Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ning and the Personal Learning Network

As I mentioned in a previous post, developing a Personal Learning Network is an idea that I have recently become aware of and that I find exciting and very important.  Being connected is essential to being informed, knowledgeable and well-rounded professional in the 21st century.  Because of all the technology and tools available to us, this knowledge and information can now be more personal and relevant to each person than ever before and the potential for growth is tremendous.  This can only be a benefit to you as the professional, to your colleagues, and most importantly, to your students as well.    

I think Ning is an excellent tool to be help with creating this Personal Learning Network.  At Ning you can connect with not just a random group of people, but with people who are interested in and passionate about the same issues that you are and can help you bring up new ideas and resources.  In fact, there is a network on Ning specifically dedicated to Educators’ Personal Learning Networks.  The network contains a vast array of resources from articles to podcasts to tutorials and apps as well as a forum where educators can interact to further enhance the experience.  As educators, it is crucial that we be continually learning and growing and becoming as connected and  knowledgeable as possible.  Don’t wait!  Start creating your Personal Learning Network today!

Finish This Sentence: A Learner is Like a.......

It took me quite a while to come up with a good analogy to complete this thought.  When I first began to think about how I would represent a learner as an analogy in relation to Connectivism,  I thought of a spider. 

A learner is like a spider constructing his or her own web of knowledge, connections, and experiences.  As I pondered this analogy further I began to think that this was not the most apt one.  A spider creates its own web, but rarely interacts with other spiders.  Connectivism is also about the connectedness of learners and how we benefit from our interactions with each other.  As George Siemens says in the video The Changing Nature of Knowledge,  “The learners themselves, the connections they form with each other, the connections they form with databases, with other sources of knowledge, is really a primary point of learning,……the network becomes the learning, the network the learners create.”  This led me to think of the learner as a bee or an ant.   

Bees and ants both live in communities and construct networks for themselves and for the others in the community where they live.  There is an interconnection to what they do and they benefit from what the other members of the community do.  As I thought about this analogy, I realized that there was a piece missing from that, too. While learners are actively creating their own learning networks, they are evolving and changing.   

So would a more apt analogy be that learners are more like caterpillars evolving or metamorphosing into butterflies?   

 Participating in this interconnected network of knowledge causes the learner to change and evolve.  However, this didn’t exactly sit right with me either because although the butterfly interacts with and helps the flowers interact with each other, and is an integral part of how the plants interact with each other, the butterfly itself only changes once, and doesn't spend very much time interacting with and benefiting from interacting with other butterflies.  I thought about it some more and finally, it came to me….

A learner is like a drop of water.  A drop of water is part of a world-wide network or system.  A drop of water is constantly changing and adapting…at different times it exists as a solid, liquid, or gas.  It may spend time on its own or with others.  It goes through complicated processes and undergoes dynamic and fundamental changes. It affects and is affected by all that it interacts with.  As it grows, or as many drops come together they become stronger or more amplified, even able to dig through stone, like how a learning network grows and becomes stronger or more amplified. As George Siemens says in Connectivism:  A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, "Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing."  This to me better represents a learner in our interconnected world.   Alone we can do little, but as our connections and knowledge grow we have the power to move mountains.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Personal Learning Networks

As I was looking at different blogs for this week, I came across one of the 2011 edublog winners.  A Principal’s Reflections is written by Eric Sheninger, a high school administrator from Bergen County, New Jersey, to share his views on educational leadership, effective technology integration, best practices, and creating a student-centered learning culture.  He also documents his journey to becoming a connected learner, leader, and educator.  Not only does the blog provide amazing resources, ideas, and reflections for educators, but it is also an example of how to become more connected and incorporate technology in an effective and useful way.  I particularly enjoyed his post 'Connectedness as the Standard', about Professional Learning Networks and the importance of being connected.  

Wikipedia defines Personal Learning Network (PLN) as an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.  On Principal Sheninger’s blog, I found his great overview of a PLN as well.  Now, the connections in a PLN are not only face-to-face.  With technology available today, this network also includes ways that we can engage through technology.  It seems like in a world that has so much to offer and that is changing so rapidly, creating your own PLN is a way to control all of these resources and information in a personal way that is most beneficial to the individual learner.  This also reminded me of the video we watched last week, The Networked Student, which I think is really a way to help students incorporate what they are learning into their own PLN.  As we have all learned in our education classes, tailoring your teaching to meet the needs of each student is critical.  This seems like an amazing way to be able to do this.  

Interestingly, after doing some research, it seems that the major book that has been written on the subject was co-authored by Will Richardson, the author of our textbook.  

I’m really excited about this idea and look forward to undertaking the adventure of creating my own Personal Learning Network!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Are We Doomed?!?!?!?

I actually watched all of the suggested videos for this week and I could probably find enough to fill dozens of blog posts to say about the videos, but for now, I will just mention a couple of points that stood out to me.

