Sunday, January 25, 2009

Trust, Social Networking, and Modern Education

One of the more interesting trends in primate classification is the positive correlation between brain size and sociability. We humans have the biggest brains among our primate peers, and engage in some of the most complex social behavior studied. Because of the physiological tension between our upright, bipedal stature, the size of the pelvis, and the size of our brains, we're born into this world with virtually no ability to fend for ourselves. From our first breath, we are entrusted to our parents and other adults in our tribe to provide us with the progression from our base needs to our mental enlightenment.

Those of us in education likely choose this profession because we care to be involved in this most precious of processes: preparing the future generations of adults. In this regard, educators are somewhat parents-by-proxy in the realm of concept and skill; just as parents care for their biological progeny in order to assure their genetic representation in the future, teachers care for their students in order to assure the representation of particular memes in the future. In both cases, we find ourselves in the difficult case of needing to entrust a great deal of this process to others, but feeling wary of giving that trust, or too much of it, because of the stakes involved if mistakes are made.

In the process of education, or ensuring that concepts and skills are learned so that they are brought forward into the future, it is inherently difficult to measure outcomes and to answer the question: What has the student learned? Even more difficult is to ascertain the longevity of what has been learned - when we see the evidence of learning, how do we know whether or not we are witnessing the only point in that student's life that they will display this particular knowledge? Given this difficulty in measurement, it is even more difficult, I suspect, for educators to trust one another, to give up direct control of student learning and to be comfortable that another person's process and measurement skills are sufficient enough for that student to have learned the concept and/or skill that the teacher cares so much to have brought forward into the future. Even more difficult in this loss of control is the implicit trust in our school community that not being "good enough" or "the right fit" for a particular student's learning needs doesn't mean that the educator isn't good at their job.

But it is that very trust that we need in order to create the flexible educational systems that will maximize educational opportunities for all students. How can we build that trust? My experience in blogging (and commenting on others' blogs) and in joining Twitter over the last year leads me to think that these social networking technologies are a good start toward constructing trust. These technologies aren't just about finding new ideas and answering questions - they're about social networking, getting to know the people behind the shared knowledge. The more I know about other educators - their philosophies, their methods - the more comfortable I can become entrusting them with the education of students. And the more that I can entrust the education of students to others, the more opportunities my students have when the situation arises that they need a different solution than what I can provide. Together, building trust through social networking technology that connects us with colleagues from around the world, we can become the flexible system that our future success depends upon.

These thoughts have been inspired by a recent presentation at Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter, Maine, where I learned about the benefits that arise from trusting collaboration between employers, trainers, educators, and students - and the perils that exist when that trust is not established (for example, more than 20% of high-school drop-outs are unemployed). Maine is doing some great work bringing together these stakeholders, making some very thoughtful suggestions on how we can build an educational system that will best serve all our students in their work toward a high school diploma. Check it out:

1 comment:

  1. I also meant to mention my appreciation for @budtheteacher posting the link to the streamed audio/video from this morning's SLA session at EduCon. The panel discussion was thought-provoking, as was the discussion with others streaming & chatting from around the world. This was a great example of the power of social networking technology in learning from and building trust in others in the educational community.