It’s All About the PLN

This week I am writing a reflection after reading Reach by: Jeff Utecht. While I was reading many things came to mind about the connectedness of the internet and the communities that we make because of the internet.

My first connection was from the quote “We thought communities trumped content” (Mayo & Newcome, 2009). This quote from the first chapter made me think back to reading “A More Beautiful Question” by Warren Berger. Berger made stated that the value of knowing answers is decreasing while the value of asking good questions is increasing. Content knowledge is something that is easier and easier to obtain with each addition to the internet, but having a community and network of people that you can ask questions of is still an active part of the internet.

This is how I use my Personal Learning Network (PLN). My PLN has always been my first stop when I have a question that I can’t find an answer to. I am a Tech Integrationist which is a job that can be hard to find colleagues who are close enough to your location to actually meet and talk with. Having a PLN that is virtual is essential and virtually impossible to function without. The internet community that comes with a PLN allows me to ask questions and receive answers from other teachers and integrationists who, without the internet I would never be able to connect with.

This is part of the reason that I don’t understand people who say that social media isn’t actually that social. They have obviously never been to a conference and had to have the conversation with themselves that goes like this, “Hmm, that person looks familiar. Yep definitely someone who is familiar, but have I met them before? Were they in Munich? Zurich? Or… do I follow them on Twitter? Oh, crap, have I actually ever talked to this person in real life or have I only interacted with them online? I need to figure this out!” Then once you figure out where you know each other you end up hanging out several times both during and after the conference before heading back to your home and continuing your relationship online. While yes this example includes some actual real-life contact. The majority of this relationship will probably remain online and has the potential to be just as fulfilling as if you were able to spend physical time together learning from each other.

This brings me back to my PLN. I recently participated in an interview for doctoral candidate Kay Oddone. She asked me to map my PLN. At first I thought, how well this won’t be that hard. But once I got started I realized A. how complex my network is and B. how interconnected it is. I also realized that I use certain parts in certain ways. For example, I use Twitter to communicate with specific people who are inA More Beautiful Question.jpg two or three different parts of my PLN but Twitter is the way that I communicate with them 1:1 if needed, even though I know that Twitter may not be their main communication tool. In my head Twitter is the PLN communication tool!

I also realized that I spend a lot more of my time on my PLN as a Lurker/Sharer than an active participant. While I do participate, I do not do it as much as I could/should. I have also realised that on different parts of my PLN a more active participant and on other parts I am more of a lurker. It sort of depends on the social media element that I am in!

I also wonder if there are times when you can be too active. I find that there are times when I could totally answer a question for someone but when I read the comments I find that either the question has been answered or someone is starting a two way conversation that will lead to an answer. I hate when people don’t bother to read comments to see if the question has been answered before posting a repeat. So I try to avoid that. I guess that is me being active because I am choosing not to respond since my response is no longer needed.

I also find that I tend to go in cycles. I will be very active for a period of time and then there are periods of time when I am very inactive. Mostly depending on stresses at school with workloads.

Another thing that I find that I need to do regularly, usually after a conference, is to cull my PLN. I know that there are certain types I can’t handle in my PLN. The main one being the person who posts someone on Twitter every hour of the day. But also I find that if I am not opening articles or reading a person’s feed then I will delete them from at least part of my PLN. I have some people who I follow in one social media sphere but not others because of the way they interact in one or the other.

The last thing I will comment on is Jeff’s comment about fear of self promotion. I think there are many teachers out there who are very fearful of seeming like they know it all, which I find is very common among teachers. I think that I struggled with that at first but then when I came to the realization that my blog was going to be for me to have a place to write out ideas fully and archive them, I realized I didn’t care if anyone ever read it. Also it gave me a way to share with my family what my job is since they can’t really understand it as it didn’t exist in school when they were in school. I think when teachers realise the personal benefits of having and participating in a PLN they will feel less like it is self promotion and more like it is self growth that they direct.

Taking the Professional Development Initiative

In the last two years I have gradually begun to take more initiative in finding professional development (PD) for myself.  Some of this was due to a lack of permission to go on PD courses but more so because PD in my area is so widely available online and so under represented at conferences.  I started slowly by following some blogs that I stumbled upon through a couple of groups that I am in.  Our librarian told me of a few IT related groups that she followed, so I joined them as well.

Then I moved to Twitter and following a few selected blog posts from other educators.  Twitter has now become my main source of information and PD.  I still visit a few blogs regularly but I have found that many of the blog posts that I have found useful, ended up on Twitter within a few days of me reading the posts.  Spending time doing this PD has made me realize that with the increased use of the web, the time for teachers waiting for PD to come to them or waiting to be sent to a training is over.  There is no reason that as teachers can can’t improve our practice with ideas gathered instantly from the internet.  There are teachers, trainers, facilitators, and companies posting good ideas and resources online at an amazing rate. It’s like having access to all of those great ideas from the Mailboxes magazine instantly at your fingertips at once.  It is also good because you can get current ideas and resources from some of the top people in education instantly.
All you have to do is decide whose ideas you find the most helpful and follow them in some way.  Be it on Twitter, Facebook, a blog, emails, their website, whatever you like best.  It doesn’t matter how you get the information, just get it.  You don’t even have to check it daily, because it will always be there waiting for you to access it! Use the internet to your advantage.  Don’t shy away from it, embrace it.

This quote from a “you may be a 21st Educator” list pretty much summes it up.  “One of your most trusted and reliable colleagues is in another state or country and responds just as quickly via social media as the teacher next door.”

Here are a few of my favorites from twitter: