Years Gone By: Relevant Learning Ties Remain

This post is co-authored by Tom Murray and Kristen Swanson.Dear Tom,Back in the days of giant desktop computers and Microsoft Publisher, you were my teacher. You showed me how to create digital learning spaces for my students, and you guided me as I started to think about the ways that technology could transform students into authentic writers and publishers.Although it has been many years since you were my teacher, you still influence my learning. Thanks to Twitter, blogs, and social media, I’m able to connect with you regularly. Whether we’re sharing resources, asking questions, or gently persuading our colleagues to jump into the conversation, we seem to find each other quite often in digital spaces.So, thanks to the strength of weak ties, you are still my teacher.However, you are no longer my only teacher. In the past, I was not connected. I learned from those closest to me, but few others. Today, I have access to thousands of teachers on Twitter, on blogs, and at Edcamps. These people have helped me just as much as you have helped me. I feel lucky to live in such a connected age in education.So, thanks for giving me the simple tools to get started. And, thanks for growing and sharing alongside me in these new, digital spaces.– Kristen

Dear Kristen,I remember your days as a new teacher well. You were energetic, inspired and ready to make a difference in the lives of the children in your third grade classroom. Before the days of social media and wifi access in schools, we studied desktop publishing, multimedia and digital literacy. What may seem simple and outdated now was new and relevant back then.I vividly remember giving feedback on your final assignment writing how you “had what it took”, your “passion radiated”, and your “voice of leadership was highly evident in your work”. I wanted you to know that I believed in you. I felt honored to learn alongside you as your teacher, knowing that your future was bright. To think that I had a part in your learning, maybe a word of encouragement, an inspirational thought, or something that challenged your thinking, gives me great pride years later. My ultimate reward comes in watching your personal success, whether it’s authoring a book, earning your doctorate, co-founding the Edcamp movement, or even working alongside an educational icon. You’ve transformed from an incredible new teacher, to a well respected author and technology guru.Our current connection, which now spans several states, allows me to learn far more from you than I ever could have taught you in a 14 week graduate course. Being connected years later has transformed our traditional classroom of learning, into a global classroom filled with thousands of other teachers and learners.The strength of our weak ties helped me understand that authentic learning is a continuous journey, not some three credit graduate course for a university. In remaining connected years later, I’ve grown to understand that my student has become my teacher. Thank you for teaching me far more than I could ever have taught you in a handful of graduate courses years ago.– Tom
Mark Granovetter reminds us that digital tools help us widen and broaden our learning well beyond strong ties, or those people in our immediate communities, workplaces and geographical areas. Learning spaces have transformed from small groups in local classrooms limited by geographical location, to global networks of collaboration and innovation.A more diverse network is a better network.Include voices near and far in your personal learning network. Connect in a variety of ways, including face to face and through digital spaces. Be a connected educator. Don’t allow geographic boundaries to limit your learning. You never know whose flame your own personal spark may ignite, even years down the road.