With a Little Love from My PLN

In early March, I carried out a mini survey to gather data on educators using ICT tools in their daily practices.  Having very busy days myself, I did consider asking my immediate circle of colleagues for their contributions but then decided to go further away from my physical environment. I turned to my PLN, asking them for help and participation.

My PLN is made up of 3 main networks:Twitter, FaceBook and Google+. Although I belong to other online communities as well, I chose these three and had the survey open online for  roughly three days. Overall I received many responses, and am thankful to all who participated.

As one can see from from these initial questions, participants are, overall, comfortable with the use of digital tools and platforms in their classrooms. On the one hand, this does not come as an unexpected surprise, for participants on Twitter, FaceBook and especially Google + , are keen users of digital technologies and digitally connected. They are enthusiastic practioners and learners, always willing to share and learn with others.

The next questions change their focus to social networks and whether participants ever use them for learning and teaching purposes. As one can see by the results, it is more common to turn to social networks for personal professional development than for using them as a possible teaching tool. As someone who uses digital tools in my regular teaching, I need to point out that the use of social networks for classroom teaching will depend heavily on my teaching context and level. For instance, currently I work with female students in the Middle East and it would be highly inappropriate to have them use a tool or platform which would enable them to be in contact with males in the classroom. Whether these students are or not in contact with males on social networks, is another matter but is certainly not to be encouraged in the classroom in my teaching context.

To overcome this obstacle, I have been using Edmodo – a LMS which guarantees a closed, safe environment where I am the administrator of the classes that I teach. Additionally, as a foreigner working abroad, one of my main concerns is always to respect the local culture I am living/working in. Hence my decision not to use social networks in my daily teaching with female students.

I would like to add one more comment to Question 3 in particular. Although I do have a blog, (CristinaSkyBox) which is geared towards ICT, teaching and learning today, it is mostly through networks such as Twitter, FaceBook and Google+  (and other online communities that I participate in) that I find myself learning and developing my professional expertise. This is a result of two features: firstly, blog readers rarely take time to add comments or raise issues. This is a shame but a reality that all bloggers experience. Gordon Lockhart raises this issue as well in his excellent post on Commenting on MOOCs, where he becomes more aware of the rich contribution that comments in a blog posting can add to the writer’s and reader’s experience. Nevertheless, feedback, comments, further discussion in blogs are not  always that common.

On the other hand, being an active participant on social networks as the ones mentioned above, has widened my views, has cut down my personal time of searching for specific information which I can today more readily access because of my PLN’s generous sharing. Whether they share articles, issues related to education or social affairs, online conferences, all these become more immediately known and accessible to me. I am not longer constrained to a quiet desert corner but am able to be up-to-date and be an active participant myself. My windows to knowledge, to learning, are wide open. So, once again, to all those in my PLN’s, a big thank you for your time and generousity.

Responses for Question 5 and 6 are, to me, the most problematic. Increasingly,  educators are being made aware of the urgent need to update educational approaches in the classroom. There is a need to engage learners today that is indeed different to the past. For instance, how to encourage learners to use their mobile phones/devices for learning rather than just messaging under the classroom desk? Increasingly, educators are carrying out professional development to deal with the above issue and so many more related to today’s learners and digital education. For example, Nik Peachey refers to this interest in a recent article What’s on your online training wishlist?

Nevertheless, the main obstacles of integrating ICT into daily practices still remain being:

* not aware of which tools to use,

* not having time in the curriculum and

* not having classroom equipment.

Despite the widespread pledge to update education, all those involved in the field of education, know well how slow changes can be. Training is costly, though again, for those with personal will, is more accessible today than ever before. Often a curriculum will have more testing than teaching – which does not make it simple to integrate ICT tools. However, if there is indeed to be a change in education, the curriculum needs to adjust to today’s world as well. We are no longer living in an industrial age nor are our students disconnected in the outside world of the classroom. It is only natural that they expect to be connected in the classroom as well.

