[Every week a ‘Monday Morning Message (MMM)’ email goes out to all doctoral students from a faculty or staff member in the CU Denver School of Education and Human Development. Here’s my second one, which came out today.]
In my previous MMM, I noted the power of having an active and visible online presence as part of our professional and scholarly work. In this MMM, I want to follow up on some of the ideas that I articulated in my previous message.
I had an opportunity recently to participate in a gathering of CU Denver faculty and staff at which we discussed and debated the merits of including our digital work in our tenure and promotion portfolios. I advocated strongly for the idea that the more visible we are, the more impact we can have. Not every scholar or educator wants to be a public intellectual. But for those of us who want our ideas to spread and who actually want to influence practicing educators and educational systems, participating in these online spaces is critically important.
Unfortunately, two decades after the Internet became accessible to the masses, many educators still are slow to realize the possibilities that accompany our new digital tools and online environments. As a faculty member who has an outsized social media presence (53,000+ Twitter followers; video series with 100+ million views; one of the top education blogs in the world, etc.), I can attest that there is great power in being engaged in relevant online communities. Every day I learn with P-12 and postsecondary educators who are doing amazing things in their domains.
One of the reasons that I think many educators and faculty are hesitant to participate in social media spaces is that we incessantly hear about the negative aspects of those platforms. Tales of “Bad Twitter” are legion, for example. We hear less often about the numerous ways to use “Good Twitter,” professional blogs, YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, Pinterest boards, Facebook groups, and other platforms in ways that are productive and empowering. There always will be those who engage with our work in negative ways, but we can utilize a variety of strategies and techniques to manage our networks, decrease our exposure to bad actors, and engage with the audiences that we are trying to reach in order to share ideas and resources and have productive conversations.
I would encourage you to see how the following scholars are engaging online. They are great models for how to use social media in empowered ways for research dissemination, policy advocacy, and educational impact.
What these postsecondary educators recognize is that if we don’t engage online, we cede conversational ground, policymaking influence, and mindshare around good educational practices to others who ARE willing to chime in, regardless of how inaccurate or harmful their contributions are. That’s the ultimate point of this week’s MMM. Are we just going to sit back while others offer misinformation and educationally-unsound practices or are we ready to engage?
Learning math by building bridges or designing aircraft wings is inspiring. Chugging through the odd-numbered practice problems at the end of the chapter is not.
Improving our community by collecting data and investigating the causes of local environmental challenges is inspiring. Participating in artificial, recipe-like science ‘experiments’ from a publishing company is not.
Wrestling with controversial but important political issues is inspiring. Regurgitating decontextualized historical names, dates, and places is not.
Writing for and advocating to authentic audiences around societal issues that we’re passionate about is inspiring. Writing 5-paragraph essays about books that we don’t care about is not.
Investigating our own questions about the world and how it works is inspiring. Spitting back the ‘right answer’ to someone else’s low-level questions is not.
Finding areas of interest and passion is inspiring. Slogging through a lifeless textbook is not.
Active, energetic, enthusiastic, maybe messy, and probably noisy collaboration is inspiring. Working in isolation and sitting quietly in rows and columns are not.
Using technology to learn with and from students in other parts of the world is inspiring. Using technology to complete digital worksheets is not.
Interdisciplinary learning that is seen by students as meaningful, authentic, and connected to the real world is inspiring. Subject-siloed, isolated, disconnected learning is not.
Internships and community partnerships and impactful service learning opportunities are inspiring. Pretend word problems and scenarios are not.
Learning spaces that honor children’s dignity and value their worth are inspiring. Learning spaces that are overwhelmingly focused on compliance are not.
And so on…
Inspiring… or not. What vision are we selling to our students, parents, and communities?
The St. Vrain Valley School District is arguably the most innovative school district here in Colorado. And I’m incredibly excited to lead their next principal licensure cohort starting in January 2019. Woo hoo!
[Every week a ‘Monday Morning Message (MMM)’ email goes out to all doctoral students from a faculty or staff member in the CU Denver School of Education and Human Development. Here’s mine, slated for tomorrow.]
