ETEC642 project stage 2

The following reflects my experiences and results investigating possibilities for a Personal Learning Network as a student in ETEC 642.

This post summarizes my second stage on the road to my final project for ETEC 642. Online teaching is my primary livelihood, and rather than seeking ways to make online learning more similar to traditional classroom teaching, I feel the wiser course is to embrace development of new methodologies that arise organically from the medium. Social media form obvious assets in this regard, but the difficulty lies in organizing tools, determining what is accessible and practical for students, and conforming to federal and institutional regulations in their usage. The difficulty is compounded by a historical context in which these tools are themselves being developed every day as technologies emerge and are gradually supported, adopted, and rejected by a growing public of users. We cannot say with certainty what will be popular in a few months or years, but trends suggest we must be flexible enough to accommodate systems we cannot currently imagine.

In this assignment, we were asked to identify tools and creating a personal learning network (PLN). This happened in several stages, which are combined below.

Quest for a PLN

The adventure begins

    • Do you know what a PLN is?

PLN’s and me

What I knew about PLN’s?

Not much

But the concept made sense

I would now say a PLN is a network of contacts who are knowledgeable about a topic or energetic in finding answers

    • do you have one?

My own PLN? Do I have one?

Actually, I have created and curated my own over many years

This was a natural result of my education and collaboration process. My activities cross several disciplines, so no single PLN comes close to meeting my needs. I do, however, have connections with superb professionals in all of my fields, and I have created methods of connecting with them on a constant basis.

    • what do you define as your PLN?

I describe it as the sum total of my SM connections across my interests and disciplines

    • how important do you think this is for educators?

I think they are a superb resource and are critical to adaptation to a changing cultural and educational climate

    • how do you think this will improve your PD?

Examining the process of PLN creation, looking at PLN’s, and refining my own will help me to keep up to date, to learn about new technologies, and generally to do a better job for my students. PLN’s provide a constant avenue of professional development.

    • What do you see as the value in PLNs in education?

I think PLN’s have multiple levels of value. They will help us to be better educators and to know our subjects better. They also provide an avenue to guide our students into ongoing and lifelong learning, whatever their areas of interest. If we allow students limited and gradual access to our own PLN’s


  • There seem to be no Cultural Psych PLN’s
  • Classroom 2.0 never responded to my application
  • But I examined: The Educator’s PLN and Classroom 2.0 without actively becoming involved

The Educator’s PLN

The personal learning network for educators


  • 15,477 members
  • Informative Blogs
  • Groups and forums
  • Resources


  • Geared for gradeschools
  • No resources specific to my discipline
  • Groups did not appeal to me

Rating 4

  • Comment: not relevant enough to what I do

Classroom 2.0


  • 76,403 members
  • Extensive forums & discussions
  • Conferences, if you can pay
  • 1,086 groups
  • Forums
  • Other resources


  • Once again, the site seems geared to grade school
  • I did not see content-specific areas
  • The site feels very commercial

Rating 3

  • Comment: Once again, it is not directly relevant to what I do
  • I am also turned off by the commercial vibe- I feel like I am being steered to spend money


  • PLN’s are a great concept
  • They form a good framework for personal develoopment
  • My interests are too specialized for me to find one waiting
  • I think the time of the PLN has arrived, but it will be several years before they proliferate enough to flourish

For these reasons, I embarked on defining and refining my own PLN

Creating my custom PLN

I took the results of my earlier stage and furthered my examination of social media to use in constructing my PLN. In that project, I chose to specify Facebook as a primary choice for rating social media sites because it is by far the most popular and all of my participants are friends of mine there. I did not choose additional sites, but rather let them specify, which resulted in one user of Google +. Qualitative results revealed serious usage of Twitter for professional news reporting. This reflects a recent poll of colleges and universities found that the most common systems used are Facebook (96 percent) and Twitter (82 percent) (Gardner, 20130).

