Collaboration into Practice: Using Technology to Improve Student Outcomes

Last year, as part of a personal learning pilot program, we started hosting a webinar called PLP Pathways. Our goal was to utilize a somewhat new technology -- Google Hangouts on Air -- to connect educators who were implementing PLPs in their classrooms.

Having not hosted a webinar before, but intrigued by the possibilities, we managed to host 3 or 4 sessions, had a good time doing so, and decided to see if the project had legs by formalizing the process a bit more for the 2015-2016 school year.

With support from the Middle Grades Collaborative, we created the PLP Pathways webinar series in an effort to determine if this type of long-term, collaborative, web-based professional development could support teachers throughout the school year. In this day and age, that also means incorporating a host of social media platforms (Google +, Twitter, and Google Sites) to promote that effort. Not only was the professional development embedded, so too was the need to learn how to use the social media tools effectively.

The results thus far have been mixed. While the content of the webinars has never been stronger, getting teachers to find time in their busy schedules to watch and participate in a webinar is difficult. Now more than ever, teachers’ time is limited.

Despite these hurdles, the benefits of committing to this type of professional development are undeniable, at least from my perspective. Last month, on October 29th, we held our webinar with guests Kevin Hunt from the Williston Central School and Life LeGeros from the Tarrant Institute. Our conversation focused on student growth and reflection, goal setting, and tying evidence to goals.

This would seem like a logical and easy extension of our personal learning. However, the conversation got me thinking, particularly about the student process of linking goals to specific pieces of evidence from across the curriculum. In order to do so effectively, students must have a deeper understanding not only of their own goals, but also of the objectives behind activities at school, and the different purposes and outcomes of those activities.

When students can independently select evidence that meets the criteria for the learning goals that they have designed, tracked, and reflected upon, real learning is taking place.

In my own practice, I know that I have been guilty of selecting evidence for the kids. That is, if we have completed a big project in language arts, I have asked kids to post that to their PLP whether or not it meets their individual learning goals. And maybe this practice is a good way of enabling students to reflect on their strengths and challenges no matter their learning goals.

Even so, the conversation evolving from our webinar extended my thinking about goals, linking those to evidence, and supporting student growth through by helping them develop the ability to do so independently. This is a simple, but powerful idea that could transform my thinking about goals, evidence, and reflection. This, coupled with our discussion of the REAL Reflection Framework explained by Life, was something that had immediate implications for my classroom practice.

Following the webinar, students were asked to start identifying evidence from across the curriculum that could be added to their PLP. Additionally, students were asked to blog about their strengths, challenges, and goals that they had relative to school-wide activities, not just in my classroom.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the webinar resulted in my having conversations with colleagues, specifically foreign-language teachers, about the evidence they were seeing in their classroom that might 1) connect with student goals and 2) reflected students developing academic and social dispositions.

Connecting these ideas together, and forging that into a cohesive, student-centered, student-driven personal learning plan are direct results of the continuing professional development through the PLP Pathways webinar. Although time is tight, committing to at least some form of this type of professional development can lead to improvements in practice, pedagogy, and collaboration.