Connected Educator Month and #xplrpln: When Personal Learning Networks Collide

October 25, 2013

None of us expects what is about to happen.

A small group of us are just beginning our latest hour-long online exploration of personal learning networks (PLNs), with Twitter as our means of communication. For those on the west coast of the United States, it’s the Thursday morning version of the Wednesday night session scheduled during this third of five weeks in the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. A few of us know each other from the time we spent online together earlier this year in #etmooc, the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and colleagues. A few more of us have become part of each other’s personal learning networks through our collaborations in this new personal learning network MOOC.

xplrpln_logoAnd then there’s the unexpected visitor: Coline Son Lee, one of my colleagues from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). She is a cherished part of my personal learning network but not—yet—part of the PLNs of colleagues in my #xplrpln community of learning. I first become aware of her presence in the chat when she retweets one of my comments. I respond with a tweet to everyone else in the session so they will know who she is and how she found us: “Another sign of personal learning networks in action: @pmtrainer, an ASTD colleague just joined us, meaning my PLN is in action.” Jeff, our session facilitator, seizes the learning moment with his response: “Cool! Welcome! One of the benefits of discussing ‘in the open.’”

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoColine, having stumbled (virtually) into the chat by seeing my comments in her own Twitter feed, steps up to the plate by asking what topic we’re pursuing. Jeff further draws her in—I’m no longer her sole conduit to the chat and to the group—and he provides an in-the-moment example of a connected educator in action by offering a response that includes a link to the page with information about our Week 3 goals and objectives, readings, and activities. At which point we have seen another example of exactly what we are studying: in less than 15 minutes, a piece of my personal learning network has collided with those of other course participants, and the two begin to seamlessly merge to the benefit of everyone involved. And even though Coline is not able to continue on with the discussion for the entire session—she inadvertently omits the tweet chat hashtag that would make her comments visible to the rest of us—the introductions have been made; the players have the seeds for new growth in our personal learning networks; and we all have a visceral understanding of how PLNs work by evolving naturally, serendipitously as well as through our intentional actions, as all of us engage in our roles as connected educators, connected learners, and participants in Connected Educator Month activities and celebrations.

We also see and note that even though this session is primarily relying on synchronous exchanges, there are also asynchronous participants in the sense that we are drawing upon and building upon comments made by colleagues who attended the Wednesday evening session: we have access to the transcript of that earlier session, a few of us paraphrase or include quotes from the earlier session, and there’s even a brief drop in during this Thursday morning session from one of our Wednesday evening colleagues. After the session ends, we’ll continue the discussion via exchanges in our Google+ community, various tweets back and forth, and blog postings that attract responses from other members of our connected leaning community—all helping to reinforce the idea that the more we explore and the more we learn, the more we find to learn and explore.

Gladwell--David_and_GoliathMy PLN and learning experience suddenly begin moving back in time as well as forward. I recall a moment that occurs two days earlier: the moment in which author Malcolm Gladwell suggests during an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show this week that Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, is the sort of book that raises more questions than it answers—and that’s OK, he adds. I think about the inevitable moments in the days and weeks to come when members of my personal learning networks continue to share resources on the question-raising questions with which we joyfully grappling. And I realize that Exploring Personal Learning Networks is very much the MOOC version of Gladwell’s latest book: we arrive with some basic assumptions; explore those assumptions while listening to other people’s assumptions; find that every potential answer takes us wonderfully deeper into the topic and, as a result raises additional questions; and we all leave with a greater appreciation for the nuances of what we are exploring, having learned experientially how wonderfully complex this and the rest of the world can be if we are not insistent on approaching learning as something to be initiated, completed, checked off a to-do list, then shelved or recalled fondly each time we look at a diploma or certificate of completion as if learning is ever finished.

And doesn’t all of that just leave us with the most inspiring questions, PLNs, communities of learning, and learning experiences of all?

N.B.: This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


Learning and Misinformation Management: #etmooc, Digital Literacy, Crap Detection, and Librarians Alphabetizing Spice Racks

March 7, 2013

When a friend and I first read about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel releasing a stream of expletives and walking off of Sean Hannity’s Fox News program in November 2012, we immediately began an online search to locate a video of that explosive moment. I’m admitting up front that our search wasn’t driven by skepticism; we simply wanted to see the altercation with our own eyes. And within a couple of minutes, we not only had determined that there was no footage to be viewed, but that the original source—The Daily Currant—clearly identifies itself, on its “About” page, as “an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media.” The site also informs readers that the stories “are purely fictional. However, they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world.” But we had to take the extra step of looking at the “About” page, because nothing on the page containing the original story hinted at anything other than a news report posted by on online publication.

