A key event in my personal learning/PLN was hearing Will Richardson speak at OTA back in February 2009. In his keynote, he talked a bit about blogging and connecting with others. Most of what he was talking about was in the context of students and being in my 2nd year of teaching I was VERY impressionable. I thought a lot about myself during that presentation and how I could impact my students in ways that would be meaningful, while using emergent technology. I left the conference with some validation on the things I was beginning and thinking about starting in my classes and on fire for technology integration. One quote which impacted me was, “Kids will never be knowledge navigators if we never allow them to navigate knowledge.” I took that to heart and started to put students in my class into the position of being required to use technology tools to navigate, locate, and synthesize knowledge. We started a class wiki, which blossomed into what I had hoped would become an online Open Source Textbook for high school physics (bear in mind every single page except the front page was student-created). However, I left the public education classroom before my students got very much on the site.
That was a seminal point in my educational technology journey. Currently, in that same journey, I am pursuing the PhD in Education with an educational technology focus. So, PLEASE, attend conferences! You just never know where a conference session will end up! I have presented at that conference a few times over the last 5 years and I consider OTA (now OTA-Encyclomedia) my ‘home’ conference. While it doesn’t typically draw ‘research’ presentations, it offers a ton of sessions in which people are successfully engaging students using new technologies.
At about that same time, I had recently discovered twitter and was beginning to meet many new people in the Oklahoma Education Community, specifically those who were early twitter adopters. Those connections led to job opportunities at the state level and some great friendships with people from all aspects of education and educational technology. Also, through those connections, I have been invited to speak at small district-level conferences. However, the learning goes far beyond the ‘exposure’ I got to others. I was trying new things in my classes, reflecting about it on my blog, and sharing experiences and learning from others through comments on blog posts and twitter interactions. This was even beyond the boundaries of Oklahoma. I have met people from all over the country (and some in other countries) through twitter and not met them face to face until attending the annual conference for the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE).
That said, the most important aspect of getting involved in a PLN, e.g. twitter, was the ability I had to connect with people who were trying the same things I was, or who had already tried it. I could learn from them and they learned from me. Twitter, as a PLN, made the education world MUCH smaller for me. The best part about it was this was free and I could personalize it to fit my needs and interests. It was (and still continues to be) an ‘a la carte’ professional development experience for me. Joining twitter for the express purpose of using it as a PLN was probably the best thing I have ever done as far as professional development goes, certainly in my first several years of teaching. I would highly recommend it. I have blogged about twitter previously here.
For those of you who are going into public education, you will have plenty of opportunities for professional development. Generally, there is enough built-in PD so that you do not even have to go to outside PD and you get your required hours. However, I can attest that the most meaningful development I have gotten over the last 8 years has been through conference, online communities, and informal learning that occurs when teachers collaborate together. I would advise anyone to get involved in some kind of community which interests you. Start a blog and reflect on what you do, start following some hashtags on twitter (e.g. #oklaed, #edtech, and/or #edchat), check with people you know who innovate. Don’t ask the teachers who are in their 30th time of teaching the exact same lesson, the exact same way. They likely won’t have much to share. Find the people who are trying new things. Those who are making mistakes. Those who fail at trying something. (this is very different from people who constantly fail!) These are the people who will have experience to share which will be valuable.