Community Trumphs Content

Its amazing… we live in a time where I can access my friends nearly 24-7, touch base with colleagues in various parts of the world and never leave my office. Sometimes all I can do is say “Wow” and just marvel in the craziness of life in 2010.

While doing some last minute work on my final project and creating on-line communities I stumbled across a great TED video titled “Community Trumphs Content”. It it Jeff Utecht a technology consultant and presenter, spoke of the importance of allowing students to have access to communities and networks, How there is such huge value in what we are learning and creating in various network communities that it  can take precedence over what content they are exposed to. Its exploring what others have to say, collaborating and sharing, rather than blocking students from making those connections.

I certainly can relate to this as I’ve always believed in the importance of educating students on the value of social networking tools rather than restricting them. Teaching them more than “how” to use the tools but rather the “why” we  use it. As part of one of my other masters classes this term in distance education we explored a relativly new on-line experience (well at least for me) called Second Life. It allows users to create a virtual “avatar” of themself and move freely through an on-line world. Initially I really wondered what the importance of this was to distance education? Why would this type of community be important? I quickly learned (after a guided tour of this site) that schools, companies and other various institutions can buy “land” and host a virtual site or meeting area. This allows users to interact with one another in real-time with virtual characteristics. Classrooms can be set up, students can participate in pre-designed content activities and  members of these communities can interact with one another throughout. The experiences were powerful and eye opening!  

I can only imagine the day, when students use these “avatars” to attend class in a virtual environment. There are however many areas in the Second Life world that would not be suitable for younger viewers (some are not even suitable for me!!) but I think this goes back to Jeff’s video. That sometimes the content is not as relative as the interactions amongst those members of a community.  If students and teachers could see beyond the basics of Second Life and look at it from the life of a 22nd century student…. who knows what would transpire!!

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A Woman with Many Hats – Learning about Leading in a PLE world

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity as part of ECI831 to discuss how we as educators are evolving and change to take on many roles as part of creating our Professional Learning Environments (PLE’s). Stephen Downes as our guest lecturer on this topic provided us with many examples of roles an educator may take on as part of their learning environments. Some of the roles he proposed included  the Learner, Collector, Curator ( guide, custodian of a collection), Alchemist (mixing of resources), Programmer (follows a linear path),  Salesperson, Convenor (bringing together of people,  a network builder), Coordinator, Designer and Coach just to name a few. 🙂

As he spoke, many of those roles began to resonate with me as parts of my educational history. The things that made me as a teacher…. me!

– I remember back to those first few years of teaching and the extraordinary amount of hats one has to wear in order to succeed in this profession. I was absolutely still a learner and soaking up information from those around me. I was a collector, forging through files, websites, books and binders to find just the right stuff for a lesson. I was defiantly an alchemist as I needed to try to mix the resources I had into something magical! A sales person was soon to follow, as I tried to sell my abilities and value to students, parents and of course administration! It’s amazing to think of all the hats one wears in those early stages of practice!

However, with that said what amazes me even more is that I don’t think teachers really ever take those hats off. As Stephen pointed out there are so many additional roles one acquired throughout their professional careers, we just keep adding more.

As one of my colleagues, Angela pointed out in her blog post “Tonight I was a Salesperson, Coach and Demonstrator” it really reminded me of how as we evolve and grow with our own professional development practices it truly becomes a reflection of the roles we take on in our professional lives and our PLE.

Thanks for a great class Stephen… I wonder what hat I will wear next?

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The UNclass….

Looking back to our unclass a few weeks ago I first want to begin by tipping my hat to those colleagues whom presented on this day! The ideas were interesting, relevent and most importantly a reflection of how each one of us has been able to walk away from this class with at the very least an appreciation for the power of learning from others.  We may not all be experts, or aspire to lead the charge but in many ways we have all learned our voices can be heard!

Sometimes as surprising as it may seem to those who know me best, I prefer to be a wall flower. I enjoy sitting back, taking it all in and just listening to the colleagues around me. It is often their passion, sincerity and willingness to dive in which I believe makes me a better teacher! It motivates me to try new ideas and aspire to reach outside of my own comfort zone.  

