Sunday, August 8, 2010

#edchat You Ain't Got No Pancake Mix!

Twitter / Beth Still: @budtheteacher Other tweet ... via kwout

I happened to run across this Tweet by Beth Still a couple of days ago and I can't help but think some of my own activity, and that of some people I have great respect for, on Twitter contributes to this perception. I may be wrong but I am going to venture to guess that some of the following tweets are examples of what she is referring to (at least as far as #edchat is concerned):

I have stated it many times and I will state it again, I think #edchat is wonderful and I fully support teachers who use it to connect with one another. I also think #rscon10 is fantastic and should be held more often. In fact,

I think so highly of #edchat that I think it is a mistake to say it only happens two hours a week on Tuesdays. I think this kind of connectedness has exponential potential for real education reform and I think we need to involve more than just educators in the discussion. The problem is, for many who are introduced to the PLN concept and get "connected" primarily through #edchat or a Ning like "The Educator's PLN" or even "Classroom 2.0" there is a danger of something that is inherently pluralistic and hard to define in nature (a PLN) will be perceived as (the PLN).

When #edchat becomes "the PLN" or when "The Educator's PLN" becomes "the PLN" or any other monolithic bohemith in this network grows too big we risk doing to our ability to affect systemic change what happened to the ability for the computer to transform learning when school made it its own subject. The strength in connected learning comes from it's independence. Each and every PLN has a leader, that person is YOU. There is no such thing as "The PLN," only individual PLNs. The PLN is a term that describes the meta-relationship between the PLN creator and those who they include or whom influence that individual's learning. It is hard to define because in any useful or categorical sense it doesn't really exist, not as a thing at least.

Its not just me, many others noting that something is wrong have been making this or similar arguments lately. @nashworld went on a tweeting rampage on the topic July 25th, @JonBecker proposed at Edubloggercon that we stop using the term PLN and instead call it PC (Professional Colleagues), @sschwister wrote about his own observations of this phenomena, and @djakes has been pretty vocal about this topic. What appears to be happening by getting more and more people "connected" to their own PLNs is it is starting to take on the trappings of systemic institutionalism complete with a schedule, an agenda, and a curriculum (of which I must admit that I have been partially to blame for).

But, this thing that does not really exist has many believers. I suspect that this has a lot to do with dualistic vs pluralistic thinking. The PLN concept embodies the epitome of pluralism. Our traditional systems of education tend to reject pluralism and find ways to assimilate or quarantine that which calls into question it's dualistic view point. We take kids who don't follow the script very well and place them in special education or in alternative programs, we jump first to blame kids for misbehavior instead of asking ourselves why they were misbehaving, we tend to view education as a linear function with nice start and stop dates, and we tend to overvalue learning experiences that can easily be measured and assessed quantitatively. It is a systemic expectation that most teachers have internalized that we do what is best to protect the system. Even in our conscious attempts to reform the system and be subversive our subconscious actions often, if not most of the time, sabotage those efforts.

So, when rhetorical dialog doesn't work to bring people to see or pay attention to something you find incredibly important, what do you do? What do our students do? Typically they act out. The other day I overheard in the hallway at school a defiant student say, "What do you mean I can't go to my locker? I just did." The teacher's response was to send the student to the office for being disruptive and defiant. But, could this student really be doing something instructive? Had this student not been able to articulate or had not been able to capture the attention of the teacher to focus on an issue the teacher was undervaluing? If so, by acting out in class they break the normal nature of student-teacher relationship and create moments of potential change. That change can be a chance to put the student "back in their place," a chance to, "make them show some respect," or it can be a chance for the teacher to reassess what is really going on here. Perhaps the teacher was viewing the situation wrong.

Disruptions in our classrooms represent a reminder that our equation is not perfect. Disruptions, or student misbehavior and defiance, is evidence of the flaws in systemic dualism. How you deal with them matters. How you interpret them matters. In any case, the disruptive or defiant student opens a relational policy window that allows for the conversation about why they were acting out to happen. If the message were heard in the first place there would never have been a need for the disruption. The same is true for snarky behavior and sarcastic remarks that are just as common in professional development sessions and staff meetings with adults as they are in the classroom with kids.

So, if anything, snarky remarks, sarcasm, and perceived "trash talk" by people on Twitter about #edchat and #rscon10 are attempts to open a discussion (or at least in response to attempts to open a discussion). How do you respond to your students when they act out? Do you dismiss them or do you question why? I very much like @budtheteacher's reply to @BethStill's tweet:

So #edchat and "the PLN," I say to you, "You ain't got no pancake mix." How do you respond?


Adrienne said...

"What appears to be happening by getting more and more people "connected" to their own PLNs is it is starting to take on the trappings of systemic institutionalism complete with a schedule, an agenda, and a curriculum..."

That's exactly my issue with "The PLN debate." Thanks for nailing it so well. I have been struggling with it so much. I know Tom Whitby believes it's just a matter of semantics, but IMO it's so much more than that. Words are powerful. A misnomer can change the entire culture, which I believe it has in this case.

