10 Ways to Be a Person of Influence & Join the Digital Professional Development Revolution

PTN2One of my most retweeted blog posts is an infographic about building your Online Personal Teaching Network. It is a simple visual to help others understand how they can become people of influence in the digital world while also gaining amazing opportunities for personal growth and development. It is based on the assumption that a personal learning network is good and important, but at some point many of us have a calling to teach, to share what we are learning with others, to think of our PLN as a chance to receive and give. That is where the personal teaching network starts. This article is really just an extension of the PTN concept, but I introduce ten mostly new ways to think about building your personal teaching network.

Follow my blog long enough and you’ll discover that this is my learning journal. I’m constantly reading, observing, exploring, experimenting, designing, creating, researching, and thinking. This is where my ideas get a soft début. They are most often in rough draft format, but I get tons of great feedback from around the world on what I write. From there, it might turn into a new professional connection, a consulting job, a contact from a publisher, a speaking engagement, an insight for my day job, or a new personal project. Through the contacts and experiences, I get to further refine my ideas, resulting in new blog posts, different publications, keynote and invited presentations, as well as more personal projects. For me, this the wonder of a connected world.

As much as I am a personal fan of blogging (writing is a powerful thinking tool for me), it is not the only way to go public with our professional development, inviting others to join in the fun and help us refine our thinking. Here are ten more ways to go about it, each representing a relatively new form of connected learning.

1. Unconference

This is a brilliant concept. Get experienced, creative, and passionate people together; and have them self-organize a high-impact event. Unlike a traditional conference where all the presenters and topics are carefully vetted and selected well in advance, the unconference chooses a time, place, theme and invites passionate people to gather and share. The first part of such an event is usually everyone gathering and writing topics on a card. These topics represent a session that they are willing to host or facilitate. All the cards get put on a large board and organized by theme and placed into a time slot. Then people disperse to the sessions of interest. It is less about one person presenting the entire time, and more about the group putting their minds and experiences together around a shared topic. People who’ve attended these events consistently praise the energy, ideas, and professional development value.

This doesn’t have to be difficult or intricate. Pick a place, time, and theme. Invite people. Invite more people. Get a few choice supplies, show up, and join in the professional development action. Here are two resources to get you started:

2. Virtual Unconference

This is just an unconference put online. People have hosted them in different ways. Here is one simple possibility.

First, create a Google Community for the event and invite people to join it. Announce it well in advance and make it as public and open as possible. Second, create a simple Google form and invite people to propose topics the week or two before the event. A few days before the event, sort them by theme and give each one a time. Third, create a Google Hangout invite through the Google Community, making sure the facilitator for each session accepts the invite. They are welcome to promote their session independently as well. Advertise the entire event a bit more and you have your first virtual unconference. The success is not measured by the size or number of topics, but instead the perceived value and engagement of the participants.

  • For another way of doing it, check out how they ran a sort of virtual unconference at Hybrid Pedagogy through asynchronous discussion forums.
  • Or, with a little creativity, you could probably do it on Twitter as well (see the Twitter chat discussion below).
  • The Virtual Unconference – This article shares a bit more about the idea, along with benefits and drawbacks.

3. Mini-MOOC

If you don’t know what a MOOC is, you might want to just skip this… or not. It takes a bit more planning, but most anyone can lead a Massive Open Online Course. You can use a platform like CourseSites at Blackboard, which is free and open to all. This is where you will build your course. However, the deign is important. There are xMOOCs and cMOOCs. The xMOOC is more teacher-directed, with the facilitator being the provider of most to all the content. The cMOOC is more collaborative, inviting the participants into contributing much of the work. For example, the first cMOOC in which I participated had the instructor create the syllabus and schedule, but then he invited all participants to add to it or edit it. So, you can crowd-source some of the planning. It still requires building a course with good bones: a solid syllabus, schedule, set of goals, learning experiences, and checks for understanding. You don’t need to use grades. In fact, why would you? Here are a few resources to help you explore this option. By the way, MOOCs can take lots of time. I spent hundreds of hours preparing for my first one. That is why I’m suggesting a mini-MOOC. Keep it at one to two weeks. You are also more likely to maintain active participation from people over a shorter period, and it is less of a time and emotional drain on you.


