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Teachers are doing it for themselves - PLD that is!

Part 1:

New Zealand teachers are recognized as a body of passionate professionals; enthusiastic to learn, eager to share and most earnest in their quest to affect student learning for the best. The link between teacher actions and outcomes for students has long been recognised - in particular, when educators engage in reflective inquiry into their practice, this can result in positive outcomes for students. Part of an on-going cycle of inquiry is effective professional learning and development - where relevant learning opportunities and content are targeted to best meet the needs of the learners.

“An important factor influencing whether professional learning activities have a positive impact on outcomes for students is the extent to which those outcomes form the rationale for, and ongoing focus of teacher engagement." (P.8 Teacher Learning and Professional Development).

For some, teacher engagement in professional learning, means accessing traditional forms of PLD through localised school-based events (with set times), utilising external mentors, attending real-time conferences or long-term study and research. Sometimes this can be driven by strategic planning and policy PLD, rather than a personalised approach, yet research shows some of the most influential PLD is when the individual needs of adult learners are addressed (Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ p..., p.3, Karen Melhuish).

As more and more schools understand the potential of e-learning as a positive catalyst for benefitting learners (in particularly mobile technologies and ubiquitous access to online resources via ultra-fast broadband), they also recognise the power of social technologies and online networks as drivers for personalised learning for adults. When you venture online, teachers are doing PLD for themselves – beyond themselves.

Organised online professional learning networks such as Virtual Learning Network, Pond, Virtual Professional Learning Development and events like Connected Educator Month show a growing number of educators joining and participating in online communities of practice, all in the pursuit of effecting positive change for students. These communities are deliberate, targeted and facilitated based on experience and research** around what constitutes effective professional learning. Live events and threaded conversations provide a multi-faceted, blended approach to learning - targeted at national and international trends, schools’ needs and Ministry of Education (Aotearoa, New Zealand) foci. Teachers are sharing and reflecting on their practice through in-depth discussions online. Recorded events enable teachers to access these resources anytime, anyhow, anywhere. 

In this Enabling e-Learning video, The power of online professional learning communities one teacher shares how the VLN has impacted on her classroom practice. For more on Josie's story go to http://www.tetoitupu.org/impact-enabling-e-learning-community-group...

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Current research also highlights the importance of learning networks, networked organisations or learning communities. In the NZCER paper, Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching - a New Zealand perspective it is noted that,

Schools are being talked about as “learning organisations”, and educators are encouraged to become “professional learning communities” or even “networked learning communities” within and across schools. School leaders have responsibility for supporting and sustaining a continuous culture of learning amongst staff, in a dynamic environment.” (p 45).

While organised communities continue to grow in numbers and activity, more user-generated, cloud-based networks have emerged. For example, Facebook groups such as NZ Teachers (primary) and NZ Secondary Teachers see educators connecting in informal, yet practical ways. Interactions are a mixture of ‘just-in-time’ queries for classroom practice, resources, learning ideas, educational events, news items as well as posts to articles and videos. Limitations in Facebook (search features, following threads), doesn’t seem to deter teachers from frequently commenting and asking questions.

Some teachers in established personal learning networks, have also identified a need to offer asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities via social networking tools such as Twitter and Google Hangouts. Danielle Myburgh started #EdchatNZ so that teachers could converse in topical conversations using 140 characters or less. A recent introduction of a ‘devil's advocate’ means teachers are encouraged to reflect more rigorously on their practice - in a safe and non-threatening way. This online event is branching offline to host (inexpensive) national conferences that enable innovative educators to connect online and off. Twitter hashtags for education are invaluable sources of information for teachers and New Zealand based twitter communities provide an opportunity for educators to chat online about curriculum, kids education, parent education and more.

