Professional Development as High Wire Routine: The EC Ning’s Third Webstitute

Call it a hunch. With 110+ people signed up to participate in The English Companion Ning’s third Webstitute, our version of an online professional development conference, it struck me that it would be smart to just double check that the free webinar space was functioning as always. I must have known. Why else would I just roll my eyes when I saw that Elluminate, the meeting venue, had been acquired by Blackboard. Or when I couldn’t access the meeting space. Or when emails, tweets, even a call to Blackboard technical support yielded…zip.

Such is the beauty of the highwire act known as the World Wide Web. The possibilities are as mind blowing as the likelihood that you—or your event—will crash and burn. I keep telling my pre-service students that they should expect that technology in their classrooms will fail. Always have a Plan B in mind, I say.Picture1

I have a Plan B; the Webstitute will go on as planned. It’ll take some hustle to pull it together. And that’s OK, because they’re paying me the big bucks…uh, actually, no. No bucks at all.

And that’s the point. All over the Web, zillions of people are doing amazing work for no money. Because it is a good thing, or the right thing, to do. I would add, because we can.

Jim Burke, the highly regarded author and educator, created the English Companion Ning several years ago, almost on a whim, after he returned from the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) annual convention. He did it for two reasons: one, because he thought it would be good if English teachers, especially new ones, had a place to go for support and help, and two, because he could.

The EC Ning has roughly 28,000 members today. While Jim doesn’t say how much time he spends taking care of the Ning, I’m guessing it’s upwards of a dozen or more hours a week—probably even more than that. Jim also pays the (hefty) Ning fees out of his own pocket.

It strikes me that there’s a tradition of this kind of insanity—i.e., work extremely hard for no money— on the Internet. Take Wikipedia. I recently read that if the all-volunteer Wikipedia editors were paid, they would produce less, not more. The operating system, Linux, was created by Linus Torvalds as a free, open source project—free, maintained and developed by volunteers (who happen to be high-level computer scientists). Mozilla’s Firefox: ditto. Creative Commons, an alternative to restrictive copyright laws, opens access to all kinds of information on the Web—people freely sharing their photos, research, reports, presentations, videos…because we can.

I’ve been behind the scenes of the Webstitutes for a bunch of reasons. First off, I have the privilege of working with brilliant, creative, veteran teachers and educational leaders from all over the country: Gary Anderson, IL; Teresa Bunner, NC; Jen Ansbach (NJ); and, on previous Webstitutes, Jeff See, WI. Second, I think our Webstitutes fill teachers’ genuine needs & desires for meaningful professional development.

But from the beginning, when PD on the Ning was just an idea in an email, I’ve also had a secret, crazy kind of hope that we would provide a model, maybe even a spark of inspiration, for other educators who want to play an active part in designing professional development for themselves and their colleagues.

Because we all can.

2 responses to “Professional Development as High Wire Routine: The EC Ning’s Third Webstitute”

  1. […] #1 Check the tech!  Need I say more? Well, one addition to my post from the other day. I think the best learning in tech situations comes from posing a potential […]

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