Ken Douglas BY-NC-ND

In 2007, I sat down at an edtech conference and took a blogging workshop from two elementary school teachers. I remember thinking, “Hmm. This would be a great, easy way to share ideas and reflections about art with my students.”  This is the blog I started in that conference workshop. 

Quickly, it turned away from a student audience and away from the subject of art and turned towards an audience of educators and embraced topics related to online learning and using emerging tools to improve teaching and learning.  I was at a transformative moment and this blog was a big part of my change.

Two years later in 2009, I sat reluctantly at another conference watching a woman on stage talk about this thing called “Twitter.” Ugh. I sooo did not want to use Twitter. Where was the relevance in 140 character messages to my deeply, meaningful life? She went on to reference something called a “hashtag,” which I did not understand and did not offer any explanation (and that bothered me). I think I kind of took it as a challenge but I was still reluctant…very reluctant.  Until something happened. 

I had the Twitter feed for the conference hashtag open on my laptop during a session. As I sat there, I could see Tweets being sent from another session that had wanted to attend very badly, but chose not to. I realized at that moment, I had the best of both worlds.  With Twitter, I had access to the reflections and thoughts of others in the alternative session who were Tweeting links to resources and other goodies shared by the presenter. 

That was it. I was in. Today, I follow more than 2,100 Twitter users. I also use Google+ and have my own YouTube channel. I know what some of you are thinking…”but that’s so much work. Who has time for that?”  You’re right, it is a lot of work. However, when you have found what you believe to be your calling in life — the thing that drives you, the thing that you feel such belief in that sometimes it hurts — and you have learned that you can’t make the impact you want towards improving the problems you have identified, life can get difficult.  You can find yourself feeling frustrated…and that can undercut your passion. When that happens, there’s a certain fire that burns inside a person to figure something out.  I believe that’s where I was when I started blogging.  

Before I started blogging and using Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn, I was frustrated with the lack of change in education. Since becoming engaged and connected, I have learned a great deal about myself and about the underlying context of education. And I have found so many amazing, spirited, forward thinking individuals that continue to dazzle me with their new, inventive ideas.  The opportunity to read honest, reflective posts of other educators has shed many illuminating lights on issues for me throughout the past several years.  I have often found myself breathing a heavy sigh or shedding a tear after finding someone else who shares experiences like my own. 

As I reflect on my journey to becoming a connected educator, there are three characteristics that I believe were most important for me.  They are described below.

1. Be Vulnerable 

If you have never written a blog post, you really have not experienced vulnerability.  If you have never shared a public video on YouTube with the comments enabled, you have never experienced vulnerability.  Readers and viewers of online educational technology content want honest, genuine ideas.  They don’t want to read some polished, robotic assessment of the state of MOOCs.  They want your voice.  They want to know how you use a tool or what your thoughts are about MOOCs.  That is what makes readers come back to a blog.

When you expose your genuine feelings in a public web setting, you get a feeling of butterflies in your stomach each time you click that “Publish” button on your blog. And, yes, you need to use professional parameters to negotiate what is appropriate to share and what is not (I have learned some hard lessons about this…I think all bloggers do).  But the more you share openly and genuinely, the more you feel compelled to do it because you learn the value that being vulnerable brings back to your life. As the enlightening work of researcher Brene Brown attests, vulnerability is the key to living a genuine life. And when we share our honest feelings and thoughts openly online, the connections we build with others are authentic and true.  This is not a path everyone is willing to follow.  But they are values in the life long learning journey I push myself to achieve.  And I am hopeful they will be values that spread to all educational leaders (and I use that phrase because I believe any connected educator is an educational leader).

2. Share

I enjoy making things and knowing that others are learning from them — isn’t that the essence of being a teacher?  Giving to the community in this way has been a valuable learning experience. I am often greeted by complete strangers at conferences who tap me on the shoulder to say thank you for all they’ve learned from my blog.  That’s an awesome feeling. There have been times I’ve thought, I worked really hard on this and here I am again, giving it away for free.  I listen to those words because I do really, really believe that faculty deserve to be compensated for their work(!). That’s one of the reasons I wrote my eBook, by the way, to push content into one, packaged bundle that I can sell to a particular individual with a particular interest.  I do believe my work has value and I do believe we will reshape the market through how we, as educators, position our content.  Sharing is critical to this shift.

In a community, members give what they can and they ask for help when they need it.  I feel comfortable reaching out and asking for help when I need it because I know that I am making contributions.  If you have learned through what others have shared, try to identify a plan for giving back by sharing ideas or content from your own blog, YouTube, Vimeo, Google+, SlideShare, VoiceThread, Prezi, etc. There are so many options!

3. Believe

Understanding what you believe in is important.  And standing up for those values is even more important.  I believe that technology has the potential to support learners who have not been traditionally supported in mainstream higher education. This means viewing technology as something much more than a method of increasing access to learning. I believe if technology is integrated in inventive, new ways into learning environments, online learning has the potential to help foster rich faculty-student relationships and warm, human student-student interactions, which are links in improving the quality of learning and degree completion

I also believe that each member of the educational community is living during what is potentially the most transformative time in the history of formalized education. Technology has delivered to the masses not only access to content but platforms and environments that shift the power of creation and publication to the masses and enable it in visual and textual formats from the palms of our hands. Each of has the power to speak, to publish (in writing, voice, or video), to just listen and reflect on a global conversations, to step up and make a difference in the future. 

Now that I look at these characteristics: vulnerability, sharing, believing…what I find intriguing about them is how childlike they are. Seth Godin once wrote a great blog post about the difference between childish and childlike.  I will leave you with Godin’s insightful thoughts to close this post.

Childlike vs. Childish
by Seth Godin
Childlike makes a great scientist.
Childish produces tantrums.
Childlike brings fresh eyes to marketing opportunities.
Childish rarely shows up as promised.
Childlike is fearless and powerful and willing to fail.
Childish is annoying.
Childlike inquires with a pure heart.
Childish is merely ignored.

Perhaps the lesson here is becoming connected educators teaches us to unveil our true values through self-reflections and learning from peers.  In this process, we are returning to our inner child.

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