Linking to learning

Participating in professional learning networks

Casting aside the limitations of physical space and time, social networking on the Internet expands the possibilities for teachers to take control of their learning and to push beyond the borders of the classroom, the school and the district’s annual professional development conferences. Online professional learning networks focus on a particular interest and invite discussions with like-minded people.

These defined networks expand the concept of communities of continuous inquiry and improvement that flourished in schools in the early 1990s. Though many of these networks do hold specific discussions at a preset hour, much of the dialogue does not occur at the same time. The networks harness the power of collective intelligence and diverse educational viewpoints. Teachers in farflung locations can come together to discuss issues. Professional learning networks recognize that learning is socially constructed and takes place through interaction with others.

One of the most popular online networks, EdChat, is on Twitter (twitter.com). You have to sign up for a free Twitter account. Once you’ve signed up, search for the #edchat tag. Returns will come back of all tweets that reference the current #edchat discussions. 

Every Tuesday there is a one-hour real-time discussion that starts at 7 p.m. The participants choose the topic by taking a poll on the Monday before the chat. You can take the poll by searching for #edchat #poll in the Twitter browser or by following one of the founders, Tom Whitby, Steven Anderson or ShellTerrel, on Twitter. You can catch up on previous sessions by going to #edchat’s Facebook page and reading some of the archived discussions. 

One recent discussion focused on the leadership role of teachers in education. Another centered on how to combat teacher bashing in the media. Many controversial topics spike tremendous interest. For instance, the discussion around what the focus of education reform should be generated 6,542 tweets in an hour. 

If you want to participate in a discussion, remember to limit your tweets to 140 characters including the #edchat tag at the end. You can direct your responses to specific individuals by adding @ in front of the user name. You can also just lurk — be a silent listener — until you feel comfortable enough to join in. If you let everyone know that you are new to #edchat, someone will be glad to mentor you. 

As Whitby said in his blog, “There is no way for anyone to follow every #edchat tweet as they roll in at a rate of over 3,000 in an hour. My strategy is to look at this as a very big party. I can’t talk to everyone, but I can pick and choose a few folks to converse with.” For more tips on using #edchat, go to Whitby’s blog post, #edchat revisited, at http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com.

The Educator’s PLN (PLN stands for Personal Learning Network here) at http://edupln.ning.com is a more traditional portal to EdChat and various discussion groups, such as one for elementary school teachers and one that discusses technology in music education. Contributions from members include blogs and forum discussions that deal with everything from Bloom’s taxonomy to New Year’s resolutions. The teacher-generated videos on the site like Video Evaluation to Raise Teacher Quality can be entertaining. 

A frequent contributor to the #edchat discussions is Jerry Blumengarten, who created Cybrary Man’s Educational Web Sites at cybraryman.com. Blumengarten lists education chats on Twitter at www.cybraryman.com/chats.html, categorized alphabetically and by the day of the week. There are math, ed tech, English educators and new teacher chats, among others. If you want to learn more about professional learning networks, go to cybraryman.com/pln.html, which explains what they are, how you can build one, and why it’s worth your while to participate.

Contact Bill Stamatis at link2learn@optonline.net.

Other professional learning networks

PBS Teachers Connect [www.pbs.org/teachers]: You can follow PBS Teachers on Twitter and Facebook.

Microsoft Partners in Learning Network [http://partnersinlearningnetwork.com]: This site focuses on Microsoft’s products but offers social networking possibilities.

LinkedIn [http://linkedin.com]: Educators use LinkedIn to connect with each other and to discuss using the Internet for instruction. EduBloggers and Educators 2.0 are two groups that use the service.

Ning in Education [http://education.ning.com]: Create your own professional learning network or join hundreds of others.

Read more: Linking to learning
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