Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making Sense of Professional Learning Networks

Preparing to present on the topic of Professional Learning Networks at the Iowa Tech Infused Learning Conference, hosted by Newell-Fonda on Oct0ber 20, really helped me to examine and clarify my own journey with my PLN.

I believe building a Professional Learning Network can help you become a connected learner. As educators, if we aren’t connected learners, how can we understand and expect our students to become 21st century connected learners?

Nothing New

The concept of a Professional Learning Network has been around for a long time. A PLN has been the people and information sources that help you meet your needs and accomplish your goals either personal or professional. Included are your co-workers, your supervisor, your friends, the magazines you subscribe to, books you read, experts you consult, etc.

My PLN used to be administrators and teacher leaders—mostly in the area and a few throughout the state along with a few professional journals and web resources. My professional life took a huge leap last spring when my colleague, Shawn Holloway, and I got started on Twitter. Since then I have been cultivating social networking as a way of professionally connecting with others. As a result, I’ve been able to learn and share with other educators across the US and around the world. The real-time web has dramatically altered the way I do my job, the way I collaborate and communicate with others, and the way I learn. New tools for organizing digital networked information, have allowed me new kinds of networks that extend far beyond my old PLN and immediate location and face-to-face connections.

The construction of a PLN enables educators to harness the power inherent in 21st Century technologies in order to create a professional growth tool that is accessible whenever, wherever. My PLN provides me with a constant supply of resources, thought-provoking discussions, knowledge, leadership strategies, help with compliance issues and state initiatives, and ways to successfully integrate technology. It gets me outside my box and outside my small rural community.

To justify social networking as a sound professional learning strategy, I’ve included a short summary of a learning theory behind PLNs.

Connectivism - George Siemens

According to Siemens, “Considering technology and meaning-making as learning activities begins to move learning into the digital age.” Inherent to this new viewpoint on learning is the idea that we can no longer personally experience everything there is to experience as we try to learn something new. We must create networks which, simply defined, are connections between entities. By using these networks - of people, of technology, of social structures, of systems, of power grids, etc. - learning communities can share their ideas with others, thereby “cross-pollinating” the learning environment (Siemens, 2005). For more information about Connectivism, visit this website.

Below is a sample of PLN starting points and resources. The presentation by Kevin Wood, Shawn Holloway and myself included the first four bullet-points. Thank you to Eric Sheninger for compiling many of the resources on the list.

  • Twitter: Microblogging platform that allows educators from all corners of the globe to communicate in 140 characters or less. Allows for the sharing of resources, discussion of best practices, and collaboration. For more information on Twitter check out this video.
  • Social Bookmarking: Method for storing, organizing, and sharing bookmarks online. Popular sites such as Delicious, Diigo, and Symbaloo allow you to add descriptions as well as categorize each site using tags. Educators can even join groups and receive email updates when new bookmarks are added. For more information on social bookmarking check out this video.
  • RSS Readers: RSS stands for "Real Simple Syndication". An RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with educational blogs, news, wikis, and podcasts all in one convenient location. By subscribing to various RSS feeds educators then have a customized flow of information that is continually updated and accessible through the use of mobile devices or the internet. Educators can even create their own RSS feeds! Popular RSS readers include Google Reader and RSSOwl.
  • Digital Discussion Forums: Consist of communities of educators interested in similar topics. One of the most popular sites is called Ning where educators can create or join specific communities. Ning sites offer a range of learning and growth options such as discussion forums, event postings, messaging, news articles, chat features, groups, and videos. Popular educational Ning sites include The Educator’s PLN, Classroom 2.0, English Companion Ning, and Ning in Education. Another fantastic digital discussion forum is ASCD Edge (you must be a member of ASCD to join). In addition, the new 1:1 Laptops Schools Ning has attracted many members as a place to collaborate and share resources around 1:1 technology.
  • Link-In
  • Facebook
  • Blogs
  • Wikis
Professional Learning Networks have come a long way. As I mentioned earlier in the post, my newly developed PLN has changed my professional life. It's exciting to be a self-directed and self-propelled learner. Thanks to all of you in my PLN!

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