Posts Tagged 'mentoring'

Featured student blog: meet Ann

Cross-posted at Fireside Learning and Classroom 2.0.

Many teachers shy away from contemporary music. Why? It could be because their own teachers did the same.

That quote comes from Ann, an aspiring music educator at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She and 14 other pre-service teachers are enrolled in a section of IT486, Intro to Instructional Computing, that I am teaching this summer. The course examines how to use technology to support teaching and learning and is designed to prepare novice teachers to integrate a variety of computer-based technologies.

One aspect of the course design that I really enjoy and value is the blog for reflective journaling. This is a required component. During the first week of the course, each student signed up for a blog at Google’s Blogger. They were given a certain amount of license in the look and feel of the blog, but the overarching rationale for the pre-service teacher blog is the same: to develop and practice the reflective process. (More on that later.)

But why blend an introspective mode of writing such as journal writing with a public medium such as blogs?

As Christopher Sessums maintains:

Collaborative weblogs promote the idea of learners as creators of knowledge, not merely consumers of information. A collaborative environment like the one I’m suggesting can allow peers to be seen as valuable sources of knowledge and ideas; a connection that participants can rely on beyond any formal classroom structure, i.e., collaboration leading to a community of interest.

So to that end, I have been making readerly comments on each pre-service teacher’s blog, and I am encouraging the class to follow, read, and comment on each others’ blogs.

And now, to go a step further, I seek to shine a spotlight (or, in the case of our music major, “sound a trumpet”) on some provocative posts in hopes of inducting our novice edubloggers into some of the wonderfully generous and nurturing networks of teacher/learners that have supported me in the past — communities such as Fireside Learning and Classroom 2.0.

Ann’s commentary on the state of music education strikes a chord because she describes a phenomenon that transcends content area and grade level: teachers tend to teach in the manner in which they were taught. Why is this so? How do we press forward into new realms of teaching and learning and resist falling back on tired and familiar practices that have outlived their effectiveness for today’s learners?

What do you think? I invite you to visit Ann’s blog and share your thoughts and feedback with her.

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My two wikis

Over the last several weeks and months I have been compiling two wikis to showcase my work as a graduate student at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. They are:

  • eMentoring Toolkit-a site for sharing 21st century tools and strategies to enhance mentoring and induction of new and novice teachers, and
  • Lubke’s Multiliteracies Site-the virtual home for coursework completed in my reading education classes, Spring 2008

I am using Wikispaces. In an earlier post titled Choosing a wiki, I explained how I ultimately selected this application out of the several dozen wiki platforms available online.

In very “wiki” fashion, my sites are continual works-in-progress. In very “un-wiki” fashion, they have been a solo effort, lacking input from peers, fellow students, or instructors. I wish I could say I have experienced the transformative power of wikis as forums for collaboration and consensus building, but at this juncture, my overall impression of wiki software in general, and Wikispaces in particular, is that of quick-and-dirty web authoring tool.

Oh, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun, too!

If you have an interest in eMentoring or multiliteracies/New Literacies, I hope you will drop by my wikis and tell me what you think.

Update on eMentoring tools

I am knee deep in my assessment of eMentoring tools. So far I’ve explored the Ning platform and the Tapped In web site. These explorations, combined with feedback from some helpful folks and my own background reading, have led me to reconsider and reshape my rubric for assessing eMentoring tools that I posted a few weeks ago.

First of all, issues common to traditional software assessments — licensing, cost, system requirements, usability — seem to fade in importance when the focus is on web-based tools. It’s still good to consider these factors (and I am), but here is the kicker: start up is amazingly accessible and affordable with this new generation of tools. It’s an important aspect of what drives the phenomenon that some call “Web 2.0.”

As concerns for installation, hardware upgrades, and user manuals recede into the background, the users (in this case, teachers representing all levels of technical expertise, from non-existent to superior) can really focus on the features that best ensure collaboration and innovation.

This is really exciting!

So, on the one hand, we have these tremendous platforms for creating virtual “hubs” or learning communities to support mentors and novice teachers. A school community might choose Ning, Tapped In, or one of the many course management, blog, or wiki applications currently available online.

Or, a school might elect for a combination of these.

On the other hand, each platform includes a variety of user features. It is this menu of customizable components or “accessories,” if you will, that will figure most prominently in the choice of platform.

A post by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at the TechLearning Blog titled Virtual Communities as a Canvas for Educational Reform includes a number of helpful tips, tricks, and questions to guide a physical community in their virtual journey. I used her list of questions along with some input from Sarah Stewart to tweak my rubric. Sarah reminded me that user features must be judged by the degree to which they foster collaboration and relationship-building and by how well they enhance the moderator’s role. (Nussbaum-Beach provides an excellent description of how virtual communities live or die by the quality of the facilitator/moderator.)

