Thursday, March 17, 2016

Collaboration in a Digital World

           It's truly astonishing to think of the advancement of technology since I started teaching in 2003.  I remember as a newbie thinking how far "behind the times" most of the teachers in my school were regarding the use of technology.  In fact, I felt I could relate with so few, that I often felt alienated in my own nerdiness. Yet, I had no clue what the next decade would hold and how these advancements would further separate my own thinking from many of my colleagues.
        Utilizing technology in the classroom is far more than sharing a Power Point or turning on a projector.  For so long the greatest achievement of so many, yet with recent paradigm shifts, it seems that there is a disconnect with how technology can really enhance the educational experience, especially regarding collaboration in the school.
       Social Media made a strong appearance with MySpace in the early 2000's.  At that point in time, social media played no part in education, in fact it was discouraged among teachers, for fear of sharing too much of one's personal life.  By 2006, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were all on the scene and for the longest time many users lumped these medias together.  Still today in 2016, many people cannot distinguish the difference between Facebook and Twitter.
      I am a Twitter advocate, especially within the school.  Twitter is an amazing collaborative tool that has the potential to allow staff throughout a school or district to share trending data in education.  When thinking about Twitter, consider it for professional use, as opposed to social use.  Teens these days have taken Twitter over with an open and on going public conversation...not understanding the educational prowess the media has to offer.  However, the professional user has the ability to use #hashtags to discover trending data within a given field.  In education, one has the ability to connect with quality teachers from all over the country...the world for that matter, and see what is working. To be honest, the Twittersphere is providing so much quality information in real time, that an educator needs to look no further than their phone to find the answers or dilemmas that impede or improve learning in most schools today.
         While policy makers and school leaders play "catch up" to their educational lag, teachers themselves are shaping the trending educational culture.  Imagine a place where staff can speak with one another openly, share ideas that can better shape the educational experience.  What if educators bought into the "personal learning network" or "PLN" as it is sometimes referred to.  If educators, administrators, board members alike began to research and share publicly what inspires learning in their school...change could be made. Teachers within the PLN would begin to see what practices work and eventually policy will follow...one would hope.  If teachers would begin to share what doesn't work, their beliefs of things like "standardized testing", just maybe policymakers would catch on.
       We as veteran educators need to recognize that education now is exponentially different than decades ago.  Parents also need to recognize this, we can no longer use the "when I was in school" mentality, because THINGS ARE NOT THE SAME.  Beyond collaboration among staff, teachers need to realize that their lag and lack of understanding of this technology is inhibiting our students from an authentic 21st Century learning experience.  Students are also in need of instruction regarding digital citizenship and how to use social media to answer the questions they may have.  I heard it best in a digital conference a few years back, "I can longer be the sage of the stage, but guide on the side".  We must guide students to become life long learners and with a phone in their pocket, no student should ever leave a classroom without an answer to any question...in any subject!
        Teachers must stop making excuses regarding technology and embrace the inevitable.  After all, we are responsible for providing the most relevant educational experience for our kids.  Those teachers who may not have an understanding of #edchats or tech must find support for their shortcomings.  The paradigm shift of "tech in ed" is a shift indeed.  Let us put was is best for our students before us and think bigger.  Connecting with your staff and students via Twitter will strengthen the learning community and lead to a far less balkanized learning environment.