May 2019: Extend your professional learning with online tools

Kathy's Katch
Professional Development by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

We all have participated in formal professional development days at school. Even if the topic is carried over for several PD sessions, the trainings sometimes leave you with questions or needed follow-up to learn more about the topic. Fear not! You can continue to learn on your own using simple online tools and have access to experts from all over the world to help you out. In addition, you can help others with their own professional learning, too!

Twitter and chats

My favorite personal professional development tool is Twitter. It goes without saying that all educators should have a public Twitter account. Being able to follow the tweets of others and ask questions of the creative educators you follow, as well as share your own thoughts and projects, provides 24-hour professional development!

Once you have mastered Twitter, and feel comfortable collaborating, the next thing on your list is to attend a Twitter chat on a topic of interest. Twitter chats are scheduled, moderated chats with posed questions and attendee answers. Each tweet includes the hashtag from that Twitter chat so the results all flow together when you search for the hashtag later.

To attend a Twitter chat, it is easiest to use a multi-column Twitter tool that allows you to see both your Twitter stream and that of the hashtag of the chat. The screenshot below illustrates how I am able to see my regular Twitter feed as well as set-up a column to see the hashtag for the chat using Tweetbot.

Multi-column Twitter tool, Tweetbot

Below are three screenshots from a Discovery Educator Network (DEN) Twitter chat. You can see the question from the moderator (Q2) and two of the answers from teachers (A2).

If you conduct a Twitter search on #denchat, you can see all of the questions and answers from all of the recent chats.

The best place to find a list of Twitter chats and times is on the Education Chats site. This site includes a daily, weekly, and monthly calendar with times and the agreed-upon hashtag for the Twitter chat. You can even conduct a search by a keyword of interest, and learn about any Twitter chats on that topic.

Weekly Twitter chat calendar
Monthly Twitter chat calendar
Agenda view of Twitter chats

Aggregators and blogs

I have noticed many people now call every Web page a “blog”. I am not sure why that is, but there is an easy way to understand the difference between a blog and a Web page. Both of these Web-published items are posted on the Web by the creator. The main difference is the blog carries some special information called a “feed”, which allows you, the reader, to subscribe to the blog using an online tool called an aggregator or newsreader. You simply enter the blog’s “feed address” found on the blog’s page into the aggregator tool and then, from that point on, any time the blog creator publishes new information, you will automatically receive the content in your news aggregator. By adding all the blogs you are interested in to an aggregator, you only have to go to one place to see the new content being published by the authors of all the blogs you are following.

The first thing you need to do is to register with an aggregator tool. Two of the most popular are Feedly and Pocket. Once you sign-up, you will be registered to allow you to add blog feeds.

If you look at the main page of this Kathy’s Katch blog, you will see the little aggregation symbol (also called the RSS symbol with stands for “Really Simple Syndication”) as illustrated by the orange arrow in the screenshot below. Most times, when you click on that symbol, your aggregator will launch and ask you if you want to add the blog to your list of blogs. Other times, you may have to copy the feed address or URL of the blog and put it in the search box in the aggregator to get the blog to add correctly.

Once the blogs are entered in your aggregator tool, you can decide how you want the blog feeds to look and create folders to categorize your blogs. You can see what the Feedly interface looks like below.

Feedly view from one blog feed

By collecting all your blogs in one place, it is easy to skim through the list of content and decide what you want to read!

Top level of my blog feeds allowing me to skim the content

Once you enter all of the blogs you follow into the aggregation tool, you will save a lot of time reviewing new blog content as well as being able to use one tool to get all the information you are interested in! And, you can unsubscribe from a blog as easily as subscribing, and no one’s feelings get hurt!

YouTube, Vimeo, and Discovery SOS

If you are one who likes to learn new strategies on your own and master them before sharing with others, there are plenty of online videos to help you out! I happen to learn better from printed instructions, instead of videos, but often look at videos put up by creative teachers to learn how they are using the technologies.

For instance, if you are writing a grant to get a set of Merge Cubes for your classroom, and want some ideas on how they can support teaching and learning, just type “Merge Cubes in the classroom” into the YouTube search box and you will come up with over seventy videos to pick from!

I love this video from Gabe Haydu which showcases how the Merge Cube and the Dig app (iOS / Google Play) can support math!

Search for “Merge Cube in the classroom” to get ideas!

Vimeo is also used by educators and students to showcase apps as well as create tutorials for other teachers and students. For instance, Karen Miller showcases below how to use the crop tool in the Do Ink app for iPad and iPhone.

I wrote about the Discovery Education SOS (Spotlight on Strategies) series of ways to use Discovery Education in the classroom, including activator and summarizing strategies, back in February and March of 2016. I still believe this series is a great way to grow your professional learning. This great series of pedagogical practices, each written by members of the Discovery Education Network community, continues to grow!

If your school or district has a subscription to Discovery Education Streaming+, your log-in gives you access to all of the strategies, each of which include an overview, a PDF of instructions, and a short video showcasing the methods and techniques to use.

Professional communities

The third area to consider, when working on your own professional learning, is to join one or more professional communities. For instance, if your school subscribes to Discovery Education Streaming+, you can become a member of the Discovery Education Community! The Discovery site describes it as outlined below.

Trusted by educators for over a decade, the DEN Community offers you one of the most thriving professional learning networks in the world. The DEN connects you to teaching resources, learning opportunities, and professional networking—all at your convenience and comfort level. It’s what we’ve always been about—connecting educators to their most valuable resource: each other.

Being around a “tribe” of dedicated educators who share freely in online discussion groups, present for no-cost Discovery Education webinars, as well as create content for the Discovery Education site, is a wonderful thing! In addition, there are ways for you to become specialized and attain the goal of becoming a DEN Star or DEN Guru. You can then share your expertise in a more formal way with others in the community and beyond. Each year, DEN Stars and Gurus can also apply to attend the Summer Institute, a week-long conference of teaching, learning and fun!

Summer Institute team celebration, Nashville 2014

Things to think about

I hope you take advantage of some of these options for extending your professional learning. Are there other ways you do this? Do you have favorite Twitter chats, blogs, or professional communities that you can share with us? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

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