Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Building a Network for Pre-service Teachers with #edteach

My favorite hour of the week is the hour I spend with pre-service teachers exploring applications of instructional technology in EDU 451 - Technology in the Classroom. In past sections of EDU 451, it has been a huge challenge for me to encourage my pre-service teachers to believe in the power of a PLN and invest in developing their own PLNs. I have approached this challenge in different ways each semester, adapting the PLN course assignment in an attempt to build a process that helps my students discover the benefits of developing a PLN and assists them in connecting with other educators. Previously, I have required my students to post a certain number of course-related tweets each week using course hashtag #edu451. I've also tried using Twitter for weekly discussion questions. I've required students to follow a certain number of educators and to participate in a Twitter chat of their choosing. We even had class as a Twitter chat once when I was away at a conference.

Despite my efforts, I have yet to feel successful in getting my students connected with other educators and invested in their PLNs. This has been a real struggle for me because I learn from my PLN every day and have made countless connections and built partnerships with other educators through tools like Twitter. I desperately want to pass this on to my students. At the end of the fall 2012 semester, I got some great feedback from students who suggested that I open up the PLN assignment and allow students to use tools that work for them rather than requiring Twitter. After all, a PLN is a personal learning network. Based on that feedback, I spent quite a bit of time thinking through how to revise this assignment yet again. I even wrote a post about it. You can read the revised assignment here.

Through Twitter, I was fortunate to connect with Kurtis Hewson, a professor in Alberta, Canada who also works with pre-service teachers and has a desire to help them build PLNs. He and I have been collaborating and brainstorming for several months to create a process for getting our students connected with one another. Our brainstorming led to the creation of a bi-weekly Twitter chat for pre-service teachers: #edteach. We decided to make participating in #edteach chats optional for our students. (I offer extra credit for participating.) We also wanted to open the chat up to pre-service teachers and other educators around the world to show our students the real power of Twitter.

Last night at 8:00 pm EST, Kurtis and I hosted the first ever #edteach Twitter chat. There were 38 participants, which we felt to be a great turnout for the first chat. The topic for our first chat was making the transition from student to teacher. This is a timely topic for students in our current courses, most of whom are student teaching and will be first-year teachers in the fall. The conversation flowed quickly. Participants asked each other questions, shared great ideas and resources, and made connections that hopefully will grow into collaborative partnerships over time, just as my connection with Kurtis has grown. We were joined by several new and veteran teachers who offered their wisdom and experience to these pre-service teachers. The mix of folks in the chat made for a lively and meaningful conversation.

I am finally beginning to feel confident that my EDU 451 students will experience the power of Twitter and begin investing in their PLNs. Others agree that #edteach is a great support for pre-service teachers. I can't wait for the next chat on February 19th! I'm looking forward to seeing #edteach grow and watching these teaching candidates take ownership of their learning.

If you're interested in learning more about #edteach or participating in a future chat, visit our site to view archives, upcoming dates, and future topics.

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