Archive for the ‘Educon’ Category

Educon 2.3: Focus Question 3

Moving forward, we hoped that this focus question would get our attendees thinking about where to go with all this once they returned home:

What steps / structures can be taken / created to foster improved classroom practice through PLN interactions?

I didn’t see any common themes emerge from these answers (but see below and judge for yourself), but one attendee raised the question (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Why must there be structured steps toward tangible goals?  Can talking/thinking about issues be enough?”  I was sympathetic to this view – I have been influenced in my thinking by several folks in my PLN, but not every philosophical POV translates into specific classroom action.  I would argue, however, that these shifts in mindset will eventually manifest themselves somehow – in the quantity and quality of work assigned, in the decision whether or not to assign homework regularly, and even in how you interact with your students.

I think the SciDo/EngDo collaboratives discussed in my last post are probably the best examples of improved classroom practice as a result of PLN interactions.  It seems that having a more “permanent” (for lack of a better word) structure than the admittedly ephemeral conversations that take place on Twitter is necessary – a wiki to which people can contribute, a Ning such as Classroom 2.0, just something more established than a hashtag chat or random discussion.

See anything in the responses that I’m missing?  Agree/disagree with the need for an established structure like a wiki?  Leave a comment!

Our attendee’s verbatim responses:

* feels natural to translate it
* allowing yourself to fail miserably in front of V-PLN
* challenge yourself
* provide support to teachers who are ‘new’ to social networking.  Make time during school day for this type of engagement.
* Learn to work asynchronously.  Catch kids when they are ready to learn, not when they are scheduled.
* “@ – as much as possible”
* “tweacher”
* how do I find people I want to follow?
* contribute constructively and positively to edu-trends
* triggers from other social interactions – timely
* what is the real value of discussion?
* low opportunity cost!
* if expected value is high, then I will follow up on it
* get to 80%, go, figure out 20% (or more) w/kids
* allowing yourself to fail miserably in front of your v-pln
* challenge yourself
* ask questions and find people (like- and not like-minded) to help you answer them
* get many opinions & views on issues & problems
* my as home page
* “needs to be in front of me or I’ll forget about it”
* greater sharing can lead to greater opportunities for learning “give to get”
* demonstrate the value in connecting
* sharing is caring
* speak up but speak well
* see it -> self-evaluate -> do it
* is just talking about it enough to make you think in new ways?
* start a blog where you reflect & ask questions.  Use it to link up to other educator blogs and start conversations
* vlogging as often as possible
* follow a Twitter chat
* share lessons & resources – request great lessons from other
* join a professional online community
* co-develop methods with your PLN; all implement – focused crowdsourcing
* create an online portal to share resources among staff.  Have a place where colleagues can ask questions and receive feedback.

Educon 2.3: Focus Question 2

What examples do we have of personal learning networks leading to a change in classroom practice?

One group in our Educon conversation managed to group all the responses to this focus question into four main categories:


The proliferation of Twitter-based hashtag chats was mentioned in our presentation, and that resonated with our attendees.  #Spedchat and #BlackEdu were mentioned specifically as far as influencing “how we speak about students” and “finding edunerds of color on social media”, respectively (side note: if you’d like to join the fun on Twitter, see Ben Wilkoff’s excellent resource for keeping track of all edu-related Twitter chats).  The National Writing Project and their Digital_Is offshoot were also recognized as being highly valuable resources that have had significant presences on Twitter and Facebook.


With one of the EdCamp founders in our session, it came as no surprise to me that this grass-roots event – one that started in Philly and has gone nationwide in less than a year – was one of the top examples of a social media-driven face-to-face event for resource sharing, discussion, and professional growth (similar in many ways to Educon itself).  Folks also spoke about learning about existing events such as TEDxNYED through their social media connections, or by attending conferences and extending the conversations that started face-t0-face into the online space, well past the chronological end of the event.

Resource Sharing

The SciDo and EngDo collaboratives were both borne of teachers discussing sharing lesson plans and activities over Twitter.  Given the limitations of the medium, it made sense to move the discussion into action in a different forum altogether, and thus were born SciDo and EngDo.  These wikis, aimed at science and English educators, allow folks to browse, take, and also contribute their best/most fun/most exciting lessons.  Many of the folks involved in EngDo and SciDo also share documents via Google Docs, thereby opening the door to fellow educators to browse, pick, and choose resources at their leisure (and to return the favor to the community as well).

