Growing my Personal Learning Environment

My Personal Learning EnvironmentIf I was a seed at the beginning of this week, I’ve definitely gained a few roots, stems, and possibly even a leaf or two. Cultivating a professional online presence is not an easy task. It takes time and know-how to select, design, share, contribute to, and otherwise refine my digital footprint.

In EdTech 543 I joined several new online learning communities this week (the usual ones Facebook, Diigo, and Twitter didn’t count ). I had to be an active participant (no lurking!) by sharing resources, links, making comments, and otherwise contributing. What I originally thought would be an easy task turned out to take a significant amount of time and strategic planning.

Take Pinterest, for example. I purposely avoided this site in its early stages because, well, it was just too…pretty. Time-consuming. Crafty. I knew my baked goods, job charts, or bulletin boards would look nothing like its gorgeous pictures. What started small in early  2010 has become the third most popular social networks in the U.S. It’s huge. Just like they did with Twitter, people have started using Pinterest in all sorts of creative ways: including education.

Realizing its educational potential, I finally created my first board. It was actually a fascinating experience but not because of Pinterest itself (I found the interface quite easy to grasp), but what I realized about myself during the process. Rather than create a general resource on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) – there are many, and great ones, too – I chose to create a visual depiction of MY personal learning environment. It is a visual collection of my favorite websites, online learning communities, productivity tools, professional development ideas, and other resources that capture the brilliant intersection of education and technology. In short, it is my digital footprint. It is me.

[PLE’s, by the way, differ from Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). PLEs are the larger circle, that include our resources, productivity tools, blogs, etc., whereas PLNs are a smaller circle inside our PLE circle consisting of the networks are are part of.]

So, I joined several as depicted on my Pinterest board including Edmodo, Global Ed Con and iEarn (I even submitted a learning proposal and was accepted!), and Classroom 2.0. I also spent some time on Learnist and Google Plus exploring, finding people to follow, making comments, and gleaning resources.

I created a PLE diagram that shows connections between all of these communities. While I like the interactivity of the Pinterest board, I needed something that could visualize a network, nodes, connections, branches, growth, or other relationships that are core to a PLE. I chose to use Easel.ly, an online infographic design tool (pretty but a bit tricky). I even attempted to align my communities and resources with the NETS for Teacher standards. Here is my finished product:


easel.ly

In comparing my PLE representation and that of my classmates, we share some commonalities and differences. We are largely part of the same core group of networks (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter), use many of the same productivity tools (Evernote, Diigo, Google Apps, Zotero), share via some of the same platforms (Slideshare, VoiceThread, Prezi), and include job-specific resources, blogs, and communities. While our representation of such networks differ visually and in their taxonomy, the overall effect is that of being connected to a greater pool of knowledge, resources, and individuals that we would ever achieve without today’s technology tools.

This idea of growing our network, of growing ourselves, aligns well with the connectivist framework I have been researching lately. Like George Siemens said, “The learning is the network” (2004).

Additional Resources on PLEs from our course module:
PLE for Sustainable Learning
PLEs: A Collection of Definitions
What Is An Online Community?
Ten Reasons to Be a Connected Educator
5 Reasons to Join a Niche Online Community
How To Build An Online Community: The Ultimate List Of Resources (2012)
Personal Learning Networks
A PLN Quick Start Guide
Personal Learning Communities
8 Ideas, 10 Guides, And 17 Tools For A Better Professional Learning Network

References:
Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from                http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Personal Growth and Connectivism

