Professional Learning Networks

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If time travel was possible, do you believe that a teacher from 2015 could handle being sent back to teach in a one-room schoolhouse from the 1800’s?  When I think about that question and consider the different sociocultural contexts of that era, I am convinced that a teacher from today could not do the job. Regardless of the training that current teachers receive before entering the classroom in comparison to teachers from the 1800’s(which for many meant just completing school themselves), our dependence on technology to drive instruction, and society’s current viewpoint on the purpose of public education would make it difficult for a twenty-first century educator to do the job. While the above factors would make it difficult for a twenty-first century teacher like myself, there is one concept that is central to current instructional practice that due to its non-existence in the past, would lead to a current teachers demise: collaboration. Teachers today take for granted the ability to work with other teachers in designing lessons, evaluating student work, and supporting each other either in person or just a click away. For the Kansas teacher whose nearest school and teacher might have been fifty miles away, that individual faced a lonely world that a 2015 teacher would struggle to imagine.

 Professional Learning Networks (PLN’s) have been defined as communities of educators working together collaboratively to improve instructional practices with the desired goal of increasing student achievement. While this is a general summary of the basic purpose of a PLN, the concept is much more in-depth. Education World defines the purpose of PLN’s as  “a focus on continuous improvement” and “staff involvement of intense reflection upon instructional practices and desired student benchmarks.” Professional Learning Networks do not exist to just allow teachers to meet and share ideas, they are groups formed by teachers who are united by wanting to find solutions to two questions: What is missing in my instructional practices and how can I change my practice to increase student performance? PLN’s require teachers to critically examine their own practices, which is difficult due to how personal teaching is to teachers, and share their weaknesses with colleagues in search of constructive criticism for improvement. It is not easy to reveal weakness; as humans we never want to appear vulnerable, but in order for us to change our actions as teachers, we have to move our accountability from the individual to the collective group. The author of the Education World article identifies the work of PLN’s as a cycle that PLN’s must move through (often repeating steps) but once completed, PLN’s can change the culture of a school.

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PLN”s are not new developments in educational practice. Teachers have always talked among themselves about what they do in their classrooms and exchanged ideas with fellow teachers. What we see that now defines PLN’s is how teachers make these connections  outside of their school, their district, and even their country. Social media has been the strongest influence in how teachers connect and share with each other. Today with applications such as Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, teachers are connecting with teachers who they have never met in person but yet consider them to be close colleagues and sources of inspiration.  By far, Twitter has been one of the most commonly utilized resources for teachers to form PLN’s.  In 140 characters or less, teachers are sharing links, posing questions, and encouraging each other from around the world. This has truly become a tool that transcends countries, content areas, and languages. Twitter can also be applauded for being a tool that with practice, is relatively simple to use regardless of technology proficiency.  Brianna Crowley in an article for Ed Week outlines three simple steps to guide teachers in how to create a twitter PLN that is both beneficial and customized for your own personal needs and interests as a teacher.

The most effective use of Twitter by a teacher that I have observed so far is my Foreign Language Methods instructor, Karen Tharrington.  Through Twitter, she has found and contributed to a community of world language teachers who share a common goal for what they want to help their students achieve and created a community for support and personal reflection. Mrs. Tharrington uses Twitter to share links with her followers as well as to ask questions and answer questions. This week I had the opportunity to see this in practice when a language teacher in Kentucky asked a question and she and Mrs. Tharrington engaged in a conversation suggesting answers for the question. When I look at how she uses Twitter as a teacher, I see many similarities to the advice presented in the Ed Week article: she has identified general educational professionals who she follows and interacts with along with communities devoted to world languages (ex. #langchat) and she has found, as Brianna Crowley calls them, her “PLN buddies”-the individuals who make up the larger community(ex. the moderators of #langchat). As I used Twitter to create a PLN and participate in my second Twitter chat, I found the experience to be positive and inspiring. I now understand the power of this tool to bring together different teachers who share common goals from different places.  In my own chat this week, one teacher from Iowa shared a Youtube playlist with us that we are invited to use in lesson planning. Although it can be overwhelming at first, once you understand the format of a Twitter chat, it is a great experience and collaborative tool. The chart below shows a helpful format to consider when using Twitter as a PLN resource:

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As a teacher, I plan to use Twitter as a collaborative tool to connect with other teachers like I have started to do now. Within my limited experience as a pre-service teacher, I have yet to identify a more effective tool at connecting teachers with relative ease and one that allows teachers to share information quickly and efficiently.  When researching PLN’s and the use of tools like Twitter to increase teacher collaboration, Edutopia provided a new insight that extends the idea of using Twitter beyond just connecting teachers: Twitter allows teachers to bring the outside world into the classroom and to move the educational experience outside of the walls of the school. In the process, teachers and administration are staying connected with regards to the instruction being provided, the work that students are completing, and students are connecting with peers around the world.

