Monday night I was loving the conversations that @jodi_teacher prompted through her thought provoking twitter chat questions focused on assistive technology for everyone. As per usual, for every question posted I paused, reflected, drafted a response, edited, and hesitated for one second before hitting “tweet”. After years engaged in social media and other online learning/sharing networks, I still have that twinge of apprehension before sending some type of opinion “out there”. But while I was holding back, I noticed one voice jumping right in with comments, questions, and likes before I even typed “A3”. That was the voice of a preservice teacher – a student in my own instructional technology course – reaching out, getting involved, growing her professional learning network, and building relationships and habits to carry forward in her career. This step into growing her network of learning has many different positive implications for developing teaching knowledge and practice.
Professional learning communities provide opportunities for collaboration, relationship building, and learning and discovery. By encouraging preservice teachers to explore and engage in digital networks and communities during their teacher preparation, they can establish habits of professional engagement to support their developing teacher practice. A professional learning network moves with you; preservice and new teachers can expand their networks regardless of where they find their first classroom. Keeping the virtual doors open promotes sharing, learning, and knowing that you always have a network of supporting educators.
While the importance of teaching and practicing online safety should not be minimized, the shift in perspective from “don’t do that!” to “how might we empower students to participate in a digital environment?” sheds light on the positive interactions in a digital community. Encouraging preservice teachers to engage in learning networks supports their preparation as university students as well as future educators. Drawing from the ISTE Student and Educator Standards (commonly adopted in teacher prep programs), as students they are establishing and promoting their digital identities, and engaging is positive social interactions. As teachers, they are making responsible contributions to the learning environment, and establishing their own learning culture. Exploring their own experiences through the navigation of learning networks increases preservice teacher knowledge and exposure of online behaviors in order to model and inspire classroom students to responsibly participate in digital environments.
Although the undergraduate educational technology course that I teach is a stand-alone class, I aim to ensure that the preservice teachers’ experiences with technology are not isolated from their other content based courses. While I collaborate with other faculty on imbedded technology design, I recognize that their knowledge development is strengthened through exploring and learning from other professionals in the field. Professional learning networks provide great access to different voices, perspectives, and experiences. As preservice teachers develop their own practice, they can draw from, and share, different ideas for their future classrooms.