Smack dab in the middle of my summer break, a disturbing thought came to me the other day. Actually it wasn’t the thought so much as the thinking part that was disturbing. Sitting pool side dozing in and out of lucidity, I thought to myself… “Kids need Personal Learning Networks as much as teachers or any other professionals do”
With a shake of the head, that brief but disturbing thought scampered away and I quickly settled in for a nap, only to be rudely awakened 30 minutes later by a drippy teenager, begging for money to go chase the ice cream truck.
All squinty eyed and muddled, my wily money-grubbing thirteen year old instantly sensed disorientation and robbed me of every last cent I had and booked it out down the street. Before I realized what had happened, that horrible thinking thing happened again. “If we want kids to effectively use technology for academic purposes, they need a Personal Learning Network”
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking. This mid summer mental malady could only mean one thing! My red meat and beer levels had gotten too low and for that there is only one solution, so I gathered my things and headed back to the house to fire up the barbeque.
Unfortunately, even after a 12 ounce porterhouse and an undisclosed number of beer, the thinking didn’t stop. I realized that the only way I am going to be rid of this nagging brain activity, is by hammering out a blog post to cleanse out the thought hopper. After which, I will pour concrete in there so nothing else can slip in.
So here goes… My mid summer blog post on Personal Learning Networks.
Personal Learning Networks or PLN’s are another one of those hip and happening thingies that has recently taken the educational world by storm. Actually there has always been PLN’s, just that they were usually school or district based and required seeing the whites of someones eyes. Certainly, the face to face PLN is still important but with the advent of twitter and other social media, ones PLN has the potential to be global.
Over this past year, I have grown my own digital PLN by leaps and bounds through this very blog and the use of twitter and quite frankly, it has quickly become far more valuable to me then my face to face PLN. This is not because my colleagues aren’t fabulous, brilliant people but because in the digital world, I am free of the institutionalized hierarchies and protocol which can hinder ones professional growth. But I digress…
My thinking is thus… If a digital PLN has been so good for me, then it might be something we should be encouraging our students to create. I thought I might have an original idea here! I might become famous or something but alas… Others had beaten me to the punch. I did a little research expecting to find nothing on the notion of a digital PLN for students but unfortunately, there have been people saying this very thing since 2008 but in my humble opinion, not as well as me.
See what others say
The idea of a digital Personal Learning Network actually goes hand in hand with a recent post I did on the importance of creating a Personal Digital Learning Space. It is all part and parcel of a creating a positive digital footprint and using the technology to enhance our learning opportunities. Over the past couple of school years, I have stumbled upon a couple of kids who are way ahead of the curve and have done an outstanding job creating a PLN for themselves (Check out Joey Ahmadi and see how he has crafted his own digital identity and PLN) but by in large, kids make poor use of technology as a social learning tool. There are a couple of reasons for this but I will reserve comment for now.
Keep in mind, I am looking at the digital PLN from a high school perspective. When we look at this idea from what it means for primary and intermediate grades, there are some very different considerations to be taken into account. I am also making the assumption that high school students, have the maturity to begin creating a digital PLN which will be a positive representation of who they are and what they are all about.
Digital PLN Starter kit
In my opinion the following three items are must haves for a digital Personal Learning Network
- Information source – We all need a source of information which meets our academic and professional needs. For generations of learners, this source of information has been the teacher, textbooks and classmates. Although these are still valid and important sources of ideas, opinion and yes even answers, in today’s world this is sometimes not sufficient and quite frankly rather static.
Personally, I still use traditional sources of information such as texts, talking to colleagues and on occasion attending a lecture but for my day-to-day professional development and information gathering, I have come to rely rather heavily on RSS feeds. Ever changing and dynamic, I have access to a wealth of information from reliable sources delivered to me on my digital device. Every morning I grab a coffee, fire up the ipad and peruse the latest in #edtech #education #politics #cycling
I currently favour an app called Zite which is infinitely customizable and more often than not delivers reliable content. When I find something I like, I can share it with my PLN, ponder what it means to me and my teaching practice, use it in my classroom… Sometimes it triggers a new thought which then turns into a blog post. The possibilities of how I use this information for my own professional development is endless and I see no reason to think a student’s experience would be any different.
- Personal Blog – This is your home base, the place where you present your ideas to the world and where the world can share their opinion of those ideas. It is a representation of your interests and skills and it is the way you attract people to your PLN. It is amazing how a single blog post on a topic you feel passionate about, will bring out like-minded folks who are more than happy to help you further your academic or professional goals.
A blog is the foundation of your digital identity and its power for both good and evil is immeasurable.
- Twitter account – I have to admit, I didn’t get twitter in the beginning. A site where you could share nothing but drivel in 140 characters or less… Wat Up Wit Dat? It wasn’t until I turned a class of 30 grade 10′s loose on the BCPSEA conference (A meeting of all the educational big wigs in the Province of British Columbia) that I came to understand the power of twitter. Thirty 15 year olds, engaging our provinces most powerful educational leaders in 140 characters. It was magic! Some of these kids took it to the suits and hammered them with smart relevant questions about their education and the big wigs answered back.
It was fantastic! In that 80 minute period, I immediately saw that twitter was a window to the world for these kids. Real people answering real questions in real-time and from that point on, I began using twitter to engage real people, with real questions, in real-time about my profession and interests.
Digital PLN’s are definitely not just for adults. In fact, I believe that in order for a digital revolution to occur in our schools, it will be imperative that we encourage and teach kids how to create a learning network that extends beyond the walls of our schools. In today’s world, information is ubiquitous and learning opportunities are but a click away. Lets help kids create and use a Personal Learning Network which will be with them through life.
Now back to my regularly scheduled barbecue induced oblivion.