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professional development : Are We There Yet?

Plus ça change…

June 5, 2010 · Posted in social networking · Comment 

I probably shouldn’t have decided to read a few of my older blog posts. In a December 2008 post, I wrote this:

A little background information is in order here. I’m not a phone person. I prefer to communicate by e-mail or messaging. I don’t feel a need to always be in contact. In fact, I like having times during my day when no one can find me. I tried Twitter for a few months and came away thinking “so what?” I have a Facebook page, but I mainly use it to do something called “poking” which I really don’t fully understand.

Well, I’m still not a phone person, but the rest of that paragraph sounds like it’s describing someone else–a curmudgeonly Luddite not open to new ideas. The truth is that I did try Twitter when it first appeared and found it a fairly useless time-suck. I abandoned it before I understood its true potential as a professional development and communication tool. Since that time, I’ve become convinced that it’s the most important professional development tool that we have available to us. Much the same might be said of Facebook as a way to grow and explore professional communities (although poking still eludes me). These tools, along with LinkedIn, Diigo, Google Reader, and a few others have formed the nucleus of my PLN, and it’s difficult to imagine a professional life without them.

I bring this up because I still regularly encounter stiff faculty resistance to exploring social media solutions as professional and instructional tools, and for many of the same reasons I hinted at in 2008. Particular disdain seems to be focused on Twitter. How many times have you heard someone say “I don’t care what my friends had for breakfast” or “I don’t have time for meaningless chatter” in response to a question about Twitter? There is a deeper sense among many academics that Twitter will impact the ability of students to write essays, as if the fact that one engages in phone conversations somehow impacts one’s ability to give a speech.

Then there is the public nature of social media tools that causes so much unease among academics, particularly the notion that students might “friend” them or somehow discover that they have interests outside of the classroom. These are often cited as reasons that “I don’t do Facebook.”

Such resistance can be daunting for those of us involved in professional development or in instructional technology in general. Moving into social networking does involve some major restructuring of one’s thinking, but isn’t that the essence of teaching and learning–the flexible exchange of ideas in order to grow and develop? Why is it that educators are often the most dogmatically resistant to this kind of shift in thinking? More specifically, why is it that some educators offer such resistance, while others adapt and learn and incorporate new models into their practice? Are teacher preparation programs helping or hurting in this regard?

Lots of questions, but change is possible. I did.


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