2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Real Value of a Conference

I had the opportunity to attend some amazing conferences this summer, the most recent of which was BbWorld, the annual Blackboard user BbWorld_Blogger_badge_2013conference. As I look back over my summer, I started to reflect on the real value of attending professional conferences. Sure I got to visit some neat locales, but I was also away from the office (meaning more work to catch up on) and I missed some valuable summertime with my family (kids are in college so the summers are fleeting). Of course, I attended some really interesting sessions and keynotes, but now I have pages of notes (digitally) to sort through and decide how best to integrate in my real life. But neither the change of scenery nor the sessions are what I carry with me everyday as a reminder of my conference experience...

It’s the relationships that I formed while attending the conferences that are constantly on my mind. The real learning didn’t happen in the sessions* and keynotes (Adam Bellow’s (@adambellow) #ISTE13 keynote is the exception here), the real learning happened in the halls between the sessions, at the social events, in the exhibit hall, during meals, anywhere that people who were fueled by the same interest as me to attend the conference were congregating, talking, and networking. It’s the tweet in the morning from someone I met at #BbWorld13 that gets me thinking about how I can be a better educator, not the weeklong workacation in Las Vegas in July (heck, I’m still trying to clear the smoke from my lungs).

No, the real value in attending a conference is the opportunity to get away from our home base, our comfort zone, and expand our thinking by networking (and yes, that means no more #tweetfrom10ftaway). Sure, it’s totally awkward to speed date with a guy wearing Google Glass (@jdferries), or be interviewed by a puppet (@wokkapatue), or scream C-A-T-S** (@shanodine) in a public place when you are a diehard D-A-W-G (that’s SEC humor for those Big 10 folks I know), or just walk up to someone you know from an online persona (@tweetsbyvivek and countless others) and say “Hi”, but in every case it’s totally worth the risk! These are experiences and people that I carry with me everyday and they challenge me to be a better educator and leader back at my home base. It’s in these unique moments that I built relationships with folks who challenge me, inspire me, help me, and in return I get to do the same for them - they are my superpower, my #PLN!

So I have a few recommendations for future conference planners and educators from my conference epiphany:

To conference planners: Stop using the cookie-cutter conference mold. Build in more networking time and opportunities. And no, I don’t mean lame ice-breakers!!! What I mean is have an un-conference track for those who are willing to make the conference experience more intimate and personal. EdCamps (@edcampusa) are a phenomenal success because they capitalize on the needs of the attendees and place networking and relationships in the foreground of their planning.

To educators: If the real learning happens, for adults, in the relationships, don’t you think the same can hold true for your students? Are you building in time for them to collaborate, discuss, and connect their learning with their peers? Think about how you can make your classroom into more of an unconference experience to improve the relationships and learning within your classroom. Remember, it’s not about how much we teach in a 50-minute period, it’s about how much they take with them and use over a lifetime.

With that I will leave you with my new mantra:

*Please note that this isn’t to say that if I attended your session I walked away with nothing.

** Couldn’t bring myself to mention my new BFF (@shaylamsb) is an Alabama girl for fear of losing my official UGA license plate!

Stacy Hawthorne

@StacyHaw on Twitter

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Relevance of A Teacher

The Keynote Speaker for the last day of Blackboard World 2013 was Dr. Sugata Mitra, inventor of "The Hole in the Wall" project, an experiment which places a computer in a wall in a very public area of an Indian slum (among other locations later) in order to prove that children can teach themselves through natural curiosity and reliable access to technology.


[caption id="attachment_189" align="alignnone" width="300"]Dr. Mitra's credentials Dr. Mitra's credentials[/caption]




[caption id="attachment_191" align="alignnone" width="300"]Children can access computers placed in an Indian slum. Children can access computers placed in an Indian slum.[/caption]


He also invented "The Granny Cloud," based on the idea that children can better learn with an encouraging, non-judgmental adult (like a grandparent) watching and praising their progress but not actually guiding it.  For more information about Dr. Mitra's projects, check out his Ted Talks.


[caption id="attachment_190" align="alignnone" width="300"]Children have real-time access to retired British schoolteachers, who encourage them in their language acquisition skills. Children have real-time access to retired British schoolteachers, who encourage them in their language acquisition skills.[/caption]


Dr. Mitra's presentation blew me away.  How could a teacher not love a man who wants to tap into children's natural desire to learn?  How could I not appreciate a man who wants to bring education to children who may have no access to technology or education without him?  When talking about the problems with education today, Dr. Mitra said that we need to release teachers and students from excessive testing, and that's where I burst into applause.

When I got back to Ohio after BbWorld 13, I started thinking, and as many of you know, that is where the problems begin.  Dr. Mitra's theory is that given access to technology in a very public way, and given the proper amount of encouragement (but not guidance), students will learn more quickly than in a traditional environment.  I can see where this is a fabulous idea for areas of the world where children do not have regular access to technology or good education, but now Dr. Mitra is using some public schools in England for his experiment.  This leads me to think that he believes those students don't need a teacher, just a computer.  Here is where it gets weirder for me:  Dr. Mitra says that the roles of his "grannies" in his "cloud" are only to observe and praise, but he specifically chose retired teachers to do this, and the video he showed us featured a granny instructing children (not just observing them) in reading in English.  Doesn't this contradict his original theory?  Now I'm wondering if this is another push to get rid of face-to-face instruction in favor of online instruction because it will always be cheaper to stick kids in front of computers than in front of live teachers.

One thing I've learned from pioneering a Blended Rhetoric and Composition class is that I am essential to the equation when it comes to student learning.  I teach students to learn; I point them in directions where they can find the rest of their way, and yes, I am like the "granny" who tells them, "That's amazing!  I could never have done that when I was your age!  How did you do that?"

Does Dr. Mitra think that my students would be better off without me?

BbWorld Blogger 2013Stephani Itibrout

Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition

Follow me on Twitter: @itibrout


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Learning is Social: Using Social Tools in Blackboard

"Get out your phone or tablet, take a picture of the quote you'd like to use, and send it to me with an explanation."

"What?  This my PHONE.  I use my phone to text my friends or take pictures of stuff I like.  I DON'T use it for school stuff."

I have this conversation with my students more times than I can count.  Even though I have an open BYOD policy in my classroom, and I encourage my students to use their phones to research and share information, the students are very reluctant to use a tool (the phone) that they consider purely social for academic purposes.  Today in the Social Learning session, led by Terry Patterson, Melissa Stange, and Francesca Monaco, I heard a statement that validated my struggle with getting students to use their phones for my class.  Francesca Monaco said that students want to network with their classmates, but they want a strict separation between their academic networks and their social networks.  I get very nervous when I think about students connecting online in a social network because of a requirement from my class because the minute a student posts to Facebook, Twitter, or Google + (yeah, that might happen) on behalf of my class, I feel responsible for what happens next.  I can't control those interactions, and I can't fully protect my students.  Students want to connect; what should I do?

This is where Blackboard Social Learning comes in.  Students and faculty post profiles in the tool, and they can use the search function to find groups that share their interests and concerns.  The tool offers profiles, walls (on which to post information), spaces for collaboration, and messaging, and the best part is that it is protected because you can monitor the interactions, something that would be very difficult to do in Facebook or Twitter.  Check out the video for more info:


Clay Shirky talked about using technology to make connections with the world around us, and I think the Social Learning Tool is a good way to teach students how to make and use these connections responsibly.



BbWorld Blogger 2013


Stephani Itibrout

Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition


Clay Modeling: Lessons from the Keynote Address

We are facing an educational landscape which is about to be formed by student demand.--Clay Shirky, Keynote Address, Blackboard World 13

“Boy, did we make a mistake.  We did not listen to our students,” Howard, a Stats professor at a local university told me.  “We thought our Blended Learning and online courses were popular because of the use of technology, but our surveys did not reflect this idea.  We assumed that students of online courses were commuters who were working from home.  When we checked the login times and places of these students, we realized that they were doing their work in the early afternoon, even though the classes were scheduled in the morning, and they were working from their dorms.  When we changed the class times to afternoon, the students flocked to them.  The data showed us that students didn’t want to think about statistics courses in the morning, and we didn’t fill their needs in a face to face class, so they used what they could to get the learning they wanted.”

Clay Shirky's words have been whirling through my mind.  My first takeaway from his address was to remind myself that students DO want to learn.  In a sad time where many school districts are limiting class choices due to financial constraints, students are still looking for ways to educate themselves.  Many high school students are signing up for Advanced Placement, Post-Secondary Option, Dual Credit, and Language courses on their own, and these classes aren't always connected to their schools.  I've come to see that my role as a Blended Learning Teacher is to help them accomplish these goals by training them to "learn to learn."  My primary purpose is to teach them to take responsibility for their own learning because they may need to pave a "road less traveled" in the journey to their education.  I want to empower my students on their journey, and so I make a resolution:  I will listen to my students.






I will let them show me how they want to learn.  I will remember that I am not always the potter, rather I may sometimes be the clay.




BbWorld Blogger 2013


Stephani Itibrout

Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

BbWorld Keynote Reminds Us to Challenge the Status Quo

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300"] BbWorld Blogger[/caption]


Welcome to BbWorld Keynote

Entering a BbWorld keynote is an amazing experience. The energy is contagious and you know that you are in store for an incredible experience. With over 50 countries represented at BbWorld the number of networking opportunities is mind boggling. This is my first foray as a BbWorld VIP Blogger. Tweeting and meeting the other bloggers makes me feel like I’m at a class reunion where only the cool kids are invited.

Key takeaways from Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky takes the stage and promises not to be the guy who tells you how to do your job when he’s never done your job. Score +1 for Clay!

Education is collaborative - having a conversation and carrying on. We produce and publish to start a conversation which leads to more learning. If what we are producing and requiring students to produce does not spark a conversation and continued inquiry, then does it really have value?

