The Year that Was

It’s the obligatory end-of-the-year blog post. How far have we come? What have we accomplished? Will we remember 2008?

The passage of time, by TONIVC on FlickrFor me, December has never really been the end of the year. Sure, we’re changing the digits in the date, but I’ve always been more in tune with the academic calendar. By those standards, we’re almost halfway done. Not a bad time for reflection, but hardly the time for wrapping up the year with a tidy little bow.

Still, I started this blog at the beginning of the year. So so it’s natural to observe that anniversary and try to draw some conclusions from it at this time each year. What happened this year, and why should we care? Here’s my list:

Twitter Grew Up
In 2006, I didn’t get Twitter at all. I wanted nothing to do with it. There was no sense in a 140-character blog post. All of these followers and following and status updates about what people are listening to or where they’re stuck in traffic or what they’re having for lunch was pointless. In 2007, I signed up, but still didn’t get it. I never knew when to post, and when not to. If I have something to say, something that’s worth interrupting my followers’ lives to say, shouldn’t I give it more than 140 characters and just write a blog post? At the same time, we were talking about new Twitter applications every week. We had tools to see who our followers were following, and who was following us, and who else we should be following, and who had the most updates, and the best networks. It was all very high school.

In 2008, Twitter grew up. Or, more likely, I learned how to use it. I realized, first of all, that it’s more like the web than like email. I shouldn’t feel obligated to read everything. And I don’t feel guilty about missing stuff. Maybe it’s like satellite TV. Even though I pay for it, I don’t feel bad about not watching every show that’s on. But when I want it, it’s there.

There are those moments when you have something to say, but no one to say it to. You’re not interested in starting a conversation. Or maybe you are. But you heard something, or saw something interesting, and you just want to share it. Did you know the first toy factory in the U.S. was in Akron Ohio? Neither did I. That’s the kind of stuff you put on Twitter.

And, there are those moments when you need to get some input. You need a sounding board. What’s the best free tool for sharing video and photos on the same site? That’s the kind of thing Twitter is for.

After several years of making fun of it, I’m actually using Facebook. It’s not as bad as it initially seemed. And, despite what the education-types keep telling you, it’s not evil. I use it to keep in touch with friends and family, and to reconnect with people I once knew who aren’t really part of my daily routine anymore. Plus, there are some neat games. I don’t use it to post photos of illegal or immoral activity. I don’t try to foster romantic relationships with underage students. I don’t publicly post personal information about myself that could be used for identity theft or social engineering. I use it to keep in touch. And that’s okay. Or, at least, it should be okay.

Where Have all the Bloggers Gone?
My blogging is down 40% this year. I generally target 100 blog posts per year. I met that goal in 2007, and in 2006. This year, I didn’t even come close.

I thought it was me. But most of the blogs I follow have also had significant reductions in post frequency this year. And Dave says blogging is dead. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but something has changed. Maybe the new-blog-smell has worn off a bit. I’m not going to stop blogging, and I’m not going to stop promoting it as THE BEST way for teachers to keep students and parents advised of what’s happening in the classroom. I’m also not going to stop encouraging student blogs. But I’m not going to worry about averaging two posts per week like I used to.

Do the Boards Make us Smart?
It was a big year for SmartBoards in my district this year. We added more than 130. With the boards we installed in 2007, that puts Smartboards in about 2/3 of our classrooms, including nearly all of the K-3 classrooms. The result? Teachers are excited about using technology, at a level I’ve never seen before. Sure. There are problems. We’ve had some frustrations and some setbacks. There’s never enough professional development. And there are always more needs. We can have debates about whether the boards themselves actually have any effect on student learning. But in my district, they’ve had a transformational effect on teachers’ attitudes toward and use of technology. I’ve never seen that before.

There’s a Storm Brewing
I’d like to end on a happy note, but this isn’t it. The economy is in bad shape. Really bad shape. We had the soaring fuel costs in the early part of the year, followed by the banking crisis, the bailout, the auto industry, the high unemployment rates. Things are bad right now, and it’s not looking like 2009 is going to be much better. Schools are typically a little behind the economic curve. That means hard times are coming. We’re already seeing it. We’ve had a 7% budget cut in the current fiscal year, and a 10% cut for next year. We’re also going to lose about 30 staff members next year. These reductions are typical of schools around here, and, I’d guess, typical of schools everywhere. In many places, technology is still an extra. There’s no test that measures technology. Schools aren’t rated based on how or if they effectively use technology. We’re going to be in for a rough ride, because it’s an easy thing to cut. The best we can do at the moment is to make intelligent, forward-thinking decisions now to get the most out of the limited funding we have while we still have it.

And so, what’s going to be happening in 2009? I have a few ideas on that, but you’ll have to wait and see…