Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wondering about e-PAR…Empowering a Community of Teachers... by, Vicki Stieha

I spent last week with a group of 22 educators and 3 other facilitators at a very intense week-long professional development seminar (PDS).  This PDS was designed primarily for middle and high school teachers as well as educational leaders to explore issues of culture, identity, and multiculturalism through an intensive study of history, cultures, and literature of the Jewish people.

Even before the seminar began I had been thinking deeply about how we can help this cohort of participants maintain connections with one another and perhaps helping connect them to previous participants. Now we [1] have to make some decisions!  We tried using technology with other cohorts (Blackboard, Skype, & teleconference calls), but this year we are committed to improving on our past record in this arena. None of our previous options allow the kinds of spontaneous, participant driven communication that we think they need to have to really engage in their own questions of practice.

Faced with these challenges, I found myself reading Flicker, et al (2008) and thinking about their e-PAR work with youth. As the authors point out, newer communication tools and technologies are expanding the opportunities for empowering participation—placing participant researchers in communication with one another while they are in their own unique communities. These technologies can support efforts to share their teaching and learning adventures and quandaries with one another. From our prior research we know that these kinds of supportive exchanges are important to the teachers’ sense of being willing to experiment with new teaching practices – something that I called “pedagogical play” in my dissertation.

Interestingly, although our group of participants includes several mid-career teachers, we also had several early career teachers this year—certainly “youthful” in terms of their technology use patterns. (I noticed their I-Pads, Kindles, and other slick new devices during the institute.) We’re hoping that the younger participants will lead the way as we venture into these new waters!

Before we dive in to unfamiliar waters, however, we’re wondering if you have any e-PAR advice? We are thinking of using Moodle because we think it will help us incorporate synchronous and asynchronous communication as well as support a more democratic system (all of the members of our e-learning community will be able to post and edit content). We’d love to hear from anyone who is using e-PAR. What technologies are working for you? What challenges are you facing? What advice can you offer us?

[1] “Our” includes the research associates of the Center for Studies in Jewish Education and Culture. Here I am referring specifically to my work with Dr. Miriam Raider-Roth, Mark Kohan, and Carrie Turpin with the input of our 2007 and 2009 Summer Teachers Institute participants.

Flicker, S., Maley, O., Ridgley, A., Biscope, S., Lombardo, C., & Skinner, H. A. (2008). e-PAR: Using technology and participatory action research to engage youth in health promotion. Action Research, 6(3), 285-303.

1 comment:

  1. I am delighted to hear that you found our work useful! We have tried a variety of strategies for helping to network youth -- from blogs, to moodle (in courses) to NiNG. We have (ironically) found the most success with teens using facebook or twitter. Mostly because they are there already and know how to use the technology and don't have to remember to go to the site or need special passwords. We have found the technology is pretty good, reliable, user-friendly for allowing them to share documents, pictures, etc. There are some obvious privacy concerns, and you can't control layout or design but according to the youth we work with, everyone is on facebook and email is now old news!

    Also -- check out some of our newer work: http://www.takingaction4youth.org/ and let us know what you think!