While the videos were definitely thought-provoking, I think it’s important not to take everything they say at face value.  There’s more to the story of education and technology.  Although many of the videos brought up some interesting points and overlapped in some ways, I did not agree with everything the videos had to say.

First of all, it must be said that they were definitely written for an audience that has access to all of these technologies and seem to take for granted that everyone does.  This is not true even in this country and is certainly not true if you consider the whole world.   
 The point was made that schools are not embracing technology, but in reality there are many students whose only exposure to much modern technology beyond television is at school.   Even the statistic about how if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest one is a bit misleading given that there are many people who have multiple accounts for various reasons.  Although I do agree that the use of technology has exploded exponentially over the past few decades, I think it is important to note that the videos are not necessarily presenting the complete reality.  Maybe over the course of the next few decades technology really will be available to everyone but right now it must be said that when reflecting on this we are taking mainly about middle class people living in developed countries.

 One of the problems when people discuss education is that many people talk about schools the way they perceive them to be (or even how they perceived them to be when they were students) without actually knowing what goes on in them (and going in for an hour or for a day does not give you the full picture.  You have to spend an extended time to really understand).  For example, Educational ChangeChallenge talks about “twenty five students and one adult in a room for 6 hours a day”.  I don’t think this happens at most schools. Every school I have been in recently has students moving around the school all day. Many elementary schools have grade level teams and teachers create schedules for students based around the needs of the students. Some students may even spend parts of the day in other grade level classes. 
 Also, there are many other adults in school providing services….teacher aides,  speech pathologists, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists, media specialists, just to name a few.  

The video also makes the claim that schools assume that “every six year old will be in the same place”.  I think schools and teachers do realize that not every student will be at the same place on the same day and do as much as possible to help students achieve their potential.  In teacher education programs getting to know each student and his or her individual needs and knowing how to differentiate is highly stressed.   I think teachers wish there could be more people, levels, and services, but our society is not putting the money toward education that would be required in order to provide these things.  Another problem is that this is not how society/the government evaluates the system/ teachers that is the problem.  Relying on standardized testing is evaluating students as if every student should be at the same place at the same time.  I don’t hear teachers say they believe this is the best way, but their hands are tied to some extent.  This is also one reason that basing teacher evaluations primarily on standardized test scores is not a good way to evaluate teachers.
Several of the videos brought up the fact that we are preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist yet.   I think that since the history of the world, we have always been doing that.  That’s pretty much the definition of time and the way time has always been and teachers and schools are aware of this and do the best they can.  The 21stCentury Education in New Brunswick, Canada video says that the top ten jobs today didn’t exist in 2004.  After hearing this,  I did a search for the top jobs in 2011 and 2012 and looked at about 25 different websites.  All of them contained mostly jobs that have been around for decades.  Only a couple of jobs listed, like social media director, were ones that might not have existed ten years ago, so I don’t know where these statistics came from, since it is not cited in the video. They also say that “at today’s rate of change technology will experience 20,000 years of growth this century”.  This to me sounds like advertising claims such as “40% more fun” or “30% cleaner dishes”.  What exactly is being measured and how are they measuring this?   I think that schools do try to keep up with technology in many ways.  Many middle class schools are now equipped with smartboards and other technologies that teachers use every day and many teachers would be willing to use more if they were available. 
 Also, don’t forget that teachers live in the same world as the students and are aware of technology.  I bet most teachers in developed countries have cell phones and internet and use Facebook and other technologies to varying degrees just like the students.   Many people in my family are teachers and I have actually found that other than people whose careers are technology-based (such as computer programmers), teachers actually tend to be more technologically literate than other people their own age.   

One point made in many of the videos was the fact that information is much more readily available to the average person than ever before.  I agree with this and think that this changes something fundamental about education in that memorizing facts isn’t as important.  Teaching students how to use the information is what is important.  I think the Networked Student video gave a great example of how to approach learning in a different way to empower students in this way through technology.  On the other hand, the PayAttention video for example, brought up using texting as a resource and while I’m sure there are ways it could be useful, I don’t really think that the example in the video showed this.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I really don’t see it as very important or interesting to find out what a bunch of random people had for breakfast, what the weather is like where they are and what they purchased to be all that important.  You can look up what the weather is like all over the world online and yes, you can use the information gathered this way to practice graphing, but I think it would be better to use information more relevant to students’ lives for this purpose and to create graphs that would be of use.  This, for me was an example of using technology for its own sake like I mentioned in my previous post rather than reflecting on whether it would actually enhance the learning experience.
Also, none of these videos point out that there are certain things we are less good at because of technology.  There are things that students could do in the past and learned about in school that most people can’t do today and would be actually helpless without technology…making our own clothes, processing wheat into flour, even driving one of the first cars made or operating a telephone switchboard would be too complicated for most people.  There are many people I know who don’t even know how to do dishes by hand!  I don’t see schools teaching about any of these things (and they shouldn’t).
In the end, for most learners a good teacher who uses good pedagogy (which would mean including technology where and when it is appropriate) is the best choice.