Effective Professional Learning through Google+

As Edmonton Public Schools migrates from Outlook to Gmail, one of the apps that will appear on everyone’s radar will be Google+. Google has been promoting and forcing the sucess of G+ by integrating it with it’s successful aquisitions, such as Blogger and YouTube. Although the motives for the integration are not educational, it can provides us new opportunities for just-in-time, authentic, job-embedded, cost-effective professional learning.

Hangouts

Hangouts can profoundly impact the way we deliver professional learning. In our current model, we ask staff to travel to a school or the central office to hold professional learning sessions at the end of a day of teaching. The average travel time is around half and hour, which means that in order for the trip to be worth their time, we need to meet for a minimum of an hour and a half. Not all of the work done in that time is immedately relavent and pushes us into the “just-incase” zone of learning. However, teachers that meet in hangout afterschool do not need to travel anywhere. The time together could be as short as 15 to 20min and focus on a topic that is timely and relevant to their context. As a result, hangouts can also be done during spares and breaks. With the efficiency created by hangouts, smaller groups can meet for a shorter duration at an increased frequency, improving the job-embedded nature and effectiveness of the professional learning.

Some potential ways to use hangouts for professional learning may include:

  • Broadcast a discussion about a current topic in education (assessment practices, emerging technology, pedagogical theory, etc) by experts and practitioners for those in the District who are interested.
  • Collaborative planning with specialists from around the District.
  • Model and broadcast best practices. Have an expert broadcast a guided reading session with reading experts annotating and commenting on the process as it happens live.
  • Teacher records a lesson and a panel can provide feedback (similar to the old instructional walk-throughs)
  • Tech Support through sharing displays
  • Assessing student work. Share examples of student work at various levels and have colleagues discuss and establish norms for assessment.

Circles

Circles are a great opportunity for teachers to build their own professional learning community. Circles are similar to Twitter lists, by clicking on the circle you can see what everyone in that circle has posted. This may really open up the lines of communication because teachers can pull the information that is of interest to them, instead of recieving an email with all the generic district news as controlled by the Communication department (they do a good job, its just hard to be releveant to all staff in a weekly email). Properly set up circles will inform teachers of news that pertains to them around the district as well as provide information about professional learning opportunities. Circles can also provide teachers with the most current information available about the topics they are interested in as well as give them an opportunity to post and share what they are doing in their class.

Some potential ways to organize circles:

  • By School. Put all the staff at your school into a circle to get a sense of what is happening school-wide.
  • District Network. Create a circle of the people who influnce your work and who are not in your school. This would include Senior Managment, District News sources (Communications, IT, HR).
  • By professional network. Add internal and external people who share an interest of yours (assessment, edtech, UDL, etc).
  • Grade level/subject area. Similar to a collaborative board on Pinterest, share lesson plans, activities and resourses for classes that you teach
  • General Interest. To inspire creativity and prevent you from living in an echo chamber, create a circle of people you wouldn’t normally follow or create a non-work related topic (food, sports, fitness, cats, etc).

Communities

Communities function like a Facebook Group. They can be private or public and are a great place to coordinate resources, events and reflections on any given topic. Private communities are best built though natural connections in the offline world. However, public communities can be open to the District for people who are interested in a topic, but do not want to put together a circle. Community posts will appear in all community members’ notifications. Its a way to stay connected to the concepts, information and learning without having to connect profiles.

Some potential communities could be:

  • Private – School Groupings that meet monthly or bi-monthly. A way to stay connected in the “in between” times.
  • Public – Topical , for those interested in research and information on authentic learning, EdTech, assessment, UDL, etc.

This are only a few of the ideas that G+ may have on professional learning. We will see how they play out and what we learn as we go along. There are other elements of G+ not covered in this post, such as Pages and Events. I will need to play around with these a bit more before I can comment on their usefulness.

I am looking forward to getting G+ in our District. It will provide us with some exciting opportunities to look at new ways of delivering effective and efficient professional learning.

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