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Archive for the ‘online learning’ Category

I am very fortunate to be able to attend a number of Education Conferences each year. This offers me a perspective of education conferences that is not afforded to a majority of educators. When one considers the total number of American educators compared to the total attendance at these conferences and then factor out the people who repeatedly attend each year, it is easy to see that most educators do not get to these national conferences. That is a shortcoming I believe that hurts the profession. There is much to be learned and shared at these conferences that can make a difference to an educator.

Of course many of these conferences are so vast that it is difficult to report on the whole conference when one can only experience a small part of it. It brings to mind the five blind men trying to describe what an elephant looked like based on only one part of the elephant that each had physical contact with. Each description was completely different, and not one accurately described the whole elephant.

My last three conferences were Educon, FETC, and TCEA, wonderful conferences all. In each of these I met with many connected educators and participated exclusively in sessions of discussion or panel-driven discussion. I find these types of sessions more in line with what suits me in learning. I feel that I can personalize the sessions for my needs, and I can even participate in the content of the discussion personally becoming a part of the learning.  Educon of all the conferences is the one conference that focuses on these types of sessions. Of course that would make it my conference of preference.

The other conferences generally depend on “sit and get” PowerPoint demonstrations, or “bells and whistles” software presentations. There will always be a need for these sessions, but I question the balance, or lack of balance, they have when compared with discussion sessions at any given conference.

The glaring deficiency in any session is that it must be submitted and approved 8 to 12 months in advance. How does that maintain relevance? How is the latest and greatest in education even represented at these conferences, unless it is discussion? Discussion can be more timely than any presentation that is eight months old.

Discussion adds the ability to deal with topics of pedagogy and methodology as opposed to just the mechanics of a lesson. Discussions of education that do not take place in school buildings can take place with educators of varied experience to share and elaborate. This is the fodder for reflection. Reflection goes a long way in changing the way we approach things. It often prompts change and promotes reform.

I believe that the success of the Edcamp format where discussion and collaboration are the focus, and the popularity of real-time chats on Twitter and Google Hangouts are all indicators of change. Educators are personalizing their learning in larger numbers. This may be a trend or something bigger. Whatever it is, we need to adjust the way conferences are providing what educators need as a profession.

As a connected educator, I loved being with and sharing ideas and discussions with other educators with whom I am connected. Our conversations were not the same as those of unconnected educators at these conferences. As I talked with educators who were not in collaboration with others on a regular basis, I found a need to define and explain things to them that are discussed and understood online by connected educators daily. I am not saying that these unconnected educators are not good teachers, but maybe not as informed as a  professional needs to be, or as relevant as a professional could be. We are in a profession that deals with information and learning. We need to be relevant in two areas, content and education. Online collaboration enables that to happen more efficiently and on a constant basis. These online discussions are carried further in a face-to-face setting of a conference. Those not involved with online collaboration are often playing catch up in the discussion. A worse alternative is that they withdraw from involvement in the discussion altogether.

Technology has moved collaboration from a way of learning that only happened in a limiting face-to-face setting, to one that takes place anywhere at anytime breaking down the previous borders of time and space. For educators not to take full advantage of this new-found ability is a missed opportunity. We need to support, enhance, and encourage collaboration in all of its forms, online and face-to-face. Ideas that are born at conferences can be continually evolved online. The discussion need no longer end after the closing keynote. Ideas that are born online may be expanded and improved in the face-to-face collaboration of the conferences. We don’t need the opening keynote to start the thinking and connecting. We are professional educators who need to do a better job educating ourselves as educators. If we are to better educate kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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As a tweeter of education tweets (many, many education tweets), I often find myself on lists that people put out as recommendations. Whenever that happens there will be a number of people who will pass their judgment over the quality of the list or the quality of the qualifications of individuals on that list. Of course, there are no rules in social media, so that will go on no matter what. I do think that we need a perspective on these lists in order to gauge the intensity of criticism.

