To answer this question in the very month that the U.S. Department of Education has set aside to recognize as Connected Educator Month, we need to first examine what a connected educator is. We also need to understand to what it is that educators are connected.
The way information and content is housed and disseminated today has little resemblance to the housing and disseminating of a few short decades ago. Information then was stored in a manner that required some form of physical media. Text was stored in print on paper and film. Movies were stored on both film and videotape. Sound was stored on audiotape. All of this media needed to be stored somewhere until someone needed access to learn from it, or to share it with others. Colleges, schools and libraries served as hubs of information to give access to specific people for that purpose. That was the model for centuries. Access to information was limited to few, and that often came at a price. There has always been a cost for education and access to information.
The speed at which technology has changed this dynamic is mind-boggling. The conversion of all information and content spanning centuries of history in any form to a digital version took less than 50 years. Access to the Internet is now almost seamless using many different devices. Access is no longer limited to a select few, but rather it is available to anyone who is digitally literate.
Ubiquitous access is one reason why digital literacy is now going to be taught in American schools as we move forward. Students in our school system today will be given the keys to the information lock boxes of our society for their consumption. That addresses the needs of the digital savvy students, but what about the educators who came from another era? Believe it or not, some educators are still pondering whether or not technology tools for learning even belong in education.
There is a growing group of educators who are digitally literate. Some may be techies, but most are self-motivated life-long learners. Using technology is less generational and more about learning. Social media and its acceptance in our culture has been a catalyst to connectedness. Social media applications like Twitter and Facebook offer an easy means to exchange Internet addresses of: websites, blogs, videos, podcasts, books, articles, webinars, panel discussions, Skype interviews, and Google Hangouts. More importantly, it connects teachers with the thought leaders of their profession. These are often practicing educators who have expertise in specific areas of education. Educators can now connect for a first-hand account of how to affect changes in their practice in meaningful ways.
Who educators connect with is a very critical consideration. Acquiring numbers of educators who share concerns and interests is essential. Once an educator connects with other educators, they begin to collect them as sources in a professional learning network — PLN — of educators. A connected educator may then access any or all of these sources for the purpose of communication, collaboration or creation. This connectedness is not bound by bricks and mortar. It is not bound by city limits or state lines. It is not limited by countries borders. The only nagging inconvenience is dealing with time zones on a global level.
In a technology-driven society, things change at a faster rate than ever before in history. Educators who are connected use that technology to maintain relevance in the fast-paced, changing world of education. Being connected is not an add-on or a luxury for educators; it has become a necessity. We must have digitally literate educators, if we want digitally literate students. We need relevant educators in order to provide relevant teaching. We need connected educators, if we are to expect them to be life long learners and to model that for our children. Yes, we really need to have connected educators.
This is Connected Educator Month. There are many connected events taking place online during the entire month. We need to get the unconnected educators to become aware of the advantages and sources available through connectedness. Please share!
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He previously spent 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.