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Education and Technology Thought Leader Interview: Steven W. Anderson of Web20Classroom


Exploring the Exciting “Web20Classroom” World of Steven W. Anderson

Steven W. Anderson is known to many as the “Web20Classroom” guy. He has been recognized by the Huffington Post as an educational evangelist, and helped to create #edchat, a weekly education discussion on Twitter that often brings in 500 or more participants. Anderson has received a “Top 50 Educational Innovators” award from the Center For Digital Education, a Microsoft Heros of Education award, and a “Bammy” (recognized worldwide as the Educational Emmy), among other accolades. He speaks regularly at national and international education conferences. Obviously, he is a very busy man! We are delighted that he made some time to entertain some questions and share some of his thoughts with EmergingEdTech readers.

1. Hi Steven! It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance and experience your fun and inspiring Keynote at TLIPAD 2015 in November. Your story about the frustration you experienced when your daughter’s teacher was dismissive of the use of the fun coding games that she was using at home spoke to several of the big challenges we face in education today. These include fear of change, and a reluctance to look for ways to make learning fun and engaging. What are some things that you think teachers and parents can do to get reluctant administrators and educators to open their minds to more creative approaches to education?

Change, as we know, cliché or not, is difficult. And in Education, change moves at a snail’s pace. The world around us is in constant change yet for whatever reasons, classrooms, educators and leaders are reluctant, especially when it comes to improving learning through technology. Part of the problem is, introducing technologies like coding, or even more generally like iPads and Chromebooks, their impact is very difficult to measure. Its easy to teach spelling words to a student, give a test and measure the results. When we introduce technology the impacts are subtler and rely less on traditional means of measuring learning. So, there lies the apprehension. The leader says, if I can’t physically measure the impact than what’s the point. And to some extent these are battles we face with parents as well.

We have to realize that the necessity of education is much different today. The current system isn’t and wasn’t built to teach kids the need for collaboration, working across time zones, big-picture problem solving, and the specific technology skills needed to be employed and live in this modern age. I believe it all starts with conversation. But to converse all must be willing to listen. Teachers and, most importantly, Students have to understand why technology is necessary and what benefits it has on learning. And Parents and Leaders have to be willing to listen. Conversely, we all must be willing to hear the frustration and fear that technology can sometimes have on learning and be willing to side-step it in order to improve learning as well.

2. Please tell our readers about the weekly “edchat”. How does one participate, and what should they expect? Where can we learn more about it?

Edchat was born out of the idea from Tom Whitby, Shelly Terrell and I, that educators on Twitter desired to talk and reflect with each other. For the past 6 years, every Tuesday we’ve held 2 chats to do just that. Each week we put out a poll with topics submitted by participants. The top votes are the topics for that week. Then at 7pm ET or 12pm ET anyone can participate by simply adding #edchat to their tweets. From #edchat has been born this wonderful movement of educators gathering, using social media to exchange ideas, debate and share. It truly is powerful. Anyone can learn more by checking out my blog post on it: http://blog.web20classroom.org/2012/03/brief-history-of-edchat.html

3. I recently read your book, “The Tech-Savvy Administrator”. I found it to be an excellent quick read that is packed with insights that all school administrators should be aware of. I’m curious to know, with the time that has passed since you wrote this, are there other ideas, tools, or techniques that you would add if you were to write that book today?

My goal with The Tech-Savvy Administrator was simple. Most technology-centric PD centers around the teacher. And justly so. That is where the greatest impact is. However, if we have leadership that is supposed to evaluate the use of the technology, yet aren’t involved in the PD, there is a great disconnect. What I saw as a Technology Leader was that there was apprehension towards the use of technology by school leaders.

In my district I set out on a 3 year journey to provide them a foundation where they could feel comfortable with it at their level. I provided leadership technology PD and great things began to happen. The leaders felt they could better understand what was happening in the classroom and be better evaluators of learning. What I hope the book provides are practical ideas for using technology as an administrator no matter if the individual tools themselves change. Being a more effective communicator, collaborating with colleagues, being more productive, those are all things every leader can do better and more effectively no matter the technology.

4. Your 2014 Book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning, co-written with Tom Whitby, is also kept short and intended to provide practical strategies for readers to implement quickly. One reviewer commented that this book is, “the best driver's ed course for connected-learner beginners that I've seen to date.” If you could share one or two key take-aways to compel readers to pick up a copy of this book, what might those be?

