These are my notes from Clif Mims’s keynote “Using Digital Technologies and Personal Learning Networks to Enhance Learning” at the PodStock09 conference. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. I audio recorded this session and also webcasted/archived the session with Ustream.

Our current economic crisis could be “the perfect storm” for educational technology, open source solutions, instructional design, blended professional development models, etc.

all kinds of discussions and research today on communities of practice
– links to whole language
– the middle school concept: groups, pods, group planning
– we’ve been doing these sorts of things for awhile

We now have this technology thing” going on, students interacting, trying to engage them, and those two things coming together as PLNs (personal learning networks)
– I heard some people ask about PLNs yesterday, so here is an explanation

Look at formal (peer-reviewed) and informal literature

P = professional and personal

L = learning

N = network, community, environment

Plurk seems to be stronger here in the Kansas educator network

brainstorming characteristics from participants:
– self-forming
– ad-hoc
– just in time
– explosive
– resource library
– tribe
– online

Can exist both F2F and online
– referring to this in “plurksburg” 🙂

Benefits of PLNs to Educators
– I would not be here but-for Plurk
– Plurk in my experience is a tighter-knit group

the loss of isolation is a BIG benefit

I joined Twitter 2 years ago, and hated it initially
– initially I wanted to be very private, signing things as “Clif’s Notes”
– story of printer problem responses from tweet
– that is when I thought: this will be what you make of it
– I had seen plenty of people sharing what they are eating for breakfast on twitter
– I realized if I wanted to have conversations about education on twitter, then I would have to find those people

I work with the teachers directly at our university
– in prior life, I was an elementary teacher
– we had a faculty of 60 but just 1 other male
– I was very familiar with the isolation that can happen in schools

Twitter and Plurk level the playing field


The PLNs have fast forwarded my learning in so many ways

From participants:
network is non-judgemental: ask questions, people respond
– you don’t have to always ask the stupid question, others ask them too!

filtering idea comes up a lot
– I don’t have to keep up with everything going on, I just watch it to come through my PLN, best things bubbles up to the top

lesson plan help
– on Sunday night I put out what I am teaching that week
– on Tuesday I look for results and all the ideas that come out
– so with a 48 hour timeperiod, I get a ton of help and resources
– really helps on not re-inventing the wheel!

Traditional Student PLNs may be the next frontier for us in educational technology
– we’ve used these for years: pods, teams, the school itself, classrooms, these can be PLNs in the traditional setting

anytime we are talking about impacting learning, we want to move up Bloom’s Taxonomy
– we find that a lot of our teaching happens at the fact/recall level of Bloom’s

for lesson plans, what’s on paper is one thing, people intend to move up beyond lower levels, but in practice we tend to fall back to this
– it’s easier to assess
– students don’t fight us as much (IT IS PASSIVE AND EASIER FOR EVERYONE!)
– we should be striving for the higher levels

Andrew Churches has reworked this as Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy

One thing you can do with your online PLN is publish
– you know there is an audience out there
– when you start publishing, kids get more engaged in the process

from audience:
– kids can tend to self-assess more and raise their game for the audience
– kids really willing to draw others into the network, want to share
– kids tend to be more willing to do the work when they are publishing for an outside audience
– kids are actually writing all the time
– when kids write and publish for their peers, that makes a huge difference
– kids bringing writing to the teacher and asking, “Do I sound smart here?”

kids take ownership of their learning
– I don’t mean to oversell this because worksheets (specifically in math) do have their place
– the key, however, is that those aren’t the only strategies that we should be using
– I’ve never seen a child take ownership over a multiplication fact sheet in the same way they take ownership over writing and publishing online
– we are hearing more talking today about “higher order teaching” not just “higher order thinking”

I am skeptical that we ever REALLY know what someone knows, we just see what is demonstrated

When something gets published, we can start witnessing the process they go through
– it is like a data trail
– we can see the decisionamking they are going thru
– decisionmaking typically gets into higher order thinking
– there is a lot in that direction we should and will explore more

Whole idea of critique: comment, DIGG (voting/rating), starring system
– all of that is critical thinking

what happens with middle school students when things go public and they know they will start looking at each others work
– the critique dynamics change, can be in some positive ways but also negative

did a project where kids designed a game on paper with storyboards, and then developed the games back at school
– then brought developed games back to kids
– kids got to play them, share them, add ideas
– kids wanted to refine and improve their own games
– this is the kind of thing we are seeing in our own PLNs

