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The Value of Digital Teaching…

When people ask what I do for living, I answer, “I teach.”

Most people are usually very supportive when they hear I’m a teacher, just like when they hear someone is police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, soldiers, and other service professions.  I can almost read their mind as I watch the expressions flicker across their faces: That’s a tough job. Wow, I wouldn’t want to do that.  She had to go to a lot of school.  Glad it’s not me.

The cocktail conversation inevitably gets around to question #2:  “Where do you teach?”

I know they are expecting me to answer XYZ Public School or University of XYZ.  In fact, I used to answer that way.  I spent 15 years in public education, face-to-face.  Traditional.  Hotdogs, Mom, and Apple Pie.

Now I answer, “Online.”  Oh my, you should read those expressions now.

Disbelief. How does that work? Is that really even teaching? (and my favorite look) I hate computers *shudder*.

Not so traditional anymore.  In fact, I do still work for land-based schools – I just do so from a distance.  And it works quite well, thank you very much.  And yes, it is really teaching.  Some studies argue students are even more successful online than face-to-face.  This is not your grandmother’s education anymore.  You hate computers? (Here is one caveat to the revolution – online learning may not be for you then).

In the blog post There’s No Such Thing as Virtual, It is All Teaching, The Intrepid Teacher explains the fallout of a two week school closure due to the swine flu.  He further explains a comparison between his school (without a CMS platform) and his wife’s (with Blackboard), and how they are managing to cope with educating their students despite the closure.  He comes away with some interesting observations:

Teaching online, or being a virtual teacher, is more than a skill set; it is a mindset and a philosophy. Teachers who are well versed in a variety of tools, not just Blackboard will fair [sic] much better in times of crisis and will be better prepared for finding ways to reach their students than say teachers who rarely use technology at all. Teachers who themselves are connect and use many tools for their own learning will barely miss a step. While I understand the unease these teachers are experiencing, I think their apprehension speaks more to the limitations offered not only by blackboard, but of school philosophies when it comes to technology use and pedagogy.

This crisis has clearly illustrated that creating a valuable web-friendly ethos/community of teachers well versed with technology, is the first step in creating a sustainable system to deal with not only emergencies, but in helping to maintain strong ties between teachers and students beyond the classroom.

My online teaching partner and I strongly believe what The Intrepid Teacher has come to realize.  To that end, we even opened our book with 26 reasons (supported by research) why online learning successfully reaches beyond the traditional classroom:

  1. Students must be active learners.
  2. Course materials remain current.
  3. Instruction engages learners with the content through multiple channels.
  4. Learners are engaged with each other as well as the instructor.
  5. Online learning is pandemic proof.
  6. Exploration of ideas builds one on another through discussion boards.
  7. Discussions are captured in perpetuity for later reflection.
  8. Anonymity of the online environment frees students to disagree and question.
  9. Learners benefit from discussions that build cyclically over time.
  10. Asynchronicity allows for students to work during convenient times and to use conducive working styles.
  11. All learning styles and disabilities can be met to allow for learners to thrive.
  12. Education is not bound by geographic constraints.
  13. Issues of gender, race, or physical characteristics are invisible to the online classroom.
  14. Economic issues are lessened.
  15. Time for the learner is maximized.
  16. Class sizes are smaller.
  17. Students (in well designed courses) showcase their learning in authentic tasks.
  18. Students have access to best schools, guest speakers, or instructors despite the distances.
  19. Online learning is a green industry.
  20. Global diversity of ideas are shared.
  21. Technology skills are further developed.
  22. Communication skills increase.
  23. Feedback is meaningful, timely, and expected.
  24. Instructors are able to devote more time to teaching and less time to administrivia.
  25. Successful online communities can feel “closer” than large scale traditional courses.
  26. Successful use of social learning theory and communities of practice create transference of learning beyond the immediate course in a positive, impactful way.

I have seen and experienced every aspect of that list of 26.  What’s not to love about online teaching?  It’s a great profession and more valuable every day.

“I teach online.  Yes, really!   Sure I can explain how it works…”

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Posted by on October 1, 2009 in Teaching Online

 

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PLN, PLC, CoP – An Edtech Rose by Any other Name…

On a recent stroll through the edtech blogosphere, I stumbled upon a new acronym.  Well, it was new to me.  And, as 20 year veteran teacher, that doesn’t happen very often anymore. The acronym?  PLN.  First I saw it in a Twitter post, then in one blog post, then another.  Based on the context clues, I pretty quickly figured out the letters stood for Personal Learning Network.

