Teacher Agency: Self-Directed Professional Development

“I can’t wait for and am so excited for the three day ‘sit and git’ professional development in-service at our school” said no teacher possibly ever.

“Let’s face it: Professional development, as we have known it for years now, has yielded little or no positive effects on student learning.” Thus complain the many weary professionals who flinch at the mere mention of the word “workshop.” In the collective imagination, the term “professional development day” conjures only images of coffee breaks, consultants in elegant outfits, and schools barren of kids. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104021/chapters/Professional-Development-Today.aspx

I recently discussed teacher agency in Teacher Agency: Educators Moving from a Fixed to a Growth Mindset.

Teacher agency is typically viewed as a quality within educators, a matter of personal capacity to act (Priestly et al., 2012) usually in response to stimuli within their pedagogical environment. It describes an educator who has both the ability and opportunity to act upon a set of circumstances that presents itself within that individual’s leadership, curricular or instructional roles. The educator described would then draw from acquired knowledge and experience to intercede appropriately and effectively.  Teacher Agency in America and Finland By Roger Wilson, GVSU Faculty

Teacher agency can be applied to teacher professional development.  What follows is a model of professional development driven by teacher agency.

The Teacher’s Choice Framework

Gabriel Diaz-Maggioli in her ASCD book, Teacher-Centered Professional Development, proposes a teacher’s choice framework which are characterized by:

  • Teachers are talented and devoted individuals who have gained enormous experience by interacting with students, and possess a wealth of knowledge that must be explored and shared.
  • Teachers differ from one another in terms of their theoretical and professional knowledge and the stages they are at in their careers. This diversity offers a wealth of resources and experience.
  • Teachers’ professional development should be embedded in their daily schedule; they should not be expected to devote their own free time to programs that are divorced from the context in which they work.
  • In order for teachers to develop ownership of professional development, they need to be active participants in its construction, tailoring programs to their needs and motivations.
  • Professional development should not be regarded as an administrative duty, but rather as a career-long endeavor aimed at disclosing the factors that contribute to the success of all students and teachers. Mandatory professional development offered only when it is convenient to administrators has little to offer to teachers.


Teacher Empowered Model of Professional Development

  1. Develop a vision and a mission of an ideal classroom and optimal student achievement.
  2. Identify gaps between what is and the ideal.
  3. Establish and/or identify self-driven professional development activities to close the gap.
  4. Develop plans of action for implementation.
  5. Engage in an accountability system.


Develop a vision and a mission of an ideal classroom and optimal student achievement.

As part of their teacher education, students are often asked to develop their teaching philosophy.  This is a good initial exercise but several problems exist with it.  First, this happens during pre-service teaching and often prior to any extensive time spent teaching in an actual classroom.  Second, it does reflect the continuous and evolving nature of education.  Finally, it does not reflect ideas and teaching practices shaped and learned while one is a teacher.

We’re all learning and growing all the time – we can’t not learn. The difference that creates success is deciding and directing your learning direction. If you don’t know what you want your work to look like in 1 or 2 years from now, you’ll be likely to have your career direction determined by other people or circumstances, rather than your personal values and desires, so get clear on the picture of work you’re aiming for. How To Drive Your Professional Development With A Self-Directed Learning Program

Part of an educator’s continuous growth and development process practices should be, on a regular basis, identifying an area of current interest, studying the current best practices of that interest, and creating a vision of a classroom and student achievement based on those best practices.  For example an educator, a group of educators, and an entire school could decide to study one of the following areas of 21st century education to explore best practices in that classroom-instructional practice:

Based on this focused study, the educator develops a vision of an ideal classroom and instructional practices.

Identify gaps between what is and the ideal.

The educator then compares current practices to that of the ideal to identify gaps.  From these gaps, professional development goals are established.  This process provides a foundation of “need”, focus, and relevancy for the educator’s professional development.  Professional development then becomes “just-in-time learning” rather than “just-in-case it is needed”.

The following visual metaphor is a model of this process.


Identify Current Reality: On the left cliff, list of keywords that define your current reality. You’re basically outlining where you are right now in your classroom teaching process.   Sketches and symbols can also be used to describe your current reality.

Identify Desired Reality:  On the right cliff write down a list of keywords that define your desired classroom environment and practices based on your vision of the ideal.  You’re essentially defining the type of classroom that you would like to create by the date you specified.  Represent these keywords (your desired reality) using a series of sketches, symbols or both. Completing these sketches will help you to create more meaningful associations.

Identify Obstacles: Within the gap between the two cliffs, write down all the obstacles that are standing between your current reality and your desired reality. Write down keywords. Alternatively, you can represent these words in a visual way, as described above.

Identify Key Resources;  On the tree branches outline five key resources and training opportunities that you have at your disposal that you could use to help you overcome the obstacles that are standing between you and your desired reality. (Identifying resources will be further expanded upon in the next section.)

Bridge the Gap:  Now that you are clear about where you are, where you want to be, the obstacles standing in your way, and the resources you have at your disposal, it’s now time to build a bridge that will take you over the cliff towards your desired reality. This bridge is going to be built using a series of steps that you will take over a certain period of time that will get you to where you want to go.

Establish and/or identify self-driven and directed professional development activities to close the gap.

Design a self-directed learning plan for yourself by deciding what sources you’ll learn from, what programs or classes you might wish to sign up for, who you’d like to be mentored by, and what other sources of social support and accountability you’ll build into your learning program, in order to achieve your learning goals. How To Drive Your Professional Development With A Self-Directed Learning Program

During this phase, educators engage in self-directed professional learning opportunities to learn how to close the gap from the current state to the ideal one.  The opportunities for educators to engage in self-directed professional development is basically limitless in this era of teaching and learning.  As the British Columbia Teacher Federation notes, there are Many Ways to Grow Professionally

  1. Attend a conference/workshop locally.
  2. Attend a conference/workshop regionally/provincially/nationally/internationally.
  3. Attend a workshop/conference or summer institute/course.
  4. Becoming a facilitator, and give a workshop locally, regionally, or provincially.
  5. Begin/continue university studies.
  6. Form/join a teacher research group.
  7. Participate in group planning.
  8. Job-shadow in a related work situation.
  9. Join a professional organization/network.
  10. Observe another teacher, and talk together about the lesson/program.
  11. Read professional literature.
  12. Reflect, discuss, and research for the purpose of planning individual or group ongoing professional development.
  13. Develop the discipline of reflective journal keeping.
  14. Share with colleagues what you found at a conference/workshop.
  15. Subscribe to/read professional journals.
  16. Watch professional videos.

Four specific types are discussed in more detail: Teacher In-Services, EdCamps, Connected Education, and Professional Learning Communities.

Teacher In-Services or Professional Development Choice Days

As stated in the beginning passages a one size fits all type of professional development still offered by many school districts in the form of in-services is a thing of the past and creates high levels of dread among teachers.  In-services do have the value in that educators are given the time and space to participate in professional development and are able to engage in face-to-face discourse with colleagues.

To adapt in-service workshops from a one size fits all to one that is personalized for the participating educators requires that the in-service designers take into account the needs of educators, find workshop leaders with both expertise in those areas and in teaching adults using andragogical principles, and offer a number of workshop choices within each time slot including a choice to “unconference.”

An example of this is the Techtoberfest in Idaho.  It is a two-day conference for the teachers of that district and teachers from surrounding districts are invited to attend.  The conference designers explore the needs of the teachers of that district, locate experts to bring in to run workshops, and provide the teachers with about a dozen workshop options per time slot.  See https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_ZlE-JbwhcRN1JTbXlKcnJHZ3M/edit?usp=drive_web for the Techtoberfest 2012 agenda.


An edcamp is a user-generated conference – commonly referred to as an “unconference“. Edcamps are designed to provide participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators. Edcamps are free participant-driven conferences.  Sessions are not planned until the day of the event, when participants can volunteer to facilitate a conversation on a topic of their choice.  Edcamps operate “without keynote speakers or vendor booths, encourage participants to find or lead a conversation that meet their needs and interests. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EdCamp

[embedded content]

It makes sense. If you have teachers together face-to-face, why not let them talk about what works? Why not let them ask questions of one another? Why not use the best medium available, the human voice, to learn from one another? It has me thinking that our weekly professional development ought to work in an edcamp model. By this, I mean offer multiple choices, keep the groups small and then lead a discussion. It could be a book study or a week-by-week discussion on a topic. It could be a new set of topics each week, depending upon the desires of the teacher. An edcamp model would empower teachers to share their expertise democratically.   Ultimately, the value of edcamp is in the sharing of ideas and in the validation of one’s professional identity. Too often, that’s not happening at the weekly professional development that teachers attend. Yet, in a more democratic model, teachers begin to see that what they believe and what they know actually matters. Why Professional Development Should Be More Like Edcamp

Connected Education

The Internet and social networks provide an infinite number of ways to engage in self-directed professional development including, but not limited, to attending online webinars and virtual conferences, participating in Twitter and Tweet Chats, and reading, writing, and responding to blogs.


