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hi my name is will Richardson I'm a parent of two teenagers a former public school educator for twenty-two years I taught high school English and I'm the author of four books the last one being
why school which is a 8th ed book and today I'm going to talk a little bit about what personal learning networks are in the context of a networked world and why they're important and maybe give
you some starting points on on how to begin to get connected on your own so the world has really changed in the last 15 years because of the web and if we have access now we have access to
somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half billion people and we are slowly but surely gaining access to the sum of human knowledge pretty much in our pockets which is a huge transformation
that's happened very very quickly and one of the ways in which a lot of people are beginning to understand how learning takes place and how education takes place in that context is through what a
lot of people are calling personal learning networks so a PLN is when you connect to other people from around the world who share your passions or interests who basically will push your
thinking ask questions answer questions that you have and that become kind of this off-loaded brain of yours that you can interact with you can kind of ask
questions to when you need when you need to it's this group of people who are out there around the world many of them strangers many of them people that you'll never meet but who are kind of
tied together by their interests and in my case my PLN is pretty much made up with people who are trying to answer the question what changes for schools and what changes in classrooms when the
world looks like it does now when we have all those connections and when we have all this access so it's not just people as it's also about a lot of content a lot of
organizations and publications and whatever else that can make up this kind of Learning Network that we're talking about but it's basically being able to connect to the people and resources that
you need when you need them and to figure out how you interact with those people and those those sources in ways that kind of build your connections and
kind of grow your network and make it expand and make it even more powerful it's probably from a professional development standpoint one of the most powerful pieces of PD now and it's it's
it's I think fair to say that because of PLN's because of the access that we have professional development is really the individuals responsibility now it's not so much about the institution providing
PD it's about us kind of becoming comfortable with the idea that learning is not an event any longer it's kind of an ongoing thing and that it's within these types of global networks that
really important and deep learning can take place for us and that's what informs our practice that's what informs our classrooms and it's what informs our discussions about education so there are
some complexities here obviously it's it's not just a matter of starting to find these people and connect with them but in a world of social media where there are so many people out there it's it's really understanding there's almost
like a network literacy to interacting in those spaces a lot of it has to do with so how do you know who these people are that you're connecting with it's it's easy for anyone pretty much to
develop and create a persona online that may be very different from who they are in real life so do you have the the kind of skills and abilities to figure out you know is this person who she says she
is or he says he is are they really do they really have the backgrounds that they are putting up there online do they are they really people that we want to that I want to interact with on a
regular basis can I trust them so that's a part of it there's a safety aspect of it obviously especially when we begin to talk about PLN's in the context of kids and I think that's an important
conversation I have two teenagers and they have networks they have more social networks than learning networks right now but I think that they're gonna need a Learning Network in the same ways that that I have one
and the same ways that you know literally millions of educators already have them so there's that safety aspect of it and and making sure that we we share what's appropriate and share
enough to make those connections I like to say that you know we really do want to be found by strangers online now I know that sounds kind of kind of weird but you know that's really where a lot
of learning happens it's when I get a tweet on Twitter I mentioned on Twitter from someone who I don't know who's sharing a resource with me or I get an email or a comment on my blog from people who I don't know but who are
willing to extend my learning by sharing their own and again that's really what the the potential of this is you know I like to say that if you told me that I could only learn with people in my face-to-face worlds right now you'd be
pretty much eliminating 98% of my learning opportunities and so you know we have to have a literacy around those networks to not only identified who people are to keep us ourselves safe to
make sure that we have diversity within those networks that we have people with differing opinions who can challenge us who are willing to push our thinking and
to give us different perspectives one of the dangers I think of being in these kinds of online networks is that we find ourselves in places where everybody agrees with one another and we kind of just start patting each other on the
back you call that the echo chamber and that's not really a good place to be we want to make sure that we build in diversity in the conversation so that's a big part of it and you know I think there's there are all sorts of ethics
that go along with this that we have to think about that we have to incorporate into our participation and you know that includes giving people credit for the work that they do making
sure that we're acknowledging the work of others and not taking it as our own and you know just making sure that we were keeping other people safe within our interactions in those again in those
