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If there is one subject that most bloggers have written about, it is probably the act of blogging. I know for me, as well as many of my blogging friends, it is nothing like we imagined before we were immersed in the “blogosphere”. Bloggers start their blogs for many different and personal reasons. One step common to all however, is that it does take an act of courage to publish that first blog post.

When I first started, I thought that I would do apiece here and there for a little while, but that I would eventually run out of things to say. Three years later, after 237 posts, I am still waiting for that time to arrive. My areas of interest include education and social media. I guess as long as each of those areas continue to evolve, I will always have something to write about.

Another factor that affects what I blog is the continuing change in the audience. In order to access blog posts, a reader must be involved in some way with technology. That is a growing audience especially among educators. Most people use technology in everyday life, but more and more, educators are using technology for professional development in larger numbers. In order to access the most relevant information on the profession of education, educators are relying more on blog posts for relevancy. Many thought leaders and education authors are blogging their thoughts to share, test, and try out new ideas in education.

Twitter, which is considered to be micro-blogging, has lured many people to blogging. It limits the author to 140 characters, but it does however, enable one to blast out ideas for quick responses. Success on Twitter leaves some people with a need to do more. There are ideas that need to be placed in explanations longer than a string of 140 character tweets may allow. Many ideas are introduced and tersely discussed in tweets and chats on Twitter, but they demand more reflection and more explanation, which leads to blogging. The biggest effect of Twitter chats is often reflected in the blog posts following, and resulting from the chats.

Blogging changes the way many people think about new, and old ideas. The difference between writing a Blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections. The blogger will not rush the idea in print, but develop it, so that it evolves before the reader. It is less a reaction, and more of a transparent reflection of thought, benefitting the writer as much as the reader. This will begin to carry over into the way the writer approaches almost everything.

For a blogging educator, as a teacher, or administrator, student or even a parent, there becomes a transparency in their thinking and reflecting. Before technology enabled us, this process had never been available, or had so much access to an individual’s thought process been given. Before the technology, books and magazines enabled us to view it in only a few people who were privileged to media access. Today the computer is the publisher. Good or bad, anyone can publish at anytime.

The stunningly apparent, positive take-away from blogging is that it gives voice to the blogger. A thoughtful, reflective, considered post can be picked up by an audience and sent out to thousands, or millions of readers through technology.

Blog posts can also be used for propaganda, or mindless ranting. As educators we need to emphasize critical thinking in our classes for that very reason. We need to model for our students how to responsibly question. We need to teach them how to comment and respond to blog posts. If blog posts are part of our ever-evolving, technology-driven culture, we need to educate our children in their use.

As educators we must also be learners. We need to model learning for our students who need to understand the necessity to be a life long learner. Educators are also people who work with ideas and share. It takes courage to put one’s self on the line to be scrutinized by others. Teachers do it every day in schools. The most effective way to have one’s voice recognized in sharing ideas in order to consider, reflect, modify, and improve with the greatest audience possible is through blogging.

We need courageous administrators blogging to give transparency to their thoughts and leadership.  We need educators to have the courage to experiment with blogging placing them squarely in the conversation of education from which they are too often blocked. Educators need to be models for their students. We need our students blogging to follow their teacher models. Blogging provides an audience for students’ work. It is an authentic audience and not an audience of one, as have been most of their previous writing experiences. It gives voice to their concerns, and it shows them direction for their personal learning. We need parents to blog to give voice to their concerns in directing the conversation for the needs of their children.

Since becoming a blogger, I view things differently. I question things more. I try to understand things well enough, so that I can explain them simply. Most importantly I have been recognized as a person to be taken seriously, because I have a voice. These are things I wish for everyone to experience. What good is education, if we do not have a voice to share what we have learned in order to benefit all?

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The World Education Blog in association with Education For All Global Monitoring Report is sponsoring #Teacher Tuesday. Each week for the next ten weeks they will share blog posts from ten different educators from around the world. The intent is to give voice to educators from around the world in an international discussion of education. Feel free to comment and enter the discussion.
SPEECH – 2013/4 EFA GMR
Esnart Chapomba, Teacher Educator in Malawi

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is great honour for me to be here in front of you today. As you have already heard, my name is Esnart Chapomba from Malawi. I would like to share with you some of the teaching and learning experiences from

Malawi. As most of you might have already known, Malawi is one of the countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

After adopting a Free Education Policy in 1994, the primary education sector in Malawi has been facing a learning crisis affecting the disadvantaged the most.

Teachers are few and far between. Class sizes are enormous and from the facts that I am going to share with you, I think that you will all agree that this has to change.

