Firming up my PLN definition and the shifting institutional sands

Another Place by hehaden
Another Place, a photo by hehaden on Flickr.

With week 3 twitter #xplrpln chat looming I think it is time for me to pull a personal definition of PLN together. Here goes it:

PLN is a dynamic and open network of relationships of varied strength and reciprocity which I actively chose to inspire me, learn from, and share my knowledge with around topics and projects I am profersonallyTM interested in. It stretches across institutional, national and online-offline divides, but its reach and richness is particularly well supported by online social media tools.

Now for the organisational context.

I have lived most of my professional life in Higher Education, most recently supporting students and staff in online distance Masters programme. So this would be a natural point for me to start thinking about PLN “implementation” (I know I share this interest with some other participants so maybe I could contribute to the collaborative ‘artifact’:).

Immediately I wonder which group of people should be involved. Are we talking about the tutors, or academic authors, or the admin? They would most certainly all benefit from learning about online learning and teaching and expanding their digital literacies – and the PLN-way may be the best and most sustainable way to do it. But do they all have the same needs? What about students? Should we not impart the PLN wisdom on them? Is it appropriate in the context of the course subject matter? Would it have impact on how we design or redesign the courses? Does the openness and connectivism of the PLN approach clash with the team’s teaching philosophy?

Then there is the question of scale – would it even work if we restrict ourselves to the programme team? Or should I think at the scale of all of the online distance programme staff, or all teaching staff? Or just – all staff?

I have also been interested in how PLN concept can be applied within scientific research environments in academia. This encompasses the research academics as well as PhD students. Related – but not quite the same as PLNs in teaching. Different structural problems, risks and benefits. But since research has greater power within HE institutions, maybe seeding the PLN ideas there would trickle through to the teaching side?

Phew – already the institution seems like quite a complex beast, where it would be very difficult to apply one PLN “solution” even if we managed to agree on a single definition!

And then I am tempted to venture outside the institutional boundaries (the temptation I seem to share with Helen Crump who spoke of work as a service in her blog for the week) – which in any case are becoming increasingly porous. From the student’s perspective, there is certainly much talk of “unbundling” of higher education – moving from an LP (a degree) to a remixable and personalisable mp3 (a course or a seminar) paradigm as has happened in the music industry (although I think much of this is really just ed-tech hype). From the staff perspective, the trend is abundantly clear towards casualisation of the workforce – at least on the teaching side. I have been one of those permanently short-term contract employees myself. In this context what does organisation even mean I ask with Hellen, and what is its interplay with our PLNs? Does the organisational citizenship (PDF) concept, mentioned by Kimberley Scott in the live session this week, even apply? What are the benefits and drawbacks of plugging in the ‘external’ impermanent contractor PLNs into the institutional hierarchies for both parties?

Now off to put my hand up for the HE group on Google+…it’s always more fun doing things together!


2 thoughts on “Firming up my PLN definition and the shifting institutional sands”

  1. Hello Kay
    Thanks for posting this, and thanks for the pingback. I haven’t been able to get back to #xplrpln since I wrote that blog post last week, and I haven’t caught up with the live session either, but your mention of ‘organizational citizenship’ and plugging external PLNs into existing orgs has really piqued my interest. I recall seeing Joyce Setzinger (@catzpyjamas) use the analogy of docking a starship at a space station, I wonder if she was making a similar point. Definitely interested to think about this some more. Thanks, for keeping me posted, I seem to think that I read your blog a week or so back and you helped inform me what had been discussed in the live session (because I just don’t seem to get round to watching them myself); it was extremely useful.
    It will be interesting to see how we all think about the “PLN problem” that has been posed in this seminar. I am very much on the fence at this stage.

  2. So glad you had the chance to drop into this seminar. It’s been great fun reading your work and following the threads of thought. Let me just comment that I really like your definition — the “varied strength and reciprocity” and “actively choose” bits resonate a lot with me. And you capture well the role of social media, too (the reach and richness part is so true).

    And yes – ditto all you say about the institutional issues. Your question about organizational citizenship and pointers to Helen’s work is a fascinating area for me as well. I have no idea where this leads me, other than thinking about identify. I know we sometimes identify more closely with our profession than our institution (e.g., Am I a “software engineer?” or an “IBMer?”). Harold Jarche gets at this directly – just bluntly telling people that at some point, they will be out of a job with whatever institution they are working for. So where DO we spend our citizenship currency – to our profersional network?

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