Thank You

This is an excerpt from a response I wrote to a thread of messages between some of my colleagues and friends who recently connected at the CUE conference. What I wrote, though, applies to so many other people, I thought I should share it here as well (especially since I wound up alluding to the title of this blog, the first place I began to connect with a new sort of community, which might be called my PLN, but has certainly become much more).

This was definitely a special CUE conference… and our shared events have been increasingly so for me in recent years. This feels similar to the sort of connections you might be lucky to make in school, but we’re all geographically distributed already – and this won’t be “over” when we all “leave.” Our remote connections also make our limited times together that much more special… and I love that our “reunions” are spent making new memories. #climbingcue #cabanacue #latehikecrew etc…

There’s also something special about having chosen or found each other, rather than simply being brought together by circumstance (at a school… or home town, or workplace). It’s amazing how much I respect each of you (and so many others in our community) as professionals, as educators, as learners, and as people… and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have a more personal relationship with so many of you.

It seems to be a lesson I need to keep learning, but many of you have helped me rediscover the importance of the “and life” element of our work. In short, you make me feel good about being human. “Thank You” is an apt title for this thread. I’m very glad to have been included.

And I’m thrilled to end this message with: More soon…

For some readers of this blog, I’m very much talking about you (or perhaps you’ve experienced this with different people). For others, this might serve as yet another example of the potential power of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). In any case, please share any comments or responses here – or via email. And, as I used to end so many of my early posts, thank you for reading.

Image Credit: woodleywonderworks

A Social Learning Aggregator (& Learning Studios)

I’ve made the first post on a new blog titled “What Do You Want To Learn?” The blog is an effort to aggregate resources and empower learners. It is also a place to explore the concepts of a social learning aggregator, and a physical learning studio.

Here’s a key excerpt from the first post:

In short, leaners no longer need schools for access to information. They no longer need schools to provide a network of people to learn from – and learn with. They no longer need schools to provide quality curriculum. However, they do need new tools (and mentors) to help them aggregate the open educational resources and distributed learning opportunities now available to them. And, they do need places to go where they can meet peers and mentors face-to-face… human spaces conducive to learning and creating… spaces where they can share their excitement, where they can participate in physical pursuits (such as dancing or building anything), and where they can build a sense of local community.

Feedback is appreciated, here or at the original post:


Personal Learning Networks for Educators: 10 Tips

Cross posted from Getting Smart news.

I often begin my workshop on personal learning networks for educators by asking these questions: Who is in your learning network? Who do you learn from on a regular basis? Who do you turn to for your own professional development? Some educators are lucky enough to learn from their coworkers or colleagues at their site. Far too many others feel isolated in their room or office, and need to meet with counterparts from other sites in order to have a professional learning experience. All educators (and learners) can benefit from extending their own personal learning network online – beyond the walls of their schools, the boundaries of their districts, and the limits of their experience.

I usually ask these questions at conferences, which are frequently only annual events – and rare treats for many educators. My goal is for workshop participants to leave the session plugged into a global network of like-minded professionals, who will broaden their experience and challenge their thinking on an ongoing basis. I share with participants these ten tips for building their own personal learning network, and I hope these might be useful for you too.

Learning to Network and Networking to Learn

1. Connect – The growth engine of your learning network is your willingness to reach out and make connections with new people. Leave a comment on a blog post or podcast, reply to a question on twitter, or +1 a post on Google+ (or like something on Facebook). Merely reading, listening, or watching is not connecting. The more people you connect with online, the more you can take advantage of the strength of week ties.

2. Contribute – If you have something to share, post it online where it may be accessible and useful to others. Your expertise (and even your struggles) are valuable to others who don’t have your experience. Anything you create for work (or your own schooling) might as well be shared, and might be valuable to someone else. Making contributions is a way to offer something of value to the new people you are connecting with. Sharing online is even considered a moral imperative by many educators; sharing contributes to the greater good. It’s one way we can pay it forward.

