Like old friends

When @bruceetes asked if I would assist at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation event this weekend, I agreed immediately.  The event is a follow up to last February’s “Expanding Our Boundaries” event.  The focus is on social networking for education and personal professional development.  It really wasn’t much of a decision.  I want to know as much about this as I can and there are some colleagues from my district here so we can learn together.

Even though I’ve been using many of the tools for myself and my personal efforts, I’m really trying to learn, understand, and come to grips with the implications for the classroom.  There’s a big difference between immersing yourself into these technologies and taking students along for the ride.  Those of us who work with the tools and have been connected since the good old days of working with modems and dedicated phone lines have a healthy sense of trust and paranoia.  In fact, probably too much.  I have to deal constantly with that little voice in the back of my head.  I think that we are comfortable writing it off as one of those “better safe than sorry” things.

Deep down, I think that most educators know that we have to come to grips with this but the question becomes at what level and for what purpose?   At dinner last night, the conversation turned to this topic and one of our group noted that one of her colleagues had gone through the Ontario elementary school curriculum and reported that computer use or social media was not mentioned anywhere.  Well, a quick look at the Grade 8 Language Arts curriculum proves that statement wrong as there are indeed references for how you can use the output of computer use to address expectations.  i.e. computer-generated graphic organizers.  What really is missing is a listing of computer skills.  It’s somehow comforting to notice that pen and pencil skills are missing as well.

But, that’s OK.  It got us into a really good discussion about things.  What I found interesting was that I’d only physically talked to these people face to face maybe a couple of times.  Yet, online, I’m talking regularly.  In addition to @bruceetes, there was @kentmanning, @baded, @brendasherry, and @techguy1717 who I Twitter-met last night but have know him for a couple of years.

While we were meeting, just outside, @zbpipe and @aforgrave were trading war stories.  I took the opportunity to post a picture showing the @kentmanning hadn’t eaten all his vegetables and got a twitter message from @msjweir wanting to know where everyone was.  After our meeting, the group spilled out to form a bigger group and the conversation continued.

It was quite amazing, upon further reflection, to think of the moment.  I don’t work with any of these people.  While I talk and trade barbs online regularly  with @kentmanning, @zbpipe and @aforgrave, I’ve only been in the same physical space a couple of times.  One being last year’s event and the other at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.  Yet, we know way more about personal philosophies and educational leanings that would have been possible otherwise.

What really put it all into perspective was reading @pbeens‘ blog last night.  He was reflecting on his first year of teaching and the limited sharing of resources that he experienced.  That was actually quite a sad post that I indentified with at the beginning of my career.  As the only Computer Science teacher in a school, you sure don’t have a lot of people to collaborate with about anything related to your subject area.  It was @pbeens brainstorm during the Ministry of Education’s rollout of the new Computer Studies guidelines that we use the Delicious hashtag icsxx as we found web-based resources that could be used to address these new expectations.  It was sheer genious.  In this day and age, nobody should have to start from scratch.

With these technologies, the concept of being in the same place at the same time for productive work is just, well quaint.  I’m sure that my English teacher friend will correct me later this morning if I’ve used that term incorrectly.  With all of these technologies, properly enabled, we have huge power – certainly more than we would have had individually scraping along.  If and when you get a chance to meet face to face as we did last night, it’s just like old friends getting together.  The conversation just continues naturally from our online encounters.

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