First, we should state that anyone putting out a list, recommending people to follow, has found worth in the information that those people have put out. We can’t judge the value of that information to that individual, since we all come from varied backgrounds with varied experiences. What an inexperienced educator finds of value from others may not be as valuable to an educator of many years experience. That does not mean that the information is worthless. It is still valuable to a new educator. It indicates only that that particular list would not meet all the needs of a more experienced educator.

The biggest problem with any list is that someone is always left out. Even in listing your best ten recommendations there is sure to be someone you want on that list equal to all the others, but that would be eleven. Not gonna happen.

We should keep in mind that these are all personal recommendations. As we personalize our learning, we follow those people who best speak to our needs for learning. Again, who works for me might not work for you. I know that I have seen people on list who I follow, or have stopped following because they do not offer enough to supplement or challenge my learning. Those recommendations would not meet my needs, so although I would not take them, that gives me no license to publicly criticize the list, or individuals on it.

Another criticism that I have become most sensitive to recently is faulting an educator for “not even being a teacher”. Not every educator is a classroom teacher. That does not mean they aren’t educators. That doesn’t mean they can’t offer valid information, or considered opinions. (I do draw the line at non-educators making education policy. That is another discussion for another bottle of wine.) Administrators technically are not classroom teachers.

Quite honestly, many classroom teachers have little time to spend on social media when compared to those who educate educators as a vocation. Many consultants, bloggers, vendors, and retired educators spend greater amounts of time sharing information. We need to remind ourselves that sharing in social media allows us to judge the worth of the idea rather than who proposed it. I have become somewhat of a social media professional educator, hence my sensitivity to the criticism. That position however, is based on a 40-year classroom career (for the haters).

The main benefit of any lists recommending people to follow is that there are lists of people to follow. Social media, although no longer in its infancy, is still new to many educators. New educators are joining the community daily. All of us can take recommendations of people to follow. Lists offer a starting point for some, and additional value to established Personal Learning Networks for others. We must however, determine on our own, if any person warrants a continued “follow”, or a quick, unheralded “unfollow”. We design our own learning. We have a say, a voice in who we choose to learn from. Lists are introductions to people we might not yet have been exposed to.

I would hope that lists could be viewed with more tolerance, if not appreciation. Remember that the people on the lists did not choose to be there. Their appearance on the list came from another. They do not deserve to be publicly criticized for that. They are not to be targeted because someone else doesn’t get it. Respect is key to social media succeeding as a vehicle for our learning.

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A question that I often get from educators is: How do I get to do what you do?  Always intrigued by that question, I continually have to consider what it is that I do, that would appeal to anyone other than me? In reflection, I love what I do in this second career that I stumbled into about five years ago. I get to tweet, chat, blog, broadcast, podcast, interview, comment, write, speak, consult, and travel around the world. I guess I could be considered a professional social media educator. Of course it is not something I could devote enough time to, if I was not retired from teaching after 40 years in the classroom. I find myself on, or near a computer all day, every day. I know of several dozen educators actively involved in doing many of the same things. Most of these educators started as early adopters of social media when it began to gain momentum in our society.

What were the conditions in education that empowered certain educators with the ability to influence, to some degree, the profession of education? Who is responsible for recognizing and validating certain individuals as education thought leaders? What changed in education that diverted us from the usual more traditional spheres of influence in education to a social media-driven influence?

Traditionally, education authors had influenced education with published works. These experts, many from Higher Education, would write books and Journal articles that affected the profession. Recognition came through published works from highly credentialed educators. These are the same experts who would also speak at education conferences. Recognition was also given to educators who successfully presented at the National Education Conferences. For decades these were the influencers of change in education.

As Education became more political the influencers changed. Politicians, and business people began to enter the discussions in education. Big companies making big profits in education began gain more influence in the discussion. Before long the educators’ voice in education was barely a whisper. Discussions resulted in mandates and laws, which was the culmination of influence of many non-educators with little transparency in the system that produced these directives.