In Malawi children are not getting the best education and the quality of education is poor. Let me share with you some examples of what I mean by this.

I have seen children crammed into classrooms with more than 200 students and only one teacher.

I myself, have taught a class of 230 children and I had to teach under a tree because there was no classroom.

With so many students, I was only able to teach three subjects out of 6 on the daily timetable because I had to finish correcting every student’s work before proceeding to the next subject; as a result, I just ran out of time.

Many teachers especially those working in rural primary schools in Malawi will tell you the same story – we are far behind the Government’s target of 60 pupils per classroom.

Even more shocking is the fact that some rural schools have less than four teachers in a school of about 1000 children.

This means that on many occasions, children are left sitting in a classroom on their own, without a teacher, or they are sent home early. These children will learn very little by the time they graduate from the primary cycle.

Sometimes classes are combined and children from different grades sit together to learn from the same teacher . This is a form of multi-grade teaching).

To make this way of teaching more effective, teachers learn about ‘multi-grade teaching’ in training colleges so that they are able to handle students from different grades.

As you can imagine, this is not the best solution, but we are working hard to accommodate children in classes as best as we can.

In my experience, children in rural areas suffer the most. A 30 minute lesson would be taught in less than 20 minutes because they learn under very unfavourable conditions, like sitting under trees, and are frequently interrupted by rains and other external factors.

And I’m sad to say that rural children are taught by teachers who are often demotivated due to poor working conditions, poor accommodation and are living in remote areas where they are unable to access healthcare and other social amenities.

These issues are now being recognised and the Ministry of Education is providing rural teachers with an additional amount of money to cater for their hardships, and by building better houses in these areas to keep teachers motivated so that they can drive the provision of quality education.

The truth of the matter however is that huge classes and learning under unfavorable conditions in Malawi drastically reduce the quality of time that a teacher can spend with a child.

This is having a negative impact on the quality of teaching and children’s ability to learn. This has consistently been demonstrated by the SACMEQ results.

You will be shocked to hear that some children in Malawi reach grades three and four without being able to add up, read or write.

I’ve even seen children as old as 9 and 10 who are unable to read and write their names when clearly they should be able to do this.

These children will miss out on good opportunities and will be without the skills they need to have a decent future.

A lack of resources is also hampering teaching and learning. There are simply not enough books and pencils to go around. In most schools I have worked in, up to 10 children share a textbook. Again the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Malawi has been working to help provide one textbook per child, but this can’t come soon enough for the children who have already been left behind in their studies.

The Ministry of Education is also in the process of strengthening the early grade curriculum, all aimed at simplifying Teacher’s Guides and introducing more relevant and effective teaching methodologies.

The underlying truth is that the knock on effect of children performing poorly is catastrophic.

Children end up being demotivated and repeat and/or drop out of school before completing their primary school years. In Malawi, dropout rates are higher for girls across all grades. On average, 12.3% of girls will dropout compare to only 8.6% of boys according to official statistics(EMIS 2012).

Therefore, there is an urgent need for policies and strategies that can ensure that all children not only complete primary school, but also secondary education.

The situation I have faced is sadly not uncommon, as this year’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report highlights. This is why it is vital that policy-makers take note of the important messages in the Report – to make sure all schools have enough teachers, and these teachers receive the necessary support so that all children have the chance to learn.

As a teacher educator, I am aware of the challenges teachers face in schools; therefore, I try and teach teachers to carry out their work professionally with limited resources.

I show teachers how to motivate children to learn, especially through frequent assessments and then providing children with feedback.

It is imperative, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen that the government of Malawi continues to commit itself to educating its children and reach out to the most disadvantaged.

An education must prepare our children to be productive citizens of our country so that we can lift ourselves out of the vicious cycle of poverty and have a better future.

I believe that a quality education liberates people’s minds making them able to provide for their livelihood and is an essential tool for solving their daily life problems.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you very much for your attention.

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I recently attended a provocative session at Educon. For those who don’t know Educon is an annual education Conference held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia each year on the week before the Super Bowl. It is a conference of discussion as opposed to a conference of presentation. Each of the sessions is a facilitated discussion that involves the participants.

It was in one such session that #Edchat received what I thought was an unwarranted criticism from one of the participants in the session.

For those who may be new to social media scheduled chats take place on Twitter on various topics in education throughout the week.  Each is hosted and moderated by an educator who has an interest in the topic of discussion. This real-time chat is conducted through the use of hash tags (#Edchat), which curate all the tweets, so that the chat can be followed without interference from other tweets on the stream. One would simply create a column to follow the specific hash tag and all other tweets would be filtered out so that only hash-tagged tweets would appear in that column. I gave a complete description of education Chats in this post: Chats: What are they and why do we need them?

