The Power of Connectivity

There are certain people that, when they tweet, I tend to listen (in an EF Hutton, blast from the past, kind of way).

Chris Wejr is one of these people as is Cale Birk. Now, I don’t want to say that Chris is always right (as a husband and a young father, the last thing I want to do is give him a sense of false security when he arrives home to his wife); however, in this case, he was ‘dead on.’

Cale’s post did start a conversation, both online and with my colleagues, face to face. The latter was centered around an appreciation and a valuing of the power of connectivity. For me, the @ is one way I can show my “unconnected” colleagues how, though a hashtag interaction, we can continue to re-conceptualize our learning environment.

The vehicle of the hashtag is not the lead driver but one mode of transportation that binds effective drivers – values, norms, skills, practices, relationships – together; it is one of the many reliable vehicles that can promote dialogue and work directly in improving the power of “social capital” required to transform education.

As Cale succinctly states, one mode of transportation, one way of connecting, is not better than the other – just different. We’re not focusing on a right answer in terms of communication but rather on the process and the learning that results from it. What’s the difference between this and what we expect from our own students? Don’t we want them to develop skills like critical thinking and creativity without getting hindered by being in a world of “right” answers and content retention?

Connectivity and the concomitant learning conversations, it they are to be truly impactful, must extend meaning; they must help us go beyond what is known, and stretch in new and unexpected directions: to create new knowledge. This creation cannot be done in isolation; its origin resides in the relationships among teachers and between teachers and administrators. We are talking about building professional capital through collaboration. Again, what is the difference between this and what we expect from our students?

And what about the “better than you” mantra that online educators can fall victim to (the “who will cast the first stone” syndrome)? Each of us connects in different ways; however, and Cale is absolutely correct, we shouldn’t measure the ‘how’ of connectivity but rather the ‘to what end’. If you’re going to measure ‘the how’ then you’d better be actively measuring your school against another; you’d better check that every classroom has marks posted; you’d better ensure that success in your school is achieved by measuring one student against another; you’d better guarantee, annually, that in measuring improvement from grade 8 to 12 you don’t track every student from point A to point Z but rather compare the results of this year’s graduating class with last year’s. 

Cale started “getting connected” in October of 2010 when he attended the 21st Century Learning Conference in Chicago. I got connected (minus the wind blowing off of Lake Michigan) at roughly the same time. Like him, I too believe that connectivity only starts mattering at “the point at which we move from knowing to doing.” And to borrow an idea from another colleague, Johnny Bevacqua, I believe that we can and we should be measuring the power of connectivity in our professional relationships and in our schools.

Measure the impact of connectivity in terms of the frequency and the focus of conversations with peers that center on instruction; measure it in terms of how it builds feelings of trust and closeness between teachers; and, above all else, for the sake of all of our students, measure it by how it helps learners become instructional resources for each other and transforms them into the owners of their own learning.