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I recently presented a session at DigiCon15 about Becoming a More Connected Educator. To provide a voice for those listening, I created a Google Form asking a few questions of those in attendance, such as how they are connected, what are the biggest challenges and any questions they may have. There were a few that I addressed at the end of the session, including moving beyond sound bites and giving back. However, one question that alluded me was a ‘get connected’ for dummies. So here goes, my 10 step process to becoming connected or as requested, a getting connected for dummies:

Work Out Why

Too often people are told, sign up to Twitter and get connected. Not only does being connected not simply equal signing up to a platform, but it misses why we might do it in the first place. In part, my initial reason was wondering what impact sharing and being open might have for learning. Although being open is still at the heart of my reason why, I would argue that now it is less about wonder and more about action, that is, how might we use the possibilities enabled through networked learning to build ‘smart rooms’ that consciously make possible new ideas and beginnings.

Grow a PLN

There are too many posts out there that discuss personalised or professional learning networks as something that can magically be done. Follow these people and hey presto you are connected. As I have discussed before, PLN’s are better thought of organically, a rhizome, with no central root system and no central belief system. Instead, there is one connection leading to another. This being said, the strength of a PLN is often deemed by how we nurture and grow it. Andrew Marcinek and Lyn Hilt reflect upon our role in regards to the health of our PLN and the need to continually reinvent it. One of the challenges is where you choose to spend your time and further your connections. For many it seems to be Twitter, others it is Google+, for some it is in spaces like Edmodo, while there are those whose connections are fostered between blogs. At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Some possible starting points are to participate in a Twitter chat, join a community on Google+, join in a blogging challenge like #youredustory or go to a teachmeet or an edcamp.

Find Your Tribe

One of the keys to connecting online is finding your communit(ies). So many of my early connections were based on a sort of convenient hypocrisy. My room was made up of people I had grown up with, went to school with or worked with. Often such connections become about sharing stories about this or that, but not necessarily common interests and passions. What can be hard is that there is not necessarily a directory of tribes, rather it is something relational and discovered by listening and engaging online. It needs to be noted though, that sometimes finding your tribe might actually mean standing up, leading and connecting people around a cause.

Surround Yourself with People who Scare You

On the TER Podcast, Cameron Paterson spoke about finding someone who scares you to be a mentor. I suggest taking this a step further, I suggest surrounding yourself with people who scare you. Often we start out meeting people at conferences or following people who seem to have similar interests. The next step is actively seeking out new connections. This does not mean that you need to automatically openly engage with these people, but instead tuning in and critically evaluating the various ideas and arguments. David White describes this as elegant lurking, where the purpose is to assess credibility of those involved within the discourse.

Support Others and Give Back to the Community

Although it is fine to observe from a distance, at some point communities thrive on participation. As David Weinberger points out, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” Too often people get caught up in the ‘original’ trap, feeling that they themselves have nothing new to say or add. However, being in the room can mean different things to different people. I think that Steve Brophy puts it best when he made the call to “be the connection that gives others a voice.” To me, giving back is about participating, being someone’s +1, paying it forward, attributing ideas where possible. Putting his spin on this, Seth Godin says in Tribes that the challenge is, “to help your tribe sing, whatever form that song takes.”

Create a Place For People to Find You

Online, it is important to own your identify before someone else does. Anne Mirtschin talks about creating a digital badge, incorporating three key ingredients: a consistent image, clear username and detailed profile. In addition to this, it can be useful to guide people to a splash page, such as About.me, which brings together all our different spaces online. Some alternatives to this include pointing to a personal blog or a Linkedin account. Although trust within online spaces can be a difficult, by at least being open about who we are and what we might stand for at least helps build trust and deeper connections.

Have More Meaningful Conversations

In a recent post, Dean Shareski lamented on the lack of depth to many of the conversations he finds online. He reminisced on the ‘raw and natural tone’ that was prevalent when he was drawn to blogging ten years ago. Although idle chatter may be the glue which unites us, Shareski suggests that our challenge is to use this social capital to ‘provoke deeper, more interesting ideas’. For some this has meant moving conversations to more private mediums as Voxer and Slack. While others have taken to creating podcasts and web shows as a space for deeper conversations. Although Peter Skillen maybe right in saying that no wisdom can come be found in one-line, however it can be the stimulus for further thought.

