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September 24, 2013

Summer Project 2013 Final Report: Developing My Personal Learning Nework (PLN)

PLN2My project involved establishing a Personal Learning Network (PLN) for myself and faculty on our campus. It involved establishing an online presence and building a community on various social media sites for myself and our CTLE. I researched blogs, organizations and professionals to include in this community, as well as produced content for our blog covering the best pedagogical practices in online teaching. The goal of the PLN was to get faculty to connect, collaborate and contribute so that we can become aware, connected, empowered, and confident learners. I spent time researching and learning about creating a successful PLN and how to get others involved. I attended a national conference, researched and read to help me produce PLN content and connections.

A description of your experience and the achievement of expected learning outcomes of the project.

I now have a better understanding of the effective uses of discussion in online courses, strategies for preparing students for effective and productive discussion, ground rules that help make students feel sufficiently safe to participate in discussion, and how to structure discussion to help achieve learning goals after attending a pre-conference workshop at the Teaching Professor conference in May. After I returned from the conference, I was able to immediately improve my online summer course to include better student to student interactions as prescribed by the best practices presented at the workshop. I picked up lots of best practices, not just in the pre-conference workshop, but in many of the sessions as well. Students in my summer online class expressed appreciation for the new, small group led discussions.

For the PLN part of my project, I was able to create a list of possible content for our blog, which is the hub of our PLN and the mechanism for sharing with other faculty within the network for these best practices for teaching online. I was able to research and find free Twitter curation tools to enhance the PLN. I also learned more about hashtags and how to get more out of your PLN using Twitter and hashtags. I wasn’t able to work closely with our CTLE, but the completion of the project resulted in some good professional development activities, not just for me, but for all faculty on our campus. I created content for workshops on building online lessons with numerous online lesson creation tools. I’ve presented on that twice so far this fall. And I’m putting the final touches on a workshop on How to Get More Out of Your PLN. So I was able to improve our workshop offerings for faculty to include information learned at the conference, as well as during the development of the PLN.

Describe your professional growth.

Attending the Teaching Professor conference was great. I left with tons of ideas, felt inspired and rejuvenated. I was also able to connect with 7 of my English department colleagues as an added bonus. I didn’t realize there was so much to learn about PLNs. I was able to research and find free Twitter curation tools to enhance the PLN. I’ve not only started using some of these tools for our CTLE PLN, but I’ve also been able to use them in the classroom. Tools like Storify and are great for curating content for students to read in class.  I also learned more about hashtags and how to get more out of your PLN using Twitter and hashtags. Hashtags flag information so that it is more visible to Twitter users. When people tweet information, they flag it with hashtags, making it easier to access later. Hashtags group information by subject. So just by search certain hashtags, like #edtech, brings up lots of shared content from people in education from all over the world. The greatest professional growth for me during this project was the connection I made with educators online. I was able to meet and connect with people doing wonderful innovative things in their classrooms or on their campuses both through Twitter and Google+. I was actually able to meet a few in person at the Canvas conference in June.

Describe your future plans as a result of your summer project and describe how your outcomes have been or will be shared.

The plans for this project are to share the virtual connected learning environment to others on campus. This PLN connects myself and other faculty to each other, other experts, and information, where we will be able to connect, collaborate and contribute to this network. The network includes connected social media sites like Google+, Twitter, WordPress, LinkedIn and Diigo, all set up under a common profile (CTLEAZ). I created a workshop that shows faculty how to join the community (PLN) and how doing so will benefit their professional development. I hope to offer this workshop in a few weeks.  In addition, activities will be created to encourage users to participate by sharing their own knowledge. I’ve already added a 10 minute Canvas showcase to our monthly eCourses committee meeting, where faculty are encouraged to share best practices in elearning within their Canvas courses. Those demonstrations will be highlighted on the CTLE blog and shared with our PLN. My hope is that myself and my fellow participants will become better teachers and developers of online courses because of what we learn from each other in the network.

Discuss any challenges you encountered during the execution of your summer project. Add any advice for future applicants.

Information overload. There is so much out there. I would read for hours and then feel like I didn’t get anything done. Then all the reading would inspire me to play more with the technology, and I would eventually get off focus and start using what I learned to improve my online courses instead of my project. Next time I would limit my research and reading to a set amount of time, so as to focus better.

If your summer project produced a tangible product, provide a copy or a link to it.

We already had social media on our campus: Twitter, Google+ and a WordPress blog; however, these tools were not being used effectively, not in the manner I knew they could be. So the links themselves are not all new, but how they work together is. Our CTLE blog is located at I was able to enhance it by linking several new elements to the blog.

Conference page:

Twitter: Blog posts now get posted to Twitter.


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