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The artefact, “Connected Education”, is designed to convince time-poor educators that Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are worth their time and to encourage steps to develop and leverage networks to expedite learning. The artefact website hosts videos and links to supporting resources; it includes a pathway from definition and rationale, to forging local connections and finally to building an online PLN. Other site elements are designed to visually engage, showcase the creation tools and consolidate an understanding of the merits of networks for learning.

The artefact has been designed as a beginner’s guide to building networks. It aims to tackle challenges and support the needs of a specific workplace; however, these are circumstances common to many schools. In this context, it is evident that many are overwhelmed with new learning and an array of systemic changes, therefore an acknowledgement of infowhelm is included, whilst prompting the thinking that connection might ultimately be beneficial. In this context, voluntary professional learning sessions have been poorly attended and compulsory professional learning may be without recognition of diverse needs and occurs at times when the learning need is distant; therefore, the artefact aims to offer accessible, relevant professional learning, that teachers may access in their own time.

The central elements are designed to be instructional guides for teachers, but double as examples of a creation tools or processes they might use with students. The artefact makes use of Spark (website and videos), Keynote (animated video), Canva (design), Sway (Microsoft presentation tool), QuickTime (for screen recording) and Twitter. Whilst as a design, a more cohesive use of tools may appear more unified, the included examples are intentionally broad, showcasing a diverse range to prompt creative learning and collegial conversation. The artefact includes sample tips, however the recommendation is made that others might contribute, adding to the peer learning over time. Interaction on Twitter has been instrumental in the development of ideas and use of tools for the artefact; it therefore seemed a logical culmination to promote the social networking tool for other educators.

The artefact is located online as a site using Adobe Spark, it links to other content housed online through Spark, Microsoft Sway and YouTube. In line with the shift from ‘broadcast technologies’ to ‘everyday technologies’ defined by Thompson (2013), the artefact uses freely available tools that, unlike sophisticated design products, are simple and intuitive, making them ideal creation tools for teachers and students alike. Creation enables learners to make a personal connection to information (Couros, 2015) and become a producer, rather than simply consumer, of information (Nussbaum-Beach, 2012). Presenting work to an online audience reinforces the need for quality (Couros, 2015). It is hoped that these artefact inclusions will scaffold implementation of rich learning experiences.

Rather than philosophical objections, a significant component of teacher reluctance to adapt practice is based in fear of the unknown and many are immobilised by lack of exposure (Rachardson & Mancabelli, 2011). Consequently, there is a resulting need for professional learning exploring new pedagogy and tools, without which schools are unable to maintain relevance and support their students’ needs. John Dewey’s famous 1915 quote is a somewhat ironic reminder of the need for teachers to reconsider practice for a post-industrial, digital world. Today’s employers are looking for digitally literate employees, adept in communicating, problem-solving and creative thinking (Miller, 2015; Wagner & Dintersmith, 2015); Miller identifies a disconnect between the workforce and education system where educators continue to apply an industrial model (2015). However, where students see teachers modeling their own self-guided approach to lifelong learning, they may develop their own metalearning (Couros, 2015).  It is necessary that educators progress their practice, foster network literacy, incorporate a mindset where everyone is a learner (Couros, 2015) and design pedagogically-sound learning experiences to meet future societal needs (Pegrum, 2010).

An immersive, available, contextual approach to professional learning within a PLN may make learning for educators more meaningful. Embracing web 2.0 technologies to facilitate learning accelerates the process and reinforces the immersion. As Tolisano notes, learning should not occur in isolation, it needs context and purpose (2011); professional learning delivered without context does not always enable connection with prior learning and a trajectory for future application. George Siemens’ connectivist position that learning happens through connection (2004) can have two-fold relevance. Connecting new information with existing understanding is strengthened by learning alongside a PLN to contextualise and consolidate understanding. Nussbaum-Beach asserts that people learn best from each other, as they are not limited by the constraints of independent thinking (2012) and fill gaps in each other’s knowledge through individual approaches and perspectives (Siemens, 2013). Small steps together can allow educators to punch their fears in the face (Miller, 2015) and incrementally shift their practice. The cycle of information from the individual connecting their understanding within the organisational network or PLN allows educators to retain currency amongst constant change (Siemens, 2004).

Whilst without the captive audience of a formal professional learning experience, the opportunity to learn through PLNs may empower individuals; formal learning is no longer the dominant model of learning with digital technologies enabling rich, informal learning experiences (Siemens, 2004). Ritchart identifies that when network members are motivated by interest and shared vision, deeper cultures of thinking emerge. Furthermore, George Couros notes that empowering just one person may be enough to push an entire group and therefore, pockets of networked learning may flow-on to stimulate change in the broader school community without expensive, ill-timed, one-size-fits-all professional learning (2015). Michael Wesch’ “litle bird who saved the world” analogy, where small steps of a few inspire a larger impact, is applicable through use of this artefact (2010). George Couros articulates the important idea that teachers do not need to be on identical learning trajectories. Using empathy to acknowledge differing needs and offering choice and scaffolds within professional learning can empower educators to pace their own meaningful learning (Couros, 2015).