Curate the Chaos

Heather Bailie suggests that in regards to digital literacies our focus has moved from the traditional idea of read, write and react, to a focus on being able to create, curate and contemplate. For me, creation is the means that we use to collect information. Many find all their resources via various social media platforms, however, there are other means of engaging with ideas, such as Nuzzel, Flipboard, Zite, Paper.Li, Feedly and Tagboard. Such platforms offer their own means of aggregating information. The next step is making sense of it all. In regards to social bookmarking, there are many different possibilities, whether it be Evernote, Delicious, Scoop.it, Pinterest or Diigo. For a more extensive list curation tools, see Christopher Pappas’ post.

Make Stuff Worth Stealing

I think that Doug Belshaw puts it best when he says, “Remixing, re-appropriation and riffing off other people’s work just seems to be part of what we do as human beings.” A step beyond engaging online, whether it be providing your perspective or adding a comment, is making stuff worth stealing. Instead of worrying about how much money could be made or how people might use ideas, Austin Kleon suggests we need to, “do good work and share it with people.” In his book Open, David Price touches on four key values which he sees as being integral to the 21st century: sharing, being open, giving things away for free and trusting others. A great example of such communities of sharing, riffing and giving away are cMOOCs like the CLMOOC, Connected Courses and Rhizomatic Learning.

Be a Lead Learner

How can we really say that students and learning at the heart of the classroom if we ourselves are not learners ourselves? Jackie Gerstein argues that we should not only be leaders when it comes to learning, but actively modelling the process by continually articulating our understandings and experiences. Gerstein provides a model to support this iterative process, focusing on prototyping, testing, failing and tweaking. Blogs or vlogs can be a useful means for not only documenting this process, but also gaining precious feedback and perspectives to support growth and improvement.


I am sure that there is more to it than what I have touched on here and like Tom Whitby, I wonder why we still need to continue to talk about such topics as PLN’s. However, we are all at different points in our learning. So what about you, where are you at? Is there something that you would add to or elaborate? As always, comments are welcome. For it takes a village and that village includes you.

Getting Connected for Dummies (1)
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In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek makes the statement that, “people don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it.” The problem is that too often we get the two confused, caught up in what we are doing and forgetting why we are doing it. Sometimes we forget because we never actually give it our attention. So this is my attempt to identify the ‘why’ that I always endeavour to start with.

I see my ‘why’ as a learner with a passion for helping other learners find their spark. Whether it be sharing ideas and perspectives or providing support to take the next step or pushing back in order to go deeper. Each action comes back to a focus on creating a greater community.

Although such activities may be about me, my passion for learning, my desire to grow, they are not actions that can be measured through the number of retweets or hits on my blog. For me it all comes back to the African proverb that ‘it takes a village’. When I say that what I mean is that I never achieve what I do alone. A point Keith Hamon makes in his fantastic post, where he states that no matter how much we try, we can never identify all of the origins to our ideas.

In the end, if, as David Weinberger suggests in his book Too Big To Know, the smartest person in the room is the room. The challenge is to develop smarter rooms. For as Weinberger states:

Our task is to learn how to build smart rooms—that is, how to build networks that make us smarter, especially since, when done badly, networks can make us distressingly stupider.

So what is your why? How are you building networks? Do you think that I have missed something? I would love your thoughts.


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This year, I have taken to audiobooks. Unsatisfied by my consumption of podcasts and frustrated with all the books that I just don’t have time to read, I have taken to listening while I’m walking, driving, working, gardening – basically, whenever allows. During this time I have gone through quite a few books:

At the heart of Gladwell’s book is the myth of power and strength. What he sets out to uncover is that so often strengths are at same time weakness and with that supposed weaknesses can often be our greatest strengths. His archetypal example is David and Goliath. So often it is a story told of an underdog getting lucky, but really when you break the story down David was meant to win. For so often success comes through subverting the expectations of others, going against all expectations. In the case of David, his refusal to fight hand to hand, as well as his speed and agility, were really why he won. Gladwell provides example after example of successful people who have failed because they have not perceived their own inherent weakness, as well as those who have looked at situations and seen a different possibility than that often expected by others.

