Connected Educator Month: A Post Series

Mark your Calendars!

October is Connected Educator Month! I know you just ran over to your calendar (or, perhaps more appropriately, pulled up your Google Calendar) and excitedly marked the first day of October with a giant orange circle. I mean… this is really exciting stuff, right?!

In honor of #CE14, I’m going to do a post series here on Gone Digital exploring digital professional engagement and the use of social media (both as a professional and in the classroom, with students). This is something that has been on my mind over the past few years, as I became twitterate (twitter literate) and developed different digital practices and identities on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, and eventually (but only intermittently) Instagram. And these are only a few of the big ones — new social media spaces are popping up faster than you can download the apps. According to this list of the 15 most popular social media sites based on web traffic, I am only familiar with the first 10, and I only regularly use 7 of them (though I use many that aren’t on this list, as well).

I used to find this frustrating, wishing the digital world would slow the heck down, already. After all, as a Digital Learning Specialist, it’s sort of my job to stay abreast of new technologies and to think deeply about their role in teaching and learning (and that extends far beyond social media). But now, I embrace the high-speed, can’t-catch-up whirlwind of new digital tools, searching out new (preferably open-source) technologies that might do more than enhance teaching and learning, and actually transform it.

Transforming the Work of Teaching

And that’s what teaching is all about, right? Transforming the minds and experiences of young people? That’s also what connected educator month is about (at least for me) — exploring how teachers can transform their work by connecting with educators beyond the four walls of their classrooms. But don’t take my word for it:

My dissertation research illustrated to me just how transformative “connectivity” can be for today’s educators. Those teachers who maintain networks far beyond their classroom walls, who connect at conferences, online, or over coffee, find spaces to reflect, critique, and transform their practice. Certainly, teachers have always done this. But today’s teachers are “networked” in ways they haven’t been before. Their professional networks extend and persist in social media (as I explored in a recent article) and become more robust in online Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).

Yesterday, my coworkers and I started working on an online digital learning series for Boston teachers in celebration of connected educator month. This work got me thinking about what it means to be a connected educator, the role of social media in fostering connected education, and what exactly constitutes “connected” in a world where tweets come and go faster than you can read them, where tags archive and curate online content for future use, and where educators have a wealth of available spaces in which to present, share, store, create, and design content. In what ways are these connective possibilities transforming what it means to “be a teacher” in the 21st-century… if they are at all? And what role does social media, specifically, play in all of this?

The Series

Here on Gone Digital, I will focus specifically on social media, because I’ve had social media on the mind lately. Despite the fact that many teachers and students use social media constantly in their lives beyond school, many districts have locked down social media within schools. This is because, like it or not, unlocking social media is akin to popping the top of a giant can of worms. There are a multitude of issues surrounding opening up social media to students and teachers, and these include student safety, network infrastructure, and the availability of appropriate professional development. Mention opening up social media to 100 principals and teachers, and I would guess that half of them would shiver in horror while the other half would light up with excitement. It’s not as easy as hitting a button.

But that doesn’t mean social media isn’t transforming teaching and learning in meaningful ways. And that’s what this blog series is about — how teachers are using social media to both transform and make visible the work of teaching, and how they are using it with students to transform their digital learning and literacies. Starting next week, I’ll post once a week, focusing first on how teachers are building their professional networks both online and in f2f environments enhanced by digital engagement, then moving to ways teachers are using social media in the classroom to engage students.

If you have examples, ideas, comments, thoughts, musings, frustrations… whatever, tweet me (@lizhoman) or comment below. And stay tuned!

Submitting the Dissertation


I submitted my dissertation to my committee yesterday (can I get a what what?!)

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Let’s pause for a second so I can tell you what that was like. Because it was really unlike any other submission experience of my life. All day I was thinking “okay, so I’ll go home, finish checking references, and submit. NBD.” It was going to be like when I submitted my first year exam or something. Send an email, sit back in my chair, sigh.

Then I actually entered the last page number in my list of figures and went to save it as a PDF, and my world came crashing down around me.

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My thoughts included:

  1. I forgot something. No, I forgot all the things. They’re never going to let me graduate with this piece of crap.
  2. This is easily the best thing I’ve ever written.
  3. I can’t let go of my baby! Why are they taking my baby?!
  4. THANK GOD this thing is being excised from my life.
  5. Nope, not ready. Not ready at all. Maybe I’ll just wait till tomorrow.
  6. Is that a typo? Nope, just a speck of dust on the screen.
  7. HOLY SNOWBALLS, my title sucks.

