Engaged conversations: text-based vs. verbal (Module 5, ISTE-CS 4)

For our last post on ISTE Coaching Standard 4: Professional development and program evaluation, we’re thinking about what technology rich professional learning looks like, in the ideal. In my own typical fashion, I am generalizing the population to “learners” before thinking about the specifics of professional development (PD) for teachers.

Ideally, an online learning community looks like a group of people engaged in meaningful, virtual conversation/sharing/collaboration which supports their learning.

But how do you have meaningful conversations in virtual environments? What does it require? What’s different than in-person communication? Why does it feel more difficult?

How can we use what we know from our experiences in other online communities to inform our interactions in the online learning communities that we wish to create? 

How can we use that information to support teachers in creating virtual communities of practice that support them in their professional learning?

Talking with the experienced

I’ve had a hard time finding information about what online community members themselves can do to develop their shared community and learn from each other. There is a lot of information on what facilitators and community leaders can do to encourage community participation, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the community members to engage. So what should community members know about engaging in rich discussions through text to help them have successful text-based discussions? (When I refer to “text” I don’t necessarily mean “texting,” I just mean any form of text-based communication – e.g., texting, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Reddit, etc.)

My primary tactic for answering my questions this module was to talk to a handful of people I know, who are both thoughtful and have spent a considerable amount of time participating in online communities or otherwise engaging in text-based communication.

Through these conversations, I realized that I was conflating two things: actions that community members can take that support participation in the community and its discussions, and actions that people can take that support engaged conversations. This may or may not be a subtle distinction. The difference is like participation in discussion threads, which may not have much of a back and forth conversational element, versus participation in an engaged conversation where there is a back and forth between participants. For example, if someone posts a question and everyone simply gives their own answer, versus if someone posts a question and a debate begins. One of my friends proposed this definition for an engaged conversation: “engagement is usually when both parties are kinda, aware of and committed to the outcome/effect of the conversation on the other person.” I haven’t fully explored if I think this is a complete definition for my use, but I think it’s worth considering, and for now it’s the most concise and accurate definition I have to work with, so I will use it.

What I was really after was how to support engaged conversation, but there was a noteworthy similarity in what everyone said about how to support participation. The two main things that community members can do to support participation in the community and its discussions are:

  • Post content
  • Respond to posts (even when you disagree)

On the one hand, “yeah, duh,” but on the other hand, even though it’s obvious, there seems to be no escaping that this is the bottom line for an online community. And the smaller the community, the more important it is for community members to commit to doing these things.

Engaged conversations

However, having an engaged text-based conversation is not dependent on participating in a community, since it really only requires two people. So whether your participating in a community, or just one-on-one discussion, what’s different about communicating through text compared to verbal conversation? For text-based conversations:

  • It can require more energy – Typing your thoughts takes time and effort, and communicating through text is slower, overall. The thought of putting all you’re thinking into coherent sentences can feel like walking through pudding.
  • The ability to put ideas into sentences becomes very important – Sometimes we don’t have the words, but in person we still manage to communicate our thoughts or questions through half-sentences and body language. There’s a certain concreteness that becomes very important in a text-based conversation.
  • Multiple people can share ideas simultaneously – Conversations don’t need to be as turned based. You can complete your thought while the other person is typing. In this way, you don’t have to be interrupted and everyone can keep contributing to the conversation. While this can work really well in one-on-one conversations, it seems plausible that this could also work against large-group conversations; if there’s too much to respond to, groups may break out into multiple, smaller-group conversations.
  • You can keep track of multiple conversations simultaneously – For example, in a one-on-one, real-time conversation, while I respond to conversation 1, the other person can respond to conversation 2.
  • Tangents can be easier to come back from – If you are talking about some topic, and you go off on a tangent (or a few), in a verbal conversation it can be hard to remember what point you were initially discussing. But when talking through text, you can make your tangential point and then refer back to what you were discussing earlier to get back on track.
  • They can be very focused – Being able to look back at what you’ve been talking about (like in the above bullet) can promote focused conversation on whatever central thing you’re discussing.
  • Miscommunication or misunderstanding may be more challenging to overcome
Handling miscommunication

The challenge of miscommunication was my husband’s central focus during our discussion (which was verbal). To him, the main thing that seems hard about text-based conversation is preventing and fixing miscommunication. Indeed, when I am writing for people that I don’t know well (like posting to a discussion board for a class), what stresses me out the most is worrying that I will be misinterpreted…and offend someone. And I can easily think of examples where a conversation essentially ended due to unfixed miscommunication. But miscommunication isn’t a difficulty unique to text-based conversations, so what is it about text that makes it feel so much harder?

