With a Little Help from My Friends: The Power of the PLN

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

“Get by with a little help from your friends” and reflect on practices that help form connected and collaborative personal learning networks.  This interactive session will highlight the ways educators can leverage social learning as a means of critical professional development, crowdsourced problem solving, and collaborative scholarly work.  


Clark Shah-Nelson serves as Assistant Dean of Instructional Design and Technology for the University of Maryland School of Social Work and is a doctoral student in Evidence-Based Management/Business Administration. Clark is an eLearning instructional design development professional with 25 years experience in educational technology innovations: teaching, designing leading award-winning online and distance learning teams for learning management platform implementation, training, end user support, professional development and engagement. He has presented at numerous online learning and ed tech conferences, was co-founder of the Blend-Online Educause constituent group, co-founding master chef of the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Technology Test Kitchen, and has recently volunteered as Conference Co-Chair for OLC Innovate and Engagement Co-Chair for OLC Accelerate Clark has authored chapters on synchronous tools for teaching and learning support and co-authored a chapter on professional development installations. As a consultant, Clark has worked on several international projects in the realm of blended and online learning.
Angela Gunder serves as Director of Instructional Design and Curriculum Development for the Office of Digital Learning at The University of Arizona. Angela came into instructional design rather circuitously, helming large-scale site designs as webmaster for The City College of New York, the honors college at ASU, and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).  Her over fifteen year career as a designer for higher education informs her instructional design practice, where she leverages her expertise in usability, visual communication, programming, and standards-based online learning. Angela holds a B.S. in Computer Science and Fine Art from Fordham University, and a M.Ed. in Education Technology from Arizona State University.  Prior to her position at UA, she was a member of NOVA’s instructional design team, supporting over 23,000 students in 550 unique courses.   Angela is an Associate Editor for the Teacher Education Board of MERLOT, and a Quality Matters certified peer reviewer and online facilitator.  Her research interests include technology for second language acquisition, open educational resources, and emerging technology to promote digital literacy. A voracious culinary nerd, Angela spends her free time composing, cooking and photographing original recipes for her food blog.
John Stewart is the Assistant Director of Digital Learning for the OU Center for Teaching Excellence. John is interested in developing learning environments to promote digital literacy and opportunities for undergraduate research. Before joining the center, John lectured on history of science at the University of Oklahoma and Missouri University of Science and Technology. He earned his Ph.D. in the History of Science from the University of Oklahoma.
Asst. Director for instructional design in support of the University of Arizona's fully online campus. Oversees the general education academy and UA Online's instructional design team. Currently pursuing an Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation. Areas of research interest include instructor presence and its impact of a sense of community and student success in online learning.
Dr. Jessica Knott is Assistant Vice President of Community Strategy, Experience, and Management. In this role, Jessica manages outreach activities and strategies, including environmental scanning, experience design, communications and planning, based on a deep understanding of our community and member interests. Prior to the OLC, Jessica led a team that supported faculty and academic staff in creating quality, caring and exemplary digital experiences at Michigan State University.
It turns out a bunch of nomadic-yet-related experiences and some determination to overcome imposter syndrome and some bourbon with friends make for an interesting life and career path. Ben is the Lead Design Strategist in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, where he and his team are partnering with local community schools and organizations to reimagine and redesign K12 education. A veteran K12 educator and higher ed instructional designer, Ben is fascinated with what happens when smart and curious people get in a room and work really hard at thinking about and taking the next step toward what could be - and trying to make that happen more.
Dr. Ryan Straight is currently Assistant Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Arizona where he is also a Faculty Fellow and Honors Professor. He holds a PhD in Instructional Technology from Ohio University, where he also earned his MEd in Cultural Studies in Education and a BS.Ed in Integrated Language Arts. He teaches fully online at the undergraduate and graduate levels in topics like game design and development, human-computer interaction, designing online learning environments, and statistics and data visualization. Dr. Straight also serves as a Social Media Advisor for ISTE and writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education on mobile learning technologies, augmented reality, and social presence in online education. He lives in Tucson with his wife and three dogs.

Extended Abstract

As we are called to answer the ubiquitous challenges of promoting equity and access to diverse populations of learners across multiple modalities, we only “get by with a little help from our friends.”  The formation of personal learning networks and intentional learning communities provide educators, researchers and practitioners with the ability to leverage social learning as a means of critical professional development, crowdsourced problem solving, and collaborative scholarly work.  This session will guide participants through mindsets and practices that aid in the formation and maintenance of a rich, interconnected network of collaborators. The presenters will share their own experiences forming their personal learning network, affectionately referred to as “#squadgoals” and the impact it has had on their careers in such varied forms as research and publications, podcasting, conference design, organizational leadership, and cross-institutional collaborations.  Focused on the core mantra that “we’re better together,” this session will highlight the ways in which we are called to connect the stars around us into brilliant constellations of networked educators.

This express workshop will give participants the opportunity to examine recognized connection types formed with personal learning networks (Rie et al.) to include sharing practice and perspectives, giving feedback on work, collaborating on shared challenges, and motivating peers.  Harmoniously, the practices detailed in this workshop were formed at an Online Learning Consortium conference years prior, and have continued to this day, marking this effective practice as one inspired by and bolstered through the connections made via the OLC. Broadly, personal learning networks make up one component of the synergistic give and take of professional development and mentorship - practices learned at conferences inform initiatives at our institutions, and the work from our home institutions is shared out at the conferences.  Highlighting this symbiosis, the presenters will share tools and approaches in the form of a series of stations, showcasing technology and effective practices that have been instrumental in their work together over the past several years:

  • Finding Your Squad on Twitter

  • Design Thinking the Collaborative Process

  • Carving Paths and Plans with Trello

  • Co-Writing and Publishing with Google Docs

  • Using Slack to Keep in Close Collaboration

  • Frequent Co-Working Meetings on Zoom

Participants will engage in reflection on practices that emphasize cross-institutional collaboration over time, to include ways in which they might extend their reach and power in solving monumental challenges through their connections to other educators and organizations.  They will have the opportunity to set up pertinent accounts, see existing examples, and develop an engagement plan for their next 30, 60, and 90 days upon return to their institution. They will gain hands-on experience with establishing a personal learning network of their own, assisted by a team of people who collaborates regularly across institutional boundaries.  Active participants will come away with the foundation for future collaborative work within and beyond the scope of the conference.

Sie, R. L., Pataraia, N., Boursinou, E., Rajagopal, K., Margaryan, A., Falconer, I., ... & Sloep, P. B. (2013). Goals, motivation for, and outcomes of personal learning through networks: Results of a tweetstorm. Educational Technology & Society, 16(3), 59-75.