Saturday, October 26, 2013

PLNs, our way of 'speaking' the new language?

Are PLNs our personal way of using a dynamic, complex, new form of language? A linguistic/literary tool that constitutes a our way of thinking, knowing and communicating? 

This is my riff on "aggregate, remix, repurpose, feed forward" (Downes, 2004). I am building on, playing with, remixing and feeding forward other people's ideas.

Robert K. Logan, postulated that the Internet and the World Wide Web constituted the 6th major human language since the origin of speech (1. speech, 2. writing, 3. math 4. science 5. computing). Logan (2006) wrote,

"I . . . believe that the Internet and the World Wide Web represent the sixth language in the evolutionary chain of verbal languages that I have already identified. The Net is transforming learning and commerce and accelerating the evolution or bifurcation of the Information Age into the Knowledge Era. The Net has its own unique semantics of Web sites, Web pages, Internets, Intranets and Extranets and it has its own unique syntax which is hypertext and hyperlinks. Every medium has its message and the message of the Internet and the World Wide Web is five fold. They are: 
1. two way communication; 
2. ease of access of information; 
3. continuous learning; 
4. alignment and integration; 
5. community. 
These five features are driving the emergence of the Knowledge Era which in turn is reinforcing and accelerating the use of this medium." 

Downes (2004) views connectivism as a language where each blog (or potentially microblog i.e. tweet) is the equivalent of a word and the words/blogs combine to create a language. The component pieces that form the net are the language where knowledge resides. 

"What we know- what we learn – is distributed across a network. It’s the patterns and regularities in that network – not the descriptions of theses patterns, but the patterns themselves, even patterns created by the creation of images, videos and cartoons. We need a new literacy to understand this language. " Stephen Downes (2012 p. 10)

As with other languages, the language of the Internet is dynamic and constantly changing, imitating other sources, to combine, recombine, remix, remash.  PLNs are complex, and can never be completely known. The language of the Internet is best learned through immersion.

Downes, Stephen. (October 8, 2004). The Buntine Oration: Learning Networks 
Logan, Robert K. (2006) The Extended Mind: Understanding Language and Thought in Terms of Complexity and Chaos Theory

Monday, October 21, 2013

PLNs at work

My big reveal is about to happen! 

As part of the mooc, Exploring Personal Networks: Practical Issues for Organizations, the facilitator Jeff Merrell stated that he was unaware of any organization requiring PLNs. In the organization I work for (large urban school board) PLNs are required for staff who self-identify for participation in leadership development.

Another essential part of participating in the leadership framework is working with a mentor(s). The feedback we have received so far is that the protege/mentor relationships are very significant!!! 

Here is the key part that we might have stumbled into fortuitously. Ideally, creating a PLN (which, I would venture to say, most mentors are not consciously aware of having - at least most of them are not familiar with the term PLN, although they all know how to network) is done with the assistance of your mentor pointing you towards key connections within the organization and within the field. This creates the opportunity for a very nice reciprocal mentorship. Most of the aspiring and emerging leaders are a good deal younger and more tech savvy than their mentors. So, mentors assist proteges with connections and navigating some of the ambiguity of leadership and proteges assist mentors in developing tech skills. 

The organization views PLNs as a personal component contributing to leadership competency. The focus of our leadership framework is 12 identified competencies. All staffing groups are eligible to participate (custodial, support, exempt, teachers & maintenance). We espouse lifelong learning and our aim is to build leadership capacity within staff (rather than defining set outcomes and checkboxes for promotions).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who Owns the Learning?

As I cruised through my bookshelf late last night I noticed Alan November's book, Who Owns the Learning, Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age. Aha! more clarity around ownership and PLNS - all part of the wrangling of thought that I am participating in with the MSLOC Exploring PLNs mooc community. We cannot own each others learning - although education systems have long tried to do so. It comes down to basic respect for people and an understanding that while you can lead a horse to water you cannot make it drink.
For those wanting to explore further and hear it from others I would encourage you to check out:

Ken Robinson's talk, Changing Education Paradigms (illustrated by RSA Animate) - I think PLNs are about waking ourselves up to divergent thinking

Dan Pink's, Drive: The Surprising truth about what motivates us - What about organizations supporting PLNs based on the tenants of autonomy, mastery & purpose? (hardly sounds like ownership? and it doen't sound outrageous to me!)

