10 Ways to Keep your PLN from Running Amok!

NASA Control CenterDoes your Personal Learning Network feel like this (right)? Chances are that it does, at least some of the time. We’re hearing about PLN more and more at ed tech conferences with increasing enthusiasm (evangelism) — and this is good. We can no long rely on a broadcast/publish information environment as the only source for answers to brand new problems — especially in education. We need to rely on each other, our combined knowledge and experience to discover and even invent solutions to brand new problems. [photo ((Galvan, David. “STS-108 Orbit Team 2.” Davidagaivan’s Photostream. 25 Oct 2005. 18 Mar 2008. http://flickr.com/photos/dgalvan/55978852/.))]

However, it is easy to feel that your personal learning network/social network is becoming a NASA Control Center. For that matter, we can easily come to feel that we’re trying to land our students on the moon. It’s not that much of an exaggeration. But it is essential that we learn not only to grow our personal learning networks, but also to control them.

Controlling my PLN is not something that I’ve learned to do, but it is something that I’ve been thinking about. Here are a few ideas that occur to me.

  1. Try to hold yourself to a limit of bloggers you are subscribing to. It may be 10, 20, or 30 — whatever feels comfortable. But don’t make it an uncrossable line. You may discover, with experience, that you can follow more than 10 bloggers.
  2. Set up folders in your aggregator based on frequency of reading. Call one folder, “Everyday,” and in it, place blogs and other RSS feeds that you need to follow every day. Call another one, “Once a Week” and load it with less critical postings.
  3. It’s OK to switch Twitter off every once in a while. We’re actually pretty smart as individual, and sometimes we just have to sift through what we’ve learned and what we believe and make it work for us. Sometimes we have to just do it ourselves. While Twitter is still off, take a break, go for a walk or a bicycle ride. Go visit a neighbor, or just walk around in your garden for a few minutes.
  4. Part of my Flickr Network
    I connect with nine Flickr users, who connect to others.
    It’s OK to ignore other parts of your PLN when you need to. Your aggregator will wait for you. It may start to burst at the seams, but it won’t explode (at least no one’s ever been physically injured).
  5. Scan! It is possible that you may only actually read one in 10 of the blogs that come through, depending on who you are aggregating. I am subscribed to 78 RSS feeds with my Google Reader. Many of them only periodically write something of interest to me, but when they do, it is something that needs to be available to me.
  6. Your aggregator can grow temporary limbs. If you are teaching a brand new unit, or have been asked to deliver a presentation you have not done before, find people whose writings will help you prepare and subscribe to them. When you’ve learned what you need, then sever the lines.
  7. Realize that your network is much larger than it seems, much larger than the ones you’ve directly connected to. Because you are not just reading me, you are reading all of the mes that I’m reading, and they’re reading. We’re like a giant sieve, each of us sifting through information and ideas, adding to them, reshaping them, and each of us judging their relevance and usefulness. It’s bigger than you think. It’s more valuable than you think. Limit your network with this in mind!
  8. Another way to gauge the practicality of your PLN is to set for yourself the amount of time you can give up to scanning your aggregator. David Jakes said, during a virtual presentation the other day, “Are you willing to spend 15 minutes a day learning?” If you find that after 15 minutes you are still not getting to all of the connections you need, then you can consider a different strategy.
  9. You do not need to subscribe to dozens of educators to learn how they are using VoiceThread. Instead, conduct a Google Blog Search for voicethread and then subscribe to the search RSS feed. If anyone blogs about Voicethread, their blog comes to your aggregator. Another search tool you might use in the same way is Technorati.
  10. Some bloggers are very good connectors and filters. They read lots of information, and then blog the gems. An excellent example is SEGA Tech, by Jeff Giddens, Daniel Rivera, and Michael Stokes, of Georgia’s Southeast Regional Educational Service Agency. Another excellent example is Stephen Downes’ OLDaily.
  11. Please suggest other strategies by commenting here.

