Make the web work for you – new VicPLN course


Many of you are part of the community that has grown out of the VicPLN series of online courses. With your feedback in mind, we’ve created a new course for 2015 which integrates the best of two previous courses into one:  Make the web work for you.

Make the web work for you introduces key concepts and skills in digital and information literacy, and models the use of simple and free web tools, enables people to join or create personal learning networks, and encourages everyone to play and explore online. But it’s also designed to give participants the chance to apply their learning to an authentic research task in a guided online learning experience.

The course is designed for people hoping to get more out of the web and build their confidence using technology in the workplace.

This six-unit, self-paced program covers:

  • advanced searching and information evaluation skills
  • social media for professional learning
  • web tools to help find, manage, store and share information
  • digital publishing including ebooks
  • online collaboration and networking.

We hope to keep challenging ourselves and our community to think differently about our work, how we learn and share ideas. As part of the work of a new team at the State Library Victoria focusing on learning design, we’ll be beginning to talk more about our professional learning model, Connected Inquiry.

Our new course Make the web work for you is based on the principles of Connected Inquiry, a great deal of thinking, evaluation and research. We’ve tried a few new things, we’ve done in-depth research in partnership with AITSL, and we’ve gathered really helpful feedback from course participants.

So what is Connected Inquiry about?  It’s in part a series of principles to help shape professional learning experiences that mirror the best of what we do as educators. Can an after school PD, online course or conference be built on the same principles we would an inquiry project for students – real life applications, personal relevance and curiosity? We think yes and we look forward to sharing our learning with you.

So if you’re interested in the course which begins April 20 or have any questions, you can contact us at

Make the Web Work for You: an introduction to digital learning for school library teams and educators, 6 units over 8 weeks starting 20 April 2015.

And we’ll continue to be part of your personal learning networks: online, at SLAV conferences, and as part of the professional development program here at the State Library Victoria.

 Image credit – State Library Victoria

Blogging – Revisiting VicPLN Course tools and support

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When you’ve been connected online for some time, it’s possible to lose sight of the perspective of staff new to the professional online environment.  Library staff in particular can come into the profession via a route that hasn’t involved interacting online other than in the personal social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram. In joining the school library workforce, however, they must be, or become, digitally literate.  Every member of staff in a school library must be actively digital, it’s the very nature of today’s libraries.

Being ‘digitally literate’ involves knowing how to use digital tools and, most specifically, knowing how to apply them to a specific task.  In recent years hundreds of people have participated in and completed, to various degrees, the VicPLN Course  (Personal Learning Network) conducted by the State Library of Victoria learning team in conjunction with the School Library Assoc of Victoria.  It’s amazing, however, that I constantly encounter people who ‘never really got their head around the PLN tools’, ‘don’t have a use for them’ or feel, ‘they don’t apply to the library role’.

If you work in a school library today you need to be using social media, blogging, curating resources and actively building your own Personal Learning Network (PLN).  Building a PLN according to personal interests, fosters enthusiasm and reveals relevance as you increase your involvement.  This doesn’t mean that everyone must be tweeting, skyping and Google+ing, however, it does mean that they must be looking outside the walls of their library for ideas and inspiration.

Blogging is a good place to start.  Read other people’s blogs, comment and contribute where possible.  The emphasis on blogging has changed since the introduction of curation tools such as ScoopIT and Flipboard but they’re for another post.  Today we’re talking blogging because blogs are a powerful tool in schools, both at the learning and resourcing levels.

Blogging tools recommended:

The VicPLN Team at the State Library created a fabulous resource to support participants of the online VicPLN Web 2.0 Course.  The course material was refined over a number of years and VicPLN Unit 1: Start your blog is the recommended place to start your blogging journey.  In addition to finding recommended resources and blogs to follow, you’ll find tips, tutorials and a wealth of support material.

A note to Library Managers:  Creating a blog for library staff use only is a great place to start.  Use it as a communication and professional ‘sandpit’ learning tool within the library team.  Use your library blog to:

  • Share library staff news and events
  • Record meeting notes, ideas and suggestions
  • Link to professional learning
  • Learn by actively participating

Once confidence is built, start blogging:

  • Book reviews and recommended reading blog
  • Travel blogs for school trips, camps etc
  • Support classroom teachers in using blogs
  • Library news and updates blog

The message cannot be overstated.  Library staff build your skills.  Review your practices, put aside the time-consuming busy work, book displays etc and become an indispensable, digitally skilled workforce.  Blogging is a good place to start.

Bright Ideas will revisit the tutorials and support resources of the VicPLN Team in future posts.  You’re invited to come on board with a commitment to personal skills growth and the development of your own Personal Learning Network (doc will download).

Comments and feedback is welcome as always.




AITSL research project – VicPLN reflection

Last year, some of you completed a survey for us exploring your experiences of the Victorian Personal Learning Network (VicPLN) courses. In this post, we’d like to share our findings.

The team at the State Library of Victoria applied to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) to research the impact of our professional learning approaches, in particular the impact of networked learning in the VicPLN program.

We undertook surveys and case studies with questions based on Stephen Heppell’s framework for effective learning.

