Archive for July, 2010

Since my blog is a personal reflection page, my personal experiences generally guide its content. My experience last evening took me to a conversation about the title of my Ning site The Educator’s PLN. It was a drawn-out discussion on the choice of the word “The” in the title of the name that I created for the site. It is based on that conversation that I feel a need to at least describe my thoughts and understanding on the topic of Personal Learning Networks that led me to choosing the Title of my Ning site. If you haven’t clicked off of this post yet, I am grateful, because I would have. I find it hard to believe that something this simple would get anyone upset, let alone me.

If my house were burning down and I yelled to a crowd of onlookers, “CALL 911” there are several things I would not want to hear coming back. “What’s the Magic word?” and “What do you mean by the word CALL?”are two questions that come to mind. Some people need to argue for the sake of argument and not in an effort to acquire a clearer understanding. This is a quality probably better suited for a lawyer than an educator, but that is an argument that I will not pursue.

The point that I believe that these individuals attempted to register with me, was that the word “THE” suggested that this was the only place one could go to be part of THE PLN. If anyone else has that feeling, then I really screwed up in my choice of Title. My personal understanding of what a PLN is, may best explain my choice of words.

The fact that this label of “PLN” is fairly new to some and also unknown to many educators lends to the confusion. That combined with the number of similar labels referring to the same or very similar concepts further confuses things. We start with Personal Learning Network and then Professional Learning Network. We have the Personal Learning Environment and the Personal Learning Community. There are a number of variations which interchange the words Professional and Personal.

To attempt to clear things up a little, let me explain my understanding of the concept and you may call it anything that suits your purpose. I clearly understood this concept from the time I left elementary school and learning became more complicated than it was in elementary school. I quickly adapted by surrounding myself with people who could explain things differently than they were presented in class. I personally selected the people I needed to help me along with my learning. I actually created a network of people I could go to for various things and they were not always academic. Since this network of people was constructed with my personal selections to help my personal needs for learning, I guess I could call this my personal learning network. It was unique to me and to my learning needs. It changed over the years as did my learning needs. This was not a personal learning network for other people. They needed to get their own. They could use some of my people for their network, but there was no exclusive ownership of sources. Now, with the advent of technology and the development of Social Media, I can extend my reach. I can grab sources globally. And even better there are several free Social media applications I can use for this purpose.

I used Email, Linkedin, FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, Skype, and Delicious to connect with people and acquire sources. This network of people helped me learn by answering questions, passing along articles, websites, experts, podcasts, webcasts, online conferences. The best part is that it was all directed by my personal inquiries to meet my personal learning needs. This is also a flexible and adaptive network. It expands with new sources, information, concepts and tools. It works for me and that makes it personal. It will not work for every learner. The sources that I have chosen may not be the sources others would choose. They need to create their Personal Learning Network. There is NO “The PLN” if there were it would be “The LN”.

Now getting back to my Ning site, I had many questions from many individuals about sources. People wanted to create their Personal Learning Networks. They needed a little help getting started. They needed people to contact, how-to tutorials, groups of people with common interests. I knew how to do this, because that is how I learn. I created a site to help any educator who needed help developing his or her personal Learning Network. It gave them a means to do it. It is not the place to go for an instant PLN. It is a place for direction and sources. I needed to call it something, a name that would conveniently fit in a tweet. Hence, the name “The Educator’s PLN”, a singular educator and a singular personal network for learning. It neatly abbreviated to EDU PLN for tweeting purposes.

I want to be clear, I make no claim to ownership of anything about any PLN other than a Ning site that I created to help others develop their own Personal Learning Networks. I do take credit for my own PLN which consists of 2 Ning sites, 5 Linkedin Educational Groups, a Blog, a twitter account, a FaceBook account, a Skype account, a delicious account, an author stream account a Google reader account, Google mail, and probably a dozen other things as well. I am also the co-creator of #EDCHAT which has had a profound effect on my personal learning as an educator. That is my Personal Learning Network and not yours.

Now, I need to get back to my evening discussion. I imagine that a very good argument could be made to call The Old Man and The Sea, The Old Man and the Fish, but why? I named MY NING site The Educator’s PLN not because it is the place to end up, but one possible place to begin for those who do not know where to begin. If it is not for you, do not join. If you join and do not like it, follow the rule of two feet. Get up and leave. All I ask is that you let me call it what I called it.

