10 tips for getting the most out of a virtual PD event

Note: This article was originally published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) on October 20, 2020. It has been republished here with their permission, and the permission of the author.

I miss attending conferences in person. Face-to-face learning, the opportunity to travel and get a change of scenery, meeting old friends and new, the energy and excitement that you see in everyone sharing the same space all make attending conferences an invigorating experience. But times are different, and virtual conferences are the only safe option right now. 

I think it’s safe to assume that virtual conferences won’t go away after the pandemic ends. With this new style of professional development, there is sure to be a learning curve. Here are my top 10 tips to help you make the most of your next virtual conference.

1. Clear your calendar.

Act as if you were out of town attending an in-person conference. Close your email, turn off notifications and move your phone out of reach. If possible, put a vacation responder notification on email and an out-of-office message on your shared calendar. Most folks don’t think to do this for a virtual event but do it instinctively when they are attending in-person. Remember, your email will be there when you return!

2. Attend live sessions if you can.

We all (me included) bookmark and save content telling ourselves we’ll revisit it later, and we almost never do, in part because the next day there’s even more shiny new websites, resources and emails to distract us! If you don’t attend live you might never view the presentation recordings and miss the opportunity to ask questions or potentially gain a new idea to use with your students.

3. Be mindful of your background.

If your video is on — even briefly — make sure your background is free of distracting (or embarrassing) scenes. Turn your video on before you go live to make sure that what’s behind you is appropriate and professional. Is your camera facing the kitchen where someone might get a snack? A bedroom door where someone might be changing? Along those same lines, don’t walk around with your device, either!

4. Connect with others via chat.

If you were face-to-face, you would say hello to those sitting around you and might strike up casual conversations. You can do the same in the chat during a session: Ask a question, share a resource, give the presenter a shout-out when you agree with something. Remember, a large part of what we learn comes from casual conversations with those in our PLNs.

5. Unless you are paying close attention, turn off your video.

As a presenter, it’s distracting to see people eat, interact with spouses or get up to do something else. Just as you would mind your manners if someone were speaking right in front of you, try to extend the same courtesy virtually.

6. Follow the conference hashtag and tweet, retweet, engage!

This is not only a great way to gather additional resources but also to enhance your professional learning network. There is an amazing energy that comes from interacting with other participants this way. Positive energy will help you stay engaged and interested in the event, even if you are attending from your kitchen table.

7. Take notes and save links during sessions.

As much as I love technology, I also sometimes write out notes on a good old-fashioned piece of paper. Often I’ll hear an idea during a presentation and it’ll lead me to my own ideas. If I don’t write them down, I’ll forget the thought as quickly as it came into my head. Do you have colleagues attending the same virtual event? I know several people who will also swap notes with each other after the event. Doing this helps me stay even more engaged in the moment knowing that others may ask about the notes I took.

8. Have a fidget toy handy!

I have a tendency to multitask (not successfully) when watching an online presentation, but I find if I have a fidget toy in my hands I can focus just a bit longer and not use my hands to type or navigate away to my second screen.

9. Offer feedback.

Presenters work hard to prepare and still get nervous to present. If they ask for audience participation and you are able to participate, do so. After all, if you were face to face in a session and the presenter asked everyone to stand would you be the only one to sit?

10. Give presenters grace.

These are bizarre times for all of us, and many people are learning to adapt to situations as they go. Not all folks are comfortable presenting online. If a presenter tries something new and it doesn’t work, it’s OK. Cut them some slack. Remember, we are all in this together for the same reasons — to increase our capacity, improve our practice and learn new ways to enhance the success of our students.

Find Your Tribe: Connecting with Others During COVID-19

Who do you call when you have news to share? Your parents? Spouse? Friends? Often, when something ‘big’ happens we have a core group to turn to for support.

This is incredibly important during these uncertain times with the COVID-19 outbreak. While we no doubt are talking to those close to us (probably more than we should be) there are times when we need to talk to others who understand us in a different context.

Educators around the world have been catapulted into online learning. Some are prepared and welcoming the opportunity while others are going in kicking and screaming. Although I am no longer school-based I am in the “thick of things” just like educators- only in my role, I’m supporting multiple counties, districts, and coaches. Who do I turn to for support?

