Today, one of the biggest challenges teachers face is how to provide opportunities for edugagement, the engagement of students in the classroom, with relevant learning opportunities. While we are all infinitely more connected than ever through mobile devices, it seems professional collaboration can still be difficult to cultivate. So, how can we create an environment that encourages and creates professional collaboration? Here are some tips and directions on how to create your professional learning network (PLN). But first, what is a PLN?
A personal learning network is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some learning will occur due to that connection.
An important part of this concept is the theory of connectivism developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge. The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person.
1) Collaboration – Make sure collaboration is your driving force. You have to approach this activity as selflessly as possible. Collaboration cannot happen if everyone involved thinks only of what they can take away from this exercise instead of what they can contribute. Make sure you encourage questions and discussion. No relevant idea is worthless and no question is dumb.
2) Active Participation – Be an active participant. This tip is closely related to collaboration. We mentioned before that you need to go into a PLN with the idea to give rather than take. This expands on that point. Not everyone who joins a PLN is going to have stellar ideas right when it starts, so make it a point to do a little research before each meeting regarding the meeting’s subject. If you can’t come up with a groundbreaking idea, that’s fine. Just make sure to be able to discuss the relevant subject matter and provide great feedback. Who knows, amidst all the discussion, you may have a “eureka!” moment based on your own research and ideas gathered through the collaboration.
3) Using Social Media – PLNs can span the entire country. Teachers and administrators in California can collaborate with their East Coast counterparts instantly, so social media is your best friend in a PLN. Set up Twitter chats every week to talk about the week’s happenings, discuss new ideas, and tell your network about new teaching techniques or technology you’re using in the classroom. Use Instagram to show how engaged your students are and create a group page on Facebook. If you want to get even more in depth, try A/B testing a PLN teaching idea in real time over Twitter with a colleague, while continuously updating your network on the idea’s success or failure. The possibilities with social media are endless.
4) Have Patience – Anything worth doing will probably not be an instant game-changer. Your PLN may take a few weeks, or months, to really hit its stride. Stick with it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it did change the world.
PLNs are a powerful tool in the current teacher’s repertoire. They allow unprecedented access to ideas, feedback, and techniques that can play a major role in re-shaping our educational system and how we learn. Once your network is established, make a concerted effort to grow it into a knowledge base that can be a one-stop shop for all your learning needs. The more members, the better. Think of every member as an individual neuron. The more connections created the “smarter” it gets and more problems of higher complexity can be solved.