What if we take the idea of an unconference and mix it with a MOOC? We get what I’m calling a UnC-MOOC. It is really just a cMOOC that uses the method of an unconference for the group to self-organize. Pick a theme, create a vision and explanation statement, and get the word out. Have people propose various topics and how they want to facilitate it (through Twitter, a forum, a Google Hangout, a virtual scavenger hunt, an Instagram image sharing experience, or whatever other creative ideas people propose). Your job is not to censor or review, but just help coordinate and share the news. This could probably be facilitated entirely through a Google Community.

I can’t send you to any resources on this one because I made up the term (at least I think I did). Yet, if you’ve participated in an unconference as well as a cMOOC, then you probably get the idea.

5. Meetup

The most popular site for organizing meetups is simply called Meetup, and the idea is pretty simple. Post a topic, place, time, and invite people to gather. You can keep it simple, gathering in a coffee shop or other amenable public space to discuss, explore, or network. This is a fun and simple way to leverage the digital world to build local connections.

6. Virtual Meetup

This is the same idea but online. Consider using Google Hangouts. Now your potential participants just moved from local to global. If you already have connections on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Google Communities, you have a place to invite and advertise the event.

7. Twitter Chat / TweetUp

Move to Twitter and we call it a TweetUp or a Twitter Chat. There are hundreds of active Twitter chats. Some meet weekly, while others are less frequent. The idea is the same. Everyone gathers at a scheduled day and time. There is a constant broad theme (EdTech, Principals, Bloggers, etc.) and each meetup has a more specific topic or theme. There is typically one or more moderators who Tweet questions and others reply to them. You can promote your Twitter Chat on one of the many Twitter Chat listings like ChatSalad or TweetReports.

8. Virtual Book Group/Club

I love book clubs. I’ve only been a part of a few, but there is something about gathering once a month to talk about a shared reading. I love the conversation, the shared insights, the different perspective brought by various participants, and the sense of connection that comes from something as simple as meeting to talk about ideas and a good book. Chance are that you are already doing some reading for professional development, so why not invite others to gather and talk about it. You can post a list of books, and then schedule a time for a Google Hangout or other space to talk about what you are learning and thinking. And in the virtual world, you might even be able to get the author to join at some point for a little Q&A.

9. Hangout Interviews

Part of my profressional development in the digital age comes from reaching out to people who are doing great work, writing great books and articles, designing promising products and services, and being different makers in their communities and beyond. Essentially, I visit with them, interview them, and learn from them. Sometimes it happens in person. Other times it is via phone or using one of a dozen digital communication or social media tools. Sometimes it is lengthy. Other times it is short, even just a quick interaction on Twitter. I learn so much from these connections. Why not invite others into the fun by asking people of interest to be interviewed by you in a Google Hangout? You can live stream it and have an archived version to share.

10. Virtual “Show and Tell” and “How to…” Events

Show and Tell may have started in kindergarten, but it is powerful teaching and learning approach for any age or audience. These are sessions where you or another person simply explain what you did and how you did it. Keep it focused on something that you (or another) actually did in the real world, each step in the process, what worked, what didn’t, what you would do the same if you could do it again, and what you would do differently. People love learning from others who didn’t just learn about it in the abstract but have real-world experience. It can help us reach that place where we think it is actually possible for us to do something similar. It can motivate, inspire, and inform. When inviting others to share their story, this can really just be another form of an interview. You could do it using any number of online communication tools, but remember to keep it open. Your goal is to invite others to participate and learn from it as well. It can be done in real-time using something like Google Hangouts, nearly now time using Twitter, or you could experiment with some other format that extends the conversation over days or weeks.

Your Turn

There are so many possibilities to learn,  grow and connect in the digital world. Along the way, you can also help others do the same. The ten ideas above should give you plenty of possibilities. Some of them are ideas that you can start and host today, while others take more planning. While some still think of the web as a massive collection of content and a place to get, the real magic happens when you embrace a give, receive and collaborate mentality. What do you want or need to learn? How can you invite others into that learning?

