The idea of a professional learning network has existed for quite some time, built on some of the foundational work related to “situated learning” and “communities of practice” developed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in the 1990s.
With the emergence of Web 2.0, Stephen Downes described “learning networks in practice” in a 2007 paper, arguing that “The idea behind the personal learning environment is that the management of learning migrates from the institution to the learner.”
Combined with the 2006 emergence of Twitter, a new idea had taken form, and educators began using hashtags to start a variety of ed chats, including our own #MichEd which was inaugurated Nov 7, 2012.
This week, we reflect on our own experiences being a part of the #MichEd network and, more broadly, what it means for each of us to develop our own PLN. We will be joined by students from CMU’s Doctorate in Educational Technology, and the chat will be hosted by Troy Hicks. During the chat we will consider:
What motivates you, personally, to create and maintain a PLN?
How do PLNs change with time, for you personally and across the network? Think about #michED and who was there at the start, who has joined, who has left (or is less active) and WHY?
How do we keep our networks diverse in thought? We don’t want them to be echo chambers for our ideas, but to be constructive spaces for dialogue. How can we achieve that goal?
Besides sharing great resources, what can a PLN teach us about how to be an educator? How does participating in a PLN become part of your professional persona?
OK, let’s get specific. What, exactly, can we learn from PLNs? Along with soft skills of collaboration and sharing resources, what other digital or pedagogical skills can we learn?
Finally, what’s next for PLNs? How can we nurture and sustain them? How can we invite new voices? What should a group of doctoral students studying educational technology be thinking about?
One of my relaxing and still intellectually engaging tasks for this holiday break is to write a proposal for an honors course at CMU. Designed as a first-year seminar for freshman honors students to get them engaged in critical thinking, inquiry, and sustained writing practices, each seminar must tackle a major issue relevant to students’ lives. I am proposing a class entitled “Our Digital Selves: Building and Blending Our Personal, Professional, and Practical Digital Identities.” Here are the details, and I would definitely be interested in getting feedback from other educators about what topics, terminology, and technology I might explore with my students. If the proposal is accepted, I would teach the course in the fall of 2017.
Our Digital Selves: Building and Blending Our Personal, Professional, and Practical Digital Identities
Without question, we live, work, and play in a digital world. Though a divide still exists in terms of skills and access across demographics, it is reasonable to argue that the increasing ubiquity of mobile devices connected to the Internet as well as broadband in our homes, schools, libraries, and workplaces means that all of us – especially young people coming of age in the present moment – are now blending our personal, professional, and practical digital identities across multiple networks and with a variety of tools. However, the ability to upload a picture or post on one’s timeline does not, in and of itself, assure us each a place in digital segments of academia, the workplace, or civic life. In fact, a recent Rasmussen College survey showed that 37% of millennial students see the internet as “scary” and are not confident in their digital literacy skills. This first year seminar will challenge students to critically examine what it means to lead a digital life – personally and academically – and to rethink our understanding of what it means to be mindful, productive, and responsible users of technology.
This seminar would be designed with both face-to-face and hybrid components.
In the face-to-face sections of class, we would be engaged in small- and whole-group conversations about articles, chapters, books, videos, and other pieces of scholarship related to digital identity; we would also be examining case studies of digital literacy practices considering current professional standards (such as the ACRL Information Literacy Framework); and, ultimately, we would be producing students’ initial online portfolio using a social networking tool such as About.me or LinkedIn.
In the hybrid/online sections of class, we would be exploring a variety of digital tools to help students develop personal, professional, and academic skills including, for instance: shared document collaboration (Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365), bibliographic management (Zotero, Mendely, Endnote), presentation and publication (Infogr.am, Atavist, Adobe Creative Suite), and workplace communication (Slack, Yammer). We might also involve students from outside of CMU as part of our inquiry.
Across both the face-to-face and hybrid meetings, we would also be using our time to reflect upon the experience of being engaged in these various exercises with specific tools. In short, we would be metacognitive, critically thinking about our use of digital devices and social practices.
I welcome thoughts, comments, and questions… as well as knowing if anyone else with students from upper elementary school through graduate school would be interested in collaborating on this course to make it an open, immersive experience for everyone involved. If it gets accepted, I will put the call out there again in the spring, but I would be happy to hear from interested educators at any point.
The beginning of a new month finds me in the the midst of the new teaching experience; for the first time ever, I am teaching a class overseas to students who are non-native English speakers. My course, dubbed Digital English Learning, is a three-week, two-credit intensive course for undergraduates at Shih Chien University (USC) in Taipei, Taiwan.
In January, I was invited by the department chair of Applied Foreign Languages, Li-Te Li, to propose a course and make plans for a three-week adventure in Taipei. My journey so far has been both engaging and challenging, as I have only really travelled to France and England, with a very brief trip to Argentina when I was still in college. Additionally, I was allowed to bring my daughter on the trip, and this has made the trip all the more rewarding. While we miss everyone back home, the new places, foods, and events — including a student drama competition yesterday — have made our time here wonderful.