Too Big To Know by +David Weinberger

Weinberger sets out to unpack the crisis of knowledge that has been brought about with the move from scarcity to abundance. Whereas in the past we managed the hose by setting our standards high, associating truth and knowledge with experts and supposed universals. With the increase in technology and the rise of algorithmic and social networks, such fallacies are put to rest. For as has oft been quoted, “the smartest person in the room is the room.” The challenge then today isn’t necessarily about becoming an expert in a particular area or being the font of all knowledge, instead it is how to create smart rooms which value diversity and allow for the emergence of ideas. The inherent irony of Weinberger’s book is that there was always too much to know, it is just now there is no hiding from the fact.

Mindsets by Carol Dweck

Mindsets is not necessarily a book about success and failure, but rather a book about how we perceive success and failure. For Dweck there are two mindsets which govern pretty much everything that we do. They are the fixed and growth mindsets. Those with a fixed mindset see things as black or white, either good or bad. They feel the need to always prove themselves and consider setbacks as failure. In opposition to this, from the perspective of the growth mindset, failure is embraced as an area for improvement, effort is rewarded and setbacks are seen as an opportunity for future learning. What was interesting was that we are not necessarily always one or the other. We can actually have different mindsets for different problems, as well as fluctuate between the two.

Continuing on from where Weinberger finished, Thompson sets out to dispel many myths associated with technology, about it being a panacea to all our ills, to it being the start of the apocalypse. The book is as much about how technology can extend us as it is about how it already is. Unpacking our lived digital lives, not everything that we have today is new. Some fears, some forms of innovation, have been around for hundreds of years. On the flip side of this, history shows that we often refine and improve the tools we have, Thompson therefore offers a glimpse into a possible future. One debunked myth that really stood out to me was the notion that because of technology we read and write less, subsequently leading to a decline in literacy standards. Instead, Thompson points out that with the aid of technology we actually read and write far more than we ever did before. Challenge is being critical.
It is interesting reflecting on all of the books. Although they are all somewhat different, the one thing that ties them all together is that things are not always as they seem and even more importantly, we have the power to make a difference.

