Thursday, October 28, 2010

To Blog or not to Blog, that is the Question

I wrote my first blog post Feb. 8, 2007 “my43, a place to learn and work” (a pretty lame first post I might add) using our District’s portal (my43).  I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to write about per se but knew I had to figure out this blogging thing if I was to be able speak about it authentically.  My blog didn’t have an interesting name, it was just “Brian Kuhn’s Blog”.  I wrote about whatever I felt like, periodically, and related to my work or interests.  I wasn’t highly engaged in my blog and it wasn’t a priority for me.

In late December 2009 I decided to make a change.  I signed up for a Google blog (blogger/blogspot) and called my blog “Shift to the Future” and focused on technology, education, and futuristics.  I committed to writing weekly and purposefully – my first new post, written Dec. 29, 2009 was Disruption is coming.  Why do I blog now?  Here are they key reasons:

  • to think out loud and transparently about novel or provocative ideas
  • to speculate about the future and how technology and education co-disrupt
  • to engage others in conversation about current issues, events, or future scenarios
  • to share things I have learned from books and articles I’ve read
  • to be a writer – I like to write
  • to get feedback from others on my ideas, my thinking

I read a post today “Why I Blog: A Principal’s 13 reasons” which by the way I learned of from my twitter network from @gcouros.  For more on twitter, see Tweet, Link, and Learn.  I can resonate with the author’s reasons for blogging but in particular I found it interesting how he addressed reason #12 “To show off”.  Some people do view blogging as self-promotion and if we’re honest with ourselves, that is a part of this.  But isn’t that a key part of leadership and success – sharing your ideas, persuading people, etc.  Blogging is really an extension of what successful people in business or education have done for years – in this case, using a different platform or medium.

Okay, let’s say you’re interested in jumping into the blogosphere.  Where do you start?  Well, there are a number of free blogging services on the Internet including these:

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I have seen dozens of blogs on these three platforms and to be honest it probably doesn’t matter which you choose.  If I were to start again, I might lean towards WordPress just because I think some of the themes, layouts, and widgets are better than what I’ve found with Blogger plus organizations can download and install WordPress on their own servers if they wish so there’s flexibility there.  But my experience and current blog is with Blogger so any technical comments I make will be limited to this experience.  This isn’t meant to be a complete how-to from a technical perspective but more of a basic get started and start writing focus. 

You need to make a few critical decisions by answering some questions, before you get started.  What are you going to call your blog (it’s name)?  The name should be descriptive of the general focus for your blog.  Mine is called Shift to the Future because I’m interested in writing about future scenarios.  I generally write about current time, near future, and distant future.  My focus is mainly on technology and education and how they are disruptive and create possible futures.  Next, you need to decide on whether to purchase and register your own domain name, or not.  I waited about three months to decide which in retrospect was a mistake – it created a lot of work for me to migrate and update links, and re-promote the new name.  Originally my blog domain name (the URL) was http://shift2future.blogspot.com but then I registered my own which became http://shift2future.com.  I did this because I want my blog to be portable – to be able to move it to a different blog service if I chose and secondly to build a brand and identity around the name without the distraction of the name of the company / service hosting it.  I strongly advise you to make this decision before starting – it costs me $10 per year to own “shift2future.com”.  You might not care and like me, you can change your mind later if this becomes an important aspect for you.  Many great bloggers do not have their own domain name so it’s okay if you don’t take that step.  Thirdly, you need to decide the scope for your blog – what will you write about, what are the boundaries for topics, etc.  That will help you focus and make it easier for readers to know what to expect.

