Monday, August 4, 2008

Mavens, Connectors, or Anti-Social: How Should Our Schools Look?

Denis Hancock wrote this interesting piece on the blog Wikinomics:

As I’ve navigated this remarkably inter-connected little world I’ve probably read several thousand blog posts on the topic, and most of these – predictably – seem to focus on the people Malcolm Gladwell would call the “mavens” and “connectors”.

For the six of you that may not have read his book, “mavens” are the intense gatherers of information and impressions that are most likely to pick up on new trends, and “connectors” are people with a broad network of acquaintances that trust their opinion. Whether the actual term used is “trend setter”, “nfluencer”, “bzzagent”, or any of the many of the others you are likely to come across in the social media blogosphere, the focus seems to primarily be on how these two types of people are using new social media tools.

Seeing this led me to ponder a simple question – what about everyone else? What about that staggeringly large group of people that are neither mavens nor connectors (and particularly those one might call anti–social) - are their social media appetites distinctly different, and if so what are the implications for companies pursuing a social media strategy? More pointedly, will this great mass of people slowly get in line with the adoption curve that mavens and connectors are setting in social media, or might they do something totally different – something that would put some of the prevailing theories regarding cohort behavior into question? To begin looking into this issue, I wanted to start with a particular application where I sense line is being drawn in the sand – Twitter.

In an educational/school context, here are some questions that I came up with:

  1. Assuming teachers are part of a larger world and culture as humans, where do they fit?
  2. Who should teachers be?
  3. How is technology adoption affected by being a maven, connector, or anti-social?
  4. Are teaching/pedagogical beliefs and values tied to being a maven, connector, or anti-social?
  5. Do all teachers need to be mavens or connectors?
  6. Can teachers be anti-social and still be effective by the above definition?
  7. How does this apply to school leaders?
  8. How does this apply to other school stakeholders (students, parents, and community members)?
  9. Will anti-social people (school stakeholders in our context) as Denis asks in the closing of the blog post, avoid it, doing something different, or come around?
  10. How does this/should this impact our thoughts on professional development?
  11. Because we are a maven or connector, can we/do we expect our colleagues to be the same as we are?
  12. How do we teach students to be mavens and connectors?
  13. Do we expect all students (who are part of a larger world and community) to be mavens and connectors?
  14. Who would students rather be?
  15. Is either a maven or connector inherently better from an school/learning standpoint?
  16. Are beliefs and values of learning impacted by a teacher's role as either a maven, connector, or anti-social?
  17. Does the Lake Wobegon Effect apply to this?
  18. How does this correlate to the Pew/Internet study that suggest similar usage/adoption patterns?
  19. How can we use the blend of this framework and the Pew/Internet providing user patterns to develop our professional development?
Please feel free to add your own questions or thoughts.

Interesting stuff to think about!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What Are Students Really Saying?

It was a seldom break from listening to Buck Howdy, Rebecca's favorite singer/songwriter these days. I was able catch a short segment of On the Media entitled "FAQ Check" on our local NPR station instead of humming along with "Baa, Neigh, Cock-a-Doodle-Doo". The segment was on asking questions and finding information on the Internet. I was all ears. Please feel free to be so too!

Towards the end of the segment Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, was talking about the difference between humans and artificial intelligence (AI). After Mr. Shirky talked about AI's inability to make inferences I got to thinking about my teaching. The power of making inferences with students and seeing patterns is crucial to the craft of teaching (somewhere there's a blog post about being able to apply this to online learning). And viewing every moment an honor as a teacher understanding these inferences and patterns is important to me.

I teach students in K-8 Technology Literacy. I hear often how students look forward to their weekly "special" with me for 42 minutes. I work hard to make every class engaging, fun, and skill-building for students. Their time with me is precious making maximizing every moment important.

Despite my intentions and being in front of a computer, on any given day I can hear any or all of these 3 comments:

  • "This is boring!"
  • "This stinks!"
  • "Mr. Wargo can we have free time now?!?!"

As a young teacher, this kind of feedback would rattle me to the core. I'd even sometimes get a bit defensive. But then I began to realize there were some patterns in the inferences students were making. I realized two primary things about these top 3 comments:

  1. A foundation to Technology Literacy is reading (literacy). If my lessons required reading levels (or even sometimes writing levels beyond that of my students), the technology can be branded as boring despite it's coolness factor.
  2. My instruction, modeling, or sequence of engagement needed to be revisited big time. Often times, my expectations, goals, or just sheer explanation was murky to them.

I value students' feedback and want to hear more it. Through the feedback loop, I try to develop their articulation so they can clearly identify their thoughts and feelings: a cornerstone of K-8 schooling, I think.

Sometimes, it's admittedly hard to do in today's depth and breadth of covering curriculum where pacing charts regiment instruction and tests loom on the horizon. While data is important to instruction, so too are the patterns of inferences we see and hear from our students. I need to continue to understand students-to get into their heads as I point out here.

In thinking about my teaching, I realize how important is to teach students about reading inferences especially with the volume of content that is created our collaborative technologies. That is the topic of my forthcoming blog post. Patterns of inferences, or as Daniel Pink calls Symphony in A Whole New Mind, are also essential.

I can't wait for September to come!

**Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of Buck Howdy.**

[As a sidebar, there were lots of "stories" or "angles" that could have been taken with the On the Media piece "FAQ Check". One interesting piece are the listener comments to the segment. Analyzing the inferences and any patterns would be a fun, educational exercise.]

Friday, August 1, 2008

Who's Rip Van Winkle? Higher Ed, K-12, Both, or None of The Above

Here's what got me thinking: One of my chores this summer is to organize our basement, garage, and virtually every other surface, closet, and room in the house (guess who's on summer break?). In my cleaning, I've been coming across some articles, research, notes, and binders from my undergraduate days at Penn State.

I've enjoyed reminiscing about my classes, friends, and the incredible ways my thinking was transformed about learning and teaching using technology circa the early 90's.
One of the gems was this: "Constructing Community and Intertextuality in Electronic Mail" a chapter in a book written by Dr. Jamie Myers my former professor based on his research in 1991. In the chapter, Dr. Myers talks about conversations, intertextuality, and community that 38 of his preservice student teachers had during a semester in his class.

Here's a snippet from the article:
In addition to connecting personal and shared experiences, seeking responses to questions and ideas, and suggesting shared meanings and values for the community, students (g) shared quotes and paraphrased ideas from the professional literature they chose to read, (h) justified ideas through statements of belief, and (i) challenged each other's meanings, and (j) elaborated group meanings. (Myers, 1993).
After re-reading this article, I couldn't help but to think about the time frame in which these student participated. It was 1991! After they left college and went into the classrooms, did they have email, computers, and a culture conducive to technology adoption? And I wonder how many other students who were exposed to technology but were able to use it in their classrooms as practicing teachers?

But I also got thinking how that same excerpt could be written in an article describing social networking, blogging, or wikis now in 2008. I do know for some this may not seem like much of a revelation since educational technology and technology discussions certainly predated this article by numerous years. Have things really changed?

Walking Up Hill Both Ways in the Snow
From pretty much from day one in my Language and Literacy Education classes (English teaching methods) technology was part of it: email, world wide web, MOOs/MUDs, multimedia, list-servs, and discussion boards. Not only did we learn about critical literacy but we used technology as part of our own learning as teachers. We discussed the literary canon over email with preservice teachers at Bowling Green University, discussed textbooks, and teaching literature through email and the TELL feature on the VM system. Those courses were led by Dr. Myers.

Back in the Day
If you were a geek (but far, far from the smartest guy in the program like me) you could take elective Instructional Systems courses taught by Dr. Ali Carr-Chelman which pushed our thinking about the relationship between technology and education. We also had to create an interdisciplinary thematic unit using technology. And if you were a super-geek you could take a Instructional Design Course (in Hypercard) based on constructivism led by Dr. Kyle Peck and Dr. Dave Jonassen. But wait there's more. If you were an uber-geek as an undergrad you could take the hypertext multimedia software developed in Dr. Peck and Dr. Jonassen's class and present with Dr. Jamie Myers at an English teachers' conference in 1995.

When I graduated (with way more credits than I needed and loans to show for it) in 1996 technology, social construction of meaning, designing web pages, multimedia were just another way of talking about writing, literacy, Morrison, Naylor, Dickens, Thoreau, Angelou, or Shakespeare. While the technology was neat and promising, critical literacy and response-response were the frames to have students interpret their values and beliefs making thematic connections between texts and their lives, values, and beliefs. Pretty cool stuff but in some ways sounds eerily like 2008!

So what has changed since those days with my Macintosh Quadra 610 (you've got to love Wikipedia!) affectionately known as Mac Daddy (my roommate's laptop was Daddy Mac and we would network them using AppleTalk)? It's much easier to publish content now. Technology is much more prolific and lots faster. And adoption rates for basic tasks (email, web usage, etc.) have gone through the roof. Learning is changing. We are getting content at faster rates and from much varied sources. Finally, the skills needed for success in our world are changing.

What hasn't changed? The resonating idea of bring together communities of people through technology. Human nature is still at version 1.0 I believe. Many of the great principles of teaching haven't changed.

What is most striking to me? As others have pointed out before, many of the educational issues we talk about are extensions of what's been said before a long time ago. In the context of the sample article I mention, the tools may have changed but the learning hasn't.

I love to see the excitement and traction that technology has been getting in K-12. The flattening of the world is awesome. And I'm loving the conversations about learning, teaching, and education that are on-going right now especially in the edublogosphere (which is a great point to ponder). Keep 'em coming!

But from my tiny vantage point, I'm not so sure higher ed, or at least the higher ed that I was very fortunate to be a part of, was asleep all these years as I'm hearing rumblings of recently. There were conversations and discussions about this stuff long before we in K-12 started having these broad conversations about it. Was it just falling on deaf K-12 ears all those years? Is it a sustainability or endurance issue of a small echo chamber in the academic community? I don't know but interesting food for thought!

Myers, J. (1993). Constructing Community and Intertextuality in Electronic Mail. In C.K. Kinzer & D.J. Leu (Eds.), Forty-second Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (1993). Chicago: National Reading Conference. p 251-262

Photo Credit
Rip Van Winkle photo is from Wikipedia's article about Rip Van Winkle.