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« Twenty (Five) Questions | Main | Odds and Ends - Miscellaneous edition »

23 bites of elephant: Using the social web to support PLCs

Our schools are deeply invested in the philosophy and practice of staff development through Professional Learning Communities. Here is my question: How can read/write web tools support the work of PLCs and how might teachers gain the understandings and skills necessary to use these tools in the context of applying them to their own professional development? Eat the Web 2.0 elephant in small bites?

 One description of a professional learning community is: (underscoring is mine)

"teachers in a school and its administrators continuously seek and share learning and then act on what they learn. The goal of their actions is to enhance their effectiveness as professionals so that students benefit. This arrangement has also been termed communities of continuous inquiry and improvement... The requirements necessary for such organizational arrangements include:

  • the collegial and facilitative participation of the principal, who shares leadership - and thus, power and authority - through inviting staff input in decision making
  • a shared vision that is developed from staff's unswerving commitment to students' learning and that is consistently articulated and referenced for the staff's work
  • collective learning among staff and application of that learning to solutions that address students' needs
  • the visitation and review of each teacher's classroom behavior by peers as a feedback and assistance activity to support individual and community improvement and
  • physical conditions and human capacities that support such an operation (SEDL, Issues About Change, Vol 6. No 1, 1997)
(See also Richard DuFour's ASCD Educational Leadership article "What is a Professional Learning Community?")

Reduced to its simplest definition, a PLC is a group of professionals working collaboratively to discuss and practice effective professional strategies in order to increase student performance. How can this discussion and collaboration be enhanced and extended using Web 2.0 tools?

Modeled after CSLA's School Library Learning's 23 Things and Charlotte Mecklenberg Public Library's Learning 2.0 23 Things (which was inspired by 43 things), the plan below is a set of activities designed to help PLCs learn to use online tools that will enhance their efforts. It is my belief that once teachers experience the educational benefits of these tools personally, they will be more likely to use them with students in their own classrooms as well.

Month One - Blog reading and reacting
Tool: Technocrati

1. Read: Two articles defining and describing Web 2.0. Read the past month's entries for two educational blogs.

2. Participate: Use Technocrati to locate two blogs of personal interest and three blogs of professional usefulness, related to the topic of your PLC.

3. Do: Write responses to two blog postings.

Month Two - RSS feed aggregators
Tool: Google Reader

4. Read: Read the description of RSS and RSS feed aggregators. Read the instructions to Google Reader.

5. Participate: Set up a Google Reader account. Subscribe to the blogs located in the previous month.

6. Do: Monitor the Reader daily. Add five new feeds and respond to three blog posts.

Month Three - Blog writing
Tool: edublogs

7. Read: Two articles on blogging use by educators and about blogging ethics.

8. Participate: Set up a edublog account for your PLC (group activity)

9. Do: Each member contribute an entry and a response on the PLC's each week.

Month Four - Wikis
Tool: pbwiki

10. Read: Two articles about wikis, Wikipedia and/or the theories of collective intelligence.

11. Participate: Use pbWiki to create a document that articulates your PLC's norms and goals. Distribute the password to each member of the PLC. (group activity).

12. Do: Edit the group norm document. Review changes by other group members. Add additional documents to the wiki as needed.

Month Five - Social Bookmarking

13. Read: Articles about social bookmarking, tagging and folk taxonomies.

14. Participate: Create a personal account. Add three bookmarks related to the topics your PLC is studying.

15. Do: Distribute the URLs for each member's account. Create an RSS for a topic search and add it to your Google Reader page.

Month Six - Shared media
Tools: Flickr, TeacherTube/YouTube , LibraryThing

16. Read: Introductory material for each of these sites.

17. Participate: Locate and watch a video from TeacherTube or YouTube. Search for and download a photo from Flickr. Do a search on Librarything for recommended books.

18. Do: Create a Flickr account and upload three photographs that show a teaching practice or upload a video to TeacherTube showing an effective teaching practice.

