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Connected Educator Month Brings Teachers, Others Together Online
- By Dian Schaffhauser
Jon participated in a Twitter chat on his smartphone about global learning while walking his dog. Claudia appreciated the mix of ages of students who shared in a "Student Voices" event. Gordon liked the stories and answers he heard in two sessions on conveners in communities of practice. Stephanie thought the book club was "fantastic." And Barbara found the "lack of ego" among experts refreshing. These people and others like them joined in and shared what they knew, thought, learned, or liked during Connected Educator Month (CEM).
While the event may be over, the effort to keep teachers and school leaders connected for collaboration and learning continues. The American Institutes for Research (AIR), which coordinated the month of online activities for the United States Department of Education, has rounded up files, links, recordings, and transcripts of the month's activities in order to create an archive. According to AIR Senior Researcher Darren Cambridge, his organization also expects to produce a publication "to identify some of the key themes, to get a sense of the scope of what happened, and if there are implications for policy and for the fields going forward, to try to articulate those too."
CEM, which took place during August 2012 in a multitude of online locations, brought teachers, education organizations, and companies together for dozens of events, including webinars, virtual panels, twitter (#ce12) and other chats, discussion forums, book clubs, galleries and exhibits, and podcasts.
Why a whole month?
"We wanted to shine a spotlight on as much as we could about what was going on in online social professional learning and collaboration for educators. And we wanted to enable as many organizations and as many educators to participate [as possible]," Cambridge explained. "Given the reality of everybody's lives and schedules, you need a chunk of time to do that. If it's a single day or single week, that's going to make it impossible to get the range of participation that we wanted."
By the time Aug. 31 had passed, 150 different education organizations, communities, and companies had joined in to put on 400 events and activities involving 2,200 speakers. Social activity included 1.4 million Twitter impressions per day on average for #ce12 and 4 million followers of the hashtag. AIR counted 251,000 citations of "Connected Educator Month" in sites across the Internet.
Because attendance was free and the nature of the whole endeavor was distributed across a multitude of Web sites, there was no formal registration process. People simply showed up online at the right virtual location to join in. That means AIR has no sense of how many people actually attended. "What we can roughly estimate--and we're still working on a number--is the number of hours of participation," said Cambridge. "We can say that's tens of thousands."
But it could be much higher, he suggested. Next year, if the event is repeated--and he said he hopes it is--Cambridge said he'd like to put more emphasis "specifically on outreach to districts to try to get that local communication going with the teachers."
Cambridge said he hopes that the event made two impacts. First, that it generated "some newly connected educators who stay that way" and second, that people who were already connected educators "identified themselves as such and saw themselves as part of something larger."
For example, he noted, "people started saying, 'You need to adopt a colleague. Everybody should be finding one person or five people this month who aren't connected and bring them in.'"
Cambridge was amazed at the level of collaboration and cross-promotion that took place between and among organizations that "might otherwise have considered themselves competitors." In fact, AIR expects in several months to follow up with participating organizations to find out if they're doing things "in a collaborative way" that they weren't before.
For those who missed the August events, Cambridge has advice: Go to connectededucators.org and check out the recordings made for the activities. "If you find something that would have interested you if you had had the time to do it in August, often you can go to the site of that organization and find additional opportunities. Most of [them] do stuff all year round."
Or, as participant Kathy C advised in a closing chat: "Be more vocal about the benefits of being connected."
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @schaffhauser.