The 5 C’s to Developing Your Personal Learning Network

This is a great post that I found over on The Innovative Educator. I have copied it in it’s entirety below, but if you would prefer to read it on the original site, click here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The 5 Cs to Developing Your Personal Learning Network

In the 21st century teachers are no longer the sole imparters of information.  Instead their role shifts to empowering students to learn independently in part by developing personal learning networks in areas of passions, talents, and interests.  Not only are these real-world connections valuable, they enable learning to move from the preparation for life to the living of life by providing individuals with access to learners, leaders and experts around the world bringing together communities, resources and information impossible to access solely from within school walls.

The five Cs below will empower educators to discover how they and their students can begin building personal learning networks specific to the learner’s needs extending relevant learning connections to like-interested people around the globe.

What is a Personal Learning Network and how can this change teaching and learning?

Pick 3 Blogs you find interesting and start reading them.

Subscribe to the blogs you selected in Google Reader.

  • Note: You will need to set up a Google Account.  If you have a gmail account you have a Google account too.  Caution: Limit your reader to five to start. Keeping up with more blogs will be difficult.

Join a professional network.

  • Classroom 2.0 (for educators using Web 2.0 technology) and Educator’s PLN are two popular learning networks.  I launched a local network called Transforming Ed for The 21st Century. Check them out.  Look around.

Join a social network

  • Join Facebookand Google+.  Look around and check out what kind of conversations people are having.

Check out Twitter

  • Join the microblogging phenomena by reading Tweets at Twitter. Start by selecting 3 well-known Edubloggers to follow and watch all the great stuff they have to share. You’ll learn a lot in minutes that fit into 140 character sound bytes. I’d recommend starting with InnovativeEdu / Lisa Nielsen, willrich45 / Will Richardson, stevehargadon / Steve Hargadon, and penelopetrunk/ Penelope Trunk. You may also want to follow a hashtags about topics of interest by placing them in the search box on Twitter.  Here are some that I like to follow.  Find more here.
    1. #tlchat: School library resources and more are discussed on #tlchat.
    2. #gtchat: Chat about gifted and talented students on #gtchat.
    3. #engchat: Resources, learning, and more can be found on #engchat.
    4. #edchat: Check out #edchat weekly for a discussion on technology and education.
    5. #mathchat: Talk about math education on #mathchat.


  • Become a part of the conversation and start commenting on the blogs you read.


  • Join Twitter and reply to a Tweet and try using a hashtag.

Social Media

  • Join your favorite social media site and start the conversation on an interesting status update.


  • Contact the author of a blog you enjoy and ask to write a guest post.
  • Start your own blog!


  • Initiate a tweet using a hashtag and try to get a conversation started.
  • Start a chat about a topic of interest i.e. #mathchat, #edchat, #scichat

Social Media

  • Update your status and tag people you think would be interested.
  • Create a group or page on Facebook
  • Start a hangout in Google+

You are on your way to be a globally connected educator able to tap into amazing resources around the world 24/7.  As you become more and more knowledgeable in harnessing the power of a learning network you will be able to empower your students to also become globally connected to others who share their passions, talents, and interests.

Posted in Adam Cohen, Professional Learning Network | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

More vs. Better

Seth Godin has written a wonderfully concise blog post entitled “Doing More vs. Doing Better” in which he suggests that, rather than asking people to do more,  “the most important and difficult form of management (verging on leadership) is to encourage people to do better.”  (Read Godin’s post HERE.)

Godin’s point about leadership relates well to a conversation about leveraging technology, too. When tech tools make our lives easier – when technology helps us to be more productive, more efficient, better – then I’m all in favor of adoption and implementation.

IF, however, embracing technology feels instead like “one more thing we have to do” in order to meet management’s expectations here at school, then I’m skeptical about whether additional requirements are worth trade-offs in terms of time and faculty morale.

