How can a PLN help educators stay connected?

As an educator, you spend your days in the classroom and your nights preparing lesson plans and grading papers. Occasionally, you attend a conference. What you really need, though, is some time to collaborate with other educators—to share your thoughts and ideas about education. You may not think you have any availability but, believe it or not, there are several new ways for you to connect with other educators and build your own PLN or personal learning network without putting in even more hours every week.

As Collette Cassinelli wrote in edtech VISION in a blog post entitled, “What is a PLN and why do I need one?”: “Teaching can be a very isolating profession. Having a PLN allows you to connect and share with other educators in your subject area. Think of the Verizon network commercials … your network is always there support you, answering questions, inspiring you and encouraging your own learning.”

What is a PLN?
A PLN, or personal learning network, is your own personal community of professionals and colleagues with whom you connect on a regular basis. While the idea of a professional network isn’t new, the methods for building and maintaining these networks are innovative and exciting. Thanks to a group of technologies that facilitate communication and collaboration, you can stay in touch with almost anyone at any time. A very popular example of this is Twitter and this is what we primarily focus on.

Twitter for educators
How useful can sending messages in short bursts of 140 characters or fewer actually be? According to the large number of individuals using Twitter, the answer is extremely effective. As of January, 2011 Twitter had over 200 million registered accounts, with a staggering 110 million tweets (messages) per day. Information enthusiasts connect on Twitter every day to exchange tips, links to useful Web sites, announcements and recommendations. People can even search for information about a particular topic by using Twitter’s handy search feature.

When individuals post tweets, they identify their topics by inserting hashtag symbols (#) in front of the topic names. These symbols categorize messages and make them searchable. For example, if you went to Twitter and searched for “#PLN,” you might find a list of messages from educators who regularly post on technology-related topics. If one of your search results is a message containing a hashtag, you can click on the hashtag to access other posts on this topic.

Joining up
To get started, you will need to create your free account and set up your profile. Then, you are ready to start searching for interesting tweets. If you find a particularly interesting tweet, you can mark it as a “favorite.” To reply to a tweet, simply click “reply” and make your thoughts known. If you want to share what you’ve found with others, you can click on “retweet,” and you’ll send this tweet to all who “follow” you. When you find people who regularly post tweets that you like, you can subscribe to their tweets and “follow” them by clicking on their names. This will take you to their profiles. From here, you can click on “follow” to receive tweets from them. You can also choose to “unfollow” people at any time.

Information in real time
Tweets happen often, in real time, from anywhere. For instance, if you don’t feel like sitting at the computer to tweet, you can get a Twitter app for your phone, allowing you to tweet anytime, anywhere. As you “reply,” “retweet,” and “follow” others, you’ll gradually build your own personal network of contacts.

Although we’ve focused mainly on Twitter, it is just one of several social media tools. Educators can build communities with blogs, wikis, Facebook pages, and other social bookmarking. If you’re ready to get started, Richard Byrne, in his blog Free Technology for Teachers, has a slide presentation entitled “Developing an Online Personal Sharing Network, Why? and How?” that you will undoubtedly find useful.

Happy networking!

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