Tag Archives: PLN

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?


Moving forward and pulling back

Well, hello. Haven’t been around the blog lately. Mid-year holidays and taking time out of my head for a change. And, to tell you the truth, I’ve needed the break. No blog ideas put up their hands in their usual impatient manner. Nothing was hammering inside my head, clamouring to come out. No clear thoughts were forming, no ideas were sprouting. For a while there, I thought I’d dried out for good. Until I realised that I was looking back, only I’m not sure if I’m having second thoughts, or if I’m giving things a second look over.

Our PLP presentation is very close now. I can’t deny feeling unprepared. How have we, as a team, moved forward in changing teaching and learning in our school? How far have we come, if at all?

The answer is simultaneously a great deal and hardly at all. Taking part in the PLP ning, connecting to a rich network of educators, great minds, variety of personalities and viewpoints, forming a personal learning network that I don’t feel I could do without  – this is a new dimension that has changed my life as a teacher and a learner. The Art and English wikis, the personal and reading blogs, the ning I created to support students and teachers at my school are initial experiments, attempts to engage students in new ways, to share resources, to present different types of media as possibilities for discussion or creativity, to use technology for the purpose of re-envisaging education.

But how far does this go in making any difference to the way teaching and learning occur at my school? How many eductors have seen these things, and if they do, how many are convinced that I’m offering them something valuable, something worth trying out? The answer is – not many.

Dean Shareski’s post has resonated with me today. He describes the architecture of learning as transformative where there’s no going back.

The landscape of learning is changing. Rethinking what control means, understranding the power of sharing and transparency all work to topple many of the foundations our schools are built upon.

His post strikes a chord with me at this stage of my journey:

I know this, you know this but after spending 3 days amongst 18,000 in the educational technology field, I still say very few else know this. I made this observation (jump down to #4) last year at NECC and while the number may have increased slightly, those who really have any sense of the changes that are possilbe and perhaps inevitable in education is strikingly small. Yet sometimes the conversations amongst them would indicate they think everyone understands. A good example took place in the last session I attended on a panel discussion on Web 2.0. The panel was made up of all people that I and many in the audience knew very well either because we’ve spent time with them or know them from varoius online circles. The panel and audience were calling them by their first names and having a good discussion One lady stood up and felt frustrated since she didn’t know these people, these terms and most of the content of the conversation. That wasn’t her fault that’s ours. The assumption amongst folks who live and breath social media is that most teachers know about but they just don’t understand social media. We jump in with disucssion about Web 2.0 when they aren’t ready for that discussion since they have absolutely no prior knowledge. I”m not against having these kinds of discussions but it’s a bit like Christopher Columbus and crew arguing over how they would organize and structure the new world when most of the old world didn’t even know it existed and if they did, had no idea why or how they would get over to see it, let alone settle there. It’s not a totally useless discussion but perspective is important.

This is what I’m finding unsettling at this stage –  Dean’s analogy with Columbus. Should I feel unsettled knowing that I’m trying to populate a new world with people who deny its existence? Am I going about this the wrong way? Should I be happy to go slowly with a minority of takers? Am I being naive and unrealistic? Is trying to change teaching and learning in a school insane or egotistical? Am I unrealistically trying to change society itself? Can individuals make this change or is it only possible for politicians?

But then again, I’m pulled back by a comment on Dean’s blog by a teacher who attended NECC:

I paid my own way, as did many of the classroom teachers and a few of the administrators I met, because we are hungry to learn and starving for people who have the knowledge and experience to teach us. Of course, there were sessions and conversations at NECC that were way over my head, but hearing them and trying to understand gives me guideposts and goals for my future development.

If my new, recent direction in learning and teaching came ‘out of the blue’, then why shouldn’t other people make that transition? If a teacher cares about students and thinks about the best ways to inspire students to learn, then who’s to say my little steps, and those steps of my fellow PLP members, or anyone else who is struggling through relevant and engaging teaching and learning – who’s to say these things won’t make a difference?

Should we despair that our efforts are mere drops in the ocean, or should we appreciate our small steps?  So many rhetorical questions…

Dean points us to Tom Carroll’s article, If we didn’t have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today? written 8 years ago and still very pertinent:

If we continue to prepare teachers as we have always prepared them, we are going to continue to recreate the schools we have always had. We have to start preparing teachers differently. If we are going to continue preparing educators to work as solo, stand-alone teachers in self-contained, isolated classrooms, we are going to perpetuate the schools we have today.   If we want schools to be different, we must start today to prepare teachers differently… significantly differently.

Yes, I do feel a few can make a difference, but it’s a slow and laborious process. Why isn’t teacher training aligned with the educational needs of students today? Who should we be influencing in order to revise teacher training, in order to go to the source of the problem?

I might stop before another flood of questions is unleashed. Please come in and help stop the flood.

The 365 photos challenge



Seems people are taking up the 365 photos challenge on flickr – committing to posting one photo per day for a whole year. Why, you ask? Well, that’s what I asked myself too. Why would you want to commit to more tasks on top of the already toppling mountain of daily tasks?  In my usual contradictory way (contradicting myself usually) I found myself joining 3 of these groups which just means I upload the same photo a day to each of these groups. Just in case I miss out on the interesting photos, since different people will be found in each of the groups. The 3 groups are Twitter 365 project; 2009/365photos; 365/2009.

Just today I followed Jo McLeay’s lead and decided to give my 365 photostream a home, so here’s the link to my new blog. If you look at the twelve days of photos, you’ll realise why I’ve been absent from blogging for so long – lots of things to do in the physical world.

Just a few thoughts. As usual. Apart from the fun factor, I think this kind of project has some promising educational possibilties.  Getting to know people in your personal learning network through photos and others’ comments is different to knowing them through text comments only. It adds a personal dimension, and the comments don’t have to be cerebral. I imagine the end result will be an interesting testament to my year – memories I may have otherwise forgotten.

I can imagine this as a class project, can’t you? Maybe one which includes teachers, and gives students an insight into teachers outside of the classroom.