“Oh, it must be wonderful to be educated. What does it feel like?”

“It’s like having an operation,”  said Treece. “You don’t know you’ve had it until long after it’s over”

(Eating People is Wrong – Malcom Bradbury)

Isn’t that true? Aren’t the best learning experiences the ones which you have time to absorb, reflect upon, digest? Perhaps the ones which click into place a year later, ten years later? What worries me is that we no longer have time to reflect. If an afternoon with a good book is a long look in a full-length mirror, is the internet a glimpse caught in a shop window on a pell-mell dash through a shopping mall? Maybe I strangled that metaphor…..

But it seems to be something of a ‘meme’ in the twitterverse / blogosphere at the moment. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but noticed others pop up with the same message over the last week or two. Maybe a lot of people are reaching the same point at the same time. There’s a very nice little graphic (and post) from Jeff Utecht which shows the stages of Personal Learning Network adoption.

Cresting that wave now, I think.

Alex Case asked me a couple of questions in his recent interview which I think are pertinent. The first was (a tongue in cheek) query as to whether I wanted to become the next Scott Thornbury. Well, the reason someone like Scott Thornbury becomes an ELT superstar (stop sniggering at the back) is through quality work over many years. His online presence is another outlet for that. Alex then asked “Do you think it is still worth getting published on paper?” The phrasing itself gives away his feeling, perhaps. But I absolutely think it is… and I worry that the amount of time I spend online is detracting from “real” research, “real” reading and “real” writing.

Bear in mind that I am blogging this, and I will tweet my new blog post, and I understand the irony in that. I have commented on several other blogs today, and got a great deal out of reading them. But I’ll just finish with this second quote from a book I am reading and enjoying at the moment…

“Well, that’s the lot of people like us. We abstract ourselves from the sphere of national effectiveness. We’re too busy taking notes to do anything… and the fault lies precisely in the things we value most”

So, are we all wasting our time? Deposit kickings in the comments box below and regular, classroom based discussion will resume soon.

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26 Thoughts on “death by PLN – does the internet matter?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention the lives of teachers » Blog Archive » death by PLN – does the internet matter? -- Topsy.com

  2. I sometimes feel that having a PLN is like being a snail. In a good way.

  3. I think you have a point about feeling that things are going quicker. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, especially since reading a now famous article called Is Google Making us Stupid by Nicolas Carr. Here is an excerpt:

    “I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” (the whole article is at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google )

    Now this was roundly criticized by others who countered that this is making us smarter, not more stupid. But I do feel the same way sometimes, that I am not according enough time to something, not enough depth.
    Enough from me. Last point – I love that graph, and also feel that I am around the crest of the wave now too.

  4. Thanks Darren for this post.

    The ability to slow down and allow some time for reflections is not that common these days and I really appreciate it.

    I’m between the green and the yellow arrows on the graph. I’ve just started reading a book about the power of color in visual storytelling after spending months reading serious book about ELT. I still have a feeling I know very little about teaching but I’m tired of feeling guilty about it.
    What I find particularly interesting is how much time it takes an individual to reach stage 5.

    It’s also become hard for me to concentrate on a longer piece of text. That’s scary.

  5. Good call! Couldn’t agree more. In fact, the title of this post sums up nicely what goes through my head 90% of the times i log onto twitter. Oh, but the other 10%…so I guess I went directly from stage 1 to stage 4 then!

    As for the internet messing up your reading skills, this christmas i was happy to find that i could still devour a 500 page book(with really small print, mind you!)(What a carve-up! by Johnathan Coe) in just three sittings. Nothing miraculous, but still reassuring.

  6. Hi Darren,
    The graph is indeed excellent, though I’d add a few more bumps and loops to the roller coaster. When free online tools for teachers were just launching us into this new age of connectivity, I would sort of burst into activity periodically, first with Moodle, then on to Audacity, Blogger, WordPress etc. And each time there would be a new network of people to connect with. This was before Twitter, so separate groups were hanging out on distinct forums and going through their loop together, in the same car so to speak. But now on Twitter, we’re all on this ride together, going through many different loops. Sometimes it’s just too chaotic. That’s why I podcasted that I’m reducing my time online.

    Hi Lindsay, I found Nicholas Carr’s article excellent, too. I was quite struck by Gary Small’s research. He’s a neuroscientist at UCLA who has found that Internet searching and text messaging makes the brain more adept at filtering information and making decisions. Only: should we all be making decisions more quickly, is that what thinking is all about?

  7. I think it would be dangerous to think that anything on my blog gives my real feelings away (when I even know what they are) let alone my interview questions, although if not even a fellow TEFL otaku like yourself has noticed that I have regular reviews and now regular articles in MET maybe we should reexamine the question…

    I’ve been pondering on the same questions, and my late New Year’s Resolution will be to read one proper online article for each TEFL blog post. Don’t find myself unable to read books- although I do skip more, that is definitely an improvement as most TEFL books are very skipworthy. If they can’t keep our attention, I blame them! Not a problem Rose M Senior, Tony Lynch, Michael Lewis and others who actually know how to write have

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  9. This article and graph could not be more timely for me. I have been thinking of the same thing for weeks and have been contemplating writing about it myself, but ironically couldn’t seem to find the time. It is easy to get caught up in the pace of things. Lately I have accumulated so many tools that I haven’t had time to work with any of them.

  10. Thoughtful post, Darren. And it chimed with something I read just last night (old-ish article now but I’m still catching up with the seasonal backlog): The Trouble with Twitter:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/29/trouble-twitter-social-networking-banality

    I liked this bit: “Thankfully, there are now the first stirrings of a backlash against the cult of social media. In his forthcoming book, You Are Not a Gadget, the American computer scientist and pioneer of virtual reality Jaron Lanier will defend authorship and individual creativity against the deafening banality of the online crowd.”

  11. Emma Herrod on January 21, 2010 at 2:05 am said:

    Hi Darren, and thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    I’ve come across the idea of the all-encompassing social networks before, where people feel the only ‘way out’ is to leave and get thing back into perspective. Perhaps a very healthy and necessary time away if one feels it had all become too much.

    However, in my personal opinion/experience, this over-simplistic graph only reflects any one particular type of social networker: The one that comes in in a state of immersion. The graph is the moveable object here IMHO. If you don’t fit on the graph, it doesn’t matter. Would it be unfair to think that many people actually enter the ‘verse very enthusiastically and find their own groove after a while’? A ‘Perspective’ break does not necessarily have to be part of the path.

    How much more helpful might it be to arrive at the gates of Twitter and have a few pointers. If I were left to write them (the gods help you all :)) they might go something like this:

    1. There is TOO MUCH information in the world, on the web, in blogs, in Twitter for you EVER to be able digest all of it. “Period” as our American friends say. Perhaps when we accept this, we don’t need to beat ourselves with sticks at not having got through everything.

    2. It’s not life or death. Following on from 1. So you missed something, you haven’t logged on today. Never mind.

    3. It’s harsh, but perhaps true: You didn’t log on today? Actually nobody missed you :( This isn’t nice to hear but once we accept that it isn’t personal and the nature of the mass beast, it’s fine. I’m fine with it (sob sob).

    4. Don’t Tweet/Blog what you THINK people want to hear. Post what YOU like, about YOU, what interests YOU. Your personality will come out and people will (hopefully – unless you’re a crazy, loopy person) like you just for who you are and your own style, take and opinions you bring to the group.

    5. Don’t be afraid to get involved. Ask questions and sap off those who are more knowledgeable about something that you might be.

    6. Switch it off. I have to or I would never get anything done. It’s simple, but it works. Stops that bloody bleeping anyway which tells me there is something more interesting I could be reading. If I switch it off, I’m none the wiser:)

    The graph is not a fait de complet. We are all human beings. Forgetful, venerable, with only 24hrs in the day. Don’t be too hard on yourselves. I don’t profess to be an expert here by any stretch of the imagination, but these are just the thoughts that have worked for me. I just worry if I try to force myself onto a graph, I’m a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Thanks again, all the best.

    Emma

  12. Good post, Darren, and I’m sure everyone here has experienced the sensations of “am I missing out on something?” and/or “this is starting to take up too much of my life!” Twitter can become addictive in the early stages, and it can pull you away from more sustained and reflective reading – not to mention actual work you need to get done.

    I treat Twitter now as a regular but quick ‘dip’ and the mood varies a little with each dip. Sometimes I go in to find stuff to read around the blogosphere. Other times I go in to socialize. Other times I pop in to notify people what I am up to or producing elsewhere on the Internet.