I'm not as uncomfortable with the overall term "PLN" as Jon Becker is, but I am uncomfortable with the word THE in front of it. The word "the" is a definite article -- I'm going to get really picky and quote Grammar Girl here: "A and an are called indefinite articles. The is called a definite article. The difference is that a and an don't say anything special about the word that follows. For example, think about the sentence, “I need a horse.” You'll take any horse—just a horse will do. But if you say, “I need the horse,” then you want a specific horse. That's why the is called a definite article—you want something definite. At least that's how I remember the names."

Calling something THE PLN makes it definite, as opposed to indefinite. As an English educator, I believe Tom Whitby knows this. To not acknowledge this implicitly says that he thinks it should be definite.

Thank you also for pointing out that while our jabbing was not rude, it was sometimes disrespectful -- but moreover, it was an attempt to open the conversation. However, proponents of THE PLN do not seem open to that conversation, as evidenced in the comments here. Further, I know after I respectfully voiced my own concern about it directly with Professor Whitby, over Twitter -- with some logic, I think -- he promptly unfollowed me, rather than engage in the discussion.

Being shut down and shut out does not move us forward. It only reinforces that systemic institutionalized-ness that you mention earlier...

Mrs. Tenkely said...

While I understand the feeling here (no one owns "PLN" or "the PLN" but sometimes we talk about it as if someone, or a group does), I can't help but think...are we really going there? Are we really going to spend our time arguing over something so trivial? If you aren't into edchat or any other chat for whatever reason, just don't participate. If you want edchat to be an ongoing conversation, make it ongoing. If you want professional development to happen all the time, make it happen all the time. If you want to call PLN something different, start calling it that. If there are others that agree with you the changes will become popular and everyone will go there with you until the next person comes along and tells us why it is wrong. The problem I have with the whole debate is not the debate or the discussion, it is the divisive nature. Remember that some who are new to the PLN concept or #edchat haven't been a part of it long enough to know what we are arguing over. Many will decide it isn't worth the effort to find out if it is good or not and will drop out of the conversation all together. If we are going to put our energy into something, lets put it into something that is going to make a difference, not by talking about why the other thing isn't making the difference.

jonbecker said...

I just want to offer some clarification, though I've said/written this a few other times. I'm optimistic about the affordances of social media for professional networking and even professional learning. Let me make that more clear. I believe there's potentially real professional value to Twitter. Same with blogs. And Nings. And, and, and...

Now that that's out of the way...

Let me repeat my two non-negotiables: (1) "PLN" can NEVER be preceded by "the" or "our." It just can't. There is no one network. I won't quibble with someone who says/writes "my PLN," though it's not something you'll ever catch me saying. (2) "PLN" can NEVER be equated with only those with whom one interacts on Twitter. I don't know anyone who disagrees with this point. Yet, many folks insist on starting their tweets with "PLN:..." or "Hey PLN..." Well, if you agree that your "PLN" includes folks who are not on Twitter, then it's just sloppy/inaccurate to start tweets that way.

And, accuracy/precision is partly what I'm after. To those who say "it's just semantics" or "this is a trivial language issue" I say that language is so incredibly important. I can point to many examples where important educational policy debates went awry over what seemed like "just semantics." The classic example in my mind is the "Ebonics" debate that erupted in Oakland a number of years ago. There were very, very important issues in play there, yet it all fizzled in a heap of illegitimacy largely because people used sloppy/imprecise terminology, including the term "Ebonics."

If there are genuine affordances of social media for professional learning, folks should be quite concerned with the language they use. Imagine yourself in the position of an educational leader who wants to introduce a group of teachers to these ideas. Let's further imagine that you've been given an opportunity to lead a professional development session on these ideas. You have to publicize the event. One possible title is "Building and Growing your PLN: Twitter, Blogs, Wikis and Nings." Another possible title is "Faculty Lounge 2.0: Using social media for professional learning and professional networking." Which do you think will turn off more people? Which do you think will be more appealing? Why?

Carl Anderson said...

@Adrienne Thanks for the link to Whitby's blog. I wasn't aware of that post.

@Kelly Thanks for the comment, and thank you for all the comments you leave on my blog. I was really hoping to see more resistance from this post. When I first started blogging it seemed like debate and critical discussion were what the "edubloggers" cherished about his medium. I miss that and to a large degree this post, as well as a lot of my posts lately, have been an attempt to kick start that debate again. Without it we become an echo chamber. I blame the near immediacy that Twitter has given to our interactions online for this. Also, I wanted to point out that I don't see this as an us vs them issue but what I tried to convey was with this post is it is more a me vs we issue (myself included in the we). To a large degree this is an argument with myself, a critical part of me acting out against the part of me that is comfortable going with the flow. It was also a chance to write about student disruption and use our own online learning environment as an example. I can see how this might make people uncomfortable but discomfort usually fosters growth. For the record, I think Beth Still's response by inquiry is exactly the correct response both to our own online acting out and that of the student in the classroom.

@JonBecker At first I didn't really understand the PC thing, I still don't see how calling it PC is any better than PLC but I do agree with you on substance. Thank you for validating my concern over word choice.

Also, while I directed this piece toward #edchat simply because that was what was in Beth's tweet, this concern or angst-riddled outburst could apply for any of our online silos associated with our PLNs.