We often complain about the “echo chamber” effect out here in the education blogosphere. Sometimes it seems like we’re a group of technology cheerleaders enthusiastically shouting our successes to each other over and over – to the point that I often feel like I don’t have much to add to the conversation because it’s all been said before. But, over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that although we may be a vocal group online, the kinds of experiences we’re cheering about are truly few and far between.

A few weeks ago, I presented at the Teach IT! conference at Singapore American School. There were over 300 teachers at the conference, most teaching in international schools in Singapore, but a few from other schools in Asia. Over the course of the day, I spoke to dozens of educators who were excited about using technology in their classroom but either didn’t have access to the tools, didn’t have access to technical or pedagogical support, or didn’t have administrative support or expectations to move forward. Many of these teachers were working in complete isolation in their schools and had no one to inspire them, help push their thinking forward, or just support their ideas.

I got the distinct impression that they were excited about what I presented, but were already thinking back to their individual schools where they clearly would struggle to implement some of the ideas. Of course, this is what a personal learning network is all about, and of course I shared my contact info and gave examples of how they could connect with other educators, but I know that overwhelming feeling. The feeling that you want to make a change, but that you’re all alone, and it’s going to be harder than you expect – so why start?

After being constantly connected to my personal learning network, and being constantly exposed to new and challenging ideas about education, I realize I had started to fall under the illusion that most schools and educators were thinking about the same kinds of things I’ve been thinking about. After hearing the struggles and problems my colleagues here in southeast Asia are facing, I realized that for many teachers, these ideas are new.

My network of online contacts seems close, but in actuality we’re only a small group surrounded by our colleagues in the real world, some of whom might not even know about the ideas that keep getting bounced around our online “echo chamber.” Although it’s easy to get wrapped up in this progressive online environment, I’m realizing that I need to pay careful attention to the understandings and expectations of my colleagues here in the physical world in order to meet the very real needs of teachers that are not a part of this community.

Each of us needs to ensure that we are vocal not only online, but also in the real world, and in trying to communicate our ideas to wider audiences in order to make a difference in our own schools.

Obvious as it may be, I sometimes find myself getting caught up in the exciting opportunities and ideas we discuss online, but it’s important to remember that our individual schools might not be ready for all these things, and we need to help each individual we work with construct their own understandings, and that can take time and careful effort. I sometimes need to remind myself that the most critical part of my job to inspire change in the real world, not just within our connected group of educators. The reality is that those of us hoping to be voices of change need to make sure that we’re not speeding ahead on our own, but must always work to bring everyone else in our school environment along with us.

Images from: B Tal, Ben McLeod

Tags: network, PLN, 21stcentury, learning, TeachIT!, global, educator, slideshare, PD, Singapore

16 thoughts on “Few and Far Between

  1. It’s hard to believe that the majority of us are in exactly the situation that you are describing Kim. Being one of 18 classroom teachers at my school using web2.0 tools and searching for and/or creating online opportunities for my students to participate in, I am forever mindful of my colleagues and strive to encourage them to join me in the amazing and exciting opportunities that are out there. Bit by bit I hope my enthusiasm and willingness to help will rub off on those colleagues around me. If one joins in with a project and is spurred onto more, I am thankful; If no one joins in, I am still thankful that I have the technology and the support to participate, and I remain hopeful that I can inspire someone to give it a go next time. But you do make a difference. You inspire. At times, you inspire those around you physically, most times you inspire those around you, virtually. We are part of the real world cycle too, because when you inspire your connected group of educators, we in turn continue to try to inspire those around us.

  2. I can really relate the those teachers you met at the conference. I’m a Religious Studies teacher and, as such, have very limited access to computers or technology in school. In theory I can book one of our ICT suites, but in reality they are always blocked booked for ICT classes. Because of this all I have is the IWB in my classroom.

    I’m passionate about the use of Web 2 tools and I know they could be used to stimulate interest in my subject but I feel at a loss about how to use them in my current situation

  3. Take it from someone who was in the echo chamber and now is far removed from it, we need your voices out here. I am practically screaming at my school that we are so far behind and getting further and further away from where we need to be technologically. I feel since I stopped working with you in particular, but with a tech adviser in general that I am professionally falling behind.

    Keep it up! We need you out here to remind us that we are right and on the right track, when the staff at our school looks at us like a freak, because we are always trying to get technology integrated into a system that seems to be constantly fighting it.

  4. I so agree with you. And even at my school, where tools aren’t blocked and support is available, I can see the struggle to get things started. Where I expected excitement and instant response, it’s more like “we’ll fit it in.” I know, though, that we are taking small steps to ensure we do this well. And every so often, I hear from a teacher who gets it. And then there are two of us. or three. or more. :)

  5. We seem to be the majority, and we’re trying as hard as we can not to be silent.

    Sometimes I feel that the most I can give my colleagues is word recognition: if I mention something like del.icio.us often enough, at least they’ve heard the term and someday perhaps they investigate further.

    If only we could get our administrators on board! They agree with everything I say, in theory, then play the budget card, which trumps everything. Until there are state or national mandates – funded – here is the US change is going to come slowly.

    Thank goodness for virtual learning networks!

  6. Thanks. I needed this reminder. It HAS become such a part of my daily life that I forget how “geeky” I am. Hopefully, this post has me back on track. Need a mantra of persistent baby steps.

  7. You are right on the mark here. I’ve been getting involved with your “echo chamber” for the last nine months or so. Since August, I’ve really started interacting with the online community. I went to a local conference almost two weeks ago. I know that I was able to “keep up” with the theme (Education 2.0) because of my online education.

