A Connected Continuum
“A Connected Continuum” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

This post was first shared on +Peter DeWitt‘s blog Finding Common Ground on the 30th May 2014.


There is a documentary series called Who Do You Think You Are?, the premise of which is to to trace the journey of a celebrity back to their genealogical roots. From the odd episodes that I have seen, the show works because it takes someone whose life is seen as extraordinary and it finds their story in the odd and the ordinary.

This idea of tracing our identity back to the roots got me thinking about being a connected educator. There is often so much written about getting people connected. However, one of the biggest hurdles that I have found is bridging the gap between those in the shadows, lurking in the background, to creating a more engaged community which includes commenting and collaboration. One aspect that I feel is missing are the stories of how those now connected –  those sharing, engaging, participating – actually got to that point.

In his Ted Talk presentation on The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies+Doug Belshaw suggests that new technologies often create new opportunities. “Every time you are given a new tool it gives you a different way of impacting upon the world.” What I feel is overlooked in this situation is what that impact is. No one was born connected, well at least not consciously connected, the question then is how they got to their current situation.

In many respects social media has been around in education in some shape or form for some time. However, there is still a gap in regards to the take-up. There are many different reasons for this. For +Dean Shareski, there is a digital dualism that needs to be overcome, while for +Tom Whitby the battle is over control and comfort zones. Often the arguments presented about the various benefits associated with being either connected or disconnected, however such arguments often provide little discussion of the middle ground, that space in-between and how to venture through it.

As I have discussed elsewhere, being connected and having a personal learning network is not something that is done, rather it is something that we do. My answer then is that instead of sharing the plethora of benefits, maybe we need to share our journey in all of its failures and various points of confusion.

It is important to recognise that when it comes to connecting that everyone does it differently and to borrow from +Doug Belshaw‘s work on digital literacies, sometimes coming to an understanding of what it means to be connected is just as important as actually being connected. For me, being a connected educator has involved five different steps:

Although each of these events can be considered in isolation, more significantly they can each be seen as interconnecting with and adding to the other. For example, I feel that my connections online have only been strengthened through the elaborations of my thoughts via my blog. The big question though, is what does it mean to be connected for you and how did you get to this point?

Late last year, Peter DeWitt wrote a response to the PLN Challenge that was going around. In it he shared 11 random facts and answered 11 questions set by Tony Sinanis. What was interesting though was that instead of setting 11 questions in return, Peter posed the question, what inspired you this year? This openness allowed those responding to make of it what they would.

In the same spirit of Peter’s openness, I put out the challenge, what are the markers that stand out in your journey in being a connected educator? You may not wish to write a long and elongated response as I have, but at the very least share something. Although I would love to hear your story, more importantly, it maybe the impetus for others to take the next step, whatever that maybe.


This post was turned into a video as a contribution to Alan Levine’s 2015 K12 Online Conference presentation ‘True Stories of Open Sharing


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In response to the PLN Challenge that is going around at the moment, +Peter DeWitt broke with the traditional by simply posing one question, “What inspired you this year?” and an open invitation for anyone to answer. So here is my response:

Do Extraordinary Things

I think that the first thing to consider is what it actually means to be ‘inspired’. The Oxford Dictionary defines inspired as: “of extraordinary quality, as if arising from some external creative impulse.” I think trying to capture what is ‘extraordinary quality’ is a very personal thing. It makes more sense though by reasserting it in Peter’s original question: “What encouraged you to do extraordinary things this year?” In many respects, I think that ‘being inspired’ and doing ‘extraordinary things’ is a way of viewing the world. A lens to look through to reflect on everything around us. Here then are some of things that encouraged me to try and do extraordinary things this year …
 

Breaking the Mould

Whether rightly or wrongly, it is so easy to label students, to put them into a box, to presume what they can and cannot do. “I taught them in Year 7, so surely they are the same student in Year 9?” The worst thing is that many students feel comfortable in living within this façade. However, it is amazing what can happen when you give students some sort of ownership over their learning. I took the bold step this year of handing back control of learning through the creation of the school yearbook. Although there were some hiccups and hurdles, there was also a fervour in the classroom that I had never experienced before when the the product at hand was wholly and solely that of the students. I had given back the feeling of control before, but never enough that I actually didn’t have any control over the final outcome. I gave feedback, provided possible ideas and solutions, but also allowed space for the students to fail. I learnt that sometimes you need space to fail if you are to succeed.
 

Technology has the Ability to Help Facilitate Change

It is not necessarily technology, but more the way that technology is used to redefine the way we work. Whether it be following ideas on Twitter, posting a blog, connecting via a Google Hangout or using Google Drive to share and collaborate. I am always inspired by the way technology allows you to put out an idea and see it come back with a completely different perspective. Associated with this, I have also been inspired by the way that the students or teachers use technology each in their own way and without any urging or encouragement. Not only does this inspire me to reflect on the way I use technology, but also to keep on lobbing fuel into the wildfire of learning.
 

Learning with Learners

I always thought that being ‘connected’ was something that somebody else did. I always wondered where people got the time. I just didn’t think that it was me. Inspired particularly by my many years attending the ICTEV Conference, I took the plunge and cannot remember my life as a learner before. I think that +Tom Whitby sums up being connected best when he says, “PLNs accept people for their ideas, not their titles.” I am always taken by the thoughts and ideas that supposed complete strangers from around the world have provided me. Whether it be reading posts or listening to podcasts from those at home and abroad, as well as engaging with other learners in regards to various thoughts and ideas from the use of technology to the structure of leadership. In the end, there is certain irony with being a connected learner, for the world seems both larger and smaller at the same time.

Home is Where the Heart Inspiration Is

There is nothing more amazing than watching your own child grow and change on a daily basis. I am particularly taken by the way she persists. Whether it be trying to climb into the car or using the paint brush, it is exciting to watch her think about a problem and come back to it again and again until she succeeds. It has also been great to see my wife take on new and somewhat difficult challenges with her work. Not only taking on an unfamiliar role, but also making the most of it. Lastly, my mother has inspired me this year the way in which she has done all things possible to overcome adversity, all with such a positive mindset.
 

The World is My Inquiry

I am always fascinated at the questions that life throws up on a regular basis. Whether it be driving through the country, working in my garden or solving problems at schools, the world is full of wonderment if only you are open it. For example, I was walking along the beach the other day and stepping between the seaweed and it got me wondering, just as many of the ‘weeds’ we have now were either introduced or inadvertently brought here many years ago, is there any ‘seaweeds’ that were brought here from abroad or is the word ‘weed’ just misleading? I find it most interesting to return to my childhood home with a new eyes, finding things that I had taken for granted, to make uncanny what once was closed and contained in my mind.
 

Things Do Not Always Have to be the Way They Are

Although I have touched on this already in regards to being connected and learning with others, what inspires me the most is that there is always a choice. Through mediums such as Twitter and Diigo, my world has been open to a breadth of ideas and practises such as blended learning, genius hour, gamification, project-based learning, maker culture and flipping the classroom. I am not saying that I incorporate all of these things into my teaching, I think of myself more like a bower bird having a nest made up of this and that. Although I may not have a direct influence over every decision that effects me, I do have a choice about the way I respond to them. Being connected at least helps inform that choice on an ongoing basis.
 

What About You?

So that is me, that is what inspired me this year. What about you? What has inspired you? Was it a particular event? Is it something that somebody did? Was it a piece of art? Was it a place? I would love to know, please share below.

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