Right now that I’ve got your attention hear me out. I can assure I will still be blogging, tweeting and generally living my life through a browser. However while reflecting on my e-learning philosophies and practice for a job application I suddenly had a thought, why don’t we just call it learning?
I’ve been using the internet to learn for almost 15 years which means I’ve spent more time learning with an internet connection than I have without. In fact I’ve been online so long I can’t imagine going back to learning only through textbooks and an individual teacher’s knowledge. So why do we persist in using language to describe this sort of learning as new and somehow unorthodox?
Is it a generational thing?
I understand that there is a need in the market for people with specific skills using ICT to learn and you betcha I’ll be working that angle in any job application harder than the contestants on a photo shoot of New Zealand’s Next Top Model. More importantly e-learning can mean different things to different people. Does using a computer automatically mean someone is learning? Nope but neither does using a pencil, a whiteboard marker or a chisel.
As an learner here are some quick diagnostics I use to gauge a person’s interest in e-learning.
- If a teacher can’t point to a digital presence that either they or their students created, then they are not interested e-learning.
- If a teacher can’t name a blog that they follow, then they are not interested in e-learning.
- If a teacher can’t name an app they’ve recently implemented into their teaching, then they are not interested into e-learning.
Right now the biggest hurdle I see in effectively e-learning into teaching practice is that there are too many people waiting to be taught when the most effective learners, e or otherwise, know that learning is an ongoing process not something that occurs only in a classroom.
Case in point telescopic texts.
I found telescopic texts on twitter the night before I was teaching shared writing session on using describing words to make. I had a quick play and decided it suited my learners’ needs so the next morning I flung the website up on the classroom’s two-touch and bang that’s something in my teaching arsenal. Will I use it all the time? Nope. But that just in time learning is what e-learning is all about. See an idea, give it a go. If it is great, keep it and share it. If it’s a lemon, ditch it.
For the purposes of this tool I knew my students learning needs were to go beyond answering the who, what, when, where, why and how in their recount stories and start to add adjectives to make their stories more interesting however doing it on paper is kind of boring and messy. Being able to construct sentences which they could unfold on screen was the hook the students needed to starting thinking about editing their work which was the focus of their learning for that session. The students were so enthralled that they begged to ‘play’ with the sentences before school the next day.
This type of learning seems so natural to me, a quick 15 minute scan of my twitter feed yielding ideas relevant to my practice as teacher. I didn’t need to be told to learn or show up at a time or place in order to learn from an expert because I built up a community of people who support my learning. The opportunity for me to learn is never more than 140 character tweet away.
The question is should this sort of self-directed learning, professional or otherwise, be the exception or the norm?
I’m guessing if you are reading this blog, then you don’t need much convincing.
But shouldn’t everyone in the business of teaching should be constantly be in a process of learning? The rate at which knowledge and technology is expanding is so rapidly that anyone choosing to stand still is in effect choosing to slip behind. An e-learner knows that to be successful in this environment you need to take initiative, build and contribute to communities of knowledge and most importantly be open to learning anywhere from anyone at anytime. Aren’t these the sort of traits we should be encouraging in all teachers not just those who choose to put an e in front of their learning?
Because at the heart of it e-learning isn’t about learning technology but using technology to learn.
The focus needs to move from the technology to the behaviours and habits of mind that enable effective learning. E-learning by its very terminology puts the technology ahead of the learning. Granted learning-e doesn’t roll of the lips as nicely as the alternative but the implication of using terms like ‘ICT integration’ or ‘e-learning’ is that using technology in teaching practice is somehow special or different. An optional extra that the ICT coordinator takes charge of or something individual teachers put the effort into if they have the time, not something that should be at the heart of everyone’s teaching practice.
When I hear people joke they don’t know how to programme the VCR/DVD player or say that they don’t have the time to spend on integrating ICT what I hear is that they are not interested in sharing and connecting with the world outside the classroom.
In short they are not interested in learning.
Perhaps I’ve stumbled upon my philosophy of e-learning, it should be so ubiquitous that we don’t need to think of it as a special category of learning anymore.
As far as I am aware, this blog is the only one of its kind on the internet one written from the perspective of a student teacher in a New Zealand Teacher education programme. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of students studying to be teachers up and down New Zealand. What’s more I don’t get any extra grades or formal credit from my university for writing this blog which begs the question what sort of freak writes about this stuff on the internet? Don’t I have something better to do?
The short answer to these questions can be found here in a brilliant post that whatedsaid wrote on making thinking visible, I want to make my learning visible to others.
