The Perfect Online Professional Development Community

I have really been thinking a lot about how to create an online community for all of the teachers in my school district who are as passionate about technology integration, reflection and collaboration as I am. The way that it stands, I feel so isolated in my quest for new and more effective ways of teaching. I know this is not the case, that there are probably hundreds of teachers who feel the same way, but that isn’t really much comfort when I don’t know who they are and I have no way of contacting them. I almost feel like I need to send out a classified ad: Young passionate teacher seeks the same in order to learn and collaborate about technology and pedagogy.

I can’t think of a better way to ask for a community than to create one and hope that other people join up. I have already run this idea by a few, more experienced, Edubloggers, Bud Hunt and Karl Fisch. They have both responded pretty well to the idea and are willing to help me get it off of the ground.

After my initial e-mails to my administration and these two great teachers/resources, I thought that there would be no way of stopping such a mammoth idea. My principal loved it, and the feeder area coordinator thought it would work well with some of our other goals. But last night, I received an e-mail from the Web Services manager of my district. In it he said that I should consider using two semi-crippled technologies (Firstclass and SchoolCenter) that teachers in my district are already fairly comfortable with (and the district has already paid for). I say that these are crippled technologies because they have real holes in their capabilities. They just can’t do everything that I want to do with this community.

Even with this minor setback, I have decided that I will not compromise (at least initially) my vision of the “Perfect Online Professional Development Community.” I would like to see just how collaborative, easy to use, scalable, social, and reflective I can make this experience for other teachers. So, without any further explanation, I would like to unveil what I think are the essential pieces of a new generation professional learning community.

A central portal will give you access to the following (I am thinking about using protopage):

    1. A master blog that would guide discussion.
    2. Blogroll
    3. Recent Blog Articles (a la SuprGlu)
    4. Archived Blog Articles (in a newsletter type format)
    5. A Google Earth Mash-Up of all of the school represented in the community
    6. Bios of the teacher bloggers (if they wish to include them) done in a social way so that collaboration is easier (an Elgg.org-type personal page)
    7. A calendar for event planning (Skypecasts, Classroom Demonstration Webcasts, Classroom Picture Flickr Stream)

The other aspects of the community that will not be directly shown on the portal’s front page except for simply linking to them:

  1. A Q+A section for both teaching questions and technical help questions (Ning.com has a great set-up for something like this).
  2. A Digg-Style Article/Website recommender.
  3. A Wiki for success stories of technology integration or improved practice (a little like David Warlick‘s Telling the New Story Wiki)
  4. Walk-Throughs (screencasts) for how to create blogs, collaborate, etc.
  5. A way of dealing with comments both attached to and unattached to their original posts. (co.mments.com has a pretty great strategy)
  6. A professional development bookshelf (akin to either this one or this one)
  7. A way of signing up for an e-mail RSS system for new posts (most teachers check their e-mail religiously)
  8. A belief statements wiki about technology or teaching in general for certain collaborating members or individuals (this could be a running list of belief statements and/or a running list of questions that these belief statements beg to be answered. I also like the idea of using standpoint.com somehow).
  9. A system for sharing lesson plans and ideas (both formatted and unformatted) including a collaborative document center.
  10. A cross-school project starter (partnering up similar teaching styles)

Questions I still have about how to get this done:

  1. How do we get as many different positions represented in this community (principals, core teachers, librarians, elective teachers, etc.)
  2. Should we try to protect anonymity on the blogs?
  3. Just how much do most people know about these technologies? Will it be like starting from scratch for most people? And if so, should I send out a formal (or informal) survey about these ideas (What have you done in your classrooms with technology? Do you like to create you own lessons? How much do you enjoy reflection? Do you want feedback on your classroom ideas from other teachers? How worried are you that this is going to take too much of your free time? How many of you already blog?)?

Well, that is pretty much it. I would like to make this project as appealing and voluntary as possible, so that everyone who is in the community has a lot of buy-in. Let me know what you think of this grand scheme. What is possible and what is not possible?

Authentic Writing (concise new ideas)

I have spent a great deal of time over the last year talking about Authentic Writing in the classroom. I have written a few papers on this subject, but I am most interested in the practical application of this idea. I am in the process of creating a Lesson Plan Wiki for next year, and I realized that I needed to define my terms. So under the Terminology Dictionary is my definition of Authentic Writing. I will continue to work on it, but it I think that it captures quite well what I have been talking about for so long.

  • Authentic Writing (aka Real Writing)

Authentic Writing at its most basic is writing that has a real audience and a real purpose.

Now to define the two new terms I have just created. A “real audience” is one that is not only the teacher. The teacher and the self can be part of a real audience, but rarely do they make up it entirely. A real audience is made up of people who are genuinly interested in the writing for what it has to say not because they are forced to be interested. A real audience is one that is likely to listen to, comment on, or attach value to a piece of student writing. Equally likely for a real audience is the posibility of using the writing to create something new. Finally, a real audience is one that does not require perfection to find importance.

A “real purpose” is one that has some intrinsic value to the writer. Getting better at writing can be a real purpose, but it is not (and should not be) the only one. A real purpose is determined by the context of a student’s life. It is made up of what the student wants to do or would benefit from doing (making a grocery list, writing a passionate eulogy, getting out some teenage angst) rather than what he/she has to do. Writing with a real purpose is a social act; it is connected to the self and to others without any educational manuvers or imagination on the part of the writer (i.e. Write a letter to your congressperson about spending a million dollars).

To further illistrate the point of Authentic Writing, here is a chart of what constitutes Inauthentic Writing versus its Authentic counterparts:

Authentic Writing Inauthentic Writing
A grocery list A CSAP prompt
A blog post A research paper on a teacher-selected topic
An intelectual passion paper A form poem that is only seen by the teacher
Student-selected creative non-fiction An essay that does not relate to the student or the current curriculum

I’m not sure if this is a good idea.

I was reading some of the articles on Karl Fisch’s del.icio.us account. I found this one and I was caught by some strange version of inspiration. It basically talks about how kids can be so innovative to post answers to tests online. I’m not a big fan of this particular act, but I find the idea of innovation in finding answers to be full of possibilities.

Here is my idea:

I will develop a quiz on new technologies that will help my students throughout the year (blogs, wikis, rss, podcasts, thinkfree, glypho, etc.). They can either follow the links and find each of the answers individually. Or they can search and follow their own path to a file (or website) with all of the answers to the quiz in one place. I need to work out the logistics, but I can imagine finding a way of hiding the file (or website) so that my students will still have to use all of the skills that they are being quizzed on.

Do you think that this is possible or a good idea?