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).

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