Wednesday, July 1, 2009

PLN's (Personal Learning Networks)?

Well, another week has gone by and it's time to write another reflection about learning. This week I want to talk about personal learning networks. Some people call them personal social networks, which they are indeed, but I guess my focus today is how we turn them around to have an educational purpose or to achieve a learning outcome. When I was searching out online networks, of course I came across the standard Facebook, MySpace, Tagged, Hi5 social networks, which I have heard teachers turn into something educational, like posting assignments and discussions about classroom material. However, there are indeed more Web 2.0 networking tools out there.

But before I go any further, here's a great little video that explains Social Networking in Plain English.

There are even social networks for business people, such as Linkedin, or Spoke that promote building relationships between professional business people, who feel the need to network in a competitive world. There are other networks out there for teachers as well, which I highly recommend. I've been a member of Classroom 2.0 for about a year now, and love the opportunity to posts questions and have hundreds, if not thousands of other teachers comment about what they think about technology, classroom management challenges, pedagogy, and more. Another teacher social networking site that is good, but not near the quality of Classroom 2.0 is Ning in Education. The downside of this ning site, is that I get requests from people, who are members of this site and have no educational background asking me to be their friend, which I have to block, but you'll get that anywhere I guess, but it is annoying.

Social networks can be a great resource for teachers just among themselves, but they also have a great role and purpose in the classroom. I watched a video this week about a teacher who recounted being taught to teach reading and writing a set way, but now that he has introduced blogs and ning, he has seen a wonderful transformation in student success and learning with these web tools. Here's the video:

I think this teacher captures the benefit of using social networking sites for educational purposes. It's exciting to see how people are integrating the Google calendar into the Ning for students to keep track of activities, assignments, pace themselves on projects, and more. Students can upload photos of work they are doing on a project, or create a PowerPoint presentation and insert it for everyone to view. Students can make videos and upload those as well, or search out instructional videos from the internet and embed the code into Ning for everyone to view. If teachers are concerned about security issues, they can make the Ning site a closed account that is restricted to just members.

I was curious how other teachers might use Ning, so what better place to go to see what people are doing but Classroom 2.0 itself. I went to the forum and typed in ning in the classroom. I came up with pages of discussion forums with multiple replies from teachers all around the world using the technology in the classroom.

Here's Margaret Haviland's reply; We are using for a student current events forum. Almost all upper level (11&12 grade history students) at Westtown School, Westtown, PA participate. Students choose an article (news, columns, editorials are all fair game) read it, write a summary, analysis and reaction, and post it within the "Westtown History Classroom" social network at Other students comment! I experimented with this last year with one section and now rather than a pool of 18 students to read and comment we have 74+. Each teacher has a slightly different assessment method and number of original posts and comments. (in my student's case there are limits to using US news sources as well as the, they have to post 2X a trimester and comment 5X) The kids are engaging in great discussions. We are beginning to discuss the possibility of inviting another school (perhaps outside of the US) to join with us in the spring.

Another teacher, Matt Montagne, replied: Last spring one of our 8th grade US History teachers at my previous school did a fantastic activity where each one of his students took on the role of figure from the US civil rights era. He called it the "Civil Rights Era Facebook" project. Students engaged in discussions and other virtual interactions (posting photos, videos, completing polls, etc) using the 1st person point of view of their figure. They had to "friend" others in the community that they would've friended in the physical world (for example, ML King wouldn't have friended Malcolm X, as they had different approaches and philosophies on the movement).

Anyway, the network that they used may be browsed online here:

Pretty neat project done by one of the best teachers I have ever worked with.

These are just two examples of thousands of responses from teachers that are using Ning in the classroom. I'm including a link to the Ning site I created for a Water Quality Research project for grade 10 students. Enjoy!

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