When I was a kid, my father used to tell me that one never goes to bed without learning something new. Never has this statement been easier to accomplish than nowadays when we have almost all the knowledge in the world at our fingertips, just waiting for us to key some words or commands to unlock all its mysteries right in front of our eyes, right there on the screen of our laptop, our tablet or our smartphone. Just by having a simple device connected to the Internet, we have access to all the materials stored in the World Wide Web.
The new social media, online clouds and the myriad of websites, platforms and apps that allow us to generate and share content turn us all into both teachers and learners, thus creating a worldwide synergy that is constructing a virtual world greater than the addition of each of our individual contributions. Yet this idea of having an interconnected world is not something new. For centuries the Sami in the Northernmost tip of Europe have believed we are all connected by the invisible blood vessels of a mythical reindeer through which we transmit our energy and receive that of others. When I first heard about that myth while visiting Norway I thought it was a beautiful and adequate metaphor to refer to how, through invisible channels, the Internet enables us to connect with the rest of the teachers and learners all around the globe.
Thanks to the Internet we can all be connected, sharing the content we create ourselves or materials that as new online curators we select and put at the disposal of other users. Though sharing content was frowned upon just a few years ago and students were encouraged to keep their homework as if it were a secret recipe, sharing has now become part and parcel of our daily life empowering us and helping us to empower others. A piece of writing shared on the internet can be commented, enriched, receive feedback and serve to inspire others who, in turn, can encourage others… The isolationist philosophy of super-secrecy that many researchers have preached throughout the years is no longer tenable: knowledge and culture is all around us and accessible just pressing a key or a tactile screen. Internet users can decide when, where and what to watch, read and learn. Learners want transparency and accessibility. Learning is not teacher-centred any more nor is the teacher the only one delivering knowledge: students, all internet users, have now a voice (and literally so if they choose to record it with any of the many apps available to that effect). In this new environment, the 21st century teacher has turned from being a simple "giver" to being a "world-wide-sharer", who, in turn, can be enriched by the other "world-wide-sharers" that happen to cross their path in any of the many online networks.
Many teachers have already entered into the 21st century and use online tools to empower their students. However, there are still many others wary of "all that". New technologies are still being used as a mere re-enactment of traditional face-to-face teaching. The teacher is still the main "rock-star" who tells exactly what has to be done and learnt. PowerPoint presentations and Prezi become a mere embellishment in the middle of a lecture which could have been equally delivered by the ancient Greeks in their academies and the real potential of online writing dwindles as it is used to write what a schoolboy could have written on his clay tablet in ancient Egypt. It is not only some teachers who claim not to be ready for the new sharing and collaborative learning-style. Many adult learners give a deep sigh and ask to be told exactly what they have to do assuring they prefer others to take responsibility for what they have to do. "One direction teaching" has been going on for millennia so it is really no wonder that there is some reluctance to see it change. Walking among some groups of teachers during break time it is still possible to hear some comments predicting that collaborative online learning is just a fad that will soon pass. Well, the world of education is certainly changing at a fast pace but I don't think it will go back to the "teacher-guru" model that it was in the past. We know we can learn from each other; we can learn by teaching and sharing with others and we can be in command of our own learning choosing how, what, when and where to learn. I don't think we're going to willingly give up that privilege any time soon. Knowledge and culture are open to everybody and not just the privilege of a lucky few.
The 21st century teacher has to embrace the idea that the teaching-learning process and sharing go hand in hand. Blended learning, now booming everywhere, allows for a self-paced, exploratory and personally directed learning encouraging students to be active and not just the recipients of a passive knowledge they've never have the chance to experience. I once read a comment written by a person who as a kid had been taken to a Montessori school and complained that it'd have been better not to have known such way of learning was possible for his later education had had nothing to do with those principles. He somehow felt cheated because as a child he had been presented with a world which, according to what he said, had turned out to be far from the reality he had met afterwards. Nowadays, however, the Internet is offering us the possibility of continuing our long-life education with Maria Montessori's principles, just as kids following her method do and have done, with fantastic results, for decades. Thanks to all the online tools and contents at our disposal and no matter where we are, we can continue our long-life learning process finding about any field or area that captures our attention; we can experience history or physics thanks to virtual worlds that can get us in touch with reconstructed versions of reality and interact with them gaining insights only dreamt of before.
With this spirit in mind, this section aims to share useful information about useful tools to enhance the teaching-learning experience. There are endless possibilities for facilitating knowledge to people all over the world and sharing resources with them. As educators, we need to embrace those tools and share away!!
Keep tuned for updates!!