creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by courosa: http://flickr.com/photos/courosa/2922421696
 
So far I have discussed connecting with others both off and online. In addition to this, I explored taking owner of our identity online, as well as elaborating on and engaging with the ideas of others. The fifth step in being a connected educator is learning.
 
Ideas and inspiration can come from many places and like connections, are not always digital or online. Sometimes learning can be as simple as a chat around the photocopier or walking between classes. I have discussed this elsewhere as the incidental ‘hidden’ professional learning. The reality is, everything in life can offer a point of learning if we are willing to see it that way. For example, an activity that I have done with my students in the past is to reflect upon their classroom and what it says. I have done this in history when considering artefacts, as well as in music when thinking about performance and space.
 
I would argue though that the digital realm only extends the potential of this learning. One of the best things about learning online is that you can do it anywhere, any time. Whether it be reading a blog, watching a video, listening to a podcast or participating in an online chat, there are so many opportunities and options that the biggest challenge that we are faced with is what to engage with.
 
At the recent Teachmeet event at the Immigration Museum+Richard Olsen posed the question about whether there are any negatives about being connected. This has really prayed on my mind. I think there is so much written about the positives, that the flip side is often left silent. One of the initial negatives that I found is having so many different options and ideas out there, it can often leave you in a state of disarray. The challenge then is what we do about this disruption to the way things are. The biggest lesson I have learnt in being a connected educator is that nothing has to be the way that it is, rather we choose for it to be that way.
 
My solution to this feeling of perpetual confusion is to engage with others online in the effort to identify different perspectives. By engaging I don’t mean lambasting those whose views are different, but rather, as +Peter DeWitt puts it, “finding common ground with people I do not always agree with, and building consensus with those that I do.” 
 
In a recent interview with +Ed Tech Crew, +Dan Donahoo provides the suggestion of finding five people that you disagree with and following them. His argument was that we often learn more from those who we oppose, than those that we agree with. In another take on this, +David Truss, refuting the echo chamber argument, states that, “a good PLN will pull in learning from places I don’t normally go, and this means that even when good ideas bounce around, perspectives on those ideas don’t stay static… they don’t echo, and they morph into new insights.” 
 
As I stated in my post on blogging, learning online is about connecting with others in a reciprocal manner, both taking and giving. At its heart, it is about keeping the conversation going. Often though, it is the walls that are often built around us that kill this conversation. 
 
The easiest way to breakdown walls that so often hold us back, inhibit us and prevent us from reaching our potential is to realise that such ‘walls’ are merely a construct. Having been built, they can often just as easily be torn down. To me the Rhizomatic Learning MOOC epitomised (or epitomises, depending on how you think of things) everything that is meaningful about being a connected educator both in content and construct. 
 
Although I connected with some really great people, such as +Simon Ensor, +Keith Hamon, +Luis López-Cano, +maureen maher, +Ronald L and +dave cormier, it was a connection formed around ideas rather than personalities. I made no pretence to assume that I knew many or any of these people. To me though, this is what is so significant about connectivism. Although we may connect with people, a specific identity, to me it is the thoughts and ideas that they may offer that makes them truly meaningful. It may be important to nurture and maintain connections, but it is our capacity to know more that is more critical than what is currently known which stands out the most.
 
Although online learning, whether it be responding to a tweet or participating in a MOOC, may not necessarily provide the same depth and rigor of a more formalised learning, it does provide an opportunity to connect with others who we otherwise would not normally associate with and develop new knowledge in the process. As +George Siemens pointed out in his seminal piece, “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” To me, being a connected educator is the first and most important step to a life of learning. For if as David Weinberger puts it that ‘the smartest person in the room is the room”, my learning is more meaningful when it is not restricted to those people who I work with or know through past experiences.

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This post is a follow up to my presentation at the Melbourne Teachmeet held at the Immigration Museum on the 10th of May. The focus was the question, “are you really connecting if you are not giving back?” This was a topic that I had previously written about in a post of the same name. The one difference was the implications for sharing in the classroom.
 

 
 
I don’t know how many times I have heard Edmodo referred to as being ‘Facebook for education’. Other than the fact that it simply isn’t, the biggest problem I have with this is that so often such spaces are set up as a place for one way communication. Where although the teacher has stepped off the physical space, they have merely stepped into a virtual stage.
 
Now I understand that as the teacher we have a responsibility to manage such spaces. However, should it be any wonder when there is little traction from students when such spaces only allow discussion to be driven from the perspective of the teacher. This assignment is due, complete this quiz, answer that question.  I wonder how much take-up there would be with spaces like Edmodo when the focus is on learning and the topic at hand? 
 
I have heard so many presentations spruiking the benefits of Facebook for education. Usually such discussions revolve around students creating their own pages where they then gather and discuss information and ideas, including homework. Not only are they collaborating in such situations, but they are driving their own learning. So often Facebook works because students have a stronger sense of agency. When it is taken over by teachers and education, it looses its potential, the sheen rubs off.
 
In addition to issues with control, my experience of ‘social media’ of any sort in education (I include the Ultranet in this) often fails to replicate what is happening in the real world. We live in a world of excess where we are given a choice whether to participate, to comment, to view, to consume. Yet how often are students given such choices?
 
