Students Building their Personal Learning Networks

21st century learning is all about teachers and students being connected people and resources around the world. 

This is often discussed in teacher education classes but how often is it really experienced?  Do students’ assignments include challenges that encourage them to find and contact practicing teachers or subject experts as part of the learning process?

Unfortunately, the answer is usually “No.”

We teach the required Intro to Technology course for preservice teachers at the University of Northern Iowa.  This course, Educational Technology and Design, is designed to engage the students in learning about learning with the support of technology.

We introduce the concept of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) to our students and challenge them to find and connect with other educators, authors, and experts around the world. We have them draw a map of their PLN at the beginning of the semester and then a post-map at the end where they depict how their PLN has grown and reflect on the process. 

Here is a link to the assignment that we use. 

Building Our PLN through Twitter

Last week I was introducing this assignment to my students. We were discussing why it is useful to be connected to other educators as well as how we might do that.  I pointed out that if we wanted to connect with 2nd grade teachers, we could just search on the #2ndchat hashtag on Twitter and we would have a collection of tweets for those teachers.  We could use the same process to connect with 4th grade teachers (#4thchat) or 8th grade teachers (#8thchat).  (There are hundreds of other educational hashtags – you can find them here.)

Anyway – I suggested that we do a search on #2ndchat to find some 2nd grade teachers. We found scores of tweets from the primary grade teachers. Most of them were sharing
their strategies, experiences and fears about school starting. We scrolled through and found a posting with some interesting photos of a teacher’s classroom (See tweet image above.)

I suggested that we send a tweet to this teacher. Many of my students (freshman to senior undergrads) said thought that making such a connection was a little creepy. I pointed out that the reason that teachers post things on Twitter is so that others can benefit from them and these teachers would be interested in talking with other teachers.

While in class I sent a tweet to this teacher, Hannah Hartman, to begin a conversation.

This kicked off an interesting conversation with Hannah Hartman from San Francisco that lasted over the Labor Day weekend. We even had another 2nd grade teacher, Shawn Reed, from Vallejo, California get into the discussion. Here are the tweets:

The day before I was going to meet with my students again, I asked @teacherhartman if she would be interested in Skyping with my students for 5 minutes on Wednesday. Hannah was excited about the opportunity and we decided to Skype at 8 AM (her time) and 10 AM (our time).

Unfortunately, some things came up with her 2nd grade students so we had to cancel the session but we plan to connect our classes in the near future.

Here are the classes that are engaged in this process (photos posted with permission):

Twitter IS a great way to build your Professional/Personal Learning Network. Find some interesting tweets and send a tweet directly to their authors . . . you will be glad that you did.

How have you been building your PLN?
Share your experiences with building your PLN in the comments section.
What’s YOUR opinion?
Leave a comment and keep the discussion going.

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