Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Stay connected all year long with your PLN!


Connected Educators Month runs during the month of October 2013 and there are hundreds of events, classes, meet-ups, and ways to use social media scheduled to allow educators around the globe to connect! But “connecting” should not just occur during this time period.
There are ways you can re-connect with other educators and connect with new ones throughout the year. This blog post will offer tips that can help you broaden and sustain your personal learning network.

Sue Waters, on her blog, way back in 2008, when there were few personal learning networks, asked educators to answer some questions about their use of personal learning networks. One of the questions she asked was “Why is a personal network important to educators?”
I loved these ideas from Derek Wenwoth from New Zealand–
  • Help each other solve problems
  • Hear each others’ stories and avoid local blindness
  • Find synergy across structures
  • Keep up with change
  • Reflect on their practice and improve it
  • Build shared understanding
  • Find a voice and gain strategic influence
  • Cooperate on innovation
And Robin Ellis, from PA, stated her heart-felt reason PLNs were important to her…
  • The most important aspects of personal learning networks for me are the ability to connect, communicate, and collaborate globally.
  • The network is always on 24/7/365 and always willing to share ideas and offer help.
  • It is a way to build relationships otherwise not possible.
There are many ways to both build and maintain your personal learning network. I have found, as I become interested in new topics, I grow my network to include experts and practitioners in that topic. I learn from them, have a chance to ask questions, and provide feedback on my thoughts, too. Remember that a PLN is a two-way street; you have to “pay it forward” and contribute, too! Everyone who teaches is creative, smart, and resilient. It’s the way we are. You all have great ideas and reflections to share, so please post to social networks, create a curation page with your favorite (annotated) links, and offer suggestions in Webinar chat boxes!
Alec Couros has created a wonderful graphic that illustrates what the networked teacher looks like. You can see the networked teacher is both a consumer and a creator of digital content and shares his/her expertise!

Ways to connect

Create a survey and share
One way I find educators to connect with is to create a survey on a hot topic that I am interested in, spread the word through my social media channels, and tell the respondents that I will share the collected data with them. Since people have to give me their email address if they want the data, after looking through the answers, I often find some creative new item or idea, and I can contact that person and connect for more information. And then, of course, I follow them, G+ them, LI them, etc., to keep up on the cool things they are doing!

Join online communities
Another way to find new colleagues to connect with is to follow some of the online communities sponsored by organizations and companies, like the ISTE’s Wikispace, EdWeb, Adobe’s Education Exchange, Discovery’s Educator Network, and Sony’s Education Ambassadors. As you peruse these communities, and find information that is useful or interesting to you, you can personally connect with the author and add them to your PLN!

Sign up for Twitter
Twitter is the most important tool in my PLN toolbox. It is easy to both share and receive information.
Some of the key points of Twitter are…
  • It is an online messaging service, like instant messaging, but it is one-to-many as opposed to one-to-one. It is not truly synchronous like IM, but, it can be pretty close to it.
  • The messages you post on Twitter are public and can be found in a Twitter search by anyone.
  • A Twitter message can only be 140 characters long.
  • Users can decide to follow your posts and you can choose to follow theirs, or not.
The most important aspect of Twitter to learn about is how to find experts to follow. The social networking component of Twitter helps with this. Once you find one good person to follow, you can look at the people that person follows, look at their tweets, and add them to your Twitter feed!
There are also lists of twitter users by category, like the Twitter4Teachers Wiki, which has teachers arranged by teaching topic and WeFollow, a directory of many topics to pick from.
Another useful aspect of Twitter is the use of the hashtag. A hashtag is used in a Twitter message to allow many  messages to be gathered together in one place. There are hashtags set up for conferences, classrooms, and regular Twitter events like #edchat, that sponsor an online chat at a certain time each week on a topic of interest. You can conduct a Twitter search on a hashtag, even if you are not a Twitter user, to get some great information and find smart people to follow!
There is a new online tool called Tagboard that allows you to search a hashtag and see all the “hits” and also limit it by type– Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. You can also set-up your own hashtag and share the tagboard with others.

Multimedia can be part of creating your PLN, too. One way to both learn from others and to gain a following of your own is to create or subscribe to a podcast or video series.
The first thing you need to subscribe to a podcast or videocast is a podcast aggregator such as iTunes. Whether or not you use any Apple products, iTunes is a great organizer of audio and is available to download for both Windows and Mac computers.  People who have podcasts list them in the iTunes podcast store (they are not actually housed in the iTunes store), so that is one place to start looking for podcasts to subscribe to. Podomatic is another place to find podcasts to follow, since they actually host all the podcasts created on their site.
Once you feel comfortable about how podcasts work, you can create one of your own! For free, with Podomatic, you can create a podcast via your phone or computer microphone or upload an audio file. The uploaded file automatically gets the feed address that you share with others or register with iTunes.
One of the reasons many educators create videocasts is to demonstrate to students how to do something. A videocast which captures everything on your desktop is called a screencast. Screen-cast-o-matic is a free, online screen-capture program that allows you to capture up to 15 minutes of audio and video and host it online at YouTube or download it as an FLV, mp4, or avi file.

Blogging can be another component of your connecting toolkit. You can read and subscribe to blogs, create your own, or join a group blog.
To subscribe to blogs, you need to use a newsreader, such as Feedly. Once you sign-up for a newsreader, you only have to visit this single place to find out about any new posts on any of yous subscribed blogs.
However, the hardest part about following applicable blogs is FINDING the ones that will help you the most. There are a couple of ways to do this…
  • If you know an expert in your field’s name, do a phrase search on “name’s blog” and you will likely find a blog maintained by this person
  • Many bloggers include a blogroll, a list of blogs THEY follow right on their blog, so you can check those out, too.
  • There are several directories of edubloggers out there, like the The International Edubloggers Directory and the list of Education Blogs by Discipline
Once you spend some time reading and commenting on the blogs of others, you might decide to create your own. Most educators use BloggerWordPress, or eduBlogs. Whichever one you use to make your blog, make sure to add it to the lists of educator-created blogs to make sure people come visit, subscribe, and comment on your blog! Comments are what creates part of the collaboration component of your PLN.
You might also decide to create a group blog. A group blog is a blog with postings from various contributors. One example of an education-specific group blog is Edutopia, which has many blog posters. A group blog takes advantage of the expertise of many to create a well-rounded blog.

Online conferences and Webinars
Many educational organizations and groups offer online Webinars or conference presentations by experts. During the presentation, the best part is sometimes the “backchannel”, which is the conversation that is going on among participants while the presenter is presenting. This is often done in a chat area, and you can find some great resources and educators to add to your PLN during these chats.
Finding listings of these Webinars is not easy but you usually wind up hearing about them either from others in your subject area, your professional organizations, or those already in your PLN.

An unconference ,or edcamp, is a participant-driven meeting. Many times these un-conferences are held before a regularly scheduled national or regional conference since participants can come a day early and attend the un-conference.  Usually, a small committee reserves a room, a mic, and tables and chairs. Early on the day of the conference, the time periods are put on the large screen, and participants vote on topics for the day. Educators volunteer to lead and moderate these sessions. It is more a conversation than a presentation. At an unconference, you really have the time to talk to others in an informal way and add them to your rapidly growing personal learning network.

I hope I have given you some new ideas to grow your personal learning network and collaborate with others all year long!