For a little while I've puzzled over how to get more of my colleagues engaging in online learning and using Web 2.0 tools to share their tools and expertise. I know I've only been involved in educational blogging for under two years but my view has always been that if an ordinary, average teacher without any prior claim to fame (and only one recent step up the leadership ladder in twenty years of teaching) can use these tools and so quickly utilise them for my personal professional learning, then anyone can do it. So why aren't teachers coming online en masse and collaborating and sharing their obvious expertise?
I think I have been sadly mistaken. Two clues that I have misread the appeal of Web 2.0 tools to the average teacher have cropped up and are worth considering. Firstly, via John Connell, an article that bemoans the impact of Web 2.0 and foretells of a dumbing down of expertise pointing to Wikipedia and blogs as the proof of the new mediocrity of information. It's an interesting read - a clearly sympathetic article supporting a book that points out all that is wrong with participatory culture. It does smack of yearning for the good old days - when you just knew that the nightly news would tell the truth about the world, when knowledge was contained in the Dewey system and university professors delivered their lectures on their latest findings without question. John has continued to investigate this issue in further posts and Doug Noon's recent post pulls apart some of the associated implications with greater insight and intellect than I could possibly muster.
That article link was just part one of the puzzle, however. The second came from a response posted to a CEGSA "walled garden" forum on the topic of teacher engagement with Web 2.0 tools. I'd already posted, then John Travers responded, and then I chimed in again. Now the only people who can view this exchange are registered CEGSA members but the dialogue can only grow if others can be involved so those ideas and words have sat there dormant until last Friday. My question posed there (which I've posed before here on this blog) was this:
I gain so much professionally from my involvement in Web 2. What interests me is what is it that keeps others (teachers) from starting their own blog, creating their own wiki, putting their resources up for public access using a tool like box.net or even sharing websites they've found useful via de.icio.us?
I'll paraphrase John here as I haven't asked permission to officially quote but he pointed out that teachers are not comfortable with sharing ideas and opinions in such a public space. I then expanded those ideas in my next post:
John, your use of the word "opinionated" could be a bigger reason(even those of us as young as 40!) come from the era of "keep your opinions to yourself" and it's hard to change a lifelong mindset. Our students have been told since birth to "express their point of view" and "have an opinion" by their families, the education system, media and society in general. Translate that to an online world and you have the MySpace Generation.
Another teacher then replied and again, I haven't sought permission to identify or reproduce that person's words but that response is what grabbed my attention.
Basically, the issue seems to be that most teachers have been raised to respect and seek the viewpoint of the expert. After all, the libraries are stacked full of books written by experts. It's why we pay money to sit and listen to experts like Marc Prensky and Jimmy Wales. It's why we buy books from well known authorities and why we invite keynote speakers to our conferences (even if they have the thinnest credentials related to the actual world our students are operating in). Educators still worship at the altar of the expert. As a profession, we have yet to grasp the fact that this new technology can give us the power to realise our own expertise. It seems that only the few with the self-confidence and cutting edge grasp of Web 2 tools are pulling the pedestal down to their level.
I welcome this tearing down of artificial pedestals that place some educators up in "expert" mode delivering their wisdom to the huddled masses. I want my colleagues in the classrooms scattered all over this parched continent to embrace their own expertise, and realise that sharing their collective wisdom is better than herding themselves into arenas of round tables with bowls of Crown mints to have the answers to our profession presented back to us in bullet points on Powerpoint. We say we don't want our students to look to us to be the "experts" in the classroom. It's something I prove in my classroom every day when I open my mouth. But we make liars of ourselves every time we elevate one person's "expertise" to gospel status - for sure, use these people in the spotlight as mirrors to our practice, but don't downgrade what we experience and know to be inferior to the expert's viewpoint.
Teachers are experts too.
If only we'd realise it.
Before the experts who don't have learning in their DNA tell us what to do next....