IN THE BEGINNING . . .
Throughout my short career in Education, I have engaged in numerous opportunities for self-learning and professional development. Most of which have been directed by my school through a Professional Development Plan and have been identified as my areas of weakness and not as an area of interest (Nussbaum, Beach & Hall, 2011). My learning offline has developed whereby I feel comfortable to share and receive feedback from peers within my school environment but nervous creating an online presence. Over the past months, my learning has shifted from a passive school-directed, viewer of information within a community of seasoned professionals, to curating and tailoring a network of active participants, who collaborate and share knowledge through social networking sites and online community interactions (Oddone, 2018a). I immersed myself in technological discussions that related to my current learning interest of digital classrooms, which would enable me to share my knowledge with my peers during these trying times of COVID-19. This active virtual community and the reasons for the sudden increase in interest, is thought to have spiked during the recent pandemic, with much of the teaching community relying on assistance and guidance from other knowledgeable people. Ranges of global participants regularly contribute to a number of platforms with the aim of collectively encouraging others digital classroom creations.
This sparked an interest to learn (Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011) beyond the realm of just online learning through a pandemic, to explore how I could adapt my own classroom in a 21st century digital age to encourage problem solving, collaboration and shared knowledge within a standardised classroom environment. In developing my interest, I interacted with a variety of blogs, Facebook and Instagram pages, aimed at improving digital resourcing in a classroom and offered simple forms of help, but found that at times the help they presented came at a price. This is where my interest developed. Providing a creative outlet for collaboration that was not going to cost the consumer and would broaden learning opportunities to develop an communal online learning presence. I wanted to encourage others in a safe, collaborative, feedback orientated environment to learn and grow their digital capability, fluency and confidence. I also attempted to engage in self-reflection to grow my own knowledge by reflecting on others comments my interaction with them (Whitaker, Zoul & Casas, 2015). This is where my Professional Learning Network (PLN) flourished into “Her Digital Classroom”. A participatory culture where a master of their craft, a seasoned tinkerer or a curious mind could come together to mentor one another, for the purpose of increasing digital literacies in a digital classroom. A place where everyone feels their contribution will be valued, when they feel comfortable to make it (Jenkins, 2006).
When I initially developed my PLN online, I began mapping what I intended on networking. I sifted through the socially relevant nodes that connect social media platforms, the digital applications and the targeted demographic (Firth, 2014). Prior to developing my PLN my participation was exploratory (Oddone, 2018b), one where I viewed, liked and saved relevant and interesting posts that would help with lots of different aspects of my classroom, both digitally and IRL. I attempted to build a following of people who would engage with my posts, I joined Facebook pages based on digital learning, engaged more with my current Instagram pages, followed Twitter feeds and explored hashtags within these. I used my already established Facebook account to monitor how people were posting, what they were contributing and noticed what times the most traffic seemed to be. I attempted to contribute through commenting, liking and sharing but seemed like my replies were unnoticed. To facilitate others learning and get other interested in my socials, I tried to encourage a different way of thinking, by giving alternatives or suggestions when questions were asked. These interactions did not spark much interest or seem to ignite any further learning.
The digital artefact I created stemmed from my recently acquired knowledge of Online Learning using the Microsoft OneNote platform. I created a digital classroom where students could interact and engage in learning and parents could easily assist their children in their learning. I found that for a grade one context, with students using a number of devices as well as paper copies I needed a resource that would easily show the student’s knowledge and understanding in certain topics. For my own personal learning, I investigated how to create drag and drop activities. I sought out YouTube clips, asked numerous questions on Facebook groups and played around with Microsoft PowerPoint to create an engaging resource for my Science lessons each week. I then shared a ‘How to’ sheet with my colleagues attaining minimal feedback or response. On reflection, the process was written with annotations and at the time of publishing, everyone was in disarray trying to learn the new platform. This is where I decided to use my newfound skill of screen recording to give a detailed explanation of “How to create an interactive PowerPoint” in the hope that it would be viewed and would assist others in their online learning planning. This artefact led to my first, failed, post.
Initially I struggled to identify the platform I wanted to use to be able to facilitate learning (Rheingold & Weeks, 2012). Social media has expanded and adapted to the changing times and has the ability to quickly connect any community of people. With digital classrooms contain a broad range of creative content with substantial room for growth; I decided that to engage and encourage connected learning, my focus would be something that was not in my comfort zone. Social media options are so widespread, that I decided that I would experiment to see which community network I could explore. For my own professional knowledge, I accessed the platform that I had no previous experience with to assist in broadening my own social and digital fluency. Engaging with Twitter attempted to improve my digital literacies, learning experience and broaden my reach to facilitate learning in digital classrooms (Malik, Heyman-Schrum & Johri, 2019). I again went riling through the multitude of hashtags for numerous digital classrooms, searched #everyonecancreate, #digitalclassroom, #appleEDU, #microsoft365 and a million more. I sifted through tags, tweets, likes, comments and retweets and became so overstimulated and overwhelmed with the magnitude of the platform, that I put down the phone and did not open the app up again until I had something meaningful to contribute. When I next decided that I would brave the Twitter feed, I decided that I had something meaningful and helpful for many.
