REVIEW: The Connected Educator

flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

The Connected Educator, by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall, provides a thorough introduction to becoming more connected. Through a mixture of anecdotes, elaborations and questions, the authors invite those wishing to adapt their practice for a participatory culture made possible by Web 2.0. Although technology plays its part throughout, this book is about the educator as learner first and in the process taking control of their own professional development.

At the heart of this change are three layers integral to the connected learning communities:

Although it can be easy to treat these layers in isolation, the reality is that each influences the other in their own way. For example, deep inquiry fostered within a community of practice is often fed by the breadth of sources and connections derived from the personalised learning network, while professional learning communities often add context and purpose to the process.

A different way of appreciating these connections and  communities is that each support the construction of knowledge. As Nussbaum-Beach and Ritter Hall explain,

Connected learning allows the learner to construct knowledge through passive (knowledge for), active (knowledge in), and reflective (knowledge of) strategies.

This is a significant change from the consumption of knowledge perpetuated through the implementation of off-the-shelf instruction models and pre-conceived curriculum.

The adjustment from top-down reform to more organic and agile learning environments brings a set of challenges, particularly in regards to leadership and the building of trust. According to Nussbaum-Beach and Ritter Hall, this comes back to the question of collegiality. Whether it be the development of relationships or a willingness to share openly, much of this is not possible without a sense of community and a belief in distributed leadership.

Having said all of this, I had a few frustrations with the book. Firstly, such a heavy focus on applications is always going to risk dating quickly. Although most of the applications discussed are still active, there were quite a few missing, such as Voxer, news aggregation and newsletters. In addition to this, there were few alternatives provided, especially in regards to open source options. The second concern I had was the lack of critical discourse around the use of various applications and the scraping of data. I am not sure if this is a consequence of being written in a pre-Snowden era or whether it simply did not fit the scope of the book.

In the end, I felt that The Connected Educator is one of those books I wished I had discovered earlier, especially in regards to my work around communities of practice. Yet in some ways I feel that although I may not have read the book until now, I had experienced its message through some sort of digital osmosis, often via other people’s support and writing.

Like Will Richardson’s Master Teacher to Master Learner and Steve Wheeler’s Learning with E’s, The Connected Educator offers a useful starting point for those wishing to take a stand for the children we serve and choose to be powerful.

DISCLOSURE: I read this book as a precursor to working with Sheryl Nausbaum-Beach. Apparently everyone has read it and therefore I felt compelled.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Ten Step Program to Being Connected; or Getting Connected for Dummies


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

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)
flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

It Takes a Village …

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16604532555

The question was posed ‘what is connected learning’ as a part of the #youredustory challenge. This is a topic that I am really passionate about and have therefore written quite a few posts on it before, such as:

I therefore decided that instead of trying to say something new, I would instead show it in the form of comments to my blog. Here then are a collection of responses that I have been lucky enough to recieve since starting my blog nearly two years ago:

“It is much more difficult to run reciprocal reading and independent reading/conferencing plus include a whole class novel (which I think is incredibly important in order to model comprehension skills). It is definitely a balancing act. Something that I found to work with my class, though, is to teach them reading skills and strategies that I actually use myself.” Rebecca Davies in response to Reading Conferences, Whose Problem is it Anyway?

“I used the word complex (in reference to poverty) because I feel like the deeper we get into them the more complex they are because of all the sides trying to “fix” them and not doing a very good job doing it.” Peter DeWitt in response to The River – A Complicated Metaphor for Education

“I also suspect that the people who successfully use SMART goals are the organised, goal-driven types who don’t really need them! I’m in favour of planning, breaking a goal down into steps and weekly monitoring of progress – the writing of the goal itself is a bit of a red herring.” Deb Joffe in response to Are SMART Goals Always That Smart?

