I came across this post by Tom Whitby today, and it sort of made me smile. The post amounts to a well-written rant about the online culture of information exchange and sharing. While just about every social media tool allows users to participate at varying levels of actual participation, there is something to be said for taking that step into contributing to the discussion by sharing pre-existing information of interest or information straight from your own brain.
When I look back at my own relationship with my personal learning network, I realize that I spent the first year or so only participating passively, receptively via my RSS feed. I didn’t use my Twitter account yet, and I didn’t blog about my experiences in academia. However, I was reading posts of interest and building my subscription list. I was also tagging and saving posts of interest via Diigo (which I found to be a valuable archiving tool). About a year into what I now realize was my unguided attempt at self-directed professional learning, I began sharing articles I found on my RSS feed with the Twitter #esl community. I slowly began following fellow educators after I sat in on a #ellchat Tweetchat session. It was my first experience with the synchronous use of Twitter, and I was hooked. After some fumbling around with netiquette conventions, I found myself interacting with Twitter followers and freely sharing information I came across via RSS feeds and other sources.
While lurking is an acceptable form of social media use, Whitby is onto something:
If we are to benefit from the Internet as a profession or a society we need to feel an obligation to be more than takers. We need to be makers and exchangers as well. We need to keep the exchange alive by not counting on the few, but by involving the many. We need to believe in the premise of Share and Share alike.
One of the best things about collaborating and learning online via social media is the fact that both novice and experienced teachers have a voice. It can be kind of daunting or scary to think that people will read and judge you based on what you share online, but when it comes down to it, your voice is only as loud as you make it. Everyone has something to say, and even novice teachers should not stifle their voices in fear of reproach.
With the advent of the Google Reader closure and my impending departure to the TESOL Convention in Dallas, I am wondering what exactly it means to be a connected professional. I suppose the definition varies from field to field, but within the field of education and ESL, more specifically, there are a few things I think define a “connected professional.”
- Engaged in conversation. Whether online via micro-blogging sites like Twitter, or in person with your immediate co-workers, being engaged in conversation seems to be a key part of the definition of a connected professional. With technology in mind, Twitter and other social media tools allow teachers to be engaged in multiple conversations simultaneously without needing to be in the same geographical area. While I’m partial to these tools, the good-old traditional conversation with co-workers should not be overlooked. After all, you are serving the same population of students, and communication is very important to understanding and meeting your population’s unique needs.
- Open to new voices. One of the best facets of utilizing social media with a world-wide learning community is that both experienced/expert teachers and novice teachers can interact and learn from one another. It is my opinion that a truly connected professional is not only open to new voices in the field, but also varying perspectives. All that being said, it can be easy to fall in with an online crowd that agree in perspective (on whatever matter) with yourself. A necessary challenge to being connected and actively participating is to not only expose yourself to new voices, but to engage with them in an amicable and exploratory way.
- Makes connections between conversations and their own practice. Connected professionals may be bombarded with a constant stream of input with a variety of perspectives, but it is their job to take the information and perspectives presented online and implement them appropriately in their own classrooms. If everything goes back to serving our students, an effective connected professional must take some of what she learns from other voices and reflect upon her own practice. While my perspective would state that varying degrees of participation may indeed contribute positively to an educator’s professional identity, there are voices out there that deem any interaction online not taken and implemented in the classroom as meaningless. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on how best to implement what is gathered from learning communities and implemented their practice. I simply propose that students must always be kept in mind.
It seems clear that simply having a Twitter account or subscribing to an educator’s blog does not make one a “connected professional.” While online, social media tools may be invaluable to a teacher’s self-directed professional development, they are ultimately just tools to be used by the professional. How we use them is what really matters.
Image via CrunchBase
I was saddened to learn that Google Reader will no longer be available after July 1st of this year. Over the past couple years, Google Reader has been the cornerstone of my online engagement. When I started using Google Reader, I subscribed to blogs and articles that interested me personally, that did not necessarily pertain to my teaching or networking. However, when I started grad school a year and a half ago I slowly built my RSS feed into a collection of voices from around the ESL field. Before I embraced Twitter, I relied solely on Google Reader to provide for me a steady stream of information and insight. Even after I became a Twitter addict, I start my social media engagement every day by checking my RSS feed on Google Reader.
I hope that the powers that be decided to revamp Google Reader and roll out something new to take its place because I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet.
Here’s a pretty good article about the shut down from The Huffington Post.
Let the search for a Google Reader replacement begin!
I have been building my personal learning network over the last couple of years with a more rigorous engagement in the last few months, and I have recently been asking myself a few questions about how widespread the idea of developing a personal learning network may be. I am planning on presenting on how teachers (ESL specifically) can use social media to network and build support networks outside of their immediate networks after graduate school at a local conference in April, and I’m wondering how obvious my ideas will be to those in attendance. Will everyone leave my talk shaking their heads, wishing they had gone to another concurrent session? My own insecurities aside, how mainstream is the idea of PLNs and using social media tools like Twitter and RSS feeds to facilitate continuing education really? I have only touched on the topic with a few other teachers in my program, and none of them seemed familiar with the idea. However, I am constantly receiving notifications via Twitter and Google Reader that new blog posts have been written about building your PLN and using social media for self-driven professional development. I’m inclined to think that the topic feels like a mainstream, paramount topic of discussion in the field because it interests me and I have built my online network around using technology and self-directed professional development. Perhaps it’s time to broaden my personal learning network to include voices that do not make PLNs their primary concern.
