Rising Above the White Noise

Note – This year, our school newspaper has asked and given the opportunity for faculty to share an article or an op-ed. This is my original that I am submitting to the staff for consideration:

The world is a significantly different place than when I was going to high school thirty years ago. When I was growing up, there were fewer items vying for my attention. There were only 5 major broadcast television networks (3 American and 2 Canadian) plus 3 UHF Independent Stations, versus 187 regular channels plus another 90 HD signals. If you wanted to listen to music you did so at home, using vinyl records, listened to the 20 or so broadcast stations, or played 8-track tapes in the car. There were no iPods, no CDs, no satellite radio and cassette tape players were portable and did not have the fidelity desired for playback.

Computers were special devices kept in special places, like the sub-basements of computing centers, hermetically sealed, with access via punch cards. I remember as a high school junior, being able to get two hours of computer programming time at a local university at 7:00 p.m. every other Saturday, only because my Calculus teacher was an adjunct faculty member there. The Internet? Sure it existed, but as a 17 year old, I did not have the university status or the military clearance to even know that it existed. If we wanted to connect and communicate with each others, we did so via very expensive phone calls or a very slow postal system.

With all of these different sources, even we teachers are competing for your eyes and ears, your time and attention. When you multi-task, it is inevitable that some of the input sources blend into the background or become white noise. White noise is that sound you know that it is there, but you don’t pay attention to it. If the message is not sticky, then it gets tossed aside and forever forgotten.

But you are caught in this time of rapid world change as well in a way that is often incomprehensible to me. We are moving away from the industrial age to an age where you will be judged on the content that you can create and how you put it together. The ease and ability for anyone to have access to the tools which enable them to publish songs, poems, videos, and well crafted thoughts and share them with a global audience is transforming the world in a way last done by the movable type printing press. Give me four or five minutes, and I can create an account which will enable me to upload anything which can be accessed by anyone around the world, instantaneously. So, if you go through school and don’t begin to develop a distinct voice and style, determine which media (audio, video, text, or graphics) best suit the message you are trying convey, then you too may slip into the ever growing pool of white noise.

I am trying to come to grips with these phenomena. I am trying to construct a portfolio of my thoughts and ideas and I am sharing them with the world, primarily through text and through audio, as these are the two media which most people around the world can access. This willingness to develop and craft my voice, to develop a personal learning network of individuals who are interested in my thoughts and ideas has provided me with opportunities that I would have never known about in the past. Through my blogging and podcasting, I now have over 400 people around the world will reflect on my ideas, helping me to further refine them or forging new ones to help me become more engaged in my professional practice.

Many of you remember that over a year ago, my post on Three Cups of Tea has allowed me to connect with Greg Mortenson. With all of the acclaim for the book during 2007, it has also allowed me to connect with others whom I regularly communicate with. One example is a teacher, Keysha Azeez, a teacher at the Universal School in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. (A Universal School is a Muslim school) The exchange of ideas from a diverse set of backgrounds makes me a richer person. We have exchanged ideas on Three Cups of Tea and how to celebrate Earth Hour on March 29th (earthhourus.org), an event that I would not have know about if it weren’t for a chat I had with Keysha two weeks ago.

Professionally, because individuals have become aware of my thoughts and ideas concerning education and embedding technology, I was invited to present at the K12 Online Conference, an international conference of 40 presentations. Additionally, I was the chair of their Live Events Committee, which put together three different live events for educators from around the world to come together and share ideas on new ways of approaching our goals. I worked with an international team to put this together. Most recently, I was asked to be one of the spotlight speakers at the Illinois Technology Conference for Educators (IL-TCE). During my sessions and afterwards, I have had many people come up to me and to tell me how they have been impacted by my thoughts and ideas, many of whom I was meeting face-to-face for the very first time.

