A big problem with getting the word out to educators about the incredible collaboration that is growing and improving among educators globally is the means that we use to communicate this. If you found this post on your own, you probably have an understanding of everything that I will now talk about. The people who most need to see posts like this however, will never see it, unless you, or I, print it out and hand it to them. You may check this on your own with a little informal survey. Randomly select 10 of your colleagues and ask each of them two questions. Do you read Educational Blogs? Could you name two that you read on more than two separate occasions? A simpler question might just be “Do you use Twitter as part of your Personal Learning Network?”
This is a guess on my part, but here goes. What’s a Blog? Twitter, you have to be kidding, right? Who has time for that? I don’t use a computer for that stuff. I read the real stuff from printed sources. I don’t get that “Techy” stuff. I need things to help with my teaching, not technology. I spend too much time grading work, I have no time to play on the computer. I read books not screens, I like the feel of books. I don’t use a computer. I have heard these very words or some variation of these answers even before I began talking about Social Media in education. In your quick little survey I would bet that, if the respondents are truthful, probably 4 out of 10 will be able to name some blogs that they have read. Maybe, some might use Twitter. Well, maybe 2 out of 10.
Recently, I was asked by a very progressive and highly respected District Administrator to speak to some Higher Ed educators to explain the idea behind teachers developing a Personal Learning Networks as a professional tool for teachers. These Higher Ed people were working with Pre-service teachers who would be working in this administrator’s district. He was looking to provide pre-service teachers with the tools that they would need to fit into the vision for which he had for his district. He sees his district as a progressive environment using the tools of the 21st century for not only authentic learning, but also relevance. This would be a great district for any school of education to have their students placed as teachers. However, as future teachers, they need to be prepared to contribute in that environment.
We decided that since I could not fly from New York to Iowa for a brief meeting, Skype would be the next best thing. I prepared for the conference call by putting on a shirt and tie. I looked great in my Skype screen, the epitome of a higher Education professional. They actually commented how professional I looked on the Skype screen in my shirt and tie. Of course my retort was,” Thank you, but I must admit I am not wearing Pants”. I was actually wearing pajama pants. Of course, they failed to appreciate my humor, and I knew I was in trouble. My impression was that they may not have had much Skype experience. When I asked if they understood what a PLN was, my question was answered with silence. I knew that I was in trouble. I was working my way uphill in my pajama bottoms.
This drove home the very words I have said on several occasions. These are words with a meaning that I often stray from. We tend to lose perspective, as we engage with educators within our Personal Learning Networks. We tend to think all educators are participating with us in this network. The truth is that we represent only a small portion of all educators.
The PLN has often been described as a huge cocktail party. Participants can move from group to group within that party and take what they want or need from a group and then move on to the next group. This is a really clever analogy. The problem is that even though a large number of people are attending the party, the larger percentage of educators never even dressed for it. They are still in their houses sitting around in their pajamas. This does not mean that they are not doing their job. It means that they are not interacting with others at a party.
We see the party as very helpful. We move from group to group gleaning useful information, exchanging ideas, and collaborating with other party goers. The question is how do we get all of those others, the vast majority of educators, to the party? These other educators do not live in our neighborhood. How do we connect with them, since they do not communicate as we do. If we did get them to our party would they benefit from it? Would we benefit from it? Do we have time to wait for them? How do we change the culture?
My frustration is that Personal Learning Networks are treasure troves of educational sources, great ideas, and collaborative educators, and I have no way of getting this concept to the great majority of those who could most benefit by its discovery. Social Media is what we can use today, to link up those people who need to link up, but social media is not yet socially accepted by the masses.
We need to deal with PLN’s in Professional Development workshops. We need to Email links to colleagues who do not use Twitter, Nings, or Wikis. We need to have students develop PLN’s as a source of learning. We need to connect those who need to be connected and then we can all learn as professionals in our pajamas.