Category Archives: Social learning

PLN? Unconference? Virtual learning

Maha Bali’s excellent article entitled Living the Unconference Life – a Form of Praxis?  has me nodding and highlighting like a crazy woman. In fact I may as well jump straight into the disclaimer that I’ll be quoting her extensively in this post while I tease out some of my own experiences in unconference-like practices.

What are the differences between traditional conferences and less structured, more informal opportunities for professional development – unconferences?

What might we get from a traditional conference?  Maha mentions “gaining visibility through presenting or discussing our work, receiving feedback, meeting people outside of conference sessions and jotting down contact details for further contact.” But, as she says, once the conference is over, that’s basically the end of it.

Whereas unconferences are “all about connectivism, and I’m going to suggest this lifestyle is a form of praxis.”

A form of praxis.

Maha said it, and I’ve also been more and more convinced about this, but more from me later.

Maha identifies some of the special things about unconferences:

  • the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the speakers you admire and would not normally get a chance to talk to
  • a chance for everyone to feel like they can contribute to everyone else’s learning
  • a chance for people to set their own agenda
  • a chance for people to take that agenda where they wish
  • break-down of the traditional conference hierarchy
  • a chance to encourage the agency of participants without the feeling they will be evaluated (in the same way as contributing by submitting a paper and running a session)

Maha mixes everything up.  And why not if it improves learning experiences? She talks about the time she implemented an unconference in a formal workshop within a conference and in a faculty development event and observed the following:

  • the energy in the room soars
  • people feel they can share their learning in a relatively egalitarian atmosphere
  • everyone is learning from everyone else about topics they are interested in
  • people are creating their own agenda instead of following someone else’s
  • it’s high impact learning in a very short time frame

So what does it mean to live the unconference life? Maha identifies social media and connectivist MOOCs as central to this kind of life. The PLN (personal learning network) is another way of doing similar things –  seeing what the people you are connected to are discussing, jumping into their hashtagged conversations, following conferences on Twitter, reading what they’ve shared about conferences in their blogs. This is the kind of learning which has, for years now, directed my learning and nourished my need to connect to people interested in ongoing conversations, and I am one of so many others. Unlike conferences, this kind of learning is continuous and through it we get to know people better over time. It gives us the opportunity to build our understanding of things with people, it exposes us to the diversity of their thoughts and expands our own knowledge.

Maha and I have something in common. We want to be involved in so many conferences but are geographically disadvantaged – she’s in Cairo, Egypt, I’m in Melbourne, Australia. Maha also has a young child but this doesn’t stop her from being arguably the most engaged person in the conference/MOOC world. She’s there in the hashtagged Twitter discussions, in the Google Hangouts, in the Facebook groups, and recently she took her involvement to a new level by experiencing conferences virtually through a buddy.  Alan Levine also wrote a great post about the conference buddy experience.

I do attend local conferences and live events, I love getting out and seeing other schools and school libraries, and talking to people about what they do. But on a daily basis my PLN and unconferencing life feeds my personal and professional need to learn and keep learning from people. Like Maha has stated, so much of value feeds directly into my practice as a teacher librarian. It feeds, it stimulates, expands, challenges and keeps on doing these things daily. You might say I can’t live without it – couldn’t imagine living without it.

Is it just an internal thing? I don’t believe it is. Maha realises the same thing:

But I realized something. Praxis is about the thoughtful, reflective action that we take, not just the action. And I realized something really important: we take action  every day in our lives. But it may not be thoughtful or reflective. And here’s what connectivist MOOCs and engaging with other educators on social media has done for me: it has made me constantly reflective. People often talk about social media as a form of information overload, as hyper alertness, as attention deficit, and it gets described as if it’s a superficial kind of engagement.  This has not been my experience. When we engage with social media in thoughtful ways, when we interact with others with similar interests, and open our minds to engaging with each other’s ideas and practice deeply, we’re helping make our day-to-day action a form of praxis, because we are constantly reflecting on it with others.

I looked up praxis on Wikipedia for a quick summary:

Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realised. “Praxis” may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. This has been a recurrent topic in the field of philosophy, discussed in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Paulo Freire, Ludwig von Mises, and many others.

I agree with Maha that this constant engagement and reflection makes us lifelong learners in the truest sense and that my life, too, has become one continuous and wonderful unconference.

I suppose that this kind of learning started with the creation of my blog, Brave New World, in May of 2008, and my leap onto Twitter even before November of 2009 (as stated in my Twitter profile) because I somehow managed to delete my entire Twitter account the first time around and had to start again from scratch. I don’t think I could list all the hashtags I’ve followed on Twitter, but some of the most important ones are associated with communities of people I want to keep learning from and with, for example, #vicpln (started by Judith Way for a specific course and still going strong as a local community hashtag), #austl, #tlchat (both library-related communities). More recently I’ve expanded my online networks to include people taking part in MOOCs such as #ccourses, #moocmooc and #rhizo15.

So my questions is:

How do I show this kind of learning and praxis to my colleagues, to the teachers at my school? It still feels like I’m living a secret life or at least that it’s the invisible alternative life. How do I show others – without being intrusive or condescending (this is great, I know what I’m talking about) that it’s easy to connect to people and events online and that this world is just as real as the external world of work? In fact, in many cases I know more about  people I’m connected to  online than I do of staff at my own school.

How do we change our behaviours in a system that doesn’t change?