That heart-in-throat, blood-pressure-rising, omg-I-can’t-even-hit-the-send-button, if-I-fail-at-this-I-fail-at-life feeling was easily unlike any other I’ve experienced up to this point. Once I actually managed to hit “send,” it felt like the world’s largest elephant had been lifted off of my shoulders (but he was quickly replaced with a second, slightly smaller elephant, whose name strangely happened to be Defense). I called my partner, made some zucchini-and-onions (a comfort food fave from my childhood), poured a glass of wine, and collapsed on the couch.

And this morning is weird. I had settled into something of a routine, getting up at 4:15 or so to feed the pup, work on the diss for a couple hours, go for a very short run with my furry best friend, and head to work. But this morning I’m not sure what to do with myself. So I made coffee. Window shopped on Amazon. Checked Facebook (but nobody’s up, so once you look at your newsfeed once, it’s not like there will be new posts the next time you hit “refresh”). Checked Twitter (same problem).

I’m sure I’ll find things to do in the coming weeks (my list is long… now I have to prepare for the defense, among articles that need to be submitted and other such things). But this morning, I’m happy to blog, enjoy social media, drink coffee, and bask in the awesomeness of no more revisions (at least for the next month).

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First Week in Boston

It’s a Friday night, and I’m sitting on a cushy chair in my living room, fans blowing and windows open, desperately trying to ditch some of the heat from Boston’s 90-degree day, and reflecting on my first week as an EdTech Guru for Boston Public Schools.

And about the most poignant reflection I’m capable of is… “whoa.”

In the past week, I have moved across the country and farther away from home than I have ever lived. I’ve said goodbye to my best friend and partner in life for an indeterminate amount of time. I’ve started a new job in the city. I’ve ridden the T (subway) to and from work every day. I’ve walked to work along Boston’s Freedom Trail. This is my view every morning as I walk up Washington St. in downtown Boston after getting off the train:

my walk to work

my walk to work

I know, right?! It’s crazy pants.

And yet, when my boss paused today in the middle of a conversation about the online laptop rollout PD we’ve been trying to get up and running all week to ask “how are you doing?,” I couldn’t help but chuckle when I realized I have had absolutely no time to process what just happened.

In many ways, this is a blessing. My life has changed drastically in the past few days. But when I got to work on the first day, we hit the ground running. And I’m not talking a leisurely jog through the park here. I’m talking a dead sprint to the finish line. There are two of us in my position, and we share an office. Thankfully, we were able to get along and think together right off the bat, and off we went. We spent the entire week troubleshooting, designing and developing, joking and laughing, and banging our heads against our desks as issue after issue presented itself. There was nothing we couldn’t tackle, and no major problem we didn’t find a way to solve. I’ve learned more about administrative responsibilities, district operations, and online learning environments in four days than I would have ever expected would be possible. And I’m completely exhausted.

Sprinkle in the fact that Ms. Gertrude and I are still adjusting to our new environment, and it’s kind of amazing that I haven’t completely dissolved into a steaming pile of Liz in the middle of my living room. As it happens, I stinking love Dorchester. This Boston neighborhood is fantastic. In particular, my neighbors are awesome. Here’s a pic of G and I after my upstairs neighbor’s ridiculously cute Frenchie took over my lap last night:

me, missy, and gertrude

me, missy, and gertrude

The sound of small children and dogs graces my windows in the evenings, and the mornings are quiet as I get up early and spend a couple hours writing before work. G and I have even managed to squeeze in morning runs. Somehow, I’m still standing. And smiling.

Don’t mistake my meaning — elements of this move are incredibly difficult. It’s hard to come home to an empty apartment that, despite my best efforts, still doesn’t look, smell, or totally feel like “home.” People here don’t talk like people in the Midwest, and along with the linguistic differences come differences in social expectations and conventions, none of which I’ve mastered. I don’t have a routine, and I’m never sure what to eat in the evenings, since my partner was the one in charge of the meal plan (and he was awesome at planning out what we would eat all week). The silence is palpable and lonely. There are times when it physically hurts to be so far away from “home.” I am dedicated to making this place home. I’m even calling it home. But it’s not. Not yet.