A crucial aspect of updating educational approaches relates to what devices exist in the classroom. In some places of the world there is a growing trend to BYOD (bring your own device) which helps both learners and teachers overcome the barren digital support they may have in classrooms. This may be one solution, however, I do think that if there is to be a real investment in education, then providing learners and teachers with appropriately equipped classrooms is necessary. Of course, easier to say than do for it takes time, financial resources and above all, political will. For many educators, integrating ICT into their daily practices is not always possible, yet they do not give up and keep tuned in to current developments around the world.

Political will reflects political landscapes. Having turned to my PLN to gather responses for my survey, I was well aware that I was also stepping into challenges. Questions 5 and 6 clearly reflect and indicate these challenges – or in other words, different teaching contexts and cultural attitudes from around the world. In relation to Question 6, it is interesting to note that there is almost an equal balance between whose responsibility it is to undertake professional training. Because this survey was short, I think that in the future one issue I would like to question further is how cultural settings effect expectations, particularly in regard to problem-solution and personal initiatives.

My last question in the survey was on the participant’s teaching setting:

The majority of respondents teach either in secondary education or at higher education; again, in the future I would be interested in knowing in more detail how the level of educational institutions may or not effect the wider use of digital technology in classrooms – both in terms of classrooms being technology equipped and teachers being given appropriate professional training.

So what have I learnt?

Other than the interesting responses given, there are a couple of considerations to bear in mind when doing an online survey:

1 – Online networks are human. Humans may travel these electronic networks at ease, but there is still the need to contact individuals personally to ask for their participation. Just like in a F-2-F situation, individuals need to feel valued, and when navigating digital networks, one should always bear that in mind. Additionally, an online survey should remain open for at least a week so that one may obtain a fair degree of responses.

2 – The purpose of this mini survey was to gather data; it reflects certain trends and realities on the integration of ICT and  social networks in educational practices as well as participants expectations regarding professional training. As I have already mentioned, these participants are active on digital networks and nourish an interest in education for the 21st century. They are tech-savy and enthusiastic. My questions now remain for those who may not be so tech-savy, for those who even though they may have an interest in ICT, haven’t had the opportunity for training and for those around the world who work in conditions where digital technology is not present. For those are still the majority of educators around the world.

3 – My questions were purposefully broad and respondents were from different parts of the world. In the future, I would be interested in carrying out a more localized inquiry which could zoom in deeper into the varied cultural levels of participants by including a closer focus on age groups and local beliefs of education, for example. . This would be richer in ethnological terms and perhaps could provide a framework of action for others (e.g. in developing countries where resources may be scarcer and educational approaches are in more need of being updated).

Lastly, because I turned to my PLN, I’d like to leave you with a short video clip with Clark Quinn on social learning.

References:

Commenting on MOOCs - Gordon Lockhart

I’m not Surprised that Older Teachers Experiment more with Technology – Marsha Ratzel

The Myth of The Online Community – Mark William Johnson

What’s on your training wishlist? - Nik Peachey

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15 thoughts on “With a Little Love from My PLN

  1. Dear Ana,
    Hi….found your pingback on my blog post and wanted to drop by and read what you were writing. I really like the way you’re studying the art of commenting and I couldn’t agree more. In my time-starved world, I make commenting a priority. But even that isn’t enough because if I limit my time that I allocate to interacting, reading and exploring the web….I can only write meaningful comments back to a limited number of people.
    I do try to respond to people who have left me comments and/or giving my posts pingbacks. I fear that makes me limited to finding and cultivating relationships with people who probably already agree with my ideas. That’s OK. But I do want to have lots of kinds of inputs going into my mix.
    I’ve tried working at the MOOC…think it’s a terrific idea. But it is one of those places that I could sink hours and hours of time into. And I would LOVE to do that. Right now, though, I’m a lurker and a reader only. But I hold out hope that in one of the next iterations my other responsibilities will lighten up so that I can become more involved.
    Again thanks for reading and referring people to my ideas and my post. I look forward to more interactions with your ideas.

    • Dear Marsha,

      Thank you for visiting and contributing your thoughts; as a blogger myself I can only too easily relate to your post and as you well say, there is only so many hours in a day. Despite the excitement and tremendous potential of exchanging ideas and knowledge today, we live starved for time. That too makes me wonder and question, but shall leave that for another day.

