One of the benefits of joining an ISTE PLN is the opportunity to participate in book studies with other PLN members. Since ISTE publishes its own books, the organization provides members with free digital copies of any book approved for an official PLN book study. The leadership team of the ISTE EdTech Coaches PLN has sponsored online international book studies the past two years utilizing digital copies of ISTE books and employing a Twitter Slow Chat to host our discussions. The slow chat focuses on a new question each day (Monday-Friday). This format has worked well for our members in multiple time zones, allowing them flexibility in when and how often they participate. If participants get behind a day or two, they may catch up by using the appropriate A# at the beginning of their response, or they may jump in with the current question. A typical day may contain answers to multiple questions, and to facilitate this flexibility, we publish all the study questions in advance and number the questions sequentially throughout the entire study. The participation of our PLN members in these book studies has drawn the attention of other PLN leaders, and I am compiling our process here as a result of their inquiry into the structure of our online book studies. Although many steps are specific to ISTE book studies, much of the process could be adapted to online book studies outside of ISTE. These steps have grown and developed over the past two years and I am curious to see how other PLNs will adapt and improve them if they choose to model a book study after our example.
Selecting the Book
- Plan early and follow ISTE’s PLN Book Study guidelines. These guidelines are housed in the PLN leaders community library. I’ve attached the 2016-2017 Book Study Overview here, but check the library for the latest version of the rules.
- After picking an ISTE book that will appeal to your membership, communicate with the author. Even if the author is not able to participate in the study, they will appreciate being asked for the opportunity to use their book in an upcoming study. If the author is able and willing to participate in the study, they can also be invited to participate in the planning of the study.
- The EdTech Coaches PLN has hosted our book study authors at the last two EdTech Coaches Playgrounds during the ISTE Conference, allowing our members to meet the authors and giving our members the chance to receive a free autographed copy of the book (we use the playground funds that ISTE provides to purchase copies of the book).
- Follow the steps in the ISTE Book Study Overview document for requesting the book from ISTE (Contact Simon Helton)
ISTE PLN Book Studies are open to all ISTE members regardless of PLN membership and the free eBook is technically available only to ISTE members. I will include measures below that market the study outside of your PLN (but within ISTE) and steps we have taken to help ensure that only ISTE members have access to the free eBook. Since this is impossible to enforce (anyone with the book can share the download link or email copies of the book, etc.) we have taken the available steps to limit registration to ISTE members knowing it will not be water tight.
Planning the Study
After the book has been confirmed by the author and Simon Helton, we split the study into three parts: 1) marketing, registration, and communication, 2) the study questions, schedule, and moderators, and 3) webinar (if you choose to host one). I attempted all three of these parts during the first time we utilized this study format and I quickly discovered that this is a huge project for one person. Leverage the strengths of our PLN leadership team and share the responsibilities (we also invite our PLN members to moderate the daily slow chats–more on that later). The book study has become a major event during our year and is worth the time and efforts of multiple people. Utilizing PLN members as moderators also lightens some of the load and helps build fresh momentum as the study continues.
Select or create a hashtag to use throughout the study. We use our PLN hashtag (#ETCoaches) to prevent sprawl and confusion created by multiple hashtags. This also helps participants get in the habit of using our PLN hashtag throughout the year.
Marketing, Registration, and Communication
- Pick a study start date. Consider the structure of the book and time of year when determining the length of your study. If you schedule during a typically busy time of year for your PLN, your participation may suffer. Of course, there is no perfect time, but try to maximize participation in the study through intentional planning. Early planning is critical to ensure that preparations for the study are ready at the optimal time of year.
- We pause our studies for holidays and our monthly PLN Twitter Chats-it would be too confusing having two simultaneous chats on the same hashtag. Participants have also used these breaks in past studies to catch up by answering previous questions they missed.
- Set a registration window preceding your study. Give enough time for your members to begin reading the book before the study begins if they wish to read ahead.
- Create a registration form. We use a Google form asking the following questions. (Make sure the form is setup to allow submissions from outside of your domain.)
- First Name
- Last Name
- Twitter Handle (we use this information to create a Book Study Twitter List)
- Position/Job Title — we make this a multiple choice item (this helps up track how many participants are EdTech Coaches)
- City State (this comes in handy if you are using the Geocode by Awesome Table Add-On to create a map of your participants.)