For the purposes of this blog post, my main interest is in thinking about how the course I have designed is working as both a course to introduce academic writing to non-native speakers as well as a course on digital literacy and media studies. I began the course last week with a survey to find out my students’ interests, questions, and concerns. Many noted their interest in the topic — digital English learning — and how they could learn to use their smartphones and the Internet more effectively. And, as I imagine I would be in a similar situation, many of them were concerned about their abilities to read and write in a second or other language. To that end, I have worked carefully to scaffold their writing through journals and, later this week, the rough draft of an essay.
Also, I am expecting them to create a media project of some sort or another. Building off the success that my students felt in my ENG 201H and ENG 514 courses this spring, I am trying to share many different media sites that my USC students can use for their own projects. So far, in the first week, we have only dipped into some initial ideas for composing multimedia work, though we will begin doing more of this work tonight as we look at ideas surrounding participatory culture.
Finally, I have been reading exit slips from last week’s class and working to figure out a variety of resources for students to use as they begin their essays both in terms of content (which seems to be focused on social media) and form (which I have loosely categorized as problem/solution, compare/contrast, and cause/effect (ala the New York Times Room for Debate blog). This week, I am hoping that we can get into a computer lab so I can have them begin their drafts in earnest.
There will be more to report before the course is over, I am sure, and any ideas for teaching digital and media literacy to non-native speakers would be more than welcome!
The research and writing process for this book took over two years, though it was well worth the effort. Combined, Kristen and I visited a dozen classrooms, interviewed nearly two dozen students, and surveyed 800 teens about their uses of digital reading devices. We discovered that reading was about much more than just the device; it remains, at the heart of it all, a conversation about words, stories, and ideas. Here is the official “blurb” from the back of the book:
As readers of all ages increasingly turn to the Internet and a variety of electronic devices for both informational and leisure reading, teachers need to reconsider not just who and what teens read but where and how they read as well. Having ready access to digital tools and texts doesn’t mean that middle and high school students are automatically thoughtful, adept readers. So how can we help adolescents become critical readers in a digital age?
Using NCTE’s policy research brief Reading Instruction for All Students as both guide and sounding board, experienced teacher-researchers Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks took their questions about adolescent reading practices to a dozen middle and high school classrooms. In this book, they report on their interviews and survey data from visits with hundreds of teens, which led to the development of their model of Connected Reading: “Digital tools, used mindfully, enable connections. Digital reading is connected reading.”
They argue that we must teach adolescents how to read digital texts effectively, not simply expect that teens can read them because they know how to use digital tools. Turner and Hicks offer practical tips by highlighting classroom practices that engage students in reading and thinking with both print and digital texts, thus encouraging reading instruction that reaches all students.
We summarize our model in this graphic, and hope that it sparks conversations about the nature of reading in a digital world.
Check out the first chapter on NCTE’s website as well as our companion wiki. We look forward to continued conversations about connected reading among teachers, parents, and, of course, our students.
At the time, I didn’t think I could answer in 140 characters, and I’m glad that I didn’t try.
There are quite a few things to consider when answering this question, and perhaps it was simply the word “all” that threw me for a loop. Well, yes, in all content areas. I think. Wait, maybe not all. Most? Some?
You can see how I pondered the question, turning it over in my mind.
In doing so, however, I also began to think about the goals for content area literacy or, as it is being described more and more — especially by Tim and Cindy Shanahan — disciplinary literacy. And, in fact, their definition is at the crux of how I would answer the question. They believe that “Most students need explicit teaching of sophisticated genres, specialized language conventions, disciplinary norms of precision and accuracy, and higher-level interpretive processes” (43) and “the nature of the disciplines is something that must be communicated to adolescents, along with the ways in which experts approach the reading of text. Students’ text comprehension, we believe, benefits when students learn to approach different texts with different lenses.” (51).
So, my short answer to Liz’s question would have been, “Yes, various forms of new media such as social networking and gaming can be successfully used in various content areas, perhaps even all of them,” as evidenced by tools such as EASE History, the Science Game Center, the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, or any of the dozens of options available on this K-12 Tech Tools wiki. Students have created videos about science experiments and historical reenactments, and acted as characters from literature or actual historical figures on Twitter and Facebook.
So, yes, they can.
The deeper answer, and the one that I have been struggling with over the week, however, is a little more complicated.
If we think about the Shanahans’ ideas that content area literacy is quite a bit more specific than simply applying a general set of strategies for writing-across-the-curriculum — as good as those strategies may be — then there has to be something deeper, something more rhetorical, to the idea of composing a disciplinary text with multimedia. Returning to Liz’s question, and pivoting it just a bit, I wonder: Can various forms of new digital media be effective as a tool for composing in all disciplines?
