Friday, April 5, 2013

PLN: Work In Progress

As I mentioned a few days ago, I wanted to wait to post my title and abstract so that I could solicit a few definitions from strangers and colleagues about their Personal Learning Network. I've spent the week collecting research, writing notes, and getting my plan together. I have a backwards approach to writing conference proposals that I'm pretty sure is textbook on what not to do. Instead of having a project in hand all complete, I write the proposal, abstract, and title without having the finished product. I think of them as research pieces that I want to bring together that a conference presentation will motivate me to complete. Motivation by conference acceptance--maybe not the most mature way to do research. 

It's not that I'm lazy. I just know that by the time I've finished a project, I'm so totally bored with it that I can't even imagine an audience that would care to read it. The goal of a conference presentation gives me something to work towards and I get to travel. I get to go and chat up complete strangers who may be interested in what I have to say. Most of all, I get to experience what I ask my students to do with their research papers. Doing what we teach makes us more empathetic to the students that struggle. Right now, I'm struggling with where to begin. 

So here is what I've submitted to the ATL as part of the eLearning and Instructional Technologies segment:

From Digital Immigrant To 21st Century Networked Teacher: How To Get There and Where We Are Going

Session Summary:
This presenter mentors faculty members who are Digital Immigrants (DI) about educational technology. As an enthusiastic DI, she researches ways to teach faculty members about technology without overwhelming them. What are strategies trainers/educators can use to empower faculty members who are not enthusiastic about technology? This presentation will examine how Personal Learning Networks can foster collaboration and empower faculty members intimidated by educational technology. The audience will gain strategies on how to create their own PLNs, how to help other DI's, and most importantly, how to learn from our best source of information about educational technology—the students.   

Objectives and Suggested Readings:

a. We are at a turning point in education where the digital divide is growing wider among faculty members. Some have embraced technology from the start—especially in online education--while others have resisted or are too pressed for time to upgrade their skills. There is no question that the increased use of technology, when done effectively, can increase student engagement. This presentation will introduce ideas about how forming PLNs can help digital immigrants take small steps toward increasing their use of technology by learning from others.

b. This session will be interactive because the presenter will ask audience members to join her PLN by using cell phones and/or laptops. She will give them strategies to create their own campus-connected PLN.

c. Audience members of all levels of comfort with technology will be encouraged to learn about and create a PLN.

d."Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" by Marc Prensky (2001)
The Networked Teacher Diagram by Alec Couros

How did I get all of these pieces? How did I get this idea? 

Well, it's April and I'm still reflecting on what I did in the fall. That's okay! Deep breath. 
Like all good conference presentations that are interactive, the discussion leader (me, in this case) will need to tell the audience the origin of my ideas. I've been studying professional development ever since I won my first travel grant from Cascadia Community College. I couldn't believe that the college was going to pay for everything--hotel, conference fee, food, travel--to a conference in San Francisco. I also won a travel grant from the conference itself, and thus began my fascination with how we teach teachers. My graduate program in English never mentioned this aspect of teaching because the working assumption was that the graduates would carry on by going into PhD program after the terminal MA program. That was not the path for me (though I tried). In fact, I had very little preparation for the realities of being an adjunct teacher. Much of what I learned came by painful time-consuming mistakes, and the silver lining in this work was professional development grants. And the many cool students I've taught over the years. (One just finished his doctorate! Life, please slow down!)

Then the crash of the recession dried up the funding to travel out of state. Suddenly if you wanted to learn anything, you had to stay in state. I looked into the state tuition waiver, and I decided to apply for a MEd program that I would chip away as I worked full-time. This MEd program offered three paths that all seemed beneficial to my life as a teacher. I could A] increase my knowledge of pedagogy, B] explore the options of doing a PhD or an ED, and/or C] I could explore instructional design. Over the past three years, it's been incredibly hard being a graduate student while working full-time. During my MA, I had plenty of time to be a student (although I didn't see it that way then). I had time to make friends, hang out discussing projects, and lose myself in grad school drama. Not this time around. I had three-four comp classes and freelance work. A busy social life that revolves around exhausting things like riding your bike in races. A book in the works about my backpacking experiences. 

The time that I could devote to learning had to be structured. The time had to matter. Professional development in this phase has not been easily classified or defined on my CV. 

Then came IT 546: Educational Technology. As I have mentioned before, this class suddenly tightened up all of the loose strings in my teaching and scholarship. I felt even more open to this class because of my colleagues at Everett CC who created the Innovations Academy. I spent five days learning from people who have always been a part of the coolest ideas on my campus. I made connections with new people and ideas, and I started fall quarter energized in a way that I haven't been in years. 

One of the first readings in IT 546 was Prensky's article, and although I had heard the title Digital Natives before, it was the first time I took time to think about it beyond dismissing it as marketing term. Turns out, Prensky put into words what I was experiencing both on my campus and in my grad class. There were people who cared a great deal about learning new ways to teach not just for themselves but for the students. They were seeing professional development not just as something that was required by their contracts, but as something that they want to do.

So who am I interested in? I'm interested in teachers who want to learn but feel overwhelmed by what they don't know. They are skilled. They care about their content. But they just don't have the time to learn the how to use some new tools.  

So I got this idea that I, as a Digital Immigrant who has gone from being somewhat reluctant to excited about technology, can help my fellow teachers. It doesn't feel like work.

One of our assignments in the IT 546 was to explore Pinterest, and I was amazed by what I saw. The K-12 teachers are all over it! They've created such a collection of information. 

Then I stumbled into the ETMOOC community, started this blog, and thus, I took a chance on this conference proposal. Now, I have to figure out where "we are going" since that's, um, in my title!

I tell people that I'm old enough to remember what it is like to make a mixed tape, but I'm young enough to not feel intimidated by technology. Teaching is a complex job, and the more we can support one another, the better. The by-product of student engagement is that it makes your job more fun. 

What's one tool that you would share with a faculty member that has revolutionized your teaching? Something easy. Something you think is worthwhile. Anything. Tell me one thing you do that's changed your teaching. One small step that led to huge changes. All disciplines and levels welcome! 

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