Network Payoff

I work three days a week in a primary classroom. So, theoretically, I am in a good position for putting edtech and Web 2.0 idealism into a realistic roadtest situation. I don’t stand behind podiums at conferences berating and exhorting the masses to bring their classroom into the digital world. I don’t have influential push (or pull) within my own system – and I’m not sure what I’d be suggesting even if I did. But I have invested an enormous amount of my life over the past four years into this networked learning thing. If anything, I have a lot of digital runs on the board. Heh, the Geoffrey Boycott ¹ of edublogging. That could be me.

So, I feel that my personal benefit has been enormous. I connect with a wide array of educators who feed me a daily diet of inspiration, insight and practical resources. I have become more aware of how education systems work in various parts of the world. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting people that I’ve come across in my lifetime – some I’ve conversed with on Skype and in Elluminate and Adobe Connect or just the comments sections of blogs. My network connections have given me opportunity to present about my experiences at conferences and online events, and I’ve learned about connectivism, social media, gained a more balanced view about cybersafety issues and heard about Illich, Gatto and Postman for the first time.

I couldn’t give up my Network now – it gives too much to me.

But I work in a role where I’m meant to be bringing the “good oil” to teachers, helping them to get their feet wet in technology use and showing them how the web can transform student learning. It is a role that sets me up as some sort of “expert” which can be a problem in a couple of ways.

Firstly, Darren Kuropatwa points out in his reference to neophytes that “Experts have a different aura about them. That aura of expertise is intimidating for neophytes.” His basic premise is that any message that an educator with “expert” status might try to seed with his or her own colleagues will be perceived to be unattainable and beyond their reach. So all of my efforts to highlight how easy digital tools are and how empowering technology can be via workshops, team teaching and other training could actually be unproductive.

Dean Groom also talks about the burbclave effect – where teachers don’t have to go and become innovative users of technology because if they have one connected educator on staff, they just have to wait until it is brought to them. It’s the effect when staff say they can’t use their IWB until they’ve had some training, where they wait for a list of good numeracy websites to be emailed to them (or given to them on a printed piece of A4) or wait until they are given release time for planning before they will even look at something like the ISTE Standards.

Ironically that while someone like me may well be viewed as somewhat of a local expert, the educators I connect to and learn from leave me feeling very neophytic indeed. When I measure myself globally, my local credentials shrink down to small proportions.

The building of your own social media network is such a personal journey that it is a very difficult beast to describe in such a way that non-web-savvy educators see the point. It’s why I won’t ever bother offering a Web 2.o / PLN / using social media to learn presentation or workshop ever again. I’ll guarantee that no-one has ever been turned onto blogging based on anything I’ve ever said or wrote – its value is intrinsically linked to the individual’s needs. If a teacher is not interested in exploring the internet on his or her own time, then they are never going to see where this could take them or how it could impact their classroom.

Which brings me to my next point. Many of us edubloggers assume that what we learn online is directly transferable into our classrooms. We also assume that if more educators did what we did (read, write, link, share, create) then we would end up with these amazing transformed classrooms. So, we spend time preaching the benefit of social media tools even though there is no one simple recipe, even though this networked learning thing is intensely personal and damn near impossible to replicate.

I keep wondering if the time spent to become proficient in the online world (note I wrote proficient, not expert!) is worth the investment in potentially transformed pedagogy in the classroom. I have spent many hours online, eschewing television and other possible hobbies, and I know that many, many of my colleagues are not prepared to invest the same amounts of time into this medium. I know that my investment is worthwhile – for me. But I struggle to see how social media can transform the primary school classroom. There are so many compromises that need to be made in the name of online safety and duty of care, barriers in terms of computer access and the pressure of the traditional curriculum that I can see why so many teachers wait to be told what to do in terms of technology use, rather than take the risks involved with being an innovator.

I think my next step is examine my own classroom practice to see what has changed in my approach since becoming connected back in 2005. I suspect that the process is so gradual that I may find it difficult to recall my former practice with any accuracy. And if I, the enthused educator playing with connected technologies in my spare time, can take so long to work out what can translate into today’s classroom, what hope does a less enthusiastic teacher have of bridging the gap of digital possibilities?

