Keeping it Personal/Professional: PLN v. PLN

In a recent conversation with my colleague, Rick Weinberg, I came to some clarity about what PLN means to me.  We’ve all heard the term PLN, and many people switch the “P” in this term to personal or professional without a lot of clarification as to what they mean by either personal or professional.

My conversation with Rick centered around my thought that–at least for me–I have two PLNs.  That is, I have a Personal Learning Network as well as a Professional Learning Network.  In my world, my networks have very little overlap, but they often utilize some of the same tools.

My Professional Learning Network consists of my colleagues at work, colleagues from the schools in which I work, colleagues from other BOCES, and the billions, and billions (insert Carl Sagan voice here) educational technology specialists I’ve encountered in the eduverse.  I use a variety of tools in my PLN.  I use the phone, I use email, I use social bookmarking (e.g., delicous), sometimes my blog (I’m a lazy blogger) and social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Plurk).  My major goal for using this network is to keep myself sharp and connected to others in my field.

My Personal Learning Network has an entirely different purpose.  It’s where I keep connected with old friends from high school and college, learn more about my hobbies and interests, and generally chill out.  There are many people in this network as well, but most of them are not professional bakers, knitters, or boxer dog owners.  For this network I also use a variety of tools.  To keep in touch with my knitting friends and to get new patterns I use the sites Ravelry or KnittingHelp.  Interestingly enough, there is a network of bakers on the knitting site, so I keep in touch with them there.  I also use delicious, but I have a totally different account on which I keep bookmarks for recipes and knitting blogs.  I use Flickr to upload pictures of my knitting and to look at the work of other knitters.  I even have a different blog that’s my knitting blog. 

For the social side of my PLN, I use Facebook quite a bit to keep in touch with old friends.  Just recently I was contacted by a long, lost cousin (FOR REAL!), found a chum from high school and saw her in New York City, and made plans to meet some old college pals while they’re home visiting their families over the holidays.  It’s safe to say that most of my friends in Facebook are not part of my professional learning network, but Facebook is the one place where my networks overlap and I have “friends” from both worlds.

All Learning Is Personal
In my debate with Rick, we got hung up on something Rick said that I totally agreed with.  He said, “For me, all learning is personal.”  It struck me that all learning IS personal for me as well, but that some of that personal learning is professional (pertaining to work) and some of it is personal (not pertaining to work). 

I value the relationships I have in both my PLN and my PLN, and I even have personal relationships with people in my Professional Learning Network.  The distinction for me is that even though all of my relationships and learning are PERSONAL, I’m not getting paid to learn to knit, or bake, or be a boxer dog enthusiast just like Rick is not getting paid to fish or hunt.  On the flip side, I’m not interested in education and technology just because I’m getting paid to know about those things.  I have always wanted to be a teacher, and technology has always been something that has fascinated me.

The Bottom Line
In the end the line between PLN and PLN is blurry.  There is probably more overlap than I realize since I am a common thread in both networks.  For me, the distintion really comes down to content.  While I do have personal connections with some of my professional learning network colleagues, I have a strong feeling that if I plurked about my knitting to my ed tech plurk friends and fans, I might not get a lot of comments back.  But if I plurked about a great new site or article about education technology, I would get quite a few hits. 

Thanks Rick!
I am always grateful when Rick pushes my thinking.




Networks are about People

This week, we’re fortunate to have Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach working with us.  The crux of what we’re learning about is not so much about technology, but the power of technology to create networks of people so that they can share ideas and information.  In the age of 21st Century Skills, global awareness, communication, and collaboration are all important skills and themes to develop and be aware of.  Web 2.0 tools help to foster those networks and build bridges across vast distances.

During our week with Sheryl, one of the things that struck me was the idea that Sheryl is like the guy on the Verizon Wireless commericals.  (No, Sheryl doesn’t walk around asking “Can you hear me now?  Can you hear me now?”).  I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials where the Verizon guy–or a Verizon customer–is walking around with their phone and a vast network of people following him.  The idea is that wherever you go, your network follows.  In Sheryl’s case this is definitely true.

I think in education we’re all accustomed to having consultants come in and do work with groups of educators.  Sometimes it’s a keynote, and sometimes it’s a few days of intensive workshop work.  In nearly every case to this point, my experience has been that national and international consultants have brought their information with them, but they don’t necessarily share their network.  Last week, I was inspired by how Sheryl chose to share her network.

