The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) recently launched a new online professional network and learning community to help members enhance their professional development and growth as science educators. This network offers a unique graphical interface that connects NSTA members, conference attendees, and presenters with others who share similar interests, values, and professional needs. Initially, it places you at the center of a map or target, and shows how other members in the community relate to you. Use this to find others who share your experiences, or have expertise you need.
For instance, say you need help with “teaching strategies” and “data analysis.” When you get to the graphical interface, look to the quadrant labeled “I need help with…” and hover your mouse over the pins closest to you. These will represent individuals who share some or many of the attributes you used to describe yourself, plus they happen to have expertise in those two areas.
This network’s other central feature is the ability of all users to create groups related to particular categories, such as Conference Presentations, or Professional Interest Groups. Users can create a group on virtually any topic of their choosing, invite others with an expressed interest in that topic, and begin to exchange ideas and resources. The community also includes an internal messaging system, threaded forums similar to discussion boards, calendar events, and a place to post resources (documents of any type, slide shows, even images) for collaboration. As you begin to navigate the system, you’ll find the interface intuitive and fun. As you browse through the available groups, you can join any that appeal to you and begin to access their resources, join in discussions, and view and post calendar events. Instructions on accessing the site for the first time are below. Once you have completed your profile (and the system guides you through this step by step), you are free to explore the groups, join them, download or upload resources, and participate in the forums. Your participation will assist us in making this an effective and useful tool.
Making a community work takes participation. We know that for many of you, that is reason enough to join, but we also know some of you need a little more incentive, so as the network grows, we’ll ask key contributors to take leadership roles in driving the conversations, sharing resources, and creating calendar events. Often there will be a “Question of the Moment” pulled from active groups and posted on your “Dashboard” for all the users on the system to answer and discuss. Facilitators of groups that are highly active will be recognized both from within and outside the community and potentially rewarded with any manner of NSTA or sponsor-developed content, supplies, and support.