Social Media and the Professional Learning Community – Networks, Collaboration & Communication

The research has been clear and consistent for over 30 years—collaborative cultures in which teachers focus on improving their teaching practice, learn from each other, and are well led and supported by school principals result in better learning for students. Fullan, M. (n.d.). Learning is the Work. Retrieved from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/

As life grows more complex, so too does education. The role of the teacher, once essentially an autonomous, well defined position, is now vast and continually changing. It is now impossible for a teacher to be engaging in best practice unless they are part of a supportive, informed and well developed network.

Whereas in the past this network, if it existed at all, was limited by time and space, the previous blog posts in this series on Social Media and Schools as Professional Learning Communities have shown that with the advent of tools such as Twitter, this need no longer be the case.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that collaborative cultures in schools improve student learning, and the presence of tools that allow these cultures to be developed in new and expansive ways, there continues to be reluctance to embrace the potential of online environments and social media. Richardson and Mancabelli suggest that this could be because this move challenges the structures in education that have been in place for as long as we can remember; letting go of our current notions of schooling to be open and interactive like never before may seem overwhelming.

This third and final blog post offers suggestions as to how to use a range of social media to enhance not only teachers’ learning networks, but also how schools may consider using social media to model constructive and positive communication within and beyond their immediate community.

Moving beyond the Twitterverse; Multiple Modes, Multiple Messages

Twitter is an excellent avenue for discovering new ideas, participating in online asynchronous dialogue and hearing about the latest educational trends and keynotes. It is, however, not the only tool that educators can use to broaden their personal learning network.

Linked In is growing in prominence as a networking tool for professionals. While it began as a place for business people to share a virtual summary of career highlights with potential employees, it is moving beyond this, to provide online discussion spaces for groups of like-minded educators, on topics such as 21st Century Education, Educational Leadership, Teacher Training and Curriculum Development. A search reveals 4,779 groups to choose from; and membership is drawn from around the world.

Diigo has been written about before on this blog, however it would be remiss not to mention it as a very active online learning community for educators. Not only a place to organise and store web links, Diigo provides spaces for collaboration, groups and the opportunity to discover new web links via email digests of the most recently saved websites.

Blogs are another tremendous source of up to date educational information. The drawback to them is that accessing each blog is time-consuming and blog authors post at irregular intervals. Time poor teachers are better off subscribing to a selection of blogs using an RSS Feedreader. The concept of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is actually really simple! Basically subscribing to blogs using RSS means each time a new post is uploaded, it will be sent to a central place, such as your Google Reader, so that they can be read from one location instead of going to each individual blog site. This video explains further.

Using Social Media to communicate as a school

Mark Sparvell, executive consultant in ICT capability and innovation at Principals Australia suggests that an entry point for schools who are keen to use Twitter or other social media is to begin by using it as a tool to connect the school with the wider community. He suggests looking at social media as a virtual school noticeboard, which communicates messages including staff and student achievements, reminders about special events, requests for assistance and updates on school sport scores.

Using social media allows the school to actively engage with the community in real time; updates are easy and quick to produce, making them ideal not only for distributing information, but for responding to questions and issues if and when they arise.

Ferriter, Ramsden and Sheninger suggest that schools look to how businesses have positioned themselves within the social media context, and to explore how this channel of communication may allow for more authentic representations of the school’s ‘brand’; by removing the formality of newsletters and opening up a two way mode that emphasises the shared aims of the school and its community.

They also suggest that schools ‘start small’. Twitter allows users the option to lock their accounts, so that only those who are ‘followers’ may see the posts made. This useful feature also means that the school can control who follows them – each request must be moderated and approved before they can be included. Steps on how to protect your Tweets in this way may be found on the Twitter help centre page.

Modelling positive use of social media in this way not only demonstrates the school’s willingness to communicate with its stakeholders, it also shows an openness to learn and interact within the online world – a world within which an increasing number of students operate daily.

Thanks to Langwitches; http://www.flickr.com/photos/langwitches/3458534773/sizes/z/in/photostream/ AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved

Education in the form that we have today was developed when knowledge was scarce, and communication channels limited. When learning could only occur in the presence of an individual who held all knowledge, it made sense to create institutions where a fixed curriculum could be delivered to age-grouped classes, and to measure ‘mastery’ via tests of content knowledge.

