Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Online Professional Development Changed My Life

Chances are high that you wouldn’t be reading this if it weren’t for online professional development. I don’t mean that in the clichéd “If you can read this thank a teacher” way. What I mean is that I would never, ever have had the connections that led to writing these blog entries if it hadn’t been for the online professional development opportunities that came my way.

People who know me may not believe it, but I kept to myself as a teacher before I found opportunities to connect with other educators online. I read a lot about teaching, but I rarely discussed teaching strategies with others. I had some connections in the department where I taught, and I was a fellow of Writing Project site that no longer exists.

And then I got an email address and found that other college composition teachers were out there discussing what they do in the classroom online. I signed up Megabyte University, an email discussion list that was active from 1990 to 1997. There, I connected with other teachers who were interested in using computers in writing instruction, and I eventually found my voice and began participating—asking questions, sharing strategies, and planning projects. I found that the people who were names on the articles I read in College English and College Composition and Communication were kind, friendly folks who were willing to chat with a relatively inexperienced person like me.

To my conversations on email discussion lists, I added real-time chats on MOOs and IRC. I attended online conferences related to the face-to-face Computers and Writing Conference. Before I knew it, I had connections with colleagues in all corners of the country, and I had actually chatted with CCCC presidents and NCTE Committee Chairs. I even got up the gumption to send a personal email message to Peter Elbow to tell him how much I loved Writing with Power.

Without any reservation, I can say that I ended up writing this blog because of those first connections that I made online in the early 1990s. Online discussion led to new jobs, new teaching opportunities, and new ways to support other teachers using online tools.

None of the resources I tapped when I got started still exist in the same form today. Computer resources have evolved, and we teachers have developed new ways to connect and keep in touch today.

There are many great opportunities. I can’t promise that you’ll find yourself writing the Inbox blog after you participate in these online opportunities, but I can promise that you’ll find wonderful teachers who will share their ideas, listen to your strategies, and, if you’re just lucky, bring you opportunities that will invigorate your teaching every day.



starwatcher236 said...

Those mid-nineties discussion groups (I recall fondly a group on AOL for middle school English teachers) saved me from a slow death, professionally, by supporting me when I was changing my classroom in profound ways: switching to workshop style (after reading Atwell's In the Middle)with no teachers nearby to discuss the changes and challenges with. Later on, around 2000, I spoke to other middle school English teachers using NCTE's middle school talk group. I also "met" an online bunch of techies; later, I got to meet them face to face in NYC for the national conference. Yes, online networking changed my professional life, too. Anyone else remember those early groups?
Carol Mikoda

mj hollman said...

Traci, you replicate a professional divide in this blog; it is longstanding and unproductive.
You suggest that if one teaches writing in college, the CCC conference is the destination. If one teaches K-12, the Virtual Spring Conference should be considered.
There is an energy and variety at CCC that is frequently not there at gatherings for K-12. Both groups should cross pollinate.
At the last CCC I attended, there were more secondary teachers on the program and in attendance than I noticed before.
Many of us work K-14.

Erin O. said...

So often as teachers we tend to isolate ourselves--often by stress level or workload (sometimes it is hard to see others when there is a mountain of essays piling up before you!). I have found that online Professional Development or Professional Learning Communities have helped me to stay connected. It's easy to convince yourself that you or your school district are the only ones facing budget cuts, problems aligning curriculum, or struggling to increase test scores. I find that these PLC's offer support and a vast array of knowledge that can not only make us better educators but keep us connected on a global level.