Friday, January 18, 2013

Establishing Blended Learning Communities as an Effective Approach to Faculty Development

This semester, I'm conducting a small scale research study to determine the impact of participation in a blended learning community on online instructors' course design and delivery. Through this study, I have the privilege of working with two fantastic online instructors over the course of the semester in a blended learning community. We'll be meeting each week, alternating face-to-face and online meetings. One major premise behind our work this semester is that online instructors benefit from having experience as online learners. Another is the notion that a learning community can be a valuable resource for online instructors who are often left with no support or training regarding effective online instruction.

The beauty of a true learning community is that it's guided by the needs, interests, and goals of the participants. I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks collecting data to determine the strengths, interests, and goals of the online instructors in this learning community. At our first meeting, which will be face-to-face, we'll establish norms and expectations for our work together and determine topics, tools, and pacing for the semester. After spending time with both participants in this study, I know that I have a great deal to learn from them. They have a wealth of teaching experience and expertise in a wide range of areas, and although one instructor is a novice online instructor, she is extremely knowledgeable about effective instructional and assessment practices and how these can be transferred to an online environment.

Hopefully you can see that this learning community approach to faculty development is quite different from typical faculty development opportunities, which tend to be sit-and-get sessions led by an "expert". Although I'm facilitating the process of creating this blended learning community, I am by no means the expert among this group. We all have a lot to learn from each other, and the experience of working in a blended learning environment will be a teaching tool for each of us as well.

I encourage you to consider whether a blended learning community approach might work for the professional learning needs in your setting. If so, don't wait for someone else to get the ball rolling. Take the lead, find out who's interested, determine what their learning needs are, and get started! I would love to hear from you if you're part of a blended learning community or are interested in initiating one where you are. If you are interested in being part of a blended learning community, here are just a few of my favorite tools that can facilitate this process:

  • Google+ Hangouts for synchronous online meetings
  • Wikispaces for collaborative work and resource sharing
  • Google Drive for collaborative document creation and editing
  • Twitter for connecting with others who may be outside of your learning community
  • Edmodo for asynchronous learning and resource sharing

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Helping Pre-Service Teachers Develop a PLN

For the past two semesters, I have required the pre-service teachers in my Technology in the Classroom course to develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN), using Twitter as the primary tool to do so. At the end of the fall semester, some students suggested providing more freedom in the tools used to build and sustain a PLN throughout the semester. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I take feedback from my students seriously, so I decided to tweak the PLN assignment for the upcoming semester. Below is the newly revised assignment description. I found that I needed to be much clearer in my expectations, since students will have more freedom and flexibility than before in designing a PLN that fits their learning needs. I am looking forward to seeing how the PLN assignment plays out over the course of the semester. If you have suggestions or ideas of your own, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

You will use a variety of tools for developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN). It will be your responsibility to grow your PLN through whichever tools you choose. You will only benefit from your PLN if you invest time and energy into it. Every other week, your Edmodo discussion question will be related to what you’re learning through and contributing to your PLN. Your PLN participation does not need to be limited to educational technology and course-related topics. Your PLN is personal, which means it should be focused on your own educational interests. If you’re going to be a history teacher, you would benefit from participating in #sschat. If you’re a music ed major, you may find a great music teacher blog to follow. However, your PLN assignment for this course does require that you focus on educational topics. This means that pinning recipes to Pinterest doesn’t count. You must not only passively learn from others in your PLN, but you must also actively share with your PLN and contribute to the learning of others. A few ways you may choose to grow your PLN include:

  • following people on Twitter, tweeting your own thoughts and resources, replying to and retweeting others, and participating in Twitter chats
  • subscribing to, reading, and commenting on blog posts
  • writing your own blog posts and sharing them with others
  • following others on Pinterest and creating your own Pinterest boards for others to follow

You do not have to use one PLN tool for the entire semester. You may tweet occasionally, follow a couple of blogs, and create a Pinterest board for pre-service teachers. Your PLN is yours, and it is my hope that it will become a network you can continue to learn from as a first-year teacher. You will have more ownership of and find more value in your PLN by making it fit your interests and preferences. If you’d like to learn more about how to build a PLN, watch my Twitter feed over the course of a few days, subscribe to my blog, or follow me on Pinterest. You’ll see that I find and share resources and make connections with others. My PLN is my most valuable tool for professional learning and growth. 

Your PLN grade will be a reflection of your responses to bi-weekly Edmodo discussion questions. In your Edmodo replies, be sure to cite specific evidence from your PLN participation. I will not go searching for the Pinterest boards, tweets, or blog posts you reference in your replies, so it is your responsibility to provide links or quotes to those for me in your Edmodo responses. For the first couple of Edmodo PLN posts, I will respond to the question to give an example of what your response might look like.