I teach a course entitled, Social Networked Learning, in which in-service educators learn how to use social networks for their own professional development.  See Educator as a Social Networked Learner for more about this.

Professional Learning Communities

In professional learning communities model, teachers in either grade-level or content-area teams meet several times a week to collaborate on teaching strategies and solve problems. In the most sophisticated examples, teachers set common instructional goals, teach lessons in their individual classrooms, administer informal assessments to determine levels of student mastery, and then regroup as a team to analyze the data together. Then, they pinpoint areas of success, identify areas for improvement, and set goals for future teaching (Honawar, 2008). http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/professional-development/

For more on Professional Learning Communities, see

Develop plans of action for implementation, then implement.

If a primary goal of professional development is to affect what teachers believe, understand, and do on a daily basis, then offering “presentations” or “training” without intensive and sustained small-group dialogue, in-classroom coaching, and just-in-time problem solving is educational malpractice.  Put another way, “head learning” abstracted from practice without abundant opportunities for supportive on-the-job feedback and trouble shooting wastes the organization’s resources and squanders teachers’ good will. Why professional development without substantial follow-up is malpractice.

This is the “do it” phase.  Based on the educator’s self-directed professional development, he or she decides what changes, modifications, and adaptations will be implemented into one’s teaching environment.  Some guiding questions to assist with this process are:

This phase will only be effective if the educator is given the time, support, and resources to implement ideas gained through their professional development experiences.

Engage in an accountability system.

The world of work asks the educator to show evidence of learning; to quantify it; provide evidence of professional development in some way.  An accountability system needs to be set up that “requires”, acknowledges, and rewards educators for engaging in their own self-directed professional development.

You could qualify it by hours spent (yuck), content curated (a little better), total resources shared (a tad bit better still), PD presented in person (not bad), alignment between content found and school and district needs (decent), impact on learning performance (nice), or some basic formula of several of these and more.  Then turn that process over to them—crowdsource the recording-keeping with the only expectation being that it’s visible to everyone and simple to update. Personalizing Teacher Training Through Social Media-Based Improvement

Some ways to make the professional learning visible include teaching portfolios and digital badges.

Teaching Portfolios

Teaching portfolios, often known as dossiers, are compilation of teaching materials and related documents that teachers employ during teaching and learning processes. Portfolios serve as tools for reflection, a way to thoughtfully document teaching practices and progress toward goals. Portfolio entries can inform professional growth plans. As actual artifacts of teaching, portfolios help teachers to systematically ponder over their practice, reflect on the problems they face, and learn from their experience. They provide direct evidence of what teachers have accomplished.  Self-Directed Professional Development: Success Mantra or a Myth?

Digital Badges

Eric Sheninger, the principal of New Milford High School, is experimenting with Integration of Digital Badges to Acknowledge Professional Learning

I am proud to announce Worlds of Learning @ New Milford High School, a digital badge professional learning platform. The idea behind this platform is to provide professional learning with a pinch of gamification.  Digital badges can be used to guide, motivate, document and validate formal and informal learning.  Worlds of Learning @ New Milford High School provides a framework to allow our teachers to earn digital badges through learning about a range of technology tools and applications.  I hope that New Milford High School teachers will be able to benefit greatly from this sustained initiative because of the professional learning flexibility an online platform provides as well as it being a means to document and showcase the skills they have gained and  putting their learnings into practice in the classroom.


In summary, regardless of the type of professional development selected by the educational institutions and the teachers, themselves, it needs to have the following characteristics for effective implementation and sustainability in the classroom:

  • Educators need to feel they have and actually do have a voice, empowerment, and support to self-direct their professional development.
  • Educators should be given the time, resources, and ideas to establish their own professional learning goals which, in turn, would drive their professional development direction.
  • Isolated, one shot professional development experiences such as in-services workshops, going to conferences, etc,, most often do not lead to any changes in the classroom practices.  These experiences need to be part of a larger teacher initiated process of preparatory goal setting and follow-up support and implementation.
  • An accountability system needs to be established where educators have the responsibility for follow-through and getting appropriate credit and acknowledgement for doing so.

Teacher Agency: Educators Moving from a Fixed to a Growth Mindset

It is a myth that we operate under a set of oppressive bureaucratic constraints. In reality, teachers have a great deal of autonomy in the work they chose to do in their classrooms. In most cases it is our culture that provides the constraints. For individual teachers, trying out new practices and pedagogy is risky business and both our culture, and our reliance on hierarchy, provide the ideal barriers for change not to occur. As Pogo pointed out long ago, “we have met the enemy and it is us.” http://www.cea-ace.ca/blog/brian-harrison/2013/09/5/stop-asking-permission-change

Educational psychology has focused on the concepts of learned helplessness and more currently growth-fixed mindsets as a way to explain how and why students give up in the classroom setting.  These ideas can also be applied to educators in this day of forced standardization, testing, scripted curriculum, and school initiatives.

Many educators feel forced into a paradigm of teaching where they feel subjected to teaching practices outside of their control. Then when they are asked to engage in a process of continued growth and development, many profess: “I don’t have enough time.”, “I don’t have enough resources.”, “I need more training.”, “I need to teach using the textbook.” ,”I need to teach to the test.”, “I might lose control of the class.”, “I have always successful taught this way.”


But these are external obstacles whereby the educator places blame for resisting change or engaging in a growth mindset outside of one’s own responsibility. The result is a fixed mindset of learned helplessness, “I cannot change because the system won’t let me change.”  Sometimes educators are creating some obstacles for themselves that in reality don’t exist.


A mental shift occurs when a fixed mindset which often leads to learned helplessness is changed to a growth and positive mindset, believing that there are options; that one can grow, change, and be significant.

How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities. It’s up to you. http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/

It becomes focusing on what can work rather than what is not working.  This is not to devalue the obstacles that teachers face. It becomes about noting where change is possible and making some small changes in teaching.  Small changes often result in larger, more systemic change.


Teacher Agency

The deeper issue related to a fixed versus a growth mindset in education is one of teacher agency.

Teacher agency is typically viewed as a quality within educators, a matter of personal capacity to act (Priestly et al., 2012) usually in response to stimuli within their pedagogical environment. It describes an educator who has both the ability and opportunity to act upon a set of circumstances that presents itself within that individual’s leadership, curricular or instructional roles. The educator described would then draw from acquired knowledge and experience to intercede appropriately and effectively. Agency is increasingly rare in the educational world of prescriptive improvement, and the term is too “often utilized as a slogan to support school-based reform” (Priestley, Biesta & Robinson, 2012, p. 3). Teacher Agency in America and Finland By Roger Wilson, GVSU Faculty

But most educators would probably agree that out of all of the professions, they feel that their voices have the least amount of power; are the ones least heard of any profession when voicing desires, needs, innovative ideas.  Samuel A. Culbert, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted in the New York Times opinion piece: How to Raise the Status of Teachers: Allow More Autonomy:

The way to make stars out of teachers is to let teachers be stars, to let them be as innovative as they can be, to let them find the path that works best for them and their students. If they are allowed to search for the best answers, they’ll find them.  Instead, we’re doing the opposite: we’re telling them that if they want to keep their jobs, they have to do what people who know so much less than they do about education tell them to do. They have to dance to some constantly changing, politically created tune that is guaranteed to leave them demoralized and their students floundering.

The bottom line, is that teachers need to reclaim their perceived and real teacher agency, voice, and empowerment. They need to develop a growth mindset that they can and do have agency in their profession.

