George Lucas Educational Foundation
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One of my favorite movie trilogies of all time is Back to the Future. (Sorry, Edutopia, Star Wars is a close second.) However, rather than elaborating on why one is better than the other, I'm going to single out one scene. It happens in the Back to the Future sequel and shows a confused Marty McFly walking around an alternate Hill Valley in which Biff Tannen rules everything, and nothing is quite the way it should be. This scene reminds me a lot of how I currently feel about Twitter and education.

The Good Ol' Days

I have been using Twitter since 2007, thanks to the suggestion of Springfield Township High School librarian, Joyce Valenza. This medium has connected me to so many great educators and people whom I now consider great friends. It has helped me through down times in my career and allowed me to share the proud moments. I've participated in many "chats" driven by hashtags and even crowdsourced comments about my grandmother's hand-painted Easter egg a few years ago. She couldn't believe that anyone would care or comment on such a thing, but was genuinely awestruck by all the attention.

I've used Twitter for professional development, to further my learning, answer questions, land a job, and share at conferences. In essence, the Twitter I remember from my early days of using the medium slightly resembles that pristine image of Hill Valley where the song "Mr. Sandman" is always playing. But I now feel like Twitter has become Biff's alternate universe that is not as familiar as it used to be. And I'm not trying to play the role of "old man Marcinek" who is afraid of change and constantly reminisces about the "good ol' days." Rather, I'm hoping to bring to light an observation.

Twitter has come of age, and it's falling flat. While I continue to use this medium, I don't attend to it as much as I used to. I will use it at a conference and share when I find something interesting or write a post such as this one, but I don't feel that it defines me as an educator. With Connected Educator Month upon us, I wanted to share this assertion as well as what I feel a connected educator should and can be. I'm not here to condemn Twitter and highlight its faults, but rather to share something that I’ve noticed recently.

3 Other Ways of Thinking About Connection

A connected educator should first and foremost be connected to his or her classroom and the students that visit it daily. While this idea seems obvious, it's sometimes overshadowed by the stigma around what a connected educator should be. The more I connect with new teachers, the more I encourage them to first find a digital space where they can bridge the classroom to the greater community. This is where you develop a healthy, consistent web presence, and provide a transparent experience for parents and students seeking to learn more about your class.

Next, connect with other educators in person. I would suggest finding an edcamp in your neighborhood. There's a great chance that one is happening. In my experience, edcamps have been one of my most valuable career resources. I've organized three edcamps and will have a chance to organize another next Spring at Edcamp Grafton on March 21. Edcamps are important for new and connected educators because they are driven by conversation. At its core, an edcamp is where I would start making my connections as a new teacher or a teacher looking to connect beyond the classroom.

And finally, focus your connected life. Being a connected educator doesn't mean sharing the most articles via Twitter, acquiring the most followers, or even winning a Bammy! Award. Allow yourself a healthy balance of screen time with analog time. Put the devices down and not only do yourself a favor, but also model a good example for our students. Don't feel the need to sign up for every new app or service, but instead find a few that work for you, and use them effectively in order to make your connected educational life more efficient and resourceful. Sometimes the best connected educators are the ones who can disconnect frequently.

The Real Focus

Two of the best educators that I have known in my life do not have a Twitter account, nor are they on Google+. In fact, you've probably never heard of them. My 11th grade English teacher, Ms. Stellfox, and my former boss and retired superintendent, Anthony Bent, are probably the two most connected educators I know. Right now, Anthony Bent is in Finland connecting with other educators to get a more global perspective on education and find ways in which the American education system can do better. Ms. Stellfox connected all of the students that walked into her classroom with the world of Shakespeare by sharing stories of her travels abroad and connecting us with a world that many of us did not know about. And, after her untimely death, Ms. Stellfox continued to connect students at Dickinson College through a generous donation that brought famed novelists to the school as speakers.

A connected educator is so much more than social media. A connected educator is invested and focused on his or her students. These educators find time to share digitally and converse in face-to-face forums. I imagine that Twitter will live on and that educators will continue to flock toward it. But remember to keep focused on student learning and growth. And despite all the Twitter followers in the world, making a connection with one student is better than any award out there.

