Last week I got an email telling me that the next issue of the Alumni Magazine for the School of Education has a technology theme and my graduate work has been suggested as a possible topic to feature. This surprised me because I haven’t really started my dissertation yet. I’ve just written a short paper for class and talked to a few professors. I probed a little more and found out that the interviewer will ask me for:
- why I chose the project–my passion
- a description of my project
- its individual impact and projected impact
- how my work might help a regular classroom teacher
I’ll be meeting with the interviewer in less than two hours, so I thought I’d use this time to think a little about my embryonic graduate work. I’ve toyed with a few possible dissertation topics. Originally, I thought I would study virtual high schools, especially those that use a “blended” model of instruction. Then I got a job evaluating Blackboard and thought I would get paid to do a dissertation on course management systems. However, that all changed when I got the opportunity to teach “Instructional Technology for Teachers”.
I immersed myself in Internet research trying to find out what technologies had become available for teachers in the years since I had left the classroom. I was amazed. I used Google Reader, Google Alerts, social bookmarking sites, social networking sites, and emails to “more knowledgeable others” to answer the many questions that I had. Along the way, I found a blog post about Personal Learning Networks. Immediately, I thought to myself, “That’s what I’m doing!” I’ve learned more from my PLN than from any other course or tool in my graduate program. Few things make me as excited as this topic. I want to share what I’ve learned with anyone and everyone–and I see myself as a novice at this.
Part of my dissertation research will study the process of establishing a PLN. I am going to try to find out a model (or models) that can help an individual capture the power of the learning tools that surround them. I think that another part of my research will address interactions between nodes in successful PLN, but this part is a little more fuzzy.
As for the impact of my project, I’ve promised my mother that in five-ten minutes I could start her on the path to setting up a PLN that would bring high-quality knowledge about quilting (or anything else that she is interested in) to her. I want to prove to her that it is more than a boast. Additionally, one of the “Aims of a BYU Education” is “lifelong learning and service.” To me, using the technology tools available to us to set up a PLN is the best way to ensure lifelong learning. If I had my way, setting up a PLN would be part of the k12 curriculum. It’s about learning how to learn. At the very least, the Freshman Academy here at the university would dedicate time to helping students create and nurture PLNs.
Having a technology-enabled PLN helps classroom teachers develop professionally by connecting them with more knowledge, opportunities, and even mentors than would be available to them without technology. Additionally, classroom teachers can help their students use PLNs to become true lifelong learners.