Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Power Of The Lurker

Any one who knows me or reads my blog and Tweets knows I am a big advocate of social learning. The idea that we don't have to be the smartest or be an expert in everything should be a big relief in the classroom. When I started teaching I did everything I could to make sure I knew more than my students. Looking back, I know I wasted a great deal of time and many teachable moments with that attitude. I don't have to know everything. I have a network of people that I am plugged into that can help me, advise me, suggest for me and point me in the right direction when I am wrong. And for all of them (and you) I am grateful.

It's this idea of social learning, however that I have struggled with since I entered the space. I felt like I had to be online, all the time. I had to share something, all the time. I had to comment and react all the time. Over the few years I have been here and the many conversations I have had I know that not to be true.

I have heard rumblings, now and then, that the only way you can learn on Twitter or other social networks is to contribute. I might be making more extreme than it actually is but for some the mentality is that you have to contribute to learn.

Yes, it is very difficult to learn if no one shares. If we create new knowledge and don't share it is it knowledge at all? But if we are plugged in and connected to Twitter, or blogs or other social networks, do you have to be an active contributor to find value and power in the network? I don't believe so.

When I teach Twitter now I don't start with sign up. And many times when I do my Twitter PD people look at my like I have 2 heads. Why would I bother teaching Twitter and skip the sign up and the how-to? Why? because like anything we learn, we have to make a connection. There has to be some hook to draw is in. Rarely, I have seen, when it comes to social learning, is the hook the technical stuff. And even more rare is a true desire to want to learn socially. (Not saying there aren't those educators out there, because they are. Just saying its rare.) For many they have to first see the why. They have to find the value in these spaces to want to take it to the next level. Once they see the why, the light bulb goes off and they they are hooked. It just takes a little push in the right direction.

So, when I am doing my Twitter PD I start with searches. I start with hashtags. I show the power of the hashtag. I want to start with that instant hook, that connection to the network. If I have English teachers, I show them all the users and the tweets on the #engchat hashtag. I show them the archives of their chats. I do that for all content and curriculum areas. The beauty of all that is that you don't have to be a Twitter member to find all that valuable information.

We will, of course, come back together and I will show them the sign up and the how-to's. But if they never sign up that is ok with me. I will show them blogs and if they never write a post, that's ok with me. I will show them other social networks and if they never engage in a conversation, that's ok with me.

I want them to explore these spaces, as often as they can, as often as they see fit. I want them to be another tool in their toolbox for learning. But I will tell you. Many say to me they find value in lurking and searching. But the true value was when they took that next step and signed up and added their voice to the conversation. I didn't have to push. They discovered that on their own.

There is power in lurking. To say you have to be connected, you have to be plugged in, contributing, sharing, I'm not so sure. Is the ultimate goal to get every educator connected and sharing? Definitely. But we can't devalue the power in lurking and taking.

So, maybe instead of encouraging (pushing) others to contribute blogs and tweets and ideas, maybe we begin by having a conversation about the value of lurking. Show there is value in what we have here and in other social networks by encouraging others to get connected and take from the network. That just might lead to the growth of our networks.

If you are lurker, be proud!

photo credit: paloetic via photo pin cc
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