One step towards relinquishing this sense of control is to share with students those resources that we often stumble upon while exploring new opportunities. Although on a different level, +Cameron Paterson recently shared a change at his school where student representatives are included in every subject meeting. That means when there is a professional reading for staff that students complete this as well. If this is the case, why not share those articles and videos with students? Not necessarily because they have to read or watch them, but so that they have a choice.
 
In his Ted Talk+Ewan McIntosh questions why teachers rather than students do all the problem finding? This really got me thinking about what else that teachers do that students are missing out on. Short of actually committing to McIntosh’s ‘Design Thinking’ edict – we can all dream? – one step towards a focus on sharing and collaboration is actually sharing some of the messy play that often only teachers engage in. That meandering through websites in search of quality resources.
 
For example, last year I ran an elective looking at 21st Century Learning. Each week I would post links to additional material, such as posts or videos, such as Sugata Mitra’s ‘Kids Can Teach Themselves’ and Ken Robinson’s ‘How to Escape Education’s Death Valley’. This wasn’t about flipping the classroom, but rather supplementing the learning. It was amazing how many students actually watched the videos and came back the next week with other videos of their own to share back.
 
In a post discussing Three Common Myths About Innovation in Education, +Dan Haesler posses the question, “What if innovation in education sought to (genuinely) empower rather than control students?” I would like to think that sharing with students is very much a part of this. How is it that you share with students? What are some of the steps that you have taken to making online spaces safe, but also giving students a sense of choice? Please share, I would love to hear about it.

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In my previous posts, I spoke about connecting with people both in person and online. The problem that I found with both of these situations is that connections are often only ever as deep or strong we let them be. If we are unwilling to give back, should it be any surprise that people don’t always want to share with us? However, what it took me a little bit of time to realise was that ‘giving back’ was more than just about ideas and information, it was actually giving a part of you. Taking more ownership over my online identify was therefore my fourth marker to becoming a more connected learner.

 
 
 

A Digital Badge

I had known that the only person I was fooling in trying to hide behind some sort of anonymity was myself. The reality was and is that if someone really wanted to piece together ‘who’ I was, there were enough crumbs left lying around to guide them. There were two aha moments that led to me taking more control over my online identity. The first moment was in watching +Anne Mirtschin‘s ICTEV12 presentation ‘The Networked Teacher’.
 
Although I had attended the ICTEV12 conference, I had not gone to Anne’s presentation. However, after signing up for her presentation for ICTEV13 ‘The Changing Space Of Learning!’ I went back and watched her presentation form 2012. In this presentation, Mirtschin discussed the notion of creating a ‘digital badge’ online. Not to be confused with the ‘open badges’ movement, she meant something that we ‘wear’ online that tells people who we are. For Mirtschin,  this badge includes three key ingredients: a consistent image, clear username and detailed profile. Each of these elements is an integral part of branding who we are online.
 
Mirtschin explained why having a badge is so important while discussing nings, custom social networks which require permission to join. She stated that moderators will not allow people in if they don’t give anything of themselves. However, it occurred to me that the same can be said about all forms of connections. Unless you provide some sort of background, then people don’t really know who they are connecting with and are often unwilling to share.
 

Dispelling the Myth of Digital Dualism

The second aha moment that really made me reconsider my notion of digital identity was the interview with +Alec Couros on the +Ed Tech Crew. Going one step further than Mirtschin’s idea of the digital badge, Couros spoke about the power of being connected learner and the importance of fostering a positive digital footprint online. This is particularly pertinent for in today’s world if we do not control what is said about us online, then someone else will do it for us.
 
What was significant about Couros’ message was that he disputed the myth of the ‘second self’. He argues that instead of seeing our online presence as somehow being separate, we need to address it as being one aspect of who we are. For example, instead of isolating our ‘digital identity’ in schools, the focus should be on teaching students to be better citizens with their online presence as part of the jigsaw. For the reality is that our online identity is simply a continuation of who we are into the digital realm.
 
To properly understand what Couros is talking about, he has created a great guide of things to consider when consciously creating a digital identity. In it he goes through a range of tools and questions to ponder upon. Overall, he provides a great starting point for taking back your online identify.
 

Own Your Identity Before Someone Else Does

The lessons I learnt from both Mirtschin and Couros led me to make a few changes. Firstly a reconsidered my badge as Mirthen would put it, in particular my image and profile. I replaced my QR code with a portrait painted for me by an ex-student. Although it has actually created more confusion in itself, I chose this image because to me it represented how someone else saw me, which in an online environment I thought was significant. For my profile, I replaced the ambiguity with some reference to my areas of teaching, interests and location.
 
I think that, like Mithen, if I had my time again I would have changed my handle, but sometimes it is more complicated to change. To be honest though, I had been using mrkrndvs for a long time. As I couldn’t get an email with my own name, I simply dropped the vowels. That is how I got to ‘mrkrndvs’. At the very least, I moved away from hiding behind my initials to at least using my full name. To me that was more important.
 
