Tag Archives: MindMeister

How to Draw a PLN – An Exercise in Reflection

After the #etmooc Blackboard Collaborate session Tuesday night with Alec Couros on Connected Learning, I started to think more about my PLN and the prompts that were suggested. How would I define my PLN – in words, in imagery? Being a visual person, I wanted to represent it with a graphic, so I started to think about the best way(s) to do that.

At first, I thought a general mind map might be a good choice. I mentally jotted down “PLN” as the central bubble, expanding outward to three core bubbles of “early childhood education,” “educational technology,” and “global education.” I began to reflect on who and what else belonged in my image but struggled to come up with an accurate depiction. I realized I was struggling with competing wants – trying to arrange my PLN around topics (e.g., ed tech) versus around three W’s: who (e.g., colleagues), what (e.g., Twitter), and where (e.g., at school).

mindmeister PLN

I took a break from trying to name and categorize to search for the best tool to create my visualization. I debated Google Drawings, Mindmeister (which I’ve used successfully before to collaboratively map PLNs among participants in a course I taught – see the image above), and finally settled on trying a new tool, Idea Sketch. I chose this app because I was interested in working by touch (I thought) so I wanted something available on my iPad, I wanted to be able to start with a text list since I had already written out some of my map, and I wanted the ability to color-code.

pln_idea

After exploring Idea Sketch for a little bit, I realized it was still going to be a lot more time consuming to create my map there than on paper. A perfect example of when technology can become more of a hinderance to efficiency than a tool  supporting progress. So, I went “back to the drawing board” both literally and figuratively. I started fresh with a piece of paper and decided to re-think the idea of a central “PLN” bubble.

What was really at the center my PLN? I realized that at its core, it was connected learning, teaching, and sharing – with people. I reflected how, at times, I am also at the center of my PLN, drawing connections between three fields that I am passionate about and rarely see intertwined (early ed + ed tech + global ed) but many other times, I’m simply another node, as Joichi Ito suggests, floating in and out of other nodes and networks in my PLN.  I’m not just making connections, I’m looking for them, I’m learning from them and others and at times I can become backgrounded in my own PLN, there as an observer, to “lurk” or shadow conversations that allow me to break down the already thin walls of my PLN and see through into other people’s networks. Sometimes I have the privilege of helping to create ties between someone else’s network and my own, which is always exciting and inspiring, and sometimes I simply have a chance to be a participant in another person’s network and try to support that person as much as I can.

With that in mind, my image of my PLN took on a new form. I knew I couldn’t fit every person and community in my image but I wanted to have enough examples to give a general representation. I created one large circle to define “My PLN,” one with a fuzzy outline because it’s pretty nebulous, at times even transparent or non-existent, as I connect and intersect with others. Then I added three interconnected circles inside, one for each topic that I’m passionate about, allowing for overlaps because many of the W’s I’m engaged with are related to more than one topic. For example, my job as a Lower School Tech Coordinator, allows me to work with students and teachers in early childhood education while focusing on educational technology and using it for global collaboration projects. From there, I began filling in each bubble with organizations, chats, and other types of networks that represent people and communities (e.g., #Kinderchat, SIGELT, Global Classroom Project, and the Tech Team at my school). Outside of these three bubbles, I placed more of the generic “where” and “what” labels that are the environment and home for my PLN, such as “Twitter,” “conferences,” and “Skype.”

I’m confident that this depiction is a) a work-in-progress and b) still not a perfect representation of how I’d like to display my PLN, but it comes pretty close. I also appreciated how much reflection I was able to engage in simply by trying to create this drawing of my PLN. I thought much more about the difference between communities and networks of people and the layers they add compared to the tools and environments that help me to connect. I examined the boundaries and my own place within my PLN more closely and took time to step back and consider where various pieces live within my PLN map.

My_PLN_circles_final

I (re)discovered that there are many more intersections between global education and educational technology than early childhood and global education, due I believe, to the necessity of technology to connect people across time zones, languages, and countries. I hope that with this awareness in mind, I can re-focus my own energies on seeking out more networks and communities who are integrating ed tech and global ed into early childhood education to add to my PLN.

Ultimately, now that I have my PLN sketch, I want to think more about how it looks and how I see connected learning, teaching, and sharing as the center. Those are the ideals I have built my PLN around and I want to keep them in mind as I consider the idea that there is “strength in weak ties” and in new perspectives. People who are not immersed in my PLN (weaker ties) and who have different passions, can add so much to my own learning and I want to think more about how I can make sure to value that and make my network permeable enough to see, hear, and share their views too.