So, after our unclass… I was thinking….

I remember hearing a great speaker once Sir Ken Robinson and how he talked about the idea that we in the education profession don’t need an “Evolution to make change happen, we need a Revolution!”. And he spoke on the importance of each one of us identifying our own talents. You can watch a great video on this learning revolution…

It is after I reflect on the talents of others within my class that I really can appreciate his message. Perhaps if the opportunity presents itself again I should jump on board.

Well done to my classmates for taking the risk!


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Reflectons so far… so good!

 Thanks Alec for the springboard!

  •  What are your thoughts so far on open & networked learning?
  • So far this experience has opened my eyes to the power of connecting teachers to create a network of peer mentors. I’ve enjoyed being able to hear about the experiences of others and relate them to my own educational practices. It’s so important to remember that teaching is more than just the four walls of our classrooms! There are many days that would go by without having a meaningful conversation with anyone above the age of 12! 🙂 Between supervision, coaching duties, preparing for class, paperwork and parents….its far to easy to lose touch with my colleagues! I’ve found that tools like twitter really can give you instant access at any time to collaborate with others when the days pass you by!

    I also feel so far that the idea behind open  education is a powerful tool.  New teachers to experienced ones can have control (with little to no cost) on creating a PLE (professional learning environment) that interests them.  It provides additional opportunities to hone skills and tackle areas of interest that otherwise you may not be able to explore.

  • What are the pros and cons of this type of learning experience?
  • So far, this experience has provided connections to other educators and mentors that I look forward to maintaining after this class.  Building a professional network of people I can talk to is probably the most powerful tool a teacher can have.

    As for cons, I have found it somewhat difficult to stay on top of this style of learning. As much as I enjoy the relationships, discussions and camaraderie I barely have time to read the newspaper some days let alone tweets, blogs and postings! I’m always wondering if I missed something good!! 🙂

    Hoping that at some point there will be an application that ties together twitter, blogs, articles and others into one neat package…. that s focussed on me and knows exactly what I find important on a particular day! Ahhh… a girl can dream!

  • How can we improve this learning experience?
  • When considering how to improve this experience I’m not sure how to answer that. I think it will really depend on the learner and what they are trying to achieve from this class. For some, networking may be important… others maybe its just the awareness of what types of tools are available.  Personally, as mentioned above its been a challenge to just keep up with all of those around me and to remember to keep my own voice in the process.  Although I pride myself in being fairly technology savvy, I really am struggling with just the commitment to discussions throughout this process.  

  • Does any of this inform the way you teach or learn (or could/should teach and learn)?
  • Although I am no longer in a classroom, I truly can see how connecting teachers and classrooms can be a valuable practice. Even just listening to the guest speakers gives me ideas of how they are applying these strategies and ignites the fire inside of me to do the same. I look forward to exploring how this type of practice will affect my current professional path.

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    Creating an On-Line Identity – Own your own!

    Last week we had another excellent guest speaker Dean Shareski from Prairie South School division.  His topic… Creating a Digital identity.

    Ok… so first I had to wrap my head around what exactly a “Digital Identity” was.  Ask me who I am in person and I can rattle off my major stats. Height, Age, eye colour and profession, I have those down pat! Now ask me what my digital identity was and you will get the classic Ferris Bueller I don’t get it expression! However, after listening to Dean’s session my eyes were truly widened to the importance of this topic!

    As part of our session, we were asked to search our names on the internet using some specific websites Google, Spezify and Persona MIT. Interestingly enough, I had never taken the opportunity to do so!  Well low and behold I was able to locate myself on google and for the most part was listed in the first initial 3 pages of google! The info focussed on me… hmmmm who knew???

    It was surprising to see though that there had been some profiles either I had a some point signed up for  and never finished ( must have forgotten about those) or profiles had been created for me somewhere along the way without my knowledge. Regardless of HOW they were created, I recognized right away that there was no voice from ME! I didn’t have an actual “Trish created” profile. thus Dean’s point of  taking control over what your digital identity was became very important.

