New web tools and the hesitant teacher

I started working with e-twinning, the European program that brings together schools and educators in a digital way, about three years ago. First as a user and later as a promoter and teacher trainer. For a teacher of English it was a great opportunity to bring her students in touch with students from other countries and give them the opportunity to communicate using the target language.

But for me too, it has been a great opportunity to improve professionally and continue my lifelong learning path. Since I work on it I have used technology much more widely than before and a whole new world has opened up.

I was talking with a friend recently about twitter and how I went into it despite my initial hesitation. He isn’t much into social media himself but he believes twitter isn’t as much hype as it is said. I claimed though that I found it much more useful than Facebook as far as my professional interests are concerned.  From my point of view Facebook is more personal, more useful for finding old friends and family and keeping in touch with them.

Twitter on the other hand is more about work and interests. As an educator interested in e-learning I have found there more resources than I could hope for. There are thousands of twitters and people with the same interests and finding the ones you are really interested in may take some search and time. But even this search is relative and rewarding. For a person like me whose brain works a bit chaotically, following the links of my favourite twitters may take hours every day. Right now I can afford to do it, since schools haven’t started yet.  What is most exciting is that there are hundreds maybe thousands of teachers out there who are interested in the same things as me and have to face similar difficulties in their professional lives. Here in Greece we complain that we don’t have the necessary infrastructure for involving technology into our classes more. And it is true in most cases. But take courage dear colleagues: in the USA they have all the high tech necessary but they can’t access the tools they want. Having been on the net much longer than we have, they are very concerned with safety and their ministry of education blocks many of the web tools like wikis, podcasts and blogs.

Moreover the discussion about e-learning is raving all over the world. E-learning is like a buzz word, a big trend that everyone is trying to capitalize from.  But how much of all this e-learning is actually educational and effective? And how can we incorporate it in our daily teaching? And should we incorporate it after all?

I recently read a book by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he was arguing that the more television we watch the more our way of thinking changes. It is a book written in the eighties and unfortunately Postman died before internet was what it is today. It would be very interesting to see what he thought about the situation at present. If less than a century of TV has changed the way we think and express ourselves, I am almost sure that the internet is going to change that in half the time.

Back to Twitter though: The greatest benefit is that teachers share thoughts and resources and chances are very soon you are going to find your niche, the people that do more or less what you do and worry about the same things. SHARING is the key word here. This is a cultural difference that always strikes me. I have a friend from Canada and what impressed me from the first day I met her was how willing she was to share what she knew. This must be a North American trait I thought. She was always happy to let you know about the best restaurants, tech devices or lesson plans she knew of. Being a highly organized person she also had everything filed in cards or spreadsheets in her computer so her e-mails were always informative and useful. She was my first mentor!

Right now what is really changing is that we can share everything we learn. We can share our thoughts in Twitter. We can share our links in Delicious. We can share our photos in Flick-r. We can share our presentations in Slideshare. And I haven’t even scraped the surface of hundreds of web tools available to teachers.

Narrow-minded attitudes do not match well with the web. If you approach it with fear of failure and a raised eyebrow then you will probably gain little from it…

If however you approach it with enthusiasm then I’m sure it will take you to places you had never imagined! Good Luck and don’t hesitate to ask.