“The idea of being able to tell a story is so important and having a belief and passion makes it so much easier.” Tony Richards in response to Takes More Than An App to Make a Good Presentation

“If we want students to show say,  that they understand the underying factors which led to the Great War,  do they have to do that in essay format? Or can we be more liberal in the format we accept?” Ian Guest in response to Supporting the Tool Without Teaching the Tool

“I think education still has a lot to learn not only about digital technologies, but also what we teach about them and how we utilise them also. How can we preach to our students the ideals of digital citizenship in a context that is not what they experience outside of a classroom. We say all these things but don’t show them the practice of it, and we are in a system that wouldn’t allow us to even if we wanted to.” Rebecca Jameson in response to A Meditation on the Taboos Associated with Being Connected

“Love Rockwells list. My favorite is ‘teach others your skills’. Maybe some people feel insecure of doing this as this empowers others and can be seen as a threat. I think true leaders do this and arent afraid of not being in ‘control’ of people.” Jason Graham in response to Can Everyone Really Be a Meaningful Leader

“‘Getting connected’ has made the biggest changes to my practice in the last 4 years. It has provided me with support, inspiration, goals to work towards and challenges from others that have all helped me grow and develop.” Gillian Light in response to Moving From the Ultranet to 21st Century Learning

“It is not the one liners that cause the problems – it is what one does with them as we both have said. They are excellent starters for deep discussion as we can spend time unpacking them with colleagues. We can look at the ‘intention’ that brought them to be ‘one liners’ and we can examine the complexities that reside in what seems to be a simple statement. Then we can have a look at dangers and opportunities in perpetuating these one liners.” Peter Skillen in response to Can You Really Find Wisdom in One-Line?

“I hear too many teachers complaining when there is no curriculum for them to use. I also hear them saying, not usually directly, that they can’t facilitate student learning in any area they don’t have the expertise to control the learning. Bottom line, they control the process (much more than “providing structure”) of learning, thereby stunting that learning. Teachers need to tinker and play with things and ideas WITH other teachers (sharing helps everyone involved), making mistakes, learning from them. And this is not just for STEM / STEAM topics either.” John Bennett in response to Tinkering, Passion and the Wildfire that is Learning

“I thought the main issue that some may or may not have had with some of the responses to The Age article was about whether they were playing the woman or the ball? That said, just as the original article stays on the web so do the tweets (and other comments) of disapproval. History is the ultimate judge of us all!” Richard Olsen in response to Tribes Are Good, But Do They Really Evolve the Conversation?

“You’ve hit on a topic that I think is probably one of the biggest issues facing Australian schools (and probably schools worldwide) at the moment. We continue to educate and assess students in a way that seems to assume literacy, and what it means to be ‘literate’ hasn’t changed in 50 years. Worse, our teachers are hopelessly ill equipped to teach digital literacy skills primarily because the vast majority of them don’t have those skills themselves.” Richard Lambert in response to What’s So Digital About Literacy Anyway?

“When I hear people frustrated about connecting to learn and that they don’t have the time and that they get nothing out of it, almost always it’s because they didn’t commit to forming relationships or contributing to the communities. I agree it’s a way of existence, a way of doing things. And to explain it to someone who hasn’t experienced it is a very difficult thing” Lyn Hilt in response to PLN, a Verb or a Noun?

“I am increasingly feeling that maybe “independence” is not the right word, and maybe “responsibility” or ownership of one’s learning are better, as they allow still for community or expert support, but having the learner lead their own goals and maybe assessment criteria as well as pathways to learn. This, in formal learning situations might mean there are some enforced common goals (learning outcomes) but individual goals also have space. How both types of goals are assessed can be partlycommunal (community created rubrics) and individual (i sometimes let my students choose a couple of criteria they want their projects assessed upon – it highlights what they intended to achieve).” Maha Bali in response to Grades and Limits It Just Ain’t Life-Long Learning

“My experience is that even very young children can plan their own curriculum. Nursery age children can plan their own day and I once had the experience of starting off a term with 6 and 7 year old children with a couple of days collaborative planning of what we would cover in the next 6 weeks. The plan/curriculum map was posted on the wall so that we could keep a track of what we had agreed and how we were progressing. At the time it was a real surprise to me that such young children could competently plan a whole half-term’s work.” Jenny Mackness in response to Some Reflections on Uncertainty

