Sunday, August 15, 2010

K-12 Copyright fear --- we don't want that here!

Any advice on how to help public school districts extricate themselves from the clutches of "copyright infringement fear?" Some of our work at my high school has been less effective because the district has blocked such information sites as Netflix, YouTube or

One challenge for us has been access to Netflix. Colleagues of mine had used the streaming feature for instructional use and critique in arts, humanities and science classes --- but the Philadelphia School District (PSD) blocked Netflix last year. The explanation was that they didn't want to infringe on copyrights.

Another challenge has been the blanketed blocking of YouTube. There are some fantastic educational videos of protein synthesis, for example, that we cannot access because PSD has blocked YouTube content. We had originally wanted students to create their own video animations and were referencing some wonderful material on the web for context. For a high school that emphasizes responsible use of computers in a 1:1 environment, it's been pretty frustrating.

In 2008-2009, our students of African American history made 30-second "commercials" about civil rights. By the time we had uploaded and indexed them on on, and then linked them on Wikispaces ( [now is dead]), we learned that PSD blocked when in the PSD network. Forget about in-school cross-curricular reflection and collaboration. (We use TeacherTube now.)

Why not coach students on smart use of educational technology?!?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Effective personal learning communities (PLCs)

What are the characteristics of effective K-12 teachers' personal learning communities (PLCs), and can PLCs be digital?

I think that for PLCs to be effective, they need 3 things:  focus, responsibility, and authority.  The careful balance of these three results in teachers who are engaged, who have a sense of purpose, and who can influence the school's culture.  Most importantly, the PLCs need to cultivate individual's and/or the school's social capital.

PLCs will be more effective if they have a particular focus, whether its departmental (science or history teams), pedagogical (instructional or assessment strategies), operational (grant$ review or school culture), or interest-based (shared readings or other).

Effective PLCs need to have specific responsibilities such as completing a project, reporting back to the larger faculty and/or making policy recommendations.  Responsibility implies accountability, and the interaction between PLCs fosters accountability.  Schools need a deep leadership bench, and teachers can contribute to a school's strengths (and their own strengths) via PLCs.

A PLC's sense of authority is a tricky one.  Some teachers or administrators dispense authority to groups or individuals without proper and gradual experience with cost-benefit analysis, diplomacy, or communications etiquette.  If this is true, one solution is to have clear organizational goals and to understand how a specific PLC's aims fit into or advance the larger goals.  PLC members also need to develop 6, 12 and 18 months goals (more or less depending on the project) so that they can gradually raise the general social capital of the school overall.  The PLC's authority needs to be honored, and administrators, in particular, need to make sure they have provided enough context so that the PLCs understand the implications of their choices and recommendations.

On a side note, PLCs are more likely to be effective when administrators are participants.