I will teaching two open online courses next semester, and I have been brainstorming a number of ways to do things a bit differently. In both courses, students will go through the process of forming their own personal learning networking. “Their own” is key here and is something I have been struggling with. In the past, I have just given students a list of people from within my network, but I am beginning to think that this practice may be problematic. First, is this not a bit contrived? Or is it? Is this an accurate way of representing how learning networks form? Maybe. I am not sure. Second, does this not just lead to replicating well-formed, existing networks? Or, does this contribute to the dreaded “echo chamber” effect?
Sure, I know that if I give a short list of network contacts to my students, they are not by any means going to form the same exact network that I have, but I would bet these would be very similar. And I am not by any means trying to criticize the members of my own PLN. In fact, I wouldn’t be connected to you if I did not feel that it was a positive connection. But I am curious of what I am missing. I want to understand personal learning networks not only by the connections that form, but also by those that are absent.
So, help me out here. What if I gave each of my students a single point on the the network, a single individual (probably via a blog address), and made all attempts to keep these points as unrelated as possible (yes, quite difficult in our x degrees of separation world). What networks would students form? How similar would these PLNs be? And what could we learn about how educational PLNs form?
Most importantly, if I used this approach with my students, would this in any way disadvantage their learning opportunities?
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.