Monday, August 23, 2010

A PLN Quick Start Guide

Updated 4/17/13


I recently worked on a book with Bill Ferriter and Jason Ramsden entitled Essentials for Principals: Communicating & Connecting With Social Media.  As I was working on the professional development section I delved into the topic of Personal Learning Networks (PLN's).  Now I fully realize that the majority of educators immersed in social media understand the importance of a PLN and how to establish one.  Well, this post is not for you, but instead for a teacher or administrator that you work with that needs either a a little push to set one up or further explanation on it's value.


The concept of a PLN has been around for a very long time.  PLN's back in the day consisted of individuals with the same professional interests engaging in mostly face to face communication. Fast forward a good amount of years and enter the internet.  No one can argue that the evolution of the real-time web has dramatically altered how we communicate, gather information, and reflect.  The construction of a PLN enables educators to harness the power inherent in 21st Century technologies in order to create a professional growth tool that is accessible whenever, wherever.  In particular, my PLN provides me with a constant supply of resources, thought-provoking discussions, knowledge, leadership strategies, and ways to successfully integrate technology.
Image Credit http://21clc.wikispaces.com/PLN 

Most educators I talk to have no idea where to begin when attempting to create a PLN that meets their teaching and learning needs.  The vast majority don't even possess a working knowledge of basic web 2.0 tools and how they can be utilized for teaching and learning.  The following list provides some good PLN starting points and resources to assist any educator looking to take their professional growth to new levels:

  • TwitterMicroblogging platform that allows educators from all corners of the globe to communicate in 140 characters or less.  Allows for the sharing of resources, discussion of best practices, and collaboration. For more information on Twitter check out this video.
  • LinkedInProfessional networking site that allows educators to connect, exchange ideas, and find opportunities. Educators can join a variety of groups that cater to their individual learning interests and engage in discussions as well as submit, read, and comment on articles. For more information on LinkedIn check out this video.
  • Blogs: Incredible sources of information that allow educators to reflect, share opinions, and discuss various topics. This is a common medium to discover best practices, examples of innovation, and learn from professional experiences of both novice and veteran educators. Common blogging applications include Blogger, Wordpress, and TypePad. For more information on blogs check out this video.
  • RSS Readers: RSS stands for "Real Simple Syndication". An RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with educational blogs, news, wikis, and podcasts all in one convenient location. By subscribing to various RSS feeds educators then have a customized flow of information that is continually updated and accessible through the use of mobile devices or the internet. Educators can even create their own RSS feeds! Popular RSS readers include Feedly and RSSOwl. For more information on RSS check out this video. Tablet apps are great tools to access RSS feeds and create your own customized news feeds.  Popular iOS and Android apps include Zite, Flipboard, and Pulse, all of which are free.
  • Wikis: Collaborative websites that allow registered users the ability to create and edit any number of interlinked web pages. Wikis encourage information sharing and collaborative learning. Educators can view and join some exemplary wiki models at Educational Wikis and Wikis in Education. For more information on wikis check out this video.
  • Digital Discussion Forums: Consist of communities of educators interested in similar topics. One of the most popular sites is called Ning where educators can create or join specific communities. Ning sites offer a range of learning and growth options such as discussion forums, event postings, messaging, news articles, chat features, groups, and videos. Popular educational Ning sites include The Educator’s PLN, Classroom 2.0, English Companion Ning, and Ning in Education. Other fantastic digital discussion forums are ASCD Edge (you must be a member of ASCD to join) and edWeb.net.
  • Social Bookmarking: Method for storing, organizing, and sharing bookmarks online. Popular sites such as Delicious and Diigo allow you to add descriptions as well as categorize each site using tags. Educators can even join groups and receive email updates when new bookmarks are added. For more information on social bookmarking check out this video.
  • Facebook: Social networking site that not only allows people to keep up with family and friends, but also to connect and engage with professionals. The Facebook in Education page provides information on how educators can best use Facebook as a resource. Other groups worth following in order to strengthen a PLN include Edutopia and #EdChat. Each customizable page or group provides a variety of learning opportunities and growth options for educators.
  • Google +: The search giant is at it again with their version of a social networking tool, which contains both Facebook and Twitter-like attributes. Within Google + users can create a profile page similar to Facebook, group people in circles (organize people into categories), and set up hangouts (free group video chats).  Check out this cheat sheet to get started.
  • Pinterest: Everyone these days seems to be pinning.  This tool is a great way to curate information to satisfy even the most finicky of learning needs.  Check out my board just on PLN's.
For more information on PLN's check out this fantastic video! Share this post and help a colleague develop their PLN today!

