Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Infographic Syllabus

There was no doubt about it:  my syllabus was in dire need of a makeover.

That is why I was so excited when my colleague @themrfron said that he was going to try to create an infographic syllabus for the IB Language and Literature course we teach together, sharing this example with me.

Inspired – and not to be outdone – I quickly decided that I would try to make one, too.  I created a free Piktochart account for myself and began to take a look around.  I knew I wanted a syllabus that would:
  • help to generate excitement about the course
  • inform students of what they could expect, both visually and verbally
  • be easy to modify and update
  • not take me a lot of time and effort to create
Athough Piktochart also allows users to make their own, unique creations, I felt that using one of the templates was probably a wiser choice given that this was my first foray into the world of infographics.  I ended up going with the “2015 Resolution” template because it fit perfectly with the number of units that we had planned and also because the imagery of the window and the flowers seemed a propos to the learning journey we had in mind for our Grade 9 English students this year.

Using the template, I was able to quickly and easily plug in:

  • the title of the course
  • a brief course description
  • the titles of our various units with images to match
  • our intended learning outcomes
  • the activities we had planned for the year
  • our expectations of learners, and
  • teacher contact details
all within the span of about 20 minutes.  The experience was quick and painless and the final product not too shabby, even if I do say so myself:

Now that I know how it all works, I can’t wait to start exploring Piktochart’s more advanced features, and especially to begin using it with my students.  21st century literacy includes the ability to interpret and communicate using both words and images, and what better way to introduce young learners to this skill than through the creation of their own, beautiful infographics in response to the various texts, themes, and ideas that they will encounter in English 9 this year.        

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Review of "What Connected Educators Do Differently," by Whitaker, Zoul and Casas (2015)

I recently finished reading What Connected Educators do Differently by Whitaker, Zoul, and Casas (2015).  This was a practical, hands-on book best suited to the needs of educators new to connecting both face-to-face and online to create a personal learning network, or PLN.  Even as a more experienced connected educator, however, I was still able to find much in the book to inspire me to continue on in my efforts to connect both my students and myself.

The authors outline eight key areas in which connected educators differ from those who are not.  They:
  • connect to a personal and professional learning network
  • learn in an ongoing, personalized, and flexible manner
  • communicate, collaborate, and build community
  • give…and take
  • are positive and extend that positive influence as far as possible
  • build strong relationships with a diverse array of others
  • model the kind of connected learning that they expect of others
  • balance their on- and off-line lives 

The key tool that the authors recommend is Twitter, providing a wealth of suggestions as to who to follow along with practical steps educators can take to begin developing their own Twitter-based PLNs immediately.  However, part of the beauty of creating a PLN is that the tools that you use - along with every other aspect of your learning - are completely up to you.  Many connected educators are having great success connecting through Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Pinterest, and a whole host of other Web 2.0 applications either in addition to, or instead of, Twitter. 

Still, the book was a quick and easy read and is a useful resource for helping educators prepare themselves to begin their journey to becoming more connected. 


Whitaker, T., Zoul, J., & Casas, J.  (2015).  What connected educators do differently.  New York, NY:  Routledge. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How to Get a Job Teaching at an International School

I've been getting quite a few questions lately about how one might go about getting involved in teaching internationally.  To be honest, I came upon it quite by accident.  I happened to be in the right place at the right time and that's how I got offered my first job.  However, now that I've been at it for a while, there are a number of resources that I wish I'd known about sooner.

If you are interested in going overseas to teach, the easiest, cheapest yet most reliable option is to post your resumé on TIEonline.  I have been offered a number of positions from reputable schools using this service, which costs only a nominal fee to join and does not require one to travel to an expensive hiring fair.  There are many other websites cropping up these days offering a similar service (Teacherhorizons, for example), that do not charge a fee to join, but I cannot vouch personally for the quality of the offers that one might receive through them; you'd have to follow up on that yourself.

On the other hand, if you are serious about teaching overseas and want to ensure that you receive the best possible offers from the widest possible range of schools, then it is best to register yourself with either Search Associates or ISS and to attend one of their hiring fairs.  I have registered with both and attended the ISS fair in Bangkok, where I was offered my current position.  Both organizations host a number of hiring fairs throughout the year in various locations all over the world.  You can find the schedule for Search Associates' fairs for 2015/16 posted here; ISS's events are posted here.  Although people have lots of opinions about which of these two organizations is better, both are highly reputable and my experience with both has been excellent.  I'd simply choose the hiring fair date and location that best suits your schedule and leave it at that.

Once you get to the fair, the fun begins.  Schools that have openings that match your background and experience will express an interest in you, and you will have an opportunity to express your interest in them.  My advice is to keep an open mind and to participate in as many interviews as possible.  Although you might have a few schools at the top of your list ahead of time, you never know what amazing opportunities might end up coming your way.  

