How to Use Web 2.0 to Create On-line Professional Development

As a former assistant superintendent for instruction one of my responsibilities was organizing the district workshop days. It was valuable time – the entire faculty and staff was available – but also a challenge to develop programs that delivered meaningful PD that were also easy to manage and cost effective. Recently I received an email that introduced me to how one district is leveraging free technology to move their PD day to an online environment.

The email said … “I’m @steelepierce on Twitter, following you, and also following your Copy/Paste blog.  Would you be available and willing to have a telephone conversation, preferably Skype, with our Teaching & Learning Department?  Topics: 1) our using your ideas on summarizing and notetaking for a professional learning online “workshop” we’re creating for our staff (550 teachers!) and 2) your coming to work with our teachers in August 2010. Thanks for your consideration. Looking forward to hearing from you”

It sounded interesting, so I Skyped with the TLC at West Clermont Local Schools – M.E. Steele-Pierce, Cheryl Turner and Tanny McGregor. They developed a PD module based, in part, on my blog post, “How to Teach Summarizing Skills.” I shared my input via Skype and also by recording comments into the training module. They built the lesson using Voicethread and delivered it online to faculty across the district during their recent Professional Learning Day. In addition they used Wallwisher (at end of this post) to gather teacher reflections.

 Click to view the training module. Advance or return using arrows. Click thumbnails to see all slides. Use mouse to zoom in / out of slides.

These are challenging times for school districts – and relentless budget cuts add to the challenges. The team at West Clermont shows us how the innovative use of free tech tools can provide PD that is cost effective, builds local capacity, and models the instructional practice we want to see in the classroom.

For more ideas on how to develop quality PD, see my post “15 Essential Questions for the Successful Staff Developer.” For information on learning strategies for the classroom, see my post “18 Literacy Strategies for Struggling Readers – Defining, Summarizing and Comparing

The “Simpsons” Debate the Role of Social Media and Cell Phones In the Classroom

The latest episode of “The Simpsons” (Oct 5, 2009) nicely satirizes the debate over the role of social media in the classroom. Watch this episode and you’ll see the debate framed as “Social Media as Classroom Distraction vs. Social Media Instructional Gimmick.”

Bart Gets a Z

Much of the debate over the role of technology in the classroom is clouded by stereotypes of Luddites vs. Techies. What’s often missed is the point that it’s not about the technology, but the level thinking that technology can support. A PowerPoint can easily dumb down information into a series of shallow bullets, while a Wordle can help us to visualize text to support revealing insights.

Schools should be thoughtfully-designed learning environments where students can investigate information and be given a chance to reflect (with their peers) on what they learned and how they see themselves progressing as learners. That can be done with a variety of technologies – even pencil and paper. A social network is already sitting in the classroom that can interact with information and each other without the need to go online. But at the same time, handheld technology can support a level of investigation and teamwork that far exceeds the traditional classroom discussion group. 

I’m always looking for the cheapest, most dependable, and accessible instructional tool to get the job done – depending on the situation – chalk or Twitter may fill the bill.

Engage Student Discussion: Use the Social Network in Your Classroom

social media
social media
Watch a typical whole group discussion in the classroom and you’ll most likely see a “hub / spokes” flow of information. Teacher to student A and back to teacher. Teacher to student B and back to teacher. So it goes as the “bluebirds” get to show how smart they are. Over time, students learn that their comments are of provisional value until “approved” by the teacher. That’s because in this style of discussion the teacher is most likely searching for specific replies – sort of playing “guess what I’m thinking” with the “best” students in the class.
Students tend not to listen to each other and only focus on what the teacher says or validates – “will that be up on a test?” When students are put in small group discussion, they rapidly get off subject. With no teacher to validate their comments, they naturally gravitate to other subjects where peer   comments are valued – “what are you doing this weekend?” Often teachers then conclude that small group discussion doesn’t work.
In my workshops I train teachers in discussion techniques that foster student reflection and interaction. The strategies are focused on getting the teacher out of the role of information gatekeeper and encouraging student-centered dialogue. 
With practice, teachers find that students are eager to engage and participate. We know they want to contribute, because outside the classroom, students are flocking to social networks to share their thinking with one another. It’s unfortunate that our students can’t be part of the (offline) social network sitting beside them in class.
While students don’t need classroom computers to be part of an engaging discussion, technology can be a catalyst to foster engagement. I was interested to see the following video of The Twitter Experiment – Bring Twitter to the Classroom at UT Dallas.

“UT Dallas History Professor Dr. Monica Rankin, wanted to know how she could reach and include more students in the class discussion. She had heard of Twitter… The following is a short video describing her “Twitter Experiment” in the classroom with comments from students about the pros and cons of Twitter in a traditional learning environment.” (Filmed by UT grad student kesmit3.) Link to notes on the experiment.

BTW – I found this video via my Twitter network. Follow  @monicarankin  @kesmit3 

Image credit flickr/Choconancy1