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Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education Perfect Paperback – May 25, 2011
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Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli have created an essential book for educators, students, and anyone concerned about the future of education. Personal Learning Networks provides the perspectives and the processes we need to use personal learning networks to become educated, empowered and ready for the global economy. --Jason Ohler, Professor Emeritus, Educational Technology, University of Alaska, Juneau
This book presents an innovative, comprehensive strategy for reinventing education to meet the needs of 21st century students and society. Much more than familiar rhetoric on what is wrong with education, the authors provide a compelling vision for education as it could and should be and a road map to help get us there. Mancabelli & Will Richardson have provided us with a step-by-step guide to create globally-connected classrooms, implement powerful project-based curriculum, and introduce our students to tools and technologies with transformative potential. --Angela Maiers, President of Maiers Educational Services, Clive, Iowa
This book is chock-full of useful information and highlights numerous practitioners who are walking the walk. A fantastic resource for administrators, teachers, policymakers, and others who are trying to lead their organizations into the digital, global world in which we now live. --Scott McLeod, Director at UCEA Center for Advanced Study of Technical Leadership in Education, Ames, Iowa
About the Author
Will Richardson -- A parent of two middle school aged children, Will Richardson has been writing about the intersection of social online learning networks and education for the past ten years at weblogg-ed.com and in numerous journals and magazines such as Ed Leadership, Education Week, and English Journal. He was a public school educator for twenty-two years, and is a co-founder of Powerful Learning Practice (plpnetwork.com), a unique professional development program that has mentored over three thousand teachers worldwide in the last three years. His first book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (Corwin Press, 3rd edition, 2010) has sold over 75,000 copies and has impacted classroom practice around the world. Over the past six years, he has spoken to tens of thousands of educators in over a dozen countries about the merits of learning networks for personal and professional growth. He is a national advisory board member of the George Lucas Education Foundation and a regular columnist for District Administration Magazine. With nearly twenty years of experience in educational leadership, technology, and planning,
Rob Mancabelli -- With a background in learning, technology and leadership, Rob Mancabelli builds 21st century learning organizations. His focus is on global collaboration, customized content and engaging learning platforms, and his approach delivers results either for educational leaders looking to improve student outcomes or business leaders seeking to enhance employee effectiveness. A frequent speaker, Rob talks about how to effectively transform organizations to meet the rapidly evolving demands of a globally connected world. He writes for numerous publications, as well as at mancabelli.com, serves on K 12 advisory boards for Dell Computer and Acer Corporation, and is in the process of completing his MBA at MIT. Rob lives with his wife, Gayle Allen, in New York City.
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The book shows how current web technologies support new forms of learning, more personal, more diversified, more motivating and collective over the globe than traditional schools support.
Nevertheless, there is still a role for schools and teachers in this new way of learning, But only if they take this role. Therefore they need to significantly adapt their current processes.
by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli is a work that sets out to lay a foundation for moving teachers, schools and districts into the twenty-first century of social learning and networking. The two authors set out to give the reasons, the methods, the arguments, and the roadblocks that educators will face when trying to move from the single classroom isolationist model of the 19th and 20th centuries to the connected classroom of the 21st century. Hardly a work of "All the cool kids are doing it, so you should too," and more of a "The future is here and if we are not addressing the needs of our students, we are practicing educational malpractice" work, the book does not speak down to the readers, does not threaten, but lays out a solid argument for the WHY of social networking in education, how it fits and how it needs to be implemented.
The book is an short read, close to 200 pages on iBooks.
There are five chapters, and intro and an epilogue each dealing in depth with a particular topic. The five chapters are:
Introduction: The Power of Networked Learning
Chapter 1: Understanding the Power of PLNs
Chapter 2: Becoming a Networked Learner
Chapter 3: Implementing a Networked Classroom
Chapter 4: Becoming a Networked School
Chapter 5: Ensuring Success of Learning Network Adoption
An epilogue makes a final argument for doing what the book calls for, essentially saying we need to be teaching for the future and not for the past.
In Chapter One, the authors give an overview of the WHY of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) demonstrating some of the old ed tech adages about how the system has not changed much from the Industrial Revolution model, and that if we do not change as a profession, then the customers will go around us. The authors call on educators to start taking a more active role in their professional development and challenge all of us to begin creating our own PLNs. (While Richardson and Mancabelli call on transformation in education, one cant help but remember Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk where he calls for revolution.) Several examples are given of industries that did not recognize or did not embrace new technologies (the newsprint industry for example) and have been run over by the march of technological progress.