With all that is happening in the education profession today, it is important to remember that teacher’s have power to change the system. This power for change can be called “Agency” which is defined as the capacity of teachers to shape critically their responses to educational processes and practices (Biesta and Teddler, 2006).  With all the external push from various sectors, ultimately teachers are the ones that can cut through all of the cross-purposed mandates and transform their own process and practices to ensure the best educational experiences for their students.  Teacher Agency and Today’s Teachers

Some concrete strategies educators can do for gaining and increasing their agency include:

  • Revisit and/or develop a strong teaching mission and vision.  Use it to inform your teaching practices, broadcast it to students, students’ parents, and colleagues.  See How Do I Write a Teacher Mission Statement?
  • Create time and space to develop a classroom you wished you had as a child; would want for your own children.  Be fearless and unapologetic about creating this type of classroom.
  • Find and use your own voice in the teachers’ lounge, teachers’ meetings, via blogging or social media.  Publicize your successes and accomplishments via social media.  See my post, Every Educator Has a Story . . . Just Tell It.
  • Develop and participate in strong Professional Learning Communities.
  • Get involved in local politics – attend and use your voice at school board meetings, local political meetings.

In conclusion, teacher voice, empowerment, and agency is needed for the educational reform that so many desire . . .

More than ever we — teachers — must be a vital part of this national conversation. As teachers, we have a responsibility to our students and communities to share our collective wisdom in an effort to facilitate quality reform. To get this reform effort right, teachers must be seated at the table demanding the type of change that will be in the best interest of our children, our fellow teachers, and our country.

Reforming our great profession is a necessary step in the development of our nation in general. We have a unique opportunity to share our stories, the good and the bad, in an effort to equip our colleagues to more adequately prepare their students for the future that awaits us all.  Teacher Voices Must Be Heard

Social Networking and the Quest to Lessen (Lesson?) Existential Anxiety

I have lived most of my life in a state of existential anxiety . . .

Existential anxiety arises when people deeply contemplate their existence. This contemplation leads to thoughts and feelings of freedom and responsibility, which burden the individual to find a purpose in life–and to live genuinely according to this purpose.  http://www.livestrong.com/article/138049-what-is-existential-anxiety/#ixzz2GYDr8LNC


Starting in middle school, I developed this intense desire to have a significant impact on changing the world.  I want the world to be a more fair, equitable, and enjoyable place for all, in part, due to actions I have taken.  I have worked with at risk youth, with adjudicated youth, with kids and adults in a psychiatric hospital, with pre-service and in-service teachers.  I always try to plant a seed of significance – that they have the personal power to change themselves and the world.  My passion for doing so has not diminished but a few years ago I entered into a state of existential depression, believing what I was doing didn’t matter.  Ironically, even though I “preach” a message of personal power to change the world, I had/have doubts that I could do so.

Then came social media.  I often express that social media gives everyone the opportunity to have a voice and an audience to listen to that voices.  As for myself, I blog, tweet, and Facebook hoping to create some sense of significance.

Several events converged during the past few weeks to intensify my perpetual state of existential angst:

  • The Sandy Hook Massacre and the related #26Acts of Kindness
  • Revisiting Viktor Frankl’s ideas through a video shared on Twitter
  • My blog reached over 200,000 views and closing in on 10,000 followers of Twitter.

I cannot say anything good is going to come from the Sandy Hook massacre – it has not meaning.  It just reinforces the need to live and love fully and totally for today as we cannot be assured of a tomorrow.  Some folks seemed to take this thought to heart and joined Ann Curry’s movement to participate in #26acts of kindness.  In order to honor the victims and to attempt to do something, anything to make change, I did my #26acts and blogged about them in Living a Life of Kindness: #26acts to challenge others to do so.

This week marked the 200,000 view of my blog and I am closing in on 10,000 followers on Twitter.


Yesterday I posted a Facebook status that stated, “Am thinking that I should be a poster child for existential angst – have spent my life in an ongoing search for meaning and significance.”  One of my friends, Janet Nay Zadina responded,  “I am so happy that I have work that is meaningful to me. You, also, have that. Your posting of Acts of Kindness has significantly affected me and many others.”

Maybe I do have a voice.  I still don’t know if I am making a difference, but hope my blog entries and tweets spark something for those viewing them. I have more hope I am making a difference than I had prior to social networking.

As I noted, viewing Viktor Frankl’s talk was also one of the events that had impact on me this week.  I started thinking that maybe a purpose I have in life is to encourage educators to assist their students in finding their own meaning and significance.

As Viktor Frankl noted in his talk, young people have a need for finding meaning in life.  In our role of as educators, Dr. Frankl made several comments that have application to working with students:

If we take (hu)mans as are they really are, we make them worse, but if we overestimate/overrate them, we promote them to what they really can be.

If you don’t recognize young (hu)mans’ will to meaning, search for meaning, you make them worse, you make them dull, you make them frustrated.  Let’s presuppose a spark for meaning.  Then you will elicit it from them and you will make them become what they are capable of becoming.

I believe that a responsibility of all educators is to provide their students with the knowledge, skills, resources, and time to find their own meaning.  Social media and networking amplifies and enhances their potential to do so.  In these days of social media and networking, kids, on their own, are changing the world:

Can you imagine how a world would look if the educational curriculum promoted kid-driven initiatives like these?

Developing a Social-Networked Mini Unit

I teach a Boise State University EdTech graduate course in Social Networking Learning.  I wrote about this course in Educators as Social Networked Learners.

I decided to write a separate post about their final assignment, creating a Social-Networked Mini-Curricular Unit.  The assignment description, some of the group units produced, the peer assessment, and some student reflections about the project follow:

Assignment Description

For your final project (the final module is peer reviews of this assignment), you’ll be formulating, outlining, proposing your very own social networked mini-curricular unit. Creating your own mini-curricular unit for your final project will provide you with the opportunity to synthesize and apply the social networking skills and strategies you learned throughout the course.

  • Course Description, Objectives, and Expectations
    • Course description
    • Learning outcomes
    • Performance and participation expectations
    • Social Media Use Guidelines
    • You will need to have a central hub to share information – WordPress, Google Sites, Wiki, Edmodo. (This will also be the site where you address all of the requirements of this project.
  • Student and course content creation and sharing platforms (along with specific directions on set-up, purpose, and potential use for your course):
    • Sharing work and discussions: Edmodo, Facebook
    • Student work: blogs; wikis
    • Photo and video sharing: Youtube, Flickr
    • Synchronous meetings discussions: Google+, Webinar Platforms
    • Social Bookmarking: Diigo, Delicious
    • Information Sharing and Dissemination: Twitter
    • Curation: Learnist, Pinterest, Storify, Scoopit
    • Student Collaboration: Google Docs, Etherpad, Edmodo
    • Student interaction: Develop a process for students to interact with and collaborate with one another.
    • How you will have students form small study groups or cohorts for project creation, collaboration, and feedback
    • How you will rotate facilitation of weekly discussions
    • How the group will report their progress – e.g., weekly summary (see Storify)
    • Apart from the course social networking platforms, participants should be encouraged to generate content spaces of their own, allowing them to both increase their Personal Learning Environment, as well as share their experiences with both the other MOOC participants as well as their own Personal Learning Network (http://moocguide.wikispaces.com/4.+Designing+a+MOOC+using+social+media+tools) This, obviously, needs to be discussed and presented to the students that is age-grade appropriate.
  • Assessment Plan: this is your plan for assessing student performance and work. (You do not have to develop assessments for specific learning activities nor course requirements – this is just your plan)
    • Statement about the assessment process (self and peer assessment, reflection)
    • Peer review should be a part of the process
    • Consider using badges for assessment (e.g. http://classbadges.com/about)
  • How You Plan to Monitor Course Interactions, Make Announcements, and Summarize and Disseminate Student Contributions
    • Course Tags and Hashtags
    • You, the educator, need ways to collect all the information and RSS feeds that your students are producing. Netvibes works well for this or gRSShopper (developed by Stephen Downes, a MOOC guru) if you have a server and some basic sysadmin skills (or know somebody who does).
    • Your process of disseminating announcements and aggregated student contributions on a regular basis.
  • Sample Learning Activities
    • List at least three learning activities for your course – make sure they address your learning outcomes and include many, if not all, of your course’s established social networks.

Example Group Projects


Despite a passion for creative writing, many people refuse to identify themselves as writers. There are a number of misconceptions about writing including the idea that a true writer is one who is published by a publishing house. This course seeks to change that narrow view of writers. The writer is a person who finds joy or purpose in writing and endeavors to write often.

