Hyper Connected Teachers

How do we define teaching and learning in a hyper-connected world?

Published: 18 January 2013

As teachers take advantage of networked services they are increasingly becoming active agents in a hyper connected world that will forever change how they teach. There are many factors that influence and determine the success of teachers but increasingly that success will be determined by their ability to utilise networked services; especially in a world were learners, communities and economies reside in a hyper-connected world.

The definitions, assumptions and norms of the traditional education landscape have irreversibly changed. The agents in the traditional classroom; namely the teacher, the teaching assistant and students can now connect and collaborate with people outside their physical environment. They are able to discover and share information and ideas with one another and they can interact and collaborate though self-selected networks. [1]

The opportunity to access additional sources of information or knowledge banks is naturally welcomed by many teachers but at the same time it is important to acknowledge educators who state that networked devices and services distract students from their learning because they reduce student engagement and participation in and out of the classroom. This debate is ongoing but as ubiquitous computing becomes the norm the always connected device will gradually blend into our everyday lives and I suggest that these connected devices are already indispensable within an education setting; just as they already are in the commercial and public sectors and in our homes. We have reached a point were it is becoming impossible to talk meaningfully about education without talking about the role that technology has in supporting teaching and learning.


We often cite that the advent of new technology, networked and web enabled services will bring about irreversible changes within the education sector but at this moment in time the new paradigm that defines the emerging digital educational landscape still needs to gain consensus. We should not be surprised if the return on investment on technology and services is not realised immediately. The education sector will adjust to major and rapid technological advances but only after a period of cultural lag. The period of cultural lag could be short or prolonged. The lag is determined on the whole by the predilections and instincts of teachers and the educational establishments within which they work. Hence the need for schools, colleges and universities to have a sustained change management programme when introducing new technologies and services. The one thing that we are sure of is that the new technological paradigm of the post PC era will forever alter the shape of current and future pedagogy within the education sector. It is already altering our perceptions of the world and how we engage and shape it.

a world were learners, communities and
economies reside in a hyper-connected world



As technology becomes more ubiquitous within the education setting it is important to remind ourselves about the primary roles and functions of being a teacher. The adjacent video does just that. [2] A confident teacher will always be in a position to promote the use of technology as an aid to magnify our ability to communicate, create, collaborate and share our thoughts and ideas.

The internet, the world wide web and personal computing devices are still in their infancy and the education sector has yet to learn how to make best use out of these digital mediums. We have yet to imagine how we will use technology to support teaching and learning. At the present moment in time technology is being used in classrooms, schools and education systems that were present before technology became present in the education setting. As classrooms, schools and education systems continue to change and evolve we will see a gradual change in how we deploy and use technology to support teaching and learning; but the primary role of the teacher to support, facilitate, engage and inspire will be always be present regardless of the education setting.

As stated earlier technology has yet to disrupt the education system. The dominance of traditional pedagogy, practices, norms and cultures within the education sector are many fold and we need to recognise that it will take more than disruptive technology to bring about profound structural changes to the education sector in the UK.

The influence of networked devices and services has been profoundly disruptive across a number of sectors; namely, the financial sector, the retail sector, the music industry, publishing, the newspaper industry, broadcasting and many more. If we define disruption as an event or series of events that changes an entire industry it is regrettable to say that the education sector has yet to be transformed by the introduction of networked technologies. Schools in the UK spend on average up to 10% of their annual budgets on ICT and they have made use of technological innovations such as the World Wide Web to distribute and share educational resources, teachers have made use of interactive whiteboards and students use networked devices and services on a daily basis to support their studies; but the adoption of networked devices and services by schools has in too many cases inadvertently exacerbated traditional pedagogy and practices in their classrooms. For instance the majority of web based services within the education sector are still reminiscent of web 1.0 and 2.0 services; and these services reflect a teacher centered and teacher led pedagogy. The use of interactive whiteboards in many classrooms again reinforces a teacher led model and many teachers have yet to untether themeslves from the teacher wall. Whilst recognising the shortfalls of these early technologies and networked services we must acknowledge that they have benefited teachers and learners in such a profound manner that it is now inconceivable of ever being without a networked device and it's associated services to support teaching and learning.

we have yet to imagine how we will use
technology to support teaching and learning