The Edchat criticism came in a discussion that I attended on The Privileged Voices in Education; facilitated by two people I greatly admire Jose Vilson, and Audrey Watters. I attended that particular session in need of making myself more aware of how I might be unknowingly offending and even demeaning people, as I address things from a position of privilege as a white, heterosexual, male educator. Those are all factors that have been brought to my attention lately, specifically because I have a voice in social media, and I haven’t been aware of my privilege in our very diverse culture. This need for awareness comes with the added responsibility of being an educator. I was unaware of my micro-aggression. As I consulted Wikipedia for specifics I found Micro-aggression: “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color ” I need to reflect on that discussion more before attempting to delve deeper in a later post. A follow-up post on this is my intention.

Of course the Edchat criticism came during this particular educator’s comments within this larger more important discussion, so I did not feel it appropriate to respond to him at the time. It was later however, that it occurred to me that we, as educators, are also privileged and must be aware of the less educated or informed. The comment about Edchat was not horrible. It was not even offensive. As a founder of Edchat, I am always listening to educators’ comments. Of course it doesn’t help, when a comment is made about Edchat in a room full of educators, and that a half-dozen, or so, immediately turn to me to see if I will respond. It reminds me of a group of kids gathered to watch a fight afterschool.

This educator said he was introduced to Edchat nine months ago and he felt that Twitter, and Edchat specifically was not the right place to have education discussions. He felt that 140-character format was insufficient for discussion. That was when it occurred to me that he might be speaking from a position of privilege as an educator who is exposed to education discourse. He certainly is an educator who was afforded an opportunity to attend a $200 conference in Philadelphia. His experience is not that of educators in other regions of America and even further from those of educators outside America. Who was he, to make the judgment for other people who an education chat had little, or no value? Opportunity to freely discuss issues in education does not take place in every school globally. Education chats are global, and they offer a glimpse, yes, just a glimpse, of only some of the things that concern educators. It is also mainly an American point of view for most of the chats probably dominated by a northeast influence. Additionally, I have no idea how many people of color are involved. I might assume that not as many as we should have. For anyone to consider all of this and feel that their experience outweighs all others in a judgment on the worth of a chat, may be a little too much, but, the again, I have already made too much of even this.

These twitter chats and even blog posts are not the deep discussions needed for us to make all the right decisions in education, or even our personal lives. They are however starting points. They are flags, signposts, billboards, and bulletin boards to concerns that educators have. They are forerunners and precursors to the needed deeper discussions. Please don’t criticize Chats like Edchat for not being the needed deep discussion. They were never intended to be that. They were set up to create awareness for the community. The very deep discussion that was taking place at Educon was in great part a result of the tweets and chats of social media as explained by the facilitators. We should remember that sometimes a chat is just a chat.

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For those who may be unaware, The WISE Summit is an education conference held each year in Doha, Qatar. The Qatar Foundation, which supports innovation in education around the world, sponsors it. It was my good fortune to be invited to attend last year along with my good friend and colleague Steven Anderson. The invitation to attend the WISE Summit comes with travel and accommodations paid for by the conference. This enables attendees to be truly representative of a huge number of countries worldwide. I was quite fortunate to be invited back a second year and lead a discussion in a common ground session.

One thing that sets the WISE Summit apart from all other education conferences we have become most familiar with is that the WISE Foundation is able to act on their good intentions. When they find educators who are passionately pursuing innovative educational endeavors, The WISE Foundation shares not only the idea with their summit attendees, but they deliver those very innovative, passionate educators to personally tell their stories to the WISE Conference. This in person delivery more than anything else best shares that passion and innovation in hopes that it becomes infectious. This conference sets itself above all others in that it fully support its intentions with actions, and of course this does not come cheaply.

The result of the huge investment in this education, and innovation connection is that the very necessary ideas for change in education can be discussed and shared at levels that potentially can make a difference on a worldwide level. Some of the most influential, Non-Government Organizations, responsible for educating millions around the world have personal access to these exceptional individuals and their ideas. The best part of this from my personal perspective is that, as an educator, and a blogger, I have the very same access to those folks. I find their ability to share their stories based on their ideas and experiences is not just inspirational, but also empowering.

There are so many people with whom I connected at this conference that I could write about, but a single post could not begin to scrape the surface of connections. Almost every business card handed to me at the conference brings to mind something about the individual represented. Of course it helps that I made notes right on the card after receiving it. It was my personal method of keeping up with so much information.

