George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Collaboration has always been a key component of education both from a teaching standpoint and as a learning method. In the past, collaboration was hindered by space and time. In order to collaborate, people needed to be face to face in the same location.

To create those conditions, educators formed groups with common interests. Schools organized their staffs by grade levels or subject areas so that educators could collaborate. Departments within a school collaborated on a regular basis. Many regions had their superintendents and principals create organizations for collaborating. Beyond the individual schools or districts, professional organizations formed. National organizations followed that lead to offer a greater scale.

These organizations held conferences, bringing together educators from various locations. Educators would ideally return to their schools to further collaborate with colleagues in sharing what they'd learned from that collaborative conference.

Collaboration in the past was limited at best, due to the costly restraints of time and space. Districts needed to pay for travel and provide time away from the job, which limited the amount of collaboration possible. This excluded a great number of educators who could not be replaced if absent from the classroom.

Consequently, educators carried on without much regard for collaboration, relying on whatever professional development their districts could afford, and limiting the evolution of methodology and pedagogy. The more affluent districts pursued innovation, while less fortunate districts relied on limited professional development and the consequences of teaching the past methodologies. The model that served us through the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries is probably -- and unfortunately -- still supported by many districts today.

Understanding and Embracing the Paradigm Shift

Collaboration in the 21st century is no longer limited by those restraints. The change in professional education has been quick, enabled by the many tools that we now use for collaboration. Technology has provided us with the ability to communicate, curate, collaborate, and (most importantly) create with any number of educators, globally, at any time, and at very little cost. One would think educators would be celebrating in the streets at the good fortune of advancing their own learning while helping their profession evolve.

That jubilation does not yet exist in many educators.

My theory is that, because they are a product of the very system that they need to change, they are also victims of its dated mindset: if it was good enough for me, it's good enough for the kids. The idea of collaboration requires a mindset of believing there is room to learn and grow. It is also a belief that we are smarter collectively than individually.

The term connectedness applies to those using technology first to connect with others for collaboration, and then to use that collaboration to direct their own learning. While it's true that we don't know what it is we don't know, if we're ever to discover that unknown, we need to connect with those who do know it. This is the benefit of dealing with many other educators. There is always a more knowledgeable educator who can teach other educators what they need to know.

All of this collaboration has provided a great deal of transparency in education. It has underscored what doesn't work, and has opened many eyes to the greater potential for working more effectively in education as we move forward. It has created a new model for educators in the 21st century. We call them connected educators, although not all or even most have achieved this mindset yet.

The Relevant Educator

How does this all translate to helping students learn? Educators are models of learning for kids. As educators' learning shifts from the "sit and get" model to the collaboration model, that shift hopefully transfers to their teaching as well. If an educator controls his or her learning through self-direction, that learning becomes more meaningful. Authentic self-directed learning becomes self-motivating. That does more than translate to a better-educated educator -- it also creates a teacher advocate for collaborative learning. A teacher who benefits from collaboration tends to appreciate its effect and will use it in his or her own methodology. If we are to better educate our kids, first we need to better educate their educators.

In The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning, Steven Anderson and I offer this description of what a connected educator looks like:

A connected educator embodies a mindset rather than represent someone who does specific things in specific ways. Few connected educators exhibit all of the qualities and characteristics of a connected educator, but they do have some common beliefs.
A connected educator:
  • Believes in sharing and collaboration
  • Uses technology and its connection to other educators to learn and teach
  • Practices and models lifelong learning, which is often a concept professed to students as a goal of education
  • Uses the tools of technology to personalize his or her professional development
  • Is a relevant educator, willing to explore, question, elaborate, and advance ideas through connections with other educators
  • If not comfortable with new technology, still shows a willingness to explore its use
  • Views failure as part of the process of learning
  • May put creation over content, and relevance over doctrine.

Riding the Wave

The real commonality of connected educators is their use of technology to collaborate in the pursuit of lifelong learning. These educators actively participate on Twitter, write regularly in their blogs, take part in webinars to expand their knowledge, and contribute to online communities to help others grow. They realize that learning can and does happen anywhere, and they want to be a part of it wherever it occurs.

In a society where digital has replaced analog and the country's infrastructure is being retooled to accommodate information technology, we are preparing citizens for a world of continuous technological evolution. We, as educators, need to understand that dynamic and evolve at a pace that keeps us from falling behind. The tools of communication, collaboration, and creation have radically changed and will continue to transform.

The connected educator is a model for all educators as we move forward. A connected educator is as much a learner as a teacher. A connected educator is digitally literate, adapting as needed to inevitable changes. A connected educator is relevant in a world where rapid change is already a constant for our students.

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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.

Comments (18) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Sierra Phillips's picture

I agree that technology has really transformed collaboration. Technology allows teachers to discuss important issues with teachers around the world. Technology has allowed teachers to share ideas through multiple venues such as, blogs, websites, and teachers pay teachers. I think teachers and students are benefiting from this form of collaboration.

