Week 4: Communication and PLN’s

Update:  Six weeks on from this post and Twitter chats have become a go-to component of my PLN.  I’ve attended four other chats in the intervening weeks with another scheduled for today.  I’m finding that when I’m in need of a particular kind of research or just in a curious mood I turn to a scheduled chat or skim related hashtags of past chats.  Some chats are definitely operating at higher levels in terms of depth of thought, extent of conversation, or ideas and resources shared.  However, I’m singularly impressed by the one characteristic common to all of them so far — how welcoming, friendly, and generous the participants are.   Too, I had no idea how many chat groups are out there — not just in education, of which there are dozens.  I’ve even found a couple chats for my husband who works in the hospitality industry and is always looking for new ideas.  He is a Luddite.  But after a couple hours of his peering from the corner of his eye from the other side of the sofa as I chat, I figured I’d see what I could find for him.  When I sent him the links, his response was, “…I’d like to know more….”  Next stop is getting him his own Twitter account!

The New Addiction

I’m officially hooked on Twitter chats.  While I knew these were “a thing”, I was never clear on how exactly to access them.  And I certainly never thought they were as organized as having an official chat list.  Admittedly, I found them rather intimidating to start.  However, our reading from the PLP Network was spot on with “how to”.  A particularly good recommendation is to use TweetDeck — a platform I’ve used in the past for my multiple handles*, but discovered its ultimate usefulness in this chat context.

Using TweetDeck for Twitter chats; Source: Screen cap, D. van Dyke

 

3 Different Experiences

In all, I participated in three chats.  Coincidentally, they provided three different kinds of experiences.  I’m trying not to rate them on a qualitative scale; however, I did find one a more enjoyable, and thus a more worthwhile, experience.  But “enjoyable” and “worthwhile” are according to what works for me in terms of my learning style and learning habits.

Starting with the chat I found most challenging, Digital Citizen Chat (#digcit), was the most rambling and freeform.  Chronologically, it was my second chat which followed a highly organized first experience last week.  So the differences were immediately noticeable.  Right from the start, there were a number of participants who seemed to be looking forward to the chat.

Yet about 15 minutes past the designated start time, there was this exchange between Professor Passafume and Hope Frazier.

From what I could tell, no moderator ever showed up.  So people posted randomly.  While I’m not sure the number of conversation threads were different from other chats, it all seemed vague and scattershot with very little focus.  In all, I didn’t find it a terribly helpful chat given there were more opinions being solicited and shared than useful practices and resources.

Likes from #educoach chat; Source: screen cap, D. van Dyke

The middle-of-the-road experience was the Instructional Coaching Chat (#educoach).  More organized and attended by experienced coaches, #educoach had two moderators and a set of nine questions at the ready.  While the other chats seemed to be attended by several self-identifying pre-service and novice teachers, I felt more in the company of my experiential peers in #educoach.  Unfortunately, there is either an error on the Education Chats schedule or there was some other kind of snafu.  When I showed up 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time — 9pm Central — it had clearly been underway for 50 minutes.  I didn’t feel comfortable crashing in with ten minutes on the clock, so I scrolled and lurked through the conversations and liked the tweets that had thoughts and resources I found useful for my work.  One such resource was a meta-analysis shared by @region13coaches at the very end of the chat.  It was a nice button on the conversation for how the work of instructional coaches has a measurable impact on teacher practice and student outcomes.  I read it and immediately emailed it to the principals of the schools I work with — as research support and encouragement for our work.

Finally, the chat I found to be the most enjoyable experience was, oddly enough, my first.  Last week I decided to preview the Twitter chat experience in anticipation of this week’s assignment.  I didn’t want to troll this one, so I decided to boldly identify myself as the nube I am.  I tend to get anxious with online interactions among strangers.  So participating in this new way among fellow professionals felt risky because I knew there likely were all kinds of rules of etiquette of which I was completely unaware.  But I could not have been more warmly welcomed.  I

My first Twitter chat: Warmly welcomed to #hseduchat; Source: Screen cap, D. vanDyke

wouldn’t say my contributions to the conversation were high-level or even on topic.  They were more about meeting and greeting and getting my feet wet with this new professional learning experience.  Luckily, though, the folks over at #hseduchat were accepting and supportive of my lack of chat experience and encouraged my contributions.  Their behaviors made it more likely that I’d participate in other chat in the future.