The following is a list of groups I’ve leaned on during these chaotic times. All are free and welcoming of new arrivals. Perhaps they will work for you too.

Social Media

Colleagues

  • The Daily Connect with Lucy Gray: Educators from around the world have the opportunity to jump on a Zoom call daily to connect and share information.
  • LTC “Office Hours”: The Learning Technology Center is holding open Zoom meetings daily as an opportunity for educators to connect and share.
  • “Women Leader Exchange”: A colleague started a “chain mail” opportunity in which we have the chance to send an uplifting quote or email to a female colleague we admire. I was grateful to be added to the list.

How are you connecting with supports to get through COVID-19? Let me know on Twitter so we can support each other.

Do You Understand the Legal Implications of Using Technology in Schools?

On October 30, 2019, attorneys from Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller generously shared their slide decks with participants and fielded several questions about specific situations. Examples of rulings that have shaped our use of technology in schools were featured. Following is a list of topics that were covered and an interesting fact or two I took out of each presentation. Note: I am not a lawyer!  My takeaways should not be considered as legal explanations, just thoughts from an educator that I found impactful. 

Disclosure of Photos and Videos of Students under FERPA and ISSRA: A video may become part of a student’s school record if it directly relates to a specific student. Other students that are in the video but are not involved are considered “set-dressing” and will not have the video added to their student record. 

Staff Use of Technology: Schools cannot require staff to provide passwords or login credentials to social networking and email sites.

Data Security and Online Privacy: Changes to SOPPA (a.k.a. HB 3606) take effect for public schools in July 2021 and has new guidelines for data breaches: schools must notify affected parties no later than 30 days after the breach. 

Disciplining Student Use & Abuse of Technology: Schools can only restrict student speech when it can be reasonably assumed that a substantial disruption of the educational environment will take place or the speech invades the rights of others (Tinker v. Des Moines, 1968).

Use of Electronic Devices in the Classroom: Teachers should hold no reasonable expectation of privacy in communications taking place in the classroom (Plock v. Freeport School District 2007).

Developing an Internet Acceptable Use Policy: Schools receiving E-Rate discounts for Internet service are required to teach an internet safety lesson to students once per year.

Copyright in the School Setting: Children have the same copyright rights as any other creator. Copyright law provides that “works for hire” (i.e. lesson plans, materials created for classrooms) are the property of the employer (i.e. the school district). 

Open Meetings & FOIA: Public records can include electronic communications such as emails and text messages. 

Sexting and Cell Phone Searches: Cell phone searches should be directly related and limited to the infraction and not other content on the phone. 

Related Opportunities

Legal Implications of Technology Use in Schools held at ROE #11

February 20, 2020 | 8:30 am – 3:00 pm | $15

Laws Affecting Technology in Illinois School Districts Resource Guide | Free Download

Reflective Journal for Coaches

In my role as the Regional Educational Technology Coordinator for ISBE‘s LTC, one of the perks is I get to work with instructional technology coaches. As a coach for 10 years prior to this position, it is where I feel most at home. In Chicago, coaches aren’t plentiful. I was the only one in my building, in a city without many others. All of my professional personal growth came from opportunities I sought outside of my district, and on my own: volunteering, serving on boards, Twitter chats, conferences, etc.

Recently in one of my meetings, there was a discussion about how there isn’t much out there for coaches to improve on their own practice. After all, many coaches strive to improve the practice of educators in their school building. In response to this, I created a reflective journal for coaches to use if they were interested in improving their practice on their own. The journal contains 8 sections:

  1. Learning Style & Connecting with Others: an area for coaches to identify where they go for personal growth and how they like to learn.
  2. Your Job, Today: coaches have a space to reflect on their current role.
  3. Deep Dive into Evaluation: the journal contains a safe space for coaches to reflect on the most recent evaluation from their administration.
  4. Goal Setting: a template for coaches to focus on one particular goal.
  5. Read & Reflect: articles related to coaching with a space for reflection.
  6. ISTE Standards for Coaches: the new standards are broken down into an editable table where coaches can add comments, resources, and links.
  7. Resources for Coaches: books, podcasts, Twitter chats, and other digital resources for coaches.
  8. Final Reflection: a space for coaches to wrap up their reflection journal.

If you are interested, please make a copy and share it with those you think could benefit from this professional growth opportunity. I wish I had something like this when I was coaching.