Enter my first critical incident.
I started by typing in what my artefact was, my word count was too long. I shortened the word count and made my post more succinct, and forgot to attach my hashtags. I uploaded my video, and found that it was too long and it would not upload. So, I uploaded it to YouTube and pasted the link to my Tweet, with a screenshot of an interesting page so I could capture some attention. However, the video was under my personal YouTube account . . . as an unlisted video so no one could view it. To date, this tweet has 105 impression and 12 engagements, 3 of those are likes and 1 retweet from my rent-a-crowd in my LCN600 Unit. My interactions with Twitter were not positive, I had attempted to facilitate conversations by retweeting other relevant and interesting posts, strategically and professionally commenting on interesting posts that linked in with my professional learning and engaged with hashtags. I also felt somewhat vulnerable being on such an expansive platform that potentially connects worldwide in just one click. The main thing that resonates with me about this learning opportunity, or epic fail, was that it encouraged me to try again. I realised that a PLN takes time to build, is strategic and requires contributions from others. All of which were not present in this first Tweet.
SHE TRIES AGAIN . . . and AGAIN . . . and AGAIN!
Insert intentional incident number one.
My next idea was how I could capitalise on my failures in the world of Twitter. There is something, somewhat nerve wracking about watching a post in anticipation. It is the feeling of uncertainty, will it fail again and in turn case anxiety over a failed idea, or will it succeed and it turn into a flourishing community where people look to you to enlighten them further. These feelings of anxiety have perplexed me in the past week after I stretched my learning network and created the second, third and fourth social network platforms for ‘Her Digital Classroom’, on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. I intentionally created my pages and channel with the same logo so that when people searched they could make the connection between the platforms. I created my own hashtag, #herdigitalclassroom, and attached it to each post so that anyone who was interested could find my posts quickly and easily. I used each platform similarly and strategically posted to a page on Facebook that was relevant in these digital times, the Australian Primary Teachers community with over 9500 Australian followers. Thinking that these platforms would attract similar attention as the initial Tweet, and my rent-a-crowd, I was surprised to learn that on Facebook alone I instantly gained 80 followers and my digital artefact reached over 3400 people, had been shared 3 times, liked 7 and most amazingly, viewed over 1200 times. The same post on Instagram, while not as successful, was liked by a curriculum leader from Melbourne who has over 15k followers. I believe the value of this intentional incident magnified engagement by posting within groups with a common need and goal. This intentional posting ensured my artefact was able to encourage dialogue, collaboration and learning and ensured the demographic had a safe, supportive environment to experience and contribute to new learning practices
PROFESSIONAL LEARNING REFLECTIONS
My participatory approach at the onset of developing my PLN was in the exploratory level, whereby my interactions and contributions improved as I adapted my professional learning and increased confidence to share and contribute (Oddone, 2018b). I initially supported and encouraged other participants through comments and suggestions but as my PLN developed, I found myself becoming more connected when engaging with the diverse range of backgrounds of participants and the collaboration and reflections between my ‘followers’ and myself. During this learning experience, I discovered that once I engaged with others with the intent of creating my own meaning, my knowledge and motivation to learn became significantly higher (Driscoll, 2000). I learned that real-life learning situations are not textbook structured and that my learning for the 21st century is constructivist in theory by way that I created and use prior connections to guide my knowledge (Siemens, 2005). Throughout the development of my PLN, I was alarmed at the thought of interacting so purposefully and to such a broad learning community. Even though I have been an avid social media consumer, I was worried that my digital identity would transformation to a point where I was personally exposed and vulnerable to the world. This vulnerability has not been all negative. It has enabled me to see that my failures are actually learning successes, and that this improved the authenticity of the context of the learning network.
My area of interest, digital learning, comprises of a diverse and collaborative community of learners who see value in attempting to engage in their own professional and personal learning. Each member brings a new and innovative idea to consider, develop and share to the community. With this in mind, I have learned that digital classrooms contain a plethora of possibilities, which really depend on the consumer. The interaction in posts seemed to be by those interested in the resource for use, right now or a save for later based on the traffic viewed. My PLN is one that currently many people are interested in viewing but less are comfortable contributing. This was noticed when the views and impressions were increasing but the feedback and collaboration was minimal. In hindsight, I should have attempted to broaden my online presence prior to contributing to the learning network as this may have assisted me to learn more about my area of interest.
