Better Meeting Collaboration With These Tools

Whether coming together as a faculty or business team for weekly meetings, a professional development workshop, or to plan a fundraiser, we want our time together to be well spent… to see a result that lives beyond the meeting.

Here are some of my favorites for tracking conversation and actionable next steps, especially with groups that don’t yet use software to collaborate regularly.

Todaysmeet:  FREE.  Easy to use backchannel, parking lot for off-topic questions, Q&A, meeting minutes, and more.  Name a URL, distribute the link, and attendees can contribute to an online discussion.  A transcript can be printed and the organizer specifies how long the data is kept “live.”

Padlet:  FREE to create an account and begin using.  Create a shared web wall, invite people to the link and begin posting discussion notes, share links, and post video and pictures.  Excellent to use either as an archive of contributions or as a canvas for sharing prepared resources with your audience.

Symbaloo:  FREE to create a personal account.  Symbaloo is a social bookmarking tool that can be used to distribute online content to an audience.  It’s also a great tool for crowdsourcing online resources i.e. tasking groups to populate a Symbaloo webmix with resources to be used for a later project.

Evernote:  Freemium version available.  Evernote is a web-based note taking service that synchronizes written and audio notes, pictures, and documents between desktops and mobile devices.  Create shared folders and store meeting notes, discussions, and brainstorms.

There are hundreds of tools that have similar features now.  But the tools aren’t really the point.  Arrive with a method to capture discussion and learn something as a team…and then make something as a team.

Connect with me on Twitter @AlanGwynn1 and share some of your favorites #forgetools.

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Who’s Doing The Heavy Lifting?

In December, Seth Godin wrote a blog post about the synergy between goals, strategies, and tactics to elicit change.  Check it out.

I am interested in how these ideas can be applied to professional development in education.   My paraphrase of Seth’s article:  The best way to achieve a goal for making some kind of change in an organization or people group is to identify the emotional connection associated with the new goal, then to practice a new behavior, habit, or event as a group of people to establish that emotional connection.

In the highly nuanced profession of education, developing skills to use new tools requires time to try on, and fit into, one’s own style and conversations in the classroom.  This is true for acquiring strategies to reach a particular group of learners and true for developing skills to integrate technology applications.

Therefore, if my goal is to see meaningful use of iPads, Chromebooks, SaaS or… (insert your technology tool) in the classroom, then the next step is to identify the “aha” connection that teachers and students should make while they employ the “meaningful use,” however that is defined.

In workshops and classroom implementation, one connection I aim to invoke is that students learn with technology when students do the “heavy lifting.”  This means a couple things.  The first is that teachers don’t need to become experts on the student devices in order to see authentic contributions and evidence of learning from students on their devices.

Second, teachers should continue accessing and distributing digital content via their own teacher devices (the laptops, desktops, etc.) that they are used to using for lesson preparation.

The aim of students doing the heavy lifting informs the kinds of activities and habits that we should practice in collaborative workshops and in the classroom.  Instead of devoting time to becoming experts on a “student” device, we become experts delivering and receiving information to and from students:  Teachers on their devices, students on theirs.

Finally, Seth Godin emphasizes the importance of practicing these behaviors (“tactics”) with others, as opposed to by oneself.

Recap:  If the goal is to see amazing results from students while they use their technology for learning, then create training that allows teachers to present those opportunities to students (instead of training teachers on devices that they themselves won’t be using in the lesson).  Continue to sponsor time to practice these skills until the connection is made that the students are actually the ones doing the most work to learn and integrate technology into their learning.

This works!  If this has not been your experience, click here, and let’s talk.

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Are People Developing in Professional Development?

Trainers and Academic Coaches, have you been here?

A significant hurdle to offering professional development opportunities for faculty or business colleagues comes when we want to see evidence of new skills and the impact those skills have in day to day operations.

A goal I have is to make adult training opportunities look like the very best instruction we strive to provide K-12 students…differentiated, targeted, sequenced, possibly based on personal growth and mastery.

Often, this isn’t the case in adult training.  The 90 minutes of collaboration time each Wednesday might be just enough time to squeeze bodies into a room to hear a presentation on a new strategy or tool.  The training is levelized and impersonal, covers the broad strokes, and rarely is there time to practice the new strategy, let alone to show evidence of learning.

These are tough cycles to break…so much to learn and so little time to dedicate for new skill development.  If you’re a trainer and you find yourself in this situation, try on this mindset and approach (It may take some time to usher this mindset and approach into the crush of competing priorities that are outside your control, but it’s worth it).

Mindset:  Acknowledge that if this new skill is something valuable enough to introduce and for which to offer training opportunities, then it’s valuable enough to set expectations for showing evidence of learning and therefore valuable enough to set aside more time to practice new strategies and workflows.

Approach:  Train, present, introduce, roll out, unfold…whatever it is you do on those training days, working lunches, etc. (Make sure you’ve designed some measurable learning objectives e.g. Participants will demonstrate that they can facilitate a “new conversation” with their classes, instead of, People will be exposed to the latest learning theory and understand how to facilitate a “new conversation.”)

Before adjourning, share the plan to come together next time to share experiences about how the new strategy panned out when it was implemented. Both good and bad experiences shared for the good of the order can be powerful learning opportunities.

Perhaps it will take several meetings to get to the point where participants are equipped to deploy their new skills.  The point is to stick with the training until people have “developed,” otherwise, it’s not really professional development, is it?

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Coaches’ Corner: “Half my job is sales”

A recent conversation with a friend, a K-6 teacher recently hired as a technology coach for K-12, shown some light on the challenges with moving the needle for technology integration in the classroom.

“Dream job.”  That is how my friend describes his new assignment…and of course he does.  He is a mentor and coach by nature, loves technology, and is a passionate teacher.  Now, instead of teaching students, he is honored to support his colleagues as they implement new technology tools with their students.