In addition to improving my badge, I set out to control the information that was out there about me by signing up to such spaces as LinkedIn and About.Me. If someone was going to know something about me, then it may as well come from me. I also created various profiles, with sites including Gravatar and Disqus, to manage my comments across different formats, as well as to develop a consistent presence.
 
Taking some sense of ownership over my online presence has not been easy, but has definitely been worth it. I am sure that there is more that I can do and it is an ongoing process, but it has to start somewhere. So who are the people that have influenced your thinking about identify and what are some of the things that you have done to develop a positive presence online?

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The Obligation to Write

In my last post I discussed moving from physical connections to those online. The third marker in my journey to becoming a more connected educator was to begin writing my blog ‘Read Write Respond‘.
 
A little bit like connecting with Twitter, I started writing a blog as a way of understanding by doing. I had explored some of the facets of blogging in relation to the Ultranet, writing reflections and sharing reviews through my own profile, but had never really been completely immersed in the medium.
 
My intention for the blog was to focus on responding. As I have discussed elsewhere, I feel that responding is often the forgotten element to reading and comprehension. During my Honours year at University, I read a lot about the interpretive nature of reading. One critic that stood out to me was J. Hillis Miller. A member of the Yale School of Deconstruction, the focus of his work was on the subjective act of reading.
 
One piece of writing that has always stayed with me was Miller’s column as MLA president for the college newsletter, found in his book, Theory Then and Now. He started by suggesting that the “real reading, when it occurs, is characterised primarily by joy, the joy of reading”. Associated with this, he discussed the joy associated with modelling the joyous reading in the classroom. However, it is what he said about writing that has stuck with me ever since.
 
Miller argued that we have an obligation to write. He suggested that reading and teaching are completed by writing, that it is a core element to our transaction with language. As he stated:
As we read we compose, without thinking about it, a kind of running commentary or marginal jotting that adds more words to the words on the page. There is always already writing as the accompaniment to reading.
To me, Miller’s writing refers to an action where we make meaning out of the text, where we gain a subjective mastery over what it is we are reading. This may not always be a physical act and often doesn’t even reach the page. The challenge as I see it is to follow through with these commentaries. That is why blogging is so powerful.
 

Why Blog?

I have had a go at addressing the question of why blog before, providing such reasons as critical engagement, lifelong learning and scratching an itch. Looking back upon things now though, I really just thought my blog would be a place to reflect and review texts, to follow up on some of the notes scribbled in the margin you could say. I had little intention of openly reflecting upon my practises in the classroom or discussing education in general. However, as I read different pieces, diverging from my usual diet of history and fiction, it quickly became so much more.
 
What I found is that once I started writing, my blog soon took on a life of its own. I soon discovered myself investigating various pedagogical practises, musing on different ideas and untangling various threads of thought. As I have discussed elsewhere in reference to Twitter, I feel that the bigger question isn’t what to blog about, rather it is why blog at all. Here I am reminded of the adage attributed to Marshall McLuhan that ‘We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.’ Once you decide to blog I think that your mindset changes, instead becoming a question of what not to blog about.
 
One of the interesting things that I have found about blogging is who is the audience. So often we discuss writing from the perspective of purpose and audience, yet so often blogging is approached from the perspective of the idea, responding to what needs to be written, rather than who might be reading it. Sometimes I think that this ignorance of the audience in my writing to the detriment of the reader. However, being the writer I guess I shale never know.
 
If there was to be any overarching purpose, I would like to think that the it is to simply continue the conversation. Keeping ideas to ourselves, we never really get the opportunity to refine our thoughts. By putting them out there, it not only allows for a deeper engagement into the ideas of others, but it also allows others to then elaborate themselves and provide their own perspective.
 
A prime example of this is engagement is my post ‘What Digital Revolution?‘ In it I pondered upon the supposed failure of the digital revolution. If you look through the comments there are a wide view of perspectives given, such as: +Simon Crook on Digital Education Revolution funding; +Alan Thwaites on the ever changing field of technology; +Bill Ferriter on doing old things with new tools; +Corey Aylen on the hidden place of technology in the classroom; and +Nick Jackson on the role of technology to empower students. These discussions, in the comments rather than the margins, are what is at the heart of blogging. It provides a platform for people to not only share, but also to engage in further conversation.

 

So what are you doing to continue the conversation?

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In a previous post ‘Connections Start with People‘ I explored my first step on the journey to becoming a more connected educator, which involved physically connecting with other teachers outside of my usual circles – stepping away from the familiar and embracing the uncanny. The second marker to becoming more a more connected was making these connections online, in particular, through Twitter.

 
I’m not sure what actually led me to joining Twitter. Maybe my work at ATC21C? A desire to learn something new? A different audience? Frustrations with other social media platforms, such as Facebook? All those years of attending the ICTEV conferences and feeling that I was missing out on the real conversation. Whatever it was, sometime in September of 2011 I signed up.
 
Initially my focus with Twitter was in understanding it as a medium of communication compared with a blog or a wiki. At the time I had started teaching Multimedia and this included exploring different facets of digital literacies. I was therefore intrigued about such mediums as tweets and blogs and what they meant for traditional notions of literacy. Ironically, I had little interest in the beginning with actually ‘connecting’ with anyone. In hindsight this almost seems farcical, but like so many others, I lurked.
 