    I have to admit it’s much more heartening when you get to the stage where you can pop into Twitter for a couple of minutes after a 3-4 day absence, and not feel like you’re out of the loop. Despite some drawbacks, I have to admit that Twitter and the PLN have expanded my teaching and learning universe immensely. Part of handling that expanded universe is the realisation it is too big to cover in detail, and it is an interesting addition to – rather than a substitute for – other ways of educating oneself and reflecting.

  13. Thanks all! Now I’m going to have to waste more time answering your comments ; P

    Patrick – Precisely (I think)

    Lindsay – A fascinating article, thank you! I’m surprised that Marc Prensky wasn’t mentioned. You are all probably familiar with his digital native / digital immigrant theory (although the generational demarcation is, I feel, a little simplistic). He believes that the young, brought up on MTV and video games, are operating at “twitch speed”, and I have to concur that the internet is not the sole cause but part of an onward trend. When I was a kid we had three channels and no remote control. We put the needle on the record, listened to one side and turned it over. We took four minutes to load a computer game from a cassette!

    Anita – The problem with knowledge is that there is so much of it. Guilt is a very unhealthy emotion… I always say, “fix it or forget it”. I also wonder how long it takes to get to each stage. I think twitter is an accelerant, because I’ve only been on it for about four months.

    Nicky – I LOVE that book, especially as a child of Thatcherism. It’s interesting you should mention it because I have no problems concentrating on fiction, hence the two Bradbury quotes in this post. I try to get a couple of chapters read in the bath every evening to wind down.

    Anne – your post / podcast was great, and actually a tweet of yours before it was an indication that you were feeling that way. Maybe it’s the new year that has got us all thinking…

    Pt II to follow….

  14. Alex – I try my best to keep up with your work ; P
    Now you mention it I have seen you in MET a few times recently, but as well as being an ELT otaku I have to stay on track as a ramen otaku….
    You are quite right about the quality of ELT writing though. There are some great thinkers, some great researchers, and some great writers, but it’s not always the case that all three traits are combined in one person. I used to feel stupid when I couldn’t ‘get’ something, but now I realise that some people are just lousy at putting things on paper in a digestible form.

    Christopher – Totally. there are only 14 weeks in a semester, so how many tricks and tools do I realistically need? It’s very easy to gather, but to assess tools and adapt them for educational use takes time and effort (and let’s be honest, students may well be just as happy playing a card game).

    Scott – I noticed that Lanier book and it certainly seems like one worth reading, although rather mind-bending. There is another interview / review with him and a pdf extract from his book here . I love the expression “kill the hive”.

    Emma – Brilliant response – in constrast to my woolly meandering around the topic you hit us with some actual advice : D
    You are quite right to point out that a graph is just a graph, and we mustn’t force ourselves into it. ‘Where you are at’ can change from day to day.

    Jason – I think my watershed came over the new year break when I was at home with the family more, which was followed by a heavy marking load. I didn’t tweet for a couple of days and as Emma said, no one cried about it, and I felt fine.

  15. Emma Herrod on January 21, 2010 at 6:12 pm said:

    Darren, re your “woolly meandering”…no, not at all. You just got something ‘out there’ that was bothering you. The beauty of blogging I think, we don’t have to have all the answers but just saying how you feel about something is just as justified. If it makes your readers think, it’s all valid :) And it’s made me think for sure…time for another coffee.

    Emma

  16. A colleague of mine who spent several years working in Saudi once told me that everybody there had their own PLN – Personal Liquor Network. Just one phone call or text message in the right direction could summon sufficient quantities of amber nectar to last a whole weekend!

    BTW, what do you think of CCR – Creedence Clearwater Revival – Darren? I think you should do an article covering these important Tefl pioneers, I do.

  17. Definitely with you on this one. A timely piece. Work has been drowning me lately and I feel slightly guilty that I can’t get onto all the social media I did before. Feels like I’m missing something. At the same time, it’s been good. A breath of air and a slowing down of the pace. I’ve gained some much from the social media, but it’s time to integrate it more naturally into my professional life.

  18. Hugh Graham-Marr on January 22, 2010 at 8:27 pm said:

    There’s a quote I remember reading maybe five, six, seven (??) years ago. Believe by the then head of the Library of Congress and this probably a paraphrase… but something along the lines of “Notice that we call this the information age, NOT the knowledge age.”

