…Award-winning educational gamer, avid blogger, and PBL trainer Andrew Miller talks about community quality, community needs, new definitions of what it means to be connected, and more…
Q: If I were an unconnected colleague you wanted to get more involved in connected education, what’s the first thing you’d send me, show me, or do with me?
Start small! When it comes to a resource like Twitter, it can be overwhelming. I recommend following select “edu geeks” that you enjoy and only selecting a few related hashtags. For instance, if you are an elementary teacher, you might follow some related organizations and teachers and a limited number of hashtags such as #edchat and #elemchat. This will help you see what is out there, and what next steps you can take in terms of being connected.
Q: What are the keys to making connectedness worth the time, even a time-saver rather than a time-sink?
Related to my previous response to the “newbie,” start small and don’t overdo it. Find your niche area or topic and set aside some “sacred” time to engage in the community. That might be just one hour a week where you get on Twitter or another community, read articles, tweet ideas, or participate in a Twitter chat. You don’t have to follow everyone on Twitter, nor do you need to read everything. Simply set aside the time to consume and produce what you want and what will meet your needs.
Q: What would you like to create or build together with your fellow educators?
As an avid Games for Learning advocate, I’m trying to build a bank of GBL lessons created by teachers for teachers. My challenge is to not only get submissions from teachers, but to allow for commenting, critiquing and a PLN around these GBL lessons. Just as the content is out there for students, the content (lessons and ideas) should be out there for teachers to use and modify.
Q. You mentioned the challenge of getting educators to engage more deeply in the critiquing, validating and improvement of GBL lessons. Can you explain further your vision for this work and the power you see coming from a highly engaged community of practitioners engaging in a continuous feedback and improvement model?
I want there to be a commitment to quality. Right now I think there is so much information out there that it can be easy to accept new educational ideas as “good”, however I have also seen some rather mediocre ideas. I’m hoping the community of GBL enthusiasts learns together so that we aren’t just “doing GBL lessons,” but we are doing high quality GBL work. This requires teacher efficacy and continuous learning. We need to constantly be asking, “Is this the best for our students?” rather than simply trying every new idea that comes along. Every great idea, including GBL, has room for improvement.
Q: What do you think the keys to success are for teacher online communities?
There has to be a balance of freedom and structure. Whether that structure consists of scheduled Twitter chats or webinars there needs to be a way to facilitate and move the conversation forward. This in turn requires skilled leaders and facilitators to be in tune with these communities in order to keep the conversation viable. At the same time, there must be freedom for unstructured collaboration so that everyone can be honored for his or her ideas and questions. The communities also need to be a reasonable size. There was an interesting case study on a well-known educational platform with numerous online communities. This platform does not support moderation and, frankly, it is overwhelming to look and find information that might meet one’s needs. This is because many of these communities are not only large, but typically do not have active moderators to help guide conversations and focus the work. Because of this, many educators are creating their own groups, picking their own facilitators and keeping the size reasonable to make sure the needs of the entire community are met.
Q: What developments do you foresee in connected education in the next five years?
Right now connected education seems to focus on educators connecting with other educators. I think there will be a shift of focus where educators connect more with their students, parents, and engaged stakeholders. This means that these stakeholders and partners will also become more connected. Connected educators will help students and parents connect, as well as connect with the educational and community leadership in the digital sphere.
In addition, I also feel that the definition of “connected” may change and evolve. I think many believe that this means you are on Twitter and Facebook, however, those of us that consider ourselves to be “connected educators” know that this is not the case. It goes much further than that. It is predilection to learn and find resources, to share them, and to contribute actively to the connected community in which you belong.
Q: How do you feel connected education will benefit/change education in the next five years?
I think these connections will allow all stakeholders to be part of the larger conversation of education reform. Many complain that their voices are not heard, and yet I am seeing teachers, principals, thought leaders and other concerned stakeholders getting their ideas out there. People in power are now better able to use their ideas, bring them into conversations and leverage them as critical to moving ideas forward to improve student achievement.
In addition, I believe that as educators model being “connected,” this will create a call for students to do the same. Many classrooms are already creating “connected learners,” but the more educators model the practice, the more students can learn from it and become better digital citizens themselves, from exercising proper digital etiquette to being active change agents.