In addition to this, I have always been interested in finding new means for responding. This led me to the idea of restricting responses to 140 characters. I had always used different activities as a part of my teaching that involved students making decisions on key words or ideas and then justifying these choices. I therefore thought tweets could be an extension of this, an interesting and creative way of responding to texts. Something epitomized by the book Twitterature.
 
One of the differences that I found early on between platforms like Facebook and Google+, where you can build walls around content, was that Twitter as a platform is designed to be open. Although you can lock down your profile and tweets on Twitter, it seems to defeat the purpose. +Steve Wheeler sums this up best in a video about blogs, suggesting that, “having a private blog is like going to a party with a paper bag over your head.” Really, Twitter is an application that revolves around sharing, without other people’s content there is nothing.
 
I initially started out on Twitter not so much hiding behind a wall, but hiding behind an identity. Although I had been using ‘mrkrndvs’ elsewhere for years (my name without vowels in case you were wondering), my initial moniker was an acronym based around my initials – ‘MAD’. Associated with this, my profile picture was a QR Code which simply went to my Twitter handle, while my profile was a quote from Michel Foucault stating: “Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.” For me, I wanted to be known for my ideas, not who I was or wasn’t.
 
It is interesting to read about how different people start out. Often people cite the desire to connect with supposed celebrities. However, for me it was about following interesting educational thinkers in regards to media and technology, such as the handles associated with such individuals and organisations as Danah Boyd and Wired magazine. A little bit like the Pringles jingle though that ‘once you pop you just can’t stop’. I found that once you follow one, you start finding others to add. In regards to my presence, I simply posted the odd quote, made the random observation, posed some questions, but didn’t really do much.
 
What is strange in looking back is that even though I had no real intention to get involved, to answer questions, get involved in chats, I still somehow thought that people would participate, that they might retweet something I wrote, respond to a quote I posted or answer a question. During those formative months I simply stumbled around, finding my voice and unintentionally developing my online identity.
 
A significant shift occurred when I actually got a response to a question that I posed in regards to Google Apps for Education. As I have described elsewhere, I had introduced Google Drive into my school. However, I was interested in the difference between Google Drive and Google Apps with an eye to introducing GAFE into the school. +Tony Richards responded by not only explaining the differences, but also providing me a range of resources.
 
What is even more significant than my ongoing connection with Tony since then is that I have shared the advice and details that he shared with me with several other people. Often they were in the same situation as me, unknown and putting the call out, waiting and hoping for someone to respond. 
 
To me, this is what being connected is all about. Joining with others, sharing ideas and gaining a wider perspective on the world (although never a complete perspective). Basically, just being a part of a wider village. However, sometimes it takes one person to help you understand that to really be a part of a village you need to give back.
 
So how are you sharing? What are you doing to give back to your community and who are the significant individuals that have helped you out along the way? I would love to know.

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In an ongoing conversation about the challenges with being a connected educator, +Alan Thwaites posted the following comment:
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
Although these were some very nice words, it sometimes misses the full story. Being a connected educator is not something that happens overnight, it is not a case of joining this site or posting that comment. Being connected is much more complicated than that, it is better understood as a journey with everyone a different point on a continuum.
 
Short of some sort of autobiographical recount reminiscing every event and connection that I have made, I thought that it might be more meaningful to list the five ‘markers’ that have led to me being a more connected educator. These are not necessarily distinct periods of time and some spread across weeks, if not months, but they are the significant events that have made me who I am today. The first of these step relates to connecting with people.
 

Connections Start with People

I have read so many examples where teachers before getting students writing blogs begin by getting them to write paper blogs. (See for example +Pernille Ripp‘s ‘Paper Blogs: A Lesson in Commenting on Student Blogs‘ and +Bianca Hewes‘ ‘Paper Based Blogging with Year 7‘). Students then publish them in the room in order to share and continue the conversation. I think that in the same way the mindset and actions associated with being connected starts long before people get ‘online’.
 
Through my involvement with +Alf Galea and the Melton Network 21st Century Learning Team, I had the opportunity to connect with some amazing people. Formed as a part of the Ultranet project, the network was a place to share and collaborate with other teachers in the area who were grappling with the same sort of problems.
 
Through this group, we were invited to be a part of ATC21S project running put of the University of Melbourne. Needless to say, this was a fantastic experience and involved working with a range of teachers from around Victoria. However, through this project there was one teacher that stuck out in particular, that was +Jenny Ashby.
 
I must be honest, I was slightly intimidated at first. I am reminded here of a comment from +Cameron Paterson on Episode 17 of the +TER Podcast to find a mentor that scares you. I think that what Paterson is saying here is that in order to drive you forward that you to find someone who challenges and pushes you. Jenny whether meaning to or not definitely did this.
 
My colleague and I would leave the sessions reflecting on all the different ideas that we had picked up and so often they came via Jenny. The educational environment in which she existed was so different. As a starting point, her school (although a little smaller than my own) had already had a significant investment in ICT. Far above anything that I could imagine, well at least far above anything that I had experienced. In addition to this, she was confident, a little brash and eager to get into things.
 