Jeffrey Joseph Isaac's picture

I appreciate the author for bringing out the importance of collaboration and urging other people to collaborate. Collective effort always succeeds and brings out the best. We get to learn as a team, we get everyone's knowledge and we grow as a team. The author has also given a kick start about the tools that one can use to collaborate in the section 'Riding the Wave'. I am hoping this education model will be widely accepted.

Taruni Kancharla's picture

That was a very interesting article and I agree with Jeffrey here. This article provides a guideline and also contrasts how many changes are taking place in the world of education and why it is important for an instructor to be up to date with these changes. I particularly like the Relevant Educator section where he exemplifies in simple words how an educator can support the Vygotskian perspective of social learning and constructivism. I applaud the author for emphasizing the role of connectedness in a world that is constantly changing.

monkap's picture

" In the past- collaboration has been hindered by space and time". How true! I found this quote very profound because with today's plethora of advanced technologies- there are almost infinite platforms for collaboration! One can tune in to many different types of formal/informal collaborative opportunities, from anywhere and for any time. Working online allows one to collaborate outside of their direct place of work, and connect with educators in different time zones easily! It's also important that this form of collaboration is pretty much costless, as there are numerous networks online which can be used for free.

monkap's picture

Hi Taruni! Connectedness in an ever-changing world is very important so that we can share strategies with our colleagues. In different parts of the world, changes are unique and so its interesting to collaborate with educators on a different continent to see how they may have effectively tackled a problem which we are experiencing.

monkap's picture

Hi Jeffrey, I am writing about two years after your post :) I would say that today- there is a substantial amount of research that directs us towards the use of collaborative inquiry. In my workplace however ( a school), I find that there is not always a really large amount of collaboration going on- unless it is established by a group of teachers that are working in the same department. For example, in one school there was a science resource bank so teachers would upload all of their work. In some of my schools, teachers also collaborated to make sure they were on the same page with their lessons, and cam up with projects/ rubrics/ marking schemes together to ensure fairness for all students. In some other school,s I found that teachers were disconnected and worked very independently of each other.

Collaboration I think is a wonderful idea- something grand always emerges when many minds work together :)

monkap's picture

Hi Sierra, technology is definitely an awesome tool. For example, we know that today across the globe there is a lot of work being done to ensure that Indigenous peoples receive equitable educational opportunities. As a teacher in Canada, I appreciate that with many different collaborative platforms, I can see how teachers across Canada are transforming their classrooms, but also collaborate with teachers in Hawaii or Australia- where there have been many wonderful changes to the educational system!

Do you have any favourite blogs/websites /professional communities that you enjoy connecting with? I really like Facebook groups. The notifications are great and so is the response time. I feel that since FB is a commonly used form of social media for personal reasons, people are tuned into and use it much more frequently than other online groups. Look forward to discussing!

monkap's picture

Hi Heather, I am so glad to hear that your district is focussing on collaboration. I work in a large school board and I find that collaborative culture can really vary from school to school. In some schools that I have been at, there were indeed many teachers who still worked quite independently, you wouldn't have known what unit they were on, what their students were up to .... nothing. Other schools on the other hand - teachers engaged in conversation every single day- before school, during prep, at lunch - it was great! There was a huge resource bank, I loved the culture at my practice- teaching school. Like you mention, it so neat collaborating with teachers that you would other wise never meet. In doing my Masters of Education through Queen's University, I met probably close to 100 awesome individuals whom I worked with only online! I'm all for collaboration as well :)
Do you have any favourite group that you belong to?

J.Ferrer's picture

Hi Monkap,

I agree with you that colaboration, in a school setting, is usually seen in teachers who establish it for their group. I teach 2nd grade math and science and my co-teacher along with the 1st and 3rd grade teachers have been collaborating the last 2 years to ensure that our students succeed. During the school year I keep in contact with the 1st grade teachers to let them know how to prepare their students for when they get promoted so that they can come into my classroom already knowing what to expect and avoid a shock. I also keep collaborate closely with the 3rd grade teachers so that I can prepare my students for the next school year especially for their state assessments. It has been working great and hope that the whole school did the same and we try to encourage them, but some are just unwilling and grow complaisant with the way they do things. Luckily our administration has worked with us in providing the necessary respurces that we ask for. We have seen great results the last 2 years because of teacher collaboration and hope to continue to experience these results for years to come.

_Tech_Teach's picture

Hi Monkap,
How true that collaboration is becoming so much easier. Sometimes educators are collaborating without fully realizing it. I know that I will shoot a tweet to my admin. or department chair with a question or lesson idea, and they gladly reply with ideas of their own. It is easy to forget that this is collaboration when you are having fun doing it.
It is also interesting to see how students respond to collaboration themselves. I have seen that students are much more interested in the material once they have collaborated with others to ensure that their answers are correct. How do you typically use the Facebook groups? Are there discussion boards or pinned posts that cover certain topics? I am more a Twitter gal, so any information would be great. Also, are their any social media sites you use for classroom instruction? Thanks!

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