The internet stopped being just a collection of hyper-links connecting static bits of information a long time ago. Today the internet is not so much about storing information as it is about communicating and sharing knowledge in ever more efficient ways.
Static websites from academic sources, although still important, have, over time, given way to personal publishing platforms which allow anyone with something to say to, well… say it. Knowledge is increasingly becoming crowd sourced. No longer the few impart knowledge to the many. The many can, for the first time, teach themselves very effectively.
But we have had to develop new skills to be able to access all that wisdom available on tap on the Internet. Not least is the ability to discern – there is lots of information out there, some of it useful (some of it is always useful to somebody), you just need to know how to sift through it to get to what really matters to you.
This is why the Social Internet has become so successful: groups of people have clumped together, generally because of some sort of affinity or shared interest, and have started communicating and passing on information that matters to them. Social and Personal networks, fora, blogs and microblogs have become the narrow end of the funnel through which a maelstrom of voices vying to be heard is poured, resulting in a steady flow of meaningful and relevant information.
More and more people are becoming aware of the power of belonging to a network: each individual member contributes a small part, so that the resulting body of knowledge is much greater than that which any individual member could have amassed on their own. Sharing has almost become a selfish act – sharing is the price you pay to reap the rewards of invaluable collective knowledge.
We in education refer to our specialist networks as Personal Learning Networks, of which Twitter is undoubtedly the reigning monarch. Partaking in such a communist, collectivist approach to sharing knowledge has resulted in great personal gain: being linked to leading thinkers in the field of education has certainly sharpened my understanding and has helped focus my own thinking in ways which, literally, I could not have thought of before.
There remains the fact, however, that there are still many people out there who are completely oblivious of this sea change in the way we are communicating and passing on mind-boggling amounts of information (I say we, since you are likely to be reading this blog through a feed reader or have linked here from Twitter or a forum). Many of those people are colleagues of mine.
Aware then of the power and potential benefits of sharing information and good communication among colleagues, I set out to create a private environment into which we could all dip when the need arose to either make announcements or put up notices, as well as when we needed to access information or even when we sought inspiration or resources for a lesson.
Iris Messenger, grandiosely named after the messenger of the Olympian Gods, is my attempt to create such an environment. Using the fantastically versatile WordPress platform, combined with the brilliantly simple P2 Theme (with some tweaks to the code), I have tried to provide a Twitter-like means of communication with simplicity and usability as its main features. I wanted to ensure that this system was technology-averse-teacher proof.
Iris has a an interface that allows users to publish information without the need to log into the admin back end, just like Twitter and unlike standard blogs.
Iris does however take advantage of that most useful feature of blogs: tags. Tags allow posters to index the information as they input it, thus allowing easy retrieval of relevant information later. This allows other users to access information which is only relevant to, say, French or Year 10, by simply clicking on the appropriate tag on the side bar.
So far, Iris has been well received by most of my colleagues and is, in the absence of a VLE, thriving. Below are some screen-shots of sample postings showing how Iris has been used so far:
My colleagues are great people and I am very proud and lucky to work with such talented teachers. It does not escape me, however, that some see me as some sort of angel of doom that heralds the end of the good old days as I attempt to modernise the teaching and learning that goes on in our department. Nevertheless, I do hope that this newfangled way of communicating among ourselves proves to be useful to us all.
What do you think, is this something that you could see working in your department? Why or why not?