#SquadGoalsNetwork - Remixing the Personal Learning Network

Author Information
Angela Gunder
Dr. Jessica L. Knott
Dr. Ryan Straight
Clark Shah-Nelson
Keegan Long-Wheeler
Benjamin Scragg
Dr. John Stewart
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
The University of Arizona
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Michigan State University
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
The University of Maryland
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
The University of Oklahoma
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Arizona State University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Networked learning can range from relatively random and loosely connected contacts on social media, to more formal, structured, and organized personal learning networks (PLNs). #SquadGoalsNetwork exists in the continuum between these extremes. Participants meet face-to-face occasionally, and interact virtually much more frequently as they educate, entertain and delight each other. At its core, our declaration of effectiveness is that conferences serve as important incubator spaces for the creation of both networked PLNs and networks of PLNs that connect individuals and institutions throughout the year, allowing small professional development innovations to scale largely and vice versa. As a means of documenting this effective practice, the authors have created a framework for meaningful participation in a PLN that takes its origins from engaged conference attendance. Additionally, they have created a playbook (https://ryanstraight.github.io/SGN2) that outlines the formation of a PLN, as well as an open space on their website (https://squadgoalsnetwork.com/) for educators to share benefits of PLN participation and recommendations for creating and extending the reach of PLNs.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

In its most simplistic and purest essence, this effective practice is about connecting with others longitudinally and co-creating as a form of professional development. While this story begins at an online education conference, its chapters weave in and out of many institutions around the U.S. and world. Formed out of connections via the Online Learning Consortium’s conferences and Technology Test Kitchen (Musgrove, et al, 2018), the #SquadGoalsNetwork PLN has authored articles and a book chapter, presented to overflowing conference rooms, and contributed leadership to several national and international conferences and conference experiences.

Neither networked learning, nor PLNs are new ideas (Bauer, 2010; Davis, 2013; Sie, et al., 2013; Moreillon, 2016). However, the authors propose that the way they have gone about formalizing informal, loosely joined constellations of people and skills is an effective practice in the field of online teaching, learning, and sharing. In a 2016 article in Educause Review, Gardner Campbell posed a seemingly simple question: “What kinds of educational experiences change lives?” Often, as Campbell does, we educators (practitioners, faculty, and administrators) think of this question in relation to the development of course experiences for students. We think about it in the context of professional development as individuals, as representatives of our institutions, as leaders, and as international collaborators on large-scale learning experiences. We believe, as Campbell notes, that “as we consider high-impact practices in light of contemporary culture, we must add digitally mediated networked learning...because the experience of building and participating within a digitally mediated network of discovery and collaboration is an increasingly necessary foundation for all other forms of experiential learning in a digital age.” However, we take this notion further in our assertion that a blended experience created by participation in large-scale, diverse conference experiences is important to fostering the growth, trust, connection, clarity and sustainability that are so important to impactful networked learning experiences (Campbell, 2016; Cronin, Cochrane & Gordon, 2016; Evans, 2015; Hodgson, de Laat, M, McConnell, & Ryberg, 2014). Furthermore, this participation is extended through an intentional push and pull of ideas and effective practices - new initiatives and practices are gleaned from conferences, implemented at our home institutions, and then brought back to future conferences as iterated and remixed practices.

The authors propose the following framework for others who wish to replicate the blended PLN experience defined in this effective practice submission. The PLN formation process is organic, but they have had success with the following guiding steps.

Figure 1.1—#SquadGoalsNetwork PLN Framework

Forge Connections - Establish a Network of Ideas and Collaborations at the Conference
How might educators construct a PLN that champions thought leaders at our institutions and allows us to collaborate with change agents outside of our institutions? Creating a strong foundation for a meaningful personal learning network can be a daunting task, but conferences offer the resources and connections to build a PLN.  Chiefly, connections formed at conferences allow us to meet and collaborate with individuals beyond our predefined networks. Furthermore, additional outcomes for conference attendance that promote the formation of a PLN include the creation of a network to assist with crowd-sourcing solutions to ubiquitous problems, and representation of one’s home institution externally. Here are some concrete ways that conference participants can begin the process of creating a PLN:

  • Find new partners. Find interesting people at a conference and have some stimulating conversations about digital learning, pedagogy, technology, effective implementation of ideas, and, say, food and drink. Often conferences offer informal meet-ups focused on a specific theme.  Find themes that align to challenges you currently face, and share your issues with the group. You’ll set the stage with authenticity, and find that collaborations are easily formed over shared problems.
  • Make yourself available. Establish some form of on-going connectivity to keep the conversations going.  Share this information with new connections, and be generous with offers to keep in touch. Start with social media tools such as Twitter and Instagram, but extend the connections with instant messaging over tools like Slack, text messaging and e-meetings on Zoom or Google Hangouts.
  • Curate and amplify ideas. Use the conference space as a way to investigate new approaches and practices that can be brought back to your own institution, and share your findings with others who might have further ideas to help you out.  Live tweet sessions with compelling ideas and follow-up questions, and take collaborative notes that can be shared out over Google Docs. Take time at the end of sessions to talk to presenters and fellow session attendees that might be willing to help you remix the concepts shared in the presentation.