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Back To Starbucks & Conference Layering

It’s been a nice weekend at home. This was probably the first weekend in months that I have enjoyed entirely at home in many weeks. This morning I’ll be off to Starbucks to try to catch up on some writing projects — without a chance in hades of actually getting caught up.

Solo Unconferencing
No! He's not a giant. He's using one of those Asus UMPCs, running Linux operating system. I was absolutely intrigued.
I’ll be back on the road in a few days to work at the state school boards’ conference in Little Rock, so I’m still in conference mode, and to keep me thinking, Amy Vejraska posted an interesting comment on my blog last night about conference 2.0 (excuse me, but 2.0 says it).

She said,

We presented on web 2.0 for beginners, and then wanted to do a little “after session” with our laptops to help people start getting readers set up, etc. BUT the wifi, as you may remember, would not allow us to do that. I have already talked to the conference coordinators about ending each day next year with a sort of hands on byol hour where presenters just spend some time showing people how to get connected after the sessions.

I like this idea. I’m not convinced that traditional presentations are dead, that we should replace the conference with entirely unconference sessions, just like I think that a good lecture is a wonderful thing to sit through. But the idea of laying on top of a traditional conference one, two, or even three hours of unconference sessions, and DIY work with access to more experienced educators has a lot of appeal to me.

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NCAECT Behind us and All Around Us

The NCAECT conference ended yesterday afternoon.  I left the banquet just after Deneen’s closing keynote, but just before the association unveiled their new name.  Brenda was waiting in the lobby of the hotel and we wanted to beat the rush of educators scurrying back home (across the state) and toward their weekends.

Deneen Keynote in CharacterI think that what Deneen Frazier did was very interesting.  Since she had already done a keynote for NCAECT in a previous conference, she did not deliver her one-woman show, The Natives are Restless.  Instead, she reflected back on the conference, which she had witnessed through the eyes of her characters.  She included in here closing, video clips from conversations she’d had with teachers and with students, pointing out some of the differences between our world and their world, between the way that we see our world and its future, and the way that they see the world and THEIR future. 

The reason was not to say that we’re wrong and they’re right.  Instead, I think that it was to say that perhaps there are opportunities for teaching and learning, if we can figure out how to channel learning through their eyes and ears.  It’s like what England wants to do in making education more customer oriented.  It seems to me that it has less to do with serving the customer, and more to do with sourcing their actions and tendencies.

The greatest moment in Deneen’s address was when she came out as one of the characters (with time to put only one of her skates on), and she came running out into the audience with a blue flag.  She explained in her hyper-energetic way, that this flag was used, during NASCAR races (The Theme of the conference was race cars) to signal to cars that faster ones were coming and that they should move over and let them through.  The she yelled, “Move over! You’re slow! Move over.” 

I guess you had to be there.

Anyway, it was a very interesting and valuable addition to the conference to have someone whose job it was to be a lens on the event, especially the lens of our customers.  Well done!

Mashups & Expression

It 7:55 and the conference hall is still quiet.  Lot’s of people, but they are mostly quietly enjoying their continental breakfast.  Calipso is playing on the presenter’s computer, here in Kannapolis B, at the far end of the conference facility.  In about 20 minutes Lizbeth Coleman, of Durham Academy, will be talking with us about web mashups, about using them and making them.  Very cool.

Pretty Foods I’d like to insert here, though, the expression part of this post — and this echoes a lot of what Daniel Pink and Richard Florida talk.  This morning I was thumbing through the ubiquitous hard cover book about spending money in the city of your current leisure.  I, understandably,  slowed down when I got to the section on food and restaurants.  As I was looking, rather longingly, at the pictures, I had to remind my self that I was just seeing some fish, rice, a few green peas, and some sprigs of grass.  Yet it looks like this (to the right).

So much about what we do and the decisions that we make is about the visual and auditory pleasure of the experience.  It’s why I keep hammering that at the same time that we need to be putting more emphasis on math, technology, engineering, and science, we need to be putting just as much emphasis on the social studies so that we have a context, and JUST AS MUCH effort, funding, and expectations for art, music, drama, etc.  We aren’t going to enjoy the tech experience unless we have something pleasing and useful to enjoy through it.