Signaling misunderstanding is a slower process than the immediate “wait, what?” of verbal conversation. It can take more time and energy to fix miscommunication, and it might be one of those things that feels like walking through pudding. Because the whole process is so much slower, it might amplify how much it feels like clarifying derails the flow of the conversation.

And we all know that lack of tone and body language can lead to miscommunication. But there are two specific ways I can think of that the missing tone and body language can cause a miscommunication to effectively end the conversation:

  • Emotions are muted in text, and emotions are a huge indicator that miscommunication is happening. Therefore, we can’t necessarily see that miscommunication is happening in real-time. And if tension is on the rise, being able to respond to the miscommunication is time-sensitive. If you’re upsetting someone, and you can’t see it, the conversation may be over before you even know what happened. (This happened to me recently. I was pressing for clarification and didn’t realize I was upsetting him.)
  • When miscommunication is realized, and emotions are affected, we don’t have access to tone and body language to smooth things over, which we rely on heavily in verbal conversations. This just increases the difficulty of managing certain types of miscommunication.
Implications

So what does this mean for those of us who are trying to engage in an online community or otherwise trying to have a meaningful conversation through text (whether it be for an online class or professional development, or for a hobby)?

  • Commit to putting your thoughts in writing – There are a handful of people I communicate with regularly, and primarily, through text. There are times when I have to make a conscious decision to sit down and take a minute to write out what I’m thinking. I can feel that I’ve stepped into the pudding, and I can either choose to step out, or walk through it. If you want to have that meaningful conversation, accept that you’re going to walk through it.
  • Work to clarify miscommunication or misunderstanding – Ask for clarification. Put in the time to clarify. Be patient. While it can derail the flow of the conversation to go back and hone in on something you didn’t understand, luckily, tangents are easy to recover from. And it’s worth it. Trusting that someone will work with me to resolve a misunderstanding makes the effort of communicating worth it – because if we’re not going to work to understand each other, why are we even communicating?
The ultimate question

The ultimate question we need to ask each other, and ourselves, when trying to encourage meaningful communication online is:

What will make you choose to participate in engaged conversation in an online community? What do you need in order to commit to writing your thoughts and responding to others? What do you need in order to commit to working through miscommunication?

If we want to intentionally build online learning communities, I think it’s important that we figure out what our own answers to these questions are. If we are going to use virtual communities of practice to support teachers’ professional learning, we need to know what the teachers need in order to participate; and the teachers need to know what their own needs are, too.


Resources

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

The role of a sponsor in a virtual community of practice (Module 4, ISTE-CS 4)

I’d like to preface my post by saying there’s a lot of research to be found about CoPs in business. Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder’s (2002) reformulation of the communities of practice theory (compared to Wenger’s original work in 1998) is written in a way that appeals to the business world, so it didn’t surprise me that the research I found this week comes from business. I know it can be controversial to link education with business, but I think the research done on CoPs in business can certainly inform us as we try to implement them in education, even if we have to adjust or completely rethink some of that information.


This week we are turning our focus to the role of administration in supporting teachers in technology-related professional learning programs as we continue to investigate ISTE Coaching Standard 4: Professional development and program evaluation. This focus led me to my investigation question:

What does research say about the role of leadership in a community of practice (CoP) or virtual community of practice (VCoP)?

