Should Teachers Share Ideas Online?

(By Benjamin Stewart)

As an educator, what does it mean to share? We tell our children at home to do it. We tell our kids at school to do it. We’d even be hard pressed to find an educator who didn’t outright argue against the notion of sharing. So why then are there still educators who choose to work in isolation (i.e., choose to not share)?

Perhaps educators are intimidated by the use of technology? How can any of us find the time to keep up with technology in order to increase our willingness to share? As soon as I learn how to use Twitter, for instance, some other technology will emerge (become the flavour of the day), and I’ll have to learn all about that new web tool. It’s a never ending story as they say…so why start?

If the problem is not technology, then perhaps it’s for another reason. Few would dispute the fact that current technologies have made learning more transparent. Students have more possibilities now for open authorship, allowing them to reach a more global audience as student projects can now be published online. As teachers, we have a variety of ways to interact with online communities and individuals as part of a personal learning network that has the potential of offering the professional learning support we need, when we need it. However, with all of this potential for learning (both as students and teachers), we also run the risk of looking dumb, stupid, silly, etc.

So maybe it’s not about the technology at all; perhaps educators choose not to share for fear of looking silly (or some other appropriate adjective). Forget that I tell my students that it’s fine to make mistakes; that making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process; that mistakes allow us to grow as learners, etc. Forget all of that. I am the expert, the teacher, the leader, the sage on the stage, etc. I have a reputation to protect. My job evaluation depends on my level of expertise. I simply cannot risk jeopardising my professional reputation by sharing an opinion, a thought, an experience, etc. openly online.

So, here we are. An educator who does not share an opinion openly online because of the impossible task of keeping up with technology; an educator who does not tweet because the information (140 characters) might get into the wrong hands and be used against that person in class, in a faculty meeting, in a parent-teacher conference, etc.; or an educator who does not post a classroom experience to YouTube for fear that the recording will emerge during the next teacher evaluation. Educators then choose to work in isolation because it is safe, it’s familiar, it’s how it’s always been done, it’s something educators know how to do.

Fine, working in isolation is certainly one way to look at the role of sharing in the field of education. But now, let’s take a look from another point of view. There are some who feel that teachers who share are the best teachers. In fact, Shareski more directly states that you don’t have to share to be a great teacher, but doing so does make you great. I disagree. Not sharing makes you a less-than-great teacher. In other words, it is impossible to be a great teacher without sharing and without the necessary tools to get the job done. Would you hire a plumber to fix your sink if that plumber did not have the tools necessary to do the job? Teachers rely on objects, materials, technologies, etc. to teach, just as doctors rely on objects, materials, technologies, etc. to help cure people. Would you go to a psychiatrist who hadn’t studied, or who had not kept up with the latest discourse around the most current treatments? Isn’t (formal and informal) study just a big sharing exercise? How many teachers would hold back (or admit to holding back) what they know to their students due to a fear of sharing?

We all have motives for doing what we do, and sharing with colleagues, friends, and even to perfect strangers is no exception. Share your ideas, thoughts, experiences, etc. on how you share (or don’t share) in your own field of expertise so that diverse perspectives can help provide a clearer picture of what it truly means to share.

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