Social Network Learning: A Reflection

image art for reflection4-page-001I find it interesting that the class I expected to learn the least in is the one that has enriched me the most. Such has been my journey this semester in EdTech 543 Social Network Learning.

We’ve all got the first two words down – it’s that last one: learning. This course has opened my eyes to the powerful learning tool that social media and social networking can be. I’ll try to sum things up with a few before-and-after glimpses of what I have learned to help paint a better picture.

Before: Twitter is for people who have a lot of time on their hands and want to follow celebrities or make political statements. What could I possibly have to say in 140 characters?
After: Twitter is a resource so versatile and powerful that it can be used in the classroom and for painless professional development. I’ve truly been converted, as shown in Twitter Power. In just two months I have found dozens of helpful resources. I found out about the Global Education Conference and actually presented two sessions. Each time I check Twitter I walk away feeling enlightened and inspired.

Before: Pinterest is a much-too-pretty time-waster for people who love to cook and craft
After: Many educators use Pinterest in remarkable and creative ways to curate resources, share ideas, and enlighten students. My two boards so far (My Personal Learning Environment and EdTech Spotlight: Resources Educators Should Try) have strengthened my digital footprint and inspired me to create more.

Before: No one really cares what I have to say
After: It is my digital duty to contribute academic and sound content to the cyberspace knowledge cloud. My Periodic Table of Connectivism was picked up on Twitter, Scoop.It, and various blogs and websites. I still get dozens of views on it weekly. My presentation  My Digital Footprint and PLN currently has over 3,000 views on Slideshare since I created it two months ago. I’ve used it as the backbone for a huge presentation proposal I’ve submitted to an international conference. Point? Educators, professionals, and students are looking for specific content and topics and appreciate well-researched resources.

Before: Social networking really means Facebook
After: I am amazed at how many social networking tools that can be used for specific learning purposes. My Personal Learning Environment has grown immensely in this course. I’ve developed my personal brand and identity on Learnist, Classroom 2.0, Pinterest, Slideshare, Edmodo, and updated several other profiles on sites I’ve been using for a long time. I’m consistent and intentional in what I put out there.

Before: Social network learning is used interchangeably with social media and social networking
After: I ended up writing my very dense EdTech 504 paper on Social Network Learning: Supporting Theory and Framework. Social network learning is about learning in connected ways. It’s deep and powerful. Social media are the tools that facilitate this connection, and social networking involves using these tools to find new connections. The focus of this class has been on the learning.

I could go on. I’ve developed a social media acceptable use policy. I’ve created an infographic representing my Personal Learning Environment. I’ve created a MOOC prototype. I’ve communicated, connected, and collaborated with my peers spread across dozens of time zones through Facebook, Moodle, and Google Docs. I’ve received beneficial instruction and feedback from my professor Jackie Gerstein, who lives what she preaches and lives it well.

My digital life is deeper, richer, and more meaningful – and it’s only just begun!

Photos at top used under Flickr Creative Commons from the yes man and Anja Jonsson

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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