Sonya van Schaijik started TeachmeetNZ two years ago, so that educators could meet online for an hour - to share innovative practice in a structured format via Google Hangouts. This has grown into a slick, professional event that is recorded, so teachers can now access over 88 video clips of educators reflecting online. The following webinar recording from Enabling e-Learning showcases how these networks work for NZ teachers. Find out more in this VLN thread @ Personalising PLD using social networks.

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While some may wholeheartedly see the value of online professional learning networks, others may wonder if these organic forms of blended PLD are useful or even valid. What do you think? What are your experience of blended professional learning? Good, bad or otherwise…. how have these experiences influenced your practice so far?

** Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ p... and elearning leadership - swimming out of our depth, Leading learning i...

Part 2: Do blended PLD opportunities offer the same benefits as tra...

Image source: CC

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About me:

I currently work for CORE Education in the Te Toi Tupu consortium as the online facilitator for Enabling e-Learning. A big part of my role, is to help build a sense of community identity in the VLN/EEL community groups space. I'm there to help support partnerships within our professional network - which includes brokering relationships within and beyond the VLN/EEL groups.

I'm also there to support community members mentor others online, as we share opinions, ideas, resource and teacher reflections - that will enhance learning opportunities for all our learners. Conversations and live events have a priority focus on the effective role of e-learning in education. These will happen largely within the Enabling e-Learning community groups. Come join me there!

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Comment by Tessa Gray on November 17, 2015 at 12:36

@margaret macpherson You sound like you have the perfect professional/personal online/offline balance! Nice one :-)

Comment by margaret macpherson on August 29, 2015 at 9:29
My typical Saturday morning lie in with cuppa now involves my mobile (a Samsung note so bigger for older eyes.) And a wander/ wonder through a raft of online learning- here (thanks to newsletter reminders) and the spaces it links to that catch my interest, the twittersphere for my favourite commentators and professional friends, facebook for more of the same plus the person al family and friends bit, and on it goes.... When inspired i pass on the love ro my own colleagues and students via google communities and/ or my own fb/twitter/flipboard/ blog etc. Personalised and networked, reflective and responsive but also surprisingly recreational. I still make time for the great novel but the Sat morning surf, slurp and submerge in learning is a powerful ritual now.
Comment by Tessa Gray on August 26, 2015 at 11:06

Thanks Hazel for your comments :-) In terms of significant impact...I think for me, Josie's story above is one that really demonstrates the idea of pursuing authentic and timely PLD - to meet the specific needs of learners. There's also another story on the back-burner (to come from Enabling e-Learning) about a school leader who believes in offering responsive forms of personalised PLD to his staff, so he's gone about setting up to blended (free) PLD to his staff - via his own social learning network online. So, look out for that story to emerge here over the next few months: http://www.vln.school.nz/discussion/owner/53306  

There's also other great examples of how online PLD has effected teachers positively in Enabling e-Learning's Media Gallery under the Professional Learning section: http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Media-gallery

One key outcome for participation, is the idea that learning is a social activity, and that...as adults our beliefs and practice can be influenced by others - beyond any hierarchical structure or geographical barrier. So one key outcome would be the 'influence' on transformative practice - as a result of the interactions and reflections undertaken online.

Anything surprised me? Probably more wishful thinking than a surprise. I'm often in awe when educators engage in a meaningful, authentic way to help each other online. I'm hopeful that more educators take that 'leap of faith', and become more confident to engage in this way. I know teachers are reading and taking in the goodies (lurking), however I think more reflective interaction would only help to nurture and grow a thriving community online.

Comment by Hazel Owen on August 25, 2015 at 20:15

Fabulous post, thank you Tessa - love it! Informative, showcases the amazing things NZ educators, facilitators, and online community coordinators are doing, and illustrates some of the ever-growing potential of these connections. 

Three quick wonderings.: You mention a positive impact on outcomes for students. I was wondering what the most significant impact you have experienced or observed to date has been? The second is, to date, what would you say one key outcome is for the educators who participate in these forms of education? Has anything surprised you about the way educators participate in any of the examples of PLD you mention?

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