Over the past two weeks, I have been exploring the digital means of formal and informal professional development available to educators online. There’s something quite comforting, as a teacher, to be able to sit in front of my computer from the comfort of my own home and begin planning for the next school year. In the summer, it certainly beats getting dressed and sitting in a formal training for 6-8 hours! I completed 4 webinars and 4 Twitter chats in two weeks which is more PD than I typically get in a month during the school year. Here’s what I attended:
- #edtechchat (7/13 and 7/20)
- #sstlap (7/16)
- #txed (7/22)
- Empowering Digital Citizens: Embracing Social Media in Schools,
- Implications and Applications of the Latest Brain Research for Learners and Teachers, ASCD
- Coaching: 7 Keys to Transform Practice, 30 Goals Conference
- Blogging with Blogger: Everything You Need to Know to Make an Awesome Blog, Richard Byrne\Simple K12
My Thoughts on Digital PD
As a preface to this reflection, I used to present approximately 10-20 webinars each school year in my old job. I had a distinct presentation style and practices, both of which resulted from lots of practice and research. As such, my experiences as a webinar presenter consistently affects my experiences as a webinar participant. However, I had no prior experience with Twitter chats, and was quite nervous about participating in one! Overall, I felt that I gained more from the Twitter chats than I did from the webinars. This may simply be due to the level of choice and interaction available during a Twitter chat versus the more focused, structured format of a webinar.
The Twitter Chats
These were, by far, my favorite real time PD sessions. Not only did I learn about new resources and ideas, but I also found unexpected opportunities to reflect as well as numerous new friends to follow on Twitter. Each chat had a different style and atmosphere, which is not immediately apparent to the chat novice. Larger Twitter chats were often difficult to keep up with due to the sheer amount of tweets coming through. Alternatively, some of the smaller Twitter chats developed more organically and the Q&A format often existed as a refocus or suggestion, depending upon the course of conversation.
The #edtechchats were often likened to that of drinking from a firehose. This was the largest Twitter chat I participated in and I was amazed by the sheer amount of information being shared. Because it was so often difficult to keep up with everything being said, I would often look for something that resonated with me and then respond to it. Many of my tweets during the #edtechchats were conversation responses or answers to questions. Of anything, I found this chat to be an opportunity to reflect on my practices and apply the results to the future. Just by simply talking to other leaders about getting teachers involved in Twitter, I began thinking about how I could do the same for my teachers.
Both the #sstlap and #txed chats were a bit different and less structured due to the small group of participants. The #sstlap chat was geared towards innovative collaborations among participants. I found a 6th grade teacher in Minnesota that wants to collaborate with some of my 7th grade teachers. Both social studies courses focus on state history. We thought it could be really cool to have the students compare the different experiences in their respective states around a major event or issue, such as the Civil War or Great Depression. I also found lots of resources and ideas about iBooks, apps, and cool history YouTube videos.
The #txed chat is supposed to be for Texas educators. However, we did have a few Canadians, which was cool! The participants ranged from teachers to principals and superintendents. We have a really casual conversation about collaboration. I met a principal that whose district had figured out a way to have routine early release days for student in order to allow for more planning and collaboration time for teachers! I plan on getting in touch with him during the school year to find out the logistics of this strategy in hopes that my own district can implement something similar. Aside from making new connections with this Twitter chat, I also found out about a new site called Staffrm which is a collaborative space geared towards educators. I think a few of us are going to try to learn how to use it to connect & share!
Last week, I had tried to participate in the #tlap chat only to get distracted by work a few moments after the chat had started. By the time I got off the phone with my director, the chat had almost ended. Distractions will often arise during Twitter chats, and the informal nature of these sessions makes it easy to step away from the computer.
The webinars, as mentioned previously, took on an entirely different tone than the organized chaos of the Twitter chats. Many of the participants did not seem interested in the backchannel, and several of us were even chastised by another participant for using the chat (on task) during one particular webinar. I often found that the descriptions did not match with the actual presentation, which I found frustrating.
However, I still found a number of great resources and ideas throughout the webinars. The Digital Citizenship session focusing on social media was by far my favorite webinar of the four. The presenters were authentic and shared ideas that related directly to practice. The content being shared by the two principals leading the webinar was so inspiring that I found myself taking numerous screenshots & tweeting them out just so I would remember the main points later. They also inspired me to ask lots of questions, several of which were answered. While I am not a principal, I found many of their ideas on teaching digital citizenship important, especially for the citizenship strand of our social studies curriculum.
The ASCD webinar on Brain Based Research went by quickly and I found it difficult to latch on to what the presenters were trying to convey in a way that might inform my practice. The presenters did seem quite knowledgeable and the presentation was linked to a book they had written. I think that reading the book may provide the information I was looking for in the webinar. So, at least I learned about the connection to the book through the webinar. Throughout the webinar, I tried to participate in the conversation in the chat and help make connections with the content. However, it was quite the tough crowd in terms of the back channel.
The coaching webinar was short but it was nice to have an opportunity to talk with other coaches. The presenter also shared a number of really cool apps and tools to use in the technology-based classroom which I appreciated. I was able to ask some questions (and get an answer) about how Chris (the presenter) encouraged teachers to work with him. This gave me some ideas about how to encourage teachers to request coaching in their social studies classrooms next year.
I had been hoping that the Blogger webinar would feature some advice on blogging, but it turned out to be more of a how – to focusing on navigating the logistics of the tool. The contents of the webinar were great, but it wasn’t quite what I had been looking for. However, there were a ton of resources that were shared which I tweeted out (image below).
What I Learned
1. Informal learning can be as powerful, or even more so, than traditional means. I gained far more in terms of resources and connections during the Twitter chats than in the webinars. I even found myself tweeting information during the webinars to those following the various hashtags I’d participated in.
2. Webinars must be purposeful to be powerful. Webinars are wonderful sources of PD if the subject matter meets the needs of a participant directly. I feel that it is best to share information but also practical advice for implementation or use. All of the webinars attended shared some kind of resource, which was extremely helpful from my perspective. The ability to record and archive webinars is also a powerful feature. However,
3. Reflection is often as valuable as a shared resource. In the midst of our work, it is difficult to find time for reflection. As the school year progresses and the to do list lengthens, reflection may become less frequent. However, it is a vital element for professional growth. Online, real time pd offers opportunities for reflection in short snippets of time, often when needed the most. Even if a session or chat does not produce many resources or practical strategies, there should at least be an opportunity to reflect.