If you ask them, many faculty members and staff will admit that they wish that their work was more visible. They feel that they are making solid contributions to the field, and they wish that their work had a larger impact on other scholars, policymakers, and practitioners in their discipline. Unfortunately, traditional mechanisms for getting the word out about our work limit our overall visibility and impact. For instance, publishing an article in a peer-reviewed journal may move us closer to tenure and promotion but prevents most practitioners from accessing our work because of paywall and other barriers. Similarly, presenting at conferences may bump up our visibility and standing with colleagues but has little to no impact on policymaking or practice outside of that event or our closely-defined academic realm. For those staff who are doing great work but are not publishing or presenting, the opportunities to have a larger impact may seem few and far between.
Fortunately, we now live in an era where anyone can have a voice. We are no longer constrained by the whims and dictates of editors, broadcasters, governments, and other information gatekeepers. If you have a computer or a smartphone, the costs of creating one’s own newspaper, radio station, TV broadcast, photography studio, or other publishing channel are essentially zero. They just take new forms: blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, Instagram and Snapchat accounts, and so on. But two decades after the Internet became accessible to the masses, we still are slow to realize the possibilities that accompany our new digital tools and online environments. As a faculty member who has an outsized social media presence (53,000+ Twitter followers; video series with 100+ million views; one of the more visible education blogs in the world, etc.), I thought that I would follow up Dr. Verma’s February 2018 MMM contribution with a few thoughts of my own.
First, recognize the tremendous power that is at our fingertips if we choose to take advantage. A few minutes of our time, a few clicks of the mouse, and we have the ability to potentially reach many thousands or millions of people. Few journals or newsletters can make that claim. Instead of wondering why the work that we do never impacts practice, or wishing that our work translated better into policy- and decision-making, we can put our work in places where professionals and legislators can find it, learn from it, and use it. My blog posts and tweets, for instance, reach audiences that dwarf my readership in academic journals, often by factors of a thousand or more.
Second, this work doesn’t have to take a lot of our time. The traditional path of publishing in a research journal and then reworking it for a practitioner magazine can be re-envisioned. As we do our day-to-day research and professional preparation work, we come across and create resources that would be immensely helpful to others. That amazing article that you just read? Hit the tweet button and share it with others, preferably using a few key hashtags. That new protocol or resource document that you just created? Hit the record button and give us a several-minute audio overview – along with a download link – that explains how we might use it in our practice. You have expertise and experience in a particular area and hope to influence policy and organizational decision-making? Push that button on your smartphone and make a short video that helps us think about that issue in more robust ways. As we do this work, we become a trusted voice, accessible to others who care about the things that we do. Oh, and by the way, publishing to multiple platforms can be automated, saving you time and energy that can be better spent in other areas.
Third, realize that there can be incredible worth in publishing our thoughts in less formal ways. Shorter sound bites, smaller blocks of text that focus on a particular idea or resource, a quick reflection on a reading or an experience, using non-academic voice to explain complex topics… all of these can help us refine our own thinking but also impact and influence the thinking of others. For example, the most valuable aspect of my blog is that it gives me a place to wrestle with ideas, reflect, try out thoughts, and attempt to make meaning. But the second most valuable aspect of my blog is that it is public, allowing others to see my thinking and offer resources, suggestions, critique, and dialogue that extend my work in new directions and make it better. That interactivity – that ability to work together to create value – creates nearly-unlimited potential as we tap into our collective experience and expertise. Rather than being a one-person idea transmission platform, my blog instead becomes a learning and dialogue space for a global community.
Finally, note that the barriers to this work usually are neither technical nor organizational. Instead, it is simply a matter of us choosing to share our thoughts, our expertise, and our resources in places other than age-old publishing outlets. There are people all around the world who are eager to interact with us and to learn with and from us if we shift our mindsets a smidge and give them the opportunity. When we push out helpful resources on our Twitter feed, when we connect people to ideas through our videos, when we shape people’s thinking through our podcasts and other conversation outlets, we move beyond our small, local, disciplinary communities and join the global community of people who are trying to make the world a better place. That sounds pretty good to me. How about you?
This is a great way for principals to share what they’re doing in schools. If you’re a school administrator, follow the hashtag to get ideas from your peers. And, of course, also share out your own awesomeness!