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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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I've never experienced a downside to sharing my work in the classroom. In fact, I've had only positive experiences. Unfortunately, this trend is not universal in education. Many educators still work in isolation and prefer to limit collaborative experiences and public sharing online. And while I empathize with this decision, there is some misinformation about teachers sharing their work publicly.

When consulting with school districts, I sometimes run into the controlling technology director who wishes to lock everything down and control the flow of information. While a fraction of this is necessary, most of the control over and blocking of sites isn't required. My simply philosophy on this approach is to open everything up within the parameters of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). When a student abuses the openness of your content, simply reduce that particular student's privileges.

The other misconception around sharing your classroom work publicly is that you're constantly being evaluated. This is not the case, but it doesn't mean that users can just post anything without vetting it first. Teachers should be sure to cross every T and dot every I -- especially if you are an English teacher. There are some who are discouraged by grammarians that cruise blogs in search of run-on sentences and tense errors. But as educators, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard when posting publicly and set a good model for our students. We can't be perfect, but if we want to be taken seriously, we could use a second set of eyes looking over our work before posting.

Sharing information is a powerful process. And sharing through digital spaces is not only efficient, economical, and convenient, but also super-powerful. It's hard to comprehend, but I've shared something nearly every day since social networks became readily available. What's more, I've shared nearly everything in my teaching career via blogging, Twitter, or Google+. At this juncture, if you're not digitally sharing what you do, you're missing out on some great ideas happening in education and within other contexts -- and, quite frankly, a plethora of resources. As educators, we no longer have to work in isolation.

So here are some ideas for elevating your digital space.

Find a Platform - Blogger vs. Google Sites

This is probably the most mind-numbing part of the process. You could be in a room of ten people, and they would all recommend something different. My two cents? It depends on what you want to share, how frequently you want share, and your audience.

If you want to stick within your Google Apps for Education (GAFE) ecosystem, these platforms are one way to go. Also, if you plan on posting daily or weekly, GAFE is the platform for you. A blog is intended for periodic information, and a website is for static information that may change occasionally. Consider Blogger to be your newsletter 2.0. Mike Mastrullo, principal of Groton-Dunstable Regional High (GDRHS), uses Blogger to present updates and share information about what's happening at the school. Parents subscribe to receive an email alert anytime Mr. Mastrullo posts something to his blog, and they can bookmark that site and have a single reference point rather than searching through emails.

Like Blogger, Google Sites also allows you to remain in the GAFE ecosystem. Plus, Sites gives you the opportunity to collaborate and share within your grade level teams or with your students. For example, our fourth grade team at Florence Roche Elementary is building one site, but each teacher can construct his or her own page. Sites can remain private if necessary, and teachers can invite only those they wish. This is important to remember depending on your school's Acceptable Use Policy and publishing rights forms.

Unlike Blogger, Google Sites is a collaborative digital space and a way to house static information. Blogger (or any blog) is meant to be updated periodically. For example, Liz Garden, Florence Roche's principal, updates her blog every Monday morning with a topical post, information about what she's reading, events happening in her school, informal classroom observations, and resources that she's found. This blog not only serves as a great resource for the school community, but also as a professional portfolio for Liz and her great work as principal.

Google Sites also presents a strong option for teacher and student digital portfolios. Here's just one example of how a GDRHS independent study student created with Sites. It's also important to note that the final product was not a directive -- the student simply saw that the technology was available and leveraged it to make her portfolio shine.

Develop Your Brand

After selecting your platform, the next phase is branding yourself and your digital space. Within the context of an educational digital space, it's best to be consistent about what you share, the tone of your writing, and the topics you cover. For example, it's probably not the best idea to share information on the great things happening at your school one week, and then follow up with a diatribe against Common Core. Stay on a steady path with a consistent theme or message.

Liz Garden and Mike Mastrullo do a great job of this by presenting a consistent tone in their writing, staying on topic with a theme, and organizing their posts and blogs in a way that appeals to the school community.

Share It

"If you make something and don’t share it, was it made?" - Mark Hatch, CEO Techshop

Digital spaces and platforms, in conjunction with social media, have allowed us to share our work to a greater audience. Educators who once lived and worked in an isolated environment -- within their district, their schools, their departments -- now have the ability to not only share resources and information, but also consume and integrate what others are sharing.

Like finding a platform for your digital space, finding a consistent place to share is also important. I share consistently to three social networks: Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. However, when you start, it's best to stick with one and branch out as you progress. I started with Twitter, found common hashtags, and eventually created a network of educators that I connected with via Twitter or had met at a conference or workshop.

At Groton-Dunstable, we created our own hashtag -- #gdrsdchat -- and use it to connect our students, teachers, and greater school community. I would highly recommend this and encourage staff to start by working within your school's common hashtag before swimming out into deeper water. It's a comfortable learning environment and takes the idea of personal learning communities to a new level. We also posted a #gdrsdchat hashtag widget on the front page of our district's website. This is another way of sharing information and resources about our school community.

A digital space is extremely important for an educator. Not only does it provide the user with a limitless place to organize and share his or her thoughts and information, but it also serves as a living archive. If you have suggestions, examples, or new ideas not mentioned in this post, please share in the comments below.

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Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Former Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia

It seems that the weariness many educators have with the concept of "going digital" stems from concerns of privacy and uncertainty. This blog does a good job of addressing those legitimate concerns as well as highlighting the many benefits to embracing a "digital space."

"Not only does it provide the user with a limitless place to organize and share his or her thoughts and information, but it also serves as a living archive."

I'm glad you added this because the individual is an important factor here as well; beyond the aspect of sharing and collaborating, teachers can embrace these tools to improve their own methods. Thanks for sharing

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Andrew,
Very interesting post. In my experience, I've found that teachers for some reason seem to split into two separate groups: those who engage online, and those who don't. It's not, as some have suggested, just an age thing, either. Having said that, I agree with you completely. I often tell fellow teacher that the best teachers I have known are 'magpies'; that is, they are great at finding other peoples' resources, and then using them (with permission) in their own context to create fantastic learning opportunities, just like magpies do when they build their nests.

I also think that there is a real strength to blogging in that it encourages teacher self-reflection. Why didn't that lesson work? What can I do to improve it? One work of advice: avoid names wherever possible!

TBaum13's picture

Hello, Andrew

My school uses personal teacher webpages that serve as a blog. After one PD session on these, I created my page, posted some initial information, but ended up using it primarily to post assignments to students. I must admit, I'm not really sure as to the actual capabilities of these pages when it comes to sharing and I have found my personal page somewhat cumbersome to edit and add content.

I am truly interested in getting my classroom online. Is there an advantage to using the platforms you mentioned over the space I have been provided with?

Thank you for the informative post!

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