Self-directed professional development may mean finding topics of interest and reading articles written by professionals. It may mean implementing suggestions in your classroom and reflecting on those experiences. It may mean seeking the advice of your peers and coworkers with regard to specific classroom management techniques or lesson plans. Self-directed professional development may be self-driven and take on many different appearances, but it does not mean learning alone.
I have come to realize that building an online community of peers and fellow learners is invaluable to my professional development. Through tools like Twitter and Google Reader, I am able to stay connected to the field, provide my feedback to pragmatic suggestions (lesson plans and activity ideas), and receive feedback on my own ideas. While I am the master of the direction my learning takes, and I may be physically sitting at my laptop alone, I am not learning alone. With the assistance of online communication tools, my learning community has widened to include people from all over the world. There is something really exciting about brainstorming lesson ideas with people from around the world. Perspective is something gained over time and experience, and I’m not sure I can put a value on the availability of the wide variety of perspectives present online.
I’m thankful for online communities and the support I find within these communities.
About four years ago I was introduced to the magic that is Google Reader. Initially I followed some entertaining blogs like The Bloggess, which I literally stumbled upon (using the ever time-wasting Stumble Upon), and various news feeds from home and my newly adopted South Korean home (I had just moved to Korea to teach ESL). I found Google Reader a great way to stay connected to a variety of online feeds; it was like reading a really cool, personalized news paper every day.
Upon my return to the US, I enrolled in graduate school and decided to create a Google Reader feed only for ESL-related blogs and articles. My search for online collaboration and my larger learning network had begun. After tediously exploring what seemed like an endless pool of blogs and online resources, I have watched my Reader subscription list grow to 27 feeds.
Through these feeds, I have come to appreciate the wide variety of voices within the field of ESL (and the online community in general). It has become fairly clear that if you are searching for like-minded individuals and communities online, you will undoubtedly find them. Sometimes I think back ten years (yes, it’s still strange to me that I can remember that far back) and think of how greatly things have changed regarding online communication and collaboration. Does anyone else remember AIM? How about Yahoo chat? While these tools are probably still trucking along in some form or another, it seems amazing that they were once the pinnacle of online communication. The tools and resources available to the ESL field and instructors in all fields seems to grow and morph every day. How can anyone ever expect to harness the value and potential in such an ever-changing pool of knowledge?! I would have to whole-heatedly agree with Vicky Loras when she says that an advantage in the field of education is that we get to learn something new everyday. Perhaps the ever-changing online community is a great place to seek that knowledge.
With the hopes of spreading some wisdom, here is a list of some of the blogs I follow to remain active in the online discussion of ESL:
- Larry Ferlazzo: This blog does a great job compiling resources from across the web. The resources and discussions on this blog range from K-12 ESL to adult learners. This is by far the most extensive compilation of information related to ESL I have come across online. I love his lists!
- ELL Toolbox: This blog is new to my Google Reader subscriptions, but I have found it presents interesting topics with some suggested reading to follow. I know I’m always looking for some good books to read.
- Free Technology for Teachers: This blog focuses on using technology in the classroom and presents some great online tools for teachers to try in their own classrooms. Each blog post includes an overview of the technological tool and an “Implications for Education” that suggests some ways in which the tool might be implemented in a classroom. The tools are not explicitly ESL focused, but they could often be applicable in any classroom setting.
- iTDi Blog: This blog is part of the iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) website, and it offers one topic every month to which expert teachers respond. It’s a great place to read about the experiences of other educators. The topics vary widely but usually involve great examples of self-reflection and introspection on the part of the guest writers.
- Langwitches: This blog is written by a woman whose focus is on globally connected learning. The posts are very informative and they typically center around using technological and online tools to create learning networks and enhance professional development.
- 2 Cents Worth: This blog focuses on teaching and learning in a new information landscape. There are some great posts about the efficacy of using technology in the classroom and the author’s voice is unmistakably “big picture.”
While there are probably a million other blogs I have yet to discover, these are the ones that have gotten me to where I am right now. With ambition on my breath and the cold January bite at my back I embark on this new blogging journey. Perhaps I will consider these tips given by Leoxicon as I continue to build my blog and explore the online offerings for the field of ESL:
12 blog post ideas for new bloggers
1. Write a response to someone (preferably famous) expressing your opinion
2. Write about a web tool or app you use
3. Take two pieces of jargon from another (even unrelated) field and apply them to ELT
4. Write something about technology (whether you’re pro- or anti- doesn’t matter)
5. Blog about your favourite activity
6. Do a mini action research project in your class and post the results: preferably in two instalments
8. Write about something new you’ve learnt
9. There are many obscure “days” throughout the year: Honesty Day, Fun at Work Day, Dress-Up Your Pet Day and certainly loads of bad hair days. Pick one as a topic of your post.
10. Conduct a mini poll among your readers
11. Write an apology – even if you know the person it’s addressed to is not going to read it
12. Summarise a conference talk / workshop / webinar you’ve enjoyed
Finally, if you have run out of ideas about what to blog, post a Top 5 or Top 10 list of your recent blog posts!