My students would find it no surprise to see yet another word cloud in this reflection. I love word clouds! They are such a creative, versatile tool that can be used for fun, nonsense, and also as a writing tool like summarizing key concepts. This Tagxedo word cloud may not look like much, but let me assure you it represents hours (DAYS!), sweat, and tears. It also represents a newly grown knowledge within me, which is really what it’s about in the first place.  Specifically, this is a visual representation of my 2852-word synthesis paper draft for EdTech 504. I’ll spare you the math: that’s 8 dense, heavy, scholarly pages, not including 2.5 pages of peer-reviewed references. I don’t think I’ve ever written a paper that includes so-far 21 references. Wow.  It’s not called a synthesis paper for nothing. To synthesize is to combine, sort through, fuse, and otherwise make sense of a lot of information. I have read dozens of scholarly journals, articles, blog posts (which aren’t peer re-viewed but provide interesting context), and eBooks. I’ve scoured the APA Style Guide and become good friends again with Zotero. This is not light reading, by the way, about tools and apps. This is heavy stuff that includes words I knew little about before starting this course, words like constructivism, connectivism, taxonomy, and epistemology.  Yet, 2852 words later, I have a much better handle on the information. In fact, what was so utterly confusing and aggravating when I was in the thick of it, actually makes sense. I think I get it, at least as it pertains to my focus. Here’s the plain English: More and more teachers are using VLE social network learning sites such as  Edmodo, Schoology, Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas. These sites provide a controlled environment where teachers and students interact, post and submit homework, give and receive feedback from their peers, and link to course resources and information. Social network learning, which by the way is distinctly different pedagogically than social networking, is like a walled-garen that helps students learn critical skills while in a safe and controlled environment. Most of us know and love social media and it is an integral part of our lives. How, then, can this desire to be connected, to be part of something greater than ourselves, translate into the classroom? Should we really require that our students completely “disconnect” when they come to school from their real lives and the tools that are integral to their very existence?  This paper supports the use of intentional, planned, purposeful social learning networks to engage students in the classroom. It attempts to “define social network learning and its theoretical connectivism foundations, and provides learning strategies that apply such pedagogy in the classroom.” Basically, it is the “why” of using social network learning strategies. I mainly look at social network learning through connectivist principles, and explore practical applications such as Virtual Learning Environments, Learning Communities, and Project-Based Learning. I explore traditional learning theories and emerging learning theories (the connectivism: theory or framework? debate) and use these to argue the critical need of using social networks in the classroom. I have long been a believer in helping students make connections, of giving them a larger audience, of equipping them with the rules of online social behavior while we have them in our reach. Now I have a basis for this belief, and I’ve emerged with an even greater commitment. Since technology has “reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004), shouldn’t we, as educators, be willing to help our students make some sense of it all? I believe we should.  Connectivism, at its heart, holds that rather than transferring, making, or building knowledge, connectivism is more like “growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways” (Downes, 2007, para. 6). As my word cloud flower proves, new knowledge has certainly grown within me. References:  Downes, S. (2007, February 3). What connectivism is. Half an Hour. Blog. Retrieved from 		http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html  Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from 				http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htmMy students would find it no surprise to see yet another word cloud in my reflection. I love word clouds! They are such a creative, versatile tool that can be used for fun, nonsense, and also as a writing tool like summarizing key concepts. This Tagxedo word cloud may not look like much, but let me assure you it represents hours (DAYS!), sweat, and tears. It also represents a newly grown knowledge within me, which is really what it’s about in the first place.

Specifically, this is a visual representation of my 2852-word synthesis paper draft for EdTech 504. I’ll spare you the math: that’s 8 dense, heavy, scholarly pages, not including 2.5 pages of peer-reviewed references. I don’t think I’ve ever written a paper that includes so-far 21 references. Wow.

It’s not called a synthesis paper for nothing. To synthesize is to combine, sort through, fuse, and otherwise make sense of a lot of information. I have read dozens of scholarly journals, articles, blog posts (which aren’t peer re-viewed but provide interesting context), and eBooks. I’ve scoured the APA Style Guide and become good friends again with Zotero.

This is not light reading, by the way. It is heavy stuff that includes words I knew little about before starting this course, words like constructivism, connectivism, taxonomy, and epistemology.

Yet, 2852 words later, I have a much better handle on it all. In fact, what was so utterly confusing and aggravating when I was in the thick of it, actually makes sense. I think I get it, at least as it pertains to my limited focus. Here’s the plain English:

More and more teachers are using Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) social network learning sites such as  Edmodo, Schoology, Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas. These sites provide a controlled environment where teachers and students interact, post and submit homework, give and receive feedback from their peers, and link to course resources and information. Social network learning, which by the way is distinctly different pedagogically than social networking, is like a walled-garen that helps students learn critical skills while in a safe and controlled environment.

