Building a community and culture of two-way communication: my MT experience & some thoughts for U of T

I recently sat down with Crystal Chin, a Communication Intern in the Office of Student Life, to talk about my experiences with communications at University of Toronto, my program experience, as well as my research and perspectives on technology/social media use in institutions. You can read some of our conversation here. [The selective transcription doesn’t mention my program experience, so I’ve written about it in this post]

Today, University of Toronto is hosting a Student Communications Summit. I anticipate the day will encourage fruitful dialogue and collaborations between different stakeholders here at the university. I won’t be in attendance, but I indeed look forward to what emerges from the day’s conversations.

I wanted to elaborate a bit more on two recent tweets I posted with the #listenUT hashtag.

@monicabatac: How do I share my two cents about my program? Everything from online surveys, focus group, comm committee, chats w/director #OISE #listenUT

@monicabatac: #listenUT: Search of #UofT, diff POVs & voices: acceptance/rejection letters, campus info, ?s, rants/raves, pics. Academics, social, random

The #listenUT hashtag was created to encourage students to share their experiences and recommendations regarding communications with University of Toronto. I recall reading a tweet that questioned how to engage students in Robarts (were they called study “zombies?’ or something?) in sharing/vocalizing their thoughts/perspectives.

My initial reaction is to cringe at any “Robarts” student stereotype, nonetheless my current thinking urges me to ask a fundamental question. Whose voices are represented at this communications summit? When we look to social media or voluntary focus groups to gather information about student experiences, are we only tapping into a particular group of social media/technologically savvy and/or “vocal” student populations?

If you search the #listenUT hashtag, I’d say there are very few responses. If you search #UofT instead, you’ll find a huge range of perspectives and information: everything from high school students sharing their acceptances/rejections, campus food events, students cramming and campus-wide exam anxiety, Instagram photos of Hart House, overheard student conversations, to department/faculty/research news releases.

If you already blog for some department/service for U of T, are heavily involved in campus life/student groups/extra curriculars, or engage with the university via social media, you’d know about this communication summit. You might be in attendance, you may have given your two cents via Twitter, your own blogging, or perhaps in a past focus group. If you hold a staff position where student experience or communications is part of your agenda, then you may have received an invite. What about all the other students? Other staff members? Faculty members? Sessional instructors? The list goes on and on.

I’ve sat in on a few focus groups for my own graduate program (Master of Teaching at OISE) and department, and indeed it has often been voluntary. I know for my colleagues who are single parents, married or have employment commitments, they certainly don’t have the luxury or flexibility in their schedules to come to such initiatives. Does that mean they cannot share their experiences? To counter that, we have often had the option of sending emails or responding to an online/paper survey. Though, I know for myself, a few of these important surveys have slipped through the [virtual or school bag] cracks and I forget to submit them.

For my program in particular, it has been very beneficial for students to feel not only encouraged to share their honest opinions, positive/negative experiences, evaluations and suggestions, but to be actively involved in improving our program. From cohort student representatives, monthly communications meetings, an emerging student association, focus groups, online surveys, open door policies [virtual and actual office doors] with our administrators and instructors, and even the promotion of Pepper and Twitter as collaborative communities, communication has improved drastically within my 2 years there.

I feel like my program is rapidly evolving into a collaborative community and this overall culture is mirrored in our course content and delivery, right to program planning, vision, and administration. While I am set to graduate soon, I have strong ties to the program and look forward to its constant growth and development.

An important lesson to take away from my own experience with communications within my program  – there’s no one way of “communicating.” Indeed, my program is fairly proficient in using technology to communicate and gather student feedback. However, there are also equal, if not further opportunities to meet face-to-face individually or in groups with different faculty, admin, and our program director. Heck, I spent an hour last week chatting with two of my professors [who also hold admin positions for the program] about summer plans and PhD proposals. Part of that was also spent hovering over a laptop to Google something, sharing personal stories, cracking jokes, and having the department chair drop in. Talk about accessibility.

I discussed a possible tension of communication, transparency, and accessibility with Crystal. It’s one thing for students to desire these things & another thing to provide it all together. Coming from a small graduate program, perhaps I have a skewed and biased perspective. Though at the end of the day, the foundations of collaboration, communication, and community have been built and are improving in different ways after each interaction –via email, at a meeting, each week/month/semester/year.

So that’s a small glimpse of my student experience at University of Toronto. I’m one of those social media-tech savvy, vocal students. I’ve posted it on my blog. I’ll post the link to Twitter with the appropriate hashtags. I’ll send the link to my program director and research supervisor. I’m sure another student in the program would prefer to chat over the phone or in person. Another may rather send an email response. Some may even decline the offer to share.