No matter what was discussed, Jenny would always have an idea and was willing to share it. I think that by the last of the planning sessions at University of Melbourne, I had actually adjusted to her frenetic style and was beginning to really thrive on the chats wherever they would go.
 
Although I could have described numerous examples of connections that I have formed as a teacher and a learner, I would argue that my connection with Jenny stands out because it was one of the first connections that I made that was outside of my usual surroundings and hasn’t it changed me.
 
What is an incidental connection that you have formed and how has it changed you?

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Alan Thwaites posted the following tweet and it got me thinking.
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
How is it that I use social media anyway and more importantly, what does it mean to be a connected educator anyway?
 
In a recent post about the benefits of blogging and being a connected educator, +Tom Whitby outlines some of the many benefits associated with sharing online. He states:

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.

What stands out to me in Whitby’s post is that the whole process revolves around its reciprocal nature, that is, as a reader you not only take in various ideas, but also respond and add back. One of the big problems though with being ‘connected’ is that for some it simply means lurking in the background. Although they may draw on the dearth of ideas and information out there, there is no impetus to give back in anyway, shape or form. My question then is whether this is really connecting at all?
 
Whilst perusing the net a few weeks back, I got involved in a twitter chat with +Bianca Hewes about the matter of sharing. Hewes was ruminating about the one way flow of information that too often occurs online. Those situations where others ask for resources, but fail to offer anything in return. She tweeted:
It kinda irritates me when I’m a member of a fb group for teachers and people only ever post to ask for stuff… rarely offering stuff 🙁
— Bianca ‘Jim’ Hewes (@BiancaH80) March 12, 2014
If you read the ensuing chat involving Hewes, myself, Dick Faber, Audrey Nay, Teacher from Mars and Katelyn Fraser, there were a breadth of responses provided. Some of the concerns raised included the apprehension associated with looking like a dill and some people’s fear of sharing. A topic that +Chris Wejr has elaborated on elsewhere in his post ‘Not Everyone is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are‘. On the flip side though, there were some really good suggestions provided, such as lurking for a time until comfortable, sharing something small or even simply re-tweeting something to add to the flow of information.
 
Thinking about all of the these great responses, I feel that there are three clear ways that we can respond and give back. They include the ability to share links and ideas, adding to a conversation by writing a response or remixing an idea creating something new in the process.
 

Sharing Ideas

There are many ways to share, whether it be using social bookmarking, such as Diigo, where you might share with a particular community, or using social media, such as Google+, where you might share out into the world. This is something that I have elaborated on elsewhere. One of the easiest ways I find to share ideas though is on Twitter. Most applications offer the potential to post to Twitter with a click of a button, making it quick and easy to read a piece on Zite, Pocket or Feedly and then share it with the others.
 
There are many different perspectives associated with Twitter. For some, it is too much. How could you possibly keep up with each and every tweet posted by those that you follow? However, +Darrel Branson put a different spin on it in Episode 238 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast, where he suggested that mediums like Twitter are great to just dip into whenever you have the chance, not necessarily something to be hawked over 24/7. Branson suggested that if an idea is significant enough it will be shared around, re-tweeted and reposted enough that you will pick up on it in the end. What is important then is actually sharing good ideas and keeping the river flowing.
 
In addition to sharing, Bill Ferriter wrote an interesting piece on the importance of not only sharing, but also recognising whose content it is that you are sharing. One of the problems with many applications is that they allow you to quickly share the title and web link. However, they fail to provide any form of attribution to the actual creator. Therefore, I always endeavour to make the effort to give credit whenever I can. This has led me to use applications like Quozio in order to turn quotable pieces of text into an image in order to fit more into a tweet. To me, this means that while perusing something like Twitter, you are able to continue the conversation with creator, not just the curator.
 

Commenting and Continuing the Conversation

In addition to sharing ideas, another great way to give back is add a comment. Whether it be a video, an image, a blog, a post on Google+ or a tweet, writing a response is a really good way to continue the conversation. Too often when we think about commenting, there is an impression that it needs to be well crafted thesis, however it can be as simple as a confirmation thanking someone for what they have shared. Some other possibilities for comments include posing a question about something that you were unsure about, sharing a link that you think made add to the dialogue or providing your own perspective on the topic. The reality is, we often learn best through interaction and dialogue with others, a point clearly made in Whitby’s post.
 

Remix and Creating New Beginnings

A step beyond sharing and commenting on the ideas of others, is the act of remixing. Using someone else’s idea as a starting point, remixing involves adding something and turning it into something new, an idea in its own right. This blog itself can be considered as a remix, bringing together a range of different ideas in the creation of a new beginning. A great exponent of the remix is +Amy Burvall, whether it be using Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker to mash-up text and videos or using the paper app by Fifty-Three to create images to capture her ideas. Remixing ideas not only allows you to continue the conversation, but also start a new one as well.
 
 
Now I know that everyone comes from a different perspective and have their own view of what it is meant by digital literacy. A topic that I have explored elsewhere in my post ‘What’s So Digital About Literacy Anyway?‘ However, I find it hard to believe that there can be any example of being connected that does not include getting involved and giving back. A point clearly reiterated in Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. The question then is how are you giving back? Is there something that you do that I have missed? What are the problems that you have faced along the way? I would love to continue the conversation, so feel free to leave a comment below.

