A PLN Learning Journey

The idea of a personal learning network (PLN) was not new to me at the beginning of this course.  However, what was new was the intentional focus on building and contributing to a PLN.  Over the past 18 months, I’ve developed a stronger understanding of the benefits and challenges of PLNs and had some first hand successes. I’ve changed from a passive PLN member to a more active member of my communities. From participating in my first global collaborative project (GCP) to creating my own, I’ve come a long way. I shared how my PLN lead me to a GCP in an earlier blog post and in a later blog post how my PLN was instrumental in getting my own GCP off the ground. The process of reflecting on my PLN has helped me learn more about myself as a learner and as a member of a PLN and importantly what I need to feel satisfied and productive within these networks. Time and space still matter and can still be somewhat of a barrier even with the use of technology.  


flickr photo shared by Matti Mattila under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

My key learning when reflecting on my PLN, is that it all starts with a real connection and these are the ones that are most likely to result in a sustained relationship.  When analysing all the interactions I’ve had within PLNs I see 2 major kinds of interactions:  Short interactions and sustained interactions.  The short interactions might get you a new idea, a new tool to try, and a new blog to read but the connection generally stops there.  It is what I call a short lasting connection.  There is a place for these as sometimes this is all you need.  The sustained interactions result in back and forth communication over a longer periods of time and are often association with collaborative projects or deeper learning objectives.  

A major light bulb realisation is that there is a mirror between developing connections face to face and online.  This realisation came after reflecting on all my interactions overs the past 18 months and analysed which ones were the most successful and those led to learning or a deeper connection. The most successful and continual experiences were those when a personal connection had already been made and in doing so some level of trust had already been developed.  That meant that any further interaction was most likely to lead to an objective being met.  I realised that this is generally how my in-person interactions happen too: shared experiences – relationship develops – trust is built – more opportunities to work with or learn from that person/group and deeper connections and relationships develop over time.

Here’s my COETAIL example of how this happened:

Back in Course 2 we had to collaborate on a project related to the enduring understandings of the course.   It was challenging to find a group to work with initially, but I finally got connected (with Angela, Leah, Rob) and set a course of action.  It was highly positive process and successful end product.  As a result of this experience, I developed respect and trust for these individuals and maintained contact in some way.  Of all the content that passes my ‘desk’, I’m more likely to stop and read their work because I know them and I’m genuinely interested in what they are writing about and how their Coetail journey has evolved over the time frame of the program since we worked together.  In addition, this early experience set up a spring board for further support which I’ve tapped into at later dates.

Image by author
Image by author

The other area that I’ve devoted more time to is Twitter.  I enjoy Twitter – it’s like a collage.  Even though my Twitter life became more active and I experienced the many benefits including the sharing of resources, projects etc. I was still left feeling like something was missing.  I never seemed to be able to easily construct short responses and I was left with the feeling that not enough depth was created. I found it mostly helpful in providing me with ideas, tools and updates on who is  doing what. It’s like the news headlines.  I wanted Twitter Chats to really work for me as others have had very positive things to say.  However, I found the conversation too disjointed or I couldn’t make the date/time due to differences in time zones.  In true spirit, I decided to create my own platform/opportunity for the conversations I desired with more depth and more choice of topic.  Edu-Hangouts – Right now this is in the prototype phase, but the intent will be to roll it out fully next academic school year.  I am prototyping this with Angela and Leah as we have a lot of overlap as educators – we live in the same region making it logistically easier to connect, we are all working in K-5 in PYP schools, we are all mums of youngish kids (so we get to put the kids to bed and then meet up online).  

The power of an active PLN really really shone through when getting my Course 5 Final Project started.  Connecting with others was essential to find suitable schools to collaborate with for the global book clubs project.   As I needed to find other Grade 4 classes to work with, I created an advertisement using Canva and posted this in the Google + Final Project Community Group.  The project was shared on with Grade 4 teams at the American School of Dhaka and Stonehill International School, Bangalore.  Both of these schools were the schools of the educators whom I collaborated with for the Course 2 project. This connection lead to working with Jill Corbin from ASD for this project after Leah got us connected.  In addition, I reached out to a past teaching partner, Andre De Koker, (also a Coetail graduate) – and he joined in and supported the project.  Of course any GCP requires a lot of logistical communication, so once the projected got started hundreds of emails were exchanged over a period of 6 weeks as well as the many comments on our project planning.

Collage created using PicMonkey using Author's media
Collage created using PicMonkey using Author’s media

 

My next steps are to:

  • explore the use of Twitter more for making connections with experts in the areas connected with our units of studies.  
  • Finish the Edu-hangouts prototype and consider any changes in format/style/logistics for next year and look for ways to expand participants (contact me if you are intested @tracy_a_blair, blairt@asbindia.org)
  • Use my PLN to support future global collaborative projects initiatives

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