Can You Answer These 25 Questions About the Origin of Modern Educational Trends & Practices?

How Well Do You Know Modern Education?How much do you know about the modern education system? Why do we have letter grades, report cards, compulsory school, and schools broken up by age/grade? How long have we had 1:1 programs, academic standards, online learning, and high stakes testing? Where did these originate? What about buzz phrases learning styles and differentiated instruction? How did they find their way into our schools? There are so many contemporary trends and practices that have deep roots in history. Without a foundation, it is difficult to make sense of what is happening today. Not knowing the history also gives us a lack of context. Getting that context can help us navigate the debates, trends, and constant change. With this in mind, I invite you to test your knowledge by trying to answer the questions below. Some questions focus on K-12, others on higher education, and almost all apply to both. I also included a resource or two to help you explore potential answers to the questions as well. These are all free online sources, making them not always the ideal source on the topic, but they are still helpful. I should also point out that not all the sources represent neutral or unbiased perspectives, but I trust you to sort that out for yourself.

By the way, this is certainly not an exhaustive list. It is not even a list of all the most important issues. For example, I only have one question that addresses topic of race and education, which is obviously no small area of importance today. However, I have picked topics that relate to various “hot topics” in the news and blogosphere, and this should give anyone a great start to understanding this modern Wild West Era of education. Enjoy!

  1. What is the origin and history of the modern letter grade system and why was it instituted?A Short History of Grading, The History of Grading Practices (1971)
  2. How long have we had multiple choice tests? When and why were they created?The Dark History of Multiple Choice Tests
  3. How long have we had learning objectives and why were they created?The History of Learning Objectives and a Glimpse of Post-Objective Education
  4. When was grade-based schooling instituted and what was the rationale for it?Age Grading from the Encyclopedia of Educational Reform and Dissent
  5. What is the origin of “academic standards”? When were they instituted and why?Standards, Assessments & Accountability or Standards-based Reform in the United States
  6. When were bells instituted in schools, why were they added, and what need were they created to fill?I haven’t found a good free online source for this one yet, but will find that it is tied to age grading and similar movements.
  7. What is the history of the Carnegie Unit / credit hour? Why was it initially created?History of the Student Credit Hour , A Brief History of the American Academic Credit System, and The Slow Death of the Carnegie Unit
  8. Why is school required today? Where did that come from? Why do we (in the United States) have compulsory education? Why is the history and original rationale of it?A History of Compulsory Education Law in the United States
  9. Why do most schools have summer breaks? What is the history and purpose of summer break?Agrarian Roots? Think Again: Debunking the Myth of Summer Vacation’s Origins
  10. When did we start using report cards? Did they always look like the ones we remember or see today?A Brief History of Report Cards
  11. What was the Civilization Fund Act of 1819? What was the purpose and impact of it?The Campaign for Civilization or Removal
  12. How has the role and requirements for teachers changed over time?Only a Teacher: Teaching Timeline
  13. Why do we have teacher unions? Where did they come from?Teachers Unions’ Rise: A Look at the Impact Over the YearsThe Effects of Teachers Unions on American Education (con)
  14. What was the original purpose of Bloom’s Taxonomy and how is current usage similar or different from that original purpose?The Need for a Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy
  15. What is the origin of modern talk about teaching according to student learning styles? What researchwas used to support them? What does current researchindicate about learning styles?Learning Styles: An Overview of Theories, Models and Measures; Learning Styles Fact or Fiction: A Literature Review
  16. What is the purpose of education? How have people answered that questions similarly or differently throughout the history of the United States? Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle Over Educational Goals
  17. How long have schools used textbooks? Why and how did they become a standard part of many schools?History of Textbooks
  18. How long have 1:1 laptop programs been around and what does the research say about them so far?Understanding Parent Perceptions of a 1:1 Program (beginning includes a short history), What Does the Research Say About 1:1 Computing? (2012)
  19. How long have we had distance education and online learning? How has it changed / developed over that time?The Origins of Distance Education, History of Virtual Learning Environments
  20. How long has the idea of differentiated instruction been around? How has it changed/developed/influenced?A Snapshot of Differentiated Instruction, Adjusting the Program to the Child (a 1950s article), The History and Reauthorization of IDEA
  21. What is the origin of the single most influential educational philosophy of modern education, progressivism?Progressivism: Schools and Schools of Education, Getting it Wrong from the Beginning, One to One Computing Initiatives: Ten Considerations for Funding or Implementing Programs
  22. Where did we get this idea of high-stakes testing?A Short History of High Stakes TestingCorporate Control on Public Schools
  23. How did we get all these regional accrediting bodies in higher education? How did the concept of accrediting bodies cometo be and how have they developed?Accreditation in the United States: Origins and Developments
  24. How as business and corporate influence impacted American Education?A Short History of Corporate Influence, Corporate Domination of School Policy and Business Influence on Schools at the Local Level
  25. How long have we had different academic disciplines (content areas)? How did we get them and how have they changed over the years?Organization of Knowledge: The Emergence of Academic Specialities in America, What are Academic Disciplines (long but excellent if you are an education geek like me!)

