Increasing the visibility and impact of our work

[Every week a ‘Monday Morning Message (MMM)’ email goes out to all doctoral students from a faculty or staff member in the CU Denver School of Education and Human Development. Here’s mine, slated for tomorrow.]

Social media higher ed

If you ask them, many faculty members and staff will admit that they wish that their work was more visible. They feel that they are making solid contributions to the field, and they wish that their work had a larger impact on other scholars, policymakers, and practitioners in their discipline. Unfortunately, traditional mechanisms for getting the word out about our work limit our overall visibility and impact. For instance, publishing an article in a peer-reviewed journal may move us closer to tenure and promotion but prevents most practitioners from accessing our work because of paywall and other barriers. Similarly, presenting at conferences may bump up our visibility and standing with colleagues but has little to no impact on policymaking or practice outside of that event or our closely-defined academic realm. For those staff who are doing great work but are not publishing or presenting, the opportunities to have a larger impact may seem few and far between.

Fortunately, we now live in an era where anyone can have a voice. We are no longer constrained by the whims and dictates of editors, broadcasters, governments, and other information gatekeepers. If you have a computer or a smartphone, the costs of creating one’s own newspaper, radio station, TV broadcast, photography studio, or other publishing channel are essentially zero. They just take new forms: blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, Instagram and Snapchat accounts, and so on. But two decades after the Internet became accessible to the masses, we still are slow to realize the possibilities that accompany our new digital tools and online environments. As a faculty member who has an outsized social media presence (53,000+ Twitter followers; video series with 100+ million views; one of the more visible education blogs in the world, etc.), I thought that I would follow up Dr. Verma’s February 2018 MMM contribution with a few thoughts of my own. 

First, recognize the tremendous power that is at our fingertips if we choose to take advantage. A few minutes of our time, a few clicks of the mouse, and we have the ability to potentially reach many thousands or millions of people. Few journals or newsletters can make that claim. Instead of wondering why the work that we do never impacts practice, or wishing that our work translated better into policy- and decision-making, we can put our work in places where professionals and legislators can find it, learn from it, and use it. My blog posts and tweets, for instance, reach audiences that dwarf my readership in academic journals, often by factors of a thousand or more.

Second, this work doesn’t have to take a lot of our time. The traditional path of publishing in a research journal and then reworking it for a practitioner magazine can be re-envisioned. As we do our day-to-day research and professional preparation work, we come across and create resources that would be immensely helpful to others. That amazing article that you just read? Hit the tweet button and share it with others, preferably using a few key hashtags. That new protocol or resource document that you just created? Hit the record button and give us a several-minute audio overview – along with a download link – that explains how we might use it in our practice. You have expertise and experience in a particular area and hope to influence policy and organizational decision-making? Push that button on your smartphone and make a short video that helps us think about that issue in more robust ways. As we do this work, we become a trusted voice, accessible to others who care about the things that we do. Oh, and by the way, publishing to multiple platforms can be automated, saving you time and energy that can be better spent in other areas. 

Third, realize that there can be incredible worth in publishing our thoughts in less formal ways. Shorter sound bites, smaller blocks of text that focus on a particular idea or resource, a quick reflection on a reading or an experience, using non-academic voice to explain complex topics… all of these can help us refine our own thinking but also impact and influence the thinking of others. For example, the most valuable aspect of my blog is that it gives me a place to wrestle with ideas, reflect, try out thoughts, and attempt to make meaning. But the second most valuable aspect of my blog is that it is public, allowing others to see my thinking and offer resources, suggestions, critique, and dialogue that extend my work in new directions and make it better. That interactivity – that ability to work together to create value – creates nearly-unlimited potential as we tap into our collective experience and expertise. Rather than being a one-person idea transmission platform, my blog instead becomes a learning and dialogue space for a global community. 

Finally, note that the barriers to this work usually are neither technical nor organizational. Instead, it is simply a matter of us choosing to share our thoughts, our expertise, and our resources in places other than age-old publishing outlets. There are people all around the world who are eager to interact with us and to learn with and from us if we shift our mindsets a smidge and give them the opportunity. When we push out helpful resources on our Twitter feed, when we connect people to ideas through our videos, when we shape people’s thinking through our podcasts and other conversation outlets, we move beyond our small, local, disciplinary communities and join the global community of people who are trying to make the world a better place. That sounds pretty good to me. How about you?

Image credit: Social media class, mkhmarketing

K-12 tech integration versus higher ed: Flipped?

[I’m one of five Digital Pedagogy Faculty Fellows this year at the University of Colorado Denver. I’ll be sharing my thoughts all year on this experience, starting with my time at the Digital Pedagogy Lab in Vancouver, Canada.]

Just a quick thought…

In K-12, we struggle with access. Most schools are trying to get more technology into their classrooms. It’s not a given yet that students will have regular access to digital tools and adequate bandwidth in their learning spaces. That said, most schools have expectations of teachers that they will integrate technology into learning experiences whenever they can and provide often-mandatory professional learning for instructors on how to do that with the students in their classrooms.

It seems to me that the opposite is usually true in higher education. Bandwidth is pretty robust on most postsecondary campuses and most students are bringing computers of some sort with them to college. Access seems to be less of an issue. That said, institutional expectations of instructors for technology integration in classrooms are fairly low. Professional learning opportunities for faculty are mostly invitational rather than mandatory and tend to focus more on moving courses online than on how to use technology with students in face-to-face classroom settings.