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creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14929330102WALL-e quote
A teacher at school came into my office the other day excited that he’d just received a new document at a recent network meeting. The document was ‘Towards a New End: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning’. A document produced by Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy as a part of the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning global project. The teacher in question was disappointed that we weren’t also apart of the project.
The odd thing was that I had already seen this document. Firstly, via +Jenny Ashby on Twitter and then through her blog post requesting opinions and perspectives on the various skills. While I then came upon it as a part of the WMR 21st Century Network that +Sam Irwin and I set up. +Chris Karageorge shared how his school had also joined the project.
This whole situation highlighted two things to me: one, we are all influenced in life by networks whether we care to recognise it or not; and two, are we missing the point in focusing on being connected, is that what it is all about?
In a recent post, Quinn Norris painted a picture of life in a networked world. In it she spoke about the usual – Internet, passwords and trojans. However, what struck me was how in a modern world we are all dependent on networks (not just the Internet) in some way. As she stated, “We live with and in networks every minute of everyday.” Whether it be food networks, the legal system or roads and transport, our lives are built upon an array of networks that more often than not we simply take for granted. What I felt was missing in this discussion though was the human network, the personal networks that we form. Although social media and other such platforms capture such connections and help to strengthen them, they do not take in everything. Unless you are a hermit living in a cave, which would mean that you would not be reading this, then your life is connected – to family, friends, colleagues, communities – whether you like it or not.
This perspective of being forever connected got me wondering about the notion then of the connected educator. It is easy to caught up in a discussion of the supposed benefits of being connected. However, like the discussion around having children of your own, surely what is important is the openness to new experiences, not the actual experience itself?
As I have suggested elsewhere, one could easily have children and not necessarily learn a single thing. What matters most in my view is your perspective. I think then that when people say that they don’t have time to ‘be connected’, that they are in fact saying something completely different. To me, what these people are really saying is that they already know everything and that, just maybe, they have nothing else to learn in life. They in fact don’t have time for learning.
I didn’t actively become connected to become connected. I first stepped outside of the world of Facebook and stories about high school weddings and babies into the open world of Twitter in search for greener pastures. I was in a situation at school where there were a few things that just weren’t working and I was after a different perspective on things. Ironically, I feel like I know less now then I did before I stepped out. As +Katelyn Fraser quoted, whether it be the principal, the network coach, the subject association, early on in my career I thought that it was someone else’s job to tell me what the supposedly ‘best practise’.
Through my journey, I have come to the belief that there is no one approach to rule them all. Instead, I feel that the challenge is finding the best solution for the situation at hand. That is what I tried to explain in my post on pedagogical cocktails. The idea that our pedagogical practise is a concoction of different ideas that is constantly evolving. It would be easy to argue that I have come to this position because I am a connected educator who curates a lot of ideas and information. However, I believe that I came to this position because first and fore-mostly, I am a lifelong learner, being connected accelerates this whole process.
Coming back to Norton’s discussion of networks, I would argue that all our learning is linked to networks in some shape and form. For learning involves interaction, whether it be with people, ideas or simply the world around us. Learning is never in isolation. It is complicated. It is messy. It always involves others. +Doug Belshaw provides an excellent discussion of this in regards to the myth that literacy is an isolated activity in his book, ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’. There is no escaping interaction, there is only ignorance of such associations.
I am reminded again and again of +Clive Thompson‘s piece for Wired, ‘Why Even the Worst Bloggers Are Making Us Smarter’. Thompson’s point is that whether strong or weak, our interactions constantly influence us. “The things we think about are deeply influenced by the state of the art around us: the conversations taking place among educated folk, the shared information, tools, and technologies at hand.” The act then of curation and critiquing not only forces us to be more convincing, but also accelerates the creation of new ideas and information. It can then be argued that the measurement of learning is not what you keep to yourself – scribbling in a notebook, essays kept in a filing cabinet – but how much you share with others, what you add back. Instead of the question: ‘Are you really connecting if you are not giving back?’ Maybe the real question is: ‘Are you really learning if you are not sharing that learning?’

 

Using +David Weinberger‘s notion that ‘the smartest person in the room is the room’. Learning is then about how big your room is. If you keep your learning to yourself or simply share it with colleagues in your school, how deep is your learning? +Steve Brophy made a really interesting point, suggesting that “The best professional development requires giving, whether it be your opinion, your story or your skill.” Often we set out on a journey for solutions, however if we are not open to the unexpected, the responses, the alternatives, how deep will the learning be?
Coming back to Norton, “Networks have shapes and geographies, and once you can see them you can use them.” If this is the case and all learning is connected then the challenge is understanding how you are connected and to best use these connections to come up with the best solution for your context and situation.
It is important to remember that connections, like learning, should never be a thing in themselves. The challenge is to take this learning, this knowledge, these ideas, and make them new again. Change them, adapt them, pay them forward. +George Couros sums this up best in his recent post, where he states, “The network is where the information has been found, but the ability to remix it for your own context is where innovation happens.”
So what are you learning right now and how are you using your connections to accelerate this process. I would love to know.

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Lego poetry at DLTV2014
 
As I sat through one of the most horrendous presentations on Office 365, it got me wondering about the question, what makes a good presentation? I sat there thinking what would make this better? What was missing?