How Teachers are Replacing Technology & Technology is Replacing Teachers



I just read another one…one of those blog post explaining why technology will never replace teachers. My reaction was the same as it was when I read the last ten or twenty articles with the same title. “Well, of course. Who suggested that technology ever would replace teachers?” There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of blog posts on the web that explain why technology will never replace teachers.

There is a problem with many of these statement because technology has already replaced teachers. It isn’t a universal replacement, but I’ve yet to meet a serious student or scholar of education who claims that technology will universally replace teachers. It will not. As such, arguing against a mass technology takeover in education is fighting with monsters under the bed. You can exhaust yourself with such fights only to realize that you are boxing with the wind. So, what is going to happen? We don’t even need to make predictions because things have already happened. We have plenty of instances where technology has partly or fully replaced teachers, and we have others where teaches have partly or fully replaced technology. Below are ten examples of each.

Technology Replacing Teachers

  1. First we had the mass-produced book, followed by the private library, subscription library, and then public library. Each of these technologies made it possible for people to self-directed their learning, even with more complex concepts.
  2. Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall Experiments show what happens when you put a connected computer in a community and the kids experiment and explore. In the absence of any teachers, students are learning significant and substantive things.
  3. Mimi Ito’s book about Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out shows the amazing things that students are learning through co-learning and personal engagement, far beyond the walls of a teacher-directed environment.
  4. There are a growing number of adaptive learning software packages and resources like Khan’s Academy that people are leveraging to learn things on their own or to supplement what they are getting from a teacher.
  5. Ever since the Internet found its way into homes and on mobile devices, learners everywhere started skipping the middle man of a teacher and looking up things for themselves.
  6. The unschooling, uncollege, and DIY movements represent a group of people who are opting for student-led learning. In lieu of a traditional teacher-led environment, they are general contractors for their own education, often empowered by current and emerging digital tools. This is not just for the people who go all out. There is a measure of DIY in most of us today.
  7. In instances where there is need to provide a mass education to a large group in a short period with constant feedback for each learner, computer-based instruction will replace teachers, at least in part. In fact, they already have. Consider the training modules required of employees around the United States. My last training on sexual harassment was via a computer, with no teacher involved.
  8. Between YouTube and the dozens of “how to” web sites, it is possible to gain skills in everything from home repair to asking for a raise at work.
  9. The growing number of services like Google Helpouts makes it possible for people to learn from experts around the world.
  10. There are hundreds of apps finding their way on our phones that help us with everything from vocabulary to fitness, learning a new language to learning statistics.

This is far from an exhaustive list. The reality is that technology has already replaced teachers in part or in full. What people previously depended upon teachers to learn, they are now learning without or with less dependence upon them. Yet, the opposite is true as well. Great teachers are playing a more important role than ever before.