The artefact elements focus on learning by doing. Wagner and Dintersmith (2015) note that the greatest contributors in history honed their craft through apprenticeship, not notetaking; thus immersing oneself in the process is likely to illicit more powerful learning. The experience of self-guided, self-paced, collaborative learning that is modelled and recommended through the artefact may enable educators to visualise parallel contexts for students. Such opportunities are aligned with Miller’s description of relevance in contemporary schooling; where students may be guided to ask the right questions, learn to seek answers and be adaptable (Miller, 2015); knowledge-able rather than knowledgeable (Wesch, 2010).

As the needs in this large college context are varied and multidimensional, it was considered important to make the resource accessible to teachers in multiple ways. The overall Adobe Spark site hosts the other artefact elements, providing some level of cohesion around the range of included tools.

Whilst a layered scaffold for this artefact was desired, the range of inclusions may risk overwhelming reluctant users rather than empowering them (Brown & Duguid, 2002). For these reasons and inspired by Couros’ (2015) suggestion to take small steps, ‘how to use this site’ tips were included to highlight differentiated options for use.

Whilst initially one component, the two Spark videos were split to break up the presentation of key ideas, allowing a mental pause to digest the concept of connected education prior to the significant investment in considering its worth. Many educators will not have a context for the terminology, thus the basics have been outlined to frame the artefact and a series of quotes and statements created using Canva, visually communicate key concepts as part of the persuasion process. Frequently-sited educator concerns in this context about time, pressure, purpose and challenge informed the decision to conceptually weigh challenge against need; thus the remainder of the artefact is designed to promote small changes that may contribute to a big difference over time.

The ‘Local Connections’ section of the site includes suggestions for activities within an internal Community of Practice (CoP); such groupings allow structured communication to drive strategy, implement new ideas, solve problems and develop skills (Archer, 2009). The button links were initially embedded content; however, it was decided that the weight of these amongst the other elements was too great and therefore they were de-emphasised to form a secondary layer that might be explored over time. Inspired by Joel Speranza’s (2016) flipped classroom approach, the instructional links provide short, accessible snippets of learning rather than a full session or overload of ideas. Microsoft Sway is featured on the first link, exposing artefact users to a presentation tool that allows collaboration in real time, creative commons learning and an online audience. The Canva tutorial features the online design tool to support learning through reflection. There are various ways that this this sharing could be circulated, however the chosen elements aim to promote anytime, anywhere access, allowing and modelling differentiation through user selection and self-regulated learning.

Internal CoPs can promote connection and growth, however they can also stagnate with myopic thinking (Jarche, 2013). Pegrum sites a shift in information seeking to social networks rather than search engines (2010). Citing Siemens and Tittenberger, Pegrum notes that PLNs will increasingly enable members to filter information and cope with overload. Aligned with this beneficial feature of PLNs in a web 2.0 context, the practice of many connected educators has turned to Twitter, with considerable scope for meaningful digital connection and learning with a global PLN (Lindsay, 2016).

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-8-36-12-pmThe diverse PLN opportunity provided through global networking enables what Justesen (2004) refers to as ‘Innoversity’ – the intersection of innovation and diversity – allowing for unique ideas through the merge of divergent thinking. At a glance through the Twitter flow in a carefully-pruned network, one can access ideas, links and insights for significant learning; this may be amplified with extended use of Twitter through organised chats or other networked events. Explored synchronously whilst in progress, and/or asynchronously through archives after the event, such networking again allows differentiation for the learner. This final inclusion makes use of Keynote animation processes, fortuitously learnt through interaction on Twitter. This also connects the idea that is featured throughout, that learning can best happen in our own time through the PLN with the support of digital tools. This potentially inexpert teaching and learning experience may well be mirrored in our classrooms where our paradigm shift from content expert to facilitator and mentor, is becoming ever more prevalent and necessary.

The artefact does not include suggestions for global collaborative projects or networks beyond a beginner level, allowing potential users to benefit from a steady start to build their skills and comfort (Via, 2010). From this starting point, teachers new to networking could extend to more connected processes with students, using their online network to foster new globally connected possibilities (Lindsay, 2016).

The artefact, Connected Education, is designed for a large, traditional school context, where the needs of the community are diverse and professional learning can be seen as a challenging add-on. The artefact offers instructional guidance, nurturing both a mindset and behaviours that will encourage PLN involvement (locally and digitally) for learning. It uses multiple design and presentation tools to articulate concepts and showcase digital tools. It is scaffolded to introduce those reluctant to shifting their practice to the concepts of networking and offers examples of pathways through which educators might connect and go about building and developing their professional learning network.


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