At first I thought that it was the absence of any conversation about pedagogy. A point that +Edna Sackson made about last years GAFE Summit in her post, ‘‘I Want to Talk About Learning…’ There was reference to pricing schemes and packages, what this includes and what that does. However, I had signed up with the hope that I could take back to school a few more tips relating to how to get the most out of Windows 8 – whether it be new applications or different functionalities – I was wrong.
The one thing that held me together throughout was the conversations I was having on Twitter with +Rich Lambert. He too was lost in the presentation. Although our banter was critical of Microsoft and their lack of innovation, much of it was in jest. We were adding a layer of humour that was seemingly absent. However, what occurred to me later was that it wasn’t learning or even humour that makes a great conference, it is people.
+Steve Brophy and I presented on the notion of listening to voices in and out of the classroom. Even though we created a range of spaces to continue the conversation, whether it be in our Google+ Community, through our Diigo Group or even simply using the hashtag #eduvoice. The place where most people wanted to connect and share was not necessarily online, which may come later I guess, but rather in person. People wanted to talk, they wanted to tell their story, share their ongoing journey.

Creating new connections is what ALL conferences should be about. Building relationships and expanding your PLN. This sense of people connecting with people, both digitally and online, is what makes them such a fantastic place to learn. To riff on +David Weinberger‘s point, “The smartest person in the conference is the conference.”
One of the things that I loved the most about #DLTV2014 was actually neither a session nor something that can necessarily be deduced to ‘one single thing’. Instead it was an initiative to generate conversations about change and reform called Institute of the Modern Learner. The idea was that anyone could add to the conversation. What made this so interesting wasn’t necessarily the idea itself, which was important, but the way in which it was carried and communicated. Some were handed random cards as they moved throughout the conference, an online space was created which was linked to a Twitter handle, while short injections were made during many different presentations. At its heart though, this movement to me was connected with the attempt to create a space for learning as embodied by ‘Gaming in Education’ stream. There were no presentations as such, instead there was a space with different hands-on posts set up, such as old console games, programmable devices and Lego poetry. Here you were at the centre of your own learning with people like +Dan Donahoo, +Kynan Robinson and +Jess McCulloch there to support and continue the conversation.
+DLT Victoria 2014 then to me has been a success. For it is easy to say that the spaces were sometimes confusing or there were too many sessions and streams, however if you walked away from the conference without creating one new connection or strengthening some ties that already existed, I would argue that you weren’t really there. Coming back then to Weinberger, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.”
Were you at DLTV2014? If not, did you follow online? What is your story? Tell me, because that is what learning is all about.

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Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfightcc

This is the first assignment as a part of the ATC21S Coursera MOOC. It involved selecting an example of collaborative problem solving (CPS) in which you have been involved. The response included illustrating an understanding of the nature of collaborative problem solving, why it is important and what sets it apart from activities like group work. Associated with this, two specific incidents were required to demonstrate that different collaborators have different levels of skill in CPS. This is my response …