I have become a rural networking – time manager (Oddone, 2018b). I realise that I have attempted to stay up to date but to be able to do this is quite time consuming. I would like to think that I use some sort of strategy to filter what is being shared in my PLN however, enjoy the social aspects of collecting, curating and experimenting. I love that my PLN is flexible enough to manage my own and other learning online (Oddone, 2018b). While I feel that my Facebook post was a success, whereby I was able to deliver a resource that was useful for others, that contributors broadened their knowledge by asking questions and commenting and that engaged a community of learners to see what ‘Her Digital Classroom’ had to offer. I now feel I am at a point where the community is looking to me to produce another quality resource or contribution that will assist them in their learning journey. Her Digital Classroom now has a life of its own and I feel I need to continue to uphold the integrity of the learning network. I learned that there is substantial pressure in managing a PLN. That by trying to be creative and reflective, all the while overcoming a vulnerability of failure is taxing and exhilarating (Whitaker, Zoul & Casas, 2015) and that I have become a walking contradiction of emotion who will continue to learn and grow by taking the time to connect and celebrate the successes of others.
We know that people are innately social beings. They show vulnerability when sharing ideas and personal stories (Whitaker, Zoul & Casas, 2015). As a whole, I identified the participation on my Facebook and Instagram pages, as mostly viewers of information, a participator for their own benefit (Skyring, 2017). I identified that some people felt confident enough to comment and give feedback on artefacts and post but for the vast majority of participants, a view was all they required. From personal experience, people must be resilient when provided with feedback within their learning community as not all feedback or conferencing is positive.
Digital media is powerful. Information is able to quickly and effectively flow through numerous social media platforms to enable meaningful connections with other participants. There are multiple platforms at the consumer’s disposal, which ensure they can engage at any level they choose. While developing my PLN, I learned that to fully engage at a connected level, a specific demographic is needed. These media’s have the ability to connect people world-wide, which I became extremely aware of when my Instagram page received two followers from the United States of America’s. Bare in mind I only have 3 followers and this level of connectedness I had not viewed with the traffic I was receiving. I learned that connected learners need to be relevant to the PLN. The idea of my PLN is to encourage and facilitate learning so for digital learning, a follower who is looking for ideas around couch renovations would be inappropriate and may not add value to the learning experience. I found social bookmarking within all digital media’s ensured the valuable information I needed for future reference were saved (Skyring, 2017). My professional digital footprint expanded through every voluntary, and at times involuntary, web interactions. I started noticing resourcing and blogs relating to my digital classroom appearing in my feeds, which increased my media interactions and networking ability (Oddone, 2018c). My social network identity began to expand with each interaction, and people began to notice when my branded logo appeared in their feeds through shares to relevant pages. I noticed that one Facebook liker was the same as a branded page on Instagram. This articulated to me that slowly my social network and digital brand was starting to increase broader than I had first assumed. I am yet to explore how my network will expand using my hashtag ‘#herdigitalclassroom’ as I am currently the only one using it. My digital literacies have significantly increased throughout this learning experience. Where previously I would attempt to create resources and ideas and share them with my peers, with limited response or feedback, I know am able to synthesise and explore new, interesting and effective ways to digitally communicate with the world. I do not like that my professional identity and my personal one are interconnected. For example, when posting to the Australian Primary Teachers Facebook page, my post had to be shared through my personal page. I realised that as a teacher, I need to keep my professional and personal identities as separate entities, which is manageable through these professional connected learning environments.
I engaged with each learning experience when developing my PLN. At the onset of the development of my PLN I thought I was a confident consumer of digital media with above average digital fluency. I feel my digital literacies and fluency were developed enough that I could explore, link and self-guide my learning and the immediate use and learning of others (Oddone, Hughes & Lupton, 2019). I have always been comfortable exploring and attempting to create and learning new things relating to digital technologies. My curiosity enabled me to stretch my PLN and engage in discovering which social media platforms, pages and artefacts would assist my target demographic; teachers trying to navigate the digital classroom. Since identifying my platform, I began actively posting creative resources and co-constructing collaborative opportunities for my network, thus amplifying my PLN (Oddone, Hughes & Lupton, 2019). I think that each of these learning experiences are needed to fully understand how to develop an effective PLN. Without each element building on the previous, I feel a successful PLN is not possible and digital fluency cannot be acheived.
To develop my PLN further, I first need to move confidently away from the anxiety I feel to create exceptional resources and posts. My vulnerability around failure is something that I will work on to build a shared environment for all learning types. I believe that Twitter has the ability to help facilitate exceptional connected learning networks, so will look into amplifying my direction, researching and building stronger connections within the network.