The Failure of the Connected Educator Movement

This post is also cross-posted to my blog HyprFocal.com. You can connect with me there or follow me @drezac for more about education and the media.

Sometimes it’s good to get a dose of reality.

Last April I stumbled upon an EdSurge post entitled, “Twitter Exec Reports that Educators Dominate the Twitter-sphere.” I kind of sat on that news for a while, waiting for educators to uproariously respond to it, either positively or negatively. That… never really happened. The National #ConnectEd movement, at least as it’s been promoted by Ed.gov was in full swing for over a year, however, the connected educator movement began (roughly) back in 2007 with just a handful educators tweeting and sharing. For the past 6 years, I have, as many other educators have, been sharing incessantly on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus- connecting with others and being part of a world that has helped me greatly in times of classroom and administrative need.

My first foray with Twitter came when David Jakes showed me his followers back in 2008, and I was amazed that many of his followers were notable educators like David Warlick, Dean Shareski, and other superstars of education. “You mean we can just ask the group anything, and they might actually respond?”- were my thoughts. Seemed out of this world. My Twitter archive has that moment:

One of the first people I followed on Twitter was Lisa Durff @durff. One of my first education related Tweets was:

It was an awesome time to start connecting with others, as one could see the opportunity before us: if all of us educators started connecting and sharing like this, how would education change? How fast could we move education forward? The more I connected with educators on social media- it seemed the amount of classroom strategies, tools, processes I collected- increased exponentially. I could see a future where this was a norm of education. Many of us could.

Since then, Twitter chats, Tweetups, and other social media gatherings began to take shape. From my social media bubble, my social media stream was full of thoughtful, like-minded people, who saw that same opportunity: let’s reach everyone we can. And let’s change the world.

It’s been seven years since I made my first education tweet. So- how much has changed since then? Have we all connected with each other? To illustrate this, I made this handy-dandy chart below. Based on EdSurge’s headline from last April, does this seem like dominance to you?

This looks to me like we are failing. Miserably.

Seeing that the data of .8% of tweets are education related, you can also infer that this means many of those tweets are retweets, and multiple tweets from the same educator accounts. It means that the numbers are even worse for how many educators are probably on Twitter and use it as an educational tool.

I realize that the need to couch things in a positive light, is somehow done to a fault by many in my profession- when you want to change the world (think positive, think positive, think positive). But my question is: are we really changing the world? Are we affecting change like we hoped we would, using these tools? The above illustration, and the numbers from Twitter’s executive, make me worried that change is taking way too long, and we’ll all be retired or dead before the difference is made. To dig deeper, I looked for more social media insight into educators’ connectedness.

“This looks to me like we are failing. Miserably.”

I found a post by social media education guru, Tom Whitby, which is, granted, 1.5 years old. The comments continue to grow to this date, so it seems the topic’s relevance continues to grow and be debated. My question is: how many educators are using social media as a tool for education connectedness? How many connected educators are out there? Tom doesn’t give us scientific numbers, but he’s been buried in education social media for years. He’s one of the leaders of #EdChat. I would expect Tom to be pretty biased considering his role, but he pores through all the different educator social networks old (Ning) and new. His estimate is somewhere around 4 percent out of 7 million estimated educators. Personally, I think he’s still being optimistic.

You can hear a sadness in Tom’s words that he is also frustrated that the hope for connected education far exceeds the reality:

With all of this positive connectedness, one would expect that all educators would be jumping on board to connect their own collaboration cars to the train. Well, I have been an actively connected educator since about 2007, and I am still waiting for that fully loaded train to leave the station.

Using these numbers as a marker, or at least a harbinger for 21st century skills, my question is- is the ConnectED movement working? See the government’s own ConnectED website for their perspective on this movement: http://www.ed.gov/connected. Judging by these above numbers alone- we’re failing right now. Horribly. For the connected educator, the reality is that we live in a bubble that feeds our own needs. It’s sometimes very hard to see outside that bubble, and it can often be viewed as successful when you can only see the fruits of your own work.

Surrounding ourselves in success doesn’t help us see the failure of trying to connect the rest of education to our new technological economy. We have to understand where it is we are failing. There are thousands of struggling schools, and millions of teachers that are stuck without resources, and truth be told- unless we’re reaching those educators with our ConnectED strategy, we’re not going to improve this fast enough.

The wake up call, is that there is an under-served community and education population in the United States that still isn’t aware of how a Personal Learning Network can help them, because they’re still just trying to survive (and they’re still receiving their support in traditional manners). Writing this blog post and tweeting it, is not going to reach the other 6.9 million educators who might be inspired to learn a new skill, try an #edchat, or revolutionize their teaching practice. At least, judging from the above, I shouldn’t expect it to.

Connectedness through technology, is, no doubt, for those of us educators that have experienced it first-hand: world-changing. When you have received teaching strategies, Skyped in the classroom with an author, or had someone on the other side of the world- help you in a new way, it is indescribable. We want to share that experience with the world, we want educators to be inspired by how we can connect, how easy in can be, and how it can enrich your professional practice.

But the “share all, share everything” strategy is not working, and perhaps we need to start speaking in a language, or through some traditional channels to get the rest of the country’s educators on board. This kind of digital divide is much different than anything I’ve ever seen described. It used to be about computers in classrooms. It used to be about broadband (and still is). It’s not about money, per se; so many more of us have smart phones, with access to social media tools. But using those tools as a method to improve professional practices is still a gap that is way too wide to be considered anywhere near meeting a standard of practice. This digital divide is about: communication, culture, and a different kind of connectedness.

As a long-time technology educator, I’m finding non-technological methods of communication lately much more valuable than the tech kind. Actually talking to people, instead of just emailing, tweeting, or blogging seems to work much better in getting any point across. We’ve all seen email used as a horrible communication tool in work, and we’re now forced to use emoji just in case people don’t understand our sarcastic tones or subtle in-jokes.

Perhaps our connected educator movement- is not about connecting educators with technology… at all. Maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe what we need to close this digital divide, is not digital at all. Maybe our connected educator movement involves real, physical communication.

I think the promise of the early edu-social tools, was that everybody would eventually fall in line, and we’d all connect in some sort of Shangri-La utopian society, helping to move students forward en masse into this amazing unknown future. Perhaps what we’re learning, is that it’s not that easy. Our tweets aren’t touching the hearts of millions. But the touch of a hand, the sound of one’s voice, the color of someone’s eyes- are what we need to bring educators into this awesome future, where there no-doubt are untold wonders to befall us.

Perhaps what we need is to go back to what started it all.

Update 7/31/2015: Twitter recently admitted that they are “making some upgrades” because of growth issues related to UX and culture. I highly recommend reading this article on Wired.com, and ponder the future of this powerful tool.

Written by

Education Community Manager @ Tynker.com, Maker Faire Producer, EdCamp Illinois Organizer, Illinois Computing Educator. Proud Maker.

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