My learning is very much social in nature – I need to keep in contact with family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances so that I can keep learning. Remote communication with those whom I don’t regularly see is enhanced with electronic tools. Because these tools are so effective, for me, they’ve replaced paper, pen and postage stamp. I can update, read and collaborate faster and more often, hence learning more. There is joy in conversation.
I use a wide range of free electronic tools to communicate, using text, audio, audio-visual and visual media singly and in combinations, via Internet, WWWeb, mobile phone, fax, and CDROM/DVD in the post. Most commonly, I use a computer or mobile phone to browse the Internet, using a variety of web tools. I’d like to describe some of these tools, arranged roughly in a hierarchy of access.
My home computer is set to open the Internet at my iGoogle home page, whether I’m browsing with Flock, Mozilla Firefox, or Internet Explorer. At work, where my computer opens at the corporate home page, I have iGoogle saved as the only ‘favourite’ link. At any point of Internet access, iGoogle is my Personal Learning Network portal.
My Gmail address email@example.com is the next portal. It is the key to many online social networks, providing me with an online identity required for membership, and landing point for their associated RSS feeds. Having a Google identity gives access to Google’s many tools. A Google web identity frees me from local Internet Service Provider limitations.
For the sake of clarity, Twitter appears in my PLE diagram as a lonely little object; however it’s an elegant community tool that links many other objects in the diagram. Twitter appears silly until you start using it for conversations with like-minded beings. Twitter keeps me up-to-date with my network of educational technology friends around the world.
I learned to use Wikispaces after operating in various Ning networks. I find that Wikis are useful for collaborating with colleagues and industry clients, drawing in information from members to a common place, rather than broadcasting it.
A widget (Web Object) at my iGoogle home page lists my most commonly-used web addresses. Browsing in Flock, I access various web sites and work with many tabs open at once. I’ve chosen just a few sites: Flickr, Del.icio.us and my work webmail.
Flickr is the only site that I pay to access. It’s also available for free, but I like to use its many tools, and this privilege costs me about thirty dollars each year. Currently, I’m enjoying membership in several Flickr groups, particularly the ‘366 photos’ group. Each day, I upload a photo to this group and comment on several others. At the end of the year, I hope to have done this three hundred and sixty-six times. I enjoy the discipline and the learning experience almost as much as the thrill of receiving comments on my own uploads.
At the moment, my three-and-a-half-plus thousand photos have been viewed more than three thousand times. Some days, more than two hundred people visit my photo stream. Most of my photos are learning objects, ready for presentations.
Sick and bloody tired of not being able to find websites because they were ‘favourited’ on various computers that I use; I set upon Del.icio.us social book marking like a hungry carnivore upon a juicy bone. I imported all of the sites that I use and cleared out my saved favourite sites, leaving only one link: http://del.icio.us/stonemasonry. Delicious lists my favourite sites in chronological order as well as ordering ‘tags’ (groups of sites linked by topic) – not only my sites, but my friends’ sites, and their friends’, and so on.
TAFE web mail.
Although I can’t yet access my work email by phone, linking to my account via the Internet spreads my workload across more hours. I rarely use the ‘out of office’ setting, because I’m never far away from clients when there’s a connected computer nearby.
Online Social Networks.
I began using online social networks soon after discovering the Internet in the year 2000. Together with friends, family and students, I set up community groups in MSN, but had to relinquish ownership when I changed Internet Service Provider. Hence, all of my web activity is founded in my Google username.
Some of the sites that I currently use are Ning, Youtube and Facebook.
Ning is the best online social networking tool because it’s free, easy-to-use and image-based. Unfortunately, it’s blocked in the TAFE Education network. Consequently, students without Internet access at home are not able to take part. I use one Ning network for students, another with colleagues, and participate in many more.
Youtube is expanding exponentially – when I first started browsing, there were no videos available in my area of interest apart from what I posted. Now, with the permission of Copyright owners, I’m downloading video clips to CDROM, updating my collection of stone industry VHS media.
Facebook is useful for keeping in touch with family, friends, colleagues and students.
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) helps me keep up with friends’ blog updates, weather forecasts and news events.
Friendfeed is an online tool that lumps together updates from me and my friends in one place. It’s a handy place to visit when you belong to many social networks.
Friends’ personal blog updates.
Widgets on my iGoogle home page list the latest activities on friends’ blogs, saving me visiting them until there is something new.
News & weather.
I read the news and weather either on my mobile phone, through Twitter, or on my iGoogle home page – I still like to browse a newspaper too.
Most of the application described here are accessible by mobile phone with varying degrees of success – I particularly like accessing Twitter, Flickr and Gmail. Many of my online photos and video clips are uploaded via my phone to Flickr.
PLNs at work.
At work, I rarely access my PLN because the network is slow, or blocked altogether. I cannot see this situation improving anytime soon. Until network restrictions are lifted, and educators encouraged to use electronic conversation tools for their daily professional development, I believe that online Personal Learning Networks will remain underused.