The Internet offers many opportunities to collaborate and share knowledge, and I'm really happy that there are many teachers around the world that are embracing this technology not just for their their teaching, but also to connect with fellow educators worldwide. However, what makes me sad is the fact that there aren't many teachers in Slovenia that are actively sharing their teaching knowledge and experiences on the web. The main way to share experiences and findings for our teachers still seem to be by attending conferences. Nothing wrong with that, but we're in the 21st century and we have the tools to connect virtually without having to gather together in one physical place (although that still is a valuable experience!). But why aren't we doing more?
Lately, the number of Slovenian companies that offer "e-learning" solutions seems to be growing, but they mainly focus on providing e-learning materials and only a few of them include online teaching or tutoring as part of their solution. And there also doesn't seem to be any online community for teachers in Slovenia! The fact that I know more about how e-learning is being dealt with in the USA than in my own country worries me. I know that many of our schools are playing with e-learning, but I can't find much more about it on the web: no e-learning blogs, just web sites that are telling the world they are doing e-learning, but it's practically impossible for an outsider to know how.
We sensed that gap at our faculty, so we launched Moodle.si - an online community for Moodle users in Slovenia with the goal to bring people together and provide all of us with an opportunity to discuss current Moodle and e-learning issues in our native language (more about the project). Now, a month after the opening, I can say that we managed to attract a decent number of users, but not many reactions. People signed up, took a look around - many of them returned again, but only a few actually posted anything. At this point we practically have no feedback about the site or the resources that were freely provided to all teachers. The only enthusiastic response came from a person that isn't actually a professional teacher, but still uses Moodle to share his knowledge. Ouch. Well, perhaps it is too soon to speak, perhaps we did something wrong - we can't know that because nobody wants to tell us! :-( But I do find it odd that our teachers don't seem to be willing to share their experiences online. So why is that so?
The main feeling I've got (and at this point I can only rely on my feelings as there is practical no verbal feedback) is that our teachers are afraid that someone might "steal their ideas" (that's also a concern we got from some of our students when delivering online courses in Moodle - they were actually worried their classmates might steal some of their ideas!). And that's also a concern I often heard (and actually still do sometimes) when I started this blog. I don't know what that really means: Does it mean that we don't think others are able to respect copyright? Does it mean that we go online just to collect ideas, but are reluctant to share our own for somebody else to collect? Does it mean that we don't believe our ideas are good enough?
I still can't answer these questions. Maybe the true answer is hidden somewhere else. But, what I do believe is that even if somebody goes around "stealing" other's ideas, he/she will have A LOT of trouble turning these ideas into real learning. It takes much more than just an idea to do learning. It takes people that know what they are doing, are passionate about what they are doing and know HOW to really do it - not just in theory, but also in practice. And that's the really, really hard part. In today's digital world there are many opportunities for being really innovative, many resources on the same topic, and although it all seems so great, it usually stops when you've got to do it, not just dream about it. Just an example: we've all been dreaming about Minority-Report-style touch screens for years, but it takes a genius to really bring that technology to the market (compare what Apple did and what Synaptics did - same idea, same principle, but such a difference in the actual product!). Just reading about e-learning doesn't make you an e-learning expert and it doesn't prepare you for all the real challenges of e-learning you will have to face in real situations. But I do think that discussing your ideas, comparing notes, sharing failed or successful experiments etc. can help you to improve your strategies and consequently improve your practical work.
At least that's what I believe. Maybe I'm still too young and too naive; I don't know - I hope you can tell me. I sure hope that more and more teachers will decide to share their knowledge with others and in the process help to construct new knowledge that will make education better and more fun not just for the students, but also for the teachers. No, you don't get any points or awards for doing that, but you can learn many, many valuable new things that are in fact priceless - both for you and for your students!
And please feel free to post a comment or write me an e-mail if you've got any additional thoughts, ideas or suggestions regarding this topic :-)
Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.