The hallmark of any writer is that they write and write often.  Students will write often and collaborate with other writers in class to develop a 15 -20 page story that will be published online at the end of the course. This course will use social media and other technologies to help writers create a useful archive of resources and create a network of similar-minded writers. Students will leave the course with a story they publish to an online website and skills to continue writing. http://sswrite.weebly.com/index.html

Of special note, Andrea, Alyssa, Darla, and Christina’s unit included the following:

  • Course Social Networking Technologies – http://sswrite.weebly.com/course-technology.html.
  • Example Assignments (posted on their class Edmodo page):
    1. One of the biggest challenges that all writers face, is how to begin. What will you write about? You will be using your researching skills to brainstorm different literary genres. You may use any search engine you see fit. Then, once you’ve identified different genres of literature, start thinking about what makes a story fit into that particular genre. For instance, what elements make a story a horror story?   To begin this activity, you will need to have your Diigo account set up and have joined the ELACADE. You will add 10 different bookmarks to Diigo, from your genre research. Once you have added your 10 resources for genre and characteristics of these genres onto Diigo, you will tweet them to our class hashtag #ELACADE.  Once you have completed posting your resources to Diigo and tweeting them to our group, you will need to read through the research that your classmates have posted. Remember, that you are trying to identify the genre that you would like to use for your short story and get some ideas for plot. Tweet at least 10 other students in the class about their research. (*Include elements you found interesting or new ideas for your own story that you thought about after reading their research.)  By the time you have finished this assignment, you should have a clear understanding of the genre of story you will be writing and what elements your short story should contain in order to fit into that genre.  Students that complete this portion will receive the Brainstorming Badge.
    2. After completing the Twitter brainstorming activities, you will create a visualization board using Pinterest to help brainstorm setting and characterization. Visualization often aids writers in articulating written details about characters and setting.  You should have set up a Pinterest account prior to beginning this activity. Review your brainstorming ideas and responses from your Twitter activity. Then, use Flickr or other internet resources to locate pictures to represent your setting and characterization ideas. “Pin” at least 25-30 images, websites, videos, or other media that helps you to visualize your storyline, characters and setting. Post a link to your Pin board in the Edmodo forum. Then, review and reply to the Visualization Pin boards of the members of your group.  Students who complete this assignment will earn the Lessons Badge.


Of special note, Jon and Fabio’s course included the following:

  • A Netvibes was set up to aggregate course resources, social networking sites, and student blogs – http://www.netvibes.com/spacemooc#Main_and_Group_MOOC_Resources
  • Groups assignment based on interest:  https://sites.google.com/site/spacemooc/extra-credit
  • A sample assignment:  For this activity, we will meet up in real time via twitter to view the night sky and compare the constellations in view over a period of time.  Utilizing a Skymap App, you will share their view of the night sky with classmates to get an understanding of the movement of the constellations across the night sky, the impact of latitude on what is seen and the speed at which the view changes.

    Some good Skymap apps are listed below:

    After your group stargazing, please visit our Facebook Group Page and reflect on the experience.  Your reflection should include your perceptions before and after learning about constellations.  Also, please respond to at least two group members posts.




Peer Reviews of the Social Networked Curricular Units

Assignment Overview:  You are being asked to provide feedback for one of the other group’s units via an audio-visual screencast. There are a number of Web-based tools that can be used to do this.  Screencasts increase the social networking level of the teaching-learning process and helps to insure that the feedback is rich and that thorough critiques are provided.  Here are some example screencasts from the course:

Final Course Reflections

The final task for the course was a reflection on the course, what worked, what didn’t work, what was learned, what will be used in the future.  A few students discussed this assignment as being a significant component of the course.

From Christina:

I believe that my favorite (while frustrating) assignment was the final project. While I always hope for the most detailed outlines and instructions for assignments, the freedom to create a social media and networking course on our own was challenging and exciting. I have always enjoyed how the final projects in our EdTech courses serve as a means to solidify our learning. The project was able to help me see how the previous assignments from the semester could be integrated and applied in a meaningful application of social networking. Our project on Healthy Living integrates a variety of social networking components that I am always afraid to try with my students. But now that I have had the practice of applying these tools in a practice setting, I am more likely to attempt to use them with my “real-life” students. http://cmoore23.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/hello-my-name-is-christina-and-i-was-a-lurker/

From Fabio:

Now for the best part of this course and what I enjoyed the most – the MOOC.  I didn’t know that these existed.   I love this idea.  I’m a lifelong learner.  I learn to learn and I don’t care what it is as long as it interests me and stimulates my brain.  MOOCs are awesome and I can’t wait to delve more into this fascinating area and possible even conduct a few. We can create communities of student centered self guided learning in which a teacher may not even necessarily be needed in the traditional sense. In this model the entire group would teach and learn from each other. I’d really love to take part in the one that I designed and others that I saw my peers start and design. I may not make an entire course into a MOOC, but I definitely will add aspects of MOOCs into my courses. http://edtech.cominotti.net/llog/2012/12/10/social-network-learning-course-reflection/

Living a Life of Kindness: #26acts


Tens of thousands of people answered Anne Curry’s call and thus began the 26 Acts of Kindness campaign to honor the 20 children and six teachers lost in the shooting at Sandy Hook, according to NBC.  A Facebook page has been set up to promote the 26 Acts of Kindness campaign. It already has almost 83,000 “likes.”

Here is an example of the 22 acts of kindness a 22 year old did to celebrate his birthday, not part of this project but a great example how one person took the initiative to do some of his own acts of kindness.

If I was still a classroom teacher, I would have my students do this as a year long project and record their acts of kindness via a photo essay or video.  I believe that this era of education should include learning about social good and global stewardship.  Students should be encouraged to be change makers in the world. This is why this post is included in my series on user-generated education.

Some teachers have started acts of kindness campaigns with their students:

What follows are my #21 acts for Holiday, 2012 (five more are forthcoming).  I try to live a life of acts of kindness, trying to give charity to others all year long through my actions (e.g., helping a senior citizen) or making contributions during catastrophes.  During Christmas time, I make my big contributions and try to do some volunteer work – helping deliver meals to homebound, packing Christmas treats at the Salvation Army, etc.  I never tell anyone about my acts as they are personal and I do not do so to get any pats on the back from anyone else.  I am sharing this year’s acts due to the #26acts movement, and to inspire, motivate, and challenge others to do so.

#1 – Lifted Spirits at the Post Office

I was in the post office to mail some Xmas presents. As expected, the line was extremely long. We took our numbered tickets upon entering the PO and found our places for the inevitable waiting. I have very little patience for lines and based on the reactions, attitudes, and comments so did the other people waiting. I took a deep breadth and dove into my iPhone. An older lady (she looked about 80) a few people away from me kind of joked about being #67 as they had just called out #17. I realized I had picked up a lower number #33 from the counter leaving me with both #33 and #41. I handed her #41 saying it is a good time to engage in acts of kindness. She yelped with joy and asked me for a hug. A man then stated loudly that he forgot to get a ticket. The older lady handed him her #67. We had started a game of pass it forward. A majority of the 30+ folks in the Post Office started laughing and commenting – a potentially miserable time at the PO became joyful and fun. I left the PO smiling – the first smiles I had since hearing about Sandy Hook. A very small act of kindness changed the entire climate of a “grouchy” situation into one that touched my heart.

#2 – Gave Homeless Man My Lunch

I went grocery shopping. In the roasted chicken section was a roasted turkey breast. I bought it for my lunch today – nothing like hot roasted turkey. It cost $9. At the stop sign off of the highway, on the drive home, was a homeless man (I assume) with a cardboard sign that said, “Anything would help.” He was an older man with very long grey hair and beard. I stopped to consider giving him a few dollars. I asked him if he smoked. I don’t give the guys with signs money for fear that they would spend it on cigarettes. He said he did and I told him that I didn’t want to give him money for cigarettes. With very said eyes, he asked, “Do you have anything to eat?” I grabbed the roasted turkey and handed it to him. He stared in disbelief and could only say “Oh my goodness” a few times. I yelled Merry Christmas and drove off.

#3 – Bought an iTunes Gift Card and Made a List of Recommended Apps for My Brother with Asperger’s.  He is getting an iPad for Christmas.

#4 – Donated to John Green’s (Fault of Our Stars) amazing Youtube fundraiser, Project Awesome 2012


#5 – Promoted Sandy Hook Snowflake Project on my social networks.

#6 – Donated $26 dollars to the Sandy Hook PTA for their Snowflake Project.

#7 – Donated to Beyond Borders because we should not forget about Haiti,  Beyond Borders is an international nonprofit working to end child slavery, guarantee universal access to education, end violence against women and girls and promote dignified and life sustaining work that recognizes and reinforce Haiti’s strengths.

