What Can Educators Learn?

A couple of days ago, I retweeted a link to “Developing a 2010 Social Media Strategy,” an entry in Venessa Miemis’ blog Emergent by Design. : A Twitter buddy of mine, @GLAnderson, was kind enough to click thru to the post and respond to me.klbz

OK, Gary, here’s my attempt.

I’ve been fascinatGaryed by the business world’s response to social media. By many accounts, so has the rest of the world. If I read these materials as a series of metaphors, I see interesting applications to the field of education, and I emerge with loads of new questions to ask. Questions always seem to be the beginning of seeing things new. Who am I thinking of?

Clay Shirky, “producer, programmer, writer,” as well as an adjunct in the New York University Interactive Telecommunications Program. the New York University. Clay Christensen, professor if business, Michael Horn, MBA, & Curtis Johnson, writer & consultant, and authors of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. Sir Ken Robinson, creativity expert. Seth Godin, marketeer, whose ideas so often apply to arenas beyond business.

Venessa Miemis is a new and compelling voice for me.

Let’s start at the end. Take these quotes from Venessa’s conclusion and substitute the word “education. ”

Our Western culture is in transition, are we’re just on the front end of realizing that business doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Perhaps my idea of transforming an industry is a lofty goal, but accomplishing it is more feasible than ever. We now have the social technology tools to communicate and connect outside of the established system; the next step is facilitating a new social agreement in how we choose to do business think about teaching, learning, and what’s important to know [new text inserted]….

The idea is to highlight the problem and spark a conversation of how to change it. If a critical mass of people agree to sidestep the system, we can begin to construct something new.

Now let’s go back to her specific plans. She’s talking about using marketing strategies to examine the efficacy of social networking tools (e.g., Ning, Twitter, and a blog) to ‘disrupt’ the status quo in the real estate industry.

While she gets some pushback from business colleagues in the comments, these force me back to her text. I’m struck by her comment, “I think the tools are in place for building new models, but we need to collectively agree to do so.”  She’s talking about vision, communication, collaboration, and ultimately, the creation of a ‘team’ of people — in her case, probably a business or group of thought leaders– who are committed to working together to do it [fill in the blank] differently. (Smart mobs, anyone?)

Here’s what I am wondering about vis a vis education.

  • What’s our vision?
    • Venessa isn’t trying to revolutionize the entire business world, just her little corner of it. I’m an English educator with an interest in possibilities that digital and web-based tools afford for transformation in my field/academic area. (Now there’s a reasonable goal. 😉 ) Naturally, I’m poking around in areas (primarily social networking sites) where people are talking about technology in the broad area of education, so you’ll need to keep that in mind as you read. But no matter what the field, I don’t think we’re talking enough about what we envision for kids, teachers, society when it comes to school & schooling. Maybe we’re too exhausted from high-stakes testing. Maybe we’re looking for one solution that will apply to every state, town, school, teacher, student. Maybe the situation is so overwhelming that we just want to go home from school and forget about it all.
    • Is the vision big enough?
      • A very wise administrator once told me that in times of change, what people buy into is the vision. I’m wondering if we spend so much energy talking about, arguing for, persuading educators about the value of technology that the message about technology existing in the service of pedagogy slips away. What I care about is, pedagogy to what end?
      • What do we mean by reform? Is there one way to see it?
  • Where’s the team? How do we find each other? What are the tools for dialogue?
  • What are the strategies, tools for action?

So much of what I see as I graze the web seems to focus on talking about the problem(s). Why won’t they [fill in the blank with your own group– administrators, policy makers, parents, etc.] ______________ [fill in the blank: e.g., get us computers, unblock social media sites, let us use cell phones for instruction, etc.] And then there’s the matter of specificity. Discussions about change or reform seem to revolve around big ideas, like innovation. What does that mean?

We live and work in a rapidly globalizing world, where barriers and boundaries of all kinds are fading, yet we teach in academic silos. English, History, Math…. Where are the discussions about interdisciplinarity? Cross-school or district or state or world collaborations? I think about projects like iEarn, or the amazing and creative teacher-to-teacher connections and collaborations that are happening without much fanfare.