“Leadership have shown over the years I’ve been a teacher to be inconsistent in the way they offer and show appreciations to staff.  What is the point of not planning it as you say and just putting someone on the spot in a meeting and (to a degree) alienating the rest of the staff?” Rick Kayler-Thomson in response to When Encouragement Isn’t So Encouraging

“Whilst I think that the scope and mechanics of how we run our associations is changing, the fundamental yearning for inspiration and a meaningful relationships with colleagues has not and probably will not change. Whilst we can amplify much of what we do with online tools, we still seem to require some measure of face-to-face interaction to kick-start or catalyse the process.” Roland Gesthuizen in response to In the Association We Trust

“Indeed a curriculum is a compromise. Many different “forces” have influence on a curriculum and there’s only so much time per year and there are only so many year in a school. I just learned from a politicologist that in politicology they call it “fighting the last war”.
Decisions are mostly based on the last war fought.” Ronald L in response to Curriculum as a Verb

“As educators, we’re really not very good at following our own advice are we? We do our best to promote the capability for independent problem solving in our students using techniques such as 3B4Me … but do we model that good practice as learners ourselves?” Ian Guest in response to Change the Mindset, Don’t Change the Program

“It is always good to reflect on the developments we make even if it does not appear like much has happened. I like the idea of plans and setting goals because it helps us track whee we are at and makes us (teachers) and leadership accountable. These plans don’t need to be war and peace but they do need to describe what we want learning to look like with the support of ICT as a tool. The best place to start is where we have been.” Tony RIchards in response to Looking Back to Look Forward

“Denial is pervasive, we would rather hide our heads and assume things will be ok if we do it one way, than take a risk, or face the facts and work with what we have.” Pernille Ripp in response to Denial Never Worked for No-One

“No ‘approach’ or ‘framework’ is best but being well informed about different iterations of student centred learning (and even more didactic approaches) allows us to, as you so beautifully put it, mix the right cocktail for and with the learner (hmmm that doesn’t sound quite right does it!!).” Kath Murdoch in response to So Which Pedagogical Cocktails Are You Drinking Today?

“Often, in discussions about teaching, I find people tend to take very fixed positions. Depending upon whom you speak to, textbooks, worksheets and even desks are evidence of bad pedagogy, while bean bags, collaboration and creativity are evidence of good pedagogy. I think teaching is far more complex than that. We need to look far deeper and consider what our current group of students require to learn –  and in some contexts,  that may well be a didactic appropach.” Corinne Campbell in response to So Which Pedagogical Cocktail Are You Drinking Today?

“I found that when we moved it from the digital portfolio to this passion based blog the program took off – kids just loved it and the notion of writing for authentic audiences etc became a reality. Prior to that it was really hard for the kids to get any external interest in their blogs which would lead to all those great things like increased feedback cycles etc. The main reason was because no one is really interested in your digital portfolio.” Kynan Robinson in response to Sharing the Load of Blogging In and Out of School

“I think that ultimately, communities are defined by their sharing. The notion of ‘culture’ for example, can be described as ‘shared symbolism and interaction’.  If we don’t share our ideas, thoughts and knowledge, how will we know each other?” Steve Wheeler in response to Are You Really Connecting If You Are Not Giving Back?

“I like the “pencil lab” point, but in reality, computers don’t cost 10 cents. Even though fear is an issue, money is still the biggest issue with tech.” Mark Barnes in response to Repositioning the Use of Technology in Schools

“There was a quote doing the rounds on social media recently stating that ‘technology should be hidden in classrooms’. I think this statement to be very true. The devices your school choose to use should be in the classroom but not be the focus, they are simply there to support students learning.” Corey Aylen in response to What Digital Revolution?