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cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13558173444
In Episode 70 of RU Connected, +Lois Smethurst and +Jenny Ashby discussed the place of blogging in school. Both outlined how they had been setting up blogs in the classroom as a great way to collaborate, but also as a way to connect with the wider community, whether this be parents or other schools and students. What I found most interesting though was when the conversation turned from the student to the teacher. Jenny explained about how she had introduced Quadblogging to her staff. I had always heard of Quadblogging been used as a structured way to make links with other classes and other schools, however I had never heard of quadblogging been used as a means for teachers to connect and collaborate.
This all reminded me about an idea that I posed in a post last year, titled ‘Sharing the Load of Blogging.’ My thought was that in creating a collective school blog, it would ease the stress of time put on staff to maintain their own personal blogs. I envisaged this as a space where those involved within the community could celebrate all that was happening in school. Instead of leaving it up to staff member in the office to chase up people for items for the school newsletter each fortnight, maybe it would be more empowering if teachers actually published something when they had something to publish.
In response to my post, +Jason Markey shared with me a great post from +George Couros titled ‘The #Learn365 Project‘. In this post, Couros discussed how he had created a site to share all the great work that was happening in Parkland School Division. Modified from the #edu180atl initiative, Couros suggested that the basic premise was that, “every day during the school year, one person within our organization posts a blog on something they learned that day.” For many, Couros explained, the collaborative site was a great catalyst for exploring the potential of blogging and led to some teachers creating their personal blogs.
What I didn’t realise when I wrote my original post was that, in addition to Couros’ own, there were actually quite a few schools already running their own blogs, such as Leyton Learn 365 and tslg1440. However, what this got me wondering was whether there was place to share not only within the school community, but also beyond, a site set up for a wider district or even a state. Maybe such a thing does already exist and so again I am simply being naïve, but a part of me thinks that sharing within the school is only half the battle, we also need a means for sharing beyond the school, with those who may also be going through the same experiences, who may benefit from a different perspective.
In some respect, I am assuming that this is what +George Couros was on about with the #learn365 hashtag, where school communities are able to share in a global manner, however I wondered whether there was a place for a #VicPLN site. A place where teachers could cross post ideas and information that mattered to those in Victoria, Australia. If not a site, then maybe there was a place for something like a Flipboard which contained a great collection of celebrations all in one place. At the very least, wouldn’t it be great to have a collection of blogs created teachers all over Victoria celebrating successes, reflecting on failures and just sharing awesome ideas?
If you know of any such blogs, whether it be school based or even region wide, I would love to know. Also, if you are a Victorian teacher interested in adding to list of blogs, please add your blog to the form below:

Here is a link to the results.


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When we think back through our learning, there are always those aha moments, those situations, that have a lasting impact. Such moments come in many shapes and sizes, maybe an odd passage in a book or a random video seen online. So often though they have an impact that is far beyond their intended purpose. A recent moment that has had such an effect on me was +Alec Couros‘ simple suggestion made during an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew that everything can be a resource online. By approaching resources in this way, our understanding moves away from being an actual object, lets say a textbook, to a resource as being a way of seeing something. In this sense, a resource stops being a noun, something named, ordered and categorised, and instead becomes a verb, a way of approaching something, interpreting it, questioning it. In much the same way, PLNs can be thought of in much the same way. 

 
So often we limit ourselves by seeing PLN’s as something made – contained and organised – rather than something continually evolving, changing growing and adapting. As I have suggested previously
PLN’s often form themselves organically. PLN’s are rhizomic. There is no central root system. There is only one connection leading to another. Whitby best sums it up by calling it a ‘mindset’, a way of being.
This ‘way of being’ also goes far beyond the usual digital connections. Just as Couros suggests that everything can be a resource, we can say the same about all the different links in our lives. I believe that everyone in our lives has a point of knowledge to share, if recognised.
 

Listening to ALL Voices

The other day my wife and I went and visited her grandparents. As is the usual, I ended up chatting with her grandfather about anything and everything. I love these conversations as no matter how many chats we have, there is not a time when I learn something new from him about such topics as farming, fire fighting and the family history. Whether it be about communicating during a fire or the way that the various properties were divided. Although many of these situations do not impact me directly, the problem solving and reasoning behind them does. Solutions for today can so often be found in adapting and extending ideas from the past.
 
A part of this is limiting ourselves by failing to recognise the connections in our lives and what they may have to offer. One way in which we restrict these connections is by deciding what it is we want to know, before we have even asked the question. With this comes a decision who will best provide this answer. Fine that if we have a question about how to create a character for a story, the best person to ask may be an author. This does not really give voice to those divergent thinkers, those may not be professional writers, but people with a passion for writing and creativity. Sometimes the best answers I get from my PLN are from those who I didn’t expect. Is their opinion any less valuable?
 
