Note: This article is a cross posting from the Connecticut Science Supervisor’s Association Newsletter.
As practicing professionals who strive for continuous lifelong learning, we often recognize that adult scholarship takes different forms. We appreciate that our learning is not just what we read in books, view on the Internet, or hear from an expert presenter. More importantly, we recognize that we construct our knowledge through the social-cognitive interactions that occur with our colleagues. Many of us choose to belong to organizations like CSSA to nurture these relationships with our peers, which, in turn, promote our own individual professional growth. We talk with each other in person, by phone, by email, or by whatever means necessary to collaborate. This is a Personal Learning Network (PLN). As individuals, we count on others with similar goals, visions, and ideas to validate or even challenge our conceptions so we can grow individually while also building capacity with our constituents.
So how do we develop these Networks, nurture them, and keep them thriving? Certainly our face-to-face interactions are critical, but today’s technology offers us more options and power to communicate with others. Many web-based tools are specifically designed with interactive features. Sometimes dubbed Web 2.0 or the read/write web, these sites allow simple production and the ability for others to provide reactions or comments. Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and discussion forums allow individuals to produce original work, publish it online, and solicit feedback from others. Knowledge flow can occur in two directions. Individuals become not only consumers but producers of information.
Those wishing to integrate Web 2.0 interactive technology into their Network do not have to be savvy at programming. Rather, the web tools are menu driven, object-oriented, and often have interfaces that look like common word processing software packages. This is important because it allows educators to focus on content, concepts, and ideas, not the distracting minutia of web coding. It’s not about the technology, but rather the people that the technology connects.
For example, I maintain a blog (problemfinding.labanca.net). I started the blog as part of my dissertation work, but continue to use it both for my own reflection of educational issues and as an instructional tool with graduate students with whom I work. A blog, or weblog, is a personal chronological online journal record of thoughts, beliefs, and activities that has interactive commenting features for both the writer and readers. I personally enjoy writing, but I find that the asynchronous responses I get from other thoughtful professionals help me professionally develop more.
Why share this? Apart from some shameless self-promotion of my own work, I find that the interaction that takes place between my readers and me, help to challenge my own thinking. What’s new is that these challenges and discoveries, by their own nature, caused a feedback loop of new ideas and thought that each lead to some new thought. However, when I started reading the blog postings of other educators, and began posting responses to their writing, I began to understand the importance of the Network. The Network consists of people I personally know, and others that are just cyberspace compatriots. My face-to-face and digital PLN partners help me do my job better, because they expand my mind, challenge my thoughts, and provide me with perspectives that I may have never considered.
Will you become a part of and help me to continue to develop my PLN? I will cross-post this article on my blog: http://problemfinding.labanca.net. Please come for a visit, and more importantly, leave a comment. That’s how the Network builds its capacity! Collectively we can continue to develop and improve the educational enterprise by applying novel, collaborative, and innovative strategies to our own learning.