What would happen if little cohorts of teachers came together, physically or virtually, to create experiments similar to the one Venessa describes in her blog? Identify a shared issue or problem, devise some strategies they’ll use to inquire into the problem (& possible solutions), and, once they have some results, articulate a vision, find or make a team, communicate/dialogue, commit together to shared action toward a larger vision?

I don’t think large-scale solutions are possible or realistic right now. I believe that we are at the point where teachers must propel change, and we need all the ideas we can get.

So, Gary, that’s the thinking behind my tweet.  I hope it makes some sense.

professor if business

10 responses to “What Can Educators Learn?”

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the reference, and I love this post! As a graduate student, I’ve been mulling over the same questions as it applies to our program. Ironically, it’s a Media Studies program, yet there is no decent social media platform for us to connect & collaborate. I met with several core faculty members to talk about establishing something, and though they were genuinely interested, pretty much told me that to get anything pushed through the administration would take about a decade.

    So I started an online network on Ning, and am really going to focus on building it up starting in January. I just realize more and more that you can’t wait for the institutions if you want change to happen, you just have to do it.

    You asked in this post, how do we find each other, what are the tools/strategies for action. I don’t know if you’ve come across it already, but I pulled together a bunch of resources to help answer this question, as I was looking for it myself. There are so many people that are figuring this out, we definitely don’t have to go and reinvent the wheel each time. I really like the teacher guides and information that Project New Media Literacies has developed, and Classroom 2.0 is a social network of over 34,000 educators who are asking/answering those same questions. Here’s the link, I hope you find it handy!

    85+ Resources: Educator Guide for Integrating Social Media http://emergentbydesign.com/2009/11/24/75-resources-educator-guide-for-integrating-social-media/

    – @venessamiemis

  2. Karen says:

    Hi Venessa,

    Thanks for your response and your great energy! I’m stunned that a media studies program would not have, let alone not be pioneering, a social media platform. Hmm, on second thought, maybe not so stunned. After all, I can’t even get a classroom with computers scheduled for a class I’m teaching in literacies & technologies. In my own venerable institution of higher learning– just down the road from yours– the computer tech folks really get it, but that’s about five people. [sigh] I completely agree with you: we need to just do it. What’s the old saying? Better to ask forgiveness than permission.

    Thanks so much for your great resources. I’m lucky enough to be physically and virtually connected with educators who are pushing the social media-technology envelope; they make considerations about how to connect and collaborate seem like the easier part of the equation. But none of this will be easy.

    I’m happy to have found your blog. I look forward to hearing about how your thinking and projects develop.


  3. Alena says:

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  4. Karen says:


    Thanks for your kind words, and for taking the time to leave your comment. I look forward to hearing more from you!


  5. Candace says:


    I loved this post! Excellent, especially how it connects to other fields. It feels like this year – 2010 – might be the year for educators to organize. The PLNs through blogging, twitter/edchats, nings, and more seem to be gaining speed and volume.

    Simultaneously, it feels as though there is an increasing sense of unrest. So much talk of reform or change or revolution. Maybe it’s been there all along and I was just too new to notice it (real possibility!) or maybe it is truly a shift. I do feel empowered.

    But I have no idea what the next step actually looks like. I hope we figure it out soon, especially the interdisciplinary focus. Without that, even if we got many of the changes each group is asking for individually, the resulting educational system would still be fragmented and lack the critical cohesiveness that our students need.

    Thanks for sharing! I look forward to hearing more about your plan! 🙂

    • Karen says:


      I’m grinning– you think I have a plan? Not. I’m just trying to get people thinking in new ways about the status quo and about possibilities for action they might initiate. (OK, I have ideas….)

      I am not sure what cohesiveness looks like in this day and age, with so many gaps, from economic to regional. There might be something to the idea that we share standards nationally, but get there locally, perhaps with local oversight of assessment? Not sure.

      Right now, for me, it’s about what teachers can do.

