Developing Your Personal Learning Network
It's now easier than ever to break down classroom walls and connect to others around the world. Today's education professionals are leveraging social media in order to share their best practices and learn from others. Be inspired and pursue professional development anytime, anywhere!
Why do YOU think building a PLN is important? Feel free to share your comments and ideas with others by contributing to the comments section at the end of this digital document!
- From Wikipedia: A personal learning network is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment.
- From About.com: A personal learning network, also referred to as a PLN, is a powerful professional development tool that allows teachers and administrators to connect with other teachers and administrators across the country. These connections are typically made through social media outlets including Google+, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. A personal learning network allows educators to seek advice, trade best practices, or simply network with other professionals. Educators who build a powerful personal learning network are connected educators with the means to grow and improve continuously.
Tools and Activities to Try
The following activities are five baseline uses of social media integral to the process of becoming a connected educator.
Start with one of the tools below and spend time exploring the possibilities. If you feel confident with a particular tool, move on to the next!
1. Microblogging with Twitter
Join Twitter and follow people and organizations that interest you!
The first secret to using Twitter effectively is to follow lots of Twitter accounts so that you have a critical mass of people and organizations within your personal learning network. Serendipity will happen if you open yourself to growing your PLN.
The second secret to Twitter is that you do not need to keep up with your Twitter stream of content. Jump into Twitter when you have time; ignore it when real life calls. Install the app so that you can browse Twitter on the go.
Here are some lists to get you started. Browse these lists and click the follow button next to profiles that are of interest to you.
Once you have Twitter set up, make sure to install Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck is a dashboard for managing Twitter. Its interface lets you monitor Twitter searches, chats, and users at a glance. It is web-based and you can install it on your Mac or access it on the web. There is also a Chrome app version.
To practice using Tweetdeck, search for the following educational chats and add a column for each to your dashboard.
More hashtags to follow, take a look at Cybraryman's resources.
List any education related Twitter accounts that you think are worth following in the comments of this Tackk. Scroll to the bottom of this page to see comments!
2. Participating in Networks
Great Explanation... an Oldie, but a Goodie!
This video dates back to 2007; note the reference to MySpace. However, it is still is a valuable explanation of the value of social media.
Connect with other like-minded professionals and stay on top of current news and trends by participating in networks. You already may be active in ones such as Facebook, Google+ and/or LinkedIn. Google+ is similar to Facebook, minus ads, and connects to other Google features such as events, communities, photos, and hangouts. If you have a Google account, you already have a Google+ profile and account. LinkedIn is focused on professional networking; consider it the modern version of the proverbial Rolodex.
On Facebook, consider "liking" pages related to educational organizations; you'll receive their updates in your Facebook newsfeed. Google+ works in a similar manner, only you add people and orgs to Google+ circles in order to follow them. It is also recommended to join Google+ communities organized around topics of interest to you. LinkedIn encourages you to connect to people you know professionally and offers groups for subject-specific interests. You can also follow thought leaders and companies in LinkedIn to stay on top of news in your field as well.
Here are a few things to explore with each of these networking tools.
- CrashCourse (page)
- Global Nomads (page)
- Google Science Fair (page)
- Google Apps for Education (community)
- Google Classroom (community)
- Google Hangouts in Education (community)
- Project Based Learning (community)
Any other communities that you find valuable? Add 'em to this Tackk's comments at the bottom of this page.
3. Reading Weblogs
Teacher blogs are another place where educators can find inspiration. Many educators are actively sharing ideas and reflections on their practices. Follow a few blogs that aligned to your interests to get started.
Feed.ly is the recommended tool for managing blog reading; new posts appear in this app so that you do not have to visit individual web sites to check for new material.
If you're interested in blogging yourself, consider getting started using tools such as Wordpress, Blogger, or Tumblr. Blogging can also be a powerful tool for students; kid-friendly options include Kidblog and Edublogs.
Here are some recommended blogs and sites where you can find more blogs:
- Edublog Awards
- Cycles of Learning
- Ditch That Textbook
- The Fischbowl
- The IB Community Blog
- Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day
- Practical Theory
List any other blogs that you find in the comments of this Tackk.
4. Curating Resources
An overview of two bookmarking tools, Diigo and Delicious. Not sure if many people are still using Delicious!
