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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Can We Use Personal Learning Networks to Create Real Reform? (#edchat summary)

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia

As is often the case with any large group online, #edchats can be impossibly frustrating for anyone who isn't ADD. With tweets flying everywhere and asynchronous discussions peppered with @,#, and !, it looks more like a cartoon expletive than any sort of useful dialog.

It is to help translate all of this that we've been offering these short summary blogs. But, as I found out this week when our guest bloggers fell through, it becomes a bit like the blind men and the elephant. The summary below is what I got out of it. Someone else probably heard an entirely different set of discussions. Thus is the chaotic beauty, stilted poetry and maddening non-linearity of Twitter.

But Twitter - like the Edutopia community, and Facebook, and myriad other online communities - can also be a powerful tool to facilitate communication within a "personal learning network" or PLN. One's PLN consists of colleagues and contacts around the world who offer support, feedback, and collaboration. Or, one could argue, instigate reform. But how?

This week's #edchat asked this very question: "How can we get our PLN (Personal Learning Networks) to create real ed reform?" Co-moderated by @cybraryman1 and @Digin4ed, this chat set out to find solutions.

--Betty Ray (@EdutopiaBetty)

We started with a discussion of the role our PLN plays in our lives, and how it can be expanded.

@kristenswanson: Reform starts with conversations and relationships. PLNs are the perfect places to start conversations.

@PGRoom209: Ideas that start here can inspire change across the district. My PLN helps me keep up the enthusiasm and have the courage.

@georgewoodbury: It's important to transfer PLN discussions to discussions on our own campus.

The discussion quickly morphed into one of how we can bring more policy-makers into our networks.

@BrianStPierre: pln's are great to grow professionally and hear new ideas... but not sure policy makers hear us any better than before.

@amychim: legislators need to be part of our PLNs.

There didn't seem to be many success stories here. Indeed, this is where the conversation took a more hopeless turn: How frustrating it is to deal with admins who don't "get" it, why they don't get it, and what can (or can't) be done.

However, when someone returned to the topic of PLN and reform by suggesting a grassroots approach, the constructive brainstorming mode kicked in again.

@corriekelly: Reform is like concentric circles. Begin in own class then ripple effect will occur when others see effective change.

@blairteach: To effect real ed reform, our PLN must keep the conversations buzzing - sort of the "squeaky wheel" method of change.

@BrianStPierre: i always tweet live from BOE meetings, as a way to force colleagues onto twitter since they all wanna know the details of these mtgs

@blairteach: Every person PLN members convince to try something new results in another stone moved. Eventually, the mountain will be moved!

@ToughLoveforX: Twitter is free. The web is free. I bet the hard part is that ppl are afraid to risk talking in public.

This last tweet is an exceptionally good point. Technologies enable us to do all sorts of things that were heretofore unavailable either because of expense, or access, or both. Now, anyone with a computer and a modem can connect with anyone else with the same simple configuration. And when like-minds work together collaborations can happen and movements can be built.

And herein lies the strength of social media and our PLNs! As @TheGilch put it, "top-down reform can never work- it needs to be driven by experienced, knowledgeable educators, not politicians."

By this point, the chat was a-chuggin.

@davidwees: One use of PLN in edu "transformation" is to show to politicians what a wide variety of solutions exist

@baldy7: 2010 Horizon report speaks of cloud computing - let's create learning networks in lieu of textbooks and static classrooms.

@blairteach: Sometimes change has to be forced, such as opening a new school w/only access to new equipment/media.

@baldy7: Here's one simple way, let's teach social bookmarking around content and passions in lieu of textbooks

@raysadad Where are the stories on 21st C Learning we generate in our hometown media? Let's reach beyond new media to tell our stories.

@ToughLoveforX: We need to have detailed stories that show replicable results. Nobody is going to believe anything else.

[Editor's note: At this point in the transcript, I feel I need to add a few links. We @edutopia are dedicated to producing exactly what @ToughLoveforX is seeking: Detailed stories that show replicable results. We do this so that teachers can make the case as they need to, so please use these far and wide:

Schools That Work series, Project Learning, Social and Emotional Learning, Technology Integration, Integrated Studies, Comprehensive Assessment]

Then, the brainstorming began to refine and focus itself.

@JustwonderinY: Do we even agree on what the "transformations" should be?

@doctorjeff: Here are my thoughts for turning this into a movement.

@edtechsteve: Here are the fundamental transformations I want: assessment, not testing. Guiding, not training. Creating, not regurgitating.

@hadleyjf: We need to form partnerships to reach out beyond the walls of our individual schools to spread the news

@cybraryman1: How about a "PLN "conference to meet and come to some joint conclusions on what & how to achieve change?

This last tweet was met with resounding agreement. The question is where, and when? This was not answered - at least not that I could see. One thing's for sure: There's no doubt that loads of passionate educators will be there, when it happens.

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia
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