      As for MOOCs, again, I truly understand. I have been participating on 3 current MOOCs, even have a blog for them, but with my long working days and other professional commitments, I have struggled to find time to write regularly in that blog which was set aside for the MOOCs. I have enjoyed and learnt a lot through webinars and reading blogs such as yours – an awesome find! – and hope that perhaps in the next MOOC I attend, I may find time to reflect and write more. Being a MOOC lurker may not be the purpose of the courses, but I am certainly grateful to George Siemens and Stephen Downes (and so many other contributors) for opening up these courses to the general public.

      I look forward to reading your views on the MOOCs and to your reflections.

  2. Ana – I was also led to your post via pingback, and very glad that I did! It’s good to see solid research with evidence-based conclusions. I’m sure that the time and effort you must have spent was very worthwhile. I’m retired so should have plenty of time to blog and comment but like mratzel I’ve become more of a lurker now but maybe a less guilty one as I come to realise that a MOOC is hardly a course in any conventional sense and can be ‘used’ in any way you like. An overwhelming number of MOOC participants seem to be doing just that – exactly how is probably a good topic for further research!
    Gordon Lockhart

    • Dear Gordon,

      Thank you for taking time to visit and read my mini survey project. Although I am a proponent of integrating digital education, I also question a lot of the hype – hype meaning that there are issues in between the successes and practices which need to be addressed so that practices can be improved. On the other hand, it’s worthwhile acknowledging that we continue being human in all out fragilities and strengths.

      MOOCs are outstanding opportunities for participants; I have learnt more on them than on a doctorate I was previously taking. Nevertheless, one of the
      lingering issues of MOOCs is their assessment and consequently the recognition of participants beyond the digital world (which still is not as mainstream as one would wish when it comes to academia).

  3. Hi Ana! Interesting survey indeed!
    I’m also interested in what your write in the following: “…in the future one issue I would like to question further is how cultural settings effect expectations, particularly in regard to problem-solution and personal initiatives.”
    Could you elaborate what things do you mean exactly? Thanks!

  4. Hi Marko,

    To explain, I need to take a step back: for there to be effective communication, there needs to be 3 things:

    1 – a shared context
    2 – shared points of references
    3 – bear in mind that everything is relative

    For example, if I talk about “the Gulf”, which “Gulf” am I talking about? With residents of the Arabian Gulf, this context is immediately understood;

    If I talk about the weather being “hot”, in Europe that may mean 25 degrees whereas in the Arabian Gulf, it may be that the weather is over 45 degrees;

    As in my example above, everything is relative (i.e. what is hot weather?). I also think that cultural factors increase that degree of relativity; individuals are made up of different layers of influence and culture is definitely one of them.

    When it comes to risk taking (for instance, a teacher going ahead with his/her own professional training) that may have a cultural influence – i.e. some cultures foster their citizens to become more independent rather than rely on provisions by the state. The same goes for problem-solving. So what I question is how much these cultural differences affect educators in their approach and attitudes towards professional training. I think these are issues which could be included and explored in an ethnographic study.

    Additionally, although surveys do have their value and interest, I think that ethnographic studies shed more light and with a richer inclusion of participants’ contributions, one can understand more clearly what exactly is happening in education, (for example). As I said in my post, respondents to my survey are all individuals who are engaged in social media and in digital education (in different ways of course). My concern remains focused on those educators who still are not engaged, are fearful, are not aware or need help for training and learning.

    What do you think?

    • Thanks for sharing more on what you are interested in Ana Cristina!

      Communication and culture, oh boy, these are surely not easy issues. Something like culture in itself is a huge, not so easily definable construct. If we think about in how many layers it might affect: country’s culture, organizational culture, department culture, team culture and then the individual’s perceptions of reality; all neatly and sometimes not so neatly weaving together.

      I think the research questions you ask here are important. Maybe the might also answer to the question: what will change and in what time? Is the current paradigm shift such a huge one that only time can fill some of the gaps it caused? I’m sure there are a lot of variables defining what you say about educators training them professionally or what they think about it [to be]. Like you suggest: people are made of different layers, and so is everything else.

