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.