Our hypothesis:

That the online delivery of the Victorian Personal Learning Network course (VicPLN) through guided collaborative learning encourages sustained change in professional practice in schools and school libraries.

Despite considerable positive feedback over the years, we weren’t anticipating the profound impact the PLN had on many participants, their attitudes to learning and confidence with peers.

Truly it transformed me or maybe it turned me inside out […] – it allowed me to develop professionally with like-minded people. It allowed me to share with those people and beyond. It allowed me to find serendipitously things that I needed and that gave me more ideas.

[…it has changed the] way I think about trying to solve problems – so if I need something – I don’t know what I used to do, but now […] I’ll go on Twitter and I’ll ask or I’ll use a certain network of people […] you don’t Google it – you Twitter it.

Key trends – Case studies

Importance of sharing – Participants who took part with colleagues from their school or library found the shared experience made the learning more meaningful and immediately applicable in the workplace.

And in terms of the library I think it’s been profound as well, in the sense that we have restructured our library, we’re aware of the way libraries are changing and I think the PLN has given us confidence to move forward and I think, a little bit out of the box in terms of our approach.

Power of networks and the idea of an authentic audience for learning – For some participants networked learning was completely transformative, changing their entire approach to teaching and learning. It enabled them to become advocates for change in their schools and the broader professional community.

[…] what the PLN did for me was to see – was to give me a bridge to what I think all education should do […] almost a subversive bridge for the children, for the students out into the world […] – I was with true colleagues. […] It gave me and it affirmed that this is what a great teacher aims to be, out in the world, thinking, making connections, making possibilities, realising possibilities.

Key trends – Survey

The first place people share is with their colleagues, with 98.5% of participants indicating they shared their professional learning with colleagues and school staff.

It makes sense that educators, as part of deeply collegiate profession, look to peers before looking out to the broader online community. It also highlights the importance of PLNs in all their forms, be they local, international or something in between. The power is in connecting with others around a shared goal.

[The PLN is] probably the first time I’ve shared my professional thinking with anybody […] in schools, you might at a staff meeting or something, but that’s probably the biggest change in my mindset, the kind of thing that I try and get other people to do now is to realise that when you’re sharing you’re not showing off, you’re … trying to get reactions to help you learn more.

72% of participants surveyed indicated that the course gave them the confidence to share with peers. Developing the confidence and shared language to engage in professional discussions with peers is core to being an advocate for change in schools and libraries. Getting issues out in the open for debate supports organisational transparency and cultural change.

The PLN has given me a language to talk to other people […] although I tend to take ideas from it rather than give online, I do share those ideas with other staff. […] look it’s really worth everyone being encouraged to do it […] it is life-changing. In the sense that my teaching practice is different.

I feel as though I have the vocabulary now to ask the right questions, whereas before I did the PLN I didn’t even know what questions I should ask.

The PLN, for me, provided a space in which to explore possibilities […] it changed my relationship [with staff and students], it changed how I operate, that I became a more effective change agent.

The project was a wonderful opportunity for the PLN team and past participants to reflect on our practice and the impact the course has had on individuals and broader networks. One of the most interesting results for us was how sharing often begins with local PLNs including colleagues in schools and communities close by.

Our networks begin close to home and then with growing confidence and success, reach out into world.

 For information on our online courses, visit the State Library of Victoria website.

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PLN short course builds your research toolkit

The next round of the Victorian Personal Learning Network has been announced, with the first ever Victorian PLN short course kicking off on November 12 and running for 4 units. The Research Toolkit course will explore reliable online resources, effective search techniques and tools for organisation and referencing.

The online course is self paced and will feature webinars with research experts. It’s a great way for teachers and library staff to brush up on their skills and keep up to date with new tools and techniques. Research Toolkit is also a good refresher for previous participants in the Victorian PLN course looking to reinforce and further develop many of their own research skills.

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State Library of Victoria Research Guides

Research Toolkit is a partnership between the State Library of Victoria and the School Library Association of Victoria. The course costs $85 per person, but group discounts are available for teams of six or more. For more information visit the State Library of Victoria website, or email

Victorian PLN webinar recordings

The current Victorian PLN course is now winding down as participants begin reflecting on their course through digital stories and catching up on any units that they may have missed during the term.

Over the 12 units of the course participants have discovered great web tools, written blogs, explored curly issues like digital citizenship and discovered the wonderful community of educators that exists online. You can connect with the participants and the wider VicPLN community at the Facebook group, which now has close to 200 members.

A major feature of the course were the regular web conferences which covered a range of topics. You can access the recordings below. The sessions were:

Getting started with your PLN and blogging

Organising information online (Twitter, Blogging, IGoogle)

Integrating technology into schools (featuring Tony Richards)

Online databases and search skills (featuring Andrew McConville from the State Library of Victoria)

Gaming in Education (featuring Paul Callaghan)

PLN wrap up and final reflection

All of the recordings will open in Blackboard Collaborate (or Elluminate). For help getting started with this web conferencing tool, have a look at the web conferencing guide on the Victorian PLN blog.

