Knowledge Networking for Educators (INF532) is only the second module of my Master’s studies and already my conceptual understanding of fundamental concepts such as learning and knowledge, and the role networks are playing in the information age, has changed significantly (Wocke, 2017a, Wocke, 2017b, Wocke 2017c).
Siemens’ (2006) views on connectivism informed my emerging understanding of learning and knowledge: Knowledge is no longer only recorded in artefacts such as books and journals, nor is its creation and exchange exclusively the task of institutions such as schools, universities, and libraries – knowledge and information now also resides in vast and complex digital networks. We can learn from anyone, anywhere, at any time. Learning is now more than static personal knowledge acquisition, it also involves dynamic processes such as decision-making and connection-making – learning requires participating and creating in these networks of knowledge. Siemens says it well: “Instead of the individual having to evaluate and process every piece of information, she/he creates a personal network of trusted nodes: people and content, enhanced by technology.” (p.33).
I was not very well “connected” when I started this module, but quickly my INF532 studies convinced me of the need to engage in learning in these knowledge networks. The practice-based and experiential learning format of this course provided me with the opportunity to explore this networked environment. I developed the skills and competencies needed to choose who I will connect with, in which spaces I will learn, and which tools and new formats of information production I will use to manage and harness the continuous flow of resources and information. Some of my explorations were recorded in journal format on Exploring KN tools, a page on my blog (Wocke, 2017d).
Using Twitter, the social networking and microblogging service, was my first intentional step to connect with the global network of educators. This is where I read the “headlines” of what is happening in the world of education and daily receive DIY-professional development, presented by people I choose to listen to and learn from.
Direct contact with great educators who can and will respond to me thrills and inspires me! I learnt to curate this flow of information with Tweetdeck and Twitter lists. Together with the “#INF532”-cohort I explored a Tweet chat, a format I did not find very effective, more meaningful conversations happened in spontaneous twitter messages with other students. This is a clear illustration to me that tools must be carefully evaluated and chosen for personal use, as I wrote in the second part of this contribution to the discussion forum (Wocke, 2017e).
Communication, cooperation and collaboration with members of my INF532 cohort convinced me of the value of peer-learning in networked communities. The INF532 “ecosystem”, or knowledge network, acted as the catalyst through which new knowledge could emerge (Cormier, 2010), it is regrettable that more exchange and development of ideas did not take place in the discussion forums and that few students blogged during the study session. Links made during online meetings and in the discussion forums led to a fun collaboration experiment that one of my classmates blogged about (GWTeaches, 2017a; Gillingham, 2017). We both learnt and were inspired by the experience. While I had previously blogged about Lucier (2012)and Tolisano’s (2012) “Seven degrees of connectedness”, I was not convinced that mere connectedness would lead to friendship – this collaborative experience convinced me: I am now connected with an Australian teacher librarian who will be a friend, as well as a valuable member of my personal learning network (PLN), for a long time (Wocke, 2017f)!
I continued to build my PLN and social learning environment by joining various wikis, Facebook and WhatsApp groups for librarians. These communities act as knowledge networks where I can ask questions, volunteer answers and suggestions, and share good practice. I wrote about one such experience here (Wocke, 2017g). My “learning” has now moved out into digital spaces and platforms, taking on a social form, it happens on-demand and is completely self-directed and personalised. Learning is no longer something formally planned, but happens informally and spontaneously all the time. I am convinced that this is what learning should be and am committed to further explore alternative flexible technology-based learning environments and approaches, such as flipped, blended- and flat learning, to create authentic student learning experiences, which are teacher-crafted, but student-directed (Wocke, 2017h).
As I found it almost impossible to keep track of all the great resources I was exposed to in this world of information overload, I experimented with a number of tools until I settled on feedly, as news aggregator and diigo as social bookmarking tool. Diigo groups now form part of my knowledge networking web. I find tagging and commenting valuable knowledge networking practices, with which I curate and contribute value to my PLN (Wocke, 2017e).
For production of the required INF532 artefact, I explored many tools (see Exploring KN tools), created and narrated a presentation, uploaded the resulting video to YouTube and posted on social media for feedback – all unchartered and terrifying territory (GWTeaches, 2017b; Wocke 2017d; Wocke 2017i)!
The comments from a critiquing fellow-student provided valuable perspective on my artefact and I learnt much about design and presentation principles from viewing and critiquing the artefacts produced by my cohort (Mifsud, 2017; Wocke, 2017j). My investigations into instructional design, as part of creating the artefact led to the conviction that well-designed knowledge network artefacts makes learning more efficient and engaging and leaves the teacher free to focus on supporting student learning (Reeves, 2011).
Blogging started as a requirement for my studies. On a theoretical level, I understood that blogs are powerful platforms that encourage reflective learning; it was only after reading some of my recent posts that I realised that I had stopped creating mini-essays and am now truly reflecting on my learning (Wocke, 2017k). Reading the blogs of my cohort, and educators that I value, is contributing to my understanding of their thinking and helping me develop the use of this new mode of information production (Wocke, 2017l; De Saules, 2012, 14). Blogging is not only about publishing, but about connecting (Richardson and Mancabelli, 2011, p. 34). Jarche (2016) finds blogging his strongest form of learning, the keystone of his sense-making, but acknowledges that for him it also took time and practice to develop routines of critical thinking, processing knowledge, and creating something new (Jarche, 2010). Tolisano (@langwitches) recently tweeted: “Blogging is NOT and activity, but a process” (2017).
