Remember letters? I still like to write them, believing they are a lost art and a personal connection that seems to be missing from the ways we communicate today in short, 140 character spurts. Not everything about technology is an improvement. With speed and ease, we sometimes trade off other things, like the personal touch of a handwritten letter.
The gains of technology, however, are often baffling. Let's talk about classrooms. When I was a kid, if my teacher wanted to seek the advice of an expert that didn't live in our community, we'd have to try and call. We didn't have cell phones. We didn't have phones in the classroom. Often, we had to write a letter. That would mean weeks to hear a reply, if we heard a reply at all. That's a lot of time and uncertainty for a teacher whose lessons could depend on the answers.
It's easy to see why teachers have long been stuck in the idea that they have to have all the answers, make all the decisions, and be the experts in whatever they teach as well as whatever might come up. Relying on others was, well, unreliable. It took too long. It might not ever result in anything. If it did, the opportunity to catch kids in that magical moment of interest was often lost.
Today, we have Skype. We have blogs. We have wikis. We have Google Docs/Drive. We have instant messaging, text, and the list goes on and on and on. There is absolutely NO reason whatsoever NOT to include experts in your classroom community. You can reliably contact all kinds of interesting people all over the world. It happens quite often. Not nearly enough, but often.
Here is an example of how technology could facilitate an entire project, complete with an expert. This photo is a screenshot taken from my Plurk page. Plurk is what I use for my PLN, or Professional Learning Network. I have lots of educators from around the world, tech directors, technology integration folks, and administrators on my timeline. Often, the magic of the Internet unfolds. Today it went something like this: Ginger Lewman, a consultant at ESSDACK who happens to be a Problem Based Learning Godess, shared a link to a free copy of one of her recipe cards. They are complete, multi-subject projects to serve as a springboard for just about any classroom. This one was a challenge for students to save the residents of Pompeii. Michael Soskil, a teacher in Pennsylvania, responded with an offer to Skype his brother in law as an expert. His brother in law happens to be an Archaeology Professor in the UK and knows a thing or two about the dig site.
Bam! Just like that, an opportunity for a high quality lesson that stretches students' thinking across multiple disciplines, involves them in real world problem solving and critical thinking, and even involves collaboration (just like the real world) with an expert in the field. All I had to do was talk with some friends.
How can we ignore the potential of things like this?
Here is some more information for you to learn from and connect with the two great members of my PLN mentioned in this post:
Site: LifePractice Learning
Blog: A Teacher's Life for Me