Hone Practices - Iterate on Ideas and Foster Cross-Institutional Connections
Oftentimes, educators describe the return home from a conference as the lull after days of high-energy stimulation and inspiration.  How might we sustain the collaborative spirit and energy in the conference after we return home? And how can we ensure that our best laid plans come to fruition once we get caught up in the hustle of our assigned job duties?  The action items presented below allow for ongoing connections that are sustainable and impactful:

  • Stake your social claim. Maintaining the energy of the conference takes an intentionally formed community dedicated to its upkeep.  Establishing a hashtag is a great way to corral your group and hinge your work in progress around a reflective process. Get to know others interested in similar work by sharing links and resources (and not just related to online learning or technology but also art, music, or other interests). The tag associated with this effective practice submission is #SquadGoalsNetwork, but any hashtag identified for your collaborators is acceptable.
  • Seek knowledge to share. Read scholarly literature aligned to your challenges and opportunities, share your findings, and annotate and discuss them with your group. Hypothes.is and Google Drive serve as excellent (and free) tools to research and annotate in a group.  Occasional synchronous meetings are extremely helpful to keep the group connected, even if the outcome is to casually share new ideas. As such, establish some kind of regular short meeting (Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc.) if but for a face-to-face check-in and to energize the group. Create a meeting recurrence knowing that it’s easier to cancel meetings that it is to carve out time to meet last minute.
  • Establish a shared goal. Using a collaborative project as the means of motivating the group can have the added benefit of increasing the number of helpers working on an initiative for your institution.  Share ideas for research topics, schedule co-working time around a theme, and volunteer your skills (web design, data coding, visual design, copy editing, etc.) in support of others efforts.  Submit for awards as a group, find journals to submit to as a team, and build open educational resources as a team effort. Picking projects that have deadlines will help to motivate the group to carve out time to work together.
  • Build intentional time for writing. Together, or separately with a sharing mechanism in place - start with one document, perhaps a session proposal for a conference, or a blog post. Theorize and share ideas for initiatives on your campus to get input from others - and build on each others’ experiences. Blog, tweet, reflect and share.
  • Be creative with publications. Be an ambassador of the work that you are doing at your institution and with your colleagues at other institutions.  Start a podcast or video series (using tools like Zencastr or YouTube Live) and use your meeting time to record reflections on your efforts, both the failures and the successes.  Create spaces for others outside of your group to contribute ideas as well, using video tools like Flipgrid to extend the conversation.
  • Take a Field Trip.  If budget and time allows, make plans to visit colleagues at their home institutions.  Talk to their teams and tour their campuses to compare and contrast resources, initiatives, student populations served, and innovations that might be implemented at your institution.  These liaisons can also happen online through a virtual team meeting - gather the groups over Zoom or Google Hangouts and use the time to ask questions and share practice.

Feed the Fire - Amplify and Share Remixed Ideas at Future Events
You’ve formed your team and now are in search of ways to pay forward the abundance of riches collected from your collaborations.  How do you break that wall to go from a conference participant to a leader in the space?

  • Share your findings. Building from the connections forged at the conference and the work done by your group afterwards, submit proposals to share out your challenges, questions and research.  Consider finding folks outside of your network to present with you as a counterpoint to your work. Social media is a great place to crowdsource co-presenters and often folks will be eager to collaborate - choose to be the connector who brings people together to tell their stories.
  • Get involved. When budgets allow, get involved with professional development and conference opportunities. Review proposals, become track chairs, volunteer in various areas of conferences where you can contribute, be creative, and create/discover new ways to interact, learn, and enjoy. Become a mentor to those that are new to the conference and don’t know how to connect with others and make the most of the resources available.
  • Start courageous conversations.  Conferences are not only a place to share new findings, but also a space to raise a critical lens to the ubiquitous challenges facing us in our field.  Bring these issues and causes to the conference to amplify needs, and use the space as a way to find other individuals who might assist in efforts to enact meaningful change.  Seek out thought leaders speaking out over social media, and find out what conferences they’ll be at. Reach out and see if they might meet you in person to continue these conversations face to face.  You’ll be surprised how many individuals are willing to engage with you in person in an effort to move the needle on critical issues.
  • DIY. You can run your own virtual conference on little more than a subscription to a videoconferencing service, a lot of ideas, and some organization and collaboration with your squad. Small, boutique, highly focused and co-creative conferences are popping up all over the world. You and your crew can start small and build! A half-day on campus with a guest speaker or three and a videoconferencing connection to the rest of the world or a fully virtual meetup can be the spark to enlighten a concept or topic about which you are passionate.