But this week has been good. Hard. Overwhelming. Busy. Rewarding. And good. I will cling to this goodness as I begin first weekend on my own in Boston, knowing I made the right decision, difficult and uncomfortable as it has proven at times.


Missing the Midwest

Tomorrow, I move out of the Midwest for the first time in my life. It’s off to Boston for a new job, a new place, a new adventure.

After spending the past 29 and a half years in “America’s breadbasket,” a landscape filled with golden swaying cornfields in August, expanses of blowing snow in January, golden/orange/red/purple drifting leaves in October, and the freshest-smelling rain you’ve ever experienced in April, I have to be honest — it’s unbelievably difficult to leave.

So I wanted to pause for a moment, and write a quick list of the 10 things I will miss most about the Midwest. Some of these things you might only understand if you’ve lived in and loved the Midwest yourself. Others are true for anyone who has fallen in love with a place, with the people in it, with its landscape, with its ethos.

a midwestern field with a rusted-out grain elevator

The top ten things I will miss about the Midwest:

  1. The flat fields of Illinois. These open spaces make some visitors uncomfortable. They feel “exposed,” I’ve heard. You might think you’ve seen “flat” if you’ve been to Kansas. And sure, Kansas is pretty flat. But in certain parts of Illinois, the view includes a few dots of grain elevators, barns, and farmhouses among vast expanses of land that seems to have been pounded flat with the world’s largest rolling pin. I’ve not lived in that land for years now — over seven. But whenever I go back, I feel at home again, comforted by the blue bowl of sky overhead and the beauty of wide open spaces.
  2. The laid-back humbleness of rural Midwestern communities. There’s something beautiful about those little towns, the ones with one stop sign or a single stoplight. They know if you don’t belong. If your family is from there, they know every story about you from that day you broke your forehead open playing softball to that time you ran naked through the neighbor’s strawberries and came out the other side all covered in red juice. They are unassuming and slow-moving, and they love their homes fiercely and unapologetically.
  3. Dirt roads. Sure, every region has its dirt roads. But there’s something comforting about the roads in the Midwest — they’re on a grid, with numbers. Getting lost is damn near impossible, and you can’t see in any direction in the summer thanks to the cornfields (in Illinois) or trees (in Michigan) blocking your view. Our last two houses were off of dirt roads. My cars hated it, but I found it charming in a roll-up-your-window-or-you’ll-be-breathing-dust sorta way.
  4. The kindness of strangers. I have had so many strangers help me do all sorts of things. Get chairs into my car in a Meijer parking lot when they didn’t fit. Jumpstart my car. Unlock my car when I locked my keys in it 40 miles away from home. Carry something heavy. Carry something bulky. Figure out how to do something I should already know how to do (like pour coolant in my engine). Most of these have to do with the car, actually. Maybe that should tell me something…
  5. Watching squall lines charge across a cornfield. Because it’s so flat in Illinois, you can walk outside as a storm (or tornado…) approaches and just watch the beauty unfold. Unbelievable colors — reds, pinks, yellows, deep dark blues. Fast-moving and slow-moving stacks of clouds, menacing and at the same time comforting and beautiful. When the storm arrives, the smash of rain against your windows as you curl up in a comfy chair, warm and safe.
  6. The smell of tailgates on a Saturday morning in the fall. Hot dogs. hamburgers. Bacon, eggs, champagne, beer, chips, mustard, ketchup, pickles, cookies, brats. Also the sights — college kids painted head to toe in orange and blue or maize and blue or gold and black, hanging with their parents and their friends, throwing a football back and forth or standing around a grill, playing horseshoe or cornhole in large fields set aside especially for Saturday morning football debauchery. The party goes on all day as you first watch your team, then other teams, analyzing how the conference standings will play out over the next few weeks.
  7. The decidedly unique food cultures of Big Ten college towns. They’re all different. Here in Ann Arbor, we have Zingerman’s, of course, along with just about every other food you can think of. The main street strip is its own special awesome place. Local food is king here, and it’s easy to find places that use ingredients from local farmers. In Indiana and Illinois, good Mexican food is really easy to find. And don’t even try to pretend like you know what sweet corn is unless you’ve bought it from a farmer out of the back of his truck.
  8. Lawns. Not that people don’t have lawns all over the country, but lawns are a source of pride around these parts. Lush, green, manicured, tended patches of land that are all yours. You sit on your lawn and watch the neighbor kids play in a kiddy pool, sprinkler, or slip n’slide. You have yard sales. Your kid/neice/cousin/neighbor kid picks dandelions for you and brings them inside as gifts (thaaaanks, kiddo). Your weekends are devoted to yardwork, to tending gardens, to pulling tiny weeds from between your impatiens.
  9. The roar of the crowd.  I will miss my college sports, the energy and drive of young athletes as they train alongside getting a good education, the dedication of fans from one end of the Big Ten to the other. I have been an Illini, a Boilermaker, and a Wolverine, and I sympathize with all B1G schools (except Ohio State. Love to hate poor Ohio State). There’s an energy to these Midwestern college towns that really can’t be matched.
  10. Doing shit you’re not supposed to in friends’ basements / a cornfield / a park / a movie theater. Kids are rebellious everywhere, to be sure. And not all Midwestern teens are up to something they shouldn’t be. But there’s really not a whole lot to do in corn country, so we got really good at making some stuff up. From parties out in the fields (where we were pretty sure the cops wouldn’t find us) to boyfriends in basements to school playgrounds in the summer, we could always find somewhere to get into some good old-fashioned, but not too terribly illegal, trouble.