For me personally, via my writings I came to the attention of the Gale Group, creators of Student Resource Center that many of you have hopefully used. Because of my love of baseball, they flew me and six other librarians and researchers to their corporate headquarters to participate in a day long focus group. I cannot go into the level of detail that I would like, let me suffice it to say that the day was fascinating. I was able to see how an old fashioned information company is trying to reinvent itself in this new information landscape. I was able to find out what college and university librarians were looking for in their student’s research skills in this new environment. It was fascinating, from a computer science standpoint, how an organization is dealing with the immense task of trying to convert old media into a digital format, and how to make it accessible and available via a variety of different paths. The head librarian of the National Baseball Library, Jim Gale (no relation), personally invited me for a behind the scenes tour of the Hall and Library when I make it to Cooperstown for my first visit.

My development of voice and testing it on a global stage over the past 24 months has transformed me and what I am doing at North Shore. My challenge to you, while at North Shore, is to:

Develop your voice

Determine your medium of strength

Establish your reputation

Develop credibility

Students from around the world participating in a variety of different ways, including at Students 2.0 (http://students2oh.org/). Rise above the white noise. If you need assistance, let me know and I will guide you.

9 thoughts on “Rising Above the White Noise

  1. I am also part of that culture that played 45’s and played in the street until the street lights came on. There is no age limit to the student that needs to develop voice, strength, reputation and credibility. There is a wealth of models and opportunities. I will share your insights and vision while I work with parents supporting their students in the 21st century

  2. I think you’ve provided some excellent examples of this shift that is happening.

    And the network seems novel to us(adults) but so natural to our students, most of them, anyway!

    But it’s such a powerful way to get ideas, to learn, and to be inspired.

    Great advice, and I would add: Ask questions. There’s a whole network out there to help.

  3. I enjoyed your article. It’s great to be able to share your ideas with the school in a way that can still be more easily accessible to the whole school body.

    Becoming adept at these skills will give this generation of students more opportunities that others in their peer group. Just like going to college was the ticket in our generation, choosing to build these skills can be their ticket.

  4. Great conversation to have with students of all ages. I believe these are the shifts everyone needs to be aware of, and the ability to master these skills will be what sets students apart from their peers. Finding our own voices, participating in the networks available, learning and sharing with others from around the world has increased my personal learning more than I ever imagined. Learning through online communities in the past year has provided me with higher quality professional development than is often offered to me face to face in the area in which I live.

  5. I met you this year at ILTCE through Lucy. I, too, have been impressed and impacted by your writings, thoughts, and ideas. This article is no different. The challenge to your students is very realistic and very important. All students at some point need to come to realize who they are and what impact they want to have on others. In education today, the impact that these students will have is potentially on the global level. Your statement about how we are moving away from the industrial age to an age where you will be judged on the content that you can create and how you put it together is baffling to veteran teachers but none the less, the truth. Along with challenging the students, I believe that the teachers must be challenged to provide the opportunities for their students to find that voice and use it to it’s fullest potential. If teachers do not do that, they are doing a disservice to their students. They have to believe in the need for 21st Century literate students and will go above and beyond to teach and reach these students. Without guidance, some of these voices may not be heard. Thanks to you and to all the others who are making a difference! No voice can ever be too loud…

  6. The connectivity, the ability to reach across countries and continents for information, and the powerful networking that occurs when one reaches out is amazing. I wonder if the students aren’t already discovering this on their own, at least socially. The key, now, is to let them see the strength of the networking for professional reasons. (And to help them be aware that the footsteps they are leaving across the web have already started this process. What’s their online identity? Will people want to call on them for professional opportunities when the time comes? You are right–their reputation is being established now.)

  7. This is a wonderfully descriptive post. I would also add to your four recommendations at the article

    Have a clear vision of the how you will impact the future.

    It’s clear from being at your workshop at IL-TCE, and from reading about what have accomplished professionally, you are passionate about your vision of inspiring others to engage in their own professional learning networks.

    An important follow-up to this article would be specific strategies and action steps to:
    Develop your voice

    Determine your medium of strength

    Establish your reputation

    Develop credibility

  8. Nadine,

    Thank you for you comments and future blog post ideas. I will add the goal to establish the visions on how you will impact the future. How important, yet, I made it implicit in my article. Thank goodness that the final article is not due until Monday.

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