The PLN Benefits More than Just Those In It — a #SquadGoalsNetwork Reflection from Dr. Ryan Straight
A reflection by Ryan Straight on the power of personal learning networks.
ACCESS – Does regular access to other individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives challenge your definition of access and what it means? If so, how?
I suppose that depends on how we’re defining ‘access.’ It certainly does expose a vast array of differing, complementary, and critical views that should be considered when making decisions. Sometimes it seems as though a pit of “good enough” swallows us whole and, as long as we’re getting by, there’s no need to shift gears until something breaks and a fix is required. This, I feel, is self-defeating. Having access to others who may have had or are having similar experiences not only can open your eyes to solutions previously unconsidered but can save you time, energy, and pain. It may be a silly comparison but I’m reminded of a particular game mechanic in the Souls (et al.) video games, wherein other players’ ghosts (let’s say) are viewable by the player, demonstrating their actions just prior to death. At its core, this is actually a learning network! That’s not to say we can only learn from others’ failures; quite the opposite. Getting together prior to that—having access to these considerations and histories—makes us all better for it.
FACULTY SATISFACTION – How has your participation in the PLN benefitted faculty and colleagues at your home institution?
Well, as faculty, it’s benefited me in innumerable ways and likely in ways I haven’t realized yet. I’ve made wonderful friends through the PLN (though I’m inclined to say PLNs, as there are a few concentric and overlapping circles) and, through them, have learned about some amazing things I’ve turned around and brought back to my colleagues or even just directly implemented with my students. Ostensibly, I very much fall on the end-goal aspect of the Squad Goals Network but, between my field and general interests, I’m happy and thankful to have been brought in much deeper. I like to think my unique position and perspective has benefited the PLN in return (but that’s not up to me to decide!). I can say this, though: I’m faculty and I’m very satisfied.
LEARNING EFFECTIVENESS – When you reflect on your work, how has meeting and learning from individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives helped you to clarify or re-define what it means for learning to be effective?
How hasn’t it? I’m a lot like Jess, in that I tend to work alone. I suppose this stems from the nature of doing graduate work—working on a graduate degree is at its core a selfish venture until it’s over, at which point you’re bound to be selfless—combined with the majority of work done in academe, from developing lesson plans, to teaching prep, to grading, to keeping up on research, to writing, to administrative requirements. Basically, you spend a lot of time inside your own head, for better or worse. Having the PLN allows for a space that’s essentially supportive and collaborative, where I can bounce ideas off folks with similar interests but vastly different backgrounds and ways of thinking. The resultant synergy is palpable, even virtually. It’s one thing to see a citation of an article or book and think, “Hm, I should add that to my list.” It’s another for someone you like and respect to suggest it. Not only are you more likely to actually incorporate that information and research into your worldview and thought process, you have someone with whom to discuss it and expand even beyond that. Learning is essentially social, whether it’s a dialog between you and an author, or amongst a network of thinkers and doers.
SCALE – Is the PLN scalable and/or replicable by others at other institutions/organizations? If so, how? What challenges do you encounter?
I would imagine so. Again, I think of myself very much on the receiving end of it rather than the development side, but especially with communication platforms like Twitter and, more recently, Slack, distance and scheduling—two show-stopping concerns when it came to collaboration—are virtually problems of the past. I like to think of the PLN as existing in a liminal space, between asynchronous and synchronous discussions (call it hybrid, or “H-synchronous,” if you like): you can chat in real-time or continue in a slow chat over the span of days, both without changing the medium or platform. The difficulty that I see is less about access or implementation and more about humans and how many people we can deal with at once. This goes back to my earlier mention of concentric and overlapping circles relating to PLNs. Maybe I’m just not as naturally social as others, who knows?
STUDENT SATISFACTION – Do you feel that your involvement and/or collaboration with the PLN has helped you create better student experiences at at your institution?
As far as my own classes go, absolutely. The opportunities the PLN has provided me—be they in official or unofficial capacities—has directly translated to benefits to my students, mostly in my skills and knowledge as a teacher, but also because, simply put, being around like-minded, excited people (virtually or otherwise) gets me fired up and that excitement transfers directly to the class environment and ecosystem. The only thing worse than a boring teacher is a bored one. I’ve found the PLN goes a long, long way in this regard.