Think of The Daily Currant as an online version of The Daily Show on Comedy Central or a subtle version of The Onion. And also think of it as a reminder of the need for finely-honed crap detection skills—one piece of the overall skill set seems to be an integral part of any definition we can create for our constantly evolving sense of what “digital literacy” means in its broadest as well as its most specific sense.

etmoocDigital literacy is a theme many of us began exploring a few weeks ago within the context of a wonderful  massive open online course (MOOC), #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013. For a couple of weeks and with the guidance of some wonderful learning facilitators, we struggled with the wicked problem of trying to create a workable definition for digital literacy—a term that appeared straightforward at a glance but that proved to be incredibly nuanced, subjective, and complex as we gave it increased attention.

But there’s nothing nuanced or complex about the obvious need for highly-developed crap detection skills in our onsite-online world—a theme brought into full focus for us through Howard Rheingold’s #etmooc digital literacy presentation on “Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Collaboration, and Network Know-How” last month. Picking up on themes he has obviously covered elsewhere, he talked about walking his daughter through the process of exploring a website that initially appeared to be an official site about a well-known historic figure, but eventually turned out to be a far-from-objective source of information. He also recalled taking an online pregnancy test that confirmed he was going to give birth to a baby girl and that the father of his child was Fabio Lanzoni.

Daily_CurrantWe don’t need the extreme example of the online test that confirmed Rheingold’s pregnancy to see how alert we and those we help in our roles as trainer-teacher-learners need to be. When we find ourselves or our media learners taken in by something along the lines of that Daily Currant story about Rahm Emanuel, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves as well as at the story; remember that what seems improbable to some appears to be completely credible to others; and do a little follow-up in sifting through the deluge of information—and perhaps, along the ways, honing what a colleague referred to as “deluge literacy.” We can, for example, see right through stories about how Pope Benedict XVI actually resigned because he is gay, how Sarah Palin announced her intention to run for president of the United States in 2014, how New York Times columnist and award-winning economist Paul Krugman has filed for bankruptcy, and how Facebook is going to begin charging us if we want to remove our photos from its site—once we know that we’re viewing a satirical website. But those who don’t have the digital literacy skills to make that determination are not only going to believe what seems credible to them, they’re going to forward that misinformation on to others via Twitter and other social media platforms and react through postings on the Daily Currant site itself. (If your crap detectors are going off and you’re wondering whether people actually do post comments indicating they believed the stories, skim some of the comments. A running joke among regular readers of the fake news within The Daily Currant is the fake dilemma of whether to point out the “About” page to those who believe they’re reading real news reports—or whether to egg them on by responding with comments including “Quick, go make a chain status! Everyone must know about this!”.)

When our crap detectors let us down and we fall prey to something displaying truthiness rather than truth, we can at least take solace that we’re not alone—as we recently saw when a Washington Post blogger fell into the trap of believing a Daily Currant story reporting that Sarah Palin was going to begin working for Al Jazeera after leaving Fox News. Adding insult to injury, the Currant writers ran a follow-up story reporting that Palin had accepted a position as a visiting scholar at Harvard, a situation that “will finally put to rest the rumors, first reported in the Washington Post, that she would be joining Al-Jazeera as an on-air commentator.”

I suppose, given all these twists and turns, that we should be grateful some of our best online pranksters are transparent about the reliability of what they are disseminating. One of my favorites, for example, is the Fake Library Stats (@FakeLibStats) Twitter account, where we have, within the past 24 hours, fake-learned that “35% of librarians send overdue notices to their friends & family to whom they’ve loaned a book,” “97% of librarians have alphabetized their friends’ spice racks,” and “98% of all librarians secretly want to weed and then rearrange their friends’ book collections.”

If laughter helps us learn, then we should acknowledge and thank The Daily Currant, The Daily Show, The Onion, @FakeLibStats, and many others for helping us hone that part of our digital literacy skill set covered by the concept of crap detection. And, in the meantime, let’s see if we can track down confirmation that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is demanding that Donald Trump produce a copy of his birth certificate so he can be assured that he won’t be disqualified, as a non-citizen, from running for president if he ever again considers pursuing that path.

N.B.: This is the seventeenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


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