Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vital #4: Online Professional Development

It might seem like we’ve finished where we might have started, and, truth be told, we debated what order to put our vitals in as we went. Ultimately we decided to wrap up with online professional development because it is such a rich topic, with lots of room for exploration, and now that you’ve had some experience with it, we hope that you’ll branch out in ways that are useful to you. Online professional development can take many, many forms, both structured and more casual. We’re going to focus primarily on freely available, self-directed professional development--namely the personal learning network, but have also thrown in some more formal, content provided options, such as webinars and online educational videos you can check out.

How does this help me?
I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it more and more difficult to actually get out of the library for any reason, much less professional development. Getting my district to pay for me to go to all the professional development opportunities I’m interested in is the stuff dreams are made of, and I simply can’t afford to do much on my own. All that said, I do my best to get new ideas and find my professional development where I can. Lots of online professional development is free, or low cost. I’m all for saving time and money and still getting what I want, whenever I can!

Many librarians in our region experience professional isolation. Some are the sole librarian in their district, most find it difficult to meet with colleagues on a regular basis. Geographic considerations also play into the mix. Targeted social networking can go a long way towards solving these problems. It is possible to build a community of learning that will provide that missing connection: to have a group of people who share resources, discuss common concerns, and offer support and encouragement...who will be there when you need them no matter the date or time of day.

A natural extension of this type of interaction is participating in online professional development. There are a number of tutorials, even entire conferences, available for free. The TL Virtual Cafe hosts webinars primarily targeted for librarians, although they have value for educators in other disciplines as well.
Online offerings are usually archived, so it is possible to choose when to participate and select content relevant to your situation and skill level.

It's important to keep abreast of issues affecting education in general and librarianship in particular, to have access to the wealth of information being shared by our profession's thought leaders. Online professional development is the perfect means to accomplish this end.

Stuff to check out

Gale often offers webinars on their products. Here’s a pretty little site they put together to advertise. Most of these webinars have passed, but here’s the full calendar of all their online training.
Similarly, EBSCO has a ton of self-driven video tutorials on their products. There is some really great stuff here! also offers lots of online videos and webinars, that can be customized for your district.
These can help you to:

  • See how you can use to support your reading and library activites.

  • Become acquainted with the types of materials available on

  • Learn how to best search the database to find materials relevant to your classroom or library.

  • Use these demonstrations in a Professional Development opportunity.

General overview: 3 minute demo
Have a little more time? Try the 11 minute overview.

There are also several videos to help you best use for a variety of purposes:

Other more formal resources to check out are online conferences. Some are free, some you must pay for, but they are often much less expensive than traveling to actual, brick & mortar conferences. Here are two upcoming virtual conferences that you might want to investigate:

Personal learning networks are free, infinitely customizable and can help you find experts in topics that interest you. Here’s a great little video by Will Richardson explaining Personal Learning Networks:

The Will Richardson video above came from this blog post, 5 Things You Can Do to Begin Developing Your Personal Learning Network, which does a great job explaining how to begin to grow a personal learning network.

Here are several other excellent blog posts discussing Personal Learning Networks:

Here's a great mini-workshop on how to use Twitter to develop your personal learning network.

This post has a great example of how you might spend your time using a PLN:

So exactly what does my Personal Learning Network (PLN) look like? Here’s a sample of how I spend the first half hour of every morning learning before I go to work:
  1. Check my email.

  2. Check in with Twitter and Classroom 2.0 to see what people are saying, blogging, what websites are being referenced, or what webinars may be available later in the day.

  3. Visit interesting bookmarks shared through the Diigo groups I belong.

  4. I’ll check into Facebook to see what friends and relatives, some personal some professional, are up to this day.

  5. I’ll check my school and student email. (Students use a unique email to access me.)

  6. I’ll check my blog to see if I need to respond to anyone or perhaps I’ll add a new post.

  7. I’ll review the new posts of the many blogs I follow.

  8. Whatever new comes my way that day, I’ll click and check it out.

If you are using Twitter, or about to start using Twitter as part of your PLN, please feel free to follow us: I'm @amycah personally and my library is @SCSDMSHSLibrary. Diane is @dmcordell. Take a look at who we're following to get ideas of who you might be interested in following. Some suggestions are:

@buffyjhamilton (Buffy Hamilton)
@joycevalenza (Joyce Valenza)
@shannonmmiller (Shannon Miller)
@MrSchuReads (John Schumacher)
@technolibrary (Carolyn Foote)
@cathyjo (Cathy Jo Nelson)
@librarian_tiff (Tiffany Whitehead)
@heyjudeonline (Judy O'Connell)
@elemlms (Amalia Connolly)
@kathyfs24 (Kathy Schmidt)
@carolynstarkey (Carolyn Starkey)
@jmalphy (Jennifer Malphy)
@eabarbanel (Elisabeth Abarbanel)
@elemenous (Lucy Gray)
@kishizuka (Kathy Ishizuka, SLJ)
@pollyalida (Polly-Alida Farrington)
@srabrams (Steve Abrams)
@willrich (Will Richardson)
@INFOlit4U (Paige Jaeger)

Vital Task
Short-term, this shouldn’t take up too much of your time. Long-term, it will require more time, if you choose to commit to it. For now, try out one of the more formal online professional development opportunities. Check out a webinar or a learning video and let us know how it will inform your instruction and/or practice for the year. Longer-term, find a way to develop your personal online professional learning community. Will you develop a professional learning community on Twitter? Contribute more to the local or national list-serv? This article gives some great step-by-step ideas for how to grow your own personal professional learning community. If you’re not sure where to start, you could do worse than to look here.
Write a blog post reflecting on this topic. Make sure to share:

  • Which formal online professional development ‘thing’ you did

  • What do you plan to do for the upcoming year to engage in online professional development or to grow your online personal professional learning community?

  • Any further thoughts you have on this course, anything you learned, or wish you’d learned or want to share.

"One Click or Two" by Kaptain Kobold (edited in Picnik)


  1. Just wanted to say thank you for putting together a wonderful summer learning module for us. I really enjoyed seeing new things as well as being reminded of a few. It was a wondeful part of my summer! It kept me thinking of projects all summer which is exciting!

  2. Hi Amy and Diane -- This wouldn't allow me to log in with my Google ID... (probably our IT security settings). However, I want to thank you two people for putting together a great summer online learning course. It is great to see all the activity and examples. Thanks for sharing your time, ideas, and launching a new dimension to our PD! Hats off to all on their great blogs! - Paige