We're seeing many schools dive into tech and being criticized for too much technology and in the case of the Vermont school, maybe they aren't using enough. I'd like us to avoid these judgments and instead recognize we're all 4th graders trying to figure it out. Exploring boundaries, having some success, seeing some failure but all the time talking about it openly. Another quote I've been using a lot which I believe I first heard Bud use is "describe, not prescribe". Unless you've truly got this figured out, maybe save the mandate and simply share your story. Not to tell anyone what they should do but simply to suggest another perspective.

Now if you'll excuse me I have some kickball to play. 

Being Regular is Good

Being regular is good. In many ways. 😉

But in this case being regular is about trying to be consistent and persistent in sharing ideas and content. I realize one of the beautiful things about a blog or any online space is the freedom to publish whenever. Even though most of us don't publish as our primary jobs, we all understand the power and value of sharing. I've talked about that once or twice myself. 

Like spending enough time with good friends, I have this need to read and listen to my favorite people who happen to also be great thinkers and sharers. These people who have taken the time to set up shop and blog provide me with wonderful insights and ideas to mull over and pass along to others. I depend on their desire to share. And when they don't, I miss it. 

Being someone who is 7+ years into blogging and and even longer reader, I began to think of many of the early bloggers and podcasters who have either slowed down dramatically or quit altogether. For the majority I have no idea why but presume life got in the way and that's understandable. For others I fear twitter got in the way and now instead of meal sized portions of learning, all we're getting is table scraps and candy. Whatever the reason, I've made it a point to post here regularly if only to force myself to be reflective and reinforce the habit of sharing.  Bud Hunt has reminded me often about the importance of writing as has this great post by Seth Godin that I share often with my students. If you've not read it, do so now and then feel a little guilty. Here's the gist:

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly–you don't need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.

Although I ask you to please leave the comments turned on, I think we're all friends here and can help each other. 

So this is totally selfish on my part but as I continue advocate folks to share, I'd love for you to do it more. You know who you are, that's all of you by the way. And also why not try something besides writing, I'd love to hear your voice

While I've been trying to write regularly, I think I need to podcast more often. Remind me to do that. Someone who's been doing a great job lately is my buddy Darren. Check out some of his short, but awesome video blogs


How easy is this? Record yourself thinking. Press about 3 buttons. It's something Darren has been playing with lately and I think it's awesome. These tools make this ridiculously easy. If even a few people find it valuable it's worth it. More importantly it's good for Darren. But even more important, it's good for me. Because I'm selfish. 

So if I made you feel a bit guilty I'm a little bit sorry but seriously write something, anything. Even better, let us hear your voice and maybe see your face once in a while. 

Beyond the Textbook

My brain is tired.

That's what you get for spending a day and a half talking about really big issues with really smart people. 

The Background:

Photo: by Wes Fryer http://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/6997202637/

Discovery Education, for whom I'm now employed has been involved with digital spaces and for lack of a better word, a textbook, although we call it a techbook. We all agree, the term fails to recognize that we're trying to offer something different but it's the term for now and I suppose it has a recognizable feel that invites a larger group of educators to consider what it might do for learning. They've launched it in several states and wrapped it in loads of quality professional learning designed to help all teachers, no matter their configuration and access to use technology combined with excellent pedagogy to transform learning. That's the goal. We've had some success and feel good about what's been accomplished but recognize we need to get even better and with that invited 18 folks from across North America who are known leaders and thinkers and are willing to be critical for the purposes of making education better.  We spent the evening and a day exploring the future of learning and the role of textbooks in an event called "Beyond the TextBook".

The Format:

We began with a pretty broad couple of questions: What should a digital textbook look like and what is out there that you've seen that is worth talking about? That pretty much kick started a 3 hour conversation where folks openly and honestly shared what they saw as critical elements and ideas about learning in 2012 and beyond.

The Outcome:

For Discovery it served to gain some outside feedback and insight and see more broadly the implications of any kind of product and service development. Copious notes will serve for fodder for the next little while.

My Take Away:

There was largely consensus about several concepts. The idea that learning needs to be social and that the platform should have built in opportunities for students and teachers to connect ideas and be able to easily share. There also needs to be a way to bridge the gap between closed and open formats allowing students to bring in more open content and consider how to encourage remix. Curation was a big buzz word and while it has many implications in this context it focused on how the learner would be able to curate content easily. I suppose to simply all the conversations the three C's stood out most: Collaboration, Curation and Creation. 

I also recognized a distinct difference in perspectives. In the room where a mix of classroom teachers and administrators and consultants and higher ed folks. The focus of the teachers and administrators was more focused on the practical and immediate use in the classroom as well as concerns about access and cost. The higher ed and consultants had much broader concerns about the future of open education, the authoritarian nature of curriculum and textbooks and the pedagogical implications. Again, not that these were conflicting necessarily but it reflected the worlds they live in. 

Underlying all the conversations were two ideas that I didn't think were answered directly but certainly were influencing the discussion. First is the role of assessment and accountability. How is the testing culture influencing publishers and text books? The folks in that room as well as the people I know at Discovery are largely opposed to the emphasis of testing and are interested in simply making learning better and yet do they create and design products that ignore that reality or support it or maybe there's an in between place. 

The second issue that wasn't specifically addressed was what is the role of private, for profit companies in education? Many people everything should be free and that private has no place in public education. I've heard people suggest the Internet is the best text book. I think that's over simplying things and Tom Daccord actually does a nice job of addressing that in his post. The role of private companies will always be debated and has been for a while. Having now made the shift to working for one, I'm trying to sort out that role as well. While I don't directly have to worry about the specifics, I do feel like the intent is to create something of value, be that a service or product and empower and support students and teachers in a variety of great learning opportunities. The waters can get muddied no doubt but constantly asking the right questions about intent and purpose. I like what David Warlick says in a reply to a comment on his post:

I worried, when I left our state department of ed and started “charging money” for what I did, if I had joined the enemy . But then I realized that we’re all making a living. What’s changed is that my contracts last for a day, or three days rather than for a year. Companies create and market services and products to help. It’s a vast partnership. The problem is when any of these companies become so rich that legislation starts to wrap itself around their services, sustaining them and perpetuating how teaching and learning is done. Textbooks are certain an example of this. That said, I’ve been in this field long enough to know that I can be surprised, and that those of us who can inventively adapt to the changing needs of education are welcome. The rest will and should become obsolete and go away.

At any rate it was a fantastic couple of days.  I'd also encourage you to read for yourself what a few others have said:


#BeyondTheTextbook live feed on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23beyondthetextbook

Tom Whitby's recap: http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/we-dont-need-no-stinkn-textbooks-beyondthetextbook/

Wesley Fryer's posts about the Forum: http://www.speedofcreativity.org/2012/03/19/morning-discussions-on-digital-content-textbooks-learning-beyondthetextbook/ 



Audrey Watters' recap: http://hackeducation.com/2012/03/19/beyond-the-textbook/

David Warlick's recap: http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=3524

Karen Hornberger's recap: http://www.palisadessd.org/6063423912582/blog/browse.asp?a=398&bmdrn=2000&bcob=0&c=55781

Steve's ongoing bookmarks: http://delicious.com/stacks/view/K4ORca

Bud Hunt http://budtheteacher.com/blog/2012/03/18/not-beyondthetextbook-betterthetextbook/

There were a few more than this but could give you a good taste. If you did write about it, go ahead and leave a link in the comments.  

Here's a podcast that was recorded with a few of the participants.