140+: In the Moment


Is the NAEYC Draft Technology Statement really controversial?

Get your point across no matter whatIt’s interesting to see how people who are weary of change react when change becomes inevitable. Take, for example, the recent flap over the draft update to the NAEYC Technology Position Statement. Some very respected leaders in early childhood education, including Diane Levin, Meg Merrill, and Susan Linn, have taken exception to the draft, and have issued a “call to action” to the field to respond to the draft. While I also urge everyone to take (hopefully) one last chance to weigh in on the draft, I (with all due respect) take exception to some of the extreme assertions and misinformation they published about the draft.

Now, bear in mind that this Position Statement has been in the works for more than a year, and there was already one comment period. The authors incorporated the comments into the most recent draft.  In order to accommodate all the viewpoints, another comment period was offered to members. This (hopefully final) comment period ends May 31.

So is all of this much ado about nothing? I think it is. I believe the arguments set forth by many of the “anti-technology” contingent muddle the waters with inapplicable arguments and inaccurate insinuations. While the detractors of the draft statement sometimes make meaningful points to consider, they are obscured within exaggerations and out of context statements. Don’t get me wrong, I think a little refinement might be in order, but many of the statements completely off-target.

Point, Counterpoint: My perspective on the drama

I’ll address the points in the statement entitled “Do preschoolers need mandatory screen time?” on the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood website:

If we don’t act now, the pressure on early childcare programs to incorporate screen time into their core curriculum will intensify.  With preschoolers already spending an average of 32 hours per week with screens outside of classrooms, the last thing they need is mandatory screen time in school or daycare.

1) “Pressure” and “screen time”? Position papers do not pressure or direct association members to do anything. They state positions from a high level.  No obligations are stated, implied, or intended in this draft or any other position paper NAEYC has ever issued.

2) If children are already spending time in front of screens at home (which is clearly a class issue) shouldn’t we issue guidance to parents instead of ECE programs? Shouldn’t parents turn off the TV and shut down the computers to spend quality time with their children? Isn’t it more likely that professionals will make constructive use of interactive technology than parents who don’t know a lot about child development? Do we not trust the programs who are members of NAEYC to use technology judiciously?

3) The data, including the statement “32 hours” of “screen time” used out of context. Numbers are bandied about recklessly.  Is this data about children birth to 8? Is the data reflective of TV/Video use or interactive technology, or what? All screens are not made equal. It’s irresponsible to generalize data and use it when it does not apply. That is a tactic for extremists. Extremism is bad for early childhood education.

4) Remember, the concept of Developmentally Appropriate Practice was developed by NAEYC. Clearly NAEYC does not advocate sitting groups of children down for instruction on computers or for anything else.

Prescribes that screen technologies should be included in all early childhood settings, regardless of the age of the children served or type of program.  Even play-based and outdoor preschools will be expected to incorporate screens.

Provides no objective criteria or guidance to educators about whether or when to incorporate screens into their classrooms.

Does not address the growing problem of screen-based commercialism in preschools.

4) The draft does not prescribe anything. It does not “mandate” “screen time”.  It is clear that NAEYC does not and cannot “mandate” anything. It is a voluntary membership organization that  offers high level position statements. How can you make the leap from a position paper from a membership organization to “…expected to…” do anything?

5) In general, position statements are not standards. They simply outline an organization’s position from a very high level. They:

  •  do not include in-depth summaries of research, but do include citations upon which the statement was built.
  •  do not include a lot of direct guidance. They outline the position of the organization, which sets the stage for books, articles, policies, and procedures that will offer more guidance.
  • cannot encompass detailed discussions of every possible negative result, but should offer high level guidance about the possible consequences and problems, as this draft does. Commercialism in media are not a part of a statement intended to discuss the use of interactive technology in the classroom. The authors of this draft  were careful to carve out a specific path to discuss interactive technologies in the classroom to set the position statement apart from discussions about violent and otherwise harmful media and commercialism.

I’m issuing my own call to action: Let’s all agree that we are doing our best to help early childhood educators learn more about how to use interactive technology with intention and responsibility. Let’s take extremism out of the equation, use information in context, and think strategically about how to make progress. While I also urge everyone to send comments, I also urge you to use reason and offer ideas within the context of a position statement. If you need to write a book that builds upon or contradicts NAEYC’s position statement, have at it.

