Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Connected Educators, Connected Students

As the end of the month draws nearer, this is a follow up to a post I wrote back in September, about Becoming a Connected Educator. I mentioned the social media challenge I have tried recently with online undergraduate ICT option classes (in teacher education).

Sometimes called POPLN (Professional Online Presence and Learning Networks), the social media challenge involves students exploring a range of social media and selecting a tool or combination of tools to use for learning about teaching and learning through ICT. The task involves an orientation and goal setting at the outset of the semester, followed by weekly reminders and prompts to continue learning through social media. Twitter is used to model some of the learning possibilities, via a tweetstream embedded in Moodle, and a class hashtag for asynchronous use, as well as the synchronous tweetmeet approach.

Since the September 22 post, our class has had two more synchronous tweetmeets, this time using TweetChat, followed by storify, as recommended by my learned colleague, Nigel (Thanks Nigel!).

We arranged the tweetmeets via a Moodle sharing space, negotiating a suitable time (after children were put to bed), and at tweetmeets #2 and #3 we set topics in advance to guide our discussion. Each tweetmeet went for around an hour, and at the end a student volunteer used storify to capture the essence of our conversation, posting the link in Moodle for the class.

In terms of the wider social media challenge, students reported their progress three quarters of the way through the semester, which served to demonstrate the learning. Students were asked to reflect on the following:

Briefly summarise your progress with the use of social media for learning about ICT issues, perspectives and strategies. Specifically,

  • What tool/s have you used and how has your use supported your learning?
  • Explain how the use of social media has helped you to gain awareness or insight into ICT-related issues, perspectives and strategies.
  • What challenges have you faced in relation to social media use?
  • Briefly relate a highlight or breakthrough moment.
  • What are your goals for future learning in relation to professional learning through social media? What are the next immediate steps for you as a learner?
Student responses to these prompts were mixed, with some fairly surface-oriented comment. Some were inclined to pay lip service to the task rather than providing actual evidence of learning through social media. Superordinate reflections like this task, as outlined above, catch students out when the work is not available to draw upon as evidence of learning. In response to this concern, I plan to restructure the task, retaining the element of choice, while providing further direction in terms of pacing, and what constitutes evidence of learning.

Some of the student responses were rich and articulate. I have permission to share a few here.

Popular media for this group of students included the VLN, Twitter, Pinterest, and blogging. Some students, like Angela, have been busily tweeting, blogging and pinning all semester. In relation to Pinterest, Angela reflected:
It has been a great tool to collect resources related to teaching. For example, I have been interested in modern learning environments so using Pinterest, I was able to find images that helped me gain an understanding and insight to what this might look like. I also wanted to find resources about e-learning and Pinterest provided me with a range of creative and engaging e-learning posters that have tips for teachers and also great visuals to hang in the classroom.
While Angela combined her use of three forms of social media, Josie stuck to Twitter with a single-minded determination to wring out every drop of professional learning. Josie explained:
The tool I chose to use for the social media challenge is Twitter.  I feel this was a great choice as it has opened up professional learning possibilities in many ways.  Firstly, through ‘following’ specific education-based individuals as well as organisations, I have been able to stay updated regarding movements relating to educational policy and research through the comments or ‘posts’ others have made through Twitter.  I have also found this medium useful with regard to resources.  There are many organisations that actively use Twitter to share their great ideas for classroom activities, and positive experiences they have had using particular resources.  CORE Education and the Science Learning Hub are examples of some Twitter users who post tips for their followers to use.  Another dimension of awareness I have encountered through the use of social media is the ability, when actively looking, to stay updated about the latest and greatest in terms of educational opportunities.  There have been summits, conferences and professional learning sessions which have been ‘tweeted’ about, and I have come to know about these events solely through reading Twitter. I have visited many websites and blog pages as a direct result of tweets that I have read.  Being connected in this way has brought me to academic readings, topical debates and page after page of classroom activity sites.
The biggest challenge for the students was finding the confidence to post. Surmounting this hurdle was also the most significant breakthrough, and with it came the realisation of the power of social media for collaboration and discovery. 

As Angela relates: 
My breakthrough moment would definitely have to be joining the 'What is School' educational chat. I was able to connect with educators from around the world for one hour to discuss educational technology. It was a great experience that allowed me to gain insight on the perspectives of other educators and discuss issues and strategies with using technology in the classroom. For example, during the ‘what is school’ chat one person stated that, “Closed minds are the biggest roadblock. Just seeing tech and not the possibilities” (Drager, 2014) and in regards to strategies, Lang (2014) shared, “Technology should be used as a transformational tool for innovation and creativity, not an add-on.” A common theme was that technology should be used to enhance collaboration, discovery, and a sense of empowerment.
I can sincerely tell you that it is a pleasure to work with student teachers like Zoey, who wrote in conclusion: 
I am aware that being a teacher who is a “confident, connected, actively involved, life-long learner” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 8) will be beneficial for my own growth and for my students. I plan to have an open-mindset towards learning in new environments because I want to be a teacher who guides my students to do the same.
This sums things up well. That is what I want too. 

Sincere thanks to Angela, Emma, Josie, Zoey and Natalie for allowing me to draw upon their work for this post.

1 comment:

  1. Post script to the above: One of our tasks asked students to review a game or app from an eductor's point of view, suggesting how it might be used in support of learning, as well as providing a critique and recommending improvements to the app/game developer. Students were encouraged to actually send their reveiws away to the developers. Zoey did so and received a reply from the app developer thanking her for her comments, promising to make the changes she suggested in the next update of the app (a counting app for maths), and gifting her a few promo codes for free apps by the same designer as a token of appreciation. Go Zoey! This is Connection! You are a connected educator (and consultant app developer).