Getting the most out of Evernote

The 2012 Victorian PLN course has been progressing well, with participants next week beginning Unit 9 of the course. This unit looks at research and referencing with a particular focus on one of our favourite tools; Evernote.


Many of our readers tell us that Evernote is the application that has changed the way they work. We’ve posted about it before, but it’s worthwhile touching base again as the developers are constantly adding new functions. The power of Evernote is that it provides a searchable catalogue of your notes which are synchronised across a variety of devices. You can also add voice recordings, handwritten notes and pictures, or clip entire web pages for later.

If you are looking to get started with Evernote feel free to visit the Victorian PLN blog and have a look at the Evernote page, which has some screencasts and tips to get you going.

For those of you who know the basics, a recent article by ReadWriteWeb outlines some of the ways you can make Evernote even more powerful. These tips include how to share notebooks, save web pages or email notes directly to your account. One particularly interesting tip for educators is the ability to disable web syncing on some notebooks so notes are not stored in the cloud. This may be useful if you have sensitive information (such as student data or parent contact details) that you would prefer to only store on your computer. This option is only available when you create a new notebook (see below).


For tips about student use you can read Buffy Hamilton’s great post about using Evernote in the classroom. Remember to share any tips you have in the comments below or on the Bright Ideas Facebook page.


Guest post: Just teach the normal way, she said

Today’s guest post comes from Kate Mildenhall, Education Officer at the State Library of Victoria and a participant of the 2012 Victorian Personal Learning Network. The post was written in preparation for Unit 5 of the PLN, which poses the question ‘Which comes first, pedagogy or technology?’  Kate’s post following a conversation with her niece is a fascinating insight into the thoughts of a student about the role of technology in the classroom.

“I have to take a moment to get down a conversation with a year 9 student (also a niece) I had last weekend. Let this stand as a prologue – or perhaps an aside – to my thinking that will happen with Unit 5. Around a restaurant table laden with an Indian feast, I asked my niece (let’s call her C) how school was going and what was happening in her life. C has always been a conscientious kid; precocious, with two much older siblings, engaged in the world, passionate about injustice, an all-round lovely person to spend time with. So I take with a grain of salt some of her tirade against teachers in general and put some of it down to ‘year 9′ness’ and a general need to buck the system, nevertheless, her attitude towards school, education and teachers in general was a bit of a shock to me.
The best classes, she said, were those where the teachers were careless enough just to leave the kids alone so they could get on Facebook and Tumblr. Ah yes – Tumblr, I said, I use that a bit.  She looked at me blankly when I asked how she was using it with her mates and guffawed loudly when I asked if she would consider using it for ‘school’ stuff. Nah, she said, our mates just use it to post videos and stuff we like. Oh, I said, that’s basically what we do too – probably what a lot of your teachers are doing with blogs. Yes, she said, but when a teacher asks us to use it, it just makes it completely uncool. They’re trying too hard. Just leave us alone with the technology stuff and just teach the normal way.
My eyebrow raised inadvertently as I asked what the normal way might be. You know, she said, like projects and stuff. Our conversation trailed off in to how the most successful graduate from her school would be the kid who sorts the proxy for Facebook and hacks the network regularly.It’s an understatement to say it left me thinking. Are we stuck in a catch 22 in schools at the moment? How many kids feel like this? Is C struggling because she is bored and unchallenged and unengaged or is the system such that it can not work for her in its current model? Ironically C is about to head off to a place at Alpine School for a term and said she was really looking forward to the challenge of being without her phone and uncensored internet and communication. Is there a backlash from kids about the way technology is fed to them in the classroom – too slow, too controlled, too directed? Hmmmmmm – I leap in to Unit 5 and 21st Century pedagogy with so many questions!”

PLN 2012 Update

The 2012 PLN course is bowling along, with the 150 participants back to work this week after a break in formal coursework over the school holidays.

But in spite of the vacation, many people took the time to catch up or even work ahead, do extra reading and activities, and take part in one or more of our events.

Two catch-up sessions enabled anyone who was in town to drop into the computer lab in the State Library of Victoria to meet the PLN team and fellow participants in person, ask questions, and talk through the first few units of work.

We’ve tried a few different things this year, and amongst them was our first Tweetchat. About 20 participants on either Twitter itself or via Tweetchat, using a special hashtag (#VicPLN2012), asked and answered questions and then just chatted about their PLN experiences and tools they use in their schools.

Tweetchat allows you to participate in an online chat session but strips out all other Twitter chatter so you can concentrate on the one hashtag. It also makes life a little easier by inserting the hashtag into your messages automatically, to help you tweet faster (other services such as Today’s Meet are similar and very handy): some tweetchats move so fast it’s hard to keep up with the one conversation, let alone seeing off-topics tweets as well.

If you use HootSuite, you can save the topic as a stream: we’ve embedded ours in the PLN blog, so you can see what happened and how the chat worked.

We also used Storify to curate a summary:

PLN 2012 Tweetchat on Storify

The next few units in the PLN course include the hot topics of mobile use, digital citizenship and online footprints. We’ll feed the discussion back into Bright Ideas for your input too.