I love contributing to conversations of other educators online. I’ve been the beneficiary of generosity of many, especially the members of the English Companion Ning in my first year of teaching English and several really helpful teachers and professors who use Twitter.
But recently, I feel like I’m not keeping up my end of the bargain particularly well. I’ve gotten direct messages on Twitter from people concerned I was angry/upset/ignoring them because I hadn’t replied to their @ messages. I’ve left discussion thread questions and emails unanswered.
I’ve also seen things from the other side of the fence. When a promised comment on a post I’ve written never materializes or an email goes unanswered for weeks, I feel a little disappointed.
Each of us has a limited amount of time. As a full-time classroom teacher, I have less time and less flexibility than some might have. A good deal of my time needs to be spent being present to my students. (Time spent interacting with colleagues online certainly enriches my subsequent interactions with students, but they are two different things.)
My time is going to be especially tight in the coming year because I’m adding a blended learning section of 12th grade American History to last year’s teaching load. To that end, I’ve started putting limits on my online time, as opposed to trying to respond to everyone I feel like I need to before getting off. (Off the internet by 10pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends and no answering school-related emails from Friday night-Saturday afternoon.) These limits seem necessary, but I also hate that they will limit the extent to which I can be helpful/keep in touch.
The voluntariness of digital communities and colleagues varies from face to face colleagues in that my school administration likely won’t step in if I fail to respond to queries or keep up my end of communication. But I do feel like being the one who fails to reciprocate has consequences. It’s also interesting to realize that some people perceive our online interactions differently than I do. The other curiosity with online interactions is that it’s often easy for people to see when I am online, but not responding to them and vice versa.
What, if any, responsibility do you feel toward those with whom you interact online? How do you balance that responsibility with other responsibilities? Does this responsibility vary from the responsibility you feel toward face to face colleagues and acquaintances?
*It may be a stretch to call the people with whom I interact online digital colleagues, but to me that term seems more apt than PLN (Personal Learning Network) or PLC (Personal Learning Community). I’m imagining the term applying to anyone with whom I interact with in a professional capacity online. The strength of these ties varies, as they do with face to face colleagues.