My Journey From Content to Communities

 

Original photo by Anthony Messeh at Franthony.com

At the beginning of this school year I was unexpectedly asked to fill the position of Technology Coordinator. In my own classroom, I was an expert in leveraging technology to turn my students into independent learners – but that was on my own terms and any flops were mine to overcome. I was under no illusion that I was well prepared for the job of influencing others to create an innovative and technology rich classroom. So – I started researching.

My reading started with a simple search for ‘technology integration’ resources. The search quickly lead me to the world of Twitter, where I was immediately connected to technology integrationists, coordinators, and eCoaches all over the world. I was fascinated at the wide range of topics that were covered in one place. Tweets would often lead me to blogs, and the blogs led to more helpful resources. It was then that my search for great articles, became instead, my search for great circles.

‘Surrounding’ myself (virtually) with like minded people made my studies and research easy. I was instantly notified about the new tricks and successes other educators in my PLN, or ‘professional learning network’ were experiencing. I was able to learn from other teachers who were using innovative strategies in their classroom such as project based learning, maker spaces that inspired creativity, formative assessment methods, digital portfolios, classroom coding projects, and standards based grading, just to name a few. I have also become ‘in the know’ about upcoming trainings that are happening all around the world; which used to take me hours to find using broad search terms. In addition, to knowing about the trainings, I can also look back at what participants gained from the conference by searching the hashtag; this helps me decide if its a training that would benefit me or others I know.

Jeff Utecht pointed out in his book REACH that a community is a group of people who have a common interest. Therefore where you seek content, you also find community. You can direct relevant and timely information your way by being connected to likeminded people. The best part of this transformation for me was that I didn’t even know I needed it. Having internet communities do the work for me wasn’t something I’d considered possible, let alone easy! It’s now part of my mission to expose teachers at my school to the power of a PLN and the ability of a few easy tools to funnel information and contacts around the world right to a phone or computer.

According to the Living and Learning with New Media Report, students are already well versed in digital communications and spend a majority of their day conversing with online social circles. The argument could be made that young people understand the fundamental principle of the ‘World Wide Web’ better than most. As its name implies, it is about connections, not content. Educators who want to provide relevant and career preparatory skills, need to incorporate learning strategies that are social and connected to other learners outside classrooms. Once students and teachers alike are harnessing the power of online communities in order to learn content, our students will be become active members of a global society who not only learn from others, but also create for others to learn from them.

Although my knee-jerk answer to this week’s essential question was “both, right?” I’ve now reconsidered by having a look back at how I have already learned so much this year. Although helpful, it wasn’t by reading great articles I found through Google. Rather, it was by connecting with a wide circle of educators interested in technology, innovation, and creativity that led me to a wealth of human and text resources. And, obviously my most important find was when I stumbled upon several Twitter users that described themselves as #Coetailers.