- We use FormMule, a Google Sheets Add-On, to generate emails throughout the study. FormMule can be configured to email registration confirmations immediately after each time the form is completed and can be used later in the study to email reminders and updates to your participants. The text editor of FormMule is very basic, but it does support HTML tags, allowing you to format text and insert hyperlinks.
- Create announcements or Save The Date graphics for your initial marketing. We use Canva, which has a team feature allowing a team of ten people (for free) to collaboratively edit graphic images. Canva has many social media templates and enough free graphic elements to make it a fast and easy way to generate images for social media.
- Share these graphics through you social media channels. Use a social media dashboard (Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, etc.) to schedule Tweets and other social media posts throughout your announcement period (before registration begins). Notice our graphic does not contain the registration link. We do not share the registration link until registration is open; doing so could potentially confuse people if they tried to register before it was open.
- On the first day of registration, create calendar events in ISTE Commons (so that all ISTE members can see it) and your PLN Community containing all information necessary for people to understand how the study is run and how to register. If you are collaborating with another PLN, include the information in their events section as well. Create a discussion post in your PLN community with this information as well. This post will be included in the next daily digest and is an efficient way of contacting your entire PLN membership.
- After setting up your event in the appropriate calendars, begin marketing your book study through your social media channels. In your public social media channels, link to the event page in ISTE Commons. This will send people to the ISTE site where they can find the registration link. This discourages anyone who is not an ISTE member from registering. If you include the registration link in public spaces, anyone will be able to register for the book study. Use a social media dashboard to schedule Tweets and other social media posts throughout your registration period. This keeps the information in front of your members without requiring daily maintenance on your end. Create graphics to draw attention to your posts.
- Check your registration form response data to ensure that registrations are being received and check your sent mail to confirm that confirmation messages are being sent by FormMule.
- Create the Book Study Twitter List (from your PLN account) and add people to your Book Study Twitter List every couple of days. If you highlight the last Twitter handle that you entered in the registration spreadsheet, you will know where you left off when other registrations are added. The Twitter list allows everyone to easily see who is participating and they can quickly follow anyone from the list.
- Schedule Tweets to countdown to the opening day of the book study
- Schedule Tweets to run throughout the book study
Study Questions, Schedule, and Moderators
Following our first book study using this model, Pam Shoemaker, who is also on the EdTech PLN leadership team, offered to help with the second study. I quickly accepted her offer and divided the book study into the registration/marketing piece and this piece dealing with the questions, schedule, and moderators. This division of responsibilities worked well and we were able to focus on our separate responsibilities without having to stay in constant contact with each other.
- Create a book study schedule document or web page. This document will be the hub of your study and contain everything your participants will need throughout the entire study. Resist any urges to create multiple websites or documents for each week or section of the study. The more resources you create, the more chances people have to get lost or become frustrated. Plus, it is easier to point people to a single document if they contact you with questions. Anticipate that this document will grow throughout the study as you add information that your members need. This document/site must be publically viewable, and because of this, it should not contain a link to download the eBook. This helps ensure that only ISTE members have access to the book through the registration process.
- We include the following information in the study document.
- The schedule with the daily study questions
- Guidelines for the Slow Chat
- Link to the Book Study Twitter List
- A table of ePub Readers (Acrobat will not read ePubs). This is a recent addition to our study schedule in response to questions about accessing ePubs on a variety of devices.
- As a model, I will share our last completed study document. We have utilized a Google Doc with a table of contents to support navigation through the weeks of the book study.
- Divide the book into logical sections (lasting one week) for the study without making the study too long. Four to six weeks seems to work well–you will want enough time to dig into the book without taking so long that you lose participation at the end. Write five questions for each section and add them to the study schedule. Dividing the book and writing questions is a great time to involve the author. He or she can provide insight into the four to six most important portions of the book and help ensure that the questions align to most important points of the book.
- We have discovered that page numbers in ePub books are not consistent across different devices and ePub readers. Use chapters or headings within chapters to divide the book–using page numbers will create confusion for everyone.