In the five days that she worked with us, we had several conversations with people outside of walls of the room.  Sheryl tapped into her network in several ways and invited a wide variety of experts to share information with the participants in the room.  Sheryl modeled global awareness, communication, and collaboration in a true 21st century direction.  In the five days she exposed us to the following great models of using Web 2.0 tools to share her network with us:

  • Skype:  To connect with a single open-source specialist.
  • Plurk and Twitter: To announce that we were inviting people to our UStream and Elluminate Sessions and to ask questions to the network such as “How do you define creativity?”  “What web 2.0 examples do you have for a 4-12 music teacher?” etc. etc.
  • UStream: To broadcast to folks on Plurk and Twitter who were not in our physical space.
  • Elluminate: To speak with consultants from all over the United States as well as Canada and New Zealand.
  • Elluminate: To speak with a panel of high school and college students about how they use technology and how they think technology could have been used in K-12 and also college.

The important piece of all of this was that it wasn’t about the technology.  The technology is not the network.  People make up the network.  The technology is simply a tool and a catalyst for creating networks.  The technolgy makes it easy for the collaboration and communication to happen among such a wide array of people, but I had never seen someone model it so well and so consistently.  It drove home the fact that building a network of professional contacts is critical to success in the 21st century, and was glad to see it modeled rather than just outlined in a PowerPoint.

For me, I think it means I’ll continue to nurture my network and to expand it.

Leadership is Service

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about leadership in another post just before I attended the Flippen Leadership Series: Human Performance in Houston, Texas.  In my post, I described some of my thoughts about leadership.  I’d like to take the time–now that I’ve thought about it for two weeks–to write about how well the Flippen Leadership Series (FLS) modeled good leadership, and gave me some leadership qualities to aspire to.

In FLS, the definition of leadership boils down to service.  In short, we lead by giving.  This concept was well modeled by our facilitator in that he kept reminding us that people who work at the Flippen Group have a motto: “Our goal is your success.”  He restated this several times over our three-day conference, but it came to life through actions.  Everything about the training was about how our facilitator could help us as participants to learn and grow.  His goal was definitely our success.

Throughout the training I began to think about leadership in my own life, and thought about missed opportunities to make my goal the success of students, colleagues, or the teachers I work with in professional development.  The truth is, I think everyone has these missed opportunities.  If my goal is someone else’s success, then when that person is successful, so am I.

There are many things to be learned about leadership through FLS, but one of my biggest take aways is the idea that leadership is service.  As a leader, it’s becoming increasingly important for me to find ways to bring success to the lives of people whose paths I cross.  Leadership is about using our power of influence to influence people’s lives in positive ways, but with every leader there are things that can be done to make that influence/service more meaningful.  To me, that’s what FLS was all about.

Attending other leadership workshops or reading books and articles about leadership, there are plenty of suggestions of how to build trust and meaningful relationships with people.  In FLS I learned that it takes a lot of work, and many times there are things holding us back from forming good relationships and from making those relationships successful.  During FLS I was made aware of some of my constraints (good news: everybody has them).  Although I’m not ready to write about them here, I’m committed to being more deliberate about confronting my constraints so that I can better serve the success of others.

I believe it’s not until we really take a long, hard look at ourselves that we find out what might be holding us back from being the best leaders we can be.  Of course the only way we can become better is when we choose to act upon those things.


This week I will be attending the Flippen Leadership Series by the Flippen Group.  Having been through their Capturing Kids’ Hearts program two years ago, I have to say that I think they have a lot of really important things to share.  Most of all, I’ve noticed that every Flippen employee I’ve encountered to date has modeled leadership.

In preparation for attending this seminar, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what good leadership is.  I’ve had plenty of conversations about leadership and heard plenty of theories on leadership.  Some people believe we must hold a position or title to be a leader, while others believe leadership is something that comes from within regardless of our position.  Taking both of those together, I suppose I believe it’s possible to have a leadership title in an organization and not be a good leader.

If I ask myself what I believe leadership is, or if I press myself to commit to a definition, I have been gravitating toward a very broad and inclusive definition.  That is, I don’t believe someone has to have a title or position of authority to lead.  When it comes right down to it, I think leadership is having the power to influence and making the choice to act on it.

That definition, though broad, carries a lot with it.  Everyone has the power to influence, and some of us make the decision to act on it, and by that argument everyone has the potential to be a leader.  I think the question I’m mulling over now–and will mull over even more this week–is what makes a good leader?  What are the qualities a leader has to have in order to be effective over the long haul?  Besides the power to influence and making the decision to act, what are the “hows” attached to that action that determine what type of leader someone is?