Why do that? We have schools and universities for reason, to sequester our young minds off in a safe environment where they can make mistakes free from the judgement of others and emerge at the end of the process with a nice piece of paper saying they are a learned individual. I’ll acknowledge that I’ve taken a pretty big risk to go against the grain and put my learning out there on the internet for anyone to read.
But here are some reasons I write my blog:
- To share - My motivation for writing Teaching the Teacher has always been a desire to share my knowledge with others. Right now I don’t much about teaching, but I know what it is like to learn to be a teacher in New Zealand. If my writing benefits others; a student teacher looking for information, a faculty member trying to improve their course or an associate teacher who needs their memory jogged on what is like to be a student teacher, then this makes me feel like this blogging endeavour has been worth it.
- To learn – This was very much an unintended benefit of blogging but the act of writing posts and deciding how I wish to organize my thoughts but has also made me think about how I will encourage future students to organize their learning. Moreover the comments that come through will challenge me to think more deeply about what I am writing about.
- To encourage others to blog – I’ve written before about the benefits of blogging for student teachers. Someone has to be the first one so why not me? I’m hoping that some student teacher somewhere will see this blog and go, “hey that’s a good idea I should do this” and then take what I’ve started and make it better.
- Managing emotions – aka I blog on the internet for free therapy. This learning to be a teacher thing is a huge roller coaster of emotions. Being able to write about the process of becoming a teacher has been beneficial not just in terms of working through my feelings but also having a support network that will write back (so thanks dear commentators, your kind words do mean something).
- To effect change – on occasion I write topical pieces on education. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur that what I write has huge effects on the education system, it is just a small teaspoon in a vast ocean of knowledge. But if a teacher education provider goes, hey we really should think about the way their we get our students to document their professional practice or to get the general public to think a bit more conceptually about technology in education then that’s a good thing.
I’m not sure how many people read this blog and sometimes it does make me feel a bit uncomfortable at first when people I meet in real life can literally read what’s going in my head (especially when then they start talking to me about it) but I really value being able to share and learn with others.
So that’s why I’m the freak put my learning out there on the internet for all to see.
I’ve gone to a few conferences in my time and have noticed that often the best learning takes place in the bar afterwards. Enter Educampakl. Based on the Barcamp conference, Educamps are conferences in which the participants generate the content for the day. I find it amazing that teachers will give up a Saturday to spend time learning and growing together. Nobody was required to be there, and yet we were there.
Connections or content ?
Sure big conferences with key note speakers have their place, but there were plenty of high-level discussions from smack down to @taratj‘s awesome work on Minimally Invasive Education and google apps for teachers. However what I really valued was getting to meet people IRL that I had been interacting with online and playing with the technology. Going to educampakl also helped with operation job search insofar as the schools with teachers in attendance, in particular senior leaders, are now on my radar of schools I really want to work at.
What is awesome about #educamp is that content is user-generated which means someone who has yet to graduate can make just as meaningful contribution to the teaching as they do in the learning. I might not be a digital native but definitely consider myself one off the first of the boat in IT. There are also teachers at educamp with many years of experience and I get to pick their brains on how to incorporate technology into teaching because they understand the teaching business far better than me.
Educamp entrance is a gold coin donation ’nuff said.
Being able to walk out
Educamps come with the freedom to walk out if the session is not serving your needs. I was mucking around on the periphery of one session when I got tapped on the shoulder by (@sumich I think) and asked if I wanted to have a go at a DIY garage band with a couple of ipads, a router and a speakers. How cool is that? I could have spent hours playing around with that app but nice ipad user wanted their device back. Being able to walk out of sessions got me to thinking. What would happen if students had the freedom to go to another classroom if my teaching wasn’t suiting their learning needs, would they stay? Would yours?
Why don’t we do this sort of stuff more often?
Ask yourself how much time in staff meetings/PD is based on procedural stuff delivered by lecture-style sessions and how much time is spent generating new ideas and trying out new learning tools? What would be a more effective use of teachers’ time? Are flipped staff meetings the answer or do geeks just learn differently?
New Zealand graduating teacher standard 4.d
“Graduating teachers demonstrate proficiency in oral and written language (Māori and/or English), in numeracy and in ICT relevant to their professional role.”
Dear Teacher Education providers
Yesterday I received my pack for Teaching Experience 2 containing a wonderful array of informational booklets, multi-coloured forms for myself, my associate teacher and visiting lecturer to fill out on my next Teaching Experience. The forms look wonderful in their different colours and I’m sure its taken someone a long time to collate.
For fun I’ve also added the paperwork from this course that I’ve already amassed. The red folder is my unit plan from my last TE, the blue envelope has copies of the forms of my last placement, the clear folder contains all the marked assignments that my institution has printed out and sent back to me while the black folder underneath contains resources I’ve had posted to me during my studies.
