Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Importance of Personal Learning Networks

This is my second attempt at writing and trying to explain the deep feelings I've felt after watching Jeff Utecht's preso on personal learning networks. Last year I went to the NECC in San Diego and came away energized and excited for the school year. I learned about ideas and teaching tools that I either had no or a little exposure to. I thought about implementation of these tools as I started meeting with some of the other teachers at my school. My Bloglines account was up to about 220 feeds and that was after I trimmed it and even lost all my RSS feeds while trying to set up NetNewsWire (I've since switched to using Google reader and Netvibes). I was determined to bring onboard at my school more of the teachers on my 4th and 5th grade team to the triumvirate of blogging, wikis and podcasting. As the school year started I slowed up on my reading to set up what I was doing and helping other grade levels with and stopped blogging all together by the later part of September. I wasn't too bothered by this as within the RSS feeds that I subscribed to were some of the most brilliant, thoughtful, connected and cutting edge teachers that I could find. I started a few blog posts about some idea that someone had written about, or examples of what I was also reflecting on based on current edtech events, and by the time I was ready to publish I would usually see 4 or 5 references to what I was writing about only articulated in a much clearer way than I could muster. I didn't fret too much about this as I keep a writing journal that I write and scribble on with an old style fountain pen with "sea blue" ink. By the time the December break came around I had met someone whom I'm now engaged to and by the beginning of March we were talking on Skype every day for at least an hour and my RSS reader was piling up with articles. I went to the CUE conference in Palm Springs and got to see Will Richardson for the second time since the NECC give a keynote address, saw David Thornberg and his amazing reflections, and got to see Steve Hargadon in the Open Source area. Over the course of the school year I felt more and more disconnected to the writers whose thoughts and experiences I had followed for close to two years. I wasn't an active participant in the conversation but had become a passive observer and reader. I didn't know how to reconnect. But two things altered my understanding of what I was doing wrong in my professional development. The first flash of understanding has come with my signing up for the Webcasting Academy, listening and interacting at Edtechtalk,  and a few friendly and welcoming chat messages from Lisa Durff . And it wasn't until I saw Utecht's preso that I really understood why I've felt so connected over the past few weeks. I've been stumbling and fumbling but beginning to build my personal learning network. And as Jeff says this isn't the same as a learning community. I've been signed up for a long time with all the communities I could find on Ning, Yahoo groups, Google groups, and newsletters, that seemed pertinent like Edutopia, Edtechweek, Discovery Education Network, Technology and Learning etc. for a long time. I'd occasionally post a comment or reaction. They are a part of the information I need along with my RSS reader, but it was the PLN that I was missing. I've been needing the interactions that were more like a true conversation and personal either through chat, or Skype or Twitter. It makes me want to cry to think of what I was not understanding. Perhaps for some of us because we become the go to person or source of information for some tech or computer question that we lose the understanding that we have needs as well as fulfilling the needs of help others around us. Start now, build your personal learning network. Watch Jeff's presentation. Unfortunately many of us exist in a place where most of the other teachers around us may not be ready for Twitter, and chatting, and Skype and Ustream, but don't make the mistake I did and let yourself be fooled into thinking that a personal relationship with a staff at a school or the district office can substitute for what you need deep inside for your own learning. Don't limit your conversations to those whose views you are trying to move into the 21st century. Unfortunately our colleagues around us may take a long time or perhaps never reach the same level of understanding of what we feel so passionately our students need to keep learning and the classroom relevant for them.

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