Happy new year! 2009 proved to be a productive year of learning, sharing, and conversing. I thank you all for being a part of that and look forward to doing it again in 2010!
A few days ago I came across a blog post on Problogger titled “Let me Show You Inside a Secret Blogging Alliance.” The idea of an alliance between bloggers intrigued me. To fully understand why I was so intrigued by the idea of an alliance, let me give you a little background about the slow beginning of iLearn Technology, and an article that made me angry enough to long for change.
My degree is not in educational technology. I started my teaching career as a second grade teacher. I had two old computers (circa 1997) in my classroom and had stumbled on Starfall, Book Adventure, and Read Write Think.org. We had no computer lab in our building, so I used these sites as center activities during my literacy block. My students asked to use these sites constantly, loving when it was their day for the computer centers.
It was completely by accident that I became a computer teacher the following year. I was looking for a change in schools and had applied to CHC for one of their classroom teacher positions. I got a call from our office assistant informing me that both classroom teacher positions had been filled quickly. She followed with, “I know this is a long shot, but we need a computer teacher to teach kindergarten through second grade. I noticed that you have used computers with students and wondered if you might be interested?” My first thought was “no way, I can’t do it. I’m not qualified.” What I told her was that I would think about it and get back to her. I called my husband to tell him about this ridiculous job I had just been offered. He didn’t seem to think it was so ridiculous. We were newly married and could use the money, even if it was only part time. It was getting late in the year to be hired as a classroom teacher. I wasn’t looking forward to the subbing circuit. My attitude about the ridiculous job offer began to change. “Maybe I can do this. It is only part time, I can used my days off to do research, surely I know more about computers than a second grader.” I called the office assistant the next day to tell her I would take the job.
My hunt for lesson plans and websites was on. I started a notebook (the paper kind) where I would jot down site addresses that I found, along with a few sentences about the site and ideas I had for using it in the classroom. I barely made it through that first year, always staying just two steps ahead of my students. It was in my second year that I started my first website. I used FrontPage to create pages of links that were easily organized for students to access. (I was tired of adding every new site I found to the bookmark bar of each computer.) My notebook of web addresses had turned into three and I started using iKeepBookmarks to organize all of the sites I had found. At the beginning of my computer lab teaching career, it was nearly impossible to hunt down a list of good educational links. I was finding amazing websites but couldn’t find any one person who had collected, organized, and shared them all in one place.
I woke up one morning with an email from my husband (@jtenkely) in my inbox. A single sentence stared back at me, “You should start a blog about technology in education.” Attached was a link to Tasty Blog Snack by @ijustine (not an education blog). Although what @ijustine does is not easy, she made it look easy, it was just the push I needed to start blogging. I would be the one to collect, organize, and share education links in one place. But I didn’t want it to just be a list of links…I had found pages of links with no explanation as to what they were. Teachers need it to be easier, they need to be able to see, at a glance, if a site will meet the needs of their students. They also need an idea of what using the site would actually look like in the classroom setting. This would be my blog. I anticipated it being useful for the teachers that I taught alongside, they were my target audience. In my mind, even if they never read it, it would still be a useful way for me to organize my ideas about the websites I was finding.
I had no idea what I was doing. I would type up a blog post, publish it, and hope that someone, somewhere, was reading it. I had no way of tracking or finding out if anyone was actually viewing any of my ideas. I needed some direction and decided to find out if there were any other educators who were blogging (I was naive enough to think I might be the first one!). I found TechnoSpud (now Jenuine Tech) by @jenwagner and 2Cents Worth by @davidwarlick. They were big. They were well known. I was nobody. I started finding other educators who blogged through the blog rolls on TechnoSpud and 2Cents Worth. I have never felt so small. Here were a group of educators who “knew” each other and had debates and conversations about education on a regular basis. I tried to join in the conversation but got discouraged when my comments weren’t responded to.
iLearn Technology exists today for one reason: I am stubborn. I believed that I was doing something worthwhile and decided that I didn’t care if no one seemed to notice. Blogging did something else for me, it made me a better teacher. I understood the learning process better because I was engaged in it on a daily basis. Even though I didn’t consider myself “one of them” I started reading other education blogs religiously. I would occasionally engage in the conversation but for the most part I was happy to sit on the sidelines and watch.
