Sunday, March 8, 2009

PWN'ing PLNs


The conversation surrounding PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) continues to grow, both from the perspective of the student and the teacher. A member of my blogroll (and thus, tangentially, a member of my PLN) made a post that prompted some reflection. Since I can't see my school working towards a more liberal approach to boundaries involving subjects, teachers, instruction, etc I'm trying to focus on, and advocating for, the professional PLN aspect. I'm sure there's a cool graphic of PLNs somewhere that encompasses everything I think PLNs are... I scrolled through a few and the best is this one from another tangential-PLN-member Alec Courous but I still don't think it's a complete visual description.
The topic is close to my heart - I began my teacher career as the only math teacher in the school -- 100 kids 7-12. For five years, I did the senior math courses while the rest were picked up by the science teachers. We were the only independent school in the province and it took considerable time and money to get to PD opportunities elsewhere. Isolated geographically and socially (most public school organizations would have no truck with us) I used gopher (does that date me?) and the web (which eventually includes pictures!) to communicate with digital colleagues. However, protracted discussions were slow, it was difficult to share content and the people involved were few and far between. The first ten years of my teaching found me isolated geographically, linguistically (teaching in France & Switzerland) and professionally (most math teachers wanted to teach from the textbook, emphasizing on algorithms. Most still do, unfortunately).
Nowadays, the situation is much changed -- the venues in which we can communicate are legion. There are so many bright and inspiring people out there posting opinions, content and ideas. I regularly do Skype conversations with colleagues in the States, I read and engage in discussions on mathematics and technology from people (friends?) from around the world. The professional isolation I so clearly felt during my first decade is evaporating as I progress through my second. While there are still closed communities, there are so many open ones that you can always find someone to hash out ideas with. With twitter, you have opinion-polling on ideas that can branch out into larger discussions through blogs or online meetings. And I'm loving the regularly-scheduled podcasts/videocasts available through resources such as EdTech Talk, Classroom 2.0 and the growing Ontario Educators Meetup. While my department colleagues are excellent (they are truly amazing) they are not always present and not always interested in what I'm after. There are many people "out there", though, who are!
While I'm not a fan of avatar-based technologies (I'm me and I like me), Second Life and other sim-programs are bringing a virtual-world aspect to these conversations. I'm waiting for the web-based holodeck based on technology like FaceGen that will let me be me and engage in real-time conversations involving digital content in a CoolIris-like environment. Why not video-conferencing? Well, for one, it doesn't let you easily bring in the digital content of an applet or a video. It's a medium not an environment in the same way that chalkboard is a medium, classroom is an environment. But more on this later. For now, I want my PLN! (okay, that 80s metaphor likely dates me too.)


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