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New tech, new tools: using digital media to expand professional learning networks

Each Monday, five Georgia educators clear their schedules, shuffle through their notes, settle in at their computers and start a conversation.


They talk about everything – from assessment to augmented reality, curriculum to 3-D printing.


And as they talk, other educators from around Georgia – and the country, and the world – join in.


This is EduVue, a weekly YouTube show focusing on education technology issues and techniques. Hosted by Jaime Vandergrift, Kate Matthews, Stacia McFadden, Cat Flippen and Amy Pietrowski, the show features robust discussion through Google Hangouts and Twitter, allowing viewers to join each week’s discussion.


The show – founded by Vandergrift, Matthews, McFadden and Flippen, who met at a Google Apps for Education conference in 2012 – is part of a growing, and deeply encouraging, education trend: the ability to develop professional learning networks through technology.


Networking online “has been such a phenomenal resource for me as far as keeping me on the cutting edge, and the leadership opportunity of networking with wonderful ed-tech women who are really connected,” said Matthews, the Fayette County Public Schools’ lead instructional technology specialist. “It was the step and the push that I needed to make sure I stayed relevant.”


The women of EduVue aren’t alone in using new tools to connect beyond the classroom. Once a week, educators around the state come together for #gaed, a Twitter chat focused on – you guessed it – Georgia education.  If you’re not familiar with the concept, Twitter chats are regular conversations among like-minded users of the site, organized around a hashtag and typically overseen by moderators who pose questions for the group.


The #gaed chat takes place on Thursdays, moderated by two Henry County Schools administrators – instructional technology coordinator Brian Blanton and assistant superintendent for learning and leadership Aaryn Schmuhl. Anyone can join in to discuss the weekly topics, which range from classroom management to 21st-century libraries (and can be accessed later using Storify). The hashtag finds use throughout the week, too, often tacked onto various posts related to education in Georgia; resources and think pieces and news.  


“When I think back on my 20 years of teaching, occasionally I’d have the opportunity to go to a conference, and occasionally I would go to the library and I would pick up a professional journal, but with Twitter, it’s a daily nourishment,” said Kelley Theodocion, a Henry County Impact Academy instructor who participates in the #gaed chat each week. “You’re able to customize it, to tailor it and customize it to what you’re interested in…It has totally transformed how I look at teaching and learning.”


Building professional networks through social and digital media can empower educators, broadening the net for ideas, strategies, attainable resources, even encouragement from peers. Technology can open the classroom door, and open it to the world.


“You cannot just be holed up in your classroom,” said EduVue’s Flippen, a Spanish teacher at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and doctoral candidate at the University of Florida. “You need to have a much more worldly view. The best way you can do that, easily, from your cellphone, is using social media and connecting with others. And that takes you places you never thought you could go before.”​