It doesn’t have to be cloudy with Wordle

I just stumbled upon an interesting site called Wordle. Wordle’s task is to take a block of text and create a word cloud from it. When I first saw it, I thought “cool,” but didn’t immediately think of an educational application. When I was skimming through the gallery on Wordle, I found a cloud from Romeo and Juliet and it became clear to me that Wordle may have an educational purpose after all.

In examining the Romeo and Juliet word cloud, you can see that all of the key words of the play are emphasized.  My thought about an educational implication is that Wordle may assist students with the idea of determining importance (my colleague, Lesa Dionne, gave me the ELA terminology for this).  If students were to take a block of text, they could type it or paste it into Wordle and immediately get feedback regarding what was most important.  Now–granted–not everything that is “frequent” is important, but in many cases frequency does indicate importance.

Other than the ELA skill implications, Wordle clouds are pleasing to the eye.  Users can manipulate colors, layouts, and fonts.  In speaking with Lesa, we wondered if a Wordle would be an interesting finishing touch to student autobiographies or other pieces of writing.  Students can type in URLs of  web pages, blogs, or wikis to determine the most frequently used words and themes (below is a Wordle of my last blog post about ChaCha).  I think it’s definitely a tool worthy of further investigation.

Dancing with ChaCha

It’s never too late to learn something new, and I just learned to dance the ChaCha.  Well, not literally.  While at NECC, my colleague, Rick Weinberg, shared a site called ChaChawith us.  If you’re not familiar with ChaCha, you should be.

ChaCha has been around since 2006 (who knew!), and is basically an information site whose purpose is to find the answers to your questions.  Unlike traditional search engines, ChaCha allows users to get answers to their direct questions rather than forcing users to sift through a long list of search results.  If you want to know the price of tea in China (seriously), just ask ChaCha “What is the price of tea in China.”  Within a few mintues, ChaCha responds with an answer to your cell phone.  In fact, you can even text the question directly to ChaCha.

For a while at NECC, ChaCha became a bit of an addiction.  When asked whether Coke or Pepsi was better, ChaCha responded to me that Coke was better, but to my colleage that Pepsi was better.  When asked “Who killed the Wicked Witch of the East,” I got back the response “Who killed my sister?!  Was it you?!” along with the rest of the confrontation between the Wicked Witch of the West and little Dorothy. 

The brilliance of ChaCha is that it is run on people power.  ChaCha guides are live people searching the Internet for your answers.  Ask something legitimate, and ChaCha will usually come back with an accurate and legitimate response.  Ask something trivial or slightly funny, and ChaCha will come back with an answer.  Just careful what you ask for!  A colleague in a punchy mood asked, “Who’s your daddy?”  I’ll leave it at that.  There is such a human element and feel to ChaCha that I feel like I’m texting a friend nearly every time.

If you don’t believe how “human” it can feel, try asking:
1.  If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?
2.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
3.  How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Each response will be interesting, and probably witty.  (Just know that you’re being charged for each text message out and each text message in.  I have 500 texts per month, so I’ve got to be careful how curious I am).  ChaCha guides can see the thread of your questions as you’re asking them so if you continue to reply to your messages with new questions, the ChaCha experience becomes more like a conversation. 

The real power of ChaCha?  I can’t WAIT until the next time I’m playing Trivial Pursuit or am called as a lifeline on Who Wants to be a Millionaire!

Karma = Carrot

Some of the people I work with would say I may have a slightly competitive nature.  Some of the people in my personal life would likely agree with them.  I concede that I have a bit of a competitive streak, but am confident that I’m not one of those competitive personalities who makes everything into a “I MUST WIN” event (and when I do, it’s more for the comedy of it).  I don’t get angry if I don’t win, I don’t sulk, and I’m genuinely happy for others when they win.  Perhaps silently I’m kicking myself for not pushing myself a bit harder, but on the outside I don’t think most people would know that.

So what does this phych profile have to do with technology?  Karma.

In the new social networking site, Plurk, users are given a Karma score.  The Karma score is somewhat of a barometer for participation on the network.  Users gain Karma points for each quality post they publish, credit for commenting on others’ plurks, recruiting fans and friends, and even for attaching an image to their profile.  Although the exact “dark magic” behind the karma score is invisible, it’s interesting to me that all of the items users are evaluated on are things that could easily be incorporated into a rubric for being a participant in a social network.

I have tried in the past to be a better participant in communities like Twitter, but I never felt I was getting out of it what I put into it.  Granted, I didn’t spend much time putting in, but I’ve found that my competitive spirit wants to see that Karma score rising.  To me, it’s validation that someone (albiet that someone is a computer program) is measuring my progress.  In a way, I’ve become the carrot-lured horse drawing the cart and I just keep moving forward.  I don’t feel like my Karma score needs to be any higher than anyone else’s, but when I see my Karma score decline a bit, it’s an indication that I’m not doing something right and I become more thoughtful about what I’m giving back to the community.

