Reflections on teaching with blogs and open PD

teacherchallengeWe’re just wrapping up the second series in our free and open professional development series we are calling Teacher Challenges.

The first was an introduction to blogging – 30 days to kick start your blogging. The second was 30 days to get your students blogging.

Next week starts a series on the best free web tools for education. We already have well over a dozen guest bloggers ready to share their favorite free tool. We’ll be keeping this challenge going for as many free tools as we can possibly share, so if you are interested in writing about one of your favorites, let us know here.

But what we really wanted to share here is what we, Sue WyattAnne MirtschinSue WatersRonnie Burt and Kathleen Morris, as the organizers of the challenges have learned from the experience.

So, here is a general reflection that we hope might be valuable to educators using blogs to teach in anyway and those participating in or managing open professional development opportunities.

presentationThe open concept

There’s a definite increase in the prevalence of open PD on the web for educators. Here’s a few comments we had related to it:

  • We love how participants can pick and choose what they do. For example, with many cases, some of those who responded to one post weren’t active in the challenge as a whole. They would see a post that interests them and learn from it – and maybe leave a comment.
  • The success depended on the level of comfort and familiarity users already had – especially when it came to brand new bloggers in our Kick Start Your Blogging challenge. Some probably needed face-to-face workshops with quite a bit of one-on-one instruction. That would only be possible if the schools organised the PD in conjunction with our programs.
  • As we consider future topics, we will keep in mind that not all concepts really lend themselves to online PD as well as others.
  • We did have at least one school participate as a group together! This way they were able to support each other throughout the challenge. Very cool!

Blogs as the medium

We are admittedly bias towards the power of blogs, but:

  • More traditional learning management systems tend to create “walled” environments that limit collaboration and community on a global level.
  • Blogs make it easy to create and publish content.
  • Collaboration is easy and encouraged through comments and discussion boards.
  • The social media aspect of sharing through facebook and twitter (which users are already familiar with on blogs) certainly contributed to the success of the challenges.
  • It will be interesting to see as we move into challenges that aren’t about blogging if some of the benefits of blogs will be minimized – especially since it will be more difficult to ask participants to write on their own blogs.
  • We found it easier to manage comments/moderation in the blog dashboard rather than on the front end of the blog.
  • We will change it so that not all comments will be moderated – once you have been approved, future comments will go through.

Setting objectives

For each series, we spent more time coming up with the post topics and objectives then actually writing the posts! In addition:

  • One of the more unique aspects of the first two challenges was the differentiated beginner and advanced tracks that users could choose from.
  • It was surprising to find many users completing both tracks or switching between the two – this is great – individualized learning!
  • We found it important to try and encourage participants to create something with each challenge post. This post itself is owned by the blogger – it is their personal achievement, reflection or sharing.
  • Time constraints were difficult. We left some topics out (for example podcasts and audio in the advanced blogging challenge) but participants added them and shared them with others anyway.
  • We had some lengthy and detailed posts that took a long time to both write and complete for users.  They were lengthy because they needed enough information and we like to be through, but perhaps that is off putting to some? It’s a definite catch-22 and something to continue to ponder.

google_groupsEncouraging discussion and collaboration

The true learning took place with the discussions and sharing that occurred:

  • Unlike traditional PD workshops, this wasn’t at all about the presenters (us) passing on knowledge to participants. More learning took place between and from participants than from us!
  • Mentors and advanced users helped others – a true learning community was formed.
  • A lot of the collaboration took place off of the challenge blog and on users’ own blogs where they posted reflections and challenge responses.
  • We tried a separate discussion blog for the first series. Interest on this blog fizzled and more discussion began taking place as comments on individual posts. This is something for us to think about and tweak as we move forward.

Supporting participants

The posts were set up so that questions would come up and participants could get the help they needed:

  • Truth is, the response and turn out for the challenges was much greater than we anticipated. It was hard to visit all posts and keep up with the needs of participants questions.
  • With that, the community stepped up and supported each other – which is great for all involved!
  • The mentor program worked well but was difficult to set up, recruit, and mange. As the first challenge progressed, some participants were left without assigned support. We’ll work on ways to ensure needs are met as the challenges continue.

Assessing outcomes

We all feel the overall the challenges went extremely well – far better than y expected:

  • Within two hours of posting the first activity, several participants had already published their posts.
  • Many of the advanced bloggers had a lot to share from their own experiences and the conversations and that networking that occurred was great to see.
  • We wish we would have asked participants to take a screen dump of the blogs before we started as you can ‘see’ that they have made the blogs so much more effective after completing the majority of posts.
  • There have been so many positive comments back on the challenges – we couldn’t be happier.
  • In both of the challenges, the initial response and participation in the first few activities was slightly higher than those in the last. Our goals is to see that reverse.

forwardWhere to go from here?