By the end of the first chapter, the authors have made a compelling enough argument about the need for change in the education industry, although I suspect that many that read the book like myself have already figured that out.
(Although the authors expect that "anytime, anywhere" learning is simply a click away in time and reality, the truth is that many communities, not only of students but of teachers as well, are nowhere near where they see we are. In theory, my child can learn 24/7 on any topic, but in practice, that is not happening on a wide scale...yet. They make the argument that this transformation in learning is happening with or without educators, and perhaps they are correct. Marco Torres has been saying the same thing for years as well. Yet, in areas of the our country that are experiencing a whole new digital divide, one brought on by economics. Another digital divide is brought on by teachers that do and do not espouse social media with their students. They won't be reading these types of books, nor will they be apt to adopt PLNs as part of their education experience. Richardson and Mancabelli sort of brush aside anyone that is not jumping on the train, even though they make up the vast majority of educators out there right now.)
Chapter 2 provides strategies for actually becoming the type of learner and educator that the previous chapter discussed. What tools are needed? How do you start building the network of people that you need to surround yourself with in order to complete this transformation? As in all the chapters, the authors demonstrate the topic with real-world educators that are doing exactly what the book describes. Richardson and Mancabelli correctly state that the need to transform teaching and learning through PLNs is not just simply an exercise to do in class and then forget about it. One must be willing to invest a lot of time, effort and energy in the process, or the entire idea will fail.
Chapter 3 looks at implementing a network classroom, and gives educators strategies for using their personal learning network in a classroom setting. One of the most interesting parts of the chapter is they begin with what will change in her classroom once you start actually using the network classroom: the walls of your classroom no longer are part of the physical building...they will have been blown away. Will Richardson likes to say that you need to have very thin walls in your classroom, meaning that your student should be able to not be stuck inside the physical walls of learning but be able to quickly and easily find answers and fellow learners beyond just what is surrounding your immediate geographical locale. The chapter looks at how to take that a typical teacher in a classroom and convert their learning envoron into a network classroom. The authors realize that most classrooms are not networked, and that it takes some effort to go find others that are network. That's where the whole idea of starting your personal learning network meshes in with the idea of your networked classroom. Once you get your personal network going you can use it to implement those changes in your classroom.
As in all your other chapters the authors give real-life examples of what a network classroom looks like. Richardson and Mancabelli give readers some step-by-step guidance and also give them real life examples of what kind of problems at the greater face once they come across and try to implement these things. It's important to note that any teacher trying to do this is going to run into barriers. The authors realize this and have real-life strategies for dealing with barriers. The authors even touch on the strategies that teachers can use when parents come up and say we don't want our children getting on the Internet or we don't want our children becoming part of a network classroom. Sage advice that can be used by anyone I suspect when wanting to use technology.
The authors also talk about how the classroom dynamics start to change when you have a networked classroom. Richardson and Mancabelli discuss how transparency changes the dynamics of how students interact with teachers, how teachers interact with students, how parents interact with teachers, and how the rest of the school interacts with the classes. It's difficult, almost impossible to try to do this by yourself. You have to have the support of the administrators in the class you have to have the buy-in of the parents, and I think even though it's not specifically stated in the book, you even have to have the buy-in of the students because they are not used to learning in this type of educational environment. The students have to be brought in to a network classroom slowly so that they can understand how it works they can understand what's expected of them, and also they can understand what the outside world is seeing in them.
Richardson and Mancabelli talk about re-envisioning the classroom which is something that Sheryl Nussbaum Beach always talks about doing; re-envisioning the 21st century classroom. What that means is taking what your have and transforming it to work in a 21st-century learning environment. Making a non-connected classroom to a connected classroom pretty much makes your classroom a 21st-century learning environment.
The authors state: "It's one thing for an individual teacher employs PLN's in the class that she teaches, but it's another thing entirely if everyone in the school is engaged in the practice. It changes not only the goals that we have for students but the school culture as well." I think that one sentence right there pretty much sums up the entire chapter 3.
Chapter 4 talks about becoming a network school. Like the other chapters the authors give a case study and although they don't make it seem like it's a slam-dunk easy thing to do, I wish they would have written a bit more about some of the barriers that hold `campus from becoming a network school. Anyone that's been following the 21st century skills movement knows that our students need these skills, and know that students have to power down when they get into the classes, and know that it is not an easy thing to change the entire culture of the school. It's even harder to change the culture of the school district, especially school districts that are large. The authors suggest starting small working with different pilot projects, and then scaling up. They also give words of encouragement for people that have difficulty or feel like the ideas of the book aren't going to work exactly as they think they will. You always fall off the bike when you're trying to learn how to write, but you have to get back on the bike and you have to write it in order to become a successful bike rider. The authors of this book say the same thing: if you meet some resistance, or you don't have initial success don't give up! Success will come...it's just a matter of time.
