There’s no denying it – education has moved into the 21st century.

When I started my career 13 years ago, I was still writing out my class notes for each class on a blackboard. Every student frantically tried to keep up with me – my penmanship was impeccable, “board-top” publishing layout skills second to none, and I regularly used various external apparatus & chalk colors to create emphasis & variety. On occasion, I would throw in an “extra special” lesson in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. Textbooks were front & center along with their accompanying workbooks & black-line masters that easily corresponded to the content. Staff meetings and pedagogical improvement opportunities were cavalcades of paper streams and endless examples demonstrated on processed trees.

What an archaic age we taught in.

Fast forward to 2015. Students routinely check their portable devices for homework updates, or peruse the class website to check out the notes from that day or to curate the class playlist of videos, Prezzies, and other relevant information. The majority of my communications with parents and fellow staff members are electronic, either through email or hosted chat sessions, the need to relocate no longer an issue. Textbooks and workbooks are no longer required, as most course materials have made the move online. “Teaching” done almost exclusively using an e-board (SMART board), allowing me the flexibility to instantly provide students with a richer learning experience, supplementing & extending lessons with material available all over the web.

As a mathematics teacher, the use of paper & pencil is still largely present in my class, as students still need to work out solutions to problems and demonstrate their processes, but the way in which my class is managed has drastically changed – and for the better. I’ve become a “smarter” teacher, automating & simplifying the way I do things. Almost everything I do is in the cloud, allowing me to get access to my information anywhere around the world. I can easily produce new class materials using my iPhone & iPad, its quality light years ahead of anything I could have produced over a decade ago. Meetings are more productive and stream-lined as agendas and supporting documents are now digital. My professional improvement opportunities now revolve around the power of social media, web publishing, being a responsible digital citizen, and the use of powerful apps.

But what’s in it for me?

Besides improved efficiency & productivity, being a connected learner has given me an avenue towards being a better educator. I am better able to connect with my students and their parents. Staying in touch with the members of our school community is crucial. As a school located in a historically impoverished socio-economic zone, our goal is to always improve participation rates across the board. Ironically, many members of our community, despite their economic & educational hardships, have managed to acquire a connected device (and for their child[ren] too), lending themselves to the possibility of remaining connected with their child’s educational facility. Often, my students will arrive to class without pencil & paper – but they will always have their connected devices within arm’s reach.

The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change – Carl Rogers

Today’s students no longer know what it means to live in an “unconnected” world. As a result, educators really need to endear themselves to the technological reality we live in and “get connected”. The professional development is out there, it’s now up to teachers to embrace it. My evolution as a connected educator has taken over a decade to manifest itself, so I’m not saying that teachers everywhere need be proficient overnight. What I am implying though, is that we need to go where the students are. Students are no longer impressed by a linear teaching format – like the pupils before us, we too need to revolutionize our approach and way of thinking to better engage our students and make them better learners. Too often, regardless of upbringing, neighborhood, or parent’s education, the children in our classrooms are aching for a level of engagement that is at the cutting edge of connected learning. Consequently, many of us are simply not up to snuff when it comes to meeting our students on their level of connectivity.

You ask “what do I get out of being a connected learner?”. I get the satisfaction of knowing that I am doing all I can as an educator to make sure that I have the skills and knowledge necessary to help guide my students through the haphazard, and often harrowing journey we call life. My students, at their age & development, spend more time with me than they do their own parents, so I need to make sure that I provide them with the skills required to be a valued, productive, and responsible digital citizen. If I’m lucky, I also impart some of my know-how & wisdom along the way. I expect nothing less that what I would do for my own child. Wouldn’t you?

‘Til the next post.