Beginning The Personal Learning Network
Now that I’ve had three huge cups of coffee and a day left to overhaul my syllabus for LLED 420: Adolescent Literacy and Literature, and because I am of the belief that the instructor of a course should be willing and able to model anything that he/she asks of his/her students, I decided to build my own personal learning network, and to help my students create theirs. I spent an afternoon reading blogs by classroom teachers, educational researchers, and techies who were exploring how emerging technology has enabled the individual to connect with a wide variety of networks, resources and knowledge. I first started to check out Stephen Downes’ postings on his blog Stephen’s Web. I then found and highly recommend to any educator George Siemens’ 2004 manifesto entitled “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.” Then I poured through his posts at elearnspace. Both Downes and Siemens are highly visionary, Canadien, anti-Academia, and therefore both are probably doomed, but they have a few things going for them. For one, for all their calls for the removal of hindrances and barriers to education, their talk of a “University of the People,” and the decoupling of education from money — the stuff that’s never going to happen — they have a viable alternative educational model, or at least a complementary one. Refreshingly similar to Emerson and Thoreau, they speak the truth in plain English, which is probably another strike against them.
Having seen numerous practical demonstrations of the connectivist model, I wanted to adopt some classroom practices, having become convinced (probably later than I should have) as of January 2010 that many of the arguments made by people describing themselves as connectivists are valid for the 21st century classroom. Next, I realized that action had to be taken, as their model of learning involves some set-up in order to customize and streamline the learning process. My students (preservice teachers at Penn State) and I will need to build the networks so that we can most learn more effectively about literacy, literature, and, well, anything. Hence, I am requiring students to develop a Personal Learning Network.
What’s funny is that I was ready to build a website this morning on iWeb, and then I happened upon Kate Klingensmith’s tremendously helpful blog Once a Teacher… , watched an introductory video courtesy Wendy and Alex Drexler,
and made Klingensmith’s post from May 5, 2009 entitled “PLN: Your Personal Learning Network Made Easy” my starting point, following her convenient chart:
|Category||Value||Examples and Guides|
|Social Networking||Keeping up with personal, more social contacts like friends, family, and former students||Facebook, Myspace|
|Microblogging||Populated with educators from around the world who share best practices and resources in short bursts||Twitter, My guide to Twitter, Plurk, Utterli|
|Professional Profiles||Find other professionals and experts in your field||LinkedIn, Brightfuse|
|Wikis||Community-monitored sites that can function as websites or for group organization and projects||Wikispaces, pbwiki, wetpaint|
|Blogs||Great sources of information such as classroom best practices as well as personal opinions; Blogs monitor the heartbeat of new trends in education and the commenting back and forth leads to many great ideas and relationships||WordPress, (check out my ‘Blogroll’ to the right – they’re my favorites), Blogger, Typepad, Alltop – top blog headlines by subject, Technorati – a blog search engine|
|RSS Reader||RSS means “Real Simple Syndication” – an RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with many of your favorite blogs, all in once place
(see this video ‘RSS in Plain English’)
|Netvibes, (My Netvibes), PageFlakes, Google Reader|
|Nings||Communities of people interested in similar topics, with forums and messaging||Classroom 2.0, Future of Education, Ning|
|Social Bookmarking||Share bookmarks with others, see what others are bookmarking; you can join groups and get email updates on new bookmarks||Diigo, Diigo Groups, Delicious|
|Webinars||Live, on-line presentations or conferences, with real-time chat, hosted by experts on specific topics; Great way to learn about new things and to meet new people||Classroom 2.0 Live!, EdTechTalk Live, Elluminate – host your own!, Dim Dim|
|Backchanneling of conferences||When there are neat (and expensive) conferences that you can’t attend, follow conversations and links about the highlights||Twitter search – use acronyms like ‘NECC’ or ‘SXSWi’|
This marks the beginning of the process by which I collected a (again my debt to Kate Klingensmith for this definition), an “entire collection of people with whom [I] engage and exchange information, usually online.”
My PLN: Social Networking Through Facebook
I find it reassuring that I have my foot well in the door when it comes to social networking. You may find out the most intimate details of the walking nerdiness that is Jason Whitney here.
I do learn a lot from Facebook. Mainly, after ten years teaching English, it’s how my ex-students find me and tell me how they’re doing, and I’m always amazed: they’re writing books, tracking mountain lions, fighting in Afghanistan, drinking margaritas (but you’re fifteen! Oh wait — I taught you in ’96 — oh right, you’re 29. Carry on.) Also, it has become the fastest way for me to find someone from my past, and often the first means of communication with my closest friends. I also play a lot of chess on Facebook, making approximately one move a day.
