Vanessa Jones: Integrating Digital Learning Through Professional Learning Communities
The following blog post comes from Vanessa Jones, an Instructional Support Technology Specialist for the Austin Independent School district in Austin, Texas.
As an educator, I have made it my priority to collaborate, communicate and share ideas with other educators, both within and outside my district. To help facilitate this continuous learning process, I belong to several professional learning communities (PLC) where I, along with other educators, share ideas, resources, and experiences and learn from one another. This has been especially beneficial as I work to integrate digital learning into my practice and to support other teachers as they explore and implement digital learning. Being a part of a PLC has helped me reach beyond my district and has given me insight into various implementations and learning processes that allow me to promote twenty-first century skills and implement twenty-first century skills in an educational setting in several areas of my work.
Why do educators need to embrace twenty-first century skills? What skills do students need to be able to use and do well in order to function in the real world? Communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity, which are often known as the 4C’s, are the key skills that will enable students to be successful functional adults in today’s society. When teachers embrace these skills themselves, they are able to model them for their students and provide opportunities for their students to develop them through instructional strategies and lessons.
Being part of a PLC empowers you to reach beyond your comfort level. PLCs allow teachers to transition from educator to student and to focus on being a learner of new knowledge. One PLC to which I belong is Intel’s Teachers Engage Online Professional Learning Community, which is dedicated to transforming the K-12 classroom. Being part of this community has enabled me to grow as an educator as well as a learner. Within the Engage Community, I can be part of the larger community or I can choose to create my own mini community with a particular group of learners. Groups can be private or open to the entire community. Being part of this community enables me to engage in both the bigger and smaller professional learning communities to explore what I need to meet the needs of my students.
I have been working with a group of learners from my district in a private learning group entitled TechnoScientists or Techno4. In this group, teachers have discussions, share ideas, digital artifacts, various resources and, most importantly, post digital snapshots of their learning.
When teachers belong to an online learning community, they feel safe to explore new ideas and share resources and, if implemented well, they find support for their ideas and implementation strategies. Teachers are also more willing to reach out to their co-learners and educators when they need help or participate in a brainstorming session, and they are better equipped to transfer that new knowledge and skill-set to their students.
In my experience, because the discovery of new information and the group discussions are very enriching and motivating in these learning communities, teachers that once were timid in taking their technology integration to the next level are now district and state leaders and innovators of technology integration. Being part of a personal learning network helps teachers make connections and receive encouragement from fellow educators, but it also allows a diversity of learners to come together and share a common goal of enhancing the learning experiences of students. According to Theresa Maves, World Wide K-12 Training and Social Media Manager for Intel Teachers Engage Community, “There is nothing better than transparency, honesty, humbleness and relevancy to making a community great.”
When you are part of PLC, all participants play a key role in the learning process. Without being part of a professional learning community, TechnoScientists would be just another group of teachers posting ideas and resources. By having a PLC, TechnoScientists is a group of learners working together, sharing ideas, supporting each other and excelling to the highest expectations. When teachers feel comfortable being part of a learning community, they are better equipped to encourage students to reach out and learn from each other and especially be able to engage in enriching conversations with each other.
I also belong to several other professional learning communities, including Discovery Education (DEN), Google Groups, Texas Computing Education Association, and Technology in Education. I encourage you to check out these communities and others to find learning opportunities that meet your specific interests and needs.