maoI’ve just finished reading a deeply philosophical essay by Isaac Mao from The People’s Republic of China called “Sharism: A mind revolution. This essay is part of a collection of essays gathered by Joi Ito to celebrate the power of Web 2.0 and “all the people who are willing to share.” It was first brought to my attention by Will Richardson who reflected on Mao’s thoughts in his own blog last week as he lamented that there are still educators out there who are not willing to share their best teaching practices and lessons with others online (Nov. 18, 2008).

Though neither Richardson nor Mao’s thoughts relate directly to this week’s course topic on blogs and blogging for professional development, I believe that what both men have to say about the worldwide benefits of individuals freely sharing information speaks to the learning potential inherent in the blogging process. “The Less You Share, The Less Power You Have” is the motto of Mao’s essay. This is a twist on the wise-old saying “the more you give away, the more you receive.” Richardson interprets the notion of the power or gifts one receives as a result of sharing as both the knowledge one gains from creating blogs and the lasting learning relationships that can develop as a result of blogging.

Isn’t it knowledge and a supportive network of educators we hope to gain in every professional development opportunity we take part in?

I challenge any educator to read any one of my blog posts or the blog posts of any of my classmates in this course and tell me that blogging isn’t one of the best professional development tools available for educators today. I don’t have to turn to any experts to tell me that what I’ve witnessed and participated in throughout this course with blogs and blogging has been some of the best, if not the best, professional development I’ve ever taken part in. I’ve increased my “power as an educator” by being willing to share my thoughts and ideas with others through my blog, helping them to grow as educators and I have grown as an educator by reading and participating in the blogs of others.

Talk about a powerful symbiotic relationship which I believe is at the heart of most personally significant professional development endeavours.

In my school division, teachers are expected to develop their own professional learning plans according to a “Professional Growth Model” designed by a committee of divisional personnel, school administrators and teachers. The model emphasizes “reflection, inquiry and collaboration, challenging educators to focus on the Professional Standards and seek knowledge and experiences to improve the quality of their practice” (Pembina Trails Professional Growth Model, Preamble). By the end of the year, teachers are required to show evidence both of their own learning and how this learning has benefited the students they teach.

If you’re at all familiar with blogs and blogging, you will notice immediately how closely they resemble the primary aims of this professional growth model. Has blogging allowed me to be reflective of my current teaching practice? Yes! Has blogging allowed me to develop my own inquiry questions? Yes! Has blogging given me the chance to collaborate with others? Yes! Has blogging challenged me as an educator to focus on professional standards? Yes! Has blogging given me the opportunity to aquire new knowledge and experiences to improve the quality of my practice. Yes!

When it comes time to have my final professional learning plan meeting with my administrator this year, will I be able to demonstrate my learning and show how this learning has benefitted the students in my school? There is no question in my mind that the answer to this question is a firm and enthusiastic, “absolutely!” In fact, I can’t wait to share my blog with my administrator at the end of the course and show her all I have learned about the powerful learning tools of Web 2.0 for schools and libraries.

As David Jakes writes in his blog, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” blogging is all about personal growth, extending yourself out of your comfort zone and getting involved as an educator. It’s about “becoming a catalyst for change…reflecting, questioning, getting uncomfortable – and then perhaps challenging the assumptions of your foundation.” If professional development asks you to consider how you can grow as an educator and what you can do better to help students learn, then blogging can help you reach your professional development goals.

With my blog, I have a tangible and searchable record or evidence of all my learning as it pertains to my professional learning goals articulated in my professional learning plan. I have already started to use or are planning to use many of these tools in the near future with various staff members and classes. It is my intention to gather feedback from at least some of the teachers and students I have worked with throughout the course of the year to show my administrators that students have benefitted in a positive way from my learning this year.

Blogs and Blogging as Professional Learning Tools

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has not heard of the term “blog” in today’s technologically-driven society. Unfortunately, many believe that blogs are merely places where individuals tell others about their day, their feelings and perhaps hopes for the future and those that are close to them can add a sympathetic “ear” by leaving them comments on their posts. By its very nature, a blog is a perfect vehicle to share feelings, thoughts and reflections and make connections with others and I’m not suggesting that these are not valid uses of a blog. However, if structured with learning in mind, the blogging process can be “a significant learning and networking tool that can help individuals, groups, and organizations learn in new and interesting ways” (Karrer, p. 1).

This course is a perfect example of how the blogging process can be structured in such a way as to maximize the learning potential of blogs for professional development or any other type of learning, for that matter. In each of the posts for this course, I was required to show evidence of research and further reading of the topic, demonstrate my critical thinking and new knowledge on the topic, reflect on the process of learning one or two new Web 2.0 tools each week and discuss the implications of the tool for teaching and learning purposes. A tall order, indeed, by but structuring the blogging process in this way, my blog became a wonderful tool for me to both consolidate what I had learned about the various tools and think about how they could be used in an educational setting. Due to the deep thinking that was involved in preparing for each post, I found that my metacognitive skills improved immeasurably throughout the course.