Of all of the connections and friendships that I made in Doha, Qatar, there are two individuals who are probably best described as unlikely standouts among educators. At a truly international conference I tend to bond more quickly with American educators. I find myself naturally attracted to and comfortable with people who seem familiar when I am in unfamiliar surroundings. To my advantage however this was my second year attending the WISE Summit, so a great deal of venturing beyond my comfort level took place. The two people I first came in contact with upon my arrival probably had the most profound effect on me for the conference. One was an African-American man from South Los Angeles, California, and the other was a white man from the South Bronx, New York. The three of us met for the first time in Doha. It was their first trip to Qatar and they were both wondering what it was that got them the invitation. I knew why they were invited within minutes of each of them telling me their story. Both men had a mission in life and each was passionate about it. Both were about helping people and each was laser focused on that goal. Both encountered great obstacles set up by culture and politics and each had battled and won great victories. One was steeped in hyperactivity and had a hard time sitting in a chair. The other was mellow and very laid back. I was comfortable with both guys and we got along fine. They are people I will keep in touch with and follow, as they continue to do wonderful things for their communities and that alone will drag or push many of us along with them.

I could not do justice to their stories in attempting to describe them to you in this post. I could not begin to even attempt to describe the passion and enthusiasm of these men for what it is they each do. It is ironic that each was brought around the world to meet for the first time when one considers what each of them did to get there. To best serve you as a reader, I can connect you with their video, so that you can see to some measure that which I saw in full measure. Even that should be enough to recognize these men as extraordinary educators and people we need to hold in high esteem with our support.

These are the Ted Talk videos of my new friends, Ron Finley, and Steve Ritz. I would expect you to view them, and hopefully, pass this along to other educators as well.

 

Simply click on each title to view the video.

 

Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

 

Stephen Ritz: A teacher growing green in the South Bronx

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A Weblog, or a Blog, as it has become to be known, is a form of writing that entered the scene with the advent of the Internet and personal publishing. It could be described as a digital magazine feature article or a digital news article depending on the content. What makes it unique however is that it is personally published without needing permission from anyone except the author. The author becomes the publisher and determines what will be posted, which is the digital term for being published. The authors of blogs are Bloggers.

Now that we have established what a blog is, what does any of this have to do with Connected Educators? Blogs are having a profound effect on Journalism most specifically, and other industries in general. Blogs are becoming more than just a tool for information. By being able to comment in real-time about a post, the readers become part of the narrative. They give voice to support, objection, clarification, expansion, and validation in their comments. They help to immediately define, shape, and explain topics through their comments. None of this was ever possible in the print media, with the exception maybe of “Letters To The Editor”.  It is that ability and power, which the blogger gives to the audience that connects them.

Thought leaders can express their ideas for immediate feedback, so that they may reflect and adjust. Readers may respond, reflect and often add a blog post of their own. The give and take; reflect and respond; adjust and refine abilities of the audience and Blogger are all part of a collaborative learning experience. Collaboration is the key to connectedness for educators especially.

Where do Bloggers come from? At first many education Bloggers came from the ranks of authors and speakers from education. They were comfortable with public exposure and writing, as well as technology, so it was an easier transition. Later, more and more educators began to get comfortable with the idea of blogging as a result of their commenting on blogs, as well as public discussion groups on the Internet. The fact that they were able to write their thoughts in a public venue and have them validated by other professional educators turned out to be a great incentive to go further. This only strengthened the voice of education Bloggers with the experience of practicing professionals.

As the community of education Bloggers grew, so did the audience. Many Administrators, who were leery of public exposure, began to step up and blog. Parents in need of a clearer understanding of the system began to blog. Finally, students themselves, the very focus for which education exists began to join in with their voice. A big contributing factor was the growing use of Twitter as a social Media tool. It is micro-blogging, blogging in small bursts. As people tweeted more and more, gaining a following, they found a desire to say more than 140 characters could express. Blogging applications like WordPress, and Blogger simplified the process of establishing a Blog site. A comfort with writing for an audience, and an ease with technology led to more educators climbing onto the train of connectedness and collaboration.

The result of all of this Blog evolution and proliferation has had a great effect on Education. It has made public the good, the bad, and the ugly of education. It has created that transparency that so many people have talked about. It is openly discussing what needs to be talked about by practicing educators and thought leaders. Blogs are connecting educators with thought leaders and administrative leaders in a way that could never before be accomplished. Education theorists can open their ideas to practitioners for analysis and critique. Practitioners can share their victories and conquests, and hopefully their failures as well. It is through the analysis and reflection of all of this that we can improve to move forward.

To be part of the change, educators need to be part of the process. They need to connect, comment and contribute wherever possible in our connected community of educators. That is where our voice as educators is the strongest. Connectedness is our best chance for positive change that is not mandated, or legislated, but rather collaboratively established.

