Create Your Own Personal Learning Network
The number of places for educators to find information on the Web has exploded along with an ever-expanding class of online collaborative tools. The traditional Web resource portals, like my own Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators, continue to provide expert-chosen and updated links of resources. However, the newer class of tools, such as Diigo, Twitter, Facebook, etc., provides all creative educators with a place to both find and share their expertise in quick and easy ways!
The collaborative and sharing aspects of these tools allows every educator to create their own personal learning network (PLN). A PLN is a group of experts and colleagues that you exchange professional information with on a regular basis. Educators can receive information automatically from those they trust, and find new colleagues via various built-in sharing functions.
Below are just a few of the tools available to help you create your own PLN.
Social bookmarking is one way to find good resources. The two most popular of these tools are Delicious and Diigo. Diigo and Delicious allow users to save their favorites or bookmarks to their servers, which then gives users access to their list of resources from any web-enabled computer. In addition, Diigo allows the user to create organized sub-lists with headings, which can be used with students to guide their Web exploration.
The social component of these tools, however, is what makes them special. When users add a favorite to their Diigo or Delicious list, they can choose to view the lists of others who have bookmarked that same page, thus finding new sites to add to their own list of resources. In addition, users can add people to their Diigo PLN and be notified when new favorites are added to these PLN lists. Diigo also allows users to share resources within user-created closed groups and offers the option of a special Diigo for Educators account to use with students. With Delicious, the user can choose to aggregate the RSS feeds of any other users and be notified, in their newsreader, of any new postings.
Twitter is an example of a micro-blogging tool. When someone signs up for a Twitter account, they can post, in 140 characters or less, a message to Twitter. Anyone who follows that user can see the message. Think of it as instant messaging on steroids!
The creation of a Twitter PLN can become a powerful resource tool for educators. To build a PLN, educators “follow” other educators who they read about, find on a list or see at a conference. They will then receive all of this person’s tips and resource links in their own Twitter feed. Once users follow an expert, they can click on the list of the users that expert follows, view the items these others are posting and then choose to follow those users, too. The list can grow exponentially!
Twitter users can also click on a list of users who are following a person they respect, and perhaps find some others to add to their own PLN. It sounds complex, but it is really easy—Twitter users can follow lots of educators, and then winnow down the list to those that really provide them with valuable resources. In addition, educators should give back to the education community by posting their finds and resources for others to share via Twitter.
Social networking involves another class of online tools. Facebook and MySpace are just two examples out of numerous social networks, and are characterized by users creating profile pages and then sharing that information with others. Within all social networks, there are a myriad of tools, such as threaded discussion groups, places to add links to resources and areas to post videos and photos. These social networking tools allow users to join groups, and within each group, cultivate a PLN of experts around that topic.
There are social networks that are created with all educators in mind, like NEA’s Great Public Schools (GPS) Network and those that are created to help support a community of learners of a specific product, such as the Discovery Educator Network. Ning is an online tool that allows an educator to create their own social network. There are active Nings on various professional topics; the Classroom 2.0 Ning, for example, promotes discussion about Web 2.0 tools that support teaching and learning.
One popular use of a Ning, in addition to using one for a professional PLN, is to create a Ning to use with students as a classroom PLN. This tool allows a classroom teacher to create a topical online collaborative space and easily add their students. The entire group then has access to the collaborative tools built into the Ning platform. Most students in middle and high school will be familiar with the social networking platform and will have little problem with the navigation or use of a classroom Ning site. Teachers can create a Ning for their classes, keep it restricted, and also ask Ning to remove the ads. Scott Habeeb, from City of Salem (VA) schools, has a well-done overview and guidelines for their teachers’ use of Nings with students.
These three types of tools are only some of the ways teachers can gather and share resources with colleagues and students. There are others, such as wikis, RSS and newsreaders and tools that combine multiple ways to collaborate all in one place. Find one tool that interests you, supports your professional needs, enhances your teaching and give it a try!
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