Networked Conversations and Transformational Technology

CC licensed image from Flickr user Frau Hölle

This past week has been a busy one for me, with professional experiences ranging from face-to-face workshops and two webinars, to our first school-based field experiences with pre-service teachers; additionally I met with my writing project leadership team, facilitated two writing groups and ended last night by helping to moderate a panel discussion amongst principals for helping them secure a job. Whew…

In and amongst all of these activities, I have been reminded of the power of teacher networks. In fact, my entire professional life centers on the idea of teacher networks. Identifying networks. Building collaborations. Nurturing novice and veteran teachers alike. Putting them in conversation with one another. Asking smart questions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Creating new networks, and beginning the process again. It’s part of who I am, part of what I do.

In that sense, part of what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers this semester to do — through the use of Twitter — is to build a teacher network. I am not simply asking them to “use Twitter.” Instead, I am coaching them in the process of using Twitter as a tool for building their PLN. This happens both online and off. As evidence of this, I spent about 20 minutes of class time last week introducing some of the nuances of Tweetdeck as a tool for monitoring and participating in hashtag conversations.

At the core, what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers is about using technology in a way that moves well beyond simplistic integration. As Ruben Puentedura describes it in his SAMR model, I want pre-service teachers to move from technology as a tool for enhancement of teaching practice into an opportunity to transform their practice.

Yet, I find my pre-service teachers, even the most engaged Twitter users amongst them, to be hesitant about using social networking in this manner.

Of course, change is hard, and I am working to ease them into it. I want to provide them with the opportunity, yet not foist Twitter upon them. At the same time, we cannot move fast enough. There are so many conversations, so many ideas that they need to jump into, so many networks that they can learn from.

Indeed, my colleagues in teacher education could take a play from the Twitter/PLN playbook, as I do not often see teacher educators participating in regular conversations. There are exceptions, of course, but when I was in a recent college of ed meeting about reforming our teacher ed program, no one presenting mentioned how we could tap into these existing networks as a way to recruit mentor teachers, build school partnerships, and learn about current trends in the field. Many of my colleagues need to rethink how they, too, participate in networks as a broader component of their own (and their pre-service teachers’) professional learning.

At this point, I am still pushing forward with Twitter outside of my methods class, though I think I might use it in class next week to hold a backchannel conversation, too. I’ve resisted the urge to place any kind of grade on Twitter participation, though I have told students that they will be evaluated on their participation in class, both at the mid-term and at the end of class. So, I will keep working to get them involved, and to get other teacher educators involved, too.


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Contributing to the Conversation: Pre-Service Teachers Get Started on Twitter

“A Conversation” by Flickr user Khalid Albaih.

Over the past week, my ENG 315 students have been joining Twitter and using the #eng315cmu hashtag to start discussing ideas related to teaching writing and creating their own PLNs. I provided them with a few resources to get moving along.

First, to create your own professional learning network and reading list, begin by reading How To Build Your Professional Learning Network Online and Offline and How Do I Get a PLN?

Then, sign up for Twitter. Install a Twitter app on your phone or in your web browser and read What The Tweet? Your Illustrated Guide To New Twitter Jargon. Also, take a look at Edutopia’s  Five-Minute Film Festival: Twitter in Education.

For this week, I am trying to help them “contribute to the conversation.” That is, I want them to begin thinking about how their tweets — while sometimes personal, eccentric, or irrelevant — can generally be about their professional lives, including their questions and discoveries about teaching writing. For instance, I encouraged them to create “substantive tweets” (paradoxical in some sense, I know), that might do the following related to our own class discussions:

  • Summarize a key idea from an article or blog post
  • Respond to a colleague from class in a supportive manner, yet also pushing the conversation forward
  • Provide a link to a resource related to the original idea

Or, alternatively, if entering a broader conversation, they might:

  • Ask a specific question to another teacher on Twitter about his/her teaching practice
  • Ask a teacher that they follow already what some good chats are to join as well as other teachers to follow
  • Share their own observations about working with student writers (not using the child’s name, however!)

Soon, I plan to adapt some ideas about setting professional goals from Jon Hasenbank, a math professor at Grand Valley State University. He asked his students to identify some professional goals and then choose a Twitter chat that would help them reach those goals and, of course, reflect on the experience (such as this one from Holli McAlpine).

So, I am happy with the progress we are making so far. If you are interested in following our group and contributing an idea, I know that that my pre-service teachers would appreciate it. You can find a list of them here, and we are using the #eng315cmu hashtag.


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Inviting Pre-service Teachers into the Social Media Conversation

Image from TechFaster
Image from TechFaster

This fall — in fact, tomorrow — marks my return to the classroom after a year-long sabbatical filled with many research projects, lots of writing, and quite a bit of travel. Like most teachers, I both crave and fear the “regularity” of the school; the days become somewhat more regimented, but the overall craziness of our lives seems to intensify.

There are many additional projects to discuss in the year ahead, yet pressing on my mind at this moment is how to invite my pre-service teachers into the broader conversation(s) that happen amongst educators via blogs, Twitter, and other online communities.

Over the past seven years of working with pre-service teachers, I have dabbled with a variety of digital reading and writing tools, consistently returning to the use of wikis and Google Docs as mainstays in my ENG 315 course. Early on, I integrated blogs and RSS, later trying other elements like podcasting, digital storytelling, and social media/classroom management hybrids.

Yet, I haven’t had them fully jump in to the world of Twitter or edchats. Perhaps this is because, first, when I taught my last course in the spring of 2013, the real explosion in edchats had yet to really hit. Perhaps it was because I felt we were crunched for time in an already-crowded curriculum. Perhaps I was having trouble making a clear connection between digital writing and social media.

Well, edchats are here, the curriculum will always be crowded, and I wrote a chapter in a book about the composition processes of social media. So, I suppose that this semester is as good as any to invite my students to jump in.

So, the question now becomes: how and where to begin? This then begs further questions:

  • How do I scaffold and layer their experiences with social media over the course of the semester?
  • What authentic and useful tasks can I ask of them as a part of normal course work (for instance, to discuss readings or find relevant new articles)?
  • How can I encourage more authentic participation in edchat communities that moves beyond what the are “supposed” to do for class?

I know that I can take some of my own social media advice in terms of what I have previously suggested to other teachers, but I think that pre-service teachers are a slightly different audience.

As I mull this over in the next few hours — I teach tomorrow afternoon and I am wondering where to begin — I would be curious to know what my colleagues, especially teachers of high school students and undergrads, have done to thoughtfully, critically, and creatively introduced social media into your classrooms?

Any advice before I stand up to start teaching tomorrow?


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