Connections and Communication in the GCC

My Course 5 Final Project is a regionally collaborative project involving classrooms from the 6 Gulf countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This is the second year we have ran the project, but this year we made many adjustments to enable more communication and collaboration between students. In order to facilitate interactions between 188 students, I knew we would need to improve communications between the 10 participating teachers (plus any support specialists).

screenshot-plus.google.com 2016-04-06 12-02-36

Last year to accommodate communication between teachers, we relied on Google Hangouts to chat in groups or just pairs. This year, with plenty of positive interdependence built in, I knew we would need a forum where we could all initiate conversations, post resources, and ask or answer questions. I decided to create a private Google+ Community called Together in the GCC. I liked that I could create a closed group, and although I could have done the same on Facebook, I knew all the teachers were at schools using Google Apps for Education.

2-Together in the GCC Educator Community Community GoogleThis forum has worked well for our project. It was easy to quickly poll teachers for input or majority decisions, and it was also great for me and other teachers to pass along resources needed for the project.

The biggest challenge was getting teachers to participate in the community. For the most part there was one main teacher from each school that was active, and of those half only responded to questions within a days time. With a tight timeline already, this issue will definitely need work at the beginning of the project next year if our aim is to truly go through the project together with our students relying on each other’s research and presentations in order to create their final project.

To address this, I think it would help to email out a ‘Welcome Video’ that included a short tutorial about the community. The tutorial would need to go over tips to be an active member like: setting up a notification email to see when others post, how to post and reply, the importance of using the ‘+1’ button, places to find members and their emails, and how the feed is organized. screenshot-drive.google.com 2016-04-06 12-05-23In addition to introducing features of the Google + community, I will also include an overview of what is housed in our shared Google Drive Folder and how participating teachers can add their resources to be shared by all.

I have also kept the initial Weebly website updated, which I created when the project was first launched last year; it’s also called Together in the GCC. This year, the intended audience became the students, rather than the teachers, as it was last year. I think the site was less utilized this year because teachers didn’t need it for project resources; and instead of students accessing the materials there, most teachers passed them to their students through email or Google Drive. For next year, I think it would be a good idea to continue to use the Weebly site for students, but pay for the ‘premium’ account in order to allow other teachers edit the site, including the home page blog roll with messages to/from students.

screenshot-togetherinthegcc.weebly.com 2016-04-06 11-33-39

Google+ Communities is not a perfect tool, however, and I would really like to see them add an archive section to quickly access all the documents that have been attached to posts; much like Facebook has a place to scroll through all the photos attached or tagged.

Overall, I really like Google+ Communities and have plans to use it in my role as the New Faculty Coordinator to answer questions, provide necessary information for their transition, and to facilitate communication among incoming teachers. I’m hoping that through the use, they might be inspired to use it with their students, especially in the secondary school.

I’ve been happy with the choice of the Google+ Community, and with more front loading about how to use the tool effectively, I think it will provide the opportunity for more communication around ideas, resources, shared decisions, and progress; all of which are needed to maximize our students global collaboration.

Lead the Way

I think student empowerment begins with teacher empowerment. It is up to mentors, teachers, and parents to expose children to the transformational power of online communities. As Derek Muller explains in his new clip called Learned Helplessness, school has become something kids have to endure and therefore kids develop a learned helplessness around learning. Many students do not see learning and achieving their passions as something that they can do for themselves. Watch the clip below:

I’ve always been energized by collaborating on projects and working off each others’ ideas to create better ones. However, all of my experience until now has been face to face. Global collaboration is new to me and I’m wondering How’d I not think of this before?!

There are several projects and professional learning happening this year at my school that has shown teachers the power of connecting to a greater community using the web:

  • Our 1st and 4th graders participated in the If You Learned Here global collaborative project. It was an exciting experience connecting and contributing to a project housed in the cloud between participants. Our students enjoyed sharing about their school, as well as learning about other schools around the world. Recently the 1st and 4th graders met up to peruse the collaborative ebook that served as the project’s final product, and the prideful buzz in the room was contagious.
  • Our 4th graders are in the middle of a project called Together in the GCC and it has led to making connections with teachers and students from Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. The kids eagerly gather research each week in preparation to create videos and share their finding with the GCC community. Equally enthusiastic are the teachers, who collaborate each week to share ideas and tips. When first starting the project, I found participants through Twitter, as well as emailing schools and asking that they forward the project description to their 4th grade teachers. We began communicating via email and Google Hangouts, but now easily converse about the project using Google Chat. We have formed a powerful partnership and hope to continue the project and make it better each year.
  • I recently helped plan a unit with Jodee Junge for her 3rd grade class to learn about human migration. We will use Flipgrid to gather migration stories from teachers, parents, and Jodee’s and my PLN. By hearing of others’ migration experiences, we think it will evoke empathy within her students and enable them to better internalize the concepts and causes behind migration.
  • This year I have taken on the roll of New Faculty Coordinator and am utilizing my new skills and ideas for online collaboration. I am using Google Classroom to facilitate discussion, share tutorials, and even create assignments such as Make a Twitter account, connect with each other,  and follow your new school.  I shared Jeff’s Twitter tutorial, as well as a clip of him talking about how the internet is a mass of communities.  I also shared the recent Where There’s Smoke Podcast about Communities that included Jeff as the guest speaker. It gave many of the teachers, most of whom are beginning their first international teaching post, a sense of calm in knowing that the pulse of the community is not where it was created, but in the hearts of the members and that the community can still flourish even if it is apart. I also surveyed the teachers to get an idea of their experience with the Google Education Tools, which you can’t live without at our school. Knowing what they need, I have been creating and sharing short screencasts showing them how to effectively use Gmail, Calendars, and Drive. The best part was that a few of the teachers responded with other tricks and tips and agreed to create a screencast of their own. Little by little, these new teachers have ‘friended’ me on facebook and are sending me emails and opening up with their fears, anticipation, and excitement. I am getting lots of great feedback and am confident that we are creating strong, supportive bonds without ever having met.
Photo Courtesy of Mike via Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Mike via Flickr

These projects and learning experiences have opened me and many others at my school, to new ways of creating student centered approaches to learning. It is important to show teachers and students the possibilities of connecting to other learners around the world. Once we allow our learners to be back in the ‘driver’s seat’ of their learning process and goals, we can leave Learned Helplessness behind.