  19. Ha, ha.. I enjoyed that Hugh Graham-Marr quote… and as promised I made it back to your post because I am interested in the knowledge inherent in all the information moving around the blogosphere and understand that reflection is necessary to achieve that.

    I think, who knows really tho’, that I’m at the “how can I put all this in balance” stage and since going home to Grenada and resting on the beach during the day and doing my blogging duties in the evening – (a wonderful balance) – I have been actively seeking out ways to make social-networking ‘work’ work for me without exciting the feelings of guilt prior to Christmas that I wasn’t doing enough (I had a huge amount of commitments in the run up to the holidays) but I’m simply not going to be around as much as before.

    Part of my solution to Quality of Life balance issue was working out a schedule (god, I sound anal, but seriously I now have a daily chunk of time dedicated to the various sites and functions) and chiefly am mostly interested in looking out for ways to collaborate with other edu-bloggers -

    Anyway, the most important thing I did was to set up and feed in the key blogs I enjoy in ELT (50+ of them) into my Google Reader. Once or twice a day, whenever I hit my iGoogle page I can see if someone has written something new and can quickly scan the article.

    If it’s interesting (like this one) I star it so that I can read it properly later on.

    In some cases, with some of the articles, I’ve even read through them twice (one article I’ve read through 3 times – by Jeremy Day) but then at my leisure on a Sunday evening… (time most people would be turning on the box, I reckon) I can scroll through all these starred items and travel over to chat!

    OR perhaps simply just waffle…

    Enjoyed your post,
    :-)
    Karenne

  20. Quite right Hugh.

    Karenne – If only we didn’t have the distraction of teaching, this social networking lark would be a boon! ;D

    I read an entire novel yesterday, nothing to do with ELT, 450 pages, pretty much at one go, so it is possible to devote my attention to one thing for a sustained period. I also took the kids to the park and finished the day with a beer in the bath, and I’m sure that was better for me than four hours on the web clicking and skimming.

    Better organisation and self-confidence for 2010!

  21. A very interesting article. I find that my interests have a recursive trajectory rather than a linear one, with waves of immersion and abstraction. Anyway, can I just thank you for adding The Thinking Stick to my PLN.

  22. darren on January 25, 2010 at 5:37 pm said:

    Sputnik – the linear trajectory is very unusual, I think. It puts me in mind of the different teacher development models out there, and how often ‘expertise’ is not a permanent state but one which ebbs and flows. I really MUST write the post about the book this blog is named after…..

  23. Yes, I don’t want to hassle you, but that post is long overdue.

  24. Hi Darren

    This is a great post on a subject which has been bugging me for a while. It’s refreshing to read that a lot of people are feeling the same way. Ie how to promote a healthy work-life-PLN balance with all the 24/7 social networking that goes on around us.

    I actually haven’t done much online the past day or so simply because I have been a bit engrossed with other things (new chicks and the garden) and yet I feel strangely guilty that I may have neglected my PLN in some way. I do feel that there is so much to learn, but it is impossible to keep up all the time, because new things keep happening on a very rapid basis!! That’s the scary bit. I guess we just have to seek the right way. I like the graph, though, and I think I may be at stage 3 at the moment.

    Thank you for commenting on my blog post. I’ll be replying there straight after here!!

  25. Thanks Janet… but your latest post shows the other side of the PLN – when you are in a bind, or you need some help, or you have a question, the PLN are a fantastic resource.

  26. Hi Darren

    Of course it goes without saying that my PLN is a very essential part of my life at the moment and hopefully, will be for a considerable amount of time. It’s what makes me actually “tick” so to speak. I can’t visualise what it would be like without it!

    Having a fantastic PLN around me has changed the direction of my life and I owe a lot to everyone within it who has encouraged me along the way and who has offered up so much support whenever I have needed advice. In fact, I wouldn’t have the confidence to comment here, if I hadn’t taken the first tentative steps of opening my life up to the wider world just 14 months ago.

    The title of your posting is indeed meant to be provocative, and it has engendered a great response as it is such an emotive subject for many people. I’m not sure if anybody knows where this whole period of amazing social networking is really heading for. It’s exciting to be part of a growing social phenomenum. “Moderation in all things” has always served me very well, and as long as each individual is able to find “the right way” and is happy, then that’s what really counts.

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