Most of us know and love social media, and it is an integral part of our lives. How, then, can this desire to be connected, to be part of something greater than ourselves, translate into the classroom? Should we really require that our students completely “disconnect” when they come to school from their real lives and the tools that are integral to their very existence?

My paper supports the use of intentional, planned, purposeful social learning networks to engage students in the classroom. It attempts to “define social network learning and its theoretical connectivist foundations, and provides learning strategies to apply such pedagogy in the classroom.” Basically, it is the why of using social network learning strategies.

I look at social network learning through connectivist principles, and explore practical applications such as Virtual Learning Environments, Learning Communities, and Project-Based Learning. I explore traditional learning theories and emerging learning theories (theory or framework debate) and use these to argue the critical need of using social networks in the classroom.

I have long been a believer in helping students make connections, of giving them a larger audience, of equipping them with the skills that govern online social behavior while we still have them in our reach. Now I have a basis for this belief, and I’ve emerged with an even greater commitment. Since technology has “reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004), shouldn’t we, as educators, be willing to help our students make some sense of it all? Use it? Benefit from it?

I believe we should.

Connectivism, at its heart, holds that rather than transferring, making, or building knowledge, it is more like “growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways” (Downes, 2007, para. 6).

As my word cloud flower proves, new knowledge has certainly grown within me.

References:

Downes, S. (2007, February 3). What connectivism is. Half an Hour. Blog. Retrieved from    http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from                 http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Connectivism: An attempted explantion

I find connectivism a most fascinating emerging theory, which is why I chose awhile back to design this Periodic Table of Connectivism for EdTech 543 Social Network Learning that incidentally was picked up and shared on various networks. I am intrigued by the debate on whether connectivism should be considered a modern-day theory or a mere framework for learning. Both sides have strong arguments, but regardless of its status, it “continues to play an important role in the development and emergence of new pedagogies” (Kop & Hill, 2008) and will become increasingly important in learning environments. Connectivism is based on constructivist principles that state learning is not acquired or gained; rather, it is distributed across a network of connections, built, and grown (Downes, 2007).

If this is indeed true, and if it is true that “technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004), then connectivist principles should be embraced in schools rather than feared.

This year at our school teachers are discovering virtual learning environments (VLEs) such as Edmodo and Schoology. While we use Google Apps heavily, many teachers are finding that they really like the collaborative communication that VLEs provide. Students comment and give feedback, ask questions, and otherwise engage with the content and each other. This sort of connected learning is a fundamental principle of connectivism. I certainly want to include a more connectivist approach in everything I do. For example, I’m about to have the younger grades create their first eBook and then share and comment on each other’s. I anticipate that they will really like this activity because they will learn something new from a classmate and be able to comment on it.

Just because a learning theory or framework is complicated doesn’t mean teachers can’t incorporate some basic principles in their pedagogy.  While I have yet to really get a handle on connectivism, I do intend to have my students continue to reach out to each other and grow their learning.

References:

Downes, S. (2007, February 3). What connectivism is [Web log post]. Half an Hour. Retrieved from http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Kop, R., & Hill, A. (2008). Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(3). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/523

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. elearnspace. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Theory-supported Social Networking: A Reflection

An annotated bibliography makes a standard APA reference list look like a walk in the park. In case you, like me until this week’s EdTech504 assignment, have never had the privilege of creating such a resource, let me help you. An annotated bibliography is a blend: part paper, part reference list, part taxonomy. In this case it includes 7-10 resources on a topic of interest relating to educational technology theory. Such topic should be (as our module instructs) “broad enough to allow full exploration of the topic but narrow enough to be a thorough analysis.”

Not only did I find, read, summarize, and cite such resources from peer-reviewed sources, I wrote a short paragraph on each one. Lest you think that is simple, let me explain. This paragraph is much more than a summary or abstract of the article. It is a critical analysis of its purpose, a comparison to other works in the field, an explanation of how it fits into my taxonomy, and requires my personal conclusions and observations.