With the rise of social media, educators began their own discussions online. The education community started to grow on LinkeIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The educator discussion began as a collaborative sharing of ideas for teaching. Soon educators began to compare notes on pedagogy, methodology, policies and mandates. Questions about inconsistencies and flaws began to be explored. The discussions were interactive, and reflective. It was educators questioning educators about education without influences of re-election, tax implications, profit margins, or public opinion.

Collaboration revealed ideas that were practice to some but innovation to others. Social media is global and that influenced ideas as well. Ideas from other cultures entered the conversations. The community soon noticed those educators, who embraced the ideas, and exposed the hypocrisies, and inconsistencies. Recognition came to those who were consistent with good and original ideas.

Those same educators who tweeted their thoughts needed to expand their ideas and moved onto blogs. Some still felt limited and found a need to author books. The pathway to thought leadership had become more democratized. People were recognized for their ideas rather than their titles. Educators had access to other educators for vetting ideas. Access through collaboration using technology as a tool to make collaboration an anytime, anywhere endeavor was a game-changing advancement.

Potentially, any educator today, who has the ability to collaborate with other educators, can share their way to thought leadership. It takes: a collaborative mindset, a love of learning, ability to creatively think, ability to effectively write, ability to comfortably speak, and a driving desire to affect change in education. These are the skills of the several dozen people that I know who have become thought leaders in education through social media engagement.

Collaboration has long been a factor in the education profession. It is through technology that this element, this form of learning, has been turbo-boosted to become a driving force in learning. It empowers people to gain control over what it is they need, or want to learn. It also enables that person to intelligently and responsibly shares their learning with others in order to fill a void created by the isolationism of education in the past. It was that isolationism that made educators vulnerable to influences of outside forces that may not have had education improvement as their main goal. That is the stuff that makes a good education thought leader. It is within the reach of most educators to get to that position, and the profession, as well as the system, will benefit with every attempt by educators to do so.

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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 post originally appeared on the ISTE Connects Blog.

Back in 2009 I was becoming quite acquainted with the ins and outs of Twitter. I had migrated to Twitter from a heavy involvement on LinkedIn. While on LinkedIn I had founded a very active education group called Technology-Using Professors. The LinkedIn discussions often referred to sources picked up on Twitter. It wasn’t long after that I found myself spending more and more time on Twitter and less on LinkedIn. I did however miss the discussion component that was so prevalent with the groups on LinkedIn.

I began to ask somewhat engaging questions on education in order to start discussions on Twitter. The discussions were at random times when the mood would strike me to start one up. A probing question here, and a provocative statement there would always strike a chord with a few folks. It was however limited to my followers, which was at the time only a few hundred. It was a great experience, but it was limited. The only beneficiaries were those few of my followers who were on the twitterstream when the question was posed.

I was fortunate to have discovered and virtually assembled a number of collaborative, knowledgeable, and intelligent people in my network of connected educators for the purpose of advancing my own professional development. This was my Professional Learning Network, my PLN. I found myself engaging two individuals more than any others, Shelly Terrell from Germany, @ShellTerrell, and Steve Anderson from North Carolina, @Web20classroom. I asked them to help me set up a discussion on education that we could do on Twitter. Of course Steve and Shelly brought along their followers, so pretty soon we were already expanding the audience for our chat.

With the creation of a hashtag, a set time on a prescribed day, and a poll to determine specific topics for discussion, #Edchat was launched. It was not the first-ever discussion or CHAT on Twitter, but it was consistent and successful with an unprecedented amount of participation. #Edchat was often a trending topic on Twitter when the chats were in progress. We were driven to create an archive page so that educators around the world, restricted by time zones, could keep up with the chats. We received many requests from educators in Europe to start #Edchat earlier to accommodate their time zones. We answer the requests with a second chat beginning earlier in the day.

