I have grown a lot in my past year as an educator, possibly more during this school year than in all the years before it combined. I found a large and growing group of wonderful educators on Twitter, and started trying new approaches in the classroom. This blog contains many entries about these ideas, but I am by no means a perfect record keeper. Blogging still falls by the wayside when I get busy with teaching, as well it should.

That being said, I started this semester with just one more thing: a commitment to helping my students to establish their professional social media presence in advance of their impending graduation. I have Jeff Utecht‘s in-house professional development keynote to thank for the encouragement to do so. In his September 2015 keynote he told us that every student should be graduating with a Twitter handle, a Youtube channel, and a LinkedIn profile, that this was the dawn of connectivism, and it was time we enabled these connections through our work in the classroom.

At first we were on Twitter with a class hashtag (#bioASFM) for closures, which I have been modeling after Twitter chats with a standard Q#/A# format and the use of the hashtag itself. It’s not overly hard to do this, and I am enjoying the extra interactions with students that sometimes occur on Twitter after the school day is done. If learning any time from anywhere is the definition of #BlendedLearning, then many of my students are already well blended.

I had the students set up additional social media accounts including blog accounts, Youtube accounts, and LinkedIn profiles. As a high school subject teacher, my role has shifted from content delivery to designing experiences that will enable skills development in the context of subject exploration. One example is the Genetic Variation Tutorial Video assignment, and I am now in the midst of perusing the results of this idea. I have already learned so much. For example, did you know this about the polar bear? Did you know that general biology students will whip out major histocompatibility complex (MHC) as an example of genetic variation in Magellanic penguins if you stand back and let them? Did you know that genetics can be adorable?

Grading is a lot more enjoyable. The products are something that I actually want to see and they are all so unique that I do not get bored of grading as quickly as I would if I had assigned a “cookbook” assignment. There is no rush to grade them all at once to be able to “catch” students in arrears as there isn’t really much chance of them cheating from anyone who is already finished. A more flexible deadline is also easier on me, I don’t feel pressure to grade them all in one sitting. I can address specific issues, such as failure to follow instructions, and have the student fix their video before their grade becomes final. The students now each have an example of the type of work they are capable of to show anyone who may ask. Next up, how to learn biology whilst sprucing up those LinkedIn profiles. Surely I jest; it would be much easier to take on blogging next!

Once we teach kids these skills we change the question! – Jeff Utecht