Technology, Teaching, and Public Education

Making the Most of Your Online Professional Learning in the Digital Age

“Most successful teachers learn from a combination of resources, including local communities, virtual communities, and research,” writes Kristen Swanson in her new book Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning. In other words, educators learn from the communities to which their are connected, and having the tools to make those connections are truly vital in the digital age. That’s where Swanson’s book comes in. Packed in only 109 pages, she gives readers the process and tools to become a connected educator in the 21st century, and engage in “user-generated learning.” Professional Learning in the Digital Age is a must read for educators who want to fine-tune the process of building and maintaining professional learning networks. And, for those have yet to venture out and begin the process of becoming a connected educator, this book gives them clear straightforward advice on how to do it, and a Tool Repository at the back of the book with which to get started.

Swanson begins by defining what is meant by “user-generated learning” which she defines as “learning acquired through active curation, reflection, and collaboration to a self-selected collaborative space.” In other words, user-generated learning is a very deliberate process of carrying out three specific actions that can transform an educator into a connected one, and by default transform his or her educational practice. These three actions that bring about the kinds of learning fostered through online connections include:
  • Curating: Process or action of carefully collecting relevant resources. In this case, these are resources entirely associated with our professional practice. There are online tools that aid in the process of curating the content and information on which learning is based.
  • Reflecting: Process or action of making sense of this newly curated information and determining what it all means for professional practice. Reflecting is vital to assimilating our new learning. Tools such as blogging assist educators in reflection.
  • Contributing: This is the final process of action of user-generated learning. It consists of giving back to the community of learners to which we are now connected. Contribution fosters connections.
In simple terms, engaging in these activities result in fostering and growing as a connected educator. Swanson gives readers a powerful formula for fostering “user-generated learning” through connectedness, capitalizing on one of the most powerful professional development tools educators have in the 21st century.
Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User-Generated Learning, Eye on Education,  is powerful-succinct guide for all educators to learn 21st century style.

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6 Strategies to Make Your School of District’s Office Paperless

This morning’s #satchat turned to a discussion about using technology to make the school administrator’s office paperless. I have actually always been “less paperful,” if I may coin a term, than other administrators because it is a by-product of relying heavily on technology, which I always have. I won’t go into the rationale for why one would want to have a paperless office because I think the reasons for doing so are rather obvious. Instead, let me just list some of my own practices that have facilitated being paperless as an administrator. I can’t hardly remember the last time I opened my file cabinet; maybe it was sometime in July. At any rate, my file cabinet lives a lonely and neglected life these days because its utility has been reduced to simply some place to put my printer. Still, I think these 6 simple strategies will go a long way in reducing the reliance on physical documents, hence paper.
  • Find some free/inexpensive Web 2.0 tools to streamline your practices. For example, I have a paid Evernote account and it is well-worth the subscription price. With this software, I take meeting notes, anecdotal notes, and  share articles/resources with staff. Evernote’s simple sharing feature means I can share the minutes from our last Professional Learning Community meeting with an email. Web 2.o tools like Diigo allow means I can share web resources I find with teachers, again, through email. My tablet’s Scanner app gives me a “scanner-on-the-go” and Dropbox gives me a virtual filling cabinet that follows me everywhere with access across devices. To go paperless requires finding Web 2.0 tools and apps that help you do many of those things you currently do on paper.
  • Invest in a copier that acts as a scanner and will send scanned documents to your email as PDF files. Or, you can get copiers that will scan documents and place them in specified folders on your network server. Our copier is capable of scanning any document, and with the press of button, you can send it to your email account. When I receive a document of importance in the mail, I scan and then file it electronically. To facilitate your paperless office, find the hardware that allows cut down on your need to store paper copies. A copier that scans and then sends the document to you will do just that.
  • Keep your computer file system simple; only use a handful of folders, the less the better. Many use conventional wisdom and start creating folder after folder on their desktop computers to file e-documents as they come in or are created. The problem with such file systems is two-fold. First, it takes time to ponder which folder in which you should place the created or received file. And then it takes time to remember which folder you put it when needed later. Instead multple folders, create one called “Working Docs” and another called “Docs Archive.” When working on that presentation next week, keep it in the “Working Docs” folder so you can access it quickly. If you are finished with a document or just are keeping an e-copy, dump it into your Docs Archive. One thing people seem to forget is that a computer is FULLY SEARCHABLE so finding a  file is a snap. Of course you have to put a little thought in what you name your files to begin with, but I bet you five dollars I could find my copy of last month’s principal’s meeting before you can!
  • When you receive a physical document in the mail that is important, always scan and then shred it. Walk in to any administrator’s office and I bet there’s a stack somewhere. In that stack are things received in the mail that are awaiting their fate, either filing in a folder or in the trashcan. I will confess that I have one of those stacks too, but I bet mine is smaller, and I use the “scan and shred” method for physical documents I receive to keep that pile in line. While sorting the mail, I immediately make a determination: doc-to-be-archived or junk. It is that simple. I handle mail only once. Docs-to-be-archived go into to pile which goes to my copier-scanner then the shredder. This keeps the paper pile at bay in my office, and immediately gets those documents into my Docs Archive, which I described in the above bullet.
  • Insist that others send you documents either as email attachments or share it with you as a Google Doc. I repeat constantly to everyone who will hear: “Just send it to me as an attachment.” Or I tell them, “Create your schedule on a Google Doc and just share it with me.” The rationale here is to get others to utilize the tools that will minimize the paper coming into my office. Most happily assist me. Those who don’t? I just keep encouraging them.
  • Create a simple email sorting system and avoid using multiple email folders. Keeping a simple sorting and filing system in email will also affect the paper load coming through the office too. I use a two-folder system in my email similar to that I use for my desktop. I create two email folders in my Gmail. One is called “Follow-Up” and the other is “Hold.” By using these folders and my email processing procedure, I always have an empty “Inbox” at the end of the day. I usually conduct two or three main email processing sessions a day. The first step in this processing is to read each email and immediately decide whether a) it requires action from me, b) it is information I will need in the next several days, c) it is informational, or d) it is spam or junk. If an email  requires action from me, I put it in the “Follow-Up” folder. If it is information needed in the short term, I put it in the “Hold” folder. If it is general information I  hit the “Archive” button, which automatically places it in my archive. If it is junk or spam, I hit delete. At the end of each session, my Inbox is empty. Later, I go back through the Follow Up folder and take care of each item there or add it to my “To-Do List.” Once an item in my Follow Up folder is done, I archive it. The goal is to only handle an email once or twice.
School leaders can set the example for everyone else in efforts to cut back on paper usage by employing the technological tools and the processes/procedures that help reduce both the need for paper documents and for  the file cabinets to store them.
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