Connected Educators Month
Education and thought leaders join forces to provide invigorating professional opportunities online.
By Judith Smith Meyer
August 2012 is Connected Educator Month (CEM). In honor of the 21st century reality of ubiquitous social media and emerging Web technologies — which the CEM website claims are “helping hundreds of thousands of educators learn, reducing isolation and providing ‘just in time’ access to knowledge and opportunities for collaboration” — the U.S. Department of Education launched the event to help educators realize the full benefits of connectedness.
Now, or Whenever You’re Ready
No matter when you read this article, you can join the learning of this 31-day event because it is almost entirely archived and available as a free, permanent resource for educators to enjoy. CEM points out that “our students spend time every day in highly engaging virtual environments that encourage creative thinking and problem solving, from games to social media, where they routinely acquire and apply knowledge and collaborate with friends.” The idea that this participation belongs outside the classroom is quickly disintegrating. As teachers, we need not only to recognize this reality of our students’ lives, we need to jump in and participate as leaders in guiding the use of technology to educational ends. To do that, we must be learners as well.
Why Get Connected?
Currently, there is a convergence of increasingly available, and mostly free, online professional development and collaboration opportunities. With economic times that make it harder for school districts to pay for teachers and administrators to attend costly PD events, this makes online connectedness even more appealing as a way to keep our skills fresh, keep us in touch with the cutting edge, and to take advantage of Do-It-Yourself PD at times and in ways that work for each of us. Also, the isolation that is such a significant issue for educators can be ameliorated, to some extent, by participating in global communities focused on shared interests, needs, and goals.
We have all experienced professional learning communities at our sites. Connected Educators expand their ongoing connections beyond physical proximity to develop Personal Learning Networks (PLN) of professionals working together to support, inspire, collaborate, and recognize the work of educators worldwide.
But School Starts This Week!
If you are already connected, then CEM offers so much to expand your practice and your community that you’ll want to spend every free minute on the site and related virtual locations. The calendar of events can make your head spin with possibilities!
If you are not yet proficient in 21st century connectedness, it might feel crazy to undertake a whole new area of learning with the new school year nigh upon us. However, CEM makes it easy to have a little look at what’s available, and even improve your Back-to-School experience, with just a dabble.
How Do I Begin?
Begin by visiting the Connected Educators website. Click on the Connected Educator Month tab and away you go! You’ll be amazed at how much that drop-down menu contains, and how manageable it is. Even if you are a tech-novice, you’ll find it easy to navigate.
Begin with the CEM Starter Kit. It has 31 days’ worth of accessible, introductory information to what being connected is all about. The table of contents let you look up Twitter, hashtags, Google Docs, blogging, photosharing — whatever you’ve been curious about or think you might be able to use to better effect. Reading up on a single topic takes about five minutes. Many sections have brief videos or tips included on a page to enhance and humanize what’s written. I’ve been putting off using Twitter, but the introduction in the CEM Starter Kit makes me think getting comfortable with tweeting wouldn’t take as much time and energy as I previously thought, and the returns could be enormous!
Replay the Kickoff
Sixteen panels and keynotes from the Kickoff events are recorded and easily available from the CEM menu as well. There are several inspiring talks from educators in the trenches. You will also find addresses and panels featuring thought leaders and educational technology innovators who frame CEM and connectedness in the context of contemporary education, student learning, and the lives of educators. You will also find addresses and panels featuring thought leaders and educational technology innovators. You can watch, or keep listening while you do the dinner dishes, fold laundry, or return to the CEM site to further explore the calendar or starter kit.
Let Yourself Get Hooked
Go back to the CEM drop-down menu; you can explore the Learning 2.0 Conference. It’s taking place currently, but all events will be archived so you can visit or revisit them whenever you like.
Right now I’m listening to a session in the Learning 2.0 Conference about Crowdsourcing Knowledge through Social Media. I followed a link, made a couple of clicks, and am getting a thrilling earful (with slides) about uses of social media in developing PLNs, engaging a wider audience in discussion about issues that matter to me, and how video gamers from around the world collaborated for three weeks and solved a medical diagnostic conundrum that had doctors stumped. And I loved the pragmatism of a group of college students who developed an app that would tell them how crowded particular buses to and from school were based on how many students already riding the bus had the app on their phones!
Scroll through the conference calendar and see what piques your fancy. You can listen any time that suits you.
On the Way to the Forum
CEM also has Forums called The First Six Weeks and Knocking on the Door, which address how to begin a new year on the right foot with connectedness providing support and ideas, and how to integrate more technology into your teaching to maximize relevance, individuality, and focus. These forums, and several others hosted by CEM, include discussions where you can narrow your focus and see what others have to say about them.
Join a Worldwide Book Club
You can join a book club that has asynchronous (you can drop in to read and make comments any time) conversations taking place around the clock. It also meets for real-time discussions once a week (Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET). The first book is Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in the Digital Age. The real-time discussions began on August 8 and continue for 10 weeks, addressing one chapter per week (much more reasonable than the book-a-month schedule that none of my friends can keep up with in their local book clubs!). You can jump in anytime. As with most of the activities for CEM, the live discussions will be archived so you can review them or catch up on what you missed when it is convenient for you.
These are just a few ways you can get started becoming more connected, both for your own professional (and personal) growth and revitalization, and to improve your teaching practice in the 21st century.
The more you look around CEM, the more you’ll want to explore, grow, and integrate new forms of connectedness into your work as an educator. Here are a few more resources to increase connectedness in your teaching.
Lesson Planet’s snappy article details quick and inexpensive ways to keep your classroom connected and your learners engaged in learning using technology.
Connect your class with readers at other schools to work together in literature circles using Skype, iChat, and Edmodo. Learners blog to expand their own comprehension, build vocabulary, and collaborate with others working on the same texts.
High schoolers develop lesson plans to teach their elders about the differences between their world and ours, as well as to educate parents and others adults in their lives about technology in the 21st century.