Interview | Timothy Ito on the ASCD EDge

When Timothy Ito joined ASCD in 2008, the association already had several existing offline “communities” – members, affiliates, authors, conference attendees, etc. But there was no one single place online where they all connected, interacted and shared strategies and best teaching practices. To meet this need, he led the creation of ASCD EDge at http://edge.ascd.org, a free online professional learning community dedicated to empowering educators with the connections they need to support the success of each learner.

Victor: What does the name mean? 

Tim: Well, the ED refers to Education, but we also liked this idea that if you joined you had a “edge” over others who didn’t simply because the community could connect any one person to experts such as Robert Marzano, Grant Wiggins, Heidi Hayes Jacobs and, of course, our large community of practitioners.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Tim: ASCD EDge is a community of educators dedicated to networking with one another and to sharing the best tactics, strategies and best practices in education. The community reflects ASCD’s mission-driven efforts to further improve student learning in the U.S. and around the world.

The community was created by ASCD, the global leader in providing programs, products and services that empower educators to support student learning, using a partner platform from a company called KickApps – the platform  that runs a number of social networking communities for sites such as U2.com and other major media institutions.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Tim: Similar to Facebook, ASCD EDge helps members connect with and message each other, share updates, join groups, and participate and comment on live events. Participation is free and community members can upload and share video, audio, blogs, photos and documents (the latter in a group setting).

The community provides many networking benefits to educators.   Participants can meet and connect with their peers from 149 countries. Most importantly though, ASCD sees the real value of the community in its role as a forum to reflect on the practice of teaching.  We hear that over and over –when educators share and connect with others — they are able to better reflect on their practice and how they are approaching student learning.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Tim: We believe ASCD EDge is unique as it reflects our diverse community, spanning from teachers to administrators, to professors and beyond.  Regarding other companies in the same space, we believe we have a unique niche in education social networking, as ASCD is home to a diverse group of educators. ASCD EDge mirrors that diversity, giving users a really special experience I don’t think is duplicated anywhere else.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?  

Tim: The site was actually launched live on in December of 2009. Launching ASCD EDge was part of a larger, phased strategy to improve the online experience of web visitors.

The first phase of this effort was to completely redesign the existing web site.  In the second phase, we added ASCD EDge –the thought being to enhance both the interactivity and engagement of our audience. We also developed our Facebook and Twitter presences and enhanced our use of multimedia in an effort to connect educators through those channels.

As this effort progressed, we began seeing the “network effect” that we hoped for in terms of circulating traffic between our various online properties.   These efforts also helped us engage our community where they were instead of making them simply come to our web site.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Tim: The site, as mentioned, originated from ASCD and was built through our partner KickApps. You can find the site at: http://edge.ascd.org

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Tim: Participation in this online community is free.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Tim: You can view the most recent blogs here: http://edge.ascd.org/service/searchEverything.kickAction?as=127586&mediaType=blog&sortType=recent&includeBlog=on  (There are more than 800 that have been posted)

Or join popular groups: http://groups.ascd.org/groups/search/?sort=popular

Here’s an example of an individual group: http://groups.ascd.org/groups/detail/131389/mobile-technology-in-schools/

You can also navigate to post on the message board and upload video, photos and audio.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it NOT for?

Tim: The site is tailored for every educator, at every level, dedicated to supporting the success of each learner.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Tim: I generally believe the following: The knowledge about what works in schools exists out there for people to find. Educators know what methods work to help better engage students and get them to learn at their true potential. It doesn’t matter if the topic is classroom management or instruction or assessment or even something such as what foods to offer kids at lunchtime. It doesn’t matter if the school is rural, urban or suburban. We know what works best from research in all those areas. We know how best to combat bullying. We know how to engage local communities.

Hence, I think ASCD EDge offers real value to educators , as it  allows them to see what others are doing and share their lessons and successes – it doesn’t matter whether that comes from the community next to them, another state, or even another country.  I think social networking is extremely valuable in that people can use these networks to improve what they’re doing at home. And hopefully that will transfer to improving student learning.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating ASCD EDge?

Tim: By most measures, I was a pretty serious student and mostly self-motivated. I always wanted to be the best at what I did and while I often fell short, I think the most important thing I learned is that there is always more out there for someone to learn. And there is always someone wanting to learn the latest or the greatest thing. When I worked in journalism, I saw real commitment in that I watched Managing Editors of major magazines doing everything they could to learn about the subjects they covered.  I think like any other profession, there is a core of educators who are always striving to learn more and extend their learning and I think a community like ASCD EDge serves them in terms of their desire to dive deeper and learn what others are doing.

The other point I’d make is probably more universal and less related to my own education. I generally believe that people want to “connect” with others. It’s a natural human instinct. ASCD’s  in-person conferences continue to be wildly popular,  partially due to the fact that people want to be around others and interact with them. After all, the greatest moments in life are never done in isolation – it’s the feeling you get from interacting with others that is the draw. If we can provide that for educators, we’ll have succeeded.

Victor: How does ASCD EDge address some of your concerns about education?

Tim: As mentioned above, I think ASCD EDge helps educators share best practices and strategies with others so that they can improve student learning.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Tim: If you’re asking about the United States in particular, I’m rather bullish on education here. Unlike many naysayers, I believe the U.S. education system in particular will always produce a high-quality workforce. A lot of that belief stems from the fact that our culture encourages creative problem solving and is simply freer than other places. Many countries that score high on tests often have a rigid education system which focuses on rote learning and memorization. Our system still encourages creativity, which is absolutely necessary to face the problems of the 21st century and beyond.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of ASCD EDge? What makes you say that?

Tim: I think the value of ASCD EDge will speak for itself once an educator signs up and begins connecting with others. The value of any community is found in its membership and because we have access to many top education experts, thinkers and practitioners, I think we will continue to provide a quality experience for those who sign up.

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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