#8 – Bought Merchandise to Support and “Advertise” Pencils of Promise


#9 – Bought a MiiR Water Bottle – $1 of every MiiR bottle purchased provides one person with clean water for one year, one4one.

#10 & #11 – Donated a Year of School for Two Girls through International Rescue


#12 – Donated a New Classroom through International Rescue


#13 – Donated a Pair of Goats through International Rescue

#14 – Donated  A Women’s Health and Wellness Kit through International Rescue

#15, #16, #17, #18 – Contributed to four classroom projects through Donors Choose for classrooms affected by Hurricane Sandy


#19 – Provided Kiva loan to the agriculture Mahinga Group in Kenya as I believe we are all global stewards.

#20 – As I do every year, I donated a substantial amount of $$ to Save the Children.


#21 – Planned a Surprise Birthday Cake-Card for Fellow Potter Who Turned 70.  During our holiday pottery show, I gave Mimi, who was turning 70, a chocolate cake and a card signed by the group members.  Her son and grandchildren came to the show so I gave it to her when they were there.  She told me that it had been years and years since she had a birthday cake.


#22 – Paid $20 of a Senior Citizen’s Grocery Bill.  She was really grateful and asked me for a little kiss.


These are my acts for the 20 children and for Sandy Hook Principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and teacher, Vicki Soto.  The other four acts will occur when an act of kindness is needed and I can provide such an act.

I do not live a life of trying to give acts of kindness as a ticket to get into an afterlife.  I live it because it feels good.  It is the right thing to do.

Leveraging the Devices, Tools, and Learning Strategies of Our Students

I developed a mission statement as an educator several decades ago.  It is simply, “To provide students with the knowledge, skills, and passion to become lifelong learners.”  I have never swayed from that mission, but as I say in my Twitter profile, “I don’t do education for a living, I live education as my doing . . .  and technology has amplified my passion for doing so.” Technology makes possible 24/7, interested-driven learning.  I teach online so I get the opportunity to learn everyday all day long due to the Internet and social networks.  Students of all ages and settings should also be given the skills, tools, and time to engage in this type of self-directed, passion-based learning.

Higher education and high school teachers have stubbornly kept lectures as the primary mode of instruction.  Most students in these venues report boredom as a result.  I discuss this more in Who Would Choose a Lecture as Their Primary Mode of Learning.  An opposing state of being passionate is being bored, a contradiction to my mission statement . . .  and I believe that most educators would report that do not wish to elicit a state of boredom in their students.  This is why I am confused that in these amazing times of the abundance of information, mobile devices, and free technologies, educators are not leveraging them in the classroom.

Where, when, how, and even what we are learning is changing. Teachers need to consider how to engage learners with content by connecting to their current interests as well as their technological habits and dependencies. http://learningthroughdigitalmedia.net/introduction-learning-through-digital-media

Reports continue to be disseminated about how young people are using technology.  These devices, tools, and strategies can be integrated into existing lessons to enhance the learning activities and create more engagement, excitement, and possibly some passion among the students.

What follows are the results of some recent research and surveys about how young people are using technology along with suggestions how educators can

Pew Research’s Photos and Videos as Social Currency Online

A nationally representative phone survey of 1,005 adults (ages 18+) was taken August 2-5, 2012. The sample contained 799 internet users, who were asked questions about their online activities.  Based on the results of the survey, recommendations are made how these online activities can be leveraged in the classroom.

Have Students Show Their Learning Visually with Photos and/or Videos


Taking photos and videos are commonplace for many young people.  Students can demonstrate their learning through some form of visual media.  Using visual media in the classroom is congruent with brain research about the power of vision in learning (as per neuroscientist, John Medina) and supports research that visuals enhance learning.


Have Students Curate


As instructors, we are all information curators.  How do you collect and share currently relevant content with your students?  How do your students research and share information that they find with the rest of class? What tools do you use to manage or facilitate presentation of resources? Is it public? Can students access it at other times? In groups?  Modern web tools make it easy for both students and instructors to contribute online discoveries to class conversations.  Using free online content curation software, we can easily integrate new content in a variety of ways. http://iteachu.uaf.edu/grow-skills/filelink-management/content-curation-tools/

. . . and as Bill Ferriter notes:

While there are a ton of essential skills that today’s students need in order to succeed in tomorrow’s world, learning to efficiently manage — and to evaluate the reliability of — the information that they stumble across online HAS to land somewhere near the top of the “Muy Importante” list.  http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/2012/12/curating-a-content-collection-activity.html


Have Students Connect to Other Students, Teachers, and Experts Via Their Social Networks


By utilizing a technological channel that is popular with users, professors are increasing participation among students and seeing the results. Due to the real-time format of these outlets, students can contact peers, faculty and other authorities anywhere in the world, and usually elicit a prompt response. Despite its reputation, social media platforms allow professors to approach curricula in ways that are more creative and engaging to students. The College Bound Network has said of social learning, “Despite what you may have thought, technology doesn’t hinder learning—it fuels it.”  http://www.business2community.com/trends-news/the-modern-student-the-rise-of-online-schools-social-media-and-institutionalized-understanding-0356321#tosmQAvUcXUAKmbU.99


Have Students Use Their Own Devices During Class Time

Two reports/infographics support this strategy:

There are limitless ways to use student devices during class time.   I recommend to educators to take what they are already doing well in the classroom and brainstorm how these learning activities can be enhanced using their mobile devices.

For several semesters, I taught an undergraduate course on interpersonal relations.  It was at a vocational-driven local college with most of the students being between the ages of 17 to 22 (some high school students) and a handful of students in their thirties and forties.  I took learning activities I had developed and taught in the past and enhanced them with technology.  Reflections about these activities can be read at:

Pockets of institutions, administrators, and educators are successfully integrating the tools and strategies discussed above into their setting.  More blog posts, case studies, journal articles, and news pieces about these initiatives can give permission and suggestions to those who are willing but scared or a bit reluctant.

Addressing Sandy Hook (and other tragedies) in the Classroom

For several years I was the director of a program that went into the local public schools to lead grief and loss counseling groups.  There were about 10 facilitators running about 33 groups in elementary, middle, and high schools.  The kids in the groups had experienced some form of loss.  For example, I ran a group for middle school students who were in a bus crash on the way home from a ski trip.  Two of their friends and one chaperone were killed in the crash.  Another group I led was composed of elementary students who lost a parent due to some form of violence.

Through running these groups I learned the following:

  • Many young people do want to talk about the death of their loved ones and death in general.  Adults, often through their own discomfort and with best intentions, shut them down believing it is better not to have these types of discussions.
  • Young people feel as many adults do in these situations: angry, sad, scared, powerless.  As with adults, they sometimes need assistance identifying and expressing these feelings.
  • As with adults, young people want to do something to overcome feelings of powerless.

As a teacher educator and former classroom teacher, I believe that world events should be addressed in the classroom.  Students know what has happened, and as with us, as educators, these events often weigh heavily on them. Learning activities can help students cope with their thoughts and emotions.

Our students are likely feeling the collective weight of these troubling events. We understand the enormity of the task facing teachers who are already juggling numerous responsibilities and are yet again charged with helping young people make sense of devastating events in the world around us. It is easy to feel disheartened, but we believe that making the classroom a community where students can learn, reflect, and respond to the world around them together is an essential part of taking care of our young people. (http://facingtoday.facinghistory.org/help-your-students-reflect-on-the-tragic-las-vegas-shooting)

The activities to address events such as Sandy Hook depend on the age of the students (not for younger kids), the climate of the school, the make-up and temperament of the particular class, and parental attitudes (parent permission forms may be in order).  They should also be offered to students whereby any student or even the entire class can choose to pass from doing the activity.  Students who choose to pass can be given alternative work to do.

Here are some possible activities:

  • Sharing Circle: Have a morning circle or group to offer students the opportunity to discuss how they feel about the event. Feelings cards can be used to help students identify feelings (they work with all ages).  This is not a forum to discussed the details of what happened.  The news does enough of this.  The focus is on feelings.
  • Sympathy Cards:  Have students create, individually or as a group, sympathy cards for the families who were affected. (Sympathy cards for Sandy Hook can be sent to Sandy Hook elementary School, 12 Dickenson Drive, Sandy Hook, CR 06482-1218.  The school colors are green and white.)
  • Have students individually or in small groups create memorial posters.

