Building Community Online

My task this week was to answer the question: How do we design, teach and facilitate digital age learning environments for students and teachers that promote collaborative learning while maintaining effective classroom management practices?

I feel like I’m starting from scratch in my district when it comes to digital age learning environments for teachers. We don’t yet have an online PD presence so the only way we are promoting choice for technology PD is to come or not to come. I do work with a little bit of a captive audience with the Cohorts I teach, and although I feel like I’ve been able to create pockets of collaborative learning within that group, I still haven’t gotten it to extend beyond our class time.

I went to Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (Rheingold 2014) first for a definition of collaboration. “People collaborate because their coordination, sharing and attention to common goals creates something that none of the collaborating parties could have benefited from without collaboration. Collaborators develop and agree on common goals, share responsibility and work together to achieve those goals, and contribute resources to the effort.”

After doing some of the reading and research this week I think there are three areas I need to address in some more clearly defined ways in order to create collaborative digital age learning communities – the why, the what and the how…in that order.

Defining the Why

After watching Simon Sinek’s TED Talk about The Golden Circle last year, I find myself always going back to the “why”. Whether it’s designing PD or talking with a teacher about using our LMS, it’s important that I’m clearly able to define the why of what we are doing. The why sometimes shifts because of my audience but the big why always comes back to “Why is this important to our student’s success in a digital age?” I tend sometimes to not clearly articulate that to my audience. I may have thought it through but in training I jump right into what we are going to learn. According to Rheingold though, I need to spend some time having my teachers “develop and agree on common goals.” That’s trickier to do with a purely online community outside my cohort groups but I think that I can make sure to include why statements as a part of online PD as well.

Developing the How

After reading the Gates Foundation article “Teachers Know Best: Teachers Views on Professional Development” and having done some reading last quarter about the shifts in the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) around Professional Development, my new mantra for addressing the “how” is make PD “relevant, hands-on, and sustained over time” as well as “personalized”.

There has been a picture forming in my head about what this might look like. First, I believe that most teachers, if they know what they are supposed to be teaching (standards) and what the districts expectations are, can pretty much identify their own areas for growth and also know what areas they are interested in enough to become “experts”.  The trick is providing the resources for them to differentiate based on their needs.

At the basic level, we need teachers to have the skills needed to not only teach the technology related standards to their students but to show a certain level of professional competency with the tools the district expects them to use to do their jobs. Skill based training can certainly benefit from being taught in context of a persons job or content area but it’s not necessary. Our district has recently chosen KyteLearning to help us provide our staff with an alternative to face to face training. Kyte offers a growing library of video modules based on commonly used education technologies for purely skill based training. We’ll also be able to create our own videos to fill in with skill based training on more district related software.

They are also branching out into Implementation videos that will give teachers application examples and suggestions of how to integrate tools into their classrooms with student projects. This really is the stage where teachers are using the skills they learned and implementing it into the classroom. How long will a skill stay with you if you never apply it? This should promote deeper learning and provide the relevancy and part of the sustained over time criteria of good PD. For this type of learning in Kyte we will eventually be able to have teachers submit evidence of projects or build an “idea forum” where teachers can learn from each other and find others to collaborate with.

I love the idea of micro credentialing for those that want to pursue mastery or expertise in something. There is a site created by Digital Promise called #Love2Learn that offers opportunities for teachers who are ready to “prove” or provide evidence of their mastery on various topics to earn micro credentials. They are personalized, shareable and competency based.  We also want to develop human capacity in our district and encourage leadership and collaboration. The more teachers we have with skills that they are willing to share, the more support and innovation will happen at the school level. This is were I believe that the collaboration tipping point will begin to be reached at the school level and when shared technology goals will become part of every day teaching practice.

One of the pieces of “how” is even more truly process oriented and that is the development of common norms around sharing, collaboration and digital citizenship as part of our digital learning environment. One place I can start with again is my cohort groups. Modeling the development of clear digital norms for the group, coming to agreements around online behavior and expectations, discussing classroom management around technology and reinforcing digital responsibility and ethics need to become parts that are not just modeled but explicitly labeled and discussed with the group about how they can adapt the topics to their own teaching style and classrooms. It’s not always enough to model if you no one recognizes that you are modeling with a purpose.

Defining the What

It’s becoming clearer in my head how all the pieces I’ve been learning, researching, and talking about with colleagues is coming together into something coherent. What it’s going to take now to make it a reality is a lot of work. I need to still define the “what” of technology use in our district for people. What will their classroom look like if they are using technology to engage their students, manage their workflow, provide rich learning opportunities that are available 24/7 for students. It’s going to be about getting them to see what our new way of educating students will look like and how they can get there based on where they are starting from. All we are asking for is growth and that teachers move from their point A to their point B in terms of learning this year.

It’s going to take a lot of work to pull this together but I at least feel like I’m on a clearer path than I was and I’m grateful that I’m part of a collaborative community of  like-minded folks in our area that I can call on for ideas and support.


Rheingold, H. (2014). Net smart: how to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. doi:

Sinek, S. (2009, September). Retrieved July 10, 2017, from

Teachers Know Best: Teacher’s Views on Professional Development (pp. 1-20, Rep.). (2014). Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. doi:


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