Archive for February, 2012

“Will I ever get to be a real little boy (on SM)?”

When I was 11, I met my grade 5 teacher at the grocery store.  It was a very exciting moment.  I felt 3 things: 1) I felt lucky and excited to see her; she was a favourite of mine and I struggled to be a favourite of hers. 2) Very awkward—without our familiar context, I didn’t know how to act or what to say to her.  3) Unsettling—I had to deal with the fact that my teacher was a real person who didn’t live at the school or cease to exist when I left.  This might not be universal.  If you live in a small town you might see your teacher outside of school so much that it is no longer exciting or surprising.  If you live in too large a city, you might never see your teacher in “real” life.  However, for some of us, particularly those of us who idealized our teachers (I certainly was one), seeing them as real people can be uncomfortable—it can challenge our perfect notion of them among other things.

With teacher’s increasing use of technology, my students are bumping into me more and more in the real world—how should we handle it?

At the faculty I was advised, if we were ever going to do something embarrassing or “inappropriate” for a professional, then we should make sure we do it hundreds of kilometres away from where we work(we all were, it wasn’t personal).  Well, that isn’t possible with social media; there is no hundreds of kilometres away.

And what if it isn’t embarrassing or inappropriate?  What if it is simply adult?  Back a few years, under memo s33 “how do deal with controversial issues in the classroom,” we had a concise guide of how to deal with our personal opinions—hide them!.  With the OCT’s recent(ish) discussion on using social media and other sources we have a directive to be professional and conservative with what we share.  But how far should we take that?

What ever flaws S33 had in what it regarded as controversial, and what ever opinion you have about the recent OCT comments, they have at their base an awareness of a teacher’s influence on their students.  They have an awareness of what sharing a teacher’s opinion might do to student autonomy.  If we share our opinion, students might not be able to critically assess it; they might be overly influenced by it—such is the supposed power of our position.  Much like the reading of Miranda rights in the States, checks must be used to insure we don’t suppress autonomy by our awesome presence!

However with students being able to access my real life–with my presence continuing in their lives outside of the classroom thanks to SM, what do we do?  I have shied away from taking about my religious beliefs, political beliefs, and say, drinking habits, in the classroom for the reasons above – need I exercise the same caution on social media?

In my real life, I want to stand up and be counted for my political and religious beliefs.  I want to share these beliefs because these beliefs make up the real me–it is by my opinions and thoughts that I am knowable.  I want to share, promote, advocate but I haven’t as yet (much) because I am mindful of my students (once the invisible audience, now 22/24 follow me on twitter).  Must I be?  I have seen people like @mbcampbell360 talk at length in twitter about their atheism, political support of the Green party, and liberal use of profanity—but he teachers adults—can I join him?

Do I suffer from a lack of integrity for this hidden side of me like the Zuckerbergs suggest?  Am I being overly cautious?  Like Pinocchio I am asking, “Can I ever be a real boy?” and share my opinions more freely on twitter?  Where would you draw the line?


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Don’t teach with tech until you know what you’re doing (did I really just say that?)

 I was talking to @mbcampbell360 on twitter the other day…oops…did you catch it? I of course wasn’t talking; I was using Twitter, the micro-blogging publishing and broadcasting service, …but I digress…. I was reminiscing about an old friend who liked to learn as he went. He’d not really plan and think things out—for him, the first idea was always the best and it was “go time” – time to explore. Often this led him into trouble…I remember the 40 ft ladder falling off the building into the parking lot, I remember the 100 year old tree falling the wrong way and almost crushing most of my cottage guests (don’t worry, it only rushed the outhouse-vacant!). I think this “don’t worry-it will all work out-you don’t need to have deep understanding of what you are doing or the consequences of such” is a very worrying trend in education right now…

I am getting a little concerned by the level of ignorance we tolerate, even encourage, in teachers using digital technology and SM with their students.  Often educators insist that the tech shouldn’t be “the lesson”, but a tool–its not about the tech!  I agree with their reasons, but it does also allow teachers to have a cavalier attitude to tech instruction.  I believe there is a vast amount of instruction to be done regarding the tech. before it is opened to be used by students as a tool (you can see the process I went through before students were encouraged to blog and tweet here: -its not tech specific; studetns can still explore).  This requires the teacher to learn it first. 