Curation is an important 21st century skill for both educators and students. Choose an online bookmarking tool and as you encounter material that would be useful in your classroom, save it for future use. You'll find create your own personal library of links to be incredibly practical! Additionally, the social aspects of these tools allows you to discover what others in your network are curating and save their finds to your libraries or collections.
Pick one of the following:
Diigo - Diigo is an incredibly powerful social bookmarking tool. Use their tools to bookmark and annotate web sites. These links are stored in your personal library and can be made public or private. You can also create lists of links called outliners or bookmark to a collaborative group. Diigo also has an education-friendly features that make it easy to use with students.
A few of Diigo groups to browse join:
Pinterest - Pinterest appeals to many because it is a very visual and easy-to-use tool. Essentially, users pin images from web sites to their Pinterest accounts and can organize them on boards. If a web page doesn't have a pinnable image on it, there is a default image put in place. Because of its emphasis on the visual, this isn't necessarily the best tool for bookmarking text heavy web sites and resources. It is, however, a great site for browsing and getting ideas to use in your classroom.
Here are a few users to follow:
Take your pick of a curation tool and spend time playing with it. Find anything particularly outstanding? Add your commendations to the comments below!
5. Exploring Visual Imagery
Two imaged-based social media tools have professional development and curricular potential. Fine Arts teachers in particular find discover some creative uses with the treasure trove of images in the two following tools. Flickr, owned by Yahoo, has been around awhile. It's a great place for photo storage and groups organized various themes. It also has Creative Commons licensed material that can be re-purposed in educational projects.
In Flickr, follow other educators and organizations in order to be inspired visually. See how the Convergence Academies are documenting their work, peek at the the daily life of Lewis Elementary through the lenses of principal Tim Lauer, or travel the world with educator Karen Blumberg.
Some Flickr groups suggestions are:
- Atrocious Apostrophes - This group contains real life grammar lessons! Don't miss the Quotation Abuse group either!
- Encyclopedia of Life - These nature photos are Creative Commons licensed, so you may be able to re-uses these images. EOL is a project based at Harvard University.
- Field Guide: Birds of the World - Check out this tremendous repository of carefully documented and tagged birds. What if you started a group with your students to create other digital field guides?
- Global Journalism: Protest, Culture, Politics and News - This group has contests in which the public can vote and comment on photographs.
- Smarthistory - Group members contribute photos of art work around the world. Smart History is now a part of Khan Academy and has videos as well on YouTube.
- In Numerical Order - This project started about 10 years ago with group members taking photos of numbers and uploading them in order. This might be inspiration for a project within your own classroom.
Wildly popular Instagram is the newer kid on the block. Instagram is a simple, straightforward photosharing site that works best on mobile devices. Try following various museums such as MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum or governmental organizations such as NASA, the National Archives, and the U.S Geological Survey and Also, two European graduate students are traveling around the world to explore educational technology and you can follow their adventures on Instagram.
If you have permission via Creative Commons licensing to re-purpose images, perhaps you or your students can harvest photos from either Flickr or Instagram and upload and embellish to ThingLink. ThingLink lets you create hotspots on images, basically adding quick links to other content including text, URLs and videos. Below is an example of an image that has hotspots added using ThingLink.
About Tags and Hashtags
When using social media, it's essential that you understand tags and hashtags. When saving content, it's important to add tags (aka keywords) so that others can find your content when searching the internet. For instance, when I upload a screencast to Youtube, I add tags such as screencast, education and tutorial to the video's description. In social bookmarking tools, such as Diigo and Delicious, it's important to add tags to organize your content primarily so that you can find things easily in the future. When using Diigo, I add multiple tags to categorize my bookmarks such as math, literacy, lesson plans etc. depending on the subject matter of the link that I'm saving. I also use the word "excellent" for bookmarking sites that I think are outstanding. Whenever I'm searching my Diigo library for inspiration, I pull up my "excellent" tagged content and find great stuff that I may want to use in an article, lesson or in a project. For geeky information on tagging, check out this Wikipedia entry.
Hashtags are a little different and commonly used in Twitter and Instagram to create threaded streams of conversation and content. At conferences, hashtags will be used to create a backchannel (try #ISTE2015, for example) and there is a plethora of Twitter chats taking place online using hashtags such as #edchat, #globaledchat, #pypchat, and #ADEchat. For a complete guide to Twitter chats, see Jerry Blumgarten's (aka Cybraryman) page.