PLN Powers Activate!

Created with www.SuperLame.com!

Created with www.SuperLame.com!

Form of an authentic PLN experience!  Shape of a PLN mentor!

Just as students need authentic experiences, models, and mentors, teachers need the same experiences in order to forge into Personal Learning Networks (PLN).  Showing a video about its power or sharing an example of how a PLN worked for you isn’t enough for some teacher-learners.

When I began exploring social media as a way of learning from and sharing with others, I was not alone.  English teacher Cathy Stutzman (@stutz01) and I jumped in together, proofreading blog posts and even tweets!  We figured out twitter lingo and really coached each other through it.  I also relied heavily on my hubby, Brien Gorham (@virgilsdiner), who had already been blogging about pop culture, for advice and proofreading.  These two kept me going in addition to other folks I met through Twitter, most notably, Buffy Hamilton (@buffyjhamilton).  Even when I have fallen off the digital earth a few times, these folks grabbed my hand and helped me leap back on.

However, it was the experience of others that made me see PLNs as a new language that needs mentoring and immersion as necessary gateways for some teachers.  For example, Marci Zane (@marcizane), signed up for Twitter but did not use it.  She admitted that she didn’t see it as a value to her at first because I would send her things I found there.  It was seeing me use it during the 2009 AASL conference that changed her mind.  She explained to me that she saw all of the things she was missing and found herself wanting to be included in the conversation.

Another example is our 1:1 pilot group.  [See Cathy Stutzman’s guest post on The Innovative Educator’s blog for more info about this session!]  This past Wednesday, Hunterdon Central Regional High School had its 4th 1-1 pilot meeting.  This is the 2nd group of teachers, who are now joining us from last year, exploring strategies for making learning more student-centered.  One of the ideas we have been focusing on is the building of a PLN.  We shared wallwishers, videos, and personal experiences, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I felt like we made a breakthrough.

Will Richardson (@willrich45) visited as folks shared out their lesson plan ideas.  A few of us tweeted about the experience using #hctweet and created a google doc to share our ideas and hopefully get some feedback.  Finally, folks were able to see the potential of these tools for themselves and their students.  Many people joined twitter, those that already had accounts got into the tweeting, and we even had a new blogger emerge (Keith Dennison).  Setting up an authentic experience to use twitter and Google docs did far more than our prior attempts.  Lessons learned and powers activated!

Added note:  OK…maybe powers weren’t completely activated.  The meeting above took place on August 4th, and we met again today, one week later.  I began what I thought would be a quick 10-15 minute recap of how #hctweet and the Google doc took off, as well as the blog posts and connections that resulted from our work last week.  What came next surprised me: we began a full-fledged twitter discussion with people asking how to do things that they weren’t able to do over the week.  Folks also asked for clarification and practiced with each other so they could see how Twitter really worked.  We have several veteran tweeters in the room so we were able to answer questions, tutor, and mentor folks in growing their PLNs and then used Twitter in our Skype session with Sarah Brown Wessling (@SarahWessling).

This was the third time we worked with Twitter during these sessions, and the experience shows that one-time presentations are not enough nor is a single follow-up.  We need to not only create authentic experiences but also allow for continual practice with experienced users as we navigate this new territory as teacher-learners.  Alright…powers re-activated…tweet on!

So how have you activated your PLN powers?  What has been done to encourage sharing and networking in your school?