Lizbeth Colman Liz teaches computer science at the upper school of the Durham Academy.  She’s shown some video mash-ups, some popular song with dancing Peanuts Characters.  She’s also showing how the federal government has set up a space in Second Life where you can click out web pages.  I’ve not thought of that as a mash-up, but I guess it is, where you’re mixing virtual environments, and the Web.  She also describes iGoogle as a mash-up.  Interesting.  Again, I hadn’t thought about it.

Now she’s showing Programmable Web, a directory of Mash-ups, current 2860 sites available through here.  Mapping mash-ups are the most common mash-ups.  Geotagging your Flickr photos enable them to be connect to a map.  I’ve not done this before, and I guess I should be geotagging my photos.  She’s showing www.flickr.com/map, with a map of the world and recently geotagged photos.  Now we’re looking at photos tagged as Paris, and a map of the city shows up with dots that link to the photos.  (The conference Internet is down.  This is bad.  I loaned the presenter my Hhonor’s number so she’s able to show, but we can’t follow.)

OK, Coleman is showing a geography quiz that is built on a Google Map mash-up.  She’s also showing a virtual tour of Toronto, which is a mash-up between Flickr and Google Maps.  She’s using existing mash-ups.  Someone asked if we could make your own, and she beams.  “Yes!”

Getting concerned, now, about the Internet. 

Lizbeth went on a Civil Rights Tour through the south, and she created a Google Maps interface for recording the tour.  Again, someone asks, “How can we do that?”

Here’s how you do it. 
1. Start with Google and register an account if you don’t have one already.
2. Click on [Maps].
3. Click [My Maps] where you can save your own maps and also browse a directory of other maps.
4. Click [Create a Map]
5. Title it and make it public or unlisted (you can share it either way)
6. Make a pen, and then zoom in to where you want it to stay, and title it.
7. A text box opens where you can type in text, rich text, or even HTML.  There’s a tool bar for formatting.  This is cool!
8. If you want a photo to be part of this spot on the map.  The photo has to be on the web, and you create a link to the photo.  Click the insert a a photo button, and enter the URL of the image.

Here is a bookmark page with resources: http://del.icio.us/ellejaycee/presentation
And here is a Camtasia demo: http://scrap217.googlepages.com

What I Learned Yesterday

Ustreaming of Personal Learning Networks Session
This is a screen capture of the Ustreaming of my Personal Learning Networks session at NCAECT
Well, I learned a lot yesterday, mostly from just talking with people.  I also know that I missed some opportunities to learn, such as when my friend, Dick MacFall invited me to come into a session at the end of the day, being presented by students from Durham Public Schools, and I was so tired at the end of the day, that I completely forgot — missing what I suspect was a golden opportunity.  Maybe NCAECT Ustreamed the session.

What really nags at me now is what I learned about presenting about Personal Learning Networks.  You can’t explain it in 45 minutes.  I felt that there was so much that was left unsaid, unshown, without discussion.  I felt so good about the workshop on Wednesday, and so disappointed after yesterdays concurrent session.

It’s a struggle.  An hour is barely enough time to cover something in a way that clearly defines the concept, project, experience, etc.  At the same time, an hour is too long to ask adults to sit still and listen — especially adults who are accustomed to being on their feet.  I’ve attended conferences that enjoyed 45 minute sessions and I left each session with energy to spend, and the day with much more excitement than when I attend hour-long sessions.  So I don’t know what the answer is.

Ummm!  Yes I do.  What if we could continue the session after it is over.  What if, after the session, the conversation began.  I think we’re on the way there.  I’m seeing a good bit of blogging going on here and twitter is coming up in just about every session.  The backchannel is alive and well, and there is much land in the Twitterverse available to be claimed.

Today, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and I will facilitate an extended session that we’re calling an EduBloggerCon.  We’ll start with a definition, and then ask attendees to work in groups to suggest questions regarding the new web, new schools, new definitions of teacher, student, curriculum, being educated, and then we compile a list of those questions.  Then We’ll open it up to suggested answer from the audience and conversation.  Sheryl and I will insert our two cents worth after all other ideas are exhausted.

