Connected Educator Month is a month-long social media extravaganza, targeting not only U.S. educators, but teachers and administrators around the world as well. During August, educators have had the opportunity to participate in Twitter chats, webinars and Google Hangouts while collectively exploring this brave new world for teaching and learning.
The idea is that together we can improve teaching and learning for our students via virtual connections and professional development events. Karen Cator, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education, often defines “highly connected teachers” as those connected to data, resources, and to each other. Effective educators are empowered educators, and social media plays a significant role in this process. For more information about Connected Educator Month, make sure to check out the Twitter stream conversations and edublogger Stephanie Sandifer’s great posts on connected learning.
Now that attention has been brought to the power of social media used for professional purposes in education, here are a few apps that will help teachers and administrators stay connected throughout the school year. Most of these apps are from web-based services which you probably will want to manage mostly on the web. However, you can leverage the power of mobility by also using these apps on your mobile device of choice.
Top apps on my list are:
Don’t neglect the obvious! Many educators are on Facebook, and yet haven’t considered using this as a place to connect to colleagues. If you’re concerned about mixing the personal with professional, make a separate professional Facebook account, or learn how to use lists in order to publish to designated groups of friends. Also, just about every professional educational entity is on Facebook and if you “like” their corresponding pages, their news items will pop up in your news feed. A few Facebook pages you might be interested in following are those of Kid World Citizen, Design Squad Nation, Huffington Post Education, National Geographic, and MindShift. There are also groups within Facebook that allow for more conversation including Education Community News and Children and Media Professionals. All of this great content can be accessed through your mobile device of choice using Facebook’s apps!
Google+ is Google’s answer to Facebook, and the accompanying app provides a beautiful interface for sharing content with your friends and colleagues. You can differentiate how you share content by posting to self-created “circles”, but its most exciting feature is a video conferencing tool called Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts can now be initiated from your iOS or Android device. Try this feature and also add education related Google+ pages to your circles. A few to follow include Google in Education, Google Science Fair, TEDTalks, ASCD, and Education Week.
LinkedIn is another type of social network and it’s geared specifically towards professional use. With LinkedIn, users create the equivalent of a digital résumé, connect with past and present colleagues, and network within affinity groups. Its newly designed app has a beautiful interface that makes it especially easy to follow news items posted by people in your LinkedIn network. While you are exploring LinkedIn, join a few groups to keep on topic of your professional interests. A few suggestions are Leadership for Mobile Learning, Consortium for School Networking, and the International Society of Technology in Education.
Edmodo is an immensely popular app that brings safe social networking into the classroom. It is a web-based tool with accompanying apps, and it allows teachers to post assignments, give quizzes and communicate with their students. Edmodo also hosts communities of practice focused on a slew of topics for educators such as project-based learning and mobile learning. Organizations also run communities within Edmodo and you might want to check out spaces run by Common Sense Media, the Smithsonian, and the International Society for Technology in Education.
Twitter is one of the most popular ways for educators to get connected these days. After joining Twitter, you follow people related to your field or interests. Even education experts such as Alfie Kohn and children’s author Seymour Simon are active on Twitter. Twitter is tremendously useful to teachers because you’ll quickly learn about resources and opportunities that will enhance your professional practices in a very personalized way. Conduct a search in Twitter to find Tweets related to topics of interest, or join virtual chats by searching for various hashtags such as #edchat, #edapps, or #edtech. For an extensive catalog of educational hashtags, check out Cybraryman’s Educational Chats on Twitter. For managing Twitter, Tweetdeck (for iOS or Android) is another app that is recommended for educators.
Skype is the must-have tool for text, voice and video chatting. For very little money, you can also call landlines which makes this an ideal app while traveling. Make sure to browse Skype’s Skype in the Classroom program to see how you can connect your classroom with others for educational purposes. Mona Kerby and Sarah Chauncey also run the Skype an Author Network which is also worth a look.
Consider using Posterous and your iPad to observe teachers, to record professional reflections, or to document student work. Check out international educator Tim Bray’s blog post about using Posterous for observing and learning from his colleagues. Tumblr (for iOS or Android) is another similar blogging tool that allows you to follow friends and colleagues’ posts in addition to quickly and easily posting text, links, photos and videos.
Try following various boards to inspire your teaching. The Smithsonian and Edutopia have many education-related boards, or search for a particular topic such as back to school or everyday math. Start your own boards to share creative education ideas.
This is probably the least known Web 2.0 tool for educators, but it’s a fascinating one, and it has a corresponding app. On this site, people from all walks of life ask open-ended questions and others respond accordingly. Sometimes responses come from known experts on a topic and it’s delightful to get answers from people in the know. Try browsing Quora’s Technology in Education , Schools, Learning, and Children’s and Young Adult Books boards and you’ll get hooked.
SCVNGR is a unique game app that lets you check-in at locations and participate in scavenger hunt treks and challenges for points. You can also create your own on SCVNGR’s website. It is social in that you can track the progress of other Scvngr users who you are connected to through invitations, Facebook and Twitter.
To see how SCVNGR can work in an educational setting, take a look at how the Smithsonian Institute is using this app and browse SCVNGR’s site for university and K12 examples. Here is a somewhat dated, but useful, blog post on how location-based apps can impact the museum world.
Pick one of these apps that appeals to you the most and explore it thoroughly. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in this age of information, but try to keep things simple as you begin to understand how virtual connections can benefit your professional growth and impact your students. Connected Educator Month is drawing to a close this week, but that doesn’t mean the fun needs to end now. Let’s stay connected!
As an education consultant, Lucy works with a variety of institutions on 21st century learning initiatives, including directing the Consortium for School Networking’s Leadership for Mobile Learning initiative. She began her career as a primary grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools, and has served in various capacities related to educational technology at the University of Chicago's Laboratory Schools, Urban Education Institute, and Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education. In 2007, Lucy founded the Global Education Collaborative, a network for educators interested in project-based learning which has been expanded into the Global Education Conference. She has also been awarded the Google Certified Teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator distinctions.