Sunday, 2 November 2014

Becoming a Connected Educator

This year I have started on a new journey, taking on a new job at St Andrew's College, Christchurch, but doing the same thing, teaching Mathematics. One of the biggest differences between this year and all my other years teaching is the way I have connected with other teachers around the world. I have always considered myself a competent social networker, even without the technology we associate with that phrase nowadays. However, now I have become a "connected educator". I guess the connotation "connected educator" has now, is that it is a teacher who engages digital media to connect and collaborate with other teachers everywhere. 

Before this year, I was still networking with other teachers, but through traditional channels such as my subject association and conferences - in short anywhere teachers would gather together physically. I have still kept up meeting with other teachers in the "real world", in fact even more than before, but an entire other dimension has come about through Twitter primarily, but also blogging, Yammer, and

What got me thinking about how I have become connected was when I was looking at the statistics page on my blogger site. I was amazed to have had over 1000 people view my blog and over 800 on one single post.

What is more interesting is where the views are coming from. Views from my own country account for less than 10% of the readership, while the most come from the USA, over 10 000 km away. 

How it got out there over time is also an interesting story:

The post that accounted for this increase in views was posted on the 22nd of September, yet as you can see, it had a very low readership until about the 20th of October. So you have to ask the question, what happened on the 20th of October that so drastically increased interest in my blog? Here's the answer:

Microsoft OneNote's twitter account tweeted a link to my blog. Only 10 retweets and 7 favourites and then 500 views in three days and about 25 a day ever since. This is what makes me so excited about being a connected educator: what I do in my class room can influence in some small way the practice of others around the world. But perhaps even more importantly, my practice can be influenced by every teacher in the world.

We live in an age of democratisation of knowledge. Whether this is good or bad can be debated, but for my part I take an optimistic point of view. I am put in mind of Marcus du Sautoy's story of the Wisdom of the Crowd. The premise is the story of how hundreds of people can guess the weight of something extremely accurately if you average their guesses, but no one individual guesses correctly. I think a parallel can be drawn with education. No one educator can deliver a pedagogically perfect lesson. However, if you took all of our best practices and averaged them out you would end up with something very close to the best possible practice. The only way this can happen is if teachers are aware of the practices out there and are able to pick and choose what will work best for them in their environments. Perhaps the same can be said for students too. They need to be aware of what attitudes and principles makes other students successful and emulate that. In either case we need to be well connected and I would ague this needs to be both with people we meet physically and now online as well. 

For me, I started really with twitter, getting involved in the fortnightly discussion group #edchatNZ. This led to a physical conference the fruit of which for me was a fortnightly mathematics teachers' discussion group #mathschatNZ. Through these channels I have connected with dozens of educators in New Zealand and abroad, who engage with me online in a similar way to how I bounce ideas of my colleagues in my office. Through this interconnected web is how Microsoft picked up on what I was doing with OneNote and shared it with their 15 000 followers.

Dean McKenzie in his blog discusses what this might look like from a student's point of view.

If you are a teacher reading this, consider joining your local subject association, getting involved in a twitter group like #edchatNZ or if you are not lucky enough to live in New Zealand, #edchat. Get a Yammer group set up for your school or district. Set up a facebook group for your class. But whatever you do, take care to improve your own practice off the backs of others.