Here, the answer gets a bit murkier, mostly because I am not a disciplinary expert outside of the field of writing. On the one hand, I can imagine that expressing disciplinary knowledge in math, science, history, or the arts — demonstrating a way of thinking through expert interpretation, analysis, and communication — could happen in any form of media. Heck, a whole movement in education, the flipped classroom, has come about because teachers have taken up the idea that they can create and deliver lessons via online video at least as effectively, if not more so, than they can do in the classroom. So, multimedia exploration of disciplinary knowledge is, conceivably at least, possible.
On the other hand, I wonder what is lost when transitioning from writing (words into sentences into paragraphs types of writing) into multimedia composition? Are there components of disciplinary thinking that don’t translate well from words to images to video to links to… whatever other form of media we can imagine?
At the same time, what do disciplinary experts gain in the process of being able to use images, voice, video, links, and other forms of media? How can they use multimedia to more fully express their ideas? What is it that we want to know about learning math — or science or music or art or anything — that multimedia can offer above and beyond print?
Liz’s question has pushed my thinking this week, and for that I thank her. I’m hoping that this response pushes her thinking, too, as well as yours. What does it mean to compose, as a disciplinary expert, with digital writing tools?
Lastly, and on a related note, for more of my thoughts on disciplinary literacy from an English Language Arts perspective, this chapter could be useful:
Hicks, T., & Steffel, S. (2012). Learning with Text in English/Language Arts. In T. L. Jetton & C. Shanahan (Eds.), Adolescent Literacy in the Academic Disciplines General Principles and Practical Strategies. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
This past week has been a busy one for me, with professional experiences ranging from face-to-face workshops and two webinars, to our first school-based field experiences with pre-service teachers; additionally I met with my writing project leadership team, facilitated two writing groups and ended last night by helping to moderate a panel discussion amongst principals for helping them secure a job. Whew…
In and amongst all of these activities, I have been reminded of the power of teacher networks. In fact, my entire professional life centers on the idea of teacher networks. Identifying networks. Building collaborations. Nurturing novice and veteran teachers alike. Putting them in conversation with one another. Asking smart questions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Creating new networks, and beginning the process again. It’s part of who I am, part of what I do.
At the core, what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers is about using technology in a way that moves well beyond simplistic integration. As Ruben Puentedura describes it in his SAMR model, I want pre-service teachers to move from technology as a tool for enhancement of teaching practice into an opportunity to transform their practice.
Yet, I find my pre-service teachers, even the most engaged Twitter users amongst them, to be hesitant about using social networking in this manner.
Of course, change is hard, and I am working to ease them into it. I want to provide them with the opportunity, yet not foist Twitter upon them. At the same time, we cannot move fast enough. There are so many conversations, so many ideas that they need to jump into, so many networks that they can learn from.
Indeed, my colleagues in teacher education could take a play from the Twitter/PLN playbook, as I do not often see teacher educators participating in regular conversations. There are exceptions, of course, but when I was in a recent college of ed meeting about reforming our teacher ed program, no one presenting mentioned how we could tap into these existing networks as a way to recruit mentor teachers, build school partnerships, and learn about current trends in the field. Many of my colleagues need to rethink how they, too, participate in networks as a broader component of their own (and their pre-service teachers’) professional learning.
At this point, I am still pushing forward with Twitter outside of my methods class, though I think I might use it in class next week to hold a backchannel conversation, too. I’ve resisted the urge to place any kind of grade on Twitter participation, though I have told students that they will be evaluated on their participation in class, both at the mid-term and at the end of class. So, I will keep working to get them involved, and to get other teacher educators involved, too.
Over the past week, my ENG 315 students have been joining Twitter and using the #eng315cmu hashtag to start discussing ideas related to teaching writing and creating their own PLNs. I provided them with a few resources to get moving along.
For this week, I am trying to help them “contribute to the conversation.” That is, I want them to begin thinking about how their tweets — while sometimes personal, eccentric, or irrelevant — can generally be about their professional lives, including their questions and discoveries about teaching writing. For instance, I encouraged them to create “substantive tweets” (paradoxical in some sense, I know), that might do the following related to our own class discussions:
Summarize a key idea from an article or blog post
Respond to a colleague from class in a supportive manner, yet also pushing the conversation forward
Provide a link to a resource related to the original idea
Or, alternatively, if entering a broader conversation, they might:
Ask a specific question to another teacher on Twitter about his/her teaching practice
Ask a teacher that they follow already what some good chats are to join as well as other teachers to follow
Share their own observations about working with student writers (not using the child’s name, however!)
So, I am happy with the progress we are making so far. If you are interested in following our group and contributing an idea, I know that that my pre-service teachers would appreciate it. You can find a list of them here, and we are using the #eng315cmu hashtag.