Okay, you’ve answered the initial questions so here are some first steps I think you should take to get started:

  1. decide which blog platform / service you will use (blogger, edublogs, wordpress, others)
  2. signup for a blog account
  3. use the blog service to create your blog (details on how will vary for each blog service) ** note, if you decided to register and own your blog URL, there are additional details you’ll be faced with…  you may want help with the steps from a tech savvy friend
  4. once your blog is created, play with the layout options – where the pieces (main post area, header, footer, widgets, etc.) will be located on the page
  5. browse the themes and choose one you like – you can always change this later (the color scheme, border/edge style, etc.)
  6. upload a photo (professional / tasteful) of yourself for your profile picture
  7. write the overall summary description for your blog – this gives readers a quick look at what they can expect from your blog
  8. browse the widgets (tools, webparts, they will be called various things by different blog services) and add some such as
    • About Me – write a personal / professional profile description
    • Subscription button or links
    • Follow my blog button or link
    • Twitter updates – linked to your twitter account feed so that you share with your readers what you’re tweeting
    • Blog Archive – this builds as you post
    • Labels or categories or tags – when you write posts you should add tags or categories or whatever they’re called for your blog service so that people can find your posts by key word
    • Visitors or statistics – shows where your readers are coming from
    • you’ll find others that interest you…
  9. if you don’t have a twitter account yet, be sure to refer to Tweet, Link, and Learn – Part One to get that sorted out – you will need twitter to promote your blog posts; make sure to update your twitter profile and list your blog URL as your twitter website
  10. if you use LinkedIn (if you don’t, see Tweet, Link, and Learn – Part Two) make sure to update your profile and add your blog URL to the appropriate field

Okay, you’ve successfully followed the above steps and now you are ready to be a blogger.  My advice is that your first post be one that introduces “you”, what you’re interested in, your professional interests, what you do professionally, and why you’ve joined the blogosphere.  You can save the post as draft while you write it until you’re ready to publish it for the world to see.  Once you publish it, you need to tell people about it – here’s an example tweet promoting my last post:

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I always start with “new post” then the title of the post and the shortened URL (tweetdeck auto-shortens, I’ll talk about this below), and then the twitter hash tags (keywords) where I feel the post is relevant.

URL’s (the web address of a web page such as your blog post) are typically long.  Twitter as you may now know limits tweets to 140 characters.  URL shortener services are used to take the actual URL and return to you a shortened one that you can use in a tweet.  Shortened URL’s are cryptic but behind the scenes they redirect people when they click on the shortened link, to the real web page.  A good URL shortening service is bit.ly.  First you copy the URL for your post, goto bit.ly, paste your post’s URL into the “Shorten with bit.ly” field, click Shorten, and you’ll get a short URL to copy and then paste into a tweet.  Or, use a tool like TweetDeck that does this automatically when you paste in a URL to a tweet.

To make blog post writing easier, if you are using a Windows PC, download and install Windows Live Writer (it’s free).  It is a very nice tool (I’m writing this post with it) for formatting, pasting in pictures, linking in videos, adding tags, etc. – it is way better then directly writing with the blog service web editor.  You will need to configure your blog account details (user-id, password, etc.) to “connect” Live Writer to your blog.

Finally, you should add the blog name and link to your e-mail signature block, tell your friends, colleagues, and anyone that will listen, about your blog and share your blog URL (web address) with them.  Congratulations, you’re on your way to writing and sharing your thoughts and growing your professional learning network (PLN). 

If you’re reading this and have further questions or comments, please feel free to write a comment here and I’ll do what I can to help.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tweet, Link, and Learn – Part Two

I am still amazed by how quickly things change.  I remember joining Twitter about 3 or more years ago.  @chrkennedy, @gary_kern, and I thought we’d give it a go.  I really wasn’t sure what to enter in response to “What’s happening?”.  My Twitter account remained pretty dormant until about the middle of 2009 and even then took probably six months for me to really “get it”.  I think it’s easier to see the value now since it’s become so popular.  In part one of this post series I attempted to show how you can build your professional learning network (PLN) using TwitterTwitter Icon 24x24px.  In this post I write about another popular tool for building your PLN – LinkedInlinkedin icon (wikipedia article).

