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Connective English Language Learnings 1

Connective English Language Learnings

Perceptions of a Personal Learning Network as a form of Professional Development among EFL Educators

Increasing student achievement requires focusing on the needs, interests, and learning preferences of teachers.
Sergiovanni (2005) states that “all of the learning and all of the support we want students to experience depends in
large measure on the support that teachers receive” (p. 101). To offer effective and efficient support, teachers need
professional development efforts that account for these needs.
Professional development deals with finding ways to address the knowing-doing gap. DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker
(2008) add that “…closing the knowing-doing gap will require purposeful action to alter not only the existing
structures of schools and districts, but more importantly, the cultures that have created and sustained those traditional
structures” (p. 79). Thus, how one interprets “purposeful action” then becomes key to understanding its effects on
organizational change. Purposeful action for administrators, principles, teachers, students, parents, and community
leaders – all of whom are vital educational stakeholders – often leads to a variety of perspectives. Since teachers
know how to improve education but lack the resolve to actually do it (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008),
investigating teachers and how they pursue their own professional development becomes juxtaposed to a top-down,
“directive control behavior” (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2007, p. 144) approach that views the teacher as
the object of a professional development effort.
Instead of being an object of professional development, the educator thus becomes the central focus or the principal
change agent responsible for personalized learning. Personal learning networks (PLNs), for example, provide an
individual approach to selecting other individuals, non-human objects, and artifacts (i.e., nodes) through both
synchronous and asynchronous communication. Moreover, delivery of one’s PLN can either be online, offline, or
some combination of the two. Finally, a crucial part of a PLN is that knowledge “rests in the network” (Siemens,
2006, p. 31). That is, knowledge not only resides within the individual (i.e., cognitivism or social constructivism
learning theory) but also resides in one’s own PLN which can be accessed as needed. The manner in which one
accesses this knowledge depends on the type of tie, connection, or link we have with the individual nodes. Indeed, it
becomes more important to cultivate one’s PLN and to treat it not as an end but as a means to an end.
Within the context of teaching and learning English-as-a-foreign language (EFL), educators benefit from developing
a PLN as well. The social connections teachers make with others help form relationships that can assist in one’s
learning. The cognitive connection that develops through social interaction helps form the mindframes that give EFL
educators perspective. That is, professional development becomes a support system for developing cognitive and
social connections in a way that best serves individual needs, interests, and learning preferences (i.e., a teacher’s
professional competence). Thomas (1987) states that a teacher’s professional competence includes (a) language
skills, (b) pedagogical skill and knowledge, and (c) knowledge about how languages are learned (as cited in Bartels,
2005). Therefore, EFL educators not only have to decide on how to develop their PLN but they must also decide on
how their PLN will increase professional understandings, knowledge, skills, and dispositions with regard to their
own teaching practice. Given that every teacher has specific needs, interests, and learning preferences, an individual
approach to professional development is the paradigm that will contrast a more directive approach that sets out to list
behavioral objectives and goals that educators must adhere to.
Connective English Language Learnings 2

Abridged Literature Review

Designing Personal Learning Networks as a form of Professional Development
Professional development through the designing of a personal learning network (PLN) shifts the focus of a strict
top-down directive to a more integrated approach that stems directly from the teacher. An integrated approach to
professional development links teachers to an array of different individuals, objects, and artifacts (i.e., nodes) that
collectively provide the social capital necessary to become a better teacher. English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL)
educators in particular benefit from knowing how to use a PLN to improve what Thomas (1987) refers to as teaching
competencies, specifically in the areas of English communication, pedagogy, and knowledge about language (as
cited in Bartels, 2005). Adult learning that encompasses a PLN system leads to viewing knowledge and learning
through a connectivist lens and can set it apart from notions often associated with a more cognitive and constructive
Knowledge and learning is complex. Mason (2008) concludes that
complexity theory offers...the most cogent understanding of the nature of continuity and change, and its theories of
critical mass, phase transition, emergence and auto-catalysis offer most insightful perspectives on questions as
difficult as those to do with the origins of life and of consciousness... (p. 16)
Ball (2004) supports this claim by mentioning that “complexity theory seeks to understand how order and stability
arise from the interactions of many components according to the few simple rules” (as cited in Mason, 2008, p. 5).
Viewing knowledge and learning as a complex system considers professional development as a dynamic process that
subsumes teachers as learners. The EFL educator, for example, creates a PLN that serves to provide the support
necessary in order to become a better teacher. As teachers reflect on the particular area or areas needing
improvement, a continual adaptive network develops through a process of ongoing interaction with both local as well
as colleagues from the global arena.
Creating a PLN requires setting professional goals that clearly mark the gap between where teachers currently are in
their development with where they would like to be in the future. Teachers might reflect on any combination of the
following questions: (a) How can I improve as a communicator of English? (b) How can I improve my pedagogical
skills? (c) How can I increase my knowledge about how the English language is learned? Since learning is complex,
framing and addressing the answers to these questions become more valuable if they come directly from the teacher.
The PLN becomes the means by which teachers create the connections they need in order to achieve their own goals.
Warlick (2009) states that PLNs can be synchronous, semi-synchronous, or asynchronous, utilizing on-line
conferencing media, macroblogging-type tools such as Twitter (2010), Facebook (2010), and Google Wave/Docs
(2010), and typical forum-based services that are often found in online communities such as those offered by Ning
(2010). The PLN integrates social and cognitive networks in that EFL educators may use similar web tools but for
different reasons and in different ways.
Cultivating understandings embedded within the social network create a personal learning network that is unique to
the educator. Like students, teachers pursue understandings as well through the expression of six facets: they can.(a)
describe, (b) interpret, and (c) apply; and they have (d) empathy, (e) perspective, and (f) self-knowledge (Wiggins &
McTighe, 2005). For example, an understanding for a professional development effort, directed towards the teaching
of English to students of other languages (TESOL) might be the following: EFL educators will understand that
sharing experiences and knowledge with others can occur in a non-threatening environment of instructional leaders.
As a “throughline” (Active learning..., n.d.), this understanding serves to provide an overarching idea that serves as
an umbrella to more specific understandings links to the knowledge and skill sets of individual teachers. In order for
the six facets of understanding to emerge, the social aspect of a PLN must promote what Morrison (2002) argues for
in favor of Dewey and Habermas as “openness”, “diversity”, “relationships”, “agency” (as cited in Mason, 2008, p. 6),
all in relation to complexity theory.
Connective English Language Learnings 3