Communication should be two-way. The best communication is collaborative. True communication is accessible with multiple opportunities for interaction and participation. As all students have “the right to pass” (i.e. decline an invitation to the discussions), it is also important to develop and promote a collaborative, inclusive, and transparent culture in numerous ways – small and large scale, embedded and explicit. This can be a challenge for such a large institution, but student blogs, Twitter accounts, and the Student Communications Summit show great promise.

 

Teacher learning – W5H

Just starting to wind down after a busy month – paper submission, presentations, conference galore, etc. I just came back from Winnipeg, Manitoba where my co-presenters Alana Callan, Colin Harris, and I talked about teacher learning, reflective practice and instructor/faculty development in technology integration.

[slideshare id=12798861&doc=finalmadlat-120504090005-phpapp02]

 

I’ve been quietly reflecting on the experience on my own. Today, I received a message stating how I’m today’s featured OISE student for Education Week [screen shot below]. The banner sums up one of my passion quite nicely: I’m all about helping “classroom teachers build and develop meaningful professional learning connections in and outside their school environments.”

Re-reading that line a few times has sparked this post.

While in Winnipeg, our session was attended by participants mostly in teacher/faculty development/support roles.  There were 2 teachers joining us.  One continuously nodded her head when we talked about the power of collegial relationships and work environments. The other teacher shook his head when many of us spoke of our shared experience of becoming so engrossed in our own career/teaching development that we learn on our own – even on our “off” time & using personal finances. Why? Improving and sharing our practices, expanding our knowledge about teaching and learning… it’s not only a career investment but intertwined personal/professional goals.

Random questions in my head… Who needs to participate in professional learning/development? How do we invest in our own professional practice? Does our learning need to be dictated or set to particular times/places? What does that learning look like?

We so often talk about promoting “lifelong learning” with our students. As teachers, does our learning only occur when it’s paid, prescribed, or  when we receive more money, a step up the ladder, a certificate of participation? Why should we do it when it has little or no immediate, tangible “benefits” or “outcomes” – however you choose to define the words.

In supporting teachers/faculty in their own teaching practices, how do we support and encourage those who are a bit resistant to “change” and “improvement”?

The teachers I interviewed speak of some of their experiences with colleagues in and outside their school environments. By no means is there one solution. Here’s a glimpse into their experiences.

What are your thoughts?

Glimpse of my final research paper…

Title: Self-directed teacher inquiry in technology integration: Exploring the dynamics of synchronous and asynchronous collaborative teacher learning

Abstract: There is no one way for a teacher to learn about, implement and use technology in his or her practice.  In a qualitative narrative study, three Ontario teachers were interviewed, chosen for their exemplary use of technology in their classrooms.  Publicly promoted and vetted as model educators, these teachers are at different stages in their careers and have undergone different forms of professional development and training regarding educational technology. Their classroom practices and uses of technology also differ, but all are grounded in Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) (Mishra and Koehler 2006).  In discussing their experiences with technology integration, interesting connections among their practices emerge.  The three teachers emphasize the need for authentic modeling of technology use for students and mentorship/relationship building with other educators.  They highlight the need to build and maintain professional relationships with both face-to-face and on-line peers. In particular, this paper will focus on the teachers’ use of synchronous and asynchronous collaborative learning to support their professional growth and inquiry in technology integration and other areas of instruction.  Despite the tensions and differences between their individual experiences, these teachers’ perspectives shed light onto considerations and possible avenues/models for professional development – for individual teachers, whole school, and board-wide initiatives.

Acknowledgements: I would like to express my gratitude to my research supervisor, Dr. Kim MacKinnon and program director, Dr. Jim Hewitt.  These two professors sparked my interest and passion in educational/instructional technology and have fully supported my multi-faceted teacher inquiry and the exploration of diverse interests, research, and projects in education.  I would also like to thank my research participants for sharing their classrooms, pedagogies and philosophies in education. Most especially, thank you for continuing the dialogue and collaboration beyond the interviews.  You three are my mentor and inspire me to continue to learn with and from others, and share my own learning and experiences.  You three, alongside our educator and education friends in Ontario and abroad, serve as exemplary practitioners of authentic, self-directed teacher inquiry in blended environments.  My research simply serves to share our stories and experiences, to stress the importance of meaningful mentorship, sharing, and continuous growth as educators, life-long learners and professionals.

Media coverage #5

Jordon Glass

“BREAKING DOWN THE TDSB BY-ELECTIONS”

February 15 2012.