  6. teresab says:

    You make my brain hurt. You’re way too smart for me:)

    One would think that we as educator’s could get our act together to combine energies to bring about lasting and effective educational change. I wonder as we explore social media if this will be the coalescence of our talks/ sharing/ networking? I would like to believe so, but must admit to being slightly cynical. We “own” so much of our pedagogical belief that we are unwilling to let go of or compromise. Will we ever be able to agree on our vision? the tools and strategies to use? I don’t know. I think of some of the discussions in places like the EC Ning and at conventions like NCTE and it seems to be that there is still so much we don’t agree on. Will social media be enough to help us come together and decide what it is we believe and how we want to bring about change? Not trying to be pessimistic. Maybe it is more that I am so new to all of this I have trouble visualizing how this might come together.

    That being said, I am ready to do my best to be part of the revolution. I think it is time we stood up and took our profession back. I think for far too long it has been the politicians and the unions making the ploicy decisions. And, quite frankly, neither group represents what I feel is best. So, sign me up. Does it start with a tweet? an email? an e-petition passed amongst educators and forwarded to Washington? Point me in the right direction and I’ll fire the first shot!

  7. Karen says:

    I surely understand your frustration. It’s as though we’re all just treading water except the water is a tsunami so big that we feel helpless or uncertain in the face of it. The more dialogue, the better; the more arenas for dialogue, even more so. I am becoming more convinced that teachers are at the epicenter of the change that has to come.

  8. Kim McCollum-Clark says:

    Karen, you said: “I am becoming more convinced that teachers are at the epicenter of the change that has to come.” May it be so.

    I am feeling pretty low about all this right now, and I wish I could tap into your enthusiasm. I have been watching educational policy “devolve” for a long time now (since about 1990) and I am very demoralized about the direction of much of it. Having watched NCTE pony up for Standards 1.0 (1993-1995) and now again for Standards 2.0 and the LEARN Act . . . It’s just feeling like too much.

    In the very earliest days of the standards movement, some radical folks were saying that this was really all about removing the “last bastion of the welfare state” from government–i.e., public schooling. You set up a system, gather data showing that public schools are a failed experiment, and then you dismantle them, return students to whatever form of schooling their parents see fit for them (i.e., private, religious, charter, ??? and I never heard where the rest of us were supposed to end up!) I know it sounds like crazy conspiracy talk, but looking into the origins of the stans movement made at least some of their claims seem reasonable. A whole group of people playing in their own little private sandbox making decisions for all of us. . . and they are winning. They have been indefatigable. And they are winning. Now we have what feels like a total federal take over. . . –and I am really questioning how much longer I can send my teacher candidates in to such a SNAFU (in the original WW2 definition of the term).

  9. Karen says:

    Yes. I understand. Last year, I went to the place you describe. I went so far as to question whether my doctoral studies was just the action of one more person drifting into the Dark Side. I found it difficult to teach. It was one of those I-have-to-go-to-bed-and-curl-into-a-fetal-position times. I didn’t, of course, but I sure wanted to.

    My political framing of the situation is a not too different from yours. I cast the whole standards movement as a a continuation of the attitudes & ideas of an aristocracy that wanted only to continue the status quo. Francis Bacon, who felt that only a few should know how to write or read to preserve social order; “Ignorance allows the poor to endure the drudgery of their lives.” Jefferson, whose original ideas about literacy had been that only a republican few should deliver meaning to the masses. Matthew Arnold’s perspectives that schools should focus on culture as a a defining force in society: “culture” as a means of social control. The standards battle to me is simply a continuation of the inherently classist, racist, etc. attitudes on which our education system is founded.

    I could get out of bed only when I accepted that this is so deeply ingrained in our society that neither I nor anyone could change this. O.K., so then what?

    You know the old saw about the small waves that ripple out when a pebble is thrown into standing water? I decided that all I could do, all I can do, is be a pebble. My ultimate professional aim? To be not just a pebble, but to become a cannonball. If it’s one teacher at a time, so be it.

    I’m figuring out how to do this on a daily basis. I think I’m going to start to blog about this, actually.

    I think that if all I do is send out students who see, who think just a little differently, and who put those visions and ideas into the way they run their classrooms, relate to students, plan and teach their lessons, then I will have earned my night’s sleep.

    That’s all I’ve got right now. But it’s enough to keep me on track in this &*^$%#@ doc program. It’s enough to keep me thinking about what’s next.

    I hope you can find your way to your reason to uncurl. We need you.


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