Beyond these two examples, participants talked about resource gained via the aforementioned hashtag chats on Twitter, reading blogs of fellow educators, and participating in Nings such as Classroom 2.0 for resource sharing and discussion.

Collaborative Problem Solving

There was some overlap between this group and the others; again, we see the conceps of soliciting feedback via participation in hashtag chats, Nings, and blogging.  One attendee said that “‘arguments’ or discussions between other people in my PLN help me to clarify my own position on things like “homework”, etc.”, and that’s probably one of the biggest reasons I stick with this.  Even in the “echo chamber”, there is still a multiplicity of attitudes and perspectives, and I rely on them to continually push my thinking and help me to grow and hopefully become a better educator.

Once again, the full list of responses:

* Digital_Is (see NWP)
* Teacher networks #NWP
* #spedchat – how we speak about students
* #blackedu – finding edunerds of color on social media

* Edcamp – ultimate in just-in-time learning
* Found out about TEDxNYED on Twitter & speakers there helped me to clarify positions on:
**attending conferences (eg AASL/NJASL & continuing conversations on Twitter afterward)
**#TEDxNYED Finding ppl who aren’t educators but are allies in innovative educational ideas

Resource Sharing
* #mathchat – pooling best & biggest resources for classroom math
* Ning for asynchronous portion of yearlong PD – classroom practices where ?? skills can flourish
* Dan Meyer’s blog helped 5 students to pass a state exam they had previously failed
* Requests for activities & labs on subjects where my stuff was lacking
* w/Paul Allison & Chris Sloan #NWP
* Ning – exchange lesson ideas and receive feedback
* collaboration from #engchat & #engdo
* #scido collaborative – – resource sharing and collaborative hub
* #hcrhs chat – develop lessons for integrating web 2.0 tools, made interdisciplinary connections that resulted in collaborative units

Collaborative Problem Solving
* #ARCSFloatOn – book reviewers pass on adv. reading copies to teachers
* blogging w/students and gathering feeds on netvibes helped me formatively assess
* #sbg and #sbar
* switched to SBG based mostly on connections/examples thru blogs/Twitter
* Classroom 2.0 – getting assistance w/ed questions re best practices; implementing in classroom
* student 1:1 pilot group
* reworked lessons/units to incorporate web tools and develop inquiry-based lessons/projects
* “arguments” or discussions b/w other people in PLN help me to clarify my own position on things like “homework”, etc

Educon 2.3: Focus Question 1

One question we presented to our Educon conversation attendees was:

What are the major barriers (beyond technical fluency) for social-network based PLN’s to become vehicles for transformative professional development?

Lots of great thoughts on this, and of the three focus questions, probably the easiest to answer.  After all, if there weren’t so many barriers, everyone would be learning via PLNs, right?  Let’s kick it off with the big one (literally and figuratively):

Photo by Ben Wildeboer

It’s not everyday you see a Post-It note re-tweeted, but surely fear of the Internet, fear of the unknown, fear of transparency, fear of accessibility, fear of sharing information, and all other manner of fears act as barriers to PLN involvement.  I certainly struggled with it to a degree when I first became involved in my online professional community, and I have had much prior experience online – I imagine it must be an even more significant barrier to overcome when “all this Internet stuff” is completely foreign to a person.

The “fear” theme was pervasive throughout the responses, but other interesting points were made as well:

  • The term “Personal” may be a barrier – can PD be too individualized, and therefore isolating?
  • PLN-style learning is not always valued by administrators or by the system that requires educators to quantify their learning (e.g., PD hours) – how do we put a number on the discussions we have or the resources we share?
  • Often, schools dictate what is acceptable professional development and what is not – if even structured, “official” PD can be discounted as “acceptable”, what chance does social, informal learning have?
  • PLNs are not PD unto themselves – they can be part of an overall PD plan, but this in & of itself is not enough

I would love to hear your thoughts on these.  If you’re interested (or you attended the session and are curious what everyone said), here’s the complete list of what the crew came up with:

* FEAR (RT @thejlv)
* maintaining status quo
* school policy
* don’t want to “put themselves out there”
* fear of sharing information
* policies dictating what counts as PD
* systems, i/e/ organizational issues
* convince admins of the value of social PD
* overgeneralization
* accessibility, liability, etc
* state/govt mandates
* lack/absence of methods, strategies proposed
* like students, teachers need to be taught (or re-taught) to think
* don’t know where to start
* getting knowledge out of boxes & into classrooms
* communicating ideas effectively for educators AND non-educators!
* Term “Personal” in PLN – is this a barrier?
* misperception
* if it’s not structured by an ‘expert’, it’s not ‘real’ PD
* PLNs are by definition small, focused, & scattered.  They are part of a comprehensive PD plan, but not plan themselves.
* unwillingness to be online
* people being comfortable taking risks and being vulnerable

