I had the privilege of presenting at the Wisconsin Technology Initiative on December 5, 2015. My topic was how to get started in building one’s personal learning network.
My concurrent sessions were for secondary teachers as the audience. Teachers in mathematics, science, technology, physical education, art, social studies, and special education were represented. A few university students planning on becoming teachers in the future also joined us.
We started our time together by describing the current professional development activities taking place in our respective schools. Here is a sampling of participants’ responses:
A group of committed professionals interested in what’s best for children
Alliance with other smaller districts to be able to provide better opportunities
There are resources within district
Sometimes it can be kind of one sided
Usually great info, but not enough time to practice/explore
Occasionally it feels “forced”
Being with people within your own discipline is sometimes difficult to explore/collaborate
Often other perspectives and ideas are needed to help expand
Need more time to discuss and implement
I thought these observations were fair and accurately described what many educators experience for professional learning offered in their school and district. There were positives, but it seemed like schoolwide professional learning wasn’t enough for the teachers attending.
Identifying this need for something different, I briefly spoke about what a personal learning network (PLN) is, a short history of how we got to now, and why building a PLN can fill this gap for personalized learning.
This led into our goals for our brief time together: Get connected, build a network, and be intentional with our online presence. The concept of developing a PLN is overwhelming, possibly a reason why some educators don’t have one in the first place. That is why we started with Twitter. The basics were covered, such as how to create an account, how to create a username and handle, and how to follow others.
Here are some key terms shared with the participants to understand how to use Twitter for professional learning:
- Handle = visible username
- Tweet = post on Twitter
- Retweet = repost someone else’s tweet on your timeline
- Timeline = your tweets/retweets
- Mention = include someone else’s handle in your tweet
- Favorite = “star” button, saves tweet to read later or for affirmation
- Notifications = alerts you receive when someone retweets, favorites, or replies to one of your tweets
- Hashtag = key term that serves as a search tool within Twitter
- Message = private chat within Twitter (no character limit now)
- Lists = groups created around topics and interests
- Twitter Chat = conversation on Twitter around a specific topic, using a Q1/A1 Question/Answer format (Use www.tweetdeck.com)
Hashtags were a topic of specific focus for our work. Most of the participants had not used Twitter before, or were not aware of how this social media tool could be used to connect with other educators. Knowing the audience, I listed a number of disciplinary-specific hashtags for the educators to explore:
#edchat, #mathchat, #sschat (social studies chat), #scichat (science chat), #engchat (English chat), #edtechchat, #satchat (school leadership chat on Saturdays), #educoach (instructional coaching chat), #atplc (Professional Learning Communities chat), #pechat (physical education chat), #artchat, #teacheredchat (teacher education chat), #spedchat (special education chat)
It was apparent from the conversations and activity that the teachers wanted time to investigate the possibilities and resources available on Twitter. That’s is why I didn’t get into how to use Evernote for collecting and curating online information, or how to use WordPress to create new content and understandings through blogging.
We ended our time together by reviewing the key descriptors for both models of professional learning (see table below). I also encouraged the participants to follow each other and keep the conversation going. Recognizing the benefits and limitations of each approach helps us as educators be smarter about professional growth opportunities.
|School-based Professional Development||Personal Learning Networks|
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