Tag Archives: social networking

Teaching as Learning

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It’s always messy, and it’s always fun.

 Photo by Lester Public Library

This past week, one of my classes required me to write a proposal for implementing a Personal Learning Network (PLN) for faculty in the district as well as an assignment in which students somehow engage with a Personal Learning Network.

When I began working on the proposal and assignment, I had no idea what a PLN was, let alone how it was beneficial to teachers and students.  In order to write the proposal, I had to read a lot about PLNs from many different sources.  I read about what they are, how they function, what benefits they offer, and why some aspects of them may generate resistance.  However, after reading about PLNs from so many different sources and reflecting on my own PLN—which I did not realize existed until I began working—I was able to put together the following proposal.

Creating the students’ assignment was difficult in a different way.  While writing my proposal, I had been thinking about how Personal Learning Networks were appropriate for the professional development of teachers.  The student assignment, on the other hand, required that I think about how Personal Learning Networks can become relevant to students.  I was required to think through the process of creating a PLN as well as the learning objectives that I wanted my students to achieve in the process.  In the end, I decided to require a written reflection and presentation on what and how students learned about Personal Learning Networks.  By discussing the reflection and presentation at the beginning of the project, I hoped to encourage students to monitor and record their own learning.  This project was as much about helping the students to see how they learn as it was about the content they were learning through creating a PLN.

In order to teach  someone else, one has to have a pretty deep understanding of the topic.  When I originally approached the topic of Personal Learning Networks, I knew almost nothing about them.  I began reading about them, but I found that reading a couple of articles on their use was not enough.  It may have been enough to grasp them myself, but it certainly did not provide the type of deep understanding that I needed in order to propose their use in professional development purposes as well as in the classroom.  I finally gathered enough information by reading materials from a lot of different sources, visiting suggested social media and social bookmarking sites, and reflecting on my online activities of the past few months, during which i was unconsciously building a PLN.  By reflecting on my own learning, I was able to anticipate possible benefits and resistance to PLNs.  I was also able to decide what I would want my students to learn as they were creating their own PLNs; I included the reflection component because I felt that my own reflection was the most important part of my learning.  Teaching others–colleagues and students–about the creation and value of PLNs was certainly an effective way of learning about Personal Learning Networks myself.

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Collaboration as Living, Breathing Learning

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Using collaboration in the classroom is now more important than ever before.  Over the course of the past three-hundred years in America, education has evolved.  Some would say that it has not evolved quickly enough, however.  Education cannot seem to keep pace with our constantly-shifting society.  Now, because of the massive changes that we have seen over the past twenty years due to technological innovations, education seems to be farther behind than ever.  Yet, many educators are taking great strides to remedy this gap between the modern world and traditional education.  In my opinion, fostering meaningful collaboration in our classrooms should be our first aim.

Outside of school, students are connected to one another almost constantly through Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Flickr, online video games, and hundreds of other social networking sites and applications.  Anything that these students want to say or show is broadcast almost instantaneously to these communities, members of which have the option of responding.  For today’s students, this has become commonplace, not something to be amazed or totally baffled by, which—because of my placement on the edge of the digital immigrant and digital native generations—I see as a completely legitimate reaction.

But it’s not just students who are becoming dependent on social media.  Many adults are joining the social networking communities as well.  Employers and employees are relying more and more on such technologies for communication and collaboration within and outside of the workplace.  As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, today’s students will certainly need to have experience using digital media, especially social media and collaborative technologies, in order to succeed in their chosen fields.

Because of the changing nature of our society, and the changing way that we interact, technology has become integral to collaboration.  Therefore, we should make use of its capacity to connect people within a single classroom or across the world.  Not only can we use such technologies to stimulate engagement, but also to promote meaningful engagement.  By working collaboratively within the classroom or with others outside of it, students encounter new perspectives and ideas, navigate disagreements, adjust understandings, and learn when to lead and when to follow.  Meaningful interaction can occur face-to-face or digitally; it doesn’t depend on the medium but on the instruction, project, and student goals.  Collaboration allows students to approach the learning process together and teach one another.  Why not use students’ interest in being connected to other people to our (and their) advantage?