Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Define Myself...March 14, 2010


How do we define who we are, and shape or reaffirm our identity using social networks?

When I first joined the Language Teacher Summer Institute’s Ning social network in 2008, I discovered what it meant to be an online participant, especially one who had never previously met the other members in person. I was asked to join this network prior to engaging in a face-to-face course, and was “forced” to reply to a couple of profile questions. These questions acted as an “ice-breaker” activity for the participants, and really did help to prompt conversations and discussions, even if just about commonalities in residence areas or types of schools where we taught.

By the nature of online social networks, one must define oneself. Unlike face-to-face encounters where one interacts through oral communication, a person in an online network shapes his/her identity by what and how he/she writes. Through reflection on topics of interest, communication of personal anecdotes, or even uploading of particular pictures, one portrays personality and preferences.

Much like my iGoogle Personal Learning Network, I belong to a variety of Ning social networks, each reflecting a different facet of my professional online self:

• I am a high school International Baccalaureate Programme Spanish teacher and I have established a Ning network for each of my classes over the last three years. My students, fellow language teachers and I communicate and expand our thoughts in a secure online environment, completely in Spanish. On Ning, I set up projects where students blog weekly, (for example, about their college admission process,) as well as discuss and comment on pre-selected questions related to themes covered in class. Students have even added pictures, videos, and audio recordings, all in the target language. I monitor the sites frequently because I add my own journal entries (to give them an authentic reading experience) and write and comment on their entries (expecting responses from them, thus giving them writing experience.) In this manner, students formulate and defend opinions by making judgments about information, and also validate other classmates’ work by writing comments. This method of teaching has greatly assisted my IB students by giving them beneficial opportunities to practice for the reading comprehension and essay writing portions of their external IB Exam.

• I am a classroom teacher connected to the world. I have recently joined some Ning networks that promote educator collaboration through its inherent professional learning community. This “emphasis on learning as a social practice” has effected “active learning and foster(s) meaningful change (Burke 2009.)” It seems that every time I wander around one of the networks, I find a useful tip, an interesting perspective, or a link to a valuable article.

• I am a collaborative associate. As I freely share my technology experiences, knowledge and views with others, I have established a new Ning network in order to foster more relationships to effect change in area Diocesan high schools. I seek to partner with others to share educational best practices and to find new and better ways to conduct classes. My personal aim is to aid students develop into leaders for the 21st Century. Teaming up with like-minded individuals will cultivate a culture of educational improvement. Encouraging others to teach and learn in professional circles is my goal.

Current references:
Burke, J. (2009). English companion: Where English teachers meet to help each other. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 53.1, 87(3).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Is the glass half empty or half full? Perceptions...March 7, 2010

How do we perceive ourselves (and others) in the real and digital worlds in which we live?

Perception is a funny thing. “Is the glass half empty or half full?” –it makes you realize that two different people can have two different views of the same exact thing. The way I perceive myself in the digital world is as a collaborator, creator, learner and teacher. This is also how I perceive my colleagues in the UF Educational Technology program. Trying to explain this percept to others outside however can prove difficult, especially if the precept has no grounding in their personal experiences. They simply do not understand.

In “real-life,” I am a (private) high school Spanish teacher in Clearwater, FL. My online identity very much involves my professional life, as it is the primary reason I explore the net. I have established social networks and wikis for all the classes I teach, and my students and I utilize them almost daily, all in Spanish! I attempt to create an environment for them where they can use Spanish in authentic and meaningful ways. I say authentic because I believe that communication with another person, no matter if within a virtual world, is indeed authentic communication.

My digital world experiences have impacted my real world practices lately. I have always been a “teacher” and a person who takes much pleasure in assisting others; I lend a hand to many people from a variety of places and educational settings with my newly acquired Educational Technology wisdom, and my creative ideas. Through a school-wide Technology Consortium that I facilitate online and face-to-face, or through mini-workshops I hold for colleagues and other professionals, I truly collaborate. It may be with colleagues, friends, classmates, my students, or other teachers (or basically anyone who wants to brainstorm with me) but I communicate and likewise learn from others. I consider myself a life-long learner, and currently enjoy all aspects of study as a digital being, an Online-Gator!

In the online world, I have forced my students to interact within the Ning social network in our Spanish online world. Recognizing that U.S. youth “participate in media ecologies …specific to contextual conditions,” as a teacher I attempt to tap into that interest and simulate a similar educational environment (Ito…Tripp 2009). As my students learn outside of school and participate in real-world activities and also in digital spaces, I attempt to similarly focus their energies on class thematic content within digital contexts. By asking them to post a blog entry or react/comment in a discussion forum, they actively participate, IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE! In the same way, “in line with our sociocultural perspective on learning and literacy, we see young people’s learning and participation with new media as situationally contingent, located in specific and varied media ecologies (Ito…Tripp 2009).” By creating situations in an educational virtual world, I oblige the students to experience Spanish language and thus construct their own authentic experiences, no matter if only in a digital setting.

“Media literacy involves not only ways of understanding, interpreting, and critiquing media, but also the means for creative and social expression, online search and navigation, and a host of new technical skills. The potential gap in literacies and participation skills creates new challenges for educators who struggle to bridge media engagement inside and outside the classroom (Ito…Tripp 2009)." So far, this educator has not found it to be overly difficult, maybe due to the private school setting in which I teach. My students are in high school, all with internet access and experience with various websites. Sometimes I have to teach them about a new Web 2.0 tool, but usually their learning curve is high and students adapt to the next Web 2.0 tool quite easily.

Authentic teen experiences include all the “hanging out” time, whether it be online on Facebook, or perhaps by texting on a cell phone; or in the same-space with a friend at the movies or at a party. No matter what, their time together is communication time. I wish that my students would keep “tabs” on each other within our classroom Spanish-language Ning network, but expectedly, they use the Ning as communication only for educational purposes. When they want to speak to each other, they operate on Facebook, IM chat or text (SMS) each other. As much as I desire them to interact on our class social network, I understand that they too have a different “online identity” and distinctive “school identity” where the two sets of actions and activities are singular of themselves. On a happy and successful note, they have reported to me on occasion that they have held a complete chat conversation in Spanish with their classmates!

I plan to further explore my identity in the real world and in the digital world, as well as that of my own students. The EME 5404 course should prove to be eye-opening in my self-examinations and later world views, and I look forward to experiencing the diverse perceptions and perspectives of the next seven weeks.


Ito, M., Sonja B., Matteo B., Boyd, D. Cody, R., Herr, B., Horst, H.A., Lange, P.G., Mahendran, D., Martinez, K., Pascoe, C.J., Perkel, D., Robinson, L., Sims, C., & Tripp, L.(2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press
Photo taken with cc permission from Flickr: