Sharing of learning or sharing as learning?

This year I have jumped on board the social media train. Previously I was fairly ambivalent towards twitter, blogging, personal websites, instagram and other social media forums (and quite frankly negative about facebook). It’s fair to say that I had an epiphany and have become something of a social media evangelist. It started with a solid 6 months of lurking on twitter, a few forays into instagramming and reading the occasional blog. Gradually, almost without me making a conscious decision to do so, lurking became the occasional retweet, then the odd response to a question, question of my own, and before I knew it I was setting up a rotation curation account for educators in Australia (if you don’t already follow it it’s called @EduTweetOz, just hit 2000 followers, we’re very excited) and writing my own blog.

How did this happen? Or perhaps more importantly why?

The short answer is learning. I am by nature a learner, for me social media is like an enormous classroom in the best possible sense. I choose what I want to learn by who I follow and what links I open. I choose how to learn: reading articles, asking questions, engaging in conversations and I choose when I learn; a time and pace that suits me. The biggest shift for me has been realising the importance of sharing. Sharing my opinion, my ideas and my own learning has been an incredibly powerful learning experience. It helps me to clarify my ideas, 140 characters is a great motivator for succinctness. It is an opportunity to reflect in the context of a real question, issue or someone else’s ideas. At times it forces me to defend my beliefs and even, at times, change them. I’m not just sharing what I learn but the very act of sharing helps me to learn.

Watching the Grade 1and 2 students in my class draft, refine and redraft a tweet about their learning for our class twitter account reinforces this even further. There’s no shortage of volunteers to tweet about what they learnt in a lesson and they rise admirably to the challenge of getting the main points across in 140 characters. Sharing this tweet with the rest of the class provokes further discussion as other students have different ideas about what happened in the lesson and, in sharing them, the understanding of the class is refined and improved.

There are the obvious benefits of social media: connecting with learners around the word, access to information, ideas and viewpoints and then there’s the value of sharing. Sharing as part of the learning process, not as an end result in itself of some finished product but as an opportunity to reflect, to challenge and to change.

In the spirit of this, I would really appreciate your thoughts. Does sharing help you learn or is it sending out your thoughts into the universe? What does social media bring to your practice and learning? What else do you do for yourself and your students that uses sharing as learning not of learning?

Education: Who are we hearing from?

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading, watching and listening about current educational discussions, policies and issues. I’ve read papers written by university lecturers, by economists, by journalists and by organisations responsible for large scale testing. I’ve watched lectures, both online and in the flesh, by university academics and by economists and statisticians. I’ve listened to politicians, journalists, parents and friends share their ideas about education and how it can be ‘fixed’. Here’s the thing though, rarely, if at all have I heard the voices of actual educators in all this noise. Those people blamed for the ‘problem’ and tasked with fixing it.

Here, on social media, on blogs, twitter and Facebook I hear from educators who work every day with students and who spend a great deal of their outside of work time thinking, planning, discussing and sharing about education. I hear from these educators, I hear the talk of exciting new plans and projects, of what books they are reading in order to improve their practice and outcomes for students in their care. I hear them ask questions and support each other. I hear how much they love what they do and how deeply they care about it. I hear because I am one of them. I have access to this wealth of knowledge and amazing online community.

I know I’ve got a lot to learn, this is why I engage in reading, watching and listening. What I would love is to hear more from educators out there in the mainstream media. More of these stories, of educators reflecting and sharing, with educators celebrating the amazing things they are doing, with educators participating in reasoned discussions about our education system rather than being told that they are to blame and that everyone else has the answers. Why isn’t this happening? Why isn’t this part of our culture?

I know that there are a range of education unions who take up this cause, however often these arguments are lost in the political point scoring that occurs in any discussion of education policy. This is also not presenting the full picture of the role of educators and the depth of the profession. Imagine if there were regular stories in the news, in magazines, papers and online, sharing what education looks like in our long daycare centres, our preschools, schools, universities, TAFEs and other centres of education. Imagine if people saw the range of programs taught, the experiences offered and the passion of educators. I wonder what impact this would have on people’s perception of educators? What I wonder is: how can we make this happen? How do we balance this sharing of work without being accused of being defensive or trying to sell an argument about teachers’ pay or conditions. Should that even be a concern?

There is so much more to a discussion of education than arguing about class sizes or the latest round of testing. This is not what educators spend their time doing each day, these are not the questions that occupy us. Let’s move the debate beyond these issues. Let’s talk about our reality. Let’s celebrate our passion, our learning and the learning of our students. Let’s be heard.