Hmmm.

I’ve written and taught extensively about the use of Communities of Practice (CoP) and also heard of them referred to as Learning Communities or Personal Learning Communities (PLC).  In effect, both of these are the same thing – this is how my writing partner and I describe them, with a nod to Wenger, in our book:

…a group of individuals with a shared interest and a willingness to participate in a dialogue about that interest for purposes of learning…When a community of practice has been formed and individuals are truly engaged, a synergy of learning begins to happen. While individual learners concentrate their responsibility of contributing to the discussion, the group also begins to reciprocate by providing the learner with multiple viewpoints, challenging questions, and taking left turns in the discussion that the individual learner might never have considered on his or her own.

In this way, the individual learner has served the learning community, and the community, in turn, has brought out the best in the individual learner. The give and take becomes something larger than any one discussion prompt, and the intangible benefits of a vibrant learning community pay off big dividends long after the discussion thread ends (pp 139-140).

It wasn’t until I did a bit of the old search engine two step to discover how these two terms CoP and PLC differentiated themselves from PLN and why educators felt the need to add one more acronym to the pile.  In Beth Still’s Nebraska Change Agent blog, she clearly anticipated my confusion.  In a recent post called “What the Heck is a PLN?”  Still clarifies the difference.

“Anyone who is actively engaged in learning online is part of a PLN. If you are reading this then I am part of your PLN. The people I follow on Twitter make up the vast majority of my PLN. These are the people that I learn from and interact with on a daily basis. A PLN is an incredibly powerful tool to have at your disposal. The flow of information is available 24 hours a day seven days a week.  It has been said that the more time you invest in building and contributing to your PLN the more you will get back from it in return. This is so true! A PLN does not form on its own; you have guide it and direct its growth.”

So there it is – the big difference.  The word online. A community of practice does not require it’s location to be online – your CoP can be your neighborhood scrapbooking group, or the guys who meet once a week at the local coffee shop.  Or it can be a group of teachers who discuss best practices at lunch one day and continue the discussion via email for the remainder of the day.  However, a PLN, as I understand it, may not even have a  personal interaction (in the sense of a two-way conversation) attached to it.  For instance, I can read an idea from Twitter, grab more information about it from a blog, and confirm what I am thinking from a  wiki…all of these sources (and the people who create them) are then part of my PLN.  This is exactly what happened for this post.

And I want to thank Beth Still, Jason Schrage, and the ISTE Connections blog for becoming part of my PLN because of it.

UPDATE: A further update on the term PLN (and its origin) can be found here at David Warlick’s $.02 Worth blog.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2009 in Teaching Online

 

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Top 10 Most Popular Learning Tools of 2007

In July and August ’07, the Centre forLearning and Performance Technologies polled “learning professionals”, bloggers, and others, asking these contributors to rank what their top learning tools were out of a list of 400 possible choices.  The list ranged from the purchased and high tech software like Outlook to the old school paper and cardboard book.

Don TaylorSaid one polled contributer, “The Book – if this weren’t a technology-focused list, this would be number one. Still, what other learning tool requires no power, is lightweight, carries so much information and can withstand being dropped in the bath? Gutenberg, 557 years on, we salute you!

Topping the list by order of popularity is the web browser Firefox – getting raves for it’s “ease of use,” functionality, and add-ons which “make it useful in many different situations.”

del.icio.us got the next most popular ranking among those polled.  The social bookmarking tool was considered “indespensible” for 40% of the respondents for their personal learning.

 And so the list went – Skype, GoogleSearch, PowerPoint, WordPress, Gmail, GoogleReader, and Word rounded out the top ten in popularity.  Those creating the poll emphasized in their analysis that the rankings of any one individual item wasn’t really the point:

The ranking in the Top 100 Tools list is relatively unimportant – it is the range of tools that are being used for learning that is the key take-away here, and which demonstrates that (e-)learning is not just about online courses (which is still the view held by many people) – but includes education, training, information sharing, communication and collaboration.

I have to believe them on this one…after all,  -“the written word” – the foundation by which all these other tools are creatively used, only tied as the 43rd most popular tool.book

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2007 in Teaching Online

 

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