Ratings and usage data were similar in reporting by Tech Media Networks (2013), which publishes top-10 ratings of various technical matters and systems (Table 1). Each also includes a review of the system and the functions offered. While the reviews are somewhat cursory, the site actually provides technical details such as age, ease of use, and site appearance (Fig. 1). For breadth of information, I give this site a 5.

Table 1: SM sites and ratings



Fig. 1: Details provided in reviews

As far as reasons for using social media, research has developed gradually over a number of years. Pew Research (Brenner, 2013) provides a detailed picture of users (N=1895) in terms of demographics, and places their motivations into categories of  social impact, creators and curators, power users, and politics. These motivations do not reflect those of my sample, but this may be explained in two ways: first, the Pew sample is large enough to include averaging effects that make participants like mine outliers who are not significant, leading to the second effect of bias in my sample toward some highly specialized and intensive participants in creation and curation of content. I would categorize them as power users, but the Pew researchers limited “power” behaviors to friending, liking, and tagging. I rate this article at 5 for demographics and 3 for limited insights.

Whiting & Williams (2013) provide a different view, but once again, it differed from my small sample in a number of ways. The researchers interviewed 25 participants in depth, but the study may have been flawed from the outset by a focus on gratification as underlying theoretical stance. Their results described the following motivations:

  • social interaction (88 percent),
  • information seeking (80 percent),
  • pass time (76 percent),
  • entertainment (64 percent),
  • relaxation (60 percent),
  • communicatory utility (56 percent),
  • expression of opinions (56 percent),
  • convenience utility (52 percent),
  • information sharing (40 percent),
  • surveillance and watching of others (20 percent).

At face value, my participants would seem to fit into information seeking and sharing categories, but clarification in results and discussion take a different direction. I rate the article at 3 for having missed an important segment of social media users.

Though my own results are not really supported by these or any other studies I found, the nature of the inquiry precludes its success. Well over a billion people use Facebook alone. Including social sites in China and other countries, easily one quarter of humanity actively uses social media. To describe their motivations and activities without missing entire segments is impossible: an online community of 100,000 is much less than 1% of the total SM public. What I chose instead was primarily to survey people within my PLN whose usage I find compelling in some way. These are people from whom I learn and with whom I spar ideologically at times, which gives my PLN the power of both strong and weak ties. For my purposes, this is an effect sampling of my PLN and represents my own online experiences and needs.

I am using these elements along with listserves to construct my own PLN.


Brenner, J. (2013). Commentary: Social Networking. Pew Internet: Social Networking (full detail).

Gardner, L. (20130). Social-Media Use Grows at Colleges, Despite Little Dedicated Staff. The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 19, 2013.

Smith, C. (2013). How many people use the top social media, apps, and services.

Tech Media Networks (2013). 2013 Best Social Networking Site Reviews and Comparisons.

Whiting, A. & Williams, D. (2013). Why People Use Social Media: A Uses and Gratifications Approach. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal 16(4).

Qualitative data in the raw:


Why do you think social media is important for your learning (or not)?

