Student Personal Learning Networks: How Can Teachers Help Students Create Them?

About a week ago, my students began blogging about how Transcendentalism permeates pop culture. Visit the post entitled “Inspiration: The Bee’s Sting,” if you are interesting in learning more about the project. They have cited songs by Lady Gaga and scenes from The Lion King and  Pocahontas. I told them when they began this project that the possibilities are endless. Once they get started, they will be amazed at what they find. I’m not sure that they believe me yet because the project is in its beginning stages.

One of the requirements of the project asks students to solicit experts in the field to provide them with feedback about their blogs. I have a feeling that this aspect of the project is what makes my students most nervous, so tomorrow we will discuss the definition of “personal learning network” and how we create begin creating one. My personal learning networks include the people I see at work every day, the people I follow on Twitter and Google+, my friends and colleagues on Facebook, and my current students, some of whom I follow on Twitter, and my former students that I connect with through various social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’m not yet sure how my students define their personal learning networks. Who do they follow on Twitter? In some cases, I know. In many others, I don’t. For personal reasons relating privacy, I don’t friend students on Facebook until they’ve graduated. I do follow some students on Google+, but I’m finding they use Twitter more frequently, just as I do.

Vicki Davis, teacher and author of the blog “Cool Cat Teacher,” calls student PLNs “a students virtual locker.” By this definition, students’ personal learning networks are organic and change based on their projects or interests. My goal tomorrow is to expose my students to some new resources or ways to expand their PLNs. Peter Dewitt’s article entitled “Do Our Students Have PLNs?” has given me a better idea of my path for tomorrow. In his article he reminds his readers that students do have PLNs–and pretty strong ones at that. Many students are already on Facebook and Twitter, but the question is whether their purposes for joining these networks are the same as mine. I use Facebook to connect socially, and generally, I use Twitter to connect professionally. Is the same true for my students? Probably not. Peter Dewitt also reminds us that students’ parents are part of their personal learning networks. In fact, he writes that “their PLN begins with their parents.”  According to Dewitt, teachers are also a large part of students’ PLNs, but so are students’ peers. Young adults may learn more from their peers than they do the other two influences. I would like my students to reach outside of their comfort zones a bit by beginning to publish more of their writing online and then sharing that writing with others who can provide them with constructive feedback. There is no greater teacher than a public audience.

Students, if you are reading this post, please comment. Other educators, if you can provide me advice or share your experiences, I will be grateful. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s class. I have a feeling 42 minutes is not enough time. These are the days when I wish for block scheduling.


6 thoughts on “Student Personal Learning Networks: How Can Teachers Help Students Create Them?

  1. Hi,
    Great job on the blog! Thanks for including a link to my blog as well. These connections are why social networking is so important. I strongly believe that students have PLN’s and they are as important to them as our PLN’s are to us. I applaud you for finding ways to include technology in your instruction because it was envelopes our students and they should not have to leave it at the door when they walk into school. In addition, blogging is a good way to teach them how to use the tools appropriately and you are encouraging student voice which is important as well.
    I look forward to reading what your students come up with. Good luck!

    • While observing your lesson, I thought about the patterns we develop in terms of what we access, choose to receive notifications for, and who we friend/follow/subscribe/favorite as. It would be interesting for students to identify their current patterns of use, and create an “expand your PLN challenge” based on their analysis. As a principal, my observations have been that Snapchat, Blip, and Twitter seem to dominate smart phone activity, but I would love to see the results of such an analysis. How many students access local news? national news? do they comment on news sites or their own social media about current events? where do they exchange with like minded or similarly interested people? what are they “keeping up” with?

      • The other day one of my ninth grade students told me that she NEVER watches the news on TV–She gets all of her news from her Twitter feed. I thought that comment was very interesting because I get news the same way. I wonder if she is the norm or the exception. I wonder how often students use Twitter for something besides social interaction. I think next year I will have the students analyze and share their online habits. This year I feel like I am running out of time; however, you raise important questions that are worth considering and researching. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for commenting! Yesterday my students and I discussed the nature of PLNs and how we create them. I used our connection as an example. I told them how I found your your article, searched for you on Twitter, mentioned you in my post, and sent you the link to my blog. Thanks to you I was able to model how we extend our PLNs. I am having a great time with the project so far. The process is slow because I believe many of my students have not done much bogging, but I feel as though we are learning a great deal together.

    One of my students has already started to make interesting connections. You can view her blog at:

    Thanks again for your support. I begin and end every day with my Twitter PLN! I would be half the teacher I am without it!

  3. So far in class this transcendentalism project has been a blast! However, I really enjoyed your lesson about student personal learning networks. I think it is hard for high schoolers to admit that they need to come out of their shell but your connection of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to our blog project really put things in perspective for me. In a word, inspiring!

    • Thank you for the positive feedback. I will admit that when I began creating my own digital footprint, expanding my network made me nervous. I was reluctant to participate in Twitter chats and comment on blogs or news articles. In the beginning, I interacted passively. Now I am much more active in my interactions, even though I’m still reluctant at times. We learn by taking risks, and I have learned a great deal from my personal learning network. Developing my network took a few years, but now I find it to be such a valuable resource. The internet has changed the way I learn, but it has also allowed me to connect with a greater number of people in a variety of ways.

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