The Road to [Term TBD]: Semantics are fun.

Everybody knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. There’s proof.

But sometimes point A and point B are so obscured from each other that you have to use a series of straight lines that navigate through all the crazy between the two points. In this blog post, point A is people that self identify as educators. But we have to get to point A first. That might seem like no big deal, but it actually is. The parent that serves as troop leader for her daughter’s scouting troop self identifies as Troop Leader. The trainer that does professional development seminars on productivity applications self identifies as a Trainer or maybe an Instructor. The person that leads a seventh grade science class self identifies as a Teacher. The programmer that brings his friends together to convince them that their RPG would be better if they forked it and built a new one calls himself a hacker. The event organizer that brings developers and filmmakers together at a hackjam self identifies as a Facilitator. The developer that runs workshops so his team can help him integrate a new API for their customers self-identifies as a Technical Architect. And the museum coordinator that arranges digital art workshops self identifies as a Director of Creative Programming (or whatever). I can keep going with the different ways educators self identify.

I can’t force someone to self identify as an educator, but I would like to inspire anyone who is helping others learn, in any capacity, to see themselves as educators for now (at least until we have time to invent a new word).

I’ve had many a semantic debate about what to call this community. Do we call them “instructors”? No, because that word reflects a pedagogy Mozilla doesn’t believe in. “To instruct” sounds so rigid. It sounds like someone is going to stand at the front of the room and tell you what to do. Do we call them “mentors”? Maybe, but we also want professional educators to feel like they are a part of this community, and maybe they don’t self identify as “mentors”. Do we call them “facilitators”, “teachers”, “gurus”, “masters”? No, no, no and no. At the moment, I’d like to take back the word “educator” from the formal learning space and let people know that I define “educator” as anyone who is committed to helping other people learn.

Once we’ve gotten to point A, which is certainly no easy task as involves a mess of coordination and convincing, we want to get to Point B – people that self identify as [Term TBD]*. To get there we have to do a couple of things.

  1. We have to define both the term that is TBD as well as WTF it means… I’d say a [Term TBD] is an educator working at the intersection of learning and technology who has the skills required to propagate web literacies and the desire to do so. I’m sure we can make that definition a bit more sexy, but for now it leads us to thing-we-have-to-do #2
  2. Define where the intersection is. Let’s be broad (it’s a big intersection), the intersection of learning and technology is where affective and cognitive skills involving the use and critical consideration of the digital world are developed. That means that digital literacies, web literacies, media literacies, communication literacies…all the 21st Century literacies, computational thinking, design, everything to do with data, online content, virtual worlds…basically technology supported any and everything, all of these things are at that intersection. And learning, well we learn all the time. 
  3. We have to convince people that they’re working at that intersection. If you are an educator that is using technology to support yourself or your students, you’re working at that intersection. Feel like you’re more a “technologist”, “programmer”, “dev”, “other-term-that-starts-a-completely-separate-semantic-debate”? How do you work with your peers? What do you do when someone is trying to implement a certain snippet and failing? Do you just laugh? No, you likely say something along the lines of, “Have you tried…”, “What about…”, “I had that same issue when I first used that, and I…”. You might just be working at this intersection too.
    Most educators ARE working at that intersection because most educators are creating assignments that require the use of the Web. But whether or not they all feel they have a voice in this crazy movement is another story. Have you ever asked learners to do research, write a paper on a specific topic, make a presentation? We don’t use the card catalog anymore, younger people don’t even know what that is. And we definitely don’t write our papers in long hand by candlelight with one of those pretty feather fountain pens. We use the Web to do research, which means that critical thought in digital spaces is required. We use document editing programs to write, which means basic computer competencies are required. We use online tools and resources to help us learn and communicate. What do you do if someone can’t open a browser? Has that even ever happened to you? (It’s happened to me, and I taught them how to open a browser and navigate the web. I’m pretty sure you would do the same.)  Each educator that would like to participate in spreading web literacies can. Some of them already are. So, yeah, chances are if you’re an educator, you’re working at this intersection.
  4. Now that educators can envision how they are working at that intersection, we have to inspire them to go deeper. They need to inspire their own learners not just to consume, but to make and contribute the ecosystem of knowledge that we call the World Wide Web. BUT to get there, educators have to feel like they have the skills required to teach web literacies in correlation with their other learning objectives. Some educators will already feel that way. Some will not.
  5. Level up the skills of educators so that they themselves self identify as web literate and feel ready and willing to pass web literacies along. While doing so, we explain to them that they are becoming [Term TBDs].
  6. Finally, these educators have to believe us and self identify as [Term TBDs], so we have to celebrate their successes and cultivate a community of sharing both in learners AND in educators.

I have a lot of things I self identify as. [Term TBD] is definitely one of them.

*Been playing around with the word “Hacktivator”, but haven’t settled on it. So don’t get to used to it ;)

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  4 comments for “The Road to [Term TBD]: Semantics are fun.

  1. November 28, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Getting the issue out in the open like this and starting the conversation is necessary, and thoughtfully done.

    “Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, and teachers.” –Richard Bach, Illusions

    I still like the term “sensei” even though it just means “one who was born before.” I know plain old “teacher” is a loaded word because we associate it with the current flavour of our broken down education system, but I do like it better than educator. Ivan Illich, in his essay “Disabling Professions” wrote,

    the illusion that those activities we designate by intransitive verbs can be indefinitely substituted with institutionally defined staples referred to by nouns. Education replaces ‘I learn’; health care replaces ‘I heal’; TV replaces ‘I play’.

    To me, “educator” sounds more institutional than “teacher,” in part because we don’t talk about “the teaching system” but we do talk about “the educational system.” Kids don’t want to be educators when they grow up, they don’t role-play that, but they do talk about being teachers when they grow up, and when they play-act “school” one takes on the role of teacher.

    My feelings around “hacktivator” is that it is a cute, but jargony term that sounds friendly to those of us close to technology, who interpret “hacking” as a positive thing, but I suspect outside that narrow world it has a more dangerous and subversive sound. Maybe that’s what we want, but if we really want to be subversive, maybe we should reclaim “teacher” for the wider world. After all, one of the best books on teaching/learning/education I ever read was Neil Postman’s “Teaching as a Subversive Activity.”

    OK, I’ve used my quota of quotations for the day, but I look forward to seeing where you go with this.

  2. Brenno
    November 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    formulas as images? boooooooo! >:O

    SCNR *g*

    • Laura Hilliger
      November 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      I said the same thing when I borrowed it from Patrick. If you have time to type it out, let me know and I’ll replace the image.

  3. Emma
    November 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Just finished fixing a dragmath module for Moodle – so I can appreciate those equation images!

    Dethe’s comments reflect many of my own thoughts, Educator does seem more institutional for reasons he pointed out.

    Somehow I think this quote(about volunteering) applies

    The highest reward for a person’s work is not what they get for it, but what they become because of it.

    I feel this is true of teaching.

    The experience of teaching web literacy has taught me so much, changed so much for me personally and professionally. I cannot imagine a term that describes my role as purely a contributor to someone else’s learning – I am a participant too. Perhaps those with teaching strengths, now learning coding (etc) can relate?

    Sorry I can’t help you with a new name though
    “EduLearnimikator” ? :D

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