Another good example where perspective and divergent thinking is so important is in education. Christopher Pyne, the Australian Minister for Education, recently made the statement that “everyone has been to school, everyone is an expert on education in one way or another.” Now I’m not sure that I agree that everyone is an ‘expert’, however, I do think that Pyne is on to something. Although not everyone is an expert, everyone does have an opinion and something to add to the discussion. In my view, education is much better from incorporating wider range of voices and perspectives.
+Miguel Guhlin sums up this problem in a great post about mandated technology in schools. Guhlin calls for a infinite plurality. That is, rather than collective uniformity, where everyone does this or uses that, it is about developing common practises from a range of diverse perspectives. In closing, he moves his discussion from technology to PLN’s.

I’d hate for my PLN to all be the same person with one message. Better than strict adherence to one technology over another, a plurality of diversity that builds relationships among diverse partners to achieve common goals.

When Guhlin talks about plurality in regards to PLN, it is about capturing a range of perspectives with the focus being the goals that we may share. I think that it sometimes misses the point to base your PLN upon people that we like or those who we get along with. To build upon +Tom Whitbys point that “PLN’s accept people for their ideas, not the titles.” I think that PLN’s accept ideas, not people or personalities. The bigger challenge is how we actually recognise such differences in a meaningful way.
 

Nurturing the PLN

I think that something that is often overlooked in regards to a PLN is that it is not something that we build, rather a PLN is something that we grow and nurture. Being something organic, its success often depends upon the way we treat it. For example, if you simply plant something and leave it to the elements, then you cannot be surprised if it does not take. However, if you choose where to setup your garden bed, lay some straw, water regularly and add some nutrients, then you are providing more opportunity for things to grow and prosper, to flower and  reproduce. I think that a PLN is much the same.
 
One of the difficult problems with any discussion about PLN’s is that people are often encouraged to connect with others. What is often overlooked though is that connections are not a one way transaction. They are reciprocal in nature. Too often connecting is seen as a way of getting an answer, an resource, a piece of information.  However, if no one is willing to offer an answer, then the whole system falls apart. 
 
There are a number of ways in which a PLN can be nurtured. This includes engaging in dialogue, posting comments, as well as sharing ideas and resources. But the most important thing that we can do, whether it be in person or online, is to listen and simply be there.
 

Connecting is a Mindset, not just a Thing Done

I have read quite a few people who have suggested blogging as their ‘goal’ for 2014. This sums up the greatest conundrum associated with being connected. Often people associate being connected with doing this or that. Creating a twitter account, joining a Google+ group or blogging more. I am not saying that these things are not important, but they in part miss the point. In the end, you don’t measure the success of a blog by the amount of hits it gets, nor do you measure a PLN by the number of followers someone has on Twitter. Being connected is a mindset, a way of being and a way of doing, not something static, that is a thing done and complete.

What are the areas that you are passionate about, have an expertise in, have an opinion on, know something about? How are you sharing this with others? In what ways are you nurturing your PLN?

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As I have written about elsewhere, a small amount of furore erupted on Twitter last Saturday in response to Johanna O’Farrell’s tirade against 21st century learning habits in The Age titled ‘Splashing Cash won’t Fix Australia’s Broken Education System‘. One of the things that I really notice whilst following the conversations through a medium like Twitter is that moments like this really draw a line in the sand and bring the tribe together. Three questions that arose out of the ashes was: 
  1. Do moments like this further the wider conversation in anyway? 
  2. What is the role of the connected tribe in regards to continuing this wider conversation? 
  3. What does it take to move an idea from a point of change to evolution?

Connected Learning

At the heart of all our connections, whether online or not, is our PLN. There are many different definitions for PLN’s including: personal learning network, professional learning network or personalised learning network. Kate Klingensmith summarises the term ‘PLN’ by suggesting that it is basically “the entire collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information, usually online.” This collection includes both friends, family, colleagues, professionals, both in and out of work, really anyone who has something to add. +Tom Whitby points out importantly that “PLN’s accept people for their ideas, not the titles”. The idea is closely associated with the connectivist learning theory, where the focus of learning is not necessarily what you know, instead it is about what networks you are a part of and what possible solutions you are able to gain from these different perspectives.
Whether we realise or recognise it, we are all already a part of a personal learning network just waiting to be activated. What I find confusing is that often when people talk about PLN’s they use phrases like ‘develop a’, ‘build your’ or ‘create your own’. Whitby himself talks about an ‘acceptance’ as if their is some sort of membership or control. However, I personally think that this confuses things. I would argue that PLN’s often form themselves organically. PLN’s are rhizomic. There is no central root system. There is only one connection leading to another. Whitby best sums it up by calling it a ‘mindset’, a way of being. The question then is how this is different to a tribe and how can each be used to evolve the discussion in regards to educational reform?
 

