Yesterday, the Ontario College of Teachers, the professional body that oversees the teaching profession in Ontario issued a news release announcing a “Professional Advisory on the Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media” for its members. As could be expected, conversations were immediately abuzz with with thoughts and comments about the content. It was interesting to see the initial take by readers and the media. Teasers are all over television with content that would make you wonder if the script writers had actually read the content of the advisory.
In addition to the PDF document, a video was posted to YouTube supporting the content of the advisory.
Before you dig into the advisory, I would recommend reading the backgrounder that the College of Teachers provides as a lead-in to the advisory itself (PDF Document). Read the document carefully. In particular, three sections lay out the key advice to members: “Interact with students appropriately”, “Understand privacy concerns”, and “Act Professionally”. The next steps for teachers who wish to use Social Media come in the form of “Important questions to ask yourself”. Without identifying itself as such, the document really asks educators to analyze and consider their own digital footprints and its implications. Even the most fervent of users would have difficulties challenging any of the common sense messages conveyed. I do wonder, though, if all of the educational scenarios have been thought through carefully. In particular, I wonder about those teachers who are teaching courses online and use these tools as part of the courses.
None of this should be new information. Check through the content of Ontario EduBloggers and you’ll find that virtually all of them have talked about and carefully crafted their own online presence. There isn’t a professional gathering in the province that doesn’t feature presentations and discussions about Social Media. In particular, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation has educated its members about the appropriate use and the power of online resources. Through the Curriculum Forum, all of the subject councils are well aware of the power of these technologies when used properly. OTF has also hosted two 21st Century sessions, the most recent being the “Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century” session this past February. It was at this session that I had the honour of chairing a panel discussion about these technologies. Teachers, a student, an administrator, three of the four Teacher Federations, and a passionate speaker were on this panel where a thorough discussion about the topic engaged the audience. The biggest message for me from that discussion came from Bob Fisher from OSSTF whose best advice still applies “Don’t Do Stupid Things”. After the event, I blogged about it and am reposting it here. I think the message is as relevant today as it was when originally posted on February 12, 2011.
The title was “Don’t Do Stupid Things”.
Isn’t that great advice? I received it from my parents, I’ve given it to my own children, and I was reminded about this on Thursday night.
On Thursday night, as part of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century Professional Development event, I was asked to chair a panel after supper. I agreed to do this and a great deal of preparation went in to the event.
I decided that I would script the event using a Google Document and laid out the evening as I thought that I would like it to go. Once I was ready, I shared the document with the project manager for the event, Siria Szkurhan who went through and helped tighten the language in the questions. We also talked on the phone to make sure that we got the maximum value from the panel of experts to make the event the most beneficial for the participants. So that the panelists could be prepared, they were shared the agenda as well, in advance of the event.
With as big an audience as we would have (potentially over 200 educators), I felt that we also needed to have some visuals to put the questions in context and so went about doing some research that would complement the questions posed to each of the panelists. My friend Peter Skillen volunteered to man my laptop and go from tab to tab as the event unfolded. He did a great job and the visual helped put a context to each of the questions. I put links to all of the resources together into a bit.ly bundle and shared it here if you’re interested.
During the panel, we encouraged the continuation of the conference backchannel on Twitter and there were many comments flying about from the tag #OTF21C. There weren’t any specific questions that appeared but we did have microphones for the audience to take advantage of the expertise on the stage.
First up, was Will Richardson who would lead a full day on Friday. The goal here was to set the stage for why we were here and to break the ice for the rest of the panel. I know that Will is widely travelled and asked him to share a couple of examples of the use of Social Media that he felt was exemplary. I liked the answer that it was a great deal easier to find uses today than it was three years ago when he first spoke at another OTF event. And, the panel was off.
We next heard from a couple of Ontario Educators. Kelly Moore, an elementary school teacher from Greater Essex County shared some of the successes that she enjoyed as a Teacher Librarian. She gave some examples as Peter showed off her wiki on the screen. Through example, Kelly explained how getting online was so helpful for the students that she reached. I did get her to explain how she used Social Media to help her differentiate the learning process for her students. After Kelly, we moved to Danika Barker, a secondary school English / Media teacher from Thames Valley. I think that I had talked with her personally once or twice before this event but I sure knew all of the interesting things that happens in her classes. She is very open with her comments on Twitter and through her blog. What I was most interested in getting her to share was how she used Social Media in a blended format with her classes. There were great answers and I think that the audience may have been surprised to hear that she had the luxury of an English class booked into a computer lab for an entire semester. That opened all kinds of opportunities to move everything that she did online. After their individual responses, I did ask both Kelly and Danika about balance and how they managed to learn these new things while at the same time having a real life. There were interesting responses that reflected the professionalism in both of them attempting to reach every student in their charge, all the while looking for new and innovative ways to motivate. At one point, Kelly noted that this was her hobby. Imagine having a hobby that also turned into accelerated learning opportunities for students!
