Community Engagement, Globally and Locally.

One of the reasons that I joined the COETAIL program was that I knew it would push me to develop my network by using digital tools to connect with other educators globally.  Prior to joining COETAIL, I had a limited online presence in a professional sense, which is a very large oversight for anyone looking to advance their learning in their profession. 

The major theme running through the COETAIL program has been the idea that connections enhance learning.  The wider your network, the wider the source of ideas and inspiration you have access to.  On the cusp of completing the COETAIL program, I can say that I am in agreement with this premise, and I have gained quite a bit professionally from putting it into practice.  When I joined COETAIL, I also signed up for Twitter, and found that to be an excellent resource for connecting with, and learning from, other educators, writers, bloggers, and thinkers from around the world. I have written about my experience with Twitter over the past 18 months in my previous post, and will not discuss that here.

In this post, I aim to present my experiences using other platforms, and the ways in which they have helped to increase my engagement with both my local, and global communities.  

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the social media platform of choice for those looking to expand their professional networks, and enhance their careers.  Prior to joining COETAIL, I had a limited LinkedIn presence, and did not use it for much. I had never used it to land a job, and I hadn’t (yet!) seen the value in growing a PLN by using it.  

I have gone back through my contacts and connected with old colleagues at previous schools, people I worked with in graduate school, and people I currently work with at my school.  I find that people don’t share as much, or as frequently, on LinkedIn as they do on Twitter, but I do find that when people do post to LinkedIn, it is usually a higher quality post. 

In addition to reaching out to my network of those I have met in person, I have reached out to connect with a variety of people that I am simply interested in following.  Examples include:  Naveen Jain (entrepreneur and founder of several companies), Mark Metry (host of the Humans 2.0 podcast), Mark Perna (speaker, writer), Don Wettrick (founder of StartEdUp Innovation and host of the StartEdUp podcast), and I have also made connections with local teachers at non-international schools in Switzerland.  I have yet to maximize the full potential of my LinkedIn network, but this is an area in which I hope to develop in 2019, as I see a lot of possibility lying dormant in my LinkedIn network.  To be continued…..

Kognity

One of the digital resources that I am using at my school is an online textbook for IB Chemistry, published by Kognity, which I use as a supplemental resource for my students.  As a teacher, I like this resource because I can set assignments (both reading assignments, and question-based assignments) to my students, who can then complete them outside of class.  I don’t count these assignments as a grade – rather, they provide both my students and I valuable data. My students benefit from answering questions, which are then immediately marked and assessed by the program, and they can receive instantaneous feedback on their progress.  I also see which students have (or have not!) completed an assignment, and which questions they missed. I can aggregate these data across whole classes, to see if there are any trends in what students are answering incorrectly. This lets me know what I might have to reteach, and where students may need extra practice.  I have included a screenshot of the statistics page below, to show you how I can track student progress and how each student is doing. (Students names are left off the photo, to the left.)

Kognity Student data sample
(Sample of student progress data generated by the Kognity platform.)

Kognity has recently started a network of its own for educators, within its system.  The goal is for teachers who are using Kognity to connect with each other, and share best practices.  Recognizing another way to learn and benefit from the ideas of others, I joined up and started posting.  I have already shared a number of ideas with other educators, and helped to give feedback on platform options that teachers would like to see.  

Kognity Teacher

(Screenshot from the Kognity Teacher Community Portal)

Learning 2

After a year of writing on a public blog, and using Twitter and LinkedIn to share ideas and connect with others, I decided earlier this semester that it was time to throw my hat in the ring to run a workshop at a conference.  I have been to a number of conferences, but have yet to run a workshop or give a talk at one, and I felt that this was a next logical step in increasing my community engagement. This coming January I will be attending Learning 2, a conference for educators that is taking place here in Zurich this coming January. Since I was attending anyway, this was a logical place to start taking a more active role in my profession by running a workshop.  With the help of our school’s primary and secondary digital coaches, we put together a proposal to run a workshop on how teachers can begin to implement augmented and virtual reality technology into their classes. I found out last week that our proposal was accepted, and I am looking forward to the experience of sharing what I’ve learned about AR and VR in my own classes.

My Local School Community

In addition to my global PLN, I also turned to my local school’s community to share my experiences as well.  I am very intrigued by the potential of both augmented and virtual reality technology to the classroom, and this past semester I have taken the steps to stop simply talking about them, and actually start applying them.  In my IB Chemistry classes, I’ve been using AR and VR technology to teach about molecular shapes, chemical bonding, structures of solids, solubility, and organic chemistry reaction mechanisms. Some apps and programs have proven to be better than others, but the important thing is that I’m now applying what I have been learning through the past 18 months with COETAIL.  

Student feedback from the AR and VR lessons has been very positive.  Most complaints that students have is the difficulty focusing on the screen images with Google Cardboard, which is something that a more robust VR headset would rectify.  It was apparent to me that students really enjoyed the opportunity to see, move, and view chemical structures in three dimensions, and several students specifically said that it helped clear up some doubts they had about their understanding.  After running several AR/VR lessons this past semester, I am convinced more than ever that these technologies hold tremendous potential for educators and all levels and just about almost every subject I can think of.

IMG-2614

(VR in action in the chemistry classroom.)

Our school’s photographer visited one of my VR lessons, and is now submitting a short story about it for the school’s quarterly community bulletin.  This highlights another way that applying my learning and putting into action is resulting in greater community engagement for me as an educator.  

Meetup

I have recently made a number of connections from an unlikely source – Meetup.  Meetup is a social network for people looking to find and meet others who share a common interest.  I joined Meetup when I moved to Switzerland, seeking out follow hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.  I never expected to make professional connections, or link Meetup with my professional life, but, it turns out that Meetup has also been a great way to network.

I went on a hike recently with a group organized through Meetup, and started chatting to one of the participants.  It turns out that he is a mathematics professor, working at one of the local universities, ETH Zurich.  It also happened that he runs a youth mathematics program, open to any secondary student in Switzerland between the ages of 13-18. (This is all for free, by the way.  Amazing.) I invited this professor to our school to give a talk to our grade 10 math classes, which were well received.  As a result, almost a dozen students from my school now attend these mathematics courses at the university, and this chance encounter on a hike is how it all started.  This wouldn’t have happened if I had not been in the mindset of actively looking for opportunities to learn and connect.

Next week, I will be attending the Zurich EdTech Launch Meetup, which will be populated by mostly entrepreneurs and other tech startup types, but I am going to simply meet people, chat, and expand my network.  And who knows – perhaps someday one of these new contacts will turn out to be incredibly valuable!

Is MeetUp going to turn into a major source of professional learning for me?  Very doubtful, but I would like to borrow a quote from, Don Wettrick, host of one of my favorite education podcasts (StartEdUp), “Opportunities are everywhere.”  Indeed they are, and one just needs to be aware enough to recognize them!

In Summary

Thanks for reading about the ways other than Twitter in which I have grown my level of community engagement both globally and locally.  If it weren’t for this aspect of the final COETAIL course, I may not have had the theme of “community engagement” at the forefront of my thinking this semester, and I would have missed out on some great opportunities.  I plan to continue to expand both my global and local networks into the coming year and beyond. This has been a an inspiring, valuable, and invigorating journey so far, and I am interested to see what opportunities for growth emerge from it.  

Have you found any other great resources for meeting other educators, or a way to use a platform I’ve mentioned above in a creative way?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Thanks for your input!

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