Looking to expand your learning network and find new opportunities for growth outside the walls of your school? If you are reading this, hopefully you are convinced that having a Personalized Learning Network (PLN) will allow you to grow as an educator and provide meaningful experiences for your learners. If not, check out a previous blog, The Power of PLN’s, for some great reasons why you should get started. Great! Now that you understand the importance of being a connected educator we can dive into options for your PLN and tips for using it efficiently.
Things to Consider
Depending on your generation, utilizing social media as a powerful learning tool may raise eyebrows. Some simply aren’t comfortable with social media and don’t want to engage in it’s use. Often we see the way social media is used by others and determine that it is a time wasting enterprise designed solely for self gratification or humor. That leads us to other generations. Many that are comfortable using social media have never learned to use social media for a purpose other than entertainment. (An issue that I believe educators should be addressing, but that’s another conversation.) It’s important to understand that social media is a tool that can be powerful if used with a purpose. The results derived from your PLN will directly reflect your purpose for using it. For this reason, separating your personal and professional social media use will most definitely increase the effectiveness of your PLN. Entertainment and professional growth are very different purposes. When combined it may be difficult to experience the growth you set out for when creating a PLN.
Educators are busy people. We have little time to collaborate with others in our departments or content areas and even less time to collaborate with those outside of those circles. The best way to grow your PLN both inside and outside of you school is by utilizing social media tools, many of which you are already familiar with. Your existing learning network and learning preferences will most likely influence the the avenue you choose to grow your PLN with. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and YouTube are popular social networking sites and are all capable of providing personalized learning if used with the purpose of doing so. My choice to build a PLN and the tool that I feel is the most valuable is Twitter. It may not be right for everyone, but let’s look into getting set up and some great benefits of choosing Twitter as your PLN.
Using Twitter as a PLN
Creating an Account
Dive in! If you already have an account it may be possible to repurpose to align with your new goals. If you don’t have an account, sign up. Using your real name or pseudo name is up to you and your preferences. It is similar to creating any social media account, however during the process Twitter will provide you with suggestions for entities or individuals to follow (following an account means that their posts, or tweets will show up in your home timeline). Skip that part! You have a purpose for creating your account and you do not want to cloud your feed with posts that don’t align with your purpose. Twitter’s support pages can provide you with the specific details of creating an account.
You will also want to decide whether to keep your account private or to make it public. This is an option that you can change at any time, but it will definitely affect your Twitter experience. Having a private account means that you will have to approve followers (those that see your posts) and only your followers will be able to see what you are posting. If your account is public, anyone will be able to see the content that you post as well as follow your account without your permission. Expanding your PLN will definitely be easier to do with a public account. It will allow you to connect with communities more effectively and also allow others to more easily follow and learn from your experiences.
Once on Twitter, you will need to get connected with educators that align with your purpose and help you grow. Start by using Twitter’s search option to find those educators in your building/district that are already connected. You may choose to follow these individuals even if their posts do not support your purpose. Why? Because positive growth has to start somewhere. Connecting and sharing with these educators can’t spark cultural change in your building. Be excited about what you are doing and others will be too.
Next, find other educational leaders to follow. These could be well known names in education, leaders from districts around you, well known bloggers, national speakers, and education experts that you have learned from in college courses or through PD. Attending conferences is also great way to find individuals with like interests that align with your purpose. Whether you attend a technology conference or a conference for your specific content area, the presenters and attendees from those conferences can be great resources to connect with and learn from.
Many events use hashtags to organize Tweets about their events. You have probably seen these in presentations as well as flyers for these events. When those in attendance experience something valuable or have something valuable to share, they can create a new tweet and include the event hashtag. By doing so, the tweet becomes searchable using the search function in Twitter. You can either search for the hashtag in Twitter’s search function or click on a hashtag in an existing post. You will then be able to see all the Tweets that include that hashtag and have been posted by a user with a public account.