What would be an educational learning event if we didn’t have a student to talk about things? Jaxson Khan was a very well spoken young man from a Peel Region school. I didn’t know Jaxson going in and so decided to lob up a softball to get things started. I had checked before he took the stage and yes, he was packing a smart phone. What I didn’t expect was him to pull out a knapsack filled with the technology that he uses on a daily basis, including “his baby”, his Macbook Pro that he had worked for and paid by himself. I suddenly felt badly that I wasn’t wearing a tie. He then proceeded to share how he connects to his school network both inside the physical building and outside on the yard. He freely talked about access to technology and how it didn’t seem to be distractive to him or his friends. Jaxson is also a leader through the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association and talked about a recent survey of Ontario students and their attitudes towards the use of smart phones in school. Jaxson also shared some insights about equity and even offered suggestions about how to put personal technology into the hands of all students. Plain and simple, for me, this gentleman stole the show. You couldn’t help but feel humbled knowing that he was speaking for thousands of students. We owe it to the Jaxsons in Ontario to provide the very best.
Next up was a guy with a tie. Mark Carbone is the CIO for the Waterloo Region District School Board and he had his black tie with his Twitter name silk screened on it. Mark and I have a long history of talking and debating educational technology issues. I know that he and his district anguished long and hard about what parts of the internet provide the best educational relevance for students. It was this relevance that led the district to not only unblock Facebook, but to develop strategies for using that as a community learning environment within their schools. Mark talked about the successes but also reminded us that this project also had questioners within the district, particularly as it launched. The administrative team is behind this effort and the audience got to experience the visionary approach taken under Mark’s leadership. If you’re interesting in providing this type of learning environment, then you should cast a look at what Waterloo is doing.
Three of the teacher federations had representation on the panel. At the first event three years ago, Bob Fisher from OSSTF had delivered his thoughts at that time. As Bob noted, the big concern then was whether we should be using email to communicate with students. Things certainly have changed since then! Bob, Joe Pece from OECTA, and Jennifer Mitchell from ETFO shared some great advice from their individual federation perspectives. Joe cautioned the group about keeping things in perspective and under control. Bob talked about professional boundaries which is always a concern whether you’re using technology or not. Finally, Jennifer talked about the differences between a personal and a professional appearance on services like Facebook. It may not have occurred to the audience that you could manage two identities for specific purposes. All three had great reminders that educators are very visible and that people are watching what we do and how we do it online and off. All federations regularly provide advice to members about important issues. ETFO provided a paper handout with reference to bulletins from Toronto about how to handle yourself online. She encouraged all to take a look through the memos. It is good advice for everyone. All three representatives noted that their mandate was to stand behind and support their members. We were all reminded that it is very easy to create videos or podcasts and quickly post them online for good and sometimes not so good purposes.
Coming full circle, I had the opportunity to ask Will Richardson about transparency and the teaching profession. Just how transparent should an educator be? Will shared his thoughts while we checked out what things that Danika has on her class blog. There were specific directions for students and for parents as they use her resource. As you’ll note in the article that Will wrote recently for ASCD, he pulls no punches in his thoughts about where all learners should head in their approaches to learning that take advantage of the network. Will loves to talk about his kids and we closed by discussing parts of their Christmas gifts – personalized domain names for his children that he hopes they take advantage of in the future. He did share with us that they were a little more excited by the other packages under the tree!
As you can imagine, with this great discussion, we had gone beyond our one hour timeline but nobody was leaving. The discussion was first-rate from the panelists and we opened the mics on the floor to the audience for some great questions. One that really interested me was a question about making schools hot spots. There was a good discussion about equitable access throughout the province for all students to bring personal devlces and engage in their learning. After all, they use them outside school hours and it’s just part of what they do. Mark took us on one of those cart/horse stories with the neverending question of what do you buy first – connectivity and infrastructure or the devices? Waterloo is in the enviable position of having their technology budget topped up to cover for the Ministry cutbacks in grants to school districts.
I was so happy with the way that the panel discussion went. All of the panelists were on their game and shared successes, cautions, and strong doses of reality. Time and technology are such precious commodities that they have to be managed intelligently. With all that can be done, a considered approach does need to be taken. I think that Bob spoke for everyone when he offered the best advice of all. With all the good that can be done, ”Don’t Do Stupid Things”.
In closing, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation is offering a complete slate of professional development activities again this summer, including another “Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century”. I would encourage you to monitor the OTF website and take advantage of the offerings.