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Professional Development: You Don't Need to Travel to Learn

Todays guest blog is written by Jared Covili, an Educational Technology Specialist at the Utah Education Network.  He specializes in integration strategies for K-20 classrooms in the following areas:  Google tools, geospatial learning, web tools, and digital devices.  

Years ago I attended my first educational conference.  It was amazing!  There were sessions on cutting edge technology tools that I could use with my students.  Keynote speakers who were in touch with the struggles and possibilities I was facing.  The chance to connect with old friends and meet new colleagues.  Conferences seemed to have it all for me.  I was hooked and couldn't wait until the conference came around again a year later.

Therein lies the problem.  Conferences are great professional development tools but they have a limited reach.  No matter how big the conference - it can't meet all teachers' needs.  No matter how convenient the time and location - not all can attend.  Even the best conferences last for only a few days.  What are teachers supposed to do the rest of the year for PD?

Over the past few years there has been a dramatic shift in the professional development landscape.  One in which the individual teacher has the opportunity to take control over his/her learning.  No longer are teachers content to sit on the sidelines and wait for a great training to be scheduled by their district.  "Next year's conference will be great but what can I do today?" is heard throughout the education world.

Here are three big things teachers are doing to take control over their own professional learning today:

1. Build your PLN with Twitter:  Twitter has changed the game for educators looking to connect with one another.  With a twitter account I can connect with educators from across the globe in seconds.  I don't have to wait for a session at a conference to find great resources - I can turn to my PLN (Personal Learning Network) and find ideas and options for my classroom immediately.  

Here are some good ideas for building your PLN on Twitter:

  • Join with in your state or regional Twitter chat.  For many teachers Twitter can be overwhelming at first,  so connecting with people from your local area is a great way to learn from the people you know.  You can find a list of educational twitter chats from Jerry Blumengartem (@cybraryman).  Once you join the chat, look to follow educators from your area.
  • Use Hashtags.  Twitter is a constant  information stream that can intimidate beginning users.  Searching for hashtags can filter out the noise and help you find the resources you're looking for in your classroom.  Again, @cybraryman has provided a list of educational hashtags to help get you started.
  • Don't just consume - share.  When starting with Twitter it's great to find and learn from others.  You'll find that there are tons of incredible educators willing to share resources with you.  To build your PLN you'll want to contribute to the crowd.  Consider sharing a great article you just read, provide a testimonial of a website or tool you use, or contribute a great lesson idea that's worked in your classroom.  Others will appreciate the information and your network will grow!
  • Don't try to read everything.  You'll never keep up.  Twitter is on 24/7 and you'll never be able to digest every idea or comment.  Focus on learning one or two new things everyday and you'll be ahead of the game.  Imagine a tool that can give you a couple ideas for your classroom everyday - amazing.

2.  Attend (or Start) an Edcamp:  Edcamps are one of largest growing movements in education right now.  This is a grassroots movement that empowers teachers and administrators to learn about the topics they want.  Rather than a traditional conference where the program is pre-determined well in advance of the event, an edcamp uses crowdsourcing to determine what topics will be covered at an edcamp.  It all happens during the first hour of the edcamp.  Any teacher can suggest the topic they want to learn and discuss by putting it on the idea board.  If others want to learn about that topic as well they simply add their names to the topic and a session is born.

Edcamps are popping up all over the country and because of their cost - FREE, they are putting learning back into the hands of educators.  You can learn more about the edcamps in your area by visiting the Edcamps Wiki. There are edcamps coming up in regions across the US and abroad so find one that works for you.  Even better, if there isn't one that meets your needs - start an edcamp for you and your colleagues! Get started with the basics here. I truly believe edcamps embody professional development at it's finest - teachers learning from one another!

3.  Join a MOOC:  Many times you might think you have to pay tuition prices in order to take great online courses - not true!  Consider signing up for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to learn about almost any subject you teach.  Basic ideas for learning from a MOOC.

These courses are a great way to jump in and get high quality instruction for FREE.  Some great sources for MOOCs for teachers include: Cousera, edXonline, Canvasnet, and iTunesU.  The best part for many courses is that you can jump in and start learning today.  

Jared's first book, Going Google: Powerful Tools for 21st Century Learning was published in 2012 and his second book, Classroom in the Cloud is set for release early in 2015.  Connect with Jared on Twitter.

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