Table 1.1—The #SquadGoalsNetwork PLN Framework

Stage Desired Outcome(s) Effective Practices Examples in Action
Forge Connections Source new ideas and establish a group of colleagues to help with challenges
  • Connect with people over shared challenges and interests
  • Create and share ways to connect after the conference
  • Share and amplify findings from the conference in real time
  • Edsurge LOOP
  • Educause ID2ID Peer Mentoring
  • Solution Design Summit (SDS) at OLC Innovate
  • Game and Crafting Nights at OLC Innovate
  • Educause Constituent Groups (Blend-Online, InstTech, Instructional Design, Openness, IT-Access, etc.)
  • ShapingEDU Live
  • Virtually Connecting
Hone Practices Create lasting cross-institutional connections with people that will help you build on ideas from the conference
  • Create concrete spaces on social media to share out ideas and questions
  • Conduct collaborative research and designate times to reflect on findings, co-write, and share out ideas over media channels
  • Establish a group project as a way to give structure to the group
  • Regular group meetings on Zoom for #SquadGoalsNetwork, TTK, and Monomyth Online
  • Cross-institutional visits and collaborations (in-person and virtual)
  • Group publications (TTK book chapters, journal articles, blogs, podcasts) and websites
  • Tech crawls, design competitions and design summits inspired by conference at home institutions
  • Podcasts born from conference connections and experiences (Innovation Labcast, #3WEdu)
Feed the Fire Share new discoveries, bigger questions and calls to action at future events
  • Present with colleagues on findings and invite others to join in synergistic/iconoclastic group presentations
  • Volunteer to help with the planning of future conferences, serving as a guide and mentor to those new to the experience
  • Be a voice of change, creating a safe space for conversations on larger issues within our field
  • Squad Goals presentation at OLC Innovate 2017
  • Podcasting presentation at OLC Accelerate 2018
  • Crowdsourcing Panel Participants on Twitter
  • Crowdsourcing participants for the Iron Chef Battles
  • Remixed SDS at OLC Innovate 2017 inspired by University of Arizona model
  • Field Guide and Ranger Program
  • Women in Digital Learning Leadership initiatives
  • Diversity and Inclusion Committees

A PLN is not for the contributing collaborators alone. It is a platform for innovation and testing - sharing ideas in a formal conference setting, then remixing and scaling those ideas for the benefit of our home institutions and the network of institutions the connection within the PLN builds. Our model relies on a combination of online, formal face-to-face experiences, informal face-to-face experiences, and loosely joined, flexible teams of people. The aims of submitting our PLN model as an effective practice are to remix the traditional notion of networked learning as a formal digital experience, to illuminate the threads that brought us together and connect us for the purposes of modeling, and to demonstrate techniques and ideas for the formation of other remixed PLNs. The authors have done this through narrative collection and storytelling, tied to the OLC success pillars of access, faculty satisfaction, learning effectiveness, scale, and student satisfaction.

As a means of formalizing the narrative collection and increasing the impact and reach of the stories shared, the authors created an open website for educators to use as a reference and connection point. The site shares the benefits of PLNs in the form of original posts by the authors, as well as content contributed by guests looking to share their own effective practices. Maintaining a site of myriad contributors requires a level of organization and structure to keep the space edited and curated. As such, the authors created a playbook (currently located at https://ryanstraight.github.io/SGN2) outlining the tasks required for keeping content on the website up to date. The #SquadGoalsNetwork also connects to various educators over social media, designating authors to take over monthly duties of maintaining social media accounts as guest hosts. Responsibilities include amplifying voices and resources over Twitter, creating co-writing prompts for individuals connected to the PLN to participate in, and curating and promoting published content on the website. Sharing the curatorial tasks helps to unite the authors in a shared initiative, thereby emphasizing one of the key elements of the #SquadGoalsNetwork PLN Framework and modeling its benefit.

