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Professional Development and Social Media

Yet another good chat on Today’s Meet with Shelly Blake-Plock of TeachPaperless and another educator named Jeff who worked “15 years as IT Dir. for a district in Kentucky. Retired in 08. Now starting a co. doing online PD on social media and OSS topics.”

The discussion centered on how social media has affected and changed the nature of (and teachers’ attitude toward) professional development. One of the major elements that we discussed as vital to compiling and then implementing new technologies and resources was social bookmarking.

Here are a few excerpts on social bookmarking and good/related websites:

Shelly: @Nate How about social bookmarking? That seems ideal for a community of teachers.
Nate: @Shelly, I’m really keen on soc. bookmarking. I use http://www.delicious.com/nkogan
S: I’ve recently started a Diigo account for teaching, and I like the ability to comment direct and read comments in online text. http://www.diigo.com/profile/teachpaperless
N: @Shelly, is that the major perk/benefit of Diigo? The ability to annotate? Doesn’t Delicious have comparable functionality?
S: W/ Diigo u can one-click publish your annotations/bookmarks to Twitter, FB, and onto yr Blog. You can also blog directly from a Diigo post.
N: hmmm, sounds pretty versatile. I’ll have to check it out. Can you port your Delicious contacts over to Diigo?
S: Like I sd, I’m new to it, but it seems like it’s got great potential. Next yr all of my students will have Diigo accounts.
@Nate Yes, totally accessible/importable to/from Delicious.
The conversation then moved on to… How social networking has changed attitude toward professional development:
S: @Nate Now, how has your attitude towards prof dev changed since building your PLN?
N: @Shelly, I’ve been more engaged with PD since building my PLN. I always went to conferences, etc., but a PLN actually gets me to implement. I think traditional PD’s weakness is that people get excited about what they learn immediately, but then quickly fall back into old habits.
S: @Nate We’ve talked about ‘critical mass’ before, and in a way. the PLN really fosters engagement in a community of shared ideas/ideals. @Nate Habits are best broken by paradigm shifts.
Jeff: @Nate Absolutely. Teachers need to be given a way to actually start using SM in class situations DURING the PD.
N: @Shelly, exactly. I think the probs w/ trad. PD is that its easy to quickly ignore. The PLN encourages on-the-fly integration of new tools. For some reason, taking risks w/ new resources gained from a PLN seems easier. It doesn’t seem like a total overhaul of a unit or lesson, etc.
S: @Nate Well, I think it’s a matter of personal-need-driven rather than top-down development. And I think that idea is something that social media is really tapping into throughout society.
N: @Shelly, good point on personal driven vs. top-down. PLNs allow you to implement resources w/in one’s own style and teaching methods.
S: One thing I find very exciting is that teachers are now publishers. They are engaged in publishing their ideas via Twitter, etc. I think that given the events and media-coverage, esp w regards to Iran, social media is seeing its connotations evolve. Becoming ‘normal’.
We then moved on to how personal learning networks (PLNs) and social media are being incorporated into schools (and communities in general) and the role administrators play in that process:
S: @Jeff How are admins responding to teachers use of SM?
J: @Shelly As would be expected, the few admins who are using SM are very supportive, others want to block them all (too scary)
N: Do admins ALWAYS fall into one of those two camps: SM is great OR SM is evil? Do many recognize the nuance of these tools?
J: I was at a KY tech conference last week. The use of SM by the Iran protestors was generating lots of disc. and changing some minds.
S: I see the use of social media by professionals and within families having a great impact on ridding us of the ‘fear’ of SM. In a way, the more we use social media for professional development, the more we ‘model’ creative and pro-active SM behavior. Bye-bye fear. I’m interested in how we get faculties on board. I think Twitter is probably the best platform to start in its accessibility and directness.
J: Ultimately, in the NCLB world we have to be able to show admins HOW SM tools can improve (bad words here) Test Scores.
S: @Jeff I really think that SM undermines highstakes testing. SM is a formative thing; a blog or Tweet feed is by nature that anti-SAT.
N: I agree re: Twitter as the entry point given that it points one to so many other resources, tools, and people.
J: Modeling is important. I was a twitter sceptic until I saw other educators using it to share resources and info.
N: However, it’s too bad that Twitter’s website is initially off-putting/obscuring its functionality. I think edu. re: Twitter also has to go along with intro to 3rd party apps. — Tweetie, Tweetdeck, DestroyTwitter, etc.
Finally we ended the conversation with a discussion and reconsideration of the terms, definitions, and connotations that many people have regarding social media and technology and how those current attitudes create resistance:
S: Now let’s discuss the elephant in the room: what about the folks who are anti-tech? @Jeff, what’s been yr experience w the admins? And when I say anti-tech, I’m really saying ‘against the broader media shift’.
N: Don’t you think defining “tech” more broadly would help de-stigmatize SM? Aren’t whiteboard, pen, paper, etc. all forms of “tech” also?
S: In a way, I want to go in the opposite direction. I want to delineate SM from the ‘tech’ that so many teachers have rightly compained about. ie — SM is something totally different.
N: Would a reconceptualization like that help level the playing field re: technology? e.g. just a different way to communicate/teach well?
J: @Shelly They run the gamut. The key is in admin PD. If admins start seeing how to use “tech” to do their job better, they’re more receptive.
S: It’s not LCD projector ‘replacing’ a transparency. Or a SmartBoard ‘replacing’ whatever. It’s really a new way of thinking about ourselves to the idea of teachers using it.
N: @Shelly, I see. I think SM goes a long way toward re-establishing a Socratic dynamic in a class — it encourages students to be generative.
S: @Nate And it does the same thing in professional development.
N: SM certainly isn’t didactic, which is why I think it’s so appealing/powerful.
J: Interesting shift here, moving from just PD to the broader definition of what is SM, teaching, and learning.
S: I think what we’re really talking about is ‘human development’. @Nate So how about distinguishing between SM and ‘tech’. Tech is the hardware; SM is the culture.
N: Yeah, I think a dichotomy like that makes sense. The tools don’t run themselves. It’s what you do w/ them that makes them powerful. e.g. SM!
S: @Jeff And that’s why PLNs are so valuable; because they put the learner in the driver’s seat. Of course no idea where the road leads…
N: @Shelly, that idea is so fundamental to valuable education/learning. It isn’t about a checklist/rubric, it’s about the process and growth.
S: I’ll leave with this: Twitter: RT @tim_hurson: When we say “I wish” we see power as external. When we say “I will” we see it as internal.
So, yet another good Friday Chat; this time one in which the participants were ideally practicing what they preach. I’m constantly considering these issue as I think both about my own classroom and how to serve as an effective mentor to younger teachers who are considering the profession. Ultimately, the recurring theme of teaching autonomy, self-directedness, and how to become excited and involved in one’s own intellectual development seem to be the keys to successful education.
Of course, those are abstract, intangible, unquantifiable concepts, which makes measuring or evaluating them quite difficult. And therein lies much of the tragedy of high-stakes testing. It purports to capture some measure of learning, but it places product well-above process.
I hope to see some type of sea change in the consensus attitude toward education–among teacher, students, parents, and administrators. Hopefully social media tools will help more people see the ways in which formative learning takes place and is ultimately about growth, change, struggle, and learning to overcome those challenges, rather than about some sine qua non number on a test, SAT, or GPA.
Well, on that pollyannaish note of optimism, I’ll sign off.

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