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Image Attribution: Londoners in transit by Sacha Fernandez. Retrieved from Flickr. Creative Commons licence.

With recent travel experiences fresh in my mind, the analogy of the airport travelator echoes my INF532 journey. Sometimes the travelator moves you along at the same pace as the traditional walk, other times it takes you further with less effort and other times, when you move yourself along as well, the travelator takes you much further down the pathway than the walk might have done.

Commencing my sixth unit of the Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation Masters, I had made a considerable start to my connected educator journey. Prior to INF532, I was engaging with a personal learning network (PLN) on Twitter, making effective use of social media and practicing a do-it-yourself learning mentality (Nussbaum-Beach, 2012, Skip Via, 2010, Alex Couros, 2010). I had explored a range of curation tools and selected those I found most useful (Plenty, 2016a), and made a commitment to seek opportunities for global education connections. In some respects, I have continued learning as I would otherwise; in others INF532 has given me the motivation and means to expedite my learning progress and move further along.

My most significant learning and progress over the course of my INF532 study include:

  • Consolidation of my PLN through social media
  • Recognition of the power and importance of blogging
  • The process and production of the artefact
  • Connections with experts for learning
  • Development of my understanding of instructional design
  • Improved information management and use of curation tools

Collaboration, Twitter and PLN

Jennifer Gonzales ideas about open-door classrooms and the facilitation of observation through the physical environment resonate with my experience (Plenty, 2016b). Having recently worked in three diverse school environments (Plenty, 2016j), I see the physical limitations imposed on school-based connections by the structure of school buildings. Leadership may actively address this through ongoing planning for architecture and infrastructure but also through the encouragement of other modes of connection. Despite diversity in the roles, I have been fortunate in my two most recent jobs to have the scope to connect with my colleagues, previously in a school where team teaching was an emphasis and now as a technology coach, working with others to support their technology integration (Plenty, 2016b). Both of these positions have been unique opportunities to learn from and with colleagues.

Whilst observation and connection with one’s colleagues (Couros, A., 2010) are vital ingredients for growth, external connections are necessary to really cross-pollinate perspectives, develop creative approaches and avoid stagnation (Jarche, 2013). Steve Wyborney (2016) and Todd Nesloney (2013) both discuss the revolutionary impact of Twitter on their practice and their findings align with my recent experience. Since commencing ETL523 (the first of two units studied under Julie Lindsay this year) in Session One, I have been encouraged to foster my online PLN, and since commencing INF532, my efforts to become more of a participant have resulted in some significant learning growth through my Twitter connections. However, as Rheingold (2010) notes, discernment skills in who to follow and how to refine PLN connections are also necessary. Action in this regard has tailored my feed, making it relevant and packed with potential for learning. I have had to find balance using Twitter as a flow, the more people I follow, the more I miss. Finding the balance to check the ‘rolling present’ (Rheingold & Weeks, 2012) regularly, subscribing to the blogs of those I do not want to miss and recognising the need not to overload and induce “edu PLN fatigue” (McGilvray, 2016) have been essential new skills.

Since starting INF532, I have regularly participated in Twitter chats. Involvement in organised chats such as #AussieED, #DigitalEDchat and #MSFTEDUchat has provided opportunity to connect more closely with others to share ideas (Lindsay, 2016) and subsequently engage in ongoing conversations, moving my interaction more into a networked community of practice (Wenger, 2012). Such chat opportunities test my thinking, provide new or divergent perspectives and refine my knowledge (Archer, 2009).

The learning potential of a tailored PLN has been evident for me during INF532 with learning that I have sought, but also learning acquired directly. I needed to know more about flipped learning and creating video resources, I connected with Joel Speranza. I needed ideas about creating animation for my artefact – I happened upon Richard Wells Keynote tutorial tweet. Planning ideas for staff PL, I connected with Craig Kemp about his Techie Brekkies. Planning to commence a school-based student tech team, I was contacted by Larry Baker in the US who is building a resource and making connections regarding that process.

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Twitter messages used with permission (2016)

Tweet – example of professional learning through Twitter

The Power of Blogging

Documenting an ongoing record of my thinking is proving a useful reflective process; as articulated by Joel Speranza, it is a chance to sort and consolidate ideas, share thinking that may unexpectedly be significant for a reader, and connect with a larger PLN when shared through social media. As “one of the people formerly known as the audience” (Shirky, 2010, p.64), I am motivated by the fact that networks amplify my voice, allow me to connect with experts and potentially allow me to support the learning of others.

Examples of Twitter interactions

The requirement to review the blogs of others has empowered my learning; for example, Kathryn MacGilvray’s ideas added a different perspective to my own. Connecting with one another through our blogs has helped to consolidate learning and fill knowledge gaps (Siemens, 2013). Reviewing the artefacts of others was also a rich professional learning experience (Plenty, 2016f).

INF532 has required a more extensive investment in the blogging process than other units (Plenty, 2016c). This has helped me recognise the importance and potential for professional growth available through the process. Despite the time I often take to blog (Plenty, 2016d), the visible learning value of reflection (Muncher and Ellickson, 2012) and my own curated ideas (Press, 2016) is an aspect I have come to value more during this session, motivating me to continue the blogging process. From here I intend to keep working between curation, Twitter and my blog to synthesise my learning (Weisgerber 2011) and to continue developing my personal information style (Bawden, 2009).