Leadership roles in CoPs

In my search, I quickly found research which uses the set of community roles identified through a study conducted by the Institute for Knowledge Management (Fontaine and Prusak, 2004):

• Subject matter experts
• Core team members
• Community members
• Community leaders
• Sponsors
• Facilitators
• Content coordinators
• Journalists
• Mentors
• Admin/Events coordinators
• Technologists (p. 125)

Bourhis, Dubé, and Jacob (2005) proposed adding this role to the above list:

• Coach (p. 26)

Among these roles, the role of sponsor piqued my interest. Fontaine and Prusak’s (2004) definition reads:

Sponsors, who’re generally not part of the community, are senior managers who recognize the strategic importance of the community and its contribution to the overall business objectives of the organization. Sponsors help secure needed resources, nurture and protect the community, and ensure its exposure in the organization. (p. 126)

Fontaine and Prusak (2004) list the primary responsibilities of the sponsor as follows:

• Tie the community and its benefits to the organization’s strategic objectives
• Measure and evaluate the community’s contributions to business objectives
• Allocate budget and resources for the community
• Advocate acceptance and recognition for the community
• Work with Community Leader to support additional community roles (pp. 127-128)

This role is intriguing to me because it puts the job of securing support from the larger body of “management” on an intermediate person in management, not on someone from the community. The sponsor is already, or has become, sold on the value of the CoP – they no longer need to be convinced – and they act as a fighting voice for the CoP within management; the job of the sponsor was found to require 5.7% of the sponsor’s time per week (p. 126), which amounts to slightly less than 2.5 hours in a 40 hour work week. What this means to me is that the community leader would focus on maintaining the support of a single person (the sponsor), rather than trying to win over the support of a large body of people (management in general). This seems like a more manageable task for the community leader, or for someone who sees the potential to develop a CoP in their workplace but is struggling to get the upper-level support needed.

How sponsors make a difference in VCoPs

I’m operating on the assumption that VCoPs can be used to support and extend the learning done in teacher professional development (PD). Whether the initial PD happens in person or virtually, giving the participants a virtual space to continue discussion seems like it could have a lot of potential to support their learning. I have a lot of questions about how to implement and encourage this sort of continued engagement, and when and how to develop that continued engagement into a VCoP. For this week, I found a study that narrows in on how management can support VCoPs.

Bourhis, Dubé, and Jacob (2005) report on the successful management practices of eight VCoPs. In their study, they use the community roles listed above from Fontaine and Prusak’s (2004) study, and the additional role of a coach who supports the community leader. In general, they found that “the leadership team, especially the organization management team and the sponsor, needs to take actions so as to ensure that the [community] leader, supported by his/her coach, can effectively play its role in the community” (p. 31).

In regard to the role of the sponsor in intentionally-form VCoPs, they report that even just the identity of the sponsor can have an impact on: (1)  the community members’ perceptions of how successful VCoP would be, and (2) the community members’ initial and continued involvement in the VCoP. I wish there was more information about what traits the sponsor should be identified as having in order for the identity of the sponsor to positively impact the community members’ participation and optimism that the VCoP will succeed.

As far as active support for a VCoP, the study found that the management team and sponsor can play a crucial role in: (1) selecting a strong community leader (if using a top-down approach when building a VCoP), (2) selecting the right coach to support the community leader, (3) providing resources needed for the VCoP, and (4) “helping solve major issues as they occur” (p. 33).

Conclusion

Together, these studies suggest that management can support a VCoP by helping the community leader fulfill his or her role, and the connection between management and the community leader is primarily supported by the sponsor. Despite Bourhis et al.’s (2005) study being done on virtual CoP’s, their findings on what management can do to support the VCoPs didn’t include a whole lot of information that relates to technology. What was mentioned was related to management providing funding for appropriate VCoP technology (p. 29) and replacing a community leader “because he could not adjust to the new software used by the VCoP” (p. 30).

As far as supporting community members in using the VCoP technology, Bourhis et al. (2005) describe this responsibility as being directed to community leaders in the VCoPs studied. Considering Fontaine and Prusak’s (2004) set of community roles, this suggests that in these VCoPs, the community leader also played the role of the technologist.


References

Bourhis, A., Dubé, L., & Jacob, R. (2005). The success of virtual communities of practice: The leadership factor. The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management3(1), 23-34.

Fontaine, M., & Prusak, L. (2004). Keeping communities of practice afloat: Understanding and fostering roles in communities. In Lesser, E., & Prusak, L. (Eds.), Creating value with knowledge: Insights from the IBM Institute for Business Value (pp. 124-133). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. http://doi.org/10.1093/0195165128.001.0001

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge university press.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Harvard Business Press.

Designing platforms for PD: Web 2.0 and knowledge management (Module 3, ISTE-CS 4b)

For Module 3, we were prompted to look into the “digital age best practices” part of ISTE Coaching Standard 4b – design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.