Professional development for EFL educators requires that knowledge, learning, and leading be viewed as a complex
and emergent process. Adler (1982) presents teacher roles as falling under three broad categories: (a) “didactic (or
direct) instruction”, (2) “facilitation of understanding and related habits of mind”, and (c) “coaching of performance”
(as cited in Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 129). Instead of limiting these three roles to the teacher, each actor (i.e.,
teacher, curriculum designer, administrator, etc.) within the network actually takes on a combination of these three
roles at any particular moment. Therefore, instead of classifying the three categories as roles, they are classified as
activities given how each one materializes through the forces surrounding any given situation.
Learning and leading within the TESOL field is a continuous process of developing one's English communicative
skill, pedagogical skills, and knowledge about how the language is learned. Professional development affords EFL
educators the opportunity to develop personal goals and to nurture a personal learning network that support the social
and cognitive networks, enabling educators to improve their practice. As a learning ecosystem, professional
development remains open, diverse, interactive, and autonomous so that EFL educators become entitled to create
educational plans and processes that support research-based protocols. Only once a culture of sharing has been
established can a professional learning community work successfully towards systems that measure higher student

Annotated Bibliography
Bartels, N. (2005). Applied linguistics and language teacher education. New York: Springer.
Chen, Y. (2008). A mixed-method study of EFL teachers’ Internet use in language instruction. Teaching and Teacher
Education. 24, 4, 1015-1028. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2007.07.002
Creswell, J. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Los Angeles: Sage.
Douglas, C. (2009). A comparison of what teachers know versus what teachers practice (Doctoral dissertation).
Retrieved from
Gadotti, M. (1996). Pedagogy of praxis: A dialectical philosophy of education. Albany, NY: State University of New
York Press.
Glickman, C., Gordon, S., & Ross-Gordon, J. (2007). Supervision and instructional leadership: A developmental
approach. New York: Pearson.
Liang, T. (2004). Organizing around intelligence. London: World Scientific.
Moodle. (2010). Retrieved on March 19, 2010 from
Sardar, Z. & Abrams, I. (1999). Introducing Chaos. Cambridge: Icon Books Ltd.
Siemens, G. (2006). Knowing knowledge. Retrieved on March 7, 2010 from http:/ / www. elearnspace. org/
Siemens, G. (2008). Groups and networks. Retrieved on March 7, 2010 from http:/ / elearnspace. org/ media/
Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes. (2010). Retrieved on March 19, 2010 from

Problem Statement
The lack of focus on teacher professional development among EFL educators has resulted into teachers working in
isolation, ultimately failing to enhance the learning of English as a foreign language. Although teachers know what
to do in the classroom, they lack the wherewithal to link their knowledge to practice. Instead of “directive control
behaviors” (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2007, p. 144) to professional development, a more personalized
paradigm seeks to diversify the learning process as EFL educators thus begin to reflect and take action on how to
improve a teacher’s competence (Thomas, 1987) such as language skills, pedagogical knowledge and skill, and one’s
understanding of how foreign languages are learned (as cited in Bartels, 2005).
Connective English Language Learnings 4

Developing one’s personal learning network is not a collective effort in that particular objectives are directed towards
faculty, but rather is a connective effort where EFL educators learn how to share knowledge and experiences with
others in a non-threatening way. EFL educators also learn how to connect with other educators outside the university
through understanding how to use the latest technologies and related techniques. The contrary tends to be the norm
today. EFL educators rarely maintain ongoing dialogs with EFL educators from the same university let alone EFL
educators from around the world, thus sound professional development can assist in this regard.

