When I first started teaching college students, the term “social media” had not been invented, and for the most part, teaching and learning were proceeding the way they had been practiced for thousands of years. But I knew that digital media and networks were creating exciting opportunities for teachers and learners:
- from search engines to online communities to how-to videos, motivated learners could connect with sources of knowledge, teachers, and fellow learners in ways never before possible;
- the powers that digital media granted to learners who knew how to use them could amplify learners’ desire and ability to take responsibility and agency for their own learning;
- learners were no longer isolated students, competing to bank knowledge dispensed by teachers, but had the opportunity to join together in co-learning communities and, potentially, to grow into networked publics that could wield influence students never had before; emerging media presented challenges as well as opportunities, depending on how much a student knows about how to use digital media – digital media literacies were already creating a divide between the knowledgeable and the less knowledgeable;
- from fan communities to viral videos, young people’s love and facility for creating media was presenting an opportunity to connect their enthusiasm to effective civic engagement;
- for teachers, new media could scaffold, amplify, and spread the kind of learner-centric pedagogies pioneered by Dewey, Reggio-Emilia, and Freire.
When I looked for the leaders of the learning revolution, I didn’t find them in the managers of prestigious educational institutions. I found leadership in the individual teachers who were experimenting and sharing their discoveries through what I learned to call “personal learning networks.” I set out to learn more, both as a learner and a teacher. Chronicling the achievements of connected learning pioneers was both a journey of discovery for me as an educator and a way to help isolated innovators connect into communities. I used social media and my growing personal learning network to find, interview, and profile the elementary school teachers and librarians, the college professors, the youth activists who were growing what we now call “connected learning.” When I set out to organize more than 100 blog posts and short video interviews, several different categories emerged – hence the division of these profiles and dialogues into those primarily illustrating learner agency, co-learning, making, 21st century learners, networked publics, media literacy, civic engagement, and pedagogy. I hope these connected educators light up and fire up your enthusiasm to teach and co-learn – the way they did for me.
Banner image credit: Chris Michel