3 Takeaways from “What Connected Educators Do Differently”

9781138832008
By Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, Jimmy Casas

How do you stay current, relevant and up-to-date with the new technologies in education? What Connected Educators do Differently has answers for educators looking to start and cultivate a  professional (or personal) learning network (PLN) to stay current and connected. Following are key takeaways from the book and from two other resources that go beyond the basics of starting a PLN.

Connected Educator Defined: “Being a connected educator is not a formal title…we define connected educators simply as ones who are activity and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals” (Whitaker, Zoul, Casas, 2015, page xxiii)

Practical, concise and geared to the novice, the book provides advice and examples on how to start and build a personal network using digital tools. It  focuses mostly on using Twitter and is specific to K-12, but the principles are sound and Twitter is a good starting point for learning how to connect and build a network. Within the eight chapters, each labeled as ‘Key Connector’ is a strategy outlining key principles along with examples from each author’s experience. The stories make it an engaging read. At the end of each chapter is an action plan — “Follow 5, Find 5, Take 5”.  There are suggestions of whom to follow on Twitter,  (Follow 5), a list of resources and how-to strategies for building a network  (Find 5), and suggested action steps (Take 5).

Two of the best chapters are chapter 6, “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships” and chapter 8 “Know When to Unplug”. In chapter 6 authors emphasize the value of face-to-face interactions and the strength of in-person connections. In chapter 8 the importance of disconnecting from technology is stressed. The latter is of great value; disconnecting from the screen is not emphasized enough in instructional resources on building digital networks or managing digital information. Developing a PLN can become all-consuming. The reminder is not misplaced.

Three Takeaways
The following takeaways are from the book, from Jane Hart’s blog post “The Future of Work and Learning 1: The Professional Ecosystem” (2016), and from a journal article Scholars in an increasingly open and digital world: How do education professors and students use Twitter (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2015).

1. Unique Mindset Required
Expanding one’s professional network, building a PLN or professional ecosystem is a commitment and a choice. It isn’t driven by company or school-initiated professional development, but is driven from within—where individuals seek out learning opportunities and resources online or in-person. It’s  a mindset where learning is pulled, gathered and curated based upon a person’s own learning needs and interests, which means each PLN is unique. Along with Mindset is motivation; developing a PLN or professional ecosystem needs both. Not surprisingly, authors emphasize that not all educators are, or will become connected educators.

2. It’s about Relationships
Developing and growing professionally and personally involves connecting and interacting with content—digital and physical, as well as with real people. The online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or Slack that are used to ‘connect’ educators are the tools, the vehicles that bring us together. Granted, communicating online does require a unique set of skills to build and develop personal relationships, but the personal connection is still central to growing professionally. Jane Hart’s suggests that within a Professional Ecosystem there is a “personal performance support system” and “personal career coach”: people who are central to one’s personal and professional growth.

profecosystem-1-1024x559
Example of Professional Ecosystem by Jane Hart, “The Future of World and Learning 1”

3. It Takes Time
One of the barriers to becoming a Connected Educator or developing a Personal Ecosystem is time. Authors Whitaker, Zoul and Casas offer a solution, “we must make time” (emphasis added) (pg 9). They acknowledge that most teachers and instructors are swamped, doing more with less. Yet their response is that in order to keep pace with constant change in technology and a society with access to an abundance of information, making time to connect and be connected is essential. And time is often personal time, outside of work hours. Though as all the resources stress, it takes consistent and concerted effort to develop a PLN but it’s worth it. I can vouch for this from my experience.

Conclusion
I recommend What Connected Educators do Differently for people who are thinking about becoming connected, want to build a learning network but don’t know where to start. For those who already have a PLN and want to expand it, I suggest exploring Jane Hart’s site Learning in the Modern Social Workplace. Hart is a model of a connected professional and you’ll be sure to find some inspiration and ideas.

For those wanting a quick fix, want to know how to get started on Twitter, this brief synopsis from the journal article on Twitter offers this pithy advice: “(a) tweet often, (b) follow many other users, (c) self-identify as a professor if accurate, and (d) continue using Twitter over an extended period. Whether one views this advice as gaming the system or legitimate participation in the community may depend on one’s own assumptions” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2016).

References

You can follow Online Learning Insights on Twitter @OnlineLearningI

How Educators Can Make Time for Professional & Personal Development

Time business concept.What better time than the week after Labor Day, the traditional back-to-school kick-off, for educators to embrace opportunities for professional and personal development (PD). Though for some just the thought of beginning a PD course of any kind is overwhelming, even stressful. The most frequently cited barrier to engaging in extracurricular learning activities is time; not having enough of it, not being able to find it, and wishing for more. Warranted too, given the frenetic pace of our current culture. This post explores why embracing an online PD experience, whether an un-course, a MOOC or other, is enriching, fulfilling and motivating. I also address the time factor, and suggest how to approach investing time for PD learning with a different perspective so it becomes stress relieving, not stress inducing.