Blogs offer a daily snapshot of what is happening in education. Blogs offer educators a public platform for discourse, and the ability to comment and affect change in a system that needs to change in order to be relevant in a world of fast-paced, technology-driven evolution. After the Blogs have dealt with the heavy lift, the printed Journals of Education report it. Educators need to connect to better communicate, collaborate, and create in order to more effectively educate students, and even more importantly continue to be educated.

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This is the original post that I submitted to Edcsurge. Under the expert editorship of Christina Quattrocchi it appeared under this title Board The Bullet Train: The Culture of Connection

I have been a connected educator throughout most of my 40-year career. My professional life has always been built around personal learning and collaboration. The difference between the 70’s and now is the ability to use far better tools to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create. The willingness to learn and use these modern tools designed for connectedness is a major factor in creating a gap between the connected and the unconnected educator. Reducing that gap should be a goal of every educator.

The value of connectedness, to a professional educator who actively practices it, is quickly understood as it is used. Too often connected educators are the worst advocates of connectedness because of their enthusiasm for what, and how they are learning. They tend to overwhelm the less informed with too much information that would scare off anyone who already views technology as an obstacle to overcome, as opposed to a tool to be learned and used effectively.

A connected 21st Century educator is an educator who is digitally literate, or at least open to learning the technology needed to basically connect and collaborate with others. It requires at the very least the same openness to learning as we ask of our students. It is a life long learning mindset. Connected educators find a value in, or even a moral imperative to share ideas and sources with others. They also trust enough to openly ask for help of other connected educators.

The dynamic of teaching is changing from a content expert disseminating information to students, to that of a learning expert of sorts, acting as a source in guiding students to learn. In this role the teacher often becomes a learner to be a better educator. Connected educators are constantly shifting between the role of learner and teacher. It is part of the mindset of a life long learner.

Connected educators are continually searching out other educators who can help in their goal of professional and personal learning. They seek out and collect and organize these educators as sources for information through social media. Social media being what it is, social, real relationships often result. This is never more evident than at education conferences. Connected educators meet face to face for the first time, and it is as if they were childhood friends. Virtual connections are deepened with face-to-face encounters. Faces and names are connected and acquaintances become friends.

The collection of educators becomes what is referred to as a Professional Learning Network; PLN. Access to one’s PLN is done through social media apps like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Each of these Apps has unique bells and whistles, but they are all designed to connect, exchange information and sources in the way of links to that information on the Internet. This would include: discussions, blog posts, webinars, videos, podcasts, websites, charts, diagrams, panel discussions, and virtual tours. Face to face collaboration can happen anytime with Skype, Google Hangouts, or Tango.

Connected educators find blog posts a mainstay for their relevance in the profession of education. These posts are not just read, but interacted with. Comments on posts question, praise, elaborate, clarify, and refer readers to additional, similar posts. Connectedness takes the educator beyond just the consumption of information to interacting with it. Many interact to a point where they develop their own Blogs.

The amount of education authors, bloggers and speakers enable any connected educator access not only to the ideas of these thought leaders, but also to the thought leaders themselves. It is not uncommon for a connected educator to start out micro-blogging on Twitter, move to posting on their own blog, and then authoring a full-length book.

Connected educators are interacting with the thought leaders who are coming up with the ideas, as well as the first educators who are using these same ideas. These are practicing educators who take the ideas and theories into the classroom. They share the experience first hand with other connected educators with all the successes and shortcomings. The Flipped Class, Bring Your Own Device, Problem/Project Based Learning, Professional Learning Network, 1:1 Laptops were all topics discussed online with connected educators months or even a year before they hit the halls, faculty rooms and meetings of most schools. Some unconnected educators are not yet talking in-depth about some of these innovative education topics.

Relevance is the key to connected educators. It is not that connected educators are better than unconnected educators. However, we as educators find ourselves in a transition period in Education in regard to how educators maintain their relevance. The technology of the 21st Century has enabled educators to capitalize on collaboration and simplify creation. The 20th Century model of how educators stayed relevant continues to be less effective each day. We are in a technology-driven society that is driving things faster and further than ever before capable, and the technology itself continues to advance. Connecting is like stepping on the bullet train, while not connecting is like sitting at the train station awaiting a more comfortable train to ride.

One does not need to be connected to be a good educator, but if one is a good educator, being connected can make him, or her a better, and a more relevant educator. This is not a course that is taken, but rather a mindset. It requires a love of learning, and a trust in other educators to be sharing, caring, and transparent. It is not Utopia; it is the culture of connected educators. It requires participation. Fifteen to twenty minutes a day to start out would work fine. The easiest way to start is with a Twitter account. Twitter will become the backbone of the Personal Learning Network directing you to many other sources. Starting is the key. Once an educator buys in, and starts, the connectedness will soon take over.