It is easy to think of Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) as a highfalutin euphemism for what is commonly known as group work. However, they are not the same. The major difference is that CPS focuses on the skills and attributes people bring, rather than the jobs people do. In a traditional classroom, group work usually involves splitting a task between members in order to do something more efficiently or simply to share responsibilities. These contributions are then usually assessed at the end of the outcome. With CPS, the focus is not so much about product, but what that process can bring to bear.
In his book Too Big To Know, +David Weinberger argues that there are two key elements relating to diversity which make the room smarter: perspectives and heuristics. Perspectives are the maps of experience, while heuristics are the tools we bring to bear. Without either, there is little point to diversity. I feel that the same can be said about CPS.
What is significant is that success is not deemed by the room itself, but by who is in that room and what skills may be drawn upon. The reality is some individuals have more abilities than others. For as Weinberger posits, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” CPS helps assess the contribution of the different people in the room by splitting work into different subsets as represented in the Conceptual Framework for Collaborative Problem Solving in order to identify areas for growth and improvement.
Difference between CPS and group work often relates to the authenticity of the task. Group work is often heavily scaffolded. In comparison, CPS is ambiguous and ill-defined. There is more than one way to solve problems and deciding on such solutions is usually more important than the end product.
An example of CPS I have facilitated was the creation of the school yearbook. My Year 9 Elective Class was put in charge of creating a yearbook. They had to decide who the yearbook would be for, what it would include and how they would complete it. Once students had made these decisions, they worked collaboratively to develop roles, timelines and expectations.
Two particular incidents of ambiguity associated with CPS was firstly, the beginning where the project was in its infancy, and secondly, in what +Bianca Hewes‘ describes as the ‘mushy middle’, where the project had taken shape, but hurdles start to arise.
The beginning is always an interesting point to reflect upon. Everyone starts from scratch, with a new opportunity to prosper. However, this lack of clarity and cohesion often divides collaborators.
On the one hand, some members commence by working as a part of the group to define the project and then set out to independently come up with all the answers. Although there is some recognition of the need for information, there is little consideration as to where this comes from or how it all fits together.
In contrast, there are some collaborators whose first thoughts are about everyone else. This does not necessarily mean that they are leaders in the traditional sense. On the contrary, they often seek to support others to take the limelight. These students persevere in the effort to identify the heart of the ambiguity and break things down into subtasks. They seek to include all the differences of opinion and create strategies associated to goals for how the project is going to push ahead.
The second significant incident when it comes to CBL is the middle stages. Unlike the defining stages of a project which asks collaborators to work together to define what it is that they are working towards, the middle stages raises the challenge of redefining ideas, managing goals and continually reviewing strategies.
For some, this part can be gruelling. Whereas in the beginning the connection that everyone shares is obvious, once people start moving into different subtasks, they lose track of where they are in relation to the wider problem. Therefore, when issues arise, there are random examples of trial and error. However, little effort is made to modify the initial hypothesis or reconstruct the problem at hand. It is simply seen in isolation with little connection to the other tasks or group members.
Contrary to this, some members thrive on continually reflecting on goals, connecting personal contributions with the work of others, exhaust all possible solutions when faced with a hurdle and evaluate their own performance. For example, when a program didn’t allow for the creation of collage, a student with high level ability took a step back and considered the alternatives. Once they exhausted this, they then spoke with other members of the group to see if anyone else had any ideas.

While here is the feedback which I received …

Suggest any elaboration of the example that could have made it more clearly an example of a collaborative problem solving.
self → I think that I could have been more explicit in regards to the assessment. Maybe even fill in some examples and attach them to the document.
peer 1 → This example would need significant elaboration if it is to be considered an example of collaborative problems solving, The author speaks about the difference between CPS and groupwork, yet fails to implement this in the learning activity.
peer 2 → It would be better to show the specific skills listed in CPS workframe.
peer 3 → Provide clear links of personal behavior to CPS framework.
Say what you liked best about this example as an instance of collaborative problem solving. 
self → I like the practicality associated with the task. It is essential that the task is authentic.
peer 1 → This example did not address Part 1 of the assignment as outlined, and completely failed to recognize Part 2. This example does not demonstrate the capacity to use the conceptual framework for CPS.
peer 2 → i am not sure about the difference between CPS and group work and i think this homework gave a good explanation.
peer 3 → Very vivid and essential examples of CPS are provided.

It was definitely an interesting process and demonstrates one of the biggest problems with innovation, implementing 21st century strategies and education in general. As much as we think that we are on the same page, this is rarely the case. That is why the focus needs to be on creating canvas to structure the conversation as +Richard Olsen has suggested with the Modern Learning Canvas, rather than dictating strategies. For how can we achieve anything if we cannot talk about it?


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This post and associated slides are for my TL21C Reboot Session addressing the topic of: Becoming a Connected Educator (22/7/2014)

Becoming a connected educator is so unique. There is no rule or recipe to follow and no two stories are the same. The reality is that it is many things to many people. The biggest challenge is continually defining what it actually means to be connected and why it is important. I don’t wish to offer some cure, rather I hope to keep the conversation going.

Instead of providing a recipe, my approach has always been to share some of the choices that I have made and my thoughts behind them. Although signing up to various platforms is important, it is the journey associated with this that matters most to me. As +Tony Sinanis says, in reflecting on his own connected experiences, “the Twitter experience is a journey … it is not an experience that can simply be replicated for those who have yet to be connected.”

