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’ve heard of the acronym “VLC” in education, then tried googling VLC, definition of VLC, or power of VLC, you probably came up empty-handed. When I tried, little did I know it meant Visible Light Communication; a popular, free, and open source cross-platform multimedia player; Veterans Law Center and Virtual Learning Centre in Canada.

Yet there’s all this blossoming talk of VLCs in education, of their power to enhance and expand our teaching and learning exponentially. What the heck are they, and why should they matter?

Let’s start by defining a VLC. The simple version: A Virtual Learning Community is a group of peers with whom you can discuss ideas, offer support, and provide pushback and/or feedback. And it’s done virtually, via places like the Collaboratory, Twitter, Facebook, and other communication platforms. It can be synchronous (i.e., a Twitter chat or webinar/ Zoom hangout, where multiple folks are online simultaneously), or asynchronous (discussion threads, twitter, blogging, where people can respond in their own time). Connecting can even be by phone or (gasp!) snail mail! All of these are vital parts of any VLC.

Sounds simple, right?

As I wrote this post, I realized  how complex–and beautiful in its far-reaching impacts–a virtual learning community can be. My VLC  has transformed my teaching in just five years, thanks to these five valuable characteristics:

  1. Flexible: VLCs are convenient, available 24/7, and constantly active if you’re connecting with others in different time zones. Synchronous communication  optimizes quick clarity, and adds familiarity with “face to face”video, ie., skyping with colleagues in Nepal. Asynchronous communication relies on writing, which also hones your thinking and provides opportunities to share what you’ve learned together, ie. this blog about my colleague in Nepal.VLCs meet multiple purposes: Are you seeking new ideas? Support? A place to promote or test your ideas?  Feedback? Solutions? Something content-specific, or something new to enhance your instruction?

    VLCs also fit your personality style. Introvert or extrovert? No problem. VLCs are suitable for those who prefer more contemplation before typing a response. For those who feed off of others’ energies, there are  frequent chances to connect and interact.  (*Caution: Because VLCs can be 24/7, create boundaries for your time–be mindful of expectations for activities and responses, both yours and others’!)

  2. Inspiring: VLCs can become the home of like-minded individuals  you never realized were missing from your current PLCs or circle of colleagues. To “inspire” literally means to breathe in, to be “in spirit” with others. This spirit of VLCs literally saved my career years ago.Through my VLC, I’ve  found kindred spirits who had turned similar challenges and experiences into solutions with eye-opening positivity. I found new ways to channel what I “couldn’t do” into what I “could do”, and shifted my thinking with a focus on solutions for others to reframe their own experiences. Interestingly, I also gained greater empathy and understanding for those who were telling me “I couldn’t”, which helped me sharpen my face-to-face courses of action more effectively.
  3. Proactive: VLCs for me emphasize positive action and learning how to do something better.  There is an utter lack of competition. This realization was huge for me when I immersed myself in my first VLC, the Collaboratory. I learned that being part of a powerful VLC isn’t about being better than someone else, it’s about being better than you used to be. Gaining insight into another’s viewpoint, how something is done elsewhere, or even learning what others wonder about your experiences, can expand your thinking and entice you to work and question differently, while giving you the courage to test out new ideas.Wayne Dyer says it perfectly: “In order to float an idea into your reality, you must be willing to do a somersault into the inconceivable and land on your feet, contemplating what you want instead of what you don’t have.”  VLCs provide the space for me to make and take opportunities I’d have never conceived of years ago. With a broader, stronger knowledge base, I am encouraged to imagine what I want for my students and profession. I also love to ask “what if…?” What if we contacted this human rights activist we are studying? What if we connected with a school across the country and collaborated on this project? The power of “what if…?” will shift your thinking, for both you and your students. It implies action and sparks imagination, a desire to apply knowledge, courage, and edgy hustle to achieve a more useful outcome or product. Bonus? It’s an unparalleled model for how the connected world works outside of school, too.
  4. Responsible: Wisdom encourages us to be what we seek in order to activate the laws of attraction and energy. If you seek someone who listens, is kind and understanding, provides useful feedback, is positive and solutions-oriented, is passionate about  students and our profession, is non-judgmental and generous, then be that. Also, as part of a VLC, find community norms that promote professionalism, such as assuming good intentions, confidentiality, and listening to understand.We must have a healthy ratio of giving : taking. There is so much to receive from virtual communities, and sometimes, simply observing and taking/testing ideas is a natural stage. But always remember that at some point, you have a responsibility to return that goodness. ALWAYS give credit where credit is due. Blog comments, constructive feedback, shout-outs, and especially thank-yous to those who have shifted your thinking in new ways, is not only paying it forward, but solid practice in humanity.
  5. Intentional: Purpose is a tremendous why factor in VLCs, as mentioned in #1. But intention differs in its emphasis on choosing to become part of a VLC. It is a “Voluntary” Learning Community in every sense of the word, which creates far more value than a coerced PLC or other collaboration. It is also choosing how to use your various virtual avenues as active tools to engage and invest, versus passively “liking”, lurking, or conveniently networking.  I’ve tried a few VLCs, and if they don’t “fit”, I don’t stay. Choice matters.As always, people matter, too. Developing a personal VLC is our opportunity to have the support of a strong, motivated, and inspiring group of educators who can shift our thinking in unimagined ways. Although VLC stands for “virtual”, people still trump technology.

Many years ago, I heard someone say that the person you are in five years will be formed by the people you meet and the books you read. My life, my profession, and my circle of colleagues has been transformed in a matter of five years, simply because of the people I’ve met through both the synchronous and asynchronous interactions of my VLC.

What’s in store for your next five years?

Wendi is a National Board Certified Teacher who has been teaching English language learners for 21 years in a variety of subjects. She is also a member of the Collaboratory and the author of Visual Notetaking for Educators: An Educator’s Guide to Student Creativity. She currently teaches at Jordan-Matthews High School in North Carolina. She can be reached at @wendi322.

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