Here are a few introductory snippets from my LinkedIn profile:

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LinkedIn is sort-of like a Facebook for professional networking.  Rather than friends though, you make connections with contacts.  You and your contacts and millions of other users include as much detail as you can about your professional life including work history, educational background, professional (and personal) interests.  You can feed in your Twitter stream, tell people what you’re reading, link to and feed in your blog and link to your company website.  People can recommend you and you can recommend them.  LinkedIn offers recommended connections based on the friend of a friend model and profile matches.  Companies can post jobs, you can research them, and apply.  Users can join groups and participate in discussions and make new connections with people that you wish to add to your PLN.  You can create your own groups and be the host of a topical discussion.

I have 111 connections (contacts) – here’s an example of two from higher education:image
I met Maria at the World Future Society conference in Boston (she gave a thought provoking presentation on the future of higher education) and Leo I met at a Softchoice / Citrix networking event last summer. Note that these connections were first made in the real world.  But the power of LinkedIn is that you can leverage connections like these (people you actually know / have met) to “meet” other people virtually.  What LinkedIn does is leverage people’s profiles to suggest who you might want to connect with.  You can then learn a lot about someone before making contact.  There are tools for you to find people you may know, find classmates, find people from previous and current employers.  So, the message here is it’s super easy to connect with people you want to after learning about who they are, what they do, what they’ve learned, who they know, and what they say – this is much more difficult in the physical world.

I participate, with varying degrees of activity, in a 1/2 dozen or so LinkedIn groups.  Groups are primarily about topical discussions.  I have chosen to be emailed once a day with any activity to keep me informed.  I will jump in on discussions that I feel I can contribute to.  Here are two recent activity notices for two of my groups:

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When I enter the discussions I can see what others have contributed and if I wish, add my own thoughts.  I may see someone that I want to connect with and can either follow them (like Twitter) or invite them to be part of my network as a contact.  This is another way to grow your PLN, by participating in topical discussions that interest you.

Here’s how you can get started with LinkedIn:
  • goto linkedin.com and sign up for an account using your real name; fill out your profile information so people know your face (upload profile picture – use same one as used for Twitter), education, work history, self-description, aspirations, etc. – there’s a lot you can and should add
  • connect with me: Brian Kuhn and click on Add Brian Kuhn to your network (from my page)
  • add connections image(people) to your network by adding email addresses for people you know, colleagues from companies you’ve worked at, classmates for schools you attended – that will get you started
  • connect your Twitter feed to your LinkedIn profile
  • if you have a blog, connect that to your LinkedIn profile by adding an Application for that
  • explore the various features, capabilities, to become familiar with what’s possible
  • search for some groups – the search tool is very good - that might interest you and join a couple – participate when you’re ready

Here’s a few tips that others have created for using LinkedIn:

There’s so much more I could write about LinkedIn but I think the best way for you to learn it is to just do it!  Sign up today and start building your network.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tweet, Link, and Learn – Part One

I was in a lunch & learn session today with the management group in our District.  We were chatting about doing some professional growth planning and I suggested that the group look at the new ways.  Well, after a brief conceptual overview of building a personal / professional learning network (PLN), I got the job of sharing at the next lunch & learn to show how digital tools are used by professionals around the world for that very purpose. 

This blog post (and a second one) materialized for me while running on the treadmill at the gym after work and will serve as the outline and guide for the lunch & learn.  I hope that I write this in such a way that it is useful to teachers, principals, and other professionals wanting to embrace the new ways of building a PLN.  My definition for a PLN is:
“a group of people who know stuff that I need to know and who might benefit from knowing stuff that I know”
So, essentially a PLN forms through people you find and connect with that are willing to help you and whom you are willing to help.  You may never actually meet each other, in the “real” world, but it doesn’t matter.  You can build strong connections and even friendships, find trustworthy advisors, become a trusted advisor, etc.