3. Converse – Over time the connections and contributions you make online will evolve into conversations as others respond to you as well. These conversations will in turn grow into relationships, if not friendships. Sharing something about your passions (and challenges) outside of work can also enrich your relationships. Someone you’ve connected with about baseball or raising a toddler might be more likely to respond to your questions about work as well.

4. Request – If you’ve made connections, offered contributions, and cultivated relationships over time… then when you make requests, they are more likely to fall on fertile soil. In circles of educators who connect online, making a request is acceptable and welcome. You’ll find that you’ll receive much higher quality answers and support by asking your network, than you will by simply searching online.

Networking Tools and Anecdotes

The four tips above are the core activities of building a personal learning network, and they can be applied using various tools to connect with others online. Although many other tools, such as wikis, podcasts, instant messages, streaming video, and more can used for connecting this way, some tools are particularly valuable for building a personal learning network, including blogs, Twitter, and other social networks, like Classroom 2.0 and Google+.

5. Blog – Though there will never be another 2004, blogs are still a powerful way for educators (and learners) to connect. Within my first six months of blogging (posting things I had written for work or school anyway), I received comments from six of the authors I had cited in my posts! Over the course of my doctoral research, my blog connected me with more researchers and practitioners than my university ever could have. These trends have continued to this day. If you read many blogs, an RSS aggregator (like Google Reader) can be an essential tool for helping you spend 25% of your time reading and writing blogs for professional development.

6. Tweet – Among educators (and much of the world), Twitter is the most popular social microblogging tool. The posts are short and easy to skim, and because following someone on Twitter is not a reciprocal relationship (unlike friending on Facebook), it is easy to create a custom group of people to follow – and to manage the flow of incoming information. Twitter has been the most powerful tool in the growth of my personal learning network from a half-dozen teachers in the English department lounge to thousands of educators around the globe. Twitter is at least as valuable to me for moral support as it is for technical support. The #lateworkcrew has helped me through many long nights of whittling down my critical tasks.

7. Join Classroom 2.0 – Maintaining a blog and posting regularly to Twitter can feel like significant commitments, and failure to post can generate feelings of guilt. Social networks such as Classroom 2.0, however, are a great place to start with an exiting network (no need to follow, friend, or circle anyone) and with very little pressure to produce. With over 60,000 members, if everyone contributes even a small fraction of what they read, the site is rich with content. For many educators, it is a great starting point for experiencing a personal learning network, not to mention learning more about how these tools are impacting the future of education.

8. Use Google+Google’s new social network allows educators to group the people they follow into circles, such as personal and professional (keeping these circles safely separate in a way that is more difficult on other networks such as Facebook). Or, more specifically, users can organize the people they follow into circles for specific subject areas, grade levels, or or even collaborative projects. Additional features are particularly valuable to educators, especially “hangouts” – video calls for up to 10 people, including screen sharing and Google Docs integration. Google+ is also a great tool for expanding your horizons beyond education. There are rich communities of technologists, photographers, and thought leaders sharing on Google+.

Final Thoughts

These final two tips will help keep your initial frustrations in perspective, and help you avoid the temptation to focus on unimportant metrics as you grow your network.

9. Be Patient – Many educators get frustrated when they first experiment with these tools, but building a personal learning network doesn’t happen quickly, and it isn’t a trivial commitment. It takes time to make connections and build relationships. It’s takes perseverance to continue when you receive no replies to your requests, and it requires patience to build up social capitol over the months that may be necessary before you begin to feel part of a community. But it is well worth the investment to one day have a 24/7 global network to tap into whenever you’re in need – or simply want to learn something new.

10. Be Authentic – As Tommy Spaulding says, It’s Not Just Who You Know… it’s how you know them. Despite the appeal of seeing your number of followers grow, or trying to post something you know will generate comments or re-tweets, it is more important to be authentic in your online connections. Don’t try to game the system, worry to much about your online “brand,” or in any way cajole people into following you or responding to you (with contests or incentives for instance). The more you reveal your humanity the more people will trust you, identify with you, and respond to your reflections and appeals. More importantly, the more you seek out the humanity in others, the more they will want to connect with you – and share with you.  