I’m hoping that NCAECT will Ustream the session.  If they aren’t, then I’ll try to do it.  I’m also going to be running my chat program for backchanneling, and considering publishing my Skype login, asking folks from out side to Skype in their comments.  This might be an overload, but we’ll see.

I will likely post here the links and instructions for participating, and also in my online handouts blog.  So stay tuned.  Also, I’ll Twitter out any announcements.  If you’re not following me on Twitter, then click here.

NCAECT is Streaming…

Just thought I’d mention that there are four people here at NCAECT who are Ustreaming sessions.  Here are links to the streams:

NCAECT Keynote — Sheryl Nussbaum Beach

Live blogged. Please excuse typos and awkward wording.

Sheryl Nussbaum Beach
Sheryl Nussbaum Beach is rocking!
Introductions are happening now, in Concord. It’s important to note that we are only a handful of miles from the Lowes Raceway, site of the Charlotte 500. So the theme is NASCAR. An added treat was Don Kuenesic of ISTE, talking about NECC (San Antonio and Washington, just up the road from us). He also asked us to take a look at the teachers technology standards (new version).

Unfortunately, I seem not to have Internet at the moment. Although I have a strong wireless connection, but no IP number. I assume that they’ve run out of IP numbers. I keep hammering against the server, hope that I can sneak one out.

Interestingly, they have a blogger cafe here at the conference, with computers. The image to the right is the layout, with four DELLs per coffee table. They also have a SmartBoard for conversations. This is very cool!

Introductions are happening now, in Concord. It’s important to note that we are only a handful of miles from the Lowes Raceway, site of the Charlotte 500. So the theme is NASCAR. An added treat was Don Kuenesic of ISTE, talking about NECC (San Antonio and Washington, just up the road from us). He also asked us to take a look at the teachers technology standards (new version). Unfortunately, I seem not to have Internet at the moment. Although I have a strong wireless connection, but no IP number. I assume that they’ve run out of IP numbers. I keep hammering against the server, hope that I can sneak one out. Interestingly, they have a blogger cafe here at the conference, with computers. The image to the right is the layout, with four DELLs per coffee table. They also have a SmartBoard for conversations. This is very cool!

Frances Bradburn just received the the North Carolina Service Award — amazingly deserved.

Sheryl is is on, and “she’s on.” She’s talking about Web 3.0, and she says it’s here. If you don’t want to go to school, you send your avatar. How many of you have an avatar in Second Life (a good number of folks raised their hands). Then she says, “Those of you who aren’t raising your hands, your thinking, ‘My goodness, woman, I can’t get a-hold of my first life.'”

She says that students need to be learning how to produce content, not JUST consuming content. She says that the favorite digital device of our children is not the cell phone. It’s the digital camera.

She’s talking about trends, as reported by NCA Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. Shifts that she is emphasizing:

  • Social and intellectual capital are the new economic values in the world economy.
  • Education Will Shift from Averages to Individuals. (Standardization to Personalization)
  • Technology will increase the speed of communication and the pace of advancement or decline.

She says that the biggest barrier to retooling education is our memories. We’re so entrenced in our own notions of schooling, that we can’t see beyond it (my paraphrasing).

Deneen FrazierNow Sheryl is talking about some students she’s talked with at the conference, and calls one of the students to the front. Of course, it’s Deneen Frazier Bowen playing one of her characters. I don’t think I’d have that much courage to share the stage with an actor.

Oh Oh! Form Sheryl, we have to shift from a deficit-based education system to a strength based system. Don’t aim just for what the kids don’t know. Instead leverage what they are good at.

IMG_1678.JPGKaryn Romels Twittered me a link to the blog post about kids and phones. Sheryl recent worked in New Zealand, but didn’t know very much about the country and their education system. She has presented a map of the personal learning network that she formed and cultivated to learn about New Zealand (left).

