One of the biggest challenges facing today’s teachers is finding a support network of other dedicated educators who share research and ideas about teaching strategies, practices, and pedagogy. Having a strong, collaborative community is important for teachers to grow professionally. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2010), “half of teachers leave the profession within the first five years” (p 39). This is in part due to lack of support networks and the fact that many new teachers do not have technology skills or knowledge at their disposal.
As I considered these challenges, I wanted to determine how I could participate in an online learning community to grow my teaching practice and learn new teaching strategies. ISTE Standard 5 states that teachers should continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources.
The U.S. Department of Education (2010) discusses the practice of “connected teaching” in which “teachers engage in personal learning networks (PLNs) that support their own learning and their ability to serve their students well” (p 40). Teachers potentially have many resources to build their professional practice including parents, other teachers, PLNs, online courses, and other professional experts in the field. Online learning communities can help combat the traditional isolation that new teachers suffer from and instead enable them to collaborate with peers and improve student learning through resource and research sharing.
The research article “’Together we are better’”: Professional learning networks for teachers” summarizes a study where over 700 Pre-K-12 teachers answered questions related to their professional/personal learning networks (PLNs) and how they felt the PLN activities affected their teaching and student learning. The article asserts that PLNs are the preferred option for collaboration and resource sharing for these survey participants because of the informal nature and the availability of diverse experience and teaching strategies. Almost all participants reported modifying their teaching practices because of their interactions with PLNs. PLNs consist of a variety of systems, including personal teacher colleagues and various online resources such as Twitter, Edmodo, Google+, LinkedIn, and Edutopia. PLNs can support affective, social, cognitive, and identity aspects of teacher growth (Trust, Krutka, & Carpenter, 2016). Respondents also described PLNs as having a positive impact on student learning (Trust et al., 2016).
One of my colleagues shared an article that discusses three popular PLNs created for educators: Edmodo, Classroom 2.0, and The Educator’s PLN. These PLNs can provide instant access to information, support, advice, feedback, and collaboration opportunities (Trust, 2012). Classroom 2.0 is a pay-for-service that allows individuals to create their own web site that contains a networking space including chat rooms, discussion boards, profile pages for members, interest groups and many other tools. Classroom 2.0 also has a wiki, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and Diigo account for sharing bookmarked web sites. Educator’s PLN is similar to Classroom 2.0, but it is more member-focused. Edmodo is a large social networking site similar to Facebook. Members have profile pages and can participate in online conferences, join subject communities, share resources, ask questions, and solicit ideas.
Trust et al. (2016) assert that PLNs offer teachers emotional support, flexibility for adapting their learning experiences, and opportunities for engagement, participation, and even a community that extend beyond the walls of schools. This vast array of online professional learning networks can be a great solution for growing my professional practice and learning how to be a better teacher.
Trust, T. (2012). “Professional Learning Networks Designed for Teacher Learning.” Journal of Digital Learning in Teaching Education, 28, 4, 133-138.
Trust, T., Krutka, D. G., Carpenter, J. P. (2016). “Together we are better”: Professional learning networks for teachers.” Computers & Education, 102, 15-34. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2016.06.007.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2010). Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. Washington, D.C.