I’d like to highlight 2 tweets that were sent recently (without identifying the person—while these were sent by individuals, I feel that they represent common trends in education):

“hey PLN…I need help. I’ve borrowed 10 iP@ds for two months to use with my class. What are must-have apps?” This concerns me a bit. While it may be the case that she already has well thought out reasons and uses already planned for these iPads (well not certain, but hoping), I guess my fear is that she doesn’t. That she is going to do some exploring with her kids and see what they can do. That she’s going to teach them the technology (or let them explore and learn undirected) rather then a learning goal. For her and her class, I worry, that it will be about the technology and it will be directionless and without other learning goals. It will be dangerous.

another tweet was:

“introduced the Ipads to my kids yesterday and was AMAZED (sic) with what they came up with!” While it is sometimes the case that our students surprise us, and there can be no happier occasion then when students exceed our expectations; nonetheless, I can’t help but fear that this teacher really had no idea what she was doing with the iPads to further their learning. If they outstrip your expectations in the introduction, the process you went through to develop your expectations was flawed. It could be she’s only talking about how surprised she was at their speed of ‘mastery’ but the fear lingers in me regardless.

I’ve written about this metaphor before, but I’d like to explore it more fully. Teaching SM to students should be done like driving instructors. We should be experts first, our exploring days should be behind us, and we should advise caution (you can see the original here: ).

Experts first:

We used to talk about deep understanding and master teachers. Of course now we talk about innovators and experimenters and willingness to fail. While these are desirable traits at times, I’m not sure that using SM with students is one of them. Assuming for the moment that SM is a powerful learning tool, shouldn’t that power have a little direction. If it is a powerful opportunity, it is all the more tragic when it is squandered and wasted. If anyone feels there is no wrong way to use it; that it is so intuitive you don’t need deep understanding, or it is so powerful that in can overcome the instructor’s ignorance, then let them come forward and argue it below; otherwise, me must posit that increasing our knowledge increases the power of the tool. It was the master teacher who know many teaching techniques (TDSB and YRDSB—remember Instructional intelligence?) and had the deep understanding to know when and how to apply them to extend and maximize student learning. Sure kids can learn on their own, sure they can learn in spite of our ignorance- but wouldn’t a knowledgeable instructor help? Can we afford inefficient models of teaching? Are we being professional if we utilize them? The answer used to be a resounding and emphatic no. What changed? What role do we play better wrapped in ignorance like scholarly garb?

Out exploring days should be behind us:

We should be masters in technology and SM firs; before we introduce it to our students. What other subject would we tolerate such teacher ignorance? As students progress in school, should they be more tolerant of it or less? Should primary teachers not understand young kids or not be masters of reading and teaching techniques? Is there any other place that we praise teachers for not knowing and for learning concurrently with their students so completely? It really bothers me to hear teachers talk about using SM to have a conversation—they aren’t conversations. They are broadcast and publishing mediums permanently attached to your identity. They are advertisement delivery services-neither free or safe (without understanding). I have said several times: read some Neil Postman, and some Danah Boyd. If you are going to bring minors into this environment, you had better understand it. Would you bring them into any other environment that you weren’t knowledgeable in? The forest? The subway? A desert? On a Frozen pond? How can we prepare, utilize, trouble shoot, assist, protect, and guide effectively when we don’t have deep understanding of what’s happening?

Advise caution:

look before you leap! Check your mirrors! Look both ways! Don’t talk to strangers! In unknown or alterable situations, we advise caution. Why wouldn’t we be cautious with SM and digital technology? Imagine our driving instructor saying such things as, “I don’t know, lets find out!”, “lets see what this can do!” , “feel free to explore a bit!”, “don’t be afraid to make mistakes”, “the highways work by everyone being nice to each other, don’t worry, people will help you!” Hmmm…Of course, you have to be knowledgeable to realize there are dangers on the Net and such. This is especially true because of all the bad advice about how safe and wonderful it is. Of course it is these things, but just like a car, it is only true when the conditions are right and you know what you are doing.

Some one else tweeted: “When introduced to a new technology, I’ve never heard a student say, “when’s the workshop?’” I hope that when you teach it to them, you do it with such rigor that they would never need to say that. I hope that when intorduced to tech, you did it with in the frame work of a workshop—why wouldn’t you? If you leave them not understanding, you have failed them and left them at risk. Don’t use Tech. Until you know how to use Tech. Don’t teach tech. until you know how to teach it and use it to teach.

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