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Who Else is Out There? by Bob Sprankle

The other day, I was talking with a psychotherapist friend of mine, and our conversation lead to talking about how our jobs were the same, and how they were different (I'm a teacher, btw... in case you forgot).

We eventually got around to discussing how each of us keep up with our professional learning and how we stay up to date with the latest research and "best practice." We found we both read books and papers, and attended conferences (though he less than me). The main difference we found was that he didn't do what I'm doing right now: anything that had the slightest whiff of "Web 2.0" or even collaboration. I found this fascinating. He admitted there were the occasional webinars for his profession to be found, but for the most part, his profession was, as he put it, "a pretty lonely and isolated occupation."

Now clearly psychotherapists cannot have absolute transparency when writing about daily findings or needs, due to patient confidentiality, but the same is true with teachers: we must keep our students anonymous when we blog about the learning we're doing in our profession, or reflecting on new practices.

His profession, I was happy to hear, has "Listservs" that other psychotherapists could join and share in conversation, but he admitted that it was mostly a means to receive information than gather it, rather than open it up to dialogue.

I've often thought about this before: What other professions are using the transparent "Web 2.0" tools to grow new connections, work together in teams, set up wikis, blogs, webinars, or online conferences? Until I became an "iphoneographer," I wasn't even aware of another group sharing their work, tutorials and reviews of practice with others. I'm sure they exist, but I've yet to be a part of an "iphoneographer webinar." They seem rare, whereas I could easily find more webinars than I could attend on the subject of education on any given day.

So let me ask: Is ours an anomaly? And even in the profession of teaching, are the tools that many of us are using still adopted by the minority more than the majority? Just the other day, I was talking to an amazing teacher friend of mine, and she admitted that no matter how much she has wanted to learn the tools, she's still a bit afraid of them. I've been trying to encourage her to join up with some online groups for about 10 years. She's an outstanding teacher and would have so much to share with the rest of the global community. She's not alone; I still find myself having to explain what the acronym "PLN" means to other teachers.

When I was a kid (and I have no idea why we were even drawn to this), but my brothers and I had a CB radio installed in our kitchen. We all had "handles" (you know, "fake names"—mine was Scorpio) and each of us had made many of our own "online" friends when it was our turn for the handset. It was very safe, because the rule was that one on my parents had to be in the room for us to be able to get on the wireless (wow... come to think of it, my parents were teaching me safe Internet skills way back in the 70s, before we even knew there was an Internet). The only people I remember connecting with were truckers and other "geeks" like me and my bothers. It was a pretty lonely and empty practice as we called out "Breaker 1-9"into the void.

I can't believe that educators are the primary users of these collaborative tools. But are we? Are we living in a "bubble" where other professions are still living in "lonely and isolated" occupations where they have little time or knowledge of how to collaborate, share, and work with transparency due to the amazing tools we now live with?

Would you help me out? Would you ask around and see what other professions are using these tools to grow their learning and professions? Are there webinars for plumbers? Are doctors listening to podcasts on their way to work? Do bankers rely on Twitter to help steer and plan their day?

Thank you for helping to carry out this "informal research." Just add what you find to the comments below. Much thanks in advance!