Helping high school students understand the value of a PLN and PLE

At the end of Year 10 in NSW there is a significant gap between the final external examination – the School Certificate – and when the students can actually leave school. Schools come up with a variety of methods to engage the students during these difficult weeks – in Australia the end of a school year is Summer. No student wants to be at school if they feel they don’t ‘need’ to be when the sky is blue and the surf is up.

At our school a program called the ‘Fab Fortnight’ has been developed in which students are treated to a variety of guest speakers talking to them about a range of topics from managing their credit rating to managing their studies in Year 11 and 12. Last year I was asked to present to the students on ‘Effective PowerPoint Use’ – something passionate to me as I have been tortured with many a terrible PowerPoint presentation! This year I was asked to repeat that session and I offered to run a second session on Web 2.0 tools in Stage 6. I was inspired to present on this by my PLN mentor Darcy Moore who had given a similar presentation to his Year 11 students. You can see his blog post here and his prezi from the session here.

I titled my presentation ‘Unleashing the Web 2.o Beast – Making the Most of Web in Years 11 & 12′. Having just created a survey on DER in Stage 6 (Years 11 & 12 – the final schooling years in Australian secondary schools) for teachers at my school  and seeing from initial responses that many teachers had not altered their teaching programs to incorporate technology nor had they planned to use the netbooks in their classes, I felt slightly anxious about presenting on Web 2.0 to Year 10. Despite this I was determined to help them appreciate the role that PLE (Personal Learning Environments) and PLN (Personal Learning Networks) can play in learning. I demonstrated PLN to them through a quick activity where they were forced to create groups based on disparate characteristics – shoe size, height, street address etc and then use this group to answer three questions drawn from Math, Science and English – they had to network in order to get the answers! I also showed them a question I had posed to teachers via edmodo – students could read their immediate replies and appreciate how asking often garners answers!

I moved on to the power of a PLE by showing them some Web 2.0 tools that can help establish their own individual learning environment. I reminded them that these were NOT necessarily tools that they would be asked to use by their teachers, but rather tools that could be used by them independently. I suggested they could show these to their teachers – who would surely be impressed by this tool and by the student’s initiative. These tools were categorised by Darcy into ten useful categories – see my prezi here.

After enduring my prezi and looking at a couple of examples of the tools being used, the students were sent off to the computer rooms to play around with the tools. They had a task – create a Top 5 Web 2.0 Tools for the HSC list and post this to edmodo with links. I wanted them to play – but they also needed a goal as keeping them on task at this time of the year us quite challenging!

Whilst presenting I noted a number of blank-looking faces … I even heard a few students chatting and saw supervising teachers ‘having a talk’ with them about their inappropriate behaviour. At the end of the session, when students were moved off to the computer rooms, I felt pretty flat. They didn’t seem terribly engaged and I felt that they weren’t interested in the tools. I know I kept saying ‘basically’ too much as well ‘this is really cool’. I felt like a complete geek. I even tweeted about my feelings of failure.

Thankfully my self-deprecation was (for once) unnecessary. Returning to my staffroom and logging into edmodo I saw the Fab Fortnight group getting a lot of new posts – the students were actually doing the task! The students HAD been listening – and they understood what I was talking about. You can see their responses to the task here.

I know not all students and their teachers want to see technology in their classes next year – I have the survey data to prove it. But what I do know is that these tools can (and will) help students to keep themselves organised, to help them collaborate, research and remember the content that will help them get through the HSC. This type of student assessment is not ideal, but it’s what we’ve got. I hope the presentation helped them to better understand the role that a PLN and PLE can play in their future success.

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3 thoughts on “Helping high school students understand the value of a PLN and PLE

  1. Well done, Bianca. I tried a similar thing with my end of year 10 into year 11 English Studies class, though I didn’t do it anywhere as well as you did. I will try again next year term 1 as a refresher and doing it more practically like you have. You’ve also inspired me to try prezi for a term 1 SDD on BlogED and PLNs that i’m giving to our staff. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Thanks Brendt :0) Darcy always says that if you can get hands-on, make it at least 2/3 of your total presentation! I tried to stick to that! Feel free to use any of my resources you need and ask for help if you want it!!

  2. Great stuff Bianca.

    Ironic that we (teachers) are so often introducing aspects of the web and technology to a generation often referred to as “digital natives”. I think your experience reminds us as teachers that just because a child is growing up in the 21st Century does not mean that they are an expert in the web and computers – there is plenty for them to learn.

    It also, shows that we have to look carefully at our students and provide them with enough opportunities to learn and demonstrate their learning. As you said “they had been listening”, they were just unable to show it during your presentation.

    I hope that your students continue to make the most of the tools you have introduced to them and also that they may begin to explore and share tools that they found themselves.

    Please keep us updated on their web2.0 journey. :-)

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