The Educator's PLN

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Education around the World has embraced ICT. It has grown from the first desktop machine in the Mathematics/Technology departments, to classrooms full of computers with full Internet access and ICT forming part of the curriculum. From the ‘ICT-free’ to the ‘ICT-critical’: Education is changing and so is learning. ICT and New Technology have been used to support the traditional methods of teaching for many years but are we now in a position to use ICT, New Technologies and the evolving ways of learning to become better classroom practitioners?

Only by having an understanding of the emerging ¬change in learning, the ready access to technology that learners have and more importantly use, will it allow us to become better teachers. Learning today has become a social revolution; as the Industrial Revolution changed our socioeconomic outlook, the change in learning, due largely to ICT and New Technology will have repercussions for generations to come. Learning is no longer tied to the educational establishment but ‘informal’ learning has had a significant impact and is shaping the learning process. We must, as educators, be able to change our practices to keep up with our learners and what they expect from education.

So what can be done? What can we actually do in the classroom to encourage and use these New Technologies and follow the learning styles of our pupils? Many possible solutions exist including the emerging theory of Connectivism. Developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, it looks at the limitations of other learning styles and the impact New Technology has had on how we live, communicate and more importantly how we learn. But I don’t want to delve into the realms of Learning Theories and Pedagogy: I want to show what can be achieved, share good practice and provide a source of useful materials we can all use in the classroom.

We need to experiment with uses of ICT and New Technology to allow us to become better practitioners and the pupils’ better learners. We have to change as practitioners and look at what is happening with New Technology and not get stuck with what we already know. The rise of the Internet and access to it has allowed an almost unimaginable wealth of knowledge to become instantaneously available. Not just ‘formal’ facts and knowledge but the views, opinions and thoughts of others. This information can, if guided, allow for a learner to choose a path of knowledge and learning suiting their needs. The Internet is a massive network of nodes of information: By connecting these nodes learning can and does take place and having created the connections they generally lead to more nodes being connected and more information becoming available.

Since the introduction of Web 2.0 technology in 2004 the Internet has opened up all manner of available tools we can use as teachers but for the majority they have failed to spot or have their attention drawn to them. Web 2.0 is essentially using web-based applications that facilitate interactive sharing of information on the Internet. Some examples that have really become popular are Social Networking sites such as MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, Video sharing on YouTube, Wikis and Blogs. Following from the non interactive sites before Web 2.0 it is now possible for users to interact with others; to share and edit information: It has become active and no longer a passive experience.

As a classroom teacher I have always found students motivated and engaged by solving real problems: Doing rather than listening. An ‘authentic’ method of teaching and learning is often difficult to implement but with advances in ICT and New Technology much more is possible in the classroom.

“To teach is to model and demonstrate. To learn is to practice and reflect.” Downes, S. 2009
Both sentences imply taking part in and becoming a part of this ‘authentic’ method.

Learners look for connections. When presented with a new problem or idea, we naturally try to put it in context of things we already know. If we can’t put it in context it is all too easy to reject it; meaning more effort is needed by the teacher to present the new ideas.

So how do we model and demonstrate a problem or concept to our learners? How can we use the fantastic opportunities that exist in cyberspace?
A simple starter: Visible Tweets1. Displayed on the board/whiteboard as the pupils enter the room. It displays Tweets from Twitter users about whatever you want. Wordle2 is another great starter. Copy text about the lesson subject/content and it displays a ‘Cloud’ of words (really getting the class thinking from the start).
The use of Wiki’s3 online, allowing the retrieval of information but also allowing contributions to be made. The use of such encyclopaedic sites again forms part of the learning curve: Needing to be careful and selective about the information retrieved and used from such sites (the decision making process). I frequently use mind-mapping sites4 to create interactive maps that the learners can contribute to and collaborate on. I have used, with great success, Wallwisher5. This interactive site allows pupils to ‘post’ virtual notes to a virtual wall. This can be viewed live, edited live, stored and printed for future reference; again allowing collaboration within the class.
The use of Glogs6: (Graphical Blog) allowing the creation of interactive ‘Posters’ with sound and video. It allows for comments and feedback from peers. Instead of creating a static advert for a product, one of my Y8 classes created a futuristic Glog “The future of Advertisements”. They incorporated sounds and video into their Glog and then went further to explore the possibilities of where these sorts of adverts may be seen and used. They began looking at mobile phone and video advert in newspapers! The motivation, excitement and stimulation of every member of the class was obvious to see. The class viewed each other’s work and added comments and critiques that is especially good for raising self-esteem amongst learners.

“Learning becomes as much social as cognitive, as much concrete as abstract, and becomes intertwined with judgment and exploration,” Brown, J. S. 1999

The same online tools can allow for the practice to take place. Allowing learners to contribute to Wiki’s and review other’s work, much in the same way as we do as teachers. The use of games and gaming sites can also reinforce and promote practice. Games are so often rejected as they are seen as ‘fun’ and not a contributing factor to learning. A fellow colleague uses the game SIM’s7 to allow pupils to practice building communities and societies. This ‘play’ links to the topic being taught in GCSE Geography: Allowing the foundation for discussion and understanding of the ‘real’ world using a virtual reality.

Reflection and recording, I feel, are one of the hardest challenges to our learners. How do you expect a pupil to evaluate and reflect on a piece of work they have created? How can they be self-critical? I started using Blog’s from Weebly8: Well my classes have. The pupils create a regular weekly Blog of what they have done/learnt in each lesson. It tends to be very honest and down to earth. Pupils comment on how good or bad a lesson was, how good (or bad) the teaching was! They are able to reflect easier as they don’t feel as if they are being assessed; they take ownership of their site and Blog and are proud of them. I have a Blog that the pupils can see and comment on; that I feel makes them more comfortable with the idea. The class is a community (including me) and feel more connected to the learning taking place, in many cases not even realising they are learning. So far it has proven very popular with students keen for me to read their latest postings. It leads to easy discussion in class and a valuable tool for lesson/pupil assessment.

So what about us, the teacher? What resources are available to enhance our learning and allow the sharing of good practice? Just as the students, we can use the sites and assets listed above. I now Blog my own CPD. Partly for other’s to read but also as a permanent record to myself. I have become a ‘Tweeter’ and now have many ‘friends’ but unlike my personal Facebook profile my Twitter9 friends are all teachers or somehow connected to education, including many award winning practitioners. I follow their Tweets and Blogs and postings. Just recently I got involved with an online discussion (started through Twitter) and found more useful resources and web links in twenty minutes than I have in the last four years! I have become a member of the Innovative Teachers Network10 (Partners in Learning), again an invaluable resource bank of knowledge, expertise and ideas.

As teachers, we must adapt and be able to change our perspective on New Technology. We have to alter our teaching to meet the learning curve of pupils today: To stay connected and in touch. If we consider the ‘half life of knowledge’ then many of the technologies pupils use and understand today will be outdated and updated before they realise it but they will change and develop their learning, skills and knowledge to suit. But will we?



Downes, S. (2009, October) Connectivist Learning and the Personal Learning Environment. Retrieved Oct 11th 2009, from

Brown, J. S. (1999, March). Learning, working, and playing in the digital age. Presented at the American Association for Higher Education Conference on Higher Education. Retrieved Jan 3rd, 2010, from

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