Is this evidence of twenty-first century teaching practice?
I feel a bit bad for ‘outing’ my university but I know that they are not the only ones who still like to churn out paper for student teachers to collect and organize into ring binders. At my last placement there were students from three separate institutions and we were all doing the same thing: dutifully filing away pieces of paper which were filled out BY HAND for our institutions (and in turn Teachers Council) to see evidence that we are meeting the professional and legal requirements necessary to graduate and therefore teach in a classroom.
I’m trying to remember the last time I wrote something out by hand and it was for my exam and application forms to get into university. These processes seem so far removed from my reality where I learn, bank, shop, socialize and watch TV online. Almost all the teaching I did during my last placement was done using my laptop with physical materials for students to manipulate. I would have happily incorporated more if the students had devices themselves.
Perhaps I’m the lone blogger in a sea of people who like to file paper away in ring binders where no one else can read it or see it. But then the associate teacher at my last placement made a remark that these forms should be available in digital form and apparently she isn’t alone.
There are so many reasons why pre-service teacher practice needs to go digital.
- Waste of resources – From an environmental point of view the carbon footprint from the paper generated from these courses is phenomenal and I haven’t even factored in sending these packets out. Throw in staff time collating all these packs, putting the envelopes, sending them out receiving them again at the end of the placement and that’s a lot of time and money down the drain.
- Content not easily reproducible - I needed to have a goal setting conversation with my mentor so my last appraisals were important part of this conversation. In order for her to have the data I had to take photos of the photocopied forms (since my institution needs to have the originals), covert them into a PDF and email them off for my mentor so that we could both have a copy of the form as we live in different cities.
- Data security – For some reason people seem to think that hard-copies of evidence are more secure. I really don’t get that. If my school bag gets stolen while I’m at the gym or my water bottle leaks over my paperwork or perhaps someone spills coffee then ALL my paperwork is ruined. Backing up my work via hardrive, cloud data or USB means that I have multiple copies ready to go. Likewise not all digital content needs to be public like this blog.
But the big one is:
The process of filling in forms doesn’t encourage collaborative practice.
Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot of incoming search strings (that’s visitors who have come to my blog via search engines) with phrases like
- “strategies for promoting and nurturing the physical and emotional safety of learners”
- “promote a learning culture which engages diverse learners effectively”
- “complex influences that personal, social and cultural factors have on teachers and learners”
Anyone working in teacher education should immediately recognize these phrases are from the New Zealand Teacher Council Graduating Teacher Standards.
These incoming search strings indicate students are coming here to look for information because the internet is where they go to find the information. Right now my e-portifolio is the only source of information of real-world examples of the Graduating Teacher Standards for students to easily access on the internet. In fact if you type the phrase ”working cooperatively with those share responsibility for the learning and well being of learners” into google, a blog post of mine is the first entry. That’s a great ego boost for me as a blogger because someone might be using my information but I would love to have other students out there responding to my reflections and challenging my ideas because it will make me into a better teacher.
Institutions need to think about how they are encouraging student teachers to become digital literate, how to blend the digital technologies into our learning so we in turn can teach to others. Don’t assume just because we can text, facebook and google with the best of them that we are automatically digital literate. We may have mastered the technology, but it doesn’t mean we know how to apply it to our learning or students learning.
But we need to.
The students in our classrooms want it, our country needs it.
Right now teacher education providers are part of the problem of digital illiteracy when they need to be part of the solution.
If student teachers aren’t integrating digital learning into our practice at a university, when we have people who are supposedly far more learned than us show us the way, how are going to do it when we are out being real teacher? It goes down the bottom of the to-do list as we work our way through survival mode of the first few years in the profession. I don’t understand why institutions insist on perpetuating old practices when they should embracing the benefits that this new technology for pre-service teachers who will soon be out in classrooms full of digital natives who also don’t want to be filing away work in ring binders.
I’m six months away from graduation and I can assure I’m not pondering how to fill in forms or organize information into folders because I stopped using ring binders once I left high school. I am wondering how to incorporate digital learning that I’m doing here into a classroom setting? What digital tools can I use to promote the learning areas and key competencies of the New Zealand curriculum? How can I maximize the benefits of social media platforms to enhance learners literacy while minimizing the risks? What applications exist to plan collaboratively? How am I going to communicate effectively with a generation of parents who grew up in the digital age? What platforms can I use to organize student work? How do I stay relevant as a teacher in a world of information abundance?
I don’t know to the answers to those questions but I do know I won’t find them by filling in forms.
