“If I run a half marathon, but didn’t make a Facebook post about it, did I actually run the half-marathon?” This was a reddit comment my 20 year old son shared with me recently. We both had a good laugh which I took as a good sign from someone who has grown up in the social media age and at times seems a little compulsive about and a lot distracted by checking his phone.
Social media in 2013 is to my generation what PCs were to my parent’s generation in 1993. Personal computers in the Eighties and early Nineties were mostly found in the work place or in college programming classrooms. One might find a computer lab of of primitive PCs mostly used for drill and practice or typing in schools, but a household computer or classroom computer was rare. We were all still using books, and we had to go to the library to get them.
My husband absolutely despises social media. He refuses to have a Facebook page and even though we run a tech based business from home, he does not belong to a professional network, and we still use regular mail as our primary source of sending and receiving documents. Mostly because, regular mail is considered more “trustworthy” by our clients who tend to be around our age. Nonetheless, my husband has joined the ranks of every other human being (even in the far reaches of Indonesia on top of a volcano) of making our cell phone (note we have one) the centerpiece of our lives, so he is evolving just at a slower rate.
My husband’s attitude toward social and professional networks reminds me of the comments of a wonderful teacher I knew years ago, Mr. Erlenbaugh. “I have never had a telephone in my living room, and I will never have a machine in my classroom.” I met Mr. Erlenbaugh when I was working as a tech consultant for SFUSD, training teachers and parents on how to use computers in 1995. Mr. Erlenbaugh was adamant about not having a computer in his classroom until he sat down in front of a Mac and was instantly mesmerized when he could open two windows at one time. He retired the following year and I applied for his teaching position. He wrote me a beautiful letter of recommendation in perfect cursive (can any of us do that anymore?). Undoubtedly, he has spent his retirement enjoying the Internet, but not in his living room.
I ended up getting the job teaching a combination fourth and fifth grade class. I created a model technology classroom. When I was evaluated later in the year, the evaluator dinged me on two points 1) for all of the posters of “old white presidents” (like I could help that) that Mr. Erlenbaugh had tacked up around the rim of the room, and 2) lack of student artwork on the walls. There was a lot student work posted on the walls (on the Internet and in our classroom), but it did not look like student work because it had been scanned and printed in a variety of formats. For instance, students had made collages and timelines of the decades we we studying in US and California history and published them in two calendars (a project I have done every year since until 2011, and it was a lot easier to do in 2011 than 1996). The evaluator did not notice all of the tech equipment I had purchased for my classroom; the laptops, the AV Macintosh computer, the quik-cam, the scanner, the huge TV set, the GoVideo recorder, or the mini-TV studio in the corner of the room where students were creating videos and game shows. Sadly, I had to purchase my projector for my last classroom in 2006, so that hasn’t changed.
In 1996 the fourth and fifth grade students created a class Web site, went on “virtual field trips,” and made videos for other students, parents, and teachers on how to use technology (starting with the on button). The evaluator did not care about these things; she wanted real artwork on the real walls. She probably would not understand the value of social media today. I learned animation from my sixth grade teachers (without the use of a computer) in 1971 – telling a story in a creative way changed how I perceived my life.
Over the past 20 years, I have come to realize there is a lot of value to cutting and pasting in the real world, not just the virtual world and I have made a point over the years of blending the two. The Internet, social media, blogs, professional networks, pencils, scissors, and tape are all great tools. How they are used determines whether or not they they are good for learning or merely distractions. I have four blogs on varying subjects. When I started the blogs, I was merely presenting, however, because of these blogs I have developed some very meaningful social connections with people around the world that have literally changed my life and how I view my role on the planet. I did not expect that to happen; I think ultimately social media will have a profound positive impact on an individual’s personal learning space as well as education worldwide. Although posting about our half-marathon times may be superficial (or even posting about posting about a half marathon), the Internet brings us together and helps us find common ground.
Ultimately, I think this common thread of humanity and humility may be the best thing that has ever happened to this little planet of ours; a world wide community is forming right before our eyes