Networked Learning and Teaching

15 03 2008

Personal Learning NetworkI am currently in the process of re-writing our technology professional development plan. I was reviewing all of the different methods of delivering training: workshops, drop-in sessions, just-in-time training, online, networked learning. The whole idea of network learning got me thinking about how much I rely on a personal learning network in my own position, although I don’t think I have ever used the term. In fact, I have been using a widely-dispersed group of friends and colleagues for more than 10 years to solve technical problems. It simply isn’t possible for one individual to know how to solve all all issues on their own, but one thing I can always count on is that someone else is muddling through the same problem. Why would I start investigating the problem from scratch? Sites such as Event-ID, Tek-Tips, or ExpertsExchange put me in contact with experts from all over the world who have probably encountered, and resolved, similar technical problems. In some cases, I receive better advice from people on these sites than I would relying on official sources such as Microsoft or Oracle. Even before the Web, resources like email and newsgroups helped people working in technical support collaborate with one another and tackle tough problems as a group. Having worked as a technical consultant before coming to education, I believe this explains why VLNs seem like such an obvious choice when I encounter a problem in the classroom or need a great idea for an acitivity.

Why don’t teachers rely on VLNs? Some do, but the majority I have worked with continue to wade through problems on their own. If they do rely on someone else, it tends to be the same person, or they consult outdated information found in books, journals, or magazines. When they have a problem with software, I find most become frustrated and contact IT Support. They don’t think of asking a teacher next door, or a student, who is easily accessible and probably has the solution. This isn’t just confined to technical support issues. Lesson plan ideas, unit plans, rubrics, educational software reviews… tools and resources for just about any aspect of teaching and learning can now be found online. And yet few teachers I know use this information.

Is is a lack of knowledge about these resources?

Or not knowing how to set up a VLN?

Or a lack of technical knowledge about how to access the resources and use them once they are found?

Or do they feel the quality of these resources is sub-par?

I would apppreicate your comments. Why don’t teachers use VLNs? And how would you encourage teachers to set up their own personal learning network?