I’m willing to work through “growing pains” related to technology implementation rather than pass judgment on “more vs. better” in a blink…

Posted in DaveOstroff | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Toward Civic Collaboration

Faculty meeting today at 4pm… we’re presenting… topic is collaboration… it’s 9:30am, and the topic is rumbling around in my head…

I’m drawn to the notion that effective collaboration among teachers serves students and student learning most effectively. An essential question, then, could be “What does effective collaboration among teachers look like?”

I like to think that Clay Shirky has developed part of the answer. In his June 2010 TEDTalk entitled “How Cognitive Surplus will Change the World” Shirky describes ways that web2.0 technologies enable extraordinary, potentially game-changing loose ­collaboration among people during their free time.

What’s may be interesting for our discussion about effective collaboration is Shirky’s thinking about ‘the big jump’ – from not collaborating using the new tools to collaborating in some way. Whether it’s using Twitter or blogging or publishing the work of students, I’ve found those first steps toward collaboration in some way to be the most difficult ones to take, too. Maybe we’re asking the wrong essential question, then: “How can we encourage teachers to experiement with new tools to collaborate?”  might be the crucial step in a process that yields effective collaboration.

I take comfort in another of Shirky’s conclusions – the notion that, once we’ve begun experimenting with collaboration using web2.0 tools, moving toward civic collaboration (ie, collaboration for the good of the community) becomes significantly easier.

Posted in DaveOstroff | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Why don’t we get rid of grades?

So here is an idea, and I will admit this is a radical and potentially game-changing idea for teachers, but…

Why don’t we get rid of grades?!?

I know what you are going to say, “We can’t actually get rid of grades, because our students have to leave here to go to college and they need their GPA’s.”

So I will respond with, “But why don’t we simply have student “grades” that are similar to check plus, check, check minus, and not acceptable and then have the traditional numerical grades for colleges and other schools. In this fashion, the students would receive the grades that they (and their parents and their colleges) hold dear, but we can simply focus on the understanding and mastery of our courses.

As a teacher the convention of “grades” and “giving” grades as assessments has always been a thorn in my side. (Read my full rant about the Meaning of Grades here.) Now don’t’ get me wrong, I believe totally that the ideal purpose for grades and the original intent for them is fine – a clear delineation of material mastered by an individual. My major problem these days is that my students don’t seem to believe the same. Almost every student that I have simply wants to get the “grade,” as if that is the most important thing and that the associated learning is totally secondary.

As a teacher who believes totally that learning goes far beyond school and “grades”, I would love to help my students return to an understanding of what Exceptional Work really is and the incontrovertible fact that not everyone can do it. I would love to get back to the idea that while yes it is true that everyone can do everything – we cannot do it equally.  I have no desire to tell students what they can and cannot do, but I wonder, are we really preparing them for the “real world” by telling them that they are all perfect and that if you work hard enough “everyone can make an A?”

Posted in Adam Cohen | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Importance of Formative Assessments

Rebecca Alber wrote an article for Edutopia (here) on this where she made the statement,  “Formative assessments are about checking for understanding in an effective way in order to guide our instruction…  And if we use them correctly, and often, yes, there is a chance instruction will slow when we discover we need to re-teach or review material the students wholly “did not get” — and that’s okay. Because sometimes we have to slow down in order to go quickly.”

I think that there needs to be a re-emphasis by teachers on the importance of truly “getting” material, and the idea that one of our primary responsibilities as teachers is to assist our students in their journey to be “life-long” learners and not just automatons who get by through rote memorization. This can begin with the realization that there are more important things than grades and that the ability to communicate effectively — especially when understanding is not grasped — is one of the greatest skills that can be learned.

Posted in Adam Cohen | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

The True Meaning of Grades

“What do grades actually mean?”

I wonder what the answer would be if we were to pose this question to other faculty here and elsewhere… Are grades snapshots of work? Are they benchmarks that relate to content mastery and understanding? Or are grades simply antiquated measurements of knowledge that have little to no bearing on the digital world we currently live in?

I personally think that the overwhelming response would be that there is no clear idea as to what grades actually mean, regardless of location or level of education being taught.