My participation in Plurk has not been entirely motivated by my Karma, though.  I’ve found the ease of keeping track of various conversations has been the best benefit.  I’m also extremely grateful that there is a quality Twitter alternative.  My colleagues Rick Weinberg and Mark Carls can tell you I had a not-so-nice nickname for Twitter, and now that we’ve all converted I’m quite pleased (as long as my Karma keeps rising!).

Connecting Around the Globe: True 21st Century Global Awareness

Attending NECC 2008, I was not surprised to see so many vendors and presentations mentioning the concept of 21st Century Skills.  It’s true that we’re in the 21st Century, and many people have seen the proverbial light when it comes to the concept of a flat world, but I’m concerned that 21st Century Skills may become too diluted as more and more vendors bend 21st Century concepts to fit their products.

I’ll first state that I have personally subscribed to the framework of 21st Century Skills proposed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.  I find them to represent a wide range of skills which I believe to be necessary for success in navigating the world of the 21st century.  One of the skills listed is the theme of global awareness.  Walking around NECC I saw many vendors taking advantage of 21st century buzz words, but didn’t necessarily see the vendors “walking the walk” though they had certainly been coached in “talking the talk.”

The best example of global awareness was at Tuesday’s keynote event with Jim Carleton and Mali Bickley.  Jim and Mali described themselves as educators who had lost their fire and passion for teaching, but were lit up again by global connections through technology.  A theme of their conversation was that their connections weren’t so much about the technology, but about the connections technology afforded them.  It wasn’t about specific products, and it wasn’t about which tools are better tools.  It was about the end result: students learning about students from other parts of the world.

Learning about students from around the world sounds like an easy thing to do, and on a surface level it probably is.  Jim and Mali described how at first their students were writing to their international student colleagues about day-to-day things like favorite foods and favorite colors, but then it got interesting.  Suddenly themes like war, peace, and culture came into play in ways that Jim and Mali probably only half anticipated.  THIS is where the true global awareness developed.

Global awareness is like reading comprehension.  In reading we talk about surface understanding, and really deep comprehension.  I think most educators would agree that we need to develop surface understanding to get to the really good thinking around what students read, and we should never settle for surface comprehension to be good enough.  Mali and Jim started with global awareness at a surface level and took it much, much deeper.  It wasn’t good enough to have students trading trivial information–though this is an important first step in building the relationships–the global awareness their students exerienced built true global awareness about the lives and experiences of students with vastly different lives than many students living in North America.

Jim and Mali’s presentation inspired me to think more about global awareness and the power it brings.  I look forward to seeing true global awareness in the years to come, and hope we all can remember not to settle for the surface, but get to the good stuff!


Twitter Quitter

I guess it’s sort of inaccurate to say that I’m a Twitter quitter if I never actually liked Twitter to beigin with, but it’s a catchy title, and I’m sticking with it.  Plurk seems like an evolved, more refined version of Twitter, and it does things I always wanted Twitter to do.

My problem with Twitter isn’t the complaint I hear so often which is that it’s under repair so often (frankly, I think plurk is in for some maintenance as it begins to catch on more), but that I’m not constantly logged in to Twitter.  Not being logged in means that any questions or comments I make get lost in the shuffle of everyone else’s.  I never really know if someone has answered my question, and I have a lot of trouble following any kind of thread (this is probably an indication of a very linear side of my nature).

Mark Carls recently invited me to Plurk and I think I’m hooked.  Rather than microblogging like Twitter, it’s a bit more like micro discussion threads.  If I post a question or make a comment, I can see right away if anyone has actually commented back.  I’m not good a sifting, so it’s extremely useful for me to be able to glance at my posts and others’ posts, and then focus on micro discussions that are happening in the timeline.

In case you want to check it out, I’m tclarkeee in Plurk.  It’s really worth getting an account and playing with it.  If nothing else, it’s fun to watch your karma grow.


Side Note: Along with Plurk, I’ve been using ChaCha like a fiend.  I hope my 500 texts per month on my cell phone plan don’t add up as quickly as I fear they will!

Reactions to LoTi

Thinking about the information you just read regarding LoTi, what do you think the implications of LoTi are for classroom use of technology?  Do you see yourself as being willing to “up the ante” in order to move to another level?  Should Level 6 be the goal of every lesson?

To refresh your memory of LoTi, click here.