As I analyzed and synthesized the information for each post and chose appropriate links, pictures, videos and podcasts to share, I was also required to consider my audience and writing style in order to keep the readers of my blog “hooked.” I found that this desire to keep my readers engaged in the blogging process to be powerful learning motivator. It was much like preparing for a presentation at a more traditional professional development session in which I needed to know my information well and at the same time keep my audience thinking and somewhat entertained. In “Learning and networking with a blog,” author Tony Karrer discusses the similarity between writing a blog post and preparing for a meeting (p. 2). In both cases, you need to know both your subject and audience well.

However, blogging for the sake of professional development is so much more than writing for or attending traditional professional development sessions which are often static, expert-driven affairs. Blogging is all about sharing and making connections in a very collegial, interactive and give-and-take atmosphere in which everyone has the potential to learn something new, even the so-called “experts.” Every time a blogger writes a post there is the potential for a meaningful dialogue and relationship to develop with anyone in the world, near or far. Since blogs are ongoing, this dialogue can be sustained over a far greater period of time and therefore there is the potential for a much more meaningful and deeper relationship to develop.

I believe that it’s this ability to develop deeper relationships amongst educators that may be the spark some teachers need to encourage them to take charge of their own professional development. I know I have developed a deeper relationship with my classmates over time in this course to the point where I have an honest desire to keep our professional dialogue going into the future. I want to see them succeed just as much as I know they want me to succeed in helping our students and fellow teachers learn and use Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms.

As I became involved in the blogging process for this course, I found it fascinating to realize that I learned just as much about each of the various Web 2.0 tools we’ve studied in this course by reading and commenting on what my classmates have said about learning and working with the tools than my own reading, writing and experimenting with them. You just don’t get that kind of deep knowledge and interaction with others in more traditional professional development courses. My classmates ideas, reflections and questions have been invaluable to me as an educator dedicated to improving my teaching practice and providing the best education I can for my students. I have come to understand first hand through the blogging process that the collective knowledge of a group of people is far deeper than the knowledge anyone person can ever hope to know and understand. I know they have learned from me, just as I have learned from them through our blogs.

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I have also been amazed at the amount I have learned about Web 2.0 tools for schools and libraries by following some of the “big” names in the field. Just by following a few key educators like Vicki A. Davis (The Cool Cat Teacher Blog), Will Richardson (Weblogg-ed), Doug Johnson (Blue Skunk Blog), David Warlick (2Cent Worth Blog) and Jane Hart (Jane’s e-learning), I feel like I’m at the “cutting edge” of the field of education and everything Web 2.0 – from tips, to tools, to conferences, to people, I can’t believe what these people are willing to offer the educators of the world and it’s all for free! Their enthusiasm for education is truly infectious and I can’t wait to share what I have learned from reading these blogs with my fellow teachers. If professional development is “teachers talking to teachers” as stated in our provincial teachers’ society handbook, then blogging as a professional development tool is second to none.

Blogs: The Flexible and Affordable Learning Growth Plan

On top of it all, blogs as professional learning communities are not limited to any particular location, time of day or group. Blogs can be used as professional learning tools within schools, divisions, provinces and countries – there simply are no boundaries. Anyone can access their favourite blogs from anywhere in the world, day or night and there is no limit to the number of professional learning groups any one person can join. As of December 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs (Wikipedia). Other sources for exclusively educational blogs that teachers could find blogs to follow are the: International Edublog Directory, November Learning Communities and UK & Ireland EduBlog Directory. Surely teachers can find one or two blogs that will help them to grow as educators. Add an RSS aggregator to your personal learning plan and you’ve got it made. Professional development was never so easy and self-directed!

Can’t get to your favourite conference this year, no problem – someone is sure to blog about it almost as soon as it happens. Although it can admittedly be difficult to read if you’re stuck in a freezing location while your blogger is enjoying the fine weather in a more southerly location, you’ll still be able to get the latest details from the conference from at least one blogger or two. In fact, it’s probably those that “Twitter” who’ll get the information about a conference or event out to you first. Twitter is a form of micro-blogging in which individuals stay connected to the latest news and events by writing short, concise statements much like Facebook’s “What are you doing now” comments. (For more information about other micro-blogging tools, I suggest you check out Jane Hart’s article, “Microblogging/Real Time Messaging Tools”).

Although the information in “Twitters” is limited to 300 characters, these short statements alert readers to new, emerging information in the field and often point “followers” in the direction of more detailed information. I am currently following approximately twenty different educators and a few groups who use Twitter and I find that it helps me to keep abreast of breaking news in the field. If there’s anything happening in the world of technology and libraries, I’m sure to know it almost as soon as it’s been announced. Currently, my favourite Twitter group is from the School Library Journal and Schlib.

