Taming the Flood

This post was originally written by Dierdre Shetler, Instructional Technology Instructor at Cartwright School District, Phoenix, AZ on her blog Lessons Learned. See the original post here.

large_6146154620Ever heard this one? “I hope I die during an inservice session, because the transition between life and death would be so subtle.” While many people understand professional development to be drudgery at best, many others have discovered a spring of excellent PD, to the degree that it can feel like one is drowning in a flood of options.

Educators around the world are using online resources to connect with others like them (or not like them!) With this ongoing source of personalized, 24/7, usually free professional development at everyone’s fingertips, the broader issue has become how to manage all that information continually springing up anew on a daily basis.

Try these strategies to help transform the flood into the most useful information for YOU!

1. Choose ONE topic that is giving you the biggest headache right now or a type of teaching/project you’re dying to try. Maybe it’s project-based learning, how to deal with unruly kiddos, the flipped classroom, or a good app for making digital posters.

2. Search on Google, Twitter, Youtube, and sources of free webinars, like edWeb.net. edweb.net is an awesome source for free, hour-long webinars on various educational topics, but even with great sources like these, it can be an overwhelming amount of information, only to be forgotten when the next class walks in the door. You’ve reached the flood. Time to narrow down the river of results.

3. Set limits through curation. There is plenty of useful information out there, but it’s hard to organize and make sense of it. Do this by choosing a tool that you can save good ideas through. I always think I’ll somehow miraculously remember that awesome resource for teaching about technology without any computers exactly when I need it, but even if I do, I don’t remember how to find it. That is when content curation tools help. There are a plethora of options, but here are three:

  • Delicious.com – installs a bookmarklet on your browser that let’s you save sites with descriptions and tags, for easy reference and search later on (my favorite)
  • Symbaloo – saves web content into a tile format on a specific topic
  • LiveBinders – save web content into an old-school binder format with tabs for different topics

Now, save the best sources you come across to that tool. Notice the sites above are not simple “bookmark” tools, that add everything to one gigantic list. They let you categorize and organize where each item is saved, so you can actually find and use it later, (i.e., when you come around to teaching fractions again next year and have run out of ideas.)

4. Set a time limit of 30 min, 60 min, etc. to look for resources on your chosen topic, so you aren’t swamped in the possibilities. Another option is to set a target number of resources to find; e.g., “I’ll stop when I’ve bookmarked 10 things regarding flipping the classroom.”

5. Analyze your findings. Do not skip this piece! Otherwise, its just a waste of time. By actually sitting down and determining how you can (or can’t) use the information you just found, you’re getting a refreshing drink of spring water, instead of just dipping your hand in the flood of information, drying it off, and forgetting about it. We all reflect and analyze information differently. Maybe you blog about it, talk with a friend, list possibilities, etc. But either way, decide if and how you could adapt that strategy to fit your setting, and try it soon.

How often does a PD meeting actually make a beneficial improvement to your teaching tomorrow? By using the tools already available, you can pull ideas out of the flood of information, organize, and implement them to become a better educator. Isn’t that what sound professional development should be?