Teacher blogs are everywhere. Why in the heck would anyone want to make another one?
The short answer: for credit in my grad course.
The longer answer is that, as an educator wishing to make the most of his professional development and hoping to leverage technology to make it happen, a blog serves as a fantastic Personal Learning Environment (PLE) in which to record and reflect on what I've learned, and potentially grow a Personal Learning Network (PLN).
Whoah now! Wait just a minute! Are those acronyms I see? That was some educational jive talk! Personal Learning Environments? PLNs? Is that teacher-tech double-talk? What's the difference?
PLEs vs. PLNs: What's the Difference?
Apparently it depends on who you ask. Rebecca J. Hogue, who blogs fairly extensively on educational technology defines a PLE as "the tools and infrastructure" and a PLN as "the nodes, the people" and has a swell Venn diagram (love this) on her site that shows the smaller network circle contained within the environment (Hogue, 2014).
This was great for me, because I remembered all of the times I'd defined 'environment' for my second grade science students as "the living and non-living things in a place", and because the word 'network' reminds me of food webs full of living things interacting. I had a familiar little analogy growing in my head-space. Everything seemed all wrapped up neat and tidy in the comforting embrace of Venn circles. Then, I clicked the next link...
...and found an 8-year-old post on Dr. Alec Couros' blog, Open Thinking. On it, he comments on his confusion over the distinction between the terms PLN and PLE and posts interviews with 15 (!) people about their understandings of the definitions of the two terms (Couros, 2008). The links didn't work in my browser, so I have no idea what the interviewees had to say about the issue, but I was really impressed at Dr. Couros' Herculean efforts to search for answers to the PLE vs. PLN question.
A long list of comments followed the post. I had no idea there were so many people that felt so strongly about this. I started to feel pretty embarrassed that almost a decade ago people were passionately debating the distinction between PLEs and PLNs while I hadn't even known of the existence of the two abbreviations until just a couple of hours earlier.
Here are some of the choice comments that left my head spinning and me wishing that I'd just looked for funny animated_cat.gifs for my blog instead of falling down this rabbit hole to begin with. Since just about every blog post I've ever seen on the internet includes at least one list, I now present to you:
TOP 5 Descriptions of PLEs and PLNs that Left Me More Confused After Having Read Them
1. The PLE vs. PLN vs. PLC vs. CoP acronym Battle Royale (Chamberlin, 2009)
A link to a post about the semantic differences of PLE vs PLN vs PLC vs CoP. It’s like a Mexican stand-off of obscure initialisms. Thank god the link was broken. I can't handle any more acronyms. One of them even has a lower-case letter in it. I didn’t know acronyms could do that.
2. The Circle of Life (and web 2.0) (martin, 2009)
PLEs and PLNs exist in a self-propagating circle of communities (PLNs) that are an effect of web 2.0 software (PLE) running on human (PLN) input that is an effect of web 2.0 software (PLE) that is running on human input (PLN) and so on and so forth ad infinitum...
3. To see the world in a grain of sand, and your PLN everywhere else (Rosen, 2008)
“My learning environments are pretty inclusive lately to my home office, the classroom where I teach, and the classroom at the university where I learn. My network exists all over the world, including those places.” (Rosen, 2008). Rosen goes on to express a desire to see someone create graphics about the debate. I've got your back, Rosen, despite the fact that I’m pretty disappointed her post took the original Venn diagram, flipped it inside out, and exploded it like so:
Which is pretty depressing all in all, since that original Venn diagram had become like water wings for my brain as I tried desperately to stay afloat in the deep end of the PL(X) debate.
4. Your PLN is special, and gosh darn-it, you’re special too! (Caramanico, 2008)
Nothing at all to say about PLEs, but it’s the personal touch that makes all the difference with respect to PLNs. Your personal interests construct your PLN, and as such, each individual’s PLN is unique…kind of like a snowflake!
5. The neurobiology analogy (Wall, 2008)
A PLN is like a set of connections between interconnected neurons in a neural network and a PLE is like the glial cells that guide the migration of neurons during the development of neuronal connections.
