Personal Learning Networks Are Virtual Lockers for Schoolkids
A student approached me as I was updating his website for Digiteen, a digital citizenship project, and asked, “Have you heard of the Stop, Block, and Tell Program that is helping kids with cyberbullying?” I had not heard of the programme until that moment. Just a few moments later, another student came up to me and told me, “I found that one of the most important aspects of teaching digital citizenship is teaching digital netiquette.”
It might come as a surprise to some individuals that these sentences were written by students in my ninth-grade class as part of their original study for Digiteen. My kids are always up to date on the most recent events thanks to the fact that I’ve taught them how to stay informed. At the beginning of each project, the students build their own personal learning networks, abbreviated as PLNs. This gives them the capacity to.
A student’s personal learning network (PLN) functions as their digital locker, with content that adapts to the demands of the student’s most recent coursework. When I give my students an assignment for a term paper, they search the Internet for information that they can add to a personalised web page in order to build a personal learning network related to the subject matter of the paper. They put together a new page whenever a new project is assigned to them.
According to one of my students, Virginia, “My personal learning network contains RSS feeds that tie everything into my iGoogle page,” including new blog posts, updates on the wiki, and so on. “In addition to that, I have a feed from Google News, which enables me to obtain real-time updates from the Internet on current examples related to the subject that I’m working on. It is essentially conducting the study on my behalf.”
My students’ project partners from around the world send them resources and messages, which are then collected by a Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, feeder (also known as Really Simple Subscriptions), which summarises the information and uploads it to the personal learning network web pages of my students. They don’t have to go to a lot of trouble to keep up with all the changes thanks to this feature. When a project is finished, the old resources are removed so that space may be made for the new ones.
It does not come as a surprise to me that my kids are able to develop into mini-experts when we use this strategy. After all, this incredible practise has not only made a significant difference in my life, but it has also given me the material I need to take my own blog, Cool Cat Teacher, to new heights. After only three short years, it currently receives more than 200,000 views each and every month.
My student Hope provided what is maybe the most illuminating remark on professional learning networks when she stated, “My iGoogle profile is incredibly helpful, and it assists me in maintaining some semblance of order in my life. It notifies me if there is a change to my schedule.” A look into the power of the personal learning network is provided by the fact that a student in the ninth grade would discuss her own research agenda. She is using a term that is often designated for graduate students in this context.
image provided courtesy of the personal learning network website maintained by Vicki Davis Hope Just click on the image to make it bigger.
Developing a personal learning network (PLN) is the fundamental ability that propels my pupils into the driver’s seat of their own individual education. It makes it easier for them to go through and handle the overwhelming amount of internet content that clogs up the information superhighway. In addition to this, it is an essential component of our project-based learning curriculum, which consists of rigorous projects such as the Flat Classroom Project, the Horizon Project, and Digiteen.
Tony Wagner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, identifies evaluating and analysing information as one of the seven skills necessary for thriving in the modern working environment. I believe that the capacity to establish a personal learning network (PLN) is an essential information-management skill that will assist my pupils in achieving success in the future.
How Does a PLN Work?
The kids are able to establish a PLN thanks to the RSS technology. The RSS button, also known as a chicklet due to its likeness to a piece of Chiclets chewing gum, is loaded with all of the necessary programming for adding individualised sources of news and information to a PLN with only the press of a button. These buttons can be found on virtually every website, including blogs, wikis, and mainstream media outlets. Simply clicking on the button will sign you up for a free membership to that website’s most recent updates.
A website that compiles all of this information into an organised and simple-to-read style is known as an RSS reader. iGoogle Reader, Google Reader, netvibes, Pageflakes, and Bloglines are just some examples of websites that provide RSS readers. Google Reader is my personal favourite reader. RSS readers provide the foundation upon which a personal learning network can be constructed. During the first week of my Computer Fundamentals class, I walk the students through the process of installing and configuring their RSS reader.
The RSS reader first appears as a blank Web page, just like an empty locker. Students need to learn how to locate sources of information in order to populate the page with content that will constitute their research. The Personal Learning Network is never going to be finished, but it will continue to develop in order to accommodate the shifting requirements of each particular project.
My friend Cheryl Oakes, who works as a collaborative-content coach in Wells, Maine, creates a personal learning network (PLN) on Portaportal to use as the starting page for secondary school assignments. It is now common practise for certain educators and media specialists to make it their responsibility to build these project portals for students so that they can direct the children in the direction they should go to get information. The construction of these areas for the pupils is a pretty simple process. On the other hand, I believe it is essential that they eventually be able to understand how to personalise their own learning environments.
PLNs Aren’t Perfect
There is a possibility that some teachers will be concerned about the possibility that notifications from Facebook and other announcements from websites that are restricted by the school’s firewall will get up on an iGoogle page. Despite this, pupils will not actually have access to the sites themselves because they just receive notifications about them. Additionally, users of certain RSS readers have the ability to add games and even whole episodes of television programmes. To handle this issue with my students, I make sure that every computer screen is viewable from my desk.
The first phase of each project requires that the students give me a copy of their personal learning networks (PLNs), and I verify the content of these pages on a regular basis to ensure that it is appropriate. When students log on to the Internet, they will be brought to the PLNs that they have set up as their start pages.
Now that we have personal learning networks, we can finally make the individualised learning that has been a goal of ours for so long a reality in education.
I’m thrilled that my students know how to connect efficiently to great sources of information and can now construct an environment that will make them lifelong learners. And it’s no exaggeration to say that fostering independent learning is the summit of a successful educational experience.