Monday, 13 September 2010

A virtual teaching network and the first obstacle overcome

With Seker Bayram (Festival of Eid) over, full steam ahead at school as there’s only a week to go until school starts now (where does the time go?). I’m still waiting on exact confirmation of which classes I’ll be teaching so in the meantime, I’ve kept myself busy with a side project:

The TED Teachers’ Network

In an earlier post, I mentioned an idea I had head for a virtual professional development network I had had. Basically, this would take the form of a wiki to which myself and all my colleagues in the English department could add content and discuss teaching related matters. Well, I pitched the idea to the heads of the English department just before the Bayram and they thought it had potential. However, they said if it was to be done in the school’s name, permission should be sought before proceeding further so I spent some of my holiday time drafting a proposal to be submitted to the directors for consideration, which I shall summarise here:
Over the years, I have found professional development has been one of those things that everyone agrees is desirable in principle but in practice, giving up Saturday afternoons or time after school for workshops and seminars is resented. Interesting discussions and exchanges of ideas sometimes take place in the staffroom but are only of benefit to those present at the time. My proposed solution is to create a wiki page where we can share our ideas, discuss them and learn from each other. There are 4 main uses I foresee:
  • Sharing and discussing experience, tips and ideas
Using the wiki’s editing features, as a group of teachers we can share and discuss our thoughts about general areas such as classroom management and motivation as well as topics specific to ELT like presenting vocabulary, teaching target language and encouraging speaking. Through the wiki, those staffroom discussions can be recreated online and displayed for future reference.
  • Creating a ‘hub’ for useful links
Similar to the above, links to useful blog posts and articles concerning education and language teaching can be collected alongside useful resources available on the web and discussions of how best to use them. Over time, these lists of links could be expanded and added to by any member of the network to create a valuable resource.
  • Exposing colleagues to web 2.0 resources
By embedding some web 2.0 tools for various purposes (e.g. a Voicethread for introductions, Wallwisher for gathering ideas), the ‘edtech newbies’ amongst my colleagues would get the chance to try some tools first hand and assess there usefulness and possible applications in the classroom. Many teachers are reluctant to use things in class they are not familiar so this could help overcome that.
  • Hosting screencasted presentations
Finally, screencasted presentations could be embedded to the wiki for teachers to access and watch whether on a free lesson at school or at home. ‘How to….’ videos could be made and uploaded to demonstrate some of the web 2.0 tools out there and seminar style presentations about classroom and education related topics could also be hosted there (removing the need to stay behind after work or come in on a Saturday in the process \o/). Ultimately, I would hope that other teachers could get involved in making the screencasts too to make this a collaborative effort as well.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, you might want to take a look at the wiki in its present format: http://tedteachersnetwork.pbworks.com/
Note that it is still in the early stages but I felt an example of what could be done was necessary to back up my proposal. As ever, comments and suggestions are welcome!

An obstacle overcome surprisingly easily

Proposals like the one I’ve written for my teachers’ network idea are common at my school. Official letters are required for all number of things from asking for time off to trying to get the old mouse for the class computer replaced. The size of the school (students numbering into the thousands and teaching staff in the hundreds) make this necessary so I got a pleasant surprise last week when some websites I requested to be unblocked (as mentioned in my previous post) were unblocked immediately! The computer department, instead of asking for an official letter, just told me to give them a list and put all the websites on the exceptions list without question. Now, I can tweet from school, read Wordpress and Blogspot blogs and access Glogster, Voicethread and a whole host of web 2.0 tools in class. Hopefully, this quick and speedy style of response will be around all year!

2 comments:

  1. David, this looks truly great!! I can see it working well! My one concern is what happens when you move on... I expect the wiki will still be open to start with but will it be owned by your schools? Could they restrict access? Could they take it in the wrong direction?

    When I look at Twitter, Blogs, websites etc etc I see people reinventing the wheel time and again. Building up little pools of duplicated and scattered resources which they keep control of but miss so much more.

    I do wonder if we should really be looking at the bigger picture and aiming higher - with a worldwide resource that everyone can contribute to. I'm no expert but I would imagine that with careful management and structuring, something big and universal could be built covering all educational aspects. Individual educators could then build their own resource bases by mixing and matching units, exercises, workplans all from this big pool, and anything missing they could just add back in. There may have to be some kind of quality control - some workplans I've seen are appalling(!) - but 'quality' could be collaboratively assessed.
    Crazy? Naïve? Stupid? Too many variables?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Clive.

    Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

    School involvement is a factor in my plans. If I want to make it official, approval is required and it therefore will be the school's webpage, not mine. However, that gives the advantage of potentially reaching all of the English teachers at 23 different branches of the foundation I work for. That it turn could provide the basis for an MA assignment and an article or two. Obviously, I would then have to relinquish control if I ever moved on but I would have to experience to start over with a new wiki elsewhere.

    I believe there is potential for a larger scale project along these lines but that would require Wikipedia style measures to ensure quality of content. The various strands of ELT and education would all have to be considered too - young learners, business English, academic English, test prep to name but a few.

    The best thing would be to create targeted resources for different institutions. When done on a smaller scale, individual teachers can feel more 'ownership' of the wiki through their own contributions and ensure its specific to their own context.

    One example I like is http://technology4kids.pbworks.com/ created by Shelly Terrell and Ozge Karaoglu with a small scale focus on a few web 2.0 tools.

    http://resources20.pbworks.com/ also has a good collection of web 2.0 resources for ELT.

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