Being a connected educator isn’t just about the human connections. Building a personal learning network; discussing and contributing online and face to face are essential elements of teacher practice, for sure, but there is more to it than that. Liberating the “stuff” of teaching – the resources, materials, ideas and plans – from dusty filing cabinets and messy hard drives, then making that data organised, searchable, and reuse / remixable is the other side of the coin. This has substantial benefit: not only will there be a wider, deeper pool of resources with which to draw from, but new connections can be made between pieces of previously disparate information, facilitating new opportunities, ideas and knowledge. And so when taking a wider look at the term ‘connected educator’ it should include this facet – the ability of a teacher to organise open access to resources, make them easy to find, and allow for reuse and remix.
The mechanics of this concept lie in what Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the internet, calls “linked data”. Berners Lee claims there is a latent, largely untapped potential of the world wide web to link data sets and information together. It’s also called ‘the semantic web’ – a “common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.” It’s beneficial for humans in the increased ability to find, share and organise data better, but also in that machines could then parse these vast data sets and analyse and act on information. In scientific fields, linked data is being used to great effect – it enables researchers to share information, connect and combine and to draw on a wider range of data to further their research.
To enable this, data needs to have a common framework. I see two parts to this – the meta-data side of things, and the copyright factor. Looking into meta-data can get pretty heavy: syntaxes, frameworks, protocols and languages. My layman’s view of this is when sharing resources online, make sure you have descriptions, tags, titles, and file-types clearly set to enable others to find your stuff. It’s no good though if other people then can’t use those resources, so attaching a Creative Commons license becomes essential. There are some wonderful initiatives already in place supporting and collecting these ‘Open Educational Resources’, the OER Commons for example.
In New Zealand, an online environment called Pond is currently being introduced with the aim of uniting“New Zealand teachers, school administrators and students with providers of educational content and services.” This is a step in the right direction as Pond requires resources submitted to be tagged and a short description given, which then makes discovery and linking more possible. Resources can be rated, recommended and commented upon too. It has great potential if teachers share quality resources, tag them appropriately, and share with a Creative Commons license. Critical use of these resources, however, remains the role of the teacher.
I would love to see the Pond become a Lake, or even an Ocean in the future. While there are indeed over 2500 schools in New Zealand, imagine if it were opened up to a wider constituency. All that data – pictures, stories, songs, tools, plans, theory, ideas, games – it’s all out there. We just need to harness the power of our networks to connect it all together and make it accessible.