I’ve always been a bit of a netnerd, but only in the past year or so have I been utilising my netnerdiness for work purposes. This has opened up a whole new world for me, and in many ways has made me enjoy my work more because I get to share and interact with a global network of inspirational educators who will happily talk teaching ’til the cows come home. I like to refer to this crew as teachgeeks.
In a regular staffroom, you’d find a handful of teachgeek kindred spirits, but with the advent of social media, there’s a world wide web full of them. They’re there 24/7, sharing links, anecdotes of victory and defeat, new ways of doing things, brainfood…and it’s all GOOD STUFF (well, not all, but a lot of it, and a good set of critical digital literacy skills and a PLN of critics tends to annihilate the dodgy stuff).
The upside of this is that reflection on my own practice is enhanced by additional voices, perspectives and the wisdom of others. My teaching practice improves because I get to see what others are doing and can cherry pick bits and pieces to weave into mine. I can also put my own practice out there for constructive criticism. As a teachgeek, I’m constantly reinventing the way I’m doing things and always on the lookout for the next thing to challenge me.
However, I’m starting to notice a real downside. When I leave my virtual staffroom and head back into the real one, it’s almost like stepping into a parallel universe. When the vast bulk of your professional dialogue is around topics such as game-based learning, problem-based learning, student-directed learning, differentiation and ICT integration, it’s really difficult to engage in collaborative planning with teachers who are still back at chalk-and-talk (or e-chalk-and-talk, in the case of IWBs) and really quite comfortable there. Finding a middle ground is getting harder and harder.
I call this a ‘digital divide’ because even though the differences may be around non-tech pedagogy, I think it’s the digital explosion that’s making the gap wider. Teachgeeks are getting online, tapping into their ePLNs, and their knowledge is expanding and morphing exponentially. The cross-pollination of ideas is high, and the information transactions are lightning fast. Compare this to the knowledge expansion of teachers who aren’t connecting beyond their school staffroom – they rely on being dripfed by the teachgeeks at their schools and make do with measly dishes of local PL (plenty of which is your stock-standard Death by PowerPoint and hardly modelling best practice). There’s not going to be much movement at the station with that approach.
There’s probably always been a pedagogical divide in teacherland, as the profession has evolved and things have moved on. But I think the new digital divide is going to be a particularly challenging one as its being driven by rapidly changing technologies, and there really is a radical shift in the way we’re communicating with one another on a global, local and personal level.
My biggest concern about this digital divide is the potential impact on kids. In the past, if a student had a ‘dud teacher’, it would always seem to even out in the end. But a year with a resistant, dripfed teacher is a really long time in our brave new world.
How are we going to manage this? How are we going to shift reluctant teachers into the 21st century? Sharing the love is one way – something the teachgeeks desperately try and do each and every day – but I think the leap seems too far for many teachers, despite plenty of patient scaffolding. So maybe there needs to be some systemic impetus? From my experience, there isn’t a lot of that right now – some schools may be doing it really well, but there’s no top-down push to get teachers engaged in the digital world. Sure, there are more requirements for teachers to fill out stuff online and online social networking tools are being provided (amongst other things) – but there’s no ‘boot up the bum’ to give reluctant teachers the idea that hey…you really DO have to start coming to the party on this one. I reckon these could be a few ways to boot people up the bum:
- ICT integration as part of TARS.
- Compulsory sessions on ePLNs or digital literacy for all staff to attend each year, like the compulsory Emergency Care or Child Protection training.
- More educational leaders setting the example and creating an expectation of online interaction and digital literacy. I mean, for goodness sakes, we work in a system where the fax machine is still a core communication device.
- ICT should be part of the general selection criteria for all executive positions, the way they have the Aboriginal education criteria.
I think the digital divide is such an important issue to address that it shouldn’t be left to chance by leaving it in the hands of individual schools and the teachgeeks within them. The transition into the brave new world needs to be an across-the-board expectation; something that’s acknowledged as being uncomfortable and scary for some, and so suitably scaffolded and supported, but something which is inevitable, unstoppable, and crucial in the education of future generations.