Why do we see digital learning spaces any differently than physical? What is it about social media platforms like Twitter and Google+ that cause us to hesitate and resist sharing ideas, providing feedback and engaging in professional discussions? When will we begin to see online communities as extensions of our own face-to-face PLN? How can educators promote and model a positive digital footprint for our students unless we are also engaging in online communities?
Teachers…it’s time to break the silence.
I’ve come to the end of Coetail Course 5, and looking back at where I started over a year ago, I’m amazed at how my professional learning network (PLN) has grown exponentially.
My journey to building my online PLN began 3 years ago when I took the plunge and finally joined Twitter. I detailed my experience with this in one of my first Coetail posts Twitter & Blogging: Happily Married:
Twitter & Blogging have exponentially expanded my PLN and literally changed my life and the way I teach. Now that this dynamic is obvious to me, the real challenge is sharing this knowledge with other educators and, more importantly, students. Returning to the idea of Prosumers (Reach p.2-6), it’s essential that we model and facilitate an atmosphere of connectivism both in schools and in our classrooms. I really needed to dive into blogging myself to understand the benefits professionally before I could get my students on board with the idea. As I mentioned earlier, my previous school had a blogging culture, but only a small percent truly understood the opportunities blogs provided. For many teachers, blogs were considered a useful platform for documenting learning, creating a bank of resources and connecting within the classroom, but the real magic happened once teachers took risks left themselves vulnerable for the world to get a peek into their classroom.
Tweetship & Tweetmance
Since 2012, Twitter has been my main platform for networking with likeminded educators and collaborating on ideas to try in the classroom. It’s also been a hub for developing strong professional frienships, what I would deem Tweetships or Tweetmance. I am constantly in awe and inspired by other educators, and these simple, yet frequent connections to schools outside my own keep me motivated, especially during the long winter months when enthusiasm can wane. My main tweetships have been formed through #edtechchat, #pypchat, and #edtech.
Since I joined Coetail and #coetailchat, I’ve further broadened my PLN, and found other useful hashtag groups to follow on Twitter such as #ecechat, #1stchat, and #kinderchat. Fellow Coetailer @ChezVivian and I have frequently connected during my Coetail journey over topics and activities we post in #makered and #EdTech. I am so grateful to her for keeping me inspired during my new role as EdTech coach.
@MrsKittoSwitzer (another Coetailer), @paulabaxter67, @ and @Shei_Asc are former colleagues whom I haven’t worked with for anywhere from 2 to 6 years, yet we continue to collaborate and share professional resources via Twitter. It’s been an excellent way to continue learning and growing together. Below you can see some of the many discussions we’ve participated in using various hashtag communities:
I was lucky to already have found a strong foundation PLN through my Apple Distinguished Educator network, and community of International School colleagues, which then expanded outwards to the 500+ Tweeters I share and collaborate with. As mentioned in my first Coetail post, many of these connections have moved beyond a public digital space to private messaging and emailing, to connect classrooms and share resources. I had mentioned in this post that Shannon O’Dwyer is a Twitter ‘colleague’ I have never met in person, but whom I connect with frequently to share articles and activity ideas. Some may deem this a full on professional #Tweetmance!
Beyond Classroom Walls
Twitter is also an inspirational space where I’ve discovered and participated in several global projects such as #GlobalEdTed and #Ifyoulearnedhere. It was through Twitter that I found out about these fantastic collaborative projects and expanded my professional learning network.
Global Collaborative Project 1: #ifyoulearnedhere
I detailed my experience in the Global eBook Project “If You Learned Here” in one of my previous COETAIL posts Bridging Global Classrooms. This project allowed teachers and students to connect globally on various platforms including FlipGrid, where we shared our introductory videos, Padlet, where schools shared about their school environment, the country they lived in, or their daily schedules.
