Recently I had the great privilege of standing all jelly-like and rather terrified in front of a group of several hundred university students. I had convinced myself that because it was late Friday afternoon - the last session on the last day of the last block course for this programme of study - that it was in fact quite likely that some students would have already left to catch their flights home and that those who remained were likely to already be so tired from a full on few days of learning that they would hopefully not notice should I pass out or make any sort of major error. However should they be awake and attentive, I did want to provide them with something light-hearted and entertaining that was also useful – given that the latter was the aim after all – hopefully informing them while also ensuring their attention was on the screen and not me!
I had been asked to present briefly about Online Communities of Practice; a topic close to my heart, and something familiar to all those students who had spent several years as a part of an online community of practice for the purposes of study. In these online communities students co-construct meaning around course activities and content, voice opinions, ideas and experiences, respond to one another’s questions and pool resources. It is an exciting place where participants can: ‘lurk’- thanks mentors for that word - watching, reading, reflecting and learning or; hop in boots and all, being fully immersed in the process. It’s a fabulous place to feel supported and affirmed as well as an opportunity to be stretched, acquiring new perspectives as everyone shares from different viewpoints and with different experiences.
Online Communities of practice are an important networking tool for professionals. They afford a means of connecting with others to ask questions, add ideas and resources, find out information and keep abreast of developments and news. While face-to-face networking opportunities are invaluable, online communities help to strengthen connectivity even further, and being readily accessible at any time they are convenient even for the busiest of professionals.
There are many options available, with each being slightly different. So before commencing discussion around some of the specific online communities available to those interested in gifted education in New Zealand, I would like to briefly share some personal thoughts around online communities of practice, and introduce some of the platforms which support these communities.
Birds of a Feather - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
If you are not already an active participant in online communities of practice, or you are simply keen to explore further afield, hopefully you are feeling inspired to read on a little further and discover a bit more about what is out there.
The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) is a New Zealand website, and home to a vast number of groups, some more active than others. You can search for relevant groups and request to join, or create your own. Once you are part of a group you are free to participate as you choose, and can receive responses made to posts you have added straight to your email. There are many networks specific to gifted education some of which are; GiftEDnz, Gifted Pasifika Education, Gifted Writer’s Collaboration, Catering for GATE students with e-learning tools, Competitions, RTLB GATE Networks as well as Regional GATE Co-ordinator groups.
Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI) is a Ministry of Education website which offers information and resources in relation to a number of areas of schooling. One of these is www.gifted.tki.org.nz which has sections for; schools and teachers, parents and whanau, as well as students. From this website you can register to connect with others through the mailing list, whereby member’s contributions are emailed to a moderator with accepted contributions being emailed out to all registered service users. There are many other mailing lists also available through TKI, offering the opportunity to engage in discussions about varying learning needs and areas, as well making for a wonderful chance to open up dialogue with others who may be less familiar with the concepts of giftedness and talent and gifted education.
Twitter is something I have had less experience with, but certainly appears to have some wonderful benefits. I have personally discovered some very useful organisations and interesting people to follow, accessing blogs, articles and resources that I would not have otherwise discovered, for instance, The Coffee Klatch. Twitter is also a great way to follow the annual Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. Regular live discussions are another feature of this networking platform, one example being #gtchats, which while not a New Zealand based group, covers very relevant topics none-the-less.
Of all the different online communities of practice, my preference currently lies with Facebook. With the ability to have professional ‘friends’, be able to ‘like’ relevant pages (such as liftingthelidnz) and join interest specific groups, it offers great potential to connect, discuss and share. There are a number of active New Zealand based groups, such as Mary's Gifted Contacts, and many international groups. It is best to search 'gifted' or 'GATE' to explore what is available. Some of these are a mix of professionals and parents/whanau of gifted children, which provides enriched discussions through inclusion of a broad mix of perspectives. Some are just for families, while others are for young people. Many are closed groups which means you will need to request membership to access discussions. I highly recommend exploring.
The aforementioned are just the networks I am familiar with; there are bound to be many more. I am keen to know what online professional communities of practice others find interesting and useful, specifically those which support the development of awareness and understanding around giftedness and talent, and ways to better support gifted learners. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts around this topic in the comments below. These comments are moderated so please be respectful.
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Online Communities of Practice
Where Birds of a Feather Flock Together
Oh, and in case you are wondering...up in front of all those hundreds of students, presenting on this very topic...while there weren't any laughs or groans (that I noticed) from all those puns I used in my slideshow to suggest anyone was in fact paying attention...I did not pass out and I did actually manage to get some cohesive sentences out. I even have some vague recollection of hearing applause over the sound of my heart pumping in my ears, so all-in-all, I think it went OK!