Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Please don't tell me my friends aren't real.

Blogging was not on my list of things to do today but, as noted in my previous post, I'm easily distracted and I have difficulty sticking to my 'get it done' priorities.

Today's distraction is due the large number of references I've come across in my Twitter feed and Google Reader this week referring to'real life' as opposed to 'online' with the assertion being that the people you meet and communicate with online are somehow different, or the relationships with them are less valid or less important than the relationships you have with people in your pysical space. I'm used to that sort of misunderstanding and assumption from folks who aren't internet connected but it comes as a bit of a shock to me when I read it in my social media pages.

I firmly believe that this discrimination between on and offline worlds is one of the greatest barriers we face in promoting global unity and providing 21st century communication in schools.

Frankly, I'm tired of being told I should spend less time on the computer and more time talking to 'real' people. I'm over making excuses for providing my students with the opportunity to broaden their outlook by communicating with kids in other parts of the world. Here's the thing. Online is real. The people you meet there are real. The friendships you make there are real. The learning that takes place there is real.

I have friends I made in high school. I have friends at work, friends I met at parties, at mother's groups, while playing sport or because we've worked on committees together.I also have friends I've made online.The only difference between each group is their context. The commonality is that they are all my friends.

I love the fact that I live in a time when I can connect with people all over the world at anytime of the day. Given the relative isolation of my small country town, if I were to confine myself to only meeting and befriending the people I can see face to face, then my choices would be pretty limited and so would the opportunities of my students.

I've only been part of the Twittersphere for a short time but I've been collaborating with other teachers via the internet for almost fifteen years. I started my collaborative journey at TeachersNet where I met an amazing group of people with whom I became firm friends. Subsequently, I met some of them in a physical space, many I have spoken to on the phone and some have remained 'text' based. They are all real. The conversations we have are real. The support and advice we offer each other is real.

At Christmas, one of my old Tnet friends sent me two tins of canned pumpkin so I can make that wonderful American delicacy with  ingredients that aren't available here. That pie (despite my poor culinary skills), will taste every bit as good as if it were hand delivered in a checkered tea towel because the sentiment behind the sending of it is just the same as the jar of home made cookies from my neighbour next door.They are both symbols of friendship.

I know there are cases where people have masqueraded as someone they are not on the internet. They are frauds but it's not the internet who makes them so. I've had physical meetings with quite a few frauds in my lifetime and while it was easier to discern their age and gender because I could 'see' them, their motives were just as well hidden as an online fraudster.We need to teach our kids how to identify genuine friendships and genuine people, in ALL their spaces.

It's time we stopped referring to online friendships as something different , strange or less important than the friendships we form in physical space.The world needs to be more connected; we need to feel more like the citizens of the world that we are, rather than barricading and segregating ourselves into minority (or majority) groups based on race or location or social strata or age. Online friendships promote empathy and cultural understanding. They provide opportunities for collaboration and consultation with other like minded individuals and they overcome the isolation of geography or circumstance.Online communities are just like any other community. They provide friendship and support and a sense of belonging.

I guess the most compelling proof of the reality of my online friends is that I married one of them. Back in the day when my online presence was just a nickname with no photo or profile, we formed a friendship based on humour and shared interests and common beliefs about teaching and the world in general. Given that we came from different decades and different countries, it's doubtful our paths would have crossed in any other space. And yet, here we are, twelve years on, still sharing common beliefs about teaching and the world and bringing up our 7 yr old who is absolute living proof that our 'virtual' relationship is pretty damned real!

Are online friendships part of your real world?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Think Big

I've struggled to add to my blog over the holidays. I think my brain has enforced an imposed vacation to give itself time to recover from 2010.
I have been working on a few things for the new year though, and one of them is this year's production of 'Seussical'. The production isn't actually part of my assigned workload and so I guess I should be prioritising it below the staff rosters, the timetable and organising the start of year PD days but as I've mentioned previously, it's one of my favourite things to do and so I'm indulging myself by listening to the score over and over until it's inculcated and I've become a part time resident of Solla Sollew.

Each time we do a new play I try to connect to the story and characters in some way, to immerse myself in the story so that the kid's will 'feel' and believe the storyline when I help tell it to them.This time I've found an immediate affinity with two of the characters because I discovered that Horton and Jojo are thinkers! And so am I. Indeed the amount of thinks I have is astounding and like Jojo, they often get me into trouble.

Recently I did this quiz and it told me I was a visionary 'crazy maker' and that my inability to manage so many different projects may be adding to the workload of those around me.I think it was suggesting that I should shed some activities, lose some thinks in order to see more of them through without creating chaos for those I work with. I also read this post by Will Richardson about rethinking our online time and that created more thinking and more worrying. I agree with so much of what he's saying but I can't quite reconcile that with the burning desire to read everything, to follow every link, to try every new program. We live in a wonderful age, it's an exciting time to be an educator and I want to soak up and share every bit of it! It's a conundrum, but it's a problem I've decided to ignore for the time being.

Instead, one of my new year resolutions is to encourage more thinks. I am going to stand up for my right to think.I am going to stand up for my right to encourage kids to think. I will not sacrifice thinks for test scores (although I promise I will pay due attention to teaching persuasive text and I'll do my best to improve their spelling, provided great word choice remains their priority!). I will not be bound by or bow down to the staus quo or the 'historical' routines or a limiting curriculum that focuses on content rather than context. I will encourage and support staff at my school to try new ideas and dip their toes in the amazing networking possibilities of social media. I will no longer accept the 'I'm no good with technology' statement from teachers and I will be resilient in the face of criticism from luddites and digital dinosaurs.
'People are people, no matter how small' and our students deserve to be given access to the sort of
technology and the ways of thinking they'll need in their adult lives.If they are going to save the world instead of destroying it, then they need to collaborate with their peers all over the world. They need to develop skills to solve problems rather than create them. So, as Jojo says, 'I will think and think until I drop', and if that makes hard work for myself and others, so be it, because in the immortal words of Dr Seuss,
 "Anything is Possible'.
If anyone out there has some ideas on how to manage my thinks, I'd love to hear from you.