Month Seven - Personal networks
Tool: Ning

19. Read: The FAQ for Ning.

20. Participate: Create a Ning account for your group. (group activity)

21. Do: Post a message and feedback to your Ning group.

Month Eight - MUVEs
Tool: Second Life

22. Read: Two articles on MUVEs and their potential in education.

23. Participate: Create an avatar and attend a professional development opportunity in Second Life.

Here is where I need your help, dear readers. In your experience, before I start fleshing this out with instructions, links, and assessment measures:

  • Is this a good selection of tools (given strengthened collaboration and communication is the goal)? (Ning still does nothing for me. Does Second Life really support the work of a PLCs?
  • Can teachers be expected to complete these tasks independently, with minimal F2F instruction? Is there enought variety in the activities? How can one encourate reflection in these activities?
  • Any ways you can see to make this more palatable to already busy, even over-whelmed teachers? How might one sustain the use of these tools?
  • Are there better ways to teach these technology tools or support PLCs?
  • Other comments?

I need help here!


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Reader Comments (18)

I think your list of tools is great. If teachers have some tech ability this should work well. If you are starting from ground zero it may be attacking too much in one year. My concern would be that teachers would do what is required but would not truly become proficient at any of the tools as they moved on to the next one.
May 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
Hi Doug,

Here are my thoughts:

1.) Ning? I don't really see the point. My school is (was?) doing PLC's, and we decided to set up a Ning. It's dumb. First of all, you have to manually add each person as your friend (which some non-tech-people don't get, thus leaving out most of the group). Second, it's slow, at least from our firewalls. Third, in the experience of my school - it doesn't work. Maybe if it was being graded, but I don't know that it would work.

2.) If admins would actually check and make sure the teachers were doing their homework, then yes, I think it would work with minimal F2F instruction. And I think it would work well. I think you've come up with a good mix of methods that would introduce new folk to the wonderful world of Web 2.0. There does need to be something for those who choose not to do their work - potentially a F2F that totally covers all of the material in a step-by-step (read: mildly unpleasant) way, to make sure that everyone is up to speed.

3.) My favorite is the MUVE. I think it will ultimately be the most useful tool that you will introduce to the teachers. I think they should go to a PD opportunity in SL, like you said. Then I think they should have a PLC sharing convention (or something like that) in SL, which would run something like show and tell - each PLC has to share what they've learned with at least one other PLC in SL. What do you think? Then, each PLC member has to know how to communicate and present virtually - not a bad thing to know.

In my humble experience, I find that SL fits into my daily life because it is fun and uplifting. I feel more support in my educational pursuits with my SL friends than I do with a number of my colleagues. I make time for it, because it is the highlight of my day. In a profession that can often be isolating, virtual networking is a great solution for the busy professional.
May 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Roustan
Hi Jennifer and Susan,

Jennifer, all of our teachers are fairly tech-savvy - at least with the basics. I do think we will need to provide some support when needed. Not sure what the model will look like - if I can get this by the SD committee!

Like you, Susan, I still don't "get" Ning. I belong to two groups. One big drawback for me with Ning is that there is no RSS feed associated with groups so I don't know when something has been posted. (Or at least I can't find it.)

Administrative "enforcement" is a tricky subject when it comes to staff development. I believe it's better in the long run to offer a carrot approach rather than the stick - even if the stick might be quicker. But yes, I often share the frustration of low expectations of administrators in this area.

Funny you mention MUVEs since it was the area I had/have the greatest doubts about, especially in terms of usefulness in this environment. Try and see, I guess. I appreciate your voice for inclusion of this resource.

Thanks again to you both for your comments!

May 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I'm quite interested in how you develop this plan, as teachers in my building have expressed an interest in getting up to speed on technology today (re: Web 2.0).

At first look, this seems a bit ambitious. I have a colleague who's taking a class on the read/write web and reading Will Richardson's book, and we have engaged in conversation after conversation about what exactly RSS is. When you use it, it makes perfect sense, but if you've never used anything driven by RSS, it really is confusing. So your method seems good in assigning use of it.