Figure 1.2—Website Form

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Data was collected from individuals identified as collaborators in PLNs that worked with Online Learning Consortium initiatives, which then expanded to other events and collaborations. The outcomes of this practice occur at several levels: students, faculty, institutions, and the PLN individual members’ professional lives. At the same time as they authors see PLN knowledge-sharing benefit students and faculty through improved practices and processes, they see individual PLN members accepting new positions with increasing responsibility in the realms of management and leadership.

Narratives were gathered, grounded in questions defined by the Online Learning Consortium’s Five Pillars of Quality as defined at https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/about/quality-framework-five-pillars/. The questions asked were as follows:

  • Access: Does regular access to other individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives challenge your definition of access and what it means? If so, how?
  • Faculty Satisfaction: How has your participation in the PLN benefitted faculty and colleagues at your home institution?
  • Learning Effectiveness: When you reflect on your work, how has meeting and learning from individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives helped you to clarify or re-define what it means for learning to be effective?
  • Scale: Is the PLN scalable and/or replicable by others at other institutions/organizations? If so, how? What challenges do you encounter?
  • Student Satisfaction: Do you feel that your involvement and/or collaboration with the PLN has helped you create better student experiences at at your institution?

Our data was collected via invited submissions to the #SquadGoalsNetwork website, located at http://www.squadgoalsnetwork.com. The narrative submission process guided submitters through the series of interview questions, with the submission form garnering permission to share narratives on the website. Once the narratives were collected, two rounds of open coding were performed. Round one identified themes within each pillar. Round two looked for connecting themes between pillars. Narrative analysis surfaced the following data regarding perceived effectiveness of the #SquadGoalsNetwork PLN Framework.

According to the OLC Pillars, access is defined as providing “ the means for all qualified, motivated students to complete courses, degrees, or programs in their disciplines of choice. The goal is to provide meaningful and effective access throughout the entire student’s life cycle.” Our narratives indicate that access means different things to different people. This is an important thread in the PLN dialogue because for some access means increasing access to education, and for others it means increasing access to people and opportunities to build a PLN. In both cases, belonging and inclusivity are at the core of the discussion. This indicates effectiveness because this PLN structure models access as well as providing a platform within which organizational representatives discuss and implement means of increasing access for students, and developing accessible learning opportunities.

The OLC pillars define scale as “the principle that enables institutions to offer their best educational value to learners and to achieve capacity enrollment. Institutional commitment to quality and finite resources require continuous improvement policies for developing and assessment of cost-effectiveness measures and practices.” Our narratives indicate that scale of this effective practice is universally seen as possible, and possible with limited resources given the affordances of social media, synchronous video technologies, and virtual as well as on-site conference opportunities. Further, the PLN is seen as a scaling tool - offering amplification and proliferation of ideas and experiments across a number of contexts and organizations.  These findings indicate effectiveness because

The learning effectiveness pillar is defined by the OLC as “concerned with ensuring that online students are provided with a high quality education. This means that online students’ learning should at least be equivalent to that of traditional students.” In this proposal, students are defined in two ways: as the learners in the PLN as well as the learners at the PLN participants’ institutions. Thus, learning effectiveness is driven by a sense of safety that the PLN brings, as well as the perception of safe spaces to experiment. Thus, innovations are tested outside of institutions before being translated and incorporated back into organizational contexts.  Data collected indicates effectiveness in this framework in that each individual noted collaboration and safety to experiment as one of the benefits of engaging with the PLN.

The OLC pillars define faculty satisfaction as being achieved when “instructors find the online teaching experience personally rewarding and professionally beneficial.” Further, student satisfaction is defined as “reflecting the effectiveness of all aspects of the educational experience. The goal is that all students who complete a course express satisfaction with course rigor and fairness, with professor and peer interaction, and with support services.” So, effectiveness is defined as faculty who are fulfilled in teaching, and students who are fulfilled by the learning process and experiences. While faculty and students at PLN participants’ home institutions benefit from the work of the PLN, it is likely they are often unaware. The authors maintain that this is okay, and perhaps even preferable. They experience new support structures, and those structures are measured for effectiveness - but those measures are often not explicitly tied back to the work of the PLN, rather are organically evolved within the organization.   This indicates effectiveness because good learning experiences are holistic but rigorous. The focus of this work is not simply on the individuals participating in the PLN, but on the good that can come from many hands making light work at individual institutions.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

The effective practice of anchoring PLNs within and around conferences directly supports all five pillars of quality, as evidenced by the narratives collected on the #SquadGoalsNetwork website. Below, the authors have selected excerpts from the narratives submitted to the site that highlight the impact of PLNs on their work, their teaching and learning, and their students, with specific regard to each of the quality pillars.

