My project involves establishing a Personal Learning Network (PLN) for myself and faculty on our campus. It involves establishing an online presence and building a community on various social media sites for myself and our CTLE. I will research blogs, organizations and professionals to include in this community, as well as produce content for our blog covering the best pedagogical practices in online teaching. The goal of the PLN is to get faculty “to connect, collaborate and contribute so that we can become aware, connected, empowered, and confident learners.” I will spend time researching and learning about creating a successful PLN and how to get others involved. Attending a national conference, researching and reading will help me produce PLN content and connections.
As an online instructor and eCourses Faculty Lead for my college, the general purpose of my project is to increase my knowledge and the knowledge of our ecourses faculty of the best pedagogical practices in online teaching by establishing a Personal Learning Network (PLN). “Personal Learning Networks are systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning.” It’s a system of lifelong learning and provides support for learners to manage their learning and to communicate with others in the process of learning. This PLN will be used for professional development and will help myself and other faculty learn from content-area specialists and each other. In order to create this network, I need to improve my skills and knowledge in the process and learn about best practices for creating such networks, as well as learn how to help and motivate others to join the network. The true value of this project is that the learning doesn’t end after the final report is submitted.
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The very first conference I ever attended after starting work in Maricopa was the TYCA West conference. 1999 “Climates of Inquiry: Classrooms, Curriculum, Theory, and Assessment.” Park City, Utah; October 14-16. My division chair at the time suggested I go, and practically signed me up for it. I was grateful. I was hooked. Not just with this conference, but going to conferences in general and learning from others who do exactly what I do everyday. It’s refreshing. TYCA-West is a unique conference, and I’ve tried to go as often as possible over the years. It’s a small intimate conference, often garnering less than 50 participants. But it’s always rewarding, and even when I can’t go I try to help out in any way I can. Last year I did a redesign on the website for them and have helped them maintain it with backups and upgrades. It’s just what we do to help support things we believe in.
Well, last week I filled out my travel request forms and submitted all the required documents to the proper people for signatures to attend this year’s TYCA West conference in Salt Lake City. I submitted a proposal to present on hybrid course design and was looking forward to yet another awesome conference. But my excitement was put on hold when my travel request was denied. Yep, denied. Rejected. Fail! There is never enough space to write much of a justification on the form, so I didn’t think much of it and typed out a much longer justification and emailed it to my dean’s secretary addressing his concerns. Much to my surprise, it was denied again. The request to add additional wording on how my students will benefit from my travel was addressed in my eyes, but for some reason he didn’t like it. No explanation was given. So on my third attempt, I went back to what I know best. Take the required questions, dissect them and answer each part piece by piece. REJECTED for the third time. Apparently the dean or Vice President of Academic Affairs has his own ideas about what we should write for a justification for our professional growth now. I thought it was my professional growth.
It’s not clear who is denying my request as each secretary has blamed it on the other “boss.” I didn’t even get the courtesy of an email directly from the person rejecting my request. I’ve been going back and forth with the secretary. By the time the he said she said trickles down to me something is lost in translation. I have no idea what they are looking for. It’s obviously not MY professional growth activity any more. It will be what they want it to be or I don’t get to go. Doesn’t sound fair to me, and after 13 years of submitting travel requests in the district, this is the first time where my justification for wanting to attend a conference wasn’t good enough.
Here’s what bugs me the most. On our professional growth website, it states as the guidelines for use of FPG travels funds:
FPG travel funding is monetary support of any event for the purpose of professional growth that will increase knowledge, skills, or attitudes enhancing one’s role at the college.
It doesn’t say anything about “student benefit.” Why? Because that’s obvious. As I wrote in my justification, “Student learning and achievement increase when educators engage in effective professional development focused on the skills educators need in order to address students’ major learning challenges.” What those skills will be is unknown until you attend the conference and how that will directly effect your students is mere speculation. Why bother? The focus should be on my opportunity to “increase knowledge, skills or attitudes” to enhance my overall role at GCC; not just my role as a teacher. But by becoming a better teacher, obviously I become the benefit to my students. Me. I’m the benefit. They benefit from me and my increased knowledge, my increased skills and my postive attitude I will have because my administration doesn’t stand in the way of MY professional development.
To read my attempts at justification for my travel request, click here: Travel Request Justifications Denied
In Maricopa, in order to take advantage of the available professional growth travel funds ($3500), you need to fill out a travel request form, provide all the proper documents, answer two questions and get the proper signatures: yours, department chair, travel rep and either the dean or VPAA. I honestly don’t know which one is supposed to sign off on it. The form leaves very little room to answer the two questions, so it’s literally a practice in being concise. Following are the two questions (bold) and my responses that were denied by the dean. My additional followup attempt, trying to address his concerns follows the two required questions. This justification was also denied. As of Tuesday, I have not been approved to travel. ;(
Purpose of business travel, including relevance to employee’s position in the District:
The purpose of my travel to the TYCA West conference is to directly support my role as assistant chair and eCourses coordinator for the department. Attending this conference will give me the opportunity to learn about different pedagogical practices in regards to teaching freshman composition at the two-year college. As a leader in the department, I plan to share what good practices I gather from my participation in this conference with my GCC colleagues. I will also be sharing what great things I’ve been able to accomplish here at GCC with participants during my presentation on hybrid courses.
Tangible benefits derived from business travel:
Tangible benefits derived from my travel to this conference include knowledge, strategic, networking, and team building benefits. I will learn about different practices my colleagues from other organizations are using at their institutions. That would include anything from technology tools to pedagogical practices. Attending the conference will enable me to see how other institutions anticipate, understand, and adapt to changes both in the teaching environment and in professional practice. The conference will enable me to meet professionals in similar roles and 2-year organizations on the west coast. Finally, as I have encouraged several younger faculty to also attend this conference, the conference will help build our department by providing a forum for faculty members to learn and discuss best practices, new tools, and emerging trends together.
Additional Justification requested by the dean’s secretary. This is my second attempt.
Professional development may enhance student learning through its effects on teaching practices, and effective professional development may contribute to the professional skills of participating teachers, thereby increasing the number of highly skilled faculty available at an institution. What does that mean for students and the institution? It means that I will be able to better my performance as a teacher and raise student achievement (theoretically). Student learning and achievement increase when educators engage in effective professional development focused on the skills educators need in order to address students’ major learning challenges. Many conferences that we attend give participants a variety of learning options in which to choose. Aside from the main idea, theme or major focus of the conference, no one can say specifically what they will learn and how students will benefit from this knowledge.
I could speculate and say that based on the theme of this year’s conference, “Alterations: The future of two year college English departments,” that I will learn more about the recent developments in higher education and how they are putting more pressure on two-year colleges to “move students through the system more quickly” and yet to provide “quality higher education” to some times under-prepared students. I will learn how these pressures impact development of curriculum, courses offered, textbook selection, staffing of classes, admissions policies, uses of technology in online and in-person education, as well as writing centers and academic advising. If I learn ALL that, students will benefit from better curriculum development, courses offered, text book selection, uses of technology in online and in-person classes, as well as better writing centers.
And as professional development should be reflective, I’ll be sure to share what I’ve learned with others who also believe in staying in touch with their profession.