Educon 2.3: From #chat to #do

This past Sunday, I had the distinct privilege of co-facilitating a conversation at Educon 2.3 at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  Dr. Eric Brunsell and I spoke about our* research on how teachers use Twitter, and challenged workshop attendees to consider how to take the benefits, both tangible and intangible, of participating in an online Personal Learning Network (PLN), and translating them into actionable professional development.  In other words, what specific good comes of our participation in online communities?

After presenting our findings, we presented our participants with three focus questions to discuss in small groups, carousel-style.  They were:

  • What examples do we have of personal learning networks leading to a change in classroom practice?
  • What steps / structures can be taken / created to foster improved classroom practice through PLN interactions?
  • What are the major barriers (beyond technical fluency) for social-network based PLN’s to become vehicles for transformative professional development?

Our attendees came up with some great responses to each of these prompts.  I had originally planned to synthesize these into a single blog post, but as I sat in the SLA library typing them up on Sunday afternoon, I realized there was too much for a single post.  Over the course of the next few days, I’ll put up three individual posts, each dedicated to one central question and the responses generated.  In the meantime, have a look at the slidedeck that accompanied our presentation:

*Dr. Elizabeth Alderton, Eric’s colleague at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, is also a member of our research team, but was unable to attend Educon.

Exhaling at EduCon

Note: The bulk of this was written at nearly 11:30pm on Saturday, 30 January 2010, upon arriving home from EduCon 2.2.  I just wanted to get these thoughts down before I went to bed and lost the feeling I had at the time; “post-production” tweaking was done with the benefit of a clearer head and a few hours of sleep.

I’ve just walked in the door from Educon 2.2, a conference structured as a series of breakout conversations about current and future issues in education, facilitated by classroom teachers, professors, researchers, and students, among others.

I was fortunate to attend sessions led by Gary Stager, Ben Hazzard & Rodd Lucier, and Jon Becker & Justin Bothan.  In between I spent time walking around the conference site, Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, and taking in the classroom setups, the facilities, and even the little details like the posters & flyers on the walls.  The majority of what little down time I had, however, was spent speaking and rubbing a friendly elbow with many people with whom I had heretofore only corresponded online via Twitter or Facebook.

Doubtless, there will be a flurry of blog posts over the next week about how great EduCon was (and it was!), and what people’s favorite presenters or sessions were, or what have you.  What’s on my mind right now, however, is the value of the time spent in between sessions.  I imagine that most folks at EduCon have a few things in common:

  • we fancy ourselves “progressive” educators (for whatever that might mean to each of us)
  • we are proponents of increasing student access to technology
  • we believe that there is a significant degree of change needed in the American education system, from the federal level down to individual classroom practices.

I don’t know that these phrases always describe the majority of our colleagues outside of our little online pseudo-social circles.

While it’s easy to look at the folks congregating in-between (or in some cases, during) sessions and cast aspersions that they’re prioritizing socializing over their own learning, consider how isolating the teaching profession can be in general.  Then, place yourself in a small subset of educators who can be defined by the above criteria.  For teachers who work in districts where their passion is not only ignored, but sometimes actively discouraged or prohibited by colleagues and superiors alike, social sessions with like-minded people are a necessity for sharing ideas, blowing off steam, and, as someone I spoke with earlier today said (I forget who, sorry!), “remembering that we’re not crazy”.  In some cases, it can feel like a deep exhalation.

There’s always been talk of the dangers of the “echo chamber” effect in ed-tech circles online.  Yes, it’s a valid concern, but considering how far the pendulum swings in the other direction for most of us in our professional lives, it’s not as if there’s not plenty to bring us ‘back to reality’.  Indulging in some off-the-clock camaraderie, perhaps even at the expense of a structured, scheduled activity, is not only acceptable, but vital to our continued advocacy in the face of continued opposition.  The sessions gave us plenty of food for thought about what we can do differently (or do more of) in our classrooms, buildings, and districts, but the shared food, drink, and laughter outside those sessions nourished our souls.

And I’m definitely going back next year for seconds.