The Tribes We Lead

In a Ted Talk from 2009, +Seth Godin spoke about the ‘Tribes We Lead‘. What tribes are about is ‘heretics’ changing the status quo by connecting people with ideas. The real challenge is to find something worth changing and then lead a disconnected group that also has a yearning to change the status quo. As Godin states:
Heretics look at the status quo and say, “This will not stand. I can’t abide this status quo. I am willing to stand up and be counted and move things forward. I see what the status quo is; I don’t like it.” That instead of looking at all the little rules and following each one of them, that instead of being what I call a sheepwalker — somebody who’s half asleep, following instructions,keeping their head down, fitting in — every once in a while someone stands up and says, “Not me.” Someone stands up and says, “This one is important. We need to organize around it.” And not everyone will. But you don’t need everyone. You just need a few who will look at the rules, realize they make no sense, and realize how much they want to be connected.
Although coming from a marketing background, Godin’s notion of tribes reaches out to a range of callings, across all society. My question though is whether it is enough to start a tribe to bring about the change that is required moving into the 21st century?
Although tribes are a powerful mechanism for change, the big question is whether they actually evolve the discussion in the wider community? Fine the tribe plants the seed, spreads the word, the big question though is how we get the conversation to evolve outside of the bubble of the echo-chamber. Beyond the notion, that is ‘them’, not ‘us’. The problem, I feel, with Godin’s call to the tribe is that although it works to ignore certain groups when it comes to art, music and marketing, the same cannot be said about education. Is it enough to lead a particular group towards change in education and simply leave a certain sector behind?

This is where PLN’s come in. Unlike the exclusive nature of the tribe, united by an idea, a PLN is more inclusive, open to different thoughts and ideas. As +David Truss explained in a fantastic response to the oft made criticism that mediums like Twitter are an online echo chamber:

  • People in my PLN challenge my thinking and push me to see perspectives that I would not see on my own.
  • A good PLN will pull in learning from places I don’t normally go, and this means that even when good ideas bounce around, perspectives on those ideas don’t stay static… they don’t echo, and they morph into new insights.

 

The biggest difference I can see between a PLN and a tribe is that a PLN by its nature is open, it connects with a wide breadth of ideas, both agreeable and disagreeable, ideas that continue to challenge and break our moulds, ideas that keep the conversations going. The bigger question that we need to consider is whether we are willing to recognise some of these other voices. Sometimes in the desperate clamour for change it is easier to squash these voices, deny them, smother them, but is this really productive? 

It Takes a Village

In a recent post, +Tom Whitby suggests that, “In the garden of ideas we must weed out the bad and fertilize the good, but we can never ignore the ideas that are popping up at a rate never before imagined.” I was really taken by this statement as it sums up what we do naturally, the sorting between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’, useful and useless. Clicking on one link, ignoring another. The problem with this though is with the amount of ideas out there, sometimes the important thing is the actual interactions, the dialogue, the constant point reflection, why rather than what we deem as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
 
From this point of view, it is therefore so important to engage with everyone. In his keynote for ICTEV13 Conference, +Dan Donahoo spoke about the importance of recognising the place of everyone in the village when integrating new technology and ideas. Whether it be the blocker who provides an insight to the hurdles or the outlier who is always looking for new and innovative ideas or the learner (student and teacher) at the heart of the change. The reality is everyone has something to contribute. The difficulty is authentically incorporating all the different voices. The problem is that we often enter discussions with an outcome in mind. However, something would be wrong if there were no modifications to this desired outcome, because we all take things up in our own way and this needs to be recognised. The process, +Dan Donahoo suggests, is far more important that actual outcome.
 
The lesson learnt from +Dan Donahoo‘s presentation is that it takes more than one teacher with a good idea to bring about change. It takes a whole community to bring about change. It may be the job of the tribe to identify the need for change and start the fire, but it is the job of the wider learning network to evolve the conversation, bring about this change in their own way. Addressing this problem in his own way, +Peter Skillen suggests that rather than overload teachers with initiatives, those in administration need to help teachers to understand the ‘essence’ residing in all the different practises that we often associate with 21st century learning and out of the distilled essence, teachers can then ‘construct their own knowledge and practice’. In the end, our challenge is how to help each other make the most appropriate decisions for each of our own situations.

People Will Fix Education

What then is needed to bring about an evolution in education? To me, to go beyond mere change, to actually bring about about evolution, will only happen when everyone is activated and connected to the conversation. This includes parents, students, politicians, businesses, anyone really, because we all have a vested interest in education. The big problem seems to be how to engage everyone in the conversation. With the rise of social media and use of technology as a way of communicating and disseminating information, it offers a great medium. However, not everyone is online and maybe they don’t have to be, but if not, how then do we carry the conversation to them and make sure that they also have an empowered voice within the whole conversation? This is an ongoing challenge how to best keep the conversation going. It is so often easier to squash those ideas that are other to our own, but does that carry the wider conversation or simply fuel the tribe?

Coming back to the original saga, Johanna O’Farrell is right when she says that money and technology will not fix education. They may help, but they certainly are not the ‘silver bullet’ as she states. The real change agent in regards to education are people. People trying to find solutions to today’s problems to build a brighter tomorrow. Personally, I think that it is too simplistic to say that something worked in the past, therefore it will continue to work today. This denies that the world changes in so many ways, whether it be culturally or technologically. However, what O’Farrell’s article does do is get people talking about education and in some way that is a good thing. The challenge is to talk about such issues and ideas in a way that involves everyone in the conversation, incorporating a wide range of perspectives, maybe that is the truly 21st century problem?


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