So yeah, Facebook, check.
Maybe some of you opt for the younger, sexier MySpace, but I feel as though that’s too young for me, like shopping in those skateboard apparel stores at the mall. But that’s a valid way to go for you whippersnappers, I suppose. So you can “shred the gnar” and all that Xtreme stuff you do.
PLN: Microblogging and Twitter
When Twitter came out, I said, no, not me. I’m not going to do it. No. I will NOT play your reindeer games.
Nevertheless, I’m off to open a Twitter account following this somewhat dubious argument made by Steven J. Moore’s on his blog teachersaid:
“I’ll use a macroanalogy that most everyone should be able to grasp: the conference. When you go to a conference of any kind there is a similar format. Why do we go to conferences? To learn new information about our profession and to build relationships with other professionals. In my experiences, there are three basic environments at conferences: the keynote speech, focus groups (workshops), and mingling (unstructured). I use a digital counterpart that meets each of those networking criteria.
These are the keynote speeches, the main events of conferences and PLNs. All social media networks lead to blogs at some point. This is where authors, the pros pen their prose. Like at conferences, there is usually one big headliner who sets the tone for the whole, and several more mini-keynotes that function as bullet points to the larger headline. This is a good way to stucture your blog reading. Have fewer big blogs you read and focus your attention on. These are bloggers whom you may not ever personally contact or meet like LeVar Burton or Erin O’Connor, but whose material is widely read and considered a part of many larger conversations. Then, there are a myriad other bloggers that you can find whom are more specific in their situation and whom you may come to know personally due to their smaller readership.
For example, I’ve come to know Scott Elias, a principal in Colorado through my spiderweb-like PLN. I live in Springfield so I started searching Twitter for teachers using the service nearby through a service call Twello. I found Melinda Miller, an elementary principal in nearby Willard, MO. I started following her and checking her blog regularly. Through her, I found Scott. He and Miller run a blog and a podcast together called The Practical Principals. I’ll write more about them in the Twitter section.
If blogs are the main event, then Twitter is the exact opposite. When you’re at a conference, you spend most of your time socializing and browsing: snacking on Chex Mix, drinking mysterious hotel punch, and browsing tables of displays that other people like you have set up. Maybe you’ll exchange emails, web addresses, and chat about your classroom practices. Maybe you’ll end up collaborating on a project together in the future.
This casual open forum is like Twitter. This service is like walking into a giant ballroom full of people and eavesdropping on conversations as you walk through. When you someone posts a link, it is like one of those displays leading to more information you may or may not be interested in. The bottom line is that you are exposed to a great deal of people and materials very quickly in little snippets. Twitter is a social gateway for building longer conversations, it’s like browsing the internet and making bookmarks of people rather than sites.
I mentioned Scott and Melinda before in blogs. Twitter is different than a blog because of the length. Twitter is often referred to as “microblogging.” There you are limited to 140 characters to express your opinion, state your question, or reach out to someone. At the risk of sounding very 1996, I’ll liken Twitter to a chatroom, one that never ends though. The more you use it and the more people you follow, the larger and more powerful your PLN can become.”
Twitter Part II
Ok, I have a Twitter account and found all sorts of friends on there. But I still feel a little dirty.
Really, it’s the character limit, maybe, that bugs me. This callow chirping, the twittering of — what else can you call them — twits? The way I can “follow Lady Gaga.” Really? Woohoo. I don’t like it, though. I find the whole thing distasteful. But I will adopt this technology in the name of a Personal Learning Network, and I will prepare myself to be amazed at its potential.
PLN: Professional Profiles: LinkedIn
I already joined LinkedIn a few years ago when “invites” started to come regularly from close friends and associates. I updated a lot of personal information and you can check out my profile here.
Now I may access resources beyond the scope and range of my friends and family. I like how people post questions such as “what hourly rate can a copy editor charge in Kentucky?” and they get concrete answers.
Someday, I’ll put this professional network to the test. I’d love to know how people are using this, and if they have any success stories associated with it. A lot of my friends are on it, but why?
PLN: Wikis: Wikispaces
I realized it might be a good idea for me to write down all these passwords and usernames I created today. When you start your PLN, you join a lot of networks and subscribe to a lot of services.
So I signed up for free at Wikispaces, and made a Wiki called, lamely, WhitneyLLED420Wiki. I like the possibilities for collaboration. If I have my students working in groups, they can add to or edit the Wikispaces document as appropriate.
