Autonomous personal learning networks for language teachers (aPLaNet) is a two year EU project funded by the Life Long Learning Programme designed to encourage language teachers who don't normally use social media in their professional life to see the value of nurturing a personal learning network (PLN) and the benefits of doing so for their own classroom practice.
The core idea for the project came from a Skype conversation between Joel Josephson from the University of West Scotland and e-learning consultant Shelly Terrell following the 2009 Virtual Round Table conference where Shelly showed Joel how to maximise his use of Twitter to connect with like-minded educators from around the world. Inspired by the effectiveness of this form of online mentoring, Joel decided to put together a bid to the Life Long Learning Programme along with seven partner institutions from across Europe and was fortunate enough to receive around 280,000 euros!
Here are two short recordings taken from the Virtual Round Table webinar referred to below where Joel introduces the project and talks about the value of having a PLN.
With the funding in place, each team was assigned different responsibilities or work packages and began creating resources to support their different roles. Calls for associate partners were made in January 2010, and a year later the aPLaNet project website officially launched, followed by a Facebook page, Twitter account and Ning shortly afterwards. Using social media to build a community of like-minded educators around the project has resulted in over 140 institutions (associate partners) from 33 countries getting involved already!
It seems the aPLaNet team are using these drivers in the following way:
- Facebook - a directory of related news, events and blog posts
- Ning – a place to meet make connections, join sub-groups and access downloadable resources
- Twitter – a vehicle for sharing conversations and crowd-sourcing information from the community.
There is a Google+ site too and this duplicates some of the Facebook content.
Colleagues from the seven partner institutions have met up face to face three times so far in Barcelona, Athens and Brno and each time they have fedback progress to the associate partners via video-conference. To access these webinars, click on the following links. Please note you will need to sign up for a Wiziq account.
In March 2011, the aPLaNet team comprising Shelly Terrell, Ann Forman, Joel Josephson, Marisa Constantinides, Graham Stanley and Cornelia Kreis-Meyer (Moderator) took part in an online panel discussion during Heike Philp‘s Virtual Round Table Conference and gave associate partners and other interested parties the opportunity to find out more about the project.
The mentoring pilot begins January 2012 and resources will be available in Bulgarian, Czech, Greek, Spanish, English, Romanian, Turkish, German, French and Italian.
Joel describes a PLN as being:
"like a language teachers staff room and a supportive educational authority in one. It is a global community of language educators, just like you, that have come together to support and help each other improve and update their language teaching by using and sharing the resources that are constantly being developed on the Internet." (Joel Josephson 2010 - taken from the Associate Partner form from Graham Stanley’s post)
In the article, Social Networking - How it is shaping my professional development, Marisa Constantinides is equally enthusiastic about the value of a personal learning network:
"I am now involved in many exciting new collaborative projects, simply by being part of this global conversation. For example, by engaging with my peers on Twitter, it has become possible for me to work on aPLaNet, a major EU funded project which aims to help teachers in their autonomous professional development through the use of such social networks as Facebook, Twitter and Nings." (Marisa Constantinides Autumn 2011)
Anne Foreman, another of the official partners described PLNs as "Do-IT-Yourself Professional Development" in her presentation REAL TICE | Making sense of chaos | Madrid which I love! I also liked the text chat comment from RaquelEFL in the Virtual Round Table session where she quoted Alexander Graham Bell and described the following as a PLN Mantra!
"Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds."
In conclusion, I encourage you to listen to this 50 minute podcast interview I recorded over Skype with Graham Stanley from the British Council in Barcelona (No 2 in the picture above!) as it gives a comprehensive overview of the aPLaNet project and fills in any gaps I may have missed in this post!
- introducing the aPLaNet project and explaining what the acronym stands for
- explaining the reasons for launching the project as a way of bridging the gap between those language teachers who use social media and those who don't
- promoting the concept of using a PLN and particularly Twitter as a professional development tool and showing the benefits of doing so
- piloting a mentoring and self-access approach
- explaining what is a personal learning network, the origin of the concept and the value of having a PLN
- maintaining contacts and support through a PLN instead of being tied to a PLE, VLE via an institution
- ways in which PLNs can help professional development
- the target audience for aPLaNet - language teachers who are experienced and inexperiend users of social media
- the challenge of finding mentees
- involving colleagues through face to face workshops as well as online mentoring
- becoming a mentor or mentee by joining the aPLaNet Ning and going on to the next step
- explaining the self-access option and carrying out a webquest
- translating the resources into a variety of languages and encouraging MFL teachers as well English teachers to get involved
- making the Ning the hub of the project
- where the idea for the aPLaNet project came from
- bringing together seven partner institutions for the eu bid
- asking for associate partners in January 2010 and seeing a great reponse
- the benefits of the partner institutions meeting up face to face and agreeing on the first steps
- preparing for the life of aPLaNet after the end of the project in order to make it sustainable for years to come
- explaining the resources in more detail: (Mentor and Mentee support guides, feedback questionnaires, teacher diary template which can be completed online or on paper, 150 page teacher reference guide, series of online workshops which will be recorded, webquests, video tutorials)
- explaining the differences between the mentor and mentee questionnaire and the importance of collecting data about the use of social media by language teachers to update resources and improve the effectiveness of the project
- explaining what are the markers of success?
- creating a cycle of mentees who become autonomous mentors themselves
- presenting the results of the project at an aPLaNet themed conference in Istanbul in September 2012 and feeding back on what has been achieved
- following the progress of the project and involving associate partners via webinars to maintain interest
- the importance of creating a community spirit around the project and drawing on members' PLNs
- sharing Twitter lists of UK language teachers and world language teachers in the first mentoring workshop webinar
- creating a report on the use of social networks amongst language teachers based on the feedback from the July 2011 survey which fed into the section on social networking in the teacher guide
- crowdsourcing colleagues for recommend resources and links before creating the mentor guide and seeing a great response
- drawing upon the "generosity and volunteer spirit of all of these wonderful language teachers all over the world"
- clarifying that during the life of the project, mentees are expected to be from the European Union due to the nature of the funding, but mentors can be from anywhere in the world
- rewarding mentors with different blog badges (bronze, silver, gold and platinum) which denote the number of mentees each mentor is supporting
- giving a t-shirt prize to the first mentor who mentors eleven mentees and achieves platinumn status!
- presenting aPLaNet at the Virtual Round Table conference 2011 and trying to connect with as many language teachers as possible and keep their interest
- explaining how the Language Resource Filter is designed to work as a way of crowdsourcing useful language specific resources and making them available on the Ning
- finishing off with some thoughts on quotes from Joel and Marisa about the value of PLNs
- seeing a PLN as a virtual staffroom full of connected, helpful and sharing language teachers
- giving a heads up to the MFL Twitterati!
- find a world of opportunities arising by simply posting on Twitter
- getting involved in the iTILT project about helping language teachers make the most of interactive whiteboards
- being asked to speak at a conference through Facebook
- using Twitter can open up a whole new world to language teachers and broaden their horizons exponentially - they can find answers to pressing questions 24/7, help another colleague in return, gauge opinion and discover a neverending stream of useful information from their online community
- concluding remarks
I hope you've enjoyed learning about the aPLaNet project and hearing testimonies of others on the value of personal learning networks.
Here are a couple of presentations which may just do the trick if you're not convinced already!
I encourage you to get involved with the aPLaNet project. It could be a wonderful opportunity for you. Developments in the new year are sure to be out of this world! Follow that pilot!
If you can't wait until then though, check out this Scoop.it! magazine I've curated which focuses on PLNs and Twitter as professional development tools. Enjoy!