Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Teachers I Most Appreciate On-Line

     For my annual post during Teacher Appreciation Week, I've decided to take a different approach. After all, in the past I've written about my two greatest teachers; and I often refer to other teachers, coaches, and colleagues. Usually they are figures from my past. Fortunately, I also have current mentors and role models. For this piece, I'm also thinking about how the digital revolution has opened incredible possibilities for learning. In that context my driving question becomes "What sort of teachers do I most appreciate on-line?" For me that means mainly blogs and Twitter.
     While perhaps I should not begin with the negative, I want to state right away what I don't like. It's not much--there are just two things--but they truly rankle. First, I don't like what I can only describe as a form of self-centeredness. It manifests itself in some key ways. Tweets are strictly self-promotional. In the same vein, someone requests information but never supplies information in response to someone else's queries. A person ignores basic etiquette. (Fortunately, I don't encounter too many people who operate this way; when I do, I choose to ignore.)  Second, I don't like pieces that are overly definitive, i.e. "The Six Surefire Ways to..." Nothing is that simple. At least nothing worthwhile. These two dislikes often overlap in ways that point at the heart of what I do like.
     As a place to learn, the true beauty of the digital world is access. That holds for both quantity and variety. Plus the information links in all sort of intentional and random fashion. The structure forces one to spin a web of meaning. Despite what some promise, ultimate answers remain elusive, perhaps non-existent. In that way it is analogous to life in ways few school curricula are.
     My favorite on-line teachers are those who not only acknowledge such intellectual murkiness but actually embrace it. They are the truly honest bloggers, the ones who are willing to share the struggle and thus admit their own shortcomings and even vulnerability. They dine upon a smorgasbord of feeds and draw nutrition from each. They are the Tweeters who share all types of resources and challenge each other in chats and celebrate the virtues of others.
     Society often confuses learning with achieving a certain end. To an extent this is accurate if we're talking short term or one has a simple task to complete. However, such a misconception underlies many of the problems with educational systems. We must understand and embrace the opposite notion. Optimal learning is not linear, zeroed in a particular goal. It loops, twists, starts and stops. It's also about unlearning. It's about having the guts to ask dangerous questions that may force answers which drive us off the intended course but right where we need to go at any given time on an endless journey.
     For a society to prosper fully, it needs a spirited life of the mind. That cannot be just pockets of citizenry. It must be the culture. Standard operating procedure. So those qualities of the teachers I most appreciate on-line? Exactly what we also need off-line. Those great teachers understand it's about truly meaningful learning.


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