At TPN, we’re really excited about how virtual communities are transforming teacher professional learning and collaboration. Way too many teachers are isolated by remote locations and uncommon subject areas. Many have few, if any, opportunities for peer-driven learning and compelling collaborations. Lately, virtual communities have been driving unprecedented access to peers, experts, resources and leadership development.
At this year’s ACTE CareerTech VISION, CFTL director Tracy Huebner sat down with our friends at ISTE, NCSS and ACTE to learn about how they’re using virtual communities to create amazing opportunities for the teachers they serve to learn and collaborate on improving the teaching profession.
Recently, we talked about the catalyst that led ISTE, NCSS and ACTE to building virtual communities. Shortly after, we passed along effective strategies used to sustain teacher interest and virtual peer learning.
As with all innovation, lots of discoveries were made about what works, and sometimes what doesn’t work. We listened to the insights of ISTE, NCSS and ACTE, and share these 5 tips for launching a successful virtual learning community with teachers.
BALANCE ROBUST CONTENT WITH TEACHER-LED TALK
To keep teachers coming back to your virtual community, offer them both high-quality content and a compelling reason to participate. In their limited free time, teachers want to find ready-to-use resources or join conversations that are relevant to their current needs.
PUT THE POWER OF COMMUNITY IN TEACHERS’ HANDS
Relinquish authority and give teachers ownership to drive the content. Reach out and invite them to lead online discussions, share expertise and lessons, and blog. You’ll find teacher-to-teacher perspectives are popular, and when teachers feel empowered with a voice, they will contribute to their community.
In a virtual community, teachers seek colleagues who share their passion and interest. Make it easy for teachers to find one another and connect by creating groups to join based on grade levels, instructional strategy, or content area theme. Support teachers with planning tools, lesson templates or design frameworks to try out and bring back to their groups in the virtual rooms.
UNDERSTAND WHAT IS TECHNOLOGICALLY POSSIBLE
Get to know your platform — its features, limitations and quirks. Only then can you design a realistic and user-friendly experience. Questions that ACTE, NCSS and ISTE asked themselves: Is it easy for teachers to find what they need? How do teachers find other teachers with the same interest? How can face-to-face professional development move to a digital space? How do teachers collaborate on the site? How do teachers upload lessons to share and easily locate new lessons to use?
GIVE IT TIME
It takes time to nurture community. This is true for face-to-face communities, and it is true for virtual communities. Work on ways to build relationships between teachers, and continuously try new approaches to engage your community. Create opportunities where teachers experience the benefits of being part of a dynamic virtual community.
Teacher-to-teacher learning and collaboration is happening in digital spaces everywhere. As we learn more about how teachers connect virtually to build their pedagogical and content knowledge in meaningful ways, we will continue to share these exciting innovations.
Co-authors Pamela Fong, education researcher, and Clay Willis, communications specialist for the Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning at WestEd, report on innovative approaches involving digital technology to improving teaching and learning.