The two primary tools that people use today for building and participating in their PLN are twitter and LinkedIn.  I’ll write about LinkedIn in a future post.  Twitter is a social networking short-text messaging service (see description).  My twitter stats include the number of tweets (messages) I’ve posted, the number of people following me and the number that I follow.  Those people are my PLN.  Some I choose and the others choose me, cool hey.  Notice that I follow a fewer number than follow me.  imageI tend to be selective in who I follow – I focus on people that I think will help me or are interesting based on what they tweet, who follows them, who they know.  I let anyone follow me that chooses to.  My profile that people may judge my value on is this:
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Twitter goes to work when someone posts (tweets) something.  It could be a website link, a quote, a question, etc. that interests you and you follow the link, save the quote, or answer their question.  Answering the question might involve tweeting a link.  Anything you respond with everyone following you will see.  Some of those people (in your PLN) will be interested and jump in and share, provide input, etc.  And so on, and some people will retweet (forward to their PLN) your tweet, and so on,…  it can go viral in minutes or hours if it’s a hot topic.  It’s very powerful.  Here’s an example tweet where I responded to someone’s invitation for input on a presentation they created:
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A few thousand people follow Dave so he can get some broad feedback quickly.  Did I mention that @datruss is in China!

So how should you start:
  • goto twitter.com and sign up for an account using your name or some minor variation (it is about you); fill out your profile information so people know some of your interests or expertise; upload a profile picture so people can recognize your tweets
  • follow me:  @bkuhn and check out who I follow or my messages to see if there are people you might be interested in following – click on their name and check ‘em out – there’s a follow button you can click for those you want to follow
  • do twitter searches, any keyword with “#” (hash) in front or a string of key words (eg school principal) will search twitter feeds around the world, eg. a search on #leadership yields (picked a few to share):
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  • you can click on links in the tweets to go to the website that is referenced (links will often look cryptic – they were shortened – more on that later)
  • by searching topics as in the above example, you may check out a person that seems interesting to you – click on their picture and you are taken to their profile and most recent tweets; from there you can choose to follow them
  • share an interesting thought or website – type your message on your twitter page where it prompts “What’s happening?” and copy the URL for the website and paste it in with your message (maximum 140 characters)
The key is to periodically drop in and see what’s going on and to reply to people for whom you might have something to offer, even if you don’t know them.  Share your own insights, questions, and website links so people can benefit from your input and can help you with theirs.  This is true collaboration with no strings attached!

Once you become comfortable, you will want to install a twitter program on your computer or if you have an ipad, twitter has an app for that.  My favourite twitter program is TweetDeck.  It helps me organize the streams of tweets into columns – I have one for SD43 colleagues, Personal, IT Leaders, and a few searches such as #edtech and #cpchat.

I leave you with a few tips:
I added the "*" tip above after I posted and tweeted this out.  @chrkennedy shared my tweet and blog post with @mrjtyler and I checked out who he was and saw that he had tweeted that tip.  I did not know @mrjtyler before this and never would have "met" him.  Twitter is a powerful connecting device.

So what are you waiting for?  Join Twitter and start networking!  I use twitter every day.  Just make sure you don’t let it consume you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Preparing Students through Educational Futuristics

Noun 1. futuristics - the study or prediction of future developments on the basis of existing conditions – or see futurology (wikipedia) for an in-depth description…

President Barack Obama’s Sep. 8, 2009 speech had some profound insights for K12 (note, I’m not supporting any particular political view by using this quote):
“And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.”
I think that Obama is right in saying this.  Public education over the past 100 years or so has served its original purpose well – preparing students to follow rules, be on time, read, write, and calculate (I know, learning today is much broader).  But, does current curriculum which is more about today and yesterday effectively support students in leading us into our future?  Alvin Toffler is quoted as saying (Edutopia):
“Late in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, business leaders began complaining about all these rural kids who were pouring into the cities and going to work in our factories. Business leaders said that these kids were no good, and that what they needed was an educational system that would produce "industrial discipline.”  (paraphrase: show up, be on time, follow rules)
He goes on to say:
How does that system fit into a world where assembly lines have gone away?
It doesn't. The public school system is designed to produce a workforce for an economy that will not be there. And therefore, with all the best intentions in the world, we're stealing the kids' future.”
Society responded and a public education system was designed and created to address the needs.  A lot of what students learn in school is related to history, current events, and base skills and knowledge.  A question we should all ask is “what is the purpose of an education today?”  How effectively are we responding to today and tomorrows needs?