    So I began the search to find out just how does Google rank a website so that it is the first one displayed? If I want to make a digital name for myself… at least  in my eyes… I needed to get MY website/blog or chosen mode of digital identity platform to the top of the list!

    I found some direction on this or rather a “guideline” listed as part of Google’s Webmaster Central.

    Allow Google to find, index and rank your site.

    Although the information was an interesting read, I am still not sure it will provide me with a chart Google topper!

    So, to my wonderful colleagues and twitter nation… those of you whom have already begun this digital identity adventure tell me just how important is it to have YOUR personally created website/blog or other identifier listed as the first one on Google? If you have already mastered this feat… spill the beans on how you did it!

    Look forward to hearing your secrets… and if you want to throw in how the “caramel gets inside the Caramilk bar” (which at this point seems more achievable) I am all ears!

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    Better late then never???

    A few weeks ago… ugh yes I said weeks (but better late than never…right??) as part of ECI 831 we were blessed with another guest speaker Zoe Branigan-Pipe who spoke on “The Life of a Connected Teacher”.  I loved the real-ness of her presentation as she truly seemed like one of those teachers I would have loved to be in the trenches with! She shared so many ideas of not only how she stays “connected” as an educator but also how her students stay connected to the world. It was almost overwhelming (in a good way of course) to hear about all of the different types of technology she was exploring with her students including my personal favorite…. SMART Boards!!  She certainly had some support by her division and administration to be able to have access to all of these incredible tools!

    This actually started my head spinning and again wondered how many teachers here in Saskatchewan were “connected” as well?? I am sure there must be a variety of teachers, classrooms and schools who are also exploring this idea. I was absolutely ecstatic when I came across the following article…

    Saskatchewan teaching experiment links students via Skype.

    How cool to hear about teachers using tools to connect right in our own backyard!! It certainly reminded me of the same type of project Zoe had discussed in our session and just reaffirms the power of collegiality and connectivity!!!

    With Skype planning to launch its new multi-party video connection (currently in Beta stages) and link it with social networking sites such as Facebook… I bet it won’t be long before we see teachers using this to build their PLN and students working collaboratively across the country!!

    Now… If only I was back in the classroom…… 🙂

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    Connect.. Mad, Crazy, Easy with Sheryl Nussbaum Beach

     This evening we were blessed with guest speaker Sheryl Nussbaum Beach who discussed  being connected teachers.  She began by posing the question of how connected we are in our professional lives. Thought provoking to say the least! I had always viewed myself as somewhat connected socially through things such as Facebook and of course my Blackberry! But once I step foot into a classroom or professional environment…. did that practice for me still continue??  I guess I hadn’t really thought of that until I began this  ECI831 class.  A visual that Sheryl used referred to  the look of a connected teacher. This was originallt created by our professor Dr. Alec Couros and drew some interesting thoughts on what a connected teacher might look like.

    Probably one of the most powerful tools I am learning to use to becoming professionally connected would be Twitter. It has been an eye-opening and amazing experience to have started to develop a network of colleagues that I can call out to and have meaningful, almost real-time communications with. This connected group of colleagues act as a great resource and mentors as I work through this course. Not to mention I feel more “globally” connected than ever before thanks to the vast geographical range of my Twitter mentors.

    I also really enjoyed listening to Sheryl’s three-pronged approach to PD.  She described the PLC (Professional learning community) as face to face or groups of individuals whom have regular conversations to grow and learn in a local context. The Global Community of Practice who learn socially  in a wider context and PLN’s (professional learning networks) that promote the continuation of learning as directed by the individual learner whom will grow professional just as we expect our students do. In the past and based on the descriptors, I believe I have participated in a PLC environment but it was very much directed and not necessarily learner centered.

