Rules of the Road, and other thoughts

I was invited by UP SPECA to be a panelist in their ACLE last February 4, Wednesday. I shared the stage with other bloggers such as Tonyo and Noemi. I apologize if the names of the others escaped me. It was a rather long afternoon; I was the sixth of seven speakers.

I was talked about blogging and education — a pretty broad subject — which I discussed by focusing on how the Internet has changed the way students learn and work (my audience were students) and what the role of the teacher is in a changing landscape.

I touched on the following two key points.

  • The Internet has put learning in the hands of the students. Indeed, search is the anti-thesis of being taught. No surprise therefore that students are more impatient in the classroom, confuse what is difficult for what is simply inconvenient, and seek teachers that are more credible rather than authoritative (rightfully so).
  • The teacher, now seen as just one source of information among others, should be a facilitator at most. Teachers must recognize that students are more autonomous and can work more independently. Instruction will go as far as providing guidelines and frameworks, but long gone are the days when teachers spoon feed their students and teach to the test (supposedly).

I echoed that when I begin my school year, I make this bold promise: “In this class I will not teach you how to take a test. I will teach you how to think.” This promise has shaped my approach, thus establishing my place firmly in the classroom.

If I were addressing educators, I would add the following points.

  • The primary challenge to us teachers is to create value for our students. Asking them to sit in our class for 50 minutes is a lot to ask from the Net generation. Much more can be done in front of the Internet in 15 minutes. And yet, educators endure when they are able to provide something not accessible by Google. Be original, be sincere, be yourself. Own the subject matter and present it in a way only you can.
  • The primary responsibility of us teachers towards the Net generation is to teach them the rules of the road. The freedom provided by the Internet is empowering as it is intoxicating. Let us never forget that it is just technology. That we can post comments anonymously does not mean that we attack recklessly. Be man enough to own up to mistakes. Learn to value the opinions of those you disagree with. Don’t say something online you wouldn’t say in person. These values of respect and fairness are not new values. They are old. They are tested. They are true. And teachers, as adults, must be in a place where they can teach this — Net literate or not.

Perhaps, one of the finest points that emerged during my talk is one that came up the earliest. It was also personal — that I don’t see myself as a blogger, but as a teacher who happens to blog.

That one came up over the past year as I discovered a new balance between the work I do in school and the entries I publish online. In a strange way, they haven’t been more disconnected and yet they haven’t been more in sync either.

During the open forum, I was asked whether being able to go so personal with my students online has hampered my work. I answered with an unequivocal “No.”

I realize that I am able to draw the line and hold it. The Internet has allowed me to know my students in a unique way that in turn helps me fine tune my teaching to reach out to them better. I make it a point not to intrude, yet following the principle of vicarious liability I will intervene when necessary.

What isn’t so clear is how the blog affects my students’ perceptions of me. I have an idea of course, but I cannot categorically say how certain entries shape certain opinions. Yet what is clear is that what I write here can set up expectations of me in the classroom. Looking back at the past year, I set myself up for failure when my entries made me seem bigger than I actually was. This year, I opted for a subtler, more under the radar approach, and I can confidently say it is paying dividends. This blog has gone a long way in helping me manage expectations.

That being said, I wonder how a Confessions entry affects their opinion of me, not that it matters. But if there is one thing I would like them to get, it is that there will always be so much we can learn from our lives. Writing in this blog has allowed me to narrate my life — my story — in such a way that affirms what I learn and shares it with my reader. I hope they get a sense of the choices I’ve made to get here, and what possibilities there are in store for them if they just try to live a little.

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