“We now live in a world where even twelve-year olds can create their own global classrooms around the things about which they are are most passionate,” writes Will Richardson in an essay entitled “Navigating Social Networks as Learning Tools.” Richardson adds this about our students, “Most of them have no adults, neither teachers nor parents, in their lives, who can help them see and employ the learning potential at hand.” With this lack of adult involvement, there is no wonder why our kids get into trouble online with cyberbullying and other forms of web mischief. Our children need to have adults in their lives that know and understand the art of developing personal learning networks and connecting with others. In other words, they need adults who are “network literate.”
There are still far too many educators shirking this responsibility of teaching children art of developing personal learning networks. Administrators and teachers create Twitter accounts and declare they are now connected and have a Professional Learning Network. District administrators and policy makers are so hung up on social media’ s negatives to see the potential of social media and personal learning networks as a 21st century learning tool. As 21st century educators, we should be working to become network literate so we can be the adult guides for our students in using personal learning networks effectively.
But what does being “network literate” look like as it relates to personal learning networks? What are these abilities that we as educators need to be able to do in order to best teach, guide, and facilitate others, both educators and students, in their development of powerful learning networks?
Here’s my own short list of personal learning network literacies educators need to have.
Mechanics of Connecting: This involves, at the simplest level, knowledge of individual networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, wikis, and the whole list of tech tools that foster connections over the web. Educators need to understand the basics of establishing accounts with these tools, and a working knowledge that expands as the tools change. They also need to understand the potential and possibilities behind the use of each type of tool, and help students make wise selections about which tools to use in their learning situations. Being network literate means knowing both the personal learning network tech tools and the opportunities and potentials of those tools.
Basics of reputation management. The basics of reputation management involve the ability to monitor online sources using simple tools to listen and follow the reactions that others have to what we say online. It also means using resources to monitor our digital footprint. Educators need to understand reputation management so they can guide students in making the kinds of online choices that enhance rather than detract from their future prospects. Being network literate means knowing how to use the web resources to shape our online reputations.
Verifying and Checking Credentials of Connections. To create effective personal learning networks, we need to be able to check and verify whether those with whom we are connecting are the experts they say they are. That can be difficult at times. Still, understanding the need to check and how to check the credentials of our connections is important. Being network literate means knowing how to verify the expertise and credentials of those with whom we are connecting.
Information management. Educators need to understand how to manage all of the information flowing to them from their personal learning networks. Sorting and classification and being able to determine relevancy are all necessary skills to effectively manage information from personal learning networks. Also, knowledge of tech tools that help with the management of this information flow is important. Knowing how to use RSS feeds, note taking apps, and social bookmarking are important for effective information management. Being network literate means being able to effectively manage the information flow from your personal learning network.
Personal learning network cultivation. Understanding that personal learning networks are organic and not static is key. Once we’ve begun connecting with other educators, the work of cultivating that network is never finished. Tasks like how to grow that network and maintain its usefulness is important. The art of sharing and reciprocity are also keys to effective network cultivation. And like pruning the branches back on a tree so that it will grow in a manner desired, we also need to understand how to best prune our personal learning networks so that they are effective learning tools themselves. Being network literate means knowing how to grow and shape our personal learning networks.
Netiquette and responsible web citizenship. Knowing and understanding the whys of responsible behavior online is important for educators too. Too often, when we hear in the news media of an educator posting something insensitive or inappropriate on a blog or Twitter, it’s because they did not fully understand some key elements of netiquette and web citizenship. Educators, of all people should be knowledgeable about responsible and polite online behavior and should be models of these behaviors for their students. They should know specifically what kinds of content is appropriate for online. Being network literate means knowing the rules of netiquette and web citizenship as we engage in the use of our personal learning networks.
By remaining network illiterate, educators are truly missing an opportunity to help students use one of the most powerful learning tools of the 21st century: personal learning networks. Teachers and 21st century school leaders need to begin taking responsibility for teaching kids how to effectively utilize personal learning networks by becoming network literate themselves. This list of six personal network literacies is an excellent starting point.