What are they?
Stemming from two different fields, corporate and education, COPs, also known as ‘communities of practice’ and PLCs, or ‘planned learning communities’, were essentially designed to serve the same purpose: to allow teachers to collaborate while “…deciding collectively what your students must learn, how you will know when each student has learned it, and what kind of intervention and support you’ll provide for students who are not learning the material.” (Adams, 2009)
COPs and PLCs both facilitate an opportunity for individuals in the corporate world, teachers and administrators to share ideas across department or content, discuss strategies for all learners or students and also provide the forum to ensure consistency throughout the established structure. Specifically for teachers, PLCs allow new and experienced teachers to work closely “…to trust each other, which leads to an openness to share ideas and have conversations about where they see room for improvement.” (Cranston, 2011) Further, Cranston notes teachers feel “…valued and are more likely to commit to school-wide improvement efforts” when the principal helps to establish a climate of trust and mutual respect.
Technology can enhance and impact these learning communities in several ways. In my last district, Guilford public schools, we embraced PLC’s beginning back in 2008. They began with small groups across departments and allowed for teachers to have collaborative time to discuss everything that pertained to instruction, learning and delivery of content. At different times, I would work with various PLC’s to offer different ideas as it pertained to software, hardware and most recently apps that could assist in their instruction and ultimately student learning. I even helped teams communicate with other PLC’s from other schools via Skype and video conferencing so ideas could be exchanged that way too.
Photo take from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dellphotos
Learning that Happens EVERYWHERE
Now, PLCs don’t just occur in school buildings or districts, rather almost anywhere, anytime online. Bonk references several examples of how ‘WE-ALL-LEARN’ through online forums and PLCs such as Livemocha which precipitated a tremendous amount of new online tutoring to learn a different language. KanTalk, another language based system, helps people leverage technology like Skype, YouTube and digital recorders, to help them learn and improve their English. (Bonk, 2011) And even as early as 2008, SMARTHINKING launched StraighterLine where “…students could enroll in inexpensive introductory college courses…” and “They could start and end the courses at any time.” (Bonk, 2011) All of these learning communities allow for engagement and collaboration from almost anyone located almost anywhere, anytime.
Building this blog and making my first post has allowed me to engage in a similar way that PLCs function but with one exception. Here, I’m collaborating at any time from any place without a formal meeting after school or work and the dialogue can grow as others chime in. As a technology specialist, this is exactly the type of environment I am trying to create for my students and colleagues as well. Although initially I did not feel comfortable using WordPress, I have grown much more at ease as I continue to improve my overall design and plan for new ways to demonstrate my learning.
Groups of learning like PLCs only foster a more informed and better-prepared educator. But what about students? How well can they benefit from a collaborative environment? Can they work together in the same way teachers do? Check out this groundbreaking Ted Talk as Sugata Mitra flips the way we think about teaching:
Adams, C. (2009). The power of collaboration. Instructor, 119 (1), 28-31.
Bonk, C. (2009). The world is open: How web technology is revolutionizing education. (First ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Cranston, J. (2011). Relational trust: The glue that binds a professional learning community . [Article]. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 57(1), 59-72.