Tom and I are provocative for a reason. We fully believe that if educators aren’t connected today, if they aren’t harnessing the power of technology-enabled, personal, professional learning, they are irrelevant to their classrooms and their students. It is a must today for educators to look beyond the traditional means of collaborating like school centered PLCs and create a global Personal Learning Network (PLN) of other educators. We also believe that most schools and districts want their teachers to be more effective educators, yet dollars for Professional Development are consistently being slashed. We can’t rely on schools and districts to provide individualized PD for every teacher. However, what we learn in The Relevant Educator is that there are very simple ways for educators to use those powerful connections to get the individualized PD they need and get it when they want it, where they want it, all for free.

5. I’ve been inspired by a number of education focused books, such as Sal Khan’s One World Schoolhouse, and Sams and Bergmann’s Flip Your Class: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying Angela Maiers’ Classroom Habitutes. What are some of the books that have inspired and motivated your journey as an educator and instructional technology advocate?

One of the first instructional technology books I ever read was The Technology Coordinators Handbook (ISTE). It was eye opening in terms of understanding Technology Leadership. There is a companion (The Technology Directors Handbook) that is really good too. Some other that have inspired me:

  • Educating Esmè (Esmé Raji Codell)
  • The World Is Flat (Thomas Friedman)
  • The Innovators DNA (Dyer, Gregersen, Christensen)
  • The Book of Awesome (Pasricha)

6. So, with the time and energy you’ve devoted to education and technology in recent years, I’m curious … if you had just one recommendation to make to teachers everywhere regarding the integration of technology and education, what would that be?

That’s a question I get asked a lot. My one piece of advice is try and be open minded. Remember, schools are places build for kids yet it is often the comfort of adults that takes priority. We do our job as educators for kids. If we remember everyday we walk through our classroom doors with open minds in regards to technology, connections, or anything that makes us uncomfortable we are bound to do better and be better for kids.

7. How about Administrators? Obviously you’ve thought about this, and you’ve shared some great ideas in your Tech-Savvy Administrator book. What are the most important recommendations you would like to drive home for school administrators and leaders when it comes to the integration of technology and education?

Another question I get asked a lot! And my advice is the same. With one caveat. Not only be open minded when it comes to technology but know that teachers have the best interests of kids in mind when they are trying and sometimes its best to get out of the way. Don’t be a roadblock to change and innovation in the classroom. Be a partner.

8. The ever expanding array of technology tools at our disposal these days can be both exciting and overwhelming. If you had to pick just a few, what are some specific emerging uses of technology that you see as having the most potential for engaging students and impacting learning outcomes?

Sit back and think about our world today. The amount of information we have access to at our finger tips. The size of devices in order to access that information. Just 6 years ago we didn’t know we needed a smart phone or a computer without a keyboard would be the norm. We didn’t know how instantly we’d be able to access all known knowledge, let alone comment on it, remix it and share it. And it’s that I believe that can have the most impact. Students need the opportunity to not just be told information, they need the chance to find it themselves, in their own manor, understand it in their own way and do something with it. Content curation is something I am very passionate about with both students and teachers and is as much a necessary digital skill as positive behavior with digital tools. Students also need the opportunity to connect with each other and others around the globe. Social media should be a regular part of the classroom, not just for sharing information but information gathering, reflection and learning.

Lastly, students should have the opportunity to remix their learning. Take something known, make it their own and share it with the world. Term papers and posterboard projects are dead, relics of another time. Information and learning deserves (and needs) to be shared digitally. With the availability of student owned and school owned devices, there’s no reason why kids can’t produce and share everyday.

9. So what’s next for you? With several books to your credit already, I imagine you may have more in development? Any future plans or other observations or suggestions you would like share with EmergingEdTech readers?

I am working through a few book manuscripts, deciding what direction I want to go. I will continue to travel and work with educators at conferences, schools and districts on a variety of issues and keep tweeting @web20classroom. My last suggestion is to always remember we have the honor of working with and for kids. They deserve our very best, every day, no matter what. The world around all of us keeps changing and we have to change right along with it. If we always remember to make decisions on the best needs of kids, remembering this is their world, not ours, we will always make the best decisions.

Oh and remember to be awesome today!

Thanks again Steven for these powerful and passionate insights and ideas, and for being awesome yourself! Best of luck with your continued journey as a strong voice and an inspiring advocate for the meaningful integration of technology in education.




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