It’s time for connected educators to slow down

Teaching

Teaching | Thursday, May 1, 2014

It’s time for connected educators to slow down

It's time for connected educators to slow down
It's time for connected educators to slow down

Being a connected educator is a powerful, revolutionary experience. But the frenzied pace can lead to shallow ideas. Be careful.

I distinctly remember the conference where being a connected educator finally clicked for me.

I was at the Indiana Conference on Learning in Indianapolis. All it took was following the conference’s Twitter hashtag during the keynote address to hook me.

I noticed all of the educators.

I noticed all of the great opinions and ideas.

And when someone retweeted or replied to my ideas, it was electrifying.

From the moment I got connected to other educators and their ideas through social media, I couldn’t get enough of the fast pace.

Lists of apps. Lists of ideas. The sheer volume of great resources available instantly.

I wanted to ditch my textbooks, ditch my textbook theories and ideas about education. I found all the ammunition I needed to wage that war.

It was the pace that got me hooked.

Now, it’s the pace that starts to scare me.

I think it’s time to slow down.

I fear that I’m headed toward a microwaved TV dinner version of professional learning: too quick and too shallow. I don’t know if that’s good for education or my students.

bammy award banner for DTTTwitter chats used to make my night. I could gather all of these great quotes, anecdotes, websites and one-liners about virtually any education topic. I could throw out my own ideas and they would be noticed and shared with other educators.

That’s all good stuff. Twitter chats are still revolutionary and a powerful force for education.

But when thought on education, on reform, on solid technology integration is boiled down to 140 characters at a time, complex ideas can become too simple. Important issues can become trivialized.

The Internet has to hold thousands (maybe millions) of blog posts, articles and pages about education. All it takes is a quick Twitter, Google or Google Plus search to find information or opinion on anything education-related.

I’m catching myself adopting a “scan and share” mentality with all of these good ideas. I can scan my massive Twitter feed, find a handful of posts that interest me and spend 10 seconds on each before retweeting them. I think, “That post had some good ideas,” but I don’t end up implementing them and they’re filed away with the thousands of other tweets.

I think it’s time that I slow down too. (Maybe this post is more for me than anyone else.)

It’s like the term “first-world problems,” like complaining about a cell phone whose battery dies too quickly or trash service that doesn’t empty the garbage cans on time.

These are connected educator problems. They’re the kind that didn’t exist when I started teaching 10 years ago, but they’re great problems to have. The fire hose of resources is great to have, but when it’s time to drink from it, you can’t just open up your mouth and fire away.

We need to slow down. We need to think about the issues that face our classes and the education system as a whole. We need to avoid the temptation to scan and share, to digest and dismiss.

What the education system and our schools need are thoughtful, well developed ideas. What we need is execution instead of information consumption.

The resources and networks that exist to support teachers these days are powerful and game-changing.

And if they’re game-changing, we need to use them to change the game instead of kill time or fill cyberspace.

(For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links, “like” Ditch That Textbook on Facebook and follow @jmattmiller on Twitter!)

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  • […] have been reflecting recently (and repeatedly!) about the purpose of teacher blogs.  Today, I read an excellent article telling teachers to slow down.  To summarize, many times teachers […]

  • Melissa says:

    This speaks so much to what I have been feeling recently as well! Thank you for articulating a sentiment that I’ve had a hard time putting into words. I don’t think this phenomenon in the world of education is unique to Twitter or social media. Because there is such a quick rate of change in our “real” world, there is so much new information coming to educators (from so many places) all at once. Like you, I’ve wondered if it is just me who needs to take step back and digest some of the information that is out there, or if it is a wider-spread issue.

  • Allison says:

    I think that this is a problem with lots of things in education. In this business-driven world, people want to see results and perfection immediately. In order to do anything effectively and well, teachers have to be given enough time to “work out the kinks” and develop a level of comfort with the technology/teaching strategy/etc. That’s hard to do when we have so many different skills to teach, kids of different skill and ability levels, and seemingly constantly changing standards and assessments.