Teachers Replacing Technology

From another perspective, teachers have replaced technology just as much. With the growing presence of automated grading software, adaptive learning software, educational games and simulations, and computer-based instruction; it also becomes increasingly clear what the technology can’t do.

  1. More teachers are discovering that the power of technology is freeing them up to do what a technology can’t, namely mentor and build deep and meaningful relationships. As knowledge and learning tools become ubiquitous, more teachers will come to see what students most need from them.
  2. Teachers are also seeing how they play a critical role in helping to design the teaching and learning technologies of this age. So, teachers are becomes brilliant learning design architects and the educational equivalent of event planners.
  3. There are technologies that engage the affective domain of learners, but there is another element of the affect where teachers consistently step in and for good reason. Encouragement, comfort, and appropriate words of challenge from a caring and committed teacher continues to outperform simulated efforts from technology.
  4. While some are quick to fill early childhood classrooms with devices and gadgets, it does not take long to see the superiority of a skilled teacher when it comes to helping students develop important social skills and emotional intelligence. The same can be said throughout the lifespan, and the research continues to affirm the importance of these for life and learning.
  5. As technology is helping us recognize the possibility of personalized and adaptive curriculum, more educators and educational administrators are recognizing that the industrial age technology of the past is increasingly unhelpful or unnecessary. As such, we are seeing technologies like the letter grade system being replaced with more nuanced teacher-guided assessments like narrative assessment and portfolios (even while others are pushing for a second wind of the industrial age through non-differentiated standardized tests).
  6. In some ways, the digital revolution is allowing us to connect to more teachers than ever. It isn’t just a single teacher in a classroom, but dozens or hundreds of people who help us learn. The technology may be a medium, but it is the connection with other people (formal and informal teachers) that continues to be what makes the difference.
  7. Will the real teacher please stand up? Technology is doing something interesting. Educational technologies are surfacing the true teachers around us. When the tech starts to outperform the work of a teacher, that isn’t necessarily an argument that technology is replacing teachers. Rather, it is just showing where a teacher is falling short or how teachers can better spend their time with learners.
  8. Teachers are finding themselves freed up to be role models for students. We are not preparing young people to be technologies (at least I hope not). We are helping them grow and develop as human beings; humans with different gifts, talents, abilities, and callings.
  9. How do you navigate life and learning in a digital world? A great coach can go a long way, and that is just what excellent teachers are doing for students. Sure, there are programs to teach digital citizenship, but it is becoming increasingly clear that a human guide plays an important role. Part of learning how to use technology is learning about the human-technology interaction.
  10. If anything, growth in technology has unchained and rapidly replicated the teacher. Teachers of the past and present were/are sometimes asked to act more like a technology than a teacher: disseminated information, standardized instruction, applying university policies and procedures, etc. Technologies do some of that better than teachers. So, we let the technologies do what they do well, and the unchained teacher is free to be more human than ever. After all, most of us people enjoy time with people. Maybe we don’t always enjoy a dictatorial, disinterested, and disrespectful teacher; but we never did. And in this increasingly technological age, the contrast only reinforces the value of a human presence in the lives of learners. Yet, it also raises the bar for those those humans to tap into their humanness, to invest themselves in that which humans do best.

Failure 101 – Teaching Students to Think & Do Hard Things

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Failure 101We’ve all read or heard this quote at some point, but how might it inform how we go about creating high-impact learning communities? This article is part two of a short series about how to teach students to think deeply and do hard things. In the first article, I described Mindset 101, the power of nurturing a growth mindset in students. In this one, I will write about the importance of flipping failure, turning it into something that is welcomed, even celebrated, in a learning community where deep thinking and doing hard things is valued.

When I first started spending time studying educational entrepreneurship and startups, I noticed something strange. People talked about failure differently. Failing with a startup was often described in terms of lessons learned, even as a badge of honor at times. It wasn’t something that you hid, but rather something that demonstrated your ability to try something new, take risks, push boundaries in pursuit of something great.

