What does it mean to be “connected”?

What does it mean to be “connected”, as a professional and a learner? I think it is a working definition for many educators, myself included.

Lisa Dabbs from Edutopia attempts to define this concept:

Connected learners develop networks and co-construct knowledge from wherever they live. They collaborate online, use social media to interact with colleagues around the globe, engage in conversations in safe online spaces, and bring what they learn online back to their classrooms, schools, and districts.

That works for me. Just as student learning can become more personalized with technology in the school mix, so to should professional learning. Our level of connectedness is best measured in the depth of our relationships and conversations with others in our social networks.

Volume is great. Having many others who follow you and vice versa on multiple platforms certainly creates a more diverse network of learners at your fingertips. At some point though, we have to develop communities of practice if we expect to engage in deep and meaningful learning experiences.

Harold Jarche, whose blog and professional work were introduced to me by Lyn Hilt, has developed a nice framework for understanding how this progression works (Image source: jarche.com).


Going from right to left, you can see how personal learning networks (PLNs) are only the beginning. My start, like many others, was on Twitter. This channel of knowledge and expertise was essential to helping me become more connected. As a principal, I followed the #cpchat (Connected Principals) hashtag and just started following other administrators. This led to some of them following me back, which led to interactions and sharing of ideas in an open space. Others jumped in when they wanted.

While Twitter was and still is a cornerstone of my professional learning, it is equally important that we develop communities of practice (CoP). Otherwise, our self-directed learning isn’t really self-directed at all; it follows the current of the streams of information that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media feeds provide.

CoPs are generally smaller groups in numbers, typically with a more specific focus.  My favorite tool right now for developing communities of practice is Google+ Communities. You can create private or public groups, develop as many different pages within the group as you like, and control who has access to the conversations. I currently use these groups to continue the conversation about my book. In my school, we also use Google+ Communities to collaborate as staff teams. I am also facilitating a graduate course/book study for district staff with this tool, in between times where we physically meet.

Voxer is a nice tool for this kind of work as well. While it is a little more challenging to share resources like you can in Google+, the advantage Voxer brings is immediacy in the conversations. It works like a walkie talkie, adding audio, text, and images within a chat room. Voxer also requires some moderation, like Google+ Communities. For instance, conversations can go on and on in Voxer. If you are not able to keep up with what everyone has to share, you can feel left behind in the conversation without any more time to catch up.

And then there is Facebook. Of all the tools listed so far for professional learning, this one confounds me the most. I use it for personal reasons only right now. It just hasn’t crept into my personal learning network like it has for other educators. Maybe it is the whole “friending” aspect of it, creating an exclusive mindset for this third space for learning. However, no one can deny the incredible audience that Facebook provides for users.

Tony Sinanis, an elementary principal in New York, shared a novel idea for managing these social media feeds. He uses Instagram as his social media hub for his school. When Tony takes a picture on Instagram, he can then select Facebook and Twitter to also post his image at the same time. This appears to save him a lot of time and reach the widest audience possible.

So going back to my original question: What does it mean to be connected? In my humble opinion, it is what you make of it. Do you want to follow Tony’s example, and create an Instagram account for your school and tap into other social media tools that your school families use? Fine. Embed the feed on your school’s webpage and post away.

Do you want to take advantage of all the professional learning possibilities available through Twitter, blogs, Google+, and Voxer? Also fine! Check out the flyer I made for the Wisconsin State Reading Association’s Digital Learning Lounge for some tips and tricks:

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.59.21 PM

Whatever tool(s) you choose, I suggest keeping your connections manageable, meaningful, and a benefit to both who follow you and who you follow. And have fun!

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

8 thoughts on “What does it mean to be “connected”?”

  1. I totally agree. I have to slow myself down sometimes in order to make sure I’m really getting the benefits of my connectedness. In many ways, Facebook works really well for me right now. I used to say Twitter was my go to, but so many people are sharing professional resources on Facebook and including their personal details that I am starting to feel more of a bond with those people. The 140 characters can be kind of limiting sometimes. I want to learn more about google+. I love that I always stay connected to your work that way and can peruse it at any time. I think our blogs and connections show who we are and what we care most about.


    1. “I think our blogs and connections show who we are and what we care most about.”

      Couldn’t have said it better myself, Kimberley! Our actions ARE our words in these third spaces for learning.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love my WordPress app. I have several professional blogs that I follow and the app allows me to comment and connect to other educators that also use WordPress. And, I love Twitter too! This is how I expand my PLN and find professional blogs. I use Hoot Suite to organize who I follow because going through my Twitter feed can be cumbersome. I haven’t dabbled with Google or Voxer and I keep my Facebook primarily for people I have a personal connection to rather than a professional connection. Unfortunately, I’m just a lurker and do not post/share what goes on in my daily classroom happenings. I aspire, so maybe someday! Thanks for sharing! I always enjoy your posts


  3. I agree with all of the points you made in this post! We can use social media to become better connected, but it can lead to shallow relationships in many ways. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend EdCamp MD and make face to face connections with members of my Twitter PLN. I think it led to deeper learning because we already understood the others’ philosophies and could jump right in to meaningful conversation.


    1. This surprises people, but I have yet to attend an EdCamp. I have scheduled myself for one in May. Looking forward to the enthusiasm and learning! Thanks Susan for sharing your perspective here.


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