The Connected Teachers’ Toolkit

I am researching the idea of a discrete set of tools in a Connected Teachers’ Toolkit. What might be essentials in that toolkit to allow teachers to leverage opportunities of social strategies, stay abreast of multiple communities and thought leaders and manage their own professional development (formal and informal)?  After being in the design, development and facilitation team for the Connected Futures Workshop, where we immersed participants in the use of a core set of web 2.0 tools, I got to thinking that teachers could be well served by someone recommending a core set of tools they might explore and use. After all there is a plethora of new technologies, tools, widgets, mods and extensions out there. Where does a teachers starting to dip her toes into this world of new social strategies start? Well here is what I am thinking…

This is a list of tools that teachers are finding of great value to their personal and professional lives. These are much less about formal learning or searching for resources, although they can be, they are more about connecting to people, to thinking and to ideas for your on professional development. You can keep track of groups that you belong to using these tools or you can use them to build your own informal networks. You can use them in isolation but they are much more powerful when you aggregate and integrate them to make your own powerful platform for connecting. Let me know what you would add or change in the core set.

1. Google Calendar Shows events in your time zone and can pull in other events and group calendars into your own calendar. The calendar can be embedded in any pages so that we can keep events in our communities on our individual horizons.

2. Skype Access to chat and voice support. Teachers have access to just-in-time support with each other, mentors, and their communities. Skype can be used for teacher professional development events where voice discussion is required.

3. Wiki (Wikispaces or Mediawiki OR Google docs). For collaborative writing, for instance building knowledge artefacts on a particular learning difficulty, developing new lessons, community writing of a how to case study guide, or customizing units of work for local context.

4. Facebook Teacher groups for Facebook are growing. You can join a group or build your own community of peers and colleagues by adding them to your friends list. You can even keep in touch with a community group long after an event has ended (for instance e/merge2008 starting next week). For teachers this puts you in the centre of a social network that you can use for everyday activity with colleagues, friends and family.

5. Twitter Push out simple little 140 character messages about teaching issues and updates. Let colleagues know what your up to and what issues you are facing or how yo are choosing to unwind. Teachers can sign up to follow key colleagues and friends who send out reminders, updates, links or elicit advice.

6. Blog Journaling or reflecting on your teaching practices can be carried out on a blog. Teachers can take the RSS feeds from others’ blogs to keep abreast of the thinking, ideas etc. You can have a collaborative blog where teachers can be invited to be guest bloggers from time to time. There are a number of blogs like this (see Ted Castronova terra Nova http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/ )

7. Del.ic.ious tags – Like bookmarking but on a globally shared scale. You can create a specific tag to identify resources, literature, sites and discussions that are relevant to a specific aspect of teaching. Follow the trail of tags to locate like minded educators or to build a support network.

8. Netvibes (or iGoogle) to aggregate all the tools and feeds into one interface. This personal aggregator can bring together all of the above tools and their feeds and updates (and others you have subscribed to) in one interface. This can become the homepage of your Web browser.

Professional development IN virtual worlds

I have been working with my next cohorts of teachers in professional development for engaging in the virtual world Quest Atlantis (QA). I have separate classes running for Asia-Pacific, Americas and Europe. It is a brief 4 week workshop held inworld and over skype (for VOIP). Interestingly as QA is a fully moderated and supervised space the audio components of the world, too difficult to moderate/review, have been disabled. So we need to use Skype to be able to talk while engaging in the world.

I have been trying to ensure that our training uses the facilities of the virtual world and engages teachers in world, both in the asynchronous questing work they do for homework and in the real time gatherings we hold each week. We have to discuss aspects of the virtual world at all levels; procedural, conceptual and critical. Sometimes I worry that our inworld use is more “talking head” than I would prefer but the program is so rich and multi-faceted we need to spend time together seeing, using and imagining use of the tools available. I have had experiences myself in Second Life where my avatar sat lifeless in a theater peering at an immobile presenter avatar listening to a 50 minute audio stream, questioning why wasn’t this a podcast? What did I gain by taking on the overheads that logging in to the virtual word involved? I was left wondering if a lecture was a pedagogy we should ever see in virtual world learning. With this heightened sense I have reflected on my own coaching strategies for QA and have been working to more and more use the virtual world attributes and the social context available to shape the activities we engage in.

I would love to collect examples of when this inworld learning totally zings. What are your experiences of really leveraging the affordances of these worlds as professional learning environments?