One of the biggest challenges to developing students’ PLNs (I hate that term, mostly because I hate acronyms and abbreviations–a peccadillo–but also because it’s ill-defined: just about anything can be part of a PLN; but it’s convenient here and you get the idea) is in fairly and prudently governing access to web resources. Part of the solution is in developing simple, sensible and secure permissions structures for working online–the sort Flickr co-founder, Caterina Fake, talks about here. I especially want to know how these might map onto a school structure. It would be interesting, for example, to see if a school itself (or every individual?) could develop an online presence like Flickr’s or Vimeo’s with a similar permission structures that let students and teachers easily control access, manage connections and information. Maybe this is what a blog is for? Some of Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk’s ideas for developing a peer-review process for his amazing open source learning project, Connexions, may also work here, too.
But I see two prior conditions for successful development of PLNs:
The PLN must be wide open. If it’s not, it’s not socially networked and the PLN will fail to develop in any substantial way. For this reason, I reject building private networks such as the kind Edmodo lets teachers create. Yet, most schools I know severly restrict blogging, Facebook-ing, Twittering and even emailing. They typically say these are distractions, which not incidentally would suggest these schools don’t really know how to use these tools, much less manage their students’ behaviour; but I think their real worry is about liability should any of the students in their care become victims on online predation. That may be a real concern, though I suspect it’s an inflated one, but the stock response of restricting what students can do online is misguided, however well-intentioned. Any risk to students comes not from being on the open web, but from being on the open web unattended or unequipped. Just as adults supervise, guide and coach kids as they learn to walk to school, so adults need to supervise, guide and coach kids as they learn to walk the web, so to speak. So, I think that part of any school’s plan to develop Learning 2.0 must include a significant parent education program:
Families must be more involved in developing the students’–their children’s–PLNs. One only has to look at the morning drop-off ritual to see an underlying social structure of brick-and-mortar schools: car pulls up, kids jump out, car drives off. Either parents don’t want to go in or they are unwelcome. All adults have a responsibility to teach children: parents need to be more directly involved in schooling and schools need to be more welcoming of parental involvement. (Added Jan 3 ’09: Penny Lindballe has a neat blog, Web 2.0 for Parents, where she is doing some good work at bridging the divide.)
I think the exact shape of the permission structures and the nature of the parent-school relationship will–or should–grow organically. Plenty of research from the National Middle School Association says that the best middle schools are the one that reflect the interests and needs of the communities they serve.
My question: What are your communities interests and needs and how would these be reflected in permission structures you’d build for your school? Work from sociologist such as Sam Ladner may be useful here. Please comment.
Again, I made this diagram in Webspiration. If you’d like to revise the diagram, send me an email at SITS and I’ll add you to the list of editors.