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.

Entry #8: Digital Learning — Immersive Experiences and Tech-Enhanced Experiences

This is going to be a difficult log entry since I don’t spend much time playing video games or in immersive worlds.  This is because I become too immersed and exhibit just a few addictive behaviors.  I knew I had to start being very careful one Christmas when I was staying with my parents for the holiday.  I had just purchased a Star Trek (of course!) starship builder game that allowed players to build custom or canon starships and then fly them on various missions.  One night, my parents and I sat in the den, them watching television, me building and flying starships.  I recall my mother giving me a kiss and going to bed.  I remember my father doing the same sometime later.  My next memory is my father coming back to the den, looking at me sitting in the exact same position he left me and saying, “Have you been playing all night?!”  I had indeed.

Up all night building starships. Uh-oh…

I remember feeling exhausted, knowing I should go to bed and get some sleep.  My eyes hurt from staring at the screen for hours and hours.  Throughout the night I knew, with every ship lost I should close my laptop and go to sleep.  Yet each time I went back to the builder module and thought, “Just one more.”  Then it became, “Just build it, but don’t fly it.”  As my father stood there laughing at me, but I was starting to wonder if there might be a problem here.

Over the years I have spent endless hours in SimCity — another particular favorite.  I got lost in Star Trek and Star Wars RPGs.  On iPad there’s a game that has taken far too much of my time, Galaxy on Fire (1 and 2).  For all of them, I have to monitor and limit my time very carefully.  

All that said, I find Second Life far more manageable in regard to my time.  I was initially introduced to it by a dear friend in Australia who was getting a degree in medical informatics and discovered it when he was working on virtual meeting spaces for doctors to interact.  It came at a time when I had just finished reading several cyberpunk novels, and SL reminded me very much of the VR & AR worlds described in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.  Aside from meeting my friend there on occasion I was and still am a total nube.  I find it a somewhat intimidating space.  I’m not comfortable interacting with strangers online and this world of avatars and Linden$ and objects that can be given and received can be overwhelming.  Not to mention my fears of somehow getting hacked.  So I mainly stick to myself and wonder and window shop in the different continents and parcels that interest me.  

One place I spend a fair amount of time is Scilands — the science and technology continent.  And once NPR’s Science Friday started taking questions from Second Life, on occasion, I have listening from there.  Though I rarely interact with other individuals.  It’s fun from time to time.  However, I still find it a rather unnecessary additional layer for that particular listening experience.  So the media I watch or listen to in Second Life are things I happen upon in my wanderings, like NASA videos or information about colonizing Mars.

There is a lot of drek in Second Life and the interface is very cumbersome and rather unintuitive.  So those aspects definitely don’t “work” for me.  Although, I’m fascinated by the details of all the different worlds and seeing the things that others have clearly taken a lot of time to build.  That’s what keeps me coming back.  I think it’s interesting too that there are things that participants can buy that have value in the virtual context somewhat analogous to objects in the real world — clothes, real estate, private aircraft.  It’s enough that I actually think about purchasing Linden$ (especially when the exchange rate is favorable!).  It’s interesting too how it facilitates some sort of telepresence between people separated by long distances — as it did for my friend and me.  So it’s elements like these — analogues to the real world — that make it “work”.   

I’m less certain about Second Life or any other such VR platform functioning as a community of inquiry — at least not at a very high level.  Though it would be an interesting exercise to try setting up a formal class in SL for a while to see what evolves.  However, I see at least one major element that could potentially keep Second Life and any other such platforms from reaching the level of community of inquiry.  That is the use of avatars as they primary means of interacting with others in the virtual environment.  Avatars in particular strike at a critical part of the CoI model — that of social presence.  Avatars in and of themselves are veils, masks that hide the true person behind them.  There’s always a level of wondering about how closely the avatar represents the actual person.  Trust, then, on some level, becomes an issue.  Since learning is impossible without trust between student and teacher, the social and teaching presences are disadvantaged.  The climate is infused with a certain level of dissembling if not dishonesty.  This would in turn, have to impact, in some way, on supportive discourse, climate setting which in turn impact cognitive presence.  If all the other elements of a CoI are compromised, then it almost doesn’t matter what the content is as there may only be a certain level of depth participants are willing to risk in their discourse, reflection, and construction of meaning.  

