Virtual Social Interaction Breaks Down Professional, Learning Barriers

By Dr. L. Robert Furman, principal of South Park Elementary Center, South Park, Penn.

An administrator can experience intense isolation as she faces day-to-day demands and decisions that sometimes fall exclusively upon her. Similarly, students with special challenges such as autism also share a sense of isolation because they perceive the world through a different filter.

The internet – and now the cloud – make it increasingly easy to break down barriers of distance and learning styles. Virtual social interaction allows connectivity among colleagues worldwide and also opens a window into the world of students once impeded by learning barriers. Here are a couple of amazing ways to tear down walls and build bridges.

  • Literacy Tech Tool: – Think virtual classroom. Voicethread allows virtual social interaction without the need for all participants to be present at the same time. This cloud-based app allows the user to upload documents, presentations, photos, video, and voice, and it neatly packages all the elements into a slideshow that you can share via Facebook or YouTube. And what’s more, you can use it on your iPad. (We’ll focus exclusively on iPad apps next month, so stay tuned.) In a live setting, you can draw pictures as you’re having conversations, and participants’ comments – uploaded via computers, phones, or tablets – show up at the bottom of the screen. You can even use it as a virtual welcome packet, which can appeal to your special-needs kids, as well as to create customized Social Stories ™ for them. A lot of teachers use it to create interviews using print and pictures or as a forum for group assignments of student presentations.

  • Administrative Tech Tool: – I use LinkedIn not only as a professional learning community but also to connect with organizations I like to follow on a national level, which allows me to keep abreast of flying-edge stuff. For instance, as I write this, seven conversations are going on in ACSD. It would be positively dizzying if it weren’t so doggone exhilarating. I also keep my finger on the pulse of National Association of Elementary School Principals and, of course, Scholastic. If you’re part of an organization, think of LinkedIn as this place where your fellow members can sit around and have ongoing conversations, things like how you track assignments so they align closely with the Common Core State Standards. That’s pretty cool. LinkedIn is also a place where you can curate your life as an educator, which is awesome, but that benefit is secondary to the connections you make. Being part of this community helps me make better decisions as an administrator. And that means I’m building bridges both big and small as I connect with other educators nationwide while learning to serve my school community more effectively.

  • Dr. Furman is a guest blogger for The Huffington Post and the author of Instructional Technology Tools: A Professional Development Plan. Email tips or questions to him at, or text him directly at 412-999-0449. Follow him on Twitter @DrFurman.
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