“The supposed waste of money and time spent on technology over the last few years pales in comparison to the waste of time, money and opportunities where largely uninterested teachers take largely uninterested kids through a largely outdated textbook… not to mention all the other woeful things schools subject their students to.” Richard Olsen in response to What Digital Revolution?

“Confident and well planned empowerment is the key for me but empowerment of students with technology is so important to many schools to influence the changes in terms of tech integration but more importantly, in terms of pedagogical changes, moving the teacher from being the ‘information dictator’ in the classroom.” Nick Jackson in response to What Digital Revolution?

“Ultimately, students are assessed in VCE exams which test how much content a student can remember. As long as this remains the case, the full engagement of schools in 21st century skills will be slow.” Paul Tozer in response to What Digital Revolution?

“It’s very important to have an online presence and great digital footprint. I am worried when I google someone and find nothing. No evidence of existence online. Warning bells ring. So it’s a must for all our students to realise its. Not an extra identity but part of your identity. Your real identity.” Jenny Ashby in response to Take the Power Back – Steps in Taking Ownership of Our Online Identity

“I have commenced a new practice whereby with every class I teach, for the last lesson of every term, I provide a brief reading as a prompt and then we spend the entire lesson discussing learning and teaching. The conversation can move from reflecting on expert opinions about learning to the more gritty aspects of how I teach, how they learn, and how we are learning as a group.” Cameron Paterson in response to Sharing Includes Students Too

“As connected learners we are not just curating ideas and resources, we are creating relationships, some are just ‘weak ties’ but others are very meaning, rich and strong. I don’t just read Dean, I hear his voice, I connect to previous things he has said, and I pause just a little longer if he says something I disagree with.” David Truss in response to Learning in a Connected World

“I agree with the point regarding consultation, this is key, particularly with the education board and the parent community as they need to have a voice and input into anything as drastic as 1:1 or BYO technology.” Anthony Speranza in response to 1:1 Devices in School

“Probably my biggest step in becoming connected was when I volunteered my school at the time, to host the first Melbourne Teachmeet. I had been lurking on Twitter for some time, and happened to see a tweet from @MrMitchHughes asking for someone to host a teachmeet. I was intrigued by the idea, however not been one to step easily out of my comfort zone, I decided the only way I would be brave enough to attend was if I volunteered my school.” Margo Edgar in response to How Far We’ve Come

“Never before I think have we been staring at the complexity and mess of learning and the failure of the one-size-fits-all approach to it.” Clarissa Bezerra in response to The Tree – A Metaphor for Learning

“Being abusive, being a troll, that is radical ie extreme. Engaging in a spirited, respectful, rigorous dialogue – that just hones your skills, firms up your views and improves your ability to articulate and justify (or modify) your position.” Alan Thwaites in response to Do You Have To Be Radical To Be A Connected Educator?

“I think the important thing is remembering that we’re all in this to help our students. So we’re all on the same team even when we disagree about the strategies we’re using to achieve what we want. So everything I read, whether it’s a tweet or a blog, I remember that the writer is coming from the same place as me.” Eric Jenson in response to Signals, Noises and Relationships

“You cannot ‘create’ a community but rather, you create the environment in which a community can grow and flourish. This is the value of f2f communication afforded by a physical conference that is supported by the online conversation.” Camilla Elliott in response to Presentations Don’t Make a Conference, People Do

“I hadn’t really thought much about the commenting aspect but was elated, surprised and intrigued after I received my first comment from a teacher from Texas. It essentially awakened me to the possibility of learning with people across the globe. I was able to have conversations both on my blog and on others that interested me and it quickly became a place of learning and has remained the most important element of my professional learning life.” Dean Shareski in response to Being Connected, What is Your Story?