Benefits of online PLNs to students

Lisa Thumann (@lthumann on Twitter)
– sharing an audio recording from Lisa talking about how we’ve generally valued and used experts to bring in their voices and perspectives to the classroom

someone discussing edmodo and other networking tools, giving other students that may not typically share their ideas/voice being empowered to do so with digital PLN tools

From Ginger Lumen:
– gives learning in the classroom not just an x/y axis but also the z axis
– much more depth

I wish I could have grown up learning in this world
– I grew up on the farm, and my dad was a carpenter
– I learned math hands-on, outside the classroom
– the physical setup of schools tends to box us in physically and mentally


Ability to individualize learning
– filtering things that meets your learning style

“I has a cheesburger” is a big part of some people’s PLNs today – not mine

Indivualizing your PLN is key

Multiple representations of understanding is key
– I promised a friend that I would share this

I grew up in the Mississippi delta, went away for college, came back there to teach
– most of my kids from very tough situations
– had a student I had taught the year before in math, he didn’t pass, and I was irate about it, he had already repeated twice, as a 6th grader was repeating for his 3rd time
– the next year I persuaded the teacher to get that student again for both math and science (state law encourages student to NOT get the same student so teaching is repeated)
– story of circuit switch kids, this student and his partner finished first
– I was blown away with his understanding of how to create circuits and how well he understood it
– his self esteem was in the floor generally
– I asked him to help others with their circuits around the room
– later that week I gave the test, graded them, and the student had failed miserably with something like a 20%
– I did know about his background and home life
– I thought maybe he was up all night at home, something going on
– I slowly realized that he was not failing my class, I am failing him, because he understands this topic but can’t represent it in the medium I’ve chosen for assessment
– at that point I promised myself (this was a paradigm shift) that I/we acknowledge how people express and understand things in different ways


one more thing about multiple representations
– if you are going to let students express themselves in multiple ways, we as teachers are really going to have to design instruction carefully
– what ARE the objectives you want to achieve?
– do students have to write something as a paragraph? could they do a YouTube video or a podcast?
– this is going to challenge us as designers to become better and more purposeful as we design our lessons

Favorite benefit of online networks: Together we know more
– crowdsourcing

convergence of digital technologies becoming seamless with teaching and learning
– less separated: like we used to do with MS office, “today we are going to teach PPT”
– those tools are becoming (and will become) more seamless where we focus less on the tools
– bring in that PLN element where we can collaborate, publish, critique together
– can really boost higher order thinking in the classroom

Examples of how you can setup your own PLN in the classroom
Fliggo: setup your own video network
seesmic (like twitter with video, you get 60 seconds, similar to 12 seconds)
Edmodo and ShoutEm – make your own private, school-based Twitter network

can make your network completely private or public
– safety and digital citizenship go hand in hand

what lies ahead
– the highlight of my day will be going to hear these young men talk about what they are doing with Wiis and hacking
– I am NOT a gamer
– I spent the Christmas break wearing out our new Wii with my kids
– I think we have yet to discover what gaming will mean for school learning
– all these social aspects

The smartphones
– there are others in addition to the iPhone
– what these will mean for our classrooms, our PLNs, we will have to wait and see

Other things discussed by participants:
cloud-based computing
– PS3 has something similar to SL called “Home”


Semantic web: web 3.0
– filtering, so things likely to be of interest to you show up more intuitively

closing thought: it will be what you make it
– it would be possible that you could bring in many of these things, and still JUST challenge kids at the knowledge/comprehension level of learning
– we are still going to have to be very purposeful with learning
– responsible digital citizenship, safety issues
– you get to customize and individualize it
– how restrictive you are as an administrative

Special thinks to Michael Grant from Univ of Memphis also

Join my PLN and let’s learn together!
– I am a big diigo bookmark user

Question on how to impact pre-service teachers and faculty
– from @dmantz: let others

from Kevin Honeycutt: some of our new teachers are resentful when you ask them to change their PERSONAL space (facebook) into a professional space
– young people have been free-range learners online
– many young people don’t view Facebook as a personal learning network

From Michael Grant: we have to help “young ones” leverage these tools beyond entertainment

Many not sure what this means to look professional online

Literature shows people need a personally meaningful connection to the tool when we teach edtech
– in my past course, in the same 3 hour course I had to do lesson planning AND technology integration in the same course, lesson planning wasn’t anywhere else in their 128 hours of required courses (undergradate)
– it was really hard to get that personal experience: putting together a slideshow about their vacation, a PPT about their boyfriend, etc – without those experiences they don’t ‘get it’ or get hooked
– I am a big believer in FLOW theory (Mihály CsĂ­kszentmihályi)

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