The culture of connected educators was not designed. It developed and evolved with the advance of technology, and the evolution of social media. Digital literacy has been a requirement of the connected culture, but digital literacy has now also become a requirement for all educators. “Resistance is futile” is the phrase that comes to mind in this connected revolution.

Irrelevant educators may provide irrelevant education. To better educate our kids we need to better educate our educators. It is through connectedness that we can accomplish this most efficiently.

 

What does it take to be a Connected Educator?

Willingness to be digitally literate

Willingness to seek out and connect with other educators.

Willingness to explore and share ideas with other educators

Willingness to develop and maintain a Professional Learning Network of sources

Willingness to peruse, engage, and share pertinent Education Blogs

Willingness to be a lifelong learner in pursuit of relevance

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To answer this question in the very month that the United States Department of Education has set aside to recognize as Connected Educator Month, we need to first examine what a connected educator is. We also need to understand to what it is that educators are connected.

The way information and content is housed and disseminated today has little resemblance to the housing and disseminating of a few short decades ago. Information then was stored in a manner that required some form of physical media. Text was stored in print on paper, and film. Movies were stored on both film, and videotape. Sound was stored on audiotape.  All of this media needed to be stored somewhere until someone needed access to learn from it, or to share it with others. Colleges, schools, and libraries served as hubs of information to give access to specific people for that purpose. That was the model for centuries. Access to information was limited to few, and that often came at a price. There has always been a cost for education and access to information.

The speed at which technology has changed this dynamic is mind-boggling. The conversion of all information and content spanning centuries of history in any form to a digital version took less than 50 years. Access to the Internet is now almost seamless using many different devices. Access is no longer limited to a select few, but rather it is available to anyone who is digitally literate.

Ubiquitous access is one reason why digital literacy is now going to be taught in American schools as we move forward. Students in our school system today will be given the keys to the information lock boxes of our society for their consumption. That addresses the needs of the digital savvy students, but what about the educators who came from another era? Believe it or not, some educators are still pondering whether or not technology tools for learning even belong in education.

There is a growing group of educators who are digitally literate. Some may be techies, but most are self-motivated life long learners. Using technology is less generational and more about learning. Social media and its acceptance in our culture has been a catalyst to connectedness. Social media applications like Twitter and Facebook offer an easy means to exchange Internet addresses of: Websites, Blogs, Videos, Podcasts, Books, Articles, Webinars, Panel Discussions, Skype Interviews, and Google Hangouts. More importantly, it connects teachers with the thought leaders of their profession. These are often practicing educators who have expertise in specific areas of education. Educators can now connect for a first hand account of how to affect changes in their practice in meaningful ways.

Who educators connect with is a very critical consideration. Acquiring numbers of educators who share concerns and interests is essential. Once an educator connects with other educators, they begin to collect them as sources in a Professional Learning Network of educators, a PLN. A connected educator may then access any or all of these sources for the purpose of communication, collaboration, or creation. This connectedness is not bound by bricks and mortar. It is not bound by city limits or state lines. It is not limited by countries borders. The only nagging inconvenience is dealing with time zones on a global level.

In a technology-driven society, things change at a faster rate than ever before in history. Educators who are connected use that technology to maintain relevance in the fast-paced, changing world of education. Being connected is not an add-on or a luxury for educators; it has become a necessity. We must have digitally literate educators, if we want digitally literate students. We need relevant educators in order to provide relevant teaching. We need connected educators, if we are to expect them to be life long learners and to model that for our children. Yes, we really need to have connected educators.

This is Connected Educator Month. There are many connected events taking place online during the entire month. We need to get the unconnected educators to become aware of the advantages and sources available through connectedness. Please share!

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Social media has had an effect on almost every aspect of life in America. Like it or not, use it or not, agree with it or not, social media has changed the way we live our lives in America no matter what the generation is in which we reside. There are some aspects of our culture that are affected more. Certainly News, Entertainment, and Advertising are areas that all would agree have most dramatically been changed with the social media intrusion on our culture. The speed at which that change took place was accelerated by the quick adoption of strategies by those industries to harness the power of social media to advance their respective industries.

Now let us consider the education industry. There are still educators saying things like: We need to prepare our students for the 21st Century.” Students graduating for the last two years began their education IN THE 21ST CENTURY! The time for preparation has long past over a decade ago.

