Are you ready to lead a revolution at your school or in your district? Leadership Day 2009.
Intro: The Professional Networked Learning Collaborative
Back in 2002 in his book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution Howard Rheingold predicted that, “The ‘killer apps’ of tomorrow’s mobile infocom industry won’t be hardware devices or software program but social practices. The most far reaching changes will come, as they often do, from the kinds of relationships, enterprises, communities, and markets that the infrastructure makes possible.”
The prediction, as we now know, was spot dead on. The technology has transformed our relationships, how we are able to collaborate, how we now define communities, what constitutes a network, and what kinds of work we are able to do.
According to Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman, authors of X-Teams, “…team effectiveness is not just a matter of managing well around the conference table. Success also depends on team’s reaching out across their borders to find needed information and expertise.”
It is this intersection of collaboration and technology that has now allowed us to create and leverage a new form of boundary crossing Professional Learning Community. It’s called a Professional Networked Learning Collaborative.
Definition: Professional Networked Learning Collaborative
“Educators working together in the ongoing purpose of increasing student learning and achievement while sharing physical space, virtual space, or both simultaneously."
No longer is the work of educational teams limited to face-to-face around the table collaboration. No longer is specialization or the knowledge base limited to who is physically sitting in the meeting. No longer is email viewed as the technology of choice for collaboration. No longer are teams limited by geography. No longer should great ideas remain trapped inside particular grade levels, departments, or schools. Technology has allowed us to change all that. Technology has created a new reality.
The Professional Networked Learning Collaborative seeks to leverage the new reality of education.
Individual educators used to operate under this model.
Educators understood the value of collaboration, and so the Professional Learning Community arose.
But technology has changed that world. The 21st Century educator now operates under this model.
Technology Enabled Collaboration
How is that technology has changed collaboration so greatly? First, technology enables different types of relationships. Virtual relationships are now possible and have become commonplace outside of educational settings. Networks of all sorts (Facbebook, Ning, Twitter, etc.) webcams, Skype, etc. have changed the very definition of presence. Second, technology has changed who is part of the team. Team members can now be virtual. Members no longer tied to geographic limitation can provide input, ideas, and collaborate in real-time for any location on the globe. The Professional Networked Learning Collaborative enabled through technology expands the borders of membership to include specialist, consultants, district staff, etc as part of the team.
From Community to Network
The person is the portal to the network. The person is an autonomous communication and collaboration node. Each member can potentially leverage not only their network, but also the network of others who are in their network. This principle is known as Metcalfe’s Law. The number of potential connections between nodes grows more quickly than the number of nodes. The total value of the network where each node can reach every other node in the network grows with the square of the number of nodes. In other words, when PNLC members connect their networks, it creates more value than the sum of networks independently.
The essence of the PNLC is that the “who” of potential members and collaborators is increased exponentially because of individual members networking through collaborative technology platforms, the “what.”
As sociologist Barry Wellman said, “Each person operates his networks to obtain information, collaboration, orders, support, sociability, and a sense of belonging”
So, just at the individual educator has become networked, so too must the Professional Learning Community. And when a PLC becomes networked, it becomes something different. The PLC becomes the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative.
PNLC members will fluidly move between the physical and virtual networks to communicate, collaborate, and share ideas, data, strategies, and information. Each member being a portal or node to their individual network makes the PNLC exponentially stronger, knowledgeable, and wise.
PNLC are able to maximize individual members’ networks to the advantage of the whole.
Networks have now become so much a part of our lives that physical presence is no longer necessary for a member to “present.” Howard Rheingold calls this “presence of those who are absent.” PNLCs can call on a district specialist, consultants, teachers, and staff who are in different physical locations (even different time zones) and who will be able to collaborate, contribute, cooperate, and share just as if they were present physically.
As anthropologist Mizuko Ito puts it, “As long as people participate in the shared communications of the group, they seem to be considered by others to be present.”
Virtual participation = presence = collaboration = results
The community model served the professional learning community well but the time and technology have changed. The collaborative is the new model. The collaborative includes members of the typical community who are physically present with each other, but also includes community partners, useful outsiders, specialists, consultants, professors, etc. who join the network as virtual team members for a time to help the work of the team.
As each PNLC member’s Personal Learning Network overlaps with other team members it becomes much different from the local context of a community. Overlapping Personal Learning Networks form the "collaborative" in the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative. We have moved from face-to-face community of physical space to the technology enabled virtual and physical space collaborative.