Pillar Evidence from Narratives
Access “The international nature of the PLN, and the fact that it is online, has exploded access to experts around the world.”

“When I work with faculty, staff, and students, we talk about how accessibility enables greater connectedness in a variety of ways. The same holds true here with a PLN. Access to partners in different places and spaces widens my ability to tackle a challenge and helps me realize new ways of knowing that I would not have arrived at on my own. We are better teachers. We are better students. We are better communicators. And we are better humans.”

“Access is and should be more than the question ‘can students find their content.’ The definition of access must be broadened to include issues of equity and social justice...Regular interactions with those in contexts different from mine challenge me, and therefore my team, every day.”

“My colleagues from around the world have knowledge and information that is applicable in all settings and being able to connect with those colleagues not only enables me to have access to their knowledge, but it allows us opportunities to collaborate and generate new knowledge.”

“I was a lone wolf instructional designer in an outreach capacity at my university when I first started ten years ago. Now I am a connect cat with my claws into every corner of this campus. If it was not for personal learning networks I would not have evolved or been able to make this type of leap.”

“Access used to mean connecting with the people in my office building, if I was lucky, or with those who grudgingly attended monthly faculty meetings. Now access can mean people all over the world, shared problems, suggestions, and support.”

“Having a personal learning network that spans the globe has enabled me to learn about access in new ways, allowed me to see the range of ways access can be defined, and reimagine how to approach instructional design first through a lens of inclusion, rather than as afterthought.”

“The SquadGoals PLN multiplies each of our capabilities in that we can share our questions, projects, successes, and failures with people we trust. It also pushes us to consider the privileges, limitations, and local histories of our home institutions as compared with those of our peers.”

“By breaking down the silos that separate us at our individual institutions, we can crowdsource solutions, collaboratively test effective practices, and learn from the failures and iterations of our colleagues.”
Scale “Technology has played an important role in creating a sustaining my PLN. Once connections have been made, being able to have virtual meetings to share ideas (and laughs) has made all the difference.”

“To overcome the time barrier, it is useful to have a common goal or project that allows all to contribute the strengths and bring their challenges so that the PLN is a vital asset to one’s work instead of a ‘side project.’”

“The trick is to make a deliberate effort to carve out the time and to select a facilitator that doesn’t have a stake in the outcome. This person can drive the meeting, ensure it stays on track and time and free up group members from the role of facilitator/participant and let them focus solely on the solution development.”

“Motivation is the key. We can produce content and connections, but we need to produce this in a way that is meaningful and builds upon itself.”

“Our personal networks grow and replicate to the extent that we maintain a mindset of approachability, openness, curiosity and love towards others, as we would hope others would have towards us.”

“The challenge is consistent meeting times that get on everyone’s calendar; keeping things fresh by occasionally adding new members to the group, while maintaining the interest of those from the core group; recognizing that at different points in their professional or personal life, that people do need to move on, or change their participation level. I think the secret is developing caring personal relationships. What has kept my PLN going for over 15 years is that we are more than colleagues, we are friends.”

“A PLN, like any other network, should be flexible and capable of responding to a variety of internal and external influences. The unburdened PLN that slowly grows around an important idea or vision towards positively impacting others often scale without that ever having been the intention.”
Learning Effectiveness “When we are limited to our co-workers, we begin to form a specific way of doing things. Expanding the network and having access to other institutional perspectives allows for us to see different ways to do things. For instance, I have been working through how to use storytelling in a course and specifically the Hero’s Journey. As I have continued to talk to others about what they are doing, I have been able to see different ways of incorporating storytelling into course design.”

“Meeting and learning from others outside of my work bubble does one of two things: it affirms that I am going in the correct direction OR it tells me I am light years behind and am in need of a reboot, recharge, refresh or a resource.”

“When I go beyond the wall of my office and the confines of my own institution, I expand my thinking. When I talk to people from different institutions with different missions I find new methods and best practices. I take these thoughts and ideas back to my students and faculty. I get excited about new ways of teaching and learning. I build upon my foundation.”

“Having a group to share insights, problems, and possible solutions has made all the difference in evaluating what effective learning is, and how best to reach students. For example, my editorial board reviewed the Accessible Syllabus site. That site changed the way I wrote syllabi from that point on.”

“More than anything, the social nature of learning has really reified itself to me through this; we have really developed into a community of practice in a Wenger-esque (1998) fashion. Though the gradations and particulars of our common challenges and needs may differ, being a part of this network has actually calmed my fears about those local, acute challenges I seem to face – if for no other reason than because I know my colleagues across the country are dealing with similar stuff!”

