My reach wasn’t ambitious enough in yesterday’s post. That and a few other things have become clearer in just the few hours since I posted it, thanks to comments from Diane Cordell and Patrick Higgins. I was asking a good question–How do we show the learning that happens through our blogging?—just not thinking big enough.


I can’t resist excerpting their comments in their near-entirety as an example of how they pointed me in a whole new direction. The learning and emphases in bold are mine; the teaching is all theirs.


The early stages of building a PLN and starting a blog may appear
haphazard, but the connected learner soon begins to tailor his posts
and contacts to meet a certain need


This is a great question, and the
answer to it, I believe, is unique to the individual. For example, when
I began to write, the steps that have preceded it often resemble
traditional learning: I gather resources, place them in an accessible
place (my desktop or RSS starred folder) and begin to tie them together
in a coherent manner. That end product, like Diane describes above,
often tends to have nothing to do with my original purpose.

So in asking "where’s the learning?" or what does it look like, I
certainly think it is more than by random or by lucky chance, because I
set out with that in mind to begin with. The end result is where the
mystery lies. That is what I cannot predict when I begin

As far as setting out with the end in mind, I think it’s a must when
you are writing, but the collaborative nature of the blog/comment
process never really lets us chart that course from the outset. It’s
more a wait and see, then evaluate situation

So. Let’s see. The inquiry side of blogging is unique to the individual. We begin with an idea and collect supporting resources. But we can’t predict where we’ll end up. The end is a mystery, driven in part by the collaborative nature of blog/comment/evaluate/blog-again. We evolve as we inquire, and our inquiries evolve with us.

It’s stunning: the close relationship between the process they model and describe, and how that process affected my thinking in very real, immediate terms. The mysterious, collaborative blog/comment process works it magic, and I find myself charting a new course.


How do we show the learning that happens through our blogging? My question wasn’t big enough. The real question tugging insistently at my sleeve was more like this: How do we show the learning that happens through personal learning networks?

Clay Burell has been hot on the PLN trail for the past week, and setting the stage for much, much longer. Need a quick-start PLN primer? Read his Open Thead 2: Your Dream Elective, follow it with a co-teaching classroom invasion by Arthus, listen to Clay’s conversation with Chris Craft about moving beyond collaborative units to PLNs, and wrap up with today’s "quick in, quick out" podcast. Clay describes the lightspeed progression this way:

Let me spell a couple things out: Twitter, Skype, and this blog have
very quickly combined into an instant-meeting medium for me to learn
from people around the world who are interested in helping me succeed
at what I’m trying to do in my own project-based learning – which just
happens to be about using the new tools to allow students to learn in
new ways. This podcast is at once a datum of and a discussion about
Personal Learning Networks.

Patrick, drinking from the same heady jet-fuel stream as Clay, is hammering out a vision of PLNs and their place in the future of professional development:

Like it or not: your professional development will no longer be
something you “go somewhere” and receive. . . . It comes to you, as long as you are ready to accept it. It’s
a network, and it’s here for you. Yes, you’ve got people.

Like it or not? That phrase is worth a second look. Hell, it’s worth a third look, with its connotation of inevitability. Patrick so subtly raises the question of choice in teacher professional development. Opt in? Opt out? He’s inviting input from his own network on this VoiceThread about visions of PLEs, PLNs, and the future of professional development–which, to my mind, is a high-octane demonstration of a PLN in action. But that nagging question of choice lingers. For most teachers, I suspect, the conversation on Patrick’s VoiceThread more closely resembles science fiction than their daily professional development reality. A professional learning network isn’t in the cards as a realistic choice for most teachers until its value is recognized beyond the echo chamber, until it dips its toes into the mainstream, until the safety net of legitimacy is stretched beneath. Until then, it falls into the category laudable-but-optional professional practice, of Just One More Thing To Do, something experienced by a fringe few for the *gasp* sheer love of learning.

So let me try yet again: What is it going to take to bring professional learning networks in from the cold? Can the learning that occurs in a PLN be shown in a way that makes sense—and makes a case—to someone not already involved in their own network? What are the consequences—to teachers, to students, to the profession—of not trying? 

Much more to be unpacked and delved into, but I’m running up against my self-imposed six billion word limit. To be continued.  This jet plane is taking off.