One of the most under-utilized aspects of the evolution of today’s Internet resources within the education field is its ability to empower teachers, administrators, and parents to create highly personalized, up to date opportunities for professional learning. Time and money restrictions have reduced the opportunities for those educators in many schools and districts to take days away from the classroom to sharpen their skills or learn of the latest research. As such, we have an increasing responsibility to take matters into our own hands. Fortunately, there are countless resources available today to educators who desire to grow in their knowledge and skills. Even more fortunately, these resources can be accessed for free and in forms that save precious instructional time, being available 24/7 to anyone with an Internet-connected device. The following are just a few tools that are available to get started.
- Online journals. Journals are a valuable tool for professional learning, as they provide insights into what is happening in the educational research field. While many academic journals require often substantial subscription costs, the number and quality of free, online journals has grown substantially in recent years. For example, SAGE Education News offers free access to some of their most read journal articles. ASCD offers free online articles from their International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership. The Education Research Global Observatory has a great list of open access journals covering almost every aspect of education.
- YouTube. Far from being solely the domain of talking dogs or tragic skateboarding mishaps, YouTube has thousands of educational videos that deal with current issues in the field or provide quick opportunities to learn new skills. Educational professional development companies, such as Simple K-12 (educational technology) or Kagan Professional Development (cooperative learning) have channels where educators can get a quick professional development session and free access to training that might incur significant costs if attended in person. Countless video tutorials are available to learn any technology tool or classroom skill imaginable, as well.
- Podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to take professional learning on the road. In either audio or video formats, podcasts allow educators to learn about current trends and hear from some of the best leaders in our field via mobile devices, such as smart phones or tablet computers. This type of professional development has become a favorite of mine, as I can sneak in an episode on a trip between campuses or to the grocery store. A few good examples to get started include TEDTalks Education, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, Teaching With Smartboard, and the November Learning Podcast Series. All are free and available on iTunes.
- Twitter. While certainly filled with mundane or simply entertaining content, Twitter remains a powerful resources for connecting to other practitioners in our field. A good way to get started is by creating an account and following educators who are recognized as excellent sources of educational information. Lists of good educators to follow are here, here, and here (Word doc–also includes some great tips). Once following, get in the mix and participate in the conversations being held and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Learn how to use hashtags (e.g. #edchat, #edtech, #edreform) to help you filter through topics to find just what you need.
- Free online newsletters. Numerous examples of these exist. You just find the sign up link and set your preferences, and updates are emailed to you daily, weekly, or monthly. Currently, I use SmartBrief to get updates on EdTech and ASCD. eSchool News is another I subscribe to that gives updates on issues and research in education. Tech & Learning has been a long-time resource, with blog posts, how-to articles, and more in the field of educational technology. Edudemic has articles covering a wide range of educational issues, technology, and more from kindergarten through university level.