There is always room for improvement, and here’s where we hope to start:

  • Making the challenges and activities easier to find on the main challenge blog.
  • Be consistent with the posting schedule and share the schedule in advance.
  • Continue to improve the discussion topics and collaboration among participants.
  • Include live webinars a couple times during each challenge to provide times for participants to get help in real time.
  • Improve our response time to comments and how we manage them – perhaps recruit help in keeping up with them as well.

So that is that.

What do you think?

Are there other questions we should be asking ourselves or points you’d like to add?

Leave a comment below we’d love to hear from you!

- The Teacher Challenge Team

PS:

This is the first post since an updated look for TheEdublogger.com. Complete with new threaded comments!

What do you think of the new digs? :)

Ronnie Burt

Works for Edublogs. Former secondary math teacher and wannabe musician. Follow me on twitter @ronnieburt!

10 Responses

  1. Hello! I came across your blog as I was reading other education blogs and I’m glad I did. It is so great and encouraging to see unique, innovative ways to incorporate collaborative learning in the classrooms. Projects like yours can fully prepare our students for collaboration that comes in the real-world. Thank you!

  2. Anna Bring says:

    Hi Team!
    And Thanks a lot! I participated in your first teacher challenge and it was great, I haven’t had time to put in regular posts the last couple of weeks because “life” has come inbetween. My intention is to do so however, and the teacher blogging challenge really helped me on the way.
    I hope you will do the “get your students blogging” challenge once again later on, so that I can join when I have classes of my own.
    And I will definitely join the next challenge!
    I also found it amazing how quick the building of PLNs was during the challenge!
    Once again, thanks a lot – and see you soon!

  3. Pam Pilant says:

    I was very glad to run across your blog! I have been trying to imagine using a blog in the classroom and wondering how it would work and what it would look like. My concerns were how to take it beyond a social medium to a way of delivering the curriculum. I’m thinking now!

  4. Ellen says:

    With the Teacher Challenge to support me, I was one of those who could finally use blogs successfully in my classroom after various attempts at fizzling out.
    I am managing 70 students with active blogs,between 50 who are in teacher training in EFL and twenty or more in a writing class for EFL. About 10 of these latter are participating in writing blogs such as Two Teachers ‘Slice of Life.’
    Although I have bit off much more than a person should chew, I am convinced that blogging gives people a voice and a real-life situation in which to grow and learn as they build their own PLNs.

    I thank you all for your hard work and dedication to help us access online tools for free because without your dedication our own dedication would not have taken the route it took. I look forward to continuing blogging, sharing and learning.

    Thanks for everything, Ellen

  5. Denise Krebs says:

    Miss W., Anne, Sue, Ronnie and Kathleen,

    You are awesome! I had been doing blogging for a very sporadic one-year period. My students too. Then in January I started with the challenges. I was transformed! My students too. Just this weekend, as I look at their work–the creativity and contributions they are making–I’m so proud of them!

    I owe it all to you, for the awesome challenges and for the authentic opportunities for connecting that you are providing through the Edublogs challenges.

    It sounds to me, from this post, that you had made some improvements with the January challenge. I don’t know how they were before, but I think you definitely are getting them right now.

    Thanks so much for all that you do!
    Denise

    • Sue Waters says:

      Hi Denise, thanks for the nice feedback. There wasn’t many changes between the first two Teacher Challenges. The main change was we didn’t include the Discussion blog much for the second challenge because we found in the first Teacher Challenge there was so many comments in various locations that it became harder to manage in terms of making sure we were able to respond in a timely manner. Having all the comments on the Teacher Challenge blog now means it is easier to manage the conversations.

      The biggest change with this latest free tools challenge is that we have guest bloggers writing the posts and Ronnie’s overseeing this challenge while Sue Wyatt facilitates the Student Challenge.

  6. kindle books says:

    I hope you will do the “get your students blogging” challenge once again later on, so that I can join when I have classes of my own.

  7. I thank you all for your hard work and dedication to help us access online tools for free. Wonderful things from you. I have examine your stuff before and you’re just also awesome. I enjoy what you’ve got right here, enjoy what you’re saying and the way you say it. You make it entertaining and you still manage to keep it sensible. I can’t wait to read more from you.

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