Tuesday, 25 June 2013

My choices as a lifelong learner in the 21st century

I love to learn.  That's why I'm a teacher! Over the years, I'm sure I've learned as much from my students as I have taught them. I've learned about global politics and gained an understanding of how these issues affect the individual through the eyes of my students. I've also learned about more functional, but equally fascinating matters, such as how to make fire using only a stick and a stone, how to make the best risotto in Italy, the significance of the whirling dance of the Dervish, or how the medical system works in Vietnam.  I could go on and on!!  

Now, as well as the learning opportunities I encounter in my day-to-day working life, I'm also inundated by offers to teach me things every time I turn on my computer.  My problem is that I find it difficult to say no!  My thirst for knowledge is such that I can't resist the chance to learn!  As a consequence, I've signed up for courses and then been unable to complete them due to work commitments, time constraints, or simply, life, getting in the way!!  I find the idea of learning with like-minded people from all over the globe irresistible, but the time has come to prioritise.  I have to be selective.  I have to accept that I just can't do everything I'd like to do.  I also need to have some balance, so that not all of my learning is work-related.

To this end, going forward, these are my learning providers of choice:

1. Electronic Village Online (EVO)

A description taken from their own website:

EVO is a set of online discussions and workshops that takes place every year from mid-January to mid-February. Sessions include a range from simple discussions to virtual hands-on workshops. They can serve as a run-up or preview to the TESOL Convention, or a discussion of an issue in the field of teaching language, or experiments with and pedagogy of new technology tools.

An online session is the perfect venue to pre-discuss papers from Academic Sessions or Intersessions, or to carry on a discussion of topics important to your member group. EVO provides an invaluable service to teachers all over the globe, for it brings the convention to those who cannot travel. We usually have over a thousand participants, both members and non-members of TESOL. Most sessions also offer live chats (text and audio/video), including Webcasts from the Convention, and all participants are welcome to any of these live events.

I took part in an EVO course on podcasting earlier this year.  It was practical, immediately applicable, both in my professional and personal life, and very enjoyable.  I'm looking forward to their 2014 offering - I'm sure I'll find something to pique my interest!

2.  Webinars

Webinars are invaluable for my CPD.  I wrote a blogpost about them here.  I love the fact that I learn through stand-alone bite-size chunks.  Again, the only problem is that there are so many available that I have to be selective.  There's really no point in me doing these things if I don't have time to reflect on what I've learned!

This is a global network of teachers learning from each other through a mentoring programme and a series of courses.  This is taken from their website:

About iTDi

iTDi is a global online teacher development institute that is owned and staffed by dedicated teachers.
Our mission is to provide quality professional development that is meaningful, accessible and affordable for all teachers. We share a vision of a vibrant global community of educators, helping one another to become better teachers.
The iTDi community brings together teaching professionals working at every level -- newcomers and veterans, native and non-native teachers from a wide range of contexts, all sharing a common belief that being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to growing and learning.

iTDi provides:

Online courses to improve your classroom teaching or English language skills, written by some of the most respected authors in English language teaching.
  • A safe, private, supportive, international community of teachers and teacher-mentors, working and learning together online
  • Live online workshops and chats with educators from around the world
  • Live online advanced teaching skill courses

iTDi Principles

We believe that every teacher deserves the chance to improve. It doesn't matter where you start; what matters is where you want to go.
I am currently doing a course through iTDi.  It's called More Breaking Rules and is presented by John Fanselow.  The final session will be this Sunday, after which I will write a post about the course and what I have learned from it.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a huge fan of #ELTChat.  It is the mainstay of my CPD.  This is from the #ELTChat website:
#ELTchat started in September 2010 when a group of #ELTchat professionals began to use twitter to discuss topics of interest to English Language Teachers. It began with the aim of creating a freely available social network for ELT professionals offering mutual support and opportunities for Continuous Professional Development.
Now, every Wednesday at 12pm and 21.00pm, ELT teachers from all over the world log into their Twitter account and for one hour hold an online discussion on a topic they have selected.

I'm a regular participant and summary writer and am proud to say that I have just achieved my gold badge!!

As well as regular webinars, CET also offers a variety of online courses which are great for CPD.
This is a relatively new concept in online learning.  From their website:

About Coursera ®

We believe in connecting people to a great education so that anyone around the world can learn without limits.
Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. Our technology enables our partners to teach millions of students rather than hundreds.
We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.

Our Courses

Classes offered on Coursera are designed to help you master the material. When you take one of our classes, you will watch lectures taught by world-class professors, learn at your own pace, test your knowledge, and reinforce concepts through interactive exercises. When you join one of our classes, you'll also join a global community of thousands of students learning alongside you. We know that your life is busy, and that you have many commitments on your time. Thus, our courses are designed based on sound pedagogical foundations, to help you master new concepts quickly and effectively. Key ideas include mastery learning, to make sure that you have multiple attempts to demonstrate your new knowledge; using interactivity, to ensure student engagement and to assist long-term retention; and providing frequent feedback, so that you can monitor your own progress, and know when you've really mastered the material.
We offer courses in a wide range of topics, spanning the Humanities, Medicine, Biology, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Business, Computer Science, and many others. Whether you're looking to improve your resume, advance your career, or just learn more and expand your knowledge, we hope there will be multiple courses that you find interesting.

For me, this is where the balance comes from!  Although PD courses for teachers are offered through Coursera, I haven't chosen to do any (up to now!!).  Instead, I've opted for courses completely outside my professional life - learning for learning's sake - just for fun.  I have to say that my first attempt was not so successful.  I chose a course about logic, a subject which has always fascinated me.  However, at the time of the course, I had too much other stuff going on in my life, so only completed the first couple of modules.  This time, however, I have chosen a course called The Camera Never Lies about film, images & historical interpretation in the 20th century.  It started yesterday, I've allocated the appropriate amount of time for it, and, so far, it's completely enthralling.  I'm learning so much and being challenged to look at things in a new way.  The fact that I have a whopping 45,000 active classmates is a huge bonus!!

So, that's my take on 21st century learning.  It's exciting, it's collaborative, and it presents endless opportunities.  Best of all, most of it is free!!

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