I recently had a lengthy discussion, ironically on Twitter, with a very tech-savvy educator friend about his concerns that big ideas in education might be getting drowned out as a result of the continuing discussions about Social Media and connectedness for educators. I hope I am categorizing that correctly. My friend felt that Social Media is a powerful medium that can be used to learn, but too much attention is given to it at the expense of other powerful ideas. According to him,” it’s still all pretty much primordial soup”.
Of course, being a social media advocate, his comments have been tumbling in my head since we had our conversation. Did others believe this? Is Social Media being discussed and addressed as a more important idea than education reform or, pedagogy, or methodology in education? Is it a distraction rather than a means for transformation? Are the big ideas being missed?
We all learn from other people. We created places where we could come in contact with people who could share their ideas with us, so we that we could learn. Those face to face connections have never been completely replaced, but rather enhanced, by technology. Of course when we first developed our social learning, we were limited as to how we made those connections, because of limited technology. In ancient times with little or no tech learning was always face-to-face learning. Eventually, technology involving ink and paper opened the limited circles of learning. The printing press really got things moving in order to share ideas, and learning. Electricity enabled even more tech stuff to connect people with ideas without having to be in the same place, or space. Technology historically allowed learning to expand from face to face contact to distances beyond the limits of both time and space, and the Internet has moved that to a whole new level.
Now that we are in the second decade of the 21st Century, we are no longer preparing people for that Century, but rather how to use its tools of technology for learning in order to efficiently, and lastingly learn. Of course this doesn’t have to be a replacement of the tried-and-true learning of face to face encounters, but rather an expansion of that experience. We can now connect with almost anyone at anytime, anywhere in the world. The circles of learning probably can’t get any bigger unless time-travel technology is ever discovered.
The idea of PLN’s or Professional Learning Networks is still a great strategy for learning as an educator. The idea of connectedness goes beyond the limitations of a PLN. Understanding the use of Social Media enables educators to reside on the internet using links provided by their PLN to expand their learning on any subject. The connectedness that we talk about is only a vehicle travelling to content or sources in order to address the important questions of education.
Teaching has always been an isolated profession. Teachers were limited to sharing the experiences of their colleagues in their building or district. If they were in the group of a fortunate few, they might have gotten to experience a professional conference. Of course another shared experience of many educators was the required graduate courses taken by many for professional development. Some districts provided an occasional workshop during the course of the year. These experiences, if shared, would be shared with only a limited number of educators within the school or district.
Social Media has the potential for expanding that circle of learners. I say potential, because a majority of educators are not yet involved with Social Media as a tool for professional development. With all of the Social Media outlets that I have at my disposal, I may be personally connected to 50,000 educators. Looking at the memberships of all of the education Ning sites, education websites, and the greatest followings of the most popular education tweeters, we may have as many as 500,000 connected educators, globally using social Media for professional learning. Although that is a large number on its own, it is small considering the 7.2 million educators in the United States alone. To use the idea of connectedness for educators for the purpose of affecting a transformation of education, a primary imperative must be to get most educators connected. Although the continuing use of Social Media should be to share ideas on content, pedagogy, methodology and sources, as well as the big ideas, some time must be spent on involving, and explaining the use of SM to all educators. I would hope that we would strive for a balance, but the more educators that we connect; the faster a transformation in education can take place. A majority of educators are not yet involved with the connectedness of Social Media and need to be educated. If we transform the way we educate educators, can transforming our students be far behind?