Over the last two months I have been privileged to teach the first graduate-level course in ISB’s new 5-course SUNY Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy along with Jeff Utecht. It has been an excellent experience and I am truly flattered to have been asked by the school to lead such an important program in our professional development offerings.
Building Our Network
Amazingly, we have 50 current ISB teachers in the course and 5 newly hired ISB teachers participating virtually! Considering we have a staff of about 200 teachers, this is a very impressive number of faculty to be spending their weekends and evenings learning together about the impact that technology can have in the classroom. It’s a little intimidating to be leading such a large group (thank goodness there are two of us) but it’s so inspiring to see so many of our teachers so committed to their own professional development, willing to try new things, to have challenging conversations and to reflect on their practice. I am truly fortunate to be working at this school with these teachers.
One of the most fantastic things about this course has been our guest speakers. On our first full-day face-to-face session we spent an hour with Clarence Fisher and another hour with Chris Betcher. Both speakers were just the perfect way to introduce the class to this new model of learning. Clarence’s practical examples of how his students learn with technology at the middle school was exactly what teachers had been asking for. Chris’ engaging hands-on presentation about truth and bias far exceeded anything I would have done with our teachers.
Yesterday, for our final full day face-to-face session, we had a presentation from the authors of one of the books we’re using: Reinventing Project Based Learning, Suzie Boss & Jane Krauss, as well as an eye-opening presentation from Julie Lindsay. Suzie and Jane were the absolute perfect example of the power of the network. Who would have thought we’d be talking to the authors of our textbook in class? And Julie’s presentation really helped our teachers understand how important globally collaborative projects are for teaching our students critical life skills.
In retrospect, I’m also really pleased to see that we have an a very nice balance of men and women sharing their expertise with the class. All too often we only see male speakers leading the way, this was a great way to model (at least gender) equality in our learning.
Considering that this is my first time teaching a graduate-level course, I’m not sure I knew exactly what to expect. Sure, I’ve taken quite a few in my day and even completed a similar certificate (of Educational Leadership) through the same university at ISKL while I was living in Malaysia. But being a teacher is definitely a very different experience than being a student. I’m so thankful to have had the experience and I know I have learned so much in the process.
For starters, it may sound basic, but planning this course and each individual lesson was a pretty much exactly like planning for my classes. I’m not sure I really thought about that before we started so I don’t think I really got the hang of it until our second face-to-face lesson (and after getting lots of feedback at the first session). Providing time for teachers to talk to one another, to digest what they’re reading and thinking about, to bounce ideas off each other, and to question and collaborate is so important. Breaking the class into small groups, specifically asking teachers to “turn and talk” like I do in the classroom, and rotating those groups or setting up jigsaws were by far the most popular ways to spend our face-to-face time according to our anonymous feedback surveys. Seems obvious now, but I don’t know that we initially planned to organize the class that way.
Given that the class is so big, we really do need to think about how to break up into smaller groups. It’s hard to discuss anything in a group of 55 and we all know teachers who know each other tend to flock together, unintentionally creating clusters of teachers who already know each other instead of getting to know new people (especially in a school as big as ours). A few teachers provided feedback in our last session yesterday with some good ideas to think about for the next course. I really like John’s idea of having groups of teachers contribute to a group blog (instead of each teacher authoring their own blog) – thus giving teachers less peer-reading to get through every week and also building in small communities of learners among this larger group. Although I feel strongly about the experience of building your own digital footprint and understanding this new medium of communication through practice, a group blog would be an easier entry into the world of blogging.
It’s been so interesting to see how many of our teachers are reluctant bloggers. I totally understand that feeling. I can remember starting this blog and being panicked about other people possibly reading what I write. Fortunately for me, I didn’t actually know anyone at the time that had a blog that other people read. So I never really thought anyone would ever read mine. I knew they could, but it didn’t feel really real to me. I had plenty of time to find my voice here in this writing space without an audience, but our teachers can see the comments on this blog, Jeff’s and Chrissy’s – so they know people are reading. I wonder if this added another layer of pressure to the initial fear of publishing your thoughts to the world?
Another conversation that comes up time and time again with both teachers and parents is the idea of balance. It’s something we all struggle with, but I think those of us that are already immersed in the web 2.0 world can forget how overwhelming everything was at first. We know we need to find balance, we know we need to use technology when it’s relevant, appropriate and authentic for our learning purpose. But sometimes we’re so zealous in our sales pitch of just how great things are, we forget to mention some of the drawbacks. Finding your own individual comfort level with technology is a process. There is no miracle one-size-fits-all answer, but we each need to learn what the right balance is for us. And we need to pass on that ability to our students.
As we say to the parents that attend our Monthly Technology Coffee Mornings, finding balance and learning when and why and how to use technology appropriately is about conversations. Open and honest discussions between teachers and students, teachers and teachers, and parents are their children are the only way to find out exactly what will work for each individual. Sometimes adults are afraid to open the door to these kinds of conversations because they worry that their children will notice how much they don’t know, but that doesn’t matter. It’s life experience that teaches us how to find balance in our lives – not our skill level with technology.
It has been such a pleasure to work with such a diverse group of teachers (and just to teach adults in general). The amazing life experiences we had in the room brought such an exciting dimension to our disucssions, their blog posts, and their completed work. Just listening to these various conversations and seeing the depth of thought and connections being made helped me realize that I would really love to do more of this level of teaching. It’s a different challenge than classroom teaching, with different rewards, and so far, I love it!