Sunday, June 12, 2016

Taking charge of your professional development

For many education professionals competence development is still mostly locked into attending internal training sessions either on campus or at a conference centre before the start of the new academic year. Sometimes these sessions are excellent and many can gain inspiration from them but often they miss the mark. The session can never be relevant for everyone; some already know what is being taught and others find it completely over their heads. Competence development is highly personal and so a classroom approach is always going to fall short. Maybe the most valuable group trining initiatives are workshops on how to take charge of your owbn professional development. Instead of waiting for a suitable on-site course to be arranged we can all benefit from learning how to find educational resources, join communities of practice, develop personal learning networks, find open courses to join amd develop skills in online collaboration. The range of opportunities is vast but sadly very few teachers are aware of them so awareness raising workshops are a good start.

Steven W Anderson writes about this in a recent post, Taking Control Of Your Professional Development. He recommends teachers to widen their horizons by reading educational blogs, attending free webinars, joining Twitter chat sessions and attending edcamps. The links he provides are all USA-oriented but similar resources and communities are available in most countries. The key skill in professional development is learning how to learn online. Professional development is available to all if you know where to find it.

The fact of the matter is educators, no matter their position, can no longer rely on their schools and districts to provide the targeted professional development every educator needs and deserves.

There are of course many more sources of inspiration and here are my additions to Steven's list.

Social networks.
Search for teacher groups on Facebook or Google+, both in your own country and internationally. There are thousands of professional groups that you can join but the trick is to find the ones that are relevant for you and are active. Check the group and see how active it is and whether the discussions are relevant for you before asking to join. Most professional groups are protected to some extent and you have to ask for membership but most let you view their activity without being a member. If the administrator sees that you are serious you will be admitted. Here it is important that you have a good profile description and photo that show you are real. Spammers normally have bizarre profile photos, no friends and no signs of interaction with others.

There are many benefits of participating in such professional groups. You widen your professional network, participate in a wider discussion and if you share your knowledge and help others new opportunities will emerge such as invitations to join a project, develop a course, write an article etc. Many people join communities as passive members but the fact is that the more you put in the more you get out. Get involved and see where it takes you. If the group gets too quiet just leave and find a more lively group. If you're wary of Facebook or Google+ then there are thousands of professional groups and networks on LinkedIn. Just search and join the ones that appeal.

Open courses
There are thousands of free open courses out there and not all are called MOOCs. There are lots of open courses for teacher development and the best place to start is to search on MOOC aggregators like Class Central, EMMA or Openuped where you can find courses from most of the major consortia. Some courses are mostly guided self-study but most offer discussion forums and other opportunities for interaction and once again getting involved means you can build your international contact network. The main thing to remember is not to take these courses lightly. Many demand at least 8 hours of study per week and if you want to learn you need to make an effort. Still too many people assume that an online course is for some strange reason a light option.

There are also many open online courses that don't mention that four-letter acronym, offering both self-study and collaborative models, such as Peer 2 Peer University, OERuniversity, Udemy and many more.

Open educational resources
There is of course a vast range of OER that can provide inspiration and professional development. The difficulty is that all this courseware is distributed over hundreds of repositories and it's hard to make fully aggregated searches. Furthermore OER tend to be single resources that don't link to related material so putting them together into a coherent self-study course structure may not be easy. If you looking for resources in English try searching for "teaching" or "pedagogy" in the Open Education Consortium search function. Another source of lectures and course material from thousands of institutions worldwide is iTunesU and you can download the material free to any device though you first need to download the iTunes app.  Furthermore many universities share their lectures and course material on open courseware sites like MIT Open courseware, Open University's Open Learn etc. There are of course similar resource banks in most countries and in many languages.

1 comment: