Practice and Publicity

Much is said these days about “digital footprints”. If people Google you (and they probably do), what do they find and what does it say about you? Who controls that?

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Image by We Are Social Media

I am motivated to write this post by a question I heard one Principal ask another of a particular staff member who was a prolific tweeter, blogger, and social media extraordinaire. The one Principal asked, “Gosh, is Steve (not the teacher’s real name) really as good as he seems on Twitter?” The other Principal simply gave a look. The look spoke volumes! There was an obvious disconnect between what this teacher did and what this teacher said.

I’ve also had many people share with me that it drives them crazy when some administrators and teachers seem to use social media to “toot their own horn”.

While the reality is that not everything an educator shares via social media “matches” their practice, I believe that it is healthy to share. Teachers need to share what they are experimenting with in their classrooms. Principals need to share what they are experimenting with in their schools. This sharing helps others learn because it encourages them to reflect on their own beliefs and practice. Most people are apprehensive to share because they fear how this sharing will be perceived or that they don’t have anything significant to share. Sharing takes courage because you open yourself up to the world and to the possibility that someone may disagree with your ideas or views. But, whenever I speak to anyone about the possibility of tweeting or blogging about something, I simply share the message from Derek Sivers’ awesome video, Obvious to you. Amazing to others:

“We’re clearly a bad judge of our own creations. We should just put it out and let the world decide.”

In this sharing though, I think it’s important to be as honest as possible and to not only share what goes really well, but also that which does not go as planned. I screw up a lot – ask anyone! What comes to mind as I sit here typing:

  • I remember my very first MysterySkype with a class from Missouri. I really wanted students to do well so of all things … we talked about Missouri; where is was in the U.S., that it was land-locked… Uh, this is a MYSTERY Skype – students aren’t supposed to know where the other class is from!!! Embarrassing, but I learned. I’ve since done many MysterySkype sessions and helped others with them as well.
  • I remember participating in the WikiSeat project and designing and building my own chair. Once I was done, it was hideous. I wrote a blog about going through this process and having to start all over again: Read that blog here. It’s not always easy to publicly talk about mistakes, but in the end I was happy that I didn’t settle for my first attempt; it clearly wasn’t the best I could do.
  • During a recent Year-End assembly, the video I worked on for hours froze halfway through because I rendered it at the highest possible resolution, resulting in a file over 2 GB that my computer could not handle. This was not a private failure. There were over 700 students, staff, and parents, watching as I tried in vain to get this movie to run. I later rendered the movie at a lower resolution that played fine on my computer. I invited anyone interested to come down to the gym and watch the whole movie. Again, my first attempt was unsuccessful, but in persevering I succeeded.

Many people talk about mistakes and failure and how we should embrace these experiences because they lead to new learning and understanding. We expect it from our students, but do we “put ourselves out there” in a similar way? Do we make ourselves vulnerable? Do we really embrace failure as a vehicle for learning?

FullSizeRender 4While it’s true that practice does not always match publicity, it’s also true that it’s up to the world as an audience to take from digital footprints what they deem true and valuable, and to enter into respectful, dialogue when they disagree with someone’s view. Sharing, however, should always be encouraged because risk leads to growth, we all have something of value to share, and we are better collectively than we are on our own.

Immigrants and Natives (Of the Digital Variety)

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Image: A. Vendramin

Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) recently visited the Surrey School District and I had the chance to both chat with and listen to him. During his session and in a blog he subsequently wrote, he expressed his distain for the terms digital native and digital immigrant. I hadn’t given the terms much consideration until he shared his thoughts. The term digital native, he argued, gives kids today way too much credit when it comes to the use of technology, whereas the term digital immigrant not only sells educators short but also underestimates their role in technology integration in schools. Bill adds that, “…we hang our students out to dry every time that we make blanket assumptions about their ability to grow without us simply because they don’t need owner’s manuals to figure out how to use the new gadgets flooding the marketplace every year.”

In his blog titled Is Embracing Digital Learning a Moral Issue for Educators?, Wesley Fryer (@wfryer) grapples with the issue of the teacher’s role in the use of social media and digital tools in classrooms. He suggested that, “The teachers who teach my own children TODAY who aren’t embracing the uses of digital media in various forms are doing them a disservice, because they are inadequately preparing them for today as well as the world of tomorrow.” He also wondered out loud if the following passage should be excluded from his next eBook:

While there have been and will continue to inevitably be older teachers who will retire from education rather than learn “new ways” of teaching and learning in the digital information landscape, that choice is not a moral one for those of us who choose to remain twenty-first century educators.

Recalling the many times over the past few years I have worked with students on issues involving the use (and more often misuse) of technology and social media, I too have started to question the role adults, both educators and parents, play in guiding students through the rich, but complex world of social media. If the students of today were truly digital natives, they would not only use technology appropriately and in innovate ways, but they would also more consistently demonstrate the same social skills online that they do face to face. The reality is, many kids don’t do either of these!

Even further, I would suggest that as educators, steering clear of, or avoiding social media and digital tools altogether because of the fears or insecurities we may have, essentially amounts to negligence. If a child reported abuse, would we not make the necessary phone call? If a child showed up at school hungry every day and never brought a lunch, would we not find a way to feed them? And if a student were experiencing serious learning challenges, would we not do everything possible to provide them with support?

Despite our personal opinions about whether or not students should be utilizing technology and social media, the truth is THEY ARE. While many of our students make wise choices about their use of social media, inappropriate use can and does lead to difficult and sometimes dangerous situations. I feel strongly that it’s our responsibility as educators to provide them with not only appropriate and authentic ways to integrate social media and technology into learning, but to share the vast knowledge we have regarding responsible and thoughtful decision-making and social interaction.

Truly, there is much we can learn from students and much students can learn from us. Surrey Schools Deputy Superintendent Jordan Tinney (@jordantinney) succinctly tweeted, “Teachers build a bridge between what students know about the tools & what we know about good teaching.” The key certainly is capitalizing on the strengths of all learners – both teachers AND students.

Picture 8As educators and parents, we have the opportunity before us to leverage the power of connectedness via social media. In doing so, we will more effectively engage learners who are becoming increasingly difficult to engage.

What are your thoughts regarding students, education, and the use of social media and digital tools?