If You Want to Get Network Effects...
Here’s a story that starts in 2006: Unhappy with the features of the “website” platform that my district provided for all teachers when mapped against what I wanted to provide for my brand-new AP Biology class, I threw up a wikispace. At the time this was a relatively novel idea which required me to have a meeting with the superintendent, deputy superintendent, and my immediate supervisor to address their concerns and get official permission to use the site. The move to AP Biology also led me to join the official email-based AP Biology listserv that the College Board ran at the time. These two developments fed back into each other. I’d learn about new things on the listserv, and put versions of them on the wikispace. Over time I began modifying the ideas I was getting and sharing them back into the community. Which lead to more engagement with the community and more development of the wikispace, leading to more engagement and more development, etc. Approximately five years later, the wikispace had become mrknuffke.net, I had become a well-known enough voice in the AP Biology Community to be offered the chance to take over moderating the new, web-based version of the listserv, and the stuff that I was creating for my course was being used and shared widely. Which of course, fed back into itself, leading me approximately to where I am now as a well-connected part of the broader science teaching community.
None of this is surprising or unique. It’s just the inexorable result of network effects. As the number of connections in a network increases linearly, the number of interactions and possibilities in that network increases exponentially. Everyone benefits. Simple math leads to complex phenomena, of which I’m a clear beneficiary.
But here’s the thing about network effects: They require a network. More than anything else, the ease with which teachers can connect to, and participate in networks is the only really unique thing about being a modern educator. This was true even in 2006 when I could build a wikispace using a pre-packaged platform, resulting in a functional website that would have been considerably harder to create one from comparative whole-cloth even a few years before I got interested in doing it. These days, in the age of cloud storage, and modern internet infrastructure, it’s exponentially easier than it was then (and it was pretty easy then).
Which is to say that anyone teaching now just does not have any excuse to not hook into the networks they can. I’d like to think that I’m pretty critical of a lot of what happens in the “connected educator” space, but none of that discounts the inarguable utility of modern educator networks in advancing educator practice. My griping about the uncritical acceptance of logically specious, or overly-simplistic #eduTwitter thinking doesn't invalidate the ease of connecting one’s self to extensive networks of other educators, or how useful the network effects that arise from those connections are for helping educators to become better educators.
I’m not so arrogant as to assume that my way of participating in my networks is the only way, or even a particularly good way of doing so for anyone else, but I do know that I’m very suspicious of anyone working in modern education who isn’t connected in some way. How do you continue to develop as a teacher if you aren’t networked to other teachers? I think the answer is you don’t. And yet, networked teachers remain the exception rather than the rule.
So what are we to do? I wish I had an easy answer here, but I don’t. It’s obvious to me that networking is a central part of who I am as a teacher and the root of most every success that I’ve had during my career. But I don’t know how to make that any more self-evident to people than it already is. At least not without sounding like (more of) a bit of an arrogant tool bag (than normal).
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