I am checking in on Google Sites, a”team website creator” and Wikispaces’ main competitor. At Google Apps for Education they offer free services, and a (weird, not very helpful) online tour. They recommend using Firefox. Plusses: Email, calendar, docs, and sites can be integrated easily with one login and one startpage. But I already check two emails a days (Penn State and Yahoo) and I don’t want another email, and maybe my students don’t either. Also, call me stupid, but I’m having trouble signing up for this thing, and the “free” education bait, where they won’t feed me ads, might only be for k-12. But this isn’t intuitive and I have to commit to so much here, and I’m getting cold feet. I was running Wikispaces in thirty seconds. I’ve been lost in Googleland for a half an hour, and I’m more lost than when I started. Google wants a total proprietary commitment — it wants to handle your entire life, and I am sorta impressed, and acknowledge that their apps might be really excellent, actually, and if someone out there thinks I missed the point here and would like to tell me how easy it really is to use Google Apps and that I’m unduly frustrated for nothing, then by all means, comment below.
But for my students, for Spring 2010 anyway, Wikispaces won the war, and that’s what you’ll be using for your online collaborations.
PLN Writing Blogs
Obviously, I have already created a blog that has been detailing the process of creating a Personal Learning Network.
I originally used Blogger, because I already had an account there years ago, and they seem alright. Nothing fancy. Generic as could be, really.
Now, just to investigate, I signed up for WordPress.com, and Ah, me likey! (But I grew confused until I found the dashboard at the top of the window — until then I was unable to change appearences, anything!) the reason you are reading all of this on WordPress is that in a half an hour my blog already looked much better than it did on Blogger, and aesthetics matter.
PLN: RSS Readers
RSS feeders make a lot of sense from an information management standpoint, and as a means of staying current with things. That said, I downloaded Shrook, which looked pretty spreadsheety, and I tried Sage, which works with Firefox as an addon (but whatup with ordinarily user-friendly Mozilla? It wasn’t the most intuitive thing, and I got frustrated quickly). I finally settled on Google Reader, because it just allowed me to get going, and it was the most intuitive. Then I began to set up subscriptions to blogs, and now methinks I am cooking with gas. Of all the things, I need to spend more time with this, and I haven’t developed this RSS feed nearly as well as I would like.
I joined the English Companion Ning last year, and I’m blown away. It’s a massive resource. Last year when my students posted there, to their surprise, the responses came within hours, if not minutes. It was free and easy to join and subject-specific. Yay!!! Then I joined Classroom 2.0 and it already knew me from another Ning somehow (but of course — I soon learned they are all connected). Looks good, and less subject specific, which could be more or less helpful, depending on the knowledge I’m seeking. Next was The Future of Education: Charting the Course of Teaching and Learning in a Networked World. And last was Ning.com. And now I can network with cyclists, chess enthusiasts, whatever — all through their various and sundry Ning lists. Whoah! I’m up and I’ve got an account in each. This is getting more and more exciting!
PLN: Social Bookmarking
Social bookmarking and archiving of web searches is new to me, but of course this is a crucial labor-saving device in an age where I have nine windows open and then I end up going back, back, back. So I signed up for Diigo, which is a social bookmarking tool. I can archive interesting things I read on the internet, including PDFs and highlighted material from posts and articles, and find them easily later. Then we can use Vimeo to share video. But when I loaded Delicious (part of Yahoo it seems) as an add-on to Firefox, I was impressed, but Firefox makes you disable Diigo. You have to choose one or the other, it would seem. So I’m running Delicious at the moment. I can’t wait to test this out.
Well I checked out Classroom 2.0 Live!, and I then fromt hat site set up for Elluminate and watched their video. looks like I am ready to participate in a Webinar. EdTechTalk Live was also really easy to set up, and it looks like they have regular webinars on such topics as the 21st Century Classroom and other topics related to educational technology. I now know what this is, and now must give this a try and actually attend a few webinars.
PLN: Backchanneling of conferences
Using Twitter (he says, with great distaste) apparently I can use simple search terms like NCTE and stay current with what is happening at the conferences of the professional organizations to which I belong. So here goes. I typed in NCTE, and OK, I got some interesting information, some relevant info. Some updates to lists and websites in the field. Ok, that’s something. Sure, OK.
The PLN is in Place
So, it has taken me a full day to get my PLN together, and I owe a great debt to Kate Klingensmith for my roadmap to progress. I now see that many tools are available to increase my knowledge and understanding, to help me collaborate with others, to help me produce documents and blogs and websites, to help me keep track of the massive amount of information that is out there, to archive my web searches, to communicate with others around the world, and so on, and the fact that this seems real to me and not like empty jargon proves all the more that I’ve taken a big step into the 21st century.