My original plan for this post was to share two PD learning opportunities that begin next week, Open Education Experience 2013, and How to Teach Online with Leeward College [both cMOOCs], but I decided to share first a viewpoint on PD that may be helpful for readers. I’ll will conclude though, with details on the two learning opportunities.

For an overview of MOOCs, and the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, read The Ultimate Student Guide to xMOOCs and cMOOCs from MOOC News & Reviews.

Integrated Learning
The beauty of engaging in learning online within a community, in a MOOC format for instance, is that it’s driven by individuals’ learning goals, their contributions, and provides learning opportunities beyond what could be experienced solely in a face-to-face space. There’s also the added bonus of the opportunity to create a network of people to learn from and with, often referred to as a personal learning network. Yet learning this way should not be viewed as an extra activity on a to-do list. What makes PD successful is when learners choose to engage in experiences that inspire, that spark interest and motivation. Learning is not a chore when integrated within—with what you do, what you are passionate about.  I’ll provide an example here from my experience to illustrate the point.

This month I’m learning through Statistics in Education for Mere Mortals, from Canvas Network.  I’m not taking this course because I love statistics, and I’ve already completed several statistics courses. But I chose to take the course because of a work project I’m involved with. I’m in the process of researching pedagogical methods and principles that are applicable to online learning environments, and at the same time studying participation patterns of MOOC learners. The course [which could be classified as a xMOOC], coincides time wise and content wise with what I’m working on now. The professor is not only teaching theoretical concepts associated with educational research, but is using the course participants for a research study about MOOCs. He’ll be sharing the results with the participants of the course. I benefit in two ways, 1) by experiencing the instructional methods used within the course which allows me to study pedagogy used in a given online course, and 2) by being able to review and analyze the MOOC research results. Thus, I find myself making time to invest in the course.

I’ve also completed a few cMOOCs, connectivist MOOCs, which is a different experience from an xMOOC altogether. To clarify though, one experience is not better than the other, they are merely different. My cMOOC experiences have been expansive, social, even organic in the sense that my learning was developed through a series of varied connections that fit together to produce sometimes unexpected [learning] results. Each of the learning experiences I’ve described here work for me at a certain time within a given year. Though I invest in personal and professional learning for the most part year-round,  it’s the type and level of participation that varies, and is dependent upon numerous factors including current work projects, personal commitments, etc.

How to Make it Happen
Professional development is most successful, when time is devoted to learning that aligns with one’s work, personal projects, interests, and/or passions. The result is, that rather than having to find the time for PD, it happens because we make time. Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that even with the best laid plans for PD, it can’t always happen. ‘Stuff’ can get it in the way—life happens. Having a strategy for learning though does support success with PD in the long run.

Tips for Making Time for PD
There is a learning curve to learning effectively in an online environment — how to discern what to engage with, when and how. Even how to use technical tools associated with online learning, whether it be the course site, Twitter, a blog platform, etc requires time to learn. I could devote a whole post to this topic, and I will do so in the #OOE 2013 course, during a webinar I’m facilitating, “Success in OOE 2013: How to Make the Most of your Learning Experience” on September 18, 2013 (OOE 2013 calendar here).

In the meantime, below are three quick and dirty tips:
1) set aside a set amount of time each week for your own learning, block the time in your calendar
2) find a course or learning experience that interests you, and register. Check out mooc.ca to find a calendar of upcoming MOOCs in a breadth of topics
3) write about what you are learning: blog, write articles, or keep a personal journal (though usually you learn more when you share). That’s only the beginning. I’ve included some resources to move beyond the quick and dirty at the end of the post.

Two Learning Experiences
cropped-Gweb_Logo211) Open Online Experience 2013 is a 10-month long learning experience that aims to provide participants with a rich, immersive experience into the study and use of educational technology in teaching and learning. It is a professional development program with a difference: it is open to any teacher or faculty member who has internet access, and it has been designed on a “connectivist” model. To register, click here.

2) How To Teach Online” is a massive, open, online course (MOOC) that takes a broad view of teaching online. This five-week MOOC is for instructors of all experiences who teach online. Whether you are new to online teaching or want to improve your craft of teaching, “How To Teach Online” is a great place to share, connect, and learn from others around the world.

This is an open-access MOOC – no fees are required to join and participate. For this MOOC to be successful, we emphasize and are dependent upon, participant contributions and discussions as a means of exploring how to teach online. Your contributions are what makes the MOOC a success. Click here to register.

Resources

Why Tech Training for Faculty is a Waste of Time

Providing faculty training for ed tech tools is a waste of time, unless accompanied by instruction that shows instructors how to incorporate the tools to enhance teaching. In this post I share reasons why tech training for course instructors must include pedagogical instructional methods and how instructors and institutions can incorporate such strategies into faculty ed tech training.

Note: In the following post when  I use the term ‘LMS’, I’m referring to learning platforms such as Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn, etc.

Deutsch: Logo der freien Software Moodle moddl...

This past week I facilitated a session on how to use Moodle effectively with twenty-five faculty members who teach face-to-face classes for the degree completion program. In the institution that I work with, more than two-thirds faculty use the LMS platform for administrative purposes only, such as posting syllabi, PDF files, and links for students to upload assignments.

