August 2007

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By now, you have probably heard of Thomas Friedman’s book “The World is Flat” (April 2005). While this is a very worthwhile book that addresses globalization in the 21st century (you should read it if you haven’t), it is over two years old and is not the only resource that can enlighten us about our global landscape.

But more importantly, we should be careful about its take-home message for education. While shock presenters keep spewing threatening statistics (the recent viral video Shift Happens tells a similar story with the same ‘flat earth’ message), many people fail to recognize that rapid globalization has already taken place.

Perhaps Tom Hoffman explains it best in eSchool News:

One mistake educators might make in reading this book is to consciously or unconsciously frame it as a predictive work rather than a descriptive one. This book is not about what is coming. It is about what has already happened. We’re collectively failing to implement technologies and techniques which are creating opportunity around the world.”

As educators, we are often wooed by the latest idea that becomes stale as soon as another novel idea takes its place (cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, authentic assessment, and many others come to mind). Thus, we must be careful that we do not simply get caught up in the buzz about The World is Flat without recognizing its dynamic impact on education. We should be vitally aware that technology has dramatically changed our global landscape, and our teaching should already reflect that not only in what we teach, but in how we teach.


In the September 2007 issue of Reader’s Digest, an article entitled Is Your Boss Spying on You? (by Kim Zetter) caught my eye. While this article is applicable to anyone who has internet access at work, it is especially valid for educators.

Not only is my district reading my e-mail and following my website history, my e-mail is public record. Thus, you should be extremely careful about how you discuss students in e-mail messages, and you should never disclose personal information that you wouldn’t want to see in a newspaper. In short, school e-mail should be used for school business only. It is also worthy to note that there are inappropriate times to use e-mail, especially when a phone call or face-to-face conversation could be utilized more effectively and privately. See Basics of Online Communication.

Every year we are reminded by our teachers’ union to be careful about our online activities. There are obvious things to avoid, like accessing pornography, selling e-bay items during class time, creating/forwarding offensive e-mail messages, etc. But there are some gray areas to avoid too. For instance, I worry about surfing the web (even education sites) during class time. Even though this may be valid prep work to enhance my curriculum, I am not actively engaged with my classes when I am online.

Mostly, I see internet use at school as a professional issue. If we as educators want to be viewed as professionals, then we must act like professionals. This definitely means that we should be careful of our internet use in school, but we should also be careful of our online presence outside of school as well. The article addresses the infamous ‘drunken-pirate-wants-to-be-a-teacher’ story:

Stacy Snyder was working toward a bachelor of science in education and a teaching certificate from Millersville University in Pennsylvania. Her supervising teacher at the high school where she was doing in-class training says Snyder was inviting students to visit her MySpace page. Among the contents: a photo of Snyder wearing a pirate hat and holding a plastic cup. A caption read “Drunken Pirate.” High school officials called Snyder’s MySpace activity inappropriate and unprofessional. Subsequently, she says, she had to forfeit the teaching certificate and switch to a bachelor of arts degree. She has sued Millersville for what she says is unfair punishment; the university refutes her claims. In any case, her teaching career may be over already.

Whether you agree with the outcome of this case or not, it sends a clear message that people are following and perhaps judging your online presence. While this may not be too concerning for veteran teachers protected by strong unions, it should make any pre-service or probationary teacher wary.

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If you are an educator like I am, then you have probably attended numerous conferences, presentations and forums that revolve around technology and its place in education.

The majority of these professional development opportunities have provided me with excellent opportunities to learn new ideas, network with other educators, and generally discuss the role of technology in education. But some of these presentations have been downright frustrating to me, as they were unprofessional, outdated, and downright useless to me as an educator.

Let me give you an example. In one such presentation, I heard a speaker (a former IBM employee) who tried to wow the audience about how fast technology is changing. But this technology expert could not figure out how to make his prehistoric laptop work with the projector (ironically, a Mac saved the day).

Of course, I would have cut him some slack, but his presentation wasn’t much better than his equipment. He simply threw out useless statistics and line art graphs (without many references) intended to shock us. It is no use to be scared of the future (and the present) without being given any ideas of how to cope with it.

And I have seen enough of these bogus presentations that I am reminded of PCU (1994) – a clever movie where all the students at Port Chester University (a.k.a. Politically Correct University) rally behind any popular cause just because it is the thing to do. It seems that many speakers are simply jumping on the tech bandwagon – they are like politicians, as they only seem to expose problems instead of offering solutions.

To me, these presentations are just digi-peeves. They are useless distractions that try to define problems with technology, and do not generally offer solutions or ways we can properly utilize it in education.

In the next few weeks, I will share more of my digi-peeves. What are some of yours?