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7 Steps to Student PLNs

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Network (in glorious Helvetica)Photo Credit: Alexander Baxevanis via Compfight

One of my goals for 2014 is to apply what I have been planning for quite some time now: encourage my students to develop their own PLNs.

In brief, a PLN (Personal Learning Network) is “an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment”. Interactions can take place online and the learner does not have to meet those people in person.

My own PLN consists of like-minded educators from all around the world; they are the people I learn from and with on a daily basis. They are those who share with me and inspire me to experiment, reflect and become a better educator. Whether I have met them in person or not, these people are now part of my life. I’m not isolated anymore; I’m part of a community of lifelong learners.

How would it be like if students developed their own PLNs in areas of interest or talent? Not only would they be encouraged to learn independently but they would also have access to information and communities impossible to reach from within classroom walls. After all, as 21st century teachers, we are no longer the sole providers of knowledge; however, we can be the ones who will show them the way to opportunities; those who will provide them with skills to learn from and with a global network of people.

Below are 7 steps that I consider essential to this endeavour. The list is by no means exhaustive and you are invited to make your own contributions through a comment or blogpost 🙂

Step 1: Reflect on how you developed your own PLN

Our experience in developing and maintaining a PLN should not be taken for granted. Reflect on that. Think about the steps that you took, the mistakes that you made and on what you have learned on the way. If you don’t have a PLN, it’s never too late to create one. You will feel much more confident to teach something that you have personal experience in. Read what Shelly Terrell and Vicky Loras suggest and contact me in case you need further help 🙂

Step 2: Teach students Digital Citizenship skills

To participate in online communities effectively, students will need to be equipped with skills to use technology responsibly, ethically and safely. They should be polite and tolerant with people; they should be critical thinkers, able to challenge and filter a vast array of information found online; they should also be aware of the dangers they might encounter and be able to deal with them effectively. Even if your students are aware of these concepts, reminding them is always a good idea.

Step 3: Give it time

As you will know from your own experience, PLNs cannot be developed overnight; they are not static either. They grow as we grow and can slightly change when our needs and interests change as well. Give your students time to build and maintain their PLNs. It might work well as a year round project for instance but you will need to check students’ progress regularly.

Step 4: Encourage active participation

Finding and joining a community of like-minded people might be highly important but PLNs cannot be maintained if students are just consumers of what other people share. They will need to contribute back by taking part in discussions, by creating and sharing their own content. Teach students to be creators. They can start with comments or questions and gradually move on to writing blog posts or creating videos. Anything that will add value to other people’s learning will be appreciated and welcome.

Step 5: Find tools that will suit your students’ needs

Twitter, Facebook groups or blogs can be great PLN platforms. Do your personal research and use the ones that address your students’ needs. You will also need to consider your students’ age. If you teach young learners, platforms like Edublogs or Edmodo might be more appropriate. Curation tools are also important. Teach them to curate and organise information and resources with tools such as diigo, Evernote or scoop.it.

Step 6: Don’t forget that PLNs are personal

The term itself suggests students need to personalise the learning experience and make decisions. Don’t impose networks and interests on them; instead, help them define their goals and motivations and make connections according to them. Personalisation can be achieved even with younger students who need to be supervised more closely; for instance, you can initiate collaboration with kids in other countries but let them have a say over who they want to work with.

Step 7: Act as a model

Last but not least, focus on modeling what learning looks like. Share your own learning and experiences. Tell them how you started your own PLN and how valuable it has been to you. Learn with them and from them. Invite them to teach you something; explore and discover new things together. Be part of their PLN and let them be part of yours.

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Tagged – a blog challenge

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This is a great blog challenge in which one blogger tags you on their blog, challenges you to share 11 random facts about yourself and answer 11 questions; then, it’s your turn to challenge eleven more bloggers by tagging them on your blog.

I was first tagged by Doug Peterson and I instantly liked this challenge as it aims at bringing bloggers together and gives the opportunity to our readers to know us a bit better. But just as I was about to respond, Theodora Papapanagiotou and Eva Büyüksimkeşyan tagged me for the same challenge. So I decided to answer all their questions in one blog.

I think this would be a great activity to motivate language learners to develop their writing skills and get up to speed with blogging. I’ll definitely try it in 2014, most probably with some  adaptations.

