Essential Question: What if 21st century teachers could self-direct and personalize their own professional development?
It would be difficult for educators to work any harder; but to meet the 21st Century challenges, they now have digital tools to help them work smarter. My favorite among the new technology tools for professional learning is Twitter. The second is the flipped professional learning experience.
Traditional professional development has come in two forms. First, school districts provide a few days each school year. Teachers were (and still are in many places) herded to the cafetrium to sit passively while listening to a speaker on a topic of great interest to a few people in the room. Second, many teachers grabbed (and still do) a graduate school catalog, pick a course of interest or degree of value and hop in their cars to drive to the closest campus after the school day is done.
Today, these traditional modes are shifting to engaged and immediate professional development personalized by the individual educator’s self-directed choices of time, place and topic. Here, I am not talking about distance programs that allow choice of place and time. The Twitter shift puts each educator in control of her own professional development with self-direction and personalization of content at any time of day she selects in short pockets during planning periods or outside of the school day.
Twitter is my number one source of personal professional development. I use Twitter to create professional learning networks (PLN). If I want, I can get a daily dose of professional learning to go with my early morning cup of Joe. Through the Twitter platform, I discover best practice, research, solutions and ideas delivered to me in 140 characters or fewer, for just in time learning. I look at my Twitter work as my research and development source from a team composed of 6,000 members. I can tap the network whenever I have a question or need a resource. This team filters the information for me and uses tools built into Twitter to organize the information. And when I receive a tweet, I reciprocate and collaborate with new colleagues nearby or on the other side of the globe.
Of course, Twitter is not just an easy to learn toy. It is a start-up challenge. Twitter calls on skills that need practice, re-explanation and more practice. There is an entire set of vocabulary words that go with Twitter including DM, RT, hashtags and trending …all done in 140 characters or fewer.
- DM= Direct message between two users
- RT= Re-tweet is when you receive a tweet and you re-send it to your followers
- Hashtag= A code for a group of people that are tweeting on a specific topic. My examples include #edchat, #megcamp, #4thchat, #scichat
- Trending= Topics that are growing in popularity based on the number of tweets about the topic
I have found the best way to help Twitter novices start tweeting is to introduce the concept, coach practice, and refine the skills. I also always make sure to introduce Tweetdeck and HootSuite to organize the tweets. These are both add-ons to Twitter that include apps, software and a website.
- Tweetdeck is a piece of software that I have downloaded and installed on my computer to organize Twitter activity. There is also an app for my cell phone. From this interface I can add columns based on hashtags I am interested in following. Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are the secret sauce to organizing tweets around different topics to really personalize the Twitter experience.
- Hootsuite works in the same way as Tweetdeck, but this interface works much better on the iPad. Both of these Twitter add-ons have apps for various devices as well as a streamlined web interface that can also be accessed using the account.
Twitter makes for a great start when teachers and administrators want a PLN. There are many tips and tactics for creating and participating in professional learning networks through the creative use of Web 2.0 tools. Tools change, but the importance of establishing and participating in professional learning networks will not. Access to these tools helps educators flip their professional development. Flipping professional development shines a spotlight on Twitter’s capabilities. Like the flipped classroom, flipped professional development connects educators on the spot to concepts they personally value. They don’t have to sit passively in an auditorium or drive to a class to get the information they need. They can start their information gathering in any available moment. They have many options, the best of which include the following:
A podcast is an audio file that is often shared through iTunes. There are podcasts on every imaginable topic. Through the iTunes interface educators can search and download podcasts of interest. Once someone finds a podcast of interest, she can subscribe to free future podcasts. I often load up my iPhone with podcasts before a long drive and I listen to my own custom professional development through my car radio. Imagine the time- value for a principal who needs to bone up on new best-practice research about technology - rich project-based learning or a teacher who wants to see what Thinkfinity provides to help students develop peruasion skills.
A screencast is a video created to teach a specific topic. A screencast includes visuals as well as audio put together into a movie. The movie is not a video of the person’s talking head. Instead the video captures what is on the computer screen and the audio the person recorded. It is like having a guided tour through a website or painting a story board of a problem solving process. I am currently building a library of professional development screen casts that will be available to educators. The videos are stored on YouTube and everyone can move at their own pace starting and stopping the video as needed. To view an example of a completed professional development screencast, please click here. Teachers can create screen casts for their students in the “how-to” for projects, collaboration or critical thinking. They can encourage students to make screencasts to tell stories or illustrate science ideas.
YouTube is personal professional development in the form of videos. For example, if a teacher or administrator wants to learn the 3-D software program Sketchup, they can go to YouTube. This free software has an entire channel dedicated to professional development. By entering a search topic, any educator will find hundreds of videos on various topics.
Having gathered the information they want to prepare background knowledge from the digital tool prior to a Professional Learning Community, targeted grade level or department team discussion, teachers can arrive ready to discuss, debate the ideas and then collaboratively modify instruction or build and create projects that they will have students complete back in the classroom. Administrators can organize an entire flipped meeting, encouraging teachers to ready themselves by taking advantage of these three digital tools.
In flipped team meetings, teachers put their creativity to work. They experience what best practice research is saying is most important about professional development. Most of all, they learn from doing, just as 21st century skill instruction calls for from their students. In the work sessions, teams of teachers can create a model or example of the project going through the steps students will be doing, learning the process as they are creating. The focus of this professional development is to learn new skills and most importantly change instructional practice back in the classroom. Experts facilitate the group work, modeling new skills as needed, guiding collaboration and helping the school teams use their information gathered through global connections.
Any professional educator can benefit from a PLN. They and their colleagues can sift through the mass of available online information, select the best resources, collaborate with each other, and interact globally. Principals can redesign how they engage faculty even in studying mandated topics; teachers can look forward to their extra time being engaged in a worthwhile inquiry.
To be part of this shift in professional development is exciting. Teachers are customizing their learning experiences using a variety of online tools, face-to-face interactions and the creative use of resources. Part of this change might be about reduced budgets for professional development, but I also think that educators are enjoying the almost instantaneous chances to take responsibility of continuing their own personal professional development to help increase student engagement and achievement. They certainly have to be enjoying the chance to put new information into practice, rather than spending time listening to a tired and often disconnected lecture on a topic of someone else’s choice.