Without a doubt one of the most powerful learning and growth experience of my life has come from sharing my thoughts, reflections and lessons on my blog (pretty infrequently these days), on Twitter and in various Online Professional Social Networks. The value of doing this seems so obvious to me that I am always taken aback by how hard it is to entice my colleagues to join me in these online spaces. I feel that there must be a missing piece to the puzzle.
Last summer I had the experience of trying to launch a new Ning Social Network for Independent School Educators in BC. I was keen. We launched the network in conjunction with an Alan November workshop and as a result managed to entice a large number of educators to join. I figured this meant we had the critical mass needed to build something sustainable. I was wrong; after the workshop interest petered out.
I’ve also had the same thing happen when I manage to entice a new teacher to try Twitter. They are keen for a week or so and then they forget about it.
My thinking lately is that the missing piece I’m looking for has to do with sharing. I read somewhere recently (I can’t remember the reference) that human beings have an innate need to share. I agree, but I think that the professional environment that teachers work in can kill this innate tendency. We are all so busy and are generally so focused on our subject, our students and our classroom that our default is all about finding resources and fixing our lessons; we don’t have time to think about sharing. When I reflect back on the social network I tried to build I think our mistake was in encouraging everyone to TAKE from the network (ask questions, find resources) and our assumption was that they would naturally see the value of also giving back to the network by sharing; but that didn’t happen. Instead most of the participants took what they could and then moved on.
When I reflect on my approach to online social networking tools it always starts with the question ‘what can I share?’ and when I share others share back with me in spades. Witness this recent Twitter conversation where I shared a resource for finding free sound effects and was in turn directed to another resource with lots of other free sound effect sites that were new to me:
This slide show and blog post called “Six Steps to Making Sharing a Part of How You Work” has got me thinking that maybe the place to start is with developing a culture of sharing at your school or institution before introducing the idea of sharing online. I’m not going to rehash the blog post here but it occur to me that this was a pretty good model that could be used in schools to scaffold the teaching of sharing.