A student teacher
Postscript, this post influenced me to go ahead and digitalise my practice for my next Teaching Experience rather than waiting for the wheels of the university system to turn.
To recap, a PLN or Personal Learning Network (because educators love our acronyms) has been around forever. In the past they tended to be the friends, family or colleagues you were to for help and guidance. In a university setting that might also include lecturers, mentors or other students. Since the advent of web, our networks have the potential to expand beyond our physical sphere. These days I have friends I’ve never met and some I’ve met through the internet and have an IRL (in real life) connection through. So how do you meet other teachers online?
So how do you build your PLN through twitter?
I’ll make no secret that I came to twitter through blogging. After setting up my account and following friends and family, I started following the tweets of bloggers I enjoyed reading . So if there’s a blog you enjoy reading follow that blogger because….
Bloggers have friends
I started following the followers of my initial teacher tweeters. If I saw an interesting conversation I’d follow the other tweeter as well. Also if an interesting retweet came out I’d follow that person to which brings me to…
The power of the retweet
Probably one of the easiest ways to build a following on twitter is by having other people retweet your ideas. A retweet is when one person sends one of your tweets to all their followers which means your name is getting out there. But how do you get a retweet?
- Participate in an #edchat or #ntchat
- Ask other tweeters for an introduction to their followers. Most tweachers (ha I made a portmanteau) are happy to help newbies out on twitter and before you know it you’ll have a great bunch of followers
Quality not quantity
Unless you are part of a food community, twitter is not a place to tweet what you are having for dinner. Do think about your audience and purpose when you tweet.
Twitter is not all work and no play
Obviously as a social networking site twitter is in essence a social platform. Respond to other people’s tweets. Retweet ideas.
Twitter feeds are constantly updating and the pace can be quite frantic so…
Think about who you interact with
At first you’ll probably be finding yourself wanting to follow everyone and everybody. Then once your twitter feed becomes a bit crazy you might tend to be a bit more judicious with who you follow. I tend to interact with are New Zealand/Australian tweeters. Firstly our educational systems are quite similar but more importantly time zones make it hard for us to interact with people who are asleep or are teaching. In general I’ve found Sunday night is a good time to catch a lot of New Zealand-based teachers on twitter, obviously during school hours you’re not going to get much interaction with teachers.
Having inadvertently completed the first educ blog challenge, What the heck is a PLN? with my Twitter will change you life post, I thought I would take part in the second PLN Challenge, what is is it I want to learn from my PLN?
1. What do you hope to learn more about with respect to your PLN in the coming weeks?
Being a student teacher with 6 months more in my course I am in a state of constant learning.
Watching the construction of Hingaia Peninsular school on the blog has me thinking a lot about the importance of learning spaces.
Interacting with student blogs has me ‘visiting’ schools in different cities and different countries. It was wonderful to pop into @Cait_Hedge’s classroom to see the work that the children are doing on learning about new cultures. But if I want a new search, I do a twitter search #comments4kids and I have a new class to visit.
I think any future teacher should be reading the parenting blog of Autism and Oughtisms for an insight into the world of the autistic child and his family.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be looking for advice from my PLN about making effective use of my time on Teaching Experience and tips about getting my first teaching job.
2. What have you learned with creating your PLN that you wish that someone had told you before and what tips do you have to share?
I wish someone had told me about twitter! I started blogging initially as a personal reflection and a way to keep my friends up to date with my course progress. However with twitter, a whole new level of support and guidance has opened up to me. It took a while to find the education community, but now that I have I really couldn’t be without it.
Graduating Standard 2.d
“Graduating teachers know how to select curriculum content appropriate to the learners and the learning context.”
With my English exam upon me I have decided to take a risk. One of the things I know that is coming up in the exam is that I will need to design a series of lessons designed to meet the learning needs of a group of students from Teaching Experience. The lessons need to build on each other and demonstrate the interconnected nature of English teaching by including some aspects of reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and presenting.
However rather than go the traditional route of using books, pencils and paper I’ve challenged myself to design the lessons using only digital technology. There is perhaps a risk in doing something a bit different in exam when the safe route would suffice but I’m hoping that as long as my instructional techniques are sound, I should be fine.
First I need to have knowledge of my learners. I know that that my learners a creative lot who enjoy drama and acting. They are level 5 and, according to their test results, are all having trouble with identifying figurative language in texts.
When thinking about figurative language my mind immediately turns to advertising. Why couldn’t part of the lesson be to design an advertisement for their school? They know their product, and being in the business of deciding on a secondary school, the students know the context well.
Lesson 1 – learning about advertisements.