  • It is immediate and has a broad reach but can be customized to my own interests and connections.
  • For me, as a journalist it’s vitally important as it affords a platform of open and frank dialogue and robust debate. I’ve learnt a lot about how and what people really think. Topics such as Middle Eastern issues, political issues and other topics such as national security and foreign policy are intensive topics that are censored in the main stream media. Social media has allowed me to learn from others views in a way that they may otherwise not have shared. I have an international audience on my facebook with people from Israel, Palestine and across the Arab world, in addition to many people from across the West, Asia and the Sub Continent so for me, facebook particularly has allowed me to learn from others views on these tough topics which have helped me both academically and also in my broadcasting job. I have also used FB to find guests to interview, I’ve also used it to post my radio broadcasts. Twitter was also very important to my broadcasting role when I was living in the Middle East. I joined Twitter Feb 2009 and at the time, in Dubai the media (and still is) was very censored. A country like the UAE doesn’t afford free speech to its citizens and expatriates who make up 90 pc of the population in Dubai, about 80 pc UAE wide. Twitter allowed me to communicate honestly and frankly with my listeners when I was broadcasting live talk back radio out of Dubai from a State owned network in a way that I couldn’t do through the traditional radio broadcast. The authorities in the UAE were completely unaware of what Twitter was or how it worked so they were not monitoring it, as such it allowed me to learn from the audience what they really thought about any given topic I was talking about on air. It also afforded me the ability to share my views on Twitter with my listeners in a frank and transparent way that I couldn’t do on air. This really brought the community together, it removed the barrier that existed in a censored environment and allowed for a real sense of freedom of expression.
  • It connects people in different spaces and give a cultural conxt
  • Lateral information networks allow for more authentic sharing of ideas and information.
  • Helps keep me up to date with what is going on in the world.
  • The use of social media has the potential to expand student interest by exposure to a broad group of people interested in the same subject. Online education has removed the traditional classroom face-to-face discussions.
  • social learning, how to live and play with each other and understanding society and the role or impact that i do have on society and the planet is very important.
  • I have a friends list of people who are very intelligent, diverse and hunger for information and knowledge. When the post on their status something fascinating, I am likely to follow up via Google.
  • I get it from people u trust and value
  • Connects me with many, many professionals.
  • introduces me to new ideas and hot topics, which I might follow up with a google or Wikipedia search.
  • Used as a tool social media can be focused to expose the user to his or her specific areas of interest and find like minded people. Those like minded people can share their specific interests which I find often gives new perspectives and ideas and even whole new topics of interest.
  • I’ve never associated FB with learning, just a way to see what others are doing.
  • With music, I can listen to an interview, or a lesson with the artist who wrote the music, for more insight to interpretation.
  • Although I try to follow EdTech groups and keep up on current events via social media, I feel I learn the most from keeping around a diverse list of people with occasionally different perspectives. I get my Hawaii news, my cultural and news items of interest from Black friends, reflection from my token Libertarians, pop culture and civil rights info from my queer friends, Turkish uprising information, and even (from one college buddy) a window into the Singapore theater scene. Social media isn’t just for keeping up with people far away, or passing around meme images, or being horrified by family members’ racism or politics. I learn when I keep up with my current interests, but I am able to learn more when I keep my mind open by keeping my eyes on the larger currents.

Any other comments about the idea of learning in social media?

  • Make it fun and it (learning) will grow and expand boundaries.
  • it is a kind of community consciousness that we learn from.
  • More insight to fan interest. What types of songs elicit more response….
  • Social media gets dismissed as shallow and shoddy thinking, passed around without reflection. It’s not all like that, though. In my experience, you just have to be willing to not be too invested in convincing other people they are wrong and more in listening and considering how people got to that other point of view. I see it as a place not for deepening learning, but as a source of touchstones you must pursue on your own.
  • It also helps me 1) see what is current and 2) find my market.
  • I would want groups monitored, especially for younger students. Many groups now have trouble with “trolls” entering with intentions that differ from the group’s.
  • Love to see it!
  • Along with FB, Twitter is also vital in its role of affording true freedom of speech. The online community is given the authority to correct itself and others rather than being governed by laws around speech. It’s a testing ground at the moment for challenging authority. It’s shaping a new way of thinking both good and bad for the sustainability of humanity both online and off line. On the other hand, social media seems to have created a thinking vacuum (if such a thing exists) as a result of information overload combined with the concept of the 24 hour news cycle. Questions can be raised about whether the avalanche of information provided through social media actually encourages people to develop their cognitive processes by really thinking deeper and learning more. Does having access to endless social media prompt people to create value in information or is the overload of information devaluing information and our potential to really learn? People forget to think and social media seems to have a sinister way of somehow giving us heaps of information, lulling us into the idea that we know more but making us ignorant and lazy at the same time. It conjures up the image of seagulls just gorging on anything that seems to fall their way. Desensitising and devaluing society through too much information and not enough thinking I think is actually leading to an increase in mental health issues including depression and a load of other things. Our ability to analyse and give value and importance to what really matters is becoming vitally important as we face an ongoing and increasing bombardment of information available to us through social media.

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