Excerpt:

If you are unaware that there have been two ongoing Toronto District School Board (TDSB) by-elections in this city, you could hardly be blamed. You aren’t the only one. The by-elections in TDSB Ward 17 (Don Valley East) and TDSB Ward 20 (Scarborough-Agincourt) have largely managed to fly under the radar in a city that has so recently faced three general elections, a federal by-election, and constant political strife at City Hall between the Mayor and his political adversaries.

The two seats became vacant when Liberals Michael Coteau and Soo Wong were elected during the previous October’s Ontario general election in Don Valley East and Scarborough-Agincourt, respectively. While both have become key members of Premier McGuinty’s Toronto team of MPPs, their old seats at the TDSB have become the focal points of two of the most hotly contested by-elections in the school board’s history. Boasting an impressive thirty-one candidates between the two wards; it would be needlessly complicated to break down the platform for each and every single candidate. That said; there are a few who have managed to break ahead of the pack.

Just a little southwest, Ward 20 has managed to mimic the formula put forth by Ward 17; that of a small number of candidates managing to stand up above the crowd. Chief among them is Monica Batac. Attracting far more media attention than any other candidate in either race, Batac is running on her experience as a teacher with the TDSB and a researcher with the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education. She has built her campaign around prioritizing English as a second language education. However, the most interesting piece of her platform may be her commitment to study the feasibility of opening a trilingual school in Toronto.

 

Read the full article here.

Media Coverage #4, includes interview

Here’s a Digital Journal feature article about me, my platform, and some of my perspectives on TDSB & the Trustee role, written by Andrew Moran.

TDSB Trustee candidate Monica Batac wants to innovate classrooms
Full URL: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/319209

Excerpt:

During municipal elections, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Trustee contests usually do not garner much attention from voters or media outlets, but that could change this year as two by-elections are being held in Ward 17 Don Valley East and Ward 20 Scarborough-Agincourt.

Ward 20 voters will have 14 candidates to choose from on Feb. 27, including an exuberant Monica Batac, a classroom teacher who is completing her Master of Teaching degree at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute of Studies in Education.

DigitalJournal.com spoke with Batac to find out what makes her qualified to become a school trustee, understand the importance of such a position, what the TDSB can do to improve education and public awareness of trustee elections.

Read full article here.

Media coverage on by-election

Hi all,

I wanted to share this article about the upcoming by-election with information about some of the candidates – including yours truly.

Trustee by-elections are anyone’s race. by Moira MacDonald. Toronto Sun. Jan. 10, 2012.

Excerpts:

If you want to see what a difference no incumbent makes, take a look at the growing list of trustee by-election candidates in Don Valley East’s Ward 17 and Scarborough-Agincourt’s Ward 20.

There’s the heavy smell of opportunism in the air for both races, but there’s the whiff of idealism too. Political neophyte Monica Batac, 24, is finishing a master’s degree in teaching this spring, but says the experience taught her education needs advocatesat the political table too. She plans a “grassroots” campaign in Scarborough- Agincourt, including how she fundraises. Next weekend she’s part of a “karma” Bikram yoga class where proceeds will go to support her trustee bid.

“I don’t have a campaign manager, I’m writing my own content,” says Batac, who has a special interest in how to use technology in education. “It’s not easy. I’m an underdog — but I have the best of intentions.”

 

 

The new year brings a new trustee – my campaign begins…

On our first day of 2012, I would like to share an important message with you.

It is with the overwhelming support of my family and many colleagues, friends, and mentors that I will be running in the by-election for Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Trustee for Ward 20 – Scarborough-Agincourt.  I am excited & encouraged for the next two months of campaigning.  I hope you will come along for the ride.

Over the past few months, I have considered the range of career opportunities available after graduation. Anything and everything under the sun has been suggested- from oversea teaching gigs, employment with local boards, to tutoring.  I’ve considered continuing my studies or entering the private sector.  As some of you may know, I have not been 100% convinced that one opportunity was better suited for me than another.

I have spent the last two years navigating and switching between my identities as student, teacher, educator/mentor, researcher, community member, and advocate.  Yes, I am a multi-purpose, multi-identity stakeholder in education.  Becoming the Trustee for Ward 20 would allow me to continue this often messy, complex, yet invigorating work.  This time though, it is beyond informal conversations with peers or teachers – it is with the stakeholders themselves and with some weight in decision-making.

My reflections, learning, and experiences have always brought me back to the big picture, the critical implications of our definitions, practices, and values of teaching, learning, and education.  Would you agree there is dissonance in what is and what could be?

We all know we’ve got work to do.  Let’s get the votes.