Preparing K-12 Teachers for Blended and Online Learning: The Role of PLNs in Preservice Learning and Professional Development

Preparing K-12 Teachers for Blended and Online Learning: The Role of PLNs in Preservice Learning and Professional Development

Vanessa P. Dennen, Yujin Park
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7760-8.ch002
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Personal learning networks (PLNs) are a form of informal professional development in which teachers build and maintain connections to other educators and learning professionals and the resources that will meet their personal continuing education needs. Although PLNs can incorporate face-to-face connections, they typically make heavy use of social networking tools for finding and sharing information and educational innovations. In this chapter, the authors discuss how PLNs have been developed and used by preservice and inservice teachers, discussing the similarities and differences between the two groups along with the progression of PLN development from preservice to inservice teacher experiences. Next the authors discuss the role that PLNs play in helping teachers develop their blended and virtual learning knowledge and skills, along with ideas for how teacher-educators and administrators can provide support for this endeavor.
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Ashley, a high school history teacher who has been in the profession for five years, has been told that during the upcoming school year she will need to teach classes using a concurrent model of instruction. In other words, half of her students will be sitting at desks in her classroom, and the other half will be at remote locations, joining the classroom via a computer conferencing tool. Ashley’s school offered a few workshops for teachers, mostly focused on learning how to use the school-supported learning management system and conferencing tool and school policies related to using the tools and student privacy. Still, Ashley was not convinced that these workshops would prepare her for the assigned teaching task. At this point, she was fairly experienced teaching history at the assigned grade levels. She had decorated her classroom, developed lesson plans and assignments that she enjoyed using, and had learned how to facilitate a lively class discussion. However, this year everything is going to be different. In some ways, she feels like she is a first year teacher all over again, entering a new teaching situation and starting from scratch. She is not sure what types of learning activities will best meet her students' needs and fit with her learning content. She lacks confidence about her ability to engage students in person and online simultaneously. She would love to connect with other teachers who have done this successfully, probably as much for reassurance that it will work as for the exchange of teaching advice and tips.

Blended and online learning are new concepts for many teachers, just like Ashley in the example above. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, it was unlikely that preservice teachers would experience online learning within their teacher preparation programs or be prepared to teach in an online or blended setting. Inservice teachers, with initial teaching degrees completed via campus-based programs prior to 2020, may have experienced blended or online learning as part of a professional development course or an advanced degree. However, it is unlikely that the curricular content of their experiences would have included blended or online learning pedagogies and technologies.

In the absence of formal learning experiences focused on the development of blended and virtual teaching skills, teachers might look toward their personal learning networks (PLNs) as a source of information and support. The COVID-19 pandemic, which coincided with the writing of this chapter, provides the perfect backdrop for considering how K-12 teachers might make use of a personal learning network to prepare themselves to teach students via blended and online learning modalities. With schools worldwide making a swift shift to remote learning approaches in order to keep students and teachers safe, teachers needed to quickly learn new ways of teaching. There was no time for teachers to enroll in university programs or take courses to learn how to design and teach online courses, and in many cases, those courses did not exist anyway. Instead, teachers needed to rely on the resources made available to them via their schools, their school district, their professional organizations, and the Internet.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Connectivism: A theory of learning via social networks driven by individual connections, motivations, and experiences.

Informal Learning: Learning that occurs outside of formal and non-formal learning settings, and is often self-directed or incidental.

Network: The collection of connections that an individual has made with other people, creating a system through which communication and information may flow.

Personal Learning Environment (PLE): The technology-based environment through which an individual may engage in learning.

Networked Knowledge Activity: An activity that occurs in a networked environment and supports some type of knowledge communication, creation, or management.

Professional Development: Learning focused on helping one keep current within their profession and maintain professional credentials.

Personal Learning Network (PLN): The networked system of interlinked people, spaces, and tools that an individual forms uses to support informal learning. A PLN is unique to each person.

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