My goal for the session was to prompt faculty to want to use the LMS; to view it as a tool to teach more effectively, use it pedagogically rather than administratively. I believe we achieved what we set out to do, if we use the level of involvement [which was high] and the questions from the instructors as indicators. Many appeared motivated, if not enthused by what they could do with the tools within Moodle. This prompted me to research further and write this article.

The Research
With the research I’ve done on our institution’s and others LMS usage, and in speaking with several friends that work as adjunct faculty with public universities, it seems that only a fraction of the instructors are using the LMS as a teaching tool and the rest as a static web page. Furthermore, training in how to use the LMS, if available at all, traditionally focuses on the technical aspects of the platform.

My findings are consistent with survey results conducted recently by an instructional designer for his institution last year in the school’s quest for an alternate LMS platform. Eighty-four faculty responded to the survey, and the results, of which I’ve posted a summary below, support the theory that LMS’ are used primarily for posting syllabi and as a drop box for assignments. A partial list of faculty responses: (Curran, 2012):

  • Posting Documents, PowerPoint’s, and PDFs: 90.3%
  • Posting Course Announcements: 84.7%
  • Emailing Students and Colleagues: 76.4%
  • Web 2.0 Tools (Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Private Journals): 25%
  • Chat: 12.5%
  • Creating TurnItIn Assignments: 11.1%
  • Virtual Classroom 1.4%

Pedagogical versus Administrative
Faculty need to see that the LMS  can be a valuable teaching tool, not just an administrative one. This means that someone needs to show them how to use it as a tool that can enhance and support classroom instruction. Too often LMS training for faculty and staff is taught as a how-to-use-this-technical-platform for uploading a document, posting a message, emailing etc. The technical aspects are important, but are only one aspect of the training. It is only after the basics are mastered, that we can go further;  demonstrate how a discussion forum can create deep and meaningful conversations that continue after the face-to-face class. Or, how pages created within the LMS for each week can outline focus questions, objectives that can prepare students for classroom learning. And, how the LMS can be a vehicle for interaction, for example with students conducting peer reviews of draft documents of assignments through virtual, small discussion groups, etc.

4 Faces of Personal Learning Network (w Tools)
4 Faces of Personal Learning Network (w Tools) (Photo credit: catspyjamasnz)

I realize that there are far more complex and robust platforms, or non-platforms that create a virtual learning environment, many of which are described in-depth in an excellent piece featured in EDUCAUSE Review by Jon Mott. Mott examines the limitations of LMS platforms and presents two alternatives for learning environments. The first is PLN’s, Personal Learning Networks, which are personally customized networks of blogs, wikis and web 2.0 tools, and the second, open learning networks, which leverage the open architecture of the web, and suggest that the LMS is too limiting and confining. However, these options, appear far beyond the scope of most faculty who are still acquiring skills in mastering the basics of  the LMS.

Why LMS is Necessary for now at least…
Though I find the idea of PLN and open learning network attractive, I also believe that institutions that offer education programs or open, online courses need to provide a virtual meeting place, which is what the learning management platform provides. Though I do suggest that faculty and students also develop their own personal learning networks, where perhaps content and resources they access or create through the LMS could be added to their own PLN, or conversely could be shared and brought into the LMS.

‘Teaching’ Centers for the Teachers
Faculty that teach in all modalities not just online, need support in learning how to adapt their teaching methods and pedagogy to the digitally connected student and the virtual meeting place. Some institutions have dedicated centers for such education, like Texas Christian University, which has the Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence that offers workshops, open ‘labs’ for support in LMS development, and technical support. Training programs are not all one and the same, technical support and training is differentiated from pedagogical support.

Purdue University has the Center for Instructional Excellence, which offers a robust selection of training support for instructors. Many resources are open and accessible online to anyone, making it a tremendous resource for course instructors at any institution.

Suggestions for Institutions

  • When it comes to providing training for instructors, consider emphasizing the desired results and outcomes of using the LMS effectively.
  • Though a trainer might be technically adept in the technical aspects of the LMS, he or she may not be able to provide pedagogical training. Offer both, technical training [foundational training] and training in educational methods and theories that emphasize the use of technology as a tool.

Suggestions for Course Instructors

  • Determine what training is available within your own institution.
  • Request training in pedagogical methods that incorporate technological applications and tools.
  • Visit other institutions web sites that offer resources, such as the ones listed above.
  • Review training videos that might be available on YouTube on your own LMS system. Many educators post training videos on LMS features they are experts in.
  • Develop a personal learning network (PLN) to aggregate resources and web content, and build a network.

Conclusion
Faculty training and professional development involves resources of time and money, as do investments in LMS platforms and other ed tech tools. Money is wasted however, if training is not conducted effectively to reach faculty, to help them to teach and incorporate technological tools, such as LMS platforms, that support learning outcomes and learner development. Too often training is ineffective, is one-dimensional focusing on only one aspect, either technical or pedagogical skills. Both are needed to support and develop faculty in becoming an instructor that is relevant and skilled in knowing when and how to use ed tech tools appropriately and effectively.

Resources: