Edudemic+: Elana Leoni On Social Media-Driven Teacher Improvement

In an Edudemic+ session, Terry Heick (@/+terryheick) chats with Elana Leoni (@/+elanaleoni) of Edutopia (@/+edutopia) about the role of technology in teacher improvement, especially social media. The following is an excerpted transcription of that conversation.  Lisa Dabbs also participated in the session, and her comments will appear in a proceeding transcription. Also appearing are comments by Amy Borovoy (@videoamy), also from Edutopia

Terry: One thing that sets Edutopia apart from other organizations is the use of video, and technology in general – it seems to be something Edutopia really embraces. Why do you feel video in particular is so important?

Elana: We get a lot of feedback from our audience that video can show a lot of things you can’t really describe, and you can take videos to a supervisor and actually show them what you want to be able to do – it’s more persuasive than a white paper. It’s very powerful to see it in action. And it makes sense given our connection to George Lucas, who is a very visual person.

Terry: What is the potential of social media in teacher education?

Elana: I think social media is not utilized by many educators, because it can be overwhelming. And there are a lot of stereotypes about social media, that it can be a waste of time, it’s not efficient, that it’s more about people talking about what they ate for lunch. So it’s been hard to tap into the power of it. Tapping into social media to creating relationships, not self promotion. Often educators will feel alone, that they’re out there doing things with their class and being told they can’t do that, but then you can connect with someone else – maybe in Germany – and see that hey, there’s someone else out there like me. And you develop an efficient support network. If have a question about a tool, I can tweet it out to my network and get help from experts. The #ntchat chat is great, because you get to meet so many great educators, and have a deep conversation in only 140 characters. I focus a lot on Twitter, but I can talk about it for hours. It’s so powerful.

Terry: One of the challenges for me (as a teacher) was teaching progressively in a non-progressive setting. A lot of the focus is data-driven improvement and data teams. The entire focus, in so many department meetings. What’s the assessment, what’s the data, and how are you going to intervene? (Standard, assessment, data, intervention. Rinse, repeat. That was the extent of most department interaction.) It was a challenge to bring in project based learning, technology centered learning. I’ve tried to support teachers in understanding that progressive teaching can happen in a non-progressive setting, because a lot of times teachers feel alone.

What resources will teachers need to continue the advancement of project based learning that they might not have yet? Is there something out there that can help benefit project based learning and move it forward?

Elana: The biggest problem right now is getting buy in, it doesn’t really map to standards. So many have to make the case, when they shouldn’t have to, because it’s not fully accepted and there isn’t a lot of research. We are actually in the middle of doing some research around project based learning, because we saw the need for having it. We’re in the middle of a three year study, partnering with the Gates Foundation and Washington University, looking at what happens when you’re in an all project based classroom versus a teach-to-the-test standard classroom. And we’re doing that as it relates to AT classrooms. So it’ll be really exciting to see the results when that’s concluded. That’s what I see as the biggest barrier right now, that there’s not a lot of buy in or validity. People need to see evidence that it works.

Amy: There are a number of really great resources, and project based learning has gotten a bad rap over the years because there are a lot of bad projects out there, and no standards. You talked about lesson planning, I’ve seen teachers doing project based learning planning well in advance, how it will work, getting professionals in for kids to present projects to, what standards will be met, and this is important for good execution of project based learning. But it can be hard to get people over to your side and take the time to do a really good project.

Knowing that there are examples you can see, and people who can give guidance on how to do it, hopefully these are things that can overcome the bad rap. There are definitely people out there who are putting out examples of good projects. The best examples I’ve seen have happened in a really supportive environment where the principal is on board.

Elana: We try to provide smaller examples as well, to give people a taste, rather than overwhelming them with too much. We try to showcase all aspects of project based learning, to get people on board. If you ask George Lucas what the one thing is that we need to achieve in education, it’s project based learning. So I’m trying to get out there and make sure it’s not too overwhelming for teachers.

Terry: Yes, I think there’s a lot of “I can’t do project based learning because I do {this}.” And they’re not mutually exclusive, you can still do self assessment and collaborative assignments. Project based learning is really an anchor point for so many smaller discrete initiatives that good teachers can work into a format. It’s about returning the power and autonomy to students, and providing support. 

Elana: A good teacher will be able to incorporate all the necessary standards, so there’s no excuse to say you can’t do project based learning – in a really good project you get both.

Terry: One of the secrets of good project-based learning  is curriulum design and instructional design. Having the mapping, and then the lesson planning, the planning of a project is super important. And that can also appease certain administrators who need certain things to be visible (in walk-throughs). I think frameworks could really help push educators to accept project-based learning.

Elana: There’s a new chat, #pblchat, that has really gotten a lot of good responses from teachers who want to do this in their classes, this can help teachers who might be struggling and this can be really powerful for them. We also have a couple of new bloggers who write on this topic and provide lots of great new resources on this and also game based learning.

Terry: What is the role of reflection in new teacher learning, and how can technology support that?

Elana: Social media has the ability to open your reflection to the world, and get some perspective on it. Someone can comment on what I’m doing, what I’ve seen, and say hey, have you thought of trying this? I’ve seen so many educators grow by starting a blog and opening discussions to others.

Terry: Thank you for your time today, Elana.

Lisa: Thank you, Terry!