  • Tom Maxwell says:

    +1. I share your fears. What more,I don’t see the spirited debate of ideas. It seems to me that if you blog, you are an expert. I monitor Twitter but find myself saying “What?” more and more often. I caution everyone about the perils of group think and what I perceive as a mutual admiration society mentality. The constructionist theories are dominating the discussions right now and the mantra of “Research Shows,” is deafening. Much of the research is not primary research and much of it contradicts itself. For example, when it comes to behavior, we are told research shows that adolescents do not have the fully developed frontal lobe to make rational decisions, hence they are very impulsive and we should accept their poor behavior. But when it comes to academics, we are told the research shows they can make good decisions when given the opportunity to control their own learning. I also see many broad generalizations of what works in one place should work in all situations. I think most everyone has these types of concerns and the concerns deserve discussion. And you are correct, it can’t be done in 140 characters.

  • Blog posts, face to face meetings, hangouts or even conversations on Twitter are all great ways to go beyond the single tweet issue. While it is difficult to write succinctly with nuance using 140 characters there really is no limit if you are willing to tweet in a series. After all, it is really about us being able to choose the right tools for whatever ‘the job’ we have in mind.

  • Tom Whitby says:

    I understand your dilemma, but we can not stop the flow and speed of collaboration in education through social media any more than we can slow down Niagara Falls. Collaboration using social media is new to all of us with more people joining in as novices daily. Everyone will come to your position at some point in their connectedness. When the consumption is overwhelming it may be time to implement a plan of action. If the goal of collaboration is to share ideas to change the system for the greater good, there comes a time when sharing stops and action takes place. An implementation plan to utilize those newly discovered or refined ideas is needed. Focusing on that action plan becomes the goal. Refinements of the plan may require additional trips to the well. Your collaboration then serves a purpose and you are not collaborating just for the sake of collaboration. Don’t try to regulate the flow, but regulate your engagement and whatever rewards you seek to reap from it.

  • Ken Keene says:

    It appears that there is a philosophical side to technology after all. Thanks for the reminder to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Volume of activity can never make up for specific, considered application.

  • I feel you on this. The PD and the connections that you CAN find on Twitter are immeasurable, but it doesn’t happen by osmosis. It needs to be meaningful. It needs to go beyond the surface. Same thing with the “activism” that I see on Twitter. It’s NOT activism if all you’re doing is pushing a button. It can START on Twitter, but in order for anything to be active–PD, relationships, activism–one must ACT!

  • Exactly what I’ve been thinking the past few months. When I first found Twitter (by watching you Tweet at the summer of E-learning conference this summer- you inspired me!), I fell in love with Twitter Chats. It was so refreshing. I still get lots of great ideas on Twitter and other social media, but I found myself overwhelmed with ideas but no time to implement them. It was during the barrage of snow days this winter- I wanted to try so many new things, but time kept slipping away and I found myself going back to tried and true activities that were already successful favorites. Now I’m at a point in the year when I am dreaming of all the exciting new changes I’ll make next year in my classroom- and I’ll probably get hooked on being a connected educator more this summer again- but it can be totally overwhelming. I still think being connected is SO worth it- you just have to be selective with who, when, what, where, why you connect- and then how you use those connections in your classroom and teaching.

  • Chris says:

    You are spot on with this. I am in a district that has gone, for the most part, digital. While very good, there are times when the old methods work best. We need to be more discriminating and discerning with our teaching methods. We need to avoid the fad du jour and actually look at two or three ways to improve our classes and then implement them. A teacher cannot be all things to all people at all times. I just think it’s time to look at what the students would think is neat and play off of their interests instead of trying to give them “learning” that is a mile wide but only an inch deep. That isn’t mastery. That is being a jack of all trades and a master of none.

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