Should Teachers Share Online?

As an educator, what does it mean to share? We tell our children at home to do it. We tell our kids at school to do it. We’d even be hard pressed to find an educator who didn’t outright argue against the notion of sharing. So why then are there still educators who choose to work in isolation (i.e., choose to not share)?

Perhaps educators are intimidated by the use of technology? How can any of us find the time to keep up with technology in order to increase our willingness to share? As soon as I learn how to use Twitter, for instance, some other technology will emerge (become the flavor of the day), and I’ll have to learn all about that new web tool. It’s a never ending story as they say…so why start?

share ideasIf the problem is not technology, then perhaps it’s for another reason. Few would dispute the fact that current technologies have made learning more transparent. Students have more possibilities now for open authorship, allowing them to reach a more global audience as student projects can now be published online. As teachers, we have a variety of ways to interact with online communities and individuals as part of a personal learning network that has the potential of offering the professional learning support we need, when we need it. However, with all of this potential for learning (both as students and teachers), we also run the risk of looking dumb, stupid, silly, etc.

So maybe it’s not about the technology at all; perhaps educators choose not to share for fear of looking silly (or some other appropriate adjective). Forget that I tell my students that it’s fine to make mistakes; that making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process; that mistakes allow us to grow as learners, etc. Forget all of that. I am the expert, the teacher, the leader, the sage on the stage, etc. I have a reputation to protect. My job evaluation depends on my level of expertise. I simply cannot risk jeopardizing my professional reputation by sharing an opinion, a thought, an experience, etc. openly online.

So, here we are. An educator who does not share an opinion openly online because of the impossible task of keeping up with technology; an educator who does not tweet because the information (140 characters) might get into the wrong hands and be used against that person in class, in a faculty meeting, in a parent-teacher conference, etc.; or an educator who does not post a classroom experience to YouTube for fear that the recording will emerge during the next teacher evaluation. Educators then choose to work in isolation because it is safe, it’s familiar, it’s how it’s always been done, it’s something educators know how to do.

Fine, working in isolation is certainly one way to look at the role of sharing in the field of education. But now, let’s take a look from another point of view. There are some who feel that teachers who share are the best teachers. In fact, Shareski more directly states that you don’t have to share to be a great teacher, but doing so does make you great. I disagree. Not sharing makes you a less-than-great teacher. In other words, it is impossible to be a great teacher without sharing and without the necessary tools to get the job done. Would you hire a plumber to fix your sink if that plumber did not have the tools necessary to do the job? Teachers rely on objects, materials, technologies, etc. to teach, just as doctors rely on objects, materials, technologies, etc. to help cure people. Would you go to a psychiatrist who hadn’t studied, or who had not kept up with the latest discourse around the most current treatments? Isn’t (formal and informal) study just a big sharing exercise? How many teachers would hold back (or admit to holding back) what they know to their students due to a fear of sharing?

Now, it’s easy to build an argument for sharing (some might say it’s easy to build an argument against it) when the assumption is that sharing is a single proposition, or that we all agree on how the term is being defined. But in reality, like so many terms, sharing can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different individuals – hence the reason why I have not defined how I am using the term.

I’m giving a talk (Google+ hangout on air) next week on sharing among educators and am interested in how others view the notion of sharing:

  • What does sharing mean to you as an educator, trainer, etc.?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of sharing?
  • How does your current behavior differ from your ideal notion of sharing?
  • Are their challenges, barriers, etc. that you face when, where, and how you choose to share?
  • Do you decide how you share or does someone else?
  • When is it appropriate (or not appropriate) to share?

We all have motives for doing what we do, and sharing with colleagues, friends, and even to perfect strangers is no exception. Share your ideas, thoughts, experiences, etc. on how you share (or don’t share) in your own field of expertise so that diverse perspectives can help provide a clearer picture of what it truly means to share.

Photo attribution: Flickr

11 Comments

  1. Lloyd Dean

    September 20, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Teaching can make some narcissistic. They think they know everything, deluded by false power and feel they are complete (and that they are the only ones who are!). In my opinion, once teachers DECIDE not to share then their game is over. Philosophy, duty and quality vanish.

