Yesterday I drove to Phoenix, about an hour and a half drive, to spend a couple hours withe the Phoenix CyberSalon. The CyberSalon is a group of teachers who have been meeting monthly for several years. There are some administrators, some instructional designers, and K12 and college level folks. They are from different schools and have different skill levels. What they all have in common is a willingness to spend a couple hours a month talking with other teachers about teaching and learning.
It is partly a social event and partly a “look at this” sort of happening. The group also keeps in contact with one another via Google Groups and the “list” mailing it allows. They have a not oft used website, and they have sign up sheet where someone selects a month to be “the host” and find a venue and make reservations for that months event. While there are about 100 or more members of the Google Group, probably less than twenty are really engaged in using it to ask questions or share ideas, and one average about 12 or so folks show up each month for the meetings.
I started a group here in the valley I live in about a year ago. It is similar in some ways. We meet monthly. On average about ten folks show up. We have a website (recently revised due to hack) and we are partly social and partly “here is a tool or topic, lets look at it.” We do not have a google group but we do have a Facebook page. It is pretty active sometimes.
What I love about this “CyberSalon” idea is that it fits well with some learning strategies I am close to. It is informal. Casual and nonthreatening for users. It is inviting in a way that college led workshop are often not. Partly because we meet in a coffee shop, and partly because we sit in a circle, more or less, and we are not “so serious” that folks get anxious. People come to the event on their own time and it is free. Free for everyone. Free professional development! Imagine.
I think that the investment folks have by coming not because they were told to, but because they want to sets up a great environment for openness and willingness to play. I like to play. Often times college led workshops, even when I lead them, seem to be less playful. Is that because I am “being paid” and participants are being paid? I do not know, but there is a difference.
I’ll relate that to how I am working in this class right now. I am here because I want to be and because I enjoy talking and thinking and doing learning. And teaching. I will learn much while I am here.
Anyway, it was only the second time I have been to one of the CyberSalons in the Phoenix area and I am super lucky my boss let me go. I went “on work hours” but paid for everything myself. Was it professional development? What if I would have had the same two hour long conversations about teaching and learning in a college classroom? Would that have been PD?