This year, Connected Educator Month goes global! We are thrilled to have not only Connected Educator Month here in the United States, but to also have three other countries with their own parallel Connected Educator Months – complete with a full slate of events.
Last week, you met our partners in Norway. Today, we’re pleased to introduce you to another of our partner countries: New Zealand.
Today’s interview is with Karen Melhuish Spencer. Karen is a Senior e-Learning Consultant for CORE Education (Twitter: @virtuallykaren). She is internationally recognised for her work in e-learning, blended/online professional facilitation and online community development. With a Masters in Education, she is an inspiring facilitator, known for her energy, humour and research-led approach. Karen is the lead for New Zealand-Aotearoa’s Connected Educator Month 2014 (@ConnectEduNZ/#cenz14). She has undertaken extensive consultancy work in curriculum and assessment projects for school, the Ministry of Education, NZQA, and for international agencies. She has been central to the development of Enabling e-Learning, the VLN Groups social network and the e-Learning Planning Framework on behalf of the Ministry of Education. In 2013, Karen received the inaugural ICET Asia-Pacific Senior e-Fellow award.
What does connected education mean to you?
Connected education in many ways, to me, is nothing new. We connect on our first day of school, the first time we learn what it might mean to be an educator, with our first class of learners (and we all remember that!) My first English Department Head, the lecturers at college, the staff in the first school I worked in in England were all formative connections in their influence.
The growth of digital technologies, and the way we can harness them as engines to drive conversations and reflections for ourselves, are what make the difference, now, in keeping us grounded and learning. Conversations across social networks, making our reflections visible, curating ideas and sharing powerful content all extend and amplify our important relationships, grow new ones and keep us fresh and informed. Crucially, they open up new pathways for us to connect in ways that are flexible, suit our preferred strengths and give us agency over our learning.
So, being a connected educator, to me, is someone who deliberately and strategically draws on and gives back to an evolving, blended network of valuable thinkers and practitioners – and for whom ‘being connected’ is not something we do, but a way of being for a professional educator in the 21st century.
Why is it important for educators to be connected?
A modern educator is rather like a chameleon – constantly evolving what we do in response to our learners’ and colleagues’ changing needs. Here in New Zealand, our curriculum and professional learning approaches draw on international models of learning that have inquiry at their heart – asking and understanding what’s happening for our learners and responding accordingly. Teachers using this approach need a network of support around them, a virtual staffroom, as well as a real one. The knowledge we need to help us adapt our expertise may not always be in our own school, or even in our region. Connected educators can draw on the wisdom of crowds to help them evolve their practice in responsive learning loops.
Why did your organization decide to be involved in Connected Educator Month?
He tangata, he tangata, te tangata – it is the people, it is the people, it is the people
CORE Education is all about pushing the boundaries of educational possibility. We are a not-for-profit organisation providing world-class professional learning and development, research, and thought leadership. We have a strong desire to transform education, and believe that new technologies are the most exciting way to engage 21st Century learners across all education and training sectors. At CORE, we believe that a connected, networked approach to learning offers far greater opportunities for professional learning than working in isolation –and so Connected Educator Month lines up with our focus on exploring innovative ways to encourage collaboration and flexibility in professional learning and to celebrate the value of diverse peoples working together.
There were existing professional friendships between CORE Education, the Department of Education (Victoria, Australia) and the Connected Educator team in the US which provided a sound foundation for us becoming involved in Connected Educator Month.
Connected Educator Month offers an exciting opportunity for educators across New Zealand to come together as part of a single, local-to-global event, leveraging digital technologies to explore relevant ideas and topics in ways that suit them and their learners.
Tell us a favorite story about connected teaching & learning that your organization took part in.
CORE has had many exciting opportunities to work with educators and learners in connected ways. For example, we have offered virtual field trips all over New Zealand through LEARNZ, bringing the environment to students all over the country through digital technologies. We have been instrumental in growing the most active social network for educators in the country – the VLN Groups – and we offer blended programmes in a range of topics. One personal favourite story is how we managed a breakfast workshop with teachers which was both face-to-face and with others ‘beaming in’ from a rural part of the country – and how we managed to make that work in ways that were inclusive and responsive to need. I captured the story in this blog post so check it out!
Can you recommend a favorite resource for connected education that you’d recommend to our readers?
We have many! A couple to start with, though, would include Bundlr to curate resources which add depth to our annual 10 Trends series and Strea.ma, a NZ-developed tool which displays conversations online in dynamic realtime at our conferences. Also worth a mention is Movenote, a tool used by our Pasifika team to add an engaging, face-to-face component to slidedeck presentations so the audience can connect to the ideas more easily.
How are you involved with Connected Educator Month, or what type of events or activities will your organization be leading this October?
CORE is leading the New Zealand effort for CEM, with our partners in Victoria, Australia, the Department of Education. We have pulled together a hub online – http://connectededucator.org.nz/ – supported by various social media channels to encourage individuals and organisations across NZ-Aotearoa to pledge events. We are running a ‘core’ (!) series of events ourselves too, of course. These include: Launch Week events [1-3 October], livestream and dedicated events at our Ulearn conference [8-10 October], Book Groups, and a build-up to two virtual field trips in November, one of which goes to Antarctica! We also proud to have supported a strong stream of events related to Māori and Pasifika education, aligning with the theme of diversity and inclusive practices.
What would you tell someone who is interested in participating in Connected Educator Month, but on the fence about leading an activity or getting more involved?
CEM offers a ‘gave it a go’ opportunity for educators who might have been wondering about using digital technologies to try a new approach, as well as offering a time for leaders to mentor and encourage others. With so many activities on offer, everyone can find one to try.
Organisations can use the event as a time to think about how their current approaches provide access and flexibility so anyone can engage with their ideas in ways that support agency. Even adding a hashtag to one face-to-face event, setting up a shared Google doc or writing up the event in a blog post can open the door on learning that might have been restricted to a single place/time.
Try one activity, change one small aspect of your practice, take one next step – that would be my advice!