The #Edchat hashtag then took on a life of its own. It went beyond just marking the tweets for the chat. It became a hashtag added to any tweet dealing with education related information. Tweeters realized that they could extend their range of tweets beyond their own followers to the thousands of educators who follow the #Edchat hashtag.

With the success of #edchat and using it as a model there are several hundred education chats active on Twitter today. Education chats have become a great source for connected educators to access and follow thought leaders, and educators who are leading the discussions that are having profound effects on the development of 21st Century education. Beyond the actual discussion of relevant topics, educators can make direct connections with the chat participants. They can add to their PLN’S with educators who have engaged them. Tom Murray and Jerry Blumengarten have created a great source list for the current number of education chats. It was creatively named WEEKLY TWITTER CHATS.

Entering any of these chats requires some strategies. It is impossible to follow every tweet in the discussion and keep a focus on any specific aspect of it. It would be like trying to listen to and follow every discussion at a party with a hundred people. It is not something that can be done literally, so why would we expect to be able to do it virtually?

I approach a topic and devise my own question that answers my needs on the subject. I put the question out fishing for people to engage. I usually pick up a few people and we are off to discuss. I also monitor the chat for things that draw me in. I engage those folks who have their own questions on the subject. The best part of the chats is the engagement, but not everyone engages. There are people who follow the chat and take it all in without ever revealing their presence. They are quiet consumers of information, lurkers for learning.

Chats on Twitter have become a staple for information and contacts. They are great sources of relevant information that educators need to promote change and improve their own methodology. Chats are wonderful sources for connecting to educators with proven worth to add value to Professional Learning Networks. It adds to the many ways educators can now personalize their learning for professional development. In order to provide kids a relevant education, we need to provide relevant educators. A connected educator, engaging in education chats, is one method that enables this much-needed relevance.

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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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One of my reasons for becoming active on Social Media was to engage people of influence in the discussion of education. I soon found out that there were several circles of influence that were driving the discussion, but educators had very little influence in any of those circles and Social Media had even less influence on them. Business people, politicians, and people were driving the education discussion interested in entering the education industry for profit. Educators, whether by choice or circumstance, were not involved in the very reform discussions that were affecting their profession. Although educators are educated and experienced in the area of education, education expertise was claimed and permitted for the most part by those without either.

Many of these people used Social Media to put out a one-way information campaign to support their ideas of reform. It was not a discussion of ideas, but rather a statement of position. Teachers were praised as they were targeted. The public education system was condemned as a failure and alternatives were presented as a better, and cheaper. Standardized testing became a goal in education and an annual Billion-dollar industry in short order.

Educators were openly discussing ways to improve education and continue to do so on Social Media. Twitter is a mainstay for exchanging sources and discussing ideas of educators to improve and expand teaching and learning. Few of the non-educator reformers were actively engaged in these exchanges. The power of Social Media has yet to be discovered or used by many. Recognition of the fact that many education bloggers, authors, speakers, and thought leaders engage in thoughtful discussion and reflection on education in social media is just not a reality.

It was in the face of all of this that I happened upon The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan tweeting on Twitter the other day. I was familiar with his tweeting pattern, since I have been following him for quite a while. I also follow his assistants and PR people. He and his team would often tweet out positive tweets about his initiatives. It was rarely an exchange with educators, but usually a one-way conversation. I was also aware that his follow list included politicians, business people and organization leaders, many referring to themselves as education reformers. He followed few, if any connected educators, which was very ironic, since we are entering the Connected Educator Month in October for the second year in a row. Here is how the exchange went:

arneduncan's avatar

Arne Duncan @arneduncan

  1. As a nation we’re still spending $7-9B each year on textbooks that are obsolete the day we buy them. Why?

tomwhitby's avatar
Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

@arneduncan If you need a list of great connected Educators to follow on Twitter, let me know. I can make it happen. #Edchat #CEM

arneduncan's avatar
Arne Duncan @arneduncan

@tomwhitby absolutely.

