Tom is a retired Adjunct Professor of Education and has over 40 years’ teaching experience, 34 of which were spent in US public secondary schools and the rest in a college in New York. A charismatic and very likeable character, Tom was a union leader for over 30 years.
He is also a contributing author, guest blogger and social media consultant on education to a number of popular blogs and education journals. Tom has founded a number of Educational Groups on Linkedin including the "Technology Using Professors Group". His personal blog has won many awards including that for the most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat. Insatiable Tom also hosts an educational radio show which has its episodes as free podcasts from K-12 education on Apple's iStore.
But what strikes me about Tom is not necessarily the social media resume he carries but his passion for how teachers and educators in general should evolve their learning techniques and practices in the 21st century.
Pix: Tom Whitby and I at WISE 2013 (Photo Credits www.andyemegbo.com)
As I listened to the intriguing stories of how Tom and others are using social media to improve interactivity with and engage their students, I was acutely reminded of the contrasting fortunes of teachers in classrooms all over Africa – even in upscale, expensive private schools.
In many classrooms in this environment the role of the teacher is still that of the ENFORCER. Teachers need to understand and embrace their new role as ENABLERS. With the myriad of technologies accessible to students outside the classroom, teachers stand the risk of losing the attention and respect of their protégés.
Many teachers here do not have the privilege of having access to the kinds of resources and investments Tom and others like him in more developed climes have had and continue to have.
There is a place to start and it begins with the teacher. At WISE 2013, the conclusion was that the teacher remains the most important part of a great learning experience – not technology. However, if we must "Reinvent Education for Life", we must reinvent the teacher, his/her capabilities, his/her teaching approach and his/her adoption and use of technology within and outside the classroom.
Are you a parent or teacher? You can make learning more fun and productive for your children and wards. This is an age of curiosity. Charity must begin at home – with the teacher. Every teacher should own an affordable; internet enabled basic smartphone as part of his or her professional development.
Almost every topic in any subject has numerous, reliable, best in class and easy to use online resources with tips, tricks and interactive activities. Teachers should cultivate the simple habit of regularly checking these platforms. Just as Tom has evolved his craft throughout the changing technologies of the last 40 years, teachers need to embrace new ways of teaching old concepts.
I have benefited immensely from the kind of peer to peer sharing that can be found on several teaching groups on Linkedin, as well as on SmartBlog on Education (found on SmartBrief.com).
Tom’s #Edchat on Twitter is just one of the many hashtags used by educators to share knowledge in real time across borders. This is how it works – Tom or those who have created a particular hashtag (e.g. #Edchat) choose a specific day each week (e.g. Wednesday) and time (e.g. 9am to noon West African Time) to hold live discussions on Twitter (called tweet meets).
Each week, the topic to be discussed at the tweet meet is introduced so people can prepare. Sometimes, people are asked to suggest topics to be discussed. On the appointed date and time, the moderator of the tweet meet officially opens the tweet meet and coordinates the discussions. It is beautiful to get disparate views and experiences from all corners of the globe. Some persons have been known to stay awake to participate (due to time zone differences).
The best part of all of these is that even if you missed a live session, you can always review all the tweets relating to it by using the agreed hashtag (e.g. #Edchat in this case) long after the sessions have ended. The tweets leave a digital footprint that anyone who has intermittent access to the internet can benefit from if they are so inclined.
It's the era of Connected Classrooms. How connected are you to other educators outside your country of residence?
I first met Julie last year at the 2012 edition of the event. Julie lives in Australia and runs a project centred around making classrooms flat. The concept is to create opportunities for students and schools across different continents and countries to learn from one another in real time on an on-going basis.
In one particular instance, students from a school in Australia were working with their peers in another continent on a project that was to last for a semester. These interactions are virtual and are coordinated via social media.
Pix: Julie Lindsay at WISE 2013 (Photo Credits www.andyemegbo.com)
In an era where virtual workspaces and flexible work arrangements are fast becoming the order of the day, Julie’s flat classroom projects stand out because it teaches students about virtual team building and teamwork, telework, cross cultural understanding, globalism, adaptability, change and innovation – all essential in the toolkit of a would be successful person in the 21st Century.
Pix: Photo of the Book Cover of "Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds" by Julie Lindsay & Vicki A. Davis
As a teacher, you now have no excuse. It is your life. You cannot afford to be left behind. You need to go beyond using emails and Facebook. The internet is much more.
Arthur C. Nielsen once said “the price of light is less than the cost of darkness”.
“We are capable of change and growth; we just need to know where to begin”.
It begins with an open mind, a willing heart, an internet enabled mobile phone and www.google.com
Pix: L-R - Tom Whitby, Lucy Kanu of Idea Builders & Julie Lindsay (Photo Credits www.andyemegbo.com)
P.S: This article was also published in the 6th of November 2013 edition of the Punch Newspapers. Click to Read
I had the privilege of attending WISE 2013 courtesy of the full sponsorship of the Organizers, Qatar Foundation.