Creating a PLN, aka Getting on to Twitter and Blogs

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So much for last week, life sort of got in the way. I’m going to do a series where I break down my original list of reasons Territory teachers need to use social media and talk about them all individually, so I’ll start at the very beginning.

It lets you form a Professional Learning Network, generally abbreviated to PLN

This is just the new and fancy term for talking, reflecting and sharing resources. It happens around the staff room table or in the faculty office, where teachers share ideas or commiserate on failures, rave about the amazing book/DVD/app they’ve just found and ask how on earth they are going to deal with that difficult class. What’s that? Remote schools don’t have those networks? You’re right, it is difficult when there are only 2 or 3 of you, it’s easy to get trapped in the situation and need new ideas. And that is where your electronic network comes to the rescue, because it is limitless and portable.

Two of the places teachers tend to hang out online are blogs and Twitter. There are also Nings, which is just another type of online community. I’ve never really got into them but they might work for you. One of the reasons I like blogs and Twitter is they are easy to dip in and out of, more like a library or group of specialists rather than the work that goes into friendships and Nings. If you prefer friendships, check out Nings and let me know which ones you like.

Blogs

Blogs are easy to start with, giving you maximum information for minimal engagement. You can see a whole list of them in my sidebar split into different categories, and that button about the edublogs directory? Yep, it will take you to a whole directory of blogs on education. There are several very big ones, both Teach Paperless and Teacher Tom have won awards.

Choose one and click through, read a few posts and see if it suits your style. If you like it, subscribe so you’ll get all the posts. Don’t know how to subscribe? There are two lovely buttons to look for, most blogs have them fairly prominently. They may not look exactly like these, there are all sorts of pretty variations. And if they really don’t have something like this, your browser probably does.

Which you use is a personal choice – I like email because it’s delivered to me and I only have to open one thing in the morning. Others prefer a RSS reader (such as Google reader) because it doesn’t clutter their inbox. If you have Google set as your homepage you can add them on that as well. It’s just a way of bringing the blog to you, rather than you having to go to the blog. Then sit back, read the posts and ponder.

At some point there’ll be something you want to say, which is when you jump in and comment. That’s the really exciting thing about blogs, both for the blogger and the reader, because that’s when you can get conversations happening. As a blogger it tells you that you aren’t howling into the wilderness, and as a reader it adds another point of view and allows you to ask questions. This is the staff room table, for those of us who don’t have one.

And when you comment, you get to leave your URL if you have one, which can link to your own blog. Or other commenters have left their URL and you can click on it and check them out. That’s how you find new blogs, by checking out the ones the original blogger recommends or by following interesting comments.

Some people are beginning to say that readers aren’t useful anymore, and in some ways I agree with them. The main reason is that the interesting URLs get passed around in other ways, especially on Twitter.

Twitter

Twitter was designed for mobile phones, hence the 140-character limit. Which means it is perfect for sharing links and passing them around. You sign up at Twitter and choose yourself a username, don’t be too long so you don’t use up too many characters.

Then you need to find people to follow. I’m ScienceMum, and if you are in the Northern Territory this list by Monica Hilse is a good place to start. Once again, you talk to people and read what they are talking about. If they are talking to someone interesting, follow them too. The trick is to not follow too many people at once – if you are following a couple of hundred people and no-one is following you, you look like a spammer.

You need to stick with Twitter for a bit, when you are only following a few people it can be a long time between tweets. I’ve heard that the sweet spot is following 50-100 people, enough so you see some decent conversations. And join in! Too many people see Twitter as a broadcast medium where they can shout quotes or links, but the full benefits are when you use it as a conversation and build up relationships. If you want to have a network of people you can ask questions and bounce ideas off, you also need to answer questions and be willing to be bounced on.

I find the best way to use Twitter is through one of the clients, rather than the Twitter website itself. Tweetdeck is a good one, there is also a list here of the most popular. The beauty of them is you can set up all sorts of groups for the people you follow. Given my diverse interests, I have groups like Friends, Parents, Business, Science, Education and Shops. It makes it easy to skim across and see if there are any interesting conversations going on.

And honestly? I don’t think I can say it better than this – If you were on Twitter … (see what you find when you follow blogs?)

Isolation is one of the hardest things the Territory throws at us, both personal and professional. Cars and planes started shrinking the world, now online technologies are finishing the job. Today, no matter where you are you can create your own staff room table to laugh around.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jon Nemeth September 15, 2012 at 5:02 am

Great Article! I love all the different ways people are finding to connect as a result of web technologies. As someone who embraces technology and has found interesting and creative ways to use it, I think you might also like to try http://www.novachi.com to form a PLN. It’s intended use is to provide a free place for teachers to interact with their students and parents, but I bet it could also be used as a PLN since the application allows you to create private “Classrooms” and invite users in to collaborate via discussions, blogs, videos, etc.. In the case of forming a PLN, its a great way to share all sorts of content with each other in a private environment.

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