I would like to add another dimension to this – the effectiveness also requires a level of interactivity between the teacher and other teachers as well, and I believe that this needs to be a broad level of interactivity, beyond the scope the school and even the direct school network.
Many schools are realising the potential of involving their students in Global projects, having their students actively involved in communicating beyond the classroom walls – I believe (and others have already stated) that this will have most impact, when teachers themselves have modelled and experienced this by their own involvement with teachers/educators beyond their classrooms and schools.
The rise of Web 2.0 has brought to light how good teachers are at collaboration – I believe we are one of the best professional groups at taking up with Web 2.0 technologies and using them to our advantage. There is a plethora of educational collaborative spaces available and an enormous array of educators freely giving of their expertise and time to others.
The scope for this involvement is wide – simple Twitter followings, RSS feeds to relevant Blogs, Wikis and Nings, subscriptions to podcasts, membership to mailing lists are just some of the way we can see what is going on in the outside world. Many teachers are using them with students and increasingly teachers are using them to broaden their own experiences.
A powerful Personal Learning Network (PLN) does not have to be large but does need to create contacts with like minded, similar interested people. One thing I have noticed about schools, is that despite attendance at professional development days etc, many teachers stay quite insulated within the particular school in which they teach. Wonderful things happen within schools, but they are limited by the experience of those in the group.
We need to choose the level of involvement that we can manage – that will ensure a feed of new ideas without information overload. I feel that it is something that evolves. You follow a person on Twitter, watch for a while and judge if their contribution to your learning is valuable. You elect to continue to follow or not. You subscribe to a podcast and listen to only the relevant editions. You skim read a Google reader account for relevant blog entries. You soon develop a feeling of where the ‘good stuff’ is coming from and who you want to maintain a connection with. That ‘good stuff’ is entirely subjective – no two PLN’s will be the same.
Then, the element of reciprocity comes into place. When do we stop being a total consumer of other people’s ideas and thoughts and start to feel confident to contribute content as well? I believe it was Jenny Luca who used the statistics that 1% of people contribute new content, 9% add to other’s ideas and 90% consume only. Teachers on the whole seem to be quite shy about their achievements – we are not accustomed to professional flattery or comments. Rarely do we have the opportunity to give other teachers feedback on their teaching – although some practices involving Evidence protocols are currently encouraging this.
The ability to publish to a potential world wide audience requires a certain confidence that takes a while to develop. How do we know when we have something worthwhile to contribute if we don’t take the risk? I regularly see examples of wonderful teaching/learning moments – I wonder – should those teachers be sharing those successes with others? How would sharing it help that teacher or those who read it? Where does this all fit in to the busy life of a classroom or specialist teacher? How important is this reflective practice for the teacher themselves as well as the audience lucky enough to share it ?
So I think I see the benefit of a PLN is at least twofold – a wonderful source of inspiration and professional development as well as an opportunity to step out and risk that we might have something positive to contribute as well.