ACTE Techniques April 2012 : Page 46

Fea ture By Julie Fritsch Social Networking as Educational Tool: A Community of Practice “COMMUNItIES OF PRACtICE IS ORGANIzED By S OCIAL NEtWORkING SItES HAVE BECOME such a com-tOPIC AREAS, CALLED COMMUNItIES, AND EACH AREA IS OVERSEEN BY A VOLUNTEER FACILITATOR, USUALLY AN AGRICULTURAL EDUCATOR, WHO HAS ExPERTISE IN THAT AREA.” PHOTO BY ISTOCk.COM mon part of our culture that we use them daily—whether it’s to post a quick personal update, tweet a thought or great link, or blog to our students about an upcoming assignment. The National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) has taken that concept a step further, however, by creating a site—with many of the features of popular social networks—that’s intended strictly for pro -fessional interaction between agriculture teachers. “We wanted to create a way for our members to really connect with one an-other—share lesson plans, discuss issues, voice their opinions,” said Alissa Smith, NAAE’s associate executive director. “So often an agriculture teacher is either com-pletely without other agriculture teach-ers nearby or may have only one or two others at their school. Having that way to talk to peers who have similar experiences and can share their expertise is absolutely invaluable.” NAAE calls its site Communities of Practice, and it has proven to be popular. Currently about 25 percent of all agricul-tural educators in the United States are registered users. The site is free and open to anyone who is an agricultural educator or who has a professional interest in agri-cultural education. Anyone can view the site or download resources, but a person must register to contribute. “I think first and foremost the de -sign is very effective,” said Craig Kohn, an agricultural educator at Waterford Union High School in Waterford, Wisconsin.“Clearly there was foresight in organizing and creating the Communities of Practice setup. It is both user-friendly as well as efficient to search and utilize, which is often a rare combination in technology.” Communities of Practice is organized by topic areas, called communities, and each area is overseen by a volunteer fa-cilitator, usually an agricultural educator, who has expertise in that area. Facilita-tors contribute materials to their commu-nities, make sure questions are answered in a timely manner, and generally ensure their community is running smoothly. “I find it fascinating to hear from others around the country—to network, share resources, collaborate with one another, etc.,” said Cathy Shoaf Berrier, agriscience educator at Ledford High School in Thomasville, North Carolina. Berrier is also the volunteer facilitator for the biotechnology community. “I use Communities of Practice often and I felt the desire to give back,” Berrier said. “Why recreate the wheel if we can share or ‘steal’ ideas from one another? I feel that every agricultural educator has wonderful ideas and suggestions—why not become a facilitator and share my knowledge and resources?” “Because agricultural education is such a diverse subject, we tend to have varying views on how the subject should be taught and on the roles of ourselves as instructors,” said Kohn. “Communities of Practice provides us with the opportunity to see the many faces of agricultural edu-cation while enabling us to capitalize on the wide variety of experience out there. This kind of academic diversity can only serve to strengthen our ability to prepare 46 Techniques April 2012

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