Today, knowledge is not scarce, and individuals have access to multiple communication channels. This has significant implications for education. Not only does it mean that the role of teachers must change, it also means that for schools to be considered professional learning communities, they must orient themselves within the wider world beyond the classroom walls.

“Increasingly, those who use technology in ways that expand their global connections are more likely to advance, while those who do not will find themselves on the sidelines. With the growing availability of tools to connect learners and scholars all over the world — online collaborative workspaces, social networking tools, mobiles, voice-over-IP, and more — teaching and scholarship are transcending traditional borders more and more all the time.”

2009 Horizon Report

References:

Ferriter, W. M., Ramsden, J. T., & Sheninger, E. C. (2011). Communicating and connecting with social media. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.

Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: using the power of connections to transform education. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.

2009 Horizon Report .  Retrieved October 23, 2011, from http://wp.nmc.org/horizon2009/

How Social Media can Enhance Schools as Professional Learning Communities

The field of social media is a burgeoning area of communication, and one that educators cannot ignore. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Diigo, GooglePlus – these platforms for communication are not going to go away; and while there is a great deal of negative media surrounding their use, they can be harnessed to create myriad possibilities for schools as learning communities. Current research only proves the dominance of Social Media as a modern communication medium: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/social/

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Creative Tools
Look for a Twitter symbol on blog posts to follow educators online…
BCE Twitterers include @BenVanTrier and @KayC28

 

This is the first of a series of posts planned in the area of social media and schools as learning communities. It is too big a topic to cover adequately in one post, and the value of social media tools as resources for learning is too great not to be addressed.

This post will consider what the term ‘social media’ connotes, and ways in which it may be used to overcome some of the obstacles schools face when attempting to develop a professional learning culture. The second post will focus specifically on a first step for teachers wishing to explore social media in a professional sense; building a Personal Learning Network using Twitter.

The third post planned will take readers a step beyond the Twitterverse, and introduce the idea of using multiple social media tools to enhance not only one’s Personal Learning Network, but also the possibility of bringing networked learning to the classroom and beyond.

If you are interested in following these posts and haven’t done so already, subscribe to our blog by entering your email address in the Subscribe box on the right hand side of this blog…and please feel free to leave your thoughts, suggestions or  criticisms in the comments box below!

Social Media – what do you need to know?

In the 21st century, learning networks are richer than ever before. Social media, including tools such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allow connections with professionals to be developed in offline and online worlds in new and exciting ways. No longer are we limited geographically. Social media allows us to connect not only to those we know, but also to those who we don’t know, but who share our passions, our interests and our profession. Despite never having met in the physical sense, it is now possible to share links, comment on educational research, debate, collaborate and create new knowledge with individuals no matter where they are working.

The number of tools that create these opportunities may seem overwhelming. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. A fully rounded PLN may consist of a number of accounts that serve a number of different purposes.

So….Social Media and Professional Learning Communities? What is the connection?

A school which is a professional learning community focuses upon removing the walls between classrooms (metaphorically, in all cases, physically in some!), encouraging collaboration, dialogue, ready access to colleagues and an openness to challenge understandings and current ‘accepted’ knowledge.

Teachers model ongoing learning as they view themselves as lifelong learners also. Time is provided not only for professional development in the traditional sense of in-service days, but also for collegial discussion and reflection. As the walls between the classrooms are no longer there, teachers feel free to engage in co-teaching, team teaching, mentoring, and peer observation.

A professional learning community is based upon respect, responsibility and collaboration. It reflects the need for all members of the community to view themselves as learners. This creates flexibility, openness to change and adaptability, which are definitely requirements for successfully managing the fast paced, continually changing context education exists within.

How can social media help bring this about? Roberts and Pruitt, in their book Schools as Professional Learning Communities (p3, 2009) quote research that suggests that the major obstacle for schools who wish to develop as learning communities is the provision of resources such as time to collaborate, leadership support, information and ready access to colleagues. Social Media is not the total answer; but in schools where money and time are in short demand (and which school isn’t in this situation?), they can go part of the way in meeting these needs.

Here’s how:

1. Social media providing time to collaborate

Social media does not strictly speaking provide time – nothing will replace relief from face to face teaching to allow teachers to focus on their professional learning – however by embracing the asynchronous nature of social media, collaboration can occur at a time that suits each individual. It is almost impossible to co-ordinate meeting times with the variety of competing demands teachers respond to each day. Social media allows each teacher to add their thoughts, comments and input to a conversation that can continue through the working day. Using blogging software, twitter hash tags and discussion forums allows the discussion to flow and new knowledge to be created despite geographical location.