 So here is the task:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger- in this case it would be me…
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

So here we go:

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger

Doug is an educator from Canada. Since my friend, Vicky Loras, introduced me to him we’ve been connected through Twitter and Facebook and I have already learned a lot out of what he shares. Doug is a proponent of Educational Technology and has a deep understanding and experience of how it should be integrated effectively into the classroom. I really admire him for this. Along with reading his blog (which he updates almost on a daily basis) I had the opportunity to have a professional discussion with him via Google hangout last month. Isn’t it amazing how technology connects people who want to learn from each other?

A week ago, I was a guest speaker at TESOL Macedonia – Thrace Xmas event and this is where I met Theodora. Theodora is a dedicated EFL teacher and blogger from Thessaloniki and I’m so happy we are now connected on Facebook. I’m looking forward to interacting with her more often and seeing her at another ELT event soon.

Eva is a great EFL teacher and blogger from Istanbul. Her blog “A journey in TEFL” is full of practical ideas and activities for EFL teachers and has been nominated from Edublogs a number of times. I had the pleasure to meet her in person last year in Istanbul at the YTU 1st International Symposium and I hope to see her again soon.

 2. Share 11 random facts about yourself:

  • I am a night owl. I love staying up late, possibly because I’m sharper at night.

  • I don’t like sweets, cakes, ice-cream. I only eat chocolate before presentations or exams as it gives me energy.

  • I can live on bread and pastry on condition it is not sweet 😉

  • I can be really grumpy when I’m cold, hungry or sleepless. Other than this, I’m usually easy-going.

  • I love Facebook because most of my friends are there.

  • I love pets, especially dogs. I have a maltese dog, Hector. No doubt you know him if we are connected via Facebook 😉

  • My first name (Sophia) is a Greek one and means wisdom. The word “philosophy” comes from the Ancient Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which literally means “love of wisdom”. So if you are a friend of mine, consider yourself a philosopher.

  • I love red wine and beer. I hate whisky. Just the smell of it makes me feel dizzy.

  • I never ever watch TV.

  • I have been reading and writing on screen for two years now. It’s much more convenient and I find it equally effective in terms of retention.

  • I went to the USA at the age of 22 with the money I had been saving to buy a car. I’ve never regretted not buying the car instead.

3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.

Doug’s questions and my answers:

  • When was the last time you backed up your computer? Last month.

  • If you could speak any language other than English, what would it be? Italian, I love the sound of this language.

  • Where would you go for your dream vacation? Mauritius.

  • Have you ever received a parking ticket? Yes, quite a few times. Athens can be chaotic.

  • You’re in control of the thermostat.  What’s your ideal room temperature? 26 degrees.

  • Have you ever taken an online course? Yes, in fact I took my MA online.

  • What was the last educational conference that you attended? IATEFL Hungary and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • When was the last time you were in a public library? Hmm, I don’t remember 😉 But I visit online libraries on a daily basis.

  • Have you ever dabbled with Linux? No.

  • What would you consider to be the best photo you’ve ever taken? See next answer 🙂

  • What, and where, is your favourite park? I’m quite happy with the photo I took on Margaret Island (Margit-sziget in Hungarian). It is a small island/park in the middle of the Danube in central Budapest. Such a lovely place!

    Margaret Island
    Margaret Island

Theodora’s questions and my answers:

  • How important is music to your life? Very important. It cheers me up.

  • How much time do you devote in your job? Hmm, working and studying? More than I should. Something I really need to work on.

  • Share a funny thing that happened in class. Recently, we decided to take pictures making funny faces. Kids can be so creative when it comes to fun 😉

  • What does the word “educator” mean in your opinion? Nikos Kazantzakis said: “Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

  • If you could learn anything, what would that be? Languages.

  • What is your favourite movie? The Godfather.

  • What do you fear the most? Losing my beloved.

  • If you could live anywhere, where would that be? In the UK (preferably in Cambridge) or in New York.

  • What is your favourite word? In English I love the word “exquisite”.

  • What is your favourite digital app? GoodReader.

  • Do you have any lucky items, objects or traditions? Not really.

Eva’s Questions and my answers     questions_answers

  • Do you remember the first class you entered as a teacher? Of course I do. It was a class of 7 angels. I believe I was very lucky to have such a nice first experience.

  • What is your favorite social media platform? Why? Facebook because I combine both socializing and professional development.

  • How do you think blogging helps your teaching? It helps me reflect and keep a record of my work.

  • Tea or Coffee? Coffee.

  • Who is your favorite singer, band, musician? Hmm, if I were to choose only one that would be Sting.

  • Do you attend conferences? Why? / why not? I’m a conference addict. I learn so much and it’s always great to meet up with friends.

