We’re just wrapping up the second series in our free and open professional development series we are calling Teacher Challenges.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
Encouraging 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.
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.
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.
Where 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
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?