“a crowd of decision-makers” – my PLN

Map of Shannoninottawa\'s Twitter friends

The image to the right is a visualization of those people in my Twitter network with whom I have the most exchanges.  I like the image because it shows the interconnectedness of my personal learning network (PLN) – there are lots of conversations taking place all the time.  My network is diverse and includes people with whom I work regularly, people with whom I have shared interests (education, technology, literacies), people I have met at conferences, and people I have met through others in my network.  My network is both local and global, including people with whom I live (my hubby) and work, people throughout Canada and the United States, and people across the globe in Asia and Australia.  Although we are connected by our shared interests, there are enough diverse views on those interests to make the network productive and challenging, as well as supportive and efficient.

why network?

In 2004, James Surowiecki wrote The Wisdom of Crowds, an examination of the idea that a large group of people is collectively smarter than a small group or an individual.  Surowiecki talks about how a large and diverse group provides you with information you might not have anticipated:

In other words, experts don’t know when they don’t know something.  That’s why it’s worthwhile to cast a wider net, and why relying on a crowd of decision makers improves (though it doesn’t guarantee) your chances of reaching a good decision.  Relying on a crowd rather than an individual improves your chances of finding information that you didn’t know was out there. (278)

One of the greatest challenges facing Principals and Vice Principals who must assume the role of instructional leader is staying at the leading edge in terms of instructional practices, curriculum revisions and new tools and materials for the classroom.  It isn’t reasonable to expect to fit time in to delve deeply into all of the ‘new’.  Having a strong network both within your school, within your board, and even beyond gives you the advantage of having a large group of people to provide insight, information and feedback in all of these areas.  I think it is the collective wisdom that we gain by being part of a learning network that makes it not only worthwhile, but crucial.

getting things done

If you believe that we still have a long way to go before we can say that we are providing the very best education for every single student in our system, then being part of a connected, challenging and supportive network becomes an imperative.  In Tribes author Seth Godin discusses the powerful potential of a connected group of people to effect change:

A movement is thrilling.  It’s the work of many people, all connected, all seeking something better.  The new highly leveraged tools of the Net make it easier than ever to create a movement, to make things happen, to get things done. (5)

Connecting with those whose passion and purpose resonate well with your own provides the opportunity to bring about changes, regardless of how seemingly small, that draw us closer to the realization of something bigger and better – in our case a system wherein all students can attain high levels of achievement.  

Godin explains what occurs as the conversational net is cast wider:

The movement happens when people talk to one another, when ideas spread within the community, and most of all, when peer support leads people to do what they always knew was the right thing. (23)

Doing the right thing.  That is at the heart of it, but it is often difficult and draining.  Having the courage, as well as the know-how, and bolstered by a strong PLN of passionately committed people, to do the right thing by each and every student might be the very raison d’etre for networking.



map of shannoninottawa’s friends 

Expanding the boundaries #expbound

I’m sitting in the room at Expanding Our Boundaries (#expbound)  in Toronto.  The 2 day event, co-hosting by OTF and ECOO, is facilitated by Will Richardson.  Gearing up for the event, I connected with some of the other attendees through various blogs, the Expanding our Boundaries wiki and twitter.  Discovering our common interests, besides the conference, almost every attendee with whom I connected was reading Ken Robinson’s The Element.  Not a huge surprise, but a happy coincidence.  And, promising.

What is the element and where do I get one?

Ken Robinson explains his use of the term the Element: 

I use the term the Element to describe the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.  I believe it is essential that each of us find his or her Element, not simply because it will make us more fulfilled but because, as the world evolves, the very future of our communities and institutions will depend on it. (xiii)

Reflecting on this, I ask myself questions like, “In what ways am I in my Element?” and “Is my classroom a place where every single student in the room is able to be in his or her Element?” and “Are my colleagues in their Elements?”

Are you in your element?

This morning, Will Richardson blogged about Robinson’s book.  It is a great blog post that you can check out here.  Reading it got me thinking:  How many educators are reading Robinson’s The Element ?  I wonder about this because I think that Robinson’s text asks us to find that space within which both our talents and our passions connect – and get there. (You can check out WordPress blogs with the tag Ken Robinson to get a sense of the numbers of people out there who are reading and synthesizing the text)  If we are teachers and the element isn’t the learning environment within which we work with kids from day to day, then something is dreadfullly wrong.  In his post this morning, Richardson says, 

Teachers are learners. If they’re not, they shouldn’t be teachers. In a world where we can engage in our passions through the affordances of connective technologies online, we need to be thinking about how to personalize the learning of the adults in the room as well as the kids. This is not the easy route, by any stretch, but it’s the best route if we’re serious about moving the education of our kids to a different place.

