Don’t Fight The Darkness

Whenever my wife attends chiropractic conferences or workshops, she always comes home with these great quotes that she hears from the speakers that I always try to apply to my role in education. Last week, she came home with another great one, “You can’t fight the darkness. You can only turn on the lights.”

When I heard this quote, I thought of an issue that is consistently brought up when I present to large groups or work with small groups of teachers; the limited access to technology in their classrooms. It’s very easy fall into the trap of “fighting the darkness” when it comes to not having access to technology. You can swing your fists as much as you want but it’s still going to be pitch black. Sure, it can be frustrating being in a classrom with only one computer and no wireless internet (I’ve been there) but having a classroom filled with expensive technology does not automatically increase engagement and achievement. Rather than “fighting the dark” and focusing on what your classroom lacks in terms of technology, “turn on the light” and take an assets-based approach. What does your classroom have and how can it be effectively be used to develop 21st century fluencies?

I choose the red pill…

“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Morpheus, 1999

I can’t help but think of this quote from The Matrix to describe my new perspective on 21st century fluencies in education. I always thought myself to be a knowledgeable individual when it came to using technology in education. I was an I.T. teacher at two of my previous schools, I was a report card administrator, I knew how to use the Microsoft Office programs, I was familiar with a variety of educational software programs, and I also had experiences with Interactive White Boards in my classrooms. In terms of technology in education, I thought I was doing just fine….until I swallowed the red pill…

During a leadership workshop, two colleagues of mine, Zoe Branigan-Pipe (a teaching colleague) and Lisa Neale (now my leadership mentor) passionately spoke about using “web 2.0” in education. By the end of the workshop, I was still hesitant about using web 2.0 in education but was convinced by Zoe and Lisa to at least create a Twitter account and use it for professional purposes. It only took me a couple of tweets about some good math related resources, articles, and some more guidance and encouragement from my meetings with Lisa before I realized the power and the positive impact that social networking can have in education. Sure, I only had 9 followers but those were 9 educators that were possibly benefiting from my shared knowledge through Twitter. 9 people that wouldn’t have had access to my professional knowledge without this simple yet powerful microblogging site.

Twitter was just the tipping point. Soon after I joined Twitter, I created a Wikispace account. As I was searching for Wikis about web 2.0 applications in education, I stumbled upon Classroom 2.0, a social networking group for educators. For a brief moment, I thought my web 2.0 journey had come to an end until I discovered Glogster, Wordle, Jing screencasting, and etherpads. Every site I visited led me to 5 more and the number of websites that I discovered grew exponentially. I soon realized that the rabbit hole was becoming a bottomless abyss!

As a “born again techie” I am overwhelmed yet excited. When I look at the incredible applications of web 2.0 in the classroom and the willingness of so many to share and collaborate, I feel encouraged and proud to be an educator. I look at technology and web 2.0 as the key to student engagement, achievement, and equity. Web 2.0 has also made me realize that my professional learning community is not limited to my teaching partner, my divisional team, my school, or board. My professional learning community is now global with teaching colleagues in places like Johannesburg and California. When I graduated from the Faculty of Education from Brock University in 2002, I never imagined that I would be able to collaborate with educators from around the world and until a few months ago my perception of technology in education was very narrowminded. However, now that I have chosen the red pill, my blindfold has been lifted. I can no longer ignore the power of Web 2.0 and the positive impact it can have on student learning. I want to stay in this techno wonderland and see where this rabbit hole will take me.