2. Social media providing leadership support

There is usually only one Principal in a school. The ratio of leaders to staff does not have to determine the amount of support a leadership team can provide if social media is used as a way of communicating. Meetings that a leadership representative cannot physically attend can be shared online, or the input collected and reflected upon by leadership at a later date. Members of a leadership team can ‘check in’ with staff by posting a tweet, posting a discussion starter or asking for input using a variety of channels. Of course nothing replaces face to face meetings and the presence of leadership representatives at various events, but if it is just not possible to be there, there are ways support can still be provided.

 3. Social media providing information

This is a key role of social media when used in a professional context. Questions can be posted online for response from a global audience (you can use preferences to manage whether your question goes out to specific individuals or the whole world in general). The development of  a PLN in Twitter or LinkedIn provides ready access to experts in the educational field who more often than not are willing to share. Social bookmarking services such as Diigo are brilliant for discovering new websites and sources of information – join one of the many groups for educators, and digests of useful links will be sent automatically to your email inbox on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Social media truly comes into its own when searching for targeted, reliable information sources.

 4. Social media providing ready access to colleagues

This directly links to Number 1. If colleagues have a Social Media account, they are just a few keystrokes away. This might sound like a recipe for disaster, however in terms of networking with colleagues from across the country and globally, or even for setting meeting times with fellow staff members, making contact with colleagues has never been easier.

Stay tuned for our next post which will introduce you to how Twitter may be a powerful tool for initiating and maintaining a Personal Learning Network.

Comments as always are welcome!

A Primer on QR Codes

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo by The Daring Librarian: http://flickr.com/photos/info_grrl/5606363434/

It seems like lately, QR codes are everywhere.
Although I saw them frequently in Japan several years ago, it seemed like Australia would never jump on board the QR wagon…until now. QR codes are not only in vogue, there are so many ways they can be used creatively in education…so here’s a plain english version of what they are, and how you might take advantage of this (newish) technology…

What are they?

QR (Quick Response) codes are basically 2D barcodes. as they can be read vertically and horizontally, they can contain much more information that a regular barcode. They can contain up to 4000 characters (numeric, alphabetical, or Kanji (Japanese/Chinese symbols). Traditional barcodes contain only 20 digits of data.

A short piece of text, a website address, an email address or a phone number are just some of the types of information that can be stored in a code. In Japan, where QR codes originated, they are on most business cards – providing a link to a Google Map of where to find the business, or the business website in most cases, so users can simply scan the code with their phone to get direct access to information.

Most Smartphones will have a barcode scanner as a downloadable app which will read QR codes.

For the desktop you can also install a little bit of software that will use a webcam to read the codes. A free and easy to use desktop QR code reader and creator can be downloaded at http://www.quickmark.com.tw/En/basic/downloadPC.asp
This program will allow you to create QR codes and to scan QR codes on the computer screen quickly and easily.

Whether children are using mobile devices or the webcam on a netbook, they will access digital resources in fewer clicks.

Alternatively, there are many websites that generate QR codes – one of the easiest is Kaywa QR Generator: http://qrcode.kaywa.com/

Why should I use them?

QR codes livebinder

Loads more information on QR codes is in the livebinder accessible by scanning this QR code

• Convey large amounts of information easily

• Provide easy access to websites/YouTube videos

• Create scavenger hunts or self-guided tours

• Provide information to parents

• Provide easy access for early years students to websites – use a desktop scanner

How to use them

The opportunities are endless. The following video shows how one school in the United States is using QR codes in many creative ways. Following the video are just a few additional ideas … please feel free to share more suggestions in the comments section below this post…

• Create QR codes for websites for direct student access

• A tour of any location can be made self guiding. Students use headphones plugged into phone/itouch and scan QR codes to listen to pre-recorded podcasts describing that part of the tour.

• Bring interactivity into discussions about moral dilemmas or social issues. Create short videos depicting the consequences of various actions or different perspectives on social issues. Create a QR code for each video. Students read the description of the dilemma or social issue, then scan the corresponding QR code to explore the dilemma/issue more deeply, by viewing the video.

• Include QR codes that direct students to websites with further information on homework/assignment task sheets

Websites and Tools

40 interesting ways to use QR Codes

Desktop QR scanner: Quickmark

This Diigo group is specifically for sharing links about using QR codes in education – if you aren’t already a member of Diigo, you should be (read the post about it here) otherwise, join this group for regular digests on new ways to use this tool in the classroom.