@arneduncan GREAT! First follow me,then follow this Comprehensive list of the Most Connected Educators. bit.ly/W818Tt #Edchat #CEM

@tomwhitby Done. Thanks for the suggestion Tom.

tomwhitby's avatar
Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

@arneduncan You are very welcome. 15-20 minutes a day on Twitter will give you the pulse of the connected educator community. #Edchat #CEM

 

The list I provided was a list of about 100+ connected educators that I exchange information with most often from among the 2,500 educators that I follow. Of course I have left off some educators who belong on that list, but that is a problem inherent with any made-up list.

The Secretary did as I had asked; He followed every educator and me on that list. He more than doubled his Follow list on Twitter. Educators immediately responded on Twitter in astonishment that The U.S. Secretary of Education was following them on Twitter. They were wondering why they were selected. Obviously, they were not following me, as closely as I was following them.

It was at this point that I began to see a problem. People were openly questioning whether or not Secretary Duncan was really going to engage educators. They were openly asking what they could DM the Secretary to affect the education discussion. They had expectations of the Secretary that they would not have of anyone else after just entering the culture of connected educators. They were already expecting too much. There is no tweet or comment that could so profoundly affect the education discussion to turn it all around making everyone hug and dance in jubilation.

To make this even more interesting some of The Secretary’s team tweeted me hoping that he hadn’t made a mistake connecting to educators who had a potential of haranguing him. I only hoped that I was right. I would hope that people would give The Secretary time to acclimate to the culture. He has not engaged with connected educators to any great extent and now he is connected to over 100 of the most active and most passionate. It could be the best effort yet to engage connected educators in the national discussion of education reform, or a disastrous conflagration. I am hopeful that the patience of these educators will allow Secretary Duncan to observe, enter and participate in the connected culture with the same respect offered to any other member of that community.

The connected educator List.

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I am participating in the national plan to promote Connected Educators’ Month (CEM) for this year. I was very honored to even be asked to participate on this committee, because I am committed to collaborative learning for all educators. I believe that social media and technology afford our profession the best opportunity to date in order to connect educators for collaboration and exchanging ideas to develop and maintain relevance as professional educators. Technology offers our best tools to enable, promote, and practice life long learning, the very thing that educators hold up as the “Holy Grail” for their students. As I have pointed out in many posts, Life Long Learning should also be the personal goal of all educators, and ideally everyone else in our country as well, even if that reality may be unrealistic.

The leaders of this planning committee have their hands full, trying to orchestrate an effective plan with input coming from more than 30 individuals. Each of the committee members has his, or her own vision of what Connected Educators’ Month should look like. Each of the members has strong opinions, each has a strong personality, and each is a leader in his or her area of expertise. Trying to include everyone’s position in one plan will be a herculean task, but it is certainly doable through collaboration.

My position on the committee is simple. I want to connect the unconnected educator. There are far more unconnected than connected educators. We as a profession are not taking advantage of our best opportunity to date to collaborate and advance our education system for the benefit of our kids and our country. We are not participating in great enough numbers to discuss, collaborate and improve our system. Educators have left themselves out of that discussion allowing the void to be filled by business people and shortsighted politicians.

My fear is that we will place an emphasis on adding content for connected educators and miss out on actually connecting educators. It is my belief that by connecting more educators, we will be adding content by the added participation of more collaborating educators. Adding content for those already connected has a limited impact on the unconnected educators. Using social media to advertise connecting more educators does not target the unconnected. They are not on social media to be affected by the advertisement.

