Friday, August 27, 2010

Incorporating Personal Learning Networks into Course Projects

Last semester I introduced a brand new project into my social media class which I've been meaning to report on for a while now. I decided to set 25% of the final grade aside for an assignment the students were allowed to design themselves (the project is described in detail here). The idea was to help students develop independent learning skills by teaching them how to use social media tools to create a personal learning network (PLN) capable of supporting their project goals. Students were able to tailor the assignment to their own learning needs by:

  • identifying an area of social media or PR they wanted to learn more about
  • outlining a plan of study, and 
  • deciding on appropriate learning deliverables to demonstrate their mastery of the material.

The projects the students created ranged from doing PR work for real-world clients to designing their own digital portfolios and social media resumes. The nice thing about this assignment was that as an educator, I got to see and evaluate not only the final product, but also the process the students went through to produce these final products. Below is a Prezi one of my students created to introduce her PLN. I love this Prezi because one look at it told me that this student really 'got' the idea of a PLN -- she really was able to identify experts capable of informing her particular project needs.

To be fair, students' initial reaction to the project may not have been one of absolute enthusiasm... I think the idea of independent learning and PLNs may be so different from the standard academic fare, that it was met with a bit of resistance at first. When I asked my Twitter network to tell me what they got out of their PLN, one of my students responded:

Let's hope that this epiphany hit the student before filling out the end of semester evals :)

So, would I do this project again? You betcha! I'm absolutely convinced that one of the most important skills we can teach our students is to become independent learners. Social media technologies have given us the opportunity to connect to experts all over the world -- all we need to do now is show students how to put these technologies to use in their own learning. It's not just students though that stand to gain from this. PLNs also provide powerful professional development tools for academics. Below is a presentation my colleague and I gave last week to our faculty in order to encourage them to develop their own PLN.

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