Here’s an interesting “story” (abbreviated) about Jessica Everyperson from http://www.amazon.com/Creating-School-You-Want-Educational/dp/1607096447/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1286940921&sr=1-1 starting at page 141:
“Jessica approached her new world with all her senses operating together – networking – at peak performance as she tried to ‘make sense’ of it all. … For Jessica’s first four or five years, her all-sensory, interactive cognitive skills blossomed with amazing rapidity. … she was developing the ability to both perceive and understand the ‘many sides’ of a situation – the cognitive skills that form the basis of critical thinking… Jessica also became proficient in using the variety of information technologies (IT) that continued to be introduced into her environment. … Before she could even read a word, Jessica had become a multimodal multitasker,…  Jessica was feeling very good about her ability to swim in the vast sea of information using the assortment of emerging ITs.  Not surprisingly, she was also feeling very good about herself.
Then, Jessica started school.”
The story goes on to talk about Jessica’s experiences in Kindergarten and progressive grades where the focus was on 3 R’s – you know them – and how the focus was on text reading and writing, and math skills often with relentless repetition, more linear, less dynamic...  Okay, this is a bit of an exaggeration but I suspect we all can relate.

I was talking to one of our past assistant superintendents at an event last night about his grand kids (<5 years old) and how fearless and interested they are about learning.  He talked about how easily and quickly they learn, all very naturally, especially how to use new tools like technology.  They just assume things will work, don’t see a “box” or “rules” or limitations, just possibilities.  They teach him.  He agreed that as kids progress through school, some of the wonder disappears, fear grows, and disinterest appears.  Something happens between K and 12 to many kids that shouldn’t...

Doesn’t school for the most part still resemble what we as adults experienced as students?  Doesn’t it still have an imbalance of the amount of time spent on rote learning?  How does the typical K12 educational experience prepare students for the future and prepare them for the complex problems they will need to be part of solving?
"Take hold of the future or the future will take hold of you." (Patrick Dixon)
I was just in a class today where the teacher (James Gill) had the kids (grade 8) working on Google Sketchup projects – criteria was design a school that is substantially different from ours – their school is being replaced by 2014 so it’s an authentic question.  Some of the designs are quite impressive.  Interestingly, the architect for one of our new middle schools used Google Sketchup to take the District design team (I’m a member) on a 3D walk-about and walk-through.  Prior to this activity, the kids participated in an online discussion on features, requirements, wish list items for the new school.  Most topics were student initiated and there was upwards of 20 threaded messages in some of the topics.  Even the school librarian jumped in and participated on the library topics.  I think this is brilliant use of technology to support educational futuristics – wow, kids first brainstorming then actually designing (conceptually) the new middle school for a future generation of middle school kids!

What if there was a futuristics component woven through the curriculum?  How will kids be prepared to tackle the enormously complex problems we seem to be leaving to them?  Destruction of nature / pollution, disappearing natural resources, nanotechnology, biotechnology, poverty, hunger, the list goes on.  Who will solve these problems and create a better future?  We better prepare those that will!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Privacy, Living and Learning Digitally

You know with all the bad press lately about students of all ages inappropriately sharing pictures, videos, and information, we should wonder if privacy still exists.  My last post Living and Learning Responsibly in the Digital World talked about online behaviors.  This post is intended to explore the related problem of online privacy http://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/4105726930/#or lack there-of.

Where does the responsibility for dealing with privacy issues lie?  Parents?  Teachers?  School systems (i.e., curriculum)?  At what age should this topic be introduced to students?  Should it be reinforced at every opportunity through a student’s educational career?

I wonder how much privacy awareness young people in Pitt Meadows had leading up to the rave party incident I referred to in my last post?  What went wrong?  The actions of taking pictures and texting (sexting) them to friends and putting them on Facebook are an invasion of privacy.  How is that young girl going to ever escape this invasion?  Pictures on the Internet never go away!