“Learning is, and has always been, contextual. Intentionally exposing myself to a variety of perspectives is the only reason I’ve ever felt effective as a designer and educator.”

“For learning to be effective, it needs to meet the needs and desires of the student and be transferable into the challenges they’ll face in the world. This network broadens my view of both what students need and what they want to do with that experiential knowledge.”

“Having the PLN allows for a space that’s essentially supportive and collaborative, where I can bounce ideas off folks with similar interests but vastly different backgrounds and ways of thinking. The resultant synergy is palpable, even virtually. It’s one thing to see a citation of an article or book and think, 'Hm, I should add that to my list.' It’s another for someone you like and respect to suggest it. Not only are you more likely to actually incorporate that information and research into your worldview and thought process, you have someone with whom to discuss it and expand even beyond that.”
Faculty Satisfaction “After participating in the OLC Innovate 2017 Solution Design Summit we created a similar group on campus to bring together ID’s to crowdsource common challenges and solutions in a design thinking framework.”

“One great example is from two years ago when three of my colleagues and I participated in a Solution Design Summit at OLC Innovate. It was such a powerful experience to be able to have a focused session to addressing a challenge on our campus that we brought the model back to the University of Arizona. We now hold a monthly Solution Design Summit that invites colleagues from across the campus to tackle challenges we face in everyday course design. Our challenges are selected by the participants and voted up to determine when we will cover what, so the process is entirely participant driven. It has been a tremendous experience not only in developing solutions to challenges and barriers, but in building relationships with our colleagues across campus.”

“My PLN has enabled me to help faculty and colleagues connect with people at other universities that have resulted in collaborations on courses and research, as well as knowledge and expertise that has helped us enhance our work.”

“Whether I need a brilliant idea for a keynote as I plan to lead a national conference from my office, or whether I need some advice on management conversations with newly on-boarded employees, enter this squad. Without fail, this collection of amazing humans always has insights and expertise that help enliven my work back home.”

“Whether I ask and get feedback from PLN colleagues or simply see their posts, recommended tools and strategies have been implemented for my home institution. From faculty development opportunities, to informal learning sessions to running a local Technology Test Kitchen, these ideas can quickly pass from one institution to another and increase both staff and faculty awareness of what works and doesn’t.”

“Since becoming involved with the Squad Goals Network, the learning design and Hub teams have brought a number of professional development frameworks to our local campus. We have drawn from models like the Technology Test Kitchen, the Innovation Lab, the ranger/wayfinding program, and network building to provide faculty and students on campus opportunities to interact with technology and pedagogy in ways that allow them to be vulnerable and supported.”
Student Satisfaction “The ability to share ideas with others around the world has broadened my horizons and I have been able to bring that back to directly impact students.”

“Experiences learned in spaces like ID2ID, Innovation Lab, solutions design summit, and virtual experiences allowed for opportunities to look at problems, seek solutions, revisit and revamp, revisit and revamp again… This practice is modeled and applied when I work with students – whether it is one-on-one, in small groups, personal or academic.”

“Students benefit from the new knowledge I’ve gained across a range of topics: learning design, faculty development, ways to incorporate student voice, and how to gain a deeper understanding of the student experience. In some cases it might help us learn from someone else’s experience and enhance a student experience quicker, or in ways we might otherwise not have. It has helped me get grants to do work that benefits students. Ultimately, my involvement impacts both their inside and outside the classroom experiences, and has helped me learn new approaches and ways of thinking I otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to.”

“Through conversations about online teaching and learning, we’ve co-developed better course shells through our institutions’ various LMS platforms, which offer our students a more cohesive and beautiful course experience. Through conversations about accessibility and access, we’ve been able to advocate for students through better design and pedagogy. Through conversations about our own need for mindfulness and self-care, we’ve taken these practices back to our courses and online spaces where we impact students.”

“The opportunities the PLN has provided me—be they in official or unofficial capacities—has directly translated to benefits to my students, mostly in my skills and knowledge as a teacher, but also because, simply put, being around like-minded, excited people (virtually or otherwise) gets me fired up and that excitement transfers directly to the class environment and ecosystem. The only thing worse than a boring teacher is a bored one. I’ve found the PLN goes a long, long way in this regard.”

“I believe that challenging ideas across organizational boundaries and roles is crucial, as is involving students and giving them a voice in their learning and the services they receive.”
Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

As laid out, the #SquadGoalsNetwork PLN Framework needs little in regard to equipment. That said, the authors have had success incorporating some minor infrastructure, as described below.