Contrast that with most schools. Failure is almost always described in negative terms. It evokes shame, disappointment, and embarrassment. Letter grade systems have a way of doing that. Students talk about tests in terms of passing or failing, and the latter is never good. I can only think of one exception in my childhood memories of school. I remember participating in the Junior Engineering Technical Society in high school. Once I won a competition with a 50 or 60% on a computer programming test. None of us had never been exposed to the language, so getting what was considered a failing grade in most classes was an accomplishment in this setting. Nonetheless, apart from a few odd exceptions, failure was a bad thing in my school experience. Failing tests was frightening, and failing in competitions was embarrassing.

If we want to encourage students to think deeply and do hard things, that means flipping failure on its head, looking at it and treating it differently, truly trying to apply the famous Edison quote to our learning communities. Here are five ways to get started.

1. Emphasize Experiments

Experiments are about discovery, learning, even play. To have a failed experiment is to learn something new. Why not apply that to every content area? What if we framed challenges and tasks in terms of experiments? Instead of being tested, we test ideas, concepts, theories, assumptions, and more. We turn the class and the world into a laboratory, and we are the mad scientists trying to make the next discovery. Along the way, we fail more than we will succeed, but we will likely think more deeply than we’ve ever experienced before, and we will find ourselves willing to take the risks inherent in trying to do hard, maybe even impossible things. Most of the time we’ll fail, but we will learn or gain new perspectives. Occasionally, we’ll have a breakthrough success, the sort of thing that sticks with us for the rest of our lives. Now this sounds like a classroom or community where students learn to think and do hard things.

2. Emphasize Feedback and Debriefing over Grades

Scan my blog and you’ll find plenty about my take on grades, but regardless of your opinion about traditional grades, they are not the most effective means of nurturing deep thought and hard work. For that we turn to feedback and  debriefing experiences. Feedback breeds intrinsic motivation. It adds interest and a desire to use that feedback to adjust, improve, or take the next step. Debriefing activities and experiences draw us into thinking about the lessons behind the experiences. They drive us to extract meaning, discover new insights, and identify valuable lessons.

Often we complete activities in school and just move on to the next thing. It is just marking off a bunch of items on a checklist. At the end of the year, what have we retained or learned? Slow down. Build in times to reflect, get feedback, and give feedback. Invite students to use this feedback and reflection to grow and improve. This is one way to go deep and the lessons learned will better equip us to progress toward increasingly larger and more difficult tasks.

3. Celebrate Failure and Risk…when Combined with Persistence and/or Discovery

What if we took every “failure” and turned it into a chance to learn something, take what we learned, and get closer to success the next time? You don’t learn to read a book, ride a bike, play a piano, or doing almost anything of interest without tons of little failures. You don’t necessarily think of them in such a way. You just see them in terms of practice, progress, and/or persistence. Why not run our classes and learning communities in a similar way?

4. Involve Students in Goal Setting

I remember this debate with my high school history teacher. He suggested setting stretch goals that are also achievable. I agreed, but I also suggested that I liked to set completely unreasonable goals as well. I rarely achieved them, but by pursuing them, I often achieved more than I ever thought possible. I know this is not what the research says about effective goal setting, but it is what got me interested in the process of setting goals, something that I do to this day. Goals give us a target. Inviting students into goal setting helps them establish ownership and to infuse their learning with intrinsic motivation. They will sometimes fail to achieve those goals, and that gives us a wonderful opportunity to mentor, encourage, and even do a bit of celebrating of failure as we help them see how much they learned along the way.

5. Study Failures of Great leaders and Inspirational People

The web, books, films and the people around us are filled with powerful, inspirational and educational stories about failure. We read about the litany of failures in the lives of many (even most) who achieved great things in life. In doing so, students learn that life is not about piling up little successes, but that failures, setbacks, and challenges are stepping-stones to future accomplishments. It gives them a perspective on the realities of life (like failures) that produces hope, character formation, maturity, and the grit that it takes to think deeply and do hard things.

Failure 101 is not just about creating a high-impact learning community of thinkers and doers of hard things. This is about character formation that will serve students well for the rest of their lives.