Also, good blogs can take time to find, and for teachers who aren't really sure what a blog is, it might be asking too much to have them suddenly find worthwhile reading through Technorati. I'd be tempted to use more time for reading blogs and maybe work in some assigned exchanges where folks tell about good blogs they've discovered. The other thing about blogs in education (as I've found anyway), is that a good many of them seem to talk about technology instead of disciplines, and that might be boring for non-techies.

I do wonder about MUVs and personal networks. Maybe some exposure would be nice, to make people aware of what's out there, but it's a big step for a person who was "forced" to start a blog two months earlier.

Thanks for thinking about this. I'll be watching for what you decide to do.
May 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff
Hi Geoff,

Great points. My initial sense was that this is as it stands it too ambitious.

I think the initial idea was for each "activity" to take no more than 15 minutes. Not sure this is practical when it comes to creating blogs.

And I agree that content specific blogs may be difficult. I plan to have some starter blogs in place for teachers to read that are some what generic.

Thanks again for your thoughts on this,

May 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson
I love these ideas. I'm forwarding this blog to our Tech training person and the chair of our campus's Science PLC. With our teachers and administrators I think we would have to take it a little slower.

Good news is I have permission to start blogging with students next year.
May 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly
This is a good starting list and, depending on the staff, could be adjusted to meet the needs of the particular staff members. I don't see SL being that important. It has some great potential but I would look more at online conferencing tools, maybe have groups meet in Tapped In. I like the whole personal network but ning just isn't doing it for me - I'd go with Explode. After all is said and done, it will be up to the person doing the organizing to decide. As for the comment about getting admin involved, I'd just make whatever you are doing require that the tools be used. As an administrator, I'm requiring my teachers to use more and more web2.0 tools. I give them time to adjust and get comfortable but then we go for it. No more paper memos! Calendar online! Information shared via wiki and pages! Using audacity to record booktalks! - (I had my staff read a book and then share it and I helped to have them upload. Learn by doing!) It works - well most of the time and teachers get to see that technology isn't that scary!!
May 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Christopherson
Hi Kimberly,

I am beginning to suspect this may be too ambitious. But hey, ask for the Caddie and hope for a Chevy!

Good luck and let me know if you try this model.

All the very best,

May 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson
Hi Kelly,

Heartening to hear this from an administrator! If you yourself are blogging, have you let Scott McLeod know?

Two new tools I need to check out - Explode and Tapped In!

Thanks so much for the comments.

All the very best,

May 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I immediately liked what you were talking about. It made sense to me... until I started reading your annual plan AAK! As others have said it is too much and it is not grounded in the curriculum. You talk about the teachers using the tools, but HOW? I think it would be better to start a group based on something like raising reading scores (or whatever issue is greatest at the school). Then USE the tools to do whatever the group is doing. Start a Wiki on that topic and give each person a topic to create a page on. (or maybe on the book and have a page of the wiki for each chapter of the book). Show them how to write and collect links (teachers love that) and put in pictures. Then later in the year require them to find two blogs on the topic and add them to their wiki page. In the second year you could add utube, podcasting and other things. Maybe you could even do it in the first year if the teachers are pretty savy. The podcast could be a book review, or a recording of an interview with a student who has learned something relating to what the book study is about.

I do not find Second Life refreshing. To me it is stressful and even though I am pretty competent technically I do not look forward to using MUVEs. I use them for a purpose. I go to Tapped In because I want to attend a certain ASO. It is probably the digital immigrant in me. The next generation is different, but not all of them and so I think we need to be somewhat careful using sweeping generalizations about how tech-savy all of the kids will be.

I am curious about Second Life users. The teachers who I work with always say that TIME is the thing that is most lacking in their lives. One thing about technology is that it sucks up time while also making it easier to do more things. It seems to me that Second Life would also suck up a LOT of time. How can that be helpful to teachers?
May 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJanice Friesen
Hi Janice,

Oh, the focus of the PLCs would indeed remain whatever area of curriculum or student performance the team is working on. Technology would NOT be the focus, only a tool to facilitate the real work of the group.

Obviously this point needs to be made more strongly and carefully.

