Saturday, April 18, 2009

Social Networking for Professional Development


I'm at the CATESOL conference, and it's been a mixture of wonderful conversations and depressing realizations; wonderful because of the opportunity to see so many colleagues that I don't get to see all the time, and depressing because adult education in California, at least the K12 adult schools, is being cut and curtailed by state budget cuts. The adult level meeting, which is usually full to overflowing, was this time full of empty chairs, and when someone asked how many were from continuing education in the community colleges, more than half the room raised their hands. That means that teachers and coordinators from the K12 adult schools aren't here this year. There was no money for travel. There was also no one from the Adult Education Office of the California Department of Education because they also are not currently allowed to travel.

One of the wonderful parts of being here in Pasadena has been sharing a hotel room with my friend Jan Jarrell from San Diego City College. She used to teach ESL with me at Centre City Adult Education Center in San Diego, and we used to walk at the bay every Thursday and strategize about how to solve the various challenges we perceived in our classes, our program, and the district, not to mention our personal lives. I've missed that since I moved to Sacramento in 2001, and had forgotten how deeply satisfying it is to talk to someone who knows you and your history, and who shares many of your values and beliefs. We don't have to start at the beginning of a conversation, we can start in the middle and still know where we are.

In a year when the opportunities for face-to-face networking are fewer than in previous years, I found myself giving a workshop on Social Networking for Professional Development to a very small audience at the end of a long day. (The slides are posted, and the links on the wiki are just the ones that aren't in the slides.) The audience was small partly because the topic doesn't appear directly related to teaching English to speakers of other languages. But the people who were there, the 3 or 4 intrepid souls who sat up front and really talked with me, were sincerely curious about social networking, and I had the opportunity to share my passion for the subject.

Today I listened to a bunch of episodes from NPR's This I Believe, so let me borrow from their format to articulate here some things I believe:
* I believe we human beings are social animals
* I believe that learning is an innate human drive like sex or the need to find food and shelter - we can't go on for too long without it
* I believe we learn through relationships as much as if not more than through solitary reading and studying
* I believe that we learn through a web of connections between reading, conversations and experiences that interact with each other in some chemical way inside our brains
* I believe that passion is one of the keys to a productive life

In my presentation I talked about Twitter to people who had never seen it, about how many things I've learned from links people have posted there. I talked about Delicious and what an excellent improvement it is to be able to save and tag bookmarks online, and to share them with others and have others share their bookmarks as well. I talked about listservs, and Facebook and LinkedIn, and I realized that I'm still excited and passionate about these things.

I talked about people I've "met" through these networks, like Stephen Downes for instance, someone I will probably never meet in real life, but whose thinking affects my thinking, and my ability to share those thoughts with others. He talks a lot about how ideas are socially generated, and I recently read a biography of Einstein that made me acutely aware of the same thing - ideas are developed socially, feeding off each other, pushing each other, disagreeing with each other. Not to negate the importance of the exceptional brilliance of some minds. I often, in this stage of my life (I'm 61), run smack into the limitations of my own intellect. But Einstein, by putting his ideas out to his field, developed relationships with the other people who were thinking about the same things he was, and through those relationships developed his ideas further. He did that through the social networks that were available to him, but now every one of us has wide social networks available to us. This, to me, is like magic.

1 comment:

Roger said...

Hi Marian,
I recently discovered your blog and think it's great! I especially liked your observations relating to This I Believe. I am a part-time ESL teacher and just starting to get into web 2.0 and the different ways it can be used in the learning process. You have a lot of good information here.