Tim Holt (Intended Consequences) suggests that too many choices for teachers result in too much professional development. The obvious fix, then, is to limit those choices, to slim down the number of choices available. It’s not an unreasonable conclusion…in fact, I’ve suffered from the “slim down” temptation myself. But is it a solution that is TOO simple?

Tim Holt writes:

I have always been wary of all of the education technology out there. For one thing, I think that the overwhelming volume of it causes a “paralysis of choice” where those that are trying to become techno-literate teachers throw up their hands in disgust and just say “too much!”  Another issue is support. Too many choices require too much professional development. While it is nice to think every teacher everywhere can be self motivated to learn, I have found that many do not have the time.

The overwhelming volume…causes paralysis of choice. This perspective is supported by this interesting essay:

The “success” of 21st century life turns out to be bittersweet, and, I believe, that a significant contributing factor is the overabundance of choice.

Read more at Suite101: Too Many Choices Can Lead to Social Unease: When an Overabundance of Options Creates Discontent, Not Freedom. 

to challenge this perspective, I’d like to question whether the professional development we are offering includes the learning opportunities people need to manage choice. Obviously, as educators, we are consumers of the tools we choose to use in our classrooms, depending on the level of fear in our educational environment. Overcoming our fear is one act we can all take. I encountered this in two teacher groups where I was writing an article, as part of the Summer Writing Academy, on “5 Steps to Digitizing the Writing Workshop” (unpublished at this time). The immediate response from one teacher in each group was, “How are you dealing with the safety issue?”

Jeff Utecht insightfully challenges us to overcome our fears:

… break through this culture of fear, we need to empower students to make decisions, to analyze and evaluate good content and learn how to avoid the bad stuff. We need to empower students to protect themselves.

He suggests we empower students to protect themselves, make decisions, analyze and evaluate content for relevance and quality. Yet, are these choices adequate for teachers who are tasked with protecting students in loco parentis?

And, is putting content on the open web work to our advantage in the long run? Does making one’s life public, even academic work, to the benefit of the individual? How does one evaluate HOW to go about accomplishing this in a way that leaves control in the hands of the one? Or, should we re-define “control” and how do you help change the culture? Stick your head out first and model that? Actually, yes.

When teachers teach from a script–be it a basal or an ancient lesson plan–students respond in kind. There is no spontaneity, no sparkle, no verve and no passion. Everyone is “doing time.” In that situation, students remember little. In classes where the teacher goes over and over the material ad nauseam, there is little motivation. (Read brain research excerpt from source, Acts of Teaching).

Our real or imagined fears DO impact our students, whether adult learners or not. You can’t fake it and expect students to believe it. Is it possible that we are like crabs, asserting everyone should walk forward but our model of side-stepping the issues sends a more powerful message?

Recently, @paksorn (plurk) shared the term “prosumers,” coined by Alvin Toeffler. It is simply a portmanteau of “producer” and consumer. We are no longer “passive” consumers, pushed this way and that by the products we purchase or use.  Tim’s point that teachers suffer paralysis from too many choices  is looking at the “problem” of technology adoption from a perspective that doesn’t yield a full big picture view. Consider this research from January, 2010:

“…adverse consequences do not necessarily follow from increases in the number of options. In fact, contrary to the notion of choice overload, these results suggest that having many options to choose from will, on average, not lead to a decrease in satisfaction or motivation to make a choice,” the authors said.

If having too many choices is a contributing factor but also necessary to “prosumers,” then what can we do about it? How can we support teachers in professional development, provide the scaffolding they need to be successful, and not be paralyzed by our current PD approaches? A hint might come from Schwartz, quoted earlier in this blog entry and in this book review on The Paradox of Choice:

Schwartz suggests people could relax their expectations, keep choices within limits, let go of regret and rethinking, and embrace gratitude. While refusing to succumb to social pressures, using self-made rules for when to choose and when to accept “good-enough” connectedness may provide an alternate habit. Read more

Based on this, we could take the following steps:

  1. Clarify expectations for what the benefits are of, say, building a PLN (Source: A Teacher’s Thoughts).
  2. Sin boldly. That is, get out there and model the appropriate use of social media tools remembering that our enthusiastic modeling sends a powerful message to possible folks.
  3. Help people develop rules about what is acceptable for them, rather than demand they accept our own. After all, we developed our rules over long study…rather than embracing them simply because a pundit told us to do so.
So, what are the rules you have developed for using social media in your life?
Here are mine:
  1. Recognizing that new social media, digital tools enable me to “create” and share in different ways, I embrace new tools that I can easily interface with existing ones. Each tool adds something to the learning media ecology I am building for myself. For example, Google Reader combines with Ping.fm to make it easy for me to share with a wide audience what I am reading. In turn, this brings me in contact with what others share, or insightful conversations that result.
  2. New social media must bring me in contact with an audience I may not have had previous access to.
  3. My social media tools are to be used to enhance my professional learning, rather than personal, connections. This is a choice I’ve made, and to which I’ve heard complaints such as “You’re always on task!” or “I’m going to un-friend you in Facebook because you are always working!” Yes, but I am a professional educator, blogger, writer…I AM always thinking about what I can write about and that’s what I look for. 
  4. Facebook is social and PUBLIC.
  5. Plurk/Twitter are for professional learning, and PUBLIC.
  6. My professional learning efforts are as PUBLIC as much as I can make them because I want to model transparency, be predictable for myself and others, and I avoid contact with people who are not.

As you can see from the social media tools that I use on a consistent basis (every day), I have done my best to adhere to my rules above, which are descriptive rather than prescriptive:

  1. Social Media Meta-Tools
    1. Diigo.com – I use to highlight content on the web, and then mail it to my blog.
    2. Ping.fm, which I use daily (manually and automatically) to route content from the following items to Twitter, Facebook, and Plurk. Routed content includes the following:
      1. My blog
      2. Google Reader Shared items
  2. Social Media
    1. Plurk (actively used every day)
    2. Twitter (actively visited every day)
    3. Facebook (checked only when I get an email notification)
    4. Buzz (checked when I’m bored, maybe once a day)
  3. Google Voice – very helpful tool to manage phone calls from a world who has my number.
  4. Blog
    1. Around the Corner – MGuhlin.org
    2. ITLS Blog – http://itls.saisd.net/blog
  5. Wikis
    1. Moodle Mayhem – http://bit.ly/moodlemayhem
    2. Share More! http://mguhlin.net
    3. My ePortfolio (under development)
    4. Knowledge Management (work wiki)
    5. Digitize This!
    6. Move Ysleta! Workshop wiki
How did I “learn” to manage all these tools? Did I learn in a workshop, or did I discover these over time? It’s obvious I learned these over time. In Build Your PLN, I advocate for a few simple tools to start with. But I need to re-think my approach…

What kinds of questions should I be asking teachers to help them clarify their expectations for social media tools, construct rules, and more?

Maybe those questions can be explored in another blog post. Time to go mow the lawn.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure