This semester I created a project in which my students built and participated in a personal learning network (PLN). This is something I have done in the past several years, and I have learned a lot about particular digital tools, teaching strategies, and overall wisdom from other people in the same profession.
When something is rewarding, it's easy to assume others will immediately see the same value in an activity as I do. I mean, they signed up for my class, so they must have some interest in using digital tools to communicate and collaborate, right? Well, not exactly. The aspect of a PLN that I neglected to consider is that many of the connections I have made took years to become meaningful. That is, my personal cycle of reading/seeing ideas, trying them, reflecting, trying them again, more reflection, etc., has been a process that started a long time ago, even before I had what I would call a PLN. I became aware of two very important facts regarding a PLN:
- Most of the "treasures" I found from sources in my PLN were solutions, or even just tweaks, to instructional problems I had been slowly addressing over a long period of time. Many times, the stuff I discovered and found helpful was just a minor point in a blog post or forum that uniquely addressed one little thing I had been wrestling with. What I considered a major discovery amounted to little more than "what's the big deal" to other people.
- This was going to be a very difficult thing to sell within the course of one semester. 16 weeks. 15 class meetings. Less than 45 hours. I have easily spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours skimming, sometimes perusing, resources from people all over the world. It may be wishful thinking to expect that 45 hours spent doing something that is meant to take much longer will actually make a difference in a student's professional thinking.
Being the adventurous type, I forged ahead knowing the results may be less than convincing. My first step was to make some suggestions for the students about which sources they include in their PLN. Building the network is the hardest part, and I knew most of them did not know how to get started. Based on my own experience, I suggested the following sources, along with their possible affordances and drawbacks.
A hodge-podge of life events, shared videos and articles, and pictures from people who I may or may not have known in person at some point. The things they post sometimes make me want to respond, then I'm like "I haven't seen that person in 20 years! And even then I hardly knew him." There are professional groups and pages on Facebook, but I find they get buried by all of the random things people share. The few professional pages I have "liked" do not seem to be updated very often, and I end up just being distracted by cat videos.
Twitter is like candy. It seems fulfilling at first. I read quotes and re-tweets and people's random (very concise) thoughts, and it almost seems like I am learning something for a second. And then it's gone, but I still want more. So I keep scrolling. I have found some excellent resources that consistently link to good articles and posts, which has caused my attitude about Twitter to improve in the last couple of years. Some people who I follow tend to share too much, and there does not seem to be a good way to filter. The stuff I am looking for gets buried by the people who share too much.
This social network tool has always been a mystery to me. I would say about three-fourths of my LinkedIn contacts are people I know, with the remaining quarter being people I have never seen in my life. Occasionally I will get a notification that one of my "contacts" recently joined LinkedIn, yet I have no idea who this person is. Other times, I get contact requests from people in my geographic area who are clearly just trying to, well, network. I usually add the person if there seems to be some common interest, whether it is our city or field of expertise. Then there is this strange thing called Skills and Endorsements. I understand the premise behind this feature (people are willing to vouch for my skill set), but I always chuckle when I get an e-mail telling that so-and-so has endorsed me for a skill in which so-and-so knows absolutely nothing about. You mean this guy I have never met just endorsed my skills in curriculum development? He must know something I don't!
In terms of using LinkedIn as part of your PLN, they do have many Groups you can join. Some of them are centered around an organization (alumni of a particular college or another professional organization), while others are based on interests (e.g., designing innovative higher ed. learning spaces). If you want to stay caught up with the discussions, you can opt to receive updates and digests via e-mail. If you want to participate, you have to go to the website. The groups have a discussion board/forum look and feel, which is not my preference. Of all the social networks in my PLN, this is the one I refer to the least.
My first thought was, Why do I need another place to waste my time. How in the world is this going to be different from Facebook? Well, Google+ has surprised me. I have found some very active and interesting communities, and I honestly say I find something of interest every time I scroll through my feed. I have also become pretty active in my sharing within these communities. I have made some good connections, gotten good feedback, and found the experience to be enriching. (Not all of my students felt this way about Google+, but I did not consider that when giving them a grade ... ha ha.)
I still like to follow several blogs, but I have found that sound bytes from Twitter, Google+, and Facebook have squeezed them out a little. I used to follow blogs through Google Reader, which disappeared, and now I use Feedly. I do not really make time to check in that often, but I still log in about once a month. I end up marking whole sections "as read" because I know I will never read most of the stuff. I will skim the headlines and make sure I am not missing something really good.
Here is the list of my PLN that I share with students to get them started. I have also started to dabble with Reddit and Scoop.it, but I have not used them enough to speak to their suitability to this project.
- Open Source in Education
- Google Docs and Drive
- Best Educational Apps for Kids
- Higher Education & Technology
- Technology in Education
- Technology & Innovation in Education
- EdTech and Professional Development
- Educational Apps for Kids
- ISTE Teacher Education Network
- Educational Technology
- Gamification in Education
- Connected Learning
- School Technology Leadership
- Google Apps in Education
- Google Hangouts in Education
- Edutopia (@edutopia)
- EDpuzzle (@EDpuzzle)
- Socrative (@Socrative)
- Wesley Fryer, PhD (@wfryer)
- WeAreTeachers (@WeAreTeachers)
- TechSmith (@TechSmith)
- Alice Keeler
- Tony Vincent
- Two Guys and Some iPads
- Moving at the Speed of Creativity
- Daniel Willingham