Extending Learning Beyond the Classroom

I participated in another Knowschools session last week entitled Learning Unleashed. The conference was moderated by Sandy Hirtz, who also created the Learning Unleashed ning. The main idea that I took away from the conference is that educators, for the first time, can use Web 2.0 tools to extend student’s learning beyond the walls of the classroom and the school. I already knew that, but my thinking on the topic definitely changed as a result of the conference.

I have fully incorporated the use of technology as a tool to enhance learning into my teaching style and my belief system as an educator. My perspective, however, shifted last week when I fully realized the potential of expanding the learning out of the 77 minute classroom block of time and into an online learning environment available for access 24/7. Through blogging, wikis, nings and sites like Tapped In, communities of learners can participate in learning whenever they want, wherever they are. All they need, of course, is some form of a computer with a decent internet connection.

One great thing about last week was the many new ideas and resources! There are so many new ways to create communities for learning online. Sandy did a great job of collecting and organizing a huge list of new websites to investigate. Add to that all the sharing of ideas and websites in the forum discussion threads and the end result is an injection of new resources and an opening of my mind to new possibilities in my teaching.

Now that my mind is open to the idea, I find myself sifting through the idea of opening student’s learning beyond the schedule and space of a classroom. I like face to face interactions with students; I think teacher/student rapport is key to creating the mutual understanding necessary for real teaching and real learning to take place. I wonder how an online experience can replicate that. And the one idea that keeps pushing it’s way into my thinking is that I need to remember that the technology is the tool to enhance the learning.

Just a thought (or a few) to turn around in my head for awhile…

My PLN – The Open Window after the Door Closed

Steve Dembo is the motivation behind this post (thanks Steve!). His last post asked if personal learning networks, or PLNs, are bad for morale. That post inspired me and when I’m inspired I sometimes go on with a little too much detail. You might want to grab some coffee or tea and then settle in to read this one.

Last April I completed a graduate diploma on educational uses of technology. I live in a rural area and drove a considerable distance for sessions at the university. I always drove home motivated and rejuvenated, ready and excited to implement what I’d learned.

The last drive home, however, was bittersweet. I was thankful to be finished, happy to have a life back (no more homework!!!), and proud of my accomplishment, but I was very sad to be leaving an inspiring group of people. My cohort had motivated me and helped me grow and learn for over two years. I wondered what I would do without that formal learning atmosphere, without that regular injection of professional motivation, without my newfound, albeit formally organized, PLN.Window

What’s that saying, ‘when one door closes, a window opens’? Very true in this case…

Before leaving on that last day of coursework, I asked my faculty associate, Julia, how I could stay connected from a distance. She didn’t hesitate with her one word answer – ‘blog’ was all she said. I admit, at the time, I was dissatisfied with her answer. I wanted to maintain the momentum I had experienced with my personal and professional development. I wanted to continue my learning on how to include transformative uses of technology in my teaching. I wanted to have that motivation and inspiration that came from my cohort. Her answer seemed too simple and it didn’t seem to be the answer I was looking for.

Regardless, due to my immense respect for her, I took Julia’s advice. I had been reading blogs recommended throughout the coursework (Weblogg-ed, 2 cents Worth, Alan November) so I started working on my blogroll and trying to comment once a week. By the time summer rolled around, I was spending a part of Saturday morning, tea in hand, reading blogs. My RSS feed list was growing, as was my list of bookmarks on Del.icio.us. I was beginning to think that I could at least continue self-directed learning via blogging in this way. At Julia’s suggestion, I was at the beginning stages of developing my PLN online and I didn’t even know it.

During the summer I started planning on how to use blogs in an art classroom. In TLITE, I’d learned to try out new technologies before using them in the classroom. The logical first step was to start my own blog, but I was scared, and a little leery, to do so for the usual reasons.

It was about this time that I received an email from KnowSchools about an online conference on blogging. I decided to sign up, and that was the catalyst I needed to get started on my own blog.

Was Julia right? Was blogging the answer to my question on how to maintain that professional growth and stay connected after moving back to my rural home? Absolutely, yes!

In less than a year, my PLN is expanding in ways I never anticipated. I’m working on collaborative blogging projects within my district. I have little blogging conversations with people around the world. And, most importantly, I’m ready to transform the learning in my classroom using blogging as the tool. So far, the positives far outweigh the negatives and I’m only getting started.

In his post, Steve Dembo asked if being hyper-connected was bad for morale. It could be, if you’re a glass half empty type of person. But then, most things are perceived in a negative way with those types of people. At this point, for me, being hyper-connected is great! It’s exactly the type of motivation and inspiration that I need. I love my small town and my small school. Both have been incredibly supportive of any projects I’ve undertaken related to integrating technology into my teaching. However, for continued professional growth, I also love the idea of a PLN that is wide-open with limitless possibilities. But then again, I am a glass half full type of person…

Image – Window by Jezzebelle from Flickr.com

Blog Pro-D

I experienced an intense week of professional development last week through an online conference called ‘Using Blogs in Education’ through Knowschools.

The facilitators, Cristina and Ramona, posed challenges (one of which was to start a blog, the last bit of encouragement I needed to create ‘Just a Thought’!), offered readings and moderated forum discussions. A fantastic group of participants full of enthusiasm and encouragement shared ideas, concerns and questions.

I learned too much from the conference to include in one post, but here are the top five things I learned:

  1. I gained a whole list of new resources, like The Top 100 Education Blogs. My del.icio.us account hasn’t seen so many additions since TLITE!
  2. I learned about online safety specific to blogging with students. This forum thread inspired the most replies of all forum discussions and was full of great ideas.
  3. I learned some tips on how to manage all the blogs I read. Many forum participants use websites like Pageflakes, Netvibes and Google Reader to organize their content online.
  4. I learned that blogging is more about reading than writing. For my students, that translates into using blogs to increase their overall literacy, and in particular, their visual literacy.
  5. I learned that it’s okay to let a blog sit idle (a personal ‘aha’ moment for me). I’ll try my best to post regularly, but now I won’t feel as guilty if I can’t.

I’m thinking already that ‘Just a Thought’ isn’t always going to be accurate…