We are still at the dawn of a period that will bring about ubiquitous computing to all. We must remember that it was only over the last decade that individuals and households had affordable access to home computing  and mobile computing devices. The production, application and use of ubiquitous networked devices and services is very much in its infancy and as stated earlier we have yet to fully imagine how these technologies and networked services will be put to use within an education setting. Let us examine a number of potential scenarios were networked devices and services will fundamentally alter our perception of education systems across the globe and how schools, colleges and universities will deliver education services to learners of all ages. Firstly, the internet and the world wide web have displaced the position and power of traditional educational establishments or the old knowledge monopolies because they no longer control the dissemination and distribution of learning. Networked services have lessened the traditional authority of educational establishments such as schools, colleges and universities and we will see an increase in the number of education distribution channels. Students can and will access a growing library of online resources; resources that have been generated by educational publishing houses, educational institutions and user generated content. For example, over 6.1 million students in the United States took at least one online course during the Autumn of 2010; an increase of 560,000 students over the number reported the previous year. Thirty-one percent of all higher education students in the United States now take at least one course online. [3] Further evidence that supports the popularity of other education distribution channels is seen in the UK were the Open University has attracted over 50 million downloads of its educational content in iTunes U; [4] and in the U.S, Stanford University also attracted over 50 million downloads via iTunes U. [5]

United States Students Taking at Least One Online Course in a Degree Granting Post-Secondary Institution (2002-2010) [6]

Number of U.S students enrolled on an online course

Secondly, education systems will become further decentralised; with national, regional and local governments passing over the responsibility and delivery of education services to not-for-profit education providers and to individual schools. The schools that successfully emerge from this new education landscape will be the ones that succeed in managing the strategic use of ICT. They will emerge as the new supernodes. I define the characteristics of a supernode as follows:

  • the supernode leverages the benefits to be gained by securing independence from the local authority or from any other local government body that provides networked education services to schools,
  • the supernode is typically a secondary school. Its size enables it procure, commission and manage an enterprise level ICT environment for itself and the schools it provides networked services to,
  • the supernode seeks to protect its interests by securing and establishing networked services with local primary schools from whom many of its students emerge. This is one of many education links that the supernode has with local primary schools and;
  • it goes without saying that the governing body and the senior leadership team at the supernode acknowledge the educational benefits to be gained by supporting the development and enrichment of networked ICT services. The support programme is wide ranging and covers all the financial, educational and change management strands that enable the supernode to be successful in its endeavours.

technology magnifies the abilities and
and the potential of all teachers and students

Thirdly, the increasing level of symbiosis between networked devices/services and students will alter how students are assessed and examined within education systems. It will throw into question fundamental principles about learning and knowledge acquisition; and how they are perceived, judged and examined by teachers, schools and education systems. For instance, networked devices and services can store large volumes of information and students in a world of ubiquitous computing will have immediate access to these public and private memory banks. Public examination systems will will need to undergo successive periods of review in order to reflect the constant and rapid development of computing and networked services. Schools who have strived and achieved a ubiquitous computing environment for their students will begin to devise alternative teaching and assessment models. Networked devices and services will promote and foster numerous benefits to teachers and students. For example, teachers and students will have access to more intelligent data which will improve the formulation of a student's learning goals and the subsequent support that will enable students to achieve their desired aims and objectives will be more intelligent and targetted. When teachers and students have access to networked devices and services more time and effort can be devoted to developing skillsets that will equip students to become more independent in their learning, to become critical thinkers or to be more participative in how they work; essentially the skills required to succeed in the modern workplace. The introduction of networked devices and services will bring about positive learning outcomes; outcomes that all teachers can readily support and advocate. When networked devices and services are used effectively the technology becomes an enabler for all teachers and students. It enhances the teacher's ability to communicate ideas and thoughts; it encourages and fosters a greater level of insight and more importantly it magnifies the abilities and the potential of all teachers and students. [7]

Whilst we praise, welcome and support the advantages to be gained from networked devices and services within the education sector we must also recognise the growing digital divide between educational establishments. In the article entitled Mind the Gap I express concerns about the growing digital divide between schools. There is a real danger that we will see a concentration of education ICT capital in a small number of schools across many towns, cities and regions. This picture is not unique to the UK for it is repeated across the globe. It is rather contradictory that the presence of the internet, the world wide web and networked devices and services has exacerbated the educational gap between schools.


  1. Louise Starkey, Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age.
  2. Teaching Tomorrow Today, Preparing for the Future: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CF2xT_PEL0M
  3. Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, November 2011. I.Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman. Babson Survey Research Group.
  4. Stanford University, 2nd April 2012: http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2012/040212itunes.html
  5. Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, November 2011. I.Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman. Babson Survey Research Group.
  6. Man - Computer Symbiosis. JCR Licklider. 1960. http://groups.csail.mit.edu/medg/people/psz/Licklider.html