How social networks empower teachers – slideshow presentation

I’ve created this slideshow to accompany a presentation I’m giving to staff on curriculum day about how social networks empower teachers. It’s a little text-heavy but I’m using the slides to structure my talk and hoping that the slideshow will be a resource for interested staff to refer to after the talk. I’ve probably spent much too long on the preamble, the ‘what’s it all about’ but the mindshift preceding any technical instruction is very important. It’s a good idea to view the full version of the slideshow because the embedded version has cut off the far right side.

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”present/embed” query=”id=dcb397dn_375864rs8h7&size=m” width=”555″ height=”451″ /]

I have a lot to learn about public speaking and so I am a little nervous about the presentation itself. It’s going to be a challenge providing enough information about what to do with Twitter, Diigo, Vodpod and and how to do it, as well as leaving enough time for some hands on play. Hopefully it will all come together and I’m prepared to skip great chunks of the presentation after I get a feeling for the mood of the group attending. I’m still new to the school and I’m thinking that I should not focus entirely on cramming content but take the opportunity to get to know the teachers attending my session.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Making learning personal and social – Presentation at SLAV conference

Last Friday I had the privilege of sharing some of what I’ve been doing with blogging at my schools at the SLAV conference, Celebrations! An eye for literacy. I believe SLAV hosts the most informative and inspiring conferences, deepening our understandings and broadening our horizons.

Unfortunately we were running late with this session, and at least half of my presentation had to be cut. I wasn’t able to fully develop my presentation of the topic:

Social networking: giving students an online voice. In this session you will explore the initiatives of threeschool libraries and the use of social networking to buildcommunities of readers. What worked – and why it’s worth having a go.

That’s why I’ve embedded my slideshow and accompanying text in case anyone is interested in the complete presentation.

[vodpod id=Video.4904357&w=425&h=350&fv=]

Here is the link to the accompanying text.

The educators in my session were inspiring in their presentations – Tricia Sweeney and Michael Jongen (Our Lady of Mercy College, Heidelberg) talked about Twitter and Facebook to engage students, and Rachel Fidock (Mooroopna Secondary College) talked about Google Lit Trips.

Thanks to SLAV for the opportunity to share some of my work with teachers and students. Like the others, I was incredibly nervous but ended up enjoying the experience. Sharing of ideas and experiences is very satisfying.

My slideshow is also embedded in my wiki.

Students speak about success of global project

As part of the evaluation of this project, I interviewed a few students to get their feedback. You have no idea how long it took me to convert the interviews to film and embed them in this blog. Sorry about background noise. We will also ask all students in the global cohort to give feedback in a survey. Stay tuned!



Project reflection confirms the value of social learning

Recently, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been involved in a global project with two overseas schools (Finland and USA) within Flickr. Gradually my evaluation of each week’s outcomes have been written and cross-posted on this blog.

Today I completed my reflection on and evaluation of weeks 6 – 8 which you can read on the project’s blog. Re-reading the students’ contributions,  the value of social learning has been reconfirmed. If I had the chance to do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate.

I thought I’d cross-post Week 8, so here it is.

Week 8 – What does learning mean to you?

Take a photo that somehow represents learning to you.

Write about what learning means to you, where and how you learn best, school learning and outside school learning, your feelings about learning.

To some, learning was best represented by a simple pencilcase.

Photo by ryanrau

while others saw learning in relationships outside of school.

Photo by andresg201.usa

Many students’ reflective and evaluative skills were impressive. My guess is that the personal topics enabled the best kind of analysis because students were able to choose an aspect of their lives which was meaningful.

This is my father and my nephew. Isn’t he amazing! I think so. They are both learning so much. My nephew, about everything around him and how to interact and my father, about being a grandfather and everything that means. I really love that this shows how we never really stop learning and that there is always something new to experience.

I tend to learn more from project-based and hands-on learning as well as auditory learning. Though, I am good at standard school learning. I love learning new things and exploring topics. As long as it is something I like. Math, unfortunately, is not my forte. Reading and writing is more up my alley. But overall, I hope I continue to learn for the rest of my life. 🙂

We may not often ask our students to reflect on what learning means to them, or how they learn best, but the project’s responses made me realise how valuable this kind survey would be.

Many posts were endearing for their honesty indicating that students felt safe within the global cohort. This is testament to the respect and encouragement students consistently showed each other. It’s so important to recognise this when so many educators are afraid of trying out online, collaborative projects, fearing they might ellicit bad behaviour from students.

Photo by JamesMau

This surrounding basically describes the environment in which i like to learn in. One which is quiet, peaceful and relaxing. It’s hard for me to learn in a noisy and loud environment because there are too many voices going through my head, which then doesn’t allow me to lock in and concentrate.

Learning is a pretty big thing to me because it helps me get through each day and builds me up for what I want to do later in life. I can’t say that I like school but I’m there to learn and its part of my life.

Photo by timbau

This photo is of the book shelf we have in our study. Learning for me can sometimes be really fun or sometimes it can be horrible, depending of the subject. I like English, Maths, Psychology and Sports Science.

(comment) I feel like that too, it mostly depends on how I feel that morning. If I’m super tired and just want to go to sleep, I wont be in the mood to learn anything. But if I woke up good, I don’t feel tired and I’m not complaining, I want to learn. 🙂

Why don’t we realise the value of social learning and take learning out of the classroom, out of the hands of the teacher as ‘sage on the stage’ and into peer learning?