Collaboration and Connection for Digital Age Educators

Connected Educator Month encouraged educators and students to reach out beyond their classroom walls.

In 2012, Connected Educator Month’s first year, Facebook had just gone public, Microsoft Kinect was all the buzz, and Google Hangouts had yet to be introduced. Since then technology’s landscape both in and out of the classroom looks completely different.

That super-speed change is why Connected Educator Month changes each year, reflecting the shifts in how educators are reaching out to the world beyond classroom walls. This year’s Connected Educator Month included workshops, webinars, and collaborations that explored how to harness the web’s connective power for teaching and learning.

This year’s programming had a global focus, as well as an increased emphasis on mobile and blended learning. Also new was a fresh set of seven themes that the programs were structured around, one of which was “student agency, student voice, and the maker movement.”

“When young people create something, it’s not just simply that they’ve created a thing, it’s the ability to disseminate that idea to others,” said Paul Oh, a senior program associate with the National Writing Project, in a webinar on student agency and voice.

The webinar hosted educators who have found unique ways for students to take ownership and share their writing and work. “In our democracy, which is increasingly leveraging these tools of the open web, giving our young people agency and voice with the tools to possibilities to have impact is really critical to their future as full and active participants in our media-rich culture,” said Oh.

ConnectedEdMonth2014We’ve written about this idea before and there were many more examples to point to this month.

Classrooms from New Zealand to Atlanta participated in a pirate-themed challenge to build a tower as high as possible with marshmallows and toothpicks. Everybody tweeted their results in real-time so they could watch what’s working (and what’s not) in a classrooms across the world.

As much as the month focused on getting students hooked into online collaboration, it also connected teachers with other leaders in the fields. Early in the month, Mitch Resnick, LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab and head of the Scratch team, gave an interactive webinar on ways to grow the kind of thinking and discovery needed for life in the “creative society,” or a future economy that will value novel solutions to problems we probably can’t even anticipate yet.

“We’ve seen over and over that people are willing to work harder and persevere in the face of difficulty if they are working on things they’re really interested in,” Resnick said, adding kids don’t always get that chance in many educational settings.

He used Scratch’s online community to show what it looks like when kids take ownership of their projects online. “If we want kids to be creative thinkers, they need to work on things they’re really passionate about,” Resnick said.

Plus, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cohosted a Twitter chat with “The Connected Educator” coauthor Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach about what connected learning means and how teachers integrate it into their classrooms. (The Hechinger Report has a great rundown of the conversations that ensued.)

When Duncan posed the question of how teachers have used technology to transform learning, Shawna Ford, a K–6 teacher-librarian, responded, “Use tech as a way for students to share their learning/passions with others. For production, not consumption. ”

There was plenty of connecting going on here in Pittsburgh, too. Teachers hopped on a virtual bus and took a “bus tour” of Allegheny County’s districts to check out how leading-edge schools are preparing students for college and careers. Also, the Center for Creativity’s Champions of Change Celebration Luncheon highlighted teachers who are leading the way in the fields of connected learning, the maker movement, and professional development.

While Connected Educator Month is winding down, educators in Pittsburgh seem to have made collaboration and connection a way of life year-round. The education hub of universities, schools, afterschool programs, and nonprofits we’ve created builds off itself, creating a web of programs that turns the whole city into a giant classroom.

There’s no telling what tech innovations will emerge in 2015. But it’s clear from watching Connected Educator Month unfold that when educators connect with each other, it connects kids with more opportunities than ever before possible.

Published October 28, 2014