525863_4832179039493_382257347_n      17801_213697482099068_1302113630_n

  • Show and discuss some of the initiatives that have been established to help the community affected.  For example for Sandy Hook, see Help for victims of Sandy Hook.  See if students want to help in any way.
  • Create a website in memory of those lost, creating pages for each person lost.
  • For older and more students – have a debate or a Socratic Seminar about gun control using statistics, a review of laws, and other data to inform the debate or seminar.
  • Peer Counseling:  Have students develop a plan to help another student who is in distressed.  Teach, demonstrate, and practice peer counseling skills.

Doing these activities can be a scary and risky proposition.  I understand that.  If an educator chooses to do these type of activities, s/he needs to stay grounded and calm, and have the ability to cope and deal with what may come up from the students.

A student may react strongly from a given activity.  I believe this student had all those feelings stored up already and that this may be an opportunity to provide some needed help.  A school counselor or psychologist can help in this situation.

If education is about preparing students to be active and contributing citizens, then world events shouldn’t be shut out and ignored.  As horrible as they are, they become teachable moments for students to feel that they count and can make a difference.  Activities such as the ones described can help students heal and give students the opportunity to help heal the world.

Being With Our Students As If It Was Our Last Day Together

Earlier this week, I tweeted,

If we focus on preparing students for their futures in college and the workforce, we often miss the joy, passion, enjoyment and flow of what is occurring in the present.

This was posted prior to the Sandy Hook tragedy.  This tragedy reinforced how important it is to be in and grab onto every moment with our students.  As a young adult, I embraced the existential philosophy and the tenet that knowledge and acceptance of our death assists us to live in the present.

Knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift ever given to us because unless you know the clock is ticking, it is so easy to waste our days, our lives.  Anna Quindlen

I have taken this awareness or knowledge into my teaching.  My teaching experiences include elementary gifted and PE, and teacher education courses.  Some classes last an hour, some a full day (gifted kids and weekend intensives for pre- and in-service teachers).  I bring this philosophy into the classroom in all my teaching – regardless of the age or content.  The learners are giving me their time, literally pieces of their lives.  It becomes my responsibility to provide them with experiences worthy of their time.  In most of my teaching situations, I would see them again for the next class – but one never knows.  I have had a handful of students who suddenly went missing-in-action due to family conflicts, emergencies, etc.

In terms of what this means in my teaching practices, I strive to bring magic and joy into my classroom.  I want students to shiver with positive anticipation and energy when they enter class that day – not knowing exactly what to expect, but knowing it will be something exciting.

I reflect upon and assess my performance after each class session using the following questions to guide me:

  • Did I express and/or show students that I cared deeply for them?  Sandy Hook teacher, Kaitlin Roig, locked her and her first graders into a bathroom to protect them by the Sandy Hook shooting.  She told reporters:

I need you to know that I love you all very much. I thought that was the last thing that they would ever hear. I thought we were all going to die. I don’t know if that was okay because, you know, teachers, but I wanted them to know someone loved them. I wanted that to be one of the l http://youtu.be/X4RzAQuH81Q

I was so proud of Kaitlin but it broke my heart that she thought it was not okay to tell her students that she loved them.  I don’t use the word “love” easily but do tell my students I love them.  I do give them hugs (even with all the admonishments about touching students.)  I “preach” to my pre-service teachers that if you don’t love them, then find a different professional field.

  • Did I put student needs above the need or desire to cover content?  If the student(s) experienced emotional distress, did I stop the lesson instruction and spend time to discuss it?  When studies are stopped to help students with some emotional problem they are experiencing, they are given a powerful message that they are important and worthy of class time.
  • Did the students learn, do, and/or experience something new during class . . . a new aha . . . a new question . . . a new insight . . . a new interest . . . a new sense of personal power?
  • Did the students experience joy, laughter, excitement, flow, astonishment during class time? I seek to create moments where students’ minds, emotions, bodies, hearts, and “souls” are congruent and present in the moment.  For each time we are together, I attempt to create powerful, experiential, awe-inspiring instructional activities.
  • Did the students feel being an important part of and connected to each other and the world?  As is discussed in so much of the literature on human needs (e.g., Maslow), a sense of belonging is such a powerful, universal, and important human need.  All of my class sessions include some form of peer-to-peer interaction and groupwork.
  • If I lost my temper with the student(s), did I say I am sorry?  I am human, I loose my temper. When I do, I also believe in and act upon making apologies.  The situation dictates whether I do this in a who group setting or on a one-to-one with the student.
  • As the students exited my classroom, did I make some kind connection with every student?  My ritual, at the end of each class day, is give each individual student a high five and a smile as as they leave the classroom.

I work towards and have a desire for every student to leave each class session qualitatively different than when he or she came to class that day.  This is a lofty goal but really adds to the creativity, engagement, and joy I attempt to infuse into each class session.  I want each student to leave my classroom each day saying, “I was happy to be in class today.”

I want to loudly reinforce to my students of all time, “I love you.”

Information Abundance and Its Implications for Education


As I read through the social media networks, the concept of information overload is continually being discussed.

Information overload is a term popularized by Alvin Toffler in his bestselling 1970 book Future Shock. It refers to the difficulty a person can have understanding an issue and making decisions that can be caused by the presence of too much information. Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.  

As the world moves into a new era of globalization, an increasing number of people are connecting to the Internet to conduct their own researchand are given the ability to produce as well as consume the data accessed on an increasing number of websites. Users are now classified as active users  because more people in society are participating in the Digital and Information Age.  This flow has created a new life where we are now in danger of becoming dependent on this method of access to information.  Therefore we see an information overload from the access to so much information, almost instantaneously, without knowing the validity of the content and the risk of misinformation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_overload

I have re-framed information overload from being discussed as a cautionary consequence of the technology age to us living in a time of information abundance.  I think we are living in one of the most exciting times in the history of humankind. We are living in a world of information abundance, surplus, and access.  The result is synergy whereby the human mind plus our current technologies far exceed the sum of these individual parts.  By this I mean we have technologies to access any type of information and to create products that match the pictures and voices in our minds; and we can use technology to get the assistance and feedback from folks around the globe.

I am not alone in my enthusiasm for this age of information at our fingertips. In a study conducted from Northwestern University, Overwhelmed by instant access to news and information? Most Americans like it,  researchers concluded “There’s definitely some frustration with the quality of some of the information available, but these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices.”

Weinberger, author of Too Big to Know, believes we have entered a new golden age, one in which technology has finally caught up with humans’ endless curiosity, and one that has the potential to revolutionize a wide swath of occupations and research fields.”

Implications for Education

As educators, we have this gift of information abundance. It should be leveraged and strategically used for our own and our students’ learning. When educators do not acknowledge, incorporate, and integrate the many types and uses of our real world technologies, they are failing their students.

  • Educators are no longer the gatekeepers to information.  Prior to Web 1.0 and Web 2.o, students were often dependent on educators to be the experts to tell them about and share resources about the content-related topic.  Now the Internet has videos, resources, and research from experts and practitioners who often know more about the content than does the educator.  Now more than even, the educator needs to:
  • The Internet needs to be open and available to students.  Many students already have access to information where and when they want it but often not in the school setting.  Many are learning more after school hours than during school hours.  By limiting students to textbooks and information as selected by districts, principals, textbook and testing companies, a type of censorship occurs.  Students have the opportunity, through the Internet, to hear, see, and read about varying perspectives on so many topics.  Depriving them of the opportunity to do so limits their education.
  • Information and media literacy needs to integrated across the curriculum and grade levels. 

Our rapid transformation into a technology driven, information society has dramatically altered the k-16 teaching and learning landscape.  And, as a result, the sustainability of our current economic foundation, strengthening our national security, even maintaining the very essence of our democratic way of life depends more and more on producing learners who not only know how to think, but know how to problem solve within a diversified information and communication technology universe.



  • Global-oriented and multicultural education also needs to be integrated across the curriculum and grade levels.

From science and culture to sports and politics, ideas and capital are crossing borders and spanning the world. The globalization of business, the advances in technology, and the acceleration of migration increasingly require the ability to work on a global scale. As a result of this new connectivity, our high school graduates will need to be far more knowledgeable about world regions and global issues, and able to communicate across cultures and languages. Our students must emerge from schools college-ready and globally competent, prepared to compete, connect, and cooperate with their generation around the world (The Global Classroom).

  • Students developing their own Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) should be viewed as a major instructional strategy.

