Technology gives us the facilities that lessen the barriers of time and distance - the telegraph and cable, the telephone, radio, and the rest. -- Emily Greene Balch
This week, I was asked to consider the following question: "What kinds of barriers can connecting help educators (and/or students) overcome?" The instinctive, snarky part of me wanted to immediately answer, "Duh, all barriers," but I decided to repress my inner Sheldon Cooper and attempt to be a bit more thoughtful.
While Balch rightly mentions time and distance as barriers that technology easily overcomes (and for educators, these barriers are huge in their own rights), I prefer to think of the barriers of heart and of inspiration. More than any other barriers, and more crucial to my own connection to other educators, these are the two that technology has helped me overcome.
One of the greatest boons of connection with my PLN has been finding educators who are basically kindred spirits. While we may disagree on specific topics, out approaches to education, to learning, and to life and inherently the same. Many of my PLN members are separated by those dastardly barriers of time and distance, but technology enables me to keep up with their lives on a daily basis. To me, this goes far beyond minutes or miles. My PLN isn't like keeping up with business clients whose yearly order I am afraid of losing. It is more like a family, and some of the best people I know in this world, I have met online. I was talking with one member of my PLN family earlier this week, and she mentioned how close we were, even though we had never met. Some may consider this odd; I consider it the beauty of technology. It brings like-minded people together in a world where this is desperately needed.
Along with heart is the barrier of inspiration. I am a huge fan of Twitter, and one of the hallmarks of Twitter is the hashtag and the Twitter chat. There seems to be a Twitter chat for every topic these days, but that again is where technology overcomes barriers. As Tammy Neil mentions in her "One Rural Teacher's Journey to Passionate Teaching," she was able hunt down teachers in rural communities and connect to discuss issues, concerns, and solutions to shared problems. They became their own resource because their situation was special to them.
Consider a potential situation in my own classroom. I'm teaching Frederick Douglass's Narrative and I want an idea for a lesson that will light a fire in my students. Yes, I could Google it, but connection with educators on Twitter, Voxer, or YouTube gives me a more personal method of learning from them. Technology does, indeed, shrink the world for educators, and whether a like-minded teacher is down the road in Washington, D.C., or across the globe in Perth, Australia, I can learn at a moment's notice from educators with a specific expertise.
Technology may never substitute the feelings of meeting and relating to someone in person. It's why I'm so excited for next week's ISTE conference in Chicago; I'll get to meet and see again many of those I connect with online. But beyond simple time and distance, technology allows me to hurdle the barriers of heart and inspiration and provides support, fresh best practices, and sometimes just a caring, thoughful word from those in a similar situation to mine. Technology, used appropriately, spreads empathy, and if Emily Greene Balch were alive today, she would be more impressed than ever with its potential.