I’d like to write a bonus blog for sharing something I want to say about the process I went through during this module, but for now I’ll get straight to the point. What I found during this module were a few terms that help me ask my question using words that help me find information I’m looking for. The new terms are Web 2.0 and knowledge management (KM), and my reformulated question is:

What best practices are associated with using Web 2.0 technologies and knowledge management systems for the purpose of continuing engagement in professional development through virtual communities?
Definitions

Be aware that the term “knowledge management” seems to be a business term and so I expect that the business aspect of this term may not always map directly to education. Nevertheless, the term seems very helpful to me because of the vein of information I can find by using it since there is a lot of overlap between business and education – especially when it comes to collaboration.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, in general, if you want definitions for ideas which are consistently used everywhere, you’ll probably be out of luck. And since I currently want some flexibility in the definitions, I’m going to use Wikipedia to define the terms:

Web 2.0: “A Web 2.0 website may allow users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to the first generation of Web 1.0-era websites where people were limited to the passive viewing of content. Examples of Web 2.0 features include social networking sites and social media sites (e.g., Facebook), blogs, wikis, folksonomies (“tagging” keywords on websites and links), [and] video sharing sites (e.g., YouTube)…” (Web 2.0, n.d.).

Knowledge management: “Knowledge management is the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organisation” (Knowledge management, n.d.).

Designing platforms for PD

During Module 1 this quarter (blog here), I read that learning management systems (LMSs) aren’t designed for professional development (PD), and we need platforms which are (Spirrison, 2016). I don’t know how true that statement is, or why Spirrison claims that, but I’ve been puzzling over it ever since and I’ve been wondering:

What makes a platform ideal for PD versus some other purpose (like running a class, for example)?

With that question in mind, a quote from a dissertation I’ve been referencing, titled Constructing Guidelines for Building Communities of Practice for Supporting Faculty Professional Development in Electronic Environments (Bond, 2013), stood out to me: “Early results indicate that both Facebook and Twitter may provide the social structures for building community, but lack infrastructure for knowledge creation and sharing” (p. 20). This sentence suggests to me that there are two big things that a platform designed for supporting PD needs to do: support social structures and support knowledge creation and sharing.

I can rewrite this claim using the new terms -> There are two big things that a platform designed for supporting PD needs to have: well-developed Web 2.0 technologies and KM technologies. I think integration of these two things is what platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack are trying to do. Frost (2013) says that the mapping of Web 2.0 principles to KM is referred to as “KM 2.0” – another good term which would probably be valuable for me to investigate.

My experience as insight

My own experience as a graduate student suggests that what is lacking from your typical LMS is the social-structures support. I don’t think LMSs are devoid of social-structures support, but I don’t think they strongly support the social side of the equation. I’d have to think more about why, but that’s what I’m inclined to say at the moment. It could be more about the way we tend to use the tool than it is about the features and capabilities of the tool itself, and that could lead us to thoughts about best practices for using LMSs as a Web 2.0 tool, not just a KM tool.

So what I’m left with for this module are not thoughts about best digital age practices, but thoughts that put me in a better position to ask about, and search for, best digital age practices for extending PDs beyond face-to-face time.

 


References

Bond, M. A. (2013). Constructing Guidelines for Building Communities of Practice for Supporting Faculty Professional Development in Electronic Environments (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

Frost, A. (2013). Groupware Systems & KM 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.knowledge-management-tools.net/groupware.html

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Knowledge management. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved Feb. 18, 2018,  from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_management

Spirrison, B. (2016). Five reasons continuous learning platforms are the future of PD [blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/12/continuous-learning-platforms-professional-development/

Web 2.0. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved Feb. 18, 2018,  from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0

Essential features of community platforms (Module 2, ISTE-CS 4b)

My main question by the end of my last module post was something like:

What features are essential for platforms which are hosting a PLC?

This module follows up on that question.

Recall that this quarter is all about investigating ISTE Coaching Standard (CS) 4: Professional development and program evaluation. For Module 2, I’m looking specifically at ISTE CS 4b – design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.