 

 

First Impressions

Photo credit Dalaganyc via Tumblr
Photo credit Dalaganyc via Tumblr

I love watching What Not to Wear. Stacy and Clinton, show after show, teach clients the importance of dressing appropriately for the situation, while still reflecting their unique personalities. It is obvious at the end of each episode that the client’s restyle has given her the confidence needed to go after new jobs and social situations.

There are many parallels of Stacy and Clinton’s philosophies to an ‘online look’. Yes, you should still be you – in fact part of a great look is when your sense of style and uniqueness shines through.  No, it’s not vain to care what you look like because people are making judgements that could help or hinder your life and career.

Check Your Reflection. Photo credit courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Check Your Reflection. Photo credit courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In our physical and virtual lives, (No… one is not more real than the other) what you do, what you say, and how you look help people understand you. The Science of First Impressions explains that humans are genetically hard wired to make quick decisions. In the first few moments that we meet someone in person or online, what do we have to go on? Nothing but their looks. We naturally make sense of what we see by categorizing them with other people who we know, that look the same way.

Physical and virtual first impressions will get you nowhere or everywhere. Jason Cass tells the story of how his online presence and well groomed personal brand got him a job in several times of need. On the other side of this coin – how about Trevor Noah taking over for John Stewart? Not many knew who Trevor was, but after a few unfavorable Tweets resurfaced, not many are in favor of the replacement. Unfair? Probably, but that’s the way it is as Arthur Chu explains:

All it takes is one of your old tweets going viral for Twitter to transform from a real-time conversation into a courtroom dissection, where a dialogue, a defense, or even a wholesale apology comes to seem pointless because the real-time conversation is gone—no one’s even listening to you anymore, they’re just linking the old tweet and adding their pile-on comments to it again and again and again. 

While many adults would read the warnings and choose not to join Twitter and social media just in case, our students probably won’t. They will be on social media regardless. That’s why I love the idea of telling students how social media and the internet can get them a step ahead, similar to the lesson plan “Would You Hire You?” Students are very used to the “DO NOTs,” and the warnings of the destructive potential of the internet. Think of their surprise if you flipped the message into a constructive one. Building a personal learning network and positive personal brand can link you to people and opportunities all over the world. This type of online look takes thought, planning, caution, creativity and restraint – just like your physical look.

 

 

My Journey From Content to Communities

 

Original photo by Anthony Messeh at Franthony.com

At the beginning of this school year I was unexpectedly asked to fill the position of Technology Coordinator. In my own classroom, I was an expert in leveraging technology to turn my students into independent learners – but that was on my own terms and any flops were mine to overcome. I was under no illusion that I was well prepared for the job of influencing others to create an innovative and technology rich classroom. So – I started researching.

My reading started with a simple search for ‘technology integration’ resources. The search quickly lead me to the world of Twitter, where I was immediately connected to technology integrationists, coordinators, and eCoaches all over the world. I was fascinated at the wide range of topics that were covered in one place. Tweets would often lead me to blogs, and the blogs led to more helpful resources. It was then that my search for great articles, became instead, my search for great circles.

‘Surrounding’ myself (virtually) with like minded people made my studies and research easy. I was instantly notified about the new tricks and successes other educators in my PLN, or ‘professional learning network’ were experiencing. I was able to learn from other teachers who were using innovative strategies in their classroom such as project based learning, maker spaces that inspired creativity, formative assessment methods, digital portfolios, classroom coding projects, and standards based grading, just to name a few. I have also become ‘in the know’ about upcoming trainings that are happening all around the world; which used to take me hours to find using broad search terms. In addition, to knowing about the trainings, I can also look back at what participants gained from the conference by searching the hashtag; this helps me decide if its a training that would benefit me or others I know.

Jeff Utecht pointed out in his book REACH that a community is a group of people who have a common interest. Therefore where you seek content, you also find community. You can direct relevant and timely information your way by being connected to likeminded people. The best part of this transformation for me was that I didn’t even know I needed it. Having internet communities do the work for me wasn’t something I’d considered possible, let alone easy! It’s now part of my mission to expose teachers at my school to the power of a PLN and the ability of a few easy tools to funnel information and contacts around the world right to a phone or computer.

According to the Living and Learning with New Media Report, students are already well versed in digital communications and spend a majority of their day conversing with online social circles. The argument could be made that young people understand the fundamental principle of the ‘World Wide Web’ better than most. As its name implies, it is about connections, not content. Educators who want to provide relevant and career preparatory skills, need to incorporate learning strategies that are social and connected to other learners outside classrooms. Once students and teachers alike are harnessing the power of online communities in order to learn content, our students will be become active members of a global society who not only learn from others, but also create for others to learn from them.

Although my knee-jerk answer to this week’s essential question was “both, right?” I’ve now reconsidered by having a look back at how I have already learned so much this year. Although helpful, it wasn’t by reading great articles I found through Google. Rather, it was by connecting with a wide circle of educators interested in technology, innovation, and creativity that led me to a wealth of human and text resources. And, obviously my most important find was when I stumbled upon several Twitter users that described themselves as #Coetailers.