In short, access and expectations regarding usage are flipped:

K 12 v Higher Ed

[download this image]

Agree? Disagree? What is your experience?

[cross-posted at Thinq.Studio]

Is there room for creativity and sharing in a professional preparation program?

Shannon Falls

[I’m one of five Digital Pedagogy Faculty Fellows this year at the University of Colorado Denver. I’ll be sharing my thoughts all year on this experience, starting with my time at the Digital Pedagogy Lab in Vancouver, Canada.]

I help prepare principals and superintendents. Like other educational leadership programs across the country, my program is supposed to prepare teachers and administrators to take on new leadership roles. Students come to us with expectations that they will learn how to be successful in new, usually very challenging, administrative positions. Sometimes we do that well, sometimes we don’t. 

One of the biggest complaints about many educational leadership courses and programs is that they’re too theoretical and not practical enough. This is true. Many of us faculty aren’t as connected to the day-to-day work of practice as we should be. The most common rejoinder – particularly from research faculty (folks who literally are paid to think) – is that narrow, time- and context-bound leadership preparation doesn’t foster graduates’ ability to work in different settings or across varying policy and practice eras. Both sides are right.

I wonder if there’s a third dimension – beyond the thinking v. practice dichotomy – that’s also worth considering. When I think about the times in my life when I feel most energized and ‘in flow,’ many of them revolve around opportunities to be creative. I write, I take photos, I create slides and presentations, I design a new course or workshop experience… and I usually share those publicly with others. As I was driving up and down the Sea to Sky Highway yesterday attempting to capture the natural beauty with my camera, I began to wonder what skills and talents, interests and passions, and professional and hobbyist expertise the students in my new Boulder principal licensure cohort will bring to our collective learning experience. And whether they feel as energized when they do those things as I do when I do my stuff (no matter how amateurish).

Can we bring in students’ “outside,” perhaps non-education-related, expertise and experiences into a professional preparation program that’s designed to get students ready in real, practical ways for incredibly complex and demanding jobs? I’m not sure, but I’d like to try…

[cross-posted at Thinq.Studio]

If we’re not irrelevant, what are we?

As I look across the presentations and workshops and keynotes that educational leadership faculty are sponsoring and facilitating, outside of a few isolated pockets I don’t see much evidence that we’re having wide-ranging and substantive conversations about the need for students to:

  • engage in deeper and higher-level learning instead of spending 80% to 85% of their time on regurgitation and recall of low-level knowledge items (that can be found via smartphone voice search in seconds);
  • possess greater agency and ownership of their own learning in order to foster engagement and self-directedness instead of being directed by teachers and schools toward control and compliance;
  • have opportunities to engage in authentic, meaningful learning activities instead of isolated, disconnected-from-the-real-world classroom assignments; or
  • utilize digital technologies in academic- and work-productive ways that go far beyond social uses or mere replication of analog instructional practices.

I rarely see or hear educational leadership faculty talking about the profile below of high school graduates, even though these student life skills are absolutely foundational to schools’ and policymakers’ current college and career readiness efforts:

College and career readiness

I rarely see or hear educational leadership faculty talking about these components of ‘future ready’ schools:

10 building blocks

We are preparing instructional leaders for P-12 schools but I rarely see or hear us talking about how to help preservice or practicing administrators understand how to (re)design school structures, curricula, units, lessons, and instructional activities to move in the directions noted above. [indeed, I have some doubts that most of us faculty would even know how] Even though social justice is a deeply held belief for most of us, we rarely discuss the intersections of that concept with changing workforce readiness needs or how the inequities of students’ digital access are extended and exacerbated when it comes to students’ digital usage. I don’t see most educational leadership faculty having broad and rich conversations about how technology has and will transform almost everything, what ‘college and career readiness’ or ‘personalized learning’ even mean these days, or what our roles are as faculty, parents, community members, and citizens to deal with all of this.

We do a great deal of research and teaching on interesting and important topics. We speak out against the marginalization of underserved and underrepresented groups. We talk a lot against federal and state policy. But we rarely foster ‘future ready’ policies, instructional and leadership practices, or school organizational redesigns. When we talk about student voice, it’s primarily within the frame of empowerment within local, not global, contexts. We talk marginally, if at all, about furthering students’ global awareness. And so on…

I really like my educational leadership faculty colleagues. They’re whip-smart, thoughtful, well-meaning, and kind and are engaged in some fascinating work. I learn lots every time I get to interact with them. So maybe ‘irrelevant’ is not the right word for what we do because it sounds too pejorative. But it sure seems like there are enormous, important, gaping holes in our conversations that we educational leadership faculty decline to fill year after year…

Visibility and reach: Journal articles v. blog posts

Back in 2008 I raised the questions:

Why would anyone who wishes to actually reach educators and hopefully influence change in schools not be blogging?

Also… why haven’t more faculty caught on to this?

Eight years later, I thought that I would share a couple of recent tables that I made in order to illustrate this point further. The first table is the number of academic citations that I have received on the top 20 things that I have written or created (according to Google Scholar). My citation numbers are decent if not spectacular; they’ve been enough to get me tenure at several of our nation’s top research institutions.

2016-10-27journalarticles

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The second table shows the number of page views and comments that I have received on my top 20 blog posts.

2016-10-27blogposts

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No comparison in terms of reach, visibility, interaction, and (hopefully) impact. The percentage of university faculty members who are blogging – although better than it was 8 years ago – is still incredibly low. We pay the price in terms of public and policymaker awareness of and attention to our work.