Random Thoughts

Competing with the Personal Stream

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When we live in a connected world we have a personal stream of information that is comforting to us. Take this COETAIL participant for example who details his wonderful Sunday immersed in his personal information stream. 

I’m sure many of us have been there….relaxing on the couch yet totally immersed in information…information that we want because it’s relevant to us at that time and we’ve chosen that particular information.

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Is he really alone?

Now think of our students with their iPhones, Blackberries, iPods, Laptops, PlayStation 3s, and every other device that they interact with. All of these devices allow them to create and tap into their personal stream of information. A stream that they have created be it friends, news, updates, or status. They’ve decided who they want to connect to, and who they want to learn from. 

Then they go to school, they walk into classrooms and the door closing behind them signals a disconnect from the personal stream…you see their heads go down, their body language shows they’ve switched off and for the next 90 minutes they sit there listening to you talk about your information, not theirs.

You can be the most dynamic teacher in your school but how do you compete with a personal information stream that is waiting just beyond the door of the classroom? A stream that everyone knows is waiting there to be tapped into again. 

I think of the conferences I’ve been at where participants….mostly teachers….get frustrated when the Internet connection goes down…why…because they’re disconnected from their own personal stream and that’s just unacceptable at a conference….otherwise known as their classroom.

Yet we ask kids to do it everyday and to not complain.

The problem with education is we teachers can not compete with the personal information stream. It’s a battle we will never win. 

So the only option is not to compete with it, but to embrace it, use it, foster it, and acknowledge that it exists.

Once we stop competing against the stream and embrace it, a world of opportunities emerges. A new world full of connections, passions, and possibilities.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Your post is timely as over the weekend I have been having several conversations about ‘switching off’. I agree with you that we have to acknowledge, use and embrace technology and it is pointless to fight it as teachers. However I do see a problem with students/people who can’t switch off from their personal stream to the detriment of relationships that exist in their immediate physical environment. I also don’t believe that all students’ heads go down when they enter a classroom that is not ‘connected’.

    As teachers we can’t always be ‘connected’ in the classroom, some learning experiences just don’t lend themselves to it. We can always strive to be engaging and dynamic and when technology can support this, and in most cases, enhance learning, it isn’t the essential ingredient.

    Every teacher is passionate about their passion area (whether it be The Arts, Sciences, technology etc) however, and I know it’s an over-used term, everything has to be balanced. If I have students that cannot disconnect from their personal stream for 90 minutes then that would concern me. Just as it would concern me if I couldn’t.

    I’m learning so much as a teacher from being connected, but I have also learnt so much from talking to my experienced colleagues, none who have any form of social media accounts. Face-to-face conversation with the person physically right next to you can be equally rewarding as a Skype hook up or tweet-up (I think I just made that up, not sure if that’s the right term :/).

    So I agree with you on most points but feel that what was missing was the balance.

    Thanks, I enjoyed the read, Simone.

    • I totally agree with you that we do need balance. I’ve talked about the need to disconnect many time on this blog.

      I do think there is a time to disconnect…I’m just not sure if that place is in the learning environment of today. I couldn’t do my job if I wasn’t connected. It’s how I learn, it’s how I bounce ideas…that doesn’t mean that I don’t talk to my colleagues…actually it means I talk to them more and we use the connection to figure out things together, both virtually and face to face.

      There is a time and place to disconnect, and balance is part of that…I’m just not sure the classroom is where I want student disconnecting with knowledge and information. I believe the connection is way to powerful of a learning tool to disconnect it from our kids for learning.

  2. Agree – personal stream is equally important to kids and teachers – but definitely in different ways. I recently attended the NCTM conference in Indianapolis and was so frustrated and disappointed that there was no wifi. I wanted to tweet about the awesome sessions I was in, bookmark great resources in diigo, and collaborate with my colleagues back in Seoul while I was in session – but was unable to do any of that. VERY frustrating. In my school most students would not be anxious to tweet about the terrific stuff they are learning in class and access additional resources for what is being taught — this is a shift in thinking, a shift in the way they use their personal stream …. for most teenagers, it’s strictly social. Not to say that can’t change with a good teacher showing them how using a personal stream can enhance their learning. I think most kids today would love that — but it’s definitely a shift in thinking. And in our teaching – we need to be modeling how to use social media in a classroom context.

    • And this is what I”m getting at with out actually getting at it in this post anyway. 🙂

      Yes…I think kids would love to see the power of their personal stream used for learning. I think it would floor them. They all have hundreds of friends or connections they can learn from…they just aren’t learning from them because they view them as social connections….and so do most schools.

      What if we shifted our thinking to see those connections as learning connections, as possible employee connections, or as in knowledge connections. It doesn’t take much of a shift. Twitter started out at a social connection but very few people still use it that way because the knowledge connection is so powerful. Many people use Facebook as knowledge connections and with the Like button and more and more Facebook Pages popping up it’s becoming a knowledge network as well.

      It’s a shift…a shift to use the connections and teach students how to use their connections any time any where. Can we do that? Should we be doing that? Wouldn’t that be preparing students for their world that awaits them if we as adults in this world now already are frustrated without our personal stream?

  3. Chet Garber Reply

    Microtip to integrate personal streams to classroom learning (stop me if it’s old hat): “OK class, two minutes right now to tweet your personal learning on what we’ve just been discussing to #ourclass.”

    Beats note-taking hands down…the connection to the personal stream adds the purpose for the kids of connecting their knowledge to their social network.

  4. Nice post as well as thoughtful responses to the comments. I also do not like my personal stream of information being disrupted 🙂 I agree that we need to be modeling how to use social media – as I am not in the classroom I try to model that for my own children. They know I have separate social (family, close friends) and professional (colleagues, professional acquaintances) streams of information. I know not everyone has separate social media accounts, but for me, it is what works.

    One of my favorite sayings is “we just don’t know what we don’t know.” I’ve always believed educators need to be able to show multiple uses for information, including social media.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post.

  5. Pingback: Stephanie's education portfolio » Reflection Week 6: The Thinking Stick

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