Category Archives: Social Networks

YouPD and Peer-led Professional Development

a quest for what works

What are ways adults can (and already do) learn from each other?  How can we think differently about how teachers can develop their craft and be recognized for their expertise? Especially in the profession of teaching, what of value goes unacknowledged that can instead be visualized, celebrated, and professionalized? After very rapid design/development this past spring and a limited introduction this summer, YouPD.org (beta) has been a useful exploration of these questions through real world application of some hypotheses.

YouPD.org is a peer-driven professional development community, questing together for what works.   Noticing the numbers of teachers seeking out other teachers and resources online,  as well as the large gaps in understanding how to effectively engage in virtual and blended learning, we wondered how a platform could better support that need and community.   The site mimics a lot of the ways  learning and professional development occurs in the coding and tech communities —  often self-directed, open-sourced, and peer-supported.   It also tries to integrate some of the positive dynamics of social networks and social incentives.   Part crowd-sourcing and part crowd-supporting, YouPD’s iterative development is attempting to figure out a few ideas:  1)  how to bubble-up teachers’ unique and valuable bottom-up knowledge in way that goes beyond just trading lesson plans,  2) how to motivate through social recognition both individual and community professional growth, 3) how to design meaningful challenges to facilitate teachers in pushing themselves and each other further, 4) if facilitating blended learning for students requires teachers to first experience blended learning themselves,  5) how to enable an authentic, peer-led community.

On YouPD.org you can do three main things:  1) Post or watch hacks — in this context a short 3-5 minute video or screencast explaining how you creatively solved a problem that you think others might benefit from trying as well,  2) Take badge-earning challenges that facilitate steps to developing a skill and outcome goal,  3) Participate in the peer community — giving feedback on others’ hacks, recommending a hack, tagging content, visiting other teachers who inspire you, going to a Blender/physical meetup,  etc.

Micro-actions on the site add to an individual’s “Cred Quotient” and earn points as Learners, Sharers, Influencers, and Collaborators.  The “Cred Quotient” is visible on individuals’ profile pages.  In addition to the community spaces, the individual profile acts as both an organizing tool (e.g. to find saved “playlists” of hacks, contributions, challenge badges) and potentially, in the future, a professionally valued portfolio of sorts.

As opposed to top-down, district-defined PD needs, YouPD is experimenting with ways for teachers to define their own learning needs, help solve each other’s learning needs, and be recognized for that personal growth and professional community.   From a research perspective, as participation grows,  it’s also a data-driven way to begin to see and understand aggregate patterns in what teachers are interested in learning (hacks they are clicking on and/or creating), which can potentially inform where and how to invest more resources.

Many questions and challenges remain as this site is further introduced, but some promising anecdotes are emerging of peer connections being forged.   See a snapshot of features not covered in this post through this short prezi, or visit the site.

Living and Learning with New Media

A white paper summarizing the results of a three-year ethnographic study, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, of participation in the new media ecology by U.S. youth was released today.  From interviewing and observing young people on social networks, video-sharing sites, gaming sites, cell phones, and ipod-like gadgets, the researchers unpacked behaviors and learning in every day activities that run contrary to common adult perceptions about what is a waste of time.

Some highlights I found worth digesting for improvement of program/product designs:

  • Drivers of self-motivated learning coming not from institutionalized “authorities” but from peer networks.
  • Different sets of hierarchies and politics in the online world creating opportunities for youth to exercise adult-like agency and leadership.  Ownership of their own self-presentation, learning, and evaluation of others.
  • Recognition, reputation, and sense of appreciative community as motivating forces for participants.  Underlying everything, there is a social context for sharing knowledge/interests.
  • The networked and public nature of these new media making the “lessons” about social life more consequential and persistent.  Friendship, social status, and informal forms of social evaluation are more explicit and visible in new ways.
  • Emergence of interest driven passions that require more far-flung networks of affiliation and expertise. At the same time, new media being integrated within everyday hangout practices that provide ways for young people to extend and enhance those networks across space and time.
  • Taking a serious look at “Hanging Out”, “Messing Around”, and “Geeking Out” as degrees of commitment to media engagement. 

There is also an online version of an associated book incorporating the insights from 800 youth and young adults and over 5000 hours of online observations.

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Teachers Social Networking

As an adult, I’ve learned a secret, teachers (at least in NYC) are among the most out-of-the-box people.  Perhaps its no surprise that many have gone renegade online to connect, learn, and share outside of their school institutions.  

Curious about how many informal teacher social networks have formed, I found a pretty staggering list.  Platforms like Ning, Elgg, and Wetpaint have allowed these decentralization digital communities to form, independent from physically defined school geographies and authorities. 

A comprehensive analysis of the topics, activities, and types of participants on these networks would likely be very useful for educational leaders.  A rough scan of the 300+ education related networks on Ning alone suggests a pattern of joining mostly around common geography (state or country/region), interest in integrating technology, particular content areas (especially language), and for inter-school classroom collaborations.  

Some large private players, like Microsoft with Innovative Teachers Network, have also created social network platforms for teachers (which has the double benefit of helping the company better understand the education market). 

Some additional questions to ponder:  Will school systems catch up and sign on to these kinds of social networking tools?  Do they need to catch up?  Does a forrest of home grown, teacher-generated networks stimulate more creativity and professional community than institutionally-tied social networks (and/or negate the need for them)?  For the education field, what are the tradeoffs in network effects?


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