Will Richardson, co-author of Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education has been a part of my personal learning network for years… and I was lucky enough to see him at a conference last week. He shared with me a challenge he recently placed to educational leaders: “If your school system hasn’t changed a year from now, I get it… but if you haven’t changed a year from now, you’re a failure.”

I hope these tips might help you start down the road of building your own personal learning network and becoming a more connected learner yourself – or if you’re well down this road already, I hope these tips might be helpful to pass on to your colleagues to get them started. If you have tips of your own for educators just starting to build their personal learning network, or if you have questions as you begin to build yours… please share in the comments below.

Note: For more on this topic, you might also want to explore Jeff Utecht’s book Reach: Building Communities and Networks for Professional Development.

Note: I’ve also been writing about this topic for some time. If you would like to read a brief article that goes into more depth on a few of these points, please see my article Learning to Network & Networking to Learn from The High School Educator in 2008. You are also invited to access the workshop resources for my most recent personal learning networks for educators workshop.

Lead Learning 2009: A Summer Institute For Professional Developers

This event has been a long time in the making… and there are many more details to come, but registration is now open and I wanted to share it here first. It will be going out via the usual channels at CUE and elsewhere in the new year, but you saw it here first. ;)

Lead Learning 2009: A Summer Institute For Professional Developers

Check-In begins at 2 PM on Sunday July 19, 2009.
Celebration and Reflection Lunch ends at 2 PM on Wednesday July 22, 2009.

The Thacher School
5025 Thacher Road
Ojai, California 93023

Are you an educator responsible for others’ professional development? If so…

It’s Your Turn to Learn!

Lead Learning 2009 is an intensive three-day summer institute designed to help professional developers learn innovative ways technology can enhance their work. This program is ideal for BTSA coordinators, ELD coordinators, Educational Technology coordinators, Professional Development coordinators, and any administrator or teacher leader responsible for training other educators.

The Lead Learning Institute is hosted in a unique instructional environment at Thacher School in Ojai, California. The Institute Faculty uses intense immersion methodology to create a transformative hands-on learning experience for each participant. Room and board is included so all participants live, eat, and even relax on the picturesque campus. A low student to faculty ratio, small working groups, and unlimited access to wireless Internet (and other school resources) makes the institute a powerful 24/7 learning experience.

Participants will learn to use ubiquitous and free technology to gather data, to facilitate better face-to-face instruction, to enable asynchronous collaboration between meetings, and to share the results of their work with stakeholders – or the world. Workshops will explore the role of face-to-face professional development in the age of streaming video and podcasts. Techniques for keeping training relevant and for tapping into participants’ passions will be shared.

The institute will also focus on the importance of professional developers cultivating their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) online. Participants will “learn to network” so they can then “network to learn” when they return to work in the coming year.

Build a foundation for your own professional development by joining us for this memorable event on the beautiful Central California Coast. It’s your turn to learn!

Tuition: $850, Including Room and Board (Accommodations for three nights, arriving Sunday July 19th and departing Wednesday July 22nd; nine meals, beginning with dinner on Sunday and ending with Lunch on Wednesday.)

Lead Learner(s):
This event will be lead by Dr. Mark Wagner, CUE’s Professional Development Coordinator, and a cadre of experienced CUE Lead Learners, including Google Certified Teachers, Apple Distinguished Educators, and special guest speakers.

Register Today:

I’d love to hear any feedback or reactions to this program description in the comments. And as I mentioned, more information will be coming soon on a separate website dedicated to the event. :)

Learning to Network & Networking to Learn

As part of my role as educational technology coordinator for the California League of High Schools I was asked to write an article for High School Educator, a magazine which goes out to every public high school in California. This is a chance to reach outside the echo-chamber of educational technology, so I was particularly excited about writing it. I’m also relatively happy about how it came out. I look forward to any comments or feedback you might leave.