Pen and Paper, Whiteboards and Markers

Projects as broad and multifaceted as the #SquadGoalsNetwork take considerable planning and resources, both in logistics and actual materials. At the earliest stages, brainstorming with simple pen and paper is key, much like a low-fidelity prototype in early interface design stages. Recording thoughts, ideas, risks, hurdles, et cetera, provides a team with a much clearer view of what lies ahead, as well as highlighting a potential roadmap and timeframe at very rough levels. That said, the individualistic nature of, say, a single document and owner precludes the collaboration necessary for this project.

After the initial planning stage, the move to more crowd-friendly equipment—a whiteboard and marker, for example—, while simplistic and low-tech, is encouraged. Brainstorming becomes crowdsourcing and collaboration begins to emerge. Proximity and possession of this equipment again becomes a hurdle to expansion and we move again beyond into the digital, itself—the experience of using different writing implements and mediums—is not without its own set of considerations and affordances (van Manen & Adams, 2009).

Computer, Internet, Specific Supporting Software

While it may be currently tempting to simply say, “Have access to a computer and an internet connection,” there are more considerations necessary. Before we discuss requirements for digital networking, there are more basic hardware requirements. In the development of a collective of minds and the presentation of that collective, much needs designed and decided upon, from websites to graphics to stylist decisions. A relatively new computer that can easily run a modern browser is absolutely essential as much of the work done in groups like the #SquadGoalsNetwork happens through websites, be it document editing as in Google Documents, form creation for data collection as in Qualtrics, for example, or in public-facing blog services like WordPress.

Beyond this, the design of graphics, icons, social media campaigns, et cetera, require a computer that can run considerably more computationally taxing software like the Adobe Creative Cloud. While there are less demanding options available like GIMP or some web services like Aviary, the Adobe suite is the industry standard and is what was used to create much of the graphics used by the #SquadGoalsNetwork. The Twitter banner used by the @SqdGlsNtwrk, for example, was created using both Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. As demonstrated in the Playbook section on Colors, the greatest effectiveness and efficiency comes when the former software (like Google Documents) and the latter (Adobe Illustrator) come together to ensure consistency, as in a shared and consistent color palette.

Determining a method to distribute content like this in an extensible, replicable, efficient method actually becomes a software decision as much as a question of which business entity’s cloud servers the data resides on and associated concerns about ownership, migration, et cetera. While the #SquadGoalsNetwork blog is a WordPress installation, the decision was made to present the content of the Playbook using software called RStudio, an IDE for the popular statistics package R. This was for two reasons: first, content written in this way is replicable, platform- and language-agnostic (it being in Markdown and not using complicated, obfuscated code), and is portable, being easily and automatically delivered in whatever format the reader prefers, be it HTML, a PDF, or an eBook; second, it allows for built-in statistical analysis and data visualization within the text itself that is updated in real-time (see the Playbook page on the #squadgoalsnetwork Twitter hashtag for an example).

Video chatting and Collaborative Communication

Returning to proximity as a collaborative consideration, electronic communication is fundamentally necessary for a collective like the #SquadGoalsNetwork to both get off the ground and maintain forward movement. While many methods and services are available in this pursuit, choosing the method and protocol that affords a combination of variety and utility ensures the efficiency of communication is hindered by neither access to a particular device nor the amount of time available to individual members at any give moment. Much communication in the network has taken place using the Slack software, which allows for both synchronous group chatting as well as asynchronous discussions that can be returned to and continued at any time. The ability to share documents, files, and even code integrated into the chat means decisions can be made and implemented efficiently and in a single location.

Video chatting to have more organic, “human-centered” discussions is a key component to the Network and occurs on a regular basis. The Network decided to use Zoom for this for its ease of use and efficient bandwidth usage, making for higher quality video and audio without taxing those in the Network without high-speed internet access. Bandwidth can be a concern, again drawing attention to the need for a communication that seamlessly moves between high- and low-fidelity so as not to introduce a hurdle while providing a solution. The combination of synchronous video chatrooms and collaborative writing software like Google Documents makes for a streamlined collaborative work environment for colleagues that live thousands of miles apart.

Access to Social Media Accounts

The public-facing portion of the #SquadGoalsNetwork happens mainly in the main WordPress site but, being a “constellation of networked educators,” simply focusing on content presentation is insufficient. Bringing people together socially is a large portion of what makes the Network successful. To do this, social media seemed the obvious choice.

The @SqdGlsNtwrk Twitter account was created to serve as a single point of contact for the team while acting as a way to present the individuals as curators on a rolling basis. Without a devoted Social Media Coordinator, it was decided after the initial setup with the account creation, profile updates, images, et cetera, a single member of the team will “take over” running the Twitter account each month, very much like Sweden’s official Twitter account and its rotating Swede citizen author.