When deciding to add someone to your PLN by following them, first check out their feed. Is it personal or professional? Is the information of quality or mainly opinion? Is this feed positive? Does it support growth and align with your purpose? Asking those questions can quickly help you decide if this account would be a good addition to your PLN.
Lastly, search for relevant organizations. These can be specific to your educational content as well as technology tools that you use in your classroom. Many organizations will post opportunities and updates that you may want to take advantage. Local entities may have events that will help bring the real world into your classroom to engage your students. They may also have opportunities for your students to get involved or even take a field trip. Following an organization whose products you currently use can also be beneficial. They will often post new functions as well as product updates that you will want to use in your classroom. Having this information will allow you to share with other in your PLN and in your building. A PLN is just as much, if not more, about sharing as it is receiving.
We just took a look at getting connected with others by following a hashtag on Twitter from a conference or event, but that is not the only way to use them. Twitter can also be used as a powerful research tool. Countless resources are shared on Twitter each day and many include a searchable hashtag. This is a great way to access resources as well as keep up with current events that may be applicable for use in your classroom.
Hashtags are also a great way to share with specific communities in your PLN. Your department, grade level, building, or district can create a hashtag to use in order to communicate and share relevant information with each other. If you can gain traction and support for your initiative, your PLN can be a powerful tool to create positive changes in a community.
The @ symbol can be used in Tweets to tag other Twitter users. This can be used to start a conversation or if you want to be intentional about including others or sharing a posting with them. You can also tag someone as a reply to someone else’s Tweet as a way of sharing that Tweet directly with them. If a conversation is started and you want to bring more people into the conversation, you could add more tags to bring in more users and even create a virtual brainstorm.
Twitter also has a function called lists that can be extremely useful. The list function can be seen in the options banner on your homepage, and accessed in the drop down menu by clicking on your profile picture. Lists can be created for various things as a way to organize those you follow and can even be used to monitor accounts that you have chosen not to follow. When you create a list it can be made public or private depending on whether or not you want others to see the list you have created. You can add someone to a list you have created by going to their profile and clicking on the ⠇options menu found beside the follow button. Users do not get notified when they are added to a list.
You definitely want to participate in a twitter chat, an edchat to be specific. An edchat is an organized conversation on twitter with a specific professional development purpose in mind. Some chats are scheduled and occur weekly or biweekly, while others may come and go as needed. The chats will have a facilitator that may change regularly. Chats usually have a general topic with a more specific topic that changes for each chat. Most chats will take place during the course of an hour with the facilitator posing a new question or subtopic at regular intervals. Chats can seem overwhelming at first. Trying to organize your thoughts, share relevant information, and track the posts of others can seem overwhelming at first, but the experience is quite fun and you will pick up on it very quickly.
Edchats are a great place to connect with others and expand your PLN. Usually other Twitter users that are intentional about growth are the ones that participate in these chats, so a lot of great connections can be made. If you want to see what they are all about before you participate, or just see what kind of content is being shared so you can make a good decision about which chats to spend your time on, use the search function to look into some of these regularly scheduled chats:
#MOEdChat – Website
#GAFEchat – Website
#mschat – middle school chat
#DENchat – Discovery Education Network Chat
A fairly comprehensive list of edchats can also be found on the Educational Chats website calendar.
You can quickly see that valuable ideas, resources and information are shared on these chats. Don’t just sit back and absorb the information though, become a contributor! Share your insight and experiences with others. One of the reasons edchats are so beneficial is that you will get to examine your own practices and opinions as an educator when developing responses to the chat prompts. This can be just as much or more beneficial that looking at other’s posts.
Being intentional about your purpose and creation of your PLN will determine how effective it is. Connect with those that will have a positive impact on your professional growth. Use lists to compartmentalize and organize your PLN into themes. If you need a better way to organize and track your PLN after it grows, look into using external tools like Tweetdeck. Remember to share resources and insights just as much or more than you receive them. And always, remember to be professional. Think about what you are posting before you Tweet and make sure it is a good reflection of the intentions you have for your PLN. Comment below if you need anything or connect with me on Twitter and start growing your PLN.