Clay draws laughter when he reminds the audience that many of them may be too young to recognize the Napster logo. While the moment was funny, it reminds me that technology is rapidly changing the landscape of our world. As education professionals we have to change and adapt to the world in which our students live. This means embracing new technology, showing relevance the content that we teach, helping students identify and embrace their passion, trying new pedagogies, and NOT teaching to the test!

The world is full of people who have challenged the system and found their own solutions to problems that they discovered. Are we preparing students to discover problems and solve them creatively or are we relying on the traditional structure of our educational systems and the government mandates to dictate what happens in our classrooms? I can almost guarantee that you chose to be an educational professional because you wanted to inspire students, not assess the hell out of them. Find your passion and get back to it before you lose your soul.

Clay reminds that audience that “there is no way that things have always been that we can rely on to know what to do next.” We have to be creative and and use our prior knowledge to help us recognize contemporary problems and devise new solutions.

We are facing an educational landscape that is about to be changed by student demand. We have to make our classrooms, both face-to-face and digital, places that encourage authentic and engaging learning. We need to encourage students to ask questions, discover their passions and create authentic content that leads to continued conversations.

Thoughts during Jay Bhatt Welcome

Jay Bhatt reminds audience that the core of Bb is learning and teaching. The BbWorld hashtag goes wild with comments reminding audience that Jay has not yet joined Twitter. There are so many education professionals that have connected and grown through Twitter and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to listen to education professionals who are not embracing the medium. Since Blackboard is a corporation that is in the business of education their leader should connect with his clientele where they are, including Twitter.

Stacy Hawthorne









Twit or Tweet: Using Twitter to Engage Students

Psst.  There are a few things you need to know about me.  I'm giving you some personal info, so let's just keep this between you and me, ok?  Here we go:

I don't own a cell phone.

I just got into Twitter about three months ago.

I know; it's ridiculous.  I am the source of much ribbing among my friends.  I have to have a "texting secretary" whenever people want to communicate with me.   I was probably the only person at the Ohio eTech Conference who didn't have a phone or Twitter account, and my Administrator of Instructional Technology made a point of shaming me each time we presented at a conference.  Twitter-shaming.  What has the world come to?

I see the light now.  Twitter allows me to connect with people I admire in my profession.  It allows me to see into the thoughts of colleagues, researchers, innovators, and influences in education.  It also allows me to make connections in the running community so I can learn from runners I admire and so I can promote my running blog.

Today I saw the 2:00 presentation Twitter: Micro-blogging to Increase Engagement, and I am eager to take my tweets to the next level with my students.  I intend to use the ideas of Cheryl Boncuore (@cherylbonc) and Aurora Dawn Reinke (@AuroraReinke) to engage my Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition students in their research of colleges and career choices.  How exciting will it be for my students to connect with a professional in a field they are considering?

There are problems to consider.  How will I make sure to keep my students safe in the TwitterVerse?  I keep my blogs gated through Blackboard, but I can't control what students do through Twitter; I can only control what they choose to show me.  Hashtags are a great way for me to think about monitoring and assessing what they do  for my class.

My takeaway from this session is that Twitter can work for my Blended Students, and eventually I can extend its use to my younger f2f students.  I am getting with the program; rather than be a Twit, I choose to Tweet.


BbWorld Blogger 2013


Stephani Itibrout

Blended Rhetoric and Composition


Monday, July 8, 2013

Don't Tell Me What to Do: Using Templates to Improve Course Design

How do you balance standardization of templates with freedom of expression in teaching?

Certain administrators, supervisors, and bosses have told me that I am a challenge.  Why?  Well, it may be that just about every conversation I have with a "boss" begins or ends with me saying, "Don't tell me what to do."  Even if I WANT to do whatever someone requests of me, I want it to be completely my idea and my decision.  It is no wonder that my mother laughed her butt off when I complained about my son's newly applied "assertion of his independence" because she has been waiting all her life for this payback.

My resistance to standardization of templates kicks in when I think that it might inhibit my creativity.  Even if I grit my teeth and agree to a template, I want it to be a template that I designed, and herein lies a huge problem.  I am the Queen of Control Freaks, but I am not naive enough to believe that I am the only control freak in my district.

How deep should we go with templates?  Building-specific?  Department-specific?  Course specific?  I have seen some good course designs in classes at my school, but their layouts do not reflect the way I think or teach.  For example, some teachers organize their content by standards, and they train their students to think about the course that way, too.  It works for them, but it doesn't work for me.  Some teachers like to group their content thematically--what do they lose when someone forces them to convert to organizing by standards?


On the other hand, what about the students and parents who try to navigate our LMS?  As a mother, I know how frustrating inconsistency of webpages and online lessons can be.  I want my audience to be able to easily navigate my class lessons in Blackboard.  Does this mean that I should make my class page look like every other page?  Does this mean that I should separate my content into  standards, themes, or genre?  Where is the balance between ease, consistency, and freedom of expression in teaching?

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  My takeaway from the pre-conference session Using Templates to Improve Course Design really gave me a lot to contemplate.  See what I did there?


Stephani Itibrout

English Teacher, Blended Learning

Follow me on Twitter: @itibrout

BbWorld Blogger 2013