A student personal learning network is, therefore, a rich and ever-growing series of connections with people, resources, and communities around the world…connections that allow us to grow in knowledge, skill, ability and perspective. What if we spent more time thinking about the networks that students are building as they go through their schooling years? What if we made the building of such a network a central part of the curriculum, inviting students to keep a log or journal of their growing network, and how this network is empowering them to learn, how it is expanding their knowledge and perspective? How are they building a meaningful network? Students can interview people around the world, tutor and be tutored, take part in formal and informal learning communities, take part in Twitter chats and Hangouts, learn from and engage in the blogosphere, experience the power of working on a meaningful project in a distributed/virtual team, participate in a massive open online course (or design and teach one), share resources through social bookmarking and other technologies, host and take part in webinars, and build new online and blended learning communities around topics of personal value, need, and interest. Over time, the students may not only build a personal learning network, but also venture into starting their own personal teaching networks, being agents of change and positive influence in the digital world and beyond (Helping Students Develop Personal Learning Networks).

Emerging Technologies and Their Application to Middle School Classrooms

Guest Post by Jennifer Fargo

The following is a paper written by one of my graduate students at American InterContinental University.  Jennifer Fargo is a middle school teacher.  Due to her passion for educational technology, I am encouraging her to start blogging and join social networks like Twitter.  Because this is such a good paper I am (1) posting it as a guest post on my blog, and (2) hoping this will motivate Jennifer to begin her own blog.

Emerging technologies have the potential to transform learning in the middle school classroom across the curriculum.  When properly applied in a student-centered classroom, mobile apps, tablet computing, game-based learning, personal learning environments, and natural user interfaces can improve instruction and learning, especially for students who need better motivation in school.


Some older, more traditional educational researchers like professor emeritus of Stanford University Larry Cuban do not see evidence that technology in the classroom improves instruction.  He would rather invest in teacher training than in devices in the classroom (Hu, 2011).  What these educators do not realize is that the very nature of student interaction with their world has changed drastically and permanently.  The information shift is as drastic as the move from handwritten texts to books from the printing press (Rankin, 2010).  Information and knowledge are no longer held by the few in select repositories waiting to be disseminated to the masses by a master teacher.  Information, both accurate and inaccurate, is free and available for use instantly over the Internet.

Just as the students’ relationship to information has changed, the relationship of the teacher to the student must change.  With the advent of the printing press, education changed.  Mass access to information in printed books changed the roll of the teacher from facilitating individualized hand-written texts and informational storage for a few wealthy students to standardized classification of data and facts for masses of students who could read (Rankin, 2010).  In this digital age, the role of the teacher is no longer to disseminate facts and data to students because students cannot get that information easily anywhere else.  Because students can easily retrieve information, the role of the teacher becomes as a guide to the learner to take readily available information to evaluate and use it, to see the interconnectedness of information and provide context.  Students construct their own understanding of the world and they do so using technology. The average middle school student has direct access to this information on a daily basis and interacts with others around the world using interactive video games, social media, and mobile technology.  Technologies that students use daily at home can become the tools that educators use to guide students in constructing knowledge in the 21st century and beyond.

Emerging Technologies: The Next Five Years

The New Media Consortium, or NMC, is a professional organization of educators dedicated to the study and application of technology in the classroom.  The NMC’s mission is to promote a “…collective understanding of emerging technologies and their applications for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry” (Johnson, Adams, & Cummins, 2012, preface). The NMC’s annual Horizon Project describes in detail six emerging technologies and their probable impact over the next five years in several learning environments.  The K-12 edition describes the possible applications of these technologies in elementary and secondary classrooms.  Several seem particularly applicable to a learner-centered, middle school classroom.

Mobile Apps

As mobile devices have become more accessible to middle school students, so has their potential to be resources in the classroom.  Mobile devices are small, portable computing devices that usually contain WI-FI, Bluetooth technology, and GPS capabilities.  They can be cell phones, smartphones, portable game consoles, tablets, or small computers.  These computing devices can use apps for various functions.  The mobile device most often talked about for possible classroom use is the cell phone or smartphone.  As of 2010, 75% of 12-17 year olds own a cell phone according to a Pew Research Center study (cited in Koebler, 2011).  With so many students daily engaged in the use of mobile devices, the creation of apps for sale and use on these devices aimed at this demographic has skyrocketed (Johnson et al., 2012).  These apps can be used in the classroom with appropriate supervision and have many benefits.  Mobile devices like cell phones are always capable of connecting to the Internet using 3G or 4G wireless networks.  Mobile apps can be used both inside and outside of the classroom making them easy conduits for communication between students and teachers as well as facilitating collaborative learning with peers.  This connectivity and portability also has the potential to create global connections through instruction making the world the classroom (Mangukiya, 2012).  All of these benefits are facilitated by technology already familiar to students in daily life.

Because most students already own a cell phone or other mobile device, some educators are suggesting a program for instruction where students bring their own devices for use at school, called BYOD programs.  Some of the obstacles to a BYOD program include not all students having the same device, some students not being able to afford the necessary devices, and devices as possible distractions when not in use for instruction (Nielsen, 2011).  Some of these obstacles are overcome by the tenacity of teachers who see how engaged students become when using them and the innovation of the new booming mobile app industry.  With these changes some schools are adopting a BYOD program as a cost effective way to integrate this prevalent technology into the classroom.

Tablet Computing

Tablets, like cell phones, are mobile computing devices.  However, tablets have larger screens with sharper displays for using more powerful and educationally specific apps.  In fact, tablets can run apps similar to software for computers making them a cheaper and more portable option for school based one-to-one programs.  Tablet touch screens make them easy to use, and the portability of the mobile device makes them easy to share in a school environment.  Tablets can also connect to the Internet to expand instruction.

In addition, tablets can be used as digital reading devices.  Tablets provide a much more interactive experience than a traditional textbook (Watters, 2012).  With options like a built-in dictionary, digital annotation, or read-aloud capabilities, reading with a tablet is more active than reading a traditional textbook.  Although not all books and textbooks are available digitally, publishers are expanding their digital libraries.

Game-Based Learning

Video games are pervasive in the United States, especially among adolescents.  According to Robert Torres (2011) of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 97% of Americans between the ages of 8 and 18 play video games.  For middle school students, video games are a way of life.  Torres (2011) posited that video games are so important to students because they offer a sense of relevance and context, are active, provide social interaction, and offer emotional engagement.  With student-centered instruction, teachers seek to incorporate these elements into instruction as well to fully engage the student and allow each to construct knowledge by ensuring relevant, active, and collaborative learning.  Game-based learning can facilitate such instruction in a format that highly motivates students to learn.

Game-based learning can be approached in many ways.  It can be as simple as a single player app for a mobile device or as complicated as a global multi-player virtual world accessed through the Internet.  Many games require collaboration with peers and facilitate problem- solving skills with real-world applications.

Personal Learning Environments

Personal learning environments, or PLE’s, are a digital method of individualizing instruction.  Each PLE is unique to each student.  For educators who believe that a learner-centered approach is the best way to reach every student, PLE’s provide a platform for success.  For some educators, this kind of transformational technology signals a change in teaching.  “By marrying the principles of personalized learning with the tools of technology, some educators believe that they have a chance to create the kind of customized learning environment that can finally break schools out of the industrial-age model of education to bring about true 21st century school reform” (Demski, 2012).  PLE’s can be in the form of wiki pages, personal blogs, e-portfolios of work, or websites that teachers or students can create themselves.  PLE’s facilitate learner-centered instruction, which can be closely monitored by the instructor but is controlled by the student through a digital space.  PLE’s can also promote collaboration when they are shared with others.  For example, a wiki page or other shared document can facilitate group work.  The wiki or document would be dedicated to that assignment and accessed by all members.  PLE’s require a device to connect students to their constructed environment, which can be a computer, tablet, or mobile device.

Natural User Interfaces

Many educators believe that a more immersive teaching style leads to more fully engaged students and therefore better learning.  Natural user interfaces provide a teaching tool that engages all the senses and promotes active learning in the classroom, meeting the instructional needs of all types of learners (Center for Digital Education, 2012).  Natural user interfaces change the way that students interact with technology devices.  The traditional keyboard and mouse are replaced by sensors that detect voice commands, gestures, and touches by the user to manipulate the given technology device.  “Natural user interfaces allow users to engage in virtual activities with movements similar to what they would use in the real world, manipulating content intuitively” (Johnson et al., 2012, p. 32).  Although already used with special needs students who have difficulty manipulating traditional interfaces, natural user interfaces have not translated generally to the regular classroom.  Examples of natural user interfaces are the touch screen and surfaces, used on smartphones, tablets, and interactive whiteboards; gesture-based sensors, used with devices like the Xbox Kinect and Wii; and voice activated technology, used with the iPhone’s Siri virtual assistant and Nuance’s Dragon speech recognition software.