Works Cited: Edutopia- http://www.edutopia.org/practice/social-media-making-connections-through-twitter

Copyright

Image from: http://www.otis.edu/sites/default/files/lib-copyright.png

Last Spring, I successfully completed FLS 492: Seminar in Hispanic Studies. For Spanish majors at NC State, this is the most important class we take because it requires us to complete a substantial research project leading to a major research paper. My research  required designing data collection instruments, analyzing the data, and most importantly, consulting the current research on the topic I was researching to find support for the conclusions I was making. Without using the information made available by current researchers, I would not have had a foundation to base my work nor would I had known how to conduct my own research. The research I cited did not appear overnight, it represented the creative and original work of an individual in response to a simple observation about the world around them. The work created by researchers( or any individual)  represents the channeling of human capital into creating something that is designed to be consumed by other people or to inspire the creation of a new products, which often becomes an individuals chosen career and the source of their livelihood. Without the work of other researchers, I could not have completed by research.

Copyright is not recent development; unlike most of the topics we have discussed so far in the course, copyright pre-dates the digital age. An early description of the concept of copyright can be found in the U.S. Constitution where it is stated that Congress has the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveires”(U.S. Constitution. Art.1). Clearly, the Founding Fathers of the United States government recognized and valued the role of individual discovery and creation.  The individuals who were mentioned in this expressed power of Congress, represented the first generation of American creators whose work became the foundation for succeeding works. Novels, songs, images, slogans and other creative and innovative works became copyrighted as a  way to recognize the original creator(s) of a work and to acknowledge that work as the “first” among the different versions that followed it or drew inspiration from it. With mediums of communication expanding as the U.S. grew in size and demographics, the use of copyright granted someone the title of ownership over their work. Likewise, the goal of copyright today is to acknowledge an individuals creation of a work and to ensure that the work can be shared and used by other individuals to expand or enhance what has already been created. Additionally, copyright acknowledges the contribution of the original author or creator and protects their status as the creator.

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While copyright protects and restricts the use of  materials, it does not completely prevent other people,especially teachers,from using these materials to be shared in other works or with other people.  Fair Use, also called Fair Dealings in the infographic above, allows teachers to use copyrighted materials in the classroom as part of lessons and activities with a few general guidelines regulating their use. Fair Use, as defined in the infographic, allows teachers to use copyrighted materials for illustrative purposes within the context of their classrooms. Edutopia adds that Fair Use allows teachers to use material without having to contact the creator for permission, buy the material they want to use, or pay a fee for its usage. While this may seem like a narrow definition, this definition allow teachers to utilize various images, videos, and music to enhance their instruction and for students to create visually appealing products. Additionally, Fair Use allows teachers to reproduce instructional materials for use by students. The guiding principle of Fair Use, according to Ronnie Burt of the theedublogger, is that teachers can only use these materials within the physical classroom. If teachers use copyrighted materials on a website (for example their class webpage) then they have misused what Fair Use allowed them to do.  Fair Use is the in-between zone between understanding copyright and the use of copyrighted resources. The Venn diagram below highlights what fair use permits individuals to do with copyrighted material, and represents the most common uses of this material by teachers.

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As a teacher, my practice is directly influenced by copyright in the materials that I find  to use in my classroom and in how I teach my students to find and use information in their assignments.  As I select materials to use in my Spanish classes, especially as I look for authentic resources such as images and videos from Spanish cultures, I need to beware of the origin of the material and if the material is copyrighted by its creator.  I must be sure that when selecting materials such as movies, that I carefully connect the content of the movie to the academic standards and instructional objectives that I want my lessons to address.  The use of movies is a commonly cited example in both Edutopia and theedublogger articles involving Fair Use.  Movies such as Selena (1997) used by Spanish teachers must be used in the manner described above and not used just to distract students on a early-release day. When teachers use movies without an instructional context, this could be considered as a public showing which violates Fair Use guidelines.  As I follow copyright and Fair Use guidelines, I will also have to provide my students with instruction about how to follow these rules as well.  As we encourage students to find outside support for the arguments and claims they make we must demonstrate the best practices of using these resources with real-life tasks and student friendly language. Common Sense Education provides an example of a video with student friendly language for explaining what copyright and Fair Use is and how to use the information they protect responsibly.