In short, the annotated bibliography is no small feat, as you may surmise from its title Selected Research on Supporting Theory and Frameworks for Social Networking: An Annotated Bibliography.

In plain English, I chose to dive into the framework and theory that supports using social networking in education. I knew social networking is fun and engaging for students. Schools use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo, and Schoology to help students collaborate and connect. What I didn’t have a handle on before now is the research supporting such practice. Eight long resources later, along with several other course resources, I now do.

Social Networking is much more than a fun way to socialize. The Internet, though not initially designed as such, has become a social experience focused more on relationships than information or content (Lankshear, 2000). Depending on how well it is integrated into course design, social networking can engage learners and foster better retention (Jonassen, 1991).

I have seen this as I’ve assisted in my school’s 9th Grade Understanding Computers course. The teacher chose to use Edmodo as a learning management system and I am impressed at how well the students have embraced this format. The students always know what is coming, what is due, where they stand, and have all course materials easily at their fingertips. Comments and feedback are integrated throughout and they have responded well to the social nature of this course. According to Boitshwarelo (2011), the versatility of the online environment is an excellent medium to explore the growth and facilitation of key concepts of the connectivism theory. Social networking is supported by select learning principles from other learning theories such as behaviorism, where the learner is reactive rather than active in creating knowledge. Anyone who has sat back and caught up on current events or sporting event outcomes by reading their Facebook news feed can relate to this idea.

I think time will tell how social networking will impact long-term education and achievement, but there are some exciting possibilities that teachers can use now help engage their students in learning.

References:
Boitshwarelo, B. (2011). Proposing an integrated research framework for connectivism: Utilising Theoretical Synergies. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), 161–179.

Jonassen, D. (1991). Objectivism versus constructivism: Do we need a new philosophical
paradigm? Educational Technology Research and Development, 39(3), 5-14.

Lankshear, C. (2000). Information, knowledge and learning: Some issues facing epistemology and education in a digital age. Journal Of Philosophy Of Education, 34(1), 17.

Behind the scenes of NETS•S K-5 Curriculum Integration Curation: A Reflection

Link to Learnist Board

Curating is hard work. To come up with this list of 25 acceptable resources involved a lot of filtering, sifting, and otherwise weeding out. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

That somebody is me – and lots of educational technology professionals like me who take pride in their work. We do the hard stuff so you don’t have to. The end result is a resource I feel is substantial, helpful, and contributes to the greater good of knowledge.

Last week in EdTech 543 I co-created a curation checklist of what 15 things to ask when creating such a collection of resources. This week I used that criteria to curate a collection on a topic of my choice. I opted to try the new Learnist platform, which has been compared to a Pinterest for education. So far it’s in beta and is invite-only. Sign up requires a Facebook account, and they claim to search my online presence to see if I’m someone they want. I must have passed because I received an invite in three days. This site could be a wonderful professional development tool and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I can even mark certain things I’ve read as “learned.”

I chose to create a board that collects best practices and resources for NETS•S curricular alignment, integration, and assessment for K-5 Elementary Schools. I am tasked with developing a NETS•S-aligned curriculum for my PK-12 school, which is a rather daunting task. I needed to scour the Internet to get an idea of what other schools and teachers are doing and glean the most helpful resources. I certainly have a much better handle on things than when I started.

Applying my group’s checklist criteria, here’s my self-evaluation:

  1. Does the content come from a reliable and trustworthy source? [Some do, some are unclear, but for my purposes I felt it was important to include lots of ideas, even if they are from a source I’m not familiar with.]
  2. Is the content I provide concise and targeted, meaning it is easier to sort through than just doing a Google search? [Yes, it certainly took a lot of digging]
  3. Is the title catchy, meaning did I name it something that will get my audience’s attention? [Yes, if someone is looking for help with this specific topic]
  4. Do the images and videos contained within support the message being delivered? [Yes. I purposely included screenshots that supported the message rather than the default images Learnist gleaned from the sites]
  5. Are resources cited and given full and proper credit? [Yes, they are linked to directly within Learnist]
  6. Are goals and objectives clear? Have I articulated why I am teaching the content? [Yes, the Learnist board description outlines my purpose]
  7. Do I make the content interesting and engage my audience. Does my audience participate in conversations? [Yes, I have made comments on each resource including what I liked and why I included it. Comments and sharing are enabled.]
  8. Do I make the content easy to understand and to learn? Do they know how to apply what they have learned? [Yes, though the topic is a bit dense, users can quickly see from my descriptions if it is worth it to visit a particular resource.]
  9. Does the content create deeper thinking and help the audience to take ownership of their learning? [Hard to say. Given the content, anyone searching for help on this specific topic should find something they can use.]
  10. Do I continue to research and develop so I can share only the most current and the best information? [Yes and no. I felt it was important to include a few older resources in order to provide specific perspective.]
  11. Is the content relevant and timely? [Yes]
  12. Is the content original and of high-quality? [Yes, every resource included provides substantial content]
  13. Are a variety of media represented to explain the topic at hand (video, articles, photos, blogs, infographics, presentations, journals, etc.)? [Not enough. Due to the topic, there are limited resources available. I did include a Prezi, several PDFs, blog entries, and websites.]
  14. Does the resource contribute value to the overall learning goal or strategy? [Yes. This is a good place to start for all things NETS•S in K-5]
  15. Do I expand, comment, explain, interpret, contextualize, critique, or otherwise make the resource understandable for my intended audience? [Yes. I felt it was important to annotate each resource in order to save my reader time.]

So, while curation is a lot of work, the end result is one that has really helped me and hopefully will help others out there as well.

Curation Ponderings

Do you ever have an aha moment, one that makes you stop and ask, “Where have I been?” “Does everyone know this but me?” “How have I missed this?” I feel like a patient who has just been given a specific name and treatment for her condition and can now move forward with the prognosis. I have found the cure–or rather, curation.

Perhaps you are laughing, as you’ve been familiar with this term for a long time. So have I really: I just haven’t known it’s name. It’s me, it’s what I do, it’s who I am. I am a curator of information, however informally and imperfectly.

CURATION: the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme. The work involves sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing information (Kanter, 2011).

It’s more than collecting, as this chart depicts well. It’s certainly more than aggregating, tweeting, and organizing information. Anyone with thumbs can do that.

Curation involves making sense of information and then sharing that information in a way that is meaningful to the audience (Jarche, 2012). I love the idea of contributing in a positive, meaningful, valuable way to the knowledge base.

For this week’s EdTech 543 assignment I co-created with group members James Russell and Debi Banks the following curation checklist:

Though located in separate corners of the world, we each came up with five research-based criteria to ask when curating content. These questions are irrespective of the topic being curated and can be applied generally. We’ll be applying this checklist as we curate next week’s assignment. While I don’t normally enjoy group work, I love the flexibility online collaboration affords.

Additional Resources:
Content Curation for Personal Learning and Sharing: A great write-up and presentation used for the PLE Conference 2012
Content Curation Primer: fCurate.Us: Share visually appealing screen clips and quotes
Spread Your Knowledge: 15+ tools to bookmark, aggregate, and curate
Keep Your Content Fresh with Scoop.It: A great resource on using Scoop.It as a curation tool
Content Curation for Online Education: A curation of curation
Pearltrees: Curation tool to “collect, organize, share everything you like on the web”
Langwitches blog: Students Becoming Curators of Information
Paper.li: Create an online newspaper
Innovations in Education: Understanding Content Curation

Here’s a worthwhile video explanation:

References:
Jarche, H. (2012). The PKM value-add. Life in Perpetual Beta. Retrieved from http://www.jarche.com/2012/03/the-pkm-value-add/
Kanter, B. (2011). Content curation primer. Beth’s Blog. Retrieved from http://www.bethkanter.org/content-curation-101/
[Click on the images for direct link to their respective websites]

10 Be’s: My Digital Footprint and PLN

I have read through dozens of articles, links, blogs, and articles to formulate a strategy to guide me as I grow my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and create a positive digital footprint.

Here is the direct link to Google Docs.