When I was a high school English teacher, I was lucky enough to work in a relatively collaborative environment. The English department had a lounge where we met at break and lunch each day. We shared our questions, frustrations, and solutions… and plenty of funny or heartwarming stories. At the time, the people in that room were the core of my personal learning network.

As great as that was, our learning was restricted to the views of a few colleagues at one particular school. Many other teachers aren’t even so lucky. They may be the only person teaching their subject at the site – or they may feel isolated for a variety of other common reasons. You may be lucky enough to have a core group of people you learn from at your site, or you may be one of the many who feel more isolated than connected. In either case, there are now exciting new ways to take charge of your own professional development and build your own personal learning network using online tools.

Many educators are now exploring revolutionary new online tools with their students: blogs, wikis, podcasts, and more – including new social tools like Ning and Twitter. Some or all of these may be unfamiliar to you, and the unending cycle of new tools can be daunting to many teachers. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to master every specific tool. Instead, it is more important for educators to know how to build an online personal learning network, regardless of the tool. Whatever the medium, participation in a personal learning network requires four critical behaviors.

Chief among these is the need to make connections. This isn’t accomplished by asking others to read, listen to, or view the things you post. This is accomplished by reading, listening to, and viewing what others post. If you read an interesting blog post or listen to an enlightening podcast, leave a comment. If someone else makes a keen observation or asks an important question, respond. Others then have an opportunity to discover you as a like-minded person, whose own work might be interesting to them.

Your responses to others can also help you meet the need to make contributions. Any community is only as strong as the contributions made by its members. Just as you might benefit from posts made by others who teach the same subject or grade that you do, they might also benefit from your experience. If you’ve come across a challenge in your classroom or at your school, chances are many others are dealing with the same issue; if you have a solution, share it. If you have a great lesson, a great project, or a great rubric, post it for others. Your unique experience in the specific context in which you work is valuable – and on a global scale it’s potential valuable to a great many others.

Over time, these interactions will help you build relationships with fellow educators around the world, enabling you to make conversations. I’ve been lucky enough to discover like-minded educators in Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Shanghai, Qatar, and elsewhere around the world. I now consider many of these people colleagues and friends. Some of our connections are no longer work related, as we share things about our lives, our families, and our hobbies. Just as you can build friendships through conversations with those who happen to work on your campus, so you can build relationships with others (who may have much more in common with you) around the world.

As a contributing member of a community of colleagues and friends, you and your questions are likely to be well received when you make requests. The best way to learn something new is to ask others who might know more about it. I often find my network of fellow learners to be the quickest way to receive an answer I need – and the richest source of meaningful feedback on new ideas or projects I’m working on. I make every effort to share the materials I develop and the solutions I discover, and in return I find the community I share with fantastically receptive to my own calls for help.

You don’t need to be a tech guru or even a techie teacher to get started building your own online personal learning network. You might start by reading (and commenting) on others’ blogs. Then create your own blog when you feel you’re ready for a place to share your own thoughts. A blog is merely an easily created, easily updated website, so anyone can do it. If you can email, you can blog!

Or, you might join the Classroom 2.0 social network, which is 10,000 educators strong, meaning there is always great new content – and no pressure for any particular member to be responsible for it. It’s likeMySpace, Facebook, or LinkedIn, but for teachers who want to improve education in the 21st century. Teachers just like you.

Alternatively, you might try Twitter, a popular “social microblogging” service that allows users to post short messages and to “follow” the messages of others. Start by following someone you respect, and then explore the people they follow. If you see someone new posting links and questions that are relevant to you, considering following them as well. Twitter is an easy and efficient way to connect and share with others.

Of course, you may be more drawn to the collaborative nature of wikis, the auditory power of podcasts, or any number of newer tools, including video chat or streaming video – or older tools, like email listservs or online discussion boards. But whatever medium you choose, building a personal learning network will still require making connections, making contributions, making conversations, and making requests. Practicing these four things can be a rewarding part of controlling your own professional development.

Get Started:

More Ways to Network:

To learn more about “Learning to Network and Networking to Learn” in a high-energy face-to-face environment, come to the CLHS and CUE Technology Conference in Monterey, California on December 4, 5, and 6, 2008.