  • Who were the most helpful tweeters or bloggers for you when you started blogging or tweeting? Marisa Constantinides, Vicky Loras and Shelly Terrell.
  • What will be the first goal in your New Year’s resolutions list this year? Complete my MA thesis.
  • Where would you like to travel in 2014? Japan.
  • How long does it take to write a blog post for you and how often do you update your blog? I’m a slow blogger because I usually write long posts. Something I want to change in 2014.
  • What is your favorite food? Sushi

4. My turn to tag in alphabetical order – hopefully you haven’t been tagged already 🙂

Anna Loseva

Alexandra Chistyakova

Beyza Yilmaz

Bruno Andrade

Cecilia Lemos

Dimitris Tzouris

Dimitris Primalis

Dina Dobrou

Dincer Demir

Isil Boy

Michael Stout

5. And my questions:

  • What was the conference you enjoyed the most in 2013?

  • Facebook or Twitter? Why?

  • Do you know any nickname(s) your students have given you?

  • Do you prefer reading on screen or on paper?

  • What’s the best blogpost you have ever written?  

  • Are you a morning or a night person?

  • Name 3-5 digital tools/apps that you use with your classes on a regular basis.

  • What was the most unusual food you have ever eaten? What was it like?

  • Have you ever lived in another country other than the one you live now? Where was it?

  • Imagine you won a scholarship to attend an ideal conference anywhere in the world. Where would that be?

  • What’s your biggest pet peeve?Xmas-Snow-Ball-Wallpaper-1600x1200

Thank you Doug, Theodora and Eva! I really enjoyed writing this. And many thanks in advance to those bloggers who will take up the challenge!

As this is my last post in 2013, I want to take this opportunity and wish everyone a Merry Xmas and a happy 2014! Let’s stay connected and motivated 🙂

 

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We need pedagogy, not just cool tools

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: César Poyatos via Compfight

Whether we have fully integrated technology or not, few of us can deny that learning technologies can revolutionise language learning and teaching; we can find information at the click of a button, create content and share it with the world, communicate and collaborate beyond the boundaries of our classrooms, have a Personal Learning Network and be inspired to become lifelong learners.

There are plenty of options available; various blogging platforms, voice recording tools, LMS software (Learning Management System), social media, you name it; and there is also a lot of information about them. Colleagues who have tried a tool might write a blog post; educational technologists might give reviews on new tools. All this is valuable and I have personally learned a lot out of it. However, what happens when this information comes out in the form of lists such as “100 must-have digital tools for teachers” or “50 tools every teacher should master this summer”? What about blogs whose only purpose is to present “cool tools” day after day? Isn’t all this a bit overwhelming?

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Through discussions with colleagues and trainees, I can only say that such information can hardly help teachers decide what to choose and what to reject. Some of their comments include the following:

  • “There are too many tools but too little time”.

  • “I’m not trained, I can’t decide”.

  • “They all look the same to me”.

  • “New technologies seem to appear everyday. I just can’t keep up”.

Does this ring any bells?

I don’t think that what those teachers need is a reminder that they should soon master 50 or more tools. Education has never been a matter of quantity. I guess what they really need is training and clear criteria against which to evaluate and choose technologies; they need to be able to make informed decisions about whether or not to integrate them into their classrooms. They also need to be reassured that if their goal for students is language learning then technology is just a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I feel that just presenting tool after tool is a rather narrow perspective about the potential of Educational Technology.

The hype to use the latest and greatest digital tools – rather than the meaningful use of technology – is like driving a cool car without any vision for where we want to go.

Let’s take the focus off the tool; Instead, let’s focus on:

  • the pedagogy behind the tool and use it because it addresses our students’ cognitive needs, not because it is available or exciting.

  • developing critical thinkers with the ability to find, reflect on, curate and synthesise information.

  • developing lifelong learners who will be able to create and use their Personal Learning Networks to self-educate and grow.

  • educating digital citizens, that is, responsible members of an increasingly global and interconnected world who know their rights and responsibilities; people who can make informed decisions about the content they create or share and its impact on themselves and on the other members of a digital community.

Cool tools might still be welcome to our classrooms but this won’t make them more appropriate for learning.

If you are interested in the topic and you are around Thessaloniki, Greece, on the 15th of December, come along and join us at the TESOL Macedonia – Thrace Christmas event where I will be talking about “Evaluating and Choosing Educational Digital Tools and Apps ”.