Reflecting on Technology as a Global Learning Tool

It’s been about two weeks since I taught my first graduate course at American University, entitled Technology as a Global Learning Tool (or as you might have seen on Twitter, #T4GL12). I wanted to wait a little while before writing a post about teaching the course to give myself some time to reflect and review all of the learning that occurred.

The stated learning objectives for the course were as follows:

Skill — To practice new technology skills and use new technology tools (e.g., Tweeting, Voicethread)
Skill — To build a collaborative online workspace to serve as an ongoing resource (i.e., wikipage)
Skill — To engage in dialogue with other educators and trainers around the globe
Skill — To begin building or further enhancing a virtual, personal learning network (PLN)
Knowledge — To examine how to use a PLN and related technology tools to connect your students/clients to other students/clients around the globe
Knowledge — To identify ways you currently do and could globalize your classroom/organization/trainings
Knowledge — To build a wider repertoire of technology tools and strategies to globalize your classroom/organization/trainings
Attitude — To expand your willingness and interest in using technology for global collaboration
Attitude — To develop a sense of community with other members of the skills institute
Attitude — To be empowered to use new technology tools and skills in innovative ways

I am happy to say that I think each of these goals was achieved during the course and further developed in our online spaces (Wikispace, Twitter) after the course ended. I was a bit concerned about how easy it would be to establish a course community in such a short time span (the class was taught in an intensive two-day workshop-style design). Luckily, participants were willing to open up and engage with one another and I think some of the course activities helped to facilitate the connections that were made. For example, we used a shared MindMeister to map each of our existing PLNs and then took time to use the connector tool to make connections within and between our PLNs to visualize how we are all connected and can help one another network.

Throughout the course, I asked students to be active in editing and adding to various pages in our wikispace with the hope that it could become a collaborative,  community resource. It was exciting to see students learn this new tool and apply their new knowledge so quickly. I felt like they really took ownership of the space, especially as they returned after the course to post their final reflection projects.

We covered numerous different web 2.0 tools, such as Lino, Pinterest, and Prezi but we also took time to talk about sustainability and ways to overcome existing and future barriers to their ongoing tech learning. I think this was a valuable part of the course because it allowed everyone time and space to step back from the tools themselves and reflect on the specific steps they could take to integrate these tools into their organizations and classrooms. The concreteness of this activity seemed to really facilitate students’ understanding and was named as something the students appreciated in light of the almost overwhelming amount of new tools they had been exposed to in the course.

One surprising result to me was the popularity of Voicethread. I had imagined that various students would be taken with or attracted to different tools depending on their professional context (e.g., nonprofit, classroom) and learning styles but a majority of students all ended up focusing on Voicethread for their final reflections (in addition to citing Twitter as a new favorite). I wonder if the multiplicity of applications and various modalities it allows for (e.g., video, picture, audio and text comments) are what make it such an appealing tool. I think students appreciated that whether they were planning to work in study abroad/exchange, create global learning in their K12 classrooms, or work globally through their nonprofits, they could use this tool to communicate and collaborate.

As a teacher, it was truly exciting to see students begin to engage with Twitter through our course hashtag and to see them start to explore many of the new tools we discussed, creating step-by-step plans for how they would implement them in their professional lives. It was also great to have students share their own resources using these tools (e.g., sending out a symbaloo of websites they currently use for homework the first night) so that I could also learn from them and be exposed to resources they were aware of that I might not know.

We also documented our learning throughout the course on a page of our wiki. Some of the things that were recorded included:

  • How to create a new wiki page
  • How to create a personalized Google Map
  • I sent a tweet!
  • How to grow your PLN using Twitter
  • Voicethread connects people on a more personal level – more genuine
  • How to create a professional presence and how to cross-pollinate all of your interests
  • Process for setting up a sustainable global project
  • Creation of mini-teams/groups for support and guidance
As one student said,I learned so much in this class, mostly about trying new things and thinking about how to use technology in ways I had never really thought of before.”

I too learned a great deal through the course. In addition to gaining more experience with course design and implementation, I learned more about what works best in introducing new technologies to different audiences. I was reminded of how important “play time” is when exploring new tech tools and when I showed some technologies being used for global collaboration projects, the value of relevant, meaningful examples was reinforced. It was amazing to have an opportunity to work with this great group of students in thinking through ways technology can be used as a global learning tool. Through students’ final reflection projects, I was able to observe their learning in-action and students were able to demonstrate their growth in tech knowledge, skills, and comfort. I hope they all now feel better prepared to explore how technology can be used in meaningful and relevant ways for global learning and collaboration in diverse professional contexts.