Can’t find a Twitter group to suit professional development needs and interests? Then look no further than Twingr which will allow you to create your own microblogging network.

There is also a growing trend toward “live blogging” which is sure to enhance the blogging experience for educators even more in the future. Live blogging, according to Aliza Sherman writing for “The Web Worker Daily,” describes blogging that “captures the words, sounds, and images at an event and posts them online to a variety of Web 2.0 enabled sites with the goal of sharing the experience for those who cannot attend while preserving key moments in an archive.” CoveritLive is software that has emerged in the past year or so that enables bloggers to cover live events like keynote addresses, press conferences and meetings while interacting with their readers during the event. So you don’t even have to leave home to be a part of a dynamic learning experience.

Live or recorded podcasts and webcasts are also another way for teachers to stay connected professionally. Although it’s often not possible to participate in live podcasts due to the times they are offered, teachers can subscribe to their favourite and most informative digital audio recordings through an RSS feed and listen to the podcasts when it’s convenient for them.

What does the research say about blogging and professional development?

To be honest, very little. Since using blogs for professional development is a relatively new concept, I could find only a few anecdotal reports on how using blogs for professional development has benefitted teachers. In “Taking faculty development online,” author Krista Hiser describes how using a blog for professional development has nurtured the dialogue between faculty members from various disciplines, different backgrounds and from all levels of experience at her university (p. 1). Analysis of the discussion boards from their online “Teaching and Learning” course has shown that their faculty members are more than pleased with being able to interact with their colleagues through blogs.

Although I could not find the complete article, the abstract of April Lynn Luehmann’s article, “Using blogging in support of teacher professional identity development: A case study” infers that blogging was used successfully as a professional development tool by a middle school science teacher. I wish I could get the full article since it also outlines several ways that teachers can enhance their professional development needs using blogs.

Since there is so little information on blogging and professional development, I applaud educators like Joanne de Groot (the instructor for this course) and Jennifer Branch from the University of Alberta who not only revised an information technology course in the teacher-librarianship graduate program at the University of Alberta last year to include blogging as the primary vehicle to demonstrate student learning of various Web 2.0 tools but also undertook an extensive analysis of the learning process to determine whether the format of the course was an effective way to prepare teachers and teacher-librarians for teaching in a Web 2.0 world. Although their work in this area is far from complete, their initial findings based on the transcripts of the participants’ blogs and course evaluations show that teachers taking the course to extend their professional development of Web 2.0 tools were more than satisfied by the amount of learning that took place (p. 19).

Can professional development get any better than this?

Isn’t this what we want for teachers in terms of professional development? To keep them engaged in the teaching process by giving them access to the latest information in their field and by giving them a voice so that they can share in the collective wisdom of all and pass it on to others to improve teaching practice? There is a big push in our school division toward establishing learning groups. I think a blog would be an excellent way to communicate between the members of the group. They can communicate whenever they want and as many times as they want. I’ll have to suggest this idea at our next professional development committee meetings both at the school and divisional levels.

I can think of no other professional development activity that I have been involved in that has led me to greater personal fulfillment as an educator. I have grown and learned so much as an educator and I can’t wait to share my learning with others. I am looking forward to continuing to find my voice in the edublogosphere. There is a whole world out there just waiting to be explored and relationships to be developed. What a professionally exciting time for educators around the world and best of all, I’m a part of it!

References

de Groot, J., & Branch, J. (2008). World class learning and literacy through school libraries: Preparing teacher librarians for a Web 2.0 world. Paper presented at the IASL Conference 2008, Berkeley.

Hiser, K. (Aug., 2008). Taking faculty development online. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 25(14), 1. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 from, the Ebscohost database.

Ito, Joi. (2008). Essays. FreeSouls Captured and Released. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://freesouls.cc/

Jakes, D. (Oct. 17, 2008). Tragedy of the commons. The Strength of Weak Ties Blog. Retrieved Nov. 15, 2008, from http://strengthofweakties.org/?p=277

Karrer, T. (Sept., 2007). Learning and networking with a blog. Alexandria, 61(9), 1-4. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2008, from the Proquest database.

Luehmann, A.L. (July/Sept., 2008). Using blogging in support of teacher professional identity development: A case study. (Abstract). Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17(3), 287-337. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 from, the Ebscohost database.

Mao, I. (n.d.). Sharism: A mind revolution. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://freesouls.cc/essays/07-isaacThe -mao-sharism.html

Sherman, A. (Sept. 11, 2008). More on live blogging event. The WebWorkerDaily. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://webworkerdaily.com/tag/blog/

Richardson, W. (Nov. 18, 2008). The less you share, the less power you have. Weblogg-ed. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008, from http://weblogg-ed.com/

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