Tag Archives: Social media

Social work scholars and personal learning networks


I recently decided not to apply for a certain academic position because of a policy banning the use of laptops in the classroom. Although I recognize that laptops in class can be problematic, I believe the answer is to move forward, not backwards. I don’t think I could work in an environment that is not open to discovering how new technologies can enhance the educational experience instead of hindering it.

The above video follows directly from my previous post, Nobody ever told me that I’m responsible for my own learning! It introduces the notion of the personal learning network (PLN) as applied to students.

What’s a PLN? I want to begin by talking about PLNs for social work scholars. To state the obvious:


Social work scholars are responsible for their own learning

Older social work scholars remember using card catalogues in the library to look up information. I have sat down at the computer with more than a few of these colleagues to help them understand how to access the new technologies for library research, because we are all now responsible for keeping up with an ever-increasing amount of information. Today, you cannot keep up with your field without using these electronic databases.

But there’s an even more dramatic shift happening right now, in 2009.

First, knowledge is becoming democratized. Anyone can start a blog and build a readership. Anyone can post a video on YouTube. Conversations are happening everywhere online — and they’re happening across all kinds of boundaries. It’s a very exciting time to be an academic.

The second trend is that the amount of information related to your field continues to multiply — it is not limited to traditional academic sources and it is constantly bubbling out in real time. Traditional sources cannot stay current enough. (See Gideon Burton‘s controversial post on traditional academic publishing in the digital era.)


Then how do I keep up? Help!

You need a personal learning network. It’s a way of engaging with the flow of information out there and filtering it so that you don’t get overwhelmed. A PLN helps you to keep current in your field by creating a network of people with whom you regularly exchange information and ideas. The best way to explain a PLN is by presentations like the one above, or the 15 minute video below.

<Click the link to view the video>

Building Your Own Personal Learning Network from Carl Anderson on Vimeo.

The idea of building one’s own PLN should be an exciting one for social work educators, because in our field, we are always drawing on our networks of resources, collaborators, and partners. Whether we are researchers or practitioners, we are experts at building networks.We have the skills already to build our personal learning networks… except for the technologies part. But that part can be learned, step by step.

(Actually, I’m no expert at this. I’m learning it from my colleagues in other disciplines — such as Alec Couros from the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina. )

People like me are going to be the ones to help our colleagues acquire proficiency in these new social media. (I know how computer-challenged some of you are. You don’t have to hide it from me.)

I want to become part of your PLN. Most of all, I want to see you get excited about how natural a fit these new technologies are with social work values. Social media are about relationships. They are about giving and sharing and contributing. They make your world bigger and at the same time friendlier than you thought it could be.



© Silvia Straka and A Just Society, 2008.


Faculty members — don’t get left behind!


Social media are taking off and revolutionalizing the ways that people connect and communicate with each other. They have been around for a long time — MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, to name only a few. Social media and academics should be a nature fit, since communication and collaboration are so essential to our work. But university faculty are scarcely seen in these places. And that concerns me.

Maybe you’ve been intimidated at the idea of learning this new technology. Or maybe you think it’s unprofessional or inconsequential for academics. But if you don’t get on board soon, you’re going to be left behind.

Remember what happened to the generation that didn’t learn about PCs when they first came in? Back in 2000, Fiona Clark and I taught frail seniors how to use PCs, send emails, and search the Internet. This is how they described their feelings about their lack of knowledge about these new technologies:

Both at the pre-test and the post-test interviews, participants again and again expressed their frustration at their ignorance about computers, which are all around them in a world which seems to have passed them by. Over and over they used words like “ignorant” and “stupid” to describe how they feel when computers are mentioned in the media or when they cannot understand what their young grandchildren are doing or talking about. Several mentioned at the beginning that they would like to understand what is meant by the “www-dot” that everyone is talking about. They also felt that there were large parts of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives that they could not share in (Straka & Clark, 2000).

It’s time to plunge in. Universities are conservative institutions and those of us who use social media are still the exception. But social media are not going away. Start with something easy like Facebook to get in touch with old friends and colleagues. Make sure you set the privacy options so that only your “friends” can see your profile. And be smart about what kind of content you post (no embarrasing pictures, no personal secrets).

It’s lonely being an academic in the social media. I’m finding lots of people working in nonprofits and lots of consultants who help nonprofits to get into social media. But there are very few university faculty members.

© Silvia Straka and A Just Society, 2008