“We have an opportunity…to change education.”

That’s a paraphrase of a statement made by Diane Lewis, Director of Instructional Technology at Seminole County Public Schools. Her full statement was, “We have an opportunity in education to do something that hasn’t happened in one hundred years…(insert dramatic pause here)…and that is change it.” Powerful words. While the theme from the opening ceremony was looking back, several of the sessions I attended seemed more like looking at the future, but looking at it from a vantage point so close that if we just had enough momentum we could tip over into it. If we could do that, I’m sure Diane Lewis would be willing to be our captain.

It was clear Diane has a clear vision for professional development in her district, and while Seminole county does have a professional development department, it quickly became apparent why the instructional technology department offers the most professional development opportunities.

Diane really won my respect when she emphasized that it’s not about the technology, the instruction is the important part. Seminole County has adopted Understanding by Design, and Diane bases her discussions with teachers on that framework. As she reported, teachers will come to her and say, “Oh, I saw a wiki, I want to do a wiki.” Or “I heard about blogs, I want to do a blog.” And Diane’s response? “Why? Why this technology?” (I can’t tell you how often I have to ask this same question, Diane!) She asks teachers what they want to accomplish, the topics they have to teach, the goals of their instruction. Then she helps them find technologies that can help them get there. And what technologies she uses to get there!

Seminole uses a variety of methods and tools to support its professional development. Diane used the metaphor of an artist’s palette of opportunities. Of course they have face-to-face training, but its training focused on…instruction. Or perhaps more appropriately, it is training focused on technologies that enhance instruction. They use Blackboard, the popular learning management system, for what she calls, “those things they don’t want to do face-to-face.” At least not any more. That just means they’ve developed short asynchronous training opportunities, often with videos or screen captures, to address basic software functionality and commonly requested tasks so they can focus their limited available time on using technology to improve instruction. The ISTE NETS have moved forward, and so has Seminole County. Teachers can go in, learn what they need, then go on. It’s just-in-time training at its best.

If you’re my single reader from yesterday, you know that Seminole also has space in Second Life, which they launched with a guest appearance by digital learning guru Bernajean Porter and who continues to provide ongoing learning opportunities for Seminole’s teachers. The critical lesson I learned from their use of Second Life was that Diane admitted it addressed a common shortcoming, and that was that while there are often professional development opportunities for teachers and even for school leaders, at the district level, it is difficult for instructional leaders to find professional development. She noted that the global education community that she interacts with on Second Life has given her that opportunity, musing that perhaps she has had more and better professional development since joining Second Life than throughout the rest of her career. I can empathize. If you’re the only person in your school or your district who does your job, it’s hard to find professional development. I found that to be true 10 years ago with Pine e-mail and discussion boards. Diane has taken that simple interaction into the future.

Despite all these interesting technology-based opportunities, Diane noted there still seemed to be a gap in their current offerings. Working with outside developers, Diane and her team are informing the development of a new media-based, collaborative environment that allows for high levels of interaction. It’s like YouTube and Facebook got together and had a child, and then fed it steroids and bought it a gym membership. There are so many potential uses, from creating how-tos, refreshers from other trainings, and most exciting to me, support for eCoaching.

What? You haven’t heard about eCoaching? That was the topic of my session! O.K., if you weren’t able to be there, Diane has given me a push. I can see so many opportunities for supporting one-to-one and group collaboration. See, I’m right there on that apex. I’m ready to go into the future. Thanks to the many things I’ve learned at FETC, I’m ready to take that step. Oh, and don’t think I didn’t notice that Diane’s palette had one more empty spot. She’s looking towards the future, whatever that may bring.

I gotta get a Second Life

I’ve been putting it off, mostly because my first life seems to be so hectic. You know, my Facebook friends take up a lot of time, and I’m trying to boost my LinkedIn score. There’s cat boxes that need cleaning, plants that need watering, the groceries don’t seem to cook themselves, and I’ve got to write this blog that I’m the only one that reads. In between all of that I’ve got this pesky job to go to.

But today, I was convinced I should give Second Life a try. I admit I had it on my ToDo list for a while, but just couldn’t commit. “Its’ new, “ I told myself, “let someone else work out the kinks.” “It’ll just crash my computer,” I had convinced myself. I didn’t want to get motion sickness from trying to fly. Besides, what if my Avatar made me look fat?

If, like me, you were holding off on Second Life, I was encouraged to give it, well, a Second Thought (can I trademark that?) after a presentation by Lauren Thurman and Lori Weedo from Escambia County at FETC today. Lauren and Lori were Second Life enthusiasts who were dabbling in the environment until a few extra dollars, and really just a few, became available.  Escambia County purchased its own island in Second Life last June. Just slightly over 6 months later, they’ve done an amazing job of making it homey and establishing quite a comfy virtual pad.

The presenters noted that most of the interaction on their island up to this point has been collegial information sharing, but they have an exciting professional development scheduled for their teachers who will meet face-to-face once and then will spend in-depth time in Second Life exploring the new National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers. They will model technology to learn about integrating technology. What a great idea! We even got to chat with the teacher who will run the professional development, through her avatar, during the session. (My apologies for not recording her name.)

Lauren and Lori had some helpful information if you really want to take the plunge. They recommended that you join Second Life in an educator-specific area. Second Life has an education area and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has an island that is educator friendly. There are several plug-and-play education-specific features you can use or even import into your own island when you get around to dominion building, or you can visit some of those already run by school systems and education providers. Seminole County has been using Second Life, as well, and I look forward to Diane Lewis’s session tomorrow where she will briefly mention their work.

There was a more helpful information, but I don’t need to tell it all to you. You can find it at Escambia’s Second Life blog at Second Life Educators of Escambia County (SLEEC) at http://sleec.edublogs.org. If, like me, you’ve been putting off getting your Second Life, get takeout one night and follow the Getting Started link on their blog. I may meet you there. Just don’t tell me if my Avatar makes me look fat.