[For 2014 I have decided to share aspects of my professional inquiry through my blog. I believe that inquiries into our practise are essential for all educators and I would like to encourage every teacher to regularly inquire into their practise. I value your feedback and / or questions.]
Back in March I had decided that this year I would inquire into how I can build capacity for teachers learning in a blended way. This came from the observation that up here in Northland where many schools are small and geographically isolated, teachers feel they cannot access the same quantity and maybe also quality of PD as teachers in the big cities can (I am just stating what teachers are expressing, I am not making any judgement if this is the case or not).
It is a fact that there don't seem to be many f2f workshops and courses in our area. Travelling out of the area is an option, though a course in Auckland for example will incur quite a cost to schools, travel, accommodation all on top of relief. Since I started working as facilitator, I have actively involved myself in various forms of online learning so that I can be as knowledgeable as possible when supporting my schools. I thoroughly enjoy f2f opportunities, though with a family to look after going away can be a challenge, too. Not only do I believe that online opportunities are a great addition to f2f ones, I believe that this will become more and more important in the future, and the government support for N4L unlimited internet and Pond certainly indicate that they see this as an important part of teacher PLD in the future.
What do I regard as positive about online learning?
We often hear about huge drop out rates for MOOC students (and yes, I did NOT complete my Gamification MOOC from earlier in the year), but Johnathon Haber from The Huffington Post crunched numbers and came to a different conclusion in this article. The fact is that online we can access many more topics than we could if we relied on f2f.
There have been distance education opportunities for many years, for example our own NZ Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, formerly The Correspondence School, has been in operation since 1922. Our modern online learning looks very different though from the printed books in the mail from days gone by, Digital Technologies allow almost immediate access to resources and activities, they also allow completion of work and proof of learning in new and creative ways.
The biggest potential in online learning in my opinion is the opportunity to collaborate. Sugata Mitra is probably one of the best known proponents of students learning with and from each other (and with the help of the internet). Online tools give us the opportunity to create, collaborate, to share, we can discuss issues synchronous and asynchronous, from anywhere around the world. The exchange and cross-pollination of ideas, the co-construction of solutions to problems that concern many of us all over the world and the power of knowing you are not alone in this can be incredibly powerful tools in the kete of every teacher.
As for my professional inquiry, I am actively seeking to involve other educators in various forms of online learning and connecting by sharing links, resources, inviting them into discussions, webinars, arranging online meetings with them etc. I have (with varying success) monitored my efforts and so far have found two main (and not completely surprising) contributors to success:
- relevance of the topic
- familiarity with the online tool
I have placed them in this order on purpose: I believe that when a topic is sufficiently relevant, people will be more inclined to get over the obstacle of an unfamiliar tool (but maybe you disagree?). However, no matter how well they know a tool, they are not going to engage if they are not interested in the topic.
What does this mean for me in my practise?
My role is not one of 'teaching use of a tool' simply for the sake of the tool. However, when this tool serves a purpose, such as access to a webinar or sim., I believe it can be a very good use of my time to walk others through the use of that tool. Hence for the second half of the year I will put even more emphasis on actively promoting the use of tools like Skype, Google Hangout, Blackboard Collaborate, VLN, Google+, Twitter etc. in my schools. This is almost 'the easy part'.
The more challenging part is to ensure I am more aware of possibly relevant topics that I can connect my schools and teachers with. I already spend many waking hours in educational online spaces, but I want to make sure I am very aware of teacher interests and needs, scour these spaces thoroughly and share anything that might be relevant to these teachers - without completely overloading them.
What advice can you give me to ensure I am supporting teachers effectively?