Reflecting on the “e-path” traveled


As we are on the homestretch of the school year, I finally have a moment to reflect on the year? After so much teacher technology inservice and so many amazing projects being accomplished by using technology, I ask myself, did we accomplish our goals as a technology team?

One of my main goals as a Elementary Technology Facilitator, was to help teachers, help themselves so ultimately, they can help their own students improve their learning.

Finally after months of hard work, I can really start to see the growth of our school in a technology sense. Initially, many teachers came with a very basic amount of technology skills (most were comfortable with email and websites) and few used some of the innovative software that we had installed on our macs. 2 years ago when I mentioned things like Photobooth and iMovie, I was greeted with blank stares from teachers. In contrast, now many teachers use these tools on a daily basis to create their own class movies and projects. In fact, these teachers are now becoming experts in their own right and teaching other teachers. Here is just a partial list of some of the amazing anecdotal notes I have made about using technology school-wide to improve learning:

  • Teachers spontaneously creating/editing their own iMovie projects
  • Teachers creating their own Google class web site (wiki) and have their students working on their own e-portfolios till late at night
  • Teachers teaching each other how to create Keynotes, podcasts and slideshows
  • Classes using iStop Motion to capture changes in the life cycle of a caterpillar over the course of the day
  • Students coming down to our sound studio with scripts and ideas to create their own podcast shows
  • Students creating and developing their own iStop animation projects and uploading them to YouTube (and checking the “hit status daily)
  • Many teachers (and students) have their own personal and class blog sites
  • Our assemblies have become lively, student-centered, media-rich dynamic presentations using many technology tools embedded in their presentations
  • 8 SMART boards have been used and they have been so popular that over 23 more have been requested for next year
  • Document cameras and projectors have become the expected “norm” for classrooms
  • Parents have got excited about technology and have done inservice sessions on Web 2.0 themes and iPhone apps
  • We have got a class set of iPod Touches approved for a pilot program for next year!

I’m sure there are so many others but sometimes it is always good to stop and look back and appreciate the road that we have traveled rather than the obstacles ahead.

Twitter-What is it and why would I use it?

I’ve read many blogs and sites on the “how do you twitter” but haven’t come across many about the why you would twitter. So I thought I would blog about my thoughts on the why aspect.

The first time I saw Twitter, I didn’t get it at all so don’t worry, you are not the only one. It took me almost a month before I saw any point to it. Now, it has revolutionized how I learn and relate with others.

I actually think this video doesn’t show the whole picture. If you only tweeted about how you had coffee this morning or mowed the lawn, people wouldn’t follow you. You need to provide something substantial and interesting.

So what is Twitter?

Simply put, it is a social networking tool. The best analogy I can make is it is much like the status updates on Facebook. It provides a quick way to say what you are working or doing now. However, Facebook limits your status updates (unless you make it public) to friends or people in your network. Twitter extends this to the rest of the world.

You can follow practically anyone. Many prominent faces in the world are twittering from Obama and McCain to Britney Spears and Shaquille O’Neil. Read more about it here

Great, now why would I ever want to share what I am doing with a bunch of strangers?

Think about it this way. Why would you go to a educational conference or workshop? To find out about what best practices are out there, make connections with teachers and hopefully learn something new. However, sometimes you go to workshops that are fascinating and want to learn more from the presenter. Usually you forget about this workshop or lose their business card they gave you. Twitter allows you maintain contact and read updates, new blog posts or interesting websites that they find automatically. You do this by “following” them on Twitter.

Slowly, your network grows as you follow more people. You develop a niche of people who are interested in similar things as you. Once you have this network, you an ask them questions and build on a shared knowledge from this network. This is often referred as a PLN (personal learning network).

If you don’t have a network, I agree it is useless. If you just had a random group of people that you were following, you might ocassionally learn something new but significantly less that you do in your own PLN. I would say you probably need to find and follow at least 20 or more people who have a common interest you. I usually add international teachers or people involed in technology. My passion is technology so I get all sorts of links and great information from them.

So how might I get followed by others?

Like any team, you need to give as well as take. If you don’t “give anything” than people aren’t going to follow you. Everyone has some knowledge to offer others whether it be a good website, a great technology tool or a better teaching strategy. Share it! Slowly, you will start appearing in search results and people will recognize this and add you. This creates a culture of reciprocity. If you aren’t a team player, Twitter might not be for you.

Here is a image from my recent twitter history:

On the left is all tweets from people I have followed. In the middle, are specific replies from others to me. As you can see, each tweet is short and have links to interesting topics or ideas. It’s like 1 big sharing circle! A twitter friend (@mscofino) posted some photos her class had taken about fractions. I am teaching Fractions next week and gave me a good teaching idea to do.

So that is a little about the what and why. It may or may not make sense to you at this point. The best way to understand something though is to go and experience it and defer judgement. Try it out for awhile and slowly you will start to see the benefits and become addicted.

For a detailed how to get started, go to this blog site that is designed by and for teachers:

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are the new PD

I suddenly had an epiphany. I have been hearing about so many web 2.0 tools over the past years. I kept reading and hearing about all the new tools being created. It started with Youtube. I checked it out and was amazed at the amount of videos out there. Mostly, it was overwhelming and once in awhile, I would go out and check a few funny videos that my friends would send me but I didn’t get it. I opened up a Facebook account, started installing every new application I could get my hands on but it mostly seemed like a timewaster. All these tools did. The people that did seem to have the time, were teenagers and students. I mean who has time to find other users and tag and upload all this stuff.

I consider myself an early adopter when it comes to tools but I quickly got consumed by all these new tools and none of them seemed to make my life any easier. As a teacher, I have enough things to worry about with meetings, emails, unit plans and a billion other things. Who really has time to start creating all these accounts on Twitter, wikis, blogs, Usteam, etc?! But then it hit me a couple of months ago. The power of connection.

We as humans are wired to be connected. It is a basic human need to want to belong. As a teacher, we go out of our way to ensure that students are safe and that they belong. Without it, true learning can’t take place. That is the driving force. I would sign up for all these accounts but didn’t really connect with others through it. Thus, it wasn’t useful to me. None of these tools are useful unless you start making connections with others, whether it be colleagues, friends, family or simply strangers that share a common passion.

A few months ago, I attended a digital learning conference in Jakarta. I attended so many different workshops and was soaking in every minute of it. My head was spinning and I could barely keep up. I remember going to a workshop by Jeff Utecht on PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). I almost didn’t go but arrived late and the workshop was completely full. I knew nothing about PLNs and had just heard about Twitter and knew a bit about RSS feeds. I frantically bookmarked all the sites he talked about but it did intrigue me. Jeff said, “give yourself 2 weeks on Twitter and it will totally change your life”. He went on to tell us that we should set up a RSS page using Netvibes. It slowly started to make sense. I had like 5 followers on Twitter but nothing really happened to recently. I remember reading a great blog and added her to my Twitter. She started to post really interesting blogs and websites about things that I was passionate about. Slowly, almost by accident, I started to create my own PLN of people who were passionate about technology and learning. Now I get it.

PLNs will be the way of the future. They trump any PD session that I have attended (save the technology one perhaps) since I am finding out information quickly and efficiently and it’s relevant and interesting to me. I believe that we as educators need to get on board on this train. The whole idea of connectivism is the way of the future. See this great video that explains this idea in detail. Our students are already there and we need to get there too or the schools will be left in the dust.

How to get a PLN started? That will be the topic of the next blog… Continue reading Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are the new PD