Personally, I would like to think that grades represent a metric by which a teacher (or evaluator) can use to measure the level of mastery that an individual has gained in a particular course/subject. Translation –> the better the grade, the better you know whatever it is you were studying.

This rant has its’ beginning in two recent projects given in my Environmental Science class. Specifically, the students were told to evaluate the others in class. They were to provide several comments of a constructive nature (what was good, what was bad, what could be improved, etc), AND they were to also propose a grade for the projects. That was where I began to see a “disconnect” in my students.  On my most recent project, one student was given comments of “[presenter] spoke too fast, didn’t seem familiar with information, and needs much more eye contact, not very passionate about topic.” The students that wrote the above comments also felt that a grade of B+/A- was deserved. Now as some background, the assignment in question was to produce a persuasive presentation that would work to encourage interest in the chosen topic/subject. The comments my students have given as feedback on these projects are, in my opinion, very insightful and are also full of very constructive criticism. But the grades that accompany those same projects do not seem to match the evaluations. To me it seems that these students seem to honestly feel that they are “entitled” to high grades for simply COMPLETING the assignment and doing only the minimum asked of them.

So I want to ask for your help… What do you think is meant by an “A”? What about a “C”? If we were to put this question into the vernacular of Dave Monaco, “Should a grade of “A” represent work that is “remarkable” in its’ excellence?” Now, I would also like to clarify, that I am not against all of my students earning high marks (A’s), but I am concerned about a perceived failure in understanding what “Excellence” actually means.

Posted in Adam Cohen | Tagged | 3 Comments

What’s the Magic Number?

Students in my Government classes have recently completed work on long-term, collaborative projects.

Initially, I assigned the teams – after asking students for input about which of their classmates they preferred to work with (and which they’d rather avoid). I also spent some time considering ways to ‘anchor’ each group with a strong student leader and spread students who struggle among as many groups as possible… in short, I was hoping to be intentional about developing collaborative groups. I assigned:

9 project teams of 3 students each;
8 project teams of 4 students each; and
3 project teams of 2 students each.

Teams of 3 earned: A, A-, A-, B+, B+, B+, B+, B, B  (avg = 3.4)
Teams of 4 earned: A, B+, B+, B+, B+, B, B, Inc (avg = 3.3 without Inc)
Teams of 2 earned: A-, B, Inc  (avg = 3.35 without Inc)

Aside from the fact that two teams have yet to submit all of the required components of the assignment, I note no significant differences in final grades. (We can leave the conversation about grade inflation for another posting!) I did note a recurring theme among students’ reflection essays: groups of 4 tended to develop clear ‘leaders’ who complained about 1) having been burdened with ‘unfair’ workloads; and 2) other members of the group who didn’t “pull their weight”…

I’ve been re-thinking some of the fundamental assumptions that I bring to group design. For example: should it raise a red flag when 2 students working together (or 3) produce similar work product-in terms of quality-as a team of 4?

What is the ideal number of students for each collaborative team?

Posted in DaveOstroff | Tagged | 2 Comments

Toward a Community of Practice

I imagine a group of teachers engaged in a professional conversation – perhaps at lunch or maybe in the workroom. One relates a story about students from class and asks for help; a colleague offers a tidbit of advice. Another shares shares a bit of frustration and finds an empathizing ear from a fellow teacher, and the conversation to breezes past context straight to the heart of the story…

… they realize that the next class will begin in less than five minutes… the conversation is meaningful but time is slipping away…. all acknowledge that they have to move along…

Developing and maintaining communities of practice among my teaching colleagues is hard work!

Social media have helped. Too often, though, connections like Twitter also serve as painful reminders:  I hear more from colleagues across the ‘Net than I hear from colleagues across the hall.

Our vision for this blog, then, is that we can overcome these challenges (among others) and develop a meaningful community of practice together. No 140 character limits. No racing the bell to our next classes.

Let this space offer opportunities to extend our professional dialogue by providing a forum to add nuance, detail, and space for reflection.

Posted in DaveOstroff | Tagged , | 5 Comments