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Explore the real issues: How to evaluate interactive technology

Free webinar

Early Childhood Investigations Webinar SeriesWarren BickleitnerJoin Warren Buckleitner in a webinar that moves beyond this debate on June 1, 2011 at 2 PM EDT.   One of the many webinars in the Early Childhood Investigations Webinar Series.


ECE Tech: Beyond Debate-How To Evaluate Children’s Interactive Technology Tools and Media
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7 Reality Tips: The Care and Feeding of Websites

“We just launched this website 16 months ago! What do you mean you have to do more development?” says the CFO/CEO/President/Business owner to the marketing geek.  I hear it all the time.  It’s a common misconception that investing a lot into a website means you will only have to add new content in the future. You may think once you develop the site you won’t ever have to think about the website again. Wrong. Read on!

It’s true that if the design of your pages is robust and flexible, and you have an awesome content management system, you will have to make fewer major revisions to your site. And, the more you money and time you invest in designing a flexible design up front, the fewer changes you will need to make over the lifespan of your site. However, the bottom line is that websites are a bit like homes…They need regular maintenance.  After all, your lifestyle changes, appliances and fixtures break, and advances in household products come out every day. Your home has to accommodate those inevitable changes. Your website also needs to adjust to reflect the changes in your business, rapid technology changes, and minor hiccups along the way. For example, the introduction of social plugins from Facebook have sent businesses back to their website developers to adjust their websites to accommodate feeds and like buttons. Adjusting pages to accommodate those changes required rethinking many websites.  Regardless of external technology changes, business goals and priorities often change, and your website has to reflect those changes.

The fact is the average lifespan of a website is only three to (and this is pushing it) five years. If your website is more than 3 years old, and you’ve done nothing to it over those three years, chances are you need to start thinking about a major overhaul.

7 key recommendations about website development and maintenance:

  1. Invest as much as you can into your website design on the front end so you can:
    • Build in a great content management system.
    • Automate as many related marketing processes as possible.
    • Build in a very flexible design that allows you to adjust along the way.
  2. Pick developers who you like, trust, and can work with over the course of the lifespan of your site. (Your developers will be your new BFFs, so you better respect them.)
  3. You will need to budget for website maintenance, enhancements, and tweaks every year over the lifespan of your site.
  4. You will need to revise or overhaul your site in 3-5 years.
  5. Think through your goals, target audience(s), and aesthetics.  Be prepared to tell your developers as much about your needs as possible.
  6. It takes a small village to build a boffo site:
    • Print designers and web designers are not interchangeable.
    • Developers are not the same as web designers.
    • These folks may know a bit about  SEO, but are not search engine optimization experts.
    • None of these aforementioned peeps are marketing experts.

    A good development firm will be able to bring these skills to the table, but if your budget is limited and you can’t work with a firm with all the expertise you need, make sure the people you hire consider these factors in your website. Be sure to assign one person from your company or organization the role of project manager of the site development and someone (perhaps the same person) as the content manager who regularly updates the site. If you have a small company, or you are a one person shop, that person might be you. Plan to either carve out a significant amount of time to oversee the development, and a bit of  time every week or two to maintain the site, unless you plan to outsource those activities.

7. Don’t forget that you will have to keep the content fresh and up to date, so if you don’t have a big team, you may have to either pay someone, or find time in your schedule. Websites that are not maintained are a poor reflection on your company.

Does Social Media Open Doors or Distract Early Childhood Educators?

I’ve always marveled at early educators’ ability to focus so intently on the children, families, and staff in their programs. To me, it’s a huge blessing. It’s also a curse.  We are so mission-focused that we often don’t have the time or inclination to step back, look at the bigger picture, and decide how our work fits in to the overall scheme of where we’re going. Don’t get me wrong, I know from firsthand experience that operating programs that offer high-quality early learning experiences takes 100% of our energy, focus and passion. By the end of the day, there’s often little energy left over for much else. But, is our laser focus on our programs a help or a hindrance? And, does engagement through social media distract us or help us do more?

Laser Focus: Help or Hindrance?

