eTwinning and a teacher’s professional development

I have just come back from an eTwinning PDW which was held in Vilnius and as after any eTwinning event I have a lot of thoughts and opinions I would like to share.
Vilnius is a city which I knew only virtually thanks to a project I had worked on and so it has been interesting to be able to match the images I had seen to the real places and monuments which had been illustrated and described together with their legends by the students of a school in Alitus.
The chance of admiring the tower of the ancient Gediminas castle and the statue in the midde of the largest square in town, or the chance of seeing the lake that, according to a legend, was created by the tears of a young woman in love allowed me this time not only, as it usually happens in such meetings, to match a name to a face but also pictures and images to real places.

As for the people, I always find exciting to browse through the participants’ list and find out that among others there’s also one of your contacts or, as it happened this time, a partner in a project that had just been closed. Then they introduce you to their friends and you introduce them to yours and the net becomes larger and larger and relationships closer and closer. The atmosphere gets warmer and everybody is ready to start.
The workshop was about Web 2.0 technologies in Education and was demanding but really interesting above all for one like me, so fond of new technologies.
I am sure that we teachers need to use Web 2.0 tools in our teaching activity but I am still looking for the right way to do it. I’ve got plenty of ideas and I am full of enthusiasm but how can I transmit such enthusiasm to my students without creating confusion in them and, above all, making sense of what I do? I thought the PDW might give me some answers.

As at any eTwinning event I met a mixture of languages and cultures and all the participants have something in common: we all are willing to learn more, all aware of being lifelong learners and all willing to open up to the new world, the world of Web 2.0 because all of us care for those kids who are in front of us every day and from whom we don’t want to estrange.

As Anne Gilleran reminded us in her presentation eTwinning & the professional development of teachers, thanks also but not only to its learning events and to its PDWs, eTwinning offers a wonderful opportunity for both formal and informal professional development in the field of the new technologies and their application to teaching activity. Somebody said that if technology can never replace teachers, teachers who are not good at it will be replaced by the ones who are and so if we stay in eTwinning we have a good chance of staying in teaching.

The eTwinning community is getting bigger and bigger and the data that were shown are impressive: more than 133.000 registered teachers, 12.000 teachers participating in projects, more than 300,000 students actively involved in projects, more than 20,000 log in each day to the Desktop, 2270 members of groups, more than 2,000 teachers took part in learning events in 2010.

As we well know anyway, just knowing the tools can’t be enough because “If you bring in these technologies and don’t think ahead to how they’ll be used to promote learning and the acquisition of skills, then the only thing that will change in school is the electric bill” (D. Thornburg)

and as Elena Shulman said during her workshop Web.2.0 tools: tags, ratings and comments for educational use of learning resources, educational ideas are more important than the tool itself. Consequently what is fundamental is to describe the experience and give ideas of how it can be used. She introduced us to the site and to some criteria which should allow us to easily reuse resources, give educational guidelines to share materials at any level, facilitate the building of communities and increase the availabilty of digital resources.

In how many ways can technology be introduced into a classroom? Stasė Riškienė, a Lithuanian eTwinning Ambassador, does it through mobiles as she showed us in her workshop Mobile Learning and Cooperation, practical work with iPods
It is amazing to see how many activities you can do and how many things you can learn using iPod apps even though I’m not so sure iPods are cheaper than netbooks.

Honestly I don’t know if I have found answers to my questions but I have surely found new ideas and above all food for thought regarding the way I teach. Too often I work and create just following my enthusiasm without thinking too much on details and so I think that the criteria Elena illustrated will be helpful.
As for mobiles, in my school we are not allowed to use them and I am one that respects rules, but after the workshop some ideas came up and after all every student has a mobile and so it is just like having a small lab in the classroom, so why not try? It might also be a way of showing the kids a different way of using it.

Was it only work and technology? Of course not! 🙂 How can I forget the kids dancing in their traditional costumes or the choir of children who sang We are the World? Or the beautiful evening on the lake of Trakai when at the dinner table we found out that English is not the only lingua franca but Russian can be and even Italian? And we found out that what unites us is much more than what divides us. We found out that eTwinning doesn’t give light only to classrooms, just like in the video below, but also to the night on the lake thanks to our yellow and blue lanterns which we let fly in the sky above Trakai.