One of the things we really want to explore this year is the idea of both students and staff creating personal learning networks. (Note: Clarence Fisher has a much better handle on this than we do, we're just getting started here, so you may go want to read his blog to get a more advanced education). For this post, I want to focus on the students. I have at least one teacher (Anne Smith) that’s ready to do this with some of her freshmen in their Language Arts class. I’m sure this will evolve (in fact, partially why I’m writing this is to get more ideas), but at the moment here’s what we’re thinking.
She’s going to help them set up an aggregator (more on the tool question below) and we’re going to seed them with a few feeds to get them started (suggested feeds in the comments, please). Then, once they're comfortable with that, Anne’s going to ask them to find some feeds of their own, on any topic they are passionate about (school appropriate but not necessarily school-related, if that makes any sense). At this point I’m thinking that’s plenty to get started with. From my own experience, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed, so while we won’t limit them, I think we will highly recommend they don’t subscribe to too many feeds.
They will then be responsible for reading their feeds each week, thinking about them, and then reflecting on them in their personal blogs. They will get some class time to do this, but will also be expected to do this outside of class. They will also be responsible for presenting interesting articles/themes to the rest of the class, probably twice each semester. After each student presents, the class will then react to that presentation by commenting on that student’s personal blog.
Anne’s written a first draft (Word, PDF) of what she’s going to distribute to students in a week or two (including the seed feeds that we have so far for students to choose from). Please take a look and we’d love to hear your constructive comments.
Our goals are two-fold. First, these are students in a Language Arts class, and they will be reading, thinking, writing and presenting on information that they find personally interesting and relevant. Critical thinking skills, information literacy skills, reading, writing, presenting skills – all fit well in our Language Arts curriculum.
Second, we hope to help them to begin to build their own personal learning network. To help them find trusted sources (and how to evaluate them in the first place to figure out if they trust them). To help them find multiple sources on the same topic, to help them compare and contrast and try to get multiple viewpoints on issues. To help them construct their own knowledge, to learn not just because it’s an assignment for school, but because it’s just too darn interesting, meaningful, and fun not to.
And this is a two-way street. They should not only be constructing their own personal learning network, but they should be learning how to be part of someone else’s learning network. How to provide relevant and meaningful information and analysis to others. We have a sign in our cafeteria that says, “Add to the sum total of the world’s knowledge.” While I don’t particularly like the way it’s phrased (the idea that knowledge is this huge collection of stuff that can be counted and summed), I do agree with the intent: they should be contributors and producers, not just consumers and users. Or, as Kurt Hahn said, “We are crew, not passengers.”
I’ve really struggled writing this post for two reasons. One, I’m insanely overwhelmed at the moment and haven’t had any time to read or think myself, and I can’t seem to get the ideas in my head onto the screen in any way that resembles the original brilliant thoughts.
And two, I’ve been struck with “tool paralysis.” I kept hoping that I would have the time to really evaluate Bloglines and Google Reader, Pageflakes and Netvibes and iGoogle, all from the perspective of a student, not for myself. But I can’t find the time to do it. And while I know the tool is not the important thing, I did want to pick the “best” tool available to help them be successful at this. But since I don’t have the time I’m thinking we may just go with Google Reader and ultimately iGoogle. I think Pageflakes and Netvibes may actually be better, but iGoogle has the G.A. (Google Advantage – trademark pending). Our students use Blogger, so they already have a Google Account. Google Reader is a nice aggregator. We are beginning to use Google Docs a lot more. If I ever find time to play with it, I think we’ll use Google Notebook. If they don’t have web-based email, Gmail is a great choice. And on and on. This can all come together with one login and in one place on iGoogle and maybe, just maybe, might be simple enough that the technology doesn’t get in the way of the learning (which is a big fear of mine right now). Finally, I think I may pick it for the same reason we picked Blogger a couple of years ago – I don’t think Google is going away anytime soon. I hope Netvibes and Pageflakes don’t either, but I think Google is the safest bet. Now, I know there are a lot of Netvibes and Pageflakes fans out there (and probably fans of other tools as well), so feel free to chime in on the comments. But I’m betting we’ll stick with Google Reader/iGoogle for the G.A.
So, I feel like this post is somewhat half-baked, as I can’t completely get my head around this idea or get my ideas out, so that’s why it’s titled Part 1. I’m really, really, really hoping my personal learning network will chime in with some wonderful comments that I’ll then feel compelled to pull out into a separate – and much better – post in a week or two. Also, I would love it if folks would submit suggested feeds that are of general interest to high school students that we could include in our seed list that they’ll be choosing from.
So, help me out here. Submit your comments and help me write an amazing Creating Personal Learning Networks: Part 2 post in a few weeks.