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Confessions of a Connection Addict

In route to Atlanta for ISTE 2014, and I'm caught reflecting on Jennie Magiera's keynote address from earlier this week at Schoology NEXT. During her energizing presentation, she challenged us to write and share our own keynote addresses.

"What are you passionate about? What is the greatest need in your school or classroom? Given the opportunity, what would you like to say?"

After putting some genuine thought to these questions, my response is I am surprised, confused, and disappointed at the lack of "connectedness" of many of my educational brethren.

What percentage of educators engage regularly with a personal learning network?

I am not sure that I have an answer for that. Tom Whitby, co-founder of #EdChat, and Educator's PLN, is also one of my favorite bloggers. During a recent conversation, we agreed that truly connected educators are in the minority, and may number less than ten percent of the teaching workforce. An informal poll during one of my recent presentations indicated fewer than ten percent of the audience engaged in professional learning through social media such as Twitter or Google+. These results leave me wondering how educators, who are charged with guiding student learning in a digitally networked world, can reasonably expect to remain relevant and authentic using their traditionally isolated, outdated pedagogy? 

In the simple, yet inspirational, words of George Couros, "If you don't know what a hashtag is, you are becoming illiterate." My keynote focuses on how dependent I have become on socially networked learning connections. Here's my assignment Ms. Magiera.

Thank you everyone. It's a privilege to be speaking with all of you today. I have a confession to make. I am a connection addict. Yes, I am trying my best to live my life above board as my parents have done, no drinking, no smoking, do unto others, and so on. However, there is a force that has a grip on me that I cannot shake. This force causes me to have online conversations with teachers I've never met. It causes me to stay up late at night sharing thoughts that rattle around in my head. It causes me to take joy while others suffer while being stuck in airport due to flight delays. I could care less about on-time percentage when I have ubiquitous wi-fi connectivity. Maybe my Type A tendencies have subsided, because waiting doesn't bother me as much as it used to.The overwhelming power of connection forces me to gain new perspective, and learn new things. 

Is this connective power beyond my will? Not necessarily, but it's force is stronger than me, or any single one of us. Is there anything I can do to reasonably and responsibly release my insatiable need to connect with other learners? Yes, here are four strategies that I use to satisfy my connection addiction. One, I have taken the first step by acknowledging and admitting to my condition. I have not only revealed my addiction, but I am also embracing it, and sharing it with others. Tom Whitby says that merely connecting is not a sure-fire remedy. To become truly connected, a networked learner must share, and contribute to the learning, and connecting, of others.

Secondly, I engage in at least one, but usually two or three Twitter chats per week. After the kids have finished their homework and moved on to their video games, and while my wife is distracted by "The History Channel", I strap on my headphones, fire up Tweetdeck, and get deep into my personal learning! My favorite chats include; #iledchat, #mnlead, #iaedchat, #1to1techat, #satchat, and of course, #edchat. Taking part in a Twitter chat is nothing more that listening in, or better yet contributing to, a conversation about teaching and learning. For more detail on this, be sure to visit Cybraryman's page about Twitter chats. Just like a TV Guide, this Google Sheet lists nearly all of the weekly Twitter chats for educators. I have written before about the conference buzz that can linger with me for days or weeks following an interesting conference. Twitter chats give me conference buzz any day of the week. It's like hitting the morphine button while strapped into the dentist's chair, or so I have heard.

Do you participate in Twitter chats? If so, which one is your favorite?

Third, as long as we are talking about conferences, I attend as many conferences as my schedule and my pocket book will allow. Once connected, conferences take on a whole new significance because now you get to meet face-to-face with folks that you have established relationships with while online. In the past few weeks, I have met and chatted with George Couros, Alan November, Jennie Magiera, Tom Whitby, Eric Sheninger, Jimmy Casas, and Tom Murray. What's the big deal, you ask? Because in educational circles these folks are Rock Stars who are changing the landscape of education, just as they are changing my perspective on teaching and learning. A relatively new, but significant twist on the conference for professional learning experience is EdCamp. EdCamp is growing rapidly in popularity, and is just another great way of scratching my connected learning itch. Last spring, I had the pleasure of co-hosting, and co-organizing EdCamp Chicago with my friend and colleague, Shawn McCusker. This teacher driven, "unconference" model is an excellent and fun way to nurture and grow learning connections.

Forth and finally, I lean heavily on my blog to satisfy my need to connect. Blogging helps me become that fully connected educator that Tom Whitby mentioned. My blog gives me voice, deepens my learning, invites global perspective, promotes discussion, and most importantly, contributes to the connected learning of others. Similar in spirit to the Lascaux cave drawings, "Nocking the Arrow" is becoming a digital record of my connecting and learning. "Who is telling your story?" "Where will others find your learning legacy when you are gone?" Compare the half-life of paper versus the permanence of your digital footprint and then you may begin to understand the power of my addiction, and maybe it's doesn't seem so crazy after all.

Do you consider yourself a connected educator? If yes, what is your favorite method of connecting with other learners? Are you contributing to the learning of others through your digital connections?

photo credit: williamcromar via photopin cc


Mr Biornstad said…
1) One of the greatest needs is for myself, my team, my school, my district, my state, my country is to agree on what evidence of learning meets mastery to any particular standard. Until we do that, the standards have very little value.

2) I do participate in Twitter chats. I have come to feel that Twitter is the best personal, professional development out there. Some chats I like: #edtechchat, #TCRWP, #titletalk, #SBLchat #21stedchat, #iaedchat. Through these vehicles I actually had a personal conversation over the phone with Jimmy Casas just last week.

3) I do consider myself to be a connected educator but there is always room for improvement. My favorite method of connecting is Twitter since my time and money do not allow for too many conferences. I try to encourage others to connect, but alas I think there is only one other teacher in my bldg. that uses Twitter. I curate a few sites using and I post to my blog occasionally. My posts are few since I don't often feel that I have anything original.
Thank you Mr. B for sharing your experience and perspective. I am with you on the value Twitter provides to personal learning. Like you, I struggle with coming up with original blog content, but overcome this with the realization that the writing helps compartmentalize my learning and understanding of educational issues. Thanks again for contributing to our learning with your comments.

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