“However,” he reflected, “Half of my time is spent in ‘sales.’”  Meaning, that coordinating time with colleagues to “fit” technology into a lesson is a bit of an emotional and logistical barrier.   Depending on the explicit curriculum mandates in the district and the perceived permission (or lack of permission) to try new things, teachers do not always feel comfortable “fitting” technology into a lesson.

Technology integration is an all-hands-on-deck, transformational change, that necessarily intersects with all major systems in a district, including scheduling, curriculum, how learners are grouped, culture, communication, and so much more. Therefore, leaders have an important mandate to thoughtfully consider technology’s impact on these systems.

Scott McLeod is an internationally recognized educational technology advocate with a resonate message and clear strategies for managing the changes necessary for technology integration.  Read his article, written for the National Association of Independent Schools, which explains the importance for creating and communicating a clear and compelling vision for technology in the learning experiences in a classroom.

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Technology Innovation and Effectiveness

Innovation is almost always good, right?  When a business innovates, we might think of old processes becoming streamlined or new technology making old processes obsolete…resulting in a competitive advantage, a method of differentiation.

In classrooms, differentiation is a must.  Diverse learners require diverse strategies and conversations to learn new skills.  Technology has played an integral role in differentiating teaching strategies to reach students more effectively.

There are many advantages to effective use of technology in teaching and learning.   There are also some seemingly innovative, yet ineffective uses of technology.  How do you tell the difference?

Alan November with November Learning offers some simple and effective questions to determine how much value technology is adding to a lesson.  I highly recommend reading his findings which also discuss the popular SAMR model for integrating technology.

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Help with evaluating technology tools

Technology can add loads of value to a learning experience.  Choosing an app or service can be a bit overwhelming when it involves weighing several options to use in your classroom.  However, it’s super when someone has already done this for you.

Check out Richard Byrne’s collection of spreadsheets that compare technology tools by function i.e. best webpage creation and multimedia quiz tools. He even includes links to tutorials for some.  Add it to your Google Drive and share with others.  Happy evaluating!

Here is a link to Richard’s website, packed with free technology ideas for the classroom.

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Choose Ship Influence

Day 7 in the Your Turn Challenge

Winnie J. Kao, thanks for throwing down the gauntlet this week.  It was a great call-to-action signifying a hero’s journey of sorts.  Hopefully many emerge from the journey like all heroes…with a new mindset and a few new tools with which to make change.

Shipping a blog post each day reminds me that the mindset of aware and active choice is essential to making a difference.  Since it was your call to action that I answered, one must ask, what call to action did you answer with your choice to throw down with #YourTurnChallenge?  You shared your own failure that led you to make this challenge a reality.

Therefore, one of the tools I take from the journey is a new habit.  Making the habit of asking myself tough questions, then choosing to leap again.  An initial failure to write a post resulted in thousands of posts from co-shippers and many more connections and conversations along the way.  Great work Winnie!

The choices we make and habits we practice are the evidence of the mindsets and tools of influencers.  Choose, ship, influence!


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Day 6 in the Your Turn Challenge

There was no doubt that we were going to lose a client.  A good client.  The reasons were both justified (I thought the client had some valid complaints), and entirely avoidable (there is no doubt that my team could have done a better job delivering the kind of service we were paid to deliver).

As the account manager, I decided two things:  I would begin building a relationship with the client the way I should have done all along and I would speak the truth.  The truth part is a no-brainer.  The difficult part of telling this truth was that it included insisting that the client double our contract time.

After a six month crusade of conversations and healing…the time had come to present to the board of directors.  My presentation was to be either a farewell or the largest single contractual increase in our company’s history.

I had a great team who deeply desired to take responsibility for our actions.  When we did that, we were able to engage in other necessary conversations that included demonstrating how the client’s need for services vastly outweighed our ability to meet the demand under the current contract.

The client agreed with the assessment and doubled the contract despite cheaper options from the competition.  This truncated version of events doesn’t do justice to what, at the time, seemed to me a surprising outcome.  The experience taught me a lot including the importance of doing the hard work of facing reality even though it might result in losing business.

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Getting Unstuck

Day 5 of the Your Turn Challenge

The heavy laden truck with a flat tire has little chance of overcoming the muddy rut without help.  Successive attempts to move forward and backward make the predicament worse.

I finally realized that too much reflection on a problem can serve to deepen the rut.  But I also know that learning happens through reflection and dialogue.   I’ve learned that the sooner I start dialogue with someone the better.

A former boss would tell me, “Someone has the answer; go find him/her.”  Though I might not find a person with the complete answer, it has always been true that dialogue moves the needle for me.

I’m always a finite number of conversations from the answer to any problem.  How many conversations?  Don’t know.  Better start now.

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Day 4 in the Your Turn Challenge

Invariably, there are two groups of people that I seem to encounter.  I run into them; they run into me.  I’ll call one group, TEAM, and the other, green.

TEAM always seems to have the talent…the very best.  Green, as expected, has the money.  Also as expected, TEAM and green find each other…talent and incentives seem like a natural fit.  Interestingly, they’re not…at least not always, and not always for as long as one would think.

TEAM values its autonomy and creativity.  Green …well… wants to keep its green, or at least wants it back within an appreciative and acceptable time.

As for me…well, I’d find myself wondering about the status of my bank account.  Once in a while I’d criticize myself for not taking that class in “talent”.  And so I’d become frustrated, seemingly never having enough TEAM or green of my own.

Until one day.  I began to notice things.  TEAM and green are really a good fit.  They just need to see a few things differently.  An adjustment in vision.  That is what I do well.  I notice things.  And I help TEAM and green to see what was there all along:AgrEeMenT.


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