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7 Steps Forward, Hopefully None Back

Providing professional development (PD) is one of the critical actions needed in order to transform our schools toward engaging, relevant, and authentic 21st century learning environments. Faculty and staff at all levels of schools need to provide, encourage, and attend PD opportunities of different types whenever they arise and fit their schedule. At the same time, learning how to use technology to create a dynamic personal learning network (PLN) is a very important process so that we can professionally develop ourselves. In order to facilitate these processes, professional development will need to come from all angles- top downAngles of PD, bottom up, grade level to grade level, subject teacher to subject teacher, and even student to faculty. Moreover, explicit support and dedication to the transformation process from administrators and school boards will be essential. In order to start the transformation at the International School of Beijing from a bottom up angle, I, along with two other Apple Distinguished Educators (Jeff Plaman and Rob Cormack) teamed up to create a multisession PD oppportunity called 7 Steps toward 21st Century Education.

The idea for the PD initially came about through a couple of conversations with our high school principal about facilitating a “23 Things” type of PD to introduce colleagues to the powerful world of Web 2.0. From there we continued the discussion among ourselves, eventually moving to collaborative planning meetings with the curriculum and PD directors at the school. In that process, we decided that the focus of 21st Century learning-related PD shouldn’t just focus on technology, but rather on the shifted focus in what needs to be learned this century and the reasons why we need to transform the way we educate our students today. Technology is an important means to the larger ends, but there are also other ways in which transformed learning environments can occur and achieve the goals without technology.  However, since the integration of technology does tend to be a weak point for many teachers at our school, we did decide to emphasize ways to integrate technology in the process of achieving the larger goals as part of the PD. In creating the Steps for this PD we largely referenced the new ISTE standards and the Route 21 framework. We also fused our own ideas based off of conversations between each other, like-minded educators in our own PLN’s, books like A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, and educational organizations like Edutopia .

The next question was how to deliver this PD. We thought about just doing it all online, but we realized this might limit the number of participants. We also came to the conclusion that having face-to-face (F2F) time is still important in PD today. So, we decided to create a hybrid learning environment for the course.  Along with face-to-face meetings that correspond with the Steps (plus an introductory F2F session), we created a Ning to be our online platform for asynchronous learning and interaction.

In order for our colleagues to get a sense of what a dynamic online personal learning network feels like, Jeff, Rob, and I encouraged people in our own PLNs to join the Ning before the F2F sessions began. The response was great! Bringing in outsiders into a single school’s PD offering was a departure from the usual in-house PD process. Technology, when used effectively in the classroom, can help blow out the walls of time and space in the learning process. With that idea in mind, we thought by allowing remote educators and experts to join our online PD environment, thus blowing out the walls of the school, it would make a much more dynamic learning experience for our colleagues.

Lastly, we are planning on bringing in some students during one of the Steps to facilitate a discussion or activity. Students can be a great source of insight and ideas in this shifting process. We can’t forget that they aren’t only the recipients of what we do as educators- they should be a partner in the process. And, we need to realize that it’s ok to give up control at times and let the students educate us.

Step 1- Different Education for a Different World
Step 2- The World is at Your Fingertips (Communication)
Step 3- There Is No “I” in We, World, & Success (Collaboration)
Step 4- Work and Learn Smarter, Not Harder (Information Fluency)
Step 5- Technology and a Whole Brain Approach (Creativity & Innovation)
Step 6- Cultivating Habits of the Mind (Critical Thinking & Problem Solving)
Step 7- Bringing It All Together

Same, Same, but Different- Another Blog about Personal Learning Networks

My Personal Learning Network (PLN) has grown massively over the last few months. Recently, I think I’ve found a sweet spot with it. By sweet spot, I mean I don’t have to do a lot of independent searching for information anymore for my day-to-day learning. Most of what I need manages to make its way to me through the various Web 2.0 applications I use and the RSS feeds I’ve set up. Excited about the PLN I have going, I wanted to blog about it. I soon as I thought about writing this blog, however, I stopped. Through my PLN, I knew there’s been many blogs and articles already written on PLNs. Because of this, I didn’t want to write just another blog about PLNs. So before I started writing this post, I was curious as to how much had been written already. Thus, I did what most people do today when they want to search something- go to Google. In searching “Personal Learning Network” (with quotes) on Google, I got 49,600 results; pln without the quotes, Personal Learning Network got me 3,520,000 results. pln1 Whoa! That’s a lot of results.