Howard Rheingold et. al's  concept of Peeragogy with their ever evolving Peer Learning Handbook

George Siemen's, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age which helps us understand some of the 'whys' associated with the question, 'Why would an organization support employees in creating, nurturing and maintaining a PLN?'

then for a bit of tongue-in-cheek levity (with a serious undertone) check out Steve Wheeler's latest video on Edupunk

Personal - belonging to or affecting a particular person rather than anyone else
Learning - a gerund - the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience or being taught
Network -  which can be either a noun or a verb -
as a noun it is - a group or system of interconnected people or things
as a verb it is - to interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts

Yup, I vote that organizations need to support PLNs in order to thrive, that this will simply be the new normal and that networks cannot be owned!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Story, Circle and PLN interaction

I really like Helen Blunden's suggestion to include testimonials as part of documenting one's PLN. I like it so much that I tweet about it.
I acknowledge Helen (@ActivateLearn), bring it to the attention of my friend Rhonda (@rljessen) and to my university cohort (#MACT13). Helen responds with
This response makes me think of the power of stories and the power of circles! Two associated ideas come to mind.
  1. The pioneering circle work that Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea have done through PeerSpirit. I participated in their advanced circle practice course last fall and have been trying to see how some of the elements of circle work could be used to strengthen PLNs.
  2. As part of my course work in communication technology at the University of Alberta I have been considering the transition from an entirely oral society, to a literate society where knowledge was separated from the knower, to our current connected Internet enabled society. It seems to me an appropriate icon for totally oral societies would be a circle, whereas a line would be appropriate for literate societies and a network (of circles & lines?) would work for an Internet active society.
As I am thinking and tweeting with Helen, I see that Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth)
has also been reading Helen's post and has responded to one of Helen's blog post.
Steve often has very interesting blog posts, so I head to his learning with e's. His latest post, Mobile Learning and Blended Interaction, prompts me to both leave a comment on his log page (which Steve replies to) and tweet, 
From there I go and look at Steve's latest youtube posting re:edupunk. Yes!!! He is beating a drum that I have been marching to for a long time. In fact his comments reflect some of the main reasons my husband and I decided, 22 years ago, to home educate our children. So I tweet
Which Steve then retweets

Back to thinking about story, circles and PLNs. I would really like to be part of a conversation regarding ways in which story and circle can be incorporated into my PLN  interactions. So I tweet

hoping that I can get some feedback and suggestions regarding story, circles and PLN interaction.

I welcome comments regarding incorporating more of story and circle into PLNs.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Non-ownership, Outcomes and Competencies

My latest musings regarding PLNs and ownership issues are related to the whole dichotomy between outcomes and competencies. I think non-ownership, outcomes & competencies are all interwoven.

I have been thinking about Kimberly Scott asking me (in the comments to my, October 12, 2013 The Curious Relationship between Ownership & Networks) “Do you think that your employer can rightly demand that you provide a list of the people who are in your personal/professional learning network?” When I pause to wonder why an employer would demand a list of people in a PLN I come up with the thought that the employer may want to protect their investment (of employee time and effort) in the PLN. The employer might feel that they “own” the outcomes. In fact they may even have stipulated outcome expectations in regards to a PLN developed while “on the clock”.

This thinking is antithetical to PLNs. I do believe that PLNs can assist people in achieving outcomes - this can and does happen BUT for me it falls into the camp of using a new technology as if it were the old technology and not capitalizing on the characteristics that make it new and different i.e. missing the point of the paradigm shift.

The strength of a PLN is that nonlinear interactions and engagement results in emergent competence that is distributed across the network. This sort of emergent thinking is, as David Weinberger says, “inextricable from—literally unthinkable without—the network that enables it”. (Weinberger, 2011) Or as William Cronon (1998) states, “More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections so as to be able to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways”. Siemen’s, Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing Roles for Educators and Designers (2008) articulates much the same view.  So, I reason, outcomes are possible from PLNs but they do not represent optimal use of networks. I think that networks optimally support  competency acquisition!

