Personal Learning Network 3

In part 2 of this interview Jenny discusses the impact that Personal Learning Networks can have on the teaching strategies of educators, as well as the positive effect that it can have on the students grades and attitude to learning.

Previously, in part 1, Jenny introduced 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. Return to Part 1.

Have you seen how Personal Learning Networks can change the thought patterns, teaching practices or the outlook of educators? Do you have examples?

I have spent a lot of time reading about project based learning, studying it, and looking at ways I can apply it in my own classroom. Using project based learning methods was a big game changer for me, it was probably the best teaching I've done, as well as the best learning I've ever experienced.

I've had fantastic feedback from students involved in project based learning, but it's not easy as it puts the onus on them to take responsibility for their learning. When they learn via this method, students have a sense of pride in what they’ve accomplished.

I've observed that that's what they respond to best, because they want permission and the responsibility to take charge of their own learning. Through this process, they may eventually encounter and experience failure which is positive feedback. Analysing failure is something we don't do enough of in school.

When these same students who didn't do well finished a project, they were then able to articulate and identify where they've gone wrong. These same children also went on to perform better in subsequent activities because they were working through the process and ultimately learning how to fail successfully.

A lot of this comes down to the culture of the classroom; how a teacher structures it and how students feel when sitting inside that room.

Personal Learning Network Pearson

In the time that you have introduced the methods of Powerful Learning Practise to Australian schools, what engagement and impact have you seen in the educators who have used this method? Are the effects negative? Positive? Explain.

The most powerful thing has been around the use of collaborative documents and how teachers are now working alongside students, which also enables them to give feedback at the point of need.

Teachers being able to keep a very close eye as students are writing, developing and learning and deliver almost real time feedback is really powerful.

As a result of that, we can observe and cultivate better relationships between students and teachers, as students can see that you care as an educator. That changes their perception of the teacher which results in the personalisation of the learning experience.

At my school, it has been encouraging to see teachers work that way with students. As its core, it's all about relationship building, as I think everything at school is about relationships. It's important to create an environment where students feel safe, can ask questions and feel united in the learning experience.

What are the disadvantages of the feedback loop created by Personal Learning Networks where participants are both receivers and creators of information?

The disadvantage is the danger of the echo chamber effect, in the way that you're always listening to people who are thinking in the same ways as you. When you discover something like an online PLN, it is so powerful in terms of your growth as an educator you can become so immersed in that space that you risk losing sight of everything else and that can be quite dangerous.

You've got to have balance in your life.

Pearson PLN

How can the education community support teachers so that they can make the most of their PLN’s, in order to be the best teachers they can be?

I think more can be done to support educators who have chosen a different path than the conventional academic route. It isn't that one is better than the other, but there needs to be more openness within the industry.

This is reflected in society as it is becoming more acceptable for individuals to break outside the box, as seen with people who are creating start-ups and who make a conscious choice in learning outside of traditional structures.

It's important to recognise the talent in people who might not have extensive academic qualifications due to their personal circumstances or choices. I made a conscious decision along the way to take an alternative path. I invested in my network and built myself around my peers.

In this way, I think that my investment in the network is my Masters and my PHD.

I feel that this is the kind of skill set that we need to be teaching kids, that you don't have to wait for permission to be successful in life. You can go out into the world with your own desire and motivation. Acknowledgment of these groups who are doing this for nothing would be wonderful.

We share willingly for free because we believe what we’re doing matters.

In this increasingly globalised world, what is your opinion on the shift in educational conversations from formal organisational arrangements to informal personal connections?  How has this shift in focus impacted upon teaching strategies? Pedagogy? Teacher expectations?

The majority of teachers still work in the same way as they used to. Most of them might go to conferences during the year, they might do some professional reading if they're lucky enough to go to a school has resources such as professional journals, but I think the amount of professional educators making personal, informal connections are growing.

Those of us working in these social spaces are the outliers; those who are a bit left of centre and behave in a different way.

I think we're going to see changes as the network has grown enormously since I started in 2008. It feels like a much larger community now, and that's probably going to keep growing. We should still encourage people to keep joining, and there should be common ground for people to keep entering, especially as we see social media becoming more pervasive in our lives.

When I started on Twitter it wasn't mainstream, and now it is and it's more accepted. Programs like Q&A and morning breakfast programs have Twitter streams going, and it's increasingly referenced, so people are starting to realise there is value in real time conversations and connections.

More teachers are starting to realise you can learn so much from other practitioners, as teachers want to hear from other teachers. When you talk to people that are in the structure of a school there is a whole lot more validity, because you live it every day, and people want to hear from you.

In general, what do you believe will be the biggest topics in education and learning in Australia over the next 2-3 years?

I think it'll be centred on how use we formative assessment in classrooms. It will be around curriculum, and questions regarding whether the measurement that we have at VCE level truly reflects the skills that these children will need for their future. I think it will be about what skills the children are going to require when they need to be constantly changing and developing with technology in the workplace.

I also think it will be around big data, regarding how we use it and collect it. There's a lot of fear around data, as it isn't always being used constructively. If we can shift the way data is perceived and view it in a positive perspective, I think we will move in the right direction.


Jenny Lucas

Jenny Luca is director of ICT and eLearning at Toorak College in Mt. Eliza, and thought leader in the education industry. She has several years of research and experience in this field, and is a driving force in attitudes around technology and education.

Jenny introduced the Powerful Learning Method to Australian schools, and has been instrumental in making Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) known among the Australian education community.

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