I have spent my entire career teaching internationally and I wouldn't have it any other way.  If you are thinking about it, I recommend that you go ahead and begin exploring the resources I've mentioned above and start putting some feelers out there.  Plan to set aside quite a bit of time for preparing your materials (CV, qualifications, teaching philosophy, letters of reference, etc.) so that you are able to put your best foot forward.

After all, what do you have to lose?  Adventure awaits! 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Design for my Study on PLNs as a Form of Teacher Professional Development

Here's what I will be working on this summer (or winter here in Johannesburg):

The study I have in mind is an embedded multiple two-case case study design.  I am currently in the process of carrying out interviews and hope to have my analysis and a first draft of the final two chapters of my dissertation completed within the next two months or so.  

If you are a PreK-12 educator who happens to be a member of either The Educator's PLN or Classroom 2.0, please consider helping me out with my research - I will be eternally grateful.  Members of The Educator's PLN can connect to my survey here.  Classroom 2.0 members can connect to my survey here.   

Conceptual Framework for my Qualitative Study on PLNs

I want to share what my research has led me to believe about how PLNs may work to facilitate teacher professional development.  The diagram above forms the conceptual framework for my forthcoming qualitative embedded multiple two-case case study focused on leveraging the potential of personal learning networks for teacher professional development.

At the beginning of the framework, there is the highly motivated and self-directed (Cooke, 2012; Knowles, 2002; Marsick et al. 2008) learner.  The individual is extroverted (Rogers, 2003) and self-confident, possessing a high degree of intrinsic motivation.  She is a lifelong learner (Knowles, 2002) who also possesses a certain amount of technological literacy, whether because she was born a digital native (Prensky, 2001) or because she has since settled in the digital world (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008).  Her fluency in digital languages enables her to forge connections (Siemens, 2005) with diverse others based on her needs and interests using such tools as web blogs, microblogging, RSS, social bookmarking, social networks, and other Web 2.0 applications.  If environmental conditions are conducive (Marsick et al., 2008)—that is, the learner has unrestricted access to the Internet, sufficient time, and a supportive administration-- and if the communities that she chooses to participate in are effectively stewarded (Baran & Cagiltay, 2010; Lisboa & Coutinho, 2012; Wenger et al., 2009), she is likely to become a active user of her PLN, regularly sharing, engaging in dialogue, collaborating, creating, reflecting, and applying her learning in her own school context.

The model also helps to explain why many teachers do not form a PLN.  Teachers may be introverted, possess a low sense of self-efficacy (Lorsbach & Jinks, 1999), and have an incremental mindset (Dweck, 2007).  Teachers may require additional help developing the self-directed learning skills characteristics of a lifelong learner (Cooke, 2012; Knowles, 2002; Marsick et al., 2008).  Furthermore, as digital immigrants, teachers may not possess the digital literacy necessary to form one (Prensky, 2001).  The model suggests that these individuals will benefit from professional development targeted at enhancing their feelings of self-efficacy and at building their confidence in using technology. 

Finally, the model also predicts why some users of PLNs are likely to remain passive rather than active within them.  If Internet access is restricted, time constraints are present, administration is unsupportive, and communities that the user is a member of are ineffectively stewarded, the user is likely to remain quite passive within her network.  Any one or a combination of any of these four key factors could be the cause of her passivity.  Thus, to transform her from a passive to an active participant requires an analysis of which of these four factors is responsible.  Depending on the analysis, appropriate corrective action can then be taken. 

I am now in the process of gathering data to test it.  Wish me luck :)


Baran, B., & Cagiltay, K. (2010). Motivators and barriers in the development of online communities of practice. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research (EJER), 39, 79-96. Retrieved from http://www.ejer.com.tr/

Cooke, N. A. (2012). Professional development 2.0 for librarians: Developing an online personal learning network (PLN). Library Hi Tech News, 29(3), 1-9. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?issn=0741-9058 

Dweck, C. S. (2007). The perils and promises of praise. Educational Leadership, 65(2), 34-39. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct07/vol65/num02/The-Perils-and-Promises-of-Praise.aspx

Knowles, M. (2002). Lifelong learning: A dream. Retrieved from http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/future/creating_the_future/crfut_knowles.cfm

Lisboa, E., & Coutinho, C. (2011). Informal learning in social networks: A study of the Orkut social network. Issues in Educational Research, 21(2). Retrieved from http://www.iier.org.au/iier.html

Lorsbach, A., & Jinks, J. (1999). Self-efficacy theory and learning environment research. Learning Environments Research, 2(2), 157-167. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1009902810926

Marsick, V. J., Watkins, K. E., Callahan, M. W., & Volpe, M. (2008). Informal and incidental learning in the workplace. In M. C. Smith (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Adult Learning and Development (p. 570). New York, NY: Routledge.

Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On The Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York, NY: The Free Press.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved from http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm

Wenger, E., White, N., & Smith, J. (2009). Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland, OR: CPSquare.

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