As I mentioned before, all the other factors for reviewing software are still up for consideration, but I’ve fleshed out a more thorough checklist for user features. Here is that checklist:

  • demos or online tutorials for new users
  • secure login, privacy settings, and passwords
  • user-generated content and interactivity (reviews, forums, chats, discussion threads, blog posts, file uploading and sharing, etc.)
  • link sharing
  • file uploading and sharing (documents, movies, photos, slideshows, etc.)
  • archives for webcasts, chats, discussions, etc.
  • search by categories, keywords, or tags
  • customizable layouts, themes, and templates
  • member profiles
  • polling or surveying capability
  • voice capability for synchronous events
  • support for multiple languages

When a community of educators, bound together by a common interest or passion (such as nurturing the next generation of teachers), decides “to go virtual,” they should think long and hard about what they want to be able to do, see, create, and share online. Then, they should select the tool (or tools) that will allow them to accessorize their virtual home accordingly.

What do you think?

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Assessing tools for eMentoring

As part of an independent study this semester, I am assembling an eMentoring tool box for teachers, teacher trainers, and others who are involved in facilitating the professional growth of novices.

Using Kathy Schrock’s Software Evaluation Form along with the NETS Educational Software Evaluation Form, I cobbled together my own little rubric for assessing tools that might enhance teacher-to-teacher induction and mentoring activities. Since my focus is on web-based tools, many of the common evaluation criteria just didn’t seem applicable.

I recast bits and pieces of both forms into a series of questions. But I wonder if there are new questions that I haven’t even considered? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

So far, these are the factors I will consider when reviewing tools for online mentoring:

  • Technical quality: Is it accessible, installable, operational? What is the start-up/registration process like? (simple, difficult, time consuming)
  • Documentation: Where is tech support?
  • License terms: Do they apply?
  • Cost: How much to acquire and to train/support staff?
  • Scalability: Does it scale by numbers of users, documents, posts, etc.?
  • What are the system requirements (memory, OS)?
  • Are there any additional requirements (hardware or software)?
  • Design: Is the user interface attractive and intuitive?
  • Reliability: Is it bug free?
  • Usability: How “friendly” is it? How easy to use? What is the learning curve? Basic? Intermediate? Advanced? Are there testimonials?
  • User features: What are they?

What do you think?

Action plan for independent study, Fall 2007

After a recent consultation with my supervising professor, I have altered the subject and scope of my independent study on teacher mentoring and induction with 21st century tools. By “21st century tools” I mean free (possibly opensource), web-based products that facilitate teaching and learning through information sharing and production — what many in ed tech circles call “Web 2.0,” although I am going to try to avoid such jargon.

Here is my new focus: Rather than trying to match a tool or platform to the needs of an as-of-yet-unidentified pilot group of novice teachers, I will conduct an “environmental scan” or feasibility study of the best information and communication technologies available to support the creation of learning networks. What tools will enhance the reflective practice and growth of pre-service and new teachers? Which of these tools might assist building-level mentoring teams who plan and facilitate year-long induction of novice teachers?

These are the technologies I will evaluate (with specific examples in parentheses):

  • RSS and readers/aggregators (Bloglines, Google Reader)
  • tags/socialbookmarking (del.icio.us)
  • social networks (such as those built on the Ning platform)
  • content management systems and blogs (such as WordPress or Edublogs)
  • file sharing and collaboration (Google Docs, Box.net)
  • wikis (PB Wiki)

As I review each kind of technology, I will try to answer these questions:

  • First, what is it? How does it work? What does it do?
  • How could this technology support quality professional development? How does it align with quality indicators for professional development as outlined by the National Staff Development Council?
  • What enabling conditions must exist before teacher-to-teacher mentoring can take flight with this technology? (This is the most important part of the inquiry, getting close to what Ben Wilkoff calls The Ripe Environment. What kinds of change must occur in our attitudes to create institutional cultures that encourage innovation and collaboration? Wilkoff maintains talking about the tools is not the answer.)
  • What are the possible barriers or obstacles to consider when trying to integrate this technology for purposes of mentoring?
  • And for specific tools I will ask: How does this stand up to basic software evaluation criteria, such as user features, user interface, and help desk support? I will use Kathy Schrock’s Software Evaluation Form as a start, but ultimately I hope to compile a specific list of criteria for assessing tools that support learning communities.

And, if available, I will share outcomes and evidence of impact in professional learning communities that have already integrated these technologies.

An overriding theme, the “super glue,” if you will, that will hold all this together rests on my ability to relate in first-person narrative the impact these technologies have had on my own personal and professional growth as a teacher/learner.

