The Online Teacher


Through the Noise: Balance in a Digital World


Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

When thinking about balance in a digital world, three questions come to mind: why is balance necessary; how do we demonstrate or measure it; are educators modelling, achieving, and accepting it? These questions, I believe, are vital in determining how successful we will be in navigating the digital world – educationally, socially, and emotionally.

Why is balance necessary?

Digital technology is a growing part of how young people define themselves, but we need to provide them the freedom to enjoy the vast benefits of technology, while ensuring the health and development of the whole being. Balance is necessary, I believe, to be a productive, happy and healthy citizen, particularly today with the array of challenges the digital world presents. As echoed in many #ETMOOC sessions, we need to model how to use technology and how to be a good digital citizen; one that nurtures and gives back to our digital world. Jeff Merrell (#ETMOOC Facilitator and Lecturer of learning and organizational change) in an #ETMOOC Twitter chat noted, “Citizenship has embedded in it the idea of being part of a larger community. It’s not just about us.” Through giving back to our digital world, we can hopefully effect change both on and offline.

*Some #ETMOOC resources on Digital Citizenship may be found here. The #ETMOOC archives are also rich with valuable insight and information.

How do we demonstrate or measure balance?  

How Life is Like Dinner Theatre: On Embracing Participatory Culture, by Amy Burvell (#ETMOOCer, history teacher, progressive thinker and visionary), has caused me to think about how society has become accustomed to and dependent on social media connections. We rely on soundbites, or short bursts of information, and we seek a back channel to formulate thoughts and questions. Ultimately, we want to participate and be connected. I for one have learned how powerful a Personal Learning Network can be, and I appreciate my Twitter PLN and the 140 character (maximum) tweets, which often reference more helpful links to articles, videos, and the like. Recently, I have also experienced the benefit of back channel chats, noticing that chats help to process and clarify thoughts, information, and questions on a topic being presented. Yet, how much is this participatory culture changing our learning style and balance?

Amy Burvell‘s blog, Soundbitification, brings up an interesting observation, and that is, are we becoming less able to read lengthier articles without losing our focus and getting bored? Furthermore, could it be that society is becoming less able to communicate face to face when the conversation is at a slower pace or less concise? As noted in The Elevator Speech, Social-Media Style, tweeted by Glenn Hervieux (#ETMOOCer, Technology Coordinator, and E-Rate Consultant), businesses are beginning to change their hiring practices based on digital trends and social media. For example, Pizza Hut’s new direction in hiring will require employees to communicate in a social media manner that gets straight to the point. Yet, what does this mean for us as a society?

Is society becoming less able to demonstrate lifelong skills such as:                     photo (2)

  • patience while listening to someone (for example, a senior) struggle to formulate a concise statement or a thoughtful argument (I’ve noticed some ‘power tweeters’ almost vibrate while listening to a lengthy conversation, perhaps from their seemingly addicted need to get back to the Twitter stream)
  • tolerance for a different style or custom, whether it be communication, learning, teaching, etc. (i.e., in some societies, snippets of information may not be desirable or accepted)
  • face to face social skills, etiquette, and personal lasting relationships – many feel these skills require the ability to turn off the ‘noise’ in order to listen (as suggested by a recent blog in HuffPost: Social Media, Mobile Devices and the Demise of Social Skills)

If this is the case, what is the cost that we as a society will pay?

Photo Credit: University of Maryland Press Releases via Compfight cc


Or, perhaps a better question might be, is society becoming better able to:

  • multitask (one can find research to both support and dispute this)
  • get our point across and ‘cut to the chase’ – using Twitter certainly necessitates the need to be succinct!
  • seek knowledge and participate in self-directed study and independent learning
  • openly ask for help and find solutions –  forums and chats seem to indicate this (whether it be at the individual or corporate level, or science research that is moving into ‘the cloud’)
  • make connections and develop relationships in a more interconnected and rhizomatic way, thus tearing down cultural and social walls and boundaries.

I wonder, are the benefits of these digital skills always visible and thereby measurable? Could balance be a term that is continually redefining itself, therefore, impossible to measure?

Are educators modelling, achieving, and accepting balance?

As an educator, I truly believe we can only achieve balance if we demonstrate balance, and to demonstrate balance, I feel we need to let go of the ‘only this or only that‘ ideology and come to recognise that variety is the spice of life. Alternatives are necessary, and there are many ways to achieve a desired result. I appreciate differing points of view, even when I don’t always understand them, and I feel that tolerance and respect can lead to an appreciation of other perspectives. So, for example, although I would find it extremely challenging to teach without a plethora of technology, I believe that teachers who currently choose a different approach always manage to offer students something special and unique. By accepting difference, we can open the doors to collaboratively help each other learn. Maybe by offering a balanced and varied perspective to students, we strengthen their ability to adapt and change, and hence survive, in an ever-changing world.

Unfortunately, the rapidly changing face of the digital world does not always afford us the luxury to know how our actions today will impact life tomorrow, so it is crucial for educators to promote digital citizenship (and citizenship, in general). As stated by Alec Couros (#ETMOOC Facilitator, Edtech and Media Professor and Keynote Speaker), “We talk about having students adjust to our world or the world ahead, but I’m not sure if we’ve adjusted to their current reality.” I feel this is a significant statement that needs further discussion in educational forums, and I wonder, do educators really know what the current reality is? As Tom Whitby comments in The Business of Education, “If educators are to be effective they must be relevant.” Is it easier to be relevant as a collaborative whole? I think so. Do we need to include the students in this discussion? Most definitely.

As educators, we need to teach about digital footprints and how they can impact our lives, both online and offline. Yet, can we sometimes inadvertently condone or not condone online attitudes? For example, it  can be difficult to avoid playing into the culture of public shaming that often occurs in social media. Perhaps the public shaming of individuals who have made poor online presence choices, generating “digital tattoos” as some have coined it (prints you are stuck with), is not the best way to instill an attitude of thoughtful dialogue and respect with regard to digital citizenship. After all, if public shaming becomes the norm, will society become immune to social consequences? Additionally, some may view a tattoo as a work of art or a sign of creativity. Instead, a willingness to listen, understand, help and support may set a better example. Through listening, we can create opportunities to help each other navigate this difficult digital world (a world that will undoubtedly see us make many more mistakes). Let’s listen; together we might just find balance!

A Haiku Deck: Through the Noise


Thank you to Susan Spellman Cann (@SSpellmanCann) for inspiring this attempt at creativity. Susan is a Counsellor extraordinaire, #ETMOOCer, and Haiku Deck Guru! 

Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.
Helen Keller