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Connected Educators
Connected Educator Month is here! This blog series highlights some tips and ideas for educators to consider during and after this month.

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Ove Christensen's picture
Ove Christensen
Educational R&D Digital enhanced teaching and learning

Thanks for your post,
I am not sure I'm getting your point. Nobody that I know of in the connected educator community will disagree with the point that one has to focus on ones connections and connectivity. And none will argue against the importance of life encounters - EdCamps, classrooms, gatherings etc. Most people know that it is a risk to spread your engagement too much in that you will not be real connected if you're just trying to share as much as possible etc.
But that doesn't mean that we still use social media to connect and grow our PLN. I'm trying to persuade educators that are not using #some professionally to do so in order to support their #CPD
I'm sure you'll agree that this is not a either-or but a both-and issue (you've tweeted after publishing this post). And then I'm back with my initial wondering: What exactly is you point? That we should to less - or only the ones who are doing it 'too much'? Do you suggest a kind of focus management and if so by what measures?
I think that this discussion is important. And I'll defend that #some (and maybe especially Twitter) is powerful toll for growing PLNs and, hence, professional growth.

Andrew Marcinek's picture
Andrew Marcinek
Director of Technology and Co-founder, Boston, MA

Ove, Thanks for your comments. My point is to broaden the definition of what a connected educator means. The definition gets clouded sometimes and that to be a "connected educator" one must be engaged online. That is not the case and I offered two examples. As with anything a healthy balance is key as well as being able to consume and share in doses. But, not just to increase visibility, but to provoke dialogue and debate. Unfortunately, Twitter can sometimes be a shouting match or an exercise in developing platitudes.

Ove Christensen's picture
Ove Christensen
Educational R&D Digital enhanced teaching and learning

Thanks, Andrew for your reply.
I understand that you'd like to broaden the understanding of the use of #some. Still, it's confusing that you tend to reserve SoMe for more narrow or private discussions as sports and the like. The broader discussions are directed toward a community and not (only) the private sphere.
I also understand that some discussions on SoMe can be ridiculous due to positioning and posture. But it has more to do withe the community where you engage yourself and less with Some per se - I think. But of course there is a doubled appearance in whatever meeting where you put yourself at risk by stating you position. You state your point - and you market yourself, og put yourself at display.
As a learning professional I think you - Some or not - have to deal with that you are valued - weighed - in the eyes of your listeners or discussion participants.
I totally agree with you that connection are made in many different places - on many different platforms. Digital media is not replacing our physical space - it's broadening it.

Orman Feres's picture

Thanks Andrew for a really insightful post. As I read your writing, two immediate thoughts pop into my mind. First, I think about the role of technology in instruction and how nebulous a subject that is. It's more or less a foregone conclusion these days that teachers need to have an awareness of various forms of technology out there and how to effectively leverage technology in their instruction. However, from my observations many teachers are still having trouble understanding exactly what that means. On the one hand, you have those who believe that getting their students communicating on twitter, or facebook, or edmodo, or other social media is the solution for how to get the class connected and using technology simultaneously. I think your post gets at that in some ways. Then there are those who believe that having students engage in lessons or assignments delivered using technology (ipads, laptops, promethean boards, etc.) is sufficient. In both cases, however, you get fairly cookie cutter results that don't really scratch the surface of what is possible when technology is properly introduced to the classroom environment. These things also can't be seen as a substitutes for making meaningful instructionally-based connections.

Also, your point about Edcamps reminds me a lot of the importance of educators staying connected to one another and forming effective professional learning communities so we can avoid feelings of isolation, share best practices, engage in continuous learning etc. Again, there are so many ways that the notion of professional learning communities has interpreted, from narrow school-based examples to those that encompass thousands of teachers connecting from across the states. Anyway, just wanted to share that it was a great post and made me think about how as a profession, we need to do a better job of defining some of our grand strategies, without becoming too prescriptive and stifling innovation.

thelightsaber's picture

I really hope you are right about people getting tired of it. I think at that point it will only be used for what is necessary and useful to people, which will cut back on the time people use it.

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