Friday, August 6, 2010

Innovative Ideas for Getting Teachers Excited About Building Their Personal Learning Networks Real Time from Hunterdon Central Regional High School

Virtual Introductions for a More Powerful PLN

Guest post by Cathy Stutzman

This summer, my school is expanding its 1:1 computing program, and we "veterans" from last year’s pilot are helping to prepare the new group for a school year with student netbooks. The participants have been working really hard on redesigning unit plans and rethinking their practices to include things like project-based learning, formative assessment, guided inquiry, web 2.0 tools, and community outreach opportunities. They have been signing up for social networking sites like crazy and learning from educators in every subject area from all over the world. However, as many of us in the original cohort remember, it's tough to put yourself out there. It's easy to lurk around on Twitter and soak up information from the fascinating people out there in the Twittosphere, but you often wonder, "who cares what I have to say?"

With only a few, courageous exceptions, most of the group hadn’t started to participate in online conversations about their ideas. Because we really want the teachers to understand just how powerful a PLN can be and because we know they have awesome ideas to contribute to the online conversation, we came up with some ways to combine what Lisa calls 1.0 and 2.0 PLNs. The teachers shared with the large group their ideas for unit and course redesigns while fellow instructor, Keith Dennison, and I took notes in a Google Doc about their plans and the tools they were thinking of using to achieve those goals. The group as well as our special guest for the day, Will Richardson, provided incredible feedback. They asked questions, suggested other tools, voiced concerns, and encouraged each other.


Meanwhile, Heather Hersey (another original member of the pilot) and I were simultaneously discussing the incredible ideas via Twitter with the hashtag, #hctweet. After about 5 teachers had presented and received some insight from the group in the room, we asked the group’s permission to tweet the Google Doc URL so that we could invite members of our extended PLNs to check out the innovative ideas that these teachers were sharing. Additionally, we asked that everyone in the group login to the document so that they could contribute any additional ideas or questions they had as the conversation continued.


We displayed on an LCD screen the Twitter dialogue emerging around their ideas, and that’s when something really powerful started happening. Many of the group members began contributing to the online dialogue as well as participating in the discussion that was happening in the room. Teachers who had put their ideas online for the first time were receiving feedback from teachers all over the world. Will was getting tweets asking about the projects and the teachers who were presenting. Individual teachers were getting direct messages and “at” tweets with suggestions and compliments. By the end of those few hours, we had a packed Google Doc that is still being viewed as I write this, and a whole slew of teachers from every discipline who were now part of the conversation and actively seeking feedback and connections.


It was truly an energizing day! And it certainly demonstrates the power of a PLN, but I think this was also a lesson in how important it is to be able to lean on others around you to help you ease into the sometimes scary world of social networking. I still need my critical friends to hold my hand when I’m reaching out of my online comfort zone, and I think that having a group of trustworthy people is invaluable as you learn anything new. If you’re new to social media, don’t be afraid to ask your educator friends to try out some of these tools with you; you can potentially double your networks if you combine forces. If you’re a vet, don’t forget how scary this can be: offer to virtually introduce new friends, ask them questions to get them involved in online conversations, and provide encouragement as often as possible. Risk-taking is always easier when you have a support system out there with you.




Cathy Stutzman, teaches English at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ and tweets at Stutz01.
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