Purpose Statement
The purpose of this study is to provide the theoretical justification for pursuing a practical approach to professional
development in a way that is diversified enough to be of use to every EFL educator. By adapting a questionnaire to
include research-based practices related to EFL teaching, quantitative data will be used to categorize areas where
professional development is needed. Concurrently, interviews and observations will be used through the application
of an online professional development course (led by the researcher and author) in the form of action research that
will be used to provide additional qualitative and quantitative data in order to explain the ways in which EFL
educators develop their PLN.

Research Questions
• How do EFL educators develop Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) around research-based teaching practices?
• How does an EFL educator's own perception of English language proficiency, pedagogical skill set/orientation,
and knowledge of applied linguistics impact one's contribution to a personal learning network?
• How does pursuing a PLN influence the English language learners' and the EFL educator's perspectives of past
teaching practices?

A personalized approach to professional development is complex. Since the essence of any professional development
endeavor is knowledge and learning, a framework that embodies complexity theory will position individual pursuits
of connectivity with all the apparent options that they entail through the recognition of patterns. The patterns that
will result will likely come from the EFL educator perspective as well as the external influences the personal
learning network has on the individual. Through a mixed methods study, the research and author will be one of many
influences within the learning ecosystem that places the networked learning experience in terms of action research.
Independent of the action research process, a survey of what teachers know, based on current research, will be
applied at the beginning of the study as a way to compare how EFL educators ultimately approach their PLN. The
objective is to disclose nuances of the learning process that are specific to a particular learning context (i.e.,
professional development of EFL educators in Mexico) while at the same time present patterns that are generalizable
and valid across a wider contextual learning ecosystem.
Connective English Language Learnings 5

Active learning practice for school (ALPS). (n.d.). Retrieved on May 6, 2010 from http:/ / learnweb. harvard. edu/
Argyris, C., & Schon, D. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco:
Bartels, N. (2005). Applied linguistics and language teacher education. New York: Springer.
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (2008). Revisting professional learning communities at work: New insights for
improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2003). Making content comprehensible for English language learners: The
SIOP model. New York: Pearson.
Facebook. (2010). Retrieved on May 6, 2010 from
Galloway, N. (2008). Native speaking English teachers in Japan: From the perspective of an insider. Journal of
English as an International Language, 3, 127-188. Retrieved from Education Research Complete database.
Glickman, C., Gordon, S., & Ross-Gordon, J. (2007). Supervision and instructional leadership: A developmental
approach. New York: Pearson.
Google Docs. (2010). Retrieved on May 6, 2010 from
Google Wave. (2010). Retrieved on May 6, 2010 from
Mason, M. (2008). Complexity Theory and the Philosophy of Education. Educational Philosophy & Theory, 40(1),
4-18. doi:10.1111/j.1469-5812.2007.00412.x.
Ning. (2010). Retrieved on May 6, 2010 from
Schon, D., & Rein, M. (1994). Frame reflection: Toward the resolution of intractable policy controversies. New
York: Basic Books.
Serviovanni, T. (2005). Strengthening the heartbeat: Leading and learning together in schools. San Francisco:
Siemens , G. (2006). Knowing knowledge. Retrieved on April 6, 2010 from http:/ / www. elearnspace. org/
Twitter. (2010). Retrieved on May 6, 2010 from
Warlick, D. (2009). Grow Your Personal Learning Network. Learning & Leading with Technology, 36(6), 12-16.
Retrieved from Education Research Complete database.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and
Curriculum Development (ASCD).
Connective English Language Learnings 6


Research Questions
• Crafting a Research Question [1]
• Research Questions [2]

Literature Review
• University of Toronto: A Few Tips on Conducting a Literature Review [3]
• University of Madison, Wisconsin: literature review guidelines [4]
• Purdue (Owl): The Annotated Bibliography [5]
• Cornell University Library: How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography [6]
• University of Canberra: Academic Skills Program, Annotated Bibliography [7]
• NCU Writing Center: Conducting Research [8]

[1] http:/ / learners. ncu. edu/ writingprogram/ writing_center. aspx?menu_id=108
[2] http:/ / learners. ncu. edu/ writingprogram/ writing_center. aspx?menu_id=1
[3] http:/ / www. writing. utoronto. ca/ advice/ specific-types-of-writing/ literature-review
[4] http:/ / www. wisc. edu/ writing/ Handbook/ ReviewofLiterature. html
[5] http:/ / owl. english. purdue. edu/ owl/ resource/ 614/ 01/
[6] http:/ / www. library. cornell. edu/ olinuris/ ref/ research/ skill28. htm
[7] http:/ / www. canberra. edu. au/ studyskills/ writing/ bibliography
[8] http:/ / learners. ncu. edu/ writingcenter/ wl_template. aspx?wc_id=42
Article Sources and Contributors 7

Article Sources and Contributors

Connective English Language Learnings  Source:  Contributors: Bnleez, Wikirandy

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