Oh. Now I get it…
Getting to the Root…I mean, Rhizome of the Problem
Things were looking pretty bleak until I came across yet another blog, this one penned by Dave Cormier. famous for inventing the term MOOC (Bali & Honeychurch, 2014). In his first of 5 points on the topic of PLEs he addresses the PLE vs. PLN conundrum and says it’s basically a semantic debate, which had seemed pretty obvious since the very first blog I’d read (Cormier, 2010).
In fact, Cormier went so far as to eschew making a distinction between the two, and began using the hybrid PLE/N abbreviation to refer to either as both. I was so excited at his refusal to engage in petty semantic nit-picking that I continued to read the remaining points, until coming to his 3rd point in which he described PLE/Ns as being rhizomatic (Cormier, 2010).
I remembered from Plant Bio 101 that a rhizome was an underground stem that had roots shooting out of it. I wondered if this was another strained metaphor like the brain cells one.
Turns out rhizomatic learning is actually a thing! Rhizomatic learning is described as being adaptive, fluid, and evolving, possessing no set objectives (just like a rhizome?). It is contrasted with arborescent, or tree-like, learning models that work towards an end-point or goal, have beginnings and endings, and describe de facto states (Ellis, 2014). Totally just like trees do in real life!
At this point I made a vow to myself that, as an educator, I would never mine my old biology textbooks for analogy fodder when describing my practice or philosophy. You can hold me to that.
So, back to my original question: why make a blog? Well, the goal was to use this blog as a PLE, or tool, to help me to reflect and learn. I’ve certainly learned a lot about a bunch of different initialisms and ideas that I was completely ignorant of just a day ago.
I didn’t end up communicating in real-time with any of the bloggers I read, but I did get to share in their thoughts and gain exposure to some bloggers who are quite famous within educational technology circles that I’d never heard of before.
And, as I drifted around from one topic to another and one blog to another, I ended up learning a bit about rhizomatic learning which is, though in my opinion a horrible and obfuscating metaphor, actually a pretty interesting and radical pedagogical approach. My own experience of going with the flow and changing my research goals as new information and paths presented themselves was a pretty good example of rhizomatic learning, too, I think.
Wow! I learned about rhizomatic learning rhizomatically! That's so meta!
Thus, after a lot of clicking and reading, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
So, if you haven’t done it yet, get yourself a domain name and start typing! Create, curate, and share content! And gather up a supportive and motivating PLN online…
...provided, of course, you can figure out what a PLN is in the first place.
Bali, M., Honeychurch, S. (2014, November). Key Pedagogic Thinkers – Dave Cormier. Journal of Pedagogic Development, 4 (3).
Caramanico, N. (2008, December 20). Re: What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN? [web log comment]. Retrieved from: http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1156#comment-1044463963.
Chamberlin, L. (2009, November 15). Re: What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN? [web log comment]. Retrieved from: http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1156#comment-1044464005.
Cormier, D. (2010, September 12). 5 points about PLEs PLNs for PLENK10. [web log post]. Retrieved from: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2010/09/12/5-points-about-ples-plns-for-plenk10/
Couros, A. (2008, December 19). What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN? [web log post]. Retrieved from: http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1156.
Ellis, C. (2014, January 21). Rhizome poster. [web log post]. Retrieved from: http://cathellis13.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/as-part-of-my-contribution-to-rhizo14.htm.
Hogue, R.J. (2014, January 6). Personal Learning Networks/Environments (PLN/PLE) [web log post]. Retrieved from: http://rjh.goingeast.ca/2014/01/06/personal-learning-networksenvironments-plnple-2/
martin. (2009, November 11). Re: What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN? [web log comment]. Retrieved from: http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1156#comment-1044463991.
Rosen, T. (2008, December 23). Re: What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN? [web log comment]. Retrieved from: http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1156#comment-1044463974.
Wall, R. (2008, December 20). Re: What is a PLN? Or, PLE vs. PLN? [web log comment]. Retrieved from: http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1156#comment-1044463956.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.