Communities of practice

Communities of practice, as defined by Wenger (1998), is not a theory of learning that is specific to adults. As I understand it, it’s a theory of learning that can be applied to all ages. (Though more recent reformulations of communities of practice – i.e. Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder, 2002 – focus on their applicability to the workplace, which can be assumed to be adult-focused. See Cox (2005) for more on the different formulations of communities of practice.)

In short, Wenger’s (1998) conceptualization of a community of practice is a group of people who develop and use a shared repertoire of tools to mutually engage in the pursuit of a joint enterprise. “Learning” is a form of identity development and done through learning to participate in the community – through developing a shared meaning of what the community is and what it means to participate. What it means to participate is inherently flexible and under constant re-negotiation; thus, participants are continuously learning by virtue of participation in the community.

According to Schlager and Fusco (2003):

Researchers and reform advocates consistently cite participation in communities of practice as an integral factor in achieving effective, sustainable professional development systems. … The recognition that communities of practice can play important direct and catalytic roles in teacher learning has spurred great interest in how to harness the power of communities of practice in the context of systemic school reform and professional development projects. ( p. 206)

For clarity, I should note that one critique of communities of practice – and therefore, implicitly, the related body of literature – is that Wenger (1998) and Wenger et al. (2002) conceptualize communities of practice in sufficiently different ways. Based on these differences, Cox (2005) suggests that people using communities of practice pick one formulation of the theory and stick with it; I suspect that much of the communities of practice literature uses the two conceptualizations without distinction. On a different note, Schlager and Fusco (2003), draw a distinction between communities of purpose and communities of practice, claiming that professional development communities are often better defined as communities of purpose; they also elevate the question “what counts as a community of practice?”

All this to say, unless indicated otherwise, I now approach the mention of communities of practice with the assumption that those speaking of it aren’t making a distinction between the two conceptualizations of it; and I wonder if there is a justifiable argument to be made for carefully combining the two conceptualizations in a way that better fits the communities that can form in professional development. Or to put it a different way, is there a way to justifiably redraw the boundaries of “what counts” as a community of practice, which draws on both conceptualizations, so that we can better “harness the power” of communities of practice in PD contexts?

Platform features that support online communities

The above critiques and questions aside (for now), and working from the assumption that communities of practice can support teacher learning in PD, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Wenger et al. (2002) actually made a list of seven “online facilities that are among the most useful to communities”:

(1) A home page to assert their existence and describe their domain [compare to joint enterprise] and activities.
(2) A conversation space for online discussions.
(3) A repository for documents, including research reports, best practices, and standards.
(4) A good search engine to find things in the knowledge base.
(5) A directory of membership with some information about members’ areas of expertise in the domain.
(6) In some cases, a shared workspace for synchronous electronic collaboration, or to enhance teleconferences with visuals.
(7) Community management tools… These might include the ability to know who is participating actively, which documents are downloaded, how much traffic there is, which documents need updating, and so forth. (p. 197)

I also found two other lists: one from Feverbee (2012), and one from Serrat (2017). It is unclear to me how these two resources generated their lists, and Serrat’s (2017) references appear to be incorrect/incomplete. However, I found no other resources to compare to Wenger et al. (2002).

Out of curiosity, I color coded the lists for like elements (I took liberties with what I counted as the “home page” element).

Colors are used to highlight like-features across lists. The list from Bond says: "Wenger et al. (2002) identified the seven online technology infrastructure considerations that are critical for knowledge sharing (1) a home page, (2) a conversation space for online discussions, (3) a repository for documents, research reports, best practices, and standards, (4) a search engine to find things in the knowledge base, (5) a directory of membership, (6) a shared workspace for collaboration, and (7) community management tools including page counters, participation tracking, etc." (Bond, 2013, p. 63). The list from Serrat says: "Contents • Home page: relevant information and news, latest news on the progress of related activities and projects, ongoing activities and online discussions • About the community: background information, expected outcomes and impact • News and announcements: news archives, email newsletter archives • Library (repository of relevant documents and tools) • Discussions (online discussions on particular topics of interest) • Members: list of members with background information and email addresses • Photo gallery • Links to other websites • Help (information on how to use the site and how to get assistance) • Contact us Tools • Search facility • Email this page/notify members of this page • Download and print this page • Optional: online chat facility, an events calendar" (Serrat, 2017, pp. 586-587) From <https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-10-0983-9_61#Fn3>. The list from Feverbee says: • "Discussion area. Members need a place in which they can interact. This will usually be a forum-based.  • Notifications. Members need to be notified when people have responded to their posts. This keeps members coming back. It sustains activity.  • Analytics. You need to be able to properly track what's going on. You need to know what's going on beneath the surface.  • Member profiles. Members need to create and use a consistent identity within the community. These profiles don't have to be overlook" (Feverbee, 2012) From <https://www.feverbee.com/essential-elements-of-community-platforms/>.
The image shows three separate lists of essential platform features for community platforms, from Bond, 2013; Feverbee, 2012; and Serrat, 2017.

