Monday, October 27, 2008

Building a 21st Century PLN

Building a 21st Century PLN (Personal Learning Network)

As the clock ticks and pulls us further into the 21st century, it is imperative we give our students the skills they will need to succeed in their lifetime. I believe we all know and understand they will have jobs and a future of which we cannot even dream at this point in 2008. Technology and communication is changing faster than ever before and information is generating at mind boggling rates. It's hard to predict the next five years, let alone 15 or more years down the road.

This begs the question, how do we as educators keep up with the ever changing technology and information landscape. In the past when we needed to expand our skills, we went to college and received degrees in our content areas. We went to summer classes or took workshops throughout the year. We built networks of trusted friends and colleagues. We relied on books we received from curriculum publishers, periodicals and other print material. And, only recently, we began to depend on the Internet for other sources of knowledge.

We are finding out, however, this isn't enough.

So how does an educator in the 21st century survive the onslaught of information and new technology? By building "Personal Learning Networks," or PLNs. We already do this in the concrete world of people and books. Things we can touch and see. Now we need to expand that network so it covers new technologies to help us stay afloat. There are many ways to organize and categorize your PLNs but I challenge you to gather all the resources available to you in one location.

Knowledge may be obtained from people, places, events or resources. When we think of these four centers, we recognize they are the who, what, when or where in our knowledge mining process. Is it possible then, to build our PLN upon these centers?

People - This center's focus is on human contact, conversation, and the basic interactions we have with people on a regular basis. They are friends, colleagues, business partners, family, parents and others with whom we communicate.
Building your People network:
  • Mobile Phone - List of contacts, similar to your address book. The phone also allows for texting messages, sending and receiving pictures and other media, and even accessing Internet resources.
  • Instant Messaging - Create a buddy list of people who also use instant messaging tools such as MSN, AOL, iChat, Skype or other service.
  • Video Conferencing - The ability to have meetings with video cameras is becoming more and more accessible to the average educator. You may have access to a distance-learning system with a video camera in your district. There are also desktop based utilities to hold desktop-conferencing sessions right from your computer. These would also include video based MSN, AOL, iChat, and Skype to name a few.

Places - This center's focus is a location or geographic setting in which you can learn.
Building your Place network:
  • Distance-Learning Enrichment Sites - These are places you can visit with distance-learning equipment located in your district. Visit and tour zoos, museums, labs, parks and other locations that would otherwise be inaccessible.
  • Colleges and Universities - These pillars of academic excellence provide a wealth of knowledge and resources on their websites, course-management systems and iTunes U.
  • Businesses - Businesses may provide resources for you in your community, regionally, or internationally.
  • Online Communities - There are so many "social" networks being built now, it is important to use those also popular with your students and colleagues. Twitter is a popular micro-blogging utility. You may also find Facebook, Ning, Diigo or a similar community useful.
  • MUVE - or Multi-User Virtual Environments are becoming more and more popular. You will see services such as Webkinz or Second Life being used by your students or colleagues.

Events - This center's focus is an event you could attend. One advantage of virtual events is you can review the content after the fact.
Building your Event network:
  • Webinars - A webinar can be a meeting, course or other event that is held with (usually) only a web browser and a phone connection. Many organizations are using webinar-type connections to bridge the gap of time and distance.
  • Podcasts - Many events provide podcasts or audio/video subscriptions to their content. The Nebraska Education Technology Association and the National Educational Computing Conference both record many of the featured presentations as podcasts you can review later.
  • Online Conferences - A new phenomenon is the advent of a completely online conference using course-management software and video content with presentation slides and handouts available to the participants. The K12 Online Conference is one such example of an educational technology conference held completely online!

Resources - This center's focus is something connected to the Internet to help gain knowledge. Below are only a few examples. You will find many other resources that fit your needs.
Building your Resource network:
  • Periodicals - Many information sources are providing material in the form of RSS feeds or blogs/podcasts. Subscribing to these services keeps you from having to connect to their site to see if they have updated their content.
  • Websites - We keep overwhelming lists of websites on our computers. With the advent of social bookmarking sites such as Delicious and Diigo, it is easier than ever to organize and share your bookmarks online.
  • Network Dashboards - Routers and switches have long been used to connect resources to the Internet. These devices will also provide you valuable insight in the use of your resources or just to find out if "the Internet is down."
  • Household Appliances & Everyday Items - More and more resources are being connected to the grid every day. It is quite helpful to know when your car needs an oil change or when you need to buy more milk. Your projection unit in your classroom may be need a new lamp soon. All of these devices can let you know a host of information via a simple text message or email.

So I challenge you, take a few minutes and gather these resources in one place so you have them available when you need them. You may even wish to invest in a device that allows you to hold most of these resources in the palm of your hand. New technologies like Google Android or the iPod/iPhone allow you to carry and access most resources anywhere, anytime. Other services provide tools like a dashboard that would provide you with needed resources at the click of a button.

It's not enough to only be content experts in our core subject areas and grade levels. We need to be connectors. Be able to connect with other educators in a multitude of subject areas, parents, community members and business leaders, and also regional, national, and global partners. These connections will allow our students to have a diverse perspective, and you will be a model of life-long networking skills.

For a list of links to resources referenced in this article, visit

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