This chat was very well-organized, the moderator having sent out the questions in advance, reviewed them all again when the chat started, and gave instructions for how to format responses.  She then released the questions at regular intervals.  In this way the moderator kept tabs on the conversation and kept it rolling.  All these elements fit with my own needs as learner.  It really was the perfect chat for my first attempt.

Final Thoughts

The assignments this week made for highly enjoyable learning (more on the Resident/Visitor map to come).  While I’m not new to Twitter, chats are a revelation.  In my experience Twitter has been a much more positive, uplifting, useful platform than, say, Facebook.  Still, as a professional resource, it always seemed a bit random, even when I used hashtags to track down resources.  But having entire lists of chat schedules, the ideas and suggestions from Nicole’s narrated Prezis, and some chat experiences under my belt, Twitter finally feels like an actual arrow in my professional and ICT quiver.  My exploration now will turn to those chats that are moderated and organized for those times when I’m on the hunt for useable material — actual ideas and resources.  Though I can see hanging out in a chat with no clear facilitator where participants ask and answer random questions, for those times that I’m looking simply to network or have collegial conversation.

It’s become increasingly clear to me that informal learning is an extremely potent type of learning.  Twitter chats hit so many of those buttons — self-directed, just in time, anytime/anywhere, tailorable to a learner’s needs of the moment, learner choice, working with a sense of relaxed and stress-free flow in the learning moment.  I can see how Twitter chats can be a powerful tool for a particular kind of teacher support and professional learning.  With such tools and access, this really is an exciting time to be an educator!

*: I have one professional Twitter account: @commonelements.  I also have two personal Twitter accounts: @oberon60657 for general, personal tweeting.  My husband and I enjoy cruising and try to do at least one sailing a year — despite the outrageous behaviors of many passengers.  I finally couldn’t take that behavior anymore and as an outlet started a separate handle just to tweet out the ridiculous things people say while shipboard.  If you want a laugh, follow me on @some1saidreally.

Week 3: The 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning

As I may have mentioned on some post somewhere, I am developing an interest in how educators’ use of information and communication technology (ICT) in their personal/non-school lives influences their curricular and instructional decisions regarding ICT in their classrooms.  Particularly where high school educators are concerned.  So it made sense that I do a close reading of “Maximizing the Impact:  The pivotal role of technology in 21st century education systems”.

Report Summary

A collaboration between ISTE, SETDA, and P21, the report explores the needs and rationales for ICT inclusion in education in three areas:  proficiency in 21st century skills, innovative teaching and learning, and robust education support systems.

The executive summary clearly lays out the issue and goes on to note that as a nation, the US simply cannot rely on the global standing, economic prosperity, and technological predominance we have enjoyed as a result of the industrial era.  Nations that lead in technology development lead in prosperity.  Therefore, we must prepare students to thrive in the 21st century and thereby take the nation into this digital age.

“Maximizing the Impact” executive summary; Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills

What does this look like?  To start, we must focus on what college and business leaders identify as “21st century skills” and what we now commonly refer to as “the 4 C’s” — communication, collaborations, critical thinking, and  creativity.  These are the how’s of the executive summary — the ways through which we teach content.  This aligns with the other literature assigned this week that points to teaching the 4 C’s in addition to the more traditional 3 R’s.  Importantly, the authors note that it is less useful now for everyone to know about computers, software, coding, etc.  Their ubiquity in our lives means it is more important for everyone to know how to use them as tools for learning, productivity, and creativity.  A common analogy is that in order to do the shopping, shuttle the kids, or take a road trip, everyone need not know how to build, conduct maintenance, or even understand the basic workings of an automobile.  It is sufficient that we know how to drive in order to complete our errands or enjoy an adventure.  It is the same with ICT.