- Use the first week of the study to read the first portion of the book and answer introduction and goal setting questions. Week two will focus on questions from the first reading section while participants read the second section.
- Assign a moderator for each day of the book study. We include our PLN leadership team, but we also invite PLN members who have moderated previous monthly twitter chats or previous book studies. How you choose your moderators should fit within the structure of your PLN. Including a variety of moderators is critical to keeping the momentum fresh and preventing your leadership team from burning out. Finalize moderator scheduling before registration opens so that the moderators can be included in the Book Study Schedule. We invite our moderators by sending a Google Form with the available dates asking them to choose up to five days they are available to moderate. As moderators respond to the invitation, Pam places them on the schedule. You may choose to place your PLN leadership team on the schedule before any other moderators or schedule them at the end to fill up any empty dates–whichever works best for your team.
- Create a Moderator Reference Document. Although there is nothing top secret in this document, we share the link with only our moderators. As a model, you can view our latest Moderator Reference Document here. This document contains:
- A basic schedule of the study (we don’t duplicate the questions on this document)
- Moderator Responsibilities
- Moderator Resources
- Shortened Links for sharing to help promote the Book Study
- We use Bitly for our shortened links. Bitly is free and allows you to create customized shortened links. Bitly also tracks clicks and there is a mobile app that gives you access to your shortened links.
- After your moderators are secured and a few days before the study begins, schedule moderator announcement Tweets for the evening preceding each moderator’s scheduled day. This gives your participants a heads up on who is moderating the next day, plus it provides your moderator with a reminder the day before they have committed to moderate.
If the author is gracious enough to participate in a webinar, it can augment your study and give the author the opportunity to talk directly to your participants.
- When choosing a webinar platform, ensure that you are able to record the webinar. Very few participants will be able to view the webinar live (don’t let this discourage you or the author), but all participants will have the opportunity to view the webinar when you provide a recording.
- Add any webinar recording links to your Book Study Schedule
- If you plan the webinar early enough, you can include the webinar information in your Book Study registration marketing.
- During our first attempt at a book study webinar, we conducted a separate registration for the webinar from the book study. After reflecting on this, we determined that the separate webinar registration was unnecessary and we should have shared the webinar information with those who had already registered for the book study.
- Depending on the layout of the book and the author’s preference, you can host one long webinar or multiple short webinars that correspond to each section of the book.
During the Study
- Continue to monitor registrations and add new registrations to the Book Study Twitter List
- Monitor and participate in the daily slow chat questions
- At the end of each day (We typically wait until the following morning allowing all time zones time to participate) create an archive of the question using Storify and link the archive in the Book Study Schedule. The archive allows participants to catch up and find resources that were shared during previous days.
- Our hashtag (#ETCoaches) is registered with Participate Chats which allows us to easily create collections of resources that were shared while answering a question (Participate lets you specify a beginning and ending date/time when creating collections). This is particularly beneficial during days when many resources are shared. If you create a collection, link that in the Book Study Schedule as well. Contact Participate if you would like your PLN hashtag included in their chat schedule.
- Communicate with your participants weekly to encourage continued participation and remind them of the upcoming study activities. We send out messages every Friday afternoon with the following information:
- The reading assignment for next week
- The questions for next week, including the daily moderator
- A link to the event in the ISTE Commons Calendar to share with other ISTE members
- A link to the Study Schedule
- Book study webinar information
- Any other PLN activities happening in the next week
- We copy names and email addresses from the registration Google Sheet into a fresh Google Sheet each week and send out the weekly reminders using FormMule. There is probably a way to send out multiple emails with FormMule from a single sheet, but copying the information into a fresh sheet ensures that the automated confirmation message is not broken while attempting to send additional messages from the registration Sheet.
- If you like, you may create badges for the participants and moderators.
- Send out an email the last day of the study thanking the author, the PLN leadership, and the participants. Also, take this opportunity to encourage everyone to continue participating in other PLN activities now that he book study has concluded. If you created a book study badge, share that within this email as well.
- Send Simon Helton the names and email address of those participating in the study. He will use this information to send them an ISTE PLN Book Study feedback survey.
- Take a moment to reflect and make notes of anything you would like to change or augment during the next study.