Just thinking, that’s all.

walk2web

¹. The metaphoric comparison may be lost on any non-Commonwealth non-cricket playing readers. Geoffrey Boycott’s career was characterised by lengthy stints at the batting crease, accumulating runs at an extremely slow rate often to the frustration of both the opposition and his team mates. Certainly not as talented as others in his era, his dogged style meant that he hung around for a long time in a somewhat selfish manner.
2. The really cool visualisation of links out from my blog comes from walk2web.

13 Responses to “Network Payoff”


  • Nice post G.

    I also find it difficult to see how “web2″ might change the primary school classroom. But that wouldn’t be looking in the right direction. You started your post with how networked learning has impacted on you. I suppose that’s you the whole person, not just the 3 day-a-week primary school teacher. You mentioned exposure to Illich, Postman, Gatto etc.. and so there would no doubt be a change in your thinking about education through them alone. That change, would be having subtle impacts on your teaching I’d expect. Putting more emphasis on helping kids develop “crap detection” skills, confidence in asking good questions of anyone, developing independent learning skills. None of these things require a computer, so we can chuck out the whole notion of school 2.0, because these things are deep principles of learning paedia yes?

    And so, I’d be looking for how this media has impacted you as a person, and how that translates into you as a teacher, and what impact THAT is having in your classroom.

  • I think that your insightful analysis might require another detailed blog post, Leigh.

    It is a lot about how this form of learning has impacted on me as a person and that is exactly why it is hard to articulate the benefits to others. I suppose it is not uncommon or unique to technology – I have met more than my fair share of classroom teachers who rarely read a book and only write at length during report writing time – and they are in charge of imparting literacy skills.

  • Two points, Graham:

    1. As you imply, just because someone is ‘good’ at social media doesn’t make them a good teacher.

    2. Workshops don’t work. Informal drop-ins do.

    :-)

  • Thanks Doug. 1. I agree with you about your first point. I would add the disclaimer that I am definitely no expert in social media and my own journey as a teacher is filled with many instances of self doubt of my own ability. So I hope I’m not portraying myself as either (although a teacher focussed on continual improvement of their craft are the only ones who should be allowed near students in the first place) the social media whiz or the ultimate teacher.
    2. Unfortunately, I still get a lot of pressure to provide workshops – it is easier to provide the just in time stuff at my own school but other sites occasionally ask for the traditional workshop.

  • I enjoyed reading your post Graham – I think that primary classrooms will feel the impact by proxy. The impact of social media will be on the teacher first and then by definition the classroom.

    Building and establishing a professional online network is all too often overlooked by teacher training institutes. This is surprising considering the current trainee cohorts are more connected socially then ever before.

    I believe that there needs to be a greater emphasis on helping teachers better understand the internet as a social and collaborative resource as much as one to find a worksheet on a Sunday night.

  • Very interesting blog, Graham. I feel a lot of empathy with you. I have been transformed as a learner over the last year since a chance meeting with a colleague got me interested in Twitter and blogging. I have to give a five minute talk to a webinar on Friday and I just can’t stop recalling a disastrous staff meeting where I extolled the virtues of PLNs and Twitter only to be met with howls of derisive laughter! And I am the Headteacher! So a new tack is needed. My current thinking is that there is mileage in choosig one (maybe two) tool(s) and trying to get teachers interested. The ones I have been promoting recently have been Glogster – particularly for secondary History, and voicethread – secondary English. As far as primary is concerned (my school has both secondary and primary) I have been promoting the use of Flip cameras and posting book reviews on the VLE.
    As ever progress is slow but it is always important to give yourself (myself) a realistic timescale – say three years – to see real changes. The staff have already made incredible progress in using the VLE fully so I should be satisfied really!

  • Graham..Thank you for this. I have been finding it difficult to explain to my colleagues how this kind of technology has changed the way I think and teach…like you say ..the journey of developing a PLN is a very personal one and obviously reflects to needs of each individual. This is almost impossible to explain to someone else with different needs and priorites. I still think that it is worth doing workshops etc, because there are those who still do not know that they a living in a cave.