If we keep arguing about the little stuff and not the ideas, it will take a long time to get from where we are to where we need to be in education. The idea of PLN’s is taking people from places of isolation to places of expanded thinking. We cannot keep saying no to everything without offering alternatives and expect things to change on their own. Rather than spend time arguing semantics, we need to address real issues. I promise to think more about Titles if I ever decide to create something that I believe will help others, because words are important.

The Educator’s PLN http://edupln.ning.com/

And now your comments, please.

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I have always enjoyed attending educational conferences. I have been an organizer, committee member, presenter, moderator, panelist, and attendee for various conferences over my career as an educator. Educational conferences were always more than seeing the latest and greatest gadgets and gimmicks being offered to teachers to involve students in learning. I always recognized the energy that comes from these events. Educators who attend conferences get to listen to other ideas and share their own. They network and collaborate. They are introduced to new ideas, as well as stretch existing ideas to new dimensions. Conferences also provided best practices examples that many school districts lacked in their Professional Development. Teachers often returned to their Districts recharged and eager to put into practice that which they were exposed to at whatever conference the last attended.

I must admit that I was also critical of some aspects of educational conferences. I understand the high cost of putting such conferences together. That fact limits the number of people any District can send to a conference. It also seemed to me that many districts focused on sending administrators more often to conferences than teachers. I understand there are very good reasons why administrators need to attend conferences, but the ratio of Administrators to classroom teachers was always out of whack. It seemed to me that the administrators outnumbered the classroom teachers. Considering the number of Administrators to teachers in any district, there should always be more classroom teachers by a 10 to 1 margin. Of course this is not possible. Teachers cannot leave their students for extended periods of time. Vendors whose table fees make these conferences profitable, much prefer the movers and shakers of education to be in attendance in larger numbers. Buying decisions are not usually made in large numbers by teachers.

Districts interested in making the most from conferences will rotate their people to conferences. They will limit the same people from going to the same conferences year after year. They will encourage teachers not only to attend, but encourage them to present. Districts need to consider branding their schools with educators whose best practices are shared with other educators, locally, statewide, nationally, and globally. This recognition builds pride and expertise that benefits everyone including the students.

Now there seems to be new models of educational conferences emerging. It is yet to be determined if they will become permanent fixtures in the world of education. The new models are a direct result of today’s technology. Social Media has connected a great number of teachers from around the world. It not only brings educators together virtually and intellectually, but it enables them to organize and plan face to face gatherings without the need for professional organizations. The development of webcast applications is also enabling people to organize and present to large groups of educators who are securely nestled in the safety of their home cocoons and the comfort of their pajamas. The U-Streaming and archiving applications enable presenters to record presentation for those who could not attend in real-time. It time shifts professional Development for convenience.

These online symposiums, and unconferences or camps and webcasts are beginning to happen more and more in many locations around the world. Educational Ning sites are having more and more webcasts with both educational luminaries, as well as classroom teachers offering best practices for professional Development. People are being accepted by what they have to offer in the way of ideas and not by what their title is. These conferences are for the most part free to attendees. They bring together educators worldwide. They are allowing Higher Ed teachers link up and interact with K-12 educators. Authors are no longer just faces on a book cover, but participants in the discussion. Contacts made from these conferences become continual with social media allow connections to stay connected. The energy is renewed on a weekly or daily basis as opposed to months or years at a time.

Time will tell if these tech-assisted conferences help us move professional development to a point where the new literacy required to learn, teach and communicate with technology can be mastered by a majority of educators. This may be at best a gateway to educational reform and at worst an idea expanding experience. I guess that falls in the category of a win/win situation.

I needed to finish this post today for tomorrow I am meeting up with Eric Sheninger, @nmhsprincipal and Steve Anderson, @web20classroom to drive to Philadelphia for the #ntcamp. That is an Unconference for new teachers. It was organized by teachers for new teachers. The word went out over social media and many members of my Personal Learning Network are coming together in Philly to work with any of the new teachers who will be in attendance for no charge. This could be something or it could be nothing. Knowing the people involved I would bet that it will be something. Take a look at the site. http://www.ntcamp.org/2010/ntcamp-update/

Your Thoughts are most welcomed.