WALT – identify words that mean something else in safety briefing. (language features)
discuss the who will watch the safety briefing and why they will watch it. (purposes and audience)
In recent years Air NZ has employed a lot of viral marketing (the advertising tends to be a bit tongue and cheek and at times push the boundaries of what is acceptable in a primary classroom). However they take a boring safety video that anybody who has flown (and these students have) will have seen numerous times and turn it into this:
The safety briefing uses a lot figurative language in the advertisement ‘before we kick off’ ’consider yourself dropped’ ‘crouch, touch and brace’ alludes to the language of rugby. Why has AirNZ decided to use this language in their safety message? Why are the passengers referred to as the team? Using instructions like prompting, questioning and, if needed, explaining I would be using this advertisement as a model for students to help develop their own advertisement.
Which brings me onto:
Lesson 2 writing the script.
WALT – write a 30 second advertisement for a selected audience
- select language that will engage with the audience
I would use a scaffold a guided writing session with my students to help develop their script. Who is our audience? What is our purpose? What are some examples of figurative language we could use in our advertisement to engage with our audience? What are some special features of our school?
WALT – produce our advertisement.
give meaningful feedback and feed forward to students on their advertisement.
Out of all the lessons this would be the one where I would be a lot less visible and let the students get on with their learning. However I would be there to give feedback and assistance if needed. At the end of the session students would show their advertisement for peer feedback and feedforward. If I was to build on this idea further I would look at ways for the students to distribute their advertisement and what other media and audiences they could incorporate to develop a media campaign.
Phew. Tt’s a bit out there in terms of content however I’ve got some old favourites like Noel Streatfeild and Quentin Blake in there to balance out my more outlandish ideas.
New Zealand Graduating Standard 7.b
Graduating Teachers have knowledge and understanding of the ethical, professional and legal responsibilities of teachers.
A few weeks ago I wondered out loud whether Should student teachers blog. I decided that despite the risks, blogging is a great tool for student teachers. I was going to come up with a list of guidelines however a class of elementary students had already come up with a great list.
Let people know what you are doing
If you are lucky to have blogging as part of your course, then you will already have someone keeping an eye on your online presence. In my case I am the only one (that I know of) who is nerdy enough to blog. However before I got started, I let the powers-that-be at my university know that I would be blogging about my experiences and let them know my blog’s address. I have no idea if anyone from the university actually reads this blog but the point is I know that they could be. For student teachers the social constraints of observation is a good thing. As a bonus, you get more hits.
Be sensitive about subject matter
Bill Cosby was right kids say the darndest things and over the course of the day you are going to hear some stuff which would undoubtedly make for brilliant blogging material. But the children in your Teacher Experience classrooms are not your students and more importantly they are not your kids. Individually identifying them and the schools you are in would not be wise. Likewise you risk making yourself highly unpopular with your fellow student teachers if they feel that you are going to compromise their privacy with your blog.
Don’t pilfer other people’s images without their permission
Images are a great way to give your posts a pop. But as someone who has grown up around a creative industry, I know how important it is that the producers of content get recognition for their work. I’m a photography nerd so try to use my own photos before going out in search of an image. But if I am using others images, I use images that are licensed the Creative Commons. Both google and yahoo allow you to filter your image search for content that you can share with others. Miss T’s reflections has a great list of resources for finding images that you can use. Also never, ever upload photos of individual people without their permission.
Use your blog’s scheduling feature
Regularly updating your blog, is usually a no-brainer as far as blog advice goes. However I will add a caveat: resist the urge to push publish the minute you finish a post. Unless it is something time-sensitive, you don’t have to publish your work right now. In fact having a few posts up your sleeve for when you are busy means your blog will be updated even when you don’t have time blog. From a social networking point of view there is nothing worse than a person who blogs in bursts. For instance if I sign up for blog that has awesome cake recipes thinking mmmmm cake, I hope that the blog is regularly updated because I like reading recipes. But if I don’t hear anything months and suddenly the author pounds out 10 posts on cakes blocking up my feed reader this doesn’t make me want to read their blog, it makes me want to quit the subscription.
Let social networking work for you
My initial readership was largely friends from facebook however I am now a devotee of Twitter for blogging. Writing about such slavish devotion is boring. However I’ve found that twitter regularly brings in hits and the power of retweet means that awesome posts get a far wider audience than those stopping by. It’s also a great way to connect with other educators from around the country and around the world. So if you haven’t already, sign up to twitter.
Link, Link, Link
You’d never turn in an essay without references, likewise your posts should link back to original articles or other posts that inspired you to write on a subject. You’ll end up with more hits as people come in to see why you are linking to their work and maybe one day get someone linking to your stuff. Which is what blogging is all about, sharing.