Why I Connect

So right now I am playing in the spaces of #ccourses and #olcmooc and both are dealing with the ‘why’ of connected learning. Of course, the glib response would be ‘why not?’ but this is a serious, serious question that deserves a considered, reflective answer.

I wasn’t always a connected learner. I haven’t been a formal classroom teacher for years but I remember well the isolation of the elementary classroom, the one adult in a room full of students. I was the “font of all knowledge,” the “guru of learning through play,” but essentially I was alone. When I ran into a student I could not reach, I turned to colleagues for help, my principal or a specialist. Sometimes that was not enough. I did not have all answers, but I felt like a failure when I did not. When a student slipped through my fingers like water and I could not catch them as they fell. Some had been falling for a long time. Some had just started to fall. But the responsibility rested on me to catch them and sometimes I missed.

So why am I such a big rah-rah fan of connected learning? Because teachers/educators no longer have to be isolated in the classroom. They have a bigger pond to cast their net into now as they fish for answers. I can ask fellow educators, K-12 or higher ed, professors of education, social workers, informal educators, designers, techies “What would you do in this situation?” or “What resources should I access?” or just a simple one “Help!” And lo! I actually receive answers, helpful answers, potential ideas or requests for more information. Educators want to help each other. Now it’s not just you, alone in your classroom, it’s you and everyone you’re connected to, working together to help others learn.

Since I’ve become connected I’ve learned that I can contact designers of  programs when I have issues with the program they’ve just rolled out (and they listen!), written collaborative stories, poems, games, had someone teach me the basics of programming, learned to create a radio show, worked with others to create learning solutions for problems and met, online, some amazingly talented and creative people. I’ve vlogged, blogged and tweeted my way through this journey. This has been wonderful for me as I play and learn my way through new experiences but it has had the effect, I believe, of making me a better teacher. Because who doesn’t learn when they brush up against greatness? When they are presented with differing viewpoints? When learning opportunities are offered like a never ending smorgasbord?

So how do you take advantage of this? Open your mind, open your heart and discard your prejudices of being exposed on the web. Yes, there will be bumps along the way, but it was the same when you learned a new language or a new talent in a face to face classroom. It never does come effortlessly. There is always work involved, frustration to feel, anger at something not quite working or feeling like you’re stupid, stupid, stupid! Until of course, something clicks, someone offers a different perspective and then your feel like your brain has been just hit by a ray of sunshine and you’ve got it!

So jump in, don’t be fearful, people are kind and open minded in this learning space.