Applications Across the Curriculum

All of the technologies discussed have applications in a middle school classroom.  However, it is not the technological tool that is important, but the instructional approach.  According to Dr. Brenner, a school superintendent from Long Island, New York, “It’s not about a cool application…We are talking about changing the way we do business in the classroom” (cited in Hu, 2012).  Technologies in the classroom are tools to engage students and are no substitute for quality teachers or instructional approaches.  However, a change in instructional techniques must change as our students change.  If properly used by excellent teachers, these technologies offer new ways to motivate and fully engage middle school students for life-long learning applied across the curriculum.

Some of these emerging technologies are appropriate for any content area.  For example, any teacher can use a wiki to create a PLE for their class or for specific assignments.  Students can then post work to the wiki while collaborating with the instructor and peers.  Additionally, an instructor can use iTunes U to gather materials all in one digital location and distribute them to students.  Students can access audio, video, or other materials for a class with a mobile app (Mangukiya, 2012).  Another example of a mobile app that any teacher can use is called Poll Everywhere.  This app allows teachers to poll up to 40 students using the texting-enabled cell phones for instant formative assessment (Koebler, 2011).

Another goal for many schools across the curriculum is to become paperless.  Using tablets, students can use cloud computing to store and turn in work to create a paperless learning environment.  Cloud computing also allows students to continue working at home with an Internet connection without lost papers or forgotten work.  Digital textbooks also help schools become paperless and can be augmented by digital portfolios (Hu, 2011).  In addition, students can take more interactive, annotated notes in class using mobile apps while interactive whiteboards facilitate classwork to be posted online as pdf’s.  Although some applications of these technologies can be for almost any teacher, some benefits of these technologies are content specific.

Language Arts

These emerging technologies can be directly applied to language arts.  Most universally applicable is e-books.  E-book readers, like the Kindle or the iBooks mobile app for iPod, iPhone, and iPad, allow literary texts to become interactive.  Interactive features improve reading skills like digital dictionaries for unknown vocabulary words, connections to supplementary online content to increase comprehension, digital annotation to increase depth of reading, and read-aloud capabilities for auditory learners.  E-books also motivate reluctant readers (Watters, 2012).  This is especially difficult with struggling readers in middle school.  Students can even create and e-publish their own e-book for iBooks using Apple’s Pages word processing software.  Although not every title is available digitally, digital publishing is becoming more common as mobile reading apps become more prevalent.

Literature also comes alive with mobile apps.  For example, an app for iPad and computers is Shakespeare in Bits.  This app provides an animated and interactive text of some of Shakespeare’s plays.  Students can click on archaic vocabulary for definitions and watch animated performances of each scene for context.  In addition to reading, writing skills can also be improved by the proper integration of emerging technologies.  Practical, authentic writing experiences where work is shared with peers promotes improvement with middle school writers.  PLE’s like journal writing in blogs or creating e-portfolios of written work can facilitate such writing experiences (Johnson et al., 2012).

Another highly motivating reading and writing experience is facilitated by game-based learning platforms emphasizing literacy, including a writing component and critical problem solving in collaboration with peers, called Quest Atlantis and Atlantis Remixed, or ARX.  According to the website’s homepage, ARX uses 3D, multi-user, virtual environments to immerse students in educational tasks.  ARX combines elements of video games with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation.  Students take on the persona of an investigator, exploring different virtual environments.  When enough information is gathered, each student writes an assignment based on his or her research within the game.  The games are also customizable for different subjects and instructional objectives, promoting writing across the curriculum. This encourages students to write for different purposes and for different audiences, one of the common core standards for middle school language arts students.  Their work is shared with peers around the world, motivating each student to write their best work.  Even reluctant writers are motivated to craft their writing with thoughtfulness and clarity and reluctant readers build reading skills because they enjoy the video game elements.


Middle school science students can benefit from science based personal learning environments.  One such PLE is called Scitable.  Scitable is a free science library and personal learning tool focusing on genetics and cell biology.  Students can join in scientific discussions, talk to experts in the field, and ask questions about science careers (Johnson et al., 2012).  Teachers and students create their own virtual learning environment for scientific inquiry on the website.

In addition, schools in Virginia have begun replacing science textbooks with iPad interactive textbooks (Hu, 2011).  The interactive textbooks can provide students with the means of manipulating data into charts, graphs, or other visuals; connecting to the Internet for more information about specific subjects based on student interest; connect students to practicing scientists, experts in their fields of study; and conduct virtual dissections or experiments.  Along the same lines, interactive mobile apps for tablets or smartphones allow science students to learn by manipulating information or doing virtual labs.  These kinds of apps permit students to learn the periodic table by viewing and rotating images in 3D or dissect frogs virtually (Johnson et al., 2012).  Middle school students are independent enough in their thinking to accept more control over their scientific experimentation, with appropriate supervision, that tablet technology provides.


Middle school students in mathematics classes begin to study more complex mathematical constructions like percentages, ratios, and equations.  Integrating technology into mathematics instruction can facilitate not only an understanding of the procedures of the math they are learning but also how to apply and synthesize it in the world around them.  Mobile devices can help students visualize content.  Students can graph equations using their smartphones.  They can not only play math games using tablet technology but also view or create for themselves animations of complex math problems.  In fact, California recently launched an iPad only algebra course in conjunction with Houghton Mifflin Harcort (Hu, 2011).

Gesture-based learning can also prompt students to apply mathematical concepts in new ways.  According to the Center for Digital Education (2012), Johnny Kissco, a math teacher from Texas uses the Xbox Kinect in his classroom.  “When I used Kinect in my algebra class, students began asking questions that went far beyond the curriculum requirements. This was a huge success, as it got students thinking about applying the content in a real-world context” (p. 1).  Although most people use mathematics in daily life, middle school students are constantly asking about the practical application of the math they are learning.  Students who use these devices to learn mathematics no longer wonder how they will use the assigned content; they see the practical applications through the instruction itself.

Arts and Physical Education

Many mobile apps for tablets encourage students to create their artistic visions digitally.  Other mobile apps allow art students to view masterworks of art from museums around the world, such as the free apps from the Van Gogh museum and the Louvre.  Students can interact with visuals and content about the artist.  Music students can create their own digital music using apps like GarageBand for iPad.  Such interactive apps can engage many reluctant music makers (Mangukiya, 2012).  These creations can then be published and shared.  Gesture-based learning can provide new learning experiences in physical education.  Learning the rules or motions involved in a sport can be accomplished digitally where progress can be tracked through formative assessments collected by the device.


Middle school students are motivated and encouraged to use higher level thinking skills when instruction includes these emerging technologies.  In the hands of an excellent teacher in a student-centered classroom, these technologies can transform instruction providing authentic, real-world learning experiences to the benefit of students of all learning styles and intelligences.  This is the future of education.


Center for Digital Education. (2012). Learning through motion. Retrieved through Microsoft website: http://www.microsoft.com/education/en-us/products/Pages/kinect.aspx

Demski, J. (2012, January 4). This time it’s personal. Transforming Education Through Technology Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/articles/2012/01/04/personalized-learning.aspx

Hu, W. (2011, January 4). Math that moves: Schools embrace the iPad. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/05/education/05tablets.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Johnson, L., Adams, S., and Cummins, M. (2012). NMC Horizon Report: 2012 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2012-horizon-report-K12.pdf

Mangukiya, P. (2012, February 3). How mobile apps are changing classrooms and education. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/piyush-mangukiya/mobile-apps-education_b_1250582.html

Nielsen, L. (2011, November 9). 7 myths about BYOD debunked. Transforming Education Through Technology Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/articles/2011/11/09/7-byod-myths.aspx

Rankin, B. (2010, August 24). Dr. Bill Rankin: Next-wave mobility and the three ages of information [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8yhPQrMfAk

Torres, R. (2011, November 9). TEDxGotham 2011–Robert Torres [Video file]. Retrieved from  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ahYeJ5LmnXI#!

Watters, A. (2012, February 1). The truth about tablets: Educators are getting iPads and e-readers into students’ hands–but it is not easy. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://thedigitalshift.com/2012/02/ebooks/the-truth-about-tablets-educators-are-getting-  ipads-and-ereaders-into-students-hands-but-its-not-easy/