The observations which I think are worth pointing out are:

  • there are only two features that show up on all three lists: a discussion space and a list of members.
  • if a feature showed up on only two lists, it did show up on Wenger et al.’s (2002) list.
  • “notifications” only showed up on Feverbee’s (2012) list.
My top three most important features
  • Notifications
  • Member tagging
  • Two levels of threaded conversation

Notifications is one of my top two essential features of communication platforms; the other being member tagging, which is related to notifications, and not on any of the lists. I agree with Feverbee (2012) that “members need to be notified when people have responded to their posts. This keeps members coming back. It sustains activity.” And tagging supports conversation by directing someone’s attention to a specific place.

I can’t say this feature is essential… but I think it’s extremely valuable: at least one extra level to threaded conversations. I think we can assume that most platforms have a commenting feature, which is the first level of threaded conversations – someone can make a post and that thread contains the post with its comments. So the extra level I’m referring to is being able to reply to a comment, giving you a second level of threaded conversations in that post. I think having at least two levels of threaded conversation is helpful because it supports linked (but possibly diverging) conversations by keeping conversations/responses more organized.

I couldn’t find a more recent academic list, but I do suspect that notifications and member tagging would make the cut on a list of essential elements of community platforms, and I suspect that I’m not the only one who sees multiple levels of threaded conversation as beneficial. I wish I could find a more recent academic resource on the topic, and without a formal study, I wonder what I would learn if I compared common features of the most popular social networking sites.

It would still be worth considering what activities people in PLCs engage in that make the PLCs successful, and then generating my own list of platform features from there (like I mentioned in my Module 1 blog post). Towards that end, Pappas’ (2016) blog post 8 Tips To Build An Online Learning Community would be a good resource to refer back to.

 


References

Bond, M. A. (2013). Constructing Guidelines for Building Communities of Practice for Supporting Faculty Professional Development in Electronic Environments (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

Cox, A. (2005). What are communities of practice? A comparative review of four seminal works. Journal of information science31(6), 527-540.

Feverbee. (2012). Essential elements of community platforms [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.feverbee.com/essential-elements-of-community-platforms/

Pappas, C. (2016). 8 tips to build an online learning community [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/tips-build-online-learning-community

Schlager, M. S., & Fusco, J. (2003). Teacher professional development, technology, and communities of practice: Are we putting the cart before the horse? The Information Society19(3), 203-220.

Serrat O. (2017) Building Communities of Practice. In: Knowledge Solutions. Springer, Singapore. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-10-0983-9_61#Fn3

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge university press.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Harvard Business Press.

What does it mean for “technology to work for you”? (Bonus blog)

Something I feel like I’ve learned through my work in this program (Digital Education Leadership M.Ed. at Seattle Pacific University), which has drastically changed the way I approach and/or think about technology, is what it means for “technology to work for me.” It’s definitely a phrase I’ve heard, though I don’t know that I could identify where. It sounds like it could be a slogan or a motto or something: “Making technology work for you!”

In the past, it was a rather meaningless phrase for me, but now I feel like I have examples that shows what it means – though first, I’ll state what I think it means. And I want to highlight that my description might be no different than what it would have been in the past, before I felt like I understood; my understanding is not in my description, but in my ability to identify examples of it and in the way I now attempt to make technology work for me. My description:

Making technology work for you: seeing a task you need or want to do, and using technology to somehow improve or make possible the doing of the task.

My description is based on the accumulation of my work and interactions in my program; it’s hard to really cite anything specific at this point.

