When you step into the classroom you are not alone. As the teacher, you may feel alone. You may be the only one in the teaching role, but you are not alone. You bring into this teaching and learning space all the elements from your own personal learning environment (PLE) and your personal learning network (PLN). For many teachers, participation in a professional learning community (PLC) will focus and support your teaching practices in the classroom. These other entities and identities shadow and shape who you are in your classroom space.
Who’s got your back?
Exploring and constructing an image of your own PLE, PLN, and PLC can bring awareness that you are not alone. Reflecting on your own learning environment, network and community can help set goals for what comes next. Notice that these terms refer to personal learning as the focus, not teaching. We are all learners. For your own learning as a teacher, these will be interconnected and recursively looped. Alec Couros, in his blog post What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN? examines and differentiates these two terms. You can find more about these terms on the course site for 3239DTL here. For me, a PLE is the how and where learning occurs while PLN is best described as the who or people in the learning space. A PLC helps define, but does not always determine, the what and why for personal learning.
Within higher educational spaces, PLE’s can vary dramatically. In physical environments, the spaces and places where you spend time and conduct your personal learning may or may not include a private office, current technologies, elements of the perfect classroom (The Perfect Classroom, According to Science) or even a personal computer. Within digital spaces, variances in available tools and technologies can also impact the direction of your personal learning. Despite these inconsistencies or perceived barriers, there are many opportunities within your physical and digital environments to learn.
Participating and engaging in a variety of learning environments will shape your view of ‘best practice’. Your PLE will serve to support communication and building relationships through a process of using, understanding and creating (MediaSmarts) in digital environments, while analyzing through a teaching lens. A critical first step is to reflect on the digital environments that shape your personal learning, with the intention that there is a transfer into your teaching practice e.g. Twitter, Blogging, Hangouts, webinars (see guest post by Rusul Alrubail).
Examining Dr. David Thornburg’s article Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century can help identify the types of spaces in which you are comfortable or can best engage with others. Do you find yourself drawn to the campfire, cave or watering hole? A variety of environments can add value to your digital networks and communities as well as enrich your learning experiences.
PLE’s within digital spaces include learning management systems (LMS), massive open online courses (MOOCs), web 2.0 tools (to collaborate, provide voice and choice or create learning objects), open educational resources (OER) and learning commons resources. More about each of these PLE’s are found in Part 1: What’s in your PLE?
Your PLN will be shaped by the tools and spaces you use within your PLE. When building and maintaining connections for your own learning, you will need to take time and make an effort to develop relationships with people that matter to your content and context. Connecting with others who know something to support your learning needs is a great way to learn from/with others. Using your research can help find reliable sources of best practice in your area of interest.
Connecting through social media and professional organizations is also a way to develop your network. This can be hard work, but make the time and focus your search. It’s worth the effort. Using Twitter and selecting relevant hashtags can help you find people that reflect or shake your thinking.
It is becoming more critical to share your personal learning with your PLN through social media – blog, twitter, Facebook or other networking locations. Members of your network may become part of your PLC for a specific time and place. HigherEd Camp is a great way to extend and enhance your PLN. For additional ways to connect with others, read Part 2: Who’s in your PLN?
Subject, need, practice or inquiry shapes your PLN. Focus on one learning exploration and take it a step at a time. Your PLC will support the process and product of your learning.
- If you need to extend your own learning on a subject area or topic, find people who work in those areas.
- If you have a specific need, such as enhancing your ability to teach online courses, find others who are currently teaching online or those with expertise developing online courses. There’s a MOOC or OER for that.
- When looking for ways to extend your teaching practice, connect to those who are doing the same thing, e.g. using twitter in the classroom, and talk about what you are doing.
- If you are looking to resolve a specific question or inquiry, find others that may have the same interest in finding answers e.g. how will blogging support writing in mathematics? This can result in rich, interdisciplinary research.
Understanding the structure of a community will shape and extend your learning experience. Knowing more about a community of practice (COP), community of inquiry (COI) or affinity space can help you find and understand your location and role within your chosen community. More about COP, COI and affinity spaces is found in Part 3: Why have a PLN?
With you at the center of your learning, you control the direction, duration, depth and dissonance of your learning experiences. Step forward, step back, side step if you need to, but take that first step! Discover and reflect on your PLE, PLN and PLC before or after you come to the HighEd camp. But reflect you must! Your learning depends on it! Your students’ learning depends on it! But remember, you are not doing it alone!
- Where and how will your personal learning develop?
- What will you learn next?
- Who is currently in your network to help your learning?
- Where will you connect to others?
- Who would you like to connect to next?
- How can you connect with a group of ‘like minded’ learners to support your own professional growth?
Starting with HigherEd Camp, how will your PLE, PLN and PLC change so you know and feel that you are not alone?