This past weekend I attended an unconference in New York City called EdcampNYC. For those unfamiliar with the term, an unconference is a very informal conference of volunteer speakers talking in small groups about areas in which that they may have some expertise. It enables the classroom teacher to be exposed to other educators who may be doing things differently or employing different tools to help kids learn. These unconferences are beginning to spring up all over the country. Participants in each group have the ability to leave any session at any time and join another. The speakers are volunteers and the conference is Free.
I attended this unconference to volunteer what I have learned about developing and maintaining a Personal Learning Network, a PLN. I was a bit hesitant at first thinking to myself that this is a subject which has been beaten to death on Twitter and in Blogs, so why would anyone have an interest. I have come to realize however, that it is my very involvement in Twitter, Linkedin, Delicious, Diigo, Ning, Skype, Webinars, and all of the other components of my PLN that set me apart from a majority of educators, who are not involved with learning through technology. My connection with like-minded educators has insulated me from the fact that most educators are not so involved. I think it is safe to say that when it comes to 21st century skills, many educators don’t know what they don’t know. If technology skills for media literacy require more than just awareness, many of our educators would probably be considered illiterate.
Education, as an institution, seems, to me, to be quite conservative and not quickly accepting of change. The problem with that is that change today is profoundly affected by technology. Whereas, the institution of education limits change, technology turns it loose or even speeds it up exponentially. As a result, technology is creating tools for Information gathering, communication, collaboration, and creation at a much faster rate than the educators can absorb. The very skills educators strive to teach are not being utilized in ways that they were originally intended. Publishing is no longer a process of trying for acceptance from a publisher; it is instantaneous. Access to information is instantaneous and always at hand. Because of this fast paced media-frenzied society, we now have a greater need for reflection and critical thinking.
In this technologically based, information-driven society, how do educators keep pace with what they need to know? How do educators remain relevant? Do they even understand the need to do so? Is the professional development offered in schools meeting the need? Is it acceptable to teach using 19th Century methods with 20th Century tools to prepare kids for their 21st Century even after we have gobbled up that Century’s first decade?
I earned a Master’s degree in Educational Technology back in the late 80’s. Back then, I was a state-of-the-art educator. I did not however, work in a state-of-the-art-School. I did not have access to state-of-the-art tools. I did not have state-of-the-art colleagues. I did however have a belief in the concept of teaching with technology, and I searched for ways to do it. Back then it was all a matter of money and training, both difficult to come by. Today WEB2.0 tools are readily available and most are free or inexpensive. Training now comes in the form of free tutorials, webinars, or conferences delivered to a computer in an environment of choice. Usually, I choose my Den.
In a society that now goes to the internet to search for products, restaurants, celebrity news, weather, news, companionship, or any of the other hundreds of things we use it for; why not use it for information about our profession? What is holding Educators back? It is not a generational thing. Many educators that I connect with every day are in their 60’s as am I. It is not an intellectual thing many people, as clueless as I, have learned from technology. It is not an access thing. Libraries offer tech access to anyone. It’s not a device thing. More and more smart phones, Ipods or Ipads are available each day. They are connected computers. As a matter of fact mobile devices are the primary source for accessing the internet, surpassing desktop computers.
Educators need to get over their fears and give up on this resistance to technology. We need to support more unconferences and the movement that drives them. We need to teach Educators how to know what they don’t know, and learn it. We need them to buy into the concepts and adapt to the tools, for the tools will continually change and develop. We need to connect teachers through their own Personal Learning Networks using social media for professional Development. Collaboration outside of our classrooms will take us beyond our personal limitations and allow us to learn continually and globally. As an added advantage, we will also be able to take our students with us.