#DojochatEU – Developing a PLN

#DojochatEU is a Twitter hashtag for an event that happens every Wednesday from 8:30pm to 9:30pm. Yesterday evening was the first opportunity I had to join in and I am hoping to be able to take part as often as I can as part of my ClassDojo ambassadorship. I thought it might be a good idea to give my thoughts on the #DojochatEU each week that I take part in order to give my own thoughts to the questions, topics and conversations. This week was all about PLNs (Personal Learning Networks).

Social Media has allowed everyone learn in new ways and educators are no different. There are a myriad of PLNs aimed at teachers. From an Irish point of view, every Monday on Twitter, there’s #edchatie. On Facebook, Hibernia College students create their own PLN to discuss aspects of the course and Voices For Teachers discuss professional and union issues. The oldest PLN in Irish education is probably the Education Posts Forum, which is still going strong and has even diverged into discussing everything a teacher might need to discuss from rearing babies to recipes for hungry teachers!

Nigel Lane (image from his Twitter profile)
Nigel Lane (image from his Twitter profile)

Nigel Lane was #DojochatEU’s moderator for this chat and he asked 5 questions.

1. What is a PLN to you?

Nigel said that he had two definitions with the P standing for either personal or professional. I’m with Nigel when he says personal. Professional seems a bit too formal for the type of learning that goes on, not that the learning isn’t serious! For me a PLN is a group of like-minded people coming together to learn from each other, simple as that. It works best, I believe, when there’s a topic of conversation planned. It’s also good if it’s a regular thing.

2. How does one develop and grow their PLN?

This is a tricky one. I’ve tried starting different PLNs in different ways and some worked and others didn’t. For example, for a few years, I used Twitter to share lots of Maths ideas during Maths Week. These days, I use a shared blog to promote the sharing of digital art between schools. I think growing a PLN is a combination of persistence, talent, timing and luck. There are some fantastic success stories such as the rise and rise of Teachmeets and Twitter chats and those who are behind them, I believe possess all four aspects.

3. What tools do you use to develop your PLN?

Heatmap courtesy of NL_84 Twitter Feed
Heatmap courtesy of NL_84 Twitter Feed

This question was in the form of a poll with the following choices:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Attending TeachMeets
  • Google+
  • Blogging
  • Discussion Forums
  • Edmodo
  • Tumblr
  • Pinterest
  • Other

Nigel used a tool called Poll Maker to get the results and showed a “heatmap” of where the results were coming from, (above). The results were fascinating to me. Unsurprisingly, Twitter and Teachmeets came first and second respectively. Blogging was third, which was encouraging but Pinterest came fourth and this surprised me. Pinterest seems to be very successful amongst lots of teachers. I have tried to use Pinterest for education but just can’t seem to keep at it. Tumblr was last in the poll, which didn’t surprise me. I must admit I love it but can’t see much traction in PLNs amongst the vast traffic of EMOs that appear to use it!

4. Is the rise of PLNs down to learning becoming more informal?

I don’t think so. In my opinion, I think the rise is more to do with access. Thanks to the Internet, we now can access learning anywhere in the world, wherever we are. We can attend Virtual Camps and Online Conferences. In fact, for this chat, I was sitting on my sofa at home.

5. Are PLNs the way we will all learn in the future? If so, should/do students of today use PLNs?

Again, I don’t completely agree that PLNs will be the way we will all learn in the future. I believe it will be one way in the general toolbox of ways we learn. I got into an interesting discussion about what would make a successful PLN for teachers and students. My main point is that I believe that for an PLN to work effectively, anonymity cannot be allowed. In fact, I would safely claim that anonymity is the enemy of PLNs. There are a number of PLNs that do use anonymity and in almost all cases, they are difficult to engage with. I used to be a moderator on a particular anonymous PLN and found that it was very difficult to go against the grain of the opinion of the “louder” members of the group. When a PLN has an agenda, isn’t open to respectful debate and uses anonymity to push a belief, it is a recipe for failure.

I really enjoyed my first #dojoChatEU and look forward to taking part in many more over the months ahead.

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