Works Cited: Youtube video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suMza6Q8J08

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

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I am fascinated by the Spanish language. The sounds of the language, the richness of its literature, and the diversity of its cultural products draw me into the Spanish speaking world and the experiences of its people. As much as I love studying and using Spanish to communicate with other people, there is one thing about Spanish that frustrates me: I will never be able to communicate in Spanish with the same skill level and authenticity of a native speaker. The first language I learned was English and I have always lived in a culture surrounded by English speakers where English has been the dominant language of daily life. While I have developed an advanced level of proficiency in Spanish, I will never be able to produce the sounds of a native Spanish speaker, use grammatical structures of a native speaker, nor truly understand the culture through the experiences of a native speaker.  Through practice and meaningful interactions I have developed a high level of proficiency, but I cannot perform as well as a native speaker.

When I first read the article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” by Marc Prensky, I immediately made a connection between his idea of differences in technology fluency among generations to my beliefs toward language proficiency.  Likewise, in the debate I took the side in support of the concept of digital natives. In my opinion, there are digital natives in technology just as there are native speakers of world languages and digital immigrants who are the equivalent of second language learners. Digital natives have the advantage of being natives to technology in that they have never lived in a  culture in which digital technology (primarily the internet) has not existed. Tools such as the internet, computers, cell-phones and other devices were already created and rapidly undergoing improvements when digital natives entered the world. Most importantly (in my opinion),what makes digital natives “digital natives” is that the culture of the world they entered had already adopted technology as an integral part of the daily experience. The digital immigrants, like second language learners, have come to their knowledge of technology through a completely different experience. These individuals have lived in a world in which the technology tools that existed today, did not and their thought process are based on different contexts.

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As new tools have been introduced and have replaced or simplified completing different tasks, today’s digital immigrants have had to learn to use new technology tools with a learning curve. In addition to learning how to use new technology tools such as Prezzi, or Gmail, digital immigrants have had to learn to use the hardware and software used to access these tools such as laptops and tablets. Having to first learn how to operate these devices, and then having to learn how to use specific tools is difficult and requires frequent practice that many digital immigrants have not been able to receive in meaningful contexts. Skills that natives take for granted, like automatically knowing how to power-up a device and make settings are often the tasks that prevent digital immigrants from developing proficiency. The cartoon below summarizes the challenges that immigrants often face when learning how to use new technology tools (in this case the students have become digital immigrants towards using books).

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Prior to this week, I never really considered the difference in the use of technology between people my age and the teachers I have had who have been teaching prior to the arrival of the digital age. The idea that there is a disconnect between how today’s students learn and how teachers teach is a new concept to me. In my educational experiences from kindergarten to college, I have had teachers who embraced the use of technology with little problems.  Occasionally, these teachers had problems opening a link or moving from a Powerpoint projection screen to a document-camera screen, but it did not seem to bother my fellow classmates; it was a welcomed break during a long class. Although my experiences have been different, I recognize that there is a difference between current practice and student needs that we must address while also recognizing that sometimes the teacher who is a digital immigrant knows better than the native. In a study by researchers at the New York Institute of Technology, it was found that teacher’s use of technology out-performed use by students.  While students had a better understanding of technology, their knowledge was found to be limited to its use for social purposes and not well-developed in solving complex problems. This is an excellent example of how sometimes learning as an outsider provides a more beneficial perspective.

So how do we bridge the gap between immigrant teachers and native students? Fortunately, this problem has a solution: learn from each other. Both teachers and students have something to be learned from each other regarding technology. In a blog post post for Next Generation Learning, Jonathan Blake Huer points out that natives can learn from immigrants that technology cannot provide the answers to all questions and that sometimes nothing can replace actual human contact. Additionally, immigrants can follow the lead of natives in using whatever tools work best for them and not apologize for not following the lead of others. I agree with his position towards digital natives and immigrants, his  viewpoint focuses not how people come to use technology, but in the ways they use it.  Edutopia encourages immigrant teachers to let native students take the lead on tech trouble-shooting if they know how to solve the problem and to some times step-back and let students teach them how to do something. Most importantly, immigrant teachers are encouraged to never give up on trying to learn new tools. All teachers, digital natives and digital immigrants have to work collaboratively to close the gap because the students of tomorrow are already here, and we know what they look like.

Works Cited: Youtube Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ5Vy9BgSeY