Additionally, with our current level of VR technology, using it is less effective than using the technology we do have that make a virtual learning community/community of inquiry more cohesive, i.e: platforms such as D2L in combination with conferencing apps like Zoom, where participants can see and/or hear each other in real time.  The current platforms do better at lowering the obstacles of time, space, and distance for such educational endeavors as opposed to adding other layers that must be parsed in order to have meaningful interactions around the content.  Afterall, right now, it’s just easier to put Science Friday on the radio or stream the podcast than to sit at my computer, logon to a virtual platform, fly to the virtual studio in the virtual space, pipe the audio feed, and then send chat texts to digital avatars.

It seems like a lot more work!

Entry #6: Informal learning professional learning contexts

I belong to several PLC’s at the different high schools with which I work.  The one I will reflect about is an instructional leadership team (ILT) responsible for changing practices to improve teaching and learning throughout the building.  Their overall success has been emergent over the course of the past couple years.  This has to do in large part  with the different skill-will levels among team members and the challenges the low will-low skill members present in particular.  But the more we work together, the more the team as a whole is deepening its understanding about the work.  One dynamic I wish I could change would be the team’s overall perception of me, along with the principal, as the leader of the PLC.  I’ve always preferred working in the PLC context as a group of equals.  The perception of one person as the leader tends to formalize the dynamic more than I think is necessary — or helpful — for such communities.

Our work this year has centered around extending the PLC structure from the ILT into departments in order to do some deep professional reading and learning around Leading for Literacy: A Reading Apprenticeship Approach.  The practices of this framework will become the research-based powerful practices teachers will use to teach the school’s targeted instructional area.  Each department meets twice a week biweekly to discuss and process each chapter.  Pairs of teachers lead the discussion either by using one or another Critical Friends text-based discussion protocols or by creating their own process to facilitate the team’s dive.  Now that the initial reading is finished, we are moving into the first formal application stage, infusing the framework strategies into teachers’ classroom practices.

In our last department-level PLC, I applied and extended my learning in this course by facilitating an application of concept mapping.  We attempted to create maps as a means of deepening our thinking about using students’ schemas for knowledge-building.  I spent a few minutes activating teachers’ own schemas, asking them to talk briefly about what they know about and how they have used mind maps & thinking webs in their classrooms.  Click here to see the 10-minute overview of concept mapping and the rest of the session activities.

The session was somewhat successful.  What I wanted to happen was for teachers to participate in a relaxed process of exploring the reading by making and sharing concept maps.  Both the learnings from the session and the maps would be steps along the path of changing practice by implementing Reading Apprenticeship strategies.  Each of three groups (roughly corresponding to a department) presented a map at a point along a continuum of understanding.  If I were assessing the maps with a rubric, I might describe them as Did Not Meet, Emerging, & Proficient.  Not surprisingly, each map corresponded to the level of will/amount of buy-in each department exhibits toward the PLC work in general.  That said, I was glad when the engaged members recognized the differences and noted that two of the groups did not produce concept maps and what they did produce were not helpful in deepening the team’s collective understanding about the work.  This made for a delightfully awkward moment for teachers who demonstrated their resistance by not engaging in the activity as suggested.  The group members who were invested in the professional learning rendered their resistant colleagues’ work inert by focusing solely on the map and ideas of the group that embraced the activity.  For a week after the session several teachers talked about how helpful the activity was as a means of expanding their understanding of the text and thus the kinds of instruction we need to spread throughout the building.

In all, I would say it met with limited success in that it showcased a novel method for meaning-making to which  teachers are not usually exposed.  It proved to me that concept mapping can be used as a professional learning tool to spark interest, deepen thinking, and facilitate rich conversations among teachers.  The session also extended the understanding of the text and practices we want to implement, at least among the teachers who were willing to participate.  I would like to try this again, this time more actively intervening with groups to be sure they create concept maps as opposed to the webs with which they are already so used to working.