The final inquiry will be packaged in wiki form, with the first installment due next week.

How’s that for accountability and transparency?

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My new "textbook"

One of my delights as an undergrad was the twice annual visit to the campus bookstore to buy my texts. My fellow English majors probably have similar fond memories: armloads of paperbacks with a few Norton anthologies thrown in for good measure. As a financial aid recipient, my checking account was always fat at the beginning of each new semester, and money seemed to be no object as I piled blue books, spiral-topped notebooks, and highlighters onto the checkout counter along with the semester’s readings.

Now, as a graduate student with a kid and a mortgage, the book-buying ritual isn’t nearly as fun, but thanks to a recent post at Weblogg-ed, I have a new way of thinking about my required reading for this semester and beyond.

To borrow Will Richardson’s metaphor, one of my “textbooks” this fall will be my RSS aggregator.

As described in my previous post, I will soon begin an independent study on best practices for computer-mediated, peer-to-peer mentoring for new and novice teachers. In addition to poring over traditional, “scholarly” resources, I plan to use RSS to channel the best-of-the-best blog posts on the subject. The aggregate is indeed a text to be studied, with the added benefits of being totally topical, customizable, and (the best part) free.

This means tweaking my RSS aggregator to regain some much needed focus. I’m in the process of dropping some feeds (if only temporarily) to make room for others that may be more fruitful.

For example, I’ve recently added subscriptions to blogs by Christopher D. Sessums and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach.

Who/what am I missing?

Independent study, fall 2007

This fall I will begin an independent study/inquiry under the supervision of Dr. Mary Anne Blank in the department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education, University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

The topic of inquiry is how to use 21st century skills and applications to support/enhance/facilitate Knox County Schools’ new teacher induction and mentoring program here in East Tennessee. The program, which just completed its first full year of systemwide implementation, has received resounding endorsement from participants as well as suggestions and feedback for growth and improvement in 2007-08.

What follows is a statement of the problem with questions, arranged using the classic K-W-L format.

What is Known or Agreed Upon:

  • On mid-year and end-of-year program assessments, some novice teachers in special areas (such as art, music, etc.) indicated that their mentoring experience would have been more meaningful had they been matched with an experienced teacher in that same area. However, some campuses simply do not have building-level staff to support one-on-one mentoring in special areas. When mentors and novices cannot be in close proximity to one another, e-Mentoring may be a possible solution, such as the ENDAPT model used for interns and alumnae of the William and Mary teacher preparation program.
  • Teachers of color have also indicated an interest in mentoring activities adjusted to meet their needs. Again, this may be a problem addressed through some sort of computer-mediated communication, such as a networked learning community that transcends classroom walls and even campus borders.
  • Through my own experience as a mentor and mentoring team leader at Fulton High School, I know that our meetings were critical for successful implementation of our building-level action plan. I also recall that our busy schedules did not permit numerous after-school meetings, so we limited ourselves to monthly face-to-face sessions, which were not always sufficient for effective administration of the program on a day-to-day basis. In between meetings, we stayed connected with email. Email, however, does not afford the level of connectivity currently available through networking sites like Classroom 2.0 and TappedIn. In these online communities multiple users form special interest groups that collaborate and problem solve through threaded discussions, forums, and virtual “meeting rooms.”

What I Want to Know:

  • Clearly, there is much potential for enhancing Knox County Schools’ mentoring and induction program with the integration of 21st century tools and applications. Each of the aforementioned groups might benefit from a computer-mediated intervention. Which group would be a good starting point?
  • Once a focus group of mentors and/or novices is identified, what tools, applications, resources/best practices will best suit their needs?
  • What issues, in terms of technical support and buy-in, have to be addressed before a viable prototype can be developed and piloted?
  • What issues can be addressed through training? What will the training component look like?
  • How will my own virtual professional development activities (TappedIn, Classroom 2.0, EdTechTalk, EdubloggerWorld) inform this inquiry?

What I Learned:
This section of the inquiry will become more transparent as I begin my research. Look for more installments in the coming weeks and months!


Archives:

Think on this:

"What if we just ignored the status of students in other countries? That wouldn’t be especially neighborly, but at least we wouldn’t be viewing the gains of children in other lands as a troubling development."

Alfie Kohn


"When I hear people say it's our job to create the 21st century workforce, it scares the hell out of me. Our job is to create 21st-century citizens. We need workers, yes, but we also need scholars, activists, parents -- compassionate, engaged people."

Chris Lehmann

Train of thought:


These are the communities where I network and cross-post. Come by for a visit!
Classroom 2.0
School Matters (East TN, USA)
Media Literacy