Technology use in Education. Sources: US Dept. of Commerce, Partnership for 21st Century Skills

 

Therefore, students need “more robust education than they are getting today” and this involves a comprehensive inclusion of ICT across the curriculum (p. 2).  As mentioned above, this must entail not just learning about technology, but learning with technology.

With a shared vision of a 21st century education system, the authoring agencies of this report succinctly identify needed outcomes and why they are vital for both students and educators.

A shared vision. Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills

 

The report also included a visually colorful and intriguing graphic of a Framework for 21st Century Learning.  It is eye-catching, but not easy to interpret without some explanation.  Watch the video for an attempted unpacking.

The rest of the paper explores details, gives examples and provides analytical and evaluative questions for educators in a “call to action to integrate technology as a fundamental building block into education” (p.3).  That plan for ICT implementation focuses on the three areas mentioned above:  Using technology comprehensively to develop proficiency in 21st century skills; using technology comprehensively to  support innovative teaching and learning; and using technology comprehensively to create robust education support systems (pp.6, 9, 13).

The Good

Overall, “Maximizing the Impact” presents a useful roadmap for schools to implement ICT-based instruction.  The report makes a strong case for why it is vital we undertake this tech-based approach to teaching and learning.  It presents a thoughtful plan that makes much sense.  Indeed, the collaboration between different organizations with different goals and priorities only bolsters its persuasiveness.  In addition, the P21 web site offers many resources to support the work.

The Flaw

Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) and Somekh (2008) found that a significant challenge to incorporating ICT into classroom instruction is that it destabilizes classroom routines.  And this is, in fact, what we need to happen to transform our classrooms for the digital age.  However, they found that teachers who don’t value ICT negatively impact those who do and then point to the destabilizing effects as reasons to shun technology-based learning.  In a related study, Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich also found that teachers who see positive student outcomes as a result of using ICT instructional practices are more likely to make technology a part of their practice.  Thus, teacher mindsets is a key factor in implementing ICT-based instruction.  They also found where ICT is central to learning, schools had six qualities in common:

  1. They were well equipped for ICT instruction.
  2. Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT.
  3. Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully.
  4. The school provided support.
  5. Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and  troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time.
  6. The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets

Looking at this list, it is hard not to recognize the outsized role professional development must play in making ICT the how of student learning.  Yet in the P21 framework, professional development is sandwiched in between standards and assessment and learning environments.  In the bullet list explanation of the framework graphic “21st century professional development” is the 27th bullet out of 28.  Indeed, in nearly all our optional readings this week, the various authors address professional development almost parenthetically.  And some suggested a mere workshop or two is all that is needed to provide teachers with the understanding necessary to make a seismic pedagogical shift.  Such approaches to PD run contrary to much research that finds one-off professional development neither changes teachers’ mindsets nor practices.  As the Center for Public Education has found, to bring about sustainable change effectively PD must:  be of a significant and ongoing duration; be supported by the administration; allow teachers to actively make meaning of the new material; and not be generalized, but presented for the teacher’s subject and grade-level   (Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability).  When we consider most of our professional learning experiences, how do they hold up to these criteria?  Likely, not too well.  As Tom Murray noted in the Start^EdUp podcast, we’re not going to fix anything by buying “more stuff”. To make the needed shifts we have to hack educator mindsets.

If we must first “win hearts and minds” of teachers and administrators in order to bring lasting instructional change where ICT is a method of instruction, then I believe delivering focused, sustained professional learning differentiated by educator should be prioritized over the development more standards and assessments, new curriculum and instruction, and rejiggered learning environments.  Not that these areas are not important.  They are.  However, spending money and effort on those will mean very little if educators do not understand or have the pedagogical skills to implement ICT practices throughout their buildings.  Once that is in place, the rest will follow, brought about by those who know best how to develop and document them–  namely the teachers, students, and administrators who are engaged in their regular practice.