Collaborate and listen: Greater Clark conference focuses on online connections to experts

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Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 6:15 am

Forget the Chromebooks and SMART Boards, teachers might learn more if they figured out how hashtags and retweets can make them more effective in classrooms.

That’s part of the message from Monday’s second-annual Greater Clark Connected Conference. Instead of focusing on technology tools, Brett Clark, director of information and education technology at Greater Clark County Schools, said connecting with education professionals can be just as helpful.

Tom Whitby — founder of the #Edchat professional learning network and teacher for 34 years — said while the ideas of collaboration have always played an important role in education for students and teachers, there are more opportunities for teachers to expand their knowledge base now than ever before.

“Collaboration started right from the beginning with education, it’s always been there,” Whitby said. “We had pair-share and group work, but we’ve never been able to collaborate on the scale that we can collaborate today.”

Clark said about 325 people registered for the conference from multiple states. With the #GCCC14 hashtag, he said he expects some of the ideas from the conference to reach potentially millions of educators across the country.

Greater Clark has a 1 to 1 program, where every student from grades three through 12 has his or her own laptop computers. Other districts locally and statewide are making the move to the same concept, but Whitby said technology is just a tool. Making tools and ideas relevant to students is what really impacts learning.

“Unless [teachers are] connected, they’re not having those kinds of discussions,” Whitby said. “Many of the connected communities encompass the thought leaders in education — the people who are driving the force of true reform. I’m not talking about the people looking to profit from education, I’m talking about real educators who are looking to reform education so it becomes something for students to guide their own learning.”

Kyle Pace was another of the conference’s speakers. He’s in instructional technology specialist and Google certified teacher from Missouri.

He said while teachers may only get limited professional development in their schools or from other sources, the leaders in the field are largely available to them just through a hashtag or a tweet directly to them on Twitter. That can help them improve without districts spending a dime, he said.

“You have people like us that make ourselves readily available,” Pace said. “I love getting to help people that are in those different spaces in social media and whatnot, but look at all the other people we have access to. If I need somebody who is really good on leadership, I know I can go to this person.

“You really develop this great network of people. There are no more islands anymore in education, it keeps us from feeling isolated.”

Katie Cook, an incoming technology and business teacher at Jeffersonville High School, said she’s taught at the district for nine years. She said applying the ideas of connectivity from the conference to her classroom won’t just bring her closer to the education community abroad, but also connect her with her students.

She said though apps on smart phones or tablets help, showing how to apply them to what students are learning is invaluable and keeps her teaching relevant to how they learn.

“When I show them apps I use and how they can utilize them, it’s something they haven’t seen before,” Cook said. “There’s so much out there that encourages kids to be connected and learn at their own pace.”

Whitby said getting students to take control of their own learning is what likely will propel them to higher planes of education. But collaboration of teachers outside of their buildings, districts, counties and states will be what fosters that style of learning.

“Collaboration is not the result of a workshop; collaboration is a mindset,” Whitby said. “Educators must be collaborative — they have a moral obligation to share to begin with. Doing so, they enhance their profession and they enhance themselves by collaborating with the right people to get a clear understanding of what their role is.”

Pace said there are more resources available now to teachers to keep their profession from becoming stale. He said with that, students will get a better education the more teachers keep themselves connected.

“No one should want to teach the same year 30 times, and if you do, there are other problems,” Pace said. “But it’s that learner-first mindset. I think a lot of that starts before it gets to our teachers.”


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