Example 1: Text-to-speech (tts)

I think I first understood this idea when I was working on my text-to-speech (tts) blog (here). To recap what that was all about: I needed to read a history book for a class, and I really needed to find a way to have it read to me because it was taking me a very long time to complete and retain the reading, unaided. I had never used that assistive technology before. I still had to read along while it was read out loud to me. At the moment, I don’t know how to explain the difference that it makes or why I feel like I need it, but my favorite tts reader that I found (a browser extension, compatible with Chrome and Safari, TTSReaderX In-Page Text to Speech) has changed the way I do the activity of reading. Sometimes I really need it and it makes me capable of getting through a reading. Sometimes I can read just fine without it. But the technology is working for me in the way that the tts reader improves my ability to read.

Another way I use the reader is to have it read my own writing back to me, to watch and listen for errors. I read that as a tip somewhere, and by golly, it works! I never post a blog without listening to it on ttsreader.com. No browser extension is needed to copy and paste into the website – again it’s built to work in Chrome and Safari. I say a silent thank you every time TTSReader works for me in this way because it is doing something I can’t do: voicing my writing, in not my voice, exactly as written. Technology is working for me in the way that it improves my ability to proofread my own writing.

Side note: TTSReader has a statement about not ever collecting any of the data you pass to their readers.

Example 2: Arranging pictures with associated text

My second example comes from a recent request. My mom asked me if I knew a good way to organize pictures with text. Specifically, she wants to have a picture of a piece of pottery that she made, with a description of the glazes she used, so that she can keep track of how she glazed a pottery piece and what the glaze looked like when done. Additionally, she wants to be able to print off these pictures+descriptions in a list-like way so that she can mark off what she’s sold when she does a pottery sale. What technology would be good for helping her do this?

Based on a few more needs and parameters, I suggested that she primarily use PowerPoint, and also use Facebook and Windows’ Snipping Tool (built-in program in Windows 7 and after).

PowerPoint allows you to group a picture and a text box so that you can easily move them around together. You can put multiple pictures+text boxes on one slide, and then print multiple slides on one piece of paper, making it easy to print a “list” of pictures+text.

My mom would use Facebook as a way to quickly save a picture and text on the fly. When she’s in the studio, she can make a private post to her FB page (so that her work is only visible to her), with a picture of her piece, and she can either write her glaze recipe right then, or later. Then she can easily copy the picture and text to PowerPoint once she’s on her computer. (And she can move that picture into a private FB album to keep her pictures organized on FB.)

She can use the Snipping Tool to snip the picture+text from PowerPoint, to make a picture which includes the text box in the picture itself. I’m not sure the exact reason she wants to be able to do this, but the Snipping Tool is a great way to do that on Windows computers.

In this example, my mom has a few things she wants to be able to do, and we tried to pick a few programs that could work together to suit her needs. We’re making technology work for her by trying to optimize her ability to save, organize, and print her work through the use of technology.

Closing remarks

Again, the difference in my understanding is hard to articulate. It’s not like I wouldn’t use a tts reader or be able to help my mom find tools that help her accomplish her task without this “new found understanding.” But I am much more active in the way I try to make technology work for me. I think harder about how different steps in my task could be optimized or made easier, and I think harder about my needs. I feel like I can imagine more. I feel encouraged to dream up what I could do, instead of recall what I can do. And isn’t that what cutting edge technology is all about?: dreaming up what we could do if only there was a piece of technology that did x, y, and z.

What counts as PD? And on platforms to use with PLCs. (6106 Module 1, ISTE-CS 4a and 4b)

This quarter, our blogging efforts are focused on ISTE Coaching Standard (CS) 4: Professional development and program evaluation. Our investigation prompt for Module 1 was “how should we design professional development that utilizes educational technology?” which led me to two main questions:

1.   What counts as PD?
2.   What platforms are the best for hosting a PLC?

1.   What counts as PD?

In education, we talk about PD a lot. My own understanding of PD comes primarily from reading and talking about it with classmates (who are often people working in K-12), and from doing research with a grant-funded project, Focus on Energy, which has a large PD component.

I was talking with my program director, Dr. David Wicks, about the idea that people in my program could offer PD, and trying to imagine myself offering a PD made me ask “…what actually counts as PD?” So before thinking about how to design PD that utilizes technology, I needed to know more about what we all mean by “professional development.”

