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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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 (TL21C) – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
 
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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Often when we talk about education, the term ‘hidden curriculum‘ is used in reference to all those elements that are not necessarily accounted for or made explicit, those elements that are between the lines, inferred. I think that much the same can be said about professional development. Often there is a hidden professional development that happens, often when we least expect it.
 
In a recent blog +Ian Guest spoke about the differences between professional development from the ‘personal’ to the ‘organisational’. On the one hand, professional development can be self directed and based on the needs of a teacher. This is learning that can be classified as ‘googleable’. On the other end of the scale is the learning that is often dictated by somebody else. Maybe it is a whole-school approach or nation wide program. Below is a table that Ian created to represent this continuum of sorts.
 
 
This is a fantastic description of the different types of professional development, but what it does not account for is the learning that happens along the way, the accidental learning that was not intended. What is missed is that life long learning is about incidental learning.
 
I have been reading quite a few blogs lately associated with Connected Educator Month outlining some of the benefits of being connected (see for example +Tom Whitby‘s ‘The Connected Educator Culture‘ and +Tony Sinanis‘ ‘Being Connected Saved My Career‘.) Often the benefits spruiked are that through social media applications, like Twitter and Google+, you are able to connect with learners often with different perspectives and share ideas with a wider audience. The benefit though that I think stands out the most is the incidental learning that happens along the way. The ideas that come up in my feeds, whether it about alternative approaches to teaching or changes in technology, are always one thing, stimulating. Being connected is priceless for getting answers and ideas to questions, but is also priceless for the incidental learning that happens along the way. I think that +Alec Couros sums it up best when he stated in an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew that “Some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not”. This incidental ‘learning’ goes well beyond Youtube.
 
There were many highlights at the recent Google in Education Summit, something that I have spoken about elsewhere, but what stuck out the most was opportunity to meet and great with other learners. Often there were large breaks between sessions in which you could chat with others and continue to develop ideas sometimes left incomplete. Not only did I get to connect with new people who I would not otherwise spend time with, I had some really interesting debates and discussions, and not all about Google, often about anything but Google. Some of the topics included connectivity in schools, implementing a 1:1 program and the differences between primary and secondary education. Interestingly, it was some of these discussions that lingered in my mind long after the summit was over.
 
What disappoints me the most is that this hidden professional development is often the first thing to go when it comes to professional development, the first thing to be cut, because it is often seen as too informal, lack purpose, not measureable and not always manageable. However, these opportunities are often the seeds for deeper life long learning. This is what makes things like Teachmeets so powerful. Situations where you don’t go wanting an answer to a question, rather it is the opposite, you go seeking questions for the answers that you already have.
 
Learning happens in many places and often when we least expect it. The question I have then is what hidden professional development are you a part of? Is it a conversation around the photocopier, a chance meeting at the shops, a random video watched online, a song that you heard, a personal novel that you are reading. I would love to hear. Please share in the comments.

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