In reading a few of them, one showed her PLN in action; another laid out how to start a PLN; another described stages of PLN adoption, and others discussed the importance of developing PLN’s with our students. The result list, angles, and information on PLNs went on. So, with so much written already about PLNs, what would I write about that hadn’t already been written? After a few moments, I thought that the fact that there is so much written about PLNs goes to show why having one is so important. We need them to help us sift through the deluge of information. So, this is what I want to emphasize- PLNs are a must in today’s learning environment.

With so much information being generated out there, it is becoming difficult to keep track of and follow it all. We could sit all day to try to absorb every new bit of information from books, blogs, websites, newspapers,podcasts, tv news, and other sources only to barely scratch the surface and never get any work done. With such great technologies out there and so many dynamic online communities being formed, creating a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is the best way to keep your head above this universe of information. Why go out and try to find everything when you can have someone or something with whom you’re networked help you, saving you time, stress, and frustration.

Here are the main sources in my PLN (in order of importance):
Twitter (This is number one resource in my PLN right now. I am following some fantastic educators around the world and I’m constantly learning new ideas and tools, getting links to blogs and websites, having conversations etc., EVERY DAY! Of course, I contribute to and have conversations with my followers often)

Diigo (Social bookmarking and then some! Be sure and join some Diigo groups. You can set each group up so you get notifications so that you get a daily or weekly update sent to your email with all the links group members shared to the group. My active groups: Classroom 2.0; Apple Distinguished Educators. I’ve been turned on to so many useful sources and tools through these groups)

Delicious (If I do need to search for something, I sometimes I go here before going to Google. You get a lot less results in a search, but they tend to more exactly what I’m looking for since others have already evaluated the source and tagged it. Of course, I bookmark all good links that I find and that come to me so they are available when ever I need them. I double up on this process with Diigo. This is redundant, I know, but all links for my classes are link rolled from Delicious at the moment)

iGoogle (Due to time constraints, I don’t use this everyday. But, I’ve set up RSS feeds from my favorite news and magazine sites and have added other gadgets. It’s one stop shopping here since I see everything I deem important on 1 page. Furthermore, multiple pages can be made. I have a general home page; an education page, and a music page at the moment)

Google Reader (I set up a RSS for the core blogs I like to read. This Reader is also one of the boxes on my iGoogle home page)

Nings (I’m a member of 4 Ning sites. I check these every now and then as they do provide useful information and forums for discussions)

Wikis (I’m a member or organizer of 17 wikis! Some are for classes, others were for PD conferences, while others were used for planning. These do provide a variety information and are good repositories of resources people have contributed from PD conferences. They never go away unless the organizer deletes it. I’ve learned quite a bit from my students through my class wikis)

Facebook (Even though this is mostly used to keep in touch with friends, I do get information through the groups I’ve joined and if I need something, I can quickly ask a friend if they aren’t on Twitter)

Of course, there are other elements to my PLN (immediate colleagues, books, podcast subscriptions, magazines, tv news) which add to this dynamic online portion of it.

With just this online portion of my PLN, there’s a lot to keep track of! As I mentioned above, I don’t refer to all them every day, but they are there whenever I need them.

If you’re just starting your PLN, here’s my 2 RMB of advice:
1. Dive in and get started
2. Learn how RSS Works and set up readers and iGoogle
3. Talk to colleagues with working PLNs for advice and recommendations
4. Join Twitter
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
6. Continue to evolve the network and try new tools as you come across them

So, in ending this post, I basically reiterated what many other PLN posts have said. Hopefully it was still useful, though. But, I will make it different by saying, why couldn’t that Iraqi journalist aim his throw a little lower?! 😉

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