Feb 132010

On April 20th, a group of fellow EduTweeters and I will be presenting at the #140 Character Conference in NYC, organized by Jeff Pulver.  A very interesting and informative Posterious blog post came through my Google Alerts for my name earlier this week describing the conference. The blogger, Alan Weinkrantz, had this to say:

Jeff Pulver believes that we are experiencing the first stages of a major communication revolution. What many people today refer to as “Social Media” he believes is really a primitive for a new way we will communicate in the future. In fact, the systemic effects of the advent of social media will be felt for a long time after the term “social media” is no longer trendy.

What a powerful statement.

I couldn’t help but think that this is a Truth that we need to keep in mind. We are in the midst of a ‘major communication revolution.’

This morning I attended a Classroom 2.0 Elluminate session with Jeff O’Hara, the founder of Edmodo, an online tool that allows for real-time interaction between teachers and their students as well as asynchronous communication in the form of assignments and media posting (videos, links, etc…)  This ‘communication revolution’ is real.

I’ve also been listening to the audiobook of Malcom Gladwell’s, The Tipping Point. I saw his keynote address at ISTE’s NECC 2009 in Washington, DC and was intrigued by some of his points and always meant to pick up the book. So far, it has gotten me thinking about this communication revolution in relation to his discussion of how information is disseminated through a population.

First, he discusses Connectors, people whose social ties cross many different social groups and interests. We are connected, as he explains through describing scientific studies and experiments, by only a few, highly connected people. He analyzes his own circle of friends and deduces that it is not a circle, but a pyramid, with his most connected friend, Jacob, tying everyone else to each other.

This made me examine my own social networks and how they are connected. Can I trace my network down to one or two people who hold us together? In the world of Twitter, this kind of connectivity is vital and plays out on a grander scale.  There are still, certainly, people who are intertwined among many networks and do so easily because of the tools available for facilitating connections.

He also talks about Information Specialists, or Mavens, people who are ‘pathologically helpful’ when it comes to sharing information.  While the example he gives refers to supermarkets and people who keep track of prices and therefore keep supermarkets in check, we live in an ‘Information Age.’  I am always amazed how quickly people are willing to seek out information for me on Twitter. Often, complete strangers! There are also those people, it seems, whose sole purpose is to provide as much information to people as possible without expecting anything in return. Just like Connectors, these people have a much farther reach due to the social networking tools available to them.

With all of these musings, it seems to me that we are becoming more and more connected in fewer and fewer steps. There seems to be a large number of Connectors and Mavens able to spread information to wider and wider groups of people.

Are we at the Tipping Point of communication  as we know it?

Gladwell photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jul 012009

NECC 2009 Opening Keynote

Malcolm Gladwell, author

I, ashamedly, have never had a chance to read one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books (The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers). Now that I have finished grad school, I will finally have the time! If his opening Keynote Address is anything like his writing, then I am hooked. Heady stuff, though explained in a simple way.

Practice Makes Perfect

We’ve all heard the phrase a million times. Gladwell, however, manages to find empirical proof of this statement, starting with the 10,000 hour rule. He says that, according to research, you need 10,000 hours of practice in something to become a true ‘specialist.’ All told, that is 4 hours/day for 10 years. “Mozart is a late bloomer,” he joked. Mozart took 14 years to create his first ‘good’ piece of music.

Tying this to education, Gladwell states that it is someone’s attitude toward effort that makes someone successful. In other words, it was not just Mozart’s talent that made him great. He WORKED HARD!

Gladwell also described an example from an International Math exam which had a long psychological survey at the beginning. A researcher tried to find a correlation between the countries whose students completed the survey and those who didn’t and the test scores on the exam. Amazingly, the correlation was that those students who finished the survey also scored better on the exam. To Gladwell, this was the perfect example of attitude over talent. Those students who had the motivation and the determination to finish the questionnaire would also have the motivation and determination to study hard and do their best on the exam.

So What’s Our Problem?

I agree with Gladwell that Western countries (like the U.S.) don’t teach that attitude can make a difference. Many of us believe that we are naturally born with a talent or a gift that will define us for the rest of our lives. For this reason, many children are not taught to put effort into those things with which they struggle. Instead, their strengths are emphasized. Just think of Cliff’s Notes and SparkNotes, or sites that sell college papers. Why put in the effort if you don’t have to? Without challenge, how can one learn anything?

Are There Solutions?

