Tuesday, February 10, 2009

PLNs and Our Learning Communities

Why is it that I am always underestimating the possibilities of my seventh graders' use of technology--participation in a wiki, use of the RSS reader, etc.? Why have I been feeling that I need to apply for that HS English position in my school to be able to better use the Web 2.0 tools? Why have I been feeling limited? Why have I been limiting?

Well, I'd say I have had these notions as a result of my own ignorance, my own boxed in limitations (along with the null exposure to technology by my students, and the limited school resources). In reality, I should be diving in (as I have begun to do so), because these same students will not be any better off as high school students if they are not introduced to the possibilities of creating their own learning communities (even if I do facilitate the structuring of them)--it has to start somewhere. I would face the same limitations with HS students as I do with MS students. The one thing I have going for me is that middle school students are more readily willing to try the tools. They're still malleable. So, now that I have gotten over that "grass is greener" moment. I am ready to move on!

(A hydrostone sculpture by Michael Alfano)

The funny thing about Personal Learning Communities is that they are so individualized that structuring them is very arbitrary. Every individual is just that individual in their thoughts, interests, motivations.... When George Siemens speaks about "Overload of Diversity" in his book Knowing Knowledge he says, "Knowing resides in the collective of many differing, diverse viewpoints. This requires new skills of interacting and functioning, especially since our schools are still teaching basics for an era that no longer exists." He was speaking to me. Was he speaking to you too?
The essence of a personal learning community is the individual seeking knowledge and communication. I think back at my "Black Hole of Web 2.0" entry, and visualize each individual (teacher, student, community member, random person) as a star. Some stars may be gathered in galaxies (perhaps such communities as Classroom 2.0 or the NWP Rural Sites Network); some stars drift among galaxies--their boundaries undefined. The planets are the variety of learning opportunities offered to the stars--some many, some few, some none. Those stars without planets are either just starting, dead, or dying. The point being is that we limit ourselves to "past practice" we are not permitting our stars to reach their full potentials or, in some cases, any potential.
Our job as teachers is to connect, not limit, our students to the world of learning that they should be experiencing: introduce them to an RSS, show them how to judge Internet sources of knowledge, and above all give them control of their learning through guidance and immersion. To do this, we need to be leaders in our schools. We need to model the effective use of these tools in our classroom and for our peers. We need to function as leaders within the personal learning communities of others.
I've got a lot of work to do if I want my children to be taught with approaches that are not "basics from an era that no longer exists."


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