Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are the new PD

I suddenly had an epiphany. I have been hearing about so many web 2.0 tools over the past years. I kept reading and hearing about all the new tools being created. It started with Youtube. I checked it out and was amazed at the amount of videos out there. Mostly, it was overwhelming and once in awhile, I would go out and check a few funny videos that my friends would send me but I didn’t get it. I opened up a Facebook account, started installing every new application I could get my hands on but it mostly seemed like a timewaster. All these tools did. The people that did seem to have the time, were teenagers and students. I mean who has time to find other users and tag and upload all this stuff.

I consider myself an early adopter when it comes to tools but I quickly got consumed by all these new tools and none of them seemed to make my life any easier. As a teacher, I have enough things to worry about with meetings, emails, unit plans and a billion other things. Who really has time to start creating all these accounts on Twitter, wikis, blogs, Usteam, etc?! But then it hit me a couple of months ago. The power of connection.

We as humans are wired to be connected. It is a basic human need to want to belong. As a teacher, we go out of our way to ensure that students are safe and that they belong. Without it, true learning can’t take place. That is the driving force. I would sign up for all these accounts but didn’t really connect with others through it. Thus, it wasn’t useful to me. None of these tools are useful unless you start making connections with others, whether it be colleagues, friends, family or simply strangers that share a common passion.

A few months ago, I attended a digital learning conference in Jakarta. I attended so many different workshops and was soaking in every minute of it. My head was spinning and I could barely keep up. I remember going to a workshop by Jeff Utecht on PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). I almost didn’t go but arrived late and the workshop was completely full. I knew nothing about PLNs and had just heard about Twitter and knew a bit about RSS feeds. I frantically bookmarked all the sites he talked about but it did intrigue me. Jeff said, “give yourself 2 weeks on Twitter and it will totally change your life”. He went on to tell us that we should set up a RSS page using Netvibes. It slowly started to make sense. I had like 5 followers on Twitter but nothing really happened to recently. I remember reading a great blog and added her to my Twitter. She started to post really interesting blogs and websites about things that I was passionate about. Slowly, almost by accident, I started to create my own PLN of people who were passionate about technology and learning. Now I get it.

PLNs will be the way of the future. They trump any PD session that I have attended (save the technology one perhaps) since I am finding out information quickly and efficiently and it’s relevant and interesting to me. I believe that we as educators need to get on board on this train. The whole idea of connectivism is the way of the future. See this great video that explains this idea in detail. Our students are already there and we need to get there too or the schools will be left in the dust.

How to get a PLN started? That will be the topic of the next blog… Continue reading Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are the new PD

Technology tools-Process vs Product

With an increasing number of tools being developed for educators, the endless question seems to come down to process vs product argument.

Some ICT tools available are great for processing and synthesizing information for students. A tool such as Kidspiration or Inspiration help students to mind map concepts. For example, when we were doing a unit on Healthy Choices in Grade 2, students helped to categorize different types of foods according to which needs were met in a Food Pyramid. In this case, students are learning by categorizing information. This ICT tool helps students to learn concepts about nutrition.On the flip side, you could also use the same tool to present their knowledge and understanding about nutrition. This could be at the end of a unit where students could present their learning to a wider audience. Both are valuable assessments (formative vs summative) and both are equally valuable learning tools.

There are an enormous amount of digital tools that could be used for presenting information. Keynote from iLife 08 allows students to present their learning from a unit and share it with other students. iWeb is a fantastic tool that allows students the chance to create a digital portfolio. Students can then reflect on their learning through a unit and summarize it.

As an educator, one needs to carefully look at technology tools to ensure that there is a balance of integrating technology as a tool for process and products.