Posted by Tricia Ebner on Friday, 05/13/2016
Note: This spring CTQ bloggers are exploring the theme: How do VLC’s (Virtual Learning Communities) impact our profession? We invite you to join us here in our own VLC, the Collaboratory, with your thoughts and comments, and share ideas using the hashtag #CTQCollab. If you like this post, check out more VLC wisdom from Wendi Pillars, Paul Barnwell, Marcia Powell,& Brianna Crowley.
A few years ago when I first heard the term VLC (virtual learning community), I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes. After all, education has become famous--or maybe notorious--for the three-letter acronyms we use to identify aspects of the profession. So between the three-letter acronym and the notion of yet another learning community, I was certain this was just another “passing fad” in the world of education.
My view today is completely different. I am an educator who relishes the time, connections, and expertise of those in my VLC. I began to recognize the power of VLC’s when I took part in my first #edchat at a Tweetup held during a statewide education conference. My initial #edchat was a #usedchat with Arne Duncan. (For the record, #usedchat is probably not the best way to introduce someone to the world of Twitter because it moves so quickly. Thankfully, the true reason for the Tweetup was our state’s #edchat held immediately afterwards, and the pace was much better for me and my novice Tweeting skills.) This experience ignited my commitment to the weekly #edchat.
A few months later, I learned about CTQ and the Collaboratory at the NBPTS Teaching & Learning Conference. I loved the concept of the Collaboratory: a place of virtual collaboration, where users can explore possibilities and share experiences while continuing to foster and grow teacher leadership. I signed up for my Collaboratory account as quickly as I could.
So what is so powerful about VLCs—like the Collaboratory and Twitter chats—that it turned me from eye-rolling skeptic to devoted participant?
The answer is simple: networking and reflection.
Networking: It didn’t take long for me to see the value in networking. Through weekly Twitter chats, I could see how others in my state were approaching the changes in teacher evaluation, standards, and assessments. Topics for chats ranged from technology integration to standards-based grading and more. As I participated in weekly chats, I became more familiar with the participants and their roles in their schools. For example, I exchanged emails with a sixth grade teacher 100 miles away from my school district. We both use the novel A Long Walk to Water with our students, so we were sharing our experiences in teaching the novel and resources we were using for the work. It was a wonderful way to connect with a young colleague.
My state’s weekly Twitter chat also motivated me to attend my first-ever edcamp. The organizer, also a regular attendee in #ohedchat, is someone I follow on Twitter, and he shared the registration information with me. The edcamp was a terrific experience. Not only did I get to meet a fellow #ohedchat participant face-to-face, but I also met educators facing some of the same challenges and having some of the same experiences. We shared strategies and suggestions, and I’m continuing to keep in touch with several of them through email and Twitter. Networking on Twitter has opened doors to professional development opportunities I might not have learned about otherwise.
My participation in the Collaboratory has also been a networking experience for me. Through participating in the labs and responding to blog posts, I’ve made connections with teachers from across the country. For example, when I learned last fall that my classes and I were going to begin using Google Classroom, I remembered reading this blog post by Dave Orphal, and I looked it up to review how he had found it useful. The posts in the Collaboratory range across all kinds of subjects, from STEM to Common Core to personalized learning and more. These discussion threads share not only ideas but also introduce me to other educators who are also thinking about the same kinds of issues and subjects I am.
Reflection: Developing VLCs isn’t just about networking. The discussions held in the Collaboratory and on #edchats often prompt me to reflect on my professional practice. For example, a recent #ohedchat on developing your own brand got me thinking about what messages I send through my words and actions. How am I branding my practice? It is something I continue to consider. This blog post by Jessica Cuthbertson made me stop and think about how my language impacts others’ view of education, and ever since I read the post and spirited comments and discussion following it, I have been much more careful about the words I use when I speak about education.
The reflection sparked by participating in VLCs impacted my classroom practice. By reading Nicholas Provenzano’s blog The Nerdy Teacher, I learned more about how 20Time (or Genius Hour) projects worked in a classroom. As I implemented 20Time in my own classroom, I continued to go back to Provenzano’s blog and also follow him on Twitter as a reference point. I also began following others utilizing 20Time/Genius Hour, like Don Wettrick, author of Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation.
The networking and reflection I’ve enjoyed as a result of VLCs has been a powerful support as I continue to transform my practice as a teacher. I’m glad I didn’t let my eye-rolling moment close the door on the power of the VLC for good. It has benefited me, my classroom, and most importantly, my students. I cannot imagine continuing to learn and grow as a professional without being part of virtual learning communities.