Delving into the world of Personal Learning Networks and examining how they can be applied in practice - An Interview with Jenny Luca (Part 1)

Director of ICT and eLearning at Toorak College in Mt. Eliza

 Personal Learning Networks

In part 1 of this interview Jenny introduces the concept of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), and the benefit that they have on educators, as well as the growing role that social media plays in professional development. 


How would you define a Personal Learning Network (PLN)?

A Personal Learning Network is something that you form as a result of your need to know. For teachers it can be difficult to keep abreast of current information and stay at the cutting edge of new techniques, concepts and developments in education.

Those in your network provide a web filter for the content and push it in your direction, and ideally you reciprocate by sharing content that your network would be interested in. This process allows teachers to build links with other educators via the internet, discover your peers and find people who can become indirect mentors to you.


Social networking


Why do you believe PLNs are important? What role do they play in education?

PLNs are ultimately about community and enabling teachers to connect with one another. Speaking from experience, teaching can be an isolating profession - you can be doing great things in your classroom and no one would know about it except for you. Social networking and online spaces allow us to find, learn and support one another, and in that way it becomes a true network of peers, friends and a community.

You find yourself in spaces of like-minded educators, but you can also morph your network to find specific teachers. For younger educators, if they can find mentors who show them that they can take calculated risks and explore new pedagogy, they can become empowered to gain the confidence to start doing things differently to improve the student’s learning.

It also helps in keeping a balanced perspective of ideas. Having a broad network is important, including areas like business and journalism, as it makes you question your ideas and forces you to really consider them.


How has having a Personal Learning Network impacted on your ability to collaborate and research with other educators?

It has opened me up to new ideas and teaching methods, but more than that my actual career has changed as a result of it. That would never have happened without writing a blog, and sharing in channels like Twitter. My immersion in these networks has really led me to spaces where I could explore technology and its impact, leading me towards a unique career in education technology that would otherwise have never been opened to me.

One of the most relevant and important breakthroughs in my current school where I’m working at is that social networks are recognised as professional development avenues, because the learning I do on these networks gets reinvested back to the school.

There is great modelling out there by teachers, such as Bianca Hewes (@biancah80) on Twitter), an English teacher who blogs about how she uses Project Based Learning methodology. We connected online, which led me to reach out to her for advice before launching myself and my students into the Project Based learning method

Sharing in that way is like action research; sharing what happens in the course of the day. That’s what teachers need, to be able to receive and provide real-time feedback and measure its effectiveness.


Grass roots


How can educators benefit from building their own Personal Learning Networks? ​​

The fact that there are great teachers out there who can share, really does help grass roots educators. I believe that we have a strong grass roots community in Australia and have wonderful educators constantly sharing and learning from one another, even though geographically we are separated from each other.

Using social networks we can connect, support and learn from one another. You’ll find that these networks are very supportive. You get to learn about each other, and we often share personal insights into our personal lives, eventually becoming a true network of friends who are all in this to become more effective teachers.


What social channels, apps or tools would you recommend to teachers who want to start sharing content and collaborating content?

Twitter is my most viable network; that’s where I do most of my learning. It’s where I find and connect with other like-minded individuals, but there are also teachers using Facebook in a similar way. I also think the world of teacher blogs is a powerful thing.

Twitter is my preferred channel as I feel that it overrides the other networks because it is always on and there is so much content being generated and shared in real time. The only negative is that it’s predominantly English speaking and we're missing out on different countries speaking different languages. I have a large connection with my counterparts in the USA and UK, but I’d like to see more diversity in the network.

Commonly used Hashtags on Twitter

If you'd like to jump into the conversation on Twitter, here's a snapshot of some of the most commonly used Australian education hashtags on Twitter. Use them to gain insight on trending education topics, discover like-minded users and connect with the education community on Twitter.


Know who to follow on Twitter

Click on the image for a larger view.

Who are the top 4 people that you follow on social media?

Jane Hunter (@janehunter01) is an academic from Western Sydney, and she has done research into high possibility classrooms on a model that she created. I think her work is going to be very important for worldwide education.


Cameron Patterson (@cpaterso) in Sydney is someone I engage with regularly. He works in formative assessment and questioning techniques. He’s always thinking ahead of the curve.

Bianca Hewes (@biancaH80) is a high school English teacher in NSW, who works often using the Project Based Learning method.

Corine Campbell (@corisel) is assistant principal of a NSW primary school. She's also involved with TER podcast, which is an Australia wide grass roots education podcast that’s really helpful for educators from all areas.


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