Connecting and Learning in Online Communities
Working through an MA in TESOL was not an easy feat for me. Reading any given text took me a considerable amount of time, and creating a link between theory and practice was not always intuitive. Also, like many other classmates, I was teaching full-time while taking two courses, which meant that as much as I loved being a student, I often longed for days in which I would have more free time and be done with school. But as the time to graduate approached, I realized there was a lot I would miss about school, e.g., getting feedback on classroom matters, being able to ask other teachers around the world about materials or methodology questions, or hearing about different strategies to learn English. Right after graduating, I was able to stay in touch with several of my classmates through The New School’s MA in TESOL Alumni Facebook page. This page is a great way to stay connected to colleagues and continue teaching conversations.
After graduating, I learned there are many ELT professionals connected online. They share resources and have those discussions I thought I would only have while in grad school. Building a PLN (Professional Learning Network) online gave me the chance to continue developing professionally by choosing what I wanted to learn and who I wanted to connect to. I discovered that there are many educators online sharing their insights, resources, and ideas with others. I started blogging in 2013 as a way to stay connected to peers back home when I went to teach in China. Having a blog made me curious about reading other ELT blogs, so I started connecting to teachers on Twitter to discover what they were up to. Now I get to continue to do what I enjoyed doing in grad school without having the pressure of turning in assignments. I am able to learn about topics such as corpus linguistics through the work shared by teachers in different parts of the world. I can participate in discussions about the role of textbooks in ELT, learn more about Computer Assisted Language Learning, and get ideas and materials for lessons. I have connected with teachers willing to share their expertise, as well as less-experienced teachers asking for advice. Teaching can feel like a lonely act at times, and it feels great to be part of an ELT community online. I like to think of my PLN as my dream team.
In this somewhat short time I have been using social media for professional development, I have been impressed by the willingness of others -including well-known ELT scholars- to share their knowledge. A few months ago, I was taking an iTDi course with Stephen Krashen, and as I was reading, decided to quote him and ask a question to my contacts on Twitter. I tagged him, but I didn’t expect him to reply -the question was really going out to my contacts. To my surprise, he replied and engaged in the conversation I had initiated. I have noticed that the same thing happens with blog posts, listservs, and other places where people share their thoughts on ELT-related matters. I have also met more experienced teachers online who have been willing to show me how to do activities online or have listened to my questions and shared their views.
Perhaps some of the online conversations I enjoy the most are those that happens with teachers I can relate to. Teachers sharing their everyday dilemmas and starting conversations that make me reflect on the learning that happens (or doesn’t happen) in my classroom and the decisions I make every day. Many of us often do not have time or do not have the opportunity to discuss with our colleagues what happens in our teaching world. A blog that does an incredible job bringing up everyday classroom matters is “How I See it Now” by Hana Tichá. Reading her posts and occasionally commenting opens up an opportunity for interesting discussions for many of us who follow her blog. One way to re-energize and feel more motivated as a teacher is to attend conferences and training sessions, but this can be expensive and opportunities might not be readily available depending on where we live. You might be surprised to learn that there are many opportunities to participate in ELT conferences and professional development opportunities, like the Electronic Village Online. At this year’s TESOL Convention, I even had a chance to meet in person some of those teachers I have met online, like Leo Sullivan (or Lexical Leo), a teacher based in Israel who has a fantastic blog. It is truly special to go to such a large event and feel so at home because of the connections happening online.
Last year, I gave a presentation on being connected online with Michael Griffin, who also curates this blog and connects many ELT professionals around the globe through his Twitter activity. If you are considering joining or just curious, I recommend you find a few teachers to follow so you can start getting links to discussions and pages that might interest you. For our presentation (which can be seen here), we put together a list of blogs, websites, and resources online we thought others might find useful. Often when I talk with others about how using social media, blogging, or following listservs has changed my teaching world, I hear people worried about spending more time online. If you find yourself feeling a bit apprehensive on this subject, I would suggest that you check out just one of the places we recommended on the resources link of our presentation.
Being connected online can look different for everyone, and it is up to you to decide how little or how much you participate. What also surprised me is that nobody is there to judge, and you can always jump into a conversation. And unlike the graded online discussions in grad school, nobody is there to keep track of how often you participate or grade your work. School might be out for many of us, but the online ELT world makes learning a lifelong reality.
Author‘s Bio: Laura currently teaches English to international students in Washington State. She has also taught in Turkey, China, and Colombia. Laura is interested in the use of digital technologies in ELT, action research, and project-based learning.