The answer is simple, in that it’s not simple…or something. My research indicates that PD is a very broad term (Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner, 2017; The Glossary of Education Reform, 2013; Schwartz, and Bryan, 1998), and can take just about any form. In a paper titled What is Staff Development, Schwarts and Bryan (1998) write,

Staff development means something different to each person. In its most basic form it can be as simple as a plan to provide opportunities for staff to grow professionally or personally. (p. 5)

In a report on effective professional development, Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner (2017) write,

…we define effective professional development as structured professional learning that results in changes to teacher knowledge and practices, and improvements in student learning outcomes. We conceptualize professional learning as a product of both externally provided and job-embedded activities that increase teachers’ knowledge and help them change their instructional practice in ways that support student learning. Thus, formal PD represents a subset of the range of experiences that may result in professional learning. (p. 2)

See The Glossary of Education Reform for “a representative selection of common professional-development topics and objectives for educators.”

I also found a document from the Stafford Township School District in New Jersey which outlines what they count as x-hours of PD (here). This leads me to conclude that what counts as hours earned of PD, in a technical sense, depends on the decisions made by the employer. My follow-up question to this would be:

Say you want to develop an organization which offers PD to educators. What needs to be, or needs to happen, for the workshops (etc.) offered by your organization to count as PD in a given district or school?

2.   What platforms are the best for hosting a PLC?

Feeling like I had a better sense of what counts as PD, as broad in scope as it is, I felt ready to think a little more about the link between technology and PD. I did a simple search for “professional development online” and started poking around. I found one particular blog post by Spirrison (2016) that inspired a lot of questions for me (here). Spirrison, claims that:

  • continuous learning platforms are the future of PD
  • learning management systems (LMSs) aren’t designed for professional development
  • knowledge is best transferred through professional learning communities (PLCs)

Spirrison doesn’t define what continuous learning platforms are, and I would like to know. It seems like Twitter might count, based on what he says throughout the article. I would also like to better understand his claim that LMSs aren’t designed for PD – he seems to be claiming that as a platform, they are not good enough, but I don’t fully understand why. I’d like to know what features LMSs do and don’t have that support or hinder PD and PLCs. In a similar vein, what features do continuous learning platforms have that are especially well suited to support PD and PLCs?

All this seems to be circling around the idea that we need technology that supports engagement in PLCs. But in order to investigate that I have to go backwards:

How do you create a thriving PLC? What are the features of a thriving PLC? What sustains a thriving PLC? What do we know about PLCs that can help us determine how technology can support a PLC – to determine what features are necessary in a platform that hosts an online PLC?

Then we can ask:

What platform features most support PLCs? What are the necessary features? What are the helpful features? What platforms exist which fit these needs? Do standard educational platforms not fit these needs? Why? Is there a platform that is best suited to support an online PLC? If not, what are the workarounds? 

I don’t currently have answers to these questions – they are big questions. But they help me understand the steps towards picking a platform:

  1. Research what activities people in PLCs engage in that make the PLCs successful. This closely aligns to ISTE CS 4a: Conduct needs assessments to inform the content and delivery of technology-related professional learning programs that result in a positive impact on student learning. While it is important to read what literature has to say about what people do in PLCs that sustains the PLC, it is also necessary to conduct a needs assessment to understand the exact needs of a specific PLC group – what activities will they be engaging in?
  2. Analyze and pick platforms based on their ability to facilitate these activities. This closely aligns with ISTE CS 4b: Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment. In order to design, develop, and implement, you must assess pieces of technology against the needs of the PLC.

Look how easy it would be to figure out. Just two tasks! (Kidding. This is surely oversimplified.) I may return to these questions in future blog posts throughout the quarter.

 


References

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-prof-dev

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Schwartz, R. A., & Bryan, W. A. (1998). What Is Professional Development? New Directions For Student Services1998(84), 3-13.

Spirrison, B. (2016). Five reasons continuous learning platforms are the future of PD [blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/12/continuous-learning-platforms-professional-development/

Stafford Township School District. (n/d). What counts for professional development. Retrieved from https://www.staffordschools.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=3004&dataid=2427&FileName=What%20counts%20for%20PD.pdf

The Glossary of Education Reform. (2013). Professional development. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/professional-development/