Think about a laser for a moment: It shines a very intense light on a small area.  Lasers do a great job shining through a swath, but leave other areas untouched. Are we so focused on our missions to make a difference for the children in our care that we fail to make important conceptual, political, and professional connections that can have more impact? I know when I operated programs, I often thought, “leave the political and networking stuff up to other people. I have my hands full, and I am doing important work.”  Once I left the  my programs for other related early education jobs, I saw that I missed incredible  opportunities that would have benefited the children in my program and the direction of the field in general.

Why is it taking so long for us to engage?

Why am I writing about this now? I’m lamenting the void of engagement and sources of timely, relevant information in early care and education. I’m frustrated by how long it is taking for program practitioners to look up from guiding our lasers to see that there is a country and a world in which we operate, and it’s full of opportunities and insight. I’m also surprised to see how slow our community leaders are to add blogs and other social media as strategies to engage their members, supporters, and advocates.

But, I know I am  preaching to the choir. Given that you are reading this post, you probably  read other blogs, and engage on social media sites. YOU are probably NOT one of the hundreds of thousands of early childhood practitioners who are don’t  purposely set aside time to learn more, network, advocate, or exchange ideas related to their work. (And, I ask you, what are you doing to encourage your colleagues to test social media?)

There is a dearth of social media interactivity and engagement in our field. Stop to think about the size of our field. It’s hard for me to fathom (and harder to find the real data) about how many early childhood educators there are in the US. (Statisticians, if you can wrap your head around this one, give me a shout!)  I do know that there are only a handful of  commonly read reliable and credible blogs and journals in our field to serve (conservatively) hundreds of thousands of educators.  And, having been actively searching for early educators on social networking sites and listservs for many years now, I can estimate that less than 1% of us are engaging online. Contrast those (admittedly rough) stats with those related to business, and you can see how technically and engagement-challenged we are as a field.

We need to connect to learn from and partner with others in our field. That is not a new concept. We all connect through community or committee meeting every once in a while. We take a workshop or go to a conference a couple of times a year. We already read Young Children, Child Care Information Exchange, or one of the few journals for early childhood education. Awesome!  Those IRL (techno-speak for “in real life”) experiences and activities are absolutely vital.  Adding social media to those activities widens the circle of influence by allowing you to connect with others exponentially. The folks at CommonCraft illustrate the point so well. If you haven’t seen this yet, take a look at Social Networking in Plain English. Do you see how using social networking before or after meetings and conferences can extend the benefits well beyond the walls? This is just one example of the power the Internet has to help us influence and educate one another.

So, is social media a distraction for early childhood educators or an accelerant?

I assert that we need more to do more. We need more blogs. We need more interconnectedness.  What do you think? There’s a lively conversation about just this issue going on in the Internet4ECE group on LinkedIn. Of course, you need to be a member of LinkedIn and a member of the group to read it. (Oh, am I secretly trying to illustrate engagement on the Internet? I would never be so sneaky.)

Resources:

I have a nice list of ECE blogs on slide 22 of my presentation from NAEYC’s Professional Development Institute: Supercharge Your ECE Program With Web 2.0. There’s a lot of additional information about social media in our field in that presentation, and you will find other resources on the Social Media for ECE on my website.

I’m dying to convince you. I’m dying for you to convince others, Check out some of my other presentations, resources, and the Social Media in ECE Directory I am compiling*, and share them if you find them helpful. Let me help you convince others that social media is a professional development, advocacy, and outreach accelerant, and an isolation-buster, bar none.

*If you would like to be included in the Social Media for ECE Directory, register! It only takes a couple of minutes!

Twitter for ECE: Let me count the ways!

Anyone who knows me is aware that I can get as worked up when I talk about computers and the Internet as I do when I talk about developmentally appropriate practice. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I discovered that child care administration and technology literacy go hand in hand early in my career. And, so far, it’s a combination that continues to fascinate me and shape my career. I don’t think I would have ever been able to do my job as an administrator without technology. (Although, I tip my hat to those who have come before me and conquered without computers!) I also don’t think I would have learned as much as I have about technology if it were not for the need for me to do great work in ECE.