If we are to connect more educators, we need to ask those connected to do more. We need them to model their connections. We need them not only to share their sources with the unconnected, but also to cite how Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or a particular Ning site provided the source. We need administrators to recognize, establish and support the positive effects of connected collaboration. Our professional organizations can give up a few iPad sessions to make room for connected educator sessions. Any conference requiring nametags can certainly have a field for the educator’s Twitter name. Twitter names should also appear on any printed media where educator contact information appears. We need to prioritize the need and the ability for educators to connect. The path to collaboration and connected educators needs to be made easier and seemingly natural. We need to go where the unconnected educators can be found and that is not on connected venues. If we believe in collaboration of connected education for life long learning than we need to promote connections for our educators, who in turn will educate and hopefully connect our students.

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This week I attended another international education conference – the Net.1 Conference (The 1st Annual Nassau Education Technology Conference.)  It was the first of its kind to be held in the Bahamas. There were over 200 educators from the Bahamas and several other surrounding island nations. Often as American educators we are faced with the day-to-day problems of our own system and are unaware of the challenges and real obstacles faced by other countries as they also strive to educate their young. Many of the things that we take for granted are almost non-existent in some other countries.

Poverty in any country seems to be the biggest obstacle to a proper education, but the problems of poverty in a poor country seems to compound the issues almost beyond solution. There is an evident commonality however that could be found in the passion for education in the hearts of all of the educators in attendance. They gave freely of their time to attend an educational conference that offered glimmers of direction, and possible advances in the face of almost daily defeats metered out by problems of distance, isolation, and infrastructure, too much of the first two and not enough of the third.

The Net.1 Conference took place in a premiere school in Nassau, The Lyford Cay School. It is a K-12 school comprised of various freestanding Caribbean-colored buildings. It was situated within a gated community of multi-million dollar homes. It was most definitely not typical of the schools most of the educator attendees represented. Ms. Gaynell Ellis our Bahamian ambassador of good will, a technology visionary, and now a dear friend guided our tour of the community. The school was the obvious beneficiary of the opulence and wealth surrounding it through generous contributions and an active and involved PTA.

I found the faculty members of this school who were the volunteer monitors for the conference to be most proud of their school and their students. The entire conference was a result of the efforts of that staff and foresight of their administrator, Dr. Stacey Bobo. Most notably among the organizers was a husband and wife team of educators from the school, Oscar Brinson Technology Director, and Mindy Brinson (@mbrinson) Technology Coordinator. The conference was built around networking time in order to stimulate collaboration amongst the attending educators. The vision of using instructional technology to advance education in the Bahamas was set during the keynote by none other than the Minister of Education, the Honorable Benjamin Fitzgerald.

A wonderful addition to this conference was the addition of student presentations. Five, 15-year-old students from The Lyford Cay School did two of the conference presentations. The school is made up of 40% Bahamian and 60% international students. This group chose Social Media from a student’s perspective as their first presentation. These kids Texted, Tweeted, Tumbled, and Blogged with some of the best examples of their work out there for all to see. They answered questions, and offered opinions like pros. Of course not spell checking a PowerPoint presentation is almost a universal mistake even among seasoned educators that was overlooked by the audience in light of the quality and effort put out by these kids. I loved it.

I invited these students to join me at my presentation on how educators are using social media for collaboration and professional development. Not only did their participation offer a great model on connected life long learning, they asked questions and offered opinions that enlightened the adults in the room. Again, I loved it.

As students’ needs merge with the educators’ ability to provide solutions, it is becoming very evident that a change is essential. With the way that the world at large curates, communicates, collaborates, and creates in a technology- driven environment while reaching out globally, choices need to be made. An educator’s choice is to get on board, or get out of the way. Relevance comes with life long learning. Looking to the past to not repeat our mistakes is a fine practice. Living in the past to develop minds for the future may be one of those very mistakes we are looking to avoid.

The steps taken by this small island nation of The Bahamas to provide its educators with the tools to enter and compete in a modern world of collaboration is a sign of the times. Of course that brings to mind, especially to the old folk out there, those visionary words of Bob Dylan… “And the times they are a change’n”.

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