According to a professional development study done by EdSurge (2014), teachers report getting the most value out of informal learning opportunities such as using twitter chats and online learning communities (p. 9). By learning to engage in social media platforms to extend learning teachers can then take those platforms and introduce them in constructive and creative ways into their classrooms (Tucker, 2016). Sometimes I’ve seen teachers who write off technology as ‘changing too fast’ or lamenting that it is pointless to really invest time in learning the newest tech trends because in a year they have to relearn a whole new system anyway. As a professional I hope to prevent my perspective from becoming overly jaded when it comes to technology, even if it takes me awhile to catch on and adapt to the tools.
A large part of why informal learning opportunities are so effective is because it is learning driven and initiated by teachers to seek out other educators and share effective instructional practices. It is not enough to connect teachers together but to provided time and structure for teachers to explore, use and integrate technological tools. In an article one of my classmates, Karin, shared a learning community is defined as, “A group of people who share a common interest in a topic or area, a particular form of discourse about their phenomena, tools and sense-making approaches for building collaborative knowledge, and valued activities.” (Fulton & Riel, 1991). Learning communities can vary in size and form from an online chat or hashtag group to a small PLC. It is not the group that is as important as the task and collaboration that connects them and also that each person is taking responsibility for his or her own learning.
I had an instance of this during a technological training session in the school district I was student teaching in. The subject was creating a class and collaborative OneNote notebook using Microsoft Office. I had been looking for ways to consolidate resources that were introduced to my PLC during a recent coaching cycle and to connect with other educators. During the training I was motivated to apply the tool OneNote to the specific need which was creating an open-source collection of documents that would make sharing and reflecting easier as a team. Not only did I need to apply technological knowledge into building the resource, but I had a clear purpose in what I wanted to technology to achieve. Both the content, task, and community needs connected for me to create this resource.
In my student teaching I am constantly reminding students to take initiative in their own learning, to access resources and tools that will help them on a project or to seek out their peers for help before coming to me. Being a lifelong learner in my classroom, and even in online global communities as well, requires that I become first the leader of my own learning.
EdSurge (June 2014). How Teachers are Learning: Professional Development Remix. Retrieved from: https://d3e7x39d4i7wbe.cloudfront.net/uploads/report/pdf_free/6/PD-Remix-EdSurge-Report-2014.pdf
Fulton, K. & Riel, M. (1999). Collaborative Online Continuing Education: Professional Development Through Learning Communities. EduTopia. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/professional-development-through-learning-communities (Links to an external site.)
Tucker, C. (2016). Modeling Lifelong Learning. Educational Leadership, 73(6), 82-84. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar16/vol73/num06/Modeling-Lifelong-Learning.aspx