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Journal of Public Affairs Education

Using Personal Learning

Using Personal Learning Networks to Leverage Communities of Practice subscribing to the student’s blog. Most pre-service students are probably well advised to “lurk” (only read) rather than actively post comments to the blogs of members of CoPs. Participation in the DLC prepares students for the day when they will be professionals and are likely to participate actively in professional CoPs. The posts of professionals, read by students, are likely to be reflected in what students write and post for syndication within the DLC. Thereby, the traditional course content is likely to become enriched by insights the students and instructor gain from contemporary professionals. Given that public administration is a field of practice, this cross-fertilization of traditional course content with contemporary thought is likely to be of great educational and practical value. This architecture is intended to produce the following positive results. Traditional course content will be enriched by insights and examples derived from blogs maintained by professional practitioners. Students will become more frequent and active writers using modern technologies and thereby learn to become lifelong learners and productive participants in communities of practice. As students exercise their abilities to assimilate and integrate knowledge, the distinction between teaching and learning will become less evident, and students will increasingly take ownership of courses and of their own abilities as autonomous learners. Classroom Experiences With a Personal Learning Network One of us, Keith Hamon, taught an undergraduate course at Georgia College and State University (GCSU) multiple times from August of 2004 to May of 2009. Communications and Society is offered through the Interdisciplinary Studies program and is required of all students graduating from GCSU. Students taking the course included all majors and age groups from first-year students to seniors. When teaching the course, I (Hamon) decided to supplement the usual “on ground” instructional methods with the use of a blog entitled, “Communications and Society,” available at http://idst-2215.blogspot.com. This blog regards explorations of the rhizome, based on French philosophy and the writings of Deleuze and Guattari. “The rhizome” refers to an organic network of nodes and connections evident in many domains, including botany, computer networks, and social networking. My experiences with students are relevant in the context of public affairs because of similar themes and pedagogical challenges. By asking my students to read my frequent blog posts and to comment on both my posts and the comments of others, my students became familiar with a subject area and joined in both producing and sharing knowledge of potential value. Some students took interest in the blog more quickly than others, and some were more disposed than others to share their ideas on the blog. Regardless of their level of participation, all of the students were aware that the blog changed the nature of our experiences in the traditional classroom together. Journal of Public Affairs Education 19

Using Personal Learning Networks to Leverage Communities of Practice Figure 4. Keith Hamon’s Web Blog I ceased to be the sole source of information and knowledge and became a co-learner with the students, who watched me work to integrate new information and knowledge into the course. While the course always had a syllabus and a common text, I usually incorporated new information from online readings, weaving them into the course discussion and using this as support for or challenges to the text. My new insights were largely derived from my own PLN connecting me to the blogs of professionals I follow. Students were able to shift from a modality of memorization to one of inquiry. Most students found inquiry much more interesting than memorization. It was often the high-achieving A students who were most troubled by the loss of definitive, rote-learnable tidbits of information. They learned to adapt to revised expectations. My passion for teaching was rekindled with the influx of new ideas and new thinking. I was relieved to give up the burden of being the sole authority in the class to being an accomplice, a more experienced guide, a curator. I shifted from lecturing to dialogue. Consequently, my students became much more interesting to me as they became more active participants in the exploration of knowledge. Use of my teaching blog caused my attention to shift from reacting to students in class to proactively framing the face-to-face class. Thus, classroom face time became much more efficient and productive as students more frequently arrived in class with some notion of what was being discussed or demonstrated. Moreover, the students’ preliminary comments on the blog often shifted my preparatory focus from making a presentation to responding to the issues that were important to them and the state of their knowledge of those issues. I knew these issues before class because students had already posted comments on my teaching blog. This could also have been accomplished if each student had had a 20 Journal of Public Affairs Education

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