“I’ve been wrestling with whether Twitter is an information stream or a stream of ideas and individuals that I want to learn alongside.  It’s clearly becoming an information stream — and there are pros and cons to that.” Bill Ferriter in response to Leveraging Twitter

“We need to look past the tools and focus on the pedagogy. To hone in on why we are using these tools and how can they improve our practice as educators and students meeting more learning outcomes, more often, with more purpose.” Corrie Barclay in response to Why I Put My Hand Up for #GTASYD and Why I’m Excited

“Teachers have to model themselves unfolding and expanding if they are to expect that of their students.  It’s really hard though as “we” have become so passive/complacent in our ways of approaching teaching/learning and yet at the same time driven to do so much for others.” Maureen Maher in response to Teachers Are Learner Too.

“Problems only make sense within a context. Without that, the scope could be too overwhelming and broad and the skills involved in problem solving would potential be lost.” Catherine Gatt in response to Adding Ambiguity into the Learning Mix

“I ask my students to share the ways they can present their work prior to starting the task. This provides them with the opportunity to try something new and seek assistance from ‘experts’ within the class, if they wish.” Michelle Meracis in response to Surely Presentations Are More Than Just a PowerPoint?

“The collaborative process allowed us to actually practice what we were preaching and that is to give voice to others. There were times were we had different views or takes on the situation but together we worked through to a greater vantage point.” Steve Brophy in response to Learning to Learn by Learning – A Reflection on a Collaborative Project

“I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, innovation will be a natural part of every teacher’s day to day practice.” Richard Olsen in response to Celebrating Innovation, Both Big and Small

“IMHO the lone nut who tightly holds onto the idea without sharing it or letting go is insecure. What if we helped create a more secure environment and a place where sharing ideas is the norm?” Andrea Stringer in response to Whose Idea Is It Anyway?

“Having links and contacts to educators in other parts of the world helps us to lift our minds out of cynicism and back onto why we became educators in the first place.” Dan Leighton in response to #GTASYD 2014 – Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds

“As AR gets better, we’ll have to become smarter at knowing when not to use it. ” Matt Esterman in response to Imaging and Imagining the Past

“We get so caught up in how and what and forget the why. Much of what we do comes down to people, relationships, and heart.” Lisa Meade in response to #WhyITeach and the Answer is Not Technology

“Really meaningful change requires both a collective understanding of purpose and values, and also requires leadership from the top of whatever structure you’re working in.” Cameron Malcher in response to Three Things Learnt from a Finnish Lesson

“I’d love to know if you see any downsides to going Google. I spend so much time thinking about the benefits that I really haven’t thought about the potential problems GAFE might raise. I’m not worried about privacy, but are there any other possible dark sides to GAFE?
What do you think?” Eric Jensen in response to Going GAFE from Scratch

“For the most part, I think that official leadership works best when it is largely invisible, when people just do their jobs well so that people in their organisation can do their jobs the best they can.” Mark O’Meara in response to Can Everyone Be a Meaningful Leader?

“you don’t always need the latest technology, and lots of it, to make a difference and provide great opportunities for students to be innovative and collaborative.” Pam Thomson in response to Looking for a Local Perspective on Blogging

“Too often we are eyes forward, moving at high speed and not often enough do we take the time to look back at our path and celebrate the highs and lows of the journey. Our collaboration was part of a really significant learning growth for us both and most excitingly the start of many more discussions, encounters and projects.” Steve Brophy in response to Uncanny Reflections on a Year Blogging

“Too often we are eyes forward, moving at high speed and not often enough do we take the time to look back at our path and celebrate the highs and lows of the journey. Our collaboration was part of a really significant learning growth for us both and most excitingly the start of many more discussions, encounters and projects.” Jen Moes in response to PLN, a Verb or a Noun?