Coaches Reflective Journal Link

Upcoming LTC events for Coaches:

IETC Meet & Greet for Coaches
November 14 | 4:00 pm | More information will be available online

West Cook County Instructional Technology Coaches Meeting
November 6 and December 3|1:00-3:00 pm | Hillside

ROE #39 Instructional Tech Coaches Roundtable
December 11| 9:00 am-noon | Macon/Piatt ROE#39

North Cook ISC Instructional Technology Coaches Meetings
December 19 | 1-3 pm

Tech Check: Get Your Digital Life Organized

May is a great time of year, isn’t it? The weather is changing, spring flowers appear, and many educators are excited about another school year coming to a close. There’s much to do, lots of spring cleaning, packing up, and getting things in order before summer break.

We focus on our physical environment when we think of organization, but how about digital organization? Have you done any “spring cleaning” or tidying up of your digital life? As our existence incorporates more technology it’s important to keep up with what is out there and how organized it is! I’ve developed a checklist detailing what I do each month to stay digitally organized. Below are a few of my favorites that I would recommend.

  1. Run Who has Access– This website scans your Google Drive and shows you who has access to your Drive contents.  If you see folks that no longer need access, they can be removed directly in the report. The service deletes its own access to your Drive along with your Drive data from its servers 24 hours after running your report. This tool is especially useful for school administrators who may have a change in personnel each school year. https://www.whohasaccess.com
  2. Check your Social Media Settings– we visit these sites daily, often popping in and out several times to catch glimpses into what is happening around our world. When was the last time you took the time to go through your privacy settings? How about your followers? Go a step further and do a self-audit of your social media posts. Look at the last 15 things you posted. Was your overall message positive? Do they represent the image you want others to have of you? Here are some resources to get you started on your self-social media audit.

https://identity.utexas.edu/everyone/how-to-manage-your-social-media-privacy-settings

https://sites.google.com/site/mydigitalrep/social-media

  1. Password Protection– Generate a list of passwords for the family. (This may sound morbid but social media and email platforms require extensive documentation to shut down accounts without passwords due to the death of a user). Have everyone in the family write down all known passwords. If some are reluctant to share, have them create the list and place it in a sealed envelope (don’t open it) and keep it someplace it can be easily accessed if something happens to you or a family member.  I keep it in our safe.  Get a list of passwords for everyone in the family but be sure to have clear conversations AND FOLLOW THEM if there is a privacy concern.  

These are just a few of the many ways I try to keep my digital-self organized. If you’d like to see the full list, it is available here: http://bit.ly/Tech-Check

What would you recommend?

Is it a Snow Day or an eLearning Day?

It’s no secret that eLearning is a hot topic in Illinois these days. Given the change in the legislative language in Public Act 100-465 —that removed the previous statutory 5-hour requirement to define a school day— mixed with the snow and sub-zero temperatures of January, eLearning has come front and center.  Do our students need to be in front of us in order to learn, or can learning take place “anywhere” and “anytime” students have an Internet-connected device? This can be debated by both sides.

Regardless, we need to consider what is being done around eLearning, both by districts in our state as well as those in other states. The following is a list of school districts that have implemented eLearning days recently. Thank you to those that responded to the prompt on our LTC Statewide Technology group sharing these resources. If you haven’t joined yet, please do! It’s free, and there are educators that generously share their knowledge!

Gurnee District 56 in Lake County in is part of the state pilot program for eLearning. Their website includes an FYI eLearning section, a demonstration video, and tech support. Recently, they were featured on the news as well! Check it out here: https://youtu.be/xXJIgi59LKc

Also in Lake County, Libertyville District 70 offers a choice board of online and offline activities its students can participate in on eLearning days. Check out their middle school page (which includes FAQs as well as a parent feedback form) and their elementary school initiative.

McLean County, home to Tri-Valley CUSD 3, offers resources related to eLearning on its website for the elementary, middle, and high school.
These three districts are prime examples of how learning can take place even when the building is closed. To view more resources, check out our eLearning doc. If you have content to add to it, please email Nicole at nmzumpano@ltcillinois.org. Let us continue to learn from each other!

What is media literacy and why should you teach it in your classroom?

