How do you build community for educators spread across the big state of Texas? and do that with a technology staff of 2. The answer is of course web 2.0 apps that take care of the infrastructure maintenance and offer a simple way to support users. Unfortunately for us, it also means tying together multiple technologies which each have their own log in system. But at least many have that wonderful link "Forgot your password" to take care of that support issue.
The Ning infrastructure offered many of the tools we needed in one infrastructure, and our NING network for STEM educators will undoubtedly become the center of our community building effort. To tie our NING, Webinar tools, Wikis, and Second Life conference center all together. I chose to fake an integrated system by creating a home page
that can introduce our community members to all the tools that we have and will standardize on. To help with initial support issues, I am authoring a Wiki guide page to get people started. You can see an example guide page that we use for our webinars at: TRC Webinar Meetings
. Part of the trickery to make all these desperate tools seem integrated is an umbrella name (and home page) We decided to call the system the TRC Online Learning Community and refer to it as the TOLC.
Our statewide STEM educator professional development system reaches as many as 15,000 educators per year with face to face professional development. Much of this training takes place at one of the over 60 regional collaboratives housed at universities and education service centers. How do we get educator involvement in the online community? We are asking all of our professional development trainers to announce that the TOLC Ning network will be used to provide ongoing mentoring and support for sharing successes and effective practice for the workshop participants. After each training, the presenter sends me the emails that are used to send the invitation to the Ning network. In many cases an online assignment will be given go encourage mastery of the Ning discussion tools and to get the "sharing" process started. Hopefully, some of our content experts will opt to moderator a special interest group.
Because for now we want to restrict participation to our Texas "clients," we set the privacy of the Ning to invitees only, but tell all members they are encouraged to invite STEM educator colleagues. So you have to know somebody who knows somebody to get in! Seems to be working so far in a viral fashion.
I'll drill down into some of the tools we are using in future posts. Comments are welcome!