As said earlier…if you are using QR codes, or have ideas on how they might be used creatively, share them below in the comments section…we would love to hear what others are doing!

We would like to spread the word about our blog! Simply scan the QR code below to post the link of our blog to your Twitter account…and if you don’t have a Twitter account, stay tuned for an upcoming article on why Twitter is vital for every educator!


12 Reasons Teachers should use Diigo

What is Diigo?

Diigo stands for “Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff.” It is a social bookmarking program that allows you to save your ‘favourites’ online, so that they can be accessible from any computer with an internet connection. However, Diigo does much more than this.

As you read on the web, as well as bookmarking websites, you can also highlight parts of web pages that are of particular interest to you. Or, you can attach sticky notes to specific parts of web pages. These highlights and sticky notes are persistent – whenever you return to the original web page, you will see your highlights and sticky notes superimposed on the original page, just what you would expect if you highlighted or wrote on a book!

The ‘social’ part of the bookmarking program is also very useful. With every Diigo user tagging and annotating pages online, the Diigo community has collectively created a wonderful repository of quality content, filtered and annotated by the community, on almost any subject you may be interested in.

For example, if you would like to find popular resources on e-learning, searching Diigo can probably get what you want in less time than using search engines, and you may also gain insights from other users.

For more information, go to http://www.diigo.com/about , or dive right in and sign up. After reading the reasons here today, you will definitely be convinced of the productivity and time-saving power of this great online tool.

So…onto the 12 reasons every teacher should use Diigo.

  1. Diigo provides a free, efficient, effective and reliable way to save and organise your favourite websites, online articles, blog posts, images and other media found online.
    How do I bookmark? Go to http://help.diigo.com/how-to-guide/bookmarking  for a short video tutorial. The first thing you need to do to begin bookmarking is either download the Diigo toolbar, or if you don’t want a full toolbar, download the Diigolet.
  2. Diigo provides a lists feature that allows you to share carefully selected bookmarked websites with your students.
    Adding bookmarks to lists is easy. When you save the bookmark, you are able to allocate it to any list you have already created, or create a new list as you go.
  3. Diigo has tools that encourage students to collaborate with others to analyse, critique and evaluate websites.
    Take advantage of the Teacher Console to manage student accounts – with no student email addresses needed. Create groups for your students to work within, and have them share and review resources as a part of their research.http://help.diigo.com/teacher-account/faq
  4. Diigo provides opportunities for students to apply higher level thinking skills while researching and gathering information.The table below is taken from Choosing Web2.0 Tools for Learning and Teaching in a Digital World by Pam Berger and Sally Trexler.Buy Pam Berger’s and Sally Trexler’s book here.
  5. Diigo allows you to gain access to the ‘collective intelligence’ of the internet.By joining groups of like minded users, you are automatically able to access all of the bookmarks that other members of the group have chosen to save. The many, many users of Diigo all saving to their accounts adds up to a lot of great websites identified, tagged and reviewed – much more than one single person could ever identify in a reasonable timeframe!
  6. Diigo allows you to develop your own professional learning network (PLN).
  7. Diigo provides a forum for teachers and students to discuss areas of share interest, or a particular online website or resource using the ‘topics’ function within groups.
  8. Use Diigo to provide visual access to websites you have collected using the built in program ‘webslides’.http://slides.diigo.com/widget/slides?sid=36866
  9. Use Diigo’s advanced tools to link its power to blogs and RSS. Lists of similar websites that you have created can easily be posted onto a blog by using the ‘post to blog’ button.

  10. Use Diigo tools to enhance professional reading and save time creating summaries of online posts.
  11. Access your information from any computer, or even your iPhone or iPad!
    The free Diigo app can be downloaded from the iTunes store and you can be saving as you go!
  12. Enjoy the spare time you save through your increased organisation of online resources and the power of Diigo!Image with thanks to: http://www.dianechamberlain.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/sleeping-dog.jpg

Want to learn more? The following links may help…

Getting started with a Teacher Account:

http://help.diigo.com/teacher-account/getting-started

Introduction to Diigo:

http://21ctools.wikispaces.com/Diigo

From TeleGatherer to TelePlanter with Diigo:

http://www.edsupport.cc/mguhlin/share/index.php?n=Anthology.Diigoway