Again, Twitter was the main platform I used to network and connect with other educators participating in this project. Below are some of the Tweets I shared with other participants, using the #ifyoulearnedhere hashtag:
Global Collaborative Project 2: #GlobalEdTed
Another way I’ve built my PLN and connected globally since beginning my COETAIL journey was joining the Traveling Teddybear Project, hosted by former Coetailer
These 3 posts can be read on Freddy’s Blog:
Students Skyped with The Phoenix School, who are located in Massachusetts USA, and hosted Freddy before he arrived in Switzerland. They had lots of questions for each other, and students shared information about their schools, daily routines and favourite memories with Freddy the Teddy.
My Google+ Community
Through my G+ profile, I’ve attempted to engage with various Google+ communities. Initially I found the response rate slower than on Twitter. Also, there seemed to be less participation as these communities are restricted to Google accounts. However, it’s in this space where I first connected with Phillip Cowell, when I joined the Elementary and Primary School EdTech G+ Community. I posted this question:
How can we balance Play-based learning and tech? What should tech look like in Early Years (3-6 year olds)? (link to G+ post).
This discussion led to me learning about his fabulous Easy Blogger Jr app that I later used in my role as EdTech Coach in EY-G1.
Here is a link to another discussions I posted a couple months later, when I was preparing for my new role. I was trying to find out how to start an Action Research project in the Early Years. There was some great back-and-forth discussion Claudia Lee, who shared her experience and documents with me. @Phillip_Cowell and I continue to engage in dialogue sharing posts about #easybloggerjr, as it was one of the platforms I conducted an informal action research on. I detailed my initial perspectives on a professional blog I created for our school Tech in Early Years.
Once I started my new role, I decided to share my progress with the same Google+ Community. I used Animoto to create a video documenting some of the ways I’d started integrating iPads in Early Years. It generated some discussion with another member, Reuben Bathgate, and I was beginning to see the advantage of participating in a network that allowed us to continue discussions beyond 140 characters.
Since Coetail Course 5 started, I’ve made more of an effort to reconnect with the G+ Community and have shared in some discussions in the Tech Integrator’s corner. One discussion posted by Jackie Heinzelmann was about how to manage ‘off-task’ students who tend to check other platforms instead of doing work (see chat here) :
Martha Thornburgh also recently posted a question in the group Instructional Technology Integrators & Coaches that has generated a lot discussion around the implementation of Digital Citizenship in schools. My response is below.
Apple Distinguished Educators: #ade2015
I am fortunate to be part of a wide network of EdTech-focused educators through the Apple Distinguished Educators Programme. It’s through this community, that I began to collaborate more with @terSonya whom I only met for the first time last March 2015, at the Learning 2.0 conference. We then found out she would also be at the ADE conference in Amsterdam and following our second face-to-face collaboration, we continued to meet and discuss via twitter both publicly and through direct messaging. Since we both have the same role as EdTech Coaches (she at MIS, Germany), we found ourselves having loads to share and I’ve since been promoting her new iBooks on EdTech with staff at my school. Below you can see a snapshot of a typical exchange where we pose a question or share resources with each other and fellow ADEs in our region. The discussion about pixel coding was quite long and can be read in more detail here.
Full Circle with COETAIL
Lastly, the #Coetail and #coetailchat communities continues to be a place where I am introduced to more and more like-minded teachers who I can follow on Twitter and build my PLN. Recently I participated in a Blogging Twitter chat at #March2c . The questions were provocative and generated a lot of discussion that left all of us feeling like we had a lot more to think about and research as we push blogging in our schools and classrooms.
Here is a storify of our discussion:
Some of the best exchanges I’ve had since starting my Coetail journey have been the back and forth exchanges through the comments section of our Coetail blogs. I recently added a post from my Eduro Coaching Course, “Show What You Don’t Know”, and was excited to make a connection with another coach. Below you can see another example of the many back and forth exchanges from a previous post, Coding: A Blast from the Past :
However we choose to break the silence ~ be it on Coetail blogs, Twitter or Google+ communities ~ we need to be open to maintaining these connections over time. Thanks to Coetail, my PLN has expanded across all three platforms and I’ve gained confidence to share my perspectives and experiences through more than just 140 characters. Just like our students, we need to think beyond the walls of our own schools, and be open to connecting globally with each other.