The other night I was working on converting a video from flv to mov format but couldn’t remember the online site that did that. I went to the twitter page and asked if anyone knew of the name of the site. In less than 5 minutes I had 3 responses of sites I could use. Now I was trying to remember zamzar, which is a name one should not forget, but it took no time for someone to help me.

In educational technology circles, we’ve been discussing and talking about using new tools and leveraging these new tools for the benefit of students learning. At various times it has been lamented that teachers are basically unwilling to change how they do things despite the availability of different tools that might enhance the learning opportunities for their students.

Just recently, there has been a growing discussion about how important networks are becoming for individuals as they experience the power of being able to connect and share with other professionals. Educators are beginning to build a variety of networks, discussing the ways that these types of things might be used in education. One such discussion is actually an online debate, Oxford style, between Ewan McIntosh and Michael Bugeja. This is Ewan’s promo:

This week you can take part in the debate I will start today with Michael Bugeja, Director of Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. We’re arguing our corners in an Oxford-style online debate, he against the motion that social networking will have a positive impact on education, and I’m arguing for the motion.

Now Ewan used the power of his network to put together his opening statement.

Incidentally, my first 1000 words were effectively co-written in a 25 minute Twitter conversation across the web and mobile phones. My thanks to Lucy, John, Nick, Lisa, Adam, Judy, Sue, David… and many more who jumped onto Twitter. Who can say social networking is not having a postive impact on the way teachers, at least, are learning?

This is a great demonstration of how a network can help individuals in their own learning and in problem solving.

Over at Change Agency, guest blogger Nick Pernisco is discussing this same theme in the context of news and keeping informed.

I have to relinquish some of my own thinking to a trusted third party… I simply can’t keep up myself, so someone else needs to. Instead of checking 100 sources of information per day, I’ll only check 10 that will hopefully contain the best of the 100 sources. That means I can shift my brain from seeking out 100 sources to critically analyzing the compiled information from the 10 sources. We do this everyday when we watch a newscast instead of going to each place there is news happening, or read a newspaper instead of calling local and national governments ourselves for the scoop.

His final thought, though, gets at the real core of the matter when dealing with education and teachers.

This is why media literacy is more important than ever in today’s information glut world.

Media literacy, and for teachers, technology literacy, is so important. People in education must be able to discern what will serve them the best in a given situation. This is where the discussion about technology becomes a bit difficult. Advocates of technology use in schools see the use of technology by teachers as a natural progression of teaching as the teachers learn new things and use them to help build student’s learning. However, we do have a bit of a problem. How do we get a bulk of the educators to begin using and adopting?

Pete Reilly at Ed Tech Journeys continues the discussion that started at Scott Macleod’s Dangerously Irrelevant about mandating teachers. His thoughts are, as usual, insightful and make one question the actual validity of something like that.

It’s a great question and it provoked some good discussion; however is mandating technology use enough? Will it create the pedagogical changes we want, if put in the hands of educators whose personalities are not conducive to the classroom transformation we’d like to see?

Read Pete’s post. It really does highlight the problem that mandating has in education. We can control the program or tool but not the people or how they will use the them. We’ve seen that in so many different programs that have come and gone through the schools. What compounds this problem is the fact that there are so many different tools that one can choose to use and there is no real agreement on what are basic tools that teachers should begin using. People like Vicki Davis and Jane Hart do a great job of giving their suggestions, as do others. The point here is that there are so many tools that are out there and it is hard to know where to start. And this could be the problem, with so much happening so quickly, there seems to be something new and improved coming out every week. It is a bit overwhelming at first look.

Perhaps the teachers who are not jumping on-board are not aware is available to them? I think the biggest problem is that perhaps there are too many possibilities for “jumping in”. This actually makes it scarier then it really is. Paul Williams

This is where many of us who are already working with many of these tools have an edge that other educator do not. Our networks. We have been working through problems, trying out software and sharing ideas as quickly as something comes out. How? Well someone on the network seems to have or use whatever comes out and shares it with the rest. These early adopters (where do they get the $ ) help to bring the rest along. But where does one start? There are literally hundreds of networks that educators can join.

I agree with the social networking comments. Two people on twitter took time and great care to introduce me to some twitter friends whom I could follow and whom they knew would follow me and allow valuable interaction. Otherwise I was following some, unable to interact, unable to learn much and about to nearly give up. murcha

For those who are trying to get going, it can be a very daunting thing. That’s when, sifting through my RSS feeds in Google Reader, I came across an post by mscofino in which she states:

I know it’s frustrating to see something so close yet so far, and I know it seems like if we could just get the technology authentically embedded (and we don’t need the teachers on board for that, do we?) into the curriculum in one fell swoop, we’d be done before we started. But teachers are special folk. If they don’t want to change, they won’t. We have to show them, we have to prove why they should. And there’s no better way to do that than with other classroom teachers sharing their success. And those successes aren’t going to happen with a technology facilitator forcing a teacher to change (as if they could, given that they’re never going to be a supervisor to other teachers). It’s going to happen when a teacher wants to change and asks for help.

It would be easier if we could just mandate things but that isn’t going to work. We now that social networks, whether technological or f2f, are very powerful and impact all of us. These networks, for the most part, have not been well used in education. Teachers, usually in isolation, have worked away at subject or grade levels, implementing curriculum with a PD day here and there. Every now and then, something new comes along, usually with a new administrator at some level, but it passes. Not this time. Technology isn’t just a fad that will pass with the next hiring. Why? Because it is becoming part of the culture.

I like the idea of “Change One Thing”, and relate it to technology. Make one technological change, whether its a Google Reader account or a Wiki, the important thing is to change something. Paul Williams

This is where, I believe, we need to begin. We need to work with teachers and use one tool. Show them how to use it and manage it while at the same time introducing them to a network where they can lurk for awhile, seeing what others are doing and understanding that frustration and problems are part of the whole learning equation. In fact, today I made my first inroad with one of my other administrators who is taking an online class. She has asked me to help her with setting up some things and working with some of the tools. She wanted to know if I had the time? Of course I do. I know that if I can get her started and then encourage her, she will grow and some of these tools will be adopted. As she told me “I know I have to do this but I just haven’t had the right push to do them. Well, now I do.” She’s worried she’ll do something wrong or things will be too complicated. For those of us using the tools we need to let other teachers know that no one has all the answers and we’re all on a learning continuum. It’s the sharing that helps us grow in ways we never could have dreamed of.

To my network out there, thanks for your input!