Gladwell spoke briefly about the KIPP Charter Schools, with which I am very familiar. A former co-worker of mine works at a KIPP school and has described her role to me as a 24 hour/7 days-a-week job. She has a cell phone for when students need to contact her, she works a longer day, and she works Saturdays sometimes. This school has its students try to make up for hours of instruction lost due to socio-economic status. Many inner-city children start school already at a disadvantage when it comes to learned vocabulary words and hours practicing academic and cognitive skills. They need help reaching that 10,000 goal in conjunction with their middle/upper class peers. This model is unbelievable effective, but also requires teachers to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! Most teachers want their summers off, or at least want to come home and relax and not have students calling them at home. Or is this the problem with our education system? The precedent is set and the status quo is hard to break.

…and then there’s Fleetwood Mac

Somehow, Gladwell managed to turn the conversation into a study of the history of the band Fleetwood Mac. Through a series of short vignettes, he concluded that Fleetwood Mac, who only broke big after their 16th album, never gave up and eventually put in their 10,000 hours to reach success.

Compensation Strategy

From here, Gladwell launched into a discussion of ‘Compensation Strategy.’ Basically, this is a learning strategy used by, essentially, underdogs, to make up for what they lack in comparison to the overachiever or the ‘prodigy.’ A study done of football players found that those drafted in the bottom percentile actually performed BETTER than those who were drafted first with high expectations. Since they weren’t expected to have the talent that the first draft picks had, they had to work twice as hard. The result: better performance.

This was tied into the education by applying the same theory to a classroom. A student who has dyslexia or can’t see the board must compensate by being resourceful. He mentioned a study in which it was found that many CEOs of large companies are dyslexic and have compensated by learning how to delegate responsibility well.

Compensation Strategy and Class Size

What was truly shocking about the speech was Gladwell’s argument against the idea that smaller class size would lead to success for all children. He explained that, in a large class, more kids have to compensate, and thereby learn self-reliance. He use the example of Asian students who outperform Western students in every way and yet often have large (40 or more students) class size.

Why I Don’t Buy It

Coming from a large inner-city school perspective, I happen to disagree about class size. Our students DO compensate, but it does not help them succeed. I had a 1st grade student who copied magnificently from books and other print materials every time she was given a writing assignment. From a distance, she looked like an on-level writer. If you took the time to read what she wrote, it was copied, verbatim, from a book or the room somewhere, and she couldn’t even identify the letters she had made. Other students compensate by copying answers or bullying others into giving them the answers. How this breeds success is a mystery to me, since most of these students leave our school in 6th grade on a 3rd or 4th grade reading level. We all know the statistics when it comes to level of education and incarceration rates.

Feedback and Struggles

Gladwell ended talking about feedback when it comes to learning and success. On this I am in total agreement. Feedback is the most important thing we can offer students aside from the content we teach. For my 1st grader, for instance, were I to just glance at her paper and think “Oh boy, she is really not ready for this assignment,” without having a conversation, I have done her a serious disservice. A good teacher would ask questions (“What are you writing about?”) or use Small Group Instruction to guide her toward better print concepts. It is also important to praise good work and let students know when they are succeeding. Too much negativity and red marks can discourage a child and ‘shut them down.’

In the broader sense, as Gladwell stated, adults need feedback too. He explained that often, one’s confidence in one’s knowledge grows faster than the knowledge itself. For this reason, decision-makers on every level, teacher to congressman (or woman!) need to know when they are succeeding in the public eye and when they have either failed or let their constituents (yes, teachers have constituents, too!) down.

Feedback and Pop Culture

In pop culture, it is the norm to expect instant gratification. As Gladwell explained, if you don’t make the hit the first time, then you’re out of luck. Students often fear failure. Maybe they are justified. In the larger world, one failure may be the first and last one you ever have. I believe that a life well-lived is full of failure. It is failure that can serve as feedback and motivate us to work harder, thereby increasing our hours working on a project or a concept. What’s that saying? “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” I’m not sure whether the Media influences kids’ fear of failure, but I could see how watching pretty people on TV succeeding and winning money and when they fail, being shamed, could really have an effect on a young child. Children need first-hand experience with failure, whether it be through a Science Fair project or simply a strike out at the Little League game. Without this, they will never be adventurous and creative for fear of failure.

Final Thoughts

It took me 2 days to finally sit down and write all my thoughts down. I’m not even sure if anyone will read all of this rambling. For me, reflecting on Gladwell’s speech was a way for me to organize and unload some of the thoughts floating around in my head. I can’t wait to pick up The Tipping Point this summer!

Jun 302009

So I’m experimenting with blogging using Comic Life. I took a BYOL workshop and now I’m determined to figure out how to make these bigger to take up the whole screen. Please give me feedback!!! Of course, any future posts would have much more content. This is an experiment!