    I’m getting the students used to these online tools and showing the results to the teachers in the building. Hopefully, they will realize we have the capabilities to use this type of tool to provide our students with global collaboration. In my own personal teaching, I try to do something new every year with every class. I also try to get one more teacher in the building to hop on board with trying something new. Sometimes, the best I can do is keep reminding local teachers about the possibilities. The personal win for me this year has been finding conversations for professional growth.

  8. Thank you Kim … my constant dilemna: one can stand up in front of a group of educators and with passion and excitement, expound on Web 2.0, change, creativity, engaging students, etc, etc … and when they look back at you with tired eyes, a shakey smile, a thank you and a promise to “give it a go” when they have time, you know that when they get back to the coalface it will be “a big ask”.
    I just wish I could have time with each one of them .. for professional dialogue … for hand holding .. and for sharing the highs when they have a small, but significant step forward with ICT. AND that’s our challenge!

  9. This post is right on the money. There is an online community sharing a ton of great stuff. I wish my online community was bigger, but there’s only so much time for reading and blogging in a day. There is a network out there supporting each other and working towards getting our students ready for the future. However, there are also a lot more people not involved, not ready to take the necessary steps, and not even looking at technology at all. Most have pretty valid reasons, but that shouldn’t stop them. I’m a library media specialist and don’t have access to enough time with students, but I’m starting small. I’m working with small groups of kids on the side, hoping that small projects grow. Once they do, hopefully teachers will see how easy it is and will expand their teaching and learning.

  10. Chrissy,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! It is amazing how closely connected we all are!

    Your statement:

    “If one joins in with a project and is spurred onto more, I am thankful; If no one joins in, I am still thankful that I have the technology and the support to participate, and I remain hopeful that I can inspire someone to give it a go next time.”

    perfectly sums up how I feel about these projects too!


    I know how frustrating lack of access can be! What about making a timetable of all the classes blocking the lab and showing your principal? That was one of the key factors in our decision to move to an integrated model back in Munich (and now, three years later, they have no labs and are going 1:1 – pretty good progress, I think!)


    What a good reminder! I have felt that way in the past and it’s so easy to forget the isolation now that I am working with such an amazing team. Thanks!


    Starting small, of course! The best way to convert teachers is through other teacher’s success – another easy one to forget sometimes!


    Yes, I agree – admin is the key. Without them you’re just fighting a loosing (and oh so frustrating) battle.

    Susan S,

    Seriously – I totally forget what a geek I am, it all just seems so exciting and cool to me!


    Yes! Those personal conversations are essential! Another easy one to forget… Hmm, I’m seeing a trend here: perhaps a post about the small steps that are easy to forget, but totally essential to the success of technology integration?


    Time. Always our enemy. I know exactly what you mean – sometimes it’s not my time that’s the issue (although it can be), more often it’s the class teacher’s time. We just never have enough.


    I think those small groups are really important – you’re doing with students what Susan was suggesting we do with teachers. Whatever we can do to build a support base is the essential first step.


    Thanks :)

  11. Trying to bring the echoed calls for change to those outside of these networks is hard. This post resonates with me right now as I contemplate how to run a discussion at the district level about what good technology integration is. I feel I have to meet those in attendance, as well as those later on, where they are at. Think about the great examples out there that those of us in the blogosphere know are excellent and that motivate us to try more. Many of those examples will be immediate turn-offs for people who may see a hill to steep to possibly climb. But should I abandon them? I want to bring them along. So I have to break it down. Where can a teacher who emails and wordprocesses go next? At what point is a teacher ready to manage the problem-solving nature of working with web 2.0 in a filtered/proxy environment? Or should I forget about the technology for now and just head for some constructivist reform?
    Thanks for posting this.

  12. Rick,

    I think the thing to remember when working with teachers (on anything related to professional development) is differentiation. We need to work with our teachers, the same way we work with our students. Just like you say, we need to “meet them where they’re at.” Sometimes this can be frustrating for us, but building understanding at the individual level is the only way to bring about change.

    I also think you could very compellingly wrap effective and authentic technology integration training within the bigger picture of constructivist teaching. It might be a good way to get even more people on board. Always start with the pedagogy!

  13. However you package our position- Edtech facilitation is new and needs to be grounded in pedagogy. Using the words change and pedagogy in the same sentence is not a minor proposal. After all, we’re not just asking others to contemplate using PowerPoint more but rather rethink our schools from the physical classroom set up to giving students more control over their learning. To many it sounds so radical, but I don’t feel that it’s radical- just evolutionary.
    Perhaps rather than talking more in “the echo chamber” we should merely share stories of success- how student learning was enhanced in classrooms such as Chrissy’s. In the last 2 years I’ve published a campus “Tech Talk” newsletter featuring classroom projects/activities/units. That may be a better vehicle if it had a different name and had more links to relevant outside articles. Perhaps it’s less easy to say, “no thank you” to evidence of change that improves learning opportunities for learners. I would like to add that I also need the “echo chamber” for those days when I think I’m alone or just crazy. :)

    1. @Nancy,

      I totally agree about sharing more. I think it’s something that can easily slip by in favor of more urgent needs (tech support tops my list), but it’s probably the most important part of our jobs. I’m not sure why, but I do think most teachers are reluctant to “toot their own horns” so, often times, amazing new things go discussed and undiscovered, even if they’re happening in the classroom right next door. That’s what we’re here for!

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