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Journal of Public Affairs Education

Using Personal Learning

Using Personal Learning Networks to Leverage Communities of Practice component of a digital learning ecology (DLE). Aimless surfing of the World Wide Web is not a PLN. The periodic monitoring of a set of blogs (and other resources) coupled with one’s own means of self-expression is the use of a PLN. Personal Learning Networks can be implemented in many ways (Harlan, 2008). For the purposes of this article, a PLN is one person’s RSS aggregator (with feeds to multiple related blogs or similar Web resources) plus his or her own blog, which is likely to include an RSS feed, making it possible for others to subscribe. Figure 1 contains a visual model of how a person uses his or her PLN, consisting of an RSS aggregator and a personal blog. The sequence of use is, catch, read, think, write, post, and serve. The user’s RSS aggregator catches the headlines of a number of blogs the user has chosen to subscribe to. This saves the Figure 1. Representation of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) Journal of Public Affairs Education 15

Using Personal Learning Networks to Leverage Communities of Practice user the time and effort required to check blogs for updates frequently. When a blog is updated by its owner, the headline of the new entry appears immediately in the aggregator of the user. Each time the user of the PLN views the aggregator, he or she reads the recently updated posts that appear to be of interest. He or she is then likely to think critically and compose new ideas to post to his or her own blog. The new post then automatically appears in the aggregators of others who have subscribed to the RSS feed on the user’s blog. The second major component of a digital learning ecology is a Community of Practice (CoP). Wenger and Snyder (2000) describe a CoP as a group of people who are bound together informally through sharing expertise and enthusiasm for something. CoPs are fundamentally self-organizing (Wenger & Snyder, 2000). Persons seeking to incorporate them into the design of knowledge management or learning systems need to be mindful and respectful of their informal nature. Traditional CoPs exist among people who work in physical proximity to each other. However, networks of personal relationships among professions with similar interests can be created and maintained via the World Wide Web. These online CoPs can be implemented in many ways using various technologies such as LISTSERVs. Regardless of how a particular CoP is implemented, if one or more members have a relevant blog with an RSS feed, that feed can be accessed via subscription by an RSS aggregator, thus becoming part of another person’s PLN. Professional communities of practice certainly can be intentionally designed. Readers are invited to see the description of the Math Forum by Renninger and Shumar in the book edited by Barab, Kling, & Gray (2004). Communities of practice are much more likely to emerge through self-organization. Renninger and Shumar identify rhizomes as a model of communities of practice involving self-organization and emergence (Barab et al., 2004). A rhizome can be understood to be a community of communities, similar to the Internet being a network of computer networks (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). It can be an emerging and continually adapting framework of many dimensions within which individuals can locate and connect their personal learning networks and blogs. One’s personal learning blog can become the evidence of a lifetime of personal growth and thought, enriched by a set of relationships with other blogs. It can become a reflection of one mind and career, and perhaps even become an eternal part of the evolving framework of human knowledge and thought. Three observations should be noted here. First, the use of RSS to access new blog posts is a convenience rather than a necessity. It is certainly possible to maintain a list of blogs and manually check them for updates frequently. Second, not everyone who blogs is contributing to a community of practice that is worthy of our students’ attention. Part of learning the art of reflection is to learn to identify blogs that may be professional in appearance but are not professional or valuable in content. Third, an economy of effort is created by the use of a Personal Learning Network. RSS subscriptions make it possible to keep up 16 Journal of Public Affairs Education

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