Education Opinion

Professional/Personal Learning Networks

By LeaderTalk Contributor — February 17, 2009 6 min read
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This week, on Thursday at 10:00 am in an obscure room in downtown Saskatoon I will be delivering my third presentation. Now, my record of presentations is, well, unknown since I really didn’t get any feedback from the previous two. I’ve made a note to make sure I leave comment pages for the participants so I have something with which to work.

My presentation if focused on PLN - Professional/Personal Learning Networks. For me, both are so interwoven that I don’t bother separating them. Professional/Personal have intermixed with many of my personal pursuits also impacting my professional life. I am a technology kind of guy, always looking at the newest thing or looking for ways to get my personal and professional life to mingle more seamlessly so that I actually have a greater sense of how the two mix, allowing me to squeeze more time out of the professional for my own use. I especially need this now as I’ve had to pick up a few classes for a few weeks until a replacement teacher can be found. Using tools to organize is a whole post on its own!

My ideas for developing this presentation have been captured over at www.pln.wetpaint.com and it is open for anyone who would like to add ideas to what/how a PLN can influence and help each of us, both personally and professionally. I’ve already had a few people drop by and add their names. I’m looking for some more input about things that people really find are essential for developing a PLN.

My PLN Development

My own journey has been one of many side-trips and wanderings all over the place. I’m a tech explorer, looking and trying different things to see if they will work in an environment like education. I’m always trying to figure out how to add to my personal learning and then, if it fits, bring it over into the world of education. I began with blogging. My first venture was a discussion over on Will Richardson’s blog where I really questioned how all these tools and ideas would filter into a system that was already overfull. How were teachers, whose lives were mostly dominated by other working pressures, going to find the necessary time to bring about any type of significant change. Well, I can tell you that 3 years later and hundreds of discussions later and I’m still asking that question. I’m still searching for a way to bring the tools to the classroom teacher in such a way that they aren’t crushed by the enormity of what is being asked of them.

All those tools!

As I wandered all over the place and looked at different tools, I saw that the tools were endless, as were the possibilities for their use. Now, this presented an even greater dilemma for me as I began to realize that teachers weren’t always the keenest of learners. In fact, education has been going strong for years with very little change precisely because educators aren’t really open to new learning. They like new things that fit into what they are already doing or new ideas that enhance what they are already doing as long as the learning isn’t too long and the implementation is fairly straightforward. So as I looked at podcasts, blogs, surveys, mind-mapping, timelines plus some of the flat-classroom projects, I realized that there was a great chasm between these new tools, and the teachers using them, and where, in fact, most teachers were in their relation to using these new tools.


I decided to see how these tools might be integrated. What was the timeline and time frame for bringing these tools into the classroom? Each day, I would wander into my classroom, usually around the right time, and spend about 50 minutes with a group of students. I tried out different ideas with my own students. I blogged, did podcasts, created mind-maps, used various SmartBoard lessons, used video, created video, experimented with different tools to create sounds. Some were successful and some were disasters. I truly like using blogs and creating podcasts but there is a need to have students create genuine learning responses which isn’t always that easy. Because many of the students are being exposed to these tools for the first time, I’d have to help them along by showing them the way these things worked in an educational setting.

Being an administrator means that most of my energy goes into administrating which doesn’t always leave time for greater development of teaching ideas even when I can see the possibilities. Time, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is something that I must use extremely carefully, especially when I’m teaching.

The Growth of a PLN

My PLN has really evolved this past year as I’ve added more blogs to my RSS reader of choice, Google Reader. I’ve also added a few news aggregators on my ipod touch and moved from Twitter to Plurk as my social network of choice. I’ve been able to develop a larger ichat group of educator and expanded my Skype contacts. I’ve been using itunes for various educational podcasts and subscribing to those that give me ideas, tips and suggestions to further develop myself. The one area that I’ve found very lacking is administration. I don’t find blogs of too many administrators and even few places where administrators can gather to share. My own version of this EdAdministrator2.0 is slowly growing but I do find that its growth isn’t like other nings I have been working in. I’ve had a number of people join but the discussions and exchanges aren’t picking up as quickly as in other nings. My reason for this is that administrators maybe don’t discuss their jobs, thoughts or opinions as much as teachers. Or maybe they’re just too busy!

Whatever the tools I’m using, the whole idea is about growing and cultivating a connection with other people. The easiest way to do this is through a network such as Plurk. It allows you to connect and discuss with other people who have similar interests. Whether you join Plurk or that other network, you have to remember that whatever you put up there can be seen by EVERYONE! Remember, just like an email, you don’t get to convey the tone of messages. If you think something might not belong in that forum of discussion, you’re probably right. For me, I’ve made all my discussions private - people can only see what I put out there if they are a friend and I’m careful about whom I friend. The same goes for your blogging or whatever you write on the net - it’s all visible. Like the saying goes “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t walk around naked.”

Tools for growing a PLN

This is the tough part since there are so many different tools. The primary things, I believe, that are important are joining a social network like Plurk and joining the conversation. It’s easier than trying to get noticed on a blog. I would then recommend a RSS reader like Google Reader. Using one isn’t too difficult. Once you have that in place, begin to search for blogs that have subjects that you find interesting. You can check my blogroll or go to a few of those I have listed and search theirs! A third tool that I think is essential is an online bookmarking site. I use both delicious and diigo. This just helps you to save great sites and ideas. I also use Evernote to save clips and make notes about things I find interesting. Like all tools, it looked cool but I had to find who to use it productively before it became part of my everyday work. To see more of my ideas about developing a PLN, go to www.pln.wetpaint.com and check out what’s there. As usual, all this is a work in progress.

Kelly Christopherson

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.