It will come as no surprise that one of the goals of Connected Educator Month is to get more educators connected. We hope to entice some of the 75 percent of educators who are not members of an online community of practice to join one, and to convince some of the 92 percent of educators who are not on Twitter to begin building a personal learning network. In a smart blog post earlier today, Tom Whitby explains why this is such a challenge: The most efficient mechanisms for engaging with educators during Connected Educator Month are the ones we would like to introduce to more educators. But we are not going to reach the unconnected using them. For example, we may have a rich and vital Twitter conversation going on, as this social network diagram by Marc Smith suggests, but it is invisible to people who are not on Twitter.
Whitby suggests that we may have to look beyond social media and online events to “print media, television and radio, and articles in journals, newspapers and magazines” to reach educators who are not yet connected. But even if we are successful there, he suggests, there is a deeper cultural challenge, which he explains as follows:
We are not a profession of connected educators. We are content experts with access to content that we are not accessing. We are advocates of ideas with the ability to share ideas that we are not sharing. We are creators without using the ability we have to create for an authentic audience of millions who could benefit by our creations. We fight for the status quo of comfort and compliance. This doesn’t make sense to many of you — those of us who are connected.
Most educators do not see sharing their practice beyond the walls of their schools or even their classrooms as a primary professional responsibility. And many have been taught that seeking support, resources, and guidance in social spaces that are not strictly private signals weakness or even incompetence. The challenge of bringing them online is not simply a lack of awareness, technical skill, or time; it is about core professional identity.
Even with hundreds of organizations and thousands of individual connected educators hosting hundreds of events and composing thousands of tweets and blog posts, it may be unreasonable to expect that this first Connected Educator Month will decisively turn the tide. We certainly are beginning to see educators learning and collaborating online for the first time this month. This likely is the result of a combination of the grassroots efforts of connected educators working in their schools and districts, outreach by organizations to educators whose only online presence may be an e-mail address, and coverage in the press (some of which is tracked here). While it is too early to be able to accurately estimate numbers, it is fair to assume that collectively we will have engaged only a fraction of the millions of educators who could benefit by becoming connected.
Organizing already connected educators and the organizations that support them may very well be a necessary first step towards the eventual sea change we seek. Because making connected educators the norm rather than the exception requires not just a change in behavior but also in identity, it is critical to make what it is like to live that new identity increasingly visible. We connected educators need to become clearer about what we value about learning and collaborating online, how it is making our professional lives more exciting and fulfilling, and how it is changing our practice in a way that enables us to better support our students’ learning and development. We need to become better able to account for the full range of opportunities to engage with each other,; with resources,; and with experts, parents, and members of our communities who have something to contribute.
In the process of mapping out our shared identity as connected educators and developing a shared awareness of the full range of opportunities to connect—through the organizations, companies, and grassroots networks that enable these opportunities during Connected Educator Month—we are building a network we can mobilize well beyond August 31. By the end of Connected Educator Month, our collective investment in the shared project of building a more connected, collaborative profession will have deepened and our understanding of our capabilities will have broadened. Already, we are seeing organizations in this space promote each other’s work and partner to host activities and events to an unprecedented extent.
After Connected Educator Month, we hope to build on the considerable investment many of us have made to engage educators who remain unconnected, keeping in mind the depth of that challenge. First, the Connected Educator initiative will spend the next several months archiving and synthesizing many of the conversations and resources you have all generated during Connected Educator Month. Through the Connected Educator Month proceedings and a new edition of Connect & Inspire, we plan to offer a map of opportunities for connected learning to educators and examples of how they are being utilized that can help us all communicate the value of educators learning and collaborating online to our not-yet-connected colleagues.
Second, we hope that the organizations that have participated in Connected Educator Month will have seen sufficient value in what we achieved collectively in August to join together to decide how to do it again next year with even more impact. These organizations include not just those with a primary focus on technology or connected learning, but many broad-based organizations that have the capability to reach hundreds of thousands of educators who are not yet learning and collaborating online. These organizations include unions, subject- and role-focused professional organizations, districts, and state education agencies. In many cases, these organizations are dipping their toes in this year. Next year, we hope they will jump in headfirst.
With a map of opportunities for connected learning online, rich accounts of the practice of connected educators, and the backing of a diverse group of organizations with reach, we can make the argument that being a connected educator is not simply a desirable add-on to the real work of helping students learn. It is integral to the future of the profession.
Darren Cambridge, Ph.D., is senior consultant, education technology and online communities of practice at the American Institutes for Research in Washington, DC, where he serves as project director for the U.S. Department of Education’s Connected Educators project and advises a range of government, university, and corporate clients on learning technology and professional learning. Cambridge won the 2012 Digital Media and Learning Faculty Prize for Electronic Portfolios for Lifelong Learning and Assessment (Jossey-Bass, 2010). His work appears in a wide range of scholarly journals and books.