Guest post by Connor Wood
I had never heard of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) before Lisa Nielsen asked me to write about mine. I did not originally set out to make a PLN. It just sort of happened as I started asking around for interviews for my education blog, Trismegistus Nab-tu-we. I also contacted author Henry Olsen and entrepreneur William Peregoy. They were both helpful in giving me the tools and ideas I needed to start my blog and autodidactism. There are a couple of other student groups I have turned to for advice including Students for Education Reform and The Providence Student Union.
I have a little secret. Aside from my blog, the only social networking site I belong to is Google+ which is only because of my blog. I use Google+ for major posts, but not much besides that. I guess I am kind of old school in using my email for most of my networking. When I started going around looking for people to interview, I used only email. This allowed me to connect to progressive educators and reform activists like John Robinson, James Bach, Lisa Nielsen, and Jerry Mintz, all of whom have been extremely helpful in networking ideas and suggestions. Jerry and Lisa, for example, both recommended I get in touch with Nikhil Goyal. Additional help in getting my voice heard has come from Diane Ravitch and Mercedes Schneider. Lisa too has helped me a lot. Allowing me to contribute this guest post is an example of that.
The majority of my PLN has come through contact with other students. I lived in Colorado for a while, so I know plenty of great people there, like Dante Lemieux. Then there is Winor Chen, a classmate who helps with the West High Student Union blog and the Facebook group. Since most of the support for my projects comes from other students, these friends have been invaluable in countless ways. Dante and Winor have both collaborated and help spread around the Educational Heretic Manifesto featured on my blog. That was big.
The progressive educators in my PLN have been helpful too. James Bach has given me priceless advice on how to learn; stuff I could not have done without him. John Robinson runs a great school, and serves as an example of what great things can happen when students and staff work together. Diane and Mercedes both gave my blog a lot of views. Other times, I get terrible advice, which I just ignore. For example, I was once advised to have people take turns leading club meetings. But when you have 20 minute meetings once a week, not much gets done with even one person leading meetings. On the other hand ,William Peregoy advises on his blog to not apologize for things you write. I follow this when it makes sense to, and it is some of the best advice I have ever read.
One of the great things about the internet is that like the blogosphere, it has the power to connect people worldwide. This allows us to meet the mind’s of those we otherwise would likely never have had the chance to connect with in the physical world. When major people in my network live thousands of miles away, face-to-face meetings are a little difficult. While I did do a phone interview with a representative from the Students for Education Reform, I have never had the opportunity to meet anyone face-to-face who I originally met online. That is not to say that I don’t want to. In fact, at some point I plan to.
I have also been armed with the knowledge to do so safely. Growing up in the internet era, I spent a considerable portion of my childhood being told to be careful online. One should not give away certain information and never meet someone in person who one has only met online. Of course, that is somewhat impractical, since if one has never known the stranger personally, by that rule, one never can. It also assumes that the only way to know someone is if you are physically in the same space. PLNs thrive when you get to know someone’s ideas through communicating online. However, one should show some discretion. If he or she refuses to give you a real name, insist on meeting in an alley, and tells one to be sure to come alone, it might be a good idea not to go. However, I think that if you connected with that person through a reputable site, or even through another contact, one should be fine. Common sense is a valuable thing.
Some final advice for student PLNs: do not limit it to one field. Henry, William, and Professors Steve Dutch and Florentin Smarandache have nothing to do with education reform. But they have valuable ideas, and are interesting people to boot. If you sense a kindred spirit, introduce yourself. It is not the “learning” part that is important as much as it is the “personal.” One can have a network of the top people in one’s own field, but if one cannot talk to those people about anything else, what is the point?
Connor Wood is a student and education activist. He is the founder of West High Student Union and is organizing an anthology of student reactions to their education.Connor blogs at: http://tri-nab-tu-we.blogspot.com/.