My most recent fascination is with web 2.0, and specifically with the use of social media for social networking and how it can power collaboration and communication in the early learning community. I’ve been on LinkedIn and Facebook for many years, but in 2009, I joined Twitter, where I began my odyssey to discover if social media would really pay off with connections in ECE.  But first, I had to watch (or lurk) to learn how to Tweet without making a fool out of myself and find people who posted about and shared my interest in ECE.

Let’s count the ways I love Twitter: #1: It’s a lot more than what you’re doing right now!

Soon I learned the first of many amazing facts about Twitter: Despite the common misconception that you are supposed to post what you are doing, that’s not what effective Tweeting is about. The best tweeters post brief statements that include a link to an online article, event announcement, news, or other online resource along with tags that help readers determine if the link will be of interest to them. People can exchange information with other tweeters publicly or through a Direct Message that is private, as well.

Let’s count the ways I love Twitter: #2: Hashtags help sort tweets!

My second very important discovery was about about hastags, which are like keyword labels that allow people with common interests to find the information in which they are most interested. To use hashtags, “Tweeters” just add # plus the a commonly used keyword to describe the topic and then people who share that interest search for topics with that hashtag.

To illustrate hashtags and “Twiterish” here’s an example of Tweet posted by NAEYC (@naeyc):

The anatomy of a tweet

The anatomy of a tweet

Let’s count the ways I love Twitter: #3: An Army of ECE colleagues!

Armed with this cool new information, I decided to try posting information with the hashtag #ece, not knowing whether anyone else had ever used that tag or not. Soon, I discovered many of my colleagues posting using #ece, and a wealth of new colleagues I had never met before. Even though we all were using the same hashtag, I learned more about different topics than I had ever learned before because, of course, there are many concepts related to early childhood. For example, my tweets are about public policy that impacts early learning, parenting and parent engagement, research, assessment, and program administration. My esteemed colleague, Cate Heroman, (@cateheroman)author of The Creative Curriculum and other great resources from Teaching Strategies (@TeachStrategies ) posts about curriculum, assessment, child development, curriculum studies, and other tweets that are teacher-centric.  Karen Nemeth, (@KarenNemethEdM) the author of Many Languages, One Classroom tweets about ELL, DLL, child development, program management, and language development. There are hundreds of other ECE Tweeters out there, many of whom offer great insight on best practice in the classroom as well as program administration.

Let’s count the ways I love Twitter: #4: “Cross-Interest pollination!”

I also follow and tweet other hashtags like #parenting, leadership, #management, #nonprofit, #fundraising, #HR, #OD (organizational development) and more. This is where it becomes interesting! I think of it like cross-pollination, because the ECE people who follow me learn more about topics in related fields and I learn more about topics I would otherwise never explore. Best of all, I feel as though I am educating people in other fields about early childhood and learning from their expertise.

Let’s count the ways I love Twitter: #5: Twitter brings our community together!

I could talk about Twitter all day (and sometimes, I do!) The point of this post is that my experiment with Twitter proved to me that there is value in social media for early childhood education. Our community has come together through Twitter. It’s like going to a conference to network every day. It is energizing, enlightening, and exciting. The potential is amazing.

Now, let’s count together:

What are your experiences on Twitter? Tell me how you exploit the potential and use it to benefit your program?

Resource:

Are ECE programs businesses?

When you think about your early childhood program, do you see it as a business? Do you think about yourself as a business administrator? I know that when I was in the field, I did not. I ran a program! I thought my program was a nonprofit organization, not a business. It was something else, above or in between. Huh?

Let’s break this down… Every day, just like you, I did the same things every business administrator does, like:

  • managing the facility and equipment (quality assurance)
  • ensuring 100% enrollment (sales)
  • communicating with my customers (families)
  • managing the budget (financial management)
  • making presentations for prospective families (marketing) and staff (training)
  • paying payroll and accounts payable
  • supervising staff (quality assurance)
  • hiring (HR)
  • developing the program (product development)
  • managing benefits (personnel), and…
  • all of the tasks any business administrator needs to complete.

I guess that means ECE programs are businesses! (I better check Wikipedia for a definition, just to be sure….) Some are self-contained and managed internally, and some are managed by larger organizations like schools, agencies, or corporations. But nonetheless, we are in the business of providing developmentally appropriate programs for children. Enough said?

What are the implications? Tell me what you think!