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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Connecting to a "Personal Learning Network"

Are you connected? Do you have a network of colleagues that you can easily turn to with questions and to improve your professional practice? One of the things I most appreciate about the internet is that it allows me to personally connect with various individuals or groups of educators locally, nationally, and even internationally. My top digital tools that enable this communication include the following:
  1. email list-servs or google groups
  2. diigo
  3. twitter
  4. google docs
  5. ning networks
  6. facebook groups and linked-in
  7. skype or google video chat
  8. blogs
  9. RSS feeds
Here is a brief description of each tool, it's collaborative power, and ways to try them out...

1. Do you belong to an email list-serv or a google group? If not, there is undoubtedly one in existence for your area of interest. NAIS has lists for many administrators; AP has lists for each subject, and various organizations have other lists for subject area teachers. If you're not on a list-serve or google group for some topic, I'd encourage you to try this out. It is a great way to dip your toe into PLNs. Here are a few links to some list-servs.

2. Diigo is an amazing social bookmarking tool. The more I use it, the more I like it. Read why here and see these instructions if you're interested in setting up an account.

3. Twitter is like a constant stream of interesting little tidbits from people you follow. You can dip your toe in whenever the mood strikes, or jump in and swim every day. Here is a page on how to start twittering if you are interested.

4. Google docs is another thing like diigo that just keeps growing on me. My latest favorite is the use of shared "collections." A collection is like a folder, but the cool thing is you can "share" a folder with another group of people and then [here's the really cool part], any additional google docs that you add to that folder are also shared to all the people who have access to that folder.

5. If you haven't checked out the Independent School Educators ning network, please do. It's another easy way to connect to colleagues at other schools and join in discussions or ask questions.

6. I rarely do professional networking on facebook but recently found a group which is fun to be part of. Linked-in has also impressed recently with it's weekly email of "trending" news topics. This is a nice example of the power of the crowd. When thousands (or millions?) of people are sharing  a link to something, it tends to be interesting. My favorite article from the past weeks is Culture Trumps Strategy. By the way, if you're wondering how I was able to find this website again several weeks later it's because I'd bookmarked in my diigo account (see #2 above).

7. Video chat is reaching mainstream adoption. I predict that before long we will have an easy way to send "video email" that may help with the well-known problem that email has no tone and can so easily be misinterpreted. There have already been companies in this space (most notably "seesmic") that never caught on, but I wouldn't be surprised to see google or facebook come out with some nifty video-messaging feature in the next few years. Meanwhile we'll have to work with synchronous video chat.

8. Blogs (like this one) continue to be a valuable tool in diving deeper into keeping up with colleagues' more in-depth thinking. With a 3 year old running around at home I don't have nearly enough time to read blogs, but continue to enjoy it on those rare occasions when it's possible.

9. RSS tools are a great way of letting content come to you. Google Reader is a great one. On it, you "subscribe" to feeds that interest you. Two other cool RSS readers I like are Scoop-it and Pulse [on the iPad.] Scoop-it is kind of a cool magazine-style format on the computer that allows you to either "curate" your own topics or read the curations of others [example]. Pulse is for reading feeds on the iPad.

So how do you connect to your Personal Learning Network?

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