As the founder of edWeb.net, a professional social network for the education community, I was struggling with how to build active and engaged communities on our website.
Then I attended Michelle Luhtala’s presentation at CoSN in March of 2010 on “Using Web 2.0 to Embed 21st Century Learning,” and I got an idea. Why not use Web 2.0 tools to spread the word about this to other school librarians?
Michelle (Head Librarian at New Canaan High School and winner of the 2010 School Library of the Year Award) uses many social networking tools and free collaborative technologies that are often banned in schools. After her presentation, I approached her with the idea of extending her presentation into a series of free monthly webinars embedded in a social networking community on edWeb.net. She loved the idea.
We launched “Using Emerging Technology to Advance Your School Library Program” in July of 2010, and could tell right away that we were onto a good idea. In spite of our initial technical challenges with the webinar platform, the librarians in the webinar would say, “Hey, this is just what happens at school!” Michelle is a fabulous presenter with so many innovative ideas. Members love connecting with her, and with each other every month.
We found the right tool (InstantPresenter.com) so we can incorporate video, text chat and polling so Michelle’s presentations are very personal and interactive. Each session includes lots of time for participants to text questions to Michelle, which she answers “live.” After the webinar, the conversation continues online through our community discussion forums. Emerging Tech creates a sense of community and connectedness that you rarely get from webinars – and even from online communities.
Over the past year, Emerging Tech has grown to 2,400 members. We hear from members all the time about how much they appreciate the program. The archived webinar recordings are a great feature of the program. Librarians can join the program at any time and catch up by watching any of the past programs.
Our members asked for CE certificates for participation, and we’ve been amazed at how valuable these certificates have been even though we are not an accredited program. If teachers could receive accredited CE certificates for participating in online Web 2.0 programs, we know the use of this kind of Web 2.0 technology would spread faster.
Emerging Tech would not have been possible without the support of Follett Software Company. Their offer to sponsor the program for an initial trial of three months and willingness to support our Web 2.0 experiment was truly visionary, and we can’t thank them enough! Two months into the program, Michael Campbell, the Director of Marketing, called me to say that Follett wanted to sponsor the program for the full year, and now Follett is sponsoring the sophomore year of Emerging Tech.
When Michelle started a discussion thread in Emerging Tech – “What do you want on the syllabus next year?” she received 80 posts of requests for topics to address! In July, we launched Year 2 – the Sophomore Year of the program. And it looks like we have enough topics to keep this going for quite some time. Emerging Tech has become a model for other Web 2.0 PD programs we are offering on edWeb.net.
Any librarian or educator is welcome to join Emerging Tech and can sign up at www.edweb.net/emergingtech. We hope to see many of you there!
Lisa Schmucki is the founder and CEO of edWeb.net, a professional social network for the education community. edWeb.net is free for all educators and schools. Join edweb at www.edweb.net.
Social media brings excitement and interest to learning and empowers students to grow as global and digital citizens. One obvious example of an educator who is embracing this technology to engage students is Van Meter Community School Librarian Shannon McClintock Miller (@shannonmmiller). We were fortunate to have Shannon present her ideas on the Positive Effects of Social Media in Education at our New Leaf in Learning Conference, which took place in March. It was a standing-room only session that illustrated how this trailblazer's confidence in social media as a constructive learning tool is paying off.
The session was recorded and is embedded below – if you can’t see the video, click here.
As she makes clear in the video, teachers and librarians don't need to fear social media—they need to encourage kids to use it to advance learning and show them constructive ways to utilize the tools. Using social media in her school allows Shannon to connect with other teachers and classrooms well beyond her district, and her students are sharing, publishing, discussing, creating and collaborating with peers and other teachers around the world.
"Social media brings excitement, currency and engagement," she told us. "It gives kids a voice and enriches their learning experiences by letting them connect with individuals, groups and experiences around the world."
As audience members expressed concern about kids wasting time texting from their cell phones and reading Facebook posts instead of participating in class, this enthusiastic educator pointed out that a driven instructor can steer students toward using social media productively, so that they don't have time or desire to use it in the ways many teachers and parents fear. She also described how the administration at Van Meter was 'on board' with her use of social media because everything is transparent—there are no secrets—and she takes the time to teach etiquette and literacy so all students strive to use social media wisely.
But don’t take her word for it. During the session, Shannon made it easy for everyone to get ideas and see social media in action by letting her students do the talking. As a group of students appeared on the screen live via Skype, each student greeted Miller enthusiastically then told the audience about their individual projects using Animoto, Skype, Facebook, iMovie, YouTube, Flickr and others. The audience immediately saw the power of social media through the students' own stories.
What positive effects are you seeing by using social media in education? Share your stories below!
Yes, it’s true, the National Education Technology Plan (just released in final form by the U. S. Dept. of Education) calls on educators to “leverage social networking technologies and platforms to create communities of practice that provide career-long personal learning opportunities for educators…”
My jaw dropped when I read this. Not because I am the founder of a social network for educators (I couldn’t have asked for a better prescription than this report.), but because of the research we’ve conducted with K-12 educators on the subject of social networking in education. Social networks are currently a “persona non-grata” technology in schools.
In our research and in educators’ conversations on edWeb.net, we hear over and over about the frustration of not being able to access the kinds of advanced technologies, especially social networks, that are so ideal for student collaboration and creating communities of practice for educators. Trying to use emerging technology is a struggle, leaving educators searching for “work-arounds” to find tools that are not blocked by IT filters.
Our research also showed us that school librarians are the most tech-savvy of all educators. When we asked a national cross-section of educators if they had joined a social networking website, 70% of librarians said “yes” compared to 62% of teachers and 54% of principals.
Based on these results, we decided to launch our first professional development program on edWeb.net for librarians. The program – “Using Emerging Technology to Advance Your School Library Program” – features live webinars in combination with our edWeb social network to provide a truly collaborative, ongoing program that helps school librarians address the very issues that are brought to the forefront in the National Education Technology Plan.
The librarians who are participating write to us all the time to tell us how much they are learning and how much they appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues. Librarians, with their head start in using technology, have a tremendous opportunity to transform their role into “chief information officer” for their schools and districts.
I’m confident that the barriers to using social networks in schools are going to come down. Students go to bed with this technology every day. It is their life and their future. Librarians and educators who adopt this technology are discovering a new way to build communities of practice with colleagues that open up a world of information, new practices, and resources.
The National Education Technology Plan recognizes the need to embrace technology, not block it. Let’s take down the barriers to emerging technology in our schools.