Through the learning experiences discussed above, I have become convinced that in our digital environment – where the Internet mediates connections – educators must utilise the affordances of the world-wide-web to connect with, learn from, and be inspired by other educators (Warlick, 2009, p. 13). By developing PLNs to learn through and from, educators can be “connected” and harness these digital networked learning environments, not only for their own professional learning, but to facilitate authentic and meaningful learning experiences for their students.
Through my studies of INF532 my understanding of what it means to be a connected educator in the 21st century has developed, here is what I learnt:
- A connected educator is a life-long and connected learner. A learner who consciously and intentionally develops a personalised learning network of experts, mentors and peers to learn with and from (EdTechReview, 2014; Meador, 2016).
- A connected educator cultivates this network through social media networks and in online communities of practice, utilising this network as a resource and curation mechanism (Bumgardner & Knestis, 2011; Wenger, 2011; Cisnero, 2014).
- A connected educator contributes to and leads collective intelligence practices through the transparent sharing of experiences, practice, and content (Nussbaum-Beach & Hall, 2012, p. 48).
- A connected educator is a leader who brings what is learnt in these collective online experiences and communities back to his/her own institution. S/he leads educational reform by introducing innovative approaches to learning and instruction, that leverages the affordances of technology. S/he integrates creatively and intentionally designed knowledge products, creating authentic learning experiences that fosters student-driven learning and engagement (Groff, 2013, p. 9; Revington, n.d.).
- A connected educator is a leader who contributes to and facilitate the professional development of colleagues, by modelling his/her own networked life-long-learning practices and leading peers in knowledge networking practices (Edudemic, 2015).
“The connected educator is firstly a connected learner”, I wrote early in my INF532 journey (Wocke, 2017f). I agree with the views of Nussbaum-Beach & Hall (2012, p. 18) and Richardson and Mancabelli (2011, p. 42) that connected learning is about participation, about learning in relationships, engaging in self-directed, interest-based learning, while connecting and collaborating online. As I started to participate in online communities and building my personal network, I realised that learning is social, continuous and fluid, not only formal, but also informal and spontaneous and unstructured. I became convinced of the need for “the new culture of learning” that Thomas and Brown (2011) proposes and I wrote about it here (Wocke, 2017m).
Once committed to developing my PLN I found myself constantly reading, favourite-ing, tagging, commenting, subscribing, sharing. I now have a healthy and developing PLN of experts, mentors and peers that I utilise to enhance my professional and academic growth, to motivate and to inspire me. When I evaluate my online participation according to White and Le Corno’s model (2011) of online behaviour (that I wrote about in Visitor or Resident in the online world? (Wocke, 2017n), I note an interesting progression:
My online participation and connectedness has increased and shifted from personal to professional, due to the active engagement with knowledge networking environments and innovative social networking tools and content curation platforms exposed to through INF532. Reflecting on the crowded state of the professional side of my diagram, it is obvious that carefully direction of my online activities, focus and organization is needed to ensure a healthy work-life balance (Richardson and Mancabelli, 2011, p.36). Kanter’s (2012) adaptation of Jarche’s (2011) Personal Knowledge Mastery model, is a good starting point. “Seeking” information and resources, must be streamlined through the use of appropriate tools, services and aggregators; making “sense” happens by thoughtfully and reflectively annotating, tagging, blogging, and adding value; and “sharing” – giving the worthwhile back to your network in enhanced, or distilled format.
With a solid PLN now in place, exploring combinations of online tools, and spaces, engaging in connected learning environments, I am aware that I am still primarily a consumer (even an “active consumer”, according to Danah Boyd (2005)), but not often bold enough to be producer and creator. Mayfield challenges me when he says: “To Refactor, Collaborate, Moderate and Lead requires a different level of engagement – which makes up the core of a community.” I contribute, cooperate, but do not yet truly collaborate or lead. The next steps in my connected educator journey are clear:
- I must implement lessons learnt through the case studies we evaluated in INF532 that clearly illustrate the way to construct authentic global learning experiences by seeking and facilitating collaboration opportunities for my students to become participating global citizens.
- I must boldly and transparently publish and share my knowledge products and clearly and deliberately develop my online identity, reputation and brand (Lindsay, 2016, p. 14). I must continue to blog. I must develop my identity and brand on Google+.
As teacher librarian, I have the opportunity to co-create knowledge artefacts, to collaborate, introduce online tools and spaces for creative knowledge production, to implement flexible technology-based learning environments (Wocke, 2017h).
I have started to take a more active leadership role in my school, presenting at professional development opportunities, as with this presentation/turned knowledge creating artefact , (which I documented here) (GWTeaches, 2017b, Wocke, 2017o). It was such a motivation when our principal tweeted and blogged as a result (Butterworth, 2017)!
Lambert (1998) writes that the core of leadership is about learning together and constructing meaning and knowledge collectively and collaboratively (p.5). This is the journey I am on – to be a connected educator, learning through and with – and contributing to – my PLN; bringing back to my school innovative ideas and sound practice, leading by example.
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