Social Media is a large part of the 21st Century, which is our present. Of course to understand and utilize social media to our advantage as educators, we need to call upon our knowledge of digital literacy. It is the very digital literacy that all educators will be held responsible to teach under the common core. Of course for educators to teach digital literacy and administrators to assess lessons on digital literacy, we must assume that our educators are digitally literate. The last thing we need to improve education would be illiterate educators.

What does it mean to be digitally literate? Trusting the ever-controversial Wikipedia, a product itself of social media, we have this: Digital literacy is the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. It requires one “to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms”.

Understanding the use of technology and teaching it is one thing, using it to advance educators and education is a step further. The idea of connecting educators digitally for the purpose of curating and sharing information, collaborating with other educators, creating lessons and methods for teaching and learning, discussing and exploring mandates and political edicts in a transparent way are all strategies that engage technology in a meaningful way for education. The technology has made what was never before possible, a commonplace occurrence among connected educators.

What is resulting from all of this seems to be different types of educators. Those who are digitally literate and using that literacy to learn and share with other educators. These are the connected educators. Relevance is a primary concern. They don’t want to read about change, they want to lead it, or at least be involved with it. They write blogs and Tweet rather than email. Those educators, who are somewhat digitally literate, but choose to be strictly consumers of information through technology are semi-connected educators. They want to be relevant, but are content with reading about what is relevant. They may use that information in face-to-face discussions. They read blogs and they email. The unconnected educator is more in line with the 20th century model of teacher. Access to the Internet is limited for whatever reason. Relevance in the 21st century is not a concern. Whatever they need to know, someone will tell them. If they email anyone, they will follow it up with a phone call to make sure it was received.

These are the results of the effects of technology on educators that I have observed.

These are just my musings that you may agree with, or dismiss at will. I do however travel in big education circles, and I do engage, and observe educators regularly about education as a profession and as a passion. I think many of my observations are more accurate than not.

October is going to be Connected Educator Month, #CEM. This initiative is so important that it is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of Education. I would urge all educators to take advantage of the sources, which will be provided to connect. Being a connected educator does not happen in a day. It is a mindset. It becomes a great part of who you are as an educator. It enables you to hone in on your needs as a learner. I could not recommend anything else more strongly. If there is one thing that could best advance educators and education, it is teachers and administrators becoming connected educators.

 

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Over the years, as I have discussed collaboration in education with thousands of educators, there is one sentiment, or opinion of collaboration that has popped up among some of these educators that I just don’t get. Many of these educators have expressed to me the opinion that collaborative teachers who share personal sources such as lesson plans, personal websites, or even blog posts are not humble enough. They feel as if sharing on the Internet is like bragging about being better than other educators. They consider it to be gloating. Publicizing personal achievements to appear superior to other educators. That whole mindset seems counter to the idea of collaboration. It actually seems counter to a philosophy of teaching and learning. Maybe that’s why I don’t get it, especially coming from educators.

The whole idea behind being a connected educator is for educators to share sources that will benefit learners. It would be very limiting if the only sources educators shared were those developed by others, but at least they would appear to be humble. Would people really consider educators to be more humble, if they didn’t mention their own accomplishments? I often wonder why teachers are supposed to be humble anyway. What makes being humble so virtuous? Could this be one reason for the reluctance on the part of so many educators to connect and collaborate?

Arrogant, privileged, brazen braggart that I am, I would like to share a part of my accomplishments that I am quite proud of and that could benefit educators who take advantage of my sharing. The #Edchat Radio Show produced by the BAM Radio Network is a weekly show for educators. It is produced in the form of 10 to 12 minute podcasts, so that educators can play it on any device in a form and length that enables educators to take full advantage of time and place.

On a recent family road trip to college my daughter asked me to play an episode of the #Edchat Radio show so she could better understand what it is that I do these days. It was any easy request to fill. I had all of the shows on a podcast app on my phone. I connected the phone to the car radio and I became the voice on the radio for the road trip.

The purpose of the show is to share with the audience what transpired in that week’s #Edchat. The 7 PM chat is the one most often covered on the show, since it is the most popular and more heavily attended. However, when the noon chat produces an interesting and lively topic that is covered as well. Each show contains a guest. Sometimes the guest is just a chatter involved in that specific chat, or an author, or an education thought leader. The #Edchat moderator team guests as well: Steve Anderson, Shelly Terrell, Jerry Blumengarten, Kyle Pace, Jerry Swiatek, and Mary Beth Hertz. The constants on each show would be the hosts, myself, and Nancy Blair.

I love working with Nancy. She is an experienced educator, and now an education consultant with expertise in Professional Development. She is the detail person that I am not. She keeps us focused and on target. Nancy tends to smooth out my rough edges with a great depth of knowledge on any given topic.

