MNWE 2013 Conference: ESOL Supersession/Workshop Overview

Reflection

The Minnesota Writing and English Conference (MNWE) was seeking a larger ESOL presence at their annual gathering this year, and I decided to offer a proposal for a presentation/workshop. I presented yesterday to a room of about 18 people (including all the other presenters in the supersession) about using social media to facilitate professional learning, especially in the context of novice teachers making the transition from graduate school into the field. This was my first official presentation, and I have to admit I was a little nervous as it got closer to the conference. I bolstered my confidence by reading this article on the Brain Pickings blog about public speaking. The post itself describes the work of George Plimpton, but I found a couple of the points extremely helpful as I prepared for my presentation.

As I prepared for the conference, I sometimes felt like this:

There were moments of doubt where I thought things like, “why would anyone want to hear what I have to say?!” and “I’m just a grad student…” But after going to the TESOL Convention in Dallas and seeing many presentations on various topics, I realized that even more experienced teachers and academics probably have these thoughts. Until I went to TESOL I doubted the need for a discussion about the use of social media in the field of English education. I will delve into my thoughts on the value of connected conferences in a subsequent blog post, but it was obvious by the lack of social media interaction at the international level convention that there are tons of teachers in the field who have yet to explore and experience the benefits (and challenges) of using social media to build their personal learning networks.

I felt like the presentation itself went quite well, and I felt comfortable talking to this room of strangers. However, I encountered a couple issues that I think I will have to consider more closely if I intend on making future presentations of this nature:

  • The topic of social media in conjunction with professional learning can be approached from various positions of expertise (or lack thereof). It was hard to gauge how familiar the audience would be with social media in general, and how basic or in depth I should make my presentation. Upon a very informal survey of the audience, almost everyone raised their hands when I asked if they used some kind of social media for personal use. I can imagine almost all of those users were referring to Facebook. When immediately asked who used social media for professional purposes (with students or with other professionals) only one person raised her hand. I went into the presentation with the idea that the audience would have some general notion of what social media tools could do for them (in any capacity), but based on the fact that only about 10 people (including myself and the event account) were tweeting during the international TESOL Convention, I predicted that few people would be actual users. I was right. In light of this reality that I keep stumbling upon at in-person PD events, a couple questions come to mind:
    • First, how can people within the field who have experienced the value of using social media tools to facilitate professional development express this value to colleagues who have not ventured into the realm of social media?
    • Also, while I have felt supported and feel like I’ve gained confidence and insight through my use of social media tools, it is quite difficult to try to quantify or measure these outcomes. Without a satisfactory method of measuring how the use of social media can influence professional learning or student outcomes, is the use of social media something that is worth exploring? I feel like it is, but I can hardly give justification for the endeavor that amounts to something like, “I just feel like it’s a really good thing to do.” Tom Whitby recently wrote a blog post that explores this question a little bit further.
  • While there is a substantial educational presence on social media outlets, it may be useful to relate the specific tools to specific subdivisions within the field of education and ESL. I’m finding that there are far more K-12 voices than adult ESL voices on social media venues. How can I promote the practice of utilizing social media for adult ESL educators if there is not much of a current presence online? I think there is great value in interacting with all educators, but sometimes I wish there was a larger presence of educators within my subdivision of the field.

Overall, the presentation experience was valuable, and I would do it again if I had the chance. I would also plan to present less information in the allotted time, as I was rushed at the end and didn’t have much time for actual discussion of the issues.

After my presentation, there were six other presentations related to ESOL issues:

The Impact of Audiovisual Material on the ESL University Student’s Note-Taking and Writing Performance, Jun Akiyoshi, Younghoon Kang, and Ayami Murakami–MSU, Mankato

Reading: The Missing Link in Writing, Yue Qin–University of Regina (Canada)

English Writing of Non-English Majors at Tertiary Level in China, Jun Wu–Anui University (China)

Multilingual Writers in the Writing Center, Renata Fitzpatrick–Carleton College

Building Academic Literacy for the Transitions to College: Connecting Writing with Social Science in a Learning Community for First-Year Multi-lingual Writers, Robin Murie–University of Minnesota, Duluth

Concept Mapping in First-Year Writing Courses for L2 Students, Kira Dreher–University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Here is are the slides from my presentation.

Advertisements

How mainstream are PLNs anyways?

Reflection

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

Uncategorized

I have become somewhat enamored with the use of digital media in relation to professional development. The idea that I can create a personal learning network that will allow me to connect and collaborate with teachers around the world from all walks of life and levels of experience using social media and other digital tools amazes me!

During my practicum experience last year where I was paired with a mentor teacher, I really began to appreciate the value of connecting with more experienced teachers within my field. I sometimes feel like teaching can be a pretty isolating profession, unless teachers reach out to others within the field and share their ideas. While this may seem obvious, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of being in the classroom. Having the opportunity to teach alongside my mentor teacher and get valuable feedback from him was an awesome experience. However, engaging in a mentor/apprentice sort of relationship seems like the analog version of an experience that can be so much more fulfilling and enlightening within a digital medium. Having said that, I don’t think that one experience should replace the other, but that having a wider vision of what it means to develop professionally and collaborate with fellow teachers might be more beneficial than engaging in the traditional practicum experience alone.

If collaborating and expanding my ever-changing personal learning network is good for my own education, couldn’t it be said that such a network might benefit my learners as well? This is a line of thought I have yet to dive into, but with the hopes of cultivating learning and creating a space in which my learners can use English freely, I have created a class wiki. I’m sure there will be more meditation on this matter to come.

My mind has been buzzing with these ideas recently, and in an attempt to self-educate I have begun collecting some resources that address the topic of collective learning and self-directed professional development in the digital age. Here are a few of the books I’m exploring now:

Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User Generated Learning by Kristen Swanson

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking

From Fear to Facebook: One School’s Journey by Matt Levinson

 

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)

Uncategorized

While embarking on this quest for collaboration and shared knowledge, I have come to realize the importance of professional learning networks. With all the data and knowledge available to everyone anywhere at anytime, it would seem nearly impossible to organize and access this knowledge in a simple and effective way. Professional learning networks act as a supplement for in-person networking (say at your university or program). The benefits of participating and maintaining a professional learning network (PLN) seem infinite, all depending on how the network is accessed and used.

I am no expert on PLNs, but I hope to continue to engage and explore their role in my own professional development as an ESL teacher. I think teachers often end up working in isolation or with a small group of peers at the institution in which they teach, but I don’t think that necessarily has to be the case. There is a vast knowledge pool of experience online just waiting to be tapped into.

Here are some valuable articles and resources for building and engaging with your own personal learning network:

20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network by @miriamoclifford

Teachers, Here’s Why You Need to Network by Andrianes Pinantoan

The Best Ways ESL Teachers Can Develop Personal Learning Networks by Larry Ferlazzo

Personal Learning Networks Simplified for Teachers

How to Create a Robust and Meaningful Personal Learning Network 

How’s Your PLN? by Lisette Casey

Why (and How) You Should Create a Personal Learning Network by Eric Patnoudes

How to Create a “Personal Learning Environment” to Stay Relevant in 2013