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Where I Learn

Blogger CafeI often say that I blog to learn.  I also teach to learn, and no time was that more evident to me than yesterday’s workshop at the NCAECT.  The first thing that struck me about this group of about 20 educators was the number of them that reported that their schools or districts had either committed to or were strongly considering 1:1 initiatives.  I’ve thought of NC as being somewhat behind in this area, choosing to pay attention to other areas, such as bandwidth and student information management systems.  It makes me wonder if we might be approaching some tipping point.

Most of the attendees were tech facilitators and several were young — and several of them were gamers.  We even had a Guild Master in the audience.  Needless to say, I learned much in our conversations.  I also tried a few new techniques during the day, including Twittering out a request for people to Skype in and talk about their Personal Learning Networks.  Many thanks to Meg Ormiston, Scott Merrick, and Joe Brennan, and to everyone else who knocked on my Skype door.  That was a huge hit.

At the end of the day, we had a conversation about personal learning networks, school 2.0, and new definitions of teacher and learner.  I broadcast the conversation via Ustream and got a few spectators there.  One of the physical attendees volunteered to handle the iSight camera, aiming for the conversation.  She also monitored the chat on Ustream, and reported in salient comments from the Stream. 

I learned!

Perhaps the most learning for me was going back through the backchannel chat transcript this morning, popping it over to the wiki, and then inserting my 2¢.  It sometime amazes me how much richer these things might seem to people who are in this room to listen, but are freed to express at the same time.  Thanks guys for the links.

Day 1 — NCAECT

Yesterday enjoyed a goodly number of preconference workshops led by Tammy Worcester, Kevin Honeycutt, Leslie Fisher, David Hostetler, Jodie Smith, Melissa Thibault, Dr. Bobby Hobgood, David Walbert, Deborah Goodman, and Gail Holmes. I’ll report a bit about my workshop on personal learning networks and the collaborative web later. To top things off, Deneen Frazier wondered around in character (other characters), playing the workshops, presenters, and attendees. She told me this morning that her 12th grade character was offered a job. Would be nice to get you back in North Carolina, D.

I did my customary count of emerging tech terms and salient issues in the program and found the following occurrances of:

Web 2 14
Blog 26
Podcast 34
RSS 3
Wiki 29
21st Century 35
Literacy 4
Student 159
Learner 18

That last two seem interesting to me. I could be wrong, but referring to THEM as learners, as opposed to students, seems to imply a more active process of building knowledge — of being more responsible for the learning, while student implies a position of passivity, sitting in their desks and being vessels to be filled. I don’t know. What do you think?

Of course, there is nothing scientific in this search, and it isn’t meant to suggest any judgement on this or other conferences. I do seem more and more focus on “web 2.0” technologies. Since I am only presenting three times at the general conference, I’ll have much more time to attend and listen. So I’m sure there will be further reflections on the conference.

Here is an issuu of the conference program.

Three Things Last Night

I had an interesting experience last night, where I was disappointed, impressed, and educated.  Those of you who travel, know that many hotel rooms now come with wide flat LG TVs.  They aren’t HD, but they do project in letterbox, which is cool.

Last night, when I checked in, I tried to connect my laptop up to the TV so that I could watch a movie.  The RCA plugs were there, and I had the right adaptors for my Mac.  Then I started looking for a way to switch the input to the AUX in, rather than standard TV.  There were no options on the remote, nor were there in the menu.  Then I looked at the TV and found a button called INPUT.  But when I pressed it, nothing happened.  Disappoint!

So I dialed 0, and got a young woman at the front desk.  I asked her how I could connect my computer to the TV and she didn’t say, “Like, I don’t know. Do you want me to call engineering?”  Instead she knew the answer and explained it.  Impressed!

She said that the movies-on-demand company that they were using was providing the new TVs, and had disabled the ability to connect to auxiliary inputs.  They want you to pay for their movies.  Makes sense.  They upgrading the TVs.  Educated!

Now I’m in the middle of my Personal Learning Networks presentation, and will post this blog as an example of blogging.  That’s for your patience.