And I am thinking that blogs, wikis and social bookmarking might be plenty of tools to get people started with the first year.

I appreciate the comments,

May 25, 2007 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson
Doug, I like your list, but I think you need to be more subversive about it (wink). As Will Richardson shares, quoting you, about bringing new technologies in...

I make a point in my presentations to say to teachers that they probably are not going to get much support from their school leaders if they decide to implement these technologies, that if they feel the tools can potentially help their kids learn more, they may have to be subversive about bringing them into the classroom. It’s not a comfortable pitch to make, but in a lot of cases it’s easier to start the conversation after you have something to show rather than before.</blockquote>

One example about being subversive--as much as that grates on me as being deviously clever and sneaky--is that instead of sharing the power of Moodle ("Hey folks, let's do all our stuff through Moodle! Ain't it great?"), we're going to introduce the concept via Online Literature Circles (thank goodness for enthusiastic teams who embrace new ways of doing things). When i write my article on Moodle use, it's going to be with the idea of facilitating online literature circles.

What's missing from the list you've made isn't the tools, obviously, but how you're going to embed them in real activities. That's the hard part and I'd like to have a conversation that would focus on how we're all embedding them rather than just listing the tools.. .it's just harder to do that, but worthier of our attention as a group of collaborators.

Am I off-base here or does that make sense?

With appreciation,

Miguel Guhlin
Around the
May 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin
Oh, and that reference to Will's post is:

I guess blockquotes don't work. sigh.
May 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin
Hi Doug,

I like the list and think the one topic per month emphasis might be good for busy school libtrarians and professionals. But I think there's one element that may be missing that from my perspective and experience was the most important... each participant in the program created a blog (most anonymously) and actually tracked and recorded their own learning through their blog. What this did in the end was provide an online learning community where participants learned from and shared with each other.

If you haven't thought about including this individualized componet yet, I might suggest it. The peer-to-peer learning environment was by far more powerful and meaningful in the end to all who participated; much more so then just then the quality of the content or the exercises. :)

Anyway, that's just my 2cents. Overall I think you've really outlined a neat program. Good luck with it. I know it will be super!
May 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterHelene

Hi Helene,

Major apology for not replying to this sooner.

I debated whether to have people do individual or group blogs. Maybe I will try it both ways with separate groups and see how folks feel about it.

It was a real pleasure getting to meet you in Oak Brook last month as well. I was really inspired by your program and website!

All the very best,


June 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

The thing that bothers me about the curriculum you've laid out is that it's so "meta"--learning about the things vs. using the things. I know people have to be familiar with the tools to use them, but I think they should do so through observation, not any sort of formal training. I'm with Janice: start with an issue, form a group, start with face-to-face discussions, carry the discussions (eventually) online and model the use of tools you want them to learn. Some will immediately see the relevance and want to use the tools in their classes, others will not. Give yourself (and them) permission for that to be OK. You will still have addressed a pressing issue at the school. I may be the heretic here that doesn't believe that use of web 2.0/technology = good teaching.

June 4, 2007 | Unregistered Commentertodd

Hi Todd,

I appreciate the comments.

I didn't make very clear, I guess, that the focus of the PLC was still to discuss and work on basic building goals - improving reading, math scores, instructional practices, etc. - and this curriculum is intended only to extend the learning in those areas. The focus is not on the technology, but how the technology can be used to improve and extend the regular work of the PLC.

All the very best,


June 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I agree that this list, while certainly not exhaustive, is still a bit ambitious. At my school, we are organized into teams by grade. We collaborate on what we are teaching so that we are all teaching essentially the same thing. We also make common assessments that we can each give to the students so that they all get the same information from school--that way (in theory) their education is not dependent on the teacher.

This list is great if you want to immerse the teachers in Web 2.0 stuff, but I don't think that is the best approach. Social sites take some time to "get" and making people try to get them does not seem like it would work. At my school, I think it would be better if we did a wiki page for my team to start out, and then added things, using your step-by-step guide as they were needed, instead of monthly. I think this list would be too overwhelming for many teachers.

January 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJethro

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