It is important to understand that being a connected educator does not automatically make you a better learner. Just because you have a Twitter handle doesn’t make you special in itself. Although it may give you access to a global audience, this does not magically make you connected. As +David Weinberger points out in his book Too Big To Know, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” The question that we need to consider is not whether we are connected or not, but rather how we connect.

Too often people believe that being connected somehow leads to something more, a conduit to some higher form of being. They enter with the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ I am not sure exactly what I thought being a connected educator would be, however the one thing that I have come to realise is that networks are not constant, they are more akin to a verb, rather than a noun.

Too often people describe PLN’s as something we build. However this misses the organic nature. I believe that they are better understood as a plant which we help grow and nurture. Our networks will only ever flourish as much as we let them.
Associated with the focus on networks is a focus on learning. To get the most out of being connected I allocate learning time. In a recent post+Peter Skillen made the suggestion that the goal of a project should be to formulate questions, rather than starting with one. I think that this definitely applies to being connected. Sometimes you just need to tinker and play, wonder and explore, in order to know what it is you are looking for.

I feel that connecting and conversing is better thought of as sitting at a bar drinking pedagogical cocktails where we can mix different ingredients to come up with our own flavours. This does not mean that everyone should do Problem Based Learning or didactic learning should be banished, instead it is about choosing the right method for the moment, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.

One of the most empowering aspects about learning online is that there is always some form of learning just waiting for us. As +Alec Couros suggested, “some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not” I once described this as ‘hidden professional development‘, playing on the idea of the hidden curriculum, but I really like +John Pearce‘s notion of pop-up PD, that learning that can happen anywhere, any time, where there are people willing to learn.

One of the keys to learning online is actually giving back. If everyone just lurked from a distance, not only would this limit the depth of conversations that occur online, but it also limits how much you actually get out of such connections. There are many different ways of giving back, from simply sharing links to remixing ideas. The choice of how we do this is up to us.

Sharing should be thought of as a way of being. Many worry about whether there is worth in what they are sharing. However, only the community can decide such worth. As Clive Thompson states in reference to blogging, “Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.” Surely then sharing can only be a good thing?

One of the most important elements to building relationships is having a clear and definable identity. After spending some time hiding behind various quirky images and username, inspired by +Anne Mirtschin, I took the steps to create a consistent digital badge that I ‘wear’ online. Associated with this, I developed an About.Me to connect together  all the different spaces where I exist. I feel that making these changes has aided with my connections.
In the end, there are many choices to be made when it comes to being a connected educator. For example:

  • Who do I follow?
  • What details do I provide about myself?
  • Which platforms should I work on?
  • Should I blog, vlog, create a podcast?
  • How many times should I re-tweet/republish links to my own work?

As +Chris Wejr points out, although it is easy to suggest that everyone should sign up and start sharing every last detail, not everyone is able to tweet and post who they are.

I think that +Steve Brophy sums up the situation best when he makes the challenge, “Be the connection that gives other learners a voice.”

What has been your biggest hurdle in becoming a more connected educator? Can you provide an example as to how you are giving other learners a voice?