16 comments:

  1. This is good stuff. The more resources we provide to take some of the bite out of building a PLN, the more teachers we will see jumping in. I have a newbie guide to start a PLN on my blog too. Great job.

    http://ateachr.blogspot.com
    Ian

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  2. This is a nice overview - don't forget all the social networks out there hosted by Ning -

    Classroom 2.0 has over 45,00 educators..
    English Companion has over 20,000
    Even my Ning (Making Curriculum Pop) has over 3,000 educators in the mix.

    Well organized Ning are a wonderful PLN addition that should not be overlooked!

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  3. Eric-
    Congratulations! I look forward to sharing it with teachers and schools as PLN's are an essential (and often misunderstood) aspect of teaching and learning today.

    I will add the links and the videos to my must share resources! Thanks!

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  4. Hey Eric

    I like this overview and I will share it with my network. I have found all of the tools you mention to be helpful in establishing my own PLN and deepening my professional knowledge.

    Another important aspect of my network is listening to podcasts that focus on edtech. Two that I have found most useful recently are Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wes Fryer and the Tech Chicks Podcast.

    Best wishes from the UK,

    Paul

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  5. Fantastic stuff Eric. I will share your post with our higher up administrators. Keep up the good work.

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  6. Hi Eric,

    I shared with two individuals trying to make sense of PLN. Also included in my Diigo Library. Thanks!

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  7. Great info put very simple. All teachers should have this list given to them and be forced to use it and teach it. It wont be long before all the kids know what these things mean and we better make sure the teachers do also. Thanks for the info!

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  8. Great Information. There is also a large population of teachers making connections through www.plurk.com

    I've written a blog sharing how I benefited from building my PLN through Plurk. http://teacherricks.blogspot.com/2010/09/reflections-from-plurk.html

    Thanks for an informative post!

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  9. Thank you for sharing all of this excellent info. As a newbie to Twitter (I only heard of a PLN last week!) your Quick Guide really answered a lot of my questions. Really keen to start developing my PLN and getting others in my district involved. Very exciting times ahead. Thanks again :)

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  10. Great roundup of resources! I have shared with several teachers in our district!

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  11. Thanks for providing this explanation. I'll use the format you've presented above with groups of administrators who need a kick start!

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  12. You clearly stated a great number of sources for educators to use to develop a PLN and they are all great sources. What you have probably done however, is overwhelmed anyone new to Social Media. It is this information overload which drives people away from technology, screaming, and flailing. I am convinced PLN's need to be developed over time. As people learn about one Social Media source it will be time to move onto another as needed. If we, as users of Social Media, look at our own PLN development we look at the success we have now, and forget how long it took us to get it together. I am an ardent PLN supporter, but I am not convinced that there is a quick route to success.

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  13. Tom,

    There is no right or wrong way to create a PLN. The key is to pick one or two of the resources listed above and begin to cultivate a vibrant learning network based on ones' needs and interests. I feel it is important to list a variety of options and starting points for the main reason being that a tool that works for someone might not for another. As you eloquently stated, as a person learns about one source and has success with it then the time might be right to try something else (this is exactly what I did). Quick route to succes? Not by any means. Quick read to know what options are available and how they fit in to a PLN? Yes! Thanks for your comment!

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  14. I love all of these posts about building and expanding our pln's, but my biggest issue is: how do you find time to keep up with everything and everyone?! I think I need a class on how to keep up with my PLN!

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  15. At last! I found a good post like this.. Thanks for this informative post! By the way, can you write a post about linkedin seo factors? Thanks again!

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  16. Thanks Eric,
    I am offering a technology boot camp next month which will surely include his information.

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