by Robin Ellis
One of the challenges of my position in the district where I work has been how to “teach” others about social networking, how do you convey the benefits of virtual personal learning communities / networks, in a 3 hour workshop? How do you cover all the options, explore all the tools available to assist in creating those communities, and also build a comfort level for those interested, but who most likely have never been involved in something like this? As I reflect on my participation in PLP over the past several months and look at the foundations that have been laid for all teams across the cohorts participating this year and examine the structure in place it helps to answer the questions I struggle with. My conclusion is I don’t think you can adequately teach these concepts in an hour or two, to honestly understand the value, having the opportunity to be immersed in the conversations/immersed in the environment is the best way to learn.
What I have been able to see throughout all of the cohorts is the growth of individuals in this environment, there are emerging voices, those who are becoming comfortable are beginning to start discussions, add comments to posts others have made, share their own teaching experiences, as well as personal experience. Here is an example of one who has begun to incorporate some of the tools we have been learning about in PLP in her personal life.
One of the things I remember Will saying at our first meeting was a way to be successful with technology this year. He said that we are all so busy, so technology can’t be added to your life, but must take the place of something you already do. He used the example of how he used to watch the news, but now he uses technology to stay informed. I really thought that was important for me to remember this year. So what I’ve tried to do is use and learn about technology in the things I am already spending much time on. I attended a workshop on gifted students. The keynote speaker was talking about using technology with gifted students, he talked about 21st century skills, web 2.0, wikis, blogs, nings, etc. I understood everything he was talking about and used much of what he talked about with my students. This is the first time ever that I have understood more technology than many other teachers. I am so proud of what I have done the past few months and how much I have learned.
New Jersey cohort member Laura Sipes.
She started using tools she had been introduced to in her cohort, in her personal life, and as a result has gained confidence and understanding in the value of using technology as an integral part of what you do every day rather than add it on to your daily life.
Another portion of a post, from Scott Godshalk, principal, Tohickon Valley Elementary School.
Last year, I tried, unsuccessfully, to facilitate the use of a wiki at our school. I asked teachers to post a reflective document of their work during their Collaboration Sessions. As I reflected on this, I realized I dove in headfirst with the concept of a wiki. This was a new idea for the teachers, and a new way to collaborate. Teachers followed through with this expectation, and posted their Collaboration Session reflections, but there weren’t any additional comments, posts, or discussions about the content of their work. This year, I took a couple steps back, but pushed forward with the idea of a wiki. I send out a weekly bulletin to share my reflections and give teachers my thoughts on school and district initiatives. I spend a great deal of time preparing the weekly bulletin. Recently, I had an epiphany. Why am I working so hard on this? There is a school full of brilliant teachers who have fantastic ideas. They should help me with this! For the last two weeks, I posted a simple question on the wiki site, and had the teachers write a brief response to this question. The results have been phenomenal. Last week, I asked teachers what it means to teach in the year 2008. To be an effective teacher, what are the words that come to mind? Their response was awesome. Our staff is beginning to enter a new phase of collaboration.
Others are beginning to blog, some are sharing classroom experience, resources for teaching and professional development, creating Delicious accounts and sharing web sites with their cohorts. It is remarkable to see the growth of individuals who are supported and encouraged as they expand their knowledge and level of comfort in an area, just a few short months ago; many had never been introduced to before. This is the work of PLP, creating environments for collaboration and learning in ways that are relevant to all of us.
Latest posts by Robin Ellis (see all)
- Reflections from IU 13 participants - May 31, 2011
- Previews from TriState - April 5, 2010
- PLP Live Event – Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology - February 16, 2010
I’ve been into the whole web 2.0 PLN concept for a little over 9 months now and it has truly impacted my role as school leader. I had the chance to reflect on this same question last night as my sister and one of her coworkers came over for dinner. I was reading some blogs when they arrived and it sparked the conversation. In the end an analogy came up that I find useful for introducing people to the edublogosphere. Imagine watching the discovery channel and every single program was about a topic of direct interest to you. You’d never want to turn it off. We are made to learn and we love to learn as human beings. My good friend who blogs as well describes his PLN as crack-cocaine for the life long learner. Once you start you just can’t stop. But in a good way.
Charlie, I love the analogy about the discovery channel! This is how it has been for me personally, and I can see many in PLP discovering the same thing. You are right, once you begin to develop the connections you want to keep finding more. It is wonderful to hear from school leaders who beneficial PLN’s have become to them.
Several districts in Western New York have been involved in PLP as well as a local initiative of an annual conference that had a strong focus on Web 2.0 tools. We have learned from the best (Sheryl and Will included). Several ‘leaders’ in my district ‘got it’ right away and were immediately excited to use, embed and share their use of the read/write web, social networking and bookmarking. Others were more than willing and thirsty to learn. Yet others were slower in jumping on the bandwagon.
What we’ve experienced is that there is an enormous amount of resources available. Teachers want to make sure these resources are reliable and a match to what they are trying to teach. Teachers also need time to explore on their own and to come to their own realization that integrating technology is not about ‘more work’, but teaching differently. The concept of students being more actively involved in their own learning is something that needs to be discussed at the same time.
We did not make this initiative a “must do”. We provided on-going support, a teacher on special assignment to work with any and all teachers willing but needing assistance and as administrators, we use and model the use of social networking, bookmarking and blogging. It is the combination of these activities that has led to a great many teachers in the district integrating technology at a higher level than we would ever expect. A true professional learning community has evolved in a virtual platform.
Your concept “as confidence builds” is truly what we see. Students come along very quickly. Teachers want/need to know their craft. They will not use any material or resource they are not confident using themselves. This takes time.
Neil, it is great to hear from someone who has experienced the positive impact PLP has had on previous cohorts. Ongoing support, and the knowledge there are people who are ready and available to help those new to this environment, as you said is key to building a true learning community. We are well on our way this year to achieving this goal ourselves. Thanks for your thoughts
Great post Robin. I am now 3 months in on my PLP experience and I am loving it. But I recognize that I am an early adopter.
I think the word immersion is a key. I had zero experience with social networking prior to PLP. Through the use of our ning site, I became more and more comfortable and energized.
I also have learned through the experience that it takes each of us a varying amount of time and encouragement to jump in. And I believe as an administrator that encouragement, support, and immersion are three important keys to letting confidence build.
I look forward to continual learning through PLP and my growing personal learning network.
Thanks for your comments Ed, I agree immersion is the key. I also believe school administrators who understand and have experienced the collaborative nature of online communities are necessary to move students, teachers, and their communities forward in terms of the best way to adapt new technologies to engage students and improve learning.
Interesting post… thank you it’s good to hear about other’s experiences of teaching web 2.0. It’s a big part of our project here at Sheffield (www.shef.ac.uk/teachingcommons, http://www.shef.ac.uk/goodpractice)and I was particularly interested in your mention of how using wikis interactively was more productive. It’s a common misplaced complaint that “all this new technology stuff just causes more work”!