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Image via Twitter 
 
Lately my daughter has moved on from watching Dora the Explorer and Peppa Pig, to partaking of various kids films. Starting with Frozen, she has since moved to the various Disney princess films. Having initially seen them all when I was growing up, there are two strange feelings in watching them again. Firstly, the many themes and subtle story lines that just aren’t as present for a younger audience. Secondly though, watching the films with a cautious three year old, you get a different view about how dark and scary these seemingly innocent films can actually be.
It would be easy to suggest that this experience with my daughter makes me a better person and a better teacher. This was the lesson implied in a recent post from +Craig Kemp in which he discussed how being a dad makes his a better teacher. His premise was that being a parent has made him more aware of his students and their many diverse needs. Before this moment in his life he did not realise the impact that parents can have on a child’s life. Although Kemp must be congratulated on his openness and honesty, suggesting that being a parent makes you a better teacher misses the point.
In response to the Kemp’s assertion, +Corinne Campbell stated that being a parent does not magically qualify anyone to be a teacher or make them better than those who do not have children. Not being a mother does not make someone half a woman and not having children does not make someone half a teacher. Instead, all of our experiences in life impact and change us, adding spice to what we bring to the classroom. However, it is what we actually do the classroom which matters the most.
To me, our perspectives on the world are moulded by our experiences. As +David Weinberger posits, in his book Too Big To Know, “Perspectives are the maps we give to ourselves to represent the lay of the land.” However, to argue that certain experiences and perspectives somehow hold more capital than others misses the point, instead they simply makes us who we are. It is what we do with our experiences and perspectives which matters the most. We can learn from everything in life if we are willing and open to it. For example, I am sure that there are other parents who may put films on for their children and not have one iota what is going on in them. However, even realising this does not automatically make me a better teacher, it is what I then do with this insight, how I use this to inform my practise, which makes me a better teacher.
Here then are some of the experiences that I have had in my life and the perspectives gained:

 

Senses

A few years ago I had the experience of teaching a blind student in my English classroom. What was even more significant about his situation was that he had actually spent most of his life with full vision and only lost it late in his teens. Having him there really made me reflect on how I saw the classroom and how much we take it for granted when it comes to the senses. This has particularly impacted on how I deliver instruction in class.

 

 

Needs and Wants

When I finished studying my undergraduate degree, I went on a guided tour through South-East Asia. During this trip, I had the opportunity to stay in a traditional home in the south of Cambodia. I am sure participating in a Winter Sleepout would have given me a similar such experience, but it just made me realise that we don’t always need everything in life in order to survive and that for some having a deck of cards is a luxury, let alone a desk to do homework at. This has helped me empathise with students from different situations.

 

Death

I recently lost my mother to cancer. During this time, I learnt many things, such as making the most of every moment, that denial never works for no-one and that at some point the show must go on. However, the biggest lesson that I feel that I have learnt is that I am not alone, that I am not the only one who has lost a parent to cancer. For example, I know someone whose father was told he had four months to live and was dead in two weeks. More importantly though, it really made me realise how much we can take for granted and how futile life can be.

 

Administration

For the last few years I have been lucky enough to split my time between the classroom and various administrative roles. This has included doing daily organisation, creating class timetables and coordinating timetables. This has given me a deeper insight into the impact of which teachers are used for coverage or when classes are timetabled has on student learning. Some of my solutions have been to improve learning by spreading core classes throughout the week, as well as trying to create some sort of consistency in regards to booking relief teachers and assigning extras.

 

Councillor

This year I took up the position as councillor with the Australian Education Union – Victorian Branch. This has included representing my region at various meetings and reporting back to my constituents about various campaigns and complaints. It has taught me that there are no quick fixes to education and that politics is a messy game. For example, many teachers I know believe that the union has not done enough in regards to the Victorian Government’s new performance and development plan. However, with an election coming up at the end of the year, whether rightly or wrongly, it is not the battle to be had. It has taught me the need to provide people with a glimpse of the complexity involved, rather than simply keep them in the dark.

 

Koori School

When I lived in Swan Hill a few years back, I was lucky enough to work for a year at the now defunct Koori school. Basically, the school was created to cater for those students not coping with mainstream education. My class consisted on secondary aged boys ranging from Year 7 to Year 10. As much as we encouraged the students to come to school, picking them up each day and providing them with breakfast and lunch, you still never knew who you were going to get. Therefore, I learnt the importance of being flexible, as well as an insight into what is and is not always so important in life and education.
There are many more experiences that I could discuss. However, I think that this smattering serves its purpose. At its heart perception is about developing a wider set of skills and solutions. I feel that the different experiences in life have helped me respond to various situations that have arisen in and out of the classroom. It is these answers and solutions that decide whether or not I am a better teacher or not, not the experiences that produced them.
So what moments in life have mattered to you and what influence have they had in and out of the classroom?

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