I will truly miss this beautiful place. I know some people spend their lives trying to leave it, but not me. If anything, I’m likely to spend many years hoping to one day get back.

Tackling the To-Do List

There are actually a number of strange to-do lists occupying my life right now, not just the one I’m going to talk about here. They include:

  1. The Packing To-Do List. You know, cuz I’m moving to Boston in 5 days (OMG).
  2. The Dissertation To-Do List. That’s the one I’ll talk about in a sec — hold tight.
  3. The CV/Cover Letter/Teaching Statement/etc.etc.etc. To-Do List. Because the academic job market kicks into high gear soon, and the partner-person and I might need to go hunting for jobs in the same city, depending on how some things hash out over the next few months.
  4. The What-Do-I-Want-to-Publish To-Do List. Now that I’ve written a dissertation, I should really publish some of this stuff.
  5. The Must-go-to-all-the-Places To-Do List. Because it’s imperative that I eat at all my favorite Ann Arbor restaurants before I leave.

But for this post — The Dissertation To-Do List.

I’ve hit that funny point in the process where there’s simultaneously very little and TONS left to do. Here’s my list as of this very moment:

to do list

Not too bad, right? I mean once you get about halfway down, all I have to do is format (hahaha — I’ve heard so many horror stories about formatting). Really, there’s relatively little writing and revising left to be done (depending, of course, on a bit of pending feedback from committee members). This list feels manageable. I could knock out a few of these in a single sitting, if I dedicated a few hours to the task.

And at the same time, this list feels downright huge. In part because of all the other to-do lists, and all the to-do lists that I’m going to acquire in about one week when I arrive in Boston and start my new job (again, OMG). So sure — not too bad. But still oh-so intimidating.

It’s okay, though. I have a plan.

My plan is going to sound crazy, but here it is: every morning before work, I’m going to get up at 4:30 a.m. and work on this sucker for an hour and a half. YES. I’m going to. I have multiple things that will motivate me to do this:

  1. The dog. Because she’s a weimaraner and thus extremely high-energy, my dog needs a run every morning. But because she’s a weimaraner and thus prone to an awful and deadly condition called bloat, she also needs to rest before and after every meal. This presents a timing conundrum that can be solved by getting her up and feeding her early, then running her right before I leave for work.

    me and my pup after our daily run

    after our daily run

  2. I’m a morning person. You know, once I convince myself to get out of bed, wash my face, and make some coffee. I get a lot of my best writing done in the morning, when my mind is fresh and the world is quiet (including social media).
  3. I’m NOT an evening person. Around 7pm every day, my body starts to shut down, brain first. I have held many jobs that require me to be “on” well past 7pm, including evening teaching jobs, but I have always struggled with working after the sun has set on the day. This means working in the morning is a far better move for me than planning on working after work, which will inevitably just not happen.

So that’s my plan. What do you think? Too ambitious? Probably. I’m hoping, though, that sticking to a schedule and allowing for occasional slip-ups will enable me to get through this particular to-do list without too much trouble. How have you tackled scary to-do lists, I wonder? Tell me on twitter!