  2. Benjamin L. Stewart

    September 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Lloyd. I have followed, interacted, etc. with educators who I thought were a little full of themselves, but never to the point that I wasn’t appreciative of the information they share openly online. Perhaps my perception would be different if I had to work with the individual, face to face, on a daily basis. But even still, for me personally, the beauty of following narcissists online is that I can take what I need, interact with them as I please,knowing that when it got to be too much, I could easily just stop following them.

    What’s a bigger issue: teachers deciding not to share or narassistic educators?

  3. Bruce Lee

    September 22, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Australia has Scootle Community (#ScootleCommunity) – a social network funded and set up by the Federal Government through Education Services Australia. It allows teachers to freely share ideas, experiences and resources in a safe and secure environment and one that is free of commercial and political agendas.

    We teach cybersafety to our students and so now we have a cybersmart and professional network that will ultimately improve teaching and learning.

    https://community.scootle.edu.au

  4. Benjamin L. Stewart

    September 23, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Bruce, this sounds like a wonderful initiative! May anyone join this community? I notice that one must have an email with an educational institution (although mine was not accepted). How are educational resources shared among the community, and what type of license is being used (e.g., CC-BY, CC-BY-SA, or some other type of Creative Commons license)?

  5. Benjamin L. Stewart

    September 25, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Interesting Bruce. I’m curious as to what you think about teachers freely sharing ideas, experiences, and resources in a “safe and secure” environment, and what inherent qualities of such an environment entail. What are the benefits for creating such environments for educators? Or the downside for educators sharing in an “unsafe, unsecured” environment.

  6. Delia Zepeda

    October 27, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    “So maybe it’s not about the technology at all; perhaps educators choose not to share for fear of looking silly (or some other appropriate adjective). Forget that I tell my students that it’s fine to make mistakes; that making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process; that mistakes allow us to grow as learners, etc. Forget all of that. I am the expert, the teacher, the leader, the sage on the stage, etc. I have a reputation to protect. My job evaluation depends on my level of expertise. I simply cannot risk jeopardizing my professional reputation by sharing an opinion, a thought, an experience, etc. openly online.”
    The paragraph above from your article pretty much sums it up for me. I am slowly starting to share on line via tweets, scoop it never Facebook or Instagram. I find it easier to share when I am one on one, in person with another teacher after I’ve had a few minutes to listen to their interests,and realize we have a lot in common and want to share and we are both open to new ideas.

    • Benjamin L. Stewart

      October 28, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks Delia for sharing. You say that it is easier for you to share when you are one on one, in person with another teacher… How do you feel about sharing your ideas now to a potentially large number of people via Twitter and other social media? Have your feelings changed since you first started sharing online?

  7. mira

    October 28, 2013 at 10:33 am

    If it weren’t for the “sharing” philosophy that most teachers embrace, we’d all be re-inventing the wheel! I only have to look to my recent online discovery of “Algebros” to truly appreciate the generosity, the talent, the dedication and commitment of others which in turn, inspires me to continue to share ~ if not on a global venue ~ at least within my own school and district.

    • Benjamin L. Stewart

      October 28, 2013 at 4:18 pm

      I’m with you Mira, I am constantly being inspired by others who elect to share what they know and what they do openly, online!

  8. Sahvidya

    October 29, 2013 at 6:39 am

    We started Sahvidya.com with exactly same vision to let teachers share more and more not with only his/her students but across the globe.

    As per ancient Indian saying, Knowledge is a thing which increases when spread. So, no one should confined the knowledge to self and let it flow continuously. This is upto the teachers to let the light of their knowledge and intelligence to reach till maximum possible distance.

    Thanks,
    Sahvidya

    • Benjamin L. Stewart

      November 16, 2013 at 7:05 am

      Indeed Sahvidya! Many times, it’s simply making a decision to share what one knows and can do without feeling threatened or feeling like one looks stupid. I always feel like I learn the most when I share with others.