The Virtual Travels of an Online Educator

online educatorWhen I tell someone that I work and teach online the response usually falls within two categories – “that sounds like a dream job” or “that sounds really isolating.” In reality, it’s a little of both. With a little effort, my interaction with students and colleagues can make for a packed and exciting schedule.

There are many days in which I haven’t really left my home office for more than a few minutes at a time, but at the end of the day I feel like I’ve traveled the world. Is your online teaching a global experience? Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways in which we can take advantage of the technology available, and a few reasons why you might want to extend your presence and practice beyond your online course site.

Any Time, Any Place, Everywhere

The convenience and flexibility afforded by educational technology allows us to work with students and peers across time zones. The International Baccalaureate organization is focused on global education and provides a helpful introductory guide for educators. It describes a global approach in several ways including, “all levels from the local, through the national and international to the global.”

But it’s not just about working with people from other countries. Moving beyond your local community can also mean:

  • participating in conversations across industries and topics of interest
  • expanding your awareness of new ideas and perspectives, and
  • exploring new approaches to your teaching and professional development.

During a recent Inside Online Learning chat (#IOLchat), “Around the World with Online Education,” online instructors and administrators shared ideas about how they are moving from local to global with the following technologies:

  • Learning Management Systems (LMS): No matter the software used, from Blackboard to Moodle, the course site serves as a central hub for you and your students, and it’s often our first stop on what might be considered the local routes of virtual travel in online education.
  • Web 2.0 Tools: Poll Everywhere is just one tool used to augment “local” course content and interaction. Free applications like this one allow students to create course-related content, respond during live lectures, participate in small group discussion, and more. Discovery Education provides additional Web 2.0 suggestions.
  • Social Media: Through platforms like Twitter and Pinterest, we communicate with our students, establish an online presence, and extend our professional learning networks. These tools can also bring national and international focus to our local teaching and research activities.
  • Social Networking: LinkedIn Groups allow members to share their expertise and ask questions as part of this larger professional community. Among the Groups recommended during the chat are: E-Learning 2.0 and The Sloan Consortium. Search the thousands of Groups available to find gatherings of instructors and students, as well as edtech and global education enthusiasts.

Where Do Your Travels Take You?

All of this global thinking had me wondering about the Who, Where, and How of my own online experiences. A review of my activities over the past month found interactions and exchanges across time zones, as well as different parts of the online learning industry, in four basic categories:

  • Teaching: In addition to instructing two online courses, via two different LMSs, I also met with other adjunct faculty at the department level via Collaborate (formerly Elluminate). This real-time, web conferencing software was also used for virtual office hours.
  • Career and Professional Development: This past week I enrolled in an online mini-course offered by an institution where I work, and designed to improve awareness of support resources and improve teaching skills. In October I attended a live Google Hangout event sponsored by McGraw-Hill. It featured a panel of instructors sharing their experiences with gaming in education.
  • Professional Networking: Through participation in both #IOLchat and #AdjunctChat via Twitter, I met other educators representing nine States, three countries, and a wide range of academic disciplines in K-12 and higher education.
  • Research and Collaboration: In preparation for an in-person conference presentation next week, my out-of-state co-presenter and I completed our planning, writing, and session materials using a few shared files, email, and Skype.

A Few Guidelines for Going Global

Before setting out on the open virtual road, it can help to have a plan. There are so many possible directions to take and tools to try. If your attention has been primarily focused on your local course sites, consider these strategies to initiate new connections at national and international levels:

  • Set goals. And put them in writing. What do you want to accomplish? Whether you want to develop skills, expand your professional network, find research opportunities, or pursue a new topic of interest, put some effort into determining priorities for how you’ll get started and where you’ll spend your time.
  • Schedule specific activities. Add events to your calendar that take you outside of your usual circles. Try not to get caught up in the numbers (i.e., of followers, activities completed) but instead seek out meaningful experiences. Take a look at the Connected Educator Month Starter Kit for ideas.
  • Keep it relevant. Both in terms of the goals you select and the path(s) you choose to achieve them. Staying focused on tasks that add value to all of the other things you are doing will help you stick with it and move forward.
  • Allow time for experimentation. Not every tool, community, or activity will be a good fit for your schedule and goals, so expect some trial and error. Start with low- and no- cost options and look for reviews and recommendations from other educators.
  • Share with your students. Let them know about your global goals and help them make their own local-to-global connections. You can also encourage students to engage in current issues in your industry through global examples added to your existing lessons (e.g., case studies, reading, news feeds, and niche media sources).
  • Manage your time. There are clearly more options than we could ever realistically monitor or participate in. This was one of the concerns of our chat group – finding time to add anything new to our already full schedules is a significant challenge. Select carefully and limit what you will take on in any one semester or term.

The timing is right if you want to jumpstart your virtual travels with attendance at an online conference. The Global Education Conference, which takes place next week (November 18th – 22nd), is completely online and free to attend. Register as a participant and browse hundreds of presentations and keynote sessions scheduled around the clock.

If you are interested in presenting a virtual session at an online conference, the Technology, Colleges, and Community (TCC) Worldwide Online Conference is accepting proposals through December 20th. Join other educators, students, and administrators at this event, and share your expertise related to this year’s theme – Open and Global Learning.

I increasingly find myself working on projects with people I’ve never met in person. It’s not unusual for a quick comment to turn into a conversation that leads to more formal collaboration. The array of communication and collaboration tools available only continues to expand, further extending our potential reach and opening up new opportunities.

Keep the conversation going and share your stories of adventure in online education. Where has it taken you so far? Where do you still want to go?

Join Melissa Venable on Twitter and Google+.

Source: Inside Online Learning Blog