Technology allows teams to connect to islands of expertise located in any geographic location. Technology allows teams to archive their learning and share with others. The sum result is that technology allows the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative to “Know What Others Know” (K.W.O.K.). Knowing what others know and sharing what you have learned is what I refer to as Wisdom Stewardship. Technology makes it easy for educators and schools to be good stewards of available wisdom and to know what others know.
Microsoft research sociologist Marc A. Smith put it this way. “Whenever a communication medium lowers the cost of solving collective action dilemmas, it becomes possible for more people to pool resources. And ‘more people pooling resources in new ways’ is the history of civilization in seven words.”
The Professional Networked Learning Collaborative allows educators to solve education problems, increase student achievement, share strategies, and analyze data, etc., with members who are physically present “at the table” and with educators who are virtually present from anywhere on the globe. The PNLC allows teams to leverage not only their knowledge, but also the knowledge of other educators, specialists, consultants, etc., from anywhere else virtually.
For example, if a team was discussing the needs of a student with special needs, they could network in specialists from the district office or the county office, or a specialist/consultant in another state.
Not Just The Same…But Different
The very enterprise of the typical grade level or subject matter team will be different as technology enables networks to allows for new levels of data analysis, planning, lesson design, etc. The reality is that what grade levels or subject matter teams will be able to do compared with what they do right will not just more or better… it will be different.
PNLCs will live by the values of ICE3: Imagination, Innovation, Inquiry, Collaboration, Creativity, Curiosity, Exploration, Experimentation, and Entrepreneurship.
PNLCs will leverage their A.W.A.R.E.N.E.S.S
Why The Need
There are six “key drivers” that I see pushing Professional Learning Communities to evolve into the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative. They are Technology, Wisdom Stewardship, Cultural, Accountability, External Approach, and Continuous Change, Choice, and Disruption. These six “key drivers” are having a major impact on education and make the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative uniquely suited to handle the impact effectively.
1. Technological: convergence of video, voice and data over Internet Protocol (IP) and other collaborative technology platforms.
2. Wisdom Stewardship: exploiting the best expertise, talent, and knowledge regardless of geography.
3. Cultural: the increasing desire for real-time feedback, the expectation of immediacy and the compression of time and space.
4. Accountability: Increasing transparency in complying with expanding federal, state, and local laws in addition to categorical program monitoring requirements, and labor contracts.
5: External Approach: The need for organizations and teams to look outside themselves to expand their network with new members who are sources of learning, creativity, and innovation.
6. Continuous Change, Choice, and Disruption: Increasing rate of development in the number of choices, options, disruptive ideas & technologies, and new paradigms.
So today, and increasingly in the future, it is the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative that will allow schools to best handle these drivers of change. The Professional Networked Learning Collaborative embraces and seeks to leverage the technological changes because in so doing, they are better able to utilize the resources of time and talent because they have accepted the cultural shift toward immediacy of real-time interaction, and therefore is better able to handle the increasing compliance issues facing education. With both and internal focus and external approach members are better able to handle, and in fact embrace, the continuous change, new disruptions, and increases in choices and options.
The Technology Advantage
The advantage to the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative is the ability to leverage “Converged Networking”, the ability to carry data, voice, and video over a single network, which changes how, where, and with whom Professional Networked Learning Collaboratives can collaborate.
The convergence combined with broadband to school sites, district offices, and wireless devices will create an environment in which PNLCs communicate and collaborate regardless of geography.
Converged networking will allow Professional Networked Learning Collaborative to easily share data, communicate, and collaborate with people in different classrooms, at different schools, with experts at the district office, or with consultants from across the globe.
Location independent, or location non-dependent collaboration will not only be possible, but in many cases might allow PNLCs to have greater access to a wider range expertise more frequently. Imagine PNLCs meeting with teachers at other schools to share instructional strategies, or with district personnel to discuss data or potential special education issues, or even with consultants via various collaborative technology platforms.
PNLCs will be able to leverage talent, expertise, and knowledge independent of geographic restrictions.
The tools of the trade for the PNLC are many. Evan Rosen has complied an excellent list of tools complete with descriptions in his book The Culture of Collaboration. Find the list here.
Tools of The Trade: Technologies of the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative
As communication and collaboration technologies become more pervasive, they will fade into the background and PNLCs will focus on the work. Just as we don’t “see” or think about the electricity that is powering the lights in our classrooms and offices, powering our copy machines, etc. the computers that we run our communication and collaboration platforms on will disappear into the background and we will be free to focus on “what” and not the “how” of these technologies.
The widespread availability and acceptance of those tools Professional Learning Communities will move from “community” to “network” and “collaborative”, creating the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative. Schools, teachers, and students will be the better for it.
So the question is, are you ready to lead it?