Or more generally, kids that go to a party Friday night, get drunk or worse, and friends capture pictures of each other and post them to Facebook.  What if this is a common occurrence for these kids?  Later in life when they wish to go into a respectable profession, their past may come back to haunt them, digitally.  Oh, and this isn’t limited to kids, adults seem to think it’s okay to live the darker side of their lives out loud too.  Who’s teaching kids, adults, to use these tools properly where they respect their own and their friends privacy?

Take the Rutgers University case where a guy videos his room mate making out with another guy.  He then tweets it out and posts the video online without the consent of his room mate.  The room mate committed suicide as a result.  From the article,
Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a national consumer group, said that although posting a video of a student’s private sex acts online seems like an obvious violation of privacy, the Rutgers case shows that some college students need the most basic online conduct lessons.
Or this reenactment…
Privacy and Reputation Online
I would suggest that K12 has a responsibility and an opportunity to address online privacy and digital responsibility, early on.  We need to consider creating age appropriate learning opportunities that address online privacy for our students, perhaps as early as kindergarten.

Switching focus, we also need to think about our responsibilities as a public (government funded) educational institution with respect to our care for student privacy.  I spoke to our lawyer last year and he explained the fiduciary responsibility we have to protect our students (all minors) identity and parental consent doesn’t address this.  We have to guarantee that their identity is protected.  This precludes the District from officially endorsing the use of public Internet services or Cloud Services.  It gets a little fuzzier when it is a teacher who chooses the learning resource (a web tool) for their students.

Teachers in our District guide kids into our secure portal (my43) and out to the public Internet.  They use tools like PBWiki, WikiSpaces, Google Docs, Blogger, WordPress, and some may even be using Facebook.  This is all good (not so sure about Facebook but that’s another conversation).  Students learning within powerful online tools.  But, wait.  What about student privacy?  Is their identity sufficiently protected?  What about when their identity is an important aspect such as with blogging?  What is a teacher’s responsibility for student privacy in the digital world?  What is best practice for taking kids out to these sites, safely and legally?  Some common advice for K12 aged students is that they should:
  • choose a user name/id that doesn’t reveal their identity
  • not share their real age or any age or their birth year
  • not reveal personal facts about themselves or where they live
We have clear obligations under privacy law but, I still find it difficult to be definitive.  According to our lawyer we can not put personal information about students (e.g., an email address, name, or other personally identifiable attributes) on a system outside of our direct control.

BC privacy law: 30.1  A public body must ensure that personal information in its custody or under its control is stored only in Canada and accessed only in Canada, unless one of the following applies:
(a) if the individual the information is about has identified the information and has consented, in the prescribed manner, to it being stored in or accessed from, as applicable, another jurisdiction; (b) if it is stored in or accessed from another jurisdiction for the purpose of disclosure allowed under this Act; (c) if it was disclosed under section 33.1 (1) (i.1).
BC privacy law: Disclosure harmful to personal privacy 22
(1) The head of a public body must refuse to disclose personal information to an applicant if the disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of a third party's personal privacy.
(2) In determining under subsection (1) or (3) whether a disclosure of personal information constitutes an unreasonable invasion of a third party's personal privacy, the head of a public body must consider all the relevant circumstances, including whether (f) the personal information has been supplied in confidence,
(3) A disclosure of personal information is presumed to be an unreasonable invasion of a third party's personal privacy if (j) the personal information consists of the third party's name, address, or telephone number and is to be used for mailing lists or solicitations by telephone or other means.
(4) A disclosure of personal information is not an unreasonable invasion of a third party's personal privacy if (a) the third party has, in writing, consented to or requested the disclosure,
So, I’m very interested in what other School Districts / Schools, private or public, Canadian or not, are doing about preparing students, parents, teachers, and principals to be privacy aware and responsible.  I’m also interested in how others are working within their privacy legislation while encouraging teachers to use appropriate public Internet tools, safely with kids.