Artefact Learnings

Wanting to make something authentic, I was challenged to assess the needs of my new workplace (Plenty, 2016e).  Inspired by the timely connection with Joel Speranza through the AussieED network on Twitter, I decided to make video elements that could be used in my school alongside their inclusion in the artefact. Speranza’s “Tech Tip Tuesdays” and flipped classroom videos have helped to formulate my perspective and inform direction for progress in my work.

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Twitter messages used with permission.

Twitter – #AussieED chat response.

Instructional design

Already aiming to generate more connections, the investigation of instructional design raised my awareness of design to maximise learning. The exploration of distance learning and instructional design flowed on from Rosenthal Tolisano’s blog posts (2011-14) where I was impressed by the care taken to structure effective learning experiences. Extending from this investigation, a highlight of my progress in this session was the opportunity to connect students with experts for project-based learning (Plenty, 2016g), and rather than a sole focus on the connection itself, I prepared these opportunities carefully with students so a holistic learning experience was possible.

The investigation of instructional design was also applicable for staff professional learning. Considering Wenger, McDermott and Snyder’s (2002) findings that communities of practice need diverse modes for connection, I have carefully considered how to prepare learning opportunities for staff that are meaningful, necessary and varied and this inspired the variety of inclusions in my artefact (Plenty, 2016).

Curation tools and information management

The requirement to investigate curation tools is an aspect of INF532 that I could have explored in more depth; however, at this point in my study, I have already explored a range and whilst not closed to new possibilities, I have processes in place for curating and connecting that work for me. I am wary of diluting my information management by including too many things (Plenty, 2016h). However, as Jacques Du Toit noted (2016), a working system for curation can lose its structure and I have now started using Peartrees (Plenty, 2016c) to invest in a more visually oriented curation method.

Where to from here?

Richardson and Mancabelli define four steps for networked learning (2011, p.12):

  1. Understanding the power of PLNs
  2. Becoming a networked learner
  3. Implementing a networked classroom
  4. Becoming a networked school

My study and experience through INF532, indicate a developing understanding of the power of PLNs. I now recognise that my own knowledge is best constructed through interaction with others – primarily through Twitter, university studies and with my work colleagues (Mundker and Ellickson, 2012). Knowledge is no longer static and I can make use of my networks to test the currency and validity of my own position (Jarche). I have become a networked learner and have forged connections beyond my real world.

Siemens advocates the need to develop an eye for networks (2008); this increased awareness will not happen without an effort. My study has shown me that networking is a deliberate choice, requiring a cultivated attitude to learning (Rajagopal, Joosten-ten Brinke, Van Bruggen, & Sloep, 2011) and an ongoing effort to curate and keep the network alive. It is necessary that I maintain a sustained involvement, not dropping the connections between units of study, but rather keeping the connections and blog active and ongoing.

In a knowledge society it is imperative to discern, filter and manage the overload (Bawden & Robinson, 2009) so that information empowers, not overwhelms (Brown & Dugoid 2002), whilst acknowledging that the an industrial model of education is no longer relevant for students needing preparation for new models of work in the 21st century (Plenty, 2016k; Adams Becker, Freeman, Giesinger Hall, Cummins, and Yuhnke, 2016). These are important considerations in planning meaningful learning for other educators to support them in their own paradigm shift whilst avoiding learning fatigue (Bawden & Robinson, 2009).

As a staff member with responsibility to prepare and deliver professional learning opportunities for colleagues, the investigation of instructional design has provided considerable direction. Care to plan, design, implement and evaluate learning opportunities is vital for the sustained success of professional learning (Merrill, 2002). Kunkle highlights the ADDIE model, where design thinking gives structure to the process. This is an area for investment to ensure important learning opportunities do not miss their mark.

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(Kunkle 2011, slide 4) 

Motivated by my artefact process including PLN inspiration (Plenty, 2016i) and with consideration of the need to provide diverse learning opportunities (Wenger, McDermott and Snyder, 2002; Jisc, 2013), I have started creating video tech tips; but will structure their delivery, considering timing, need and a sequence with care. Moving forward, I plan to share more of my learning through Twitter, as the quick tips of educators like Richard Wells have inspired my learning. As my own following has grown with my participation, I am increasingly aware of the importance for me to ensure my own PLN contributions are worthwhile and of benefit to others (Rheingold, 2010) and therefore the responsibility to create and share quality content is an imperative for my ongoing participatory practice.

Effective new models of leadership and support networks have been identified as significant needs in a contemporary context to progress educational paradigms into a networked future (Adams et.al, 2016); with this in mind, it is the last two of Richardson and Mancabelli’s points where my efforts now need to concentrate. Through my work and online networks, I have the scope to work with others to support development of networked classrooms and will now use the momentum of my study to guide and inspire increased global connections for a more networked school. Despite the many challenges, small steps are progress and I am motivated to create and extend connections as we travel towards an increasingly networked future.

 

References

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