To inquire about related professional development opportunities provided by CLHS for your staff at your site, contact CLHS staff or contact Dr. Wagner directly.

Learning to Network and Networking to Learn

Today was Day 2 of the Technology Conference for Administrators at Tenaya Lodge just outside Yosemite. I presented Learning to Network and Networking to Learn as the second of two keynotes (the first was Chris Walsh’s Learning Everywhere All The Time). A few things about this experience are worth sharing here.

First of all, of course, I want to share the workshop wiki for Learning to Network and Networking to Learn, which include the slides, outline, and links to all the examples I mentioned – or planned to mention. ;)

Though the examples shared include many read/write web tools (such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking, twitter and more), this workshop focuses on moving “beyond the tools” to look at what it means to create and participate in an online Personal Learning Network (PLN). So I thought it appropriate to include people from my PLN in the presentation. The slides were presented through Google Docs, so a related sidebar discussion did crop up. Happily it also included a surprising number of people who were in the room with their own laptops. If you look at the presentation you’ll also see I included very small text in the lower left corner of each slide meant to help the online visitors participate in and contribute to the presentation. (This is an idea I believe I picked up from Jen Jones.) However, this only works synchronously… people had to be available at the time I was presenting to take part.

So, the night before I added a discussion question to the wiki and posted an invitation to twitter asking people to share their stories about the impact of their PLN. The responses were rich and provided another means for the participants to continue their learning after the presentation. This is actually the biggest “take away” I have from this event in terms of something new that worked. In any case, the invitation to share still stands. I’d love to pass on your stories to future workshop participants (or even those from today who return to the wiki).

I had tested ustream just prior to the presentation and hoped to set it up at the beginning, but things were two well choreographed to allow that. The program was running behind and my introduction was smooth, so I didn’t take the time to setup the recording at the podium. However, with about 20 minutes to go in the presentation it came time to talk about ustream, so I went ahead and fired it up. Shortly after I hit record and at least captured the last few minutes of the presentation. I’ve often resisted ustreaming my presentations because it seems to take away from my focus on the participants in the room – and because it can put the face-to-face participants “on the spot” and actually reduce participation. In this case it seemed to go over well, though, and I’d like to try to find more ways to bring it into a session in a way that contributes value, not just wow factor.

When I remember not to shut the window, I’ve also taken to using Jing to capture a screencast of the sidebar conversations in these events (after the fact). I simply scroll through the conversation (quickly) and record it for review later. Here are two examples that captured some of the “backchannel chat” happening today: Google Docs Chat & Ustream Chat. (I think I lost some of the ustream chat and perhaps some of the Google chat by closing the windows at one point, though.)

Now that I’m sharing these, I wish I’d be better about capturing everything… and about following along with the chat and encouraging them to answer the questions and contribute. This is something else I’ve found – that unless I recruit someone else to moderate the conversation it tends to drift away from the presentation. ;)

The last thing I want to share is a compliment/criticism I received at the end of the day. One participant, a principal I believe, came up to tell me that he was more engaged in my keynote than any other session at the conference, primarily because the back channel chat allowed him to interact with some of the others in the room and from around the world. This was fantastic! But, he was telling me this after also participating in my Two-Way Teaching with the Two-Way Web breakout session in the afternoon, which wound up focusing on blogs and wikis. This session was more about how to use the tools and it included more educational examples – and more opportunities to ask questions – so it was fairly interactive (and practical) for a one hour breakout. However, he said that even though this session was “every bit as important” it was less engaging… because I didn’t include the back channel chat and online participation. For me, it was an awesome illustration of the truth of what “we” back channel chat and learn-by-doing advocates preach – and a reminder that I need to always put my best practices into play, not just when I’m modeling them.

I may know something about “Networking to Learn” now, but I’m definitely still sorting out this “Networking to Teach” business. Still, today seemed like a good day and the things I’ve shared here are bits I can build on for the future.