Twitter: The Live Tweeting of #SETLA 2009 in WV

Last week (July 26-30), I attended SETLA - the Special Education Teacher Leadership Academy - in Charleston, WV. Three other professionals from my school district attended. Over 300 professionals (special education teachers, technology integration specialists, central office staff, and special education directors) were there to participate from across the state.

One of the things we did was live tweet the event. What does that mean? And why would we do that?

To "live tweet" an event means that you have your Twitter account open and you post comments (or "tweets," in the vernacular of Twitter users) as the event progresses. Probably you also employ a #hashtag in your tweets, a #word preceded with a number sign that informs Twitter that your post should be cataloged in its search engine under a particular topic.

Why? There are a couple of answers. First, it creates a background conversation where participates at an event can discuss a speaker's ideas or a workshop's content while things are actually happening (instead of later, when it's over). Second, it allows the outside world a glimpse of what's going on at the event. Third, it creates a permanent record of your thoughts that you (and others) can refer to later - like putting your notes on an event online. And final, I suppose it gives you something to do if you're a little hyperactive or you have a case of hypergraphia.

Hashtags only show up in a Twitter search for one week, so the #SETLA tag will disappear from the search engine over ther next few days. But the posts themselves can still be found by visiting the individual pages of event tweeters.

I counted about 400 posts using the #SETLA hashtag. In no particular, here's a list of the 17 event participates who used the tag:

WVTIS wasn't there, but commented on the event a couple of times and used the #hashtag. Keri Baldwin, a Kanahwa County algebra teacher used the tag to comment on the event, but I don't think she was actually there. Tracy Rosen, a Canadian teacher, blogger and friend of mine did the same.

Of course, that doesn't count individuals who commented on the event without using the #hashtag, like

  • Jonathan Becker, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Sally Boone, a WV technology integration specialist who was on vacation in Australia when the event started
  • Angie Abbot another WV technology integration specialists in the state.
I think the live tweeting of #SETLA 2009 was a successful experiment for those involved in what can be done with Twitter. It will be interested to see how what we learned gets applied down the road at future events.

Perhaps the biggest lesson was that it helps to have the support of the event and to announce a hashtag for the event. Without that, most of our 17 participants wouldn't have known about each other... (Thanks, Val).

Emotionally Disturbed and Out of School in Florida? SPLC, NAACP File Complaint…

Florida’s Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties have found themselves in court over their treatment of students with emotional disturbances, according to Teacher Magazine.

According to the report:

Students with emotional disabilities in two Florida counties are struggling to stay in school and being funneled into the juvenile justice system by districts that fail to provide them with adequate services required under federal law, civil rights advocates allege in two complaints.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP are both parties to the complaint.

Special Ed in Virginia Preserves Parents’ Rights

Education Week has a short news brief today on special education in Virginia.

Virginia’s Board of Education has revised its special education policy – and left two controversial proposals out of the new regulations. The first proposal was one that would have allowed schools to drop children from special education without their parent’s consent. The second would have moved appeals hearings from the Virginia Supreme Court to an office at the state’s department of education.

Both those policy proposals were widely viewed as a way to circumvent parental rights. Neither policy is in the new regs.

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine still has to sign the new regs. Kaine opposed the controversial proposals that were dropped.

Resources for ADHD & LD Kids

The ADHD & LD Resource Blog had a nice piece a couple of days ago – basic stuff on classroom accommodations that have been tested over time and actually work.

The accommodations are not rocket science: extra time, less homework, peer tutoring, preferential seating… you get the idea. It’s a good post that takes a look at six different effective accommodations. Give it a quick read

What Is a Disability?

(In the interest of keeping some of the things I’ve done on education together under one blog, I’ll ocassionally reprint something done elsewhere. This is one of those pieces, originally published on June 28 2008…)

What is a disability? That sounds like a simple question. But if you work in special education in the U.S. you probably know that it isn’t all that simple. The definition of “specific learning disability” has changed considerably in the last few years.

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting story last week in its news blog. Congress has been tinkering with the definition of the term “disability.” They eventually decided to leave it unchanged for the purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Congress looked at broadening the definition. Here’s how the Chronicle explained it:

The bill maintains the existing definition that a disability must “substantially limit” a “major life activity” to be considered for coverage under the law. An earlier bill, opposed by college officials, had defined a disability as any “physical or mental impairment.”

This highlights a couple of ideas. First, disability is a social construct. Often we codify it in law. But even then, the definition varies somewhat from law to law, depending on the purpose of the particular law we’re discussing.

Second, a disability is not a medical condition. It may be the result of a medical condition. But some people with epilepsy have a disability and some people with epilepsy don’t. Substitute whatever medical issue, condition, syndrome or disorder you like for “epilepsy.” The issue remains how it affects you, how it limits your activity. And very similar disabilities can be the result of very different medical conditions.

Society is interested largely in accommodating disabilities. How well we protect the disabled in our society is a measure of the maturity of our civilization and of the value we place on human life.

Reading the Chronicle blog post made me think back to the dyslexia discussion with Hugo Kerr (and others) last month that I had on the Reading Teachers listserv (hosted by the International Reading Association). Hugo wanted to define the term “dyslexia” more clearly and called it “an innate, neurological condition.” He wants dyslexia to be a medical condition. And yet both the International Dyslexia Association and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes say that dyslexia is a disability.

If we accept the idea that “dyslexia” is the name of a disability (not of a medical condition, per se), it becomes much easier to understand why so much disagreement exists about the causes and symptom of dyslexia. If we see dyslexia as the name of a disability, it becomes easier to understand why rates of dyslexia vary from place to place. In a society without books and reading there’d be no dyslexia – even if the same neurological problems that lead to dyslexia in the US or Britain were common. (An example of such a society is the Lashi of Myanmar; the 30,000 or so Lashi-speakers have only a 1% literacy rate in their own language.)

Does dyslexia exist? If it is a medical or biological condition, the research is still not completely in on that question. But if it is simply a name for a disability, for a set of problems or symptoms that impede the way an individual copes with an important part of life (reading) in modern society, then dyslexia exists. Its status may be in danger; it could be completely subsumed into the legal/educational concept of “learning disabilities.” But at the moment it exists. And it exists simply because we say it does. What we mean by the word “dyslexia” may change. It may have more than one cause. But it exists in the realm of ideas, and it will continue to exist as long as it is a useful idea…