online spaces as well so it's not as easy as just kind of finding a whole bunch of people and connecting to them but the good news is it is quite easy actually to begin to make those connections at the beginning and then to
think thoughtful thoughtfully about you know where we go from there I think probably one of the best places to start is Twitter actually it's a you know some place that over the last six seven years
has just exploded there are are tens if not hundreds of millions of people who are participating on Twitter and I know a lot of the things that happen on Twitter are kind of nonsensical and and
in many ways juvenile and whatever else but Twitter can be really powerful if you understand who to follow on Twitter that's the most important thing if you can find people out there who are being
thoughtful about whatever the topics are that you're interested in if you can kind of connect with them and begin to interact with them ask them questions share resources with them and if you can
build that Twitter list to even as many as just 20 people it can become a very interesting place to continually learn and that's really what Twitter is about it's kind of this flow of information
it's this river of stuff that goes by and if you're following great people on Twitter you're pretty much guaranteed to get relevant interesting information back from them every single day and
that's a big part of the kind of professional development that I was talking about before you know being able to to keep up on the news being able to see what other people are doing in their
own just to see how people are innovating to really be able to not just see it but then to connect and ask questions Twitter is a great great place to start
doing that other places other ways that you can begin to do that to kind of add to your Personal Learning Network certainly you can start a blog you can comment on other people's blogs you can
kind of wave your hand and say hey Here I am I have an idea or I have a reaction or a thought and I'd like to share it and you can do that on Flickr you can do it on Instagram you can do it in all
sorts of places now where people are kind of connecting socially but then those social connections can fall out into learning connections and that's a not so subtle distinction obviously but
it's one that's important to make and so you know the the the basic idea is that we have a lot of ways to connect socially and in many cases those social
connections can turn into learning connections depending on again finding people who share our interests and the types of resources and questions and ways that we interact around that I
think the challenge for educational leaders now is first of all to understand what's happened in terms of learning in terms of our ability to connect and to learn on our own we have
to understand that learning is moving away from the institution and moving more toward the individual and that's a big change that educators are going to have to get used to we have to prepare kids I think to learn on their own more
than anything else when I look at my own two children I really believe that their success is going to be predicated on how well they can learn the things that they need to learn when they need to learn them it's not going to be so much all
the stuff that maybe is in their heads that you know they they've covered in the curriculum as they've gone to school but it's going to be you know can they reach out to other people can they find those resources that are relevant that
are accurate and that are you know interesting and so as leaders we have to look at what happens in schools through that lens we have to understand that the context has changed pretty
dramatically right now and that our roles are really more about facilitating environments where kids can learn deeply around the things they care about creating these networks as a part of
that process creating artifacts around their learning that they share with the world becoming more transparent becoming really literate and the ways in which they can interact and create things
online and if we're gonna facilitate those types of environments we have to own that practice I think as leaders to some extent you're gonna have to be connected you're gonna have to model
that type of sharing process you're gonna have to at some point use computers to create things that are really meaningful and beautiful and authentic and live in the world have a
real purpose in the world because that's what our kids are going to be to do that's the the real shift and the powerful opportunity that my kids have and that the kids in your schools have right now that I think most of us are
missing to be honest and I'm not blaming anyone for that I don't think anyone deserves to be thrown under the bus for that this has happened really really quickly and the contexts and the kind of
technologies and and affordances with those technologies that shape the way we think about learning and education have changed very very rapidly and in many ways very radically so it starts with us
can you model learning and networks online can you understand it to the point where you can counsel your teachers where you can answer their questions where you can gently push them
forward or you can rethink curriculum or you can make decisions about technology based on that vision based on that understanding about how the world has changed where you can talk to parents
about why we need to have connections inside the classroom why we need to show our kids how to connect with other people who they may not know that there is a real opportunity there to learn and I think you know we have to have
practice our own practice around that so we can advocate to policymakers the types of changes that we need to see in schools right now where schools need to become much more learner centered much
more authentic much more inquiry based in a world of answers we need to be asking really good questions and our kids need to be asking really good questions as well so for all those reasons having your own PLN is is
important right now for a leader and you know it's it's it's a requirement I would say we can't not be connected and we can't not be learning in those
contexts now because our kids really need us to understand it so we can prepare them more fully for the kind of modern learning environment that they're gonna live in you
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