Questions Spawning Questions

I've been avoiding this post for a few days although I know I need to write it. I've been reading a lot of my Bloglines feeds, commenting a lot more than usual, taking time to listen and view some of the K12 conference presentations that I missed the first time around.

All delay tactics.

I posted on Dec 27 about my Action Research Grant where I "thought out loud" about changing the focus question. I received some excellent feedback in my comments, but to do justice to the questions and observations there, I need this post to sort through the issues and ideas that they raise. I started with my original question, “Are teacher e-portfolios sustainable?” and ended up with what I thought was a more relevant question, “How do we get teachers developing an online presence?” Maybe, in my subconscious, it's the question I'd prefer to be asking.

Stephen Downes challenges me straight out of the blocks with some telling questions of his own. I'll try answering them shortly. Nancy McKeand gave me a great personal anecdote that empathised with my point of view but I found her more indepth reflections on the question over on her blog. She also refined my question and asked another of her own. I'll have a go at those as well. Joost Robben suggests a focus on pedagogy, as opposed to technology and Doug Noon also links over to his take and offers some suggestions on how to obtain some varied answers. Franki offers a short personal answer and some encouragement while Sarah Puglisi's reflective answer (worthy of a blog post on its own) also offers her perspective in answering my question as it stands. This is my favourite part of her response:

I think teachers develop on-line work for a variety of reasons, and the why do it question is that self check, that arrival of the cold morning after the night of enjoying the rush of creating. It’s the duality of all things we do. I frankly will answer you as I would to kids. I think it’s better to be a maker than to be a critic or deconstructor. I truely think this is what at heart gives me the energy to go ahead and learn more, create a blog, read, explore, process and find meaning in this form.

So, time to try these questions on for size. Let's start with Stephen's - after all, they cut quickly to the heart of the whole idea of teachers online.

Why is it important to get teachers to develop an online presence? What do we gain from that? What do teachers gain from that?
I think it is important that today's students have credible role models in their teachers for the use of web based technology. Students are developing their own online presences - who is better placed to guide them in their development of online ethics, savviness and learning opportunities, the teacher with an online presence or the one who avoids familiarisation with the web? As more schools go "digital" with their communication to students, parents, staff, the skills gained from maintaining one's own online presence means that this change is an opportunity, not a threat. The teacher with their own online presence is a position to connect to others worldwide, and to share resources to improve their practice and opportunities for their students. The gains we (I'm assuming that we is the education community in general) then have are teachers talking to each other more widely than ever before, we have the chance to peek into many different minds and experience multiple points of view, sharing of resources is more widely distributed and at a grassroots level (why would we ever need another federal Learning Object repository if teachers could search for and utilise peer created material and resources?) and teachers able to take charge of the direction of their own personal development instead of being reliant on "the system" offering opportunities. And if we = the teachers, not the education system, have developed our own base in cyberspace (and it doesn't have to be a blog, or an e-portfolio or a website, I'm talking as simple as a well maintained social bookmarking account or online file storage system) then others can learn from us.
In the end, these questions are just as well answered over at Nancy's blog where she points out:

But Graham's question is what really intrigues me. How do we get teachers to develop an online presence? Obviously, there has to be a perceived need. In my institution, there are not many people who embrace technology and even fewer who embrace the Read-Write Web. Why would they want an online presence? What would they gain from it?

I really don't know that we can get teachers to develop an online presence. I have seen websites of teachers who were required to have them, and it was obvious that the teachers didn't embrace the idea at all. It was just another hoop they jumped through. What we can do, I think, is make our own online presences so much a part of our lives that people become curious. Then, when they have some level of interest, we can show them why we have an online presence, what we get out of it. Then, I guess, they either get it or they don't. If they do, we can offer to help them. If they don't, we just move on.

And I guess another question is whether or not all teachers should have an online presence. My answer to that question would be, "YES!!!" But why? I am not sure. What I get from my online presence is intangible. I can't really explain it. Would everyone get the same things I do from it? Probably not. But what would they get out of it? What do you get out of your online presence?

Detached and restructured from her final paragraph is probably the better question: Should all teachers have an online presence?

My thoughts come from a primary school perspective where teachers are generalists, not specialists so I suppose in the cold hard light of day there could be an argument that some high school subject specialists could do their job currently without any online expertise. And maybe that's a more desirable objective - online expertise. Although, an online presence has never been easier to achieve, it is probably not the measuring stick that determines the skillset of the 21st Century Teacher. I personally have gained so much from my scattered web presence - but let's not forget that I was as much in the dark as my current non-online colleagues less than two years ago. I thought I knew the web and its capabilities from a primary teacher's perspective, I knew about Boolean search techniques in Google, I'd done a course in Dreamweaver and authored our school (basic) website. Compared to the average Adelaidean primary school classroom teacher, my technology skills were above the average, good enough to land my current role without any prior leadership experience. But that skill set isn't good enough to equip the kids I will teach this year. My experiences gained from developing my blog, the wikis I've created, the bookmarking collection I've gathered etc. (i.e my web presence) give me an awareness beyond technical competence and web search expertise of what my students should be learning to successfully learn and develop skills relevant to their present and consequently, their future. And I shouldn't be one of only a few teachers looking to keep pace with change.

Maybe all teachers should have online expertise. If so, then maybe the development of an online presence is one way to gain that expertise.

This is harder than I thought. And I'm not sure that my answers are as comprenhensive or as convincing as they should be. But thanks once again to the commenters who've really made me think. Actually, I reckon they've done a fair bit of thinking of their own.

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3 thoughts on “Questions Spawning Questions

  1. Chris Harbeck

    Great post Graham. I also come from an elementary teacher background. I like your thoughts on online expertise and online presence. Teachers are the first people who need to see the changes on the web and be able to use them or at least talk to their students about them.

    You only gain experience by doing something. Teachers need to explore and play with the new web. They could be taught by the students they are teaching. Most of their students know more about it they they do!!

    It always is getting teachers to take the first step. Once that step has been taken the the transformation can begin. Excellent post. Thanks for it.


  2. lynne

    I read this article with real interest. I think your question “How do we get teachers developing an online presence?” is an essential one for all school leaders to be asking. I have only been ‘dabbling’ in this online world for a few months but have already seen the interest, enthusiasm, relevance etc it has provided for my students and for me. The question you have proposed for action research should provide great insight for many educators who are also asking the same thing. I will certainly be interested in your conclusions as it is a question that is at the forefront of my mind as I contemplate my second year as e-learning facilitator within my school ( as part of a three year government contract on ICT and inquiry learning). Even though we have one ‘digital class’ we have no other online presence within our intermediate school apart from my own attempts.
    I certainly think that all teachers need to have some sort of online presence for their class. As a generalist class teacher trying to cover every curriculum subject I am going to predict that many teachers in the same situation will give lack of time as an answer to why they haven’t developed on online presence or developing the use of web 2.0 tool with their students.
    From my observations (reasonably limited) I feel that the majority of edubloggers and those with class blogs / wikis are teachers who are in specialist positions – more time to develop their interest / subject. My own development in the whole ICT area has really come about from a personal interest and therefore I have time to indulge in it.
    Looking forward to seeing the results of your research.

  3. Sarah Puglisi

    You have me thinking and I am reading something I neglected to mention….i’m actually for the first time in years able to sit in a pretty nice chair and read what other educators think and actually think about what i do …refection. You know I’m enjoying reading here. Framing and considering what choices to make to make my work better….


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