Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Influence of the Connected Educator

I, like many educators, use the term "connected educator" perhaps too lightly. Yes, I am proficient in Google Suite for Education and with Apple and Microsoft products; I love using Flipgrid in the classroom; I blog (thought not as much as I should) and I love using Twitter for education chats and for connecting with my PLN. But am I truly harnessing the power of being a connected educator?
In his contribution for the anthology EduSnap17, Vol 1, Curren Dee laments, "The problem is that my school would say they provide digital access because we have access to Chromebooks and iPads, but this is NOT digital access." Curran describes classrooms where he is provided worksheets and limited choice, and then he paints of picture of how he learns at home. With true access, the world is at his fingertips. He is able to explore and investigate all manner of topics that interest him, all while his classmates are subjected to the education provided by their teacher at their "connected school."

Like many buzzwords, "connected educator" makes us feel like we are progressive, that we are somehow introducing students to the wide world that Curran explores away from school. Yet how many connected students are in our truly unconnected classrooms, feeling bored or out of place? Why am I not leveraging all the tools at my disposal to improve student learning? How does my image as a connected educator impact my students, both directly and indirectly?

Directly, I am actively inhibiting student learning any time I do not put my students at the center of a lesson or unit. Students are curious and they want to learn. Providing the most choice and as many outlets for their curiousity as possible is incumbent upon me. Using our iPads and other devices in the classroom break down the traditional four-wall structure of learning and open to students infinite possibilities. Studying Brave New World? Why not find an expert on Vedic Hinduism to join us via Skype or Flipgrid and answer questions about Aldous Huxley's philosophies as he wrote his novel? How can I best allow students to publicly share their written work and projects to a wider community than just the classroom or school? Dr. Nicol Howard writes in an Edutopia piece entitled "5 'Be's' for Connected and Curious Educators," "Be willing to connect with and learn about your colleagues." Am I the world's leading expert on BNW and Huxley? Of course not, so this means to give my students the best experiences, I must stand on the shoulders of giants and connect with those educators who are or who simply have amazing lesson plans. Being a connected educator means using all means possible to engage my students and enrich their experiences in school.
Indirectly, how I leverage technology in the classroom changes my students' views toward the world and their places within it. Howard's fifth "Be" in her article is "Be a current and curious educator." Being able to model for my students different platforms and apps is important enough, but being able to model intellectual curiosity is greater still. For every Curran who rushes home to his computer and his internet to research whatever is buzzing in his brain, there are ten who see their iPads and/or phones solely as portals for Fortnite or who rush home to no computer, no internet, no devices at all. Truly engaging students with the power of connectivity gives them a voice, gives them a choice in their learning, and this could change everything for them. Even if it changes everything for just one of my students, it is still worth it. I cannot single-handedly close the equity gap. I cannot freely hand out social capital to those with little. But for the time students are in my classroom, I can make it an equitable place where every student's opinion matters; where everyone is respected and respectful; and where, if only for forty minutes a day, they have options they may not for the other 23 hours a day.

Before I call myself a connected educator again, I must do better to expand this term to more fully encompass what I want to do or be, but what I actually do. I need more lessons and units with students at the center, engaging collaboratively with each other and calling on experts around the world through technology to explore topics that are well beyond my four walls and my own knowledge.

In one of my favorite Ted Talks, Teachers Create What They Experience, presented by Katie Martin, Martin advocates for using all the tools at our disposal in innovative ways to make sure we do not squelch the love of learning and the curiosity with which our students arrive to school. While bypassing the hurdles and obstacles that come with technology in schools is never easy, the outcomes, directly and indirectly, are far too important to gloss over. This mindset, moving onto the 2018-2019 school year, will be my new focus, and I am excited to see where it leads me and my students.

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