How many advertisements do you come across in one day- ten, fifty, hundreds, thousands? Some sources say we encounter 4,0005,000 ads a day all trying to persuade us to do something, believe something or buy something (while making money for their shareholders). We may not be consciously aware of seeing these ads, nor are our students who are exposed to the same content we are on a daily basis. Are students equipped to recognize when they are being manipulated? Probably not. Media literacy is a skill, not a topic. It is the responsibility of every educator; in every subject, in every school.

The goal of teaching media literacy is to educate our students on how to question what they see. Media literacy has dozens of “subtopics” that can be explored year-round in your classroom. This post shares some fun media facts, concepts, and resources to get you started.  

Media Literacy “Fun Facts”

  • Media is not good or bad; it is just a tool that delivers content.
  • Adults spend 12 hours, 7 minutes a day consuming media.
  • It is estimated that 6 companies own close to 90% of media.
  • Magazines print different editions for different areas and demographics.
  • Advertisers focus on women’s bodies as “parts of a whole”, so they always have something to fix.
  • Personification in advertising plays to our emotions and seeks to have us form “relationships” with products, giving alcohol names such as  ‘Jim Beam’ to imply that we are not drinking alone).

Media Literacy Concepts

  • Media constructs our culture.
  • Media messages affect our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
  • Media uses different “persuasion” tactics to get you to do something, buy something or believe in something.
  • Media constructs fantasy worlds.
  • No one tells the whole story.
  • Media messages reflect the values and viewpoints of the media maker.
  • Individuals construct their own meanings from media.
  • Media messages can be decoded.
  • Media messages contain “texts” and “subtexts”. Each person creates subtext based on prior experiences, prior knowledge, opinions, attitudes, and values.

Nicole’s Favorite Resources

What Does Your Tattoo Say About You?

Do you have a tattoo?  What’s the story behind it?  What does it say about who you are?  Tattoos have been around for over 5,000 years.  For centuries people have been marking their bodies for a variety of purposes; love, status, tribute, and medical just to name a few.  Today the tattoo industry is busier than ever, although an internet search for “tattoo removal” proves there are clearly some that regret the decision.  Is our online existence that much different? Do we not post statuses that declare our love, tribute, medical dilemmas and more, much like people tattoo their skin?  If that is the case, do we not regret some of our social media posts as well?

The term “digital footprint” is well known and represents what trace of us we leave behind when we are visible and active online.  It is a catchy phrase, but in my opinion not completely accurate. Footprints can be washed away. They can be covered over so they are no longer visible.  A tattoo is much more difficult to make disappear. Even in attempts to remove tattoos, there is always some trace of the scar (or ink) that remains. It is important to teach our students that what they do online never truly goes away. What better place to start than with us, the educators. As such, it is our responsibility to know what our online reputation looks like so we can help guide our students in developing theirs. As an adjunct professor my courses always include data mining. Sometimes, I give my students a “stranger” (aka a friend of mine that they don’t know) to find as much information on as they can (what’s fun about this one is I have them make a slideshow of their results and send it to the actual friend!). Sometimes I have them create a curriculum vitae of their online persona, using only the data they find about themselves online (that one can be an eye-opener!). In all instances, my graduate students (who are almost all in the education field) have a chance to take a “deep dive” into their online brand. The purpose of this activity? Once we have a clear understanding and feel the emotion of what we find online, albeit positive or negative, we are better equipped and invested in passing this on to our students.

Following are tips and resources to get started on your own data dive.

Tips:

  • Log out of all internet browsers before searching (being logged in will skew your results)
  • Use quotation marks when searching (i.e. “Nicole M Zumpano”)
  • Search using multiple search engines and browsers (i.e. Google, Firefox, Safari, Bing, Internet Explorer)
  • Search using your professional name (I go professionally using my middle initial; Nicole M Zumpano)
  • Search images
  • Search using your social media usernames
  • If married, search using your maiden name

Help Documents:

http://bit.ly/Data-Mine (This one lists several sites you can use to conduct a data mine on yourself)

http://bit.ly/Data-Adventure (This one is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” related to digital tattoos)

http://bit.ly/Tech-Check (Finally, clean up your digital life! This is a monthly “to-do” list to keep your digital existence in order!)

Being aware of the image you portray (or don’t portray) online is one of the first steps to a healthy digital literacy diet. Happy mining!