It's Connected Educator month here in the United States, which has me thinking about how we get more educators connected to one another. There are a number of sources of inspiration for Connected Educator month, but one important one is the National Education Technology Plan. The National Ed Tech Plan was written by an outstanding team of researchers including Chris Dede, Barry Fishman, David Rose and about a dozen others. The plan has a specific section on helping educators in "Connecting to Content, Expertise, and Activities Through Online Communities," with the this recommendation:
3.2 Leverage social networking technologies and platforms to create communities of practice that provide career-long personal learning opportunities for educators within and across schools, preservice preparation and in-service educational institutions, and professional organizations.
And sure enough, the U.S. Department of Ed is a co-sponsor of Connected Educator month. It's actually really great to see the DOE taking the ideas from the National Ed Tech Plan and bringing them to life.
In my own practice, getting educators involved in these communities of practice involves helping them understand how to use Twitter, which is really the nexus of nodes in the twittoblogosphere, the place where most things come together and pass through. Now, some folks scoff at teaching teachers to use technology; after all, the Twitter design team is quite smart and has a simple product with relatively few technical barriers to adoption. But as with nearly all technology training, getting people to find the buttons is not the hard part; it's helping people to meaningfully integrate the tool in their practice.
It is not intuitive to most educators how one would use Twitter as a meaningful part of professional development.
That said, getting teachers to start using Twitter is much easier than it used to be. Two years ago, Twitter was like Wikipedia was five years ago: educators didn't know what it was but they knew that they hated it. These days, attitudes have softened and curiosity has grown. I ran a workshop last week on Personal Learning Networks (outline here) with about 50 educators. I asked how many had set up a twitter account, and maybe 40 had. I asked folks how many were regular users, and about 5 hands stayed up. Getting the technology up and running was easy; getting a meaningful set of practices developed is hard.
So, I borrowed Greg Kulowiec's excellent slide presentation on Introduction to Twitter. It starts with a powerful framing question that instantly resonates with educators: "Should you search the Internet, or should you search people?" For lots of specific challenges in lesson planning and teaching, searching people is much more efficient than wading through the Interwebs.
With folks hooked, I explained to them how to read a tweet. It may seem a little pedantic to explain handles, hashtags, retweets, and the nuances of Twitter etiquette, but in my experience this summer, educators find it tremendously valuable to walk through a few Twittish to English and English to Twittish translations. After some hands-on challenges, including getting people in the room connected, I ended the workshop by discussing how people make time and space for Twitter in their practice: how they make a few minutes each day for some serendipitous professional development, how they find kindred spirits on the many chats out there, and how they think about balancing work and life, public and private. All of these pieces are important to moving educators past the Twitter egg stage.
So it won't be enough for connected educator month to hold a bunch of online events, mostly accessible to already-connected educators, celebrating their decision to be connected. We're going to need a bunch of folks to get out in the physical world, and teach teachers how to tweet. For anyone who is planning some connected educator training at faculty or department meetings at their school this summer, there are a bunch of resources linked throughout this post; feel free to steal from them to get you started!