      I recently read a text by William Outhwaite about Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Hermeneutics (find it here: http://www.uky.edu/~addesa01/documents/Outhwaite.pdf). Maybe these following sentences might fit here too:

      “Our understanding of a text arises out of our position in a historical tradition, and this is in fact our link with the historical effectivity of the text itself (Gadamer 1975a: xxi). Understanding is not a matter of forgetting our own horizon of meanings and putting ourselves within that of the alien texts or the alien society; it means merging or fusing our own horizons with theirs. (p.25)”

  5. Hi Marko,

    Thank you for forwarding the article and your thoughts. Yes, the role of cultural factors is important but I also wonder how transcendent the influence of the web is today. For example, with easier access to OER, to free access to others’ thoughts and reflections (e.g in the wealth of blogs that exist), these influences are bound to shape and transform individuals. Having said that, I don’t think (at this point in time) the change will affect the individual’s cultural identity (that is so profound and complex) but certainly their outlooks on life, change and certainly on education.

    On another note, I have always believed that life is about change, no matter how hard change may be accept. We change. Life changes. And to survive, one needs to adapt to the changes in one’s world. So from that perspective, there has always been changes. The changes in education that arose from the social revolution of the 1960′s in Anglo countries provoked many ripples in education. A case in point, is the Communication Approach in language teaching, particularly English Language Teaching.

    Regarding today’s shift with digital technology being integrated (slowly) in educational practices, I think major changes are still to come with advent of a wider use of M-Learning. These shift that you and I refer to are taking place in richer countries; M-Learning will impact the developing world with much more far reaching effects (one has only to think of Asia and Africa and their populations). Additionally, despite seeing regular changes everyday, it is with time, as you say, that one can look back and evaluate (though with the pace of change today, I think we can do that practically everyday!).

    I particularly like the quote you referred to, for one can only understand, one can only learn from one’s points of references. Changes in education, like all social changes can be read/perceived as a text where one reads and understands according to one’s existing points of reference and knowledge.

    • Hi Ana Cristina. What a fruitful discussion we have! OK, lots of things in your last comment. I’ll have to choose which ones them to continue. :)

      You wrote that “…I also wonder how transcendent the influence of the web is today. For example, with easier access to OER, to free access to others’ thoughts and reflections (e.g in the wealth of blogs that exist), these influences are bound to shape and transform individuals.”

      That is true, I think. Or, that can be true. My comment reflects the different reactions I’ve seen people to have towards these things you mention about. These tools are to help us achieve something, in this case, learning “better” or more efficiently, whatever these may mean. But a persona has to choose if they believe in these tools, give themselves to using them as their new “prosthetics” for understanding. In some cases, it can actually mean a painful transformative learning process for some people. Often tools just being there, available, isn’t enough.

      I’ve worked in certain areas in the world where, although some of them poor or underdeveloped, people actually have access to more information they could possibly “consume” in their lifetime. Using for example inquiry-based methods, problem-based learning or online communities, these same people could “teach” themselves to learn, how to create more knowledge and from that, many other things too. But this doesn’t always happen. Why? I don’t think there’s a single one answer to that.

      But the point being, availability may be enough with some people, but some need more than that.

      I like your comment about change. One who is living inside the contemporary world, might think that education as it is now, has always been like it [generally] is. But we all who have read at least some history, know that this isn’t the case. This is the outcome of the industrial revolution and the need to “educate” a huge number of people to work in quite stable jobs. Everyone who has been out in the today’s world, knows that this isn’t the need of the world anymore. The now is that we are educating people for jobs which might not even exist yet, to organizations [and sometimes even forms of organization] which might not exists.

      So coming back to the quote I posted before: if it is true, even is some essence, that we create the world and reality based on the constructions of our past, it is also one of our weaknesses. When it comes to change, it is the only thing that is certain. But there are many levels of change and although people don’t see the little changes and developments (as they are sometimes too in the context), they sometimes try to ignore the big ones too.