“Everything is an assessment. Everything the students say (and don’t say), write or do… every question, thought, response or misconception that they express tells us something about where their learning is at. Our role is to watch, listen and observe the learning (more data!) so that we know where to go next to support each learner. (By the time you get to a summative assessment, it’s too late to do anything about it.)” Edna Sackson in response to Goals, Growth and Getting Going in 2015

“There must be a deliberate, well thought out intent and purpose for using this equipment and that links with making the learning meaningful and relevant. Its a bonus when technology is working well and allows us to get to this point more quickly.” Anne van der Graaf in response to 21st Century is More Than Just Technology, But It’s a Big Part of It

“It’s great to know that not only people occasionally take the time to read what I write, but that it also – on occasion – resonates!” Dan Haesler in response to Looking for a Local Perspective on Blogging

“I think that whilst Twitter has so many fantastic benefits, it may not be to everyone’s liking. Me personally, I use Twitter, Google+ and Feedly. However, I find the Melbourne TeachMeets to be most valuable.” Michelle Wong in response to Should Every Teacher Really Be On Twitter?

“I get so much value from reading other people’s work – I try to comment on at least one post each day. The conversations that spring from blog posts and comments are fantastic relationship and connection builders!” Robert Schuetz in response to Should Every Teacher Really Be On Twitter?

“I’m just scratching the surface of heutagogy as a framework (swimming in the wake of Jon’s progress) but it should be an aim of K-12 schooling to have students equipped to be independent and confident learners (most would have it in their school policies somewhere).” Matt Esterman in response to Why Do You Come to School?

“Professional development is by it’s nature individual. So choices should be made. Lots of colleagues do not feel comfortable online. I find that colleagues that become friends lead to links on Facebook, meet at Teachmeets and other education events or face to face meetings.” Andy Knill in response to Should Every Teacher Really Be On Twitter?

“I have a Twitter list called “Face-to-face” for the exact reason that those Tweets somehow mean more to me. It’s funny that this list includes people I have only recorded Google Hangouts with!” Richard Wells in response to Should Every Teacher Really Be On Twitter?

“Why do I blog? I blog because it’s fun, because it’s encouraging that other people find it amusing, and because it’s a great way to connect professionally with people locally and globally. But the real reason I blog? Like my friend @acampbell99 says, it’s strictly selfish.” Royan Lee in response to Blogging Starts with Why

“Many teachers are amazed when they see learners actually take control of their learning — an ability that some would dismiss as not a reasonable expectation to have for young learners. Jon’s experiences at St. Paul’s School in Queensland, Australia are a fabulous example of what can be achieved in the K-12 sector.” Lisa Marie Blaschke in response to Why Do You Come to School?

“We are not there 100% by any stretch. But we are inspired and will keep chipping away at it. One teacher said to me recently – in my new role, I walk a blurry line between feeling I am ‘working hard and hardly working!’” Jon Andrews in response to Why Do You Come to School?

“Can I be cheeky and say the I learned you can write wonderfully in less than 100 words?” Celia Coffa in response to Learning Is …

“Those who lead through relationship seek to enrich both their own lives and the lives of their followers, and if they happen to be very skillful manipulators, then they can help us all make great things happen. Skillful manipulation is not a bad thing except when it is devoid of meaningful relationship. Then it can be, and usually is, awful.” Keith Hamon in response to What is Your Why?

“I think it is important not to limit our “guides” only to the people we admire. People who achieve significant things, whether those things are something good or even if they were something evil, did so by using certain skills, thinking, determination, communication methods and so on.” Alan Thwaites in response to What Would You Do? – A Reflection on Questioning

“Why is is that schools deliver 560 hours of English, or 480 hours of Maths, or 520 hours of Science across Years 7 to 10 when only 400 hours is required for each? Maybe even a reframing of terms such as ‘teaching time’ and ‘mandated hours’ to ‘learning time’ and ‘student agency’ could be a great start.” Greg Miller in response to Electives, What is Your Choice?


Often we try to capture or count those in our PLN. However, sometimes it is best to simply reflect on our interactions and go from there. What is amazing is that comments is only one place of connection and I wouldn’t even know where to start with Twitter.

What about you? What is your connected story? What great conversations have you had in the margins of your writing? Feel free to share.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

PLN, a Verb or a Noun?



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?

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

What Inspired You This Year?

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.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Tribes are Good, But Do They Really Evolve the Conversation?

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?


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.