  • Graham, thank you. You have very eloquently addressed the concerns that have worried me in my first years of teaching. I am the ‘expert’ at my school, but my efforts at spreading ‘the word’ and even giving PD have failed.

    Tom, your point that teacher training institutes are not establishing PLN’s rang true. I was in university only two years ago, wow feels like longer, but there was no attempt to encourage personal reflective blogs, or even to use the social network available to build PLN’s. ICT was an add on, and 21st century learning was briefly taught in a 19th century manner.

  • Hi Graham,
    The most interesting and personally reflective people make the best teachers. Utilising a PLN is reflective of the kind of personality that constantly seeks to be the best it can be in whatever field. It is a bit chicken and egg but maybe the fact you have a PLN is a reflection of your skill as a teacher as much as the other way around.
    Teacher Inquiry is an important aspect of professional improvement that is increasingly documented in research too. It is certainly clearly articulated in our revised Curriculum here in NZ.
    The good natured challenges we have made to each other would have been made face to face if possible (we were in the same school/cluster etc) but the social media aspects simply make the staffroom bigger.
    I do think the ease of contact and ability to find people to bounce ideas off etc in the Web2.0 world speeds personal development though. I would never have learned what I have in the past 10 years were it not for this sort of medium.
    If nothing else, and as you imply, it is dam good fun!

  • @Tom, Andy, Paul, Shaun & Greg. Thanks for continuing the conversation. I’m glad that you all find something useful in my blog post and I don’t mean to be all gloomy about things. There is room for tools like blogs etc in the primary classroom but the things that really make these tools buzz, the PLN component, is so hard to bring into a younger classroom because of the restrictions I mention. I think the age is a real factor – adolescents are still forming their own real life identity and online identity (especially when we enforce a avatar/nickname in preference to their actual name) and making connections in the way I have does not seem to scale. Plus students are typically in one classroom for 12 months and I know that my PLN has taken much longer than that (and still going) with myself as the driver.
    So I agree with Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach in their PLP approach which requires teachers to put themselves and their own personal learning first when dealing with the online world. In dealing with the “me generation” teachers being selfish with their own learning might the only way to see where things are actually going.

  • I agree that most teachers will not spend the time to learn about how to use e-social networking and other new forms of ed tech when it takes so long to master.
    Unless a person is seriously interested in the results, few people will invest their life in any form of communication. Doesn’t this sound like trying to get students to write meaningfully about a piece of literature that they did not connect with, or to understand the politics of a foreign country 400 years ago? This is human nature.
    If the same sort of communication methods were used for the business of running the school- with discussion groups, e-bulletin boards, and group feedback lists or blogs, then it might become a part of the daily practice of more educators. Unless these skills are required of teachers, as part of the certification process for example, most simply feel they have better things to do- and they might.
    Too often, e-everything is viewed as “hands-on’ learning and used in place of true tactile, kinesthetic, experiential learning. Information technology has usurped the place of all other technologies in too many places. Examples of things displaced in favor of plug & play programs: woodworking, dissection, and geometry modeling (with actual materials).
    I hold teaching certification in both computer technology education and comprehensive technology education (applied math and physics- manufacturing, electricity, power & energy, etc.). I love them both, and believe both to be important for all my students, but we must remember, they are not interchangeable.

  • @Dawn My own school has run its daily communication online and all staff members must check their email several times a day while my wife’s school still has a paper day book and printed bulletin to spread information around the staff. When leadership decides that a school (and thereby teachers) needs to move to efficient digital modes, the teachers don’t really have the opt out option. I’ve also introduced social bookmarking as a preferred method of sharing digital resources and although not everyone is totally committed, those who have joined our little community have noticed the trails leading out into the greater education community online.
    Maybe for Aussie teachers, a National Curriculum that is only available in digital form might prompt more online interaction as a necessity.

  • I think you are on the right track.Introduce things that are fairly simple, but have obvious advantages or lead to time savings, and people will slowly accept and integrate those things. It has a ripple affect. The more comfortable teachers become with more forms of information and communication technologies, like our students, we are willing to take more risks and learn more.

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