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For those of you who are unaware of what #Edchat is, it is a weekly discussion involving thousands of educators discussing a specific educational issue. The discussion takes place on Twitter with two sessions, each discussing a different pre-selected topic. A common bond of an interest in education is only one of several bonds common to a majority of participants. Most chatters are technology literate or at least Twitter literate in order to participate. One may also assume that their participation indicates a common interest in the specific topic being discussed. The majority of the group is teachers. Others involved would be administrators, educational consultants, educational vendors, parents, authors, and people who were interested in the topic that was being discussed on social media channels in preparation for the Chat.

The many factors of commonality among the participants often foster agreement as to solutions for the problems being discussed. That does not mean that the solutions are weak or less warranted, only that they are recognized and agreed to by many of the participants. Educators, being who they are, often challenge these ideas to test their worth during the chat. It would seem the profession attracts those who love playing the “Devil’s Advocate”. This agreement on solutions among participants has labeled Edchat among some as an “echo chamber”. Unfortunately, labels sometimes cast doubt over what are very sound ideas as people place the emphasis on the label rather than the idea.

Changing education reform from discussion to action was the topic of last week’s #Edchat. It was one of the most active chats we have had since we began #Edchat. It was obvious that another interest common to #Edchat participants is the belief that there is a need for education reform and a need for educators to have some say in how that will happen. The resulting Blog posts during the week provided some answers to a growing frustration with things either not happening fast enough or not happening at all. People put forward some strategies for action.

The whole idea of connectiveness among educators for collaboration is still new to many. Again, labels seem to get in the way of progress. Twitter is connecting tens of thousands of educators around the world. They are successfully exchanging ideas and collaborating around the clock and over every time zone. Tens of thousands of educators collaborating sounds great until we consider the fact that there are millions of educators out there. Even if 200,000 educators were connected and collaborating, it is still a minority. There is a stigma attached to the technology label among some educators. There is a huge stigma attached to Twitter a s a legitimate form of collaboration or conveyance of ideas. The approach to Social Media and technology in general by educational institutions go a long way in discouraging participation in any collaboration amongst educators.

Technology is still viewed as something separate from education. People are still debating its place in education. They are still debating whether or not it promotes learning. There are some who insist on discussing if technology can ever take the place of the teacher. There are some who demand more research must take place before we can accept technology in education. All of this stalls any forward movement to change.

If we accept that “Ubiquitous” means omnipresent: being present everywhere at once, it would certainly apply to our everyday lives in regard to technology. It has affected most of what we do or come in contact with. Our health, transportation, entertainment, manufacturing, communication, appliances, and leisure time have all been infused with technology. We never debated it. We never questioned it. We never researched it. Except for a Will Smith and a Robin Williams movie of fiction, we never really questioned whether technology would replace people. Yet, in education, these questions are debated all of the time. ENOUGH ALREADY!

Technology is only a tool. It is the Platform that our children must use to earn a livelihood. Our children need to have skills that use the technologies that are ubiquitous in our society and the world. Educators do not need to teach technology, but they need technology to teach. Yes, one can be a great teacher without using technology, but what good does that do for a child who must use those learned skills in a society where technology is ubiquitous? A teacher providing the skills without technology is providing an incomplete set of skills for what today’s children need. It will be up to that child to fill in the blanks in his/her education. That child will need to pick up technology skills on his own. He will need to correlate the acquired skills from that teacher into a technology rich environment, which the teacher failed to do, in order to succeed.

There is no longer a debate to be had on whether or not educators should employ technology as a tool. It is already ubiquitous in our culture. It is here to stay. It is developing and moving forward. Our education system is not keeping up with that change. Our children are either on that train prepared to move forward or waving bye-bye at the station. Relevance is now key to our educators, because it is key to our children. There is now a new literacy required to use technology successfully. How many of our educators are lacking in that literacy? How many educators are now illiterate?

There are so many problems to address in education that it is always a challenge as to where to begin. My suggestion is to stop creating impediments by debating the need for something which is ubiquitous in our society and will only be more evident in the culture of our children. We need to encourage the smart use of technology. We need to teach and develop the smart use of technology with professional development. We need our administrators and teachers to model the smart use of technology. We need to provide exposure, education, and participation of parents in the smart use of technology.

We need to understand that teaching writing with an Underwood typewriter and erasable bond paper is not the best way to teach today’s children to be writers. Let us not debate whether it could be done that way. Of course it could, but why would we do that? We as educators must be relevant and that is a day-to-day struggle. Educators can use technology to accomplish this. We need to educate the educators how they can maintain relevance.

Feel free to comment

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