    I then began to think about just how these communities and networks can be built especially on-line? Which might I add we had a great discussion on the difference between a Community vs a Network!  From the discussion I took away that a network is used to pull people together, while a community is more personal and usually is a branch of a network. A community binds people together who want to share in a more centralized topic or set of ideas.  In one of Sheryl comments she mentioned that those begining to build on-line communities should “start loosely and build for evolution to develop and create the community” . This will allow for flexibility in how the members of the community can participate and encourage growth. I later followed up our class with a vist to her blog and found she  posted some great ideas on how to begin to build a community. You can read more about this in her blog post Community Building – Powerful Learning Indeed. I particularly like the point she makes in that regardless of the type of community you might be building, you need a plans. Sometimes I think plans can be overlooked or in some cases to rigid.  As in the case of my PLC experience, our plan was dictated rather than discovered. 🙂 

    After all was said and done, I began thinking about the types of networks and communities I am currently a part of and just how connected I truly am especially in my professional life.  What exactly was MY plan for building my “connectedness”?? I wonder if this could lead to a  project for ECI831?? 

    Based on my current experience in our province, we have a lot of teachers using interactive technologies. As part of my new career path I have noticed that many of these teachers are connecting more on a global scale rather than a local one. Thus I think they have built networks but not necessarily a community of local learners. I am wondering if there is a way to support/encourage local teachers to connect with one another whom are using interactive technology? Perhaps some of my mentors/blog readers will have some feedback on this and if it would make for a viable project in this class???

    Thanks bunches for the anticipated feedback!


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    Guest Speaker Dr. Rick Schwier and First Open Class for #ECI831

    Tonight we had the opportunity to hear Dr. Rick Schwier speak on the topics of ET and how it has evolved over the years as well as the value of interaction within online learning and developing PLE’s. There was a lot to chew on and think about as the conversation happened.

    One of the discussion topics focused on having both formal and informal learning environments when using online educational opportunities. Rick really pointed out the importance of creating relationships within the learning group regardless of the structure. If a student feels they are a part of the group they will more often than not be engaged in the content. I loved how the conversation rolled to talk about the various ways a person can be “engaged”. Such as listening to a conversation and then digesting the information in a “lurker” format (aka… watch but don’t necessarily speak up) vs the “extreme” participator who is dominating a chat room or conversation.  This really got me thinking about my learning style when it comes to participating in on-line classes. Was I the “lurker”, “extreme” participant or did I fall somewhere in the middle??

    After some deliberation on this I went back into the comment/discussion area of our Elluminate class and for my own interest took a peek at the number of times I participated in the discussion.  Unfortunately it wasn’t very many. I seem to recall that there were a few occasions where I wanted to say something but by the time I read the other posts, listened to our wonderful presenter and typed my thoughts…. it was already lost in the feed.  It was interesting as I tried to find my way back into the conversation that I noticed someone had made a  comment which tweaked my interest. I’m not sure if the user was part of the registered students or the open class opportunity but they posted  “who is more vocal here tonight, registered students vs open ones?”. 

    Hmmm… an important question in my books.  I wonder if my participation level and engagement was at all affected by the large group of participants present? Typically my only exposure to on-line classes where interaction is encouraged was through my graduate classes which had no more than 20 some students at a time (usually less!). Tonight, there were almost 50 participants and many more discussions happening than I was typically used to!  It also seemed that some of our open participants already had built a relationship with one another prior to the class and were able to piggyback on discussions they had earlier with one another. I guess all of this piqued my curiosity (as with the previous poster) just how many of my course classmates felt they were in a safe environment where they could comment and chat through out the session? Was it mostly our registered classmates (who were all just getting to know one another) actively participating in the posts or our open classmates whom may have already built relationships prior to the session? Could this in any way affect my level of engagement as the relationships and comfort level has potentially not yet been achieved for me personally???

    It was great being thrown a couple of open-ended questions from Rick to actively engage all of the participants. Perhaps part of my learning needs to involve two-way communication… ask and I shall answer. 🙂

    Looking forward to our next class and continuing to develop those connections and relationships with a variety of new colleagues! Twitter certainly is helping with that and hoping to get some feedback from my mentors on twitternation as to how “newbees” like myself can begin to be part of the conversations and feel more comfortable jumping into the discussions!

    Thanks for the anticipated tips!


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    Checking things out!

    Starting this new blog as part of my personal reflections for EC&I!

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