It was around this time that I started Tweeting (@ijustine was Tweeting, I should too). I had NO idea that educators were Twittering. I was there to keep up with @jtenkely‘s funny observations, keep track of @iJustine, and keep a watch out for new Apple products that were coming. I started following @davidwarlick and @jenwagner and a few other edubloggers that I was reading. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, but suddenly I was getting comments on iLearn Technology, I had regular readers, I was getting emails asking for advice, I was involved in the conversation. I was a real blogger.
It isn’t easy to become a blogger, there is a habit that needs to be formed, a commitment to stick with. It is really hard when you are the newb, the nobody. It is hard to keep that commitment when you are painfully aware that you are the sole reader of your writing. @janwebb21 reminded me of this as she told me about her own blog. She has been at it for about a month, has had a few visitors and a comment or two. But it is a slow process. I would have given anything for the PLN, ideas, and resources I have now when I started teaching.
And Now For Something Completely Different…
Since joining Twitter, I have enjoyed conversations with people from all walks of life. I have been introduced to new ideas, resources, and have been forced to think in new ways. I have developed a PLN (Personal Learning Network) and have engaged in numerous discussions about education, technology, and learning. I have been surrounded by greatness and others who are passionate about learning and teaching others to do the same. I have become convinced that those educators that I connect with virtually are among the smartest, most innovative people on the planet.
On Friday I clicked on a link that someone shared on Twitter, it was a story about the use of iPods in Education (I always want to read more when Apple products are mentioned in the same sentence as education, my inner geek comes pouring out.) The article was okay, basically just a short story about how a school is using the iPod Touch in education. What stopped me in my tracks were the comments left in response to the article. Most were negative comments about the state of education and what a waste of money iPods are for the classroom. The comment that really made my blood boil was, “Teachers get to press the learn button, kick back, and think about their next week long vacation.” It became increasingly clear to me that the general public has NO idea what we as educators do. We are not seen as professionals. We are viewed as babysitters with a cushy job. My knee jerk reaction was to respond to each and every one of these misinformed individuals and inform them. Instead I posted the following on Twitter, knowing that you all would be equally enraged by the comments: “Getting all fired up reading the comments after this article http://bit.ly/51RJsk general public doesn’t understand education even a little.” The comments regarding education made me want to stand up and shout about the brilliance that is my PLN. I wanted the misinformed to understand just how misinformed they are. I kept thinking of how different education could look if we were louder.
After reading the alliance article an idea began to take shape. What if we, educational bloggers, were to form an alliance. No need for the secrecy. This alliance would be a group of educational bloggers who are committed to working together for the mutual benefit of all the members in the alliance. We all have something valuable to add to the conversation of education and learning. Each of us has a unique voice, outlook, approach, skills, strengths, and focuses.
The goal of the alliance is two fold:
1. To encourage educators in their blogging endeavors whether they be new, established, or otherwise. There are so many valuable additions to the conversation that are being overlooked.
2. To create a united network of educators working toward the larger goal of being heard by those not in education. It is time for the general public to see us for the highly qualified professionals that we are.
How the Alliance could work…
1. Commenting on each others blogs– in the Problogger article, those in the alliance committed to commenting on each others blogs at least once every week day. The comments should stimulate interesting discussions, and encourage those involved that someone, is indeed, reading their blog.
2. Linking to One Another- This could be linking to related posts on another educational bloggers website, adding them to your blog roll, or naturally as a result of subscribing to one another’s blogs.
3. Social Bookmarking and Tweeting- This is my personal favorite suggestion, Twitter has done wonders for iLearn Technology as my PLN passes on my posts to others. Promoting posts on Twitter, Digg, Delicious, and StumbleUpon increases awareness of what educators around the world are doing that works. It also connects those new to educational blogging.
4. Guest Posts- Guest posting could be an opt-in option for the alliance. I know that it isn’t always possible to find time to write a blog post for your blog, let alone polish it enough for someone else’s blog.
5. Thank You Page Promotions- When someone signs up to receive your RSS feed, they are generally taken to a page thanking them for subscribing. This Thank You Page could also be used to promote other education blogs. For example: “If you like iLearn Technology, you should also be sure to check out blog A, B, C, and D.”
Do you-want to form an alliance- with me?
So the question stands, do you want to form an alliance? If you are interested, leave a comment linking to your blog with your first name (or Twitter username), and a short description of your blog. Please also fill out this short form so that I can be in contact with you. Lets make our voices louder through a shared vision and mission, lets encourage each other in our blogging and teaching endeavors, lets make this year a year of real change.