Who owns a PLN?

Failed at the first hurdle!
In my last post I said I was going to commit to a more regular contribution in this space. A combination of being time poor and an increasing reluctance to bother has meant that hasn’t happened. So it was a truly epic case of Eduheartburn that has made me get off my arse and put fingers to keyboard.

It’s no secret (if you follow me on Twitter) that I’m becoming increasingly grumpy online, and with EduTwitter in particular. I’ll go into that later, but I have to make an qualifying observation first.

I spread my Twitter wings far and wide – my source feeds are drawn from a lot of diverse places, futurists, authors, artist, designers, educators, politicians, sportspeople, comedians, celebrities and other interesting humans. I’m sure I’m not the only one that does that, but as a result I get to engage in a hobby of mine that, while I may not be particularly expert at, I enjoy nonetheless – pattern recognition. Every stream in my Twitter world has is own currents and nuances, developed through the contributions it’s authors make and the real world experiences that trigger their output.  Some are predictable, others are completely serendipitous, making me laugh out loud or swear out loud in wonder. And, increasingly so, EduTwitter is becoming has become predictable in it’s patterns and not so subtle nuances. And that makes me sad, and prompted me to think “Who owns a PLN?”

To avoid any hint of mansplaining, I’ll assume you all know what a PLN is. My first encounter with the term was when I first jumped on Twitter as @jonesytheteachr  (I’ll tell the story of my Twitter reassignment some other time) and was swept up in the excitement of being connected online to like minded PE teachers, and educators generally, across the world. PLN meant Professional Learning Network, and then Personal Learning Network (which seemed much more like what it was supposed to be) and through Twitter I was connected to some amazing people. In fact when I first met some of them IRL it was like I’d known them for ever, so rich was our online introduction. It was exciting times – amongst other things, the DER was kicking off and Edulife was humming with the buzz of my PLN trying things and sharing their stories. Notice I said “my PLN” – everyone owned their own PLN – sure there were leaders, but no-one was THE leader  – it was a wild, at times anarchic collective of early adopters trying to make a disruptive difference.

WARNING: Personal and anecdotal observations follow….

But (and there’s always a But) things have changed for me. Maybe its the increasingly business oriented approach to education worldwide, maybe its me being a Gen X’er and not getting it. EduTwitter is becoming has become a tawdry place where a struggle for ownership of what should be unownable has become more persistent. Things that I’d never heard before like “Stealth Marketing” are becoming the norm in my 21st Century PLN. Calling it out gets you shouted down and unfollowed. Many previously free ideas are now hidden behind sign ups and unwanted memberships, resulting in sharing becoming conditional in some places. The basis of my early experiences with a PLN were very much revolving around social trust but sadly, for me, a lot of that trust is evaporating. It’s important to cast a sceptical eye over online content, granted, but it’s disheartening to think that some, once unconditionally trustworthy colleagues in my PLN now have be regarded with a weather eye before engaging.

I have particular contempt (and no, I don’t think it’s too strong a word) for ex-school educators that cash in their PLN social capital to exploit teacher feelings of inadequacy. “Innovation” and “change making” are the cash cows in this time of “relevancy”, accountability and mandatory accreditation. All done, seemingly, mainly in order to raise their own profile and sell their product. I find their jostling to own the unownable (online social networks, PLNs and the higher ground of EduTwitter relevancy and fame) to be something I want no part of. (Note: If you’re worried that I’m talking about you, drop me a line and I’ll confirm or deny)

So where does that put me? As I’ve tweeted both recently and regularly, I’d rather go offline and have a beer with a colleague, chew the fat and learn there. As I read recently, the migration away from online collaboration for people further along the adopter pathway seems to be a “thing”, and I’m actively considering and engaging my offline options.  I attended a TeachMeet recently and became inspired again at the “think global, act local” nature of it. I’ve been a bit of a critic of TeachMeets (another PLN ownership opportunity for others, as I saw it), but as a future venue for my professional growth I’m prepared to give it a second chance.

So, who owns a PLN? The individuals who share unconditionally have my vote. Anyone who says they’re the leader in a #Educhat needs a good slap. IMHO



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