I should make it clear that this entire project does not benefit us in any way other than a satisfaction that we are sharing the community’s ideas from each chat. There is no money to be had here. The idea has always been to share the #Edchat collaboration in as many ways as possible. We had the #Edchat live, and the #Edchat Archives, the #Edchat Facebook Page, and now we have the #Edchat Radio Show. The complete list of #Edchat Radio Show podcasts is available on iTunes. They are free and yours for the download.

As we drove the highways headed for college, I was listening to the shows with a fresh ear. It had been months since I listened to many of them and I was now listening as a consumer and not a producer. Each show was lively and very informative. What interested me most was how much each of the guests contributed. We had and hopefully will continue to have some of the most informed and collaborative educators who continually contribute the best portions of each of the radio show podcasts.

Of course the best outcome from this family adventure was that my daughter could understand what it is that I do in the world of connected educators. A vast majority of teachers that I taught with for years have no clue what that is. We need to share more of what we as educators do in any form that reaches an audience. If we need to do it humbly, that’s okay. If we can do it with confidence and pride, I think that may be better. I am proud of what I do and I love sharing it. But then again I am an arrogant, privileged, brazen braggart and proud of it.

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 I have spent a great deal of time communicating the need for educators to connect, communicate and collaborate in order to improve our education system and learning in our computer-driven culture. Many educators have boarded that train, but many, many more are still waiting at the station for a train that is easier to board and more comfortable to ride.

Maybe my efforts and the efforts of many other educators and bloggers have targeted the wrong group to affect a change in our education system. Maybe instead of pushing educators into the fray, we should be supporting other groups that will eventually pull educators into a systematic change. Connectedness is not a condition that is only available for educators to benefit. If educators fail to see the benefit of connectedness in our education system, maybe another group could be targeted for modeling the positive effects of connected learning. Maybe the model of the educators being the leaders for the learners needs to be flipped. What would happen if the learners connected to model the benefits for the educators?

Many educators might say that is impossible, and even laughable to think that is even a possibility in our system. Educators decide the “What and How” of students’ learning in our system and that will never change. Educators have always led the way for the students. So it is written, and so it shall be done!

That foundation on which our education system has been based lo these many centuries seems now to be on shaky ground. I attended an education conference in the Bahamas where I attended sessions delivered by students on student connectedness, enhancing, and even directing student learning. It was an eye-opener for many educators in the audience. I saw a keynote speech at an education conference in Indiana delivered by an eleven-year-old on the advantages of connectedness for students. This kid achieved more as a connected learner than many in the educator-audience even were aware to be possible. Major education conferences are including more and more student sessions exploring the possibilities of student connectedness, connected learning, and choices students have in this technology-driven culture.

Many educators are fascinated by these types of sessions. Many educators view these sessions as something unique. Many educators consider these kids to be anomalies in a system of passive, compliant students. Many educators are oblivious to change as it is happening.

I am not a big believer of the digital native theory. Kids, however, are more open than their educators to learn with technology. They may not be learning with technology in their schools, but they are willing and able to explore and learn on their own. Students are unaware of the excuses of lack of time, or lack of a comfort level used by many of their educators. Kids have vast texting networks that are potential Personal Learning Networks. They are already connected in many ways. Taking that connectedness and applying some collaborative and networking methodology could yield great learning benefits in many cases. The potential of connected learning is but a few steps away for kids.

In many cases creating a collaborative community of learners among students might prove to be an easier and more successful task than the efforts already expended on the same concept for the educators. There is no need to convince kids of the uses of technology, because they get it. There is no need to teach them the bells and whistles of every application, because they learn what they need by trial and error without fear of making mistakes, or breaking something. As a target group to learn through connectedness, students offer far more potential than educators.

Once we have achieved the ultimate goal of connecting all students to develop their Personal Learning Networks, they will begin to direct their own learning beyond the limitations of their teachers. The walls of the classroom, or the location of the school building will not limit students.

Educators who wish to remain relevant will need to play catch up. Educators who wish to gain the same advances in learning as their students may accept the benefits of technology while abandoning the excuses of time and comfort. Educators will be dragged into the progressive education movement rather than being pushed. The idea of students being able to circumvent their educators in a successful pursuit of education may drive educators into a culture they should have embraced from the beginning. Enabling, and, modeling the use of technology, and its ability to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create should be a primary goal in education. Teaching the skill of how to learn outweighs the idea of memorizing what to learn.

Could this happen? Probably not tomorrow, but it might eventually. If educators do not strive to be relevant, the outcome will be irrelevance. Students will need to circumvent an irrelevant education system at that point. Technology can and will provide the means to do that. Relevance: If we do not use it we will lose it!

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