Teachers need to be learners.  Absolutely.  And personalized learning is essential.  I agree on all of those points.  The question that I have is:  What are the roles in terms of ensuring that personalized professional development is available to us?  As an educator, I need to ensure that I am seeking out opportunities to extend my own learning and keep me in my Element.  These past 2 days at #expbound saw a room full of educators, all at different points along the web 2.0/social networking/collaborating continuum, come together to learn with Richardson.  Although I know that the sessions were overwhelming for many of the attendees, but I also witnessed 

Transformation in Education

I’m optimistic that change is happening.  But it feels slow and I am not sure that it is nearing the level of transformation – what Robinson advocates for in The Element.  I find myself wondering how I can go beyond my own learning to work towards that transformation within my district?  Big questions after these 2 days.  Thoughts in process, for sure.

facebook is as facebook does

In his online article on Newsweek.com, Steve Tuttle journals his decision to quit facebook, after finding that he had wasted countless hours on the social network site:

When I think about all the hours I wasted this past year on Facebook, and imagine the good I could have done instead, it depresses me. Instead of scouring my friends’ friends’ photos for other possible friends, I could have been raising money for Darfur relief, helping out at the local animal shelter or delivering food to the homeless. It depresses me even more to know that I would never have done any of those things, even with all those extra hours.

Of course, the cynic in me wants to check in with Steve in a month or so to learn how much of his newly liberated time he now devotes to saving the world, since he admits his own lack of engagement in that last sentence.  Steve just doesn’t sound like a participant.  In other words, his use of fb was non-participatory – He didn’t wield the tool to make his life (or anyone else’s from the sounds of things) better.  Among other things, he missed the opportunity to become more involved in social change movements on Facebook, if that is something that he was interested in pursuing. 

Exactly a year ago today, Josh Catone blogged about fb’s ability to mobilize the masses on ReadWriteWeb:  

Another example of someone successfully using Facebook to enact change is the “For Every 1,000 that join this group I will donate $1 for Darfur,” which was started by NYU student Marek Grodzicki. The group has 424,000 members — or $424 — and Grodzicki is renewing his pledge for next year. That may not be a lot of money, but it’s almost half a million people who may now be more aware of an issue because a single person was able to reach them simply by announcing an altruistic act on Facebook and letting viral nature of social networking take over.

See, the thing that I think Steve (and his ilk) is missing is that fb, like any other tool out there, is what you make of it.  The danger exists in allowing fb to consume your time and energy in non-productive ways.  Seen as time-wasting and meaningless, fb becomes the next repository of what Clay Shirky calls “cognitive surplus” – the collective intellectual power absorbed by empty leisure time activities.  From this perspective, fb and the sitcom don’t differ in terms of their ability to suck the time out of us.  However, fb and other networking sites also offer the potential to turn that surplus into powerful, engaged and innovative participation in the world.

Confessions of a Skeptic

Ok, I have to admit something here.  I am a social network newbie (see “2 Resolutions and 3 Moments”).  Prior to taking the leap into facebook and twitter, I felt that they offered nothing to make my life more productive.  What changed?  I started to hear about people using social networking to expand the realm of their professional learning.  Tired of taking rigid professional development courses that aren’t nearly personalized enough, I took the leap. 

And what have I found?  A month in and I’m starting to connect with people who are knowledgeable in areas in which I am interested.  Through fb and twitter, I engage with folks from whom I want to learn.  I put out questions and participate in conversations that provide me with tools I can use to make my instructional practice better.  I connect with colleagues across the globe in Australia and New Zealand, as well as down the 401 in London and Toronto.  I share out my ideas and get feedback, as well as receiving great information and resources.  In other words, I get back what I put in.  My learning is personalized – I select the content, as well as the pace.  And yes, I do take some time to check out the adorable baby pictures posted by my colleagues and friends.

The Experience of Crowds

I came across this insightful little video created by Will Richardson to illustrate how social networking and web 2.0 tools have changed the way that current events stories break , become aggregated and refined using tools such as, in this case, twitter and flickr:

The News According to Twitter

“Playing around with Prezi.com here but also trying to capture what I think is an interesting shift in the way we learn about, gather and share news these days.”

The shift that Richardson identifies here has interesting and immediate implications for education, as well. We have already witnessed the emerging impact of The Wisdom of Crowds philosophy and its insistence on the development of sophisticated collaborative and critical thinking aptitudes. The shift here has more to do with the “experience of crowds”, if you will – multiple perspectives dialoging in real time to create a shared narrative of an event that is swiftly disseminated, even as the event itself continues to unfold and updates or revisions are being made to the emerging narrative.

The Experience of Crowds

The “Experience of Crowds” demands a further shift towards the increasingly imperative development of highly refined and rigorous skills in the area of synthesis.  Wrapped up in the unfolding events as narrated across a multitude of 1st person perspectives – eye witness accounts captured digitally – consumers must be open to accepting and digesting revision in real-time.

The skills and aptitudes required are, in my estimation, not novel to my students, for whom this shift might be, at best, unsurprising, considering their immersion within a world where their experiences have always been mediated and captured digitally.  It is, however, an important shift within myself as an educator, in order to ensure that I provide a learning environment that challenges my students to refine their synthesizing and critical thinking talents.  The old media literacy question “what is this text really saying to me?” proliferates and includes questions such as “What perspectives are emerging as this text unfolds?”, “How does the emergent nature of this text manipulate my understanding?”  and, to be sure, “What part of this text am I creating?”