Chapter 5 looks at some of the hurdles that you're going to jump over when you try to implement personal learning networks in your classes or at a school. Some of these have to do with money, some of them have to do with politics, some have to do with just technological infrastructure. Probably school policies that are set up in your district right now were written for students in the last part of the 20th century and don't take into account new social technologies. School policies have to be rewritten. Old district ideas have to be exchanged for new district ideas. Parents have to understand what's going on, teachers and administrators have to be on board and understand what's going on. Chapter 5 deals with hurdles in order to become successful. One of the most interesting hurdles that they write about is the "Yeah...but" people: the people that say things like we tried that BUT it didn't work. "Yeah that's a great idea BUT we don't have the money." There are a lot of people like this all over the world in every single school in every single district in every campus. The value chapter 5 is that it actually gives the arguments that you can use when you run into hurdles. If I were to pick a chapter that was the most valuable in this entire book it would've been chapter 5.
I would be remiss if I did not talk about the online component that is included in this book. The publisher has created a website that allows you to find every single link every single example and every single reference that is put into this book so that you can, if you do not have the electronic version of the book, go to their website and find all of the resources that are mentioned in the book. This is a valuable valuable component of the book, and I hope they keep it up for a long time. Don't read this book without a computer nearby, or do like me and read it from your iPad and click on the links as they appear.
One question that I kept thinking about while reading this book was who was the book intended for? On the one hand, the first 3 chapters could probably be written for almost any educator that wants to get involved in expanding their professional or personal learning network. Chapters 4 and 5 seem to be written for a more administrative type audience, the principals, the superintendents, the directors, the people that are actually responsible for the change. Another question that kept popping into my mind was who was going to read this book? I know that this book was intended for people that do not have a valid or a robust personal learning network. That's probably almost every teacher in the entire world. The people that were shown in this book, the examples, are the outliers. They are people that are leading the charge: the zealots. But they are rare. This book was advertised for, published for, and directed towards the people that already have the professional learning networks in place. Preaching to the choir so to speak. And that's unfortunate because every teacher WITHOUT the network needs to read this book, every teacher that's interested in teaching in the future needs to understand how the world of teaching has changed. They can either get on the train or get run over by the train.
Now granted, this book could have been written for a specific audience, say, elementary teachers. As it is, it's kind of written for all teachers K-12, and because of that, the message is diluted because the authors are trying to speak to as wide an audience as possible. It would be really neat if there was a personal learning network for elementary teachers book one for middle school teachers one for high school teachers one for administrators. The actual rewriting needed for that set of books wouldn't take that much effort.
I think if the book were targeted to specific audiences it would've been a much more successful book, because I know from my own dealings with professional development that elementary teachers don't see the need for professional development if it involves high school teachers, high school teachers are reluctant to do professional development if it involves elementary teachers, middle school teachers don't know where they're supposed to be getting professional development from, an administrator's just randomly show up. This book needed to be targeted to a specific audience and it was not.
Do I recommend this book: yes! I highly recommend this book! But I recommend this book for administrators that want to get their teachers on board the 21st century skills train. I recommend this book to be part of the book study or as part of a professional development where the book becomes the backbone for something the teachers actually do. (It already is sort of designed like a study guide.) I don't recommend this book for most teachers to do something on their own unless they're very confident in technology or on the social space. Most simply are too bashful to jump in and it takes a specific type of personality to put yourself "out there" without a support system. This book would be great if it's used in a group setting. That's how I recommend using, part of a book study, part of her professional learning community, or as part of an online webinar type professional development.
Finally, the last thing I would've changed in this book would've been the title. The title of this book is "personal learning networks: using the power of connections to transform education." A better title would've been "moving your professional learning community to a professional learning network" because most teachers now understand what a professional learning community (PLC) is but most teachers don't understand what a professional or personal learning network is. Therefore, I think that the title has little meaning to teachers, especially non-connected ones. I would love to see the publishers of this book re-release it with a better title because I think that what the book has to say and how the book says it is valuable and needs to be said in campuses and classrooms all over the country.
Highly recommended for all in education, from the technology novice to the technology leader.