While only a single member of the team is expected to be tweeting “as” the official account for that month—retweeting relevant tweets, responding to replies, maintaining a relatively constant presence—the rest of the team uses TweetDeck to monitor the #SquadGoalsNetwork hashtag, encourage participation, and interact with the main account. TweetDeck allows for a number of options organized in columns, each with a different function, such as monitoring a hashtag or arbitrary search, displaying tweets from a list of specific users, and watching for notifications to or from a particular account. It allows allows the team to tweet from the main Twitter account without having to worry about sharing and remembering passwords. Scheduling tweets for future posting is also a feature that the team uses frequently. A spreadsheet of “core” tweets is maintained to ensure consistency in language and a basic history across the various monthly takeover authors.

Clearly there is much more to consider than simply coming up with ideas and sharing them with others. Effectively implementing a practice as wide-reaching and interconnected as the #SquadGoalsNetwork is complicated but can be made to run smoothly with these considerations.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

This effective practice highlights the propensity of our connections at conferences to greatly impact our work as practitioners and researchers, and as such, requires conference attendance.  While there are costs associated with face-to-face participation in conferences, using the strategies shared in the #SquadGoalsNetwork PLN Framework help to maximize the benefits of the experience.  That being said, many educators find that due to limitations in institutional funding, they are restricted in their ability to attend conferences in person. Luckily, virtual attendance options have expanded significantly over the years, allowing participants to engage with face-to-face participants and virtual participants alike.  Activities for virtual participants are not strictly limited to passive viewing of presentations - many conferences leverage synchronous meeting tools and other emerging technology to engage online attendees in constructivist, experiential, and collaborative tasks. These hybrid engagement opportunities challenge the premise that networking is limited to strictly defined spaces, and model the types of interaction we seek to foster and develop within our own classrooms.  For virtual participants, costs associated with this effective practice include virtual conference registrations, as well as access to a microphone/headset, and optionally, a web camera.

Moving from the conference to connections outside the conference, practitioners may incur costs associated with the tools and materials needed to hold regular e-meetings (such as web cameras and microphones).  Quite often, though, the software required to successfully connect, collaborate and create content is wholly free. The authors have collaborated over online meetings using Google Hangouts and Zoom, co-written publications on Google Drive, and have disseminated resources using the open source content management system, WordPress.  Regardless of the goals of a PLN, the plethora of technology available freely and openly allows for members to connect at little to no cost, regardless of distance between members or size of the network.

References, supporting documents: 


Bauer, W. I. (2010). Your Personal Learning Network: Professional Development on Demand. Music Educators Journal, 97(2), 37-42.

Campbell, G. (January 11, 2016) https://er.educause.edu/articles/2016/1/networked-learning-as-experienti...

Cronin, C., Cochrane, T., & Gordon, A. (2016). Nurturing global collaboration and networked learning in higher education. Research in Learning Technology, 24(1), 26497.

Moreillon, J. (2016). Building your personal learning network (PLN): 21st-Century School Librarians Seek Self-Regulated Professional Development Online. Knowledge Quest, 44(3), 64-69.

Musgrove, A. T., Gunder, A., Knott, J. L., Tomsic, F., Banner, P., Melton, R., ... & Shah-Nelson, C. (2018). Technology-Enhanced Exploratory Installations to Support Constructivist Professional Development: The Technology Test Kitchen. In Handbook of Research on Human Development in the Digital Age (pp. 1-32). IGI Global.

Davis, T. (2013). Building and using a personal/ professional learning network with social media. Journal For Research In Business Education, 55(1), 1-13.

Evans, P. (2015). Open online spaces of professional learning: Context, personalisation and facilitation. TechTrends, 59(1), 31-36.

Hodgson, V., de Laat, M., McConnell, D., & Ryberg, T. (Eds.). (2014). The design, experience and practice of networked learning. London, UK: Springer.

Sie, R. L., Pataraia, N., Boursinou, E., Rajagopal, K., Margaryan, A., Falconer, I., ... & Sloep, P. B. (2013). Goals, motivation for, and outcomes of personal learning through networks: Results of a tweetstorm. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 16(3).

van Manen, M., & Adams, C. (2009). The phenomenology of space in writing online. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 41(1), 10–21. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2008.00480.x


Graphics Used for #SquadGoalsNetwork PLN Framework created with the following open resources:

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Angela Gunder
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Jessica Knott
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Effective Practice Contact 3: 
Ryan Straight
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