Connected educator

I see a lot of people discussing the need to be an online connected educator. The only problem I’ve noticed is the why is sometimes missing or weakly argued in these discussions. Why connect? Why bother? What can I learn from educators a thousand miles away in a completely different context which is useful for my teaching now?

"We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." Henry Thoreau, Walden, chapter 1, p. 67 (1966)

We often forget how important context and local dialect is when communicating with each other. It is not obvious in our daily face to face communications because we have come to a common agreement on the meanings of words we use.

When I say the words "mathematics education", I have discovered that the words "mathematics" and "education" themselves not only have region-specific meanings, but meanings quite specific to the speaker. If I do not take the time to unpack the meanings of these words, I can end up having a terrific argument with someone because of the lack of understanding on what we have both assumed are common definitions of terms.

I support becoming a connected educator because I know how many opportunities to learn more about education, teaching, and learning I would have missed without the opportunities to learn from those people with whom I am connected. However, I strongly urge those encouraging others to join our ranks as connected educators to warn their colleagues of this pitfall, this potential trap of online communication.

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6 Comments

  • I can only agree on the points you make.

    I often found myself falling in this conceptual/linguistic rabbit hole when interacting on Twitter. Most of the educators I follow are from the US and the education there, and the terminology used, are different in many respects.

    On the other hand, these very collisions helped me understand how diverse interpretations can be and many a time they pushed my thinking – as in refining my view, or adding a nuance to my thoughts.

  • David Wees wrote:

    Yes, the collisions can help, provided you are aware they exist (which obviously, you are!). You learn about what your own meanings of these words are by your misteps and miscommunications with other people who (implicitly) use different definitions.

  • Andrew wrote:

    I think where it is helpful, no matter the context, is when educators are isolated, physically or ideologically. In my situation there were things I wanted to do in my teaching that no body around me understood or supported. By connecting with other ‘like-minded’ eds I’ve been able to reconnect with what I believe and reassure myself that I’m on the right path for me. I’ve also been able to borrow ideas and get feedback that wouldn’t already be available. That’s the main advantage for me.

  • I completely agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. Let’s not forget, though, that being a connected teacher also means helping students get connected, and the engagement that can bring outweighs a lot of potential disadvantages. Last year I did World Math Day (http://www.worldmathsday.com/) with my 7th and 8th grade students, and they loved competing with other students from around the world. We also used Solaro (http://www.solaro.com/) and the discussion board was one of their favorite features. Students who normally spent the majority of math classes either texting their friends or trying to nap actually participated in online forums about the math topics we were studying in class. Do you know how hard it is to make 12 to 14-year-olds enthusiastic about math? I say bring it on.

  • David Wees wrote:

    A couple of points worth bringing up:

    1. The World Maths Day competition doesn’t involve much discussion with kids from other parts of the world, so the point I brought up here is kind of moot.
    2. When using Solaro, did the students discuss math ideas mostly (or entirely) with their own class online, or with classes from other parts of the world? What kind of moderation exists in this space, to perhaps mitigate some of the problems with communication that can occur?
    3. Getting students connected online is an excellent goal, you just need to make sure that the people they are connecting with may all be communicating in whatever language, but have different understandings of the world.
  • Those are good points.
    1. You are absolutely correct; the World Math Day competition does not involve any discussion at all.
    2. I would say that most of the discussion comments came from my own classes, although about 20% or so came from other students. The location of students is not given, so I have no idea if they were from North America or elsewhere. As for moderation, there’s an “abuse” button that teachers can click, and the FAQ says that there are automatic filters and moderators that remove anything inappropriate, but as far as I can tell comments are posted as is.
    3. I think that it is absolutely important for students to know that that when they’re dealing with people on the internet, those people may have an entirely different frame of reference. I also think that part of being a successful connected teacher is understanding this and communicating it to students. Math is a great place to start, because mathematical language is for the most part narrowly defined and universal. It is easy for students to grasp the few alternate definitions and processes that exist, such as BEDMAS vs PEDMAS for order of operations or inclusion vs exclusion of median when calculating quartiles. Then it is a smaller leap to understand more ambiguous differences that arise when communicating with people in different places.

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