To recap my thinking;
  • ·      PLNs cannot be owned
  • ·      Using PLNs to achieve outcomes is not maximizing the potential of PLNs
  • ·      PLNs greatest strength is to support the acquisition of competencies
  • ·      Employers benefit from increased employee competence
  • ·      Competence is not something organizations own nor can competence be delivered in a binder to the next person being asked to do the job

Cronon, William. (1998) 10 Qualities of a Liberally Educated Person. Retrieved from

Siemens, George. (January 27, 2008).  Learning and knowing in networks: changing roles for educators and designers. presented to ITFORUM for Discussion Retrieved from

Weinberger, David. (2011) Too Big to Know: rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren't the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room Is the room. New York: Basic Books. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Animated hashtag!

I have found so many new and wonderful resources associated with the #xplrpln hashtag and the seminar itself - with all the associated media platforms, people, ideas and interactions. However, nothing quite prepared me for my visit to Helen Blunden's blog at Activate Learning Solutions and clicking on an innocent piece of hyperlinked text that read, Interactive Twitter map that shows me being a bit of a chatterbox 

WOW!!! There before my very eyes was an animated, group-aggregate PLN for the hashtag #xprlpln! It pulsed before me, showing me the most active members, who linked to whom and who had simply been mentioned.

Being the curious type that I am I clicked on a node and pulled it to the side of its original location. . . . no problem. Then I went searching for my name. I double clicked on my node which opened up a secondary menu showing how many times I had tweeted, used the # and how often I had been mentioned. The more active you are with using #xplrpln the larger the point size for your name.

It is interesting to consider that a hashtag used by a group develops into its own unique form of collaborative group PLN with no one owning it and great shared access.

Now I need to learn how create one! Anyone have simple, effective instructions?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Something New

The challenge - try something new!

I wasn't thinking about the challenge Kimberly issued to try something new when I went to Jeff's ScoopIt! site. Although it is certainly not the first time I have seen ScoopIt, I decided to start my own collection at XPLRPLN. Voila, emergent response to "try something new".

I worked with Howard Rheingold and a global cohort this summer looking at "think-know tools". One of my take aways was the recommendation to immediately comment on all things collected. This has proven to be valuable advice thus far. So  . . . I Scooped several sites today and made sure that I wrote a comment in the highlight segment on what I had found to be valuable about the site that I had just scooped. This commitment to comment did several things for me.

  1. I read the material (instead of just skimming and thinking, this is great but there is more, more, MORE and I will come back later).
  2. I read with a critical eye (what do I find valuable or of interest here?) - I even ended up deleting some of the things that I had scooped because I really did not have anything that I wanted to comment on.
  3. I took a couple of little side trips down rabbit holes but for the most part my summarizing/comment-seeking kept me focused
  4. I learned lots by REALLY reading and thinking about the material
I don't know yet but I certainly imagine that I will be more likely to effectively use the information I gathered at some future date because I can quickly see what I deemed interesting by glancing at my comments.

The Curious Relationship between Ownership & Networks

Networks are about connecting, sharing, hosting, and accessing. They are not about hoarding, controlling and limiting. Given that - can a network be owned? Are ownership and networks mutually incompatible concepts? If networks cannot be owned, then what is the meaning of 'personal' in the term, personal learning network?

I think personal refers to participation, nurturing, guiding, building, tending to . . . all verbs rather than nouns. A personal learning network is a verb at heart! The closest a PLN comes to a noun is the other people in the network; people who actively,  “guide your learning, point you to learning opportunities, answer your questions, and give you the benefit of their own knowledge and experience.” – (Tobin, 1998


eXPLoRing Personal Learning Networks

This blog is specifically set up to 
Learn and 
shaRe all things regarding

I am very much hoping that I have not stepped on toes by naming this blog XPLRPLN

The initiation of this blog is in conjunction with Exploring Personal Learning Networks: Practical Issues for Organizations: An Open Online Seminar, facilitated by Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott in association with Northwestern University's MSLOC (Master's Program & Organizational Change) MSLOC is running October 7 - November  5, 2013. The seminar is using the hashtag #xplrpln which is, I gratefully acknowledge, where the name for this blog originated.