      I don’t know if I provided anything more to our discussion, but at least your comment and the post got me thinking about these matters. :)

  6. Hi Marko,

    Your last exchange has made me think about 2 main issues which surround educators:

    1 – The issue of change in mindset: introducing a certain digital tool in the lesson does not really mean and shift in mindset. I am claiming that all lessons should be digital nor do I use digital tools for the sake of hammering in ICT; quite the contrary – I use digital tools to enhance learners’ learning and solidify what they already know, with the added advantage of teaching them digital literacies.

    But this requires a certain shift in educators’ minds. It is not the tool that is relevant. It is what can be accomplished.

    2 – Another issue that you raise is one that affects me on a daily basis. Information overload. This has been a significant issue for me for over 20 years now (since I began using the internet). There is so much to read, to learn about but our days still only have 24 hours! With time I have obviously learnt (and continue to learn) how to navigate this overload of information but frankly, am often left stranded with time to read – and reflect – on everything that I want to.

    So my question is, in regard to education, how significant is curation? Besides blogging, I also am a curator (which you can see in my E-Portfolio page). I began curating to share my bookmarks, the visual features making it much more engaging and memorable to me than other bookmarking tools such as Diigo or Delicious. Today I still turn to my curation to refresh points of references but also as an approach to possibly creating a product that may also be of interest/of use to others.

    As you say, there is more information/knowledge today than one can possibly consume, whether in more advanced or developing societies. Individuals need some kind of filtering (not the filtering from “Big Brothers” or even Google) but possibly by other educators (because in this case we are talking about education). Even so I question the significance and relevance of personal, professional curation. I certainly consider it to be part of a professional’s online participation and contribution to a community; it certainly is of use and interest to me and I strongly support having students curate themselves (e.g. for a project or subject they are studying).

    So, my question to you is, how relevant, how significant do you find curation as an approach of filtering, selecting points of knowledge?

  7. Pingback: I Connect, Therefore I Am – Or Am I? | Dreaming Weaving Learning

  8. Great use of PLN. The three obstacles you point out seem to be common challenges in a lot of educational institutions globally but we are becoming increasingly aware of what is needed.

    • Hi Englishinsider, thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts. I absolutely agree with you on how educational institutions are slowly becoming aware of what is necessary. What worries me is whether teachers will be receiving the training and support they need. Digital learning should not be an added burden to educators; quite the contrary, it should be something they enjoy implementing and sharing with learners! :-)

  9. My dear amazing Ana :)
    What can I say, this is one of the best compiled article I have read on ICT training and education in a long time. I am firmly of the belief that if there is technology to be used somewhere then so be it. We live in the 21st century where we cannot just survive without the growth of technology and it’s interference on our daily affairs. I teach in a small Israeli school where I’m the ICT teacher and I try to bring out the possible tech stuff in the limited a
    resources I have at hand. We have desktop computers for all the kids individually with unlimited wireless Internet. This in itself is a big thing for the kids as many children across the globe cannot possess the lovely Internet speeds my kids enjoy. I then incorporate the various ICT facets of learning with the diverse tech tools which are shared by yourself and other fellow educators via twitter. Also the fact that I’m a Math teacher as well, I invariably combine Math with my ICT lessons like testing my kids in Math games, email communication, Microsoft Office basics, involving them with iPad projects with the help of VoiceThread, Edmodo etc. I also conduct weekly Skype chats with ESL students from the American school of Budapest so that my kids are good in communication, self confidence thus improving their personality skills etc. ICT learning is a must in our society and moreover in our classrooms if the teacher and his students have to move with the times. I always say to myself that if i can sucessfully introduce my Mother to computers and today if she can check her own emails, connect on Facebook or Skype effortlessly, all it requires a little effort from our side and with proper training and continuous feedback our kids will welcome tomorrow like there is no end to it.

    Vijay
    @bucharesttutor

  10. Hi Vivay, Thank you so much for taking time to visit this space and to share your thoughts. I love the stories you share and yes, it is time to prepare our learners for the times they live in. There are skills which are timeless (e.g. collaboration, negotiation, presenting etc), however those too have different characteristics today with the influence of open classrooms and digital resources.

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