It all started a few weeks ago during a Twitter chat binge while vacationing in Goa, India. You see,for me, Twitter is like a gateway drug for professional development euphoria. 140 characters invariably leads to hours of cognitive bliss as I fall down the proverbial rabbit hole delving into blog post after blog post of insightful perspectives, engaging discourse, and tales of epic classroom experiences written by people who share my passion for innovative learning. Looking for that next “high” I crossed a line and hijacked a California state educators chat. Did I mention that I live in Mumbai and have only ever been to California twice in my life? 

It didn’t stop there. The next thing I knew, I found myself signing up for a virtual book club…in California. I admit that I felt a stab of what some people might call guilt, when I realized that there were a limited number of spots in the club …for California educators. Having said that, I already had Daniel Pink’s new book waiting in the cue on my Kindle, and the opportunity to discuss his book with other forward-thinking engaged educators, was too good to pass up. I was in denial, until this picture was tweeted by the facilitator of the book club. 

 I debated about whether or not I should withdraw from the book club. As you might have guessed by now, I decided against it, though I did blog about my shame. That counts right? 

About a week later, I received a Tweet from the facilitator of the book chat. 

My first thoughts were, “What is a GHO?”, and “Who is @HBUHSD?”. That 140 character rule strikes again. Not wanting to appear ignorant, I did some research and realized that he wanted me to do a Google Hangout with some teachers from his school district. Truth be told, I have a Google+ account, but I have never used it, unless you count clicking “add to your circles” whenever an email request showed up in my inbox…so of course I accepted. Then about a week later, this guy known only to me as @mrmatera sent me a tweet: 

And then another…

So long story short, a 15 minute GHO with educators in California about what it is like to teach at a 1:1 laptop school in Mumbai turned into a 30 minute presentation on gamification with a co-presenter from Milwaukee with whom the sum total of our relationship consisted of the two tweets you see above…and maybe some innocent blog stalking. Seriously though, his blog is more than a little impressive.  

Three practice hangouts later and it was air time. Last night at 11:15 pm Mumbai time, three time zones converged. Game on! We went live in our GHO to connect with educators from California and share our experiences with gamification. My anxiety quickly dissipated once I realized that we were all connected by our need for caffeine; it was past my bedtime after all. Here is the link to the hangout. Keep in mind, a couple of weeks earlier I didn’t even know what GHO stood for :-) Add to that the fact that I was more than a little starstruck upon the realization that @alicekeeler, a Twitter rock star, gamification geek, and one of my Twitter edu-idols, was sitting in the audience. No pressure. 

My Takeaways

First and foremost, I have expanded my Passionate Learning Network. If all that I had gained from this experience was the chance to connect with Chris and Michael to talk about educational practices and how we gamify our classes, it would have been more than worth it. I already have a million ideas about how I can improve my game next year thanks to Michael’s insights and awesomeness. Not to mention I now have someone to bounce these ideas off of who can offer me a critical, experienced perspective. 

Thanks to Chris and his nudges, I have also discovered Google + communities which have expanded my PLN in ways I could not have imagined. 

And last but not least, I have discovered the powers of a Google Hangout. In the few sessions I have participated in, I have shared, edited, and discussed Google docs live, viewed and discussed Youtube videos with other participants, delivered presentation slides and images with an audience in three different time zones, and I have only scratched the surface. The creative juices are flowing and plans are already in the works to upgrade my collaborative lab activity between my IB Biology class and Kindergarten next year by using GHOs as our method of communication between campuses. I can only imagine how it will enhance the learning of both my students and those yummy little five-year olds. Talk about being connected.

What Does This All Mean?  

The teaching profession is constantly evolving with one purpose in mind; prepare each and every student for the uncertain future that waits just beyond the safety of our protective classroom walls. As teachers, we understand that each child will embark on a different journey filled with countless challenges and experiences that we cannot even begin to anticipate. 

A cliché that is often used by educators is the idea of “breaking down the walls of the classroom” to extend the learning of our students beyond the 90 minute period. Clearly social technologies like Google+, Facebook, and Twitter are critical to this deconstruction. If we as educators